36 Holes No Problem: Powered to go (and go) with RELi3ON® InSight lithium batteries.

How To Convert Your Golf Cart to Run on Lithium Batteries

This product review focuses on a decision many golf cart owners face when the original lead acid batteries start failing: replace with the exact same or consider an alternative brand lead acid batteries.  Until recently, these were the only viable options.  You could call the shop you bought your cart from and have them order and replace the lead acid batteries, you could locate a supplier of similar sized lead acid batteries and do it yourself, or you could just buy a new golf cart.  Ok, maybe that last option is a bit extreme, but I know owners who do just that.

A few years ago, some of the OEM golf cart manufacturers started selling their carts with the option of a single large lithium battery versus the traditional four (12-volt) or six (8-volt) lead acid batteries in 48-volt powered golf cars. 

Around the same time that OEM golf cart manufactures began offering lithium batteries as an option, a few battery manufacturers started producing lithium batteries for replacement of lead acid batteries in existing golf carts. This opened a new alternative to consider and brings us to this review.

I have a 2017 Yamaha Drive2 PTV golf cart with Yamaha’s AC motor, and it came new with six 8-volt lead acid batteries.  The cart gets used an average of three times per week on one of our two golf courses, both of which have sizeable elevation changes throughout the courses.  After three and one-half years the original Trojan T-875 batteries were failing and barely able to make it through one round.  Based on my research, I decided to go with RELi3ON® InSight lithium batteries, provided at cost by RELi3ON®.

This review focuses on the logic behind my decision, the replacement process, and the result.

The logic behind my decision

Lithium batteries offer several compelling advantages over lead acid batteries, including:

  • Lighter weight
  • No maintenance
  • Faster charge
  • Retains charge for longer
  • Longevity
  • Direct fit, no modification

The weight savings of lithium over wet lead acid batteries is one of the biggest advantages.  A normal set of lead acid batteries tips the scales at 378 pounds.  Lithium batteries pack more power than lead acid, and in the case of InSight batteries, each battery supplies 48 volts and 30-amp hours.  You can comfortably replace the six lead acid batteries in your cart with just two lithium batteries.  If you go with two lithium InSight batteries, your total weight will be 69 pounds or a savings of 309 pounds!  Even if you go with four lithium batteries as I did because of the considerable elevation changes on our courses, your new total weight will be 138 pounds, or a savings of 240 pounds!

This weight savings is immediately noticeable in your cart’s moving from a full stop, in its steering and handling.  Hauling a minimum of 240 pounds less each time you drive your cart will mean components like brakes, suspension and tires will last longer.

Another advantage of lithium batteries is that there is zero maintenance.  You never have to check or add water for the life of the battery.

Because of the chemistry, the lithium batteries charge much faster than lead acid, typically coming up to full charge after a round in just a few hours.  Also, unlike lead acid batteries that lose their capacity quickly over time (when not left on a charger/maintainer), lithium will still have 80% of their capacity after 60 days and will take two years to drop to 20% of their capacity.

Lead acid golf cart batteries normally last between three and five years, and usually have a 12-to-18-month warranty.  Lithium batteries are rated to last eight to ten or more years.  The RELi3ON® InSight lithium batteries reviewed here, carry a 7-year full warranty and are rated for greater than 6,000 cycles @ 80% depth of discharge.

A consideration, especially for the DIY golf cart owner, is how difficult will be the conversion from wet lead acid to lithium batteries.  As it turns out, not difficult at all since the RELi3ON® InSight batteries are a direct size replacement for the OEM lead acid batteries.  More on that shortly.

With the advantages being so impressive, why wouldn’t everyone replace their lead acid batteries with lithiums when it is time?  There are a couple of reasons I can think of.  Many golf cart shops are still unfamiliar with, and have no experience with, lithium options for replacements.  Similarly, since it is a relatively new technology, few golf cart owners have heard of lithium aftermarket batteries and therefore do not consider them when their batteries die.  But the biggest reason is the initial cost outlay difference.

If you are in the market for a new golf cart, possibly your dealer has offered a lithium version as an option.  Currently the lithium option adds between US$2200-$4000 to the regular cart price over traditional lead acid batteries.  Returning to the focus here, replacing original lead acid batteries in the golf cart you already own, a set of six good lead acid batteries will cost about $1600 plus installation plus another $75 to $100 for a battery fill kit if you want/need one. 

Depending on how you use your golf cart, and how hilly your golf course is, you can choose to replace the six eight-volt batteries (48-volt system) with either two, three or four 48-volt lithium batteries.  A major difference between the lead acid batteries in a golf cart and lithium, is that lithium is scalable.  That is, you can start with a two-lithium battery system, and if you find you need more range, you can simply add one or two more lithium batteries to your system later.

Two InSight batteries will provide 60-amp hours and 20-35 miles per charge, three will provide 90-amp hours and 30-50 miles per charge and four will go 40-65 miles per charge with 120- amp hours.  The current price for the RELi3ON® InSight lithium 48-volt batteries is two for $2595, three for $3295 and four for $3995. This price includes free shipping to your door, spacer batteries to fill the empty battery slots, a RELiON approved charger (that works through your cart’s regular charge port), and CAN cables (allow each battery to ‘communicate’ data to the other batteries).  [Note: check with RELiON’s web site to get the latest pricing and bundle options.  The latest bundle includes their new fuel gauge, discussed towards the end of this review.]

Considering cost alone, for example, if instead of replacing the lead acid batteries twice over eight years you purchased two InSight lithium batteries, you would save $500 to $600.  If you went with three InSight lithium batteries, you basically break even, and if you went with four you would spend an additional $700 to $800 over the lead acid batteries.  When you consider the advantages of lithium discussed earlier, it could be a very good option for you.

Why RELi3ON® over other lithium options?  I was impressed by several factors including the actual design of their InSight battery, their steps to ensure the safety of lithium technology for this application, and their customer service. Unlike some competitors, RELi3ON® did not modify existing lithium batteries and components to work in a golf cart environment, rather they designed the InSight from the proverbial Tabula Rasa or ‘clean sheet’ approach.  In essence they laid out everything they wanted a lithium battery to be able to do in a golf cart and golf cart environment, and then designed the battery to do that.  I encourage you to check out their website[1] to learn more detail about the battery’s chemistry, construction and impressive ‘unique SuperSmart BMS’- battery management system that is incorporated into each battery.  They also have a number of very informative YouTube videos, for example, explaining the construction of the battery.[2]

Installation

The four RELi3ON® InSight lithium 48-volt batteries along with the charger unit arrived within about a week of ordering and were delivered on a pallet.

The first step was to remove the six 8-volt Trojan T-875 lead acid batteries from my cart.  To facilitate this, I removed the seat and switched the “Tow/Run” switch to tow to ensure that the cart motor and electronics were not inadvertently damaged by the removal and installation of the batteries.

My cart had an auto-fill system attached to each of the Trojan batteries (this system makes it easier to maintain the correct fill level when adding distilled water for required battery maintenance).  After I removed the hose connections, I put duct tape across the fill hole in each battery to ensure no acid sloshed out when I removed the battery.


Next, I used a 9/16 or a 14mm socket to remove the nuts securing the battery cables (be careful to not short across the terminals with your wrench).  You can save and reuse the original cables; I discuss this shortly.  Follow by removing the nuts on the battery retainer brackets.  On my cart, these required a 12mm socket.

Now you are ready to lift the batteries out.  The easiest way is to use a battery lifting strap (under $10 at an auto parts store or Amazon) that hooks onto the lift tabs at top of the batteries.  Take care, as the batteries each weigh about 60+ pounds and you want to lift each up as straight as possible to avoid spilling out any of the battery acid.  You can dispose of the lead acid batteries at most auto supply shops or battery shops (like Batteries Plus Bulbs) for free.  If that is not convenient, call your local recycling facility.

After you remove the batteries, take a couple of minutes to clean out the battery tray of any debris that has accumulated.  Also use some sandpaper to clean the cable ends from your cart that run from the batteries to the motor/controller and from the charging port.

Empty battery tray

As mentioned, you can reuse some of the battery cables you removed (you won’t need all of them), but it is best to use cables of equal length for the connections between your new lithium batteries.  If your original cables are equal length and in good shape, go ahead and use them.  If not, I recommend you order new 4 AWG cables.  You will need one pair of new cables if you go with a two-lithium battery set up, two pairs for a three-lithium battery set up, and three pairs for a four-lithium battery set up like I did.  The length that you need to order will depend on how your batteries sit in your battery tray.  In my case, I ordered ($15 per pair from Amazon) three sets of Spartan Power 4 AGW one-foot-long cables with 5/16 ring terminals.

Now you are ready to install the RELi3ON® InSight lithium 48-volt batteries.  This process is the same, whether you decided to go with two, three or four to power your cart.  Place the lithium batteries onto the battery tray, using the positions closest to the negative and positive cables from your motor/controller.  You will follow by putting in the spacer units that came with your batteries to enable the reuse of the battery retainer brackets.  Finish by reattaching the battery retainer brackets.

Next step is attaching the cables.  Note: this is very different from how your lead acid batteries were connected.  Your lithium batteries are connected in parallel.  That means the cable from one battery’s positive terminal is connected to the next battery’s positive terminal.  Similarly, the cable from one battery’s negative terminal is connected to the next battery’s negative terminal.

Start with your ‘first’ lithium battery in the group—that will be the lithium battery you are connecting the negative cable from your motor/controller (see above picture, first battery is labelled #1).  On that battery, you connect the negative cable from your motor/controller and one connecting cable to the same negative post on the RELi3ON® InSight battery.  You will also connect the negative cable from your cart’s charger port here.  The nut on the RELi3ON® InSight battery post uses a 13mm socket (there is also a stud that uses an M8 Allen wrench that can be used).  Tighten to 6.6 to 7.4 ft-lbs if you have a torque wrench.  Otherwise, tighten firmly but do not over tighten.  Now connect the other end of the cable attached to the first battery negative terminal to the next battery’s negative terminal.  Continue connecting each of your battery negative terminals the same way.

Going back to the ‘first’ lithium battery, now connect its positive terminal to the second battery, again using either the 13mm nut or M8 stud.  Continue to your last battery.  Now connect the positive cable from your motor/controller to the last battery’s positive terminal.  Also, connect the positive cable from your cart’s charger port here. 

Recheck all of your cable connections.  The first battery should have the negative cable from your motor/controller and be connected to the second battery negative terminal.  The first battery does NOT connect to your motor/controller positive cable.  Its positive terminal only connects to the second battery positive terminal.  The last battery in your system should have the positive cable from the motor/controller connected to its positive terminal, as well as be connected to the positive terminal on the next battery in the parallel set up.  The last battery does NOT have a connection from its negative terminal to the motor/controller negative cable.  You can see this in the following image.

Positive connections highlighted in green, Negative highlighted in yellow

When you opened the boxes with your new RELi3ON® InSight batteries, on top was a CAN cable for interconnecting the batteries.  This cable is used to enhance charge and discharge balancing between batteries.

With all the battery cables now in place, it is time to connect the CAN cables.  Before you connect them, take a close look at the end of one of the CAN cables as well as the CANbus ports on top of a battery.  You will see that the female connector on the CAN cable has an angled section that must be aligned with the same section on the CANbus port on the battery per the following images.

Now, begin with the ‘first’ battery (the one connected to the golf cart negative motor/controller cable).  Connect the CAN cable to the Output CAN port, ensuring that you have it angled sections aligned.  It is the one on the positive side of the battery (#3 in this image).  Take the other end of this Can cable and connect it to the Input CAN port (the negative battery side, #2 in this image) of the second battery.  Continue connecting the remaining CAN cables the same way for the rest of your batteries.

Properly wired in parallel (positive to positive, negative to negative)

When you are done, recheck all of your CAN cable connections.  Your first battery should only have one CAN cable connected (at the Output port) and the Input port remains unused at this point.  Similarly, the last battery should only have one CAN cable connected (at the Input port), and the Output port remains unused at this time.

The final connection step is optional.  If you ordered the InSight series ‘fuel’ gauge (list $175 but will shortly be priced in respective InSight battery bundles), you would need to connect it at this point. 

The fuel or battery gauge is not required, but very useful.  Each of the RELi3ON® InSight batteries have a state of charge set of LEDs on the top of the battery, that function to tell you the remaining charge, ranging from 0 to 100%.  However, to see this, you would need to lift your cart seat.  The InSight gauge can be used as a direct replacement for your cart’s original battery gauge, or as in my application, as an additional gauge.  The odds are that your original gauge will not correctly tell you the state of charge because it is normally designed to measure voltage, rather than current.  The InSight gauge provides you two continuous readouts, one displaying the % of charge remaining and the number of amp-hours remaining, the second display shows also the % of charge remaining along with the number of lithium batteries connected.

Connecting the InSight series gauge is very simple.  At the end of the wiring harness supplied with the gauge, you’ll find a red wire with a ring terminal, a black wire with a ring terminal, and a CAN connector.  Go to your ‘first’ battery, connect the red ring terminal to the positive pole, the black ring terminal to the negative pole, and the CAN connector to the unused CANbus Input port.

Now route the gauge harness up to the place you are mounting the meter, using zip ties to secure the harness along the cart frame.  You can simply replace your cart’s existing meter if it is a standard round gauge or mount the InSight meter separately.   In my case, I left the original meter since it also functions to display when my cart’s turn signals are on as well as when the headlights are on.  I purchased an add on automotive gauge pod from Amazon (under $8 Etopars Carbon Fiber 2″ 52mm Universal One Hole Dash Dashboard Car Gauge Pod Mount Holder) and mounted the InSight gauge into it.

Lastly, you need to attach the charger to cart wiring harness to the RELi3ON® InSight supplied charger.  Different OEM golf cart manufacturers use slightly different female connectors to their cart’s charging port.  When you order your RELi3ON® InSight battery bundle, you identify the type of cart you have, and they include the correct charger harness.  All you are required to do is attach the harness to the charger- basically connecting the harness ends via screws on the charger base and screwing on the protective cover.  The Lester Summit II unit that RELi3ON® supplied for my bundle also has a Bluetooth smartphone app for monitoring charge cycle status.

Now you are finished.  The whole installation process from start to finish will probably take you a couple of hours.  It really is simple to do once you review and become familiar with the details.

Ready to Go (and go and go 😊 )

Now for the fun part.  The first time you power on your new RELi3ON® InSight batteries you simply press and hold the Power button (see #4 in image) on the first battery until you see the first LED flash green.  It will then continue to flash green every five seconds.  Shortly thereafter, you will see the remaining batteries come to life; their respective first LED will similarly flash green.

Once all the batteries are ‘awake’ you can press and release the power button once on each battery, and then the two LEDs will tell you the state of charge.  You are now ready to go!  Along with the satisfaction of having done this conversion be prepared for the very noticeable ‘seat-of-the-pants’ feel of the quick acceleration and easier steering/handling of your golf cart.

After you have taken it out for its maiden spin, plug your new charger in.  The recommendation is to plug your cart in after each use.  The charger is a ‘smart’ charger/maintainer and can be left on without concern.

Preliminary Conclusions

After my first couple month’s use of the RELi3ON® InSight lithium batteries, I have found that they perform perfectly.  No matter how hard the cart is pushed, they never even get warm to the touch.  They charge back to 100% and 120-amp hours in just a few hours.  Even after driving around and playing 36 holes on my very hilly courses, the remaining charge is still in the mid 60% range.

Handling and “zippiness” are superb due to the permanent weight reduction.  Another bonus is not ever having to think about checking and adding distilled water to the batteries.

My only ‘nit’ (and it is a small one) is with regards to the CAN cable connection.  I’d recommend RELi3ON® add a visible alignment line on both the cable and the battery port to make the proper connection simpler.

Other than that, the quality of all the components included in the RELi3ON® InSight battery package is outstanding.  Customer Service/Technical Help was excellent.  The ‘seat-of-the-pants’ feel brings a smile to my face every time I am in the cart, even if my golf game does not.

My rating: Clearly deserves a 5 out of possible 5 lightning bolts!

I hope you found this useful. Please let me know if you have any questions!

Cheers

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZpXBc5UzpU&ab_channel=RELiONBattery


[1] https://relionbattery.com/insight

Fledging Shell Slim External NVMe PCIe SSD Review: Small and Super-Fast

Recently a new style of solid-state drive has been used in computers and laptops called NVMe PCIe SSD.  They differ in several ways from SSDs you possibly have in your computer or laptop.  Instead of being similar in shape and size to a small cell phone (standard SATA SSD), the NVMe M.2 looks more like a memory stick. 

They are designed to be significantly faster than regular SATA hard drives as well as faster than SSDs.  To fully realize their speed, however, your motherboard needs to be a newer model that has native M.2 module slots built in.  These M.2 modules have direct lanes to the CPU, unlike going through typical expansion slots first.  It is possible to use the NVMe M.2 in either internal adaptor cards, or externally through a USB 3.1 C or Thunderbolt™ connection, but again, the resulting speeds will be less than you can achieve with a native M.2 module slot on your motherboard.[1]

This review is of the new Fledging Shell Slim, supplied with a 1TB NVMe 2280 SSD, by Fledging’s Brand Manager.

What’s In The Box

Along with the Fledging Shell Slim is a small screwdriver, package with two brass case replacement screws, a small soft carrying case for the Shell Slim, and one fun Fledging icon sticker.

My unit had a 1TB NVMe PCIe SSD pre-installed, so it was ready to go.  The Shell Slim can be ordered as just a case, or with 256GB to 2 TB SSDs.

The unit weighs 1.2 oz (34 gm) with the SSD installed.  It is 3.79 long (9.63 cm) by 1.24 in. (3.15 cm) by 0.35 in thick (0.89 cm). The USB C connector on the case adds 0.25 in (0.64 cm).

The Shell Slim case by itself lists for US$45.99 and with the 1TB SSD as tested, US$179.99.[2]

Inserting your own NVMe PCIe SSD in the Shell Slim is easy.  You unscrew the two brass screws, one on either end of the case, open the case and pull out the board by using the attached USB C connector.  You then insert your SSD into the board and screw in the retainer screw per the following diagram (Courtesy of Fledging):

The only slightly challenging part is reinserting the two case screws once you have inserted the board back into the case.  They are very tiny (and that is why Fledging probably provided the extras 😊).

Initial Field Test

I used a LG Gram laptop Z990 with an 8th Gen Intel® Core™ i7 processor, DDR4 dual-channel memory, 256GB M.2 2280 SSD, 16GB DDR4, Windows 10 with a native Thunderbolt™ 3 Interface port to run the performance analyses.

Two different types of ‘real data’ tests were conducted.  The first was designed to replicate the post-shoot file transfers I do as a professional photographer.

For this test, 2 sets of files were loaded directly from an XQD card, one 6.14 GB (311 items) and one 47 GB (842 items), each containing a mix of images, videos, pdfs and text. For performance comparison four different drives were used:

  • Shell Slim
  • Thunder-Thunderbolt 3
  • The LG Gram motherboard mounted M.2 SSD
  • Micro SD SDXC card (in the SD port of the laptop)

Test 1 results:

 6.14GB47.0GB
Shell Slim00:18.9802:54.55
Thunder-Thunderbolt 300:29.9903:40.57
LG Gram motherboard M.2 SSD00:24.305:37.34
Micro SD SDXC card01:36.611:36.03

The second test was based on directly writing from the LG Gram laptop 256GB M.2 2280 SSD to the two faster drives from Test 1, the Shell Slim and the Thunder-Thunderbolt 3.  Both external drives were connected to the LG Gram Thunderbolt™ 3 Interface port.  One 47 GB (842 items) and one 72.8 GB (8996 items) data set mix of images, videos, music, pdfs and text were used.  The tests were run twice, reformatting the drives in between and letting their temperatures return to ambient before the second write.  The table shows the average times from the two runs.

 47.0 GB72.8 GB*
Shell Slim01:55.2404:13.85
Thunder-Thunderbolt 303:06.1407.73.89

*Temperature rise on writing to the respective drives: Thunder-Thunderbolt 3 15.5⁰F increase; Shell Slim 22.5⁰F increase.

Preliminary Results

As a photographer, anything that can speed up backup transfer while ensuring the integrity of the images, is always welcome.  As can be seen in Test 1, replicating the options available to me when I normally transfer directly from my camera XQD card, the Shell Slim was the fastest for both the smaller 6.14GB and larger 47GB data write operations.  In fact, it would have saved me nearly 9 minutes in the transfer of the large data set as compared to the SD SDXC card!

In Test 2, again the Shell Slim was considerably faster than the Thunder-Thunderbolt 3, when both were connected to the LG Gram Thunderbolt™ 3 Interface port.  Note, the Shell Slim doesn’t have to be connected to a Thunderbolt 3 port but can work with any USB C port.

I think is worth reemphasizing the high functionality combination of the extreme speed of the Shell Slim packaged in such a small unit that directly connects to your Thunderbolt™ 3 Interface or USB C port.  No cables to carry, no power supply needed.

In summary, this Fledging Shell Slim External NVMe PCIe SSD earns a solid 5 out of 5.


[1] See Thunder-Thunderbolt 3 review https://insight.daumphotography.com/2020/10/31/kingston-kc-2500-nvme-m-2-2280-2tb-ssd-fast-and-small/

[2] Fledging webpage https://fledging.net/collections/shell-enclosures/products/shell-slim

[3] See https://insight.daumphotography.com/2021/01/27/fledging-shell-thunder-thunderbolt-3-ssd-external-storage/

Make no bones about it- I can hear you now! AFTERSHOKZ OPENCOMM Bone Conduction Headset

The following is a review of a different class of headsets, one based on bone conduction technology.  The AFTERSHOKZ OPENCOMM headset was provided to me by the marketing director of AFTERSHOKZ, for review.

For those not familiar with bone conduction headsets, there are two key differences between them and the more familiar in-the-ear or over-the-ear headsets.  (1) They do not sit in or on your ears. Bone conduction headsets are designed to rest on your cheekbones.  (2) By design, they transmit the sound through your cheekbones directly to your cochlea, bypassing your inner ear and ear drum.

Because of this key difference, they result in a qualitative difference in the sound you hear and the experience of wearing headsets.  But more on that shortly.

What is in the box:

The OPENCOMM headset arrives attractively boxed and includes the headset, a semi-hard travel case, the User Guide, and the magnetic charging cable.

Set Up and Specs

You charge the headset by connecting the magnetic charging cable to a USB port.  The User Guide indicates it takes 60 minutes to full charge.  According to AFTERSHOKZ webpage[1] a full charge will provide you with 16 hours talk time or 8 hours of listen time.  Also, if your battery is running low, you can add 2 hours of talk time with just five minutes charge.

The Bluetooth 5.0 built in the set allows for very quick and easy pairing.  Once you are paired, that is it- there is no app to download or further set up with the OPENCOMM headset.

One of the first things you will notice about the OPENCOMM headset is how light weight it is.  A mere 33 grams or less than 1.2 oz!   It is built on a titanium frame that is completely wrapped in a semi-soft rubber.  The frame is not intended to be adjusted (bent) from its preformed shape.  In fact, the only adjustable component is the boom mic, which you rotate down to be near your mouth.

The boom appears to house two microphones, one for its noise cancelling software and one to pick up your voice.

The set is IP55 Water-Resistant.  According to DSM&T[2] , that means it is “Protected from limited dust ingress” and “Protected from low pressure water jets from any direction.”  In other words, it is fine for use in low dust environments and somewhat water resistant. It even has a built-in moisture protection alert.

The OPENCOMM headset retails for US$159.95 and is manufactured in China.

Sound Test and Actual Use

The unit can only be worn with the mic boom on the left side of the head because of the preformed arch that goes above each ear.  It is not reversable.  The OPENCOMM headset has three buttons on the unit.  Two are on the lower part of the frame just behind the wearer’s right ear.  In contrast to the matt black frame, the buttons are orange.  One is marked + and one -.    The + is used to turn on the headset as well as turn it off, and is used to increase the volume, while the – is used to decrease the volume, and pressing both will mute the call.  The third button is located on the same side of the frame, but in front of the ear on the sound conduction component and is a multi-function button.  It can be used for a variety of functions including answering incoming calls, hanging up, pausing music, etc.  Most presses are accompanied by hearing a voice prompt from the set.

My voice sounded clear and of normal volume, the same as if I was on my cell or land line when talking with incoming or outgoing calls over the OPENCOMM headset, according to the individual I was talking with. 

The noise cancelling technology was astounding.  For example, the individual I was talking to heard me clearly with no other noise when I was standing right next to a running vacuum, or where I had music playing quite loudly in the room.

Even though these are not truly designed for listening to music because bone conduction can’t reproduce with the finesse that the inner ear can, I still ran a few tests similar to those I normally do with earbuds, for example with the Jabra ANC Elite 85c (see https://insight.daumphotography.com/2020/12/01/jabra-anc-elite-85t-big-sound-little-package/).  I listened to Symphony No.1 in D minor ”Gothic’‘ – Havergal Brian.  You could hear the vast range of instruments from tympanies to bells, but the separation was muddied and you did not feel like you were actually in a symphony hall.  Another test was with Santana’s Evil Ways.  In this case the stereophonic separation was faithfully reproduced, but again the distinction between instrumentation and vocals was not clean.  Another sound test was with Rodrigo y Gabriela Satori.  This is a complex recording with two acoustical guitars.  The sound seemed to reproduce the range but lacked crispness.

Initial Conclusions:

The AFTERSHOKZ OPENCOMM headset is an extremely well made, light weight headset.  The magnetic charging cable snaps smartly onto the headset and quickly recharges.  However, since it is a unique adaptor cable (versus being able to use a more universal USB C) you will have to remember to take the magnetic cable with you (and not lose it).  The nicely designed travel case will help in that regard.

The OPENCOMM headset is reasonably comfortable to wear for long periods of time, especially since it does not sit in or on your ears.   The headset sound reproduction units rest directly on your cheek bones with a slight but continuous pressure.  Some individuals may not find that comfortable, and you cannot adjust the titanium band to modify the pressure.  Also, because of the way the titanium band goes behind the ears and around the lower back of your head, it would not be comfortable to sit or recline with your head against a chair back.  The frame would be pushed forward as well as the loops going over and around your ears.

The active noise cancelling (ANC) technology is amongst the best I have found in any headset in terms of what the individual on the other end of the call hears.  A caveat of the off-ear design, however, is that you still hear all the noise surrounding you.  This can be very helpful or a hindrance.  If you are on a call and someone or something nearby is trying to get your attention, they will succeed where that would not be the case with in-the-ear or over-the-ear headsets with ANC.  But, if you are trying to hear over the OPENCOMM headset and there is a lot of ambient noise, the ANC will not help you at all on your end- it does not boost or compensate the incoming signal.

So, is the OPENCOMM for you?  That depends on your intended use.  These would be excellent for situations where you spend extended periods of time talking on your cell phone or over your computer, or on a Zoom video conference (and look a ton better than most over-the-ear headsets with a boom mic). They adequately handle music as well, but if your primary purpose is to listen to music and you enjoy hearing the nuances, then this would not be the best choice.

They would also be an ideal choice if you have any inner ear/ear drum damage impacting your hearing normally through the air.

The OPENCOMM headset would be very good as well for walking or jogging, since they stay put on your head.  With the full open ear design, you will also remain aware of your surroundings.

Overall Rating:  5 out of 5


[1] https://us.aftershokz.com/products/opencomm

[2] http://www.dsmt.com/resources/ip-rating-chart/

Fledging Shell Thunder-Thunderbolt 3 SSD external storage

I was supplied a Fledging Shell Thunder-Thunderbolt 3 SSD Enclosure with a 1TB NVMe M.2 2280 SSD already installed, by Fledging’s Brand Manager for review.

Included with the unit is a Philips head screwdriver, a spare M.2 screw, an Installation Guide, and a (nifty 😊) Fledging sticker.

The unit weighs 4.4 oz (with the SSD installed), measures 3.77” x 2.62” x 0.58”.  It is nicely finished and feels very sturdy.  On one side of the case there are 3 small slots for the built-in fan to draw air, and 24 smaller slots on the opposite side for the exhaust of the heated air (as it blows across the M.2 SSD).  On the underside are four Philips head screws (one at each corner) to allow access to the enclosure.  Inside the enclosure is a small fan, and the board for inserting the M.2 2280 SSD, and a thermal cooling pad on the cover opposite the location of the SSD.  This unit came with a 1TB Phison M.2 2280 TLC SSD (PS5012-E12-27) and what appears to be a Kingston NAND Flash chip.

The following is from the Fledging website[1]:

  • Can be purchased as just the case, or with NVMe SSD 256GB, 512GB, 1TB and 2TB drives installed
  • MSRP with 1 TB US$299.99
  • Both macOS and Windows compatible
  • Has active cooling via a temperature sensing 4000 rpm fan
  • designed for 2280 and 2260 m.2 NVME and ACHI SSDs, not m.2 SATA SSDs, Apple OEM SSDs nor apparently Samsung EVO 970 Plus.  The manufacturer recommends Western Digital Black SN750 NVMe SSDs (without the heat sink)
  • Thunder only works for true TB3 ports and will not cross-function with a USB-C port.

Initial Set-Up

To start I formatted the Phison SSD using Windows format.  I ran both dynamic benchmarking and ‘field’ tests of the unit.

Benchmarking results:

I used a LG Gram laptop Z990 with an 8th Gen Intel® Core™ i7 processor and DDR4 dual-channel memory, 256GB M.2 2280 SSD,  16GB DDR4, Windows 10, and connected to its native USB-C 3.1 Thunderbolt™ 3 port with the Thunderbolt 3 cable supplied by Fledging.

Using Windows ‘winsat’

The native M.2 SSD LG Laptop results:

Sequential (MB/s) Read 508.84  Write 495.76

Random (MB/s) Read 325.24

The SanDisk 128GB Extreme microSDXC UHS-I V30 in LG Laptop results:

          Sequential (MB/s) Read 56.50  Write 52.76

Random (MB/s) Read 11.99

The Fledging Shell Thunder results:

Sequential (MB/s) Read 2559.95  Write 47.66

Random (MB/s) Read 1379.20

OWC Envoy Pro EX  USB-C 2TB SSD M.2 drivef[2]

Sequential (MB/s) Read 830.84  Write 885.88

Random (MB/s) Read 497.64

Using ATTO Disk Benchmark 4.01.0f1

The native SSD Laptop results at 256KB I/O data:

Sequential (MB/s) Read 518.74 Write 490.87 

The SanDisk 128GB Extreme microSDXC results at 256KB I/O data:

          Sequential (MB/s) Read 76.09  Write 69.22

The Fledging Shell Thunder results at 256KB I/O data:

Sequential (MB/s) Read 2.35  Write 465.45

Using AS SSD Benchmark 2.07316.34247

The native M.2 SSD LG Laptop results:

Sequential (MB/s) Read 504.39  Write 450.86

The SanDisk 128GB Extreme microSDXC results at 256KB I/O data:

          Sequential (MB/s) Read 83.70  Write 69.84

The Fledging Shell Thunder results at 256KB I/O data:

Sequential (MB/s) Read 1951.76  Write 929.92

OWC Envoy Pro EX  USB-C 2TB SSD M.2 drive

Sequential (MB/s) Read 918.79  Write 920.40

Initial Field Test

After benchmarking, the next step was to see how the Fledging Shell Thunder-Thunderbolt 3 did with real data.

I again used a LG Gram laptop Z990 with an 8th Gen Intel® Core™ i7 processor and DDR4 dual-channel memory, 256GB M.2 2280 SSD,  16GB DDR4, Windows 10, and connected to its USB-C 3.1 Thunderbolt™ 3 port with the Thunderbolt 3 cable supplied.

The first transfer was of 21.2GB (1,414 items including videos, images, pdfs and text files) to the Fledging Shell Thunder-Thunderbolt 3.    The transfer took 01:23.85 minutes to complete.  Accessing any of the transferred files, images, videos, and pdfs was instantaneous.   The case showed a thermal increase of 0.5⁰F (using a Raytek MT6 infrared thermometer)

For comparison, the identical 21.2GBs was sent using the same laptop to a OWC Envoy Pro EX. The transfer took 01:34.51 minutes to complete.  Accessing any of the transferred files, images, videos, and pdfs was instantaneous.   The case showed a thermal increase of 4⁰F (using a Raytek MT6 infrared thermometer)

Next, I transferred 72.8GB (8,972 items including videos, images, pdfs and text files) to the Fledging Shell Thunder.  Transfer took 08:49.19 minutes to complete.  Accessing any of the transferred files, images, videos, and pdfs was instantaneous.   The case showed a thermal increase of 9.0⁰F (using a Raytek MT6 infrared thermometer)

For comparison, the identical 72.8GB was transferred to the OWC Envoy Pro EX.  Transfer took 06:22.20 minutes to complete.  Accessing any of the transferred files, images, videos, and pdfs was instantaneous.   The case showed a thermal increase of 8.5⁰F (using a Raytek MT6 infrared thermometer).

Preliminary conclusions:

This Fledging Shell Thunder-Thunderbolt 3 SSD Enclosure is a very portable and relatively fast solution for Thunderbolt 3 users.  It is powered from the Thunderbolt 3 cable and remains very cool under normal use.  The fan is so quite that the only way I knew it was working was to feel the very slight breeze at the case (or by removing the case back and viewing the fan directly).

Its speed results in reading and writing data was a mixed bag: Its Read of the Windows speed test data was 3 times faster than the next best time of the other drives, but its Write was the slowest of all and a whopping 18 times slower than the best.

The results using the ATTO Disk Benchmark were equally surprising, in that the Fledging Shell Thunder-Thunderbolt 3 performed very poorly in the Read component, at almost a multiple of 220 slower than the best, while its Write performance was almost on par with the best.

The read results were so surprising that I reran the test and got similar results.  The only thing I can conclude is that the extreme differences between the two sets of results must be related to the algorithms used by Windows vs ATTO.

A third benchmarking tool, AS SSD Benchmark was used where the Fledging Shell Thunder was the fastest Read at nearly twice that of the OWC Envoy Pro EX, and very slightly faster in Write than the OWC Envoy Pro EX.

Of course, none of us really use a hard drive to run only standardized benchmarking tools (at least, most of us don’t 😊 ).  We use them for storing and retrieving data.

Here the Fledging Shell Thunder-Thunderbolt 3 fared better when compared in a somewhat Apples to Apples comparison with the OWC Envoy Pro EX.  In the 21.2GB mixed data file writing, the Fledging Shell Thunder was about 12 seconds faster, with no noticeable difference in the instantaneousness of the reading of the same file.  It also remained cooler.

With the large 72.8GB mixed data file, the Fledging Shell Thunder-Thunderbolt 3 was slower by about 2 minutes and 20 seconds compared to the OWC Envoy Pro EX in writing, and had nearly the same temperature increase during the write.  Again, no noticeable difference in the instantaneousness of the reading of the same file.

In summary, the Fledging Shell Thunder-Thunderbolt 3 SSD Enclosure offers a compact highly portable external drive for those who have a true Thunderbolt 3 port.  Note: this unit will not work with non-Thunderbolt 3 ports even though it fits, for example, a USB 3 port.  It has a built-in temperature sensitive very quiet fan.  You can purchase the enclosure without any M.2 SSD for about US$140 and put your own NVMe M.2 2280 SSD in or buy it with up to 2TB NVMe M.2 2280 SSD from Fledging.

Its read/write performance varied depending on the size of the data sets. The fact that it incorporates a fan means that it is not dust or water resistant (as the OWC Envoy Pro EX is).  So, depending on what your intended use is for an external drive and whether you have a true Thunderbolt 3 port, will determine whether this is the drive for you.

Oh, almost forgot: despite its name Fledging Shell Thunder-Thunderbolt, the unit makes absolutely no noise. 🙂

Overall Preliminary rating: 4 out of 5 abacuses


[1] https://fledging.net/products/shell-thunder

[2] See https://insight.daumphotography.com/2020/10/04/owc-envoy-pro-ex-with-usb-c-2tb-ssd-m-2-drive-ultra-portable-and-fast/

Wen Times Boreas Winter Jacket Review

This is a product review of the Wen Times Boreas winter jacket.  The sample was provided by its distributor Naturality.

The Boreas is a low bulk, relatively light weight jacket based on a new insulating material, originally developed by NASA for spacesuit insulation.  The filling is called silica aerogel.

Here are some highlights from Wen Times Indiegogo’s crowdfunding campaign website[1]:

  • With extreme temperatures in mind, we brought you the thinnest, warmest, and most fitted winter jacket ever made. This jacket consists of silica aerogel, the highly resistant and lightweight material researched and developed by NASA to insulate spacesuits.
  • No more bulky layers to stay warm! As thin as just two millimeters of foil, the aerogel filling will maintain your core temperature in any weather condition, ensuring complete comfort and protection for your next chilly adventure.
  • Essential safety comes first. From the hood to the ribbed waistband, and down to the cuffs—every inch of the Boreas is 100% resistant to flames and ignition.
  • Coffee spills and grease stains will no longer ruin your day. The Boreas all-round resistance to stains will keep dirt away from your clothes, and from the fun!
  • The Boreas interior is fully covered with a film of the nano-silver coating.

Widely known for their anti-bacterial properties, the silver nanoparticles nested into the fabric can also enable the lining layer to reflect near-infrared wavelengths back toward your skin, maintaining the temperature inside the jacket while preventing the loss of body heat.

  • The two aerogel-filled pockets, spacious and conveniently designed on the sides of your jacket, will keep your hands warm and comfortable even in the coldest winter conditions.
  • MSRP US$499

[1] https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/boreas-the-warmest-jacket-made-with-nasa-tech#/

Quality & Construction Review:

The manufacturing quality and attention to detail in producing the Boreas jacket is excellent.  All the seams line up, stitching is uniform throughout.  The outer material feels very smooth, somewhat slick, and soft.

All zippers function smoothly. Though, perhaps as a result of its newness, getting the main zipper fully engaged in the retainer box is sometimes balky. The main zipper has two pulls, so that you can unzip from either the top or bottom.  Because of this, you need to get the lug through the lower zipper pull and then the retainer box.

The interior shell is as nicely finished as the outer shell.  The sleeves and back have a silver reflective liner.

The four outer pockets are large and properly finished, as is the one zippered inside pocket.  There is an additional open chest pocket on the inside.

There are elastic cuffs on the inside of the sleeves along with Velcro straps to further secure the ends of the sleeves.  Inside, there is an elastic waist band that has a slip catch to ensure both outside air and snow don’t come up under the jacket.  The slip catch is a little difficult to slide together.  At this point it is hard to judge the durability of the slip catch.

They have included a digital thermometer strip on the inside lapel of the jacket.  While the readout appears reasonably accurate, the practicality is questionable.  But it fits with their marketing theme.

The hood is fully adjustable to fit snugly and comfortably around your head.  I would recommend that some sort of storage, for example into a built-in pocket beneath the neck guard, be considered for when the hood is not being used.

Fit:

I was provided a medium sized Boreas jacket.  I normally wear medium in outwear whether a ski jacket, lightweight jacket, or coat.  However, I found the Boreas too tight from an activity point of view.  The jacket fit me snuggly and was fine for just walking about.  However, there was not enough room to comfortably raise or swing my arms.  The arm holes and material across the back of the coat would not comfortably permit movements as you would normally do in outdoor sports.

Even though according to their sizing chart I would expect the M to fit:

My measurements are chest 96 cm, waist 81 cm, weight 64.8 kg.  All well within their chart’s range for M.  The only measurement that I was outside of the chart M was for height at 172.7 cm.

Since the Boreas jacket fit OK for just walking about, it would appear that additional expanding or stretch material be considered around the arm holes and across the back to enable active movement.

Insulation results:

The first test was by nature subjective.  Wearing the Boreas in cold ambient temperatures, felt nicely warm and remained that way for extended walks.  It appears that the combination of reflective lining and the silica aerogel did a good job.

Since comfort is clearly subjective (even with the ability to reference the built-in thermometer), I decided to do a more scientific test of the insulating ability of the Boreas jacket. 

Cold ‘pass-through’ testing

To see how well the Boreas insulated against outside cold temperatures, I used a frozen cooler pack.  To monitor the temperature in the jacket, a wireless Bluetooth digital thermometer was placed on top of a microfiber towel, inside of the jacket, with the jacket closed over the thermometer.   The frozen cooler pack was placed above the location of the thermometer on the outside of the jacket and covered with several microfibers towels and a book to ensure the frozen cooler pack remained in full contact with the coat.  A digital timer was used to indicate 5, 10 and 15 minutes passing for the temperature measurements.

In addition to the Boreas jacket, for comparison purposes, a regular non-insulated but lined jacket, an Omni-Heat vest and a standard ski jacket with Thinsulate™ Lite Loft™ Insulation were all tested.  In each case, one of four identical frozen cooler packs was taken directly from the freezer and placed as noted above the location of the thermometer on the outside of the respective jacket at the start of the test.

Frozen cooler pack results:

As can be seen in the table, the Boreas performed second best of the four jackets in its ability to insulate and reduce cold transfer.

Preliminary Conclusions

The Boreas jacket is a very well made and executed cold weather jacket.  It does a good job reflecting one’s own body heat back and retaining it while blocking the incursion of outside air.

It has great storage, wind, water and dirt rejection capabilities.

As noted, there are a few areas that could be improved: an easier means of securing the waist band, a self-storage area for the hood, and more accurate sizing or the inclusion of flexible material around the arm holes and upper back.

5 out of 5 for quality

5 out of 5 for innovativeness

3 out of 5 for fit.

Jabra ANC Elite 85t: Big sound, little package

The following is a review of the Jabra ANC Elite 85t wireless earbuds.  I was supplied the Jabra 85t for an independent long-term review by Jabra GN.  My orientation in writing this is from the perspective of a range of potential end users—those who are considering new earbuds and will make their decision based on a combination of value and comfort across relevant environments, as well as those who will, in addition, consider the technology.  Of course, in evaluating earbuds, most of the conclusions are subjective and should be taken as such.  To that end, I hope I have provided sufficient information to assist you in reaching your own conclusions.

  • Technical specifications[1]
    • Noise isolating fit
    • Noise reduction on calls using 6-microphone technology
    • Wind noise protection
    • Audio codecs supported SBC, AAC
    • Speaker size 12 mm / 0.47 in
    • Speaker bandwidth (music playback) 20Hz to 20kHz
    • Speaker bandwidth (calls) 100Hz to 10kHz
    • Microphone type 6 x MEMS
    • Microphone bandwidth 100Hz to 10kHz
    • Active Noise Cancellation Jabra Advanced ANC™ using 4 of the device’s 6 microphones; includes HearThrough and In-ear pressure relief
    • List price US$229.99
  • After unpacking, I downloaded the free Jabra Sound + app.  It quickly paired my Samsung S10 (Android) phone with the Elite 85t buds. The app includes a Quick Start Guide that walks you through the different elements of the charging case, how to insert and wear the earbuds.  The app also includes a “Welcome to MySound” that tailors the sound set up to your personal hearing.  It runs through a short (about two-minute sound test) after you enter you sex, and year of birth.  It then generates a personal hearing profile. 

At the end of the profile it checks for and asks to download the latest software update.  After the update is downloaded, it instructs you to place the earbuds back inside the charging case and close it.  Once you do the purple/pink LED on the front of the case flashes to slow the update being loaded to the earbuds.  It states it can take up to 15 minutes.  It took about 11 minutes for the update to complete.

  • Note: when you look for the app on your phone, it is called Sound+, not Jabra Sound+
    • When you open the app, it shows you the battery charge in each earbud as well as the remaining battery life of the charging case.
  • One of the first things you notice about the earbuds is the shape of the silicon gels, they are oval rather than the typical round.  They feel amazingly comfortable in your ears and don’t require pushing them in firmly.  They immediately feel very comfortable and the earbuds themselves fairly light.
  • The active noise cancellation (ANC) was the best I’ve experienced with earbuds.  At one point while listening to a soundtrack at moderate volume, my wife walked in and apparently was loudly trying to get my attention.  I didn’t realize she was there until she stood right beside me, and I saw her in my peripheral vision, though still not hearing her.  I found the overall sound much fuller and richer if I used ANC and/or passthrough vs neither.
  • Receiving and making calls:  the six built in microphones apparently do a great job in that people I called said my voice was clear, sounding just like a land line connection.  Similarly, I could easily hear them.  To answer an incoming call, you simply press on the center circle part of the bud.  Unlike on some other earbuds where you have to find a small area on the surface to answer or mute, these have a real ‘button’ switch that is a circle nearly the size of the outside of the bud, it depresses when you push on it.  You use the same button to activate or deactivate the ANC, fast forward music, lower or raise the volume, or activate voice assistant of Siri® and Google Assistant™ by varying the number of presses or holding the button.
  • You charge the Elite 85ts by putting them back into the charging/carrying case.  Each charge according to Jabra GN Technical Specifications sheet, is good for 5.5 hours, and then by reinserting in the charging case, a total of an additional 19.5 hours.  Conveniently, you can get about an hour’s charge added by leaving in the case for just 15 minutes.  To fully charge the case using the supplied USB cable, takes about two and one-half hours.
  • Now to the sound test. 

Initial comparisons were made using a Samsung S10 and Amazon Prime Music downloads.  The same songs were also sampled using  a PC with Windows Pro OS, Intel Core i9-9900K Coffee Lake 8-Core, 16-Thread, 3.6 GHz (5.0 GHz Turbo) LGA 1151 (300 Series) 95W with Noctua NH-D15S 140mm SSO2 D-Type Premium CPU Cooler, EVGA GeForce RTX 2060 KO GAMING Video Card, again with Amazon Prime Music. 

The Jabra Sound+ was set to about 50% HearThrough and the equalizer to Neutral when using the Samsung. 

Since one of the key considerations for many is the ‘value ratio:’ the quality of the audio reproduction versus the cost.  For this reason, I have included a comparison with a pair of Boltune Wireless Earbuds BH024.  The Jabra 85t lists at US$229.99 and the Boltune BH024 at US$59.99.

In the following, the first comment is based on the Jabra earbuds and the second on the Boltune.

  • Listening to Pink Floyd The Dark Side of the Moon: Time, there was excellent separation of instruments, voices.  All tones were clean and crisp.  The bass was unmuddied, and very well balanced. The bells and symbols shined.
    • The Boltune 024s did reasonably well on the separation, but the overall sound lacked bandwidth- it was as if you compressed the dynamic range.
    • Adele He Won’t Go gave a good test of the buds’ range, cleanly handling the highs while keeping the bass impactful.
      • The Boltunes did fine on the highs but muddied the bass.
    • Listening to Leonard Bernstein conducting Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture, Op. 49 you can clearly differentiate the violins, oboes, trumpets and drums.  As the crescendos built to the ‘canons,’ the bass drum explodes with a distinct roll off each time.
      • The Boltunes matched the Jabras in the softer sections but seemed more compressed in the build up to the ‘canons.’
    • Queen Play the Game was a treat- the voices were incredibly distinct against the beat of the percussions.  The electronic tones and echo effects felt like you were in front of live production.
      • The Boltunes cleanly projected the electronic tones and effects, and the vocals were clear, but the result was like listening through a headset vs the Jabra feel of being in a live production.
    • A real test IMO of the sensitivity of the earbuds is in playing Arvo Pärt Tabula Rasa.  This amazing score really tests the ability to cleanly play the strings along with the rest of the orchestra accompaniment in the background.  The 85t produced perfect strings throughout their range with no distortion or sharpness while clearly preserving the bass and midrange.
      • The Boltunes matched the Jabras on cleanly projecting the strings but did not reproduce the bass as richly.
    • Beatles 2019 Mix Because really shows off the 85t’s ability to distinctly and cleanly separate the ethereal vocals from the electric spinet Baldwin harpsichord and Moog synthesizer.
      • The Boltune 024s were not as clean sounding, and did not do as well in differentiating the bass from the vocals
    • Hovergal Brian Gothic Symphony is a great piece to demonstrate whether earbuds can comfortably reproduce a range of instruments from piccolos to harps to timpani.  The 85t truly provided a feeling of sitting in the center of a perfect acoustical hall during the performance.
      • The Boltunes faithfully reproduced the range of instruments but fell short of feeling live.
  • Second sound tests were done using CDs and a PC with Windows Pro OS, Intel Core i9-9900K Coffee Lake 8-Core, 16-Thread, 3.6 GHz (5.0 GHz Turbo) LGA 1151 (300 Series) 95W with Noctua NH-D15S 140mm SSO2 D-Type Premium CPU Cooler,,EVGA GeForce RTX 2060 KO GAMING Video Card, and an OWC Mercury Pro 16X Blu-ray unit.
    • The first CD test used Rodrigo y gabriela Satori.  This percussion instrumental includes two acoustical guitars.  It ranges from light distinct runs to fast, heavy instrumentals.  The 85t beautifully separated and reproduced the stings from the ‘drum-like’ beats on the guitars, as well as the ability to hear their fingers slide along the strings.
      • The Boltunes matched the 85t in reproducing the percussion acoustics with only a slightly smaller perceived width of the sound.
    • Sanata’s Evil Ways provides an opportunity to see how well the earbuds can reproduce heavy instrumentals with vocals.  The 85t produced crystal clear vocals, clean timbales, unmuddied bass.  This was a digitally mastered edition, and to my ears, the music was too stereophonic for my taste.
      • Here the Boltunes did slightly better handling the heightened stereophonic effect of the digitally mastered edition.  However, the bass was a little muted in comparison.
    • Andrea Bocelli Sacred Arias: Panis angelicus [Franck orch. Michelot] provided a sample of the ability to reproduce Bocelli’s voice against the coral and the background of the orchestra.  The 85t shined in preserving the depth of Bocelli’s voice and even the harp against the coral and orchestra.
      • The Boltunes did a good job reproducing Bocelli’s voice, clearly and distinctly.  However when the coral came in there was not as much separation and for example, Bocelli’s rolling of the “r”s was less clear.
    • KT Tunstall Drastic Fantastic White Bird tests the ability to reproduce a mix of electric guitar and solo vocals.  With the 85t you get to cleanly hear KT Tunstall’s bluesy voice along with her fingers on the strings, crisp percussion, and super clear individual electronic bell tones.
      • The Boltunes nicely reproduced the vocal of KT Tunstall, the finger slides on the string, and the percussion.  However, with a less real vs recorded feeling.

Preliminary Conclusions

Five out of a possible Five Clefs rating

  • Audio Reproduction:

The Jabra Elite 85t did an outstanding job of faithfully reproducing soundtracks ranging from rock to operatic, from electronic instrumental to acoustical.  Regardless of the instrument or the vocalist, the sound was clean, crisp, and never distorted.  In most cases the fidelity resulted in ones feeling like they were dropped into a live concert.

  • Comfort:

The Jabra Elite 85t were very comfortable for extended wear and were easy to put in and remove.

  • Build Quality:

The Jabra Elite 85t are very well designed, appear to be solidly built and yet lightweight.  The charging/carrying case is equally well made.  My only nit, so to speak, is that with the smooth sides of the 85t earbud, it can be a little difficult to remove from the case because of the strong magnets that ensure the bud connects with the charging posts.

  • Value:

The Jabra Elite 85t are in the mid to higher cost range of earbuds, and not quite four times the cost of the Boltunes BH024.  However, you get a number of things on the 85t including ability to tailor the sound to your taste (and hearing), larger speakers, much more effective sound cancelling and greater richness to the sound than with the Boltunes.  One area the Boltunes exceed the Jabras is in the waterproof rating.  The Boltunes are rated at IPX8 while the Jabras are rated at IPX4.  IPX4 – A device with a level 4 water resistance rating can survive splashes of water from any direction. IPX8 – A device with a level 8 water resistance rating can survive immersion in water deeper than 1m (usually up to 3m).[2]


[1] From Jabra’s website

[2] Audio Reputation Blog: IPX Ratings Explained Updated on October 2, 2020 by James Longman

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best regards,

   Jeff

Jeff Daum, Ph.D, PPA

Photojournalist, Technology & Product Analyst

Website: www.DaumPhotography.com

Blog: https://insight.daumphotography.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jwdphotog/

Muck Rack: https://muckrack.com/dr-jeff-daum

Kingston KC 2500 NVMe M.2 2280 2TB SSD: Fast and small

Kingston KC 2500 NVMe M.2 2280 2TB SSD

Background

The following is a review of the Kingston KC 2500 NVMe M.2 2280 2TB SSD.  I was supplied the Kingston KC 2500 by Kingston Technology Company Inc. for an independent long-term review.

NVMe M.2 solid state drives are the latest iteration of solid-state drives (SSDs).  They differ in several ways from SSDs you possibly have in your computer or laptop.  Instead of being similar in shape and size to a small cell phone (standard SATA SSD), the NVMe M.2 looks more like a memory stick.  They are designed to be significantly faster than regular SATA hard drives as well as faster than SSDs.  To fully realize their speed, however, your motherboard needs to be a newer model that has native M.2 module slots built in.  These M.2 modules have direct lanes to the CPU, unlike going through typical expansion slots first.  It is possible to use the NVMe M.2 in either internal adaptor cards, or externally through a USB 3.1 C or Thunderbolt™ connection[1], but again, the resulting speeds will be less than you can achieve with a native M.2 module slot on your motherboard.

For this preliminary review, I look at the Kingston KC 2500 NVMe M.2 2280 2TB SSD technical specifications, run software benchmarking, and conduct ‘real world’ tests, to evaluate its performance.  For the tests, the KC 2500 was directly inserted into a native PCIe M.2 module slot on the motherboard.

Unpacking: What is enclosed



Here is the KC 2500 being inserted in one of the motherboards native M.2 module slots (right below another NVMe M.2 model by Samsung.

In this image, the Kingston KC2500 is enclosed in the MSI FROZR heat dissipater.

Manufacture’s Published Specs and list price

“Kingston’s KC2500 NVMe PCIe SSD delivers powerful performance using the latest Gen 3.0 x 4 controller and 96-layer 3D TLC NAND. With read/write speeds up to 3,500/2,900MB/s1, KC2500 delivers outstanding endurance and improves the workflow in desktop, workstations, and high-performance computing (HPC) systems. The compact M.2 design gives greater flexibility, increasing storage but also saving space.

Available in capacities from 250GB–2TB2 to meet your system’s needs. KC2500 is a self-encrypting drive that supports end-to-end data protection using XTS-AES 256 bit Hardware-based encryption and allows the usage of independent software vendors with TCG Opal 2.0 security management solutions such as Symantec™, McAfee™, WinMagic® and others. KC2500 also has built-in Microsoft eDrive support, a security storage specification for use with BitLocker.”[2]

Cost: Around US$400.00 for 2TB.  5-year OEM warranty.

How the testing was done

  • The NVMe M.2 were tested in the following system using native PCIe M.2 module slots on the motherboard
    • OS: Intel Core i9-9900K Coffee Lake 8-Core, 16-Thread, 3.6 GHz (5.0 GHz Turbo) LGA 1151 (300 Series) 95W with Noctua NH-D15S 140mm SSO2 D-Type Premium CPU Cooler
    • EVGA GeForce RTX 2060 KO GAMING Video Card
    • Motherboard: MSI MEG Z390 ACE LGA1151
    • Memory: CORSAIR Vengeance LPX 64GB (4 x 16GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 3200 (PC4 25600)
    • Power supply: EVGA SuperNOVA 650 G5, 80 Plus Gold 650W

Software speed tests

Three different software programs were run to establish benchmarks.  The first was the UserBenchmark™, the second Samsung Magician™, and the third the ATTO™.  In the tests, Sequential testing replicates reading/writing video and music files, while Random replicates reading from multiple locations like starting up a computer, or where data is stored in available spaces on an existing drive.  Deep queue replicates typical server activities.  The Kingston KC2500 was compared to a Samsung 970 Pro NVMe M.2 SSD 1TB drive, both inserted in native PCIe M.2 module slots on the motherboard.

UserBenchmark results


In looking at the UserBenchmark results, the Samsung is faster than the Kingston on most of the sequential tests, while the Kingston is faster than the Samsung on the random tests.  The Samsung is faster on two of the three Deep queue tests.

Samsung Magician results

On the Samsung Magician tests results, the Samsung is faster on the Sequential Read but the Kingston is faster on the Sequential Write.  The Kingston is faster on both the Random Read and Write than the Samsung.

ATTO (Attotech 4.01.0f1) results

Samsung 970 PRO NVMe M.2 SSD results

Kingston’s KC2500 NVMe M.2 SSD results

The ATTO benchmark measures the maximum speeds at which data can be transferred to and from a disk.  The ATTO testing starts with 512B of I/O data and increases by doubling each test, up to 64MB.  The performance difference between the Samsung and the Kingston transfer rate somewhat flips back and forth, with the Kingston writing at a higher speed up to about 16KB, while the Samsung reads faster up to 16KB.  Then from 16KB to 256KB I/O they are about even in performance.  From 256KB up to the 64MB, the Kingston is consistently faster in writing the data, with little difference between the Kingston and Samsung in reading the data in that range.

‘Real world’ tests

For a representation of typical (non-gaming) end user outcomes, two tests of writing files to the respective drives, were conducted.  The first comprised of 30.1GB collection of 1448 files that included a mix of text (Word and WordPerfect documents), PDFs, images, and MP4 video files.  The second comprised of 75.8GB collection of 1450 files that included a mix of text (Word and WordPerfect documents), PDFs, images, and MP4 video files.  All the respective test files were stored on a Samsung 970 PRO NVMe M.2 SSD 1TB drive plugged into one of the motherboard native M.2 module slots.

As with the benchmarking software, comparisons were run the Samsung and the Kingston drives.  Additionally, a comparison was run with a standard 3.5 inch hard drive, the WD Blue 4 TB SATA 6gb/s  3.5″ WD40EXRZ.

‘Real world’ writing time results:

Samsung 970 Pro NVMe M.2 SSD

30.1GB 00:18.64 seconds

75.8GB 00:43.40 seconds

Kingston’s KC2500 NVMe M.2 SSD

30.1GB 00:17.95 seconds

75.8GB 00:43.31 seconds

WD Blue SATA hard drive

30.1GB   03:17.01 minutes:seconds

75.8GB   08:49.85 minutes:seconds

The Kingston was marginally faster than the Samsung with both the 30.1GB and 75.8GB writes, but not a practical significant difference.  However, both the Kingston and the Samsung were much quicker, by almost three minutes in writing the 30.1GBs, and by eight minutes in writing the 75.8GBs when compared to the WD Blue SATA hard drive.

Preliminary Conclusions

The Kingston KC 2500 NVMe M.2 2280 2TB SSD is a well designed NVMe M.2 drive that delivers on its promise of fast read and write times across all three benchmarking tests and the ‘real world/real data’ tests.  Overall it had slightly better performance outcomes than the Samsung 970 Pro it was directly compared with, though from an end user perspective, the difference between the two probably won’t be apparent.

The Kingston KC2500 comes with a 5-year warranty, and some on-board software as well as a link to download and activate Acronis® True Image HD Software.  This is particularly useful if you plan on replacing your existing hard drive which houses your OS, since it will automatically copy and transfer everything you need to change out the hard drive with the Kingston KC2500.  It is a self-encrypting drive that supports end-to-end data protection using XTS-AES 256 bit hardware-based encryption of your data.

The Kingston KC 2500 NVMe M.2 is well worth considering especially in cases where you read and write large files such as in editing, building, and rendering a movie comprised of a mix of photographic images and shorter videos.

Overall rating:

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Super Hot! 5 out of a possible 5

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best regards,

   Jeff

Jeff Daum, Ph.D, PPA

Photojournalist, Technology & Product Analyst

Website: www.DaumPhotography.com

Blog: https://insight.daumphotography.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jwdphotog/

Muck Rack: https://muckrack.com/dr-jeff-daum


[1] For example, see my review of the OWC Envoy Pro Ex external drive https://insight.daumphotography.com/2020/10/04/owc-envoy-pro-ex-with-usb-c-2tb-ssd-m-2-drive-ultra-portable-and-fast/

[2] Kingston website https://www.kingston.com/unitedstates/us/ssd/kc2500-nvme-pcie-ssd

OWC Envoy Pro EX with USB-C 2TB SSD M.2 drive: ultra portable and fast

Background

As a professional photographer I do a lot of work on-site and ‘in the field.’ One of challenges is backing up the day’s images.  Anything that can speed up this backup transfer while ensuring the integrity of the images, is always welcome. 

That is the impetus this review.  I was supplied the OWC Envoy Pro EX with USB-C 2TB SSD M.2 drive by Other World Computing (OEM and distributer of external hard drive cases, SSDs and enterprise storage solutions), for an independent long-term evaluation.

The OWC Envoy Pro EX seemed very promising. It is small, and because it is based on an SSD M.2 drive, should be quite fast.

Unpacking: What is enclosed

The OWC Envoy Pro EX with USB-C 2TB SSD M.2 drive (SKU OWCENVPROC2N20) arrived in a 5.75×3.75×2 inches box.  Within the box was:

  • Quick Start Guide
  • Information sheet on OWC Drive formatting utility
  • USB Type-C cable
  • with USB-C 2TB SSD M.2 drive installed
  • If the OWC Envoy Pro EX was purchased as an enclosure without any NVMe M.2 SSD, it is supplied with screws to secure the enclosure, and one drive mounting screw, along with two rubber feet (that are used to cover the case mounting screws).

Specifications

Actual dimensions of the Envoy Pro EX:

  • 4.53×2.55×0.5 inches (11.51×6.48×1.27 centimeters)
  • 5.6 ounces (0.1588 kilograms) with the 2TB SSD M.2 (NVMe PCIe 2280 SSD M-Keyed) drive installed

Dust and water resistance rating:

  • IP67

Unit is powered by the USB-C cable connection

Interface: USB 3.1 Gen 2 (Type-C)/ Thunderbolt™ 3 Interface

Operating System Requirements:

  • macOS 10.12 or later
  • Windows 10 or later
  • Linux, Chrome Android, and other OS that support USB 3.1 Gen 2

Warranty:

  • 3-year OWC Limited Warranty if ordered with SSD
  • 1-year OWC Limited Warranty if only ordering the case

Cost: US$399.00

Initial Set-up

The unit was connected via the supplied USB Type-C cable to a USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 port on my PC.  I am running Windows 10 Pro with a MSI MEG Z390 motherboard, Intel Core i9-9900K Coffee Lake 8-Core processor and 64GB DDR4 memory.  The Envoy Pro Ex was immediately recognized along with showing the preloaded software, mentioned in the Drive Guide Formatting sheet included with the unit.

Unfortunately, while the drive contents opened in Explorer properly, and the formatting utility exe file was there, it would not initialize.  After several attempts, I followed OWC alternative formatting suggestion- use Windows Disk Management to format.

Windows Disk Management properly formatted the drive, and everything checked out. The newly formatted disk showed as 200 MB Healthy (EFI System Partition) and 1788.30 GB NTFS Healthy (Basic Data Partition).

The next thing I did was to run benchmarking software.  For this I used Samsung’s Magician software (I have several Samsung 970 PRO NVMe M.2 SSD drives on the motherboard).

Benchmarking results:

Sequential (MB/s)                              Random (IOPS)

Read  971 Write 991             Read 55175  Write 52490

Comparison to Seagate 2TB external 3.5 HDD

Sequential (MB/s)             Random (IOPS) not run

Read 157 Write 151              n.a.

As can be seen, the OWC Envoy Pro EX about six times faster in sequential reading and writing to the disk as compared to the Seagate 2TB 3.5 HDD.

These results seem to be consistent with published data.  For example, A typical 7200 RPM HDD will deliver a read/write speed of 80-160MB/s. On the other hand, a typical SSD will deliver read/write speed of between 200 MB/s to 550 MB/s.[1]

Initial Field Test

After benchmarking, the next step was to see how the OWC Envoy Pro EX did with real data.

I used a LG Gram laptop Z990 with an 8th Gen Intel® Core™ i7 processor and DDR4 dual-channel memory, M.2 2280 SSD,  16GB DDR4, Windows 10, and connected to its USB-C 3.1 Thunderbolt™ 3 port with the OWC supplied cable (a USB-C, gen 2 but not a Thunderbolt™ 3 cable).

The first transfer was of 21.2GB (1,414 items including videos, images, pdfs and text files) to the OWC Envoy Pro EX.  The transfer took 01:34.51 minutes to complete.  Accessing any of the transferred files, images, videos, and pdfs was instantaneous.   The case showed a thermal increase of 4⁰F (using a Raytek MT6 infrared thermometer)

For comparison, the identical 21.2GBs was sent using the same laptop to a SDXC card (in the SD port of the laptop) and the transfer took 06:26.08 minutes to complete.  Accessing any of the transferred files, images, videos, and pdfs was nearly instantaneous loading.

Next I transferred 72.2GB (8,972 items including videos, images, pdfs and text files) to the OWC Envoy Pro EX.  Transfer took 06:22.20 minutes to complete.  Accessing any of the transferred files, images, videos, and pdfs was instantaneous.   The case showed a thermal increase of 8.5⁰F (using a Raytek MT6 infrared thermometer)

Since my laptop supports Thunderbolt™ 3, I reran the transfer of 21.2GB  (1,414 items including videos, images, pdfs and text files) to the OWC Envoy Pro EX, but this time using a Thunderbolt™ 3 cable instead of the OWC supplied USB Type-C cable.  The transfer took 01:21:16 minutes to complete.   The case showed a thermal increase of 2⁰F (using a Raytek MT6 infrared thermometer)

Next I reran the transfer of 72.2GB (8,972 items including videos, images, pdfs and text files) to the OWC Envoy Pro EX using the Thunderbolt™ 3 cable.  Transfer took 06:23.04 minutes to complete.  Accessing any of the transferred files, images, videos and pdfs was instantaneous.   The case showed a thermal increase of 5.5⁰F (using a Raytek MT6 infrared thermometer).

Prior to having the OWC Envoy Pro EX drive, I always backed up my daily images and videos each day through the laptop to the embedded SDXC card. Hence, my last ‘real world’ comparison was taking the 21.2GB of photos and videos and sending it from my Nikon’s XQD card directly to the OWC Envoy Pro EX through the laptop Thunderbolt™, versus through the laptop to an embedded SDXC card.  It took 01:46:25 minutes to the OWC unit and 06:27.02 minutes, respectively. 

Preliminary Conclusions

  • Very nicely constructed (I have found this true with other types of OWC external drive cases).  A solid feeling, well machined anodized aluminum case with rounded corners.  Only one opening, the USB-C slot at one end, and the blue LED light at the other.  The blue LED light glows steady when powered, and blinks as the drive is being accessed.  Light weight and ultra-portable.
  • The IP67 rating means that it is “Dust Tight No ingress of dust; complete protection against contact” and “Immersion up to 1m. Ingress of water in harmful quantity shall not be possible when the enclosure is immersed in water under defined conditions of pressure and time (up to 1 m of submersion).” [2]
  • Extremely easy to connect and use.  Considerably faster with real data than the prior method I used, namely, loading the backup data to the SDXC card in my laptop.
  • The Thunderbolt™ 3 cable vs the OWC supplied cable (a USB-C) did not seem to make enough of a difference as tested, to justify buying a Thunderbolt™ 3 cable, if you don’t already own one.

In summary, the OWC Envoy Pro EX offers the perfect solution for those who need a highly portable external drive that is rugged, dust and waterproof under normal field conditions, and relatively fast for writing and accessing data.  A nice bonus is the fact that you do not need a separate power supply.

Rating: Five out of a possible five

Please let me know if you have any questions about this unit.

Best regards,

   Jeff

Jeff Daum, Ph.D, PPA

Photojournalist, Technology & Product Analyst

Website: www.DaumPhotography.com

Blog: https://insight.daumphotography.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jwdphotog/

Muck Rack: https://muckrack.com/dr-jeff-daum


[1] TekHattan Blog © 2019

[2] DSM&T bulletin re International standard IEC 60529

Product Review: Blackvue DR900S-2CH Field Test

A part of this review, the Blackvue DR900S-2CH was compared to my long term benchmark dashcam, the Papago GoSafe 30G.  Additionally, I will focus (pun intended 😊 ) on the performance of the Blackvue DR900S-2CH.

The Blackvue is permanently mounted in my BMW X3, while the Papago was placed along side it, using its suction cup mount.  For those interested in the installation of the Blackvue, please see the detailed write-up at https://insight.daumphotography.com/2020/02/19/blackvue-dr900s-2ch-dash-cameras-install/

Here is a brief comparison of the respective unit’s specifications (from the manufacturer’s web sites):

The Papago GoSafe 30G comes equipped with GPS, and, supports up to 128GB for more than 20 hours of recording before footage loops over. With a 2.7” display screen to view your videos, this dash cam has the capability to record full HD 1080P 60FPS high resolution videos with an 140° wide view angle. The GoSafe 30G also comes loaded with 3 recording modes (video, parking, and monitor mode), and Papago’s exclusive driver assist features including stop sign recognition, headlight reminder, and driver fatigue alarm.”

The DR900S-2CH has an ultra-wide 162-degree front camera and wide 139-degree rear camera angle. The front 8-megapixel sensor produces spectacular 4K Ultra HD footage, letting you read license plates from farther away.  With H.265/HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding), the video files stay small so you can record for as long as a standard Full HD dashcam.  DR900S-2CH also features dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi for super fast file transfer to your phone.

  • There are some basic differences you can see from the two manufacturers descriptions:
    • The Papago has a display screen, while the Blackvue does not.  However, you can easily access the images from the Blackvue using your smart phone.  Both, of course, have removable MicroSD cards for viewing on your computer or laptop.
    • The Blackvue includes a second recording camera, for capturing rear traffic images.
    • The Blackvue front camera has a wider lens capture at 162 degrees as compared to Papago’s 140 degrees.

Field Side-by-Side Comparison

For most dashcam users, the primary purpose is to document traffic as you are driving.  Dashcams have become popular as a means of providing evidence in the event of road rage and/or an accident.  Ideally the dashcam will capture clear, time and gps marked images, both during daytime and nighttime driving.

Let’s see how the Blackvue and Papago did.  In general, both dashcams did fine during the daytime recordings.  Both document the time, speed and gps. You can see at the bottom of each of the following images, the time, speed, and in Papago’s case, the GPS coordinates.  Blackvue also captures GPS coordinates, but rather than display them on the image, they are imbedded in the image data and actually show where the vehicle is on Google Maps, when viewed with their app.

For all the following images, they are not retouched or corrected, but appear exactly as recorded.  In each case the Blackvue image is the first of the two images. 

This first set shows the wider coverage of the Blackvue vs the Papago:

The Papago has a slightly more saturated image but is also a slight bit less sharp. 

Here are the same images, enlarged about 30%:

Here is are comparative shots from video on the highway:

Again, the Papago has more color saturation while the Blackvue is a bit sharper.  This is more easily seen in the approximately 30 percent enlargements:

Now let’s look at night shots:

Here the Blackvue does a bit better job with low (nighttime) lighting: the image is sharper and for example, you can see the traffic signals are red, but only appear as lights in the Papago.

And another set of night shots:

Finally, here is a shot that shows the advantage of Blackvue’s slightly wider lens coverage.  You can see in the Blackvue image a car just off the left fender, but you can not see it in the Papago shot. This additional coverage could be useful for example, if your vehicle was sideswiped.

Here is an example of the video capture from the Blackvue front and back cameras:

You’ll note that the images are rock solid from both front and back cameras.

This is what the Blackvue SD Card Viewer looks like on a PC.  It contains a lot of information, including the time, GPS coordinates, actual location on Google Maps, speed, and if selected, using picture-in-a-picture, simultaneous front and back videos.  It allows you to capture and save a snapshot from the video at any time.

And here is the Viewer optioned as just the full image, without the surround of information:

Summary:

As noted at the start, both the Blackvue and the Papago provide solid documentation of what is occurring in front of the vehicle.  It was nice to see that the software of both manufacturers captured the same GPS coordinates and indicate the same vehicle speed across various settings and at low through highway speeds.

When considering all factors, the Blackvue  DR900S-2CH emerges as the best, if you put cost aside.  While both Blackvue and Papago do a number of the same things, including most importantly, automated recording every time you start driving, Blackvue has the edge in image quality.  It offers excellent front and back cameras, high quality video including HD recording, and ease of use with its free smart phone app and PC viewer.

That said, for some the price difference will be a deciding factor.  The Blackvue currently can be found selling at around US$420, while the Papago is at around US$160.

A few minor Blackvue nitpicks:

  • Blackvue prefers (recommends) that you only use their own branded microSD card. During parts of the half year I have been using this unit, instead of the Blackvue microSD card, I used a very well respected 128 gb professional level card, designed specifically for handling the frequent record events typical of security cameras.  I did not experience any recording problems, however, the Blackvue unit would randomly announce a restart.  The non-Blackvue card was formatted using Blackvue’s own software app.  This minor issue is known by Blackvue, as well as being documented by a number of users.
  • Blackvue does have a Parking setting, for use when your vehicle is not running.  However, it requires a source of power to keep running beyond its stored capacitor.  One option is to directly power the unit off your vehicle’s battery using a circuit that is continuously ‘live.’  This is problematic over an extended period because it could cause your battery to be drained to the point where it will not start your vehicle. 

Another option is Blackvue’s Power Magic Pro.  It goes between a continuously live circuit and the unit, and is designed to shut off the Blackvue at a preset voltage level of your vehicle battery, for example, 12.5 volts.  However it does not work with the sophisticated and sensitive power draw software of the BMW (as well as possibly similar systems by other OEMs, designed to preserve the battery and ensure sufficient starting power), nullifying its use as a means to power the unit in “Parking Mode.”  Basically, it causes the system to throw several electrical related codes.

A third option is to purchase Blackvue’s Power Magic Battery Pack or Power Magic Ultra Battery.  The first is a rechargeable accessory plug driven system that provides about 12 hours of record time.  The Ultra unit is a high capacity rechargeable unit that provides about 24 hours of record time, and can be piggy-backed to increase the total record time while parked.  However, these are not ideal options for long term parking situations (like when you leave your vehicle parked for a week or more).  The accessory plug unit has too brief a recording time to be of value, while the Ultra is a very expensive option- over US$300 per pack.

In conclusion, after six months of use, the Blackvue  DR900S-2CH has proven to be a highly reliable unit, providing excellent video documentation.  It has been unaffected by the extreme temperatures here in the desert.  The smart phone app and PC microSD card Viewer are very well thought through, highly functional and easy to use.  It just needs a better parking record option.

Aipower wearbuds™ review

Aipower wearbuds™ review

This review focuses on an innovative product from Aipower called wearbuds™.  I was provided a pair for an independent review by Aipower.

Background

Several features of the wearbuds™ create a niche market over the plethora of wireless earphones available to the consumer, including that the earbuds are transported and charged in an Apple-like watch (on steroids).  Originally introduced through Kickstarter, they are also now available through Amazon.

The wearbuds™ come well packaged.  Here is what comes in the box:

I

Included is the multi-function fitness watch, right and left Bluetooth earbuds, a USB charging cable and the Quick Start Guide.  It is fairly easy to set up following the Quick Start Guide.

Here are the specifications as provided by Aipower:

Earbuds

  • Qualcomm QCC3026 Bluetooth chipset
  • Speaker 10Hz-40KHz, 100dB at 1KHz
  • Microphone 100Hz-10kHz; 38dB
  • Water resistance IPX6 (can survive strong water jets projected by a 12.5mm nozzle at any angle)
  • Operating range 50ft/15m

Watch

  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • Processor ARM Cortex M4
  • Touch display 80×160; 0.96 inch; 65k colors; TFT
  • Sensors: 7 axis accelerometer (including barometer); heart rate sensor; vibration motor
  • Water resistance IPX5

There is a free Aipower wearbuds™ app that you’ll want to download to your phone (Android or IOS).  You need the app to initially set up the time for the watch, and the app will allow you limited customizing of the display in several color output options, as well as time in 12 or 24 hours format, along with the day, month and date format.   Actually, you don’t set the time, once you pair it with your phone, it synchs with the phone time.  You can also set the display to ‘wake’ on movement.  Here are the primary watch screens:

You’ll find that the earbuds are very lightweight, approximately 3.6 grams, and comfortable in your ears.

In this image you can see the earbuds extending out (red arrows) of the watch body after you push in on each one to release

And the wearbuds™ now outside of the watch body.

When you press to release the earbud, it automatically goes into pairing mode with your phone (after the original pairing) or any other Bluetooth device (again, after the original pairing with the respective device) such as a laptop.  You can use either or both wearbuds™ (operates in monaural if you only use one at a time).

Review

While the watch with the wearbuds™ still in the watch body, is very light and reasonably comfortable to wear all day, it takes some getting use to its bulkiness.  It sits up about ¾ of an inch off of your wrist.

I like the auto-awakening of the clock face with movement of your wrist/arm.  I would prefer an option to have it auto-rotate between information screens, rather than your having to swipe the face to change to another screen.

It is extremely convenient to have the ear buds right there on your wrist for when you want to use them, as well as the fact that the watch serves as the charger for each of the ear buds when they are reinserted.

I found that the overall fit and finish was very good.  Once in a while, the left earbud would not easily come out of the watch after you had pushed to release it. Tolerance on release mechanism not quite right.  I also found the watch band (very similar to Apple’s) was a bit too long for my smaller wrist, however, it was extremely comfortable once you got it hooked on.

The Bluetooth link up was OK until linked separately with a laptop and the Android phone.  Then it became buggy, in essence not connecting at times.  The phone App would say the Wearbuds™ were disconnected when in fact they were playing music from the phone.  Even though I had set Wearbuds™ to allow push notifications for messages or emails, that never seemed to work.  However, incoming call notifications worked well along with answering incoming calls.

The call quality was very good and individuals on the other end of the call, said they could hear me clearly and with little to no background noise.

The audio quality of the Wearbuds™ for music listening was very good, with clean definition of highs and lows.  They seem to have moderate passive ambient sound muting.  They were quite comfortable for extended use.  For example, listening/watching two movies in a row on my laptop.  The Wearbuds™ battery life easily handled that, and then could be recharged by inserting back into the watch.

You control the Wearbuds™ by ‘swiping’ across the smooth ear bud surface to increase, decrease volume, pause, answer and hang-up calls.  The action is not exacting and sometimes you get it wrong.

The very high gloss of the watch face quickly showed smudges from touching the face to change the display, take a heart rate reading, etc.

There were some problems in addition to the bugginess of the Bluetooth connection (when previously paired with multiple devices) and the failure of push notifications.  The heart rate monitor and the sleep monitor (only in conjunction with the phone app), seemed very erratic and inaccurate.

A bigger software issue was the way the Wearbuds™ app interacted with two of my cars via Bluetooth.  While driving, without the Wearbuds™ watch and also with out the ear buds in, if a call came through or I made a call, my car would connect the call but then it would immediately hang-up.  After having this happen multiple times, in two different OEM (GM and BMW) cars, I found that it was the Wearbuds™ app on my phone that was causing the disconnect.  After deleting the app from my phone, the calls could be made or came through properly (as they did prior to loading the app).

Interim Conclusion

Aipower wearbuds™ are a clever way to transport, charge and have available very comfortable ear buds, which function well for both music and receiving/talking on phone calls.

However, software issues reduce the value of the watch as a fitness tool at this time.

I plan on doing a comparison between Bluetooth enabled ear buds in the near future- stay tuned.

BLACKVUE DR900S-2CH dash cameras install

Background:

This is a step-by-step documentation of the BLACKVUE DR900S-2CH install on a 2019 BMW X3.  It will be followed by a review of the image quality and a comparison to other dash cams.  While this has some steps that are specific to the install in the BMW X3, in general, the process will be very similar for any vehicle application of the BLACKVUE™ DR900S-2CH system.  It also includes the install of the BLACKVUE™ Power Magic Pro, to allow for 24/7 coverage.

The BLACKVUE™ system was supplied to me by Pittasoft (distributers of the BLACKVUE™) for independent long-term evaluation.  Please note: This write-up is for information and explanation purposes; if you are going to install the BLACKVUE™ DR900S-2CH you are strongly encouraged to carefully review their installation guidelines and respective manuals.  All information and opinions expressed are my own and not that of Pittasoft.  I anticipate there are other ways to accomplish this install. If my steps aid you when you do your own, all the better.

The BLACKVUE DR900S-2CH is a high-end dash cam system that includes (all specs as provided by manufacturer):

  • Front 8-megapixel CMOS sensor camera and rear facing 2.1-megapixel Sony STARVIS CMOS sensor camera
  • Front viewing angle: diagonal 162º, horizontal 136º and vertical 77º
  • Rear viewing angle: diagonal 139º, horizontal 114º and vertical 59º
  • Resolution: max of 4k UHD (3840×2160) @30mfps front, Full HD (1920×1080) @ 30 fps rear
  • Video Codex H.265 (HEVC), H.264 (AVC)
  • MP4
  • Built in Wi-Fi and GPS
  • Built in microphone and speaker
  • 3-Axis acceleration sensor
  • Built in super capacitor
  • Operating temperatures -20ºC +70ºC / -4ºF to 158ºF

Additionally, there are free apps for the phone and computer.

If you want to record while driving (engine running), then after the install all you need to do is plug in the provided cord to your accessory outlet.  If you are also interested in recording any incidents while your vehicle is parked, you will need to add either the BLACKVUE™  Power Magic Battery Pack or the Power Magic Pro.  I decided to go with the hardwire Power Magic Pro, allowing the option of recording both while driving and while parked.

Most vehicles shut off the cabin accessory outlets either when the engine is turned off or within a preset time frame of 5 to 10 minutes after the engine is shut off.  Because of this, if you have your dash cam powered by plugging into the accessory outlet, it will stop recording shortly after the vehicle is shut down.  Conversely, if your vehicle has an accessory outlet that stays on even with the engine off (more common on older vehicles), if you have your dash cam plugged into the accessory outlet, it will continue to record even with the engine turned off.  The problem with doing it that way, while certainly simple, is that if you leave your vehicle parked for extended periods of time, the dash cam can eventually drain your battery and you won’t be able to start.

The BLACKVUE™  Power Magic Battery Pack or the Power Magic Pro gets around that problem by either relying on its on external battery (Power Magic Battery Pack)  or using its micro-processor (Power Magic Pro) to shut off the camera at a predetermined voltage level of your vehicle battery or a predetermined amount of time.

Install:

What you need-

As can be seen from the accompanying images, the BLACKVUE™ DR900S-2CH and Power Magic Pro come with just about everything you need to do the install.

Basically, the only addition items you will need include a role of electrical tape, a microfiber towel and isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol (to clean the windshield before affixing the cameras with the supplied 3M tape), and if you are doing the hardwire install: the fuse layout of your vehicle, a fuse puller (or long needle nose plyers), and a pair of fuse taps adaptors (aka add-a-circuit) and appropriate fuses.

Installing the Power Magic Pro [Note: you skip this section if you are going to plug the BLACKVUE™ DR900S-2CH directly into your vehicle’s 12-volt accessory outlet]

First step is to locate your nearest fuse block to the dash.  [Some vehicles have multiple fuse blocks.  If you don’t know where yours is located, first check your Owner Manual and/or search on the web for its location.]  Depending on your vehicle, the fuses are either labeled on the fuse block cover, or in your Manual.  In the case of the (US version) BMW X3, there are two fuse blocks inside the vehicle- one on the right (passenger side) interior rear behind a compartment door and behind sound insulation.  As it turns out, BMW doesn’t include a fuse diagram in the Manual, but rather has one printed on a sheet of paper that is folded up and placed in clips in this rear fuse block. It also contains the fuse puller.  The other fuse block is located in the front passenger seat foot well.  To get to it you first need to turn two plastic ‘locks’ in the cover located up under the glove box.  The cover actually contains the footwell light.  Here is what the lock on the left of the cover looks like:

Here is what the cover looks like once you release and remove it.

In this picture you see 3 red arrows- you will need to uncouple the power to the cover light, and pop out the 2 cord holders so that you can get the cover out of the way as you access the fuse block.

Here is what the BMW X3 fuse block and labels looks like.  Note, the diagram reflects what you are seeing if you were lying on your back, feet toward the engine, and looking up at the fuse block.

You are going to want to use fuse taps adaptors on slot F27, constant power, and slot F46, accessory power (only on when the engine is on).  If you are installing on another vehicle, you similarly need to identify a fuse slot that has constant power and one that is powered only when the engine is running.  If you haven’t used the add-a-circuit tap before, it is really easy to do.  It is much better, in my opinion, than wrapping the wire you want to power around the existing fuse.  You simply pull the fuse from the existing slot (using a fuse puller or needle nose plyers), insert the fuse you pull into the fuse tap ‘front’ slot (the one that does not have the new wire coming from it), and add a new fuse for your dash cam to the other slot (the one that does have a wire next to it.  By using this add-a-circuit fuse tap, you maintain the exact same circuit integrity for the original slot and application, and your new circuit is protected by the new fuse you put in.  Then you simply push the add-a-circuit fuse tap back firmly into the same slot you pulled the fuse from.

Most add-a-circuit fuse taps include a crimp or crush connector to wire your dash cam line to.  I prefer to cut that off and solder the two lines together, finishing with heat shrink tube around the solder joint.  This results in a permanent connect between the two lines; sometimes crimped connections do not fully capture the second wire, and ultimately fail due to vibration.

Here is what the add-a-circuit fuse taps look like added to the X3 fuse block.

In this case, I used slot F46 for the accessory tap (power only when the engine is running) and the empty slot F27 for the constant power tap.  If you look closely at the picture, you will see that the one I have labelled ACC has two fuses in the tap- the original fuse from F46 and the new fuse for the dash cam.  The tap in F27 only has one fuse inserted for the dash cam, since the slot F27 was empty.  At this point you also will attach the ground line from the dash cam Power Magic Pro wiring harness, to a grounded nut.  There is one just above the fuse block that I used.  Back off the nut and slip the metal connector from the Power Magic Pro black line under the nut while retightening it.

At this point I suggest verifying that your connections work as intended.  I use a volt meter and first checked the tap at F27 to confirm power with the engine off.  Then I checked the F46 connection to ensure no power with the engine off, and power when the engine is on.  It also makes sense to check that your ground connect in fact is grounded.

Next you set you desired low voltage cut and time setting on the Power Magic Pro by moving the respective switch ‘fingers’ on the unit.  Initially I set the low voltage cut to 12.5 volts and the time setting to Infinity.  As it turns out, the 12.5 volt was too high for the BMW, which apparently has a normal non-running voltage of slightly less than 12.5 volts.  So, I changed it to 12 volts and it works perfectly.

Installing the front and rear dash cams

I started with the rear dash cam, since in the BMW X3, it required the removal of some trim pieces and a bit more finesse in routing the wiring, than does the front dash cam.  To begin with, you need to remove the center trim piece that runs across the back inside of the rear trunk door.

This trim piece comes off using a plastic trim ‘pry’ tool (one is supplied with the BLACKVUE™ system), but I have several around.  Carefully insert the plastic pry tool between the trim and body, and then use your fingers to gently pull the trim from the body as the plastic attachments release.

You will also need to remove the trim piece on the right side to give you easier access to the back side of the hinge, where you will be feeding the wire through.

Decide where you are going to mount the rear camera.  Close to the center top of the window will work perfectly.  Clean the window with the isopropyl alcohol and microfiber towel to ensure good adhesion of the 3M pad already attached to the rear camera mount.  Note the camera direction before you mount it- when you are facing the camera and your vehicle from the back looking towards the front, the mount goes on your left-hand side and lens on the right-hand side, with the cord plugging in from the left side.  You can see this here:

Start to route the cable horizontally across the rear window, following the existing power cable, as shown by the two red arrows in the above picture.

I recommend using several small pieces of electrical tape to secure the dash cam cable to the existing cable.  Next you will be sliding the cable down the back side of the hinge (where there are already cables running).  To be on the safe side, I recommend using electrical tape and making a protective wrap for about a foot along the dash cam cable, where it will be going down the backside of the hinge.  If possible, secure the dash cam cable to the plastic sleeve in the inside channel of the hinge. Next, fish the cable out between the liner and the hinge and begin to use the plastic pry tool to ease the cable to the right front of the vehicle.  You’ll find that you can use the pry tool to spread the opening between any hard-plastic liners and ease the cable into that opening, and along the roof line where there is rubber weather stripping into which you can easily slip the cable.  Use this technique to bring the cable up to the right edge of the front windshield.

Next, install the front camera.  Again, you want to get reasonably close to the center top of the windshield.  Since the BMW X3 already has the actual center taken up with its monitors and cameras, I choose a location slightly to the right.  Remember, you need to leave room for the camera to slide out of its mounting bracket, and that can only be done to the left of the bracket (facing the windshield from the interior).  Again, be sure to clean the windshield with the isopropyl alcohol and microfiber towel to ensure good adhesion of the 3M pad already attached to the front camera mount.

Once you have attached the mount for the front camera, you will need to run the cable from the rear camera to it from where you stopped at the right side of the windshield, and the power cable that attaches to the front camera.  It is very easy to push these two cables up under the header at the top of the windshield.  Remember to leave enough line of the cables exposed near the front camera, so that you can comfortably attach them to the camera when you are ready.

Next bring the power cable down from the windshield down along the weather stripping between the door frame and body, down towards the fuse block.  Also, if you have excess cable from the rear camera, you can easily bring that down at the same time as the power cable.

Continue to bring the power cable down to the fuse block area.  [If you are not going to use the Power Magic Battery Pack or the Power Magic Pro, continue to tuck the power cord up behind the area above the carpeting in the passenger foot well and bring it to your center compartment accessory outlet.]  Now attach the wiring harness that you connected via the add-a-circuit fuse taps and grounded to a grounding nut, to the Power Magic Pro.  Connect the accessory plug to the Power Magic Pro receptacle.  I suggest you use some electric tape to wrap and secure the plugged accessory connection.

Next, tidy up your excess cable and place it in the area behind or above the footwell carpeting.  Also, place your Power Magic Pro where you would like it.  As you can see, I placed it in the same general area, since I don’t anticipate I will be needing to turn the unit off.

At this point, your Power Magic Pro should show power on (LED lit) and your front and back dash cams should be powered up.  Be sure to remember to remove the plastic lens cover from both the front and rear camera lens.  If everything is working, now go and replace the trim pieces on the back window.  Reconnect the power cable to the passenger footwell cover and then slide that back on, engaging the catches on the frame with the back right and left of the cover.  Relock the plastic locks.

Now you are ready to download the BLACKVUE™ app for your phone and app for your PC or iPad.  Though these you can adjust the respective setting, ensure your software is up to date, etc.

Here is what the rear camera looks like from outside the vehicle

And what the front camera looks like looking into the windshield

Finally, here is a view from the driver seat showing the rear-view camera visible in the rearview mirror (red circle), and the front camera to the right of the mirror.

Note: Once I got the Power Magic Pro functioning properly, I ran into an unexpected issue.  The CPU battery management software on the BMW is designed to detect unknown power draws once the vehicle is parked.  As a result, while it (the BMW) allowed the Power Magic Pro to fully power the dash cams in ‘parking mode,’ it twice documented electrical problems and to preserve the battery, began to shut down non-essential functions in its control (like remote key FOB control) after about 24 hours of the BlackVue power draw.  This means that even though the Power Magic Pro enables the BlackVue DR900S- 2 ch system to operate in parking mode correctly, it is incompatible with the BMW because of the continuous power draw for parked periods of several days or more.  This unfortunately defeats the purpose/value of using the Power Magic Pro for anything other than shorter parked periods.

Update: As I discussed in my install write-up, the Magic Pro is basically incompatible with our BMWs because of the ‘unknown’ power drain. Until I find a viable independent power source solution that could power the BlackVue dual cameras in parking mode for periods of a week or more, I decided to hard wire the BlackVue system to one of the accessory circuits.

I chose to use an add-a-circuit fuse tap to F46 in the fuse block (accessory). I purchased a female cigarette lighter outlet (accessory outlet) which came with 16awg wires, one terminating in a grounding eyelet, and one in a fused power line. I cut off the end of the fused power line, and soldered it to the hot-line on the add-a-circuit fuse tap, and then heat shrink sealed the solder joint. I connected the ground eyelet to the existing stud and nut near the fuse block (removed the nut, put the eyelet on, reinstalled the nut).

Then I connected the accessory plug from the BlackVue cameras to the new accessory outlet and used electrical tape to ensure the plug remained properly connected. Finally I placed the excess wire up by the top of the passenger foot-well near the fuse block.

Now the BlackVue front and rear dash cams start recording as soon as the engine is turned on, and stops after the engine is turned off and the power to the accessory circuit is cut.

I hope this write-up makes your install go smoothly.  I will add a link in the near future to my review of the image quality of the BLACKVUE™ along with comparison to other dash cams.