Category Archives: Product Reviews

I think therefore I buy. Verdict and justification of my purchase

LapGear Deluxe Computer LapDesk

Since I have hooked up my old computer to my big screen TV in the living room, I have been facing a problem, how can I use the wireless keyboard while sitting comfortably in the couch. If I put the keyboard on my lap, I have to sit up tight or the keyboard will move around. Moreover, the position of the keyboard is too low to type and there is no place for the mouse. An alternatively solution is put the keyboard and mouse on the coffee table, but I then can’t lay back on the couch and defeat the purpose of setting up the computer in the first place.

Then I come across the LapGear Deluxe Computer LapDesk in Staples when it’s on sales for $24.99. The LapDesk is very comfortable, it has micro-bean pad on the bottom and the lap desk sits comfortably and stable on my lap. It has a large surface big enough for the wireless keyboard and a mouse. It also come with mouse pad on both side for right handed and left handed mouse users. It has two small pockets to store the mouse and some pens. Now I can sit back and relax on my crouch while I am surfing the net on my big screen TV.

In fact the LapDesk is so comfortable that when my friends visiting my place who has a similar setup at home, not one but two friends like it so much that they went out to buy one for themselves.

Product website

My Track – Skiing in Whistler


View Whistler Skiing 24 Dec 2010 in a larger map

The “My Track” application in Android has put pretty good use to the built-in GPS of my phone. Today I went to Whistler for a day of powder ski. I turned on the GPS track of my phone to record my ski runs. The map at the end of the day is pretty interesting and gives me lots of statistics.

I only skied for 4 hours 40 minutes today, but I am only moving 2 hours 30 minutes. In total, I covered 31km of distance, but the actual skiing distance has to divided by two, since half of time I am sitting on the chair lift. My average speed is 12km/h and my maximum speed is 42km/h, I guess it must be when I am zooming down the hill right before I got whited out.

Audio Technica ATH-ANC25

I have been using my old Creative noise cancellation head phone for a few years. It is starting to falling apart after all this years of good service and my abuses from 5 Indian trips. The wire connection is getting lose and sometimes the left side has no sound. It is time to get a new noise cancellation head phone for my yet another India trip.

I have been looking into buying a noise cancellation head phone for quite some time. The offering at Future Shop or Best Buy are limited. They are only selling Sony, Philips, JVC even Maxwell noise cancellation head phones. None of those brands are particularly great and they almost double the price I paid for my old Creative head phone. One day I was having lunch at Broadway and I came across into Headphone Bar, a small shop focus in selling high end head phones. It only sells brands well known among Hi-Fi fans but normally don’t available in chain electronic stores.

Headphone Bar has two new noise cancellation headphones from Audio Technica, which is a well known Japanese band, ATH-ANC27, a bigger cover the ear model and ATH-ANC25, a smaller model. The ATH-ANC27 is pretty expensive but the ATN-ANC25 is only $99, so I decide to give it a try. The moment I put it on, I already like the head phone. The ear mug is very comfortable and cancellation is good. One feature I like is the wire is detachable, so I can just wear the head phone in flight without the wire dangling over me. Since I am flying out in a few days, I don’t have time to order the head phone online or double check its review. I took my chances and bought it right on the spot.

When I got home I checked the internet to confirm my buying decision. It turns out the price I paid is the exactly list price on the web. I can find it less than $10 cheaper on eBay, so the shop does not mark up the price. Then I look at the online reviews, it turns out the ATN-ANC27 is the next generation of ATH-ANC7b and its quality almost on par with the Bose Quietcomfort 3, which is absolutely the best noise cancellation headphone. The ATN-ANC25 is the little brother of ATN-ANC27, the only difference is the padding size and the power of the sound driver. It also has very good review, it is the best noise cancellation in the sub $100 category.

I tried my new headphone on my flight from Vancouver to India. The noise cancellation is better than my old creative headphone. In the old headphone, the static pink noise was very obvious and the new headphone is much quieter. One feature I like is the wire has a volume control, so I can easily adjust the volume. The only complain is the 2-pins to 1-pin in-flight audio adapter is very flimsy. It is broken when I squeezed through the sleeping guy sitting next to me to go to the toilet. The adapter just a piece of cheaper plastic with 2 wires and I can get replacement in HK for less than $3.

Overall, I am very happy with my new noise cancellation headphone. Highly recommended for long flight, it will give you have a good night of quiet sleep.

Samsung Galaxy S Captivate

My Palm Treo has reached the end of its lift, it is time to buy a new cell phone. I have been debating whether or not should I get the iPhone 4. iPhone 4 is sleek but I disapprove the control freak business tactics of Apple. Although almost everyone around me use a iPhone, I decide to go against the trend and embrace Android, a truly open platform compare to Apple’s walled garden. I naturally picked the Samsung Galaxy S, since it is the flagship Android phone and its specification is on par with iPhone 4. I used Rogers, so I have to picked up the AT&T version of Galaxy S Captivate. All Galaxy S versions are essentially the same under the hood, only cosmetic difference on the shell.

Galaxy S is actually slightly lighter and thinner than the iPhone 4. The Captivate looks like a Blackberry while the Vibrate looks like a iPhone. I must admit iPhone has better design of the shell, however that’s purely cosmetic. Galaxy S use normal SIM card, I just plug in my old SIM card it simply works. It comes with 16GB internal RAM and a micro SD card slot, so I can expand the memory if I ever need more, another point winning over iPhone. The screen and sound quality is top-notch, although the screen resolution is slightly less than iPhone 4. The battery is pretty good, I can watch 5 hours of video before runs out of the battery. In stand by mode with Wi-fi data enabled for background update and occasional short phone calls, it used about 20% in a day.

The contact and calendar links up to my gmail and facebook account. Since all the data is stored in Google’s server, I don’t have to worry about sync up with my computer and I can access my data anywhere. Transfer contact from my Palm is really easy, I just need to export the old address book to a vcf file and then import it to gmail, I got all the numbers and addresses into the phone in less than 30 seconds.

The haptic feedback of the screen is nice, every time I press a button or a key on the screen, the phone will vibrate to give me a freedback. The swype keyboard is definitely an improvement over iPhone. I don’t have to lift my finger when I type, I can simply trace the characters on the screen. I think with enough practice, I can type in swype as almost as good as using a real keyboard. The only complain is the stock OS does not come with Chinese input, I have to download the Chinese IME separately.

For most applications your found in iPhone, you can find the pretty much the same on Android. The Android apps market is the equivalent of the iTune app store. I can find most of the apps I need for free. I can also download paid software without paying from Applanet instead of download from the Google Market. iPhone boost to have many more apps than Android, but most of those extra apps belongs to the long tail that nobody really use. Android allows game console emulators, combined with the one stop game ROM download apps, I play virtually every single old games from the 80s and 90s on my phone.

iPhone has has a one stop sync up solution for music and video files with iTunes. Android does not come with any fancy sync up tools. Although Samsung has the Kies software but it is not very user friendly. For better or worse, a Android phone can just act like any other USB driver. I can easily copy files between my computer and my phone using Windows Explorer. I have a few options if I don’t want to plug in the USB cable all the time. I can either run FTP client from the phone to log into the FTP server on my computer or run FTP server on the phone and log in from my computer. The only problem is FTP cannot not handle Chinese character properly. Double Twist Air Sync comes close to a one stop solution, but its file database still has too much influence from iTune and does not let me control the directory structure. Web Sharing seems very promising, I can mount my phone as a network drive on my computer.

The stock Captivate comes with Android 2.1, so I decided to upgrade the OS to 2.2. Flashing the ROM of your cell phone is not for the fainted heart. I bricked my phone a few times before I get the new OS up and running. Instead of using the Samsung stock firmware, I used the Cognition ROM, which is better performance and has more features built into the OS. It double the speed of the stock ROM according to benchmark result. This is a major advantage of Android over iPhone, I can do whatever I want with the cell, including installing a complete new OS.

Android is not only a smart phone, but is really a full function computer inside your pocket. It just happen to be I can also make phone calls from this pocket computer. After all Android is Linux under the hood, with the root control I have complete control any feature of the phone.

Windows 7

I have been hanging on my Windows XP for many years, much longer than my usual upgrade cycle. Everybody hates Vista, so I follow the crowd and skipped a generation of the Microsoft OS. Now I have a new computer, it’s time to upgrade to the last OS, Windows 7. I installed Windows 7 Ultimate on my new computer and Windows 7 Home Premium on my old computer. I think Windows 7 is probably the best OS from Microsoft since Windows 2000. It runs fast and very stable. My old computer is actually running faster on Windows 7 than XP.

The immediate benefit of Windows 7 is 64 bit support, so the OS now support address space above 3GB. Driver support in Windows 7 is very good, I don’t have any trouble installing drivers for my video cards, motherboards, webcams, printers, etc. Windows 7 comes with a new Areo interface with a few new gimmicks. It is so good that actually converted an old fashion interface die-hard like me who have been using Windows 95 appearance in Windows XP all these years. The new taskbar is convenient, the desktop peek with desktop gadget is very handy. I have CPU usage, Drivers Meter, Network Meter, System Up time gadget running on my desktop telling me everything I need to know about my computer. The wallpaper slide show looks cool, so I download the Summer Dogs theme from Microsoft for Pat’s account. For myself, I don’t need any fancy wallpaper, I am still using the same wallpaper I have been using since Windows 3.1.

For long time Windows user, Windows 7 feels like home once get used to minor changes on the new interface. The new Power Shell is a long over due replacement for the old bat files. It support many familiar UNIX commands and makes scripting in Windows possible without installing Tcl or Python. Finally Window 7 supports UNIX style symbolic links (or Junction in NTFS for similar function) with mklink in the command prompt. I think Windows 95 is the last time the calculator, Wordpad is upgraded, finally Microsoft is have a new version of those legacy applications. The new Math pad and sticky notes application is quite handy. I found even create a virtual desktop just for sticky notes.

Hard Link Extension integrates the function of mklink to the Windows Explorer. The new Windows Explorer looks nice but it is a dump down version of the XP Windows Explorer. Installing ClassicShell gives me back the familiar icons and information on the status bar. The program list in the new start button is pretty hard to use, ClassicShell also fix it for me.

The new Aqua interface has some useful windows management function, but AquaSnap takes it to the next level. The ATI video driver comes with virtual desktop feature, but it is really slow and take up lots of system resources. Dexpot is one of the best virtual desktop software out there. I would say those are the essential Windows 7 system utilities and all of them are freewares!

I am happy that NJ Star still works under Windows 7. I am so used to its key sequences typing in Chinese. I just don’t bother to relearn built-in Chinese IME come with Windows 7.

Virtual PC comes with the Ultimate (require download from Microsoft’s website) edition is truly amazing. I can run a copy of Windows XP inside a window and it is isolated from my Windows 7 environment. It provides virtual hard drive roll back, so I can run keygen or patches under the Windows XP sandbox without worrying virus infecting my Windows 7. I can even run a Ubuntu linux inside the Virtual PC just for fun!

Remote Desktop is Windows 7’s answer to VNC. It runs faster, probably thanks to Microsoft knows some secret system level access. I can remote control the living room PC from the PC in my room. I still have a VNC server running in the living room PC just in case I need to control the PC from my Wii or iPhone.

The Library feature is a nice advancement over the stupid My Documents. I want to take complete control of exactly where my files are stored in the hard drive. It is just a dumb idea storing everything under the folder deep inside the user profile, which makes your files so inconvenient to access. The Library feature is really nothing fancy, it is just symbolic links under the hook.

Windows 7 out of the box without any service patch is really solid compare to Microsoft’s past track record. However it is not without any problem. The new Windows Media Player 11 is a resource hog even when I am not playing any media fiels. Disable the stream media server manually to make it stop slowing down my computer. The Home Group feature is a joke. I manage to get the it working for the first day, then somehow the computers stop seeing each other in the Home Group, although network sharing working perfectly OK. I spent so much time debugging the Home Group setting but all my effort prevail. Just map the remote folder to a drive letter is a way simpler and more elegant solution.

Windows 7 comes with voice recognition, letting us use voice command to control the windows or dictate any text. I spent a few hours training the computer to understand my voice. I think the voice recognition is quite accurate, except that it is pretty slow and hog system resources. When I enable voice recognition, I have trouble scroll down the page in my Firefox. It is a nice idea but I guess my computer is still not powerful enough.

I have been using Microsoft Sync Toy to back up my files from the local hard drive to external hard drive. Unfortunately it is a known problem that Sync Toy 2.1 is not working properly in 64 bit Windows 7, it may corrupt some of your backup files. I am now using Allway Sync instead. I like the GUI of Sync Toy better but having reliable backup is way more important than having a pretty GUI.

I think I have done enough set up my Windows 7 for the mean time. The next step is to re-install useful applications and get my FTP server back online.

Fiskars Telescoping Tree Pruner

It is safety hazard if branches grows too close to the power line in your garden. You don’t want any branches touch the wires hanging between the pole and your house or it may catch a fire. You have to trim the branches using tree pruner every summer.

I like this new telescoping tree pruner from Fiskars. It is much better than old tree pruner I used to have. The old one was just a long wood stick with a pulling string attached to the blade. It is heavy and the string tends to tangle a lot. The new one from Fiskars is made with Aluminum and it is much light. The best feature is the pulling mechanism is build into the handle. It is very convenient and easy to use. No more tangling strings.

It come with an attachable saw for branches that is too thick for the pruner. I haven’t tried the saw, but I think it double as a self defense weapon in case zombie attacks.

Compare Closet Systems

My house has became a closet systems showroom. I have installed 4 different brands of closet systems for my closets. Part of it is out of curiosity, try to figure out the different between those closet systems. Part of it is out of necessity, different closet space has different requirements and one size does not fit all.  Here is my review summary for all the closet systems.  I also include the PAX wardrobes IKEA in the comparison for reference.

IKEA PAX wardrobes

Price: $$$$
Install: ***
Look: ***
Review:  This is the first closet system that comes into my mind when I start looking for closets.  Too bad its depth does not fit my closet spaces.

Martha Stewart Living Closet System

Price: $$$
Install: **
Look: ***
Review:  I use this closet system for my master bedroom walk in closet.  It is easy to install but still require a stub finder and a power drill.  It looks nice with the laminate wood finish, but it only comes in one color

Canadian-Tire Extend-it closet kit

Price: $$
Install: *
Look: *
Review:  If you already have the horizontal hanging rod, no tool is required to install the  Extend-it closet system.  The height and width of rods are adjustable and they fit together with clip-on.  However, this closet system is very ugly and looks pretty flimsy.  I regret I had it for my wardrobe in the hallway downstairs.  I am considering replacing it with a different closet later.

Rubbermaid Configurations Closet System

Price: $$
Install: **
Look: **
Review:  Installation requires stud finder, power drill and some 10# screws.  The rail is vertical with slots for adjustable bracket.  Rubbermaid has shelving pieces for the closet system but it is a bit pricey. I used generic brand laminated shelving from home depot and cut it to the right width instead.

DIY from Home Depot parts

Price: $
Install: *
Look: **
Review:  I build this closet from Home Depot DIY parts.  I have to cut the shelving and dowel to the right width and fasten the bracket on to the stub.  Install the DIY closet system is quite some work but it has the lowest price tag.

Building my own closet

Finally I moved in to my new house, albeit the renovation is not totally finished. It just marks the beginning of many DIY home improvement projects. The first project is building the closets. The closets came with the house is those very ugly wire shelves, which typically you would see in a rental apartment. Both I and Pat hated those flimsy wire shelves and want to have better looking closets. Custom made closet are nice but very expensive, so it’s out of question. We check out closet solutions from IKEA, they look nice but they are quite expensive and the dimension does not fit our walk in closet. I almost got the extensible closet from Canadian Tire, but at the end I go for modular closet from Home Depot for the walk in closet and build from parts for other smaller closets.

I bought the Martha Stuart modular closet from Home Depot, although it carries Martha Stuart’s brand, I suspect it’s a Home Depot brand, since I don’t see it selling anywhere else. It is about twice as expensive as Closet Maid wire shelves but half the price of Ikea and it almost quite nice. The closet is easy to install, first mount the metal rail on the wall, then hang the vertical plywood panels and at last put on the shelves and rods. It only took me 12 hours to finish our walk in closet. I have spent most of the time figuring out where to drill holes on the dry wall using a stud finder and a level, went to Home Depot twice to pick up parts I forgot to buy, reinstall the panels a few times due to stupid mistakes and saw down the hanging rod to fit my smaller than standard closet. It also has many accessories, like drawers, wire basket, L shape shelves for the corners, shoe racks, sliding ties rack. I bought a couple of drawers and a tie racks to make the closet looks more elegant.

Here is how the Martha Stuart closet looks on the package:

Here is how the Martha Stuart closet looks after installed

The walk in closet is done and I have a more ambitious plan for other smaller closets. The other closets are essentially just a shelf with a hanging rod, I figure the cheapest solution is build it from parts. I got two metal bracket with hooks at the end for the rod at $3.99 each. Don’t buy the packaged shelves or rods from Closet Maid as they are over priced. Just buy a long piece of laminated plywood shelves for $10 and have Home Depot cut it into the right size for $1 per cut. A 4 feet 1″ dowel hardwood rob for $5 and cut it into the right size as well. The rest is pretty straight forward, find the stud and screw into the bracket. Then put the shelves and rod on the bracket and fix it with screws too. The trick is drill a pilot hole first so it is easier drive the screw into the wood. The only thing left to do is paint the rod to match color of the shelf.

HP All-in-One Officejet J4580

My Espon all-in-one printer is about time to retire. The printer is running out of ink and the replacement cartridge is ridiculously expensive, probably cost more than what the printer is worth. The scanner is also dying, the scanner head making squeaking noise and is struggling to move across the page. It is time to buy a new printer.

I come across the HP All-in-One Officejet J4580 on sales in Staples. This $59 machine has color inkjet printer, fax machine and scanner with a 20 sheets document feeder. I know the ink cartridge will cost me a fortune in the long run, but since I have another laser printer, I won’t print from this inkjet printer very often. What really attracts me is the document feeder. I hate constantly changing pages when scanning documents. I think the scanner and feeder alone already justify its price tag.

The installation is pretty straight forward, just like any other HP printer. Withing 15 minutes, my new printer is up and running. The print quality is acceptable, can’t really compare it with the color laser printer at work. The scanning software, HP document manager, comes with the printer is very easy to use. I can scan many pages of document and save them into a PDF file just like I expected. I can even run the built-in OCR program to make the PDF file search-able or output the page content into a text file. The scan speed is not very fast but it does get the job done.

With the new printer, I can finally get rid of my old fax machine. No one use fax nowadays, I am only keeping the old fax machine and wasting space just in case I need to send or receive a fax. This printer can save the received fax to my computer instead of printer the pages. It saves paper and ink if I don’t need a hard copy of the fax. I don’t have a phone line around my computer, so I could not test the fax function until I move into my new house.

My only complain is the paper tray design. The printer does not have a output tray, the printed pages just fall on top of the blank paper. The printed page falls off from the tray if I didn’t extend tray, but the paper tray in full extension is a bit too long for my desk. With its $59 price tag, I am very happy with what I got. If the ink cartridge last longer, the scanner scan faster, this printer would be perfect. I guess I can’t ask too much for a low-end printer.

Stapleless Stapler

staplessstapler

Stapleless stapler is pretty neat, see the photo below on how it works. You can staple a few pages together without using any staple. Pages stapled together with the stapeless stapler is not as firm as using a normal staple. It won’t survive continuous flipping of the pages. It is good enough to hold up to 8-10 pages together for document to exchange hands. The beauty of the stapeless stapler is when you want to remove the staple. No more broken nail or looking around for the staple remover, you simply torn the papers knot apart. It works really good on document you need to shred. You can feed the whole pile to the shredder without worrying removing staples or it may break the shredder. I got mine from eBay for only $2.5 including shipping. Highly recommend this little innovative stationary for office or home use. It’s cheap and useful, it comes it different colors and pattern, it could be a perfect X’mas gift for friends.

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