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.

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Friday, February 27, 2015

TaoTronics TT-HSL002 Solar Powered LED Motion Sensor Light Review

Bright outdoor solar light with motion detection for security

Buy it at Amazon: TaoTronics TT-HSL002 Solar Powered LED Motion Sensor Light [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: For a light this size, it can output so much light! This brightness is rated at 100 lm.

I tested this unit in a pitch black hallway at night and was able to see down to the other end of the hall, about 30 ft. However, since it is solar powered, it should actually be used outdoors, but this should help give you a sense of the amount of light that it puts out.

A vast improvement over the previous version is that this light has a diffuser, since this softens the light without diminishing its brightness. I also like that the light is directed "down" instead of out. This means that you won't have to look directly into the LEDs when it's on, unless of course you are standing under it and look straight up. By positioning the light in this way, the light spreads and fills one area and doesn't put off a glare when you're facing it. The only drawback to this configuration is that the solar panel sits on top, so this means that you can't install this under an awning or overhang as this will block its solar panel's access to direct sunlight.

The features are very useful. The battery in it is solar powered, it detects ambient light and only comes on when it's dark out, the motion sensor detects up to 10 ft away, and it shuts off automatically after 30 seconds. It was very easy to setup, install and operate. Because the solar panel is flat on top of this light, you'll want it to be at the highest point on the south side of whatever you're attaching it to, otherwise cast shadows will limit the amount of light that hits the solar panel. If you install this in a shady spot or on the north side of your house, shed or garage, be aware that it may not get enough sunlight to fully charge its battery.

Buy it at Amazon: TaoTronics TT-HSL002 Solar Powered LED Motion Sensor Light [Affiliate Link]

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

HooToo Wireless HD IP Security Review (HT-IP211HDP)

Keep Watch Over Your Home from Anywhere with This IP Camera

Buy it at Amazon: HooToo Wireless HD IP Security Camera (HT-IP211HDP) [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: This camera has a number of decent features that you'd expect to find in a security camera.

Features: motion detection, IR night vision, occlusion detection, alarm trigger capabilities, email notifications, remote access/control from anywhere on the web, two-way audio, and is wireless, except for the power plug.

Build quality:
The construction is a hard-shell, lightweight plastic with a glossy exterior. It's solid, but you'll want to make sure this is firmly mounted to the wall or ceiling because it probably won't tolerate a fall onto hard surfaces. With that in mind, also note that this camera can only be used indoors and is not weatherproof for outdoor use.

Video/image quality:
While the images are captured at a decent resolution of 1280x720, the image and video compression make it look like a blown up lower resolution picture, so I hesitate to use "high-definition" here. The quality is fine for Closed Circuit TVs, baby monitors or security systems where you're not looking for super fine detail.

Setup following the instructions was straightforward but a bit tedious. The driver CD did not work out of the box, I had to download three utilities to set up the camera on HooToo's website. I was surprised to find that the web browser viewers had more functionality than the stand alone Windows program and mobile app. But here, too, there were parts of the web app that didn't function, like Zoom and Focus. I also wasn't able to get it to work in Firefox of Chrome, only Internet Explorer. Recording video from the web app sometimes yielded video with dropped frames, skipping audio and mixed bit rates: random parts of the video played back in fast-forward, some slow-mo, and the audio was not synced properly.

It has a nice range of functionality and options. I like that it can rotate to get nearly every viewable angle and that you control it remotely; though note that the panning and tilting controls can be jerky. I also found it useful that you can listen in on the audio or send audio to the camera through its built-in speaker or separate audio output. However, the microphone doesn't pick up sound more than a few feet away and it tends to sound hollow and far away. The speaker in the camera isn't terribly loud and there's no volume control on it; it also has a tendency to sound boxy and staticky.

The infrared works well. You can see everything in the video in total darkness. I didn't test the alarm feature since I don't have one for it to hook up to, but you can set the camera to trigger an alarm or even send you an email, say if the motion detector is set off. There's also and occlusion monitor in case someone tries to cover up the camera lens that can trigger events as well.

It works and does the job of a security camera, but isn't best in its class and its software could use some much needed patches and updates.

Buy it at Amazon: HooToo Wireless HD IP Security Camera (HT-IP211HDP) [Affiliate Link]

Friendly Swede Neck Stash Hidden Security Pouch, Travel Money Wallet Review

Use This Hidden Security Pouch When You Travel To Keep Your Stuff Safe

Buy it at Amazon: Friendly Swede Neck Stash Hidden Security Pouch, Travel Money Wallet [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: This non-obtrusive neckstash helps protect you from pickpockets while keeping your valuables close at hand.

I constantly wonder whether my wallet, passport or cell phone will "disappear" from my pockets, so this neck stash comes in pretty handy for storing my important items on my person, where I can easily access them but thieving fingers cannot.

I like this "hidden" wallet because it is discrete, has a slim profile and is quite comfortable when worn against the skin. Because of the way most of my shirts fit (form-sitting and cut close to the body), it doesn't conceal particularly well under just a t-shirt. I found that with a second layer, like a light sweater, it was practically invisible, although that might not be convenient in all climates and seasons. The other factor that hinders its stealth is the color. Since this only comes in a black color, you'll notice it more underneath light colored clothing, so I would have preferred a beige or skin toned color. The materials, however, appear to be good quality and durable.

The fabric on the front of the pouch is a nylon like what a rain jacket would be made of. This makes this pouch water resistant in wet or humid weather. The back has a thin foam layer as padding and a wicking material layer, like a soccer jersey, to draw sweat away from your body while wearing it (it's also washable!). The neckstrap is thin, light and extends to 23" when fully expanded; the shortest length is 10". For a strong braided strap, it's surprisingly soft and silky and it doesn't chafe your neck.

There are two vertical pockets under the top flap so you can separate your money from other items like your passport. There is also a rear-facing pocket on the back of the pouch, but this one has an open top (e.g. it can't be closed and secured). All three pockets extend all the way to the bottom of the pouch. In addition there's a front-facing vinyl window at the base of the pouch where you can insert an ID or address card that secures in the top-center with a Velcro patch. Last but not least, there's a side pocket with a zipper that runs the length of the right-hand side of the pouch, whose compartment is situated in front of the vertical pockets. It's roomy enough in all compartments, save for the clear window section, to stow your passport or even a smartphone.

If you stick with bills, cards, maybe a passport, and don't over stuff this with big items, it's actually not too bad to wear right against your skin. Though if you're going to be active and moving around a lot, you will most likely feel it rubbing around. That said, I wore it for an entire day with what I'd expect to carry on a typical vacation and by the end of it, I forgot it was even there. Again, there's no way to keep it inconspicuous when there's something hard, thick or bulky in it, so keep that in mind if your intention is to keep its existence hidden. Also, even though this pouch is water resistant, it is not waterproof, so if you go swimming with it, don't expect the contents to stay dry! Overall, I found this product meets the needs I have when I go traveling and is a great companion or alternative to a fanny pack/money belt.

Buy it at Amazon: Friendly Swede Neck Stash Hidden Security Pouch, Travel Money Wallet [Affiliate Link]

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

TaoTronics Car Air Vent Phone Mount Review (TT-SH06)

Keep Your Phone Mounted In Your Car, but Not on the Dash or Windshield

Buy it at Amazon: TaoTronics Car Air Vent Phone Mount (TT-SH06) [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Finally, a car phone mount that doesn't require you to stick anything to your windshield or dash!

The mount has a high-gloss, black finish and rubber coatings on both arms and two base supports as well as a rubber backing so your phone is protected from scratches whether you use a case or not. The spring-loaded arms are made of metal and the tension is tight which makes for a secure hold on the phone. Note, however, that the minimum width of the phone must be at least 2 inches in order for the mount to grip it tightly (do they even make phones that small anymore?). The max size of the extended arms is 4 inches, so your phone needs to be a hair narrower. The vent attachment bracket is also coated in rubber to increase friction for a better hold. The tapered design of the legs means that it won't slide off the vent easily without you pulling on it. One thing to note though is that it probably won't work if you have your vent pointed "down" as the grip seems to work best when the weight of the phone is held in place by gravity.

I've used a number of car mounts over the years and the thing that I liked least about them was that the suction cup always managed to come loose, either from heat or cold or just poor design. The other problem I've been having in recent years is that with phones getting larger, I just couldn't fit them in windshield mounts without hitting the glass. With this car mount, because it attaches to your A/C vents, you get a little more freedom, more space to work with, and a closer view. This helps me see what's on the screen better for turn by turn navigation and puts it closer to my power port to charge my phone and aux jack for pumping the sound through my stereo; no more wires hanging down over the dash. I also like that the unit looks pretty slick even when there's no phone in it and because it doesn't have a huge suction cup, it's small and stows away easily. These added conveniences were a nice surprise since initially I had reservations about attaching my phone to my A/C vent, but now I quite prefer it.

Buy it at Amazon: TaoTronics Car Air Vent Phone Mount (TT-SH06) [Affiliate Link]

TaoTronics TT-HSL001 Solar Powered LED Motion Sensor Light Review

Easy to Install Solar Powered Outdoor Security Lights

Buy it at Amazon: TaoTronics TT-HSL001 Solar Powered LED Motion Sensor Light [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: For the size of this light, it really outputs a lot of light.

I tried this out in an upstairs hallway with no windows, at night, and it went from pitch black to me being able to see all the way down to the other end of the hall (about 30 ft). Of course, since the battery is solar powered, this wouldn't be a great application as it would never get charged! But hopefully that gives you a sense of the amount of light that gets output by this unit.

I wasn't a huge fan of the angle of the LED direction, since it points at your face when it's just above eye level. This makes the light uncomfortable to look directly at when it is on because it's so bright. This is worsened by the fact that the light doesn't have a diffuser, so it is just a bit too intense to look at. Basically you'll want to make sure the light is well overhead and to your back. If you're facing it at all, it's pretty blinding, which, defeats the purpose of having light (so you can see!).

The other features are solid. It recharges itself with the power of the sun, it has an ambient light sensor so it only comes on when it's dark, it has a motion detector that senses to about 10 ft, and a 30 second shutoff timer. Easy to setup, install and operate. If possible, position the solar panel to face south so that it can get the maximum amount of sunlight. If you're installing this in a shady spot or on the north side of your house, shed or garage, be aware that it may not get enough sunlight to fully charge its battery.

Buy it at Amazon: TaoTronics TT-HSL001 Solar Powered LED Motion Sensor Light [Affiliate Link]

TaoTronics TT-BS021 Wireless Barcode Scanner Review

Wirelessly Scan Your Inventory Using this Handy Barcode Scanner

Buy it at Amazon: TaoTronics TT-BS021 Wireless Barcode Scanner [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: With a handheld wireless scanner gun, you can bring your scanner to the item and get it in hard to reach places.

This is great if you deal with big, bulky items or keep a lot of inventory far from your terminal that you'd like to track. The included cable is about 4 ft long and also transmits data when plugged into your computer or POS machine. But with the 60 hour battery life on a full charge, you won't have to have this scanner plugged in often. The scanner functions as you would expect. It reads only 1D type barcodes (UPC, ISBN etc.) so no 2D or QR codes. You should also note that you won't be able scan barcodes on mobile devices or computer screens.

The wireless receiver is plug-and-play and there was no additional setup on the computer that was needed. Page 2 of the manual it says this model has a standard Bluetooth protocol, but I'm not sure that applies to this model. The 2.4 GHz wireless receiver works great up to 30 feet away. But you can also use the scanner to record barcodes remotely when set to inventory mode.

The rubberized and recessed face keeps scratches off the laser eye and the read outs are accurate. The materials seems durable and well-made, however, with limited body protection, I wouldn't be comfortable dropping this thing or putting anything on top of it. The scanner laser works at a wide range of angles but works best when the gun isn't pointed exactly perpendicular to the barcode. That is, aim the barcode scanner at a slight to 45 degree angle to the barcode and it will scan more easily (a bit counter-intuitive).

Buy it at Amazon: TaoTronics TT-BS021 Wireless Barcode Scanner [Affiliate Link]

TaoTronics UV Urine Detector Flashlight Test and Review (TT-FL001)

This Flashlight Finds the Hidden Stains that Your Pets are Leaving Behind

Buy it at Amazon: TaoTronics UV Urine Detector Flashlight Test and [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: This product does exactly what it says it will. You'll be able to spot pet urine stains.

It doesn't work so well if there's ambient light around you. Use it on your carpets. Use it on your kids' beds. Use it when you clean the bathroom to make sure you didn't miss anything. Don't use it to get a suntan. I also wouldn't recommend using it on shiny surfaces or mirrors because the UV light will reflect back into your eyes, which are dilated from the darkness, so that's all kinds of bad for you.

Other applications: making white and/or translucent plastic things glow in the dark, seeing holograms embedded in cards, checking UV reactive handstamps/ink, activating glow-in-the-dark things, intensifying glow sticks, solving crimes

Buy it at Amazon: TaoTronics UV Urine Detector Flashlight Test and [Affiliate Link]

Thursday, February 5, 2015

TaoTronics Car Dashboard Camera TT-CD04 Review

An Inexpensive Dashboard Camera with Clear Video and Nice Features

Buy it at Amazon: TaoTronics Car Dashboard Camera TT-CD04 [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Inexpensive, basic but usable with decent video quality.

The power plug on the camera is mini-USB which is a shame because most of my other devices these days are micro-USB, which means I'll need a separate cable just to power the camera. The included cigarette lighter adapter does NOT have a pass-through USB port, so if you only have one cigarette lighter in your car, like I do, you won't be able to plug anything else in.

The videos are clear and even on bumpy roads it seems relatively smooth.The mic doesn't pick up a ton of sound and you'll typically only get a little bit a front seat dialogue and radio. The included 8 GB micro SD card is enough for an hour of video recording at the highest resolution. The picture is quite clear even at night. It can also take still photos up to 12 MP.

- Autostart/stop
- Zoom
- Motion detection
- Shock sensor
- Screensaver
- Manually protect videos
- Webcam

All in all I was very impressed by this dashboard camera. It fulfilled every requirement that I was shopping for and then some with only a couple minor quirks!

Buy it at Amazon: TaoTronics Car Dashboard Camera TT-CD04 [Affiliate Link]

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