One Step Closer to a Holodeck, with the HTC Vive Wireless VR Adaptor

Our verdict of the HTC Vive Wireless Adaptor:This is how VR should be, but cutting-edge technology comes at a price. Unless you have the room to take advantage of it, you might be better off saving for a next generation headset. 910Finally: wireless, high fidelity wireless VR is here. And it’s amazing. The HTC Vive official wireless adaptor is out now, compatible with the Vive and Vive Pro. It doesn’t come cheap though. The official wireless adaptor is $300 for the original Vive, or $360 for the Vive Pro. For that price, you can buy an entirely new Microsoft Mixed…

Read the full article: One Step Closer to a Holodeck, with the HTC Vive Wireless VR Adaptor

Our verdict of the HTC Vive Wireless Adaptor:
This is how VR should be, but cutting-edge technology comes at a price. Unless you have the room to take advantage of it, you might be better off saving for a next generation headset.
910

Finally: wireless, high fidelity wireless VR is here. And it’s amazing. The HTC Vive official wireless adaptor is out now, compatible with the Vive and Vive Pro.

It doesn’t come cheap though. The official wireless adaptor is $300 for the original Vive, or $360 for the Vive Pro. For that price, you can buy an entirely new Microsoft Mixed Reality headset. But we’re living at the bleeding edge of technology here. The wireless tech used here is Intel’s WiGig / 5G. It’s ultra high bandwidth, but ultra short range.

Vive Wireless Adapter - PC Vive Wireless Adapter - PC Buy Now At Amazon $299.99

Now I should note that this isn’t the first wireless adaptor: TPCast has been out for a while. Unfortunately, it isn’t very good. It requires its own network router, a complex set up, and is generally not recommended by anyone.

The hope is that being an official consumer oriented release by HTC themselves, the Vive Wireless Adaptor will be somewhat better in every way. And it certainly lives up the hype.

Read on to find out exactly what we thought, and at the end of this review we’re giving one away to one lucky reader.

What’s In The Box?

Inside you’ll find four main components:

  • The wireless adaptor, which attaches to the rear of your Vive head strap. It attaches via a Velcro strap, so it’ll work fine with either the original fabric strap, or the more rigid Deluxe Audio Strap
  • A 10,500mAh USB battery bank. You can buy another official one for $60, or third party ones to use as a backup, but they must be capable of delivering Quick Charge 3 (QC3.0) power levels.
  • The WiGig PCI-E card. This will need a PCI-E slot in your computer, or you can use an M.2 riser card. Laptops are out of luck.
  • The transmitter and 6 feet of coax cabling. This device looks somewhat like a webcam, and comes with a mount to sit it on top of your monitor. Like the base stations, this uses a standard tripod thread, so you can use a lighting stand or other generic mounting if you wish.

Setting Up the Vive Wireless Adaptor

Surprisingly, setting up the wireless adaptor is quite easy. Simply open up your PC, slide in the PCI-E card, then connect the transmitter. Exact positioning doesn’t seem to matter too much, as long as it’s pointing in toward your play area.

Next, remove the top panel of your Vive headset, where the cabling attaches. Carefully remove all existing cabling: you won’t need it anymore. Attach the wireless adaptor to the back of the head strap, following the guide included, and seat the new cabling into the front panel.

You can also unplug the link box HDMI cable, but leave it powered and the USB plugged in: this contains the Bluetooth chip that controls your base stations. If you unplug it, you may find they can’t wake up.

Switching to wireless has the added advantage of freeing up an HDMI port on your graphics card, so you can go back to using multiple monitors if you’d previously been forgoing that.

Finally, download and install the software and drivers required.

Using the Wireless Adaptor

The only downside to using the wireless adaptor is that there’s now an added click before entering VR. You’ll need to run the wireless connection software first, then boot up SteamVR.

Other than that, it just works (TM). Try as I might to find latency issues, visual artefacts and pixelation (above what’s normal for this generation of VR), I just couldn’t. Sure, you can induce them if you deliberately stick a large obstacle between the transmitter and your head, but through the course of normal play–including waving my arms around–they was no detraction from the visuals introduced by the wireless adaptor.

There’s one caveat to all this though: you’ll need a somewhat beefy PC. Sadly, the compression algorithms requires to handle the WiGig connection are all handled in software, and can be quite taxing on an older CPU. If your CPU struggles as is with VR, you’re going to struggle even more with wireless. For reference, I tested on an i7, paired with 16gb RAM and a GTX1080. I’ve had no issues, but I don’t supersample either.

QC3 Battery Pack

Powering an entire headset and WiGig receiver is not a particularly energy efficient task, but even so the battery will last a solid two and a half hours.

That’s longer than most people will ever spend in a single VR session. You’ll want to invest in a few spares if you’re planning a day long demo session or running an arcade, but the included pack should be sufficient for most home users.

Anker PowerCore Speed 20000 PD, 20100mAh Portable Charger & 30W Power Delivery Wall Charger Bundle, Input & Output Type C Power Bank for Nexus 5 X 6P, LG G5, iPhone 8/X and Macbooks Anker PowerCore Speed 20000 PD, 20100mAh Portable Charger & 30W Power Delivery Wall Charger Bundle, Input & Output Type C Power Bank for Nexus 5 X 6P, LG G5, iPhone 8/X and Macbooks Buy Now At Amazon $99.99

Pushing WiGig to Its Limits

The maximum recommended play area when using the wireless adaptor is 6m x 6m, but that’s larger than the first generation Vive base stations can handle, so the best I could manage for this test was 4m x 4m. And to get even that, I had to head outside to my car park. To be clear: I did try to get larger, but it was a chilly day and rain was predicted for after dark, so there was still a little tracking interference from the sun. In a larger indoor environment, you should be able to get at least another meter or two on both sides.

The results however, were breathtaking: the sheer sense of freedom is frankly … a little terrifying. But I mean that in a good way. It takes a little while to get used to. Using VR with a tethered cable can be annoying at times, but the cable also as a literal tether tether between your virtual self and the real world. Without that, it’s all too easy to get completely immersed in the virtual world.

You may even need to retrain yourself. In RecRoom, for instance, I’m accustomed to using the snap turning mechanism, simply because my cable would get tangled otherwise. It’s quite hard to forget that habit, even though I now have the complete freedom to physically spin around as much as I like. It’s hard to forget habits that have been formed over the past few years.

Unseen Diplomacy is one of the few games that actually takes advantage of a large space, using a form of redirected walking to completely avoid the need for artificial locomotion. It requires 4m x 3.2 minimum, and this was the first time I’d actually been able to play it all the way through.

This is what room scale VR is supposed to be. This is what we were promised. It’s one of those ultimate VR wishlist boxes ticked. We’re that much closer to a holodeck, and damn if isn’t an exciting time to be alive. We’re that much closer to an in-home holodeck.

Do You Need Wireless VR?

To really feel the benefits of this wireless adaptor, I needed to head outside. Room sizes of the average British house are just not conducive to wireless VR, to be honest. The best I can get is about 3m squared. At that size, wireless VR is certainly a welcome upgrade, but I’d struggle to call it an essential.

Vive Wireless Adapter - PC Vive Wireless Adapter - PC Buy Now At Amazon $299.99

At $300, it isn’t cheap either. That’s on top of $500 headset, or $800 if you were like me one of the early adopters; and that’s also on top of an expensive gaming PC. Wireless VR will remain in the domain of arcades, public spaces and obsessive home enthusiasts for now. But even so: I can’t emphasise how absolutely amazing this feeling is.

Pros

  • Frees up an HDMI port.
  • The freedom of mobile VR, at tethered PC VR quality.
  • Two and a half hours battery life should last two or three VR sessions.
  • Third party battery packs and replacements are available to extend the life of the product.
  • No loss of graphical quality (for the original Vive anyway, we don’t have a Vive Pro to test with).

Cons

  • Requires a PCI-E slot.
  • It’s an expensive upgrade, on top of an already expensive headset, that requires an expensive gaming PC.
  • Only works with Vive or Vive Pro.
  • Takes up a good bit of CPU processing.

We should also consider the wireless upgrade in the context of the wider VR market though, which brings us neatly onto…

Oculus Quest is Coming Next Year

Announced at Oculus Connect 5 in September, Oculus formally introduced the device codenamed Santa Cruz: the Oculus Quest. It’s a $400, high powered all-in-one mobile VR device, with full positional tracking and Touch-like controllers, expected Spring 2019. Though not the same graphical quality as a high end PC VR experience, it should be capable of running some of the simpler VR games such as RecRoom or RoboRecall, and will offer significantly better graphics than their current Oculus Go mobile device. Facebook (who owns Oculus) is pitching it as the most accessible headset yet, and we’d tend to agree.

If you want a great wireless VR experience, and only have $400 to blow on VR between now and next Spring, it’s a difficult call to make.

So what are your plans? Grab the wireless adaptor now because you have the space to take advantage of it? Or wait for Oculus Quest? Let us know your thoughts.

Enter the Competition!

HTC Vive Wireless VR Adaptor Review

Read the full article: One Step Closer to a Holodeck, with the HTC Vive Wireless VR Adaptor

HiKam A7 Outdoor Security Camera: Budget Friendly and Alexa Compatible

Our verdict of the HiKam A7:Reliable email alerts, Alexa compatibility, ONVIF third party support, and reasonable image quality make this budget outdoor security camera a fully featured device at a fraction of the price. It’s let down by an outdated user interface, and right now setting up Alexa is a bit kludgy. 710The HiKam A7 is a budget option for outdoor security, and offers a feature not seen on other budget outdoor cameras: Alexa compatiblity, so you can view the live feed though an Alexa Show or Spot device. At just $60, you could buy two, three, four of these…

Read the full article: HiKam A7 Outdoor Security Camera: Budget Friendly and Alexa Compatible

Our verdict of the HiKam A7:
Reliable email alerts, Alexa compatibility, ONVIF third party support, and reasonable image quality make this budget outdoor security camera a fully featured device at a fraction of the price. It's let down by an outdated user interface, and right now setting up Alexa is a bit kludgy.
710

The HiKam A7 is a budget option for outdoor security, and offers a feature not seen on other budget outdoor cameras: Alexa compatiblity, so you can view the live feed though an Alexa Show or Spot device. At just $60, you could buy two, three, four of these for the same price as a Ring, Netgear Arlo, or Nest Outdoor.

HiKam A7 WiFi Wireless Outdoor Security Camera - Cloud Recording Included, Human Detection, HD 960P, Waterproof Home Security Camera(Full Metal, Night Vision,Alarm Push to Phone, SD Card Slot) HiKam A7 WiFi Wireless Outdoor Security Camera - Cloud Recording Included, Human Detection, HD 960P, Waterproof Home Security Camera(Full Metal, Night Vision,Alarm Push to Phone, SD Card Slot) Buy Now At Amazon $54.50

So do you get what you pay for, or is this device just as capable as more expensive brands? Let’s find out, and at the end of this review, we’ve got one HiKam A7 to giveaway to a lucky reader. Read on to find out how to win it!

Installation is Simple, But You’ll Need a Power Socket

In the box you’ll find the camera itself, 12V 1A power adaptor, mounting bits, and waterproof Ethernet cable cover.

Installation is simple, involving screwing the mounting bracket to a wall or ceiling, then bolting the camera to the bracket. Alternatively, you can just screw the device straight to your wall and bypass the mounting plate. A hex tool is also provided to tighten and relax the mount for repositioning.

hikam a7 box contents

If your plan was to eventually use the device wirelessly, I’d suggest leaving it unmounted for the time being in order to add the Wi-Fi details first and check those work before locking it in-situ.

One major drawback of the HiKam A7 is that you’ll need a power source: it can’t use Power over Ethernet, so you’ll either need a breakout cable to pull 12V from your PoE line (which drives up the overall cost), or use the included mains adaptor. There’s also no solar power option, unlike the Reolink Argus Pro we looked at a few weeks back.

hikam a7 mounted outside
The biggest restriction on where to place the HiKam A7 will be the availability of a power socket. In this case, I ran power from the garage.

Setup the HiKam A7

Start by downloading the HiKam app, and creating a new account. Curiously, you’re instructed that you’ll need a different account for each copy of the app that you’ll be using. So if you have two phones, you’ll need to create a unique account login for each. On top of that, if you forget your password, there is no reset option: you’ll need to just create a new account.

I can confidently say HiKam is an established company, because their app looks like it was designed at least 5 years ago, with a graphical UI that hasn’t been updated since. It’s terribly antiquated, and mostly devoid of any HiKam branding. This is as barebones as they could get away with really, the weakest part of the whole package–but that’s fine since my interest in the A7 was primarily its ability to integrate into other systems.

To add your camera, the easiest option is to plug it into a spare Ethernet port on your router (read our networking guide if you’re unsure about switches, routers and hubs). Then click the + button. It should automatically scan and discover it. The initial setup password is 123 (and you’ll need to choose a new one that doesn’t start with 0). After that, you’re free to reconfigure the network options to Wi-Fi instead.

hikam a7 waterproof cable cover
Helpfully, a waterproof Ethernet cable cover is also included.

You can also select the Other -> AirLink option when adding a new device and attempt to connect it straight to your Wi-Fi, but this isn’t as reliable, as many routers block the initial setup packets. This did work fine for me though.

I decided to site the camera overlooking my car park, where I can grab mains power from inside the garage. Since there’s no Ethernet cable here, I configured the Wi-Fi to use my Unifi Outdoor+ connection. This is a powerful outdoor antenna which broadcasts 2.4GHz, but obviously your setup may be different and if you don’t have a Wi-Fi signal at all outside then you’re going to be even more restricted as to where you can mount it.

View the HiKam A7 with Alexa Show/Spot

For me, the biggest draw of the HiKam A7 is third party integration. Not only is it compatible with Synology Station via the standard ONVIF protocol, but they’ve also released an Amazon Alexa Skill. That means you can call the camera up on your Echo Show or Echo Spot to view the live feed. That’s previously been the domain of significantly more expensive brands, at least when it comes to outdoor cams.

So how does the Alexa support work? First, you’ll need to email support to enable the feature on your account. They told me this was due to stability issues–it’s a beta firmware, so only enabled to those who actually want it. That said, I didn’t experience any issues, and they said it will be rolling out publicly after Christmas or sooner if enough people ask for it, so it may even be available to all when you read this review. This is obviously a bit kludgy, but I found support to be very responsive. It is open to everyone, it’s not a private beta test–anyone can opt in to get it.

Once enabled, you’ll need to update the firmware on the camera via the app to version 1.19. Then after enabling the skill (available both in Europe and the US), you’ll be asked to link your account, and you should see your camera listed. Then just refresh your Alexa smart home devices.

Alexa Show / Spot integration works, but takes about 5 seconds or more to appear on screen.

Once it’s setup, usage couldn’t be simpler, just ask Alexa to “show me” plus whatever you named the camera. For some reason, it complained of multiple devices when I named mine “car park”, despite only a single device being listed, so I opted for “outside” instead. You can see a demo in the review video. However, I found it to be really slow to access the feed: a good 5 seconds or so of watching the “Waiting for Hikam” screen before I could see anything useful.

The HiKam App, and Motion Alerts

The HiKam official app, as mentioned, is rather barebones. It gets the job done and allows full configuration of all your devices simply, but it just feels like it was designed ten years ago. For a company so progressive in supporting Alexa, it’s a sharp juxtaposition.

When viewing the feed, buttons are difficult to see thanks to their translucent grey on translucent black shading. The microphone button in the middle gives the impression that it sends your voice; but in reality, it does nothing. No audio is transmitted. You can also turn on the audio stream from the camera, take a snapshot, and switch between SD and HD streams, but that’s it. There’s no zoom controls, or other image adjustments.

The live view interface is discreet to the point of being barely visible; and that microphone button does nothing.

Enable motion alerts is simple, though I found it would inexplicably turn itself off sometimes. There are five levels of sensitivity, and a “human detection” mode, though I found the default level three was too sensitive for outdoors, with rain and wind causing false alerts. Email alerts were reliably sent and included 3 snapshots of the event, which is good because a single one may be slightly too early or too late to record the actual trigger event. It did go to spam folder initially, but you can tell Gmail to not do that.

hikam email alerts example
The HiKam email alerts include 3 images, so you can clearly see what motion triggered the alert.

Unless you have an SD card inserted, the in-app alert list is pretty useless, and won’t even display a thumbnail of the event. It’ll just list the date and time.

There’s also a free 72-hour cloud backup service. You only get very short clips, but this also requires your own SD card to be inserted, so it’s not an alternative to local storage, it’s an enhancement.

Synology Surveillance Station

The HiKam A7 also integrates nicely with Synology. It’s great to find devices that support third party software, so you’re not locked into using a manufacturer specific app. The camera was found straight away, and nearly everything worked as it should. Event detection from the camera wasn’t supported though, so you’ll either need continuous recording, or use event detection on Surveillance Station itself.

HiKam A7: The Best Budget Alexa-Compatible Outdoor Security Camera?

This is as far as I can tell, the cheapest outdoor Alexa compatible camera you’ll find on the market at the moment, and despite being budget friendly, you still get all the features you’d expect. You’ll find configurable motion detection with app or email alerts, night vision, local SD card recording, and reasonable HD image quality. It’s not the best option for an indoor camera: there are certainly cheaper devices out there if you don’t need a waterproof housing.

But, it is sometimes a case of you get what you pay for. If you’re only going to need one to cover your front porch, I would perhaps opt for the more expensive, more reliable devices, officially endorsed by Amazon.

The smartphone app isn’t amazing: it works, but looks quite antiquated. But then again, you probably won’t use the app other than for initial setup. With ONVIF standard protocol support, you can use numerous third party applications of your choice to view the livestream and record events, such as Synology Surveillance Station.

HiKam A7 WiFi Wireless Outdoor Security Camera - Cloud Recording Included, Human Detection, HD 960P, Waterproof Home Security Camera(Full Metal, Night Vision,Alarm Push to Phone, SD Card Slot) HiKam A7 WiFi Wireless Outdoor Security Camera - Cloud Recording Included, Human Detection, HD 960P, Waterproof Home Security Camera(Full Metal, Night Vision,Alarm Push to Phone, SD Card Slot) Buy Now At Amazon $54.50

You are a little restricted as to where you can place it since it does require a 12V 1A power source, either via the included wall adaptor or otherwise, and there’s no internal battery. But with the option to run over Ethernet or Wi-Fi, the HiKam A7 is overall a good budget option that’s relatively easy to set up, has good image quality, reliable Wi-Fi, and a good feature selection.

The Good

  • Alexa support for Echo Show and Echo Spot to view live feed, albeit slow.
  • Integrates with Synology Surveillance Station.
  • Wired or wireless, in one package.
  • Status LEDs for the camera and Ethernet cable.
  • Smooth set up.
  • Budget-friendly price at around $60.
  • Email alerts send three images.

The Bad

  • No PoE, needs 12V power adaptor.
  • Only one-way audio, no talkback.

The Ugly

  • The app is antiquated and as barebones as you can get.
  • Requires you to email them to enable Alexa integration (currently).
  • Multiple passwords for multiple devices could get annoying really quickly.

Enter the Competition!

HiKam A7 Giveaway

Read the full article: HiKam A7 Outdoor Security Camera: Budget Friendly and Alexa Compatible

How P2P (Peer to Peer) File Sharing Works

Software piracy and file sharing existed well before the internet as we know it today, mainly through message boards and private FTP sites. But it was tedious to find files, and even slower to actually download them. It was more common to get your software or music fix from a friend as a physical copy (often called the “sneakernet”). P2P file sharing changed all that. Suddenly you had a direct line of access to other people’s shared data. But let’s back up a little: what is P2P, how does it work, and where did it start? Before We Start Of…

Read the full article: How P2P (Peer to Peer) File Sharing Works

Software piracy and file sharing existed well before the internet as we know it today, mainly through message boards and private FTP sites. But it was tedious to find files, and even slower to actually download them. It was more common to get your software or music fix from a friend as a physical copy (often called the “sneakernet”).

P2P file sharing changed all that. Suddenly you had a direct line of access to other people’s shared data. But let’s back up a little: what is P2P, how does it work, and where did it start?

Before We Start

Of course, peer-to-peer file sharing technology isn’t only used for piracy. But if we’re honest, that’s why it was created in the first place.

We’ll talk mostly about the file-sharing aspect of P2P technologies, but this certainly isn’t the only use case. We should also note that the term P2P covers a broad range of networks over the past few decades since they were first invented, so not everything here applies in every case. We’ve tried to tackle the topic as broadly as possible.

Not the Client-Server Model

First, we should explain what peer-to-peer isn’t. The rest of the internet generally runs on what’s called a client-server model.

A website hosted on a powerful server somewhere in the world (the best web hosting services), delivers a piece of information when your computer or phone requests it. This might be a font used to display the website correctly, or it could be a 2GB Linux ISO you want to download. The server sends the file to you. When the next user comes along, the process repeats.

Client-server illustration
This is how a client-server internet works. (Image Credit: CorDesign/DepositPhotos)

This works well for websites, but doesn’t scale well for distributing large files. It’s mainly a problem of speed, bandwidth, cost, and legality.

Speed on a traditional web host is quite limited. It’s fine for transmitting small amounts of text to render a website, and some web servers are optimized just to serve images. But for larger files, that would require a burst of speed that isn’t sustainable for long periods and locks the server up for other users. Bandwidth is also costly; just to serve the images here at MakeUseOf costs many thousands of dollars a year.

From a legal perspective, it’s relatively easy to locate a single server, shut it down, then prosecute the owner. P2P was therefore born of necessity. Those who wanted to distribute copyrighted files needed a better way.

What Is Peer-to-Peer?

Peer-to-peer is an entirely different model, in which everyone becomes a server. There is no central server; everyone who uses the network acts as their own server. Instead of simply taking files, peer-to-peer made it a two-way street.

You could now give back to other users. In fact, giving back (known as “seeding” nowadays) is critical to the success of peer-to-peer networks. If everyone just downloaded without giving anything back (called “leeching”), the network would offer no benefits over a client-server model.

P2P Network Illustration
This is what P2P looks like: everyone on the network is serving files to everyone else. (Image Credit: mmaxer/DepositPhotos)

In the client-server model, performance degrades with more users, as the same amount of bandwidth is shared among more people. In peer-to-peer networks, more users make the network more effective. The more users that make a particular file available from their hard drives, the easier it is for new users to get that file.

In modern P2P networks, it’s actually faster when more users download a file. Instead of taking the whole file from one user, you’re taking smaller pieces from hundreds or thousands of others. Even if they only have a little bandwidth to spare for you, the combined connections mean you get the maximum speed possible. Then you, in turn, contribute to distribute the file again.

In earlier forms of P2P networks, a central server was still necessary to organize the network, acting as a database that held information on connected users and files available in the system. Though the heavy lifting of file transfers was done directly between users, the networks were still vulnerable. Knocking out that central server meant disabling communications completely.

This is no longer the case thanks to recent developments. Nowadays, the software can ask peers directly if they’ve seen a particular file. There is no way to knock out these networks—they are effectively indestructible.

A Brief History of Early P2P Software

Now you have an idea of why peer-to-peer networks were such a revolution compared to the client-server model, let’s take a quick look at the historical context.

Napster, launched in 1999, was the first widely available implementation of a peer-to-peer model. A central database contained information about all the music files held by members. You would search for a song from this central server, but to download it, you would actually connect to another online user and copy from them. In turn, once you had that song in your Napster library, it became available as a source for others on the network.

You could also add your own files, which Napster would then index and add to the database, ready to propagate across the world. The implementation was limited in that you could only download from one person, however. The service had a high availability of songs, but speeds were not so great.

Napster File Sharing Program

But with that, the concept of peer-to-peer had unleashed on the world.

Napster was eventually shut down in 2001, but not before similar networks arose that offered more than just music. Movies, software, and images were made available on Morpheus, Kazaa, and Gnutella networks (of those, Limewire was perhaps the most famous Gnutella client).

Over the years, various other protocols and peer-to-peer file sharing software came and went, but one open protocol took hold: BitTorrent.

The BitTorrent Protocol

Designed in 2001, BitTorrent is an open source protocol where users create a meta file (called a .torrent file) containing information about the download, without actually providing the download data itself. A tracker was necessary to store these meta files, along with who currently held that file. However, as an open protocol, anyone could program the client or tracker software.

So even though it needed a central tracker to maintain the databases of those available files, multiple trackers could exist. Any single torrent descriptor file could register with multiple trackers. This made the BitTorrent network incredibly robust and almost impossible to completely destroy. Shutting down torrent sites became a game of whack-a-mole. In its lifetime, The Pirate Bay was killed and resurrected multiple times.

Since the original design, further improvements were made that enabled tracker-less downloads. DHT (distributed hash table) meant the job of indexing available files could distribute among all users. Magnet links are another, but they’re complex enough to warrant an explanation of how magnet links differ from torrent files.

Do You Use P2P File Sharing?

I hope this has shed some light on the meaning of peer-to-peer networking and where it began. It’s fair to say P2P networks changed the internet forever. At their peak in 2006, it was estimated that P2P networks collectively accounted for over 70% of all traffic flowing across the internet.

Since then usage has plummeted, mainly due to easily accessible video streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube. Combined with music streaming services like Spotify, there’s really no reason to pirate anymore. P2P networks filled an important gap in our history when traditional media services struggled to keep up. Now, they’re largely irrelevant.

Did you get a chance to use Napster back in the day? Or was your first introduction to file sharing through the humble torrent? Tell us in the comments, or if you want to learn more, check out our complete beginner’s guide to torrents.

Image Credit: chromatika2/Depositphotos

Read the full article: How P2P (Peer to Peer) File Sharing Works

Is AliExpress Safe and Legit? Alibaba’s Online Shop Explained

aliexpress-safety

AliExpress is the international arm of the Chinese retailing giant AliBaba, aiming to challenge online giants like Amazon and eBay. But is it safe to shop there? How long will items take to arrive, and what happens if they don’t? Is AliExpress legit? And are you more likely to be the victim of fraud if you shop there? Here are the answers you need. What Is AliExpress? If you’re not familiar with AliExpress, here’s a quick primer: it’s a huge online retailer owned by The Alibaba Group, a multi-billion dollar corporation that started as a business-to-business buying and selling portal. It…

Read the full article: Is AliExpress Safe and Legit? Alibaba’s Online Shop Explained

aliexpress-safety

AliExpress is the international arm of the Chinese retailing giant AliBaba, aiming to challenge online giants like Amazon and eBay.

But is it safe to shop there? How long will items take to arrive, and what happens if they don’t? Is AliExpress legit? And are you more likely to be the victim of fraud if you shop there? Here are the answers you need.

What Is AliExpress?

If you’re not familiar with AliExpress, here’s a quick primer: it’s a huge online retailer owned by The Alibaba Group, a multi-billion dollar corporation that started as a business-to-business buying and selling portal. It has since expanded to business-to-consumer, consumer-to-consumer, cloud computing, and payment services, as well.

To give you an idea of just how big Alibaba is, they reported over $25 billion in sales on Singles’ Day (November 11) 2017.

What is AliExpress?

AliExpress is Alibaba’s online consumer marketplace for international buyers (while TaoBao is for China). It allows small businesses in China to sell to customers all over the world. Just like Amazon, you can find just about anything there. Unlike Amazon, all of the sellers on AliExpress are a third party: AliExpress itself does not sell anything. They just provide the marketplace.

Why Is AliExpress So Cheap?

If you browse some of the products on AliExpress, you’ll probably notice right away that many of the prices are really low. Why is this? There are two different distinct possibilities, both of which you’ll find in abundance on the site.

aliexpress raspberry pi bundle bargain

First, there’s the possibility that you’re buying directly from a manufacturer, which reduces the cost of selling to you. Costs for production in China are quite a bit lower than in other countries. The lax enforcement of intellectual property laws may also contribute. A lot of electronics (like this 4WD Arduino robot we built) have fantastic prices on AliExpress, because they’re made in China and you can buy them direct, avoiding the retail markup added by a middle-man.

The second possibility for an item being extremely cheap is that its either counterfeit, or fraudulent (or semi-fraudulent, as in the case of the GooPhone I5). China is known as a hotbed of counterfeit production, and AliExpress is no exception. You can get all sorts of counterfeit items there, from electronics to clothing. Some sellers have also been known to defraud buyers by tricking them into paying before they receive an item and then disappearing with the money.

Of course, being able to tell the difference is crucial.

How Long Does AliExpress Take to Deliver?

All items on AliExpress have an estimated delivery time on the product page, and it’s usually anywhere from 20 to 60 days. Yes, two months is an awfully long time to wait for something you’ve bought online! In my experience, about two weeks is the average time it takes most items to arrive, but you certainly need patience to buy direct from China.

AliExpress delivery time estimate

Be aware that this will be even slower at certain times of the year, like Chinese New Year (around the start of February), and Single’s Day (11/11). I once made the mistake of buying some Christmas presents during the Single’s Day sale: a few of them didn’t arrive until the middle of January.

Nearly all shipments (even those with free shipping) will have a tracking number once shipped, but it may take a week to actually dispatch before a tracking number is added. After that, you should be able to follow the package as it floats around various Chinese postal centers, and after a long wait, arrives in your local country’s customs clearance office.

AliExpress delivery tracking example

If you don’t have a tracking number after 10 days, you should reach out to the seller. You won’t be able to open an official non-delivery dispute until the maximum delivery time has been exceeded though.

In six years and thousands of dollars worth of shopping on AliExpress, I’ve only had to open two cases for non-delivery. One could be tracked to my local customs office, but had been sitting there for a month. The seller offered to send it again, and sure enough, I actually received both packages about a month later. Another was never dispatched, and there was no tracking number. AliExpress issued a full refund.

The Hidden Cost of AliExpress: Import Taxes

If you’re new to having an item shipped to your country from abroad, you may not have a clear idea of the import taxes involved; or that sellers will often attempt to bypass those taxes on your behalf.

Nearly all countries have an import tax: a percentage value of the cost of the goods being imported that must be paid to your government when bringing something into the country. In the EU, this is a 20% VAT that’s levied on nearly everything. It’s your legal responsibility to pay this, and the shipping company will pay on your behalf, then issue you the bill. They’ll also charge you a handling fee for the privilege; that’s another flat rate $10-15. Of course, this means that a $10 bargain gadget may not be such a bargain once the $2 tax and $10 handling fee is added on.

Many people are shocked to find these hidden charges, and end up leaving a bad review for the seller. As a consequence, you’ll find most sellers will automatically mark any packages as a low value “gift”, bypassing import duties. To be clear: this is illegal. You should pay your taxes. But unless you’re trying to pull off a large scale fraud, it’s not the sort of illegal which will actually land you in trouble.

Note that if you were trying to deliberately import something without paying the duty, you would need to do so using the slow, free shipping method. Express couriers like DHL have stricter rules and won’t carry packages marked as a gift. If something can only be shipped by express, factor in at least another 20% of the cost to pay on arrival before your package can be released.

What About AliExpress’s Quality of Goods?

In most cases, the goods you buy will be the same as those in the high street. However, sometimes you may find yourself unhappy with the product. For instance, perhaps the thickness of material for that dress is not as you expected. In that case, you should be realistic when contacting the sellers.

Unless there’s something specific in the listing that you can point to as being incorrect, simply not liking the goods you bought is not a good reason to demand a refund. So what can you do if you’re not happy?

  • Chalk it up to experience, and don’t buy from that seller again. If the item was actually delivered, and the product description and photo are accurate, AliExpress themselves won’t assist.
  • You might be able to negotiate a partial refund. If your first instinct was to review the product as 1-star, this is almost certainly no longer an option. Ratings are important, and may be your only bargaining tool.
  • You might be tempted to return the goods, but be very careful with this. Shipping something back to China may cost more than you paid for the item in the first place, and that cost won’t be refunded. Tracking items sent back into China is unreliable at best, and sometimes they can just disappear entirely at the Chinese customs office.

Be realistic about the price you’re paying. Check out some YouTube videos for an idea of the kind of quality to expect (apparently, “AliExpress haul videos” is a thing now).

The Real Danger of AliExpress: Fraudsters

AliExpress and Alipay are solid systems when it comes to security. They’re not invincible, but nothing is—and their track record is a good one, so you can be confident that you’re no more likely to have any of your information stolen via one of these services than you are using a more familiar service like Amazon or eBay (remember, even eBay has had a massive data leak).

However, there is one gaping hole in AliExpress: the merchant approval process. I can’t say what sort of process there is, as only merchants from mainland China are allowed to sell on the site, but there have been a lot of reports of scams on the site. So many, in fact, that the AliExpress Security Center has a section of fraud case studies and tips on how to avoid fraud when buying from their site.

fraud-case-study

So how do you stay safe from fraudsters and scammers when shopping on AliExpress? The same way you do everywhere else. Here are four tips—if you follow them, you should have no problems.

1. If the Price Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

Scammers reel you in with the promise of a once-in-a-lifetime deal (this is one of the strategies used in the recent spate of eBay fraud). Check other sites to see what the going rate is for whatever you want to buy, to make sure that the price on AliExpress isn’t far too low. If it is extremely low, you’re probably buying a counterfeit product or being set up for a scam. For non-branded goods, savings of up to 75% compared to a high street retail store are not unusual.

2. Use AliPay’s Escrow Service

aliexpress-escrow

Escrow protects you in a number of ways. First, your credit card details aren’t given to the seller, so you don’t have to worry about them stealing your identity, or going on a shopping spree with your card. Second, the payment isn’t released to the seller until you’ve confirmed that you’ve received your purchase. So if you get scammed, you can just get an easy refund from AliExpress, and not have to go through the long, painful, and probably hopeless refund process with the seller.

3. Check the Seller’s Feedback Before Buying

anker-store-feedback

If a seller has a bad reputation for defrauding buyers, there will likely be evidence in their feedback and reviews. Be wary of sellers with any mentions of not delivering or sending sub-par goods. In the time I’ve spent on AliExpress, I’ve seen mostly positive reviews, and I’ve never had a problem getting what I’ve ordered. But it’s still important to be on the lookout.

4. Check Your Order Carefully When You Receive It

Because the escrow system allows you to withhold payment until you’ve received your order, you can confirm that you got what you paid for. Make sure everything is included, that it looks like what you ordered, and that, if you bought a brand-name item, it doesn’t look like a fake. Once you’ve marked an item as received, you have 15 days in which you can still open a dispute about the goods.

5. Never Buy Branded Goods on AliExpress

Branded goods are offered special protection in most countries. If you purchase fake goods, and your package is inspected, they will be seized. If you bought a lot of those goods and it looks like you might be trying to sell them on, expect a knock at the door from customs officials.

6. Be Careful With Storage and Memory Components

It’s a common scam even if you’re buying from a Shenzhen market stall, but even easier to pull off online. You buy a memory stick that reports itself to be 64Gb when put into Windows Explorer, but it’s actually a lot less. The firmware has been hacked, but you won’t know until you actually try to use the whole drive. The scammer is long gone with your money.

If you’re willing to risk it anyway, be sure to test the drive with a tool like h2TestW as soon as you receive it.

So, Is AliExpress Safe to Shop On?

The evidence suggests that shopping on AliExpress is indeed safe. However, be careful and be realistic. This is the same for any other online marketplace. Some, like Amazon, offer you more protections than others, but if you’re willing to pay attention to what you’re doing to save a lot of money, AliExpress is a fantastic option.

Read the full article: Is AliExpress Safe and Legit? Alibaba’s Online Shop Explained

Reolink Argus Pro is a 100% Wireless Security Cam That Never Needs Charging

Our verdict of the Reolink Argus Pro:Paired with the solar panel, the Reolink Argus Pro is fantastic budget security option that’ll never need recharging. It’s not designed for 24/7 recording, but it does offer reliable motion alerts and unlimited local recordings with no monthly fees. On the downside, it only integrates with Reolink apps for desktop or mobile: there’s no Alexa/IFTTT or Synology support.810The problem with “truly wireless” security cameras is that their Wi-Fi connection is generally terrible, they eat through those expensive little batteries, and most offer horrendous value for money by needing an expensive cloud subscription. The Reolink…

Read the full article: Reolink Argus Pro is a 100% Wireless Security Cam That Never Needs Charging

Our verdict of the Reolink Argus Pro:
Paired with the solar panel, the Reolink Argus Pro is fantastic budget security option that'll never need recharging. It's not designed for 24/7 recording, but it does offer reliable motion alerts and unlimited local recordings with no monthly fees. On the downside, it only integrates with Reolink apps for desktop or mobile: there's no Alexa/IFTTT or Synology support.
810

The problem with “truly wireless” security cameras is that their Wi-Fi connection is generally terrible, they eat through those expensive little batteries, and most offer horrendous value for money by needing an expensive cloud subscription. The Reolink Argus Pro is both reliable, offers unlimited local recording, and when paired with their solar kit, never needs recharging.

Join us as we take a closer look at the Reolink Argus Pro with Solar Kit–and at the end of this review, we’ve got one to giveaway.

Specifications

  • 1080p Live view and recording, with night vision.
  • 130-degree wide angle field of view.
  • Two-way audio.
  • PIR motion sensor, with app notifications or email alerts.
  • Siren or custom alarm on motion detection.
  • Rechargeable battery.
  • $99 for Reolink Argus Pro, or $130 when purchased with the optional solar kit.

Reolink Argus Pro: What’s In The Box?

Inside the box, you’ll find:

  • The camera unit
  • Separate battery pack, to be fixed onto the camera
  • micro-USB charging cable
  • Mounting bracket
  • Optional tree mounting strap
  • Screws and template
  • Silicone cover for outdoor installation

reolink argus pro box contents

Note that a MicroSD card is not included. To record clips locally on the device when motion is detected, you’ll need to purchase a MicroSD card separately.

Reolink Solar Panel Power Supply for Wireless Outdoor Rechargeable Battery Powered IP Security Camera Reolink Argus 2/Argus Pro, Waterproof, Adjustable Mount, Continuous Power Supply Reolink Solar Panel Power Supply for Wireless Outdoor Rechargeable Battery Powered IP Security Camera Reolink Argus 2/Argus Pro, Waterproof, Adjustable Mount, Continuous Power Supply Buy Now At Amazon $29.99

If you purchased the optional solar kit too, you’ll find:

  • 3.5W solar panel with attached 2m microUSB cable.
  • Mounting bracket.
  • Screws and template.
REOLINK Argus Pro Rechargeable Battery/Solar-Powered Outdoor Wireless Security Camera 1080p HD Wire-Free 2-Way Audio Night Vision Alarm Alert & PIR Motion Sensor w/Built-in SD Slot REOLINK Argus Pro Rechargeable Battery/Solar-Powered Outdoor Wireless Security Camera 1080p HD Wire-Free 2-Way Audio Night Vision Alarm Alert & PIR Motion Sensor w/Built-in SD Slot Buy Now At Amazon $99.99

If this sounds somewhat familiar, it is. The Argus Pro varies only a little with the Argus 2 that we reviewed before. The differences?

  • Argus Pro is more affordable ($99 vs $129).
  • Argus 2 has better quality nighttime recording thanks to the “StarLight” sensor. Argus Pro is just standard black and white IR nightvision.
  • Argus Pro only has a screw mount for the bracket; the Argus 2 had a magnetic mount option.

Installing the Reolink Argus Pro and Solar Kit

You’ve got a few mounting options for the Reolink Argus Pro camera itself. Firstly, a simple extended mounting bracket is provided, along with screw hole template,  suitable for a wall or ceiling. It’s all fully adjustable and of course you can flip the image in the software if it’s upside down. You’re also supplied with a tree mount strap, which threads through the base of this adjustable bracket and allows you to strap it onto a tree or other pole.

In addition, you’re given a silicone cover for outdoor use. Just pull it over the device, and it offers a little shade, as well as waterproofing the unit to a certain degree.

Mounting options for the solar panel are more limited: you can only screw it in. It’s a little incongruous to not also have a tree mounting strap, but you could always find a nearby fence post to screw it into.

 

The microUSB plug for the solar panel has a rubber hood, ensuring water can’t seep in. In a week of being very exposed to miserable English weather, the camera hasn’t suffered any damage.

rugged micro usb plug on the argus pro

Setup is fantastically simple, it uses the same clever method as other Reolink devices whereby you open the app, scan the QR code on the device, add your Wi-Fi details. Then the app displays a QR code of its own on the screen which you put in front of the Argus Pro, and it reads the connection details from that, and sets itself up. Really easy, I had no issues it all worked first time which is great.

That said, it was awfully picky when it came to microSD cards. I tried a few small 2GB ones, and after formatting them through the app, it refused to recognize them. It worked fine with a 64GB card. In fairness, it recommends cards 4GB or more, but it seems that’s more of a requirement than a recommendation.

Battery Life

Reolink claim 180 days of standby and or 960 minutes of live viewing, and it’s important to point out that this means you can’t leave it on 24 hours a day streaming to your Synology Surveillance Station running on your Network Attached Storage or other software or NVR device. As such, it doesn’t offer third party app integration: there is no ONVIF support.

Unlike the previous completely wireless Reolink Keen that I looked at, this has a removable lithium ion battery with standard microUSB charging port. However, I would encourage you to get the solar kit as well. Even with a modest amount of British sunshine, it managed to trickle charge the camera enough to keep it fully topped up. That was with fairly frequent motion alert, and the occasional drop-in to the live stream.

Adding the solar kit means that you’ll probably never need to charge the device under normal use. However, it still won’t be able to record or stream 24/7. So while the solar kit is a fantastic addition, it doesn’t change the fundamental functionality of the device in that it’s for occasionally checking in on the live stream or low volume motion triggers. If you find that it’s still running out of power, you’ll need to tweak the sensitivity, detection distance, or adjust the angles to restrict the field of view.

You should see a small red LED illuminate when the solar panel is successfully connected, as well as an icon in the camera settings screen of the app. There’s no other feedback to show how much power is being supplied by the solar panel though, so micro-optimisation of the angle or position isn’t really possible. Still, even on a typically overcast British day, it was able to trickle charge the battery.

Unlimited Local Recording on Motion Events

It’s a shame that the home security industry has got to the point where offering free unlimited recording locally is a “feature”, but there we go. Just pop in a microSD card (not included), and enable the option in the PIR settings. As long as the PIR remains active (and for a configurable 8-30 seconds time period afterwards), motion events will be recorded.

You can also enable a push notification to the mobile app, as well as an email. Emails can include a picture of the event, but configuring the email service is a little more complicated. You’ll need to add login details to your own email server. While it can work with Gmail, you’ll have to enable “less secure app access” in your Gmail settings.

If you do want cloud recording, Reolink is currently trailing (US-only) a cloud service plan, which is free while it’s still being tested.

Reliable Wi-Fi, But No Third Party App Support

To really test the ruggedness of the package and reliability of the Wi-Fi, I installed the Argus Pro about 50 meters away from the house. I have an Ubiquity UniFi Outdoor+ access point to provide Wi-Fi to most of the garden (What is Ubiquity UniFi and how can it solve your Wi-Fi woes?), but it generally the signal cuts out around this location for mobile devices, due to various trees and the descending hill side. I was surprised to find the Reolink Argus Pro maintained a solid connection, much more reliably than our mobile devices ever have. Although clear view required a little buffering, fluent mode worked great, with full audio stream. More importantly: the motion alerts were very reliable.

Unfortunately, the entire line of completely wireless Reolink cameras, including the Reolink Argus Pro, still doesn’t support streaming to a third party app, such as Synology Surveillance Station. Nor is there is an Alexa skill to drop in on the feed from an Echo Show or Echo Spot. There’s not even IFTTT support, though you could probably hack one together using the email alert system.

Integration with Reolink Desktop App

If you already have an extensive Reolink security system like the ADK8-20B4 system we reviewed, you’re probably using the desktop app. Thankfully, you can now view the Reolink wireless cameras in the desktop app too, so you can keep an eye on everything at once. You’ll still need to wake them when needed, so you can’t leave them live streaming forever, but this takes a second or so to wake up as needed. It’s certainly better than not being able to view them in the desktop app at all.

Should You Buy the Reolink Argus Pro?

As long as you’re not looking for a 24/7 recording option, and don’t feel the need to integrate every part of your home life with a voice assistant, the Reolink Argus Pro is a solid wireless security camera. It’s affordable, there’s no monthly fees, and you can record as many motion events as you need to local storage. Wireless performance is good, and the motion alerts are reliably delivered to either email or app notifications. Image quality is as good as you’d expect from a 1080p security cam, and night vision is sharp.

The Good

  • Pair with the solar panel and never needs to be recharged.
  • Reliable motion detection and notifications.
  • Unlimited local storage.
  • Affordable; and no monthly fees.
  • Tree mounting option is nice.
  • It has a desktop app, so you’re not limited to just the mobile interface.
  • 2-way audio and custom alarm message.

The Bad

  • It doesn’t integrate with much other than Reolinks desktop or mobile app.
  • No IFTTT support, Zapier, or Synology Surveillance Station.
  • Can’t view on Alexa Show or Spot.
  • Can’t record 24/7.
  • Solar panel needs to be screwed into something.

Enter the Competition!

Reolink Argus Pro 100% Wireless Security Camera and Solar Kit Giveway

Read the full article: Reolink Argus Pro is a 100% Wireless Security Cam That Never Needs Charging

3D Printing at IFA 2018: Affordable Full Color Printing and Education Highlights

Consumer 3D printing entered a state of maturity a few years ago. We finally got reliable printing, solid hardware, and software that makes the process easy. So where does it go from there? IFA 2018 appears to have brought us very little in the way of groundbreaking new 3D printing technologies, but we did see some great iterative upgrades to already good printers, as well as a set of curricula to bring 3D printing into the classroom in a meaningful way. XYZprinting daVinci Color Mini The daVinci Color Mini brings the company’s full color 3D printing technology to a more…

Read the full article: 3D Printing at IFA 2018: Affordable Full Color Printing and Education Highlights

Consumer 3D printing entered a state of maturity a few years ago. We finally got reliable printing, solid hardware, and software that makes the process easy. So where does it go from there? IFA 2018 appears to have brought us very little in the way of groundbreaking new 3D printing technologies, but we did see some great iterative upgrades to already good printers, as well as a set of curricula to bring 3D printing into the classroom in a meaningful way.

XYZprinting

daVinci Color Mini

The daVinci Color Mini brings the company’s full color 3D printing technology to a more affordable price point than the daVinci Color. And by affordable, we mean around €1500/$1600. While still expensive, it is at least in realms of possibility for home users.

Using a single translucent PLA filament, the daVinci Color Mini is able to produce full color prints by integrating inkjet technology (which they’ve called 3D ColorJet) and CMY color tanks. The printer alternates between fusing a layer of plastic, then colouring the appropriate edges of the layer. The largest printable volume is 13cm cubed.

The enclosed design offers safety for schools and public areas, and also features beginner-friendly features like a removable print bed with auto-levelling and automatic filament feed, WiFi connectivity, and a 5″ touch-screen. It can print either PLA, Tough PLA, or PETG, but not ABS.

Like its big brother, the daVinci Color Mini can also be upgraded with a laser engraver module, which will be available at a later date.

STEAM Curricula

More impressive is the new 3D printing curricula. Divided into three modules for ages ranging 5-11, 11-14, and 14-18, the lessons introduce 3D printing technology in an age appropriate way to match the K-12 curriculum. You can view an example lesson plan resources for a flashlight housing project here. As far as we know, it’s the first attempt to structure a full suite of lessons to cover a broad range of K-12 ages and topics.

The suite is available to schools at a cost of €400 per licence, or is supplied with a new education package to suit school budgets. We think it’s a great initiative to ensure purchase printers are used to their full potential. Many schools are quick to adopt new technology but without a long term plan of how to integrate that into the existing learning schedule, it often sits unused in the corner.

Monoprice

MP Select Mini Pro

The MP Select Mini 2 has been a long established favorite of 3D printing enthusiasts, thanks to it’s ludicrously good value, ease of use, and ability to get great results.

Monoprice Select Mini 3D Printer V2 - Black with Heated (120 x 120 x 120 mm) Build Plate, Fully Assembled + Free Sample PLA Filament and MicroSD Card Preloaded with Printable 3D Models Monoprice Select Mini 3D Printer V2 - Black with Heated (120 x 120 x 120 mm) Build Plate, Fully Assembled + Free Sample PLA Filament and MicroSD Card Preloaded with Printable 3D Models Buy Now At Amazon $189.99

Monoprice thought they could do better though, so after extensive user feedback, they made some upgrades. Most significantly: they made the bed removable, added an auto-levelling probe, and shifted from a physical control knob to a full touchscreen interface. The MP Select Pro retains the all-metal construction to reduce vibrations, and has been launched alongside the existing models at only $50 more. That’s an incredible amount of 3D printing tech to cram onto a device that costs just $250.

Monoprice also told us that the cable bundle under the print bed was switched to a more reliable ribbon cable, as it was apparently causing issues for a very small number of users. We talked to the product development manager, and it was clear they cared deeply about user feedback on how to improve an already great device.

That’s pretty stunning quality from a $250 printer.

For those on an even tighter budget, Monoprice offers a full metal construction small delta-style 3D printer for $160, which has been available in the US for a while, but is now being brought to Europe along with the rest of their range.

Monoprice Mini Delta 3D Printer With Heated (110 x 110 x 120 mm) Build Plate, Auto Calibration, Fully Assembled for ABS & PLA + Free MicroSD Card Preloaded With Printable 3D Models Monoprice Mini Delta 3D Printer With Heated (110 x 110 x 120 mm) Build Plate, Auto Calibration, Fully Assembled for ABS & PLA + Free MicroSD Card Preloaded With Printable 3D Models Buy Now At Amazon $159.99

MP Voxel

Also new to the range is the MP Voxel, a fully enclosed model for $399 . With a built-in camera to monitor your price, and cloud connectivity for remote management, the Voxel should be great for the educational market, with ease of use and safety in mind.

The Voxel features hotspot-enabled Wi-Fi so you can print directly from your phone, 15cm cubed print area, a 2.5″ touchscreen, and 8GB of on-board memory to store the prints. Alternatively, you can use a USB stick to load a print directly.

Filaments can be hidden away inside, and a filament sensor ensures you’ll never be printing dry. Like the MP Select Mini Pro, the Voxel also features a removable print bed, auto-levelling sensor, and heated print bed. The print bed is capped at 60C though, so you’re limited to the PLA and PETG filaments; the enclosure is purely for safety, rather than maintaining the higher temperatures needed for ABS printing.

Is It Finally Time To Buy a 3D Printer?

3D printers are a lot more reliable than they used to be, so we’re finally getting to the stage where we can mostly judge based on features offered rather than “does this even work”? Heated print beds and specialist print surfaces are now commonplace. However, we can’t test the reliability of printers at a trade show, so we wouldn’t suggest running out and buying one of the new models just yet.

If your school is struggling to make use of a printer they already own or can get funding for a new package, it’s certainly worth reaching out to XYZprinting for a look at their integrated curricula.

In the meantime, check out our 3D printing beginner’s guide.

Read the full article: 3D Printing at IFA 2018: Affordable Full Color Printing and Education Highlights

Virtual and Augmented Reality at IFA 2018 Was Largely Missing In Action

VR at IFA 2018

The consumer VR space is mid-way through product cycles, so our expectations from IFA this year were low. But still, we expected a bit more than what we found. Oculus was notably absent from the show, as was HTC, which is a shame given that their Wi-Gig based wireless adaptor for the Vive goes up for preorder on September 5th. I was expecting at least that to be demoed along with the Vive Pro, but I guess they couldn’t afford to make it to the show. Instead, we saw an endless sea of mobile VR cases, which we won’t bore…

Read the full article: Virtual and Augmented Reality at IFA 2018 Was Largely Missing In Action

The consumer VR space is mid-way through product cycles, so our expectations from IFA this year were low. But still, we expected a bit more than what we found.

Oculus was notably absent from the show, as was HTC, which is a shame given that their Wi-Gig based wireless adaptor for the Vive goes up for preorder on September 5th. I was expecting at least that to be demoed along with the Vive Pro, but I guess they couldn’t afford to make it to the show.

Instead, we saw an endless sea of mobile VR cases, which we won’t bore you with–except for an innovative Star Wars thing that turned your mobile into an augmented reality headset (scroll down for more on that).

So here’s the extensive list of what was shown at IFA 2018 in the Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality sectors.

Acer: OJO 500 Windows Mixed Reality Headset

The OJO 500 (pronounced with a soft J, like “oh-ho”), brings Acer’s Mixed Reality offering up to date, with a 1440 x 1440px per eye resolution. That’s the same as the Samsung Odyssey and Vive Pro, and comes in at a price point of $400/€500, though that doesn’t include optional Bluetooth controllers. It also features a rigid head strap with built-in headphones, which felt comfortable and sounded reasonably good during our testing. Don’t let the naming fool you though: this is still Virtual Reality only, with no pass-through camera capabilities. “Mixed Reality” is simply the branding Microsoft applies to all headsets in their ecosystem, regardless of capabilities. Just like the Dell Visor, the tracking system through the front cameras seemed solid enough, though understandably struggled a little with the random booth flashy booth lighting.

Acer OJO 500 IFA 2018

Uniquely, the Acer OJO 500 has a detachable lens and screen unit, allowing for easy cleaning and storage.

During our short time with the device, we only had a chance to play the Microsoft Halo shooting gallery demo, which is about as bad as VR can get. Still, the resolution bump was noticeable. The last generation controllers were being demoed with it however, so no improvements there. If they have designed new controllers to go with it, they’re keeping quiet about them.

MadGaze: Vader and X5 Augmented Reality Glasses

MadGaze are hoping to ride the current wave of AR excitement with a couple of products, now entering wider release after successful Kickstarter campaigns: the Vader and X5. Both are based on Android, allowing the user to run any generic APK, or make specific applications that use the MadGaze software SDK. Both devices featured cameras, capable of displaying an augmented view of the real world when shown pre-programmed markers.

MadGaze Vader IFA 2018

The Vader model is a full AR headset for overlaying 3D content onto both eyes, and is the higher-specced of the two devices, running Android 7.0 on a 1.5GHz CPU. Curiously, rather than trying to add something to the user’s vision, they use a pair of cameras to rebroadcast the real world view with the augmented content, onto a pair of 720p screens. The result felt a little laggy, but the field of view was reasonable. They demoed the unit with a custom game, with user interactions performed by reaching up and tapping on the right side of the headset. Unfortunately, they weren’t to be used on top of existing glasses, so everything was a tad blurry for my shortsighted eyes. They also felt quite front-heavy, and would’ve benefitted from a headband to keep them on. The Vader is retailer soon for around $700, is still less than one third the price of a Magic Leap: One.

MadGaze X5 AR Headset

The MadGaze X5 is essentially a Google Glass clone for an affordable $500. Running Android 6.0 on a 1.3GHz CPU. It features a small glass mirror to display a WVGA (800 x 480p) screen in the corner of single eye only. It fits over your existing glasses, or has a simple headband. The screen was surprisingly good, easily visible in the full glare of exhibition lighting. I could see myself augmenting daily life with a continuous stream of inane YouTube videos, or scrolling through emails, though that would presumably need to be with some custom software.

Lenovo Star Wars: Jedi Challenges

The Jedi Challenges play set consists of a mobile VR shell (wait, keep reading, it’s not just a Google Cardboard), tracking beacon, and Lightsaber. With your mobile slid into the top of the device, the screen is mirrored down to augment the real world world view, offering a reasonable field of view, though not nearly as immersive as VR can be.

Lenovo Jedi Challenges

Cameras built into the headset provide positional tracking (but don’t expect Vive-level room scale; think more on the level of PSVR), as well as tracking the position of your Lightsaber. Three games are included, though we only tried the Yoda battle, which involved matching your lightsaber to set positions, then smacking Yoda a bit. A future update has been promised that enabled matched play, which will of course require two play sets.

Lenovo Star Wars: Jedi Challenges, Smartphone Powered Augmented Reality Experience Lenovo Star Wars: Jedi Challenges, Smartphone Powered Augmented Reality Experience Buy Now At Amazon $197.00

The Lenovo Jedi Challenges set is available now for around $170 to $200. Should you buy it? Probably not. For roughly the same price you could buy an Oculus Go instead, which runs standalone, and enables access to a far greater library software than just three Star Wars games.

If we find some more cool VR or AR tech at IFA 2018, we’ll update this post. Don’t hold your breath though.

Read the full article: Virtual and Augmented Reality at IFA 2018 Was Largely Missing In Action

How to Pick the Best Wi-Fi Channel for Your Router

While Ethernet cables are ideal for reliable connections, Wi-Fi is the only option for devices like smartphones, tablets, and all manner of smart home gadgets. With so many devices running over Wi-Fi, and so many people with Wi-Fi routers, the airwaves are understandably getting a little busy. Thus, your Wi-Fi speeds can really suffer if you’re in a crowded area. There is, however, one basic step you can take which may give you an instant speed boost: picking a unique Wi-Fi channel that no one else is using. Today I’ll show you how to analyze the Wi-Fi in your home…

Read the full article: How to Pick the Best Wi-Fi Channel for Your Router

While Ethernet cables are ideal for reliable connections, Wi-Fi is the only option for devices like smartphones, tablets, and all manner of smart home gadgets. With so many devices running over Wi-Fi, and so many people with Wi-Fi routers, the airwaves are understandably getting a little busy.

Thus, your Wi-Fi speeds can really suffer if you’re in a crowded area. There is, however, one basic step you can take which may give you an instant speed boost: picking a unique Wi-Fi channel that no one else is using.

Today I’ll show you how to analyze the Wi-Fi in your home and pick the best Wi-Fi channel to use on your router.

Why Does Wi-Fi Need a Channel Number?

Just like radio stations, Wi-Fi operates on different frequencies—and on two separate frequency bands entirely.

Think of it like AM and FM radio. AM radio waves are lower quality but travel further, likewise 2.4GHz Wi-Fi is slower but can penetrate walls. Meanwhile, FM radio waves are better quality but don’t travel as far, and 5GHz Wi-Fi is faster but doesn’t go through walls as well.

Typically, 2.4GHz Wi-Fi has 13 different Wi-Fi channels, but this can vary by local regulations (e.g. only 11 in the US). Those channels represent the full spectrum of the available frequency space for Wi-Fi.

However, when you broadcast on a channel, the signal actually bleeds into neighboring channels quite a lot, meaning 2.4GHz Wi-Fi only really has three non-overlapping channels: 1, 6, and 11.

The story gets even more complicated with 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, as other household devices may share this frequency. Baby monitors, cordless telephones, and Zigbee smart home products such as Philips Hue all share the same frequency. Thus, it’s quite crowded.

5GHz Wi-Fi covers a much wider frequency space, with 20 non-overlapping channels. It also doesn’t share with other common household appliances. But it struggles at going through obstacles like concrete and brick, so you might not be able to get a strong connection outside the room the router is in.

Modern routers broadcast both 5GHz and 2.4GHz Wi-Fi signals at the same time, allowing devices to jump seamlessly onto the faster 5GHz network when available.

So why are we messing around with channels? The more wireless networks that operate on the same channel, the more interference each one experiences, which leads to worse speeds.

You May Already Be on the Best Wi-Fi Channel

Before we begin checking for the best Wi-Fi channel, it’s worth pointing out that if you have slow Wi-Fi speeds, it may have nothing to do with your Wi-Fi channel at all. Modern routers are excellent at analyzing the channel spectrum themselves and automatically choosing the least congested one.

You can check anyway, but a slow Wi-Fi connection may have other causes, such as:

Slow Internet

Many people confuse Wi-Fi with their home internet. Wi-Fi actually just refers to the wireless network you use inside your home, between your devices and the router. If you have a slow internet speed—that is, the cable coming into your home from your ISP—then changing Wi-Fi settings won’t help at all.

The solution: Run some internet speed tests first from a computer that’s connected to your router with an Ethernet cable. Then do the same test over Wi-Fi. If you get the same results, then Wi-Fi isn’t your problem. Consider upgrading to fiber if you’re still running on ADSL.

Too Many Wireless Devices

Increasingly common in the modern smart home are devices with Wi-Fi built in. Smart lighting, AC sockets, motion sensors, or security cameras can all use your Wi-Fi.

But did you know that consumer routers typically max out at around 30 Wi-Fi devices? If you’ve hit that limit, you may find your wireless devices randomly disconnect.

The solution: Consider upgrading to an enterprise-grade Wi-Fi system like Ubiquiti UniFi.

Too Many Walls, Too Much Distance

In larger houses, a single router may not be enough. Read our Wi-Fi positioning guide to learn about ideal router placement. You might be tempted to buy a Wi-Fi extender, but they can end up doing more harm by causing more interference.

The solution: Again, a system like UniFi allows you to expand with additional access points that seamlessly integrate into your network. I may sound like a salesman there, but it’s for a good reason: I upgraded to UniFi myself, and now have glorious Wi-Fi throughout the house and garden.

How to Pick the Best Wi-Fi Channel

Okay, so you want to check the Wi-Fi channel anyway. Here’s how to figure it out on various operating systems or smartphones. Note that in most cases you’ll want to run a separate scan on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks.

macOS

macOS comes with a free Wi-Fi diagnostic suite, but it’s hidden away.

To find it, hold the Option key while you click on the Wi-Fi icon in the menu bar. You should see Open Wireless Diagnostics in the resulting dropdown menu. Select that.

Mac Open Wireless Diagnostics

A dialog box will open, but don’t bother clicking Next. Head up to the menu bar, and choose Window > Scan.

Mac Wireless Diagnostics

Click Scan Now in the bottom-right. You should shortly see a list of networks found, if they aren’t already listed. Note that you can scroll to the right within the network list to see more information, such as current channel and channel width.

Along the left side, you’ll also see suggestions labeled Best 2.4GHz and Best 5GHz, with the channel number it recommends. That was easy!

Wi-Fi Analyzer Mac Channel Info

Windows

Windows 10 users will find a free app called WiFi Analyzer in the Windows Store. If you can’t click that link because you’re not at a PC, just type wifi analyzer directly into the Cortana search bar, and it should appear. Click through to the store page to download.

WiFi Analyzer Windows 10

When you first launch the program, you’ll need to grant permissions for the app to control Bluetooth and your Wi-Fi adapter, as well as tell it your location. Once you’ve done that, click through to the Analyze tab to see a nice graph. You should be able to see the least congested channel easily.

Wi-Fi Analyzer Windows 10 Graph

Users of older versions of Windows should check out NetSpot.

Android

A similarly named Wifi Analyzer app is available free for Android. It includes a nice graph, and using your phone will give you the advantage of being able to move around. This can help identify Wi-Fi dead spots within your home.

Wifi Analyzer Android

Wifi Analyzer also takes the hard work out entirely with its Channel Rating screen; it’ll suggest a better channel.

Wifi Analyzer Android Channel Ratings

iPhone

Due to restrictions on access to private frameworks, there is no Wi-Fi channel scanner app for iPhone. Sorry!

How to Change Your Wi-Fi Channel

So you’ve established what the best Wi-Fi channel is for you. Now how do you actually change it? Unfortunately, that depends on the model and manufacturer of your router. Here’s how to do it on a Linksys router or on a Netgear router.

Generally speaking, you need to open your router’s admin page first. For most people, this is possible by typing 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1 into a browser. You’ll need a username and password to access the admin area.

If you’re unsure, it might be written on the back or underside of the router hardware. Once in, look for Wireless Networks, or Wi-Fi Settings. You should see an option to manually specify the channel number.

One Last Note on Wi-Fi Channel Width

You may noticed an option in the router admin page to change the channel width, probably with a choice between 20MHz or 40MHz. The higher number is obviously better, right?

In theory, yes. If there were no other networks around and you had the whole spectrum to yourself, it would almost certainly result in higher throughput.

In practice, if there are other networks around, using the wider spectrum would be less stable as you’d be susceptible to more interference. You’d also create more interference for your neighbors! In that case, it’s best to stick to 20MHz on a less-congested channel.

If all this talk of Wi-Fi and network speeds has you excited to learn more, we have a great beginner’s guide to home networking.

Image Credit: doomu/Depositphotos

Read the full article: How to Pick the Best Wi-Fi Channel for Your Router

Yi Smartphone Gimbal: Silky Smooth Footage, But Could Be Better

Our verdict of the Yi Smartphone Gimbal:Makes silky smooth smartphone video accessible to all, but the offering is a bit barebones with no case included. If you can find it on sale for under $100, it’s a good entry point, but spend a little more and there are more feature packed devices on offer.710The quality of smartphone videography has exploded in recent years, with the latest handsets able to record 4K video, in HDR or 60 frames per second. Unfortunately, our pathetic shakey human hands haven’t improved at nearly the same pace. While smartphones make some attempt at stabilizing your…

Read the full article: Yi Smartphone Gimbal: Silky Smooth Footage, But Could Be Better

Our verdict of the Yi Smartphone Gimbal:
Makes silky smooth smartphone video accessible to all, but the offering is a bit barebones with no case included. If you can find it on sale for under $100, it's a good entry point, but spend a little more and there are more feature packed devices on offer.
710

The quality of smartphone videography has exploded in recent years, with the latest handsets able to record 4K video, in HDR or 60 frames per second. Unfortunately, our pathetic shakey human hands haven’t improved at nearly the same pace. While smartphones make some attempt at stabilizing your footage in software, nothing beats a hardware gimbal.

Yi Technology–reknowned for their Yi4K+ GoPro killer and superb quality budget dash cams–have turned their attention to the gimbal market. Today we’re taking a look at the Yi 3-axis Smartphone Gimbal, available now. And at the end of this review, we’re giving one away to one lucky reader. Read on to find out how to enter the competition.

What is a Gimbal?

Looking a little like a selfie stick, a handheld gimbal is actually a complex bit of machinery with fast acting motors and a gyroscope sensor. When you move the gimbal, the gyroscope senses the movement, and the motors move to cancel out the motion by moving in the opposite direction. In this way, the camera appears to remain static.

That’s the gist of it anyway, but there’s also different modes of operation that we’ll talk about later. It’s important to remember that a basic 3-axis gimbal can only stabilize rotational movement around an axis (twisting and spinning motions), not positional movement. So if you jump up and down, you’ll still see that reflected in the video. There are limits to how much a gimbal can stabilize for you, but essentially it’s going to somewhat improve everything you shoot.

Design and Specs of The Yi 3-Axis Gimbal

YI Phone Gimbal 3-Axis Handheld Stabilizer with APP Control, Smart Track, 360 Degree Pan for iPhone, Android Smartphones - Black YI Phone Gimbal 3-Axis Handheld Stabilizer with APP Control, Smart Track, 360 Degree Pan for iPhone, Android Smartphones - Black Buy Now At Amazon

In the box you’ll find:

  • The gimbal itself
  • Micro-USB cable for charging

Hardly worth formatting that as a list, was it? Notably, there’s no case included. Although the box it comes in has some nice foam padding you could carry it around it, once you’ve fitted the device to your phone, it won’t fit back into the box. You can find a generic gimbal case on Amazon for around $15, but it’s an added expense.

Here’s some other big number you might be interested in:

  • 360° pan (5-120°/s), 320° tilt (3-70°/s), and 320° roll
  • 1,700mAh total battery for around 8 hours usage (claimed)
  • Standard tripod mount
  • Bluetooth LE 4.0
  • Micro-USB port

Once paired with your smartphone, you’ll be able to use the shutter button to start/stop recording or take a photo in any camera app.

There are three buttons on the device, for Power, Mode, and Shutter; plus a flat joystick to manually control angle.

The 3.5cm diameter, 18cm long stick makes up the grip of the device, though it’s a basic matt black ABS plastic with no particular grip texture. It does the job but in the most barebones way. On top sits the 3-axis stabilizer structure, housing three motors and a phone cradle. In total, it weighs 420g, or just under 15oz. The cradle should accommodate any phone from 54-86mm (2.1-3.4″) in width, which includes the “plus” size models (though you may need to remove a chunky case for those).

That said, a good fit depends a lot on your phone model. While my iPhone X worked great, the Sony Xperia XZ2 fared less well. With the power button situated just where the cradle clamps down on the phone, it was unusable when pushed flush to the end. I had to shift it a little more off-balance than it should be. On top of that, the camera sensor is closer to the center of the device, and would often capture the gimbal in the frame. So, it fits some phones better than others, and your experience may vary.

Yi claims 8 hours of battery life, but in my testing I only got about half of that. It’s not bad, but you’ll get longer life with smaller phones due to less weight needing to be counteracted.

Stabilizer Modes

The Yi Gimbal has three modes, accessed by a single tap on the mode button.

The first is Pan mode. Here, both the tilt and roll are locked in place, while the pan (left and right) smoothly follows the motion of the stick. This is the easiest to get your head around if you’ve not used a gimbal before, and that’s probably why it’s the default when you turn the device on. It’s great for filming things that remain at a relatively static height to the camera, like people. The joystick controls the tilt in this mode, so you can set the angle if your subject is higher or lower.

The second is Lock mode. In this mode, everything is locked forward (or wherever you set it with the joystick). I found this to be the most difficult to use effectively.

It’s a bit difficult to convey the effect of a gimbal stablizer in words. If you haven’t already, watch the review video at the top of the article for a sample of shots and mode explanations.

The last mode is Pan and Tilt (often called Follow mode by other manufacturers). In this mode, roll is locked (although you can still roll your phone with the joystick if you want), but both pan and tilt motions follow your movement in a smooth manner. This mode gives you the most creative control over the shot, so you can perform smooth sweeping dynamic shots.

Yi Gimbal App

Though not strictly necessary to use the stabilizer, you probably want to download the Yi Gimbal app. This pairs with the device and unlocks a couple of additional features, the most significant of which is SmartTrack mode.

SmartTrack allows you to choose a subject, then have the gimbal attempt to keep that subject roughly in the center of the shot. You can use this when it’s mounted on a tripod, or handheld.

It works reasonably well for clearly defined objects, but on iOS I found the object selection to be buggy. I tried capturing my dog doing zoomies around the garden, and it just couldn’t keep up. Even with a slow moving subject like a person, if they turn around the tracking is often lost. It could be useful to follow the action of a moving subject like a skateboarder or car chase, but I’m not sure it’s reliable enough for that. Rather than risk it losing the object, it might be best to just use standard modes and rely on your own abilities.

The most frustrating thing about the app (at least on iOS) is that all the shots are saved to a separate library, and you need to individual save each one to the Camera Roll if you want to keep it. If you’ve taken a number of clips, this is frustratingly tedious to say the least. It would be tolerable if the app allowed you to use a Select All feature, but no, that’s only for deleting them.

To save a video, you need to navigate to the app library, find the clip, click on it, click export, confirm, then go back to the list and pick another clip.

Then there’s the disparity with native phone recording capabilities. The iPhone X can record 4K at 60FPS, while the app only offers a cropped 4K at 30FPS. On the Sony Xperia XZ2, which can record superb 4K HDR videos, there isn’t the option of 4K resolution at all.

You could of course get around this by using the native smartphone Camera app to record all your clips, but then you lose on the fly access to gimbal settings and the ability to track objects. Since it’s almost always a good idea to record in the highest resolution and frame rate possible–even if your final project output is going to be of lower quality–I found myself using the native Camera outside of testing specific features.

Should You Buy the Yi Gimbal?

Yi has a habit of entering a market and undercutting all their competitors with a product that doesn’t compromise on quality. In this case, they’ve missed the mark a little on both accounts. The Yi Smartphone Gimbal is not particularly cheaper than other products on the market, yet offers less features and accessories. The buggy Yi Gimbal app isn’t helping, either.

It’s not a terrible device by any means: it works, and you can get beautifully smooth footage. But it’s difficult to recommend when there are just better products out there, for the same price or not much more. The Zhiyun Smooth 4, for instance, features a focus pull dial as well as a carry case and mini tripod. The DJI Osmo Mobile 2, similarly specced, at around $20 more.

If you find the Yi Smartphone Gimbal on sale for $80-90 and you’re on a particular tight budget, pick it up. At that price, it’s a great entry point. A gimbal stabilizer is something anyone who takes smartphone videos will benefit from immensely, regardless of what their skill level is. It’s a cheat code to cinematic smooth video.

Read the full article: Yi Smartphone Gimbal: Silky Smooth Footage, But Could Be Better

Xiaomi Roborock Xiaowa E20 Robot Vacuum: Terrible Name, Great Vacuum

Our verdict of the Xiaomi Roborock Xiaowa E20:Powerful suction and a remote control app sets a new standard for budget robot vacuums, but European users miss out on Alexa integration thanks to GDPR. 810The Xiaomi Roborock Xiaowa E20 is quite a mouthful, but it’s a solid robot vacuum. It’s feature packed, with Alexa support, app control, room mapping, a wet mop, and the most powerful suction on the budget robovac market. It’s available now from GeekBuying.com for $260 with our exclusive coupon code: makeuse5 (normally $289). We’ve also got one to give away to a lucky reader, so keep reading to…

Read the full article: Xiaomi Roborock Xiaowa E20 Robot Vacuum: Terrible Name, Great Vacuum

Our verdict of the Xiaomi Roborock Xiaowa E20:
Powerful suction and a remote control app sets a new standard for budget robot vacuums, but European users miss out on Alexa integration thanks to GDPR.
810

The Xiaomi Roborock Xiaowa E20 is quite a mouthful, but it’s a solid robot vacuum. It’s feature packed, with Alexa support, app control, room mapping, a wet mop, and the most powerful suction on the budget robovac market.

It’s available now from GeekBuying.com for $260 with our exclusive coupon code: makeuse5 (normally $289). We’ve also got one to give away to a lucky reader, so keep reading to find out how to win.

What’s in the Box?

Apart from the robot itself, you’ll find:

  • Charging dock with 1m power cable
  • Mopping attachment with spare pad and filters
  • Spare vacuum filter and cleaning brush

Notably absent is a physical remote control. There are controls on top of the Xiaowa E20, but once connected to Wi-Fi, you can also use the Mi Home mobile app to control it from anywhere in the world.

The Xiaowa E20 weighs around 6.6lbs (3kg), and measures 13.9 inches (35cm) diameter x 3.6 inches (9cm) height. A 2600mAh battery provides ample power, and the device will amble back to base automatically when 30% power remains, ensuring it doesn’t get stuck.

On top of the device are three buttons, for spot cleaning, standard cleaning, and charge.

A large flap lifts up to reveal the dust box, with a capacity of 640ml.

Underneath is an array of sensors, the roller blade, and some large wheels. In my experience, it had no issues getting onto deep pile rugs.

Mi Home, not Mi|Home

It took me a good while to find the app on the UK iTunes store, as searching for MiHome doesn’t work. There is no QR code or download link in the manual. In fact, the manual doesn’t even mention to the existence of an app, despite Wi-Fi being listed in the specifications. For a product that doesn’t include a physical remote, you’d think that would be given a little more emphasis.

I’ll save you the trouble:

Download Mi Home UK | Mi Home US 

For UK users, the app is titled in Chinese characters, but don’t worry, the interface is entirely English. The problem stems from the fact that another UK company called Energenie already owns the MiHome trademark for it’s own line of smart home devices. To be clear, the two companies are entirely unrelated.

The good news is that once you’ve got the correct app, setting it up and controlling your device is simple. A little worrying is the fact that the app requests microphone access, but you can deny that permission.

You can initiate cleaning and send the robot home from anywhere in the world. To fully remote control the Xiaowa, as in with a directional touchpad, you’ll need to be on the same local network though.

Most useful is the ability to see scheduled cleaning times, and you have a wide array of options here. With multiple schedules and weekday or weekend repeat, it should be easy to set a schedule that suits your home.

On the off chance that you do lose the Xiaowa somewhere in your home, a locate function will play a loud “Hello, I’m over here” voice message, so you can see where she got to. I say “she” because the voice is female.

Also optional by enabled by default are notifications, which let you know when the cleaning session starts and finishes. These are presumably very useful if you like to plan your life around the goings-on of a robot vacuum, but can thankfully be disabled.

During, or after a clean up, you can click the map button to see a visual representation of where the Xiaowa has vacuumed. It’s very low resolution, and there’s no functionality beyond simply displaying the map as a report. You can’t click on a specific area, for instance, nor will it be used to be help navigation on future cleans. The map is regenerated each time the cleaning is initiated.

Alexa, GDPR, Roborock and You

As well as app control, the Xiaowa E20 also offers basic Alexa integration: start and stop. It’s certainly basic, but it covers 95% of the interaction you’ll do with your vacuum, and the rest can be done via the app.

For US residents who’d like to use Alexa to control their device, you’ll need to add the Roborock skill to your Amazon account. In addition, you’ll need to ensure your robot is running on the Singapore server. If you chose the US server during setup, delete the device from your MiHome account and add it again.

For European residents who’d like to use Alexa: sorry, not happening. The Roborock skill isn’t available on EU stores, and Geekbuying support told us it was due to GDPR. This doesn’t appear to a temporary issue. Xiaomi or Roborock have simply decided that compliance with GDPR isn’t worth the effort.

How Well Does It Clean?

Really, this is the most important aspect of a robot vacuum cleaner. With a maximum suction power of 1800pa, the Xiaowa E20 eclipses other budget devices on the market. You can set it on a lower power if you want. There’s also the option to automatically detect carpets, so it uses a lower power for tiled floors and max power on carpets only.

In addition to the powerful motor, the Xiaowa E20 used a hybrid brush and rubber blade system. This gives it the best of both worlds, making it an effective all-rounder on carpet and hard floors.

In a head to head spot cleaning test against the iLife V8S (a model designed specifically for hard floors), the Xiaowa performed admirably. The iLife left a little dust behind and tended to push it outward.

To be clear, both do the daily job of cleaning a whole room well. In practice, you aren’t going to spill a tub of coffee grinds on the floor and do a spot cleaning, but it does the job to illustrate power differences.

Wet Mop

The Xiaowa E20 includes a wet mop feature, though the tank reserve is quite small. The tank slides simply onto the underside of the device, with no other modules needing to be swapped out. You can either disable the vacuum power entirely, or use it in addition to the vacuum feature, which is neat.

Like all robot vacuums that offer a wet mop feature, it feels a little like an afterthought. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, the mopping isn’t going to clear up stains or spills, and is of little utility in a country like England. In countries where dry dust and sand is more of a problem, you might find it more useful.

Should You Buy the Xiaomi Roborock Xiaowa E20?

As one of the most powerful budget robot vacuums on the market, the Xiaowa E20 does well on both carpets and hard floors. It’s not the cheapest robovac out there, but it’s great value for the power and features it offers.

Of course, like all robot vacuums, it still has some inherent limitations. It can’t clean your stairs, black surfaces don’t work either as they mess with the drop sensors, you’ll need to tidy up cables and shoelaces beforehand, and it’s not going to replace a full size upright vacuum for most people. If you have pets and carpets, you’ll still need the occasional deep clean with an upright vacuum. But it can help immensely with a quick daily clean to pick up surface dust.

Courtesy of GeekBuying.com, we’ve got one Xiaowa E20 to giveaway. Enter the competition below, or if you can’t wait, use our exclusive coupon code makeuse5 to grab one now for $260 ($30 off the usual price).

Enter the Competition!

Xiaomi Roborock Xiaowa E20 Robot Vacuum Giveaway

Read the full article: Xiaomi Roborock Xiaowa E20 Robot Vacuum: Terrible Name, Great Vacuum