I provide honest ratings and reviews on tech, toys, and consumer home goods that I've purchased and used. Reviews are based on hands-on testing and personal observations. All opinions and comments are my own.

Disclosure: ReviewedbyPhil is reader-supported. If you click on or buy something via an affiliate link on this site, I may earn a commission.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Fishtank LED Bubble Stone Review

Fishtank LED Bubble Stone Review

Buy it at Amazon: Fishtank LED Bubble Stone [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Lots of bubbles, colorful and fun lightshow, though no power switch.

This kit includes the LED airstone with 11 ft power cable and removable power adapter, two suction cup tube guides, one hose connector, and a 5 ft air hose. The gray part of the stone is porous and this is where the air will come out. The stone measures 4" in diameter and the lights measure 1.75" in diameter. There are 18 individual LED lights with several of them displaying different colors than the rest. The unit is made of a lightweight plastic but the stone is hefty and weighs it down.

Note that you will need a separate air pump attached to hose that feeds the airstone which is not included with this set. If the hose isn't long enough, you can use the connector to bridge together two air hoses. There is no power switch on the unit. When plugged in, the LED lights will shine brightly and slowly fade to change colors. The airstone provides a lot of bubbles and oxygenation for your aquarium when hooked up to a pump and the lights put on a bright but gentle light show. The unit does not have to be plugged in for the airstone to create bubbles.

Buy it at Amazon: Fishtank LED Bubble Stone [Affiliate Link]
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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Remax Bluetooth Speaker RB-H1 Review

Remax Bluetooth Speaker RB-H1 Review

Buy it at Amazon: Remax Bluetooth Speaker RB-H1 [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: A good sounding yet affordable wireless Bluetooth speaker, a bit large for travel, durable design.

You'll receive the speaker, 21" flat microUSB cable, 41" USB DC cable, and an instruction manual.

The unit is large, measuring 10" W x 4" H x 3.5" D and weighing just over 2.5 lbs. However, it seems constructed of quality materials. The outer shell is a stamped aluminum with a brushed aluminum finish which comes in black or silver. It comes with an attached 17.5" leather carrying strap that is removable if you undo the clasps. The speaker has two 3 W drivers positioned in the front. On the bottom there's the subwoofer port, a built-in 3.5 mm gold plated AUX in audio cable with cable storage if you want to use a media device that doesn't have Bluetooth, and the six rubber feet help keep the unit in place on your desk. On the left hand side are your controls. On the right hand side is a hole for bass extension and the NFC area for touch pairing to a mobile device.Along the bottom you've got the power switch and LED indicators for when it's in play mode and charging, a pinhole mic for handsfree calling when paired to a mobile phone, a TF card slot for playing music loaded to a microSD card, a microUSB input port and 4 battery life indicator LEDs, a DC power port, and the USB output port. Note that both the microUSB port input and DC port can be used for charging. Then, on the top behind the strap, you've got the volume adjust/skip track keys, play/pause/answer calls button and the mode button to switch between input modes.

When you turn the unit on, you'll get prompts in English. To connect with your mobile device, select REMAX RB-H1 in your device's Bluetooth menu. The sound on the unit has good accuracy and a deeper bass than you'd get with speaker Bluetooth speakers. The focus for these speakers seem to be in the mid and high ranges which have good clarity and a clean crisp sound. The overall balance makes these speakers suitable for a wide variety of music genres. The sound can get quite loud and definitely fill a room easily. Note that the volume control is also the skip track control if you use long presses rather than short presses, but skip track only work in Bluetooth and TF card mode. Interestingly, when you have a micro SD card installed, if you connect the speaker to your computer using the microUSB port, you can read and write directly to card.

The USB power bank option is a nice feature so you can stream music from your phone and charge it at the same time. The 8800 mAh battery will give most phones between 3 and 4 full charges. The battery life of the unit when it's not plugged in is impressive and I've gotten over 10 hours of playback on a single charge with mixed use, though not using the powerbank feature a whole lot. This is due to power saving features like the use of the energy efficient Bluetooth 4.1 protocol and auto shutoff after 15 minutes of inactivity. Overall, this unit is feature packed and has great sound for this price point. It's a little large for frequently travel but still small enough to travel when you need it. The only part of the design I didn't like was that the strap covers some of the controls but it can be removed too, so it's not always a problem.

Buy it at Amazon: Remax Bluetooth Speaker RB-H1 [Affiliate Link]
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Monday, December 21, 2015

Coofandy Crosshatch Print Slim Dress Shirt Review

Coofandy Crosshatch Print Slim Dress Shirt Review

Buy it at Amazon: Coofandy Crosshatch Print Slim Dress Shirt [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Extra slim fit, short torso length, color fades fairly quickly.

The material on this shirt is supposed to be cotton but it has a bit of a slick sheen to it which makes me believe it's probably a cotton polyester blend. The material is quite stiff and will hold wrinkles, so this is one you'll have to iron after a run through the wash. One thing to note is that if you get the black and red one to put it through the wash alone. The black sheds a lot of small dark fibers in the first wash that will stick and make whites and brights dingy looking. The shirt is two-toned and the accent color, in this case red, appears in the neck, the tips of the collar, inside of the cuffs, the buttons and in a cross-hatch pattern across the chest on the right shoulder and on the left arm. The cuffs add a pop of color when you roll them up. The shirt doesn't have a ton of length and can be worn untucked, but if you've got a long torso and prefer to tuck, keep in mind the shirt may untuck if you lift your arms above the shoulder. The shirt is slim fit and fits me like a glove. For reference, I got the size small and I'm 5'4" with a 35 inch chest and weight 120 lbs. Overall, I like the style and fit of this shirt and for a casual night out, might even leave it untucked or throw it over a t-shirt as a light outerwear.

Buy it at Amazon: Coofandy Crosshatch Print Slim Dress Shirt [Affiliate Link]
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ANKR Smart Tracker Key Fob Tag Review

ANKR Smart Tracker Key Fob Tag Review

Buy it at Amazon: ANKR Smart Tracker Key Fob Tag [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Average smart tracker, light on features, no Android, limited real world application.
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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Vcall U8 Smart Watch (Black) Review

Vcall U8 Smart Watch (Black) Review

Buy it at Amazon: Vcall U8 Smart Watch (Black) [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Very basic Android smart watch, good for notifications, alarms, and handsfree calling.

This is a fairly basic smart watch that, in addition to telling you the time and setting alarms, has health related apps, a number of phone functions when paired to your smartphone like handsfree calling, text message reader and push notifications for your smartphone's apps. The band is a simple black rubber that'll fit wrist sizes from 7.5" to 9" inches comfortably. The watch face is 2" x 1.5" and about 1/2 inch thick. It weighs an ounce and a half.

The watch charges via microUSB and the port is located on the left hand side under a silicone protective cover. The unit takes several hours to fully charge and for me lasts about 3 days of moderate use before I need to charge it again. The watch has a built-in speaker and microphone for handsfree calling, you can also set it to transmit all of your phone's audio through the watch, e.g. media like video, music etc. You can turn media playing off so that the watch only does audio for calls or even shut off the audio completely and just use the other smart features like notifications. The handsfree calling works well and the sounds good on the caller's end.

The watch boots up in a few seconds with a short splash screen and there are three default apps on the home screen as well as the Android touch buttons along the bottom. To pair with your phone, connect to a device called U8. If you're familiar with the android interface you'll recognize the touch buttons along the bottom for menu, apps, and back. However, pressing the menu button actually opens up the app drawer, pressing the apps button opens up the dialer, and pressing the back button functions as expected. There are some interesting apps bundled with this watch including and "anti lost" feature that prompts the watch to ring and or vibrate if you put it down and walk out of bluetooth range (about 33 ft). There's also a barometer, altimeter, and calculator. Health related apps are also included like a pedometer, sleep monitor that detects if you're moving in your sleep, and a drink and rest reminder to help you remember to take breaks and stay hydrated during the day.

In order to take full advantage of the watches features when paired with your phone like reading text messages, camera, and push notifications, you'll have to install the Bluetooth notification BT app on your phone. I tried the one in the instruction manual but it kept crashing on me. So I downloaded a different one in the Google Play store (there are many of them) and found one that worked for me. This app is only available for Android phones so iOS users will not be able to access the features that require this app. Without the app, you can still access your phonebook, dialer, call history, and music. There's a lack of search/type options with the OS, so if you go to your phone book for example, you can only scroll alphabetically through your contacts. Not fun over hundreds of numbers if you're looking for someone who's name starts with 'T.'

There are 5 screen brightness levels but I found that setting on the second to lowest level is pretty adequate for viewing and it saves on the battery life. It's unclear what other apps, if any, can be loaded to the watch and there aren't any instructions on how to do this. I'm also not sure, how waterproof this watch is since sometimes I find that the rubber seal over the charging port doesn't really stay in place and pops out easily. To err on the side of caution I take it off when in the shower. However for a low priced smart watch, this does all the basic features that I would expect and a few more and the interface is easy to understand, though the controls can sometimes be a bit frustrating.

Buy it at Amazon: Vcall U8 Smart Watch (Black) [Affiliate Link]
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Monday, December 14, 2015

EZGO Teeth Whitening Gel w/ Light Kit Review

EZGO Teeth Whitening Gel w/ Light Kit Review

Buy it at Amazon: EZGO Teeth Whitening Gel w/ Light Kit [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Fast whitening, easy to follow instructions; some tooth sensitivity during and after use.

This kit comes with 4 syringes of whitening gel and applicator tips, a touch-up whitening pen, tooth color chart, a case with two teeth trays, and an LED light for activating the gel. At first glance, this system looks complicated, but it's actually not too difficult to use.

The first thing you'll want to do is open up the battery compartment of the LED light and take out the batteries to remove the plastic battery saver tab under them, otherwise you won't be able to turn on the light! Next, you'll shape the trays according to the directions. You basically dip them in hot water to soften them and then put them in your mouth real quick and suck the air out to create a "vacuum seal" against your teeth. As the tray cools, it'll harden into the exact shape of your teeth. Then just trim up the mold and you're ready to go with your custom fitted teeth trays.

You'll need to brush your teeth before AND after using the gel. You just squirt a little bit in towards the front of the trays, press them up against your teeth and shine the blue LED on them for 15 minutes. The instructions recommended leaving the trays in for up to an hour after the light activation, and I did this for anywhere between 30-60 minutes depending on my schedule. You should do this twice a day, but at least once a day during the course of treatment. Note that for some the peroxide in the gel can be irritating to your gums and you may feel a burning sensation or experience sensitive teeth when using the product. I experienced both and although mildly unpleasant, the discomfort for just 1 week was worth the results.

After a week of whitening, I used up about 2 syringes and my teeth improved an impressive 4 shades. My teeth were already pretty white to begin with since I've used whitening products in the past. These results come with a few considerations, though. When using the gel twice daily, I developed sensitivities to hot and cold liquids. This did go away after a few days after I stopped using the gel. You're also not supposed to have dark foods while using them like coffee, chocolate, and soy sauce. Overall though, I'm happy with the results and the whole process was pretty straight forward. Since I still have two syringes left and they can be stored for up to 2 years, I'll be able to use them again later if my teeth get stained again. If there's only minor staining, you can use included the touch up pen, just twist the top to dispense the gel, to quickly brighten your smile with a shorter touch up treatment.

Buy it at Amazon: EZGO Teeth Whitening Gel w/ Light Kit [Affiliate Link]
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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Beauty Union Teeth Whitening Strips Review

Beauty Union Teeth Whitening Strips Review

Buy it at Amazon: Beauty Union Teeth Whitening Strips [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Slight improvement, maybe removed some surface stains.

The teeth whitening kit contains 14 individual packs of whitening strips for both your top and bottom teeth and the instructions state that you should use 1 pair of strips everyday for 30 minutes for 2 weeks straight. In addition to the strips, you'll receive a color chart so you can track the progress of your whitening and compare the results before and after.

The strips were a bit trickier to apply than others that I've used because your teeth have to be dry. It helps to use a tissue to wipe the surface of your teeth first for better adhesion. As soon as the strips come in contact with your saliva though, they get very slippery and become hard to adhere to your teeth. The gel has a minty flavor like toothpaste and is mildly spicy. They also sometimes got stuck to the inside of the foil bags. A few individual strips were misshapen, because I had they in my travel toiletries and the got squished. The gel is super thick and is difficult to rinse out of your mouth after you discard the strips.

The instructions do note that you are not to brush our teeth within 1 hr preceding the use of these strips. I didn't notice a ton of whitening after 2 weeks. It may be because my teeth weren't all that dark to begin with. In natural lighting, my teeth look pretty white but the deep stain/color in my teeth is still there. I'm not convinced this product actually penetrates your teeth to remove deep stains. It may only be removing surface stains which, unfortunately, could be detrimental to your tooth health due to etching from the citric acid which is a main ingredient in this whitening kit.

Buy it at Amazon: Beauty Union Teeth Whitening Strips [Affiliate Link]
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Friday, November 20, 2015

Kinga Ultrasonic Spatula Face Scrubber Review

Kinga Ultrasonic Spatula Face Scrubber Review

Buy it at Amazon: Kinga Ultrasonic Spatula Face Scrubber [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Softer, smoother skin in less than 10 minutes.

The ultrasonic spatula, also known as a skin scrubber, comes in a plastic case with two snap clips on the front. Inside you'll find a safety manual, the spatula, and 6 ft miniUSB charger. The unit is made of a lightweight plastic with a stainless steel forked tip with rounded tabs. The charger plugs into the unit on the bottom and it takes a few hours to fully charge. With this tool you can do exfoliation of the face, extractions to clear clogged pores and product penetration. However, be warned, the use of this device can cause serious and permanent injury if not used properly and proper safe use and handling must be followed.

This unit did not come with any use instructions and the manual only describes a handful of safety warnings about using the device in water or excessive temperatures. The one thing it seems to have left out that's extremely important when you use this on your face, is that your skin MUST be damp. If it's not, it can BURN you; not from heat, but by the intense vibration of the skin caused by the ultrasonic frequencies. It's basically like getting rug burn on your face and can leave your skin red and inflamed and in severe cases cause serious damage. Even knowing this, I managed to irritate my skin in several spots. It's best to practice using this device on the low setting if you're not a professional aesthetician.

USE INSTRUCTIONS:
Exfoliation - First you'll want to cleanse your entire face. Then get your face nice and wet. You can optionally apply a light scrub or cream to the face as lubrication. Turn the spatula on, and set it to scrub by pressing the left most key that looks like a squiggle. Set it to high/low by pressing the +/- keys. With the spatula angled down towards the surface of the skin use slow fluid movements and glide across the skin, wiping the spatula off between swipes. This will give the skin surface a nice peel and exfoliation and you may notice mist coming off the surface of the skin as the spatula vibrates. It'll take 1 to 2 minutes to do the entire face. Do NOT pause in any one spot for longer than 1 second, as this can lead to irritation and burning. If you experience any tingling or pain at all, STOP. Turn the unit off and let your skin rest. Apply aloe to any minor burns.

Extractions - To do extractions you'll want to put the spatula on pulsating mode, that's the right most key that says PAD on it. Again you want the area you're using it on to be moist and then you're going to hold one of the rounded tips of the spatula right next to the clogged pore with your finger on the opposite side and hold it there for a second applying a bit of pressure. The black head should come out with little effort. but if it does not, do not leave the spatula against your skin. This mode vibrates with less frequency than the scrubbing mode and you can safely press the tip against your skin for a second or two, but no longer.

Product penetration - Apply any product you want to use on the face generously, it can be a gel mask or retinoid treatment. Turn the unit on in scrub mode, choose high/low and place the flat side of the spatula against the skin (flip the spatula over from the position used for exfoliation) and use slow motions to glide the tool upward along your face. It should take 1-2 minutes to complete the entire face. Longer treatments of 5-10 minutes can aid in overall lifting and toning of the skin.

After using this tool, I noticed a marked improvement in skin tone, clarity, softness, and a reduction of the appearance of pores and acne scars. But again, immediately following treatment, I did notice some red and puffy areas (and some awful looking swollen red lines), particularly in spots where I knew I paused for a moment too long or areas that felt a little dry which I failed to re-moisten before a second pass with the scrubber. This irritation subsided by the next day, and the results were pretty great, but I can't stress enough that this tool must be used with the utmost of care.

Treatments can be done as often as 1 week apart, but generally the effects of a single treatment can last about a month. Exfoliations done too often can lead to skin irritation and damage. The spatula can be used a wide variety of skin treatments to help keep your skin looking young and refreshed.

Buy it at Amazon: Kinga Ultrasonic Spatula Face Scrubber [Affiliate Link]
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Yakaon Ski Goggles Review

Yakaon Ski Goggles Review

Buy it at Amazon: Yakaon Ski Goggles [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Nice, large set of ski of goggles; poor band adjusters placement.

The ski goggles come in a soft microfiber bag to protect it from scratches which also doubles as a cleaning and polishing cloth. The goggles measure 9" across and 4" high so have a fairly wide coverage and visibility. They have a foam cushion that's lined with a thin fleece for a soft fit to your face and it adds a bit of warmth and comfort while wearing them. On the top and bottom of the goggles as well as the top of the lens, are air vents stuffed with porous foam to allow air flow and prevent fogging of the goggles.

Be sure to remove the protective film on the inside of the goggles before use. The head band is a 1.75" wide soft elastic strap that can be adjusted on both sides of the goggles. The lens is one piece of mirrored acrylic with an orangey-red sunset color to help reduce glare from the snow on sunny days and in bright conditions. One interesting feature with this set is that the lens is removable if you flip up the two latches on the sides, so that if it becomes damaged or worn, you can replace just the lens.

When wearing these, everything has a slightly blue hue to it at first since red/yellow light is being reflected, but everything looks normal after a few minutes as your eyes adjust. The goggles provide clear vision and good protection from wind and snow, but I found that because of the strap is so wide, I can't wear the band above my ears and instead the band has to wrap over my ears. It's slightly uncomfortable because the placement of the plastic adjusters happens to be right over my ears, but in general, I would be wearing a hat or earmuffs that cover my ears under the band which would provide additional padding and I couldn't really feel them through the additional layer.

Buy it at Amazon: Yakaon Ski Goggles [Affiliate Link]
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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Music Box Studio by Astro Tab Bluetooth Speaker Review

Music Box Studio by Astro Tab Bluetooth Speaker Review

Buy it at Amazon: Music Box Studio by Astro Tab Bluetooth Speaker [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Powerful, clear, clean sound, deep bass, though it's a bit hefty for travel and plain looking.

Included with the speaker is a power adapter with 5' cable and a 2' male-to-male audio cable. The unit measures 8" x 4.5" x 2" and weighs about 2 lbs. The unit isn't very attractive and is plain and industrial looking. However, it feels like it is made from heavy duty and durable materials, from the firm outer metal casing to the thick rubber top and bottom. This speaker features dual 8W drivers with a built-in sub woofer for extra bass. The unit takes several hours to charger up and the charging port and AUX in port are located behind a silicone flap on the right-hand-side. The Aux port can be used with devices that have headphone out ports that do not support Bluetooth. On a full charge the unit can play up to 10 hours continuously.

Along the top of the speaker are the controls including, power, skip tracks, play/pause and volume control. To turn the unit on, press and hold the power button for a few seconds. This speaker uses Bluetooth 4.0 technology and will be called Music Box Studio in your device's Bluetooth menu. The sound is impressively clear with little to no static, stuttering or lagging. At the loudest volume, these speakers can easily fill a room without blowing out the sound and the vibration from the bass can be felt through the surface the speakers are sitting on. There is a built-in microphone, so when paired to a mobile phone the speakers can be used to answer phone calls; use the play/pause button to take an incoming call.

While this isn't the smallest, lightest, or most beautiful Bluetooth speaker out there, it's still quite portable. It packs a punch and outputs great sound which is good enough to get the job done at a party or outdoor event.

Buy it at Amazon: Music Box Studio by Astro Tab Bluetooth Speaker [Affiliate Link]
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ZeroEdge Z2 Rearview Mirror Dual-Camera DVR Installation and Review

ZeroEdge Z2 Rearview Mirror Dual-Camera DVR Installation and Review

Buy it at Amazon: ZeroEdge Z2 Rearview Mirror Dual-Camera DVR Installation and [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Decent, aftermarket dual-camera DVR. I'll show you how I installed this in my car. [UPGRADED VERSION AVAILABLE]

The set comes with the rearview mirror DVR unit which contains the LCD for viewing, front camera, microphone for audio recording, optional GPS input and SD card slot. You'll receive all the cables you need to complete the hookup, a 16GB microSD card, cigarette lighter to dual USB adapter, extra rubber latches or enhanced grip on your existing rearview mirror, and mounting screws for the back camera. This unit is designed to fit over your existing mirror for easy mounting and installation, but note that different car models may prove to have a better fit than others. For reference, I installed this on a recent model Honda Civic.

The mirror is quite large; it measures 12.5"W by 4"H and the LCD screen in the middle has a 5" diagonal. The mirror itself is quite dark and has a deep blue tint to it. While this does help reduce glare, it tends to look a bit dim and at night makes seeing details muddier. The camera for the unit is on the side facing the windshield, as well as its external speaker. There are a variety of options like motion detection, G-shock sensor which will automatically save/lock videos when the camera senses heavy shaking like in the event of an accident or large pot hole, audio recording and date/time stamping on the video.

The rear camera has an adhesive sticky pad to assist in mounting but also comes with two mounting screws which may require drilling into a panel on your car's trunk. It must be centered and is typically installed just above the license plate. If you want to rear camera to turn on automatically when you put the car in reverse, you have to wire the pair of black and red wires coming off the back camera to the reverse light. There are a number of ways you could connect the wires tot he power line too, for example, by splicing the wires into the power line, using a scotchlok or plier tap connector.

As a mirror, it works fine and is quite reflective, though again, it's a bit dark, especially at night. The video quality of the recordings is okay. I have mine set to record in 5 minute intervals and each file takes up about 200 MB (400 MB total with front/rear feeds). That's ~3.5 hours of video on the included 16 GB card. The front and back videos will have the same audio and time stamps so that they are easy to match up. You can hear most of the conversation and radio in the car but there is a bit of road noise as well. It's not a very high definition video resolution, but you can see what's going on around you, which is important in case of an accident. Sometimes the color and white balance seem off and the front camera has slightly better quality and resolution than the back camera but not by much. One thing I noticed is that while the reverse guidelines make it appear as if I have about 6-8 inches from the curb, I'm actually only about 2 inches from the curb though I believe this has to do with the height placement of the camera.

Overall, the cameras will capture enough detail to assist you in you need to refer back to the recordings and the unit was relatively easy to install (took me about an hour).

Buy it at Amazon: ZeroEdge Z2 Rearview Mirror Dual-Camera DVR Installation and [Affiliate Link]
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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Zhu Ting 10 Piece Paintbrush Set Review

Zhu Ting 10 Piece Paintbrush Set Review

Buy it at Amazon: Zhu Ting 10 Piece Paintbrush Set [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: A lightweight short handled brush, nice set for beginners.

In this set there are 5 liners brushes (2/0, 1, 2, 3, 5), three Filbert brushes (2, 4, 8), and 2 flat shader brushes (6 and 5/8). The brush handles are various lengths but generally around 5" long. The hair on the brushes is synthetic and may be a bit stiff upon receipt, so make sure you soak them in water and work them a bit to soften them. The brushes are very lightweight and barely have any heft to them at all. The short handle length makes them better suited for small canvasses and detail work.

Although the packaging states that these are "ideal" for all mediums like watercolor, oils and acrylics, that's almost never the case. Yes, they an be used for all mediums but ideally you'd want a very soft brush with snap for watercolors, a medium bristle for acrylic, and a stiff brush for oils. These brushes are best used for acrylics, but again their short handles don't lend themselves well to painting large canvasses. I did find them useful this past Halloween for applying face and grease paints for my costume. They did a nice job with fine lines and filling in small designs. The brushes were easy to control and didn't shed at all during use. The brushes hold the pigment well and release it smoothly and evenly. They were also easy to clean up with some soap and water.

Buy it at Amazon: Zhu Ting 10 Piece Paintbrush Set [Affiliate Link]
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Taotronics Humidifier (TT-AH002) Review

Taotronics Humidifier (TT-AH002) Review

Buy it at Amazon: Taotronics Humidifier (TT-AH002) [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Straightforward, easy to use, lots of mist.

The humidifier splits into two main pieces, the blue tank and the base. The entire unit is made of a shiny hard shell plastic and measures 14" tall when assembled and the base has a 5.25" W x 8.5" L footprint. You'll also receive a cleaning brush for descaling any deposits under the tank and in and around the transducer. The nozzle on top is removable and allows you to adjust the direction of the mist; it splits horizontally so you can direct the mist in two different directions. The capacity of this tank is 3.5L, a little under 1 gallon. The cord on the unit is 5 ft long. Make sure to fill the tank from the bottom and not through the output nozzle as doing so could damage the unit. There is a built-in water filter on the cap of the tank. While it's unclear the lifespan of the filter and there doesn't seem to be a way to order a replacement, the manual indicates that the filter can be cleaned by soaking it in white vinegar for re-use.

The maximum humidifying rate is about 300ml/h or around 1.25 cup/hour. On a full tank the humidifier will run for about 12 hours at the max output until it is empty. The output level is adjusted by the analog power dial. When on, the unit has a small green light inside that will illuminate. This light cannot be shutoff while the unit is running. When the water level gets low, the light changes to red and unit shuts off automatically to prevent damage. This unit is very simple and easy to use and it does a nice job adding moisture back to dry air, especially in the winter time when heating systems tend to dry the air out in the house.

Buy it at Amazon: Taotronics Humidifier (TT-AH002) [Affiliate Link]
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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Apalus Electric Hair Straightening Brush Review

Apalus Electric Hair Straightening Brush Review

Buy it at Amazon: Apalus Electric Hair Straightening Brush [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Heats up fast, straightens just by brushing, features no-burn safety guards.

This brush is fairly large at 10.5" long. The paddle/brush head is 5" long and 3" across. The unit has a 6.5" long extension cord with built-in GFCI unit that cuts the power if the unit is accidentally dropped into water to prevent electrocution. The way the brush is designed to prevent burns by setting the heating element back in the brush and with rubber massage spikes that prevent your hands and skin from coming into contact with the hot plate. Only your hair makes contact with the straitening heating elements, so you won't get burned. However, your hair must be a minimum of 2" long for this to work effectively and you won't be able to straighten right at the root.

The power button for the unit is on the side and the unit heats up in about 90 seconds to 180 degree Celsius or about 356 degrees Fahrenheit. There's an LCD panel here that will indicate the current temperature, but note that the temperature can only be displayed in Celsius and cannot be switched to Fahrenheit. You can adjust the temperature by 5 degrees C using the '+' and '-' buttons to the right of the power button: the min temp is 80 C/176 F and the max is 230 C/446 F. Use higher temps for thick and wavy hair and lower temps for delicate, fine hair.

Since my hair is thick and wavy, I set this on 220 C. This brush works really fast, safely and efficiently and the heat from the pad took all the waves out of my hair in just a few strokes. My hair actually feels lighter and more manageable when straightened, and there wasn't that burning hair smell when I was done, as long as you keep the brush moving and not sitting in one spot, you should be able to avoid burning your hair. When using it your head feels a bit warm, but you're never at risk of burning yourself. My straightened hair was also easier to style.

Buy it at Amazon: Apalus Electric Hair Straightening Brush [Affiliate Link]
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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Aukey Bluetooth Speaker (SK-M7) Review

Aukey Bluetooth Speaker (SK-M7) Review

Buy it at Amazon: Aukey Bluetooth Speaker (SK-M7) [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Good sound, compact, loud, easy to use.

The Buetooth speaker comes with an aluminum carabiner clip, and 24" audio and microUSB cables. The unit is encased in a soft touch matte silicone with a metal speaker grill on the front. There is a plastic ring on the left hand side for the carabiner clip so you can hang this speaker vertically and the bottom has 4 feet so this can sit firmly on a flat surface. The speaker measures 7.5" by 2.5" by 2" and weighs just over 13 oz.

The unit's power switch is on the back along with a line in and out, and microUSB charging port. The unit charges in about 4 hours and can last for about 12 hours of continuous playback depending on volume level. To connect your mobile device to stream audio to it, turn it on to put it into pairing mode. Select Aukey SK-M7 in your Bluetooth menu. When paired wirelessly to a phone, the speaker can make and receive phone calls via the speaker's built in microphone as well. If you don't have Bluetooth you can connect your device's headphone port to the AUX in port using the included cable. Note that when paired via Bluetooth you can play/pause skip tracks and adjust volume using the buttons on top, but in Aux-In mode you can only adjust volume.

When this unit is plugged in and charging, the unit will enter pairing mode for 10 minutes so you can pair and stream music to it even if the power switch is set to off. If no device is paired within that time, the unit will just charge. For whatever reason I never got the Line-Out port to work, not with headphones, another powered speaker, while paired with Bluetooth nor using Aux input. It's unclear whether or not, when functioning correctly, music would be output from both the speaker and the device connected to the Aux out or only the device connected to the Aux out will play audio, for example, plugging in headphones for private listening.

Regardless, the sound from the speakers was very good for the unit this size and it stands on its own. The high, mid and low ranges are well balanced and the sound can get decently loud. There's also a moderate amount of bass on this unit. While the unit isn't waterproof, the unit works well both indoors and outdoors and is great for travelling and parties.

Buy it at Amazon: Aukey Bluetooth Speaker (SK-M7) [Affiliate Link]
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Monday, October 26, 2015

Accuslice Stainless Steel Juliene Vegetable Peeler Review

Accuslice Stainless Steel Juliene Vegetable Peeler Review

Buy it at Amazon: Accuslice Stainless Steel Juliene Vegetable Peeler [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Worked well a few times, then the blade snapped.

I really wanted to like this peeler since it's made from stainless steel and appeared to be high quality and could do both peeling and julienne strings. I was able to peel and julienne and dig out potato eyes fairly easily when I first got it. Unfortunately after only several uses the peeling blade snapped, on a carrot of all things. So now it's unusable and while the julienne blade technically still works, its durability is called into question, and the peeler is really the more useful of the two blades that I would use.

Buy it at Amazon: Accuslice Stainless Steel Juliene Vegetable Peeler [Affiliate Link]
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Friday, October 9, 2015

Mouselemur Bluetooth Selfie Stick (LR-1288) Review

Mouselemur Bluetooth Selfie Stick (LR-1288) Review

Buy it at Amazon: Mouselemur Bluetooth Selfie Stick (LR-1288) [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Longer than most selfie sticks, versatile, with a few quirks.

The selfie stick is 19.5" when retracted which is fairly large for a selfie stick so it'll be tougher to travel with, but in exchange for compactness, you get a longer reach of four feet when fully extended. The telescoping portion is made of a lightweight and strong aluminum alloy, much like a camera tripod. It uses three tension snaps, also like a tripod, that can be set to any length in between max/min length. The phone mount on top has foam pads on the back and arms to help keep a firm grip on your phone and accommodates phones with widths between 2.25" and 3.5". The mount can swivel forward or back 180 degrees and is locked by a plastic thumbscrew. It's not my favorite phone grip because its core is light duty plastic versus sturdy metal. The arms don't wrap or bevel around the front of your phone for a better grip, so there's a chance it could slip forward and fall out. It's also pretty shallow so some phones will have to be removed from their cases to fit in it or stay firmly gripped.

What's interesting about this monopod is that the phone mount on top is removable because it's screw on using a 1/4" mounting screw. This is the standard screw used for most camera mounting holes and allows you to swap to a GoPro adapter mount, change the orientation of the mount from vertical to planar, or even mount a compatible digital camera to use with an infrared remote or Bluetooth if it supports it.

The USB port for charging and the power switch are located on the bottom of the handle. Pairing to the device was straight forward and quick by selecting LR-1288Plus in the Bluetooth menu. There are three buttons on this selfie stick, a shutter button and what I assume are two buttons meant for zooming ("+"/"-"). However, on my LG G2 Android phone, all three buttons resulted in a photo being taken, so no zooming capabilities. Also, I had to be careful not to press any button too hard or for more than a click or the camera would fire multiple times, and I'd end up with 2 or more rapid fire photos (one time 5 shots!). The selfie stick works for starting and stopping video too, as long as you are in video mode in you camera app when using it.

The main issue here is that the battery does deplete itself over time between uses, even if you never turn the selfie-stick on. I'm not sure how long this takes, since I don't use my selfie stick often (maybe a week?), so what usually happens is, if I know I'm going to need my selfie stick, like on vacation or for a shoot, I will charge it up the night before just to make sure it won't be dead when I go to turn it on. You can charge with any standard microUSB cable plugged into the base of the stick and make sure the power switch is set to off while charging. When charging the LED light will be a solid red. Depending on the output of the USB port you're using this can take anywhere from 2-4 hours.

When the unit is done charging the LED will shut off. When you turn the power switch to on, the light will flash blue indicating that it is in Bluetooth pairing mode and looking for a device to pair with. After a device is paired with the selfie stick the light will turn off. In general the selfie stick worked fine, has a long reach and allowed me to take photos that I wouldn't have been able to without it. I like that it's adaptable with the changeable mount and orientations, but it's a large unit and cumbersome to carry, the battery doesn't last long between charges, and there are a few quirks in the software, and it potentially has some compatibility issues with some devices.

Buy it at Amazon: Mouselemur Bluetooth Selfie Stick (LR-1288) [Affiliate Link]
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Etekcity Glass Digital Body Weight Scale Review

Etekcity Glass Digital Body Weight Scale Review

Buy it at Amazon: Etekcity Glass Digital Body Weight Scale [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Consistent readings, though sometimes over, sometimes under.

The scale has a fairly small profile with an 11" square face and height of 1.25". It has 4 rubber non-slip feet on the bottom for stability on tile and wood floors. In general, you'll want to use this scale on hard, flat, and level surfaces. Before you use the scale, open the battery bay and remove the battery to take out the plastic battery saver tab. Inside the battery bay there's a switch to turn the scale off and change the units to kilograms or pounds. This glass scale looks nice and is fairly accurate in its measurements. It's very consistent and general gives the same reading over and over with the same object. That said, I benchmarked this against a different digital glass scale that I own and noticed that the weights don't always agree with each other, even when I swap them and place them in the exact same location. This scale tends to be a bit underweight when weighing light objects and overweight when weighing heavier objects. I used a number of free weights with predefined weights on them to determine this. E.g. 10 lb weight came in at 9.8 lb, 50 lb weight at 50.9 lbs and so on. The weight is never off by much and is within a couple pounds of actual weight. Most applications don't need very exact measurements and the scale is consistent across readings so for body weight, if you don't care that the scale is probably adding a pound or two the unit works fine.

Buy it at Amazon: Etekcity Glass Digital Body Weight Scale [Affiliate Link]
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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Nordic Lifting Neoprene Elbow Sleeves Review

Nordic Lifting Neoprene Elbow Sleeves Review

Buy it at Amazon: Nordic Lifting Neoprene Elbow Sleeves [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Good support, a comfortable fit, reduces elbow stress.

The elbow sleeves are made with a 5mm neoprene material with reinforced stitching around the seams to endure the strain and stress of stretching while lifting. These sleeves help support your elbows while weight training and during heavy lifting to help avoid injury, increase performance, and alleviate muscle and joint pain. I measured the circumference of my elbow while slightly bent and though I'm right at 10.5", I ordered the small size because I was concerned the medium might slide down my arm if it was too big. The fit was just about right, though after some training, these may not fit anymore, and I'l have to get the next size up anyway. When putting these on, make sure the point on the seams faces towards your shoulder and goes partway over your bicep. In addition to weight training with these, I used them while moving 2 pallets of 50 lb blocks for a backyard project; they helped alleviate some of the strain from the heavy lifting and allowed me to keep going for longer. They are durable and comfortable to wear. These are also hand washable in warm soapy water and dry quickly.

Buy it at Amazon: Nordic Lifting Neoprene Elbow Sleeves [Affiliate Link]
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Harmony Life Teeth Whitening Kit Review

Harmony Life Teeth Whitening Kit Review

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Takeaway: A moderate change in tooth color, some sensitivity, but easy and inexpensive whitening.

This teeth whitening kit contains 14 individual packs of whitening strips pairs for your top and bottom teeth. You're supposed to use 1 pair of strips everyday for 2 weeks straight. In addition to the strips, you'll receive a color chart so you can track the progress of your whitening and compare the results before and after. Before you start, compare your teeth to the chart and find your number. They claim that the average improvement is about 10 shades.

In each packet there are two strips: the longer strip is for your upper teeth. Wear the strips for 30 mins once a day every day for 14 consecutive days. After wearing the strips, you'll experience some sensitivity to hot and cold foods. But this sensation will fade over time. Try using these before bed to minimize any discomfort. The peroxide in the strips also tends to burn if you get it on your gums so try not to stick the strips too far over the edge of your teeth.

Overall the strips were easy to apply, effective and convenient to use. In my trial, according to the chart, to the best of my ability to match the colors the change went from shade 21 to shade 9. They're not super bright white, but there is a difference in color. These are a low cost way to brighten your smile and remove staining from tea and coffee.

Buy it at Amazon: Harmony Life Teeth Whitening Kit [Affiliate Link]
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Thursday, October 1, 2015

GBGS Solar Lotus Leaf Water Pump Fountain Review

GBGS Solar Lotus Leaf Water Pump Fountain Review

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Buy it at AliExpress: GBGS Solar Lotus Leaf Water Pump Fountain [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: A nice decorative green energy pump for larger aquafeatures.
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TeiKis Measuring Cups and Spoons Review

TeiKis Measuring Cups and Spoons Review

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Takeaway: Handsome looking set, durable, accurate.

This set comes with a glass liquid measuring cup, 5 dry ingredient measuring cups, and 5 measuring spoons. The glass measuring cup has a large capacity and can hold 1/2 liter or about 2 cups of liquid. It has measuring lines for both milliliters and ounces, but it doesn't have units in cups. Just remember that there are 8 oz in a cup (16 oz = 2 cups, 4 oz = 1/2 cup, 2 oz = 1/4 cup etc.). For the dry ingredient cups, you'll get 1, 3/4, 1/2, 1/3, and 1/4 cups. These are made of a heavy gauge stainless steel and appear quite durable. The handles are welded on and are thick enough that they do no bend. The spoons are also made of stainless steel but the alloy is much softer. They are easily bent and will stay bent, so you have to be more careful with these. There is 1 Tablespoon, 1/2 Tbsp, 1 teaspoon, 1/2 tsp and 1/4 tsp. The approximate metric milliliter measurements are also printed on the handle of the spoons (but not the cups).

Note that the sets of cups and spoon are linked together using a standard keychain ring. While soft and flexible, this makes it hard to separate and connect them again. A quick release ring would have been preferable. When compared to my other measuring utensils, the measurements of this set were accurate. I also found that the tablespoon is fairly wide with a 1.75" diameter and didn't fit in some of my spice jars. However, overall this is a nice set for anyone who enjoys cooking.

Buy it at Amazon: TeiKis Measuring Cups and Spoons [Affiliate Link]
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45W Submersible Water Pump Review

45W Submersible Water Pump Review

Buy it at Amazon: 45W Submersible Water Pump [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: A powerful pump for large aqua-features and aquariums.

This pump is heavy duty in terms of output. It'll move 11 gallons/minute or 660 Gal/h. It comes with two output nozzles for hookin gup to tubes and one input nozzle. The unit is made of a hardshell plastic and measures 5.5" W x 3.5" H x 2.5" D and weighs 2 lbs. The power cable is about 6 ft long which is a little short, but still usable. This pump is suitable for large aquarium, pond and landscaping uses and is tolerant to salt water application. The only slight problem I had was with the rubber feet, whose quality is poor and one foot ripped along the edge and the attachment nub tore off due to the softness of the rubber.

While the unit's instructions didn't explain how to access the inlet hole to attach the hose nozzle, it was fairly easy to pop off the filter cage that covers it. Just make sure you have water in your tube and that the tube is submerged before you plug it in, if you are using an inlet hose.

The unit is basically plug and play after assembly, and the water pressure is quite high. The water moves fast so this pump is good for large scale aquatics but not so great for small aquariums. NOte also that this unit doesn't have a filter and its purpose is to move and aerate water. I use this pump to quickly empty out my rain barrel at the end of the fall season for winter storage, but occasionally I find other uses for it too.

Buy it at Amazon: 45W Submersible Water Pump [Affiliate Link]
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Nekteck Solar Power Bank Battery Pack Review

Nekteck Solar Power Bank Battery Pack Review

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Takeaway: High capacity, waterproof, rugged with emergency solar charging.

This battery pack is built for travel with its hardshell construction and rubberized sides and back panels. It feels solidly constructed and is sealed for watertightness. In addition to the charger, you'll get a 24" microUSB charging cable and aluminum carabiner to clip this to your belt or backpack. The unit measures about 6.5" H x 3.25" W x 0.75" D thick. It weighs 10.5 oz and has a 12000 mAh capacity that will provide about 4 full charges for most smartphones.

First and foremost, you should note that while this powerbank CAN be charged via the solar power, the manufacturer recommends that this should NOT be used as the default charging method. Rather, charge it like a normal powerbank using the included cable and plugging it into your computer's USB port or appropriate wall adapter. You should only charge the unit via the solar when absolutely necessary and only if the battery life of the power bank is below 75% as doing otherwise may damage the battery. I noticed that while charging via the solar panel the sun, the unit gets extremely hot which is part of the reason why it should not be used on a regular basis or for long-term charging. Also, it takes a really long time to charge the unit using just the sun, and if you have your device plugged in, it will only act as a trickle charge to maintain or slow the drain of your device's battery.

There are 4 charge indicator LEDS, each representing 25% of battery life. The left most LED will be green when the battery pack is charging via the solar panel. The two standard USB ports on each side output up to 1 A each. This unit also has a built in LED flashlight that you can turn on/off by pressing the power button twice. This battery can charge two devices at the same time if it has sufficient power. It functioned well for charging my devices, and I was able to charge it up using both the USB cord and via the sun. As a power bank it works well and has the added bonus of being able to charge up via the sun in emergency situations and when you are away from a wall outlet.

Buy it at Amazon: Nekteck Solar Power Bank Battery Pack [Affiliate Link]
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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Safecat Breakaway Collar Review

Safecat Breakaway Collar Review

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Takeaway: Well it does break away; cat lost it in less than a day.

The collar construction and durability seemed fine. The maximum length is 12 inches but it can be adjust down to 8 inches. It features a small bell so you and potential prey will know where your kitty is. The material of the band is a strong nylon and the attachment clip for the bell is also a durable and inflexible metal. The clasp on this collar is a thin piece of plastic that simply pulls apart when enough force is applied. This is a safety feature in case your cat's collar gets caught, so that your feline pal can free themselves and not get hurt. I guess did it's job because my cat certainly broke away from it somewhere. However, it would have been great if it resisted a little more force before it would get to the point of unlatching. This collar is well made with your cat's safety in mind but it didn't even last a day on my cat who stayed indoors that day.

Buy it at Amazon: Safecat Breakaway Collar [Affiliate Link]
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RipaFire Dual Universal Battery Charger Review

RipaFire Dual Universal Battery Charger Review

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Takeaway: Good charger for a variety of Li-ion battery sizes.

This battery charger is made of a lightweight hard plastic. The plug stores flat in the back of the unit and flips down for operation. The plug is not polarized and can be plugged in in either direction, but note that it sticks out a bit further than the bottom of the unit so it won't sit flush to the wall and jiggles a bit. The input voltage is 100-249V AC, 47-63Hz, and the output is 4.2V at 600 mA. This charger is compatible with the following Li-ion batteries: 18650, 16340, 26650, 14500.

The batteries are inserted with the positive ends facing up and the charger can charge one or two batteries at a time. It has a sensor that will stop charging when the battery is full to prevent overcharging (not a fixed time charger). The amount of charge time will depend on the depletion level of the batteries. One thing to watch out for is when removing the battery, the spring loaded battery clip will snap back up fast and hard. Make sure your fingers are out of the way or remove the batteries slowly, because it smarts if it hits you (yes, I know from experience)! The charged batteries function just as I expect them to.

Buy it at Amazon: RipaFire Dual Universal Battery Charger [Affiliate Link]
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Saturday, September 12, 2015

Taotronics Swing Arm Tablet Stand Mount (TT-HS07) Review

Taotronics Swing Arm Tablet Stand Mount (TT-HS07) Review

Buy it at Amazon: Taotronics Swing Arm Tablet Stand Mount (TT-HS07) [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Fits both 10" and 7" mini tablets w/o case, easy to adjust and move.

On the box my stand came in, the picture shows the tablet mounted horizontally with the grips on the sides, so I was disappointed to find that my Kindle Fire HDX7 wasn't quite wide enough width-wise to fit between the two arms. Then, after some thinking, I turned my tablet so that the corners were nestled in the corners of the grips allowing the mount to grip it firmly. After trying it both ways, I'm sure that this is how it is intended to be used given the design, although the instruction manual doesn't mention anything about this and the photo on the front of the box is misleading. The mount can accommodate tablets with a diagonal of 8" to 12.5".

The stand comes in 3 pieces with some simple assembly required. Be sure to find a flat surface with a flat edge to mount this to. I tried mounting this to the kitchen counter which has a fancy tiered edge and the mount didn't grip enough of the counter top to be secure. The tablet mount has a ball joint for 360 degree rotation and the jointed arm allows you the freedom to position the tablet about anywhere within 2.5 ft. You'll also be able to turn your tablet from landscape to portrait mode and tilt it to any angle while mounted. If the tablet is too heavy and keeps drooping on you, use the tension adjusters to increase the strength of the arm and lock the position. Just remember to loosen them when you want to change the positioning again. This is great in my office for both my iPad3 and Kindle Fire HDX7 since I can mount it to the desk for hands-free operation and viewing and push it out of the way when I'm done. The only thing is I have to take the tablet out of its leather folio case or else it is too thick for the stand to hold properly.

Buy it at Amazon: Taotronics Swing Arm Tablet Stand Mount (TT-HS07) [Affiliate Link]
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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

CVLife E6-T6 LED Flashlight Review

CVLife E6-T6 LED Flashlight Review

Buy it at Amazon: CVLife E6-T6 LED Flashlight [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Bright, compact, and durable flashlight.

The flashlight and accompanying accessories come in a reusable storage case that can be stowed in your car's trunk or in an emergency kit. You'll receive a charger for 18650 Li-ion rechargable batteries, a spare battery, and a bicycle mount so you can use this as a bike headlight. The flashlight has a heavy duty construction from a lightweight aluminum and with the battery inserted still weighs only 4.5 oz. The flashlight lens is made of acrylic and is recessed to prevent scratches when you set this down on its face. It looks nice with its matte black finish and textured grips for easy handling. There's a wrist strap too, though it lacks a tightening cinch.

Inside the flashlight, there's also an optional AAA battery bay that takes 3 batteries in case of an emergency and you can't charge the 18650s. Note that the battery in either case is inserted with the positive end first. There are 5 modes for this light: high, medium, low, strobe and SOS. To switch between the modes, you can either press lightly on the power button or turn the flashlight off and on again. The beam for the flashlight can also be concentrated or "zoomed" to focus it for a brighter spotlight on a smaller area that goes a farther distance. The flashlight measures 5.25" and 6.25" when fully extended. The diameter is 1.5". With this flashlight, the unit runs warm after a few minutes of continuous operation. Make sure to turn it off before storing or putting it in your pocket. Overall, this flashlight is bright, lightweight and portable, so it's a good option for a utility drawer, glove box or emergency kit.

Buy it at Amazon: CVLife E6-T6 LED Flashlight [Affiliate Link]
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Coreal Sling Bag Crossbody Backpack Review

Coreal Sling Bag Crossbody Backpack Review

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Takeaway: Nice size for a sports bag or traveling.
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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Dechunxian Bottom Dispensing Glass Tea Pot and Infuser Review

Dechunxian Bottom Dispensing Glass Tea Pot and Infuser Review

Buy it at Amazon: Dechunxian Bottom Dispensing Glass Tea Pot and Infuser [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Never over steep your tea again. Great size for making 1-2 cups.

The teapot is handsomely made from glass, which according to the included promotional booklet (in Chinese) is hand-crafted. But you never can tell these days. Regardless, the unit did not come with instructions though it is pretty straightforward to use. The infuser portion is a removable plastic cup with fine mesh over a bottom dispenser. Open it by pressing the lever above the handle and place your loose tea leaves inside. Add hot water and close the lid, pressing down until it clicks; the rubber gasket holds in the heat and steam for a fast and efficient infusion. When the tea is brewed to your desired strength, press the red button to dispense the tea into the glass teapot and prevent over brewing. The fine mesh effectively strains out almost all the debris expect for very fine tea dust. Tea dust can be removed by initially "rinsing the tea leaves," that is, add a couple tablespoons of hot water to the dry leaves, then dispense and discard the liquid before your first infusion.

The infuser can brew about 7 oz of water at a time. For 1 teaspoon of black tea, use boiling water and your first infusion should take about 30 seconds. The second infusion can be done right away and the leaves should only sit for about 5 seconds before dispensing. The tea pot can hold a little over two cups of liquid so you can probably get away with a third infusion if you use a little less water. The third infusion should take 30 seconds, like the first. Timing your infusions this way, ensures that each brew has consistent concentration and the tea leaves don't over-steep since the liquor is removed. Oversteeping can lead to a sour taste and bitterness in the tea.

To remove and empty the infuser portion, grasp the lid and twist counter clockwise, then gently lift it out. Separating the unit makes it easier to empty the tea leaves and clean as well. I found that sometimes water gets "stuck" between the mesh and the dispenser; by turning the infuser upsidedown and pressing the dispenser tip in with my finger, I can shake the water back out through the mesh so that it dries more quickly. I enjoy this little glass teapot because it's the perfect size for my morning tea, and I can brew enough to share a second cup while ensuring a perfectly steeped brew every time.

Buy it at Amazon: Dechunxian Bottom Dispensing Glass Tea Pot and Infuser [Affiliate Link]
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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mouse and Rat Glue Trap Review Review

Mouse and Rat Glue Trap Review Review

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Takeaway: Very sticky, effective glue traps for catching rodents and bugs.

Success for this trap is all about location. Set them where the critters hang out and perhaps bait them, and you'll be sure to catch a few rodents and maybe a few bugs too. You get 5 traps in this pack and they are "reusable," however, that's not something I really want to verify. Note that this product is not waterproof and the adhesive is sensitive to the sun and therefore isn't great for outdoors unless you shelter it. Also the adhesive may not work as well in cold conditions like during winter and the manufacturer recommends that you warm it up before setting the trap. To dispose of the trap, simply close it up and throw it away.

The title at Amazon says that these traps are butter scented, but odorless. There is no "bait" in this trap, however, you can use bait if you want. If you get the adhesive on your clothes the manufacturer recommends removing it with vegetable oil and then cleaning with detergent, though I can't say for sure how effective this is since I'm not willing to ruin any of my clothes to find out!

Buy it at Amazon: Mouse and Rat Glue Trap Review [Affiliate Link]
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Monday, August 10, 2015

Tomameri MP3 and MP4 Player Review

Tomameri MP3 and MP4 Player Review

Buy it at Amazon: Tomameri MP3 and MP4 Player [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Works as an MP3 player, but the MP4 features fall flat due to limited screen resolution, size and file compatibility.

This player is reminiscent to an older Apple iPod mini model, but the build quality is markedly cheaper as is the software and functionality. The body is made of aluminum with a brushed finish and the click wheel and center button are made of a lightweight plastic that doesn't sit flush with the housing. Note that the wheel does not feature touch sensitive scrolling. The instructions are generic and don't accurately describe this particular product and they are not well-written/translated so you'll have to figure out most of the functions yourself. The headphones that the unit comes with are cheap, like the free ones you'd get on an airplane. The sound on them is thin, boxy and the bass nonexistent, so I recommend using a pair of your own.

This unit features a removable microSD card slot and comes with a 16GB card pre-installed. The unit takes about 3-4 hours to fully charge. In the center is a tab for you to attach a wriststrap and it also covers the pinhole microphone. The lock switch is on the top with the on/off positions written on the back of the player (left for on, right for off). When the unit is unlocked, the center button acts as the power on/off. There is a screen saver that will shut off the screen if you don't press any buttons within 10 seconds and a sleep timer that will turn the unit off after 30 seconds of inactivity; sometimes the sleep timer is inexplicably shorter and I found that the unit was constantly turning off on me during testing.

This player is capable of playing music, video files, recording audio, receiving radio broadcasts, viewing photos, and reading text files. Loading files was easy by plugging the unit into the computer via the USB cable or removing the SD card and using card reader. All the files are simply put in the main folder named with Chinese characters. The menu is side scrolling to the left and right with large icons to show which mode you are selecting. Oddly, the select menu option is the menu button rather than the center button.

In music mode, you can play MP3 or Wave files. For video playback, this player will only play AMV files, which doesn't seem to be a common video format, so I'm not sure how useful this feature actually is. So note that this MP4 player can't play MP4 videos. Go figure. The record function will let you do voice recordings. However, the result sounds tends to sound boxy with mono input and 8000Hz sample rate.

The radio function actually impressed me. It found a bunch of local stations and if I positioned the player right, the sound was as clear as it would be from my car stereo. You can also save the stations to load again later. The only trouble is that as you move around and the MP4 is re-positioned, the signal could drop and you'll just hear a bunch of static. Viewing photos is what you'd expect on a small screen with low resolution. Pretty much useless. The "e-book"/text reader can only load plain text files, no pdfs, word documents or epubs. Again with the limited file compatibility. On the small screen, you'll only be able to read about 20 to 30 words anyway, so it's not practical at all.

Overall, the MP3 and radio functions are the real features of this player. Everything else is lackluster and frankly, could have been left out. The small screen size, limited file compatibility, and low resolution doesn't make this a good player for videos, photos or text files and the recording function could have been useful if the microphone wasn't so terrible. This is more of a toy for kids than anything else.

Buy it at Amazon: Tomameri MP3 and MP4 Player [Affiliate Link]
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Friday, July 31, 2015

NordicEssentials Beach Socks Review

NordicEssentials Beach Socks Review

Buy it at Amazon: NordicEssentials Beach Socks [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Beach tested and approved.

At first, I thought the idea of beach socks was strange. What's wrong with just wearing flip flops? But I decided that give them a try anyway, and I have to say, I'll probably always take these to the beach going forward. With sandals/flip flops, you still manage to get hot sand under your foot and they are not exactly ideal for going in the water with. Because the beach socks wrap around your whole foot and up your ankle, you don't get any sand on your feet at all and the temperature is barely noticeable.

The material is lycra and feels soft and silky with a little stretch like active sportswear. There's a Velcro band at the top of the ankle to keep the sock on your foot since there is no elastic like regular socks. I only wish the band covered the entire vertical split versus leaving a tiny gap at the heel below the Velcro strap, since this is where sand tends to sneak in. The length above the ankle could also be shortened to appear more like "ankle socks." The heel and toe are reinforced to endure more wear and tear and the neoprene sole is thin, but soft and adequate for padding.

On the beach, the socks did their job protecting our feet from hot sand, pebbles, broken shells, and sunburn. The sand also did not stick to the material and slid off easily. In the water, they do get wet and saturated but dry quickly, in about 10 minutes. Again, I did get a little sand inside the socks through the gap above the ankle but below the holding strap due to the waves washing over my feet. Overall, these socks were comfortable to wear, performed well, and didn't build up a lot of heat. They were also easy to wash and clean.

Just a note on sizing, I'm a 7.5 mens so I ordered the medium, but they are slightly loose; so I recommend that if you're on the lowest end of the sizing chart to get the size smaller. The material will stretch to fit your foot and it'll feel a bit more comfortable.

Buy it at Amazon: NordicEssentials Beach Socks [Affiliate Link]
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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Red MP4 Player by GG Martinsen (4th gen) Review

Red MP4 Player by GG Martinsen (4th gen) Review

Buy it at Amazon: Red MP4 Player by GG Martinsen (4th gen) [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: This unit is okay for listening to audio, but it has limited resolution, screen size and file compatibility.

This MP4 player tries to match up to the Apple iPod Mini, but fails to reach the bar. I went in with significantly lowered expectations was still disappointed in the execution of the product. While the body construction is decent with an aluminum housing and brushed finish, the screen isn't stabilized in the frame so if you press on it, it will collapse in (it's not touch sensitive either, so don't). The headphones that the unit came with are super cheap, like the free airline ones; the sound is thin, boxy and they break easily.

The instructions are confusing and aren't well written. Add that to the problem of the controls being awkward and there's a steep learning curve. The click wheel has 4 buttons with a 5th button in the center but is not touch sensitive for scrolling and the buttons unintuitively change functions depending on which screen you're on.

This player has 16GB of internal storage space so at least it can be used as a thumb drive with decent capacity. It is capable of playing music files, video files, recording and playbacking voice recordings, receiving radio broadcasts, viewing photos, reading e-books and has several preloaded games. So at first it seems to be feature-packed.

I'll start off by saying that the audio capabilities of this player are largely fine and perform as expected. I didn't have any problems listening to MP3s and the sound with a different set of headphones) was clear and enjoyable. The radio function also performed well, and it picked up many local stations with only occasional static. You can even save stations and quickly scan between them. Note that your signal quality will be limited by radio reception in your area and where your device is positioned. It would probably make a fine MP3 Player, however, it's supposed to be an MP4 Player.

For video playback, I loaded a bunch of files in various formats and compressions; I was only able to get the player to recognize AMV and AVI video files. So ironically, this MP4 player couldn't play any MP4s I loaded to it (recorded on my cell phone camera). AMV files aren't easy to find, so it may be difficult to load videos to this unit that you'll be able to play. Photos loaded fine but the contrast was too high and the colors muddled when viewing them. The screen is just too small and has too low of a resolution to see any detail.

The e-book reader is farcical in its implementation. It only reads text files (no ePUB or PDF) and the text is so large on the little screen that you can only read 20 words at a time. That just does not sound like the ideal reading experience. The five pre-loaded games don't offer any instructions and while playable, the controls were awkward to the point where the game wasn't actually fun to play.

I reviewed the black version of this product previously and found that the battery couldn't hold a charge. I didn't experience the same problem with this unit. On a full charge I was able to get about 3 hours of audio playback on it. There is a sleep timer and the unit will shutoff after 90 seconds of inactivity in order to save on battery life.

The only thing I'll probably end up using this unit for will be as a portable harddrive, radio, or backup for music/audiobooks in the car. The screen is too small for viewing photos and e-books and I wouldn't want to watch video on it, even if I could find compatible files for it. If you're using this for just its audio capabilities it'll do just fine, but as an MP4 player, it's not great.

Buy it at Amazon: Red MP4 Player by GG Martinsen (4th gen) [Affiliate Link]
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BSHW Rechargeable Power Bank iPhone 6 Case Review

BSHW Rechargeable Power Bank iPhone 6 Case Review

Buy it at Amazon: BSHW Rechargeable Power Bank iPhone 6 Case [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Longer battery life and drop protection without a lot of bulk.

The case is a two piece hard-shell plastic with a one-third, two-thirds split. At first I thought this case would have trouble staying together, being a two piece case that simply slides apart, but I was happy to find that it holds together well when putting it in and taking it out of my pocket. It even takes a little effort to pull apart.

The entire case is coated in a soft feel matte rubber. It provides a decent grip and somewhat resists fingerprints. The cutouts for all the buttons and the camera were precise and not too large or small. The back of the case has a kickstand that allows you to view your phone handsfree in landscape mode for videos and movie playback. The case weighs 1.5 oz on its own and 5.5oz with the iPhone. It charges using a Lightning connector style plug on the bottom. Note that it didn't come with a charging cable and you'll need to use the one that came with your iPhone.

The case takes about 2 hours to charge and you will get at least one full charge for your iPhone with the 3500mAh battery. You can use your phone while it is charging in the case, however, your battery may drain faster than it is being charged. You can stop the charging to your phone at any time by pressing and holding the power button on the back of the case. If you plug the case in while your phone is charging in it, your phone will charge up fully before the backup battery begins charging.

Inserting your phone in the case is straightforward and easy. In terms of protection, the rubber absorbs some of the shock from bumps and drops. The battery acts as an additional layer of protection. Like many cases, be aware that there's no there's no protection on the front for the screen (there's no recession ridge). Also, this case covers the rounded edges of the phone so if you have an edge to edge screen protector that also covers the edges, this case may not fit your phone at all, or the screen protector may become dislodged.

The volume buttons are somewhat inhibited by the case because they are deeper and harder to reach once the phone is in the case. You might also need a separate headphone jack extension cord to access the headphone port as some accessories's headphone jacks may not be long enough to reach the port through the case. Note that the sound comes out of the front of this case, rather than the bottom as it would on the phone itself.

Overall this case provides a decent amount of protection for the back and sides of your phone while giving you the benefit of the kickstand and double battery life without adding a lot of weight.

Buy it at Amazon: BSHW Rechargeable Power Bank iPhone 6 Case [Affiliate Link]
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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

GG Martinsen MP4 Player (Black 4th generation model) Review

GG Martinsen MP4 Player (Black 4th generation model) Review

Buy it at Amazon: GG Martinsen MP4 Player (Black 4th generation model) [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Awkward controls, short battery life, and limited file compatibility.

This MP4 player tries hard but is a sad mimicry of the Apple iPod Mini. Even with the significantly lowered expectations of a knockoff product, it was still disappointingly executed. The body is made of aluminum with a brushed finish so at least it looks nice. The headphones that the unit comes with are very cheap, like the ones you'd get for free on an airplane; the sound on them is thin and boxy.

The instructions are confusing and aren't well written, so there's a learning curve; the buttons change functions depending on what feature you're in and it's not intuitive. The click wheel has 4 buttons with a 5th button in the center but is not touch sensitive for scrolling. There is a sleep timer and the unit will shutoff after 90 seconds of inactivity in order to save on battery life (which is very short).

This player has 16GB of internal storage space so at the very least it can be used as a thumb drive with decent capacity. It is capable of playing MP3 music files, AMV/AVI video files, record and playback voice recordings, receive radio broadcasts, view photos, read ebooks and there are several preloaded games. On the surface, it appears to be feature-packed.

I'll start off by saying that the audio capabilities of this player work fine and perform as expected. The audio is rendered clear for music, voice recordings and the radio. The voice recorder is decent if you hold the unit close to your mouth as the omni mic is located on the bottom between the charging and headphone ports. Using the radio function, I was able to listen to a bunch of local stations with occasional static. Just note that you'll need to have the headphones plugged in since they act as the antenna for the radio signal and your signal quality will be limited by reception in your area and the headphones you're using.

For video playback, I loaded a bunch of files in various formats and compressions; I was only able to get the player to recognize AMV and AVI video files. Ironically, this MP4 player couldn't actually play any of the MP4s I loaded to it (that recorded on my cell phone). AMV files aren't all that common, so it may be difficult to find any videos that you'll be able to play on this unit. Photos loaded fine but the colors were blown out and the screen is way too small with low resolution to see any detail.

The e-book reader is also a joke and appears to only be able to read text files (no ePUB or PDF). Even then, the text is so large on the tiny screen that you can only see about 20 words at a time. Imagine reading a 1000 page novel this way. There are five pre-loaded games, a few which are self explanatory, though none of them have instructions. While playable, the controls were awkward to the point where the game wasn't fun to play.

And finally, my biggest issue with this player is the battery life. Using it on multiple occasions, it barely lasted 30 minutes each time before shutting off due to low battery. That's with using a variety of features like music, video and radio playback at a volume level between 50-75% max. Charging the unit overnight inexplicably never seems to fill the battery meter. So either the charging mechanism takes longer than 12 hours or the battery simply can't hold a charge well.

The only thing I'll end up using this unit for will probably be as a portable harddrive, maybe as a portable radio, or backup for music/audiobooks in the car. The screen is so small that viewing photos, video and e-books on it are just impractical. If you're using this for just its audio capabilities it'll do just fine, but this is marketed as an MP4 player and on that front, it does not pass muster.

Buy it at Amazon: GG Martinsen MP4 Player (Black 4th generation model) [Affiliate Link]
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