19/09/2017

Xiaomi Huami AMAZFIT A1603 Smartband

Xiaomi make lots of stuff, but they also work with partners and specifically Huami who make wearables (under the AMAZFIT brand). In the US it's known as the Amazfit ARC.

Though the functionality is almost identical to the Xiaomi Band 2, it looks much nicer and the silicon strap has a 'hatch' effect on it which is very comfortable to wear. The actual unit is permanently attached to the strap and has a soft 'brushed' metal feel. Underneath there's an optical heart rate sensor and charging pins and the top is a UV coated scratch resistant OLED display.

Like most trackers it measures steps but also sleep (you obviously have to wear it at night), distance and active calories. The battery life is VERY good (Huami claim 20 days). It can also display notifications from your phone (currently iOS and Android are supported).

As a bonus it's also water proof and can be used when swimming, though it doesn't track swimming.

There's a USB charging cable that is magnetically polarised so it 'snaps' on to the charging pins on the bottom of the unit, this also stops you getting it the wrong way around.

There is an Amazfit app available and through it's pretty basic, it does support all the devices features and notifications, alarms etc can be set through it. However, it the ARC also works with the Xiaomi Mi Fit app, which has a lot more features and links with Apple Health and Android Fit on the relevant platforms. The Mi Fit app also seems to have a few more advanced features like being able to track heart rate when sleeping which give more accurate results (though reduces battery life).

The list price is $99 from the US Amazfit site, but various Asian sites have it available for around £30 including shipping.

22/08/2017

Kardia Band - an ECG monitor for your Apple Watch

The Kardia Band is made by AliveCor and is a watch strap for the Apple Watch (it comes in both 38 and 42mm versions). It replaces the standard Apple Watch strap and there's a big chunk of metal in the bottom strap.

To record your ECG place your thumb on the metal blob and your fore-finger onto the other side of your wrist. Run the Kardio app, sit back and RELAX. It's VERY sensitive to any kind of movement. After 30 seconds it will beep and then press save and it will try and filter out your ECG. If you move or there's lots of electric interference it's unlikely you'll get a good reading. Assuming you're not moving around much and the software processes the data, you'll then get a normal (or not) reading and you can scroll through the waveform, like it's been printed on paper and you move along along it.

AliveCor also make a Bluetooth version where you place your fingers on which is actually considerably cheaper and I'd guess gives better readings, but then you have to remember to take it with you or buy their special iPhone cases which wil hold the device.

The Kardia band does work and it's not reported any abnormal heart readings, which is probably a good thing. It's nice that you can take a reading whenever you like (as long as your wearing your Apple Watch), but it's very sensitive to environmental conditions.

The Kardia Band costs £199 in the UK directly from the AliveCor site (it's not available in the US as it's not FDA approved). The watch strap and metal insert have been improved since earliy version when the metal bit tended to fall out.

The Kardia Mobile Bluetooth sensor is available for £99 from AliveCor and is also available in the US.

02/08/2017

Hologram - a developer friendly international SIM

Hologram is a US company that offers both a hardware cellular device called a Dash, back-end cloud services and international SIMs that can be used globally.

The Dash is programmable through the Arduino IDE (and is supported out the box in recent versions) and the Dash firmware directly supports Holograms cloud services.

The cloud services know about Dash devices and then various routes can be set, which allow things to be sent to the Dash or from the Dash to another service (like IFTTT, Slack, etc).

The SIM is a standard 2G/3G SIM that can be fitted in a Dash and then be used on any supported mobile network. There are various pricing models with paid plans starting at $0.40 per month with data costing $0.60 / MB (billed by KB) in a pay-as-you-go service or pre-pay: -

>
DataZone 1Zone 2
500KB$0.59------
1MB$0.99$1.29
2MB$1.49$1.99
3MB$1.49$2.99
5MB$2.99$3.99
10MB$3.99$6.99
20MB$5.99$12.99
30MB$6.99$16.99
50MB$7.99$28.99
100MB$14.99$47.99
125MB$18.99$59.99
250MB$32.99------
500MB$55.99------

There are also US only plans: -

$8.00250MB
$12.00500MB
$20.001GB
$36.002GB
$70.005GB

SMSZone 1Zone 2
INBOUND (to device)FREEFREE
OUTBOUND (from device)$0.19 / Message$0.30 / Message

Zone 1 is EU, US etc and Zone 2 Canada, bits of Africa/South America and other odd countries.

Hologram have just announced a Developer plan (1 SIM ONLY), which gives 1MB per month absolutely free (and then $0.60 per MB billed by KB) and they'll even ship it for free using code "DEVPLANBLASTOFF" (no quotes).

That's pretty useful so testing the service is easy, without spending a lot of data charges.

The Dash has some pretty nice features too, such as being able to sent program and even firmware updates OTA (though that's going to quickly eat data, especially for firmware updates).

25/07/2017

Google Glass Zombie Edition

Google launched its "augmented reality" device (Google Glass Explorer Edition) in 2013 to much fanfare, though the hype soon overtook the realities of the product. Though never aimed at consumers (it cost around £1,000), the media, and to some degree Google, positioned it as that. Then came the crash and people wearing Glass were known as "glassholes".

Google Glass Explored Edition was just that, a platform that "explorers" i.e. developers, could start experimenting with augmented apps. Though the device did have a camera and wearers could take snaps of things they saw and camera info could be used by apps, Glass is really more of a Head's Up Display (HUD).

In 2015 Google stopped production of the Explorer Edition, but quietly in the background apps were developed and Glass found a market in the industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) arenas. Think surgery and having access to patient data or access to information about the operation, or in industry working on some device and instant access to pertinent information maybe an instruction or service manual. The list goes on and in these areas, lightweight HUD technology is a big winner.

Now it's 2017 and Google have announced Google Glass Enterprise Edition. This will be sold by resellers and positioned squarely for the ISM markets and launch partners were in those very fields. It's definitely NOT a consumer device. Google were right all along and there's a good chance they sell lots of units in those specialist areas.

The other contender is Microsoft Hololens, again people are writing it off as an expensive tech gadget, but Hololens is to Microsoft and Glass is to Google.

12/07/2017

So long Arquiva, hello WND

SIGFOX, the low power wide area network system have dumped Arqiva and now selected WND (who have successfully deployed SIGFOX networks in Brazil, Mexico, Columbia and Argentina). WND have already installed 50 base-station since they launched in March 2017 which covers 34% of the UK's population and have committed to 95% by 2019.

SIGFOX is a narrow band system using the license exempt 868MHz band in the UK (and EU in general), it's low power and long range so is designed for deployments that can be powered off batteries or power scavenging techniques and then left alone to monitor whatever they're designed to monitor.

SIGFOX supports 140 uplink messages per day (12 bytes in size, bit packed format determined by the user) and 4 downlink messages per day (8 bytes bit packed format). Uplink is from the remote site to the SIGFOX network and downlink is from the central service, though SIGFOX to the remote service.

There are other competing technologies such as LoRaWAN and specifically The Things Network, but their service sits on top of existing ISP connections, so there may be regulatory and other issues as well as a lot of unlicensed operators out there.

19/04/2017

Fitbit Alta HR - a pretty little fitness tracker

Fitbit are the leading manufacturer of fitness trackers (and foraging into the smart watch market with the purchase of Pebble assets last year). The Alta was released a while back and it was the prettiest of Fitbit's offerings. Now comes the Alta HR which is the name suggests, supports heart rate monitoring. Fitbit have managed to squeeze the LED system into the base of the unit (next to the skin) and still keep the same size as the original Alta.

There are various modes and the Alta HR can be set to record heart rate automatically or manually and to background sync etc. The different options will affect battery life, which is about 7 days on a full charge.

The Alta HR will track steps (and a run if you're inclined that way), distance travelled (but it's calculated as there's no GPS), calories and sleep (if you wear it to bed). If you do wear it to bed it will also calculate your resting heart rate as well as show your type of sleep (light, deep, REM and awake).

Though splash proof, it's not waterproof so no swimming or showering. When you remove the unit it should stop trying to read your heart rate, but sometimes it seems to continue to try to read it (the LEDs flicker) for quite some time.

The smarts is in the Fitbit companion app (Apple Health compatible on iOS) and that where most of the information is displayed.

There are a variety of standard bands that can be bought in different colours. They're made of a fairly chunky silicon that 'feels' pretty solid and use a standard pin/hole clasp to close so can easily be adjusted for size.

Fitbit are now selling premium leather bands and even metal bands which turn the Alta HR into bracelet, though they're pretty expensive and as they're solid, heart rate tracking may not work (as the unit may not be snug on your skin).

Fitbit make other trackers that are more functional, but the Alta HR is definitely the prettiest, but it's reasonably expensive at £129 or more for the premium versions. It's a lot compared to something like the Mi Band2 which can be had for about £16 (it's not as pretty) for almost identical functionality and the battery life on the Mi is over a month.

04/04/2017

Engie helping people with sick cars

There are quite a few devices out there which connect to your car's OBD port (all modern cars have one, they're usually under the dashboard and provide access to diagnostics about the car).

Engie comes in 2 parts, an app that can be downloaded from an App Store (both iOS and Android versions are available) and the device that plugs into the OBD port (the Android and iOS devices differ). It's possible to download the app for free and set-up an account and order a device through the app (which sends you to the website) or just order the device from the site directly.

Once the device is plugged into the OBD port and the engine turned on, launch the app, search for the device and then connect. The app will then show how the car is performing. There's various modes which can show things like engine temperature, actual trip costs (using real petrol pricing that you have entered), however the real USP of the app is that if there is a fault, Engie will tell you what it is and can then send you to a local garage - the app knows where you are and has a large garage database.

The only downside is that if your car doesn't have any faults, then there's no real advantage to using Engie compared to other OBD devices and other free software that's out there.

The Android device is £14.99 and the iOS device is £19.99 available directly from Engie (it arrives quickly once ordered).