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

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:


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.

Nature at your doorstep

This morning a feathered friend came to keep an eye on things.

His presence seemed to upset the other birds. I watched him in awe and when I realized he wasn’t going anywhere I went and grabbed one of my cameras.

Though perched about twenty feet above me in one of our Date Palms, with the aid of my camera lens, I realized what may have been upsetting the other birds that frequent our trees.

Clearly, one doesn’t always have to travel far to see some magnificent examples of nature’s beauty.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did, and look forward to your comments.


Product Review: Phyn Plus Smart water assistant + shutoff

Summary Rating:  Half Full Bucket- not ready for prime time. UPDATED: Based on more than a year of actual use: Can not recommend purchasing the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant do to a total lack of customer support and a software system that is increasingly making errors.

This review is based on a one-year use of the Phyn Plus Smart water assistant + shutoff system.  According to the manufacture “Phyn Plus uses patented, high-definition pressure wave analysis to alert you the second a leak is detected, mitigate costly damage through automatic water shutoff and teach you about your water use.”[1]

A little over a year ago, our water authority had put out a brochure describing several whole house water leak detectors, and the logic for installing one.  Based on my research on the related technology used by the proffered leak detection units, I chose the Phyn.

Specifically, “Phyn Plus is the only connected water monitor to offer an ultrasonic flow sensor, exclusively built by Badger Meter, with no moving parts, ensuring accuracy and durability over the long haul. Other water monitors use turbine flow sensors with rotating discs that are less accurate, and often degrade over time or can get stuck by debris or buildup.[2]

My primary interest in the unit was two-fold: avoid an expensive water leak and resultant property damage, and monitor water usage and issues while not home.

Installation and start-up:

I decided to go with a Phyn certified installer because I was going to need to have some re-piping done to take full advantage of the Phyn unit, and, using their certified installer extended the warranty by one year.

When my home was built in 2005, the feed from the city water pipe where it entered the house, was split with one part going to a pressure reduction valve (PRV) and then on to the house, and the other side of the split bypassing the PRV and going to the inground watering system.  Phyn requires that any water it monitors must first go through the PRV, so I had to have the inground rerouted to follow the PRV.

Here you can see the original piping, where the house water (“A”) goes through the PRV and the inground water (“B”) bypasses it.

Here is the revised piping, where all the water from the city pipe goes first through the PRV, flows (“1”) to a tee, feeding the house (“2”) and the inground (“3”).  The original pipe to the inground from the city feed was cut and capped (circle “4”).

At the time of the re-piping I had the plumber replace the original PRV with a beefier industrial version.

Once the installation was completed, the Phyn unit was plugged in and linked to the WiFi.  Using the free app from Phyn, it walks you through the set up which includes describing type and number of appliances using water in you home.  Next it monitors water use, but does not automatically shut off the water until after the learning/training period has elapsed.

The training was pretty straight forward.  The system virtually, instantly shows when water is being used, for example, turning on a sink faucet or flushing a toilet.  After the learning period is complete, through the app, it will show you lots of useful information including current water pressure, water events by category (sink, shower, outside faucet, etc.) along with total water usage by day.  When you open the app, it shows you the current water temperature, current pressure, and flow (if any) in gpm.  If water is being used, it will show a flowing stream representation behind the information.  From that screen you can run a plumbing check, see water use by date, by event, etc.

You can also use the app to turn off all the water, electronically through the Phyn unit.

Actual Day to Day Use:

The information can tell you pretty accurately how much water each of your appliances uses, for example, when you shower, flush a toilet, run the washing machine, etc.

For the first couple of months, the unit seemed to work pretty well, with a few hic-ups.  Several times it shut the water off while one of us was showering, because it thought it was a leak.  These were pretty much eliminated after continue (re)training or correcting the apps query or mis-categorization.

During this period, I also found Customer Service/Technical Support to be responsive, though not necessarily problem resolving.  For example, there appears to be an issue I can only describe as a software problem, where the AI they use doesn’t seem to be able to learn atypical water use.  Specifically, we have an auto-fill system on my pool that uses a float valve similar to a toilet valve, and when the water drops below a preset level, opens the valve to allow water replacement.  During low or no wind days, this tends to be recognized by Phyn’s AI algorithm and doesn’t cause any issues.  But on windy days, the pool water surface undulates causing the float to bob and erratically open and close the valve.   Phyn’s AI algorithm almost never recognizes this and as a result, labels it a leak.

I contacted and explained this to Customer Service/Technical Support several times before they finally understood the issue.  They told me the system would need more time to learn it.  It is now a year, and it still hasn’t learned it.

Another problem that started recently, is the system has forgotten event characteristics it previously knew.  For example, we have a whole house water conditioning system that does a reverse flush every fourteen days, in two steps, one hour apart.  By design, this reverse flush occurs during the late-night early morning hours.  Originally Phyn once trained on this, had no issues with it.  However, during the past few months, it only tends to get one of the two steps properly recognized, and either turns off the water to the house during the second step or mis-labels it as an amazingly long shower, for example.  No changes were done to the whole house water conditioning system which might explain Phyn’s lack of ability to remember what it previously knew.

Similar issues have been occurring with the inground watering system.  It runs on a specified schedule for a fixed amount of time.  Originally Phyn learned and recognized it.  Over the past few months, it now frequently gets ‘confused’ and combines the inground event with other water usage events in the house.  This results either in mis-categorization, warning messages from the app, or large amounts of water usage un-classified.  Again, there have been no changes done to the inground system which might explain Phyn’s lack of ability to remember what it previously knew.

Each of these issues have been provided in detail to Customer Service/Technical Support along with supporting screen shots of the data.  Unfortunately for the past several months, even though I have documentation showing the emails were received and opened at Phyn (both to specific individuals I sent them to, as well as Phyn’s CEO), no one at Phyn has had the courtesy to get back to me. 

This is inexcusable.   I would have expected them to want to take advantage of the specific data of these anomalies and improve their AI algorithm.  Clearly there are other customers who might be interested in their leak detection system who also have pools, whole house water conditioner systems, and inground watering equipment.

In Summary

The concept is excellent.  The quality of the Phyn Plus unit build appears top notch.  The unfortunate short fall is that the unit has failed to learn unchanging water usage after a year in service, and that Customer Service/Technical Support is nonchalant and non-responsive about it.  Because of this, it is extremely hard to have any confidence the unit will in fact detect a true leak and perform properly, if and when that occurs.

Note: If Phyn does get back to me and resolve these issues, I will update this review and rating appropriately.  Until that point, caveat emptor for anyone considering a purchase of the Phyn Plus unit.

Update: July 2020 Unfortunately no one at Phyn has responded to my customer service requests (sent both on their web site and by email directly to them). The software has been updated a number of times, yet the same issues continue. There are definitely ‘learning’ issues that are not corrected even after repeated use of their app to change a mis-categorization to reflect the correct source of water use.

Further, I completed an honest product review (much like this write-up) of the Phyn Plus unit on their own web site, using their form, as a verified purchaser of the unit, and they acknowledged receiving the review, but did not publish the review. Clearly an attempt to mislead individuals who look at their published reviews.

Update: October 2020 Still no response from customer support, technical support or anyone at Phyn since providing back in May 2020 extensive documentation of issues. Up through the present, I have repeatedly contacted Phyn through their website support, sent in numerous examples (including screen shots from app data) of serious software issues, contacted through their app and over the phone. I have been told several times when I successfully connect with a ‘live’ representative, that my concerns were being escalated. No response, no improvement resulting from software revisions (actually, has gotten worse).

As a result of this article, I have received several contacts from other purchasers of the Phyn Plus unit, who also have experienced similar problems including the lack of any customer support.

It is unfortunate that Phyn management believe this is the way to treat customers, rather than to try and resolve the real field documented issues with their product, and ultimately improve it.

[1] Manufacturer’s website May 30, 2020

[2] Manufacturer’s website op. cit.

Indelible Memorials

As Memorial Day approaches, my thoughts go beyond to the impact of memorials on each of us.

What each individual experiences when visiting a memorial is undoubtedly unique based on their knowledge of events, their back ground and where they are in their life journey

These three memorials I have chosen to include here, deeply moved me well beyond my ability to translate into words. Each representing horrific pain and destruction, a butterfly effect on humankind changing the zeitgeist.

Berlin Holocaust Memorial

Normandy France

9/11 Memorial

But the searing question is, for how long will they and the events that led up to it, be remembered and continue to shape humankind?

Gorilla & Chimpanzee Trekking: Up close and personal

Join me as we explore our ‘close’ relatives the gorillas, with 98 percent, and chimpanzees who share approximately 99 percent of our DNA.[1] 

Part of our motivation to travel, is to see flora, fauna and experience civilizations that are different from our own, and unfortunately, might not be around in the future for a variety of reasons.  Hence the impetus for doing another safari.  Having done several African safaris in the past (Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa), this was one that would provide an opportunity to see the endangered Mountain Gorillas.

We typically do back to back trips to maximize what we can explore while in a distant part of the world.  This trip was no different- we spent the first couple of weeks on a Tauck small group tour of Botswana, South Africa and Zambia.  We traveled with our friends, whom we originally met on another African trip years before.

The wildlife, plants and culture we experienced in Botswana, South Africa and Zambia covered the full emotional spectrum from amazing beauty, to brute raw power, to abject poverty.  Here is a mini-sample:

However, that part of our trip is for another story.

The second part of the trip and the focus here, took place in Uganda.  It was a private tour we arranged with our friends, through Abercrombie & Kent.

The planning for the trip took place about a year and half in advance, to ensure that we could get the required permit to see the gorillas when we wanted to visit (September).  Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the government body responsible for tourism in Uganda, limits the number of permits issued per day.  A separate permit is needed for the chimpanzee trek.  For each of us, the Gorilla permit cost US$1350, for two days access.  It is also nonrefundable (unless you are sick or show up sick, in which case they will not let you go on the trek). Importantly, the cost of the permit contributes to the preservation of the Gorillas.

As the saying goes, getting there is half the fun (or, was the saying that it will be twice as convoluted as a straight line from point A to point B?). 

We started in Entebbe and drove for about an hour to our hotel Lake Victoria Serena Resort & Spa, to overnight, before we continued to Bwindi.  To get there, we flew from Entebbe to Bwindi on a 75-minute flight, followed by an hour and one-half drive to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and our camp, Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp, within the National Park.  Our “tent” was a canvas covered free standing unit that included an en suite bathroom and very comfortable bed.  Not exactly roughing it, but I digress…  Meals and libations were provided in a central lodge.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to about 600 mountain gorillas (about half the last surviving population).  Also, it has 360 species of birds, 200 species of butterfly and 324 different tree species within its rainforest.[2]

We spent the first day exploring the area and nearby community.  We were very impressed by Ride 4 A Woman that provides support, skill training, a safe haven, and access to micro loans to start small businesses for women.

Similarly, we visited Bwindi Community Hospital founded in 2003 by US missionaries.  It was moving to see the heartfelt support the hospital has for the surrounding community and the pygmy population, teaching hygiene and providing basic health services.  This has resulted in significant improvements in childbirth and wellness.


Soon we were preparing for our first trek to see the Silverback (a.k.a. Mountain) gorillas, and find out if the exercising we had been doing (for example, I wore my hiking boots on my elliptical trainer for several months prior) had been sufficient.  Clothing-wise this meant comfortable hiking boots (ones with soles that can provide necessary traction on the slippery rainforest floor), long pants, gaiters, and long sleeve shirt, rain jacket, gloves (you grab the nearest tree or bush, which typically has thorns, to prevent falling), hat, and backpack with a day’s supply of water and food, toilet paper, and DEET insect repellent.

You start at the guides’ meeting place, where you are assigned your local guide, can hire a porter (very helpful), and the Gorilla family (there are about 11) you will be seeking out. Our family was the Rushegura Gorilla family group. Before our arrival, the guides have been up in the forest tracking each of the respective families, to get a reasonable idea where they might be that day.  They also go over what to can expect, how to ‘behave,’ etc.  Then you head out for what could be as little as a couple of hour trek to upwards of four hours (one way), to find your Gorilla family. 

Your guide does not follow any real trails.  He uses a machete to clear some of the dense brush and you do your best to follow him.  When you head out, you are going up the mountain and it may vary between sun, dense shade, rain, mud, slimy logs or branches, and for good measure, a creek or two.   A sturdy walking stick is essential to help maintain your footing.  The guide is also very helpful to get you through the more difficult passages.  Almost certainly you will slip and fall at least a couple of times.  I kept the lens caps on my lenses until we stopped for a break, or had spotted something worth capturing.

Left to right: myself, our porter, my wife, our guide, our friends wife and husband flanked by porters.

Speaking of which, my equipment included a Nikon D810 camera body with a Nikkor 24-120 zoom f/4G ED VR AF-S lens, and a Nikon D850 camera body with a Nikkor 300 mm f/4E  PF ED AF-S lens, both attached to a BlackRapid Breathe Double Camera Harness with safety straps.  I chose this two-camera set up because I did not want to be changing any lens in the rainforest, and the BlackRapid harness permitted me to have both of my hands free when I was not shooting a picture.  The harness also keeps the weight of the cameras and lenses off your neck and spread comfortably across your shoulders.

Words fail to describe the awe, excitement, and relief you feel all at once when you finally come upon the Silverbacks.  The first day was about a three-hour trek (one way), while the second day was only about an hour and one-half, when we came upon the Rushegura family.

We were fortunate to find them, including the dominant Silverback male, a mother, and siblings going about their life pretty much ignoring our presence.  I attribute this incredible opportunity to observe the natural routine of the Mountain Gorillas, to the excellent job of the UWA and guides, ensuring that only a limited number of very small groups of individuals are allowed to trek into the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest at any one time.   We did not see any other groups once we started up the mountain each day.

We watched, the gorilla family forage for leaves, tubulars and berries or fruit (gorillas are herbivorous).  The younger gorillas appeared to be playing on the vines, running and tumbling with one another.  The father typically kept his distance, but a watchful eye on the group.  Their actions and movements for the most part were gentle, belying their size and powerful upper body.

However, few times while we were watching them, a dominant male would run up and challenge us.  We had been forewarned by our guide, but it was still initially very scary.  They are very fast and literally run up to within a few feet of you, screaming, and then stop, standing, facing you.  We were told to appear nonthreatening (do not raise an arm, motion, etc.), and remain still.  After a few seemingly very long moments, the gorilla would then simply turn and go back to the group.

Each day, once we found the family, we observed for about an hour.

We then left the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for Queen Elizabeth National Park, approximately three-hours drive, over crude roads.  We stayed at Ishasha Wilderness Camp.  The Queen Elizabeth Park had a mind-boggling cross section of wild life. We got to observe tree climbing lions, elephant herds, hippos, and more.

Next, we left there for Kibale National Park, about a four hour plus drive.  We stayed at the Kyaninga Lodge. This was the base location for our chimpanzee trek.


The chimpanzees are smaller than the Mountain Gorillas.  They were, in a word, far more frenetic than the gorillas. The interactions were often more chaotic between chimpanzees, turning from sparing to a quick fight.  Unlike gorillas, chimpanzees are omnivorous[3], though we only observed them eating vegetation.  The groups were often larger in number than the Mountain Gorilla family we observed.

All too soon our expedition was over.  We returned by land cruiser to Entebbe, a five or so hour drive, to fly back home.  Bodies a little sore, but phenomenal memories and even a picture or two…

[1] Scientific American Tiny Genetic Differences between Humans and Other Primates Pervade the Genome, Kate Wong, September 1, 2014

[2] Data provided by Abercrombie & Kent

[3] Difference Between Gorilla and Chimpanzee,, July 27, 2011  Naveen

A Visual Taste of Italy: Lombardy & Tuscany Regions

Perspectives of a globe trotting photojournalist part 2

As with part 1, Highlights of St Petersburg, this is another response to the challenge of providing a mini-tour of one of my trips.

This is an al dente tour (that is, hopefully not too short nor too long to adequately provide a ‘just-right’ taste) of the Italian regions of Tuscany (central Italy) and Lombardy (northern Italy).  It begins at the Ligurian Sea west of Pisa, continues up to the magnificent mansion on Isola Bella, north of Milan.  Then onto Milan and the Duomo. Next some countryside and wine tasting. Followed by Pisa.  Back to the coast for Cinque Terre, some more wine tasting and the countryside around Peccioli.

I hope you enjoy!  Looking forward to your comments.  Ciao!

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.


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:


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:


  • 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


  • 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).


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


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.


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.

Thoughts on Automobility LA

Day one of the 2019 Automobility LA show might be best summed up in one word “Karma.”  The first media day is basically a series of thirty minutes (or more) technology update panels.  I find it interesting on a number of levels, including what really is new and what is status of the field.

For the most part, especially if you have attended a number of these over the years, you take what is said with a grain of salt and consider it a lot of marketing hype designed to stimulate discussion, create awareness, and in more cases than not, investor interest.

My ‘take-aways’ from today include:

  • The new CEO of Faraday (he was the CEO of Byton last year) sees the real financial profitability coming from the interconnected digital experience, rather than through the sales of their FF91 (September 2021) at $150-200k, or of their FF81 after that at $60-80k.
  • The “living space” experience of future semi-autonomous and ultimately, fully autonomous (levels 4 and 5) vehicles is the ‘hot’ topic focus of many presenters here.
  • Critical is figuring out how to integrate all of the vehicle voice assistants, such as OEM versions and Alexa, along with the artificial intelligence (AI) dynamic data base so that it is a seamless experience for the end user.
  • Figuring out how to gain the trust in the general public of autonomous vehicles (AVs)

One split in thinking and focus that I feel isn’t being given enough effort is that there really are two very different AV ‘roads’ that need to be integrated for this future disruption to succeed.  That is, one faction sees AVs as ultimately the replacement for the personal car as simple a means to primarily get from A to B, while the other is attempting to create a whole new means of experience that people will just want to do because of the experience.  The later are focused on integrating lots of monitors (screens), high end audio, augmented reality, etc.  An overriding issue for both factions is what the respective impact will be on reducing congestion in urban environments.

Continuing issues include lack of standardized intra and inter vehicle communication (software), privacy of the ever-expanding data base on each end user (incrementally increasing under the 5G capabilities), and lack of interstate DMV regulation for AVs.

It still appears that the near future of AVs will be restricted to proprietary lanes on highways and in urban environments, where human driven vehicles are not allowed to drive.  Under this set-up, I believe we will see a significant reduction in accidents and deaths.

Oh, and why this first day is best summed up as Karma? The simple answer is that Karma had their FF91 there, as well as functioning protypes of their future vision cars the SC1 and SC2 (convertible and hardtop respectively, each with ‘scissor’ doors), and their Revero GTS model.  Alternatively, as a bit of tongue-in-cheek, perhaps the future of AVs is just karma personified…

More to come.  In the interim, what are your thoughts?

New York City through my eyes

My travels have provided me the opportunity to experience more than 60 amazing countries and cultures.  A friend challenged me to try and provide a visual summary of one of my trips in a five minute or less ‘tour.’  [I am not sure but think the motivation was so they did not have to sit through one of my Blu-ray shows, that often run about an hour or so production…]

At any rate, I thought it an interesting challenge, and my first response: Highlights of St. Petersburg, Russia was nicely received. So, this is my second response.

Having been born in NYC, and lived there for a number of years before moving to warmer climes, I enjoy returning and experiencing the ever changing cityscape. The following is from my most recent visit. I hope you enjoy and look forward to your comments in the reply section below.

If you would like to view these images full size, please visit