APEMAN 1080P WiFi Baby Monitor Security Camera

At one time security cameras were expensive, ugly clunky things with bug-ridden web-based interfaces, were unreliable, hard to operate and the province of geeks and the techy minded user only. Not so now as this new camera from Apeman is typical of the new generation of stylish, easy to use and simple to configure reliable home security cameras.

The camera arrived in an attractive and well designed branded product box. Inside was the camera itself, a wall/ceiling bracket, UK plug power supply, wall mounting kit, USB to micro-USB cable, and a simple, easy to read but rather basic User Guide. The build quality seems good throughout and although the camera is quite large it is well made and looks impressive if slightly old school.

On the front of the camera is the camera lens and the row of night vision LED’s, the motion detector PIR and microphone, together with LED status indicator. Easily overlooked is the SD card slot which is on the front of the camera but visible only when the lens is tilted upwards.  On the rear of the unit are the power input port, Ethernet RJ45 connector and single antenna. On the underside of the base, there is the interface for the supplied mounting bracket and a metal tripod. Unlike with many of the Foscam clones that this resembles there is no interface for an external alarm system and the rear antenna is fixed in place cannot be removed when using Ethernet. Also, no Ethernet cable is included perhaps for reasons I shall discuss later. The camera is powered by a USB adaptor and so can work with any standard phone charger if the one supplied is unavailable. Unlike with some rivals, here a standard micro-USB socket is used and so the device can be used with any cable.

To use the camera it is necessary to install the IPC360 app to your Android or iPhone and register it before use.  Once registered just click the + button to add a camera with walkthrough instructions for both Ethernet and Wifi (2.4Ghz only) connection with voice prompts to simplify the process still more. You can use the app to add the paid for cloud storage system to store stills and video or use a micro-SD card (not supplied) to store the footage on the camera. The app will also receive push alerts from the camera when abnormal activity is detected. Like most similar devices it has motion detection for security use and this detection works well and is easy to configure.  The user can customise the motion sensor sensitivity as well as configure scheduling so the sensor will be active during set periods only.

The camera has an IR cut feature which means the filter which is used for night time infrared use is removed during daylight to preserve colour fidelity, a feature some cheap Foscam clones lack. It has two-way audio which means it can work as an effective baby monitor as well as a security camera.  It is a pity however than an external speaker and microphone cannot be connected and neither can third party alarm systems.

Video quality I found to be excellent, sharp, clear and with good colour fidelity. As my video shows there was little latency between the phone and camera Pan and Tilt movements. This is better than I have found using some cameras costing several times the price.

I found few issues with this camera. The lack of free off-site video storage – you can only save to the open app or to the SD card – the need to register an account before fully using the app, no motion detection zones. However, all the features most people will need are here plus a few more besides.

If you want a good quality and easy to use security camera or baby monitor at a very reasonable price then this would be an excellent buy.

The Good
Great price
Standard Micro-USB power socket
iOs and Android apps
Two-way audio
Excellent image quality
Good build quality
Pan and tilt control in-app
In-app alerts
Night Vision
Motion detection with scheduling
IR Cut filter
Easy to read User Guide
SD card
In-app alerts

Voice Prompts

The Bad
Dated design
No Audio out socket
No Audio In socket
Obtrusive when fitted to wall/ceiling mount
No 5Ghz network support
No web interface

App needs to be registered

Amazon Echo Show 5 UK – First Impressions

The latest Echo device from Amazon is here! The Amazon Echo Show 5 is a  small desktop display unit, with a screen smaller than many mobile phones, is perhaps Amazon answer to the rather larger and more expensive Nest Hub device from Google.

The screen is bright, perhaps too bright for bedroom display at night, but at 960×480 the 5.5″ display is sharp and clear. Build quality seems excellent, as you would expect from Amazon, and the device has a classy feel to it.

There are no controls or features on the front of the 148 x 86 x 73 mm 410g device other than the display screen and camera. Along the top of the device are the camera cover slider, volume up and down buttons, camera/Mic On/Off button and microphone ports. On the rear are the power, micro-USB slot and audio out 3.5mm ports. It supports ac Wifi (wifi 5 as it is now called), Bluetooth and is powered by a rather lowly but capable enough  MediaTek MT 8163 CPU and has a 1MB front facing camera. In the box aside from the Show 5 itself are just a 15w three pin UK plugged power adapter and cable, a very basic Quick Start Guide and a Things To Try card.

Setting the device is easier than with some other Echo devices and can almost all be done using the 5’s touch screen. To access settings swipe down from the top of the screen or simply ask Alexa to ‘Show Settings’.  Swipe from the right to access current groups and device types, this is a new feature that comes with the Show 5. Unlike with the larger Echo Show, this smaller model does not include a built-in Zigbee hub, no problem for me as I own no compatible devices. Unlike with the Google Nest Hub, your spoken commands do not show up in real time on screen, maybe this feature will be added later.

What new features does the Show 5 offer?
A mechanical shutter to cover the camera lens
Ambient light  incremental wake-up alarm
3.5mm audio out port
Right Swipe devices menu

Small footprint

My initial thoughts are that this is a nice enough device with the small size allowing it to replace the Echo Dot on the desktop but perhaps being rather on the small size for kitchen or living room use. It is a nice size, however,   for the bedroom, if the screen is not too bright for you,  with the physical camera shutter making for peace of mind and the ambient light wake-up alarm an added bonus. The screen display is good and bright although the big bezel design looks a bit old school to me. I will be keeping my Show 5 and will position it on my desk to replace the Dot that used to reside there.

The Good
Good Price
Attractive Design
Audio out
Good far field microphone coverage
On-Screen Setup

Sunrise Alarm

The Bad
On-screen information not displayed as well as on Nest Hub
Big Bezels
Voice input transcription not shown on screen
Snooze delay cannot be customised
Screen is too bright at night

No Zigbee Hub

Dailyart 7.5Ltr Travel Toiletry Bag

 

This really is the Tardis of travel bags!

I have tried similar hanging toiletries bags in the past and they have been nice enough but none can compete with this one for sheer capacity and practicality. It is rated at having 7.5Ltrs of storage but due to the myriad of pouches, pockets and sleeves, there seems to be no end to what you can get in there.

The item arrived in a simple, unbranded plastic bag, adequate to protect the product but reducing by far its appeal as a gift.  No paperwork or additional items were included.

The 32.5 x 14 x 19.5 cm bag is made from tough water resistant washable Polyester material with metal double zips to secure the outer pockets and some of the inner ones. On the inside of the top flap is a metal hanging hook secured shut and flush to the bag with a hook and eye strip. The top flap fastens to the body with a zip and has a clear waterproof pocket which is itself zipped with beneath it elasticated loops for three larger sized brushes or similar objects.  On either outward side are two side opening zipped pockets with six elasticated double loops in each.  On either side again and inward is a full-sized zipped pocket. The main body of the bag, accessed by opening the top flap,  is the main storage area for large objects with four mesh pockets at the rear and to the front a single large zipped mesh pocket, two small pockets and a further large open pocket.  On the outside face on top is a single soft carry handle. When empty the bag can be folded flat or rolled up for storage. All the inside surfaces are water resistant and can be easily wiped clean.

My bag is black in colour but a garish pink version is also available to the same design and identical £15.89 Amazon price tag. For that low price, this really is a decent buy as the item is not only well made and functional but seems robust and strong enough for whatever the bathroom has to throw at it.

Nestling White Corundum 1000/6000 Knife Sharpening Whetstone

Made from White Corundum Aluminum Oxide, this is a restaurant quality dual faced whetstone with a bamboo wood non-slip mount on a non-slip bundled with a handy sharpening angle guide and all for less just £19.99. Not a bad buy by any standards.

On the downside, the product was supplied in a plain brown box and with no User Guide of any kind. This is a pity as it would make a lovely gift for a new home but the downmarket presentation serves only to diminish the impact of this actually rather high-end item. Likewise, the addition of a well-written User Guide describing how to get the best results from it would be a bonus too. But never mind, this is still a finely crafted piece of culinary equipment that would look at perfect in the home or professional kitchen.

The large and heavy sharpening block has a 1000 grit face for initial sharpening with a white 6000 face for finishing and fine paring. Both sides are indissolubly bonded together and can be switched quickly and easily when in use. The block site in a rubber holder which in turn slots into a robust bamboo wood mounting block. The bock has a thick non-slip rubber base to keep it steady on the work surface. The angle guide needs to have the rear of the blade slotted into it to maintain the correct 15-degree sharpening angle, although experienced users will soon find they can work better and more speedily without it.

To use the block first soak it for at least ten minutes in cold water and ensure that the surface remains wet when in use. Then just slide the blade back and forth at right angles to the block maintaining a fifteen-degree pitch in the verticle plain  as you do so. This is more easily done than described as you can see in my unboxing video. Be sure to keep wiping the oxide and metal debris from the blade as you work. There are plenty of guides available on YouTube to help you.

This is a good quality piece of kitchen equipment and although skill and experience are needed to get the best from it the user will find that there is no better way of honing a blade to maximum sharpness.

ESDDI 14 inch Dimmable Photographic Ring Light

There was a time when ring lights were just for pro photographers, hard to find and very costly. Those days are gone and with the rise of selfie culture, the flat, feature smoothing light from the ring light is now available to a wider market with lights such as this one from Esddi for just £89.99. For myself, I am more interested in the light for the original purpose it was designed, for close up photography as it can supply an intense shadow-free light allowing the photographer to use small aperture specialised close up lenses more easily.

The light and accessories arrived packed in a large rather plain box clearly not designed for retail display. In the box aside from the lamp itself was the robust and stable three section lockable 75″ tripod, a flexible head tripod extension arm, power cable with UK three pin plug, expandable phone mount, soft carry case, and a short but well-written User Guide.

The build quality of everything seems fine. The tripod, often an area where savings are made, is robust, well made and stable. The ring light itself is well made and seems reliable in use and it has easy to access controls to vary light output and colour temperature. The 40W light can be varied between 10 and 100% in output and 3200K-5600K in colour temperature which allows most levels to be found between full daylight and incandescent bulb. These have to be set by eye as there is no colour temperature or luminosity info LCD screen of the sort found on the far more expensive pro-level rivals. The inclusion of a phone clamp is a nice touch and shows the target market for this device and allows phone snappers to be able to use the device straight from the box.  The ring has an external Diameter of 9 inches and an outer ring size of 14 inches, which is fine and most uses allows all but the very largest studio cameras to be used.  On the inside lower face of the unit are the two rotary controls which are large and easy to manipulate. There is a cold shoe mount between them and another on top of the ring.

It was simple and intuitive to use, the only problem I found was that with the phones I tested it with the light spill from the inside face of the ring was causing flare onto the camera lens. I was able to get around this by fitting a simple track extension to the cold shoe mount to allow me to mount the phone a couple of inches further forward. This issue does not arise with a DSLR as when on the mount the lens is already further forward and of course if needed a lens hood can be fitted. The only other issue I have with the product is that the supplied soft bag has no padding or protection for the delicate ring light. It would have been better had the bag come with a foam insert for the light unit and cable.

These minor issues aside, I have been very pleased with this light unit which allows me to produce some otherwise hard to obtain lighting effects and for a very reasonable price.

The Good
Great Price
Good Build Quality
Powerful light output
Easy access controls
Phone mount included

Stable Tripod

The Bad
Carry Case not padded
Can cause lens flare

No LCD screen

KOOPOWER Solar Flickering Flames Garden Torch Set

I have tried garden flame bulbs before these are by far the most impressive not just for their sheer size but also for their battery life and appearance.

The two pack of garden lights arrived sensibly packaged in a rather downmarket cardboard box. Perhaps a more attractive presentation might help with sales and make the item more appealing as a gift.

Inside are the two lights – each consisting of a housing for the 96 LED 35 Lumens bulb, a ground spike and extension tube. A small but well written but rather unnecessary User Guide is also included. On top of the bulb housing is the 0.88w solar panel which feeds the internal 2200mAh  Li-ion battery. On the side is a large and easy to access control button.

Build quality seems fine although rather lightweight at 230g, but that said given the 320 x 121 x 121mm size of each torch a more robust construction as well as adding to the cost might also make them too heavy for practical use. Certainly, there is nothing showing any sign of failing or giving me cause to worry. That said, I would advise, as with any solar-powered device, storing it indoors during the winter.

Using the light could not be easier. Press the control button, which has a good and positive operation, once to turn on, again to switch off. After ensuring the battery is charged position the light in a sunny position and switch on. The light will then come on at sunset. According to the User Guide, a full charge should allow the torch to operate for up to ten hours in the summer, with less in the winter.  When testing I found the light was still going strong at 5 am after coming on at 10.30 the night before. When the battery is low the light will flash to alert the user.  When the battery is flat there is no way of telling if the device is in the On or Off setting, so take care not let it run right down.

The large size and dramatic effect of the flickering flames make these lights very impressive and striking.   They are large enough to hand hold if you have a Game Of Thrones film to make or a 1930’s style political rally to attend!  They do not cast a vast amount of light even when in non-flame mode and they are not designed for use as normal lighting. These are mood lights and they give atmosphere and ambience to the garden or patio. The torches really do look like real flames when viewed from a distance and immediately catch the eye.

If you want to give your garden or seating area some style and atmosphere then this £25.95 set from KOOPOWER might be just what you need.

The Good
Large Size
Dramatic flame effect
Great Battery Life
Good User Guide

Easy to Use

The Bad
Lightweight Design
Downmarket packaging

Cannot check switch position when battery flat

KooPower 100 LED Dual Power Fairy Lights

Perfect for Christmas, holidays, festive occasions or all year round decoration this 100 LED set of copper wire LED lights is well priced at  £12.95 for the 100 LED 10 Metre set.

Inside the Christmas themed box were the LED string set with hard-wired battery box with solar charging fascia and an easy to assemble ground spike stand. A well printed and easy to read  User Guide is included although it is not really needed. No batteries are bundled with the set.

The battery box/solar panel control unit is well made and robust with a secure clip to keep the single AA battery safe and dry. On the reverse of the box are the two control buttons, one for Power Off/On and the other to scroll through the eight lighting modes available: Combination, Chasing/ Flash, In wave, Slow fade, Sequential, Twinkle/ Flash, Slo Glo, Continuous. Next time the light comes on it will revert to the last lighting mode used. A preset timer is available which gives six hours on and eighteen hours on, to activate simply turn the power switch On when dark and it will continue in this mode until the battery is removed or the unit switched off.

The unit is powered by a built-in 600MA Ni-MH battery powered by the solar panel on the front.  For indoor use or when cloudy a single AA battery can be used instead.  The device is IP65 water resistant and this should be fine for normal outdoor garden use but make sure neither box or lights are immersed in water.

The hardest thing about using the string is actually getting unravelled as it is supplied wound but with the one aim of getting tangled up! The 10M copper string has LED’s spaced 10cm apart with a 1.5M waterproof clear lead from the battery box.  I found it was annoyingly difficult to avoid tangles and snares when getting it unwound. That task done, it was easy enough to position it around a  tree in the garden as the wire can be twisted and bent to shape easily.

The lights look equally good when put into a decorative bottle, inside a wood burner and of course on the Christmas tree when that time comes. The lights are 2300-300k LED’s are warm and bright and lend a relaxing atmosphere and ambience to the room or garden.

This would be a fine addition to any household lighting system as well as for holiday or Christmas use both indoor and out.

The Good
Great price
Battery/Solar operation
Waterproof
Timer

Good User Guide

The Bad
Batteries not included
No remote control

Easily tangled