2022/11/01

Aeropex might Shokz you (after)

Aftershokz (now Shokz) Aeropex bone conducting headphones (now discontinued, but the Shokz Openrun are similar) sit over the ear in contact with the skin and rather than sending audio into the ear canal like 'normal' headphones or earphones, they vibrate and use bones in the skull to send the audio into the ear itself.

The front portion contains the bone conducting technology and then a loop gives over the ear to another unit containing the batteries/electronics and Bluetooth and another loop goes behind the head to connect to the same setup on the other ear.

Aftershokz Aeropex

The headphones are very light weighing in at 26g, have an estimated 8 hour playback time and are rated IP67 (so good for sweat resistance, but not for swimming). There is a USB cable for charging with a magnetic connector to ensure it aligns with the 2 pin charging port (and cant be put on the wrong way around).

Charging port

Bone conducting technology is a bit of a Marmite® technology (i.e. you love it or hate it). When it works well, it can work very well, or it doesn't.

(After)Shokz are a premium brand and their headphones aren't the cheapest on the market, however they tend to work well and lot of Chinese clones that claim to offer similar technologies will disappoint. An easy test is to turn up the volume and if a buzzing is felt on the skin (like being tickled), then it's probably not a good buy. All bone conducting headphones can suffer this, but cheaper ones will do this at lower volumes

The Aeropex have titanium parts internally with a soft touch covering. There's a single multi-function button and volume control with an LED indicator (charging, Bluetooth). A full charge takes around 2 hours and they should last for about 10 days on standby. Bluetooth is version 5.0, supporting A2DP, AVRCP, HSP and HFP and up to 10 metres away from the audio source.

The claimed frequency response is 20Hz to 20KHz, however the lower frequencies don't tend to pass so well through bone conduction as they get lost on the device to skin. There are also dual microphones to pick up sound for calls etc.

The multi-function button performs the following: -

Play/pause music - click once - one beep
Next song - double click - one beep
Previous song - triple click - one beep
Answer call - click once - two beeps
End call - click once - one beep
Answer call waiting and end current call - press and hold for 2 seconds - one beep
Ignore a call - press and hold for 2 seconds - two beeps
Activate voice assistant - press and hold for 2 seconds - beeps
Redial last number - double click on standby - Redial last number

Power/Volume+/Volume- combinations: -

Power On - press and hold vol+ for 2 seconds - Welcome to Aftershokz
Power Off - press and hold vol+ for 3 seconds - Power Off
Mute - press and hold vol+/vol- for 2 seconds (on call) - mute on/off
Change EQ - press and hold vol+/vol- for 2 seconds (music playing) - EQ changed
Check battery status - click vol+ or vol- (music paused) - Battery high/medium/low/charge me
Just volume - vol- or vol- (music playing) - one beep

The LED indicates: -

Solid red - charging
Solid blue - charged
Flashes red/blue - pairing
Flashes blue - incoming call
Flashes red (every 2 minutes) - low battery

The moisture detector will indicate the headphones are wet if plugged into the charger and they should be dried. 

Bone conducting headphones do take getting used to as the audio goes straight into the back of the ear, while allowing the ears to hear normally. This can be extremely useful for things like cycling or running so you're aware of your surroundings and what's going on. Probably less useful for wearing in a busy office environment and trying to zone out. They are extremely light and as they don't sit in the ear (or cover the ears) there's no long discomfort per se.

The only slightly irritating issue is the vibration on the skin if the volume is too loud or the frequencies in that particular range, but that's really a petty issue.

Though the Aeropex have been discontinued they are still available from sports' shops, the replacement Openrun is directly available from the UK Shokz site for £129.95, they come in black/grey, blue/dark blue, dark grey/light grey and red/dark red.

There's now also the Openrun Pro and Openrun Pro mini, which are newer models supporting Bluetooth 5.1, rated IP55, 12 hours play time, larger multi-function button and enhanced base also from UK Shokz site for £159.95 though they are 3g heavier.

Shokz now also do swimming bone conduction MP3 players and UC headphones.

2022/10/21

Sky Stream, first look

Sky (known for the satellite broadcast system) introduced Sky Glass a while back which is a TV with integrated Sky that uses broadband to deliver Sky content, no dish/satellite required (Sky also own Now TV which is a subset of Sky's services also delivered over broadband using an app or puck/box).

Now Sky has introduced Sky Stream which is the same as Sky Glass (in terms of services), but is only a puck/box and a remote (and a power supply and HDMI cable). It connects via Ethernet or WiFi to a home network. The puck is actually running Linux so there are probably some hacks around.

Sky puck

The basic service is HD (1080) but a service upgrade allows UHD. Netflix (basic) is included (watch on a single device), but there are two upgrade options for Netflix Standard (2 devices) and Netflix Premium (4 devices).

TV upgrade packages are Sky Cinema, Sky Sports, BT Sport and Sky Kids.

The packages can be bought on an 18 month contract or 31 days rolling (the later being more expensive).

The box arrives pre-configured with the account set-up, just plug it in to the TV via the HDMI cable, if there's Ethernet, plug that in and let it boot, the can then be set-up in the settings.

It takes a while to boot and a Sky logo will be in white on a black background and when up and running the screen will go to the standard Sky blue colour with white lettering for the options.

Sky initial screen

Then get the remote and press buttons 1 and 3 simultaneously (you have to hold them for a while) and the box will ask if you wish to connect the remote (by pressing the middle button on the remote to agree).

If Ethernet is being used, the settings should automatically be picked up (i.e. IP address/etc), otherwise the WiFi needs to be configured.

If the UHD package has been selected, then the default mode can be moved the UHD rather than HD. Various audio options are also available (as is what format is sent to the TV).

Once that's done, hit the Home button and all the channels are available (including terrestrial channels).

Then there are "apps" for Netflix, iPlayer, ALL4, My5, Disney+, Apple TV+ etc.

Paramount+ is also available and the app  accessed through the Sky system, then an account set-up (again while in the Sky/Paramount app). The price will then be set to £0 per month (i.e. free) when a subscription is taken out.

If a current subscription to Netflix is in use, signing in through Sky means the billing is moved to Sky (i.e. free for Basic). Netflix will keep the current billing method "on file" such that if the Sky subscription ends, it will revert to the original.

The picture is very good and services work very smoothly, though using UHD means that at least 25Mb/s is required from the broadband service.

The packages are: -

18 month contract per month cost

  • Sky Entertainment and Netflix (basic) £26
  • Sky Sports £20 (offer)
  • Sky Cinema £11
  • BT Sport £30
  • Sky Kids £6
  • UHD and Dolby Atmos £6
  • Netflix basic SD (included, watch on 1 device) £0
  • Netflix Standard HD (watch on 2 devices) £4
  • Netflix Premium UHD (watch on 4 devices) £8

Getting everything would be £107 pm

31 day rolling cost

  • Sky Entertainment and Netflix (basic) £29
  • Sky Sports £22 (offer)
  • Sky Cinema £13
  • BT Sport £30
  • Sky Kids £6
  • UHD and Dolby Atmos £6
  • Netflix basic SD (included, watch on 1 device) £0
  • Netflix Standard HD (watch on 2 devices) £4
  • Netflix Premium UHD (watch on 4 devices) £8
Getting everything would be £114

Can then add whole home for £12 pm which allows additional pucks in the home (the first puck is free, more are £39 each).

Getting the full package on an 18 month contract saves £7 per month which is £126 over the lifetime of the contract.

Netflix have announced their new plans (from November) which correspond tp the Sky plans (including resolution and devices) i.e. Basic, Standard and Premium. There is an advertising supported basic plan for £4.99 per month, while the ad free services are £6.99, £10.99 and £15.99 per month respectively. So taking the Sky bundle is a saving if already a subscriber.

There are a few quirks with the system (hopefully they will be resolved in a future software update), the main bug bear is parental control. When accessing a channel where a program is designated that it needs parental control (12+ during the day), a PIN is required even if parental controls/daytime control have been disabled. If the program then changes to another (which also is deemed to require parental control), then the PIN needs entering again as the program changes.

The default PIN is the the last 4 digits of the mobile number registered with the service, but can be changed easily. Parental controls can be set to standard ages (U, PG, 12, 15, 18 or None)  and also all apps or individual apps may be PIN protected.

There's also voice control so it's possible to say "Watch BBC 1" and it will change to that channel (by pressing the microphone symbol on the remote).





Sky Stream remote
The buttons nicely light up when the remote is moved making it easy to find what you're doing even in a dark environment.

Another niggle is that it can take a while for the Sky puck to turn on even after the power button is pressed on the remote, but it tends to work after a few goes.

All in all, this is a nice way to get Sky without having to faff with satellite dishes if your Internet connection can cope.

p.s. the Sky links are referral but if signing up through it, you get discounts too.

2022/10/19

Apple Photos does OCR

This feature seems to have appeared in Apple Photos.

Find a picture with some text in it, highlight the text and it's copied to the clipboard.

original picture

then highlight it

bounded box

The box will appear over the text when the mouse is selected at the start. Copy to clipboard.

The result of the clipboard is "BELSIZE PARK"

It works on horizontal and vertical text too.

2022/10/18

It's bigger and brighter, the new Xiaomi Smart Band 7

Xiaomi (Mi) have refreshed their fitness tracker the Xiaomi SmartBand 7. It comes in China and Global versions, the only real difference is that the Chinese version supports NFC payments (through Alipay). If you're lucky Alipay may accept your credit card as a payment type and then you can use it through the band. Both versions support multiple languages.

The 326 ppi AMOLED screen has been increased to 1.62 inches and is now much brighter (it can be distractingly bright), which is a 25% increase over the Band 6 display. The included USB cable has a magnetic connector on the end which aligns the connector with the band and holds it in place to charge.

Battery life is stated at 15 days, but that will be greatly reduced if various functions are turned on, such as some continuous readings.

Band 7 next to Apple Watch


There are a variety of straps that can be purchased apart form the standard black.

Watch faces are download to the watch (over 100 of them) via the Mi Fit app (now rebranded as the Zepp Life app). Some of them maybe quite Chinese in personality and seem quite odd to a western market.

The band has the following "health" functions: -

  • SpO2 Monitoring
  • Breathing Training
  • Heart Rate Monitoring
  • Sleep Monitoring
  • Pressure Monitoring
  • Female Health

SpO2 (blood oxygen content) and heart rate monitoring are continuous as is sleep monitoring (i.e. no need to tell the band you're going to sleep).


Band 7 supports 120 sports modes, some of which it will try and switch into automatically and it can be used for swimming down to 50m (but not diving). While training VO2 is estimated and time to recovery as well as aerobic and anaerobic exercise times.  Standard sports are directly accessed while others via the All Workouts.

They are: -

  • Running
    •     Outdoor running
    •     Walking
    •     Treadmill
    •     Indoor walking
    •     Race walk
  • Cycling
    •     Outdoor cycling
    •     Indoor cycling
    •     BMX
  • Swimming
    •     Pool swimming
    •     Fin swimming
    •     Artistic swimming
  • Outdoor workout
    •     Fishing
    •     Skateboarding
    •     Roller skating
    •     Rock climbing
    •     Parkour
  • Indoor workout
    •     Freestyle
    •     Elliptical training
    •     Rower
    •     Indoor fitness
    •     HIIT
    •     Core training
    •     Aerobic combo
    •     Strength
    •     Stretching
    •     Stair climbing
    •     Flexibility
    •     Stepper (forward)
    •     Stepper (backwards)
    •     Gymnastic
    •     Yoga
    •     Pilates
    •     Aerobics
    •     Mass gymnastics
    •     Cardio Combo
    •     Cross training
    •     Spinning
    •     Horizontal bar
    •     Parallel bars
    •     Battle rope
  • Dance
    •     Ballet
    •     Belly dance
    •     Square dancing
    •     Street dancing
    •     Ballroom
    •     Dance
    •     Zumba
    •     Latin dancing
    •     Jazz dancing
    •     Folk dance
    •     Hip Hop
    •     Pole dance
    •     Break dance
    •     Modern dance
  • Combat workout
    •     Kendo
    •     Karate
    •     Boxing
    •     Judo
    •     Wrestling
    •     Tai chi
    •     Muay Thai
    •     Taekwondo
    •     Martial arts
    •     Kick boxing
    •     Jujitsu
    •     Fencing
  • Ball workouts
    •     Tennis
    •     Football (soccer)
    •     Cricket
    •     Baseball
    •     Bowling
    •     Squash
    •     Basketball
    •     Softball
    •     Gateball
    •     Volleyball
    •     Table tennis
    •     Handball
    •     Badminton
    •     Beach volleyball
    •     Wall ball
    •     Billiards
    •     Sepak takrav
    •     Dodgeball
    •     Water polo
    •     Ice hockey
    •     Shuttlecock
    •     Futsal
    •     Hacky sack
    •     Bocce
    •     Jal alai
  • Water workouts
    •     Sailing
    •     Rowing
    •     Dragon boat
    •     Kayaking
    •     Snorkeling
    •     Flowriding
  • Winter workouts
    •     Curling
    •     Ice skating
    •     Indoor ice skating
  • Leisure workouts
    •     Hula hoop
    •     Frisbee
    •     Darts
    •     Kite flying
    •     Tug of war
    •     Shuttlecock
    •     Esports
    •     Airwalker
    •     Swinging
    •     Shuffleboard
    •     Table football
    •     Somatosens
  • Board and cards
    •     Chess
    •     Checkers
    •     Weigl
    •     Bridge
    •     Board game
  • Others
    •     Jump rope
    •     Archery
    •     Equestrian

What the band can actually measure during say a board game is questionable to say the least. Other sports modes to seem to work and it will pick-up walking and running without having to actually switch to that mode. 


Tracking is reasonable and compares to other much more expensive devices.

Nicely Xiaomi have now added a lot of products to their international store, including the Smart Band 7 which retails for £54.99 in the UK version (mi.com detects your location and uses that to deliver a local store). Straps costs £9.99 (they do break and the button on the clasp can break too).

It is also possible to go to your friendly Chinese site and buy it considerably cheaper (though pricing has changed recently and shipping charges can be more expensive and there will be VAT/Tax added at the point of sale).

2022/06/25

Mice should always have worked like this

 Apple Macs use mice and Apple don't give you too many options for configuring them.

System Preferences / Mouse

That does give some control and of course it's optimised for Apple mice (which are really trackpads nowadays as they don't have wheels on anymore). 3rd party mice may well have their own software / system preferences pane to allow some adjustments.

3D Connexion Preference Pane

In their wisdom Apple make scrolling accelerate as it's used continuously, so scroll down a page and suddenly it can jump to the end because the scrolling has sped up (especially noticeable scrolling long pages).

Now there's a helping hand (well a little utility that lives in the menu bar) called LinearMouse and it'a free. It can be directly downloaded from the site (.dmg) or installed via Homebrew

#brew install --cask linearmouse

The source code is also available on Github so it's possible to build the app yourself (more importantly ensure it's not doing anything suspicious in the background).

Once installed a mouse looking icon appears in the menu bar and clicking it brings a dropdown menu showing the mouse options and click on LinearMouse Properties.

LieanMouse Preferences

Reverse scrolling does just that and the scrolling direction will be reversed, but the magic is enabling linear scrolling as this stops the scrolling speeding up. Once you enable it, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it, it's a game changer.

One of the best utilities you'll find for your Mac (now of course Apple will integrate the functionality into a future version of macOS).

2022/06/22

Working from home, be Shure to use a MV5C microphone

Shure is known for its professional in-earphones, headphones, microphones and wireless systems and have been around for a long time (since 1925). The in-earphones can produce very high quality audio as they isolate the sound form the outside world and musicians have custom earpieces made so they fit completely into and on to the ear canal (this also allows the audio to play much more quietly which is better for the ear drums and reduces damage).

More recently conferencing systems have also become part of the portfolio very much aimed at businesses.

Now with everyone working from home, Shure has moved into the home office space and produced a microphone to suit video and voice calls, the MV5C microphone.

Shure MV5C box

There is some assembly required (screw the large sphere ended screw through the base into the microphone ball).

Parts from box

The microphone connects to the computer via micro-USB (why not USB-C in this day and age?). There's also a headphone socket at the back for connecting wired (jack) earphones or headphones so it's possible to monitor the raw input.

Back of microphone

The completed unit looks quite professional, though the ball of the microphone is made of plastic.

Microphone with Shure logo on front

The microphone should be placed as close to face of the user as possible (in front of the keyboard, the base can slide under some keyboards and still allow the keyboard to be used effectively). The voice quality is very good.

The main problem is it's very easy to pickup background noise, especially hum from hard disks (i.e. older computers with hard disks inside or backup external disks) and fans. Newer solid state disk (SSD) based systems will sound much better. It would also be possible to mount the microphone on some sound abosrbant material as the hum comes mainly via the base.

The following are 3 recordings made using the MV5C and Audacity (44KHz sampling with 32bit floats) and and images grabbed of the capture - the base line waveform amplitude shows the hum/background noise.

Desktop




The background hum can be heard, but still great quality.

Off desktop was recorded using some sound absorbing material. The hum is slightly lower.



The final version was recording while holding the microphone so isolated from the desktop (which the computer and backup disk is on) and a screen behind the microphone between it and the computer.



With each capture the background noise is reduced and placing the microphone where it won't pickup extraneous noise will make a huge difference to the audio quality - though if offline editing, then noise removal would help.

As a desktop microphone and set-up correctly (and near to the person using it), it is a very good quality mic and can make a big difference compared to poor quality mics in headphones or other devices when using video conferencing or telephony applications.

The MV5C also works with the ShurePlus MOTIV mobile recording software (free download for iOS or Android) though it will require the correct cable (i..e device to micro-USB). The software gives tools to chop audio into clips, fade in and out and save in various formats.

It retails for £115 direct from Shure though it can be found online considerably cheaper.




2022/06/09

Bose Soundlink Flex speaker

The Bose Soundlink Flex speaker is designed for outdoor use. It has an IP64 and IP67 rating, so water and dust proof and can be submerged down to 1 metre for up to a minute. The case is metal with a a "soft touch" silicon coating and the grill has a fabric coating. It's a portable size at 20.1cm across by 9cm height and a depth of 5cm and there's a fabric strap so it can be carried.


There's a single USB-C port used for charging (a USB-A to USB-C cable is included), it's a shame the port can't be used to connect to an audio source directly so it could be used as a wired speaker/DAC. It takes 4 hours to fully charge the system.

The audio is only available via Bluetooth (v4.2) and it works up to about 30m.

There are also front facing microphones which can be used for calls and voice assistants.


There are 5 buttons across the top, power, volume down, multi-function and volume up and Bluetooth (with indicator light) that can initiate pairing.

Single pressing the power button turns the device on (and it speaks the battery percentage remaining - which is enabled by default). Single pressing again will turn the unit off. If nothing is playing/connected the unit will auto turn off after 20 minutes, this can be disabled by holding the + (volume up) and multifunction button simultaneously (or in the app), or if disabled this will re-enable it. While on, the amount of battery power will be spoken by pressing the power and keeping it pressed.

The multi-function button does multiple things depending on mode: -

  • When playing audio, single pressing will play or pause, track forwards (double press) and track backwards (triple press).
  • Pressing and holding will activate the voice control capabilities of the connected device (i.e. Siri or Alexa etc). Pressing and holding again will exit voice control.
  • When there's an incoming call pressing will answer, pressing and holding will reject the call. While in a call pressing and holding will end the call.
  • When there are 2 active calls, pressing quickly will switch between them.

If on a call, pressing volume up and down simultaneously will mute the call.

Though not required, there's an accompanying Bose Connect app (iOS/Android) that enables various functions such as party mode (where multiple Bose speakers can be linked and will all play the same audio) or stereo mode where 2 devices will (after having been connected in party mode) play left and right through each device.

Once paired the main screen shows a nice picture and what's playing. Touching the on-screen buttons plays/pauses, rewinds and fast forwards and the volume can be adjusted.



The main screen just shows the device connected.



Settings then shows the various that can be changed such as party mode, voice prompts, voice language etc.


Clicking the user icon takes you into Profile settings where a few user settings can be set.





The USB charging port is visible on the left



and the strap on the right.



NOTE: as can be seen from the photos, the black silicon coating picks up dust very easily which sticks, it obviously doesn't effect the sound, but it can look a bit nasty.

When the speaker is initially turned on, voice prompts are in English, but the speaker supports the following languages: -

  • English
  • Spanish  
  • French
  • German 
  • Mandarin
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Italian
  • Portuguese 
  • Swedish
  • Dutch
  • Russian 
  • Polish
The language can easily be selected in the app, but to change via the speaker, press and hold the multifunction button and then press + or - to cycle through the languages, then press and hold the multifunction button again when you are on the language you require.

The speaker can be paired with up to 8 devices at a time, though only 2 can be used simultaneously and only one can be playing at any time. To switch between two connected audio sources, pause the one playing and then start the other source. To clear all connections, press and hold the Bluetooth button for 10 seconds.

When it's time to party 2 Bose products can be connected in "Party Mode". This allows them both to play left and right or in Stereo mode, one will be left and the other right. Doing this is easy within the app, but can be done through a connected speaker. Make sure both devices are on and one is connected to the Bluetooth audio source and then press the Bluetooth and volume up (+) button together. The speaker will say “Press the Bluetooth and volume down buttons simultaneously on a second Bose device” which should then be done on the other Bose speaker.

Once in party mode to put them in stereo mode press the Bluetooth button and + on either speaker until it announces “Stereo mode”, then one will say "left" and the other "right". Pressing the Bluetooth and + button again will turn off stereo mode. To disable either mode just turn off one speaker.

Only via the app, the speaker can be connected to a Bose soundbar using the sync system and whatever's playing on the soundbar will play through the Flex (limited by Bluetooth range of 30m).

Bose claim a 12 hour battery life, however if the volume is near 100% (which is often required outside or in a large space like a gym), then battery life is considerably reduced to somewhere over 3 hours. An external power source can be used and works well for topping up the internal battery.

The microphones do work, though placement is key and it's quite easy to get a muffled conversation and probably best to use the phone directly for that important work call.

The speaker comes in 3 colours (black, stone blue and smoke white) and costs £149.95

There are cheaper speakers out there, but this does have good base and plays well. Battery life could be better and it's a real shame the USB port can be connected to an audio source for wired playback, but a nice solidly built Bluetooth speaker.