Categories
review

Deebot Ozmo 900: lovable robot vacuum cleaner

Bill Bennett writes: My first inclination was to turn down the offer to review Deebot Ozmo 90, a robot vacuum cleaner and mopper. At the time I was too busy. Jo overhead the phone conversation and told me to call back – she was keen. So keen I left her to write the review:

Dennis, or, to use his proper name; Deebot Ozmo 900, has the wrong voice. It is a woman’s voice. As a modern girl I don’t believe vacuuming is a woman’s job. 

The man of the house thinks he sounds like a female version of the toaster in the 1980’s science fiction sitcom Red Dwarf about Dave Lister, the space-ship snack-machine repairman who wakes up alone three million years in the future after his ship suffers a fatal radiation leak. 

Actually, Dennis does have a futuristic look. He is a smooth white disc (320 mm in diameter, 70 mm high) who trundles around on rollers and comes equipped with a laser distance sensor (LDS), a bumper and anti-collision sensors. 

He also has a docking station that you plug into an electrical socket.  However, although he may sound like Red Dwarf’s toaster, his software is better.  He can build room maps and he comes with an app (Google Assistant and Alexa enabled).

Lovable

Like lots of people who have tried him out, I quickly came to think of Dennis as a lovable, useful pet. 

It’s hard not to develop affection for a machine that tells you when he’s tired. That is when his battery is low. He then trundles off to his docking station for a rest (recharge). Dennis’ formal name is Deebot Ozmo 900. He is the latest robot vacuum cleaner from Ecovacs Robotics.

He is also the latest in a long line of slowly improving robot cleaners. There is still a way to go, but for many people Dennis would be a boon. Where he really scores is that he mops as well as vacuums. I have criticisms of Dennis and I will come to these later, but he is a huge help around the house. 

He is cordless and can run for up to 90 minutes when the cleaning is easy – less when mopping as vacuuming and mopping at the same time as this uses more battery power. 

He would be a great help for mothers with messy young children, the elderly and those with a mild disability or infirmity. However, he needs supervision. He is a bit like a two-year-old in that he gets stuck and calls for help. Cables plus our television sideboard proved a problem for him. But I could work on my laptop while keeping an ear cocked for when he got into trouble. 

Death to dust bunnies 

What I really loved though was how Dennis dealt with dust bunnies. Vacuuming these up a hateful job as it involves grovelling next to beds manipulating our Dyson vacuum cleaner’s wand extension. Dennis, in comparison, gaily scoots under the beds and vacuums up the bunnies with ease. 

On the minus side, because he often gets stuck I don’t think his accompanying phone app is very useful. What would you do if you set him to work from the app while at the office and he got marooned in a corner? 

The app is also difficult to install. There has been a lot of flak in the online support forums and elsewhere about this. I got the impression Ecovacs is more focused on robotics than apps, with the app just being something it feels it has to provide.  

Maps

Other criticisms: Dennis’ mapping limitations. Ours is a split-level home and Dennis is designed to create just the one map. He kept having to create new maps. 

In practice this isn’t a big issue, except I think this is why he gets stuck backing away from our sideboard, needing frequent rescuing. Other minor issues are his bin is small. It needs frequent emptying. Similarly, the water reservoir for mopping is also small. It quickly runs out of water. But the mop pad is excellent for cleaning a laminated floor like ours as the boards swell up with too much water. 

Dennis is best suited to hard floors. While he worked well on our low-pile Turkish rug, I could see deep pile carpeting would be beyond his suction capacity. He would work well with wall-to-wall low pile though.  

On the plus side, after using him several times in one week, our house smelt fresher and breathing was easier. I get asthma and he obviously picked up a lot of dust, pollen and pet dander. 

Because he is a robot, users would be likely to use him often and so keep more on top of cleaning. 

No longer a luxury product 

The competition: other robots and the Dyson cordless stick cleaners. 

Dennis – aka the Deebot Ozmo 900 – is an affordable robot at NZ$800. Not long ago, robot vacuum cleaners were a luxury. While Dennis can’t do everything, ie, vacuum curtains and furniture, he is excellent at what he does do.  

A competitor would be the Dyson range of five cordless stick vacuum cleaners. These range in price from $900 to $1400. While I haven’t tried them, I did lift one up in a store and found it quite heavy and unwieldly. The big battery sits on the stick handle. For families whose vacuuming involves lots of quick clean-ups this could suit, although I think being able to leave a vacuum cleaner to get on with the job is preferable. 

To be fair, this isn’t a like-for-like comparison. The best way to think of a robot such as Dennis is as the vacuum cleaner equivalent of the washing machine. Both get on with the job largely unattended. Normal vacuum cleaners are a different kind of beast. 

More pros and cons: 

Dennis is squat and circular and not very tall – 100 mm at his tallest, where his LDS disc sits. This makes him good for sucking up under-bed dust bunnies. However, it takes a while to get going with him as his manual is short and a bit limited. 

He also needs more maintenance than my old-style Dyson. For instance, his main ‘rolling’ brushes clogs up with hairs these need cutting away. But he does a wonderful mopping job. 

He does get stuck often. I think this is because his map is confused as we have split floors and he can only create one map – he kept re-creating this. Ecovacs could upgrade here, providing Dennis with the ability to create two or more maps. This would make him useful in small hotels as well as multi-storey homes. 

Also, the LDS disc that sits on top of Dennis’ main body proved to be the same height as the bottom of our sideboard – this could be why he kept returning to this same spot and getting stuck.

Deebot Ozmo 900 mops as well

On the plus side, the fact that Dennis mops too is a major bonus, especially with messy pets and their muddy paws.

Some  robot vacuum cleaner reviews describe robots falling down stairs. To guard against this, I set up obstacles – mainly cushions – as advised by the manual. This proved unnecessary as Dennis’ sensors easily detected the stairs; he stopped and turned around. 

The man of the house commented that it was good to know all you needed was a couple of cushions to stop a dalek invasion. Clearly, he watched too much Dr Who in his youth. Happily, Dennis doesn’t have a murderous Dalek personality. 

Categories
telecommunications

The limits of Spark’s 600GB fixed wireless promise

Writing at the NZ Herald, Chris Keall reports on Spark increasing the data cap on fixed wireless plans to 600GB.

Spark only offers 600GB in Auckland where there are usually better broadband options. The company isn’t so generous out in the sticks where there’s no fibre and wireless is the only game in town.

Rural people who need 600GB wireless data can’t buy it.

Keall writes: “Spark has supersized the data cap on its fixed-wireless broadband plan to a stonking 600 gigabytes – removing one of the historic barriers to this fast internet technology, at least for Auckland customers.”

Limited offer

Make that some Auckland customers.

Spark’s press release talks about eligible customers. It certainly isn’t everyone. The deal is not available at my address nor at any of the first five Auckland addresses I typed into Spark’s website.

Later in the story Keall writes: “The telco couldn’t immediately say which areas of Auckland and how many customers were eligible.”

We don’t even know if it is most of the city, half the city or one-tenth of the city. Going by my entirely unscientific survey, it’s unlikely coverage is at the top end of that list.

Keall goes on to write: “The bandwidth is often good enough for high-def video streaming, though results vary depending on your proximity to the nearest cell site, among other factors.”

The key word here is often.

Fast enough?

I’ve heard from readers who can stream high-definition video on Spark’s fixed wireless network. They love it. I’ve also heard from people who can’t stream.

Even Spark was wary of making this kind of promise when it was selling the Spark Sport Rugby World Cup package.

It’s unlikely the Keall household will be customers. He says: “In mine, where two parents stream all their TV, one teen spends a lot of time on PlayStation Online and another sets TikTok records, we usually chew threw between 800GB and 1TB (1000GB).”

When I tried fixed wireless broadband I got a decent 40mbps or so, but at that stage I was the only connection on the local tower. A neighbour gets up to 18mbps, but says the speed drops in the evening.

Apart from the data cap, today’s fixed wireless doesn’t have the bandwidth to cater for this kind of family use. That may change when 5G is available. Yet going on reports from overseas, even 5G will struggle under the Keall-load.

Where available, fixed wireless broadband is the best option for people who are off the fibre map. It makes sense for people who don’t use enough bandwidth or data to justify a fibre line. It is a good idea if you are too far from the curb, or down a difficult to deal with right of way.

Fixed wireless broadband can be cheap.

At $65, Spark’s bottom of the range fixed wireless plan can cost less than even the cheapest fibre plan so long as you stay below 60GB of data a month.

Given that unlimited fibre plans start at around $70 a month, wireless may not be the best value for money.

You don’t need to be psychic to unpick Spark’s timing. Vodafone plans to launch its 5G network before Christmas.

One thing to watch is whether Vodafone will attempt to compete head-on with Spark’s fixed wireless. On paper its 5G fixed wireless will be faster and data will be more abundant. The key question is price.

Vodafone may choose an aggressive price, but that could undermine any messages about the superiority of 5G.

Either way, you can expect to be bombarded with marketing about the relative merits of the different technologies. Spark’s 600GB announcement is the opening salvo.

Categories
telecommunications

Fibre uptake passes 60% mark in 10 NZ cities

According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s latest Quarterly Connectivity Report, 10 cities now have fibre uptake rates of greater than 60 percent.

Rolleston tops the list with 74 percent of homes and businesses connected to the fibre network.

The national uptake rate is now 55 percent. That’s up from 52 percent in the June quarter. An additional 58,912 premises were connected to the UFB network in the three months to the end of September.

Rugby World Cup surge

Much of that would have been a surge of customers getting ready to stream the Rugby World Cup on Spark Sport.

Communications Minister Kris Faafoi says the MBIE report shows the UFB network is not just providing benefits in the larger cities.

He says; “With UFB roll-out in 126 cities and towns around New Zealand, the deployment is now 87 per cent completed and still ahead of schedule.

“This investment and the connectivity it is making available shows this government’s continued commitment to closing the digital divide so all New Zealanders who want connectivity, have it”.

Rural too

Rural broadband is also growing fast. The MBIE report says phase two of the Rural Broadband Initiative means 40,000 households and businesses in “hard to reach regions of New Zealand” now have access to improved broadband.

In the September quarter 17 marae were connected to broadband. This brings the total number of connected marae to 31.

Categories
telecommunications

If tech giants paid NZ’s Telecommunications Development Levy

In the UK, the Labour Party plans to nationalise part of the telecommunications network if it wins this year’s election.

To cover costs, a Labour government will tax multinational tech giants including Google and Facebook.

Let’s put aside the idea of nationalisation1. Instead, let us focus on the idea of making tech giants contribute towards the cost of telecommunications networks.

Not ridiculous

The idea isn’t ridiculous. Google and Facebook made their fortunes on the back of telecom networks. In effect they had a free ride.

People who invested in building Spark, Vodafone, Chorus and the rest of New Zealand’s telecommunications networks have, up to a point, subsidised the tech giants.

A decade ago there was talk in telecom circles about recapturing some of the value taken by over-the-top companies.

That battle was lost before it started.

It could be impractical and difficult for a small nation like New Zealand to force tech giants to pay all the costs of our telecommunication network.

That would remove price signals. These are important. They help the industry squeeze value from the assets. They tell planners where to invest.

Jangling the gold

There is one area where we can hold Facebook, Google and maybe other tech giants upside down and jangle the coins out of their pockets.

We could get them to contribute to our Telecommunications Development Levy.

This is the money collected by the government to help subsidise rural telecommunications. It also pays for things like the services that help blind and deaf people use phones.

At the moment the TDL is $50 million a year. It’s called a levy, but it’s really a tax on telecommunications companies. They each pay a share roughly based on how much they earn from sales.

As things stand today, Spark, Vodafone and Chorus pay the lion’s share.

How it might work

Suppose, for one minute, we decide to treat income the digital giants earn from New Zealand on the same basis as local telco revenue.

We’ll forget the smaller firms for now and focus on only two tech giants: Google and Facebook.

It’s hard to know exactly how much these companies make in New Zealand. The Commerce Commission would be have a job extracting this data, but it is doable.

This NZ Herald story estimates Google made around $600 million here in 2017. The number for Facebook is hard to estimate. For the sake of argument, let’s say it is much the same.

The total qualified revenue for New Zealand’s telcos is $4.1 billion. If we add in the tech giant revenue that gives us $5.3 billion.

In round numbers that puts Google and Facebook’s share at 20 percent of the total.

This means we could reasonably ask the two giants to stump up $10 million towards the TDL.

If we add in the other large companies who earn revenue on the back of New Zealand having a decent digital network that could take the total contribution from over the top money earners up to around a third of the TDL total.

Fair dealings?

It would be hard for anyone to argue such an approach is unfair. The amounts are, in comparison, tiny. A $10 million charge on $1.2 billion is less than one-tenth of one percent. It wouldn’t even feature as a budget line item.

Tech giants make huge margins on their revenues. The charge need not have any effect on prices.

In comparison the profit margins for New Zealand’s telecommunications companies are slender. Putting $15 million or so2 back into their hands wouldn’t make a huge difference. It would ease their burden.

So there you have it. The company’s that benefit most from investment in telecommunications can return a tiny trickle from their rivers of gold so that more New Zealanders can access their products and services. Is that so unreasonable?


  1. Maybe until another time. Maybe not. ↩︎
  2. This presumes an expanded programme where more than just two tech giants contribute ↩︎
Categories
computing mobile

Sign-in with Apple means privacy, security

At first sight sign-in with Apple looks like another attempt by a tech giant to collect user data.

It isn’t. Apple aims to reverse that data collection.

Facebook and Google offer single sign-in services. These are used to monitor people’s online activity.

Single sign-in reduces friction as you move around on-line sites that ask for a log-in. It speeds things up. That’s important in an impatient world.

Sign-in downsides

The downside is that Facebook and Google get to learn a lot more about account holder online activity.

You may view this as innocent, ominous or simply a tax paid to live in the digital world. You may not care.

Other downsides are greater security and privacy risks. In the past single sign-on services have been hacked.

Sign-in with Apple is different. It is more secure. There is built-in two-factor authentication support and anti-fraud detection.

You can use it to sign-in to websites. It also works with iOS apps. That way you know the apps you use are not sharing your private data with someone you may not trust.

Also, you choose if an app developer gets to see your email address. That’s optional.

If you choose not to share, Apple generates a disposable email address for that app. If, say, the app developer starts spamming you, you can kill the email address and lose nothing.

Sign-in with Apple works with Android phones and Windows computers, but you’ll get most from it if you have Apple hardware. It integrates with iOS and Apple Keychain. It also works with Apple TV and Apple Watch.

Sign-in with Apple stays private

There’s no lock-in. On the other hand, it might give privacy aware users who shop elsewhere another reason to consider Apple products.

Apple insists app developers using the App Store offer the service if they offer the Google or Facebook alternative. Otherwise it is optional.

At first I was wary of the idea. Now I’m keen. I’ve never used the Google or Facebook sign-ins and got used to doing things the slow, but more private, way. Now that’s unnecessary.

Of course, you have to trust Apple when it says that it doesn’t interpret collected data or keep track of your log-ins.

The difference here is that we know for certain Facebook and Google do this. Apple makes its money from hardware and services. Facebook and Google are all about surveillance capitalism.

See: Let’s Clarify some Misunderstandings around Sign In with Apple • Aaron Parecki