Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Samsung Galaxy Tab S3: Fantabstic side-kick!

I have been using the Tab for a number of weeks now and I am fairly comfortable, giving my 2 cents on this piece of kit. First, this is Samsung's first truly premium tablet. I have to describe its build and aesthetically features to demonstrate that fact. Unboxing
The Tab comes in a very nice dark grey box with seals for guarantee of "newness". Opening that box exposes some well thought-out and neatly packed items which include the S Pen, The Tab and the charger together with cable and documentation. The Tab itself will be in a dust proof sleeve, whose unfastening process actually gives you that kind of satisfaction, if you get what I mean.


Unboxed Tab

Unboxing this beauty was an awesome experience. As always, and often, I had the luxury of doing the unboxing, with my 2 best buddies who are 11 and 6 years old :D, Their reaction was very positive, and they liked what they saw. We have an unboxing video on periscope, can follow the link below

https://www.pscp.tv/foolishious/1djxXLvlPjzxZ

Looks and feel With the Tab S3 it is clear that Samsung are aiming for the most premium and complete android tablet experience. The metal rounded edges and glass back together with a light weight, only 429g, makes the tablet is perfectly balanced and fits very comfortably even in somewhat small hands.





Talking of premium look and feel, the AKG glass back of this tablet is just one such feature which gives the device its "Woohah!"

The screen is so vivid, as if things are about to spring into life. Using the tab, is like a kill, in broad-day-light. I mean literally, the screen is so vibrant that you are forced to wonder why there ever had been some tablets with screens that simply did not work in bright sun/day light. Simply this table is the best 'under the sun', excuse the pan.

Specifications, Hardware and S Pen The following is an overview of the specifications of this Tab;

Dimensions (mm) 237.30 x 169.00 x 6.00 Weight (g) 429g Battery capacity (mAh) 6000mAh Removable battery No
Screen size (inches) 9.7 inches Resolution 2048x1536 pixels
Processor 1.6GHz quad-core Processor make Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 RAM 4GB Internal storage 32GB Expandable storage Yes, microSD upto 256GB
Rear camera 13-megapixel Camera Flash Yes Front camera 5-megapixel
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac GPS Yes Bluetooth Yes, v 4.20 NFC No Infrared No
Compass/ Magnetometer No Proximity sensor No Accelerometer Yes Ambient light sensor Yes Gyroscope Yes Barometer No Temperature sensor No
The S Pen is fantabulous, its thick enough to feel like a real pen and is quite sensitive. Air-play (or is it whats its called?) works like a charm, sensing the pen even whilst its still hanging up in the, Oh boy..."air"
The S-Pen is light weight and comfortable to use and obviously doesn’t need batteries or charging or some pairing process with the tab before use. It just works. The animated "swoosh" sound that plays as you write with the pen is quite satisfying, as if one is writing on a real paper. My handwriting is probably among the worst, people used to say I write like a medical doctor on hospital cards, but the Tab has always got the gist of what I would be trying to write, every time, Its magical.
Well, as it happens , my first test-drive included streaming my beloved Beatles collection in the background while I checked-out loads of other features. Its an understatement to say I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the sound. My auditory orifices where quite elated on consuming such well-rounded acoustic and sonic energies. In simple words, top-quality audio... That quality audio is bellowed from 4 speakers at each of the rounded corners of the tab. Call it surround sound or what you will, I will call it perfect sound from a perfectly sound technology. Did I tell you this sort-of indulgence lasted a good half-day? (24hr day :D) Well, if that's not "New testament" to the battery capacity, I don't know what is. The Tab can pack a sizeable punch of AmpHours to make even Mayweather jealous. It makes the Tab go on and on and on like an energiser battery, and believe me, that's great staying power!, no one minute wonders... For once it feels good to own a mobile device that I don't have to charge every hour.



Competition I will not even let you search wildly in the market, for this Tab's competition, because there is only one. Without beating about the bust, the iPad Pro is the only competition here. Both Tabs come with a stylus, a metal frame, a vivid display and comparable size and weight.

So what separates them?
this image may be copyrighted

Its probably best that I don't waste time on obvious stuff, and stick to the issues. There are differences that some people may be interested in. Generally these two devices offer comparable value, so I will highlight the 3 areas where I believe you may notice differences.
First is the screen. You may want to head over to iPad pro 9.7' s specs to compare, buy simply, the Galaxy Tab S3 takes the crown here. The S3 Tab is HDR ready (High dynamic range) which allows to watch HDR content, bringing more sharp and vivid images onto the screen.

The second is the camera. Tab S3 has 13Mega Pixels compared to iPad Pro's 12MP, BUT the results from the iPad trounce the S3 by a country mile. Visually the sharpness of the images from the iPad is captivating. Could it be the True Tone flash? could it be the Live View functionality? my opinion is that the iPad wins on this one.


Lastly, but not least of-course, if the juice tank that keeps everything ticking, the battery. From my research (of-course i do not own the iPad pro 9.7) generally the iPad ticks for around 10hrs continuous use as compared to the Tab S3 which can go upto around 12hrs. It should be noted that the iPad battery is 7306mAh whereas the Tab S3 is 6000mAh. So the Galaxy tab wins on this one.


I have not forgotten about the issue of the pocket by the way. So I will simply say Samsung produced a device to give Apple a run for its money in this particular market. So it can generally be expected that Samsung's offering will equally break your bank in the same fashion your usual Apple device does.

The Tab S3 retail price is £599 including S pen (Standard 32GB WiFi model). It comes in black or silver colours.
The iPad Pro costs £549, plus £99 for Apple pencil (Standard 32GB WiFi model). It comes in silver, gold, space-grey and rose-gold colours.
So not much difference in price, (iPad cost £49 more) but indeed both tablets aim to search your pockets somehow, when compared to the rest of that market space... I do believe they deserve to, though...
I dressed my Tab S3 in quality gear that did not even break my bank. I am talking about the case and Bluetooth keyboard.

.


This device has become my companion, providing entertainment (I love movies and music) on the go. Funny enough, I have also found that its a formidable work device. I am "rdesktoping" to my work computer and enjoying both worlds simultaneously. Sometimes I am also using Google Docs to do a lot of business and work on the tab. Writing with the S Pen is making this a favourite of mine for any office work Kudos Samsung!

Monday, 25 September 2017

Ring Video Doorbell WIBNIF (Wouldn't It Be Nice IF.....?)

I will admit that I am a gadget lover, and have had considerable experience with various gear over the years. That being said, there have been instances when my purchase of a gadget had been influenced by real/true/genuine necessity rather than curiosity. When I moved home a few years ago, I fould that the analogue door bell that was in place was useless. It was a wired set-up but the bell was placed, still, in the entrance hall. Even after cranking its volume or adjusting the solenoid, it was still inaudible when one is upstairs. Moving the bell anywhere was going to mean running long cables.

Now my first solution was obvious. I had the house already set with LightwaverRF smart lighting, smart power sockets and heating (www.lightwaverf.com). This is one of the cheapest, easy and yet stable smarthome solutions (if one does not want to tinker with Domoticz). So it  was a no-brainer not to consider LightwaverRF's door bell offering, which came at about £30. What you get is a traditional metal bell (solenoid hit) and a push button to install at the door. The good thing is the two work wirelessly (433Mhz RF like all other LightwaveRF lighting products) and the bell is battery powered by 2 CR232? batteries which can last for almost a year.

Image result for lightwaverf bell
LightwaveRF Door Bell set

You get to pair the push button wiith the bell, and you can place the bell anywhere in the house, and indeed its loud enough. Mine I hanged it up in the stairway,  hanging on just a single wall nail/screw.

I also paired the bush button with my bedroom lights, and set it so that when someone rings, the lights flash (on-off-on-off) These settings are set by 4 small switches at the back of the push button, so you can check the manual to set them according to your desired lighting response,

My main issue with this bell was, it was quite expensive for what it offered. The flickering of lights was quite mundane because you would not notice it on a bright day, and also was not necessary as long as the bell was still working, save for cases when your bell battery goes flat without your knowledge, which should be quite a rare event.
This bell was markerted as a LightwaveRF wireless bell, but there was nothing smart about it. There are better wireless bells with a mains plugged chime (no need to buy batteries) which cost £6 online.
I would have loved a situation where this bell could notify me via the LightwaveRF app, whenever the bell was rung, but alas. I have the same issue with LightwaveRF's door/window magnets, they are quite dumb.
I tried to search IFTTT (www,ifttt,com) for recipes that use the bell push or the magnetic switches, but there are none. It seems you can only use these 2 products to activate lights when the push button is pressed or when the door is opened, no push notification or anything else.
At least ifttt recipes would have been better, but you cannot select the 2 devices as sources because LightwaveRF's devices are passive, and STATELESS! They do not communicate their state (eg. is light on? is door open? etc, you cant make such queries)

So what I decided on was to try something better in terms of functionality. I therefor sold my LWRF bell on ebay for £24 gross (that was a good sell)
I bought the much talked about Ring Video doorbell (www.ring.com), the battery operated one. I bought mine from Argos, which sells the bell bundled with a chime unit (the sounder) for £169, but I had a £10 voucher which any Argos customer can get hold of easily, so it costed me £159 for both. The chime is around £24 separately, so it means I got the bell for £135, which is a very good find. Also Argos  offers buy-now-pay-later for 6 months on this, so thats slightly over 20 quid per month, interest-free. Thats equivalent of me skipping my after-lunch coffee for just 2 days per week, honest its worth it.

Image result for argos ring door bell and chime bundle
Ring Video Door Bell and Chime set

Now on to the Ring itself, the device is well made and quite sturdy. At the time of this writting, Ring has just released its second version of the door bel called "Ring Video door Bell 2" From what I can tell, this new video door bell only differs with the original in that it records videos in 1080p (instead of 720p), is a bit slimmer (not thinner!) and removable batteries. On the downside it comes with slightly reduced field of view (FOV) There could be aother subtle differences but I beleive I have meanthed everything thats worth highlighting.

You connect your bell and chime to your wife network. The chime will sound when the door bell id pressed. this happens over wifi, so if either of these disconnects to wifi, no ding dong sound for you.

WIBNIF 1. Chime and bell should have had their own direct RF signal for communication.

Also when the door bell is pressed you receiev a notification on your phone (same with motion detected by the way...) You can then answer the doorbel by tapping on the notification and voila,... you are talking to your PPI rep, or Watch Tower or even your Royal mail delivery guy (one-way video and 2-way audio)

The major flaw in this design is the LAG that exists between button pressing and receiving of notification. This means if your home broadband is not fibre, and you are away from home, chances are that you will answer the doorbell when the delivery guy (who happens to be in a hurry to meet his quaotas) is gone, or you may be luck to see his back as he leaves.
I must say however, Ring has been working very happy to reduce this delay to acceptbale levels. I think they are making sure that the device dows not go into deep sleep, which however sucks the juice outta the battery, I want to see the mods that ring are making to address this issue....
My setup so far, after a lot of tweaking, has a delay of around 7seconds, which is acceptable and in most cases I have been able to catch the delivery guy just as he dragged his fisrt step off and in other cases I simply had to say a loud hello on answering.

So what other WIBNIFs dows thid sytesm have?, well, if you install this as your fisrt ring product, it becaoes apparent very quickly.

WIBNIF 2. extra bell push button, to sound the chime?

Imagine if you have multiple access ways to your propert, or just a simple back garden or kitchen door. Wouldnt it be nice to have a simple bush button to install at these extra access ways, so that it sounds the chime? Most of the time you would not really need another video doorbel at these points, so a simple push button would have been enough.

Ok, from my comparison with the newer version, you probably have picked up that these doorbells are battery powered. This original one has no way of charging the battery without dismounting the doorbell from the wall. I will not comment about the removable battery in 2nd version.

The Ring Video door bell and other Ring cameras, are compatible with IFTTT, meaning you can do clever triggers and actions based on motion detection. This is a very welcome features for these devices. You can turn on lights when someone rings the bell,or when motion is detected. You can even use Alexa recipes.
They are also compatible with Smartthings, so one can use security smart-apps in Smartthings, to trigger the alarm when motion is detected outside normal hours.

It should be noted that Ring devices record videos to the cloud, and you have o pay something like £25 a year per each device, to be able to use this feature. There is  local storage, leading to my next widnif

WIBNIF 3. sdcard slot for local recording?

It would have been nice if these devices were able to record locally to an sd card and offer an option for user to not use their cloud platform.

Overall Ring video bell is a well made product which is being letdown by technology employed, which inherently introduces delays. If the door bell could talk directly to chimes, at least the system would be very usable EVEN only as an expensive wireless intercom, without the bells and whistles of being an internet enables device.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The future of photography is here - Featuring Samsung Gear 360 VR Camera

Intro

Virtual reality (VR) is quite an old technological proposition. It has been around for donkey years and at some point in the far past, has been subject of many sci-fi movies. Its hard to believe that it was described in late 1930s and was coined into the Oxford dictionary in late 1980s.



Modern use and up-trending of VR has largely been as a result of the availability and very low cost of head-mounted-displays (HMDs) popularly know as VR headsets. That is further strengthened by advances in video game production, which saw a lot of VR games becoming mainstream.



Computing power in smartphones nowadays is much stringer that the spacecraft that took America to the moon. This meant more sophisticated gaming with multi sensory input and haptic feedback can be programmed into portable games that can be played on smartphones. My first VR game was the Zombie Shooter VR, which is quite fun (and scary)



Enough of this nostalgic blurb about where we are coming from, we are here now, in 2016, Ooops 2017, and the Samsung Gear 360 is here with us, capable of shooting impeccable super-resolution (4K) photos and videos. This is indeed a culmination of many technological advances, but to be able to capture such breath taking images with a tiny, beautiful camera, is a stroke of genius. I received mine courtesy of The Insiders Network for the #Insidersgear360 campaign.
010c43905b3f278c29135cda4bfe0c8b5abb5da056.jpg


In its packaging
013ff892d5d1e48b2570744b46f82761828366094f.jpg



Samsung Gear 360 on its cute tripod
015e2be1dd39732953724fed7479eebe6f623fd2a9.jpg



The camera on its own
015bd5fc5d6a27efea282bd0da3507e6dc6fcb2cfc.jpg




The little tripod folded
01ab72f3c3b2e3eb726034d84ffc8d7f3815969a80.jpg
Slightly smaller than a tennis ball
013f7bb75b05be110094cfc1583823b342169ad65a.jpg
USB charging
01cdefc000804e36d9279d70020825d78067231bf0.jpg



In the field
01b3a0271b8d726a6972cbcc6ec340908bc599833e.jpg




Out of packaging

Specs
Compatibility Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+, Note 5, S7, S7 edge with the Samsung
Gear 360 app; PCs with the Gear 360 Action Director software
Sensor 2 x 15 MP CMOS
Lens Aperture f/2.0
Field of View 180° per lens
Chipset DRIMe5s
Video Format : MP4 (H.265)
Video Resolution Dual Cam: 3840 x 1920 at 30 fps
Single Cam: 2560 x 1440 at 30 fps
Image Format JPEG
Image Resolution Dual Cam: 7776 x 3888 (30 MP)
Single Cam: 3072 x 1728 (5 MP)
Audio Codec: MP3/AAC/AAC+/eAAC+
Format: MP3, M4A, AAC, OGG
Memory 1 GB built-in RAM
microSD card up to 128 GB
Display 0.5" (72 x 32) PMOLED
Connectivity WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz)
WiFi Direct
Bluetooth 4.1
USB 2.0
NFC
Sensors Accelerometer, gyroscope
Battery Capacity 1350 mAh
Dimension 2.6 x 2.2 x 2.4" (66.7 x 56.2 x 60 mm)
Weight 5.4 oz (153 g)
Packaging Info
Package Weight 1.0 lb
Box Dimensions (LxWxH) 6.2 x 3.8 x 3.7"
Retail Price £349


Personal review
The Gear 360 camera is a well made product, with stylish aesthetics, a sturdy construction and indeed easy on the eye. Setting it up is a breeze, quite straight-forward even without reading the instructions lol! (even though I always read first)


The fun part began after connecting it to my wife's galaxy 6 edge. Controlling it, settings, and capturing videos and photos from the gear 360 app on the S6 edge was much fun and downright easy. 



It was not immediately clear to me how one can convert those nice photos and videos to be viewed as 360 videos anywhere else (i think that what they call stitching). However, a quick search on YouTube for the howto videos, uncovered a wealth of information on how to do this. Most videos were talking about using the gear 360 desktop software called "ActionDirector", but I wanted to avoid anything that takes me time and suck the fun away from the experience, so I went with easy, fast and simple tricks that you can do on the phone to stitch the videos. YouTube has plenty of videos to show you how. 



After my initial testing, I came round to install the action director. I quickly learnt tricks of dealing with the PC software that allowed me to quickly use stitched up photos and videos without having to publish them in "ActionDirector". See more on ActionDirector down below in this blog. 


One thing I quickly learnt about taking photos with this gadget was that, if there is a single light source, one has to make sure that the light source is exposed equally to both lenses, like pointing the "nose" of the camera to the light source instead of pointing just one lens to that light source. this makes the stitched photos transition, seamless. 

Battery and USB ports door 


The camera is IP53 certified and has got rubber-sealed door to the ports to keep them water tight. It may not say its water proof but I assume it should handle light showers, and splashes without any issues. 



You can use the small display at the top of the camera for basic settings without the need to connect to the phone. This means that the camera can effectively be used even without a Samsung phone. Small LEDs above each lens indicate which lens is in use, and will be flashing when the camera is in use. You can configure to use either single lens, if needed.






Things to note!
Battery life is not very impressive on this little thing, it died on me midway through my fun when I was away exploring the seaside. Good thing is that the battery is removable so one can carry extra batteries if they want to record videos all day long. 

File sizes are humongous for recorded 360 videos, if you are recording for anything more than 15 minutes. Stitching these can take some time, but if you are like me, record during day, process overnight, then you should be fine. 

The other thing that bothers me is I am not very impressed by the image quality esp video. It could be I need specific settings (currently set at 3840x1920 for video and 30M for photo)

This camera is only compatible with a handful of high-end Samsung smartphones. This can be frustrating for loads of people who own iPhones/iPads, LG, HTC and Google nexus high end smartphones.



Gear 360 in action
I will not bore anyone with my descriptions of how to set this thing up or other nitty gritties, of which the professionals have already published on YouTube. My personal opinion is that this little device is a game changer. It will be hard to imagine a time when photos only used to expose a small angle around the subject, leaving the viewer’s imagination to wonder what else was happening beside or in front of the subject.

Weston-super-Mare during the night (stitched image)

Sovereign Shopping Mall, Weston-super-Mare



Bristol atop Trenchard car park

I Know one can capture very professional looking photos by setting the camera on a big tripod, proper light setting, etc. but these photos where captured while walking, holding the camera in one hand, by its little tripod, but they still look awesome. Obviously my had features in the images because no care was taken to hide them etc. This serves to demonstrate how simple and easy it is to operate the camera, and the perfect auto-stitching that is done by the software.

Action Director
The desktop software to manage and process the Gear 360 files, called the action director, is quite a large piece of software which should take up more than 500MB of your hard-drive. A setting that I found very important for in the software is the "Automatic angle compensation" for 360 content. This can be set by checking (or ticking) the checkbox as show in the picture below.


Another trick that can be helpful, came from noticing that if you import the Gear 360 files into Action Director, it starts the stitching of the files automatically. You can import the file by doing "Files -> Import -> Media Folder". After selecting the folder which contains your files, all the files in there will start stitching soon after the import is finished. Each and every file imported, will show the percentage or status of the stitching process. The ones with a 0% are those that have not started stitching and large video files will take time to finish. All this while, there is no action needed and when stitching is finished, the stitched files are found in the folder as configured under "File" in Preferences (see pictures below)



Its best to configure the folder where you want to store the processed files before you start importing files into Action director, the default location is not an intuitive path, so one may want to change that.
action_director1.jpg
ActionDirector Desktop software


action_director2.jpg





Click on the gear to open Preferences
action_director3.jpg
Automating Angle correction
action_director4.jpg
Setting the import and export folders

The above processes describe the stitching that is done in ActionDirector, but Action director is provided as an editing tool, so if one want to cut clips, join them and making a longer single video from different files, that can be accomplished by dragging the files to the area indicated, and they would need to "publish" the resulting file. Someone mentioned that this processing takes a long time, so I have not attempted it. I believe that will probably be necessary only to professionals working on specific projects.

ActionDirector is somewhat disappointing because there is no way to select where you want the camera to be facing when the video starts playing. One may want to start the video facing upwards, backwards or front facing the direction of motion, but there is no way to set this in ActionDirector.


Below are raw unedited YouTube 360 videos taken on a windy day at dusk





Tiny Planets with Samsung Gear 360
Making tiny planets photos from 360 images has been a very popular trick on social media. There has been Instagram marketers who have been constantly proposing use of such pictures simply to draw large number of followers. It is not difficult to see why most people can be drawn to tiny planet photos, they have particular charm, exoticism and also offers a new perspective to photography.
making Tiny planet images from your 360 photos is easy, you simply need to have the relevant app on your phone. i will stick to phone apps for this, because most people use their phones for social media, and also because its easier and quick to do on the phone, than having to download, install and configure desktop software.
On a Samsung phone, you may consider the free apps like the Tiny planet -Globe; there are other gazillion apps from Google Play, if you follow the related apps, and you may find the one with the features that you like the most.
On the iPhone, i have been using RollWorld which is one of the quick and simplest apps to use, with integration to all social networks so that you can share the photos immediately, within the app.
Bristol atop Trenchard Car Park


Competition
The VR camera market's already had the LG360 and a more professional Kodak PixPro SP360 camera. Both the Gear 360 and the Kodak PixPro are 4K, the Gear 360 has got an edge because of its size, its much more compact, with both lenses on the single camera. It is also fully controllable from a smartphone. Ricoh has got a very good 360 camera, the Richoh Theta S retailing around £299 with a very small gap between the 2 lenses which makes the stitching perfect even at short distances, but its not 4k. The video quality is awful. Nikon also released the Nikon KeyMission 360, which is 4K and action proof. Its priced the same as the Gear 360. However, it is quite chunky, which makes the stitching awful. Also its software is horrendous.


Verdict

The samsung Gear360 could be that VR camera that takes 360 capturing to the masses. The design is more than beautiful, its easy to use and does not break the bank. I suspect that Samsung will open this little device to other smartphones, and when that happens, this will easily be the most lovable, portable 360 camera. Currently, its a 4 star for me.


Other potential uses of 360 cameras.
Since one can wear a VR headset and be able to play 360 videos on a smartphone, it is easy to realise that one can actually move around (wearing the VR headset) following the visual information on the screen. This is equivalent to a “Virtual Tour” of a place. Galleries, shops and other places of interest can provide virtual tours to their customers, who in turn can browse, and explore the remote places as if they are there, using the 360 videos/photos.


It is also not hard to imagine that the next movies to come from Hollywood would incorporate VR to some extent. We will probably see a merging of the video game industry and movie industry. We will be able to take part in movies and determine how the story progresses, taking advantages of the many diverging story lines that would have been incorporated into the movie. 



360 cameras can become mainstream in surveillance and security applications. Instead of swivelling CCTV cameras, 360 cameras can provide that all-around imagery without having to deploy swivel cameras. Similar dashboard 360 cameras that capture the road ahead, the driver, the side roads and the road behind, can be very lucrative if one wants to capture everything happening, like in a pile-up accident, you can study what actually happens in all the 360 angles.