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, May 31, 2017

Minibot X5 Robot Vacuum Cleaner Review

Minibot X5 Robot Vacuum Cleaner Review

Buy it at Amazon: Minibot X5 Robot Vacuum Cleaner [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Good for daily cleaning, works only on hardwood/tile floor but picks up dust/hair well.

The robot vacuum comes with a charging base, A/C adapter, remote control, two double sided sticky tapes, three rubber bumpers, 2 AAA batteries for the remote, 2 replacement sweeper brushes, a replacement filter sponge, a cleaning brush, and a manual. It does not include a virtual wall (not compatible?) and the wet mop bin is sold separately from the basic vacuum unless you purchased the upgraded model.

The X5 vacuum measures 12.5" in diameter and 3.5" tall, so it's a little bigger than other robot vacuums that I've tried before. It has a single power/auto-clean button on the top and the top face is made of tempered glass to resist scuffs and scratches. There's an LCD panel in the middle that displays battery life, error messages and cleaning schedule. The rest of the functions and controls for the unit are on the remote, which requires 2 AAA batteries (included).

The unit is pretty easy to set up, but I found it odd that if the unit encounters the dock while cleaning it'll simply push it around rather than avoid it like I've seen with other brands. The only way to ensure accurate docking is to use the sticky pads and mount the dock to the floor so it can't move. You can set a schedule using the remote control to choose a daily cleaning time. For spot cleaning, simply place the robot near a particularly dirty area and press the 'Spot' button. To activate auto clean mode, press the ‘Auto' button. There's also an edge cleaning mode that follows the perimeter of a room that works reasonably well and a "Full Go" mode that has the unit automatically start its cleaning cycle after it completes charging on the dock.

It also handles obstacles quite well and maneuvers around chair legs, furniture, and people with ease. You can also use the remote to manually change its direction. This vacuum doesn't work on carpet or over rugs with fringe and is only suitable for hardwood, cement, or tile flooring. If you have short transitions between rooms, it can typically cross them, but if the transition is taller than 1/4" it'll likely either change direction or get stuck on it.

For vacuuming, the unit performed within my expectations. It picked up a ton of dust, hair (human and pet), and debris. It runs for about 2 hours before returning to its charging base. It does a nice job on hardwood and tiles floors with few obstacles. When run daily, the floors tend to stay cleaner.

Buy it at Amazon: Minibot X5 Robot Vacuum Cleaner [Affiliate Link]
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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

(Updated) Innogear Desk Clamp Mic Boom Stand Review

(Updated) Innogear Desk Clamp Mic Boom Stand Review

Buy it at Amazon: (Updated) Innogear Desk Clamp Mic Boom Stand [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Easy to set up and adjust, holds Blue Yeti mic weight, strong grip and stable positioning.

UPDATE: The new version comes with both a plastic and metal thread adapter for converting 3/8" to 5/8" thread , however, both of them suffer the same problem.... the threads are shallow and soft so that they strip easily if you mount and dismount the Blue Yeti mic to them often. They're essentially "one-time" use since once you install it, you should leave it installed, otherwise it's super easy to damage the adapter threads and the mic will become loose fitting on it, potentially allowing it to come crashing down on the floor.

You'll receive the suspension arm, a desk clamp, a mic holder, and 1 plastic and 1 brass 3/8" to 5/8" thread adapter for larger threaded mics like the Blue Yeti. The suspension arm is made of a medium-weight steel with a powder black coating. The full length measures about 27" with the upper portion being 14" and the bottom 13". The C-clamp is also made of metal and it has a max truss width of 2.25". The mic holder is made of plastic and its diameter is 1" for narrow ended studio mics. Some folks have complained that the locking nut for the post has defective threads; On mine I didn't find this to be the case and the locking mechanism seems to work fine. It's tight enough that I need to loosen the nut to swivel the boom, otherwise the post gets scratched and shredded by the end of the nut.

The arm is pretty simple to assemble although it comes with no instructions. Note that whatever surface you mount it to needs to be flat on top and bottom. If it has a fancy edge or bevel on top, the clamp cannot grip the surface tightly (like some fancy edges to granite countertops). At the end of the arm you can use either the 3/8" mic holder or the 5/8" thread adapter. The mic holder did a fine job holding a 1 lb moving coil mic. It was easy to adjust and maneuver around. The arm is rated to handle up to 3 lbs of weight. With the brass adapter, the boom also performed well in holding my Blue Yeti mic. The metal adapter can be a bit tricky to get in flush because it doesn't have a thumb tightening ring, so be careful not to screw it in skewed. I don't recommend using the plastic adapter because the thread tends to strip very quickly potentially putting your mic in a precarious position. But the brass adapter seems to hold the weight just fine. I think as long as you remember to loosen the knobs when you need to make adjustments at the joints you can avoid stripping the threads on the locking nuts as well. If you don't loosen the nuts before adjusting the arm, you'll likely find yourself sweeping up the black dust from the power coating that scrapes off. You can also easily add a pop filter to the post that the mic sits on.

Overall, this is an inexpensive, functional mic boom that helps you save a little space if you don't have room on for a floor stand. It doesn't have the longest reach or best dampening features, but it gets the job done for a simple set up.

Buy it at Amazon: (Updated) Innogear Desk Clamp Mic Boom Stand [Affiliate Link]
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Friday, May 26, 2017

Meku RFID Blocking Slim Zipper Wallet Review

Meku RFID Blocking Slim Zipper Wallet Review

Buy it at Amazon: Meku RFID Blocking Slim Zipper Wallet [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Works well for the essentials, nice look and quality.

The wallet is made of real leather that's a bit stiff but still flexible. It has a strong leathery smell. The wallet is relatively slim compared to my bi-fold wallet, but I also have to carry less. Some folks have had the seams burst so I try to keep this wallet filled with only the essentials: ID, frequently used cards, and some cash. The Meku logo is imprinted near the bottom of the front side. On either side are three vertical card pockets and it comes with an RFID blocking scanner guard card. However, each of the vertical pockets is also lined with RFID blocking fabric. The zippered cash pouch and slots behind the card pockets do not use this lining. The zipper for the middle section glides smoothly and the teeth have rounded soft edges that don't scratch if you have to reach inside. However, if the wallet is overstuffed, the zipper tends to slide open on its own easily. The wallet expands to a maximum thickness of 3/4". Overall, the seems to be decent quality and offers a good amount storage, 6-8 cards and some cash, without taking up a lot of space. The only thing is I wish there was a least one window pocket for an ID card because I can't scan my keyless entry card for work while it's in the RFID pockets.

Buy it at Amazon: Meku RFID Blocking Slim Zipper Wallet [Affiliate Link]
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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Meku RFID Blocking Slim Wallet Review

Meku RFID Blocking Slim Wallet Review

Buy it at Amazon: Meku RFID Blocking Slim Wallet [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Slim when you pare down to a few essentials, nice quality.

The wallet is made of leather though it only has a mild leather aroma to it. It measures 3-3/8"L x 4-1/4"W and is thin and flexible. The Meku logo is embossed near the bottom of the front side in silver. On either side are three vertical card pockets with a fourth side pocket behind them. Each of the three vertical pockets is lined with a gold plasticky RFID blocking material (the back pocket is not) and it seems to work okay since it prevents me from scanning my keyless entry ID card at work through the wallet. You also get an RFID blocking scanner guard card insert. In the middle, the open pocket can comfortably fit ten bills folded in half, but this does add significant bulk. If you can keep it to 3-5 bills and not double up on the card slots, the wallet stays relatively slim. Some folks have had trouble with the seams busting, so I don't want to overfill it. It's good for going out because I can pare down my bi-fold wallet to a few essentials: ID, frequently used cards and a some cash for going out when I don't need or want to carry a lot. The cards are also relatively easy to get out of the pockets and the exposed edge lets me identify what the cards are at a glance. The wallet expands to about ½" overall. I would have liked a clear window pocket for an ID or keyless entry card since those can't be scanned through the wallet, but the wallet seems to be nice quality for the price.

Buy it at Amazon: Meku RFID Blocking Slim Wallet [Affiliate Link]
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DeeGee Red Imp GK100 Pro Gaming Keyboard Review

DeeGee Red Imp GK100 Pro Gaming Keyboard Review

Buy it at Amazon: DeeGee Red Imp GK100 Pro Gaming Keyboard [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Decent keyboard w/cool lights, anti-fade keys and anti-ghosting for gaming.

You'll receive the keyboard, a cleaning brush, plastic key extractor, and instruction manual. The keyboard has 104 keys and the keyboard width of 17.5" x 7.5", which is slightly longer than most because it includes an extended wrist rest area in the front. The USB cable is 5 ft long. One key difference on this keyboard is that the backslash is located to the right of the single quote key, rather than at the end of the row above it. This allows the enter key to be extra-large, which some gamers prefer, but for me it is a slight change that I just had to get used to. When the keyboard is plugged in, there are colorful LED lights behind the keys. They display the 7 colors of the rainbow from right to left and the colors do not change. However, you can set the brightness to high, medium or low, or turn the lights off completely, but this makes the lettering on the keyboard hard to see if you rely on them. There's also a "breathing" or pulsing mode where the colors fade and brighten in a loop.

Since the lettering on the keys are simply clear windows, the light will show through the keys and be illuminated in the dark and the lettering will never wear off. They're actually easier to see in the dark than during the day. Pressing the keys makes a moderate amount of noise with semi-soft clicks and good tactile feedback. The packaging states 19 anti-ghosting keys (keys that you can press in rapid succession without any of the commands getting "lost") however the manual shows 21 keys are within the anti-ghosting set. It seems the manual has a misprint and "V" and "F" are not in the anti-ghosting set, though this may be corrected in future versions of the manual.

The keyboard is supposedly waterproof, except for the section with the indicator lights in the top right. While you can't submerse the whole keyboard to clean it, if you spill your coffee over the keys, you should be able to lightly rinse and drain that area (drain holes along the bottom). I didn't have a need to test this feature, but if I do end up spilling something on the keyboard, I'll update the review here on whether or not it survived. The key puller and cleaning brush are pretty unique but good ideas since over time keyboards always build up grime between the keys and this makes it easier to clean them out.

Overall, it's a fine keyboard that's comfortable to use and seems like it would last a while. I didn't think I'd like the wrist rest but it's actually growing on me. The style is cool and would look awesome with a gaming rig.

Buy it at Amazon: DeeGee Red Imp GK100 Pro Gaming Keyboard [Affiliate Link]
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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Cok Hex Bypass Pruning Shears Review

Cok Hex Bypass Pruning Shears Review

Buy it at Amazon: Cok Hex Bypass Pruning Shears [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Durable, sharp, easy to squeeze, makes smooth/clean cuts.

The pruning shears come with an extra 2.25" spring for the handles. The shears measure 8.5" long with a 2" curved blade. While the handles look like they're made of wood, it's actually a vinyl veneer over metal handles making these pruners heavy-duty and weighty. The tool comes pre-sharpened and greased out of the box so you can start using them right away, though they can feel oily so you may want to wipe down the handles first. There's a metal slide lock just under the blades that can be operated one-handed with your thumb. When expanded, the maximum opening of the pruners is about an inch so you won't be able to cut branches thicker than that. The pruners work well on green/soft wood up to that thickness, but for dry wood, I'd stick with thinner branches because they can be tough to cut through. Overall, these pruners work well for light pruning for around the garden like removing dead twigs, damaged branches, and dead heading rose bushes. They feel very solid and durable but because of the weight may cause some fatigue if used for a long time.

Buy it at Amazon: Cok Hex Bypass Pruning Shears [Affiliate Link]
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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Easy@Home Wireless TENS Massager Review

Easy@Home Wireless TENS Massager Review

Buy it at Amazon: Easy@Home Wireless TENS Massager [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Eliminated back soreness/pain & sped recovery, no wires or batteries, wearable under clothing.
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Monday, May 22, 2017

Balloon Time Standard Helium Tank Kit Review

Balloon Time Standard Helium Tank Kit Review

Buy it at Amazon: Balloon Time Standard Helium Tank Kit [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Good for a couple dozen balloons, easy to use, but my tank nozzle started leaking.

The helium tank comes with a pack of 30 latex multi-color balloons. Inside the bag there's also a roll of white ribbon. The tank itself weighs 5-6 lbs. It measures 17" tall and has a 10" diameter. Like a propane tank, it is made of metal and recyclable (but not re-fillable). The tank is filled with an 80/20 helium-air mix. Instructions are printed on the side of tank. Since latex balloons leak quickly, it's recommended to fill them only 1-2 hrs before you need to use them and the typical float time is 5-7 hours. Foil balloons can last longer, up to 4 days. However, by spraying the latex balloons all over with an aerosol hair spray, I was able to extend their float time to about 16 hours. I fill the balloons at 4 pm for a party that started at 8 pm and the balloons were floating well past midnight. The next morning about half of them had started to sink. The dried hairspray tends to flake and create dust so it's best to dispose of the balloons once they start to sink.

The only problem I had with the tank was that after a few fills, the nozzle started leaking when it was not depressed so I had to shut off the main valve between fills. This was slightly inconvenient and made filling the balloons take about 30 seconds per, but I didn't lose all the gas in the tank and there's still some left that I can use for another party. I filled fifteen 11-inch balloons and five 13-inch balloons with some helium to spare. Overall, the helium tank was easy to use and despite the slight leakage problem which I was able to work around, it wasn't too bad of an experience, and I was able to make the party fun and festive. I would try it again if I only needed a handful of balloons.

Buy it at Amazon: Balloon Time Standard Helium Tank Kit [Affiliate Link]
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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Fairyland Blackout Curtains Review

Fairyland Blackout Curtains Review

Buy it at Amazon: Fairyland Blackout Curtains [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Heavy, thick curtains, blocks almost all light and moderates temperature on hot/cold days.

The blackout curtains come individually packed, so if you need two panels like I did, make sure to order a quantity of 2. My original curtains bleed a ton of light through them during the day so I wanted something heavier. The Fairlyland curtains are made with a smooth, soft, satin-feel fabric. It is very opaque and heavy. The navy blue color was darker than I expected. There are 8 metal grommets on top of the 52"W x 63"L panels. The grommets feel rigid and durable and don't bend under stress. The fabric is a thick, triple-layer polyester that's supposed to be hand washable but the tag is somewhat confusing. It states in words ""dry clean only"" but then the symbols indicate hand wash, NO dry clean, NO bleach, and NO tumble dry. So is it dry clean only or hand wash only?? It seems these are not machine washable in any event.

With these new curtains up, nearly no light gets through the curtain and they overlap nicely in the middle. The difference versus the old curtains is stark and it's nearly pitch black with just a little light bleeding around the edges. This is great for late risers and movie nights when you want to cut down as much ambient light as possible and lives up to the my expectations for blackout curtains. A little clarification from the vendor on how to clean/care for them would be great.

Buy it at Amazon: Fairyland Blackout Curtains [Affiliate Link]
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Friday, May 19, 2017

Co-Z Antique Vintage Luggage Set Review

Co-Z Antique Vintage Luggage Set Review

Buy it at Amazon: Co-Z Antique Vintage Luggage Set [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: A great looking premium luggage set with a vintage/classic style. Roomy trunk but small travel case.

You'll receive a 24" rollerboard and a matching travel case. The cases are clad in real leather with leather accents. It comes in a variety of different color combinations and patterns. The 4 wheels on the bottom spin 360 degrees for easy gliding and transportation. The dimensions of the rollerboard are 23"x 14"x 9". Its handle has two positions, low at about 36" and high around 44". The handles and grips are durable and nicely constructed. The case itself weighs about 4 lbs when empty. The side belt straps are magnetic and decorative to give it an antique look.
There are two TSA side pull clasp locks so TSA can inspect your luggage without cutting off the locks. I'm not convinced I like the key over a combination as a key can be lost, but at least they don't feel flimsy like they'll break inside the locks. You get a leather luggage tag for your address and information if the bag gets lost, but no info card is provided. Inside the large suitcase there's a fabric candy stripe lining and along the inside of the lid is a thin mesh pocket. In the main compartment, you have a clip-on hanging bag with two mesh zippered pockets and a hanger hook on top. It also helps keep the items in the bottom half of the trunk in place when the suitcase is upright. The interior of the suitcase is lined but not completely flat because of the rollerboard handle tracks.
The smaller travel suitcase measures 12.5"x 5"x 8" and it has a combination lock, but the lock tab gets stuck on the handle which is minor design flaw. Inside there are two handles for this bag: a 4 foot shoulder strap and a 12 in wrist loop. The design is similar with a mesh pocket while the other side has no compartment but is lined.
The trunk is more spacious than it looks if you pack conservatively, but the small travel case is short on space and is bulky without the capacity to justify its size. Overall, it's a very handsome luggage set, although the rollerboard might be a tad large for some airlines to accept as a carryon. The leather quality and stitching is really nice and the fixtures are brass. It's got very high quality overall. The best feature of this set is definitely the look and I think that it works really great for terrestrial transportation like bus, train, and road trips. I hesitate to check it al luggage because I don't want to damage the exterior.

Buy it at Amazon: Co-Z Antique Vintage Luggage Set [Affiliate Link]
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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Railtek Carbon Black Holeless Ratchet Belt Review

Railtek Carbon Black Holeless Ratchet Belt Review

Buy it at Amazon: Railtek Carbon Black Holeless Ratchet Belt [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Smooth ratcheting, adjusts quickly, easy to shorten for a perfect fit; nice leather and buckle.

This is the second brand of holeless ratchet belt that I've tried, and it works just as nicely as the ones I've been wearing. The ratchet tracks along the inside runs for 10" and allows you to adjust by ¼" increments rather than the typical 1" spacing for ordinary belt holes. The Carbon style buckle is made of metal and has a shiny chrome finish inlaid with a glossy black ‘C' and a subtle subway tile pattern in the middle. The buckle is medium sized measuring 2.25" across and 1.5" tall. While I like the look, the glossy exterior is a bit hard to keep smudge and scratch-free. On the leather itself is a medium grain pattern and the edge is burnished and finished with double stitches on each edge. The belts are 1.25" wide and come at the factory length of 56.5" which is long enough to accommodate a 49-50" waist.

If you need a shorter length you can just cut the belt. To properly size the belt you can calculate the length you need (pants size plus 7 to 8 inches) or use another belt that fits as a template. Make sure to cut the belt straight across so that the ends are square. The toothed clip on the buckle opens and closes, catching the leather, easily. To loosen the belt or remove it, there's a release lever on the underside of the buckle in the bottom right corner. Just give it a quick squeeze and pull with strap out with your other hand. It's hard to do this one handed though and the switch jammed once when trying to open it, but I got it working again after a minute. I haven't had that problem again since, so it was just a weird thing, maybe it got stuck on some fabric in the fly, who knows.

I like these belts because not only do they fit perfectly, but you can adjust them for comfort on the fly without having to undo the whole belt buckle. I also like that I won't need to punch any new holes in it if I gain or lose a few pounds. The belt feels well-made, and it looks really clean and sharp with dress pants and jeans.

Buy it at Amazon: Railtek Carbon Black Holeless Ratchet Belt [Affiliate Link]
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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Stainless Steel Countertop Compost Bin Review

Stainless Steel Countertop Compost Bin Review

Buy it at Amazon: Stainless Steel Countertop Compost Bin [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Easy to clean, effectively traps smell, durable construction and good rust-resistance.

You'll receive the compost bin, a lid, and 2 carbon filters. The carbon filter is a mesh disc and it fits right into the bottom of the lid. It is designed to filter out smells as your food scraps decompose in the bin while letting in air and oxygen to help that process. The lid slips smoothly into the top of the bucket creating a semi-seal. The bucket measures 11" inches tall including the lid and it has a 6.5" diameter. The outside of the bucket is smooth and not corrugated like the photo on the box. All components are made of 304-stainless steel for rust-resistance including the chrome polished knobs and the carrying handle which is thick and feels heavy duty. The capacity of the bin is about 1 gallon.

The lid doesn't go on super tight, but it's sealed enough so that smells don't escape and you really won't smell anything at all through the vents. I empty this bin out every morning into the compost pile we have in the backyard which prevents excess odors, molds and fruit flies from developing.

Compared to a stainless steel compost bin that I purchased at William Sonoma, the quality of materials used in both bins was similar as was the interior of the bucket. The WS one that I've been using for 4 years does have some spotting in it where the steel is discolored, but I never had a problem with real rust buildup. If I can expect the same sort of wear with the Beaumont one, I think it'll last a long time. One thing that I like better on the Beaumont bin is that the filter sits right up against the top of the lid, versus the WS one had an additional "groove" for the filter. The problem with that is that it was hard to clean inside that 1" channel and fruit flies tended to develop in there. The Beaumont compost bin is very easy to clean in comparison.

Overall, it's durably constructed, has a good capacity, and is effective at trapping smells with its filter.

Buy it at Amazon: Stainless Steel Countertop Compost Bin [Affiliate Link]
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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

ieGeek Tire Pressure Gauge Review

ieGeek Tire Pressure Gauge Review

Buy it at Amazon: ieGeek Tire Pressure Gauge [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Good for checking the tire pressure on my Honda Civic.

I needed an accurate tire pressure gauge because the TPMS sensors in my tires are all dead (battery done after 5+ years) and they're too expensive to replace. I'm okay with checking my tires pressure manually on occasion as it's a good habit anyway. This is a simple, round needle-read gauge. It comes with a brief set of instructions but is straight forward to use. The gauge is made of stainless steel and has a valve that rotates 360 degrees. The stem measures 2.25" long and the diameter of the gauge face is 2.5". The units on the gauge are bar and PSI and go from 0 to 100 PSI or 0 to 7 bar. The gauge is protected by a rubber sleeve to prevent damage if it is accidentally dropped. After taking a reading it will stay on the gauge when you remove it from the tire. On the side of the stem is the pressure release button to clear the reading, which you must do between readings.

When compared to the gauge on my air compressor, the readings were always matched or fairly close (within 1-2 PSI). I only use this with my car which I fill the tires to a max PSI of ~32; the readings appear precise and accurate. The only thing is I wish the stem were a bit longer in length as on some cars I can't get the gauge to fit on the valve because the rims are too wide. I have not tried to read pressures above 35 PSI (like for bike tires) so I don't know the accuracy for the higher pressures, but it works for what I need. Overall, I think the gauge is well-made and easy to use.

Buy it at Amazon: ieGeek Tire Pressure Gauge [Affiliate Link]
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Monday, May 15, 2017

Suca Grafting Tool Review with Grafting Results

Suca Grafting Tool Review with Grafting Results Review

Buy it at Amazon: Suca Grafting Tool Review with Grafting Results [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: A bit tricky to use, 70% success rate, good for thicker scion/root stock branches 1/2 inch or thicker.

The grafting tool comes with three blade shapes: V, Omega, and U. The U shape is pre-installed and the process to change the blades is not quick though isn't too much of a bother. I rarely switch blades as I prefer the Omega cut. The tool has an orange handle lock for storing the unit, but the one on my unit was malformed and it chipped a chunk off the locking mechanism (the plastic is pretty soft) so mine doesn't lock anymore. When you squeeze the handle it activates the pruning cutters and graft cutter simultaneously. An extra orange blade guard is included and can be used when the original one wears out. The blade guard will wear down as you make grafting cuts but the guard itself can be rotated and each of the 6 sides can be used.

On pencil thick green wood the pruner cuts are quick and clean. It's not great for general pruning of dead/dry wood and it can only handle thicknesses up to 1/2". However, it leaves no jagged edges though takes a moderate amount of pressure to use. When grafting, using the shape cutter, cut the negative into the root stock; the valley or cleft side should be on the root stock. With the scion wood, cut it so that it creates the matching positive shape, then the two pieces will fit together like a puzzle. I used 1/2" grafting tape to seal the grafts. Occasionally if the graft union looks weak, I'll brace it with a 4-5" piece of thin bamboo, secured with additional grafting tape as a sort of splint to ensure the union doesn't come apart in high winds. The tricky part with this tool is that the branches can slip to either side as you squeeze the handle. If the cut is even slightly off center your pieces won't line up correctly (unless you slip in exactly the opposite direction when you make the matching cut!) and the scion and rootstock branches have to be really close in diameter; you might even want to use calipers to measure them. You also won't be able to use the grafting tool on any branch that's thinner than a pencil. One thing that failed on mine pretty quickly is the locking mechanism. There was a small defect in the notch that prevented it from closing properly and a little piece even broke off from the lock notch, which is pretty annoying.

Ten weeks after completing my grafts with this tool, I recorded a success rate of about 70% (12 of 17 grafts took and are leafing out). The scars are shaped like the Omega and swollen a bit, but most of the branches haven't healed/thickened enough to break through the grafting tape. They look strong though and aren't flaking or split. Overall, this tool works decently well for grafting scion wood to root stock, as long as the diameter of the branches are about a 3/8" or thicker. Any narrower and you'll have to use a different method like whip and tongue. I think the construction could be a bit better, but it's functional and will likely last several seasons of use.

Buy it at Amazon: Suca Grafting Tool Review with Grafting Results [Affiliate Link]
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Friday, May 12, 2017

Foldable Box Cutter Utility Pocket Knife Review

Foldable Box Cutter Utility Pocket Knife Review

Buy it at Amazon: Foldable Box Cutter Utility Pocket Knife [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Compact, heavy duty body, included blades may wear quickly but easily replaced.

The utility knife comes with a pre-installed blade and a case of 5 replacement blades. It is designed like a pocket knife so that it can fold in half for compact storage. The knife weighs just under 4 oz and measures 4"L x 1.5"W x 0.5"H. On the back is a belt clip so you can clip this to your toolbelt or waistband. On the front is the release button to open the blade, but it is not spring loaded. You need to hold it down as you pull or flick open the blade. Once open, the blade locks into place and the knife measures 6.25" inches long. The release button also allows you to fold the blade back up.

The knife has a nice solid heavy feel to it as it's made most of metal. There's a plastic protector tip on it when you first receive it which you can re-use. The blades used are SK5 2.25" utility blades and replacement are available online and possibly hardware stores. If a blade is worn you can simply flip it over side they are double-sided and the quick release button makes it easy to swap and change the blades. Using the utility knife is simple and the blades it comes with are sharp initially. The blades can dull quickly depending on usage but are very easy to change and the body of the knife feels durable. It has a nice ergonomic feel, grip, and weight to it.

Buy it at Amazon: Foldable Box Cutter Utility Pocket Knife [Affiliate Link]
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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Orbit Lighting Solar Shed Light Review

Orbit Lighting Solar Shed Light Review

Buy it at Amazon: Orbit Lighting Solar Shed Light [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Low powered lights, ok for single shelves or a small work area.

You'll receive two light fixtures, a solar panel with two 6 ft cords, and three packs of mounting hardware. The light fixtures are pill shaped and measure 8.5" wide, though the light portion is only 6" long. The plastic housing is 2.5" H x 1.75" D. The pull cords measure 21" long and have a plastic ball on the end. Give the cord a tug to turn the light on or off. The cords coming off the solar panel plug into the top of each light but are not necessary to have plugged in once the batteries are fully charged. The solar panel can charge both lights simultaneously and measures 5" square.

Having the lights separate from the panel allows you to mount the panel outside the shed, which swivels so you can angle it towards the sun. Then the two lights can be placed somewhere inside the shed. The batteries in the lights are replaceable if they start to go bad. Each light uses three 600 mAh Ni-MH rechargeable AA batteries. The lights aren't terribly bright, something akin to a nightlight. For lighting large areas it doesn't do a great job because the light is too dim and diffuse. When used as an overhead light rather than a wall light you can see a little more detail. One thing I didn't like was that the diffuser casts a grid like shadow over everything, and I would have preferred a smooth diffuser instead. The lights are really not suitable for illuminating large areas and are best used for lighting a single shelf or small workspace at close range.

Buy it at Amazon: Orbit Lighting Solar Shed Light [Affiliate Link]
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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Syma X20 Pocket Mini Drone Quadcopter Review

Syma X20 Pocket Mini Drone Quadcopter Review

Buy it at Amazon: Syma X20 Pocket Mini Drone Quadcopter [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Very stable mini drone, easy to operate, fun to fly!

The drone comes with a remote control, a mini screw driver, 4 replacement rotors, microUSB charging cable, and an instruction manual. This mini drone fits in the palm of your hand and measures about 4" square and 1" tall. It has 4 rotors that are protected blade guards. On front there's an acrylic lens that simulates a camera, but note that there is no camera on this drone so you will not be able to take photos or video with it. The unit takes about 20 mins to charge up and there's only 1 battery that isn't removable or replaceable, so you'll have to wait for the unit to charge up between flights. The controller requires 4 AAA batteries which are not included. What's different about this remote compared to others I've used is that the joysticks pan instead of tilting, which I found was a bit easier to maneuver.

The instructions are somewhat straightforward, though aren't always translated fluently. This drone has some nice features for first-timers; for example, there's an auto-takeoff/landing command that you can execute by pressing both shoulder buttons on the remote at the same time. The drone is very stable compared to other mini drones that I've flown. that is, it's pretty easy to maintain height and position so that it hovers in one spot. With the correct trimming it'll hover in place with little to no drift when you're indoors. Wind will affect your flying when using it outdoors and it's a bit more challenging to control and see when it gets too far from you. The 3D flip and auto-landing functions work great and I like that the auto landing sets the drone down gently rather than having it come crashing down with you cut the throttle. You'll get 6-7 minutes of flight time out of it and when the unit is fully charged. Overall, it's a fun little toy to fly around or race with other mini drones.

Buy it at Amazon: Syma X20 Pocket Mini Drone Quadcopter [Affiliate Link]
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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Vantoo Blue Denim Apron Review

Vantoo Blue Denim Apron Review

Buy it at Amazon: Vantoo Blue Denim Apron [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Light, durable, and comfortable work apron; can be used in the kitchen or workshop and looks quite stylish.
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BluEye Mini Heavy Duty Air Compressor Review

BluEye Mini Heavy Duty Air Compressor Review

Buy it at Amazon: BluEye Mini Heavy Duty Air Compressor [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Inflates fairly quickly but built-in gauge is way off ~7 PSI too high.

The air compressor comes with two additional fill nozzles and a sports ball pump. The compressor is a one piece unit that weighs 2.25 lbs and is 6"W x 3.25"L x 5.5"H. It has an attached 9 ft cord with cigarette lighter plug and 2 ft rubber inflator hose with standard Schrader valve thread tip that will screw onto your tire. In the middle is the pressure gauge marked in PSI and kPa. Just under where the where the cable is attached is the power switch. The tip screws onto the valve at the end of the hose for inflating things like pool toys and sports balls etc. and there's a narrow tip and a wide tip in addition to the sports ball pump. The instruction sheet is very brief but the unit is straightforward to use.

To check the accuracy of the gauge, I compared it to a tire gauge and the gauge on my Viair air compressor. The tire gauge and Viair both give the same reading and I'm fairly confident these are accurate. This mini pump, however, gave a reading nearly 7 PSI higher pretty consistently. The reading sometimes is a little different but it's always off and always a bit high. But as a pump it still inflates and it was able to add 7 PSI to my tire in about 2 minutes. The manual recommends not running for more than 3 minutes and allowing the unit to cool off between uses as it does run hot. The other thing to know is that when you first screw on the tip to the tire nozzle, the first half of the thread will release air from the tire in case you've overfilled so keep screwing the hose on until the air stops running out.

Since I haven't read about anyone else doing an accuracy check on the pressure gauge, it's hard for me to determine if my unit has a one-off defect or if the problem is endemic to the manufacturing quality. Overall, the pump does work at filling things with air quickly which is great for pool toys and other inflatables. It can work with a car tire too with the caveat that you may need to use a separate tire gauge to make sure the pressure is accurate.

Buy it at Amazon: BluEye Mini Heavy Duty Air Compressor [Affiliate Link]
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Monday, May 8, 2017

Crenova XPE470 LED Mini Projector Review

Crenova XPE470 LED Mini Projector Review

Buy it at Amazon: Crenova XPE470 LED Mini Projector [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Budget projector that displays SD quality, fun for movie night with the kids or a slideshow.

You'll receive the projector, remote control, 5 ft power cable, 5 ft flat gold plated HDMI cable, RCA input cable, 1" tilt foot, and an instruction manual. The projector is small and lightweight, weighing 2.25 lbs. It measures 8"W x 6"L x 3"H. The lens is 2" in diameter and comes with a rubber lens cap. The inputs for this unit are full size SD card, HDMI, VGA, RCA/AV with the included adapter and USB 2.0. There is also audio out for headphones or an external speaker, which I highly recommend you use because the on-board sound is quiet and the internal fan is loud. On the back near the bottom is the keystone dial for adjusting screen pitch if the top/bottom of your screen aren't in focus at the same time. There are controls on top of the unit but the remote has additional functions like volume, play/pause, fast forward and rewind. The remote requires 2 AAA batteries which are not included. On the bottom of the unit is a small screw hole for the tilt foot and a 1/4" screw hole for standard tripod mounting which is really convenient for placing and adjusting the projector or mounting it.

My tilt foot had a flaw where the plastic affixing the screw portion to the foot crept into the threads which prevented me from screwing it in all the way flush with the unit. This prevents me from accessing shallower angles which is slightly inconvenient but not a deal breaker since I mostly use the tripod mount anyway. The power cable on this unit is a bit short so I usually need to run an extension cord. The 1200 lumens is brighter than I expected as I have other projectors with this spec that are much dimmer during the day but distance matters too; the farther from the wall the dimmer the image. You still need very dark conditions to see the screen well, but in sufficiently dark conditions you can read text like subtitles without a problem.

While the projector doesn't have WiFi capability, the HDMI and other input methods worked fine. Note that while it accepts input resolutions up to 1080p HD, the native output resolution is 800 x 480p so higher quality video will be downscaled. At larger screen sizes (60 inch diagonal or more) the pixels will be visible. Even when set at 100 the max volume, the sound is somewhat quiet because it competes with the loud internal fan. It can also sound somewhat boxy. The sound can be improved greatly by using and external speaker connected to the audio out headphone port. In general, the contrast and color saturation were accurate to the source footage, though at times were washed out, and I had to make manual adjustments. Still, this is a budget level projector, and I wasn't expecting quality better than an old CRT TV. This projector makes it easy to have movie night at home or outdoors and show slideshows at parties.

Buy it at Amazon: Crenova XPE470 LED Mini Projector [Affiliate Link]
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Sunday, May 7, 2017

Suncore 20x50 Binoculars Review

Suncore 20x50 Binoculars Review

Buy it at Amazon: Suncore 20x50 Binoculars [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Easy to use and focus, but no scale for quick adjustments, not waterproof.

One thing I wanted to note is that the box that my unit came in had the wrong spec on it, listing them as 10x50 binoculars even though the binoculars inside were marked 20x50 on the body. The other thing is that the product description under specifications says that there's a tripod adapter (Tripod Adapter: Yes Waterproof: No) but there is not one included.While these mistakes don't affect product performance it could cause some confusion when making a purchase.

You'll receive a neoprene carry bag with a shoulder strap, the binoculars, two microfiber cleaning cloths, an instruction sheet, and a lanyard. The binoculars are pretty heavy, weighing just over two pounds. They measure about 8"W x 7"L x 2.5"H. The binoculars have rubber lens caps on the front and back lenses. The ones on the front are tethered so you don't lose them, but the ones over the eye lens are not attached so make sure you keep track of them. The width, or IPD, of the binoculars is easy to set by pulling the two tubes out or pressing them together. The instructions state there are supposed to be markings so that you can quickly set the binoculars for next time, but the ring between the eye lenses only shows a few dashes and dots that aren't that helpful for this purpose. I found them difficult to see and set accurately without a real scale and prefer ones that have line markings in contrasting colors.

Focusing each eye independently is easily achieved by following the directions but again, there's supposed to be a scale for the right eyecup so you can set it to that position quickly next time, but all you see is a plus, minus, and a dot with no reference points. In fact the rubber eye cup can be removed and re-positioned without adjusting the focus (and sometimes moves during twisting) which makes these markings useless.

However, once both eyes are focused you can look with both eyes and the image should be clear. As you look around at things that are closer or farther away, you can re-focus by turning the dial in the middle. With these binoculars, you won't be able to focus on objects that are less than 15 feet away but you should be able to focus on things about 150 feet away. The binoculars don't appear to focus to infinity for things that are really far away (not great for night or celestial viewing) Other than the missing scales for the adjustments, the binoculars are easy to set and use. They seem to work well, although sometimes the eye pieces tend to fog up and they are quite heavy so it gets tiring to hold them. You could use them for bird watching, sporting events, and even live performances, but remember that they are not waterproof if you plan to use them outdoors.

Buy it at Amazon: Suncore 20x50 Binoculars [Affiliate Link]
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Friday, May 5, 2017

Spring 2017 UPDATE: Orchard Mason Bee Observation House (TheBeesWaggle)

Spring 2017 UPDATE: Orchard Mason Bee Observation House (TheBeesWaggle) Review

Buy it at Amazon: Spring 2017 UPDATE: Orchard Mason Bee Observation House (TheBeesWaggle) [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Some residents have taken up inside the bee htoel! Let's find out what the cocoons look like.

4/24/17 UPDATE: Just a quick recap, I put out the bee house a little late in the season last year towards the end of July 2016, and in October I saw there were some larva in mud chambers. I left the house out all winter and this week I saw the first mud walls were broken through. I took the house inside the clean it out. The winter weather has worn down the house a bit. It's a weathered gray and the wood is beginning to crack a bit. However, the hardware seems in good condition. The first mud chambers are empty, but after opening up the viewing panels I found some more developing pupae. They don't exactly look like mason bees because they don't have the signature silk cocoon, however, when I removed them they started to move, so I know they're still alive.

Only one of them looks like a fully developed bee. I'm assuming the others pupae are mason wasps because I've seen wasps collecting mud around my yard during the summer, but they're still good pollinators so I'll let them mature. I transferred all the pupae to a cup which I'll cover and I cut an escape hole in so when they finish maturing they can emerge. I cleaned out the house so new eggs can be lain in the current season. It seems like the bee house was sort of a success for last season. A pollinator is a pollinator right? I'll be curious to see if I'll get different residents since my timing this year is much earlier. Here's to hoping for solitary bees this year.

Buy it at Amazon: Spring 2017 UPDATE: Orchard Mason Bee Observation House (TheBeesWaggle) [Affiliate Link]
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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Centstar Double Arc Flameless Electric Cigarette Lighter Review

Centstar Double Arc Flameless Electric Cigarette Lighter Review

Buy it at Amazon: Centstar Double Arc Flameless Electric Cigarette Lighter [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Windproof, great for candles, cigarettes, and long wicks. Won't work with pipes or cigars.

This lighter comes with an 8 in microUSB cord for charging. It has the size and shape of a typical Zippo lighter. It measures 2.75 in, 1.25 in and 3/8 in thick. It weighs about 3.5 oz. The lighter a single button on the right hand side for operation and a microUSB port on the bottom for charging. The unit takes a couple hour to charge and when the unit is charging the LED will be blue. The light shuts off when the lighter is fully charged. On a full charge the lighter can ignite up to 80 cigarettes.

The exterior has a black powder matte finish with a slightly sandy texture which makes it easy to grip with your fingers. The unit has an LED behind the button that lights up when you flip the lighter open. When the light is on you can activate the dual arc electric bands. They cross each other and form a small 'x.' The electricity used to form the arcs is high voltage so don't stick your finger in it or you'll get a shock similar to one experienced by a stun gun. The nice thing about this lighter is that it works even in windy conditions. It's also flameless and shuts off as soon as the button is let go so it is pretty safe. In addition, the lighter cap must be fully open in order to operate it. When the cap only partially open and the light is not on, you cannot activate the arcs. This prevents the lighter from becoming activated in your pocket inadvertently.

The electric arcs create high temperatures that can light a cigarette or candle wick. The part you want to ignite has to be small enough to fit between the electrodes to touch the beams. So for candles, the wick has to be long enough to touch one of the beams so that it ignites. Candles with wicks deep inside a candle holder won't work well with the lighter. Igniting takes about 1 second of contact with the arcs. With a cigarette, it helps to hold it at a 45 degree angle so that it lights the entire tip since the arcs are on a slight angle. This lighter won't work for cigars or pipes.

Buy it at Amazon: Centstar Double Arc Flameless Electric Cigarette Lighter [Affiliate Link]
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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Kwock Mini LED Studio Light Box Review

Kwock Mini LED Studio Light Box Review

Buy it at Amazon: Kwock Mini LED Studio Light Box [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Bright LED for small object photography, a bit flimsy but usable and packs up compactly.

The light studio comes in a non-woven drawstring carrying bag. Inside you'll find a thin white foam backdrop, a black backdrop, the folded up light studio, and a brief instruction sheet. The lightbox is folded up on arrival but easy to set up. Each wall of the box measures about 9" square and it'll assemble into a 9" cube with 5 faces. The sides are held together using small magnets. Along the top outer edge of the box is an 8" LED light strip. The USB cord plugs into the right hand side, however, it is only 34" long so there's not a lot of length to run to an outlet with a USB adapter plug.

The light has no power switch so it will always be on while it is plugged in. I noticed that the weight of the USB cable tends to deform the cube somewhat and the magnets are a bit fickle. They unstick with the slightest bit of pressure or adjustment to the box, so be sure to set up the box how you want it and then not move it around until you are done shooting. At the back of the box are two push tabs near the top; press these inward inside the box and it creates two hanging points for the included backdrops which have holes cutout for this purpose. The boxdrops are made from a thin foam-like material (like a chamois towel). The box is only large enough to photograph small objects like jewelry, coins, and figurines, however, it does provide a nice clean looking environment for these types of objects. If you use something larger, you'll inevitably get the exposed corners of the box and the side flaps in the shot. Overall, the light box is usable photographing for small objects. It does have a few issues with stability that you'll need to work around, but the light is adequately bright for the space and the unit folds up compactly for travel.

Buy it at Amazon: Kwock Mini LED Studio Light Box [Affiliate Link]
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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

MuscleFixTape Kinesiology Tape 100 Precut KT Strips Review

MuscleFixTape Kinesiology Tape 100 Precut KT Strips Review

Buy it at Amazon: MuscleFixTape Kinesiology Tape 100 Precut KT Strips [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Good length strips, adhesive could be stronger, may help with recovery/relief from soreness or muscle pain.

You'll get one roll of tape with pre-cut lengths that are 2" wide and 10" long. There are 100 pieces for a total of about 83 ft of tape. The sections are perforated and easy to tear off. While there are no instructions included, plenty of tutorials exist online and a few sample usages are on the company website.

For some applications you may need to split the tape in half by cutting it part way down the center to make a Y or X. There's a grid on the back of the tape so you can cut a straight line. The ends of each strip are already rounded off which will help them stay adhered to your skin. Make sure that you apply the tape to clean, dry, lotion free skin. It also helps to shave the area first so the adhesive won't pull on hair when you remove it. Be sure to rub the tape to activate adhesion after placing it in the correct position. The tape can be tricky to apply yourself, so having an experienced KT specialist do the application is preferred.

If you experience any irritation from the tape, you should remove it immediately, but otherwise you should be able to wear this tape for several days or until it's no longer sticky. Just be careful when removing it as it can feel like peeling off a large bandaid. I've used this tape to alleviate muscle and joint pain, increase mobility, and speed recovery; it works well for me.

Buy it at Amazon: MuscleFixTape Kinesiology Tape 100 Precut KT Strips [Affiliate Link]
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