02/06/2020

Xiaomi Mijia LCD HandWriting Blackboard

This is either the most amazing piece of Technolgy or the most useless. It comes in two sizes, 10 inch and 13.5 inch screen (measured diagonally) and a stylus magnetically attaches to the side so it doesn't get lost (though it's easy to knock off).

The board is powered by a CR2032 coin battery which should last a year if the screen is erased 100 times per day.

It's a touch sensitive LCD screen, that's sort of like an e-ink screen, though it's black to start with and when you touch it, the screen goes white, though really green. It's a bit odd. The harder you press, the thicker the line (within limits), but it can produce some really good results and some drawings look really lifelike.

Since it only uses power to clear the screen, drawings will stay there until they're erased.

There's a switch on the side which when in the on position allows the button below the screen to erase what's on screen. There's no way to save anything, what's on the screen is it and touching the screen will just add more stuff. The only way to transfer images off the screen is to take a photograph of it. If the side switch is moved to off, then the button below the screen has no effect.

The stylus isn't anything special, it's literally just a pen shaped piece of plastic with a magnet inside and a pointy end. Anything can be used in its place (just beware of scratching the screen).

The case of the actual unit is reasonably thick ABS.

The 10 inch version is about £10 and the 13.5 inch around £18 from your friendly Chinese import site. Not a huge amount to spend on what's really a blackboard, but it's surprising good for drawing things and they seem to be popping up in TV quiz shows where contestants need to write/draw things as the contrast is pretty good and they're readable from a distance.

Amazing tech? The jury's out on this one, but cheap enough to have a play and not worry about it.

11/05/2020

Xiaomi Smart Humidifier

Once again another Xiaomi product. This time a smart humidifier i.e. a device you fill with water and it squirts out a fine mist. It's smart as it can be controlled from Mi Home app (iOS and Android). It connects to the "Internet" via WiFi.

Setup is pretty straight forward, turn it on and then scan in the Mi App or scan the QR code on the instructions and you'll be taken into the app within the smart humidifier section. Once it's in config mode, it will transfer the WiFi settings to the device, update the firmware and then add the device to a room.

The Mi Home app does allow automation so the humidifier can be turned on if the humidity (from another sensor) drops below a certain level. It would be nice if Xiaomi supported Alexa integration, but currently they don't seem to. There are 4 settings on the device, light, medium and dense fog and auto where the unit will detect the humidity and produce for appropriately.

Not all the Xiaomi devices are available in the UK and it's only possible to add devices in that are sold in the region you've set the app to. Unfortunately a lot of devices that are available from import sites, aren't available in the UK so the fix is to set your region to Mainland China and all devices will appear (it's still possible to use the app in English).

As well as humidifying the water, there's a UVC light source that sterilises the water as it passes through, so any nasty bugs shouldn't survive the journey (not tested). It holds 4.5L of water which is enough for about 12 hours use and it will shut itself off (and the LED turns from Blue to Red and in app) if the water chamber is empty.

The only downside seems to be that if there are PM2.5 sensors, they'll pick up the mist / water droplets and report them as pollution and reading can go well over 1,000 ppm (which is pretty polluted) and that may cause issues if automating on pollution levels.

Can be had for about £50 importing from your friendly Chinese site (inc shipping).

10/05/2020

Xiaomi Air Quality Sensor

Today's Xiaomi review is of the Air Quality sensor, it's about 10 by 6 by 3 cm with a 10 cm capacitive colour touch screen with a resolution of 800 x 480.

There's a PM2.5 particulate laser reflective sensor and Sensiron TVOC/CO2a and Temp/Humidity sensors which are used to measure the air quality. TVOC is a measure of total volatile organic compounds which cover a range of substances from detergents through flammable liquids and gasses. The CO2 values aren't actually measured but approximated through various calculations on the sensor.

This is not a professional device, so the readings will be reasonably accurate, but don't base anything medical on the readings.

It's WiFi connected and connects back to the Mi back-end services and can be controlled by the Mi Home App. In the Mi App it's necessary to change the region to Mainland China of the device won't be found (or lost if configured in Mainland China and then say switch to Europe, but it will come back again if the region is changed back).

There are a variety of display modes which show average values of sensor readings and a clock of course which is set using Internet time sources so stays accurate. Even though the region in the app is set to Mainland China, a local timezone in the device can be set, so the correct time will be displayed (some other Xiaomi devices will show Chinese time).

An especially useful feature is the BLE gateway which can monitor other Xiaomi Home Bluetooth connected devices, collect their data and send it back to the Mi Home servers. So say there's a Xiaomi Home temperature/humidity sensor in another room that the Mi Home app would connect to, the BLE gateway can download its data, send it to Mi Home and then it's accessible via the Mia Home app from anywhere. This is actually pretty useful if there are other smart devices in the home and say the temperature is quite low, then turn the heating on so it'll be nice and cosy when you get home.

09/05/2020

Xiaomi True Wireless Earphones 2

Xiaomi make a lot of products, some look remarkably similar to each other. The True Wireless 2 earphones also seem to be Airdots 2 on Chinese sites, they are very similar to the Airdots 2S but the 2 have just USB-C charging while the 2S can also be wirelessly charged and have a longer battery life. The 2S variant isn't available of the Xiaomi EU site currently.

They are quite easy to pair, long pressing the button on the side of the case will put them into pairing mode, then connect to the phone and then opening the case or pressing the button will start pairing next time.

The earphones site on the ear much like the fruity company's original pods, so your mileage will vary on how well they fit or fall off. Personally in-earphones work better but lots of people are happy with this kind of design.

The earphones are Bluetooth 5.0 and support HD sound. They charge in around an hour and will play for 4 hours, though popping them into the case (which sarges them) allows up to 14 hours of play.

Each earphone has an infrared sensor and 2 microphones and tapping either earphone will answer a call (or hangup). Tapping twice on the left earphone will activate a voice assistant while tapping twice on the right will pause binaural mode and a single tap will activate single play. Removing an earphone will pause music play.

The binaural/single ear play are so it's possible to lend a colleague an earphone and they can listen to the same music you are (or listen to something else).

The dual microphones are used for noise cancellation, but as the earphones are only semi-in ear, that's mostly for speech etc and not for blocking outside noise during music play.

They are available from the Mi UK Store for £69.99 which is a bargain compared to their fruity counterparts, though Chinese (original) imports inc shipping can be had for around £30-40 (with a silicon case), the 2S are £10-20 more expensive.

08/05/2020

Xiaomi Bluetooth Speaker 2.0

Another day, another Xiaomi product. These are mini Bluetooth cylindrical speakers (they measure about 2 inches in height - well 48mm - and 2 inches across - 52mm) and the come in black or white.

Though small, the sound produced is remarkably good for the size, obviously they cant compete with bigger speakers with large bass speakers for the depth of sound, but just to have some background music, they work well.

If they can be placed apart the sound improves dramatically if you place yourself in the central zone.

The speakers are Bluetooth 5.0 and operate in stereo, however pairing can be slightly fiddly. The centre of the base is a switch surrounded by a "multifunctional switch" so when the speaker's pointing up, pressing the speaker actually presses the central switch.

  • Turn on by long pressing the switch (for about 2 seconds) and the speaker should turn on (blue light will flash)
  • Do the same for the other speaker
  • On Both speakers double click the multifunction switch and they should go into wireless stereo pairing mode
  • The "master" speaker will flash quickly and the "slave" slowly
  • Pair with a phone, laptop, other BLE device
The speakers also have a microphone and can be used to receive a call (tap the speaker when a call comes in and it will change to mic mode, however this can be annoying as the speaker can go into this mode even when a call isn't there by accidentally tapping it.

The power output is only 3W and the speakers are charged through a microUSB port.

The speaker are available from any of the friendly Chinese import sites and are about £20 (inc shipping). They're never going to compete with the big bass boomboxes, but for something that will fit in a jacket pocket and provide some background music and last for a couple of hours, they're really not bad.

07/05/2020

Gillette reinvents hot towel shaving

Razors come in many forms and Gillette has produced many shaving systems ending up with 5 blades and the various systems (Fusion, Proglide, Proshield etc). The handle system has been pretty static with a symbol type mount that holds the various blades.

In recent times it's even been possible to get a 3D printed handle in collaboration with Formlabs.

Now Gillette have brought back the concept of a hot shave but using modern technology with the Heated Razor. The handle has a battery and electronics in and the blades are Fusion 5, with a heating element. Turn the razor on and the element heats up and there's almost that hot towel shaving experience.

Coming out of Gillette Labs, the razor was initially launched on Indiegogo (and with the limitation of only US customers - it's useful to have friends in the US who will accept packages and forward them on, though this does mean added expense and delays especially when the prototype had to be returned and the release product shipped).

It uses the same ball/swivel mechanism as other Fusion 5 razors so the blades follow the contours of your face, but it's hot.

It does work and it feels quite pleasant. Surprisingly the razor feels a lot lighter than its size would convey, personally maybe too light.

The base is fairly heavy and the razor sits in the depression and is magnetically held there (and wirelessly charged). The power adapter fits a standard bathroom shaver outlet, but be warned, if using an electric toothbrush or other mains powered device, even if shaver outlet has two sockets it's generally only possible to plug one device in at a time (using one socket, shutters the other).

The power adapter has a long cable that terminates in a proprietary plug that fits firmly into the base (presumably designed to stop water getting in). If used outside the bathroom, a UK to US adapter will be needed to charge the razor.

Once powered on by "pressing" the power symbol, the power symbol and strip glow a warm red. Pressing thew power symbol again turns the temperature up (43 or 50 degrees C), another press turns it off.

It will function as a normal Fusion 5 razor if there's no power, but it's an expensive piece of tech to not use the heating function.

The razor is available direct from Gillette for £170 (subscription options are available for blades and will give a discount on the base too). A standard 4 pack of blades is £19.50 while an 8 pack is over double (?????) at £45.00

03/04/2020

It's time to Slide the Astro way

Planet Computers made a name for themselves by taking the Psion 5 clamshell design and making a modern version based on Android (well it could run multiple operating systems and dual boot Android and say Linux). The first version was the Gemini and then the Cosmo that had a small screen on the back to show who was calling and other notifications.

Well now is the latest evolution in mobile computing, the Astro Slide. Rather than being a clamshell, the outward facing display covers the keyboard and slides back and then the top moves up so it works like a normal screen. It will run Android 10.

This means none of the problems with actual folding screen and the complexity of manufactures. It's a high resolution touch screen, so the device works like a normal smartphone, but then slide back the display and there's a proper keyboard to type on.

The screen is 6.53 inches across with a resolution of 2340x1080 and 395 ppi, it's scratch resistant so is resistant to damage while in the phone state.

It's 5G and uses a modern Mediatek Dimensity 1000, MT6889 Octa-core SoC that is allegedly twice as fast as stuff that's out there now. As a phone there's 2 nano SIM slots and an eSIM all of which support 5G and it should support download speeds of 4.7Gps. Off course there's WiFi 6 too (the latest version).

The CPU has 4x A77 @ 2.6GHz, 256KB L2, 4x A55 @ 2.0GHz, 128KB L2 2MB L3, the GPU is an ARM G77 9-Core Manhattan 3.0: 120fps and there's an additional processing unit (for ML) 3rd Generation, 6-Core Total 4.5 TOPS.

It comes with 6GB of RAM and 128GB Flash which is expandable by microSD card.

The rear camera is 48MP and there's also a 5MP front camera for video conferencing (useful in this day and age). Stereo speakers and an ambient microphone. For those people who like wired headphone there's also a 3.5mm jack, for those that don't there also Bluetooth 5.1 and supporting the new BLE Audio standard. There's also NFC (and will support payment systems) and wireless charging. For the entertainment buffs there's also a built-in FM radio (no DAB?) and for knowing where you are a modern GPS chipset supporting AGPS, Glonass, Beidou, Galileo Band L1 + L5 GNSS.

If that wasn't enough, there's also 2 USB-C ports (supporting OTG) and DisplayPort via an adapter and an finger print sensor to ensure only the right person uses it.

The mechanical keyboard will be available in the following languages (the script is actually laser etched on the keys themselves) Arabic, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Dvorak, Finnish / Swedish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian / Danish, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swiss, Thai, English UK, English US.

Unfortunately it's not going to ship for a while (March 2021), but is available on Indiegogo for an early bird price of £432.00 going up to £504.00 (the RRP will be £720.00).

04/03/2020

Xiaomi Band 4

Xiaomi make everything or they invest in other companies to make stuff for them. If you want something for the home, there will be a Xiaomi (or more likely under the Mi brand) product available. An electric toothbrush, yes, a pen (called a signing pen), yes. Lighting, yes, speakers, smart speakers, humidifiers, air purifiers, air quality sensors.

Some of the products are available directly in the UK (there's even a Mi Store at Westfield in Shepherd's Bush), download the Mi Store app and set your country and you can order through the app.

However in the UK there's only a tiny subset of what Xiaomi actually sell, if you dare, head over to Aliexpress and search of Xiaomi or Mi and see the plethora of products available. Reign in your credit card as it's easy to just buy everything.

Amazfit are one of the companies that Xiaomi initially invested in (and now may well own, another is Segway/Ninebot). There's a previous review of the Amazfit Cor and though the screen is monochrome OLED, it's still quite a nice tracker. Unfortunately the strap eventually broke (which doesn't seem replaceable which seems a shame as the actual unit was working perfectly), so the to replace with a Mi Band 4.

Mi have regularly updated the band and it's very cost effective compared to the general (US) competition (Fitbit etc). It's not the prettiest of devices, the central "pod" (which is removed from the strap to charge) is about 4cm long by 1.5 cm wide and 1cm high. It has a colour AMOLED display and optical pulse/heart rate sensor on the base in contact with the skin. The strap is silicone and uses a pass through system and a knob that pushes into a hole on the other side.

The quoted battery life is 20 days, though this can reduce if certain settings are enabled (like heart rate read every minute and accurate sleep tracking etc), however it's still pretty reasonable with everything turned up to the max and won't need charging for several days at least. The band is also waterproof down to 50m (i.e. 5 ATM of pressure) so good for a swim in the pool or shower, but not recommended for deep sea divers.

There are lots of "watch faces" available (most are horrid) and if you're an Android/Windows user, then are are sites that show how to design and install your own.

To get the data off the band it works with the Mi Fit app (which is available on both iOS and Android). All customisation is done through the app, though some can be done through settings on the band itself, though it's a bit fiddly.

It can all the normal things a tracker can i.e.

  • Notifications
  • Controlling Music
  • Calls
  • Steps
  • Calories

There's also workouts that can be tracked" -

  • Outdoor Running
  • Treadmill
  • Cycling
  • Walking
  • Freestyle
  • Pool swimming

The band can also display the Weather.

On the band itself it's possible to set (under More): -

  • Do Not Disturb (DND)
  • Alarms
  • Music
  • Stopwatch
  • Timer
  • Find Device
  • Band Display (brightness etc)

Everything works, heart rate tracking is as good as any optical sensor device can be as if you're doing sport and the band moved away from the skin, it's not going to measure properly. Sleep tracking works very well and shows speeds of awake, deep sleep and REM sleep.

The Official Mi UK price is £34.99 which is still pretty good for the features, however if waiting a few days and ordering from China isn't an issue that will significantly reduces the cost.