Categories
Electronics Shopping

Premium Sound Systems at BEST Electronics

Best Electronics carry a few high-end sound systems but they’re only located in their flagship store in Shuwaikh. I’ve previously brushed on this briefly during my home sound system upgrade post but decided it was worth highlighting again since BEST recently moved their Shuwaikh store to a newer location and in the process, expanded their sound system section.

Here are some of the brands they carry at this one specific location:

Anthem
Denon
Definitive Technology
Earthquake Sound
Gallo Acoustics
Paradigm
Technics

You won’t find these items on their website or in any of their other locations. The new BEST store is located right next to their old location and is huge. The premium sound system section is located in the back corner on the ground floor and they even have a small theater room in which they demonstrate different screen projectors and speakers.

If you want to check any of the brands above out, here is the location of this store on Google Maps.

Categories
Electronics

My Favorite Headphones are on Sale

A couple of years ago I posted a review on the Sony WH-1000XM3 noise-canceling headphones. They’re really really great and I’ve been using them ever since that post as my go-to travel headphones since they do such an incredible job of canceling the plane noise (they’re better than Bose). Back then I purchased them for around KD110 but this weekend I noticed they were on sale at Xcite for just 55KD! (cheaper than Amazon even)

I made a friend purchase a pair and figured I’d post about it as well. 55KD for these headphones is a too good to pass price. If you’re looking for noise-canceling headphones, get these before they sell out. I spotted them at their Hawalli branch but they also have them on their website.

Categories
50s to 90s Electronics Shopping

Vintage Mobile Phones

There are a lot of instagram accounts that sell old mobile phones but I found one that actually sells new old stock (NOS) phones. The account is called @mobiles.kw and the prices seem reasonable. I mean I asked about one phone which was the Ericsson T68i and he’s selling it new for KD40 which is actually really reasonable compared to the prices online. If you want an old phone for nostalgic reasons or maybe to play Snake on, check out his account.

Categories
Electronics Geek Shopping

Eufy Smart Plug

I posted a few days ago that I recently got a new Espresso Machine, but unlike my previous one, my new machine doesn’t have the option to turn on automatically every morning. It doesn’t sound like a big thing but espresso machines need around 30 minutes to heat up properly which is an eternity when all I want is my morning coffee. So I decided to my first smart plug to automate the morning process for me.

I haven’t really had a need for any home automation product but since I got my first smart plug, I’ve now bought a second one and just about to order my third. These things are pretty practical and super easy to set up. I ended up getting the Eufy Smart Plug since I found it readily available locally and it was the same brand as my RoboVac which meant I didn’t have to install a new app on my phone.

The way the smart plug works is you plug it into a power socket and then plug a device into it like my coffee machine. You then connect the smart plug to your wifi network and access its settings using an app. With the app, I set up a schedule for my coffee machine to turn on every morning at 6:30AM so that the machine is ready for me to use when I wake up at 7. I also use the app to manually turn on the machine in the afternoon before I leave the office. That way by the time I get home my machine is ready to use.

The smart plug has a number of other features including the ability to monitor the uptime of your devices, how much electricity they consumed, and the smart plug can also integrate with both Google Home and Amazon Alexa. I have my second smart plug connected to a floor lamp in my bedroom so I can now turn it off before I go to sleep with a voice command.

The only issue I have with the smart plug really is the price. It costs KD11.5 which isn’t cheap especially if you want to have a few of them around the house. It’s also fairly bulky so if you have a plug say behind the couch or a dresser, you’re gonna have a very tight squeeze if it manages to fit at all. If you’re interested in picking one up, I got mine from Blink.

Categories
Electronics Shopping

Ordering an Espresso Machine Online

Back in March, on the very first day I was going to start working from home, my Breville Oracle espresso machine decided to break down. I thought about repairing it myself which I’ve previously done since there is no local dealer, but I hated working on it the last time since the machine was not easy to self-service. I didn’t know what I was going to do at first, do I buy a new machine? Do I wait until things reopen and find a guy to fix it? Do I take it with me to the Dubai dealer when airports eventually reopen? I was actually close to reordering the same machine from Amazon UK but then I asked myself, why do I want to get the exact same machine I had which will eventually breakdown again?

I decided to go down the classic car route direction, I wanted a new coffee machine that was mostly mechanical, very little to no technology, and easy to fix in case something went wrong. After doing a lot of research and watching hundreds and hundreds of coffee-related videos on YouTube, I decided to go for the Rocket Appartamento.

Rocket is an Italian company that are known for making great quality prosumer machines that are also beautiful looking. They have 7 different machines they make and the Appartamento was their entry-level machine that would fulfill my requirements. All I really needed was a machine that looked good, had very little that could go wrong with it, if something did go wrong I could easily fix, and finally, a machine that would allow me to steam my latte milk while pulling an espresso shot at the same time.

The Rocket Appartamento fit all my requirements and was fairly reasonably priced compared to its larger siblings. I looked for the machine locally first and even though I found a couple of small businesses that sold Rocket machines, they were all out of stock. In the end, I decided to order my machine online from Espresso Coffee Shop who are based in Italy and ship to Kuwait. Their prices were great since they remove the VAT when exporting and with the price of shipping to Kuwait the machine was turning out to be around 50KD cheaper than the price of the machine when it was available locally. It seemed too good to be true but I checked online reviews and they seemed legit. But, Espresso Coffee Shop were also out of stock on machines since the Rocket factory in Italy had shut down due to the pandemic. But I called them up and they told me that the factory had reopened and I’d be in line to get one in their next shipment which was in around 2 weeks time. That was fine with me so I ended up ordering a few things from them:

Rocket Appartamento (White)
Rocket Faustino Grinder (Black)
Acaia Lunar Scale
Rocket Tamping Mat
Rocket Bottomless Portafilter
Rocket Knock Box
Rocket Milk Jug
Motta Leveling Tool

The guys at Espresso Coffee Shop were pretty helpful and patient even though I’m sure they were swamped with orders. I actually amended my order four different times while waiting on my machine to be back in stock by adding and changing different items. The Acaia scale alone I had changed three times mostly because of my willingness to pay so much money for a scale. Through all my indecisiveness, Espresso Coffee Shop were very accomodating and patient with me. I did all my communication over the phone and never had to wait longer than a minute or two to talk to someone on their team. Once my machine was finally in stock they shipped everything to Kuwait for KD110 via UPS. It took only a few days to get to Kuwait from Italy but it arrived mid May during our lockdown and UPS wasn’t delivering so I had to wait until last week to finally get it delivered to me. I was worried they’d send me the wrong items because of how many times I amended my order but thankfully the most expensive and important items which were the coffee machine, grinder, and scale arrived correctly. The only item that didn’t arrive was my milk jug which they forgot to pack. So I called Espresso Coffee Shop and they were very apologetic and refunded me the amount on the spot.

I’ve now been using the machine a few times daily since I got it and it’s been great, I love it. So if you’re looking to buy an espresso machine I’d really recommend checking out Espresso Coffee Shop. Here is the link to their website.

Categories
Electronics

DIY: Repairing my Oracle Coffee Machine

Many of you have probably ordered an item online because it wasn’t available in Kuwait. But, what do you do if that item breaks down?

Last month, my Breville coffee machine developed a leak. I didn’t realize at first since the leak wasn’t that much, but then the leak got worse and I started finding a pool of water under my coffee machine. Since they don’t sell Breville coffee machines in Kuwait there wasn’t much I could do so I continued using the machine and just dried up the pool of water whenever it formed. Eventually, the leak got even worse and it was short-circuiting the machine and shutting off the power to my whole apartment. I stopped using my machine and started having my coffee at Arabica, but that gets pretty expensive really fast. 2 lattes + a Pain au Chocolat every day (best Pain au Chocolat period so I can’t resist) is just over KD80 a month. I had to make a decision, either I needed to get a new machine or fix the one I have.

I decided to open up my coffee machine to see exactly what was leaking and right away I found the problem. Turns out the leak was coming from the internal boiler, whenever the water heated it up, the boiler would start leaking from the top. I shot a video which you can see above. I googled my problem and found out the issue was because of the o-rings, little circular rubber pieces that are located between the tubing and the boiler unit.

Breville doesn’t sell these pieces themselves, but I ended up finding a store in Australia that sold an o-ring kit for around 3.5KD. I ordered the kit and once it arrived I found a video on YouTube of a guy changing the o-rings on his Breville coffee machine and copied what he did on mine.

End result? My coffee machine is working again! I sorted out all the leaks and I’m back to making my coffee at home. I was lucky my coffee machine was a pretty easy fix but it’s something you’re always risking when buying stuff online. But, if you ever develop a problem, it’s worth trying to fix it yourself before throwing it out. You don’t have anything to lose anyway.

Categories
Electronics Reviews

Review: Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H5 Wireless Earphones

The last time I reviewed earphones on my blog was back in 2016 when I purchased the Sennheiser IE80 earphones. I still have them, I still love them, and I still constantly use them when I travel. But, since getting an iPhone X and losing the headphone jack, I decided to explore my wireless options. I mean I don’t mind using the dongle to connect my earphones to my phone, but I was just curious to try and go wireless.

I don’t like the way the Apple AirPods look so I didn’t even consider getting them, so after a bit of research, I narrowed down my options to the Beats X and the Beats PowerBeats 3. I really didn’t want to be cliche and go with a pair of Beats, but both pairs contained Apple’s W1 chip to make connecting across all my Apple products easier, and honestly, the X looked pretty minimal and slick. But, I decided I’d go with the PowerBeats 3 because they were better for working out and had a much longer battery life (11 hours). Just before getting them, I decided to check out the reviews on Amazon and damn, they were terrible. Loads of people were complaining about the reliability and how they would suddenly stop working, so I decided I was just not gonna bother with wireless and stick to my IE80s.

Then, a friend of mine decided to get a pair of beautiful Bang & Olufsen wireless earphones, the BeoPlay H5. I was with her when she purchased them and so was kinda tempted to buy a pair for myself, but at KD85, they were just more than I wanted to spend, especially since I really loved my IE80s. Luckily for me though, after using them for a couple of days, she decided she didn’t like them. The earphone cable kept getting tangled up in her hair and so she decided to stick to her AirPods and offered to sell me the H5’s for half the price. So I got them.

Now that I’ve been using them for around 10 days, I’m not sure how I feel about them mostly because I’ve got two main issues with them:

Battery Life
B&O say the H5’s last for up to 5 hours and that’s just too little for me. If I’m traveling to Beirut, that’s a flight that’s just over two hours long. Add two more hours of use on top of that at the airport, and if I’m listening at full blast (which I always do) the batteries are going to be dead by the fourth hour. And this is a short flight, forget about using these on longer flights. You can’t even charge the earphones with a standard USB plug which means if you want to charge the earphones on the go, you would need to carry around the included charging stand which has a pretty long cable attached to it.

Volume Level
The second issue and what is probably annoying me more than the short battery life is the volume level, it’s just not that high. I tend to listen to my music at pretty loud levels and the H5 are not loud enough. Whenever a good part of a track kicks in I keep reaching for the volume to try and increase it only to realize it’s already on max. The H5 feels like it needs to be at least 25% louder.. all the time.

But, on the bright side, the sound quality of the earphones is pretty good, they’re not bassy but they’re also not too bright which I was worried they would be. They’re also super stylish, I’ve got the “Moss Green” version and I just love the way they look. These are definitely the nicest pair of wireless earphones you can get.

But, I’m not sure if these are enough reasons for me to keep the earphones since they definitely won’t be replacing my IE80s. Right now I’m sitting at Arabica listening to my music with the H5’s, and I appreciate that they’re wireless since I’m moving around freely without having to keep disconnecting my headphones from the computer or getting the wire tangled up with the other items on the table. But I’m also constantly hitting the volume up button trying to make them louder, and I’ve already been here for 3 hours so not sure how much longer they’re going to play before shutting down. They sure do look good though…

If you’re interested in a pair, you can find them at the B&O dealer in Symphony mall or on Amazon for slightly cheaper [Link]

Categories
Electronics Pantry Tips Reviews

Pantry Tips: The Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker

I’m not normally a presents kinda girl but I did ask for one thing last year; the Anova. If you aren’t familiar, the Anova is a home sous vide machine. With sous vide cooking you stick food in a vacuum sealed bag and cook it in a controlled water bath to ensure your meats (typically) come out at optimal juiciness.

The Anova is a great kitchen tool for anyone who loves home cooking. It’s extremely affordable at 100USD and super easy to use. You can control the temperatures from the app on your phone and the cooker itself will easily attach to anything from pots, to big plastic Ikea containers if you’re planning on going to town.

The results are amazing but it does take time, so don’t expect to be using your Anova daily. Though I have made sous vide eggs, which were spectacular, I’ve only done it twice in the past year. Why? Because it’s a 45 min process and lets be honest, eggs are eggs, and ain’t nobody got time for that.

The Anova is amazing though for proteins, your steaks will always come out picture perfect and your chicken breasts juicy as ever. I have a bunch of friends that have gotten Anova’s recently and they all seem to enjoy it too, it’s a tool that really makes you feel like a pro-chef in the kitchen at a fraction of the cost of most other kitchen gadgets. [Amazon Link]

Post by Hind
CoFounder of PantryBee where home cooking is made easy.

Categories
Electronics Reviews

Review: Sennheiser IE80 Earphone

ie80

Since around 2007 and up until last year I had basically been loyal to one earphone brand and thats Ultimate Ears. They were so good that I ended up going through three pairs, I started with the Ultimate Ears SuperFi 5 Pro in 2007 and then upgraded to the TripleFi 10 until they stopped working so I bought a second pair of the same ones. I just couldn’t find anything better for the price and decided to stick to them even though they had failed me. Then last year my second pair started failing as well so I decided to look for an alternative.

After a lot of research I ended up getting the Sennheiser IE80. There were a number of factors that played into my decision with the main ones being the sound signature, the price, the comfort and the brand. Trying to buy a pair of earphones without being able to try them on and listening to them is extremely difficult. Why would you choose a pair of $150 earphones over a pair of $100 ones or how much better do a pair of $500 or even $1,000 pair of earphones sound over a $300 pair? Theres an earphone at every price point and I had to go through tons of reviews and read hundreds of different comments by people in various forums before I could finally decide on a pair. What made things more complicated with me was that I didn’t really have a budget. I didn’t mind paying $70 and I wouldn’t have minded paying $500 since music is important for me and so I really need to have great sounding earphones. I think I might have even been willing to pay a $1,000 if it meant I’d be getting ear euphoria followed by a happy ending from an Eastern European model.

One of the most important factors in choosing an earphone would be the amount and quality of bass they had. I listen to a lot of electronic music and really need deep bass to thoroughly enjoy the music. But I didn’t want boomy bass and I also didn’t want the rest of the sound spectrum to be muddled. Based on what I read the Sennheiser IE80’s fit into what I was looking for. They also cost around $280 which wasn’t too bad and from all the reviews I read they seemed to be very comfortable as well so I went a head and ordered a pair last July while I was in LA.

When I first got the IE80’s I was actually disappointed with the sound since I found them too bright and lacking deep bass. Even when I tried all the different earphone tips provided with the earphones I couldn’t get the bass to the level I needed it to be. After going back to some forums and reading up I noticed a lot of people were recommending to combine the IE80’s with a pair of Comply T-500 Foam Tips. So I ordered a pair of those tips and I’m so glad I did. They completely changed how the earphones sounded by providing better isolation which resulted in much deeper bass. Since then I’ve been using the IE80’s frequently including on 5 plane trips that were over 10 hours long. They’re very comfortable and they sound insanely good, better than any pair of earphones I’ve previously used. The only down side I have with them is their carrying case which I find a bit too big and bulky to carry and also not that practical to use. Other than that minor issue I’d highly recommend these earphones. If when you do get a pair and the bass seems a bit weak even after burning them in then do what I did and order the Comply tips as well.

I bought my pair of IE80’s from Amazon for KD86 [Link] but they’re available locally at aDawliah for KD117. The Comply T-500 tips cost me another KD5 and I bought those from Amazon as well [Link].

Categories
Electronics Giveaway Reviews

Cybord Drift Board Review and Giveaway

cyboard

Last week I was having brunch with a friend at Cheesecake Factory in Avenues when I spotted two kids on drift boards playing around. My friend hadn’t seen one before but I had a couple of weeks earlier when I was in LA. I didn’t really know what they were or what they were called but the way the kids were going at it, it looked like it was a lot of fun. So I turned to my friend and told her I needed to find out who the dealer in Kuwait was so I could get one to review. Not exaggerating, literally less than 5 minutes later I get an email from a company called ClaroTek who were introducing a drift board to the Kuwaiti market and wanted to see if I would be interested in trying it out. I looked over at my friend and I was like you won’t believe this but guess what…

cyboardcolors

I ended up meeting the guy and picking up the Cybord drift board later that day. He gave me a brief background on the Cybord as well as instructions on how to use it and once we were done meeting I went back home to try it out. Getting on the drift board the first time is freaky, your first aim obviously is not to fall off but that requires you to put all your trust into a Chinese made device that you’ve never used before. That makes the first couple of minutes the most difficult but once you’re up on the board and moving around the learning curve quickly speeds up and within 5 minutes you’re riding around as if you’ve been doing it for months. The device is very intuitive and requires very little body movement to work which is why when you watch people on it you wonder how they’re controlling it. Thats because to move all you need to do is press down on your toes gently, if you want to turn right you just push slightly more on your right toe, if you want to stop you flatten your feet, to move back you move some weight towards your heels. It’s all done with very minor movements.

These things can also go pretty fast, the Cybord can go up to 12km/h and has a battery that will make it last 15-20km. The whole thing also weighs just 10KG. There are many different brands of the drift board and they all look exactly the same. What sets ClaroTek apart from the rest of the competitors in the local market is that they’ll be selling them at Xcite and will have AAA warranty which basically covers accidental damage amongst other things. That’s why ClaroTek chose Samsung batteries for the Cybord, to increase the reliability of the device.


[YouTube]

After using the Cybord for a week, this is what I think. I can’t believe they’ve managed to take the Segway and squeeze it down to the size of a skateboard. The technology is impressive and compared to the Segway, the drift boards are really cheap. Riding it is a lot of fun but my favorite use for it was pacing up and down my apartment while chatting on my phone which brings me to the issue I have with these boards, I wouldn’t know where to use them. As a kid it’s a no brainer, kids will love riding and playing with the drift board and they wouldn’t mind doing it in public because they’re kids. As an adult it’s different, first of all you’re bound to look like a douche riding around on one of these things in public like say a mall. And if you’re not riding it inside malls where else would you ride them? Kuwait doesn’t exactly have fantastic sidewalks and when they do not all the sidewalks have the wheelchair slopes so you’re going to end up getting off and on the device a lot. The only outdoor places I could think of riding the boards is the Gulf Road sidewalks but I’d rather walk, cycle or run them not cruise up and down on an electronic board. On the other hand ClaroTek were telling me they sold a bunch to a company who have a huge warehouse and so they will be used by their employees to move around quicker. That to me makes a lot more sense than riding around Avenues.

The Cybord will be available at Xcite soon but you can preorder one right now from the ClaroTek website. They come in four colors and they will be selling them for KD229 including the 1 year AAA warranty. Here is a link to their website with all the details [Link]

Now since I don’t have any use for the review unit I’ve decided to give it away to a lucky winner. If you’re interested in winning the Cybord just answer the following question in the comments: What is the name of the company that gave me the review unit?

Rules: The comments will be closed tonight. Winner will have to pick up the Cybord. Only one entry per person and please make sure you use a working email since the winner will be contacted by email. If winner doesn’t respond, another winner will be randomly chosen.

Update: I closed the posts for comments at 6AM. I used random.org to choose the winner and it’s comment #102 by V. Email has been sent, if winner doesn’t respond in 24 hours a second winner will be chosen.

winner

Categories
Electronics Reviews

My love and hate relationship with the Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A2

a2-1

When the BeoPlay A2 was first announced back in October, the first thing I did was head over to the local Bang & Olufsen dealer to find out when they were going to get it. I own two other B&O products which I love; the B&O A7 and the BeoLit 12 and since I had been looking to get a travel speaker for sometime now, I knew I also wanted the A2.

Two things sold me on the A2, the first is the way it looks (I fell in love with the green model right away) and the second was the 24 hour battery life.

The A2 ended up arriving to Kuwait just a few days before my trip to Cape Town which was perfect timing since I was hoping to take the speaker with me on that trip. They had received only one green speaker and I made sure I would be the first one to get it. The price was KD150, around KD30 more expensive than Amazon but since I had a good relationship with the local dealer and since I wanted it right away I didn’t mind paying the extra KD30.

At first glance the A2 ended up exceeding my expectations. Not only did the speaker look better in person than in pictures but the sound that it produced was so much bigger and better than you’d expect from such a small portable speaker. I was mind blown. In my room in Cape Town the speaker was able to fill the room easily at lower volumes and produce enough bass to impress me. When I took it to the beach I was even more impressed, at near full volume the speaker sounded fantastic outdoors even with the sounds of the waves crashing on the beach. I even snapchatted how this was simply the best portable Bluetooth speaker ever and I even whatsapped the dealer the shot below of the speaker on the beach. But then just like that, my experience went downhill nearly instantly.

a2beach

Up until the moment I took the speaker to the beach I had been using it plugged in to the power. But around two hours into my first outing with the BeoPlay A2 I noticed the volume suddenly dropped considerably. At first I thought the speaker overheated because I was out in the sun but even after shutting it off for 15 minutes and turning it back on the speakers volume was still very low. It was barely audible but I kept playing the music until the speaker went dead. Once I got back to my room I checked the manual and turns out once the battery level reaches 10% the volume level drops to around half way.

It didn’t make sense how I hit 10% battery life after barely 2 hours of use, that’s 22 hours less than the claimed 24 hour battery life. I thought I must not have charged it fully so I charged the A2 again and tried it the next day. Again I got barely 2 hours of use. I was pissed off because I was all the way in Cape Town with a defective device. So I whatsapped the Kuwait dealer to let them know about my issue and once I got back to Kuwait I passed by them and dropped off my speaker. They didn’t have any green speakers in stock so I had to wait around a month until they got their second shipment in stock so I could pick up my replacement. Once I got the replacement speaker I went back home, fully charged the device and then played some music at full blast while timing it with a stop watch. At exactly 58 minutes and 26 seconds, the speaker completely shutdown. I was mortified since I ended swapping my speaker for one that was even worse! I charged it again and the next day played the exact same playlist at full volume. This time the speaker lasted 1 hour and 11 seconds before completely shutting down. I couldn’t understand what was happening, there is a HUGE difference between a claimed 24 hour battery life and my 1 hour experience. Obviously I wasn’t expecting my device to last 24 hours at full volume but I was expecting it to last around 10 or at least maybe 6. But just 1 hour? Convinced I had picked up a second defective unit I headed back to B&O to let them know. I explained to them the problem and how my second unit was performing even worse than my first one. They agreed to take the device and run some tests before getting back to me. A couple of weeks later I get a phone call with an explanation. According to the B&O head quarters, battery life can last only an hour depending on the kind of music and the volume its being played at. My units were not defective, they were perfectly fine but because B&O state an up to 24 hour battery life in their marketing material, my expectations were just too high. In any case the Kuwait B&O dealer gave me three options, the first is I could give them back the A2 and once the shipment of the new BeoLit 15 arrives I could pay the difference and get that. The second option was to swap the A2 for a third new A2 or finally I could just get a cash refund. Since I already had the BeoLit 12 I wasn’t really interested in the newer version. I also wasn’t interested in a cash refund since I actually wanted a travel speaker and when connected to power the BeoPlay A2 sounded incredible. So I opted to swap it with another unit in hopes the newer unit would have a better battery life than mine. Sadly that didn’t turn out to be the case and my current unit lasts as long as my previous ones.

a2-2

So here is my dilemma. I don’t know if I can recommend this speaker even though I love it so much because I also hate it so much. I never expected Bang & Olufsen to be so misleading with their marketing since I always saw them as very Apple like. But I’ve now realized Apple is far more trustworthier than Bang & Olufsen. When Apple claims a Macbook Air lasts for 9 hours in normal use most of the time it ends up lasting 10 in real world use. Apple doesn’t lower the brightness to the lowest setting, turn off wifi and Bluetooth and let the Macbook sit there idly and then say the battery life is 24 hours. They could if they wanted to but then no one would trust them. On the other hand B&O are being extremely misleading with their battery life claims. When they say 24 hours, as a user I expect that number to be an achievable claim under normal use. From what I’ve been reading online people have no idea how they can get 24 hours out of the A2 unless its at the lowest volume level and that’s not normal use. So this is what I will say about the A2. If you’re looking for a small speaker with incredible sound then I definitely recommend the BeoPlay A2. But if you’re looking for a portable speaker, one you could take to the beach, camping or anywhere requiring the use of the speakers battery, then I would definitely NOT recommend the BeoPlay A2. Not unless you’re fine with an hour or two of battery life that is.

Categories
Apple Electronics Reviews

Review: Alpine iLX-007 and Apple CarPlay

carplay1

Apple’s CarPlay is an operating system for cars that allows you to connect your iPhone and control it from within your car display. Ever since Apple revealed it I had been eagerly waiting for a third party to launch a unit that I could buy and plug into my car. The first company to announce a unit was Pioneer and then at the end of October Alpine released their own CarPlay unit, the iLX-007. Right as soon as it became available I ordered it and I’ve now had it for around a month so I’ve decided to go ahead and review it.

This is my fourth Alpine unit with iPhone/iPod compatibility but the first to use Apple’s new CarPlay OS. There isn’t much to review in the Alpine unit itself since its basically useless without CarPlay. If you don’t have an iPhone the Alpine unit is just a $500 FM/AM receiver. It doesn’t have a CD player or even Bluetooth but it does have an Aux input. The only other thing worth mentioning is the fact I can change and fine tune the sound/speaker settings all from my iPhone using the Alpine Tune App which is a pretty cool feature. So anyway for the rest of the review I’ll be focusing on CarPlay itself.

carplay2

After using CarPlay for over a month now I’ve developed a love and hate relationship with it. On one hand I love how seamlessly the iPhone integrates with my car but I also hate how the software feels unpolished as well. First lets talk about the good stuff.


[YouTube]

I recorded a video which you can watch above showing how easy and simple it is to interact and use CarPlay. My biggest reason for wanting CarPlay was the fact that Spotify is a supported app. Even though I could previously use Spotify with all my older Alpine units, this is the first time I can actually browse through my playlists, music and other Spotify specific areas all through my cars interface. I also like how well Siri works in my car now and how I could have her make calls for me or read or send messages which I dicate to her. And thats about it when it comes to the good stuff.

carplay3

Now here is whats wrong with CarPlay… it’s still very new. It reminds me of the iPhone when it first came out and so I’m expecting a lot of things to get fixed pretty soon but for now here are my biggest issues:

– Maps. For some reason I had the impression Google Maps came built into CarPlay but when I got it I realized it’s actually Apple Maps which sucks big time in Kuwait. It shows you all the roads on the screen but it won’t give you directions and you can’t search for anything. It’s pretty much useless and I’m hoping Google Maps will work with CarPlay pretty soon.

– When your phone is connected to CarPlay, ALL notifications on your phone get turned off. Meaning if your phone screen is off and someone sends you a message on Whatsapp you won’t be able to tell since the notification screen doesn’t come on to let you know nor will you get a sound notification. You don’t even get a popup on the CarPlay screen informing you of a notification like you do if you get an iMessage or SMS. Same with email or any other notification, they all stop showing on your phones lock screen and you don’t get notified in CarPlay. This means I now drive around with my phone screen on and my notification screen pulled down so I can glance at my phone every now and then while driving to check and see if I got any notifications.

– If you get or make a phone call you can’t talk to the person from your phone. You can either talk to them hands-free on the cars speakers or using your phones speakerphone. There is no option to talk to them privately using your phone so if there are people in your car the only way you can answer a phone privately is to disconnect the phone from CarPlay and then mute the car sound system (since it automatically switches to FM when you remove the phone) and then answer the phone. Super unpractical and I mean come on Apple WTF?

– Not many apps support CarPlay yet. As of now there are a handful of apps that work but the two I use are Spotify and Sticher for podcasts. I’d like to see Google Maps, Soundcloud, Whatsapp, HypeMachine and YouTube integrated into CarPlay. Just to be clear right now you can use music apps like Soundcloud with CarPlay but in basic form. For example if you play a track in Soundcloud on your phone you can view the track name and album art on the CarPlay screen and forward, pause and reverse from the screen as well but that’s it.

So as I mentioned already, CarPlay is still in its infancy. I’m expecting a lot of bugs and things to get fixed with upcoming updates and I’m also expecting a lot more app support as CarPlay becomes more and more popular. For now though if you’re considering getting CarPlay just be aware of it’s limitations. I don’t have any regrets getting it and Spotify alone is worth it for me. My Alpine iLX-007 unit cost me $499 and I picked it up from Pacific Stereo since they were one of the first to carry it.

Categories
Electronics Personal Photography Reviews

The Garmin Virb Elite

garmin virb elite

I’ve never been a fan of the GoPro cameras so that’s why when I wanted to get an action camera a couple of years ago I ended up getting the Contour+ instead, it had some exciting features the Contour lacked as well as a slicker form factor. But, that wasn’t enough to overthrow GoPro since two years later, GoPro is still here while Contour collapsed last year due to financial difficulties. Now it’s Garmin’s turn to try and take on the GoPro with the new Virb action camera. Garmin are known for their navigation devices and this is their first attempt at an action camera so the local dealer in Kuwait passed me one to review.

I’ve had the camera now for around two months and I think I’ve got a clear idea of what I think about it. I’ve used it to record my bike trips, I’ve used it off roading in Lebanon and I’ve even tried using it as a dash cam. Generally I like the camera, it’s not perfect but it has some cool features that might make some people choose it over the more popular GoPros.

The biggest feature I think that will win people over is the durable water resistant rubber shell. The camera feels very well built and can take abuse which is why I wasn’t afraid of dropping it. Actually during this one trip the camera flew off my ATV while speeding on a rocky mountain trail. Not a scratch, not even on the lens. But even if I did scratch the lens it’s a cheap $20 part I could replace myself. Garmin wants me to put this camera in risky situations not be worried about damaging it and I love that.

Another great feature is the fact the camera has a large color LCD screen which you could use to help you frame your shots, for playback or to adjust any of the settings. The camera also has a large record toggle button similar to the one I used to have on my Contour camera which means I can turn on the camera and start recording by just moving the switch forward. Specs wise the camera can shoot 1080p at 30fps, 720p at 60fps and for extra slow mo, WVGA at 120fps. It also has GPS, wifi, bluetooth and even ANT+ so you could connect it to your heart rate monitor or other ANT+ device and overlay that information onto your video.


[YouTube]

I think the biggest issue with the Virb is the weight of the camera. Because the camera is built like a tank it’s heavier than the GoPro and that might turn some people off. Also the majority of the footage I shot was coming out slightly underexposed and desaturated as you can see in the short video above. Finally the color of the device turned out to be problematic. The Virb I received for testing was white but after having it for a couple of months now and the abuse its taken from me the white now has a bit of a brown tint where it fell into the dirt and I had difficulty restoring it. Getting the black version would be the easy fix here.

The majority of the people interested in an action camera will most likely get the GoPro because thats the one everyone gets. But, that doesn’t mean it would be the best option for you. If you’re looking for a camera that can take some abuse or a camera in which you could overlay data onto your video like the speed you’re traveling or your heart rate, then you should consider checking out the Virb. The price of the Garmin starts at KD85 for the normal Virb or KD109 for the Virb Elite which is the one I tested.

Categories
Electronics Food

Another Slow Juicer Option

kuvings

Turns out the Hurom brand of slow juicers isn’t the only option for slow juicers in Kuwait. I spotted the above two Kuvings slow juicers at SaveCo and although they cost more than the Hurom (KD124 and KD109 compared to KD99 for the Hurom), the model on the left does accept larger pieces of fruit and according to this comparison video, can also yield more juice than the Hurom. For those of you who don’t know, slow juicers are preferred by some people because they tend to retain more nutrients during the juicing process when compared to normal juicers.

Categories
Electronics Food Personal Reviews

The Blendtec Q-Series Blender

blendtec1

Recently I went on a blender hunt since I wanted to replace my Philips blender which started to struggle making my smoothies. I started checking out the two best blender brands, VitaMix and Blendtec. Just like the great SNES vs Genesis battle there is a similar one between VitaMix and Blendtec. You have to choose sides, it’s either VitaMix or Blendtec and you can’t have both. Both brands have excellent blenders and no matter which one you choose you can’t go wrong. After watching countless videos on YouTube of people comparing the two blenders and basically just watching people blend stuff, I came to the conclusion that both blend extremely well but I was choosing Blendtec. Why?

  • I liked the way Blendtec blenders looked like compared to the VitaMix blenders. Looks aren’t everything but if I was going to spend so much on a blender and bond with it then I wanted to like everything about it including looks. For people with low kitchen cabinets the VitaMix might not fit underneath because the VitaMix jars are tall and thin while the Blendtec jars are wide and short. The Blendtec blenders also look like modern kitchen appliances while the VitaMix have an old school look which is probably why they’re so popular with hipsters.

  • I’m a huge a fan of the Blendtec informercial series “Will it blend?“. In the show the company founder tries to blend random objects in their blenders and he’s blended everything from iPhones and iPads to glow sticks and McDonalds meals. If it can blend an iPhone, it can blend my smoothie.

  • The local Blendtec dealer is Mabrook, the same dealer as KitchenAid and I’m already a customer there.

There really weren’t that many models to choose from at the VitaMix and Blendtec dealers and both of them carried only the business range. The Blendtec dealer had only three models, the Blendtec Xpress, the Q-Series which was their midrange unit and the Chef which was their top of the line model. I ended up going with the Q-Series because I loved the size of the unit, the way it looked and the soundproofing features. The fact that Starbucks also uses the same blender didn’t hurt either.

blendtec2

The blender came in a huge unmarked brown box with just a small label on the side describing the contents. Inside the large box was the blender, two jars, some manuals and a CD. Setting up the blender was as simple as plugging it in and turning it on. It works right out of the box just like a regular blender. The “Q” in the “Q-Series” stands for quiet since the unit has sound proofing inside the case around the motor as well as a noise preventing cover that closes down over your jar. It’s meant for coffee shops and juice bars where they have to keep the noise level down as low as possible so as not to annoy the customers. The controls are fairly basic at first glance, 6 touch buttons on the top and a large power switch on the front but the 6 buttons on top are all customizable and programmable. The blender has 9 blending speeds and 30 pre-programmed blend cycles. Using the supplied “Cycle Chart” you can set up any of the 30 available pre-sets to any of the buttons on the blender and if there is a specific custom cycle you want you can take the blender to the dealer and they will program it into the blender.

I use one of the factory set smoothie cycles that is just 23 seconds long and consists of the following cycle: Starts off at speed 3 then goes to 5,1,3,5,3,6 and finally ends at speed 7. During the blending process the units LCD display will show you what speed the blender is on and how many seconds left for the blending process to be completed. The same blue LCD screen also displays a smoothie counter, kinda like how your car has the odometer, the Blendtec blender has a lifetime counter. As of this post I have made 95 smoothies in the two weeks I’ve had my blender.

blendtec4

There is literally nothing this blender can’t blend and no matter what I’ve thrown at it the blender has never even given the slightest sign of a struggle. My Q-Series blender has a 3.8hp motor and I haven’t used anything higher than a speed 7 even though it goes up to speed 9. I really didn’t realize how much my older blender used to struggle when making smoothies until I tried it again a week after getting my Blendtec. Not only did my old blender struggle but it also used to take around a minute to blend a smoothie. On the other hand I had a smoothie party last week and I was blending smoothies left and right flipping between two jars like a pro and blending nearly 3 smoothies a minute. I love this blender.

There are some downsides though. First is the fact the blender came with the regular 4-side jars and not the newer 5-side WildSide+ jar which is supposed to blend even quicker. The other negative is the fact the lid of the jar leaks when I clean the jar. To clean the jar all you do is fill it up with a bit of water and add a drop of soap. You then mount the jar on the the blender and use the “Pulse” button until the jar is clean. Only issue is unless I’m really holding down on the lid really hard it ends up leaking water from the top. I haven’t had any issue when blending my smoothies just when cleaning the jar but still, it’s annoying to have to keep wiping my blender down after cleaning a jar. The last issue is the price.

Before I mention the price I have to say, this blender is not for everyone in the same way Subzero fridges and Viking ranges aren’t for everyone. If you want a really good blender at a great price then I highly recommend the Philips which I previously had. But the Blendtec is one of the best blenders you can buy period and it’s commercial grade which is why it costs a staggering KD375. Even the Blendtec Xpress which is the entry level blender at the local dealer is still KD193. But good blenders cost a lot of money and it’s not just Blendtec or blenders, commercial grade appliances be it a fridge or a toaster will cost considerably more than regular plastic appliances. The VitaMix blenders I checked out locally were expensive as well with their entry level Drink Machine Two-Speed going for KD260 while their Vita Prep 3 is for KD359.

I love my blender.

Update: So my Blendtec sadly died on me 7 years later. No biggie except for the fact that they discontinued the parts for it and to fix my issue (which is the motherboard), I need to swap out the whole blender innards for a cost of KD128. So not worth it obviously since I can get a new Vitamix for that price.