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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. 

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mobile review

Freebuds 3: Huawei pays homage to AirPods

Huawei’s Freebuds 3 look distinct from Apple’s Airpods. Presumably they are different enough to avoid knock-off litigation.

Yet there’s little question the Bluetooth wireless earphones with a charge box idea is cribbed from Apple.

Let’s be polite and say they pay homage to the original.

You can buy a pair in local stores for around NZ$260. This compares with the NZ$450 price of Apple’s Airpods Pro.

Freebuds 3 versus Airpods

It’s impossible to write about Freebuds without mentioning Airpods. So let’s stick with comparisons here, that’s the real story.

Both products are wireless earbuds that use Bluetooth to connect to devices. Both come with snappy little charging cases. More important, both have active noise cancellation.

If you own an iPhone or iPad, it’s likely Airpods will be your first choice. And why not? They are excellent. I wouldn’t be without mine.

Likewise, if you own an Android phone or you are allergic to buying Apple kit, there’s a good Freebuds are on your wish list.

The main exception to these cases is cash-strapped Apple owners might be drawn to the less expensive Huawei option.

Differences

Looking beyond price, there are a few significant differences between the products. The Freebuds 3 earpieces are more like those of the original Apple Airpods. That is, they sit in the outer ear.

The Airpods Pro have a snugger fit. This means the physical hardware does some of the work when it comes to cutting out external noise.

Huawei Freebuds 3
Huawei Freebuds 3 – Black is the new black

Physically the Airpods have a better look. For the New Zealand market the Freebuds come in a Darth Vader black version, although there is a Imperial Stormtrooper white option overseas. Apple’s wireless earbuds only come in white.

Latency advantage not obvious

Both products use their companies’ chip designs. Huawei claims lower latency, but in practice this, if it is true, is not noticeable. Both can automatically connect without the need to stuff around with Bluetooth settings.

Apple’s active noise cancellation is one-size-fits-all. You can tinker with the Huawei settings. I wouldn’t say one approach is better than the other, they are different.

Likewise, I struggle to say one sounds better than the other. The Freebuds seem to do a better job with electronic music, while I find the standard non-Pro Airpods handle classic and acoustic material better, but this is largely a matter of taste.

Apple’s wireless earbuds have better battery life, but not by much. One thing I like about Airpods is their wireless charging, but again this is not a deal breaker.

Taking everything in account, there’s not much in it. If you have an Apple phone and the budget choose Airpods. Huawei phone owners should go with Freebuds 3. Everyone else might as well toss a coin.

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mobile review

Nokia 7.2 – a good business phone

At $549, the Nokia 7.2 is a decent quality mid-priced Android phone. It hits all the right notes for business buyers. For everyone else, the Nokia 7.2 is a sensible choice rather than a pocket full of digital excitement. Choose it if you view phones as tools, not toys, if you prize value over pizzaz.

Nokia 7.2 at a glance

For:– Android One is the best Android experience
– Uncluttered user interface
– Well made
– Videos look great
Against:– Battery could be better
– Camera decent enough, but pictures a touch ordinary
Maybe:– Sober, business-like looks
Verdict:Sensible choice but doesn’t stand out from mid-range pack.
Six months ago the same specification would have been sensational at the price, today it’s ordinary.
Price:$549
Web:Nokia
Reviewed by:Bill Bennett
Review date:November 14, 2019

HMD Global has revived the Nokia brand with a solid range of mid and low priced Android phones. In doing so, the company has breathed fresh life into that market.

The hardware is well made and reliable, we’ll get to how that works for the Nokia 7.2 in a moment.

Build quality is important, yet the company’s main strength lies in its partnership with Google. It is part of Google’s Android One programme.

Best Android around

In effect, Android One means Nokia phone owners get the best experience Google’s operating system has to offer.

You won’t see bloatware or other annoyances. You won’t face inconsistencies.

And you don’t run the gauntlet of risky pre-installed software. Best of all, it means the user interface is refreshingly uncluttered.

Android One is possibly the purest form of Android. Companies like HMD Global who are part of the programme agree not to change the software.

In return, Google commits to refreshing the Android operating system for two years and providing monthly security updates for three years.

In other words, you know where you are with a Nokia phone and you know where you are going. Buy almost any other Android model and operating system updates are something of a lottery. In most cases, your security is, at best, an afterthought.

If I were to buy an Android phone, I’d choose the Nokia-Android One approach.

Nokia 7.2 – good business choice

Android One is particularly good for business phone buyers who worry about security and keeping software current. Like I said at the top of this story, it’s a sensible choice but it’s not a thrill-packed ride into the outer limits of geek wizardry.

The Nokia 7.2’s hardware is more or less what you’d get elsewhere for $550. There’s a 6.3-inch screen with what Nokia calls a teardrop notch. Some Nokia phones allow you to black the top lines of the screen out giving you a square display. For some reason this is not an option with the 7.2 does.

Nokia’s PureDisplay technology means standard definition video plays beautifully. Software, I presume it is software, tweaks the video picture to make it look more like high definition video.

In practice, this is better than it sound. It is also better than you’ll find in other similarly priced midrange phones, or at least the ones I’ve seen here in New Zealand.

The display doesn’t compare with the much brighter OLED technology found on more expensive phones, but that would double the price tag.

There’s a rear fingerprint sensor. People can get agitated about the position of a fingerprint sensor. Putting it on the back makes for more screen on the front. It almost covers the entire front of the phone. Nokia also includes a Google Assistant button, if that’s your thing.

Back in black

The review phone is what HMD calls ‘charcoal’. This is marketing speak for black. The case sits somewhere on the spectrum between matt black and glossy black.

Black means the Nokia 7.2 looks more like a business phone than some of the flashy colours you can find on Chinese made phones.

The phone’s back has a pronounced camera bump. There is what Nokia calls a ‘triple lens’ camera. While that’s true in a strict sense, it isn’t the whole story. You get a 48 megapixel lens and a secondary eight megapixel wide lens camera. The third lens is a five megapixel depth sensor. It doesn’t take pictures. So, in this case ‘triple lens’ means two usable lenses.

The set up takes decent pictures, but then show me a 2019 phone that doesn’t. They aren’t outstanding, but they can be good. You’ll struggle to find a better phone camera on sale in New Zealand at this price unless you go to a parallel importer. On the other hand, you may find a set of camera features that better suits your needs.

What else?

Some observations:

  • Despite the generous (at this price) 3500mAh battery, the Nokia 7.2 runs down a little faster than I like. I haven’t pushed it to the limit yet, but suspect it might not get me from 7:00 to 23:00 on a busy running around work day.
  • 128GB of storage and 4GB of Ram seems good for a $550 phone.
  • The Snapdragon 660 processor offers the kind of performance you’d expect in this price range. If you’re coming from a premium phone you might find it a little sluggish, but that’s more because you’ve been spoiled.
  • This would be a great phone to buy for employees or younger family members who don’t feel the need for a day-glo finish.
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review

D-Link Omna Wire-Free Indoor-Outdoor Camera Kit review

D-link’s Omna Wire-Free kit packs two weatherproof wireless cameras, base station and a year’s cloud recording.

If you need home or small business security cameras, D-Link has a kit that will have you set-up in no time. The Omna Wire-Free Indoor-Outdoor Camera Kit makes what could be a tricky task dead simple.

It took about as long to get the home surveillance system working as it will take you to read this review. About six minutes from opening the box to being able to check two remote wireless cameras. Of course, mounting them in a permanent spot will take a little longer.

Not cheap, but worth it

At NZ$900, Omna Wire-Free isn’t cheap, but if you need security in a hurry, it’s hard to go past D-Link’s kit.

The ensemble comes in a sizeable box. Inside there’s a base station, D-Link calls it a hub. It looks a like a Wi-fi router. In effect, that’s what it is.

You need a spare power socket for the hub and an unused Ethernet port on your router. Neither of these are givens in modern homes. It makes sense to place the hub close to your router. If your router is near your home entertainment hardware, you’ll have to live with more distracting flashing lights.

Two cameras, hub Omna D-link kit

The box also contains two wireless cameras. They’re about the size of a large apple or orange. Both are curvy, but have a flat base. D-Link supplied some mounting hardware, but there is only a single outdoor mount.

You connect the hub to power and your network. Then, you hit a sync button on the side of each camera and it will connect to the hub.

The next stage is downloading the Mydlink app. There are versions for iOS and for Android.

This brings us to the trickiest and most long-winded part of the set-up. You need to sign-up for a mydlink account and wait for a confirmation email to arrive. You may also need to scan the QR code on the back of the hub to get the software running.

At this point you should be in business and able to see what the two cameras are picking up.

Motion detection

Both cameras can handle motion detection. This feature can work in darkness. The cameras are robust and waterproof enough to put outside. That includes, say, up a tree in the garden.

When the cameras detect movement they capture the scene in 1080P resolution. It’s higher definition than you’d expect. You can choose to send the video footage to D-Link’s cloud storage. Or, you can capture it on a local SD-card or even an old-fashioned hard drive.

D-Link is following the now-common practice of adding online services to hardware. You get a year’s subscription to a basic cloud storage service when you first install the system. After that it costs. The price goes up depending on who long you want to store videos. If you have ten cameras and want to store 30 days of video the cost is US$100 a year.

There’s obvious value in this. If criminals rob or trash your place, there’s a chance they will find or even steal your hard drive or the SD card. If they are at all clued up about home security they may even look for it so they can destroy the evidence.

Local storage

The flip side is local storage is free. There’s no subscription to remember and you can get immediately at the data.

It wasn’t possible to test D-Link’s claim that the camera batteries will work for 11 months between charges. Yet after a few weeks there was no sign of them running down. Even so, if you mount the cameras in hard to reach places, recharging them could be painful. You have to unmount them and take them close to a power supply.

One nice touch is that you can buy extra cameras to expand your security network. D-Link doesn’t appear to sell spare matching cameras. It offers a range of options from A$150. It’s not clear from the documentation if you can add any existing home cameras to the hub.

Phone app

D-Link’s Mydlink phone app works well enough. Yet the 1080p resolution is overkill given the size of most mobile phone screens. The pictures are crisp and clear, even in low-light conditions. It’s hard to fault the product in the set up of video capture department.

That said, there doesn’t appear to be an option to watch live footage on a PC or laptop. If there is, it passed me by. It does work with Google Home, so it may be possible to Chromecast images to a large screen TV. I didn’t test this.

A more subtle shortcoming is the weird latency in the system. It can take ages for the camera image to appear on the app.

In testing on different occasions it would take two or three minutes to get from waking the phone to a live feed. Sometimes the app would appear to hang at this point only to spring back into life. Even a two-minute hold up feels like this could be long enough for a home invader to get through the front door and on their way to your bedroom.

As an aside, I’m also not comfortable with the assumption I keep my phone next to my bed at night. I’ve found that’s a surefire way to interfere with a good night’s sleep.

One last niggle, D-Link needs to work on the phone app. The user interface is poor at the best of times. If you’re panicking as someone crawls about outside it isn’t good enough.

Verdict: D-Link Omna Wire-Free Indoor-Outdoor Camera Kit

D-Link’s Omna Wire-Free Indoor-Outdoor Camera Kit takes the hard work out of getting a home security system up and running. Buying separate devices, mixing and matching them, then making them work with software is not for the fainthearted. The price is good considering the amount of work you won’t need to do.

The hardware performance is impressive. It’s better than I’ve seen on any home system. D-Link still needs to work on the software; both the user interface and the time lag to get images on screen. Still, I’d recommend this for anyone who needs home or small business security.

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review

AF56W wireless headphones from Audiofly: Review

Audiofly’s AF56W is another take on the Bluetooth wireless headphone. Here I look at the updated mark II version. 

Now the 3.5 mm jack socket is an endangered species, Bluetooth wireless headphones are the way to go. At NZ$200, the Audiofly AF56W is an expensive option, but not at pricy as Apple’s AirPods 2 which cost another NZ$80.

The money buys a pair of in-ear headphones connected to each other by a Cordura fibre-braided cable. There’s a built-in microphone and a basic controller on the cable.

Elsewhere in the box is a selection of tips so you can get the headphones to better fit your ears. There’s also a magnetic charger on a micro-USB cable and zip case that Audiofly says is waterproof.

Interesting twist

Connecting the two headphones with a cable is an interesting twist. Audiofly says this makes it harder to lose the headphones. Maybe. There have been reports of people losing Apple AirPods, so it could be a useful feature.

However a funny thing happened when I was preparing to write this review. I temporarily lost the AF56W. So, the cord is not that helpful.

The cord is about 400mm. You can adjust the actual length with a clip device at the centre of the cord. At first I wore the headphones with the clip under my chin, which looks dorky. Then I figured it works better when the cord goes around the back of your neck.

Hard to lose the AF56W

While I didn’t have problem with the buds falling out of my ears, more about that in a moment, the cord means they won’t drop to the floor if that happens.

You’d have to be unlucky for both to be dislodged at the same time. This means the AF56W might be a better choice of headphones if you want to listen to music during a vigorous run or workout.

Audiofly’s choice of tips means you get a better fit. That’s important because the headphones don’t have noise cancelling. Instead you have to rely on a tight fit to reduce ambient noise.

The box says the batteries are good for eight hours. That’s pushing it a little. In testing I found seven hours was about all I could get.

Charging takes 90 minutes according to the information on the box. That squares with my experience. It’s nothing like as easy as the Apple AirPod charging arrangement.

Audiofly AF56W headphones magnetic charging

The magnetic charging pad on the cord snaps onto a connector that, in turn links to a 300mm micro-USB cable. The other end of the cable has a standard USB plug, so you might be able to charge the headset from your PC or laptop. I used a phone charger. But the 300mm cable means I had to leave everything on the floor next to a power socket.

That’s far from ideal. Although micro-USB is still fairly common, the move to USB-C means the AF56W could get left behind.

Sound quality

Enough of the details. How do the headphones sound? I found them to be surprisingly good. There’s clear blue water between the sound quality of the AF56W and the cheaper earbuds. That must be down to the 13mm neodymium driver — I read that from the blurb on the box.

Music comes across far better than the spoken word. There’s enough at the top and the bottom to fill out a wide range of music. After hours of listening I can’t tell you if the sound is better or worse than Apple’s AirPods. I can tell you they sound different.

One area where the AF56W lags AirPods is dropouts and glitches. I get almost none on the AirPods, quite a few on the Audiofly headphones even when I’m only a metre or so away from the phone, laptop or tablet.

Another oddity is the spoken voice used to tell you the phones are connected. It’s been recorded at a low bit-rate so it sounds glitchy, which is a bad advertisement for the actual sound quality.

Audiofly AF56W verdict

At NZ$200 the AF56W headphones are expensive. More so considering there is no noise cancellation. Mind you, the sound is noticeably better than you’d find on low cost Bluetooth headphones.

That said, the product and the experience feels cheaper and not as complete as Apple’s AirBuds. In terms of overall quality, ease of use and so on that extra NZ$80 for the Apple alternative starts to feel like a bargain.

In other words high-end audio, mid-range user experience at price somewhere between the mid-range and high-end.