Blitzwolf SDB2 Soundbar: Looks Better, and Has a Separate Subwoofer

Our verdict of the Blitzwolf SDB2 Soundbar and SW2 Subwoofer:The same great sound as the SDB1, but much better design and optional subwoofer. However, the costs really adds up with shipping on that subwoofer, so consider if you really need the convenience of a soundbar.810The problem with ultra-thin TVs is that there’s just no room inside for a decent speaker: you need a soundbar. Blitzwolf’s second soundbar doesn’t change much internally from their first model, but looks a lot better on the outside. And they’ve added an optional subwoofer with wireless connectivity. Join us as we take a closer look…

Read the full article: Blitzwolf SDB2 Soundbar: Looks Better, and Has a Separate Subwoofer

Our verdict of the Blitzwolf SDB2 Soundbar and SW2 Subwoofer:
The same great sound as the SDB1, but much better design and optional subwoofer. However, the costs really adds up with shipping on that subwoofer, so consider if you really need the convenience of a soundbar.
810

The problem with ultra-thin TVs is that there’s just no room inside for a decent speaker: you need a soundbar. Blitzwolf’s second soundbar doesn’t change much internally from their first model, but looks a lot better on the outside. And they’ve added an optional subwoofer with wireless connectivity.

Join us as we take a closer look at the Blitzwolf SDB2-–available now for $150—as well as the optional subwoofer. At the end of this review, we’ve got one set of the Blitzwolf soundbar and subwoofer to giveaway to one lucky reader, but if you can’t wait, scroll down for some coupon codes!

Coupon Codes

Note, shipping is extra and these are heavy items. 

Building on the Success of the SDB-1

The SDB-1 was the precursor to this device. It sounded brilliant, offering fantastically good value for money at less than $100. With a wealth of connectivity options, the only downside was the shiny black plastic case. Apart from attracting fingerprints, the design left it looking a little… well, budget.

The SDB-2 builds on that, with a similar if not identical set of internal specs. To reiterate, you’ll find 8 speakers inside, consisting of a pair of high-frequency tweeters, mid-range, bass, and low-frequency radiators. That’s 60W of audio power output, in a stereo configuration.

The design of the SDB-2 is where the most changes have occured: the shiny black plastic is replaced by a metal grill across the top and front, with a wooden accent panel around the rear. However, this does add significantly to weight and heft. At 8.8 pounds (4kg), it measures just under 3ft (900mm) in length, 3.86″ (98mm) deep, and 2.36″ (60mm) high. It’s not as portable as the SDB-1 then, and still requires mains power.

overview of the sdb2 and subwooefer design

The physical rubber buttons found on the SDB-1 have also been replaced by capacitive buttons. In addition, you’ll find a discreet LCD screen indicating current volume, source input, and EQ setting. It’s a big improvement on the handful of LEDs found on the previous model. Also in the box you’ll find a slimline remote control; this is the only aspect of the package that feels less than great. It’s so thin that it flexes when pushing buttons, and just feels cheap.

Ports, Ports Everywhere

You’ll find a range of ports around the back to satisfy your every input need:

  • 3.5mm stereo
  • Optical
  • Coaxial aux
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • USB

ports on the the blitzwolf sdb2

It’s not just the ports either—you also get a box full of cables:

  • 3.5mm stereo cable
  • 3.5mm stereo to composite audio (red/white)
  • Coaxial
  • Optical cable
  • Right-angle USB extension cable

cables found in the blitzwolf sdb2 soundbar package

Curiously, the HDMI-ARC connection found on the back of the previous model is gone; it’s been replaced by a wireless adaptor slot for the optional subwoofer. While it does seem a little odd that a device designed to connect to a TV would have removed the HDMI port, in reality you’re more likely to use an optical cable to grab the TV audio, so it’s not a huge loss. Certainly, the optional subwoofer is a welcome upgrade.

A wide range of inputs is partly why I rated the SDB-1 so highly, and that hasn’t changed. It means that if your needs change in future, you have the best chance of being able to repurpose the device elsewhere. Even if Bluetooth technologies are made obsolete, the other connectivity options won’t be. In a world of disposable technology, I value the ability to reuse technology greatly.

More Bass!

Out of the box the soundbar produces a good amount of bass, but like all soundbars, the physical properties mean it lacks in the really thumping sub-bass frequencies. Physics dictates you need a larger cone to go any lower, and one doesn’t simply argue with physics. That’s why Blitzwolf have added the option to connect the SW2 external 70W subwoofer, featuring a 6.5″ cone and 5.25″ horn. Unfortunately, it’s an addition purchase that actually costs a little more than the soundbar itself.

Connecting the subwoofer is really easy: just plug in the wireless transmitter included in the package, into the back of the soundbar. It’s helpfully labelled with up so you don’t get it wrong. Under the hood, it appears to be a custom 2.4GHz USB transmitter, though I couldn’t get the dongle to actually enumerate on a computer, so it seems to locked to the soundbar in some way.

From a design perspective, the same wood panelling is repeated on the top, with brushed metal making up the rest of the case.

Around the back of the sub, you’ll find a volume, power, and 3.5mm input. Sadly, the power cable is hardwired, and limited to US or European plug. As well as requiring an unsafe plug adapter for UK users, this makes it hard to replace if the plug or cable were to break. It’s even more curious when the soundbar itself uses a standard figure-8 cable which can be easily replaced.

Despite the presence of a wired input on the back of the subwoofer, you cannot actually wire the subwoofer to the soundbar, since there’s no additional output options anywhere on the soundbar. This would point to the soundbar being an OEM product, perhaps. I tested the input socket on the subwoofer and can confirm it is functional, so if you wanted to use this subwoofer elsewhere at some point, that would be feasible, just not with the wireless connection.

In testing, I had mixed results from the subwoofer output, but it varied a lot depending on source material. To be clear, the volume slider around the back of the subwoofer was set as maximum, with volume adjusted via the soundbar only. Watching movies and TV at normal listening volumes of “the kids are in bed” 15 out of a maximum 30, the bass output was indistinguishable from the normal soundbar output, even when set on the bass-boosted music EQ setting. I could feel it, and it was definitely working, but it just didn’t add that much to the overall soundscape. Bass-heavy music fared a lot better, with a clear benefit from the subwoofer at all volumes. At higher volumes, all content benefited significantly from the addition of the sub.

Do You Need the Blitzwolf SDB2?

The SDB2 sound bar is big, hefty, and feels well-built. It should fit right at home into any modern living room, and looks much better than it ought to for a device that costs under $200. There are far more expensive soundbars that don’t look half this nice. It can get really loud, without distortion: on maximum volume I measured a peak of around 85dB.

blitzwolf sdb2 maximum volume

If you’re going to be listening to anything loudly, or bass heavy music, the addition of the optional subwoofer will be well worth it.

If you’re unlikely to be listening loudly, and don’t particularly want or need the additional subwoofer, it’s still a great soundbar on its own. But you’re paying a little extra for the new design. On a tighter budget it’s still worth checking out the original SDB1 model, available for under $100.

However, before spending $300-350 on a soundbar and sub, consider if you need the convenience of a soundbar at all. For around the same price, you can buy a budget 5.1 surround sound system, including an amplifier, 5 satellite speakers, and subwoofer. The overall experience is going to be more immersive thanks to the surround speaker setup, and the only downside will be the increased complexity of having to run cables around your living room.

 

Enter the Competition!

Blitzwolf SDB2 Soundbar and Subwoofer Giveaway

Read the full article: Blitzwolf SDB2 Soundbar: Looks Better, and Has a Separate Subwoofer

Nanoleaf Canvas: Coolest. Lights. Ever.

Our verdict of the Nanoleaf Canvas:The Nanoleaf Canvas is a stunning, vibrant, modular lighting centrepiece. Get creative and make your own design; then load your own unique music reactive lighting scenes.910Modular, customizable, sound and even touch reactive: the Nanoleaf Canvas is just stunning. It’s a vibrant and creative smart lighting installation for your wall or ceiling, with all the smart features you’ve come to expect. What’s In The Box? In the starter kit you’ll find: 1 controller panel 8 standard panels Power adaptor 8 connector strips Lots of mounting stickers (3 per panel, plus a spare or two) Each panel…

Read the full article: Nanoleaf Canvas: Coolest. Lights. Ever.

Our verdict of the Nanoleaf Canvas:
The Nanoleaf Canvas is a stunning, vibrant, modular lighting centrepiece. Get creative and make your own design; then load your own unique music reactive lighting scenes.
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Modular, customizable, sound and even touch reactive: the Nanoleaf Canvas is just stunning. It’s a vibrant and creative smart lighting installation for your wall or ceiling, with all the smart features you’ve come to expect.

What’s In The Box?

In the starter kit you’ll find:

  • 1 controller panel
  • 8 standard panels
  • Power adaptor
  • 8 connector strips
  • Lots of mounting stickers (3 per panel, plus a spare or two)

Each panel measures 6 inches (15cm) square. The controller panel lights up, just as the standard panels do, but it also houses the microphone and capacitive buttons.

The starter kit costs $250 (also available from HomeDepot). Additional panels can be purchased in packs of four, at a cost of $80. UK folks: unusually, the Nanoleaf Canvas is actually cheaper for you, available for £180

Design Your Layout

Before mounting your Canvas, you’ll need to use the layout designer in the app to plan your design. You can randomise a starting point, then drag and drop panels until you have your desired shape.

Since the rear of the Canvas panels is asymmetrical, you’ll need to refer to the link view when connecting the panels. Use three mounting stickers per panel. Some panels will need to rotated in order for the connectors to line up, and the app will let you know if your layout is invalid (as in the screenshot above).

The upside to this slightly more complex connector arrangement is that panels can be offset, and not simply laid out like a pixel block display (though you can of course do that too, if you wish, you’re not forced to offset the panels). This allows for far more creative freedom, and meant I was able to create a small circular design from just the 9 panels included in the starter set.

Your controller panel can be located anywhere on your design, as can the point at which you inject power from the adaptor. So as long as you follow the link layout outlined in the designer, putting your pattern together couldn’t be easier.

Trio of Smarts: Alexa, Google, and HomeKit

Nanoleaf support all three of the major voice assistant and smart home standards, which we applaud. All three systems support color and scene selections via voice control. Adding the Canvas to our HomeKit was as simple as scanning the QR code on the power adaptor: the app even knew exactly how our design was laid out, without any input from us.

Note that like most smart home products, Nanoleaf requires a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi network. If your router only broadcast a 5GHz network, you won’t be able to connect these.

Not a fan of voice assistants? Not a problem. The app has a few scenes out of the box, but we’d strongly recommend you connect it to Wi-Fi anyway, then use the Nanoleaf app to download new scenes. As well as those made by Nanoleaf, the community has created thousands, all free to download. If that’s not enough, use the designer to create your unique patterns and color pallete.

Play Games on Your Lights

New to the Nanoleaf Canvas is a touch sensor in each panel. As well as adding a little interactivity to basic color scenes, you can enable gesture controls, such as double tap to turn on or off, or swipe up to increase brightness.

This feature has also opened up some more interesting interactive scenes. Currently available to download are:

  • Conway’s Game of Life simulation
  • Whack a Mole
  • Simon
  • Memory
  • Pacman

Some of these games—like Conway’s Game of Life or Pacman—don’t make much sense on a small, 9 panel circular design. For those you really need a much larger install, well beyond that of a typical consumer budget. Simon and Memory games work great even on smaller installs, though. Obviously, they aren’t the most compelling gaming experiences ever, but it’s a fun feature for children or guests. I can see these being a hit in hotels or corporate lobbies.

Unlike color and rhythm scenes, there’s currently no way to create your own interactive experiences. For STEM teaching, this could be a great avenue for Nanoleaf explore in future, so I’m interested to see where this goes.

Nanoleaf Rhythm Light Panels: What’s the Difference?

Some of you may recall my review of the Nanoleaf Rhythm Light Panels earlier in the year. Those are still available for $230, compared to $250 for the Canvas. So what’s the difference?

  • Obviously, these are square, while the Light Panels are triangular. This might seem superficial, but it’s easier to translate a logo or think of a specific design made from square pixels, than it it to think of it in triangles.
  • The Light Panels were limited to connecting in only a single way on each side. The Canvas’ connector pattern means panels can be connected either straight on, or offset, though this does complicate installation a little. This allows for even more creative freedom with laying out your design.
  • The Light Panels had a separate controller and Rhythm module which plugged into the panels. This was a little clunky, and restricted your design in terms of where the power could be injected. The Canvas integrates the discreet capacitive control buttons and rhythm module into a single, special panel. Apart from the buttons, the control panel looks and behaves the same as any other, and can be placed anywhere convenient in the design. Power can then be injected from any edge with a slimline cable.
  • The Canvas adds a touch sensor to every panel.

Otherwise, the products are functionally identical. The same Nanoleaf app is used, the same color and rhythm scenes can be downloaded, and the same smart voice features work on both products.

How Does Nanoleaf Canvas Compare?

At $250 for a 9 panel set, and $80 for an additional pack of 4 panels, the Nanoleaf Canvas doesn’t come cheap–but then smart lighting rarely is. To put that in perspective, a 5 x 10 pixel Canvas installation would set you back about $1000. The Canvas emits about 100 lumens per panel, so the starter kit has a total light output of a little more than an a 60w bulb (that is, enough to light up an entire room).

Comparing the Nanoleaf Canvas to Philips Hue smart lighting is fair: they both offer a similar feature set of voice control, smart home integration, and music reactive modes. Philips offers a more developed and open API, so you’ll find lots of third party apps and integrations to extend functionality. You can even use your Hue bulbs as an ambilight for your PC. A Hue starter kit including four color bulbs costs around $200. Each bulbs emits about 800 lumens. Purely in terms of light output, Hue represents better value, though you will of course be limited in terms of suitable light fixings. Standalone Hue devices such as lightstrips are also available, but cost considerably more. The Nanoleaf Canvas is entirely standalone.

However, while a smart bulb such as Philips Hue is effective only when there’s little or no ambient light, the Canvas panels are perfectly visible in daytime. Each panel concentrates its color into the frosted panel facade. The results are incredible.

The Canvas gives you the best of both worlds. It’s a stunning centrepiece during the day, and a great ambient or party light at night. The photos and videos really don’t do it justice, and I had no end of difficulty exposing shots properly. In reality, the colors are utterly vibrant, night or day. There’s really no comparable product on the market.

If you don’t particularly care about the touch sensitive features, the original Nanoleaf Rhythm Light Panels are available for a slightly cheaper $230. They are otherwise functionally identical. The only real difference is the aesthetic of pixel blocks versus triangles, so ultimately it comes down to which aesthetic you prefer.

 

Enter the Competition!

Nanoleaf Canvas Starter Kit

Read the full article: Nanoleaf Canvas: Coolest. Lights. Ever.

Xiaomi Roborock S50: The Smartest Vacuum Yet

Our verdict of the Xiaomi Roborock S50:Incredible navigation abilities allow for zoned cleaning, on top of being the most powerful vacuum you can buy at this budget. Alexa support now works for Europeans too. But consider if you might be better served by buying two cheaper devices instead. 910The Xiaomi Roborock S50 is one of the most powerful robot vacuums on the market, with an advanced navigation system that allows for selective cleaning. Retailing at $400, is the cost justified? We previously looked at the Xiaomi Xiaowa E20 robot, and were impressed. So what makes the Roborock S50 any different?…

Read the full article: Xiaomi Roborock S50: The Smartest Vacuum Yet

Our verdict of the Xiaomi Roborock S50:
Incredible navigation abilities allow for zoned cleaning, on top of being the most powerful vacuum you can buy at this budget. Alexa support now works for Europeans too. But consider if you might be better served by buying two cheaper devices instead.
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The Xiaomi Roborock S50 is one of the most powerful robot vacuums on the market, with an advanced navigation system that allows for selective cleaning. Retailing at $400, is the cost justified?

We previously looked at the Xiaomi Xiaowa E20 robot, and were impressed. So what makes the Roborock S50 any different? Let’s take a closer look, and at the end of this review, we’ve got one to giveaway to one lucky reader.

Specifications and Design

In the box, you’ll find:

  • Roborock S50 and charging station.
  • Water tank and two mopping pads.
  • Spare filter.
  • Cleaning brush.

The device weighs around 3.56kg (7.84 pounds). It’s a 6cm tall, 34cm diameter disc shape; with a 2cm height, 7.5cm diameter sensor protruding from the top. Large, buffered wheels allow it to travel over objects up to 2cm in height, so it can easily navigate rugs and slight inclines. The beater bar is a hybrid design with both rubber blades and brushes, enabling it to perform well on both carpets and hard surfaces.

On paper, the specifications are:

  • 2000pA suction power.
  • 500ml dust box capacity.
  • 150 minutes running time.
  • 60dB noise level.
  • 5200mAh battery.
Roborock S5 Robotic Vacuum and Mop Cleaner, 2000Pa Super Power Suction &Wi-Fi Connectivity and Smart Navigating Robot Vacuum with 5200mAh Battery Capacity for Pet Hair, Carpet & Hard Floor Roborock S5 Robotic Vacuum and Mop Cleaner, 2000Pa Super Power Suction &Wi-Fi Connectivity and Smart Navigating Robot Vacuum with 5200mAh Battery Capacity for Pet Hair, Carpet & Hard Floor Buy Now At Amazon $546.99

The most significant difference compared to other models I’ve tested is the 2000pA suction power. This is twice that of the iRobot Roomba 960, and roughly on par with Dyson’s 360 Eye (which is twice the price). Combined with a large 5200mAh battery, the Roborock S50 is really designed for large family homes. On maximum power, it can get quite loud, but not enough to obstruct conversations.

Laser Distance Sensor (LDS)

The most advanced bit of tech I’ve seen on a robot vacuum yet, the Laser Distance Sensor (LDS) is a large disc protrusion on top of the vacuum. When in use, this laser sensor is constantly spinning, giving the device an immediate 360-degree view of the world around it. What this translates to is a fast, accurate depiction of its surroundings.

The first generation of robot vacuums were equipped for obstacle avoidance only. They travelled in a straight line until they hit something, then moved off at a random angle. Somehow they got the job done, but weren’t particularly efficient for larger spaces, and would often get stuck or run out of battery before making it back to base. Second generation models have better path planning for more methodical cleaning, with a basic forward facing distance sensor. They’re able to gradually produced a map of their path taken, but it’s a basic interpretation that takes a long time to generate as device moves around, and isn’t reliable enough to be used for anything other than a report.

The Roborock S50 is what I’d define as a third generation device. Because the Roborock’s map is so fast and accurate, it can be used both for intelligation autonomous navigation, and for remote control by the user. Finally, you can tell the device precisely where to clean.

Zoned Cleaning and Persistent Mapping

The first amazing feature that the advanced LDS navigation system enables is zoned cleaning. Once a map is built, you can click and drag on the map to define areas you want cleaned again, and optional specify how many times to do those. This is a one-off event, rather than being able to name a particular room, and the zone isn’t saved once the cleaning is completed. This could be particularly useful if there’s somewhere extra dirty that you really want it to go back and do again, or perhaps your child has just made a mess. Zoned cleaning can also be used if you’ve moved the robot away from its charging station; it just needs a chance to build that map first.

Optionally, you can enable persistent mapping. This comes with a few limitations though: the robot must start and end its cleaning run on the charging station. If you’ve moved the Roborock into another room, or carried him upstairs, this feature won’t work. It can’t save more than one map, so this is only really suitable for those in a single floor home (or who can afford more than one robot for each floor of the house).

With persistent mapping enabled, you can define virtual barriers and no-go zones as the default. We often find ourselves sticking boxes or chairs in the way to stop robots entering particular rooms, so I can certainly see the value in this. On the other hand, we also have a really awkward house, with sunken rooms and random stairs where there shouldn’t rightly be.

Finally, Europeans Can Use Alexa

In my review of the Roborock’s little brother, the Xiaowa E20, I noted that European users were out of luck with Alexa support due to GDPR. The good news is that the issue has now been solved. The bad news is that you still have to do a little server selection dance to get everything to work right. If this is the first device you’re adding to MiHome, you have nothing to worry about: just select the European server for both your MiHome account and the Roborock device.

My account was previously set up on the Singapore servers, so I needed to first change that before I could set up the Roborock. If you have other Xiaomi smart devices, you may need to set them up again. The previous Xiaowa robot was automatically migrated to the new server, but my Yeelight strips weren’t. If you already have a lot of device you control through MiHome, this could be quite annoying, so consider how much you really want the Alexa features.

Actually using Alexa with Roborock is very simple, once it’s all set up. Features are limited, since the Roborock device is presented as a basic smart home switch device, rather than a skill you can issue a range of commands to. You can turn it on (to start cleaning), or off (to go home). I found the voice commands to be very responsive; barely a second after issuing the command to Alexa, cleaning had begun.

If you have the persistent map feature enabled, with no-go zones and virtual barriers, these will be respected when initiating a standard cleaning session through Alexa or a timed schedule. However, you can’t define specific zones, such as named rooms, then ask Roborock to clean only those through Alexa.

Other Features

Like the smaller Xiaowa model, the Roborock includes a wet mop attachment that clips on underneath. Two cleaning pads are supplied. The usefulness of this feature will depend on your circumstances. Bear in mind that it is literally just a wet mop, not a steam cleaner, so it’s not going to remove any serious stains.

The device also uses voice prompts to alert you to its current status, such as when cleaning begins, when it returns to dock, or when it’s stuck. You can even put it in lost mode via the app, and she’ll promptly say “I’m over here!”. Less useful are the notifications that you’ve removed the dust box (obviously, I know I’ve done that, because I literally just did it).

Aside, the MiHome app used to control the device is clean, functional, modern and reliable. I’ve never experienced crashes, or been left wondering how to enable a feature.

Should You Buy the Roborock S50?

At this point, it’s rare that a robot vacuum truly impresses me. Most are differentiated only in price, and really just variations on the same core features. In fact, we routinely reject review requests of generic robot vacuums that offer nothing new.

The Roborock is the first device that genuinely feels smart, with incredible navigation abilities for zoned cleaning and software defined no-go areas. If you live in an apartment or bungalow, persistent mapping features alone make this a worthy upgrade.

If you’re likely to be moving the Roborock around though, for different floors of your house, it’s still one of the most powerful vacuums out there. Enable carpet detection and it’ll pick up more dirt than other models, while conserving battery power on hard surfaces. But I’m not sure I’d recommend it on power alone: convenience is the greater benefit of a robot vacuum, and you might be better served by purchasing two cheaper devices. Ultimately, there still isn’t a robot vacuum that can compete on raw power with even the most basic of upright vacuums. For deep carpets, a robot vacuum just isn’t going to cut it.

Buy now: $400 from GeekBuying.com

Roborock S5 Robotic Vacuum and Mop Cleaner, 2000Pa Super Power Suction &Wi-Fi Connectivity and Smart Navigating Robot Vacuum with 5200mAh Battery Capacity for Pet Hair, Carpet & Hard Floor Roborock S5 Robotic Vacuum and Mop Cleaner, 2000Pa Super Power Suction &Wi-Fi Connectivity and Smart Navigating Robot Vacuum with 5200mAh Battery Capacity for Pet Hair, Carpet & Hard Floor Buy Now At Amazon $546.99

The Good

  • Stunning navigation and mapping capabilities thanks to the LDS system.
  • Zoned cleaning, virtual barriers, and no-go zones can all be defined in software.
  • 2000pa maximum suction power to use in conjunction with carpet detection mode.
  • Notifications, if you want them, for various events like finished cleaning.

The Bad

  • Dustbox is a little small, so you need to empty it after every cleaning.
  • “Share the results of cleaning” is an actual feature.

Enter the Competition!

Xiaomi Roborock S50 Giveaway

Read the full article: Xiaomi Roborock S50: The Smartest Vacuum Yet

Reolink RLC-511: The Best Looking Security Camera Yet (Review and Giveaway)

Our verdict of the Reolink RLC-511 PoE Security Cam: The RLC-511 offers fantastic image quality, ease of installation, and rock solid desktop software that can grow into an extensive security system, at an affordable price.910The problem with security cameras is that you either pay through your teeth for a professional solution, or you’re stuck with budget devices that can’t be integrated and need their own custom mobile app. But it needn’t be so: Reolink offer great value devices without ongoing license fees, with comprehensive software solutions for the home and professional market. The Reolink RLC-511 is their latest security camera, with an absolutely…

Read the full article: Reolink RLC-511: The Best Looking Security Camera Yet (Review and Giveaway)

Our verdict of the Reolink RLC-511 PoE Security Cam:
The RLC-511 offers fantastic image quality, ease of installation, and rock solid desktop software that can grow into an extensive security system, at an affordable price.
910

The problem with security cameras is that you either pay through your teeth for a professional solution, or you’re stuck with budget devices that can’t be integrated and need their own custom mobile app. But it needn’t be so: Reolink offer great value devices without ongoing license fees, with comprehensive software solutions for the home and professional market. The Reolink RLC-511 is their latest security camera, with an absolutely stunning image quality thanks to a 5MP sensor and 4 X optical zoom. It runs on Power over Ethernet, so installation is a breeze.

Read on to take a closer look, and at the end of this review, we’ve got one of the Reolink RLC-511 to give away to a lucky reader.

Design and Specifications

Reolink IP PoE Security Camera 5MP Super HD 4X Optical Zoom Outdoor Indoor RLC-511 Reolink IP PoE Security Camera 5MP Super HD 4X Optical Zoom Outdoor Indoor RLC-511 Buy Now At Amazon $109.99
  • 3 x 3 x 5 inches, not including the mounting arm
  • 5MP sensor, up to 2560 x 192opx maximum resolution
  • 4X optical zoom with focus controls
  • PoE power
  • MicroSD local recording (optional)
  • Desktop and mobile client
  • No ongoing fees
  • Weatherproof

Inside the box you’ll find:

  • RLC-511 camera itself
  • 1m Ethernet cable
  • Waterproof Ethernet connector shield
  • Mounting screws and template
  • Hex tool and mini screwdriver
  • “24 Hour Video Surveillance” sticker, and a quick start manual

Including all the required tools is thoughtful, but probably unnecessary, since you’ll need a larger screwdriver and possibly drill to mount it anyway.

The first thing that struck me about the RLC-511 is the size. The main body of the camera is 3×3 inch square, around 5 inches in length, not including the bulking mounting arm. For that reason, it just isn’t practical to use this inside a family home. As an outdoor security camera though, it’s actually much better to have something so obnoxiously bulky to act as a deterrent. Potential burglars certainly won’t miss it.

Of course, the bulky size isn’t just for show. The RLC-511 houses a 4X optical zoom lens and 5MP sensor, offering an unrivaled picture quality. Reolink calls this “Super HD”, though that’s not a technical standard. What is clear, however, is that the image quality from the Reolink RLC-511 is higher resolution than competing devices that cost twice as much. It’s also rare to find an optical zoom at this price point: most offer a digital zoom, where the image is simply blown up and pixelated. The RLC-511 actually moves the lens and allows for refocusing, giving a sharp and detailed picture even when zoomed.

Zoomed in fully, it maintains stunning quality detail.

Now for the bad news: there’s no microphone. The RLC-511 doesn’t record audio, nor does it have a speaker for two-way communication. It’s therefore not suitable as a doorbell camera.

What’s PoE?

PoE stands for Power over Ethernet, a method of delivering electrical power to low current devices using standard Ethernet cabling alone, reducing the number of cables needed and making installation simpler.

A breakout cable for a DC adaptor is also supplied should you want to power it through standard means, but a separate power adapter is not included in the package. You can also use PoE with a power injector, which still allows you the convenience of running a single Ethernet cable to the camera, as long as it goes past a power socket at some point where power can be injected. Again though, a power injector is not supplied. Reolink assume you already have the right infrastructure already if you’re purchasing a PoE camera.

If you don’t already have a PoE system, but like the look of the RLC-511, you’ll be pleased to know they also offer a wireless model, the aptly named RLC-511W. It works over Wi-Fi, and needs a more traditional power source.

Installing the RLC-511

As as a PoE device, assuming you have the right infrastructure, installation is a breeze. In my case, that meant running a new Ethernet cable through the loft from my PoE-enabled Ubiquity UniFi switch, and dropping it through the eaves of the roof. The trickiest part was fitting the waterproof cover for the Ethernet connector, as the cable clip I’d already crimped on was too large.

Once plugged in, setup is a simple case of opening the Reolink app, and scanning the QR code on the device. I’d advise you to set this up before actually mounting it though, so you can open the live stream to position it correctly.

Since this is a fixed position bullet cam, there is no pan and tilt, and the optical zoom feature is only to the center of the field of view. You’ll likely need to spend some time tweaking the angle of the camera, but that’s relatively simple using the included tools.

Image Quality

If you haven’t already, check out the review video for some sample footage. I’ve blurred my license plate and YouTube has probably compressed everything a little, but you should get an idea of just how sharp it is. No words are needed: the image quality is the best I’ve seen on a security camera so far.

Night mode is equally stunning, with bright IR LEDs illuminating the scene. I could see significantly further in the camera feed than my actual eyes could, even once they’d adjusted to the lack of light. That’s impressive. The only downside to such bright LEDs is that the reflections completely obscured my license plate, though this may have just been the angle of reflection.

Reolink Desktop or Mobile App

I can’t stand devices that only work with a mobile app, which why I’m such a fan of Reolink. They provide a full desktop NVR client for Mac or Windows, free of charge and with unlimited licenses. The client is a fully featured native application for Windows or macOS (as opposed to a web wrapper, though you can also access the camera feeds through a web browser if you wish). You can view multiple live feeds, watch previous recordings, and configure cameras.

If you’re looking to build out a larger system, the desktop client is a compelling reason to stick within the Reolink ecosystem. It’ll allow you aggregate all of your camera feeds, whether those are from solar-powered units like the Argus Pro, indoor battery powered wireless devices like the Reolink Keen, or wired analog cameras like the ADK8-20B4 kits. You can add up to 32 devices, though a single device can be a hardware NVR with up to 8 cameras attached. I’m not doing the math, but that’s a lot of cameras. There’s no ongoing costs or additional licences needed, just the initial purchase cost.

The mobile app also happens to be one of the better-looking ones I’ve seen: it’s clean, modern, and responsive. Options for all your devices are easy to configure, and you can even share your cameras with family and friends so they can keep an eye on things while you’re away. The app offers push notifications for motion events, as well as email alerts (though you will need to add your own SMTP email server. Gmail works, but you have to allow insecure app access).

Compatibility, and Third Party NVRs

The Reolink RLC-511 isn’t just a great camera for use within a Reolink-only environment though: it’s also fully supported by Synology Surveillance Station and other third party systems via the industry standard ONVIF protocol.

The only missing piece of the puzzle is Alexa support. With Echo Show and Spot gaining in popularity, Reolink could easily dominate the market by adding that feature, but I’ve never had a clear answer on when (or if) that’s coming. On the other hand: it’s easy to be lured by gimmicks, and if I had to choose between a reliable desktop client or Alexa screen support, I’d choose the desktop software any day.

Should You Buy the Reolink RLC-511?

The RLC-511 offers fantastic image quality, ease of installation, and rock solid desktop software that can grow into an extensive security system, all at an affordable price. Local SD card recordings mean there are no ongoing storage costs, and the software can expand to as many cameras as you need without additional licenses. The lack of audio and Alexa-support may be a deal breaker for some, but consider whether those are truly features you need in a security camera, or simply gimmicks.

Reolink IP PoE Security Camera 5MP Super HD 4X Optical Zoom Outdoor Indoor RLC-511 Reolink IP PoE Security Camera 5MP Super HD 4X Optical Zoom Outdoor Indoor RLC-511 Buy Now At Amazon $109.99

The Good:

  • Stunningly good picture quality
  • 4X optical zoom
  • Ease of installation thanks to PoE
  • Professional desktop software
  • ONVIF feed for third party software if needed

The Bad:

  • No audio
  • No Alexa support

Enter the competition below to win a Reolink RLC-511 for yourself!

Enter the Competition!

Reolink RLC-511 PoE Security Camera Giveaway

Read the full article: Reolink RLC-511: The Best Looking Security Camera Yet (Review and Giveaway)

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