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, March 25, 2016

Zomei Professional Tripod Z988 Review

Zomei Professional Tripod Z988 Review

Buy it at Amazon: Zomei Professional Tripod Z988 [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Rugged, versatile, compact and lightweight with smooth 3-axis motion.

The Z988 tripod comes in a heavy duty nylon canvas bag with Velcro strapped handles for easy carrying, removable and adjustable shoulder strap, and a chunky, durable double-zipper. You'll also receive a set of instructions and Allen wrenches. This tripod is constructed from a light yet very durable aluminum alloy, and it weighs in at a hefty 4.75 lbs. The tripod measures about 19.5" when retracted and has 4 separate telescoping sections on the legs with twist activated leg locks for adjusting the lengths. At the top of each leg is a 7" neoprene handle grip. The legs have convertible feet and the rubber caps can be pulled off to reveal stainless steel metal spikes that can grip into soil and softer terrains.

To open each leg, simple pull down until it locks into place. To change the angle of the legs, press on the switch at the top of the leg. Each leg can be adjusted independently from the others for uneven terrains. At its fully opened height without the center column extended, the tripod sits around 58" tall. If you extend the center column with the twist lock below the hand strap, you can increase the final height to about 70", or just under 6'. The bubble level for the tripod is hidden under the footplate of the mounting bracket.

The most impressive piece on the tripod is undeniably the ballhead. Its functionality is very similar and comparable to a Markins Q-ball. The camera attaches to the mount via a flat plate with a screw-style quick release versus a lever lock release. The foot plate is 2.75"L x 1.5"W with 1/4" mounting screw. The footplate is also adjustable on the plate deck and can shift offset from center by about an inch to each side; locking pins at the ends of the plate prevent you from sliding the camera off the mounting plate completely.

Oversized locking knobs on the ballhead ensure secure positioning and adjustable friction control for smooth and fluid cinematic motion. There's a coarse pan at the base of the ballhead and a fine pan at the mounting plate with marked degrees of rotation for 5 and 2 degrees respectively. Since there's no L-bracket on the footplate, the ballhead has a notch for vertical portrait-orientation photography. Inset in the ballhead lock is a smaller screw which is the torque limiting screw. This setting allows you to let go of the camera without the position changing, but when you apply a bit of force you can still move around and reset the shot. Once setup properly with your camera rig, you'll basically have two positions for the ballhead lock: fully tightened for no movement or "fully" loosened to move the camera around but still let go with no change in position.

What this ballhead lacks is a panhandle, which would be really useful for cinematic movie shots. As it is, the ballhead can be used for shooting video but because you don't get as even control working directly on the ballhead, it's better suited for still photography. Panning by hand often results in some jerkiness as your muscles twitch and cause unintentional speed ups and slow downs in the pan. If you don't need the ballhead or want to use it with a different tripod, it can be removed/unscrewed and the 3/8" mounting screw below can be flipped over to convert to a standard 1/4" threaded screw for mounting accessories like flashes, mic, and speakers

Lastly, there's a spring retractable counterweight hook in the center of the tripod to help keep your tripod stable while in use, so that is doesn't move around or worse, fall over with your camera on it. Always use a counterweight when using a camera even if your setup is light because you just never know. Overall, this tripod is a great value for everything that you get, and I found that it works great for stabilizing your shoots for photos or videos.


Buy it at Amazon: Zomei Professional Tripod Z988 [Affiliate Link]
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Smayda Electric Balloon Pump Review

Buy it at Amazon: Smayda Electric Balloon Pump [Affiliate Link]
Or buy it at Gearbest: http://bit.ly/2IXGelY [Gearbest Affiliate Product Link]

Takeaway: Fast, efficient, easy to use, though a bit noisy. Note: air-filled balloons do NOT float.
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Is It A Drone Or An RC Car? Both! This Drone Flies As Well As It Drives

Contixo F1 Plus Flying RC Car Drone Quadcopter Review

Buy it at Amazon: Contixo F1 Plus Flying RC Car Drone Quadcopter [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Fun and easy to fly, great balance, durable, RC car option.

The drone comes with 4 replacement rotor blades, a remote control, 2 batteries, USB charing cable, a power adapter, mini screwdriver and instruction manual. The drone is made of a lightweight plastic and weighs only 4 oz with the battery installed. The rotors do not have blade guards on this unit. There are 4 foam wheels which makes the landings on this quadcopter pretty soft and it can also be driven like a car. There are two models of this drone: one with a 2.0 MP camera and one without. The camera is mounted in front and angled slightly downward and can take still photos and video. The version with a camera comes pre-installed with a 4GB microSD card. Be sure to charge the batteries before first use, which takes 20-30 minutes. Each battery will last 6-8 minutes of flight time. While the battery is charging, there will be no indicator light on the USB charger, but when the battery is full, a red LED light will illuminate.

The remote control requires 4 AA Batteries which are not included. Use the included screwdriver to access the battery bay on both the remote and the drone. When the drone is grounded, the left joystick (rudder) will act as the control for the car. The other buttons on the controller can adjust trim, take photo/video, change the acceleration speed (short press left-shoulder), turn on/off the LEDs (long press left-shoulder), and activate 3D flip mode (right shoulder button).

To bind the drone to the remote, turn the drone on and set it on a flat level surface. Make sure the throttle is all the way down, then switch on the remote. You'll here the remote beep and the light on the remote will be flashing. Calibrate the remote by pressing the throttle all the way forward and then bringing it all the way back. Then it's all ready to go. While on the ground, you can drive around using the rudder. I found that the foam wheels don't grip rough terrains well, and it seems kind of sluggish on asphalt and pavement. On smooth hardwood floors, however, it moved much faster.

Lift off and hovering with this drone is smooth and easy to control. I was actually impressed with how stable this drone is compared with others that I've used in its class. The drone's flight and balance were quite good and this drone would make for a great starter drone for folks new to drone flying. The camera quality is as expected for only being 2.0 MP. It's a bit grainy and at times choppy with the occasional refresh rate blur, but it's still fun to watch the videos after your flight. The only thing to note here is that the video can only be activated when the drone is in flight. You can't start a video when the drone is grounded. A 3 minute video takes up about 500 MB. The unit does record audio, but mostly you get the sound of the rotors. Keep in mind that you don't get a card reader with this unit, so you'll need to supply your own way of getting the images and video off the card. Overall, this drone is fun and easy to fly. It's well-balanced and it seems to take hard landings pretty well.

Buy it at Amazon: Contixo F1 Plus Flying RC Car Drone Quadcopter [Affiliate Link]
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Monday, March 21, 2016

Erock Luxury 10 Inch Rain Shower Head Review

Erock Luxury 10 Inch Rain Shower Head Review

Buy it at Amazon: Erock Luxury 10 Inch Rain Shower Head [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Nice gentle spray, good flow with light pressure, easy to install, no leaks.

The 10" shower head actually measures out to 9.75" square. It is made entirely of metal and has a shiny chrome finish. There are 196 rubber nozzles spaced every 3/4" in a 14 x 14 grid. On the back, the rain head is flat and attached to a ball joint and there is a plastic cap protecting the connector when you first receive it. The cap is threaded, so simply unscrew it to open it up. Inside there is a rubber washer with a debris filter/screen already included.

Installation was quick and easy with a little bit of plumber's teflon tape (not included) and simple hand tightening. The water comes out of the jets with medium pressure and there were no leaks at the connection. For the most part, the jets are pointed straight down and not off to the sides at all, so the spray doesn't spread a whole lot. The 10" square area, however, is an adequate size for showering. The flow rate is somewhat faster than my previous shower head, so the water heats up faster which is nice. The water is also quite gentle, feeling like the water is being poured over you rather than stiff streams of water hitting you like pins and needles. Overall, this showerhead works well, was easy to install, and looks great in my bathroom.

Buy it at Amazon: Erock Luxury 10 Inch Rain Shower Head [Affiliate Link]
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Friday, March 18, 2016

Uspicy Electric Hair Straightening Brush Review

Uspicy Electric Hair Straightening Brush Review

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

Takeaway: Easy to use, fast straightening, safe and effective.

The brush straightener has a 6 ft extension cord, and comes with a cleaning brush, a safety glove, and a nylon carrying case. The brush measures 11" long and the brush paddle is 6" long and 3" across with 1" high bristles. The brush uses a ceramic heating element set behind massaging nubs and guard spikes that prevent your head and hands from getting burned on the hot surfaces. The cord is on a 360 degree rotating cable so you can avoid it getting in the way while you use the brush.

The power button for the unit is on the bottom of the handle along with plus and minus buttons for adjusting the temperature. Press and hold the power button to turn the unit on. By default, the brush is set to warm up to 180 degrees Celsius and the target temperature blinks while the unit is heating up. It will reach 180C in about 90 seconds. The temperature can be increased by pressing the plus up to 230 degree Celsius (450F) and the lowest temperature is 120 (250F). Pressing the plus and minus keys together changes the temperature output on the LCD to Fahrenheit. If you wait more than 3 seconds without pressing any buttons, the temperature target will lock, and you won't be able to adjust it up or down to prevent accidentally changing the temperature while you're straightening. Double press the power button to unlock the buttons. Press and hold the power button while unlocked to shut the unit off.

Since I have thick, coarse, wavy hair I use the highest temperature at 450 degrees F. Use lower temperature for delicate and fine hair. For best results, your hair should be at least 2 inches long. Using the brush is very quick and easy. Brush your hair out first to remove any knots and tangles. Then run the brush through sections of your hair slowly a few times from root to tip. Don't go too slowly or you'll burn your hair. Use the included glove to further protect your hand from burns while you guide your hair through the brush. I try not to do a lot of hair at once. By working in sections, you'll avoid knotting in the brush and uneven heating of your hair which prevents effective straightening. This brush works really fast, safely and efficiently. The heat from the pad took all the waves out of my hair in just a few strokes. When using the brush, my head did feel warm, but I didn't feel like I was at risk of burning myself. My hair feels lighter and more manageable when it's straight and there wasn't any burning hair smell after using the brush. Overall, I'm happy with the performance and build quality of this brush straightener.

Buy it at Amazon: Uspicy Electric Hair Straightening Brush [Affiliate Link]
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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

NFC Smart Ring Review

NFC Smart Ring Review

Buy it at Amazon: NFC Smart Ring [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Works well, easy to read/write to it, needs a better recommendation for setup app.

On the outside of this ring, it's a smooth onyx black with a cubic zirconia stud and the inside is a smooth stainless steel. The ring slides on easily and seems to be sized accurately. This ring has two NFC zones, one beneath the stone and another on the opposite side. On the four panels inside the box it comes in are QR codes for different things like the WeChat app, manual, and NFC app.

The app QR code takes you to iDarlin's website, but it's in Chinese, so instead I installed Samsung TecTiles from the Google Play store. With this app you can program a number of actions into the ring. First, make sure NFC is enabled on your phone. Then open the app and select an action to add to each NFC chip or create a new action. For example, I programmed the NFC chip under the stone to toggling the WiFi on my phone on/off. On the opposite side, I have the phone go to mute when I tap the bottom of the ring to it. There's a number of different things you can do like share contact info, send a text, or go to a webpage. It's handy for creating a shortcuts to things that you do often or use it a digital business card so folks can just tap their phone to your ring and get your contact info. Overall, a pretty nifty piece of jewelry.

Buy it at Amazon: NFC Smart Ring [Affiliate Link]
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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Rabittgoo 3D Window Film Review

Rabittgoo 3D Window Film Review

Buy it at Amazon: Rabittgoo 3D Window Film [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Nice pattern, easy application, effective frosted screen.

You'll receive a 3' x 6.5' roll of the window film. The instructions are rolled inside the film as an insert and are straightforward and easy to follow. The film itself has a texture on one side and is glossy on the other but is overall translucent so you can't see clearly through it while still allowing light through. When marking the sheet for cutting, make sure to mark on the glossy side, since you will be removing the thin plastic backing before application.

The roll was easy to cut with a sharp pair of scissors, though I would have liked if the backing had a grid so you know that your lines are straight. It may also be difficult to "stitch" two pieces together for a larger surface since you have to line up the pattern like wall paper. Before adhering to a surface, clean it well then spray it with a cold water/liquid soap solution as per the instructions. This will help the decal stick. Note that there is no adhesive on the film, it's simply a decal and will stick with electrostatic cling. One thing I noticed is that the very edge of the film sometimes has trouble staying flat. I recommend that before applying the film it let the cut sheet sit flat on a table with something heavy on it to take any curves out of the plastic from being tightly rolled up to avoid this. The film is easily removed and reapplied and leaves behind no residue. Overall, I'm happy with the ease of application and the look of the window film and it worked great for our bathroom window to add a little privacy.

Buy it at Amazon: Rabittgoo 3D Window Film [Affiliate Link]
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EZCap USB Cassette Converter, Non-USB version Review

EZCap USB Cassette Converter, Non-USB version Review

Buy it at Amazon: EZCap USB Cassette Converter, Non-USB version [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Easy to use, accurate sound quality, straightforward digitizing of analog tapes.

The cassette converter comes with a 33" miniUSB cable, a set of headphones, and a mini software CD. This converter can help you convert all your old cassette tapes to digital files that you can store on the computer; it also works as a standalone portable cassette player as well! The unit has no internal rechargeable battery and runs off 2 AA batteries, or you can use external power using the included miniUSB cable or a 3V 500 mAh DC adapter (not included).

The cassette converter is very much like any classic cassette player. You've got a play button, stop button, fast forward and rewind, a direction button to switch from side A to B and vice versa without taking the tape out of the player, and a loop switch that will automatically switch to the other side of the tape when the current side reaches its end. On the right hand side of the unit, there is an analog volume control wheel, the USB port, headphone port, and the eject slider. When you pull the slider down, the cassette bay door opens to the left. Inside, in the bottom right corner is the door to the battery bay for loading the 2 AA batteries to power this without a cable and to use as a portable cassette player. The plastic inside the unit feel pretty cheap and lightweight though, so don't be too rough since it feels like it could crack easily.

The software CD simply has the installation files for Audacity on it, which is a free software that can also be downloaded from the internet. A copy of the instruction manual is also on the disk. Recording the output from the cassette player was really straightforward and easy. The included instructions on the CD even had screen shots of the program to help you get all the settings right. Note that Audacity records in real time, so if you have a 2 hour tape, you'll need to allow Audacity to record for the full 2 hours. The recorded sound is very accurate to what you hear if you plug the headphones directly into the player. There was a slight hum of line noise in the background bother during recording and just listening to playback both through the computer and through headphones. However, but the digital file can be cleaned up in post processing if you have audio software like Adobe Audition. Keep in mind that when recording from analog to digital, any imperfection in the tape or cable will end up in your final recording including pops and crackles from the tape medium. Overall, this converter did exactly what I wanted, and it's a great way to preserve older cassettes. I'll definitely be converting some tapes that I have in my collection and stuff my parents recorded when I was young.

Buy it at Amazon: EZCap USB Cassette Converter, Non-USB version [Affiliate Link]
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P6 Bluetooth Headphones Review

P6 Bluetooth Headphones Review

Buy it at Amazon: P6 Bluetooth Headphones [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Weak plastic construction, sub-par sound, medium comfort.

The headphones come with a 5' braided nylon gold-plated male-to-male audio cable and a 14" microUSB cable. These are made of a hard plastic shell with a shiny finish, but don't feel terribly durable. The headband has a little bit of padding on the top, but not much, and the earpieces are adjustable in length but don't rotate at all. The earcups are 3" in diameter and are soft and cushy at least. The controls are on the outside of the left earpiece. You have controls for power/mode, volume/skip tracks, and play/pause/answer calls. On the bottom of the left earpiece is the AUX port for the audio cable, microphone, and LED indicator. Towards the front on the same earpiece, is the microUSB charging port and a TF card slot for listening to MP3s loaded to a microSD card.

To turn the unit on, press and hold the power button and continue to hold it until the LED flashes green and blue; this puts the headphones in pairing mode and you'll be able to connect to the device called 'P6' in your device's Bluetooth menu. Use the power/mode button to switch to TF card mode is you havean SD card installed or Radio mode. The radio mode is okay, but it didn't pick up a lot of stations in my area. Pressing the play button in radio mode starts the auto scan and pressing it again pauses on the current channel. This feature was difficult to use because the stations change pretty quickly and by the time you press the play button to stop the scan, it's already moved onto the next station and you end up scrolling back through the channels to find it. You also can't save the scanned channeled to any presets so you have to find them every time. If you want to use this set as a regular wired headset, you can use the included audio cable which works as advertised.

The audio quality is okay, but it's not amazing. It's a bit thin and muffled sounding like the music is coming from far away. It also brings the mid-ranges forward way too much to compensate for this. There's just not enough depth or fullness to the sound; the bass and low ranges tend to sound a bit garbled. The other thing I didn't like was that the button presses on the outside of the left ear piece were really loud, distracting, and obnoxious. Overall, the construction quality of the headphone is very basic and the sound quality is average. For a low cost set of wireless headphones it is okay, but I'd rather shell out a little bit more for better quality.

Buy it at Amazon: P6 Bluetooth Headphones [Affiliate Link]
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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

So & Co Mens Diver Watch Review

So & Co Mens Diver Watch Review

Buy it at Amazon: So & Co Mens Diver Watch [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Handsome timepiece, easy to set and alter band size, accurate time keeping.

This watch comes in a simple black giftbox. The watch is a Diver's style watch which has a metal clasp band that can accommodate wrists from 6.5" - 9.5" in circumference via 8 removable links. The watch face is 1.5" in diameter and has a metallic blue background with different shapes representing the numbers. This watch has a screw-down crown and to unlock it, scroll the crown towards you until it pops out. Then you can pull the crown out all the way to position 2 to change the time. Pay attention to when the date changes as this will signal to you when the time has passed midnight rather than 12 noon. Pushing the crown in slightly puts it in position 1 which allows you to change the date which is behind a magnified portion of the glass. To lock the crown, press it in and turn it away from you until it cannot be tightened anymore. In order to preserve the waterproof properties of the watch, the crown must be fully closed.

There is a Diver's Bezel around the face which rotates counter clockwise. This will help you determine how many minutes you've been underwater. The watch is rated to be water resistant to a depth of 330 ft which is more than enough for a free dive or casual diver, though I haven't verified this claim. The watch clasp is easy to operate, but there's no divers extension on the clasp to expand and accommodate a wet suit. The band was a bit large for me so I took out some links. The watch doesn't come with a link removal tool, so if you don't have one, take the watch to a jeweler who can remove the links for you. If you're taking the links out yourself, on the bottom of the removable links there are arrows that indicate the direction in which you should push the pins out. After removing 3 links from each side, the watch fits much better. The watch is very handsome and the watch face isn't too large for my wrist which is narrow. It's a great casual watch and also goes well with business attire.

Buy it at Amazon: So & Co Mens Diver Watch [Affiliate Link]
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