Monday, June 26, 2017
Text Size

Hardware Reviews

Insteon Home Control System

By Brad Pransky, Editor
June 22,2016

Insteon® advertises itself as "the most affordable, complete connected home solution". starter kitIn an age where the Internet of things is pervasive and invading our lives and our homes, we decided to put that slogan to a test.

The principles behind the operation of the Insteon system are long tested and proven. What we wanted to see was if it really did the job in a simple, effective and economical fashion.

 

So what do you want to be when you grow up?

If you've been around technology long enough to remember the early transistor radios, the emergence of FM, UHF TV stations and the Bowmar brain, then most assuredly you remember places like RadioShack selling the X10 controllers that were so convenient to turn lights and devices on and off. X10 is still alive and well (https://www.x10.com/) but it always had certain limitations because of its dependence on the internal wiring structure of your home.

Insteon dual bandInsteon's smart home devices are sort of what X10 would look like when it grew up. It combines the use of your home's wiring system but augments that by setting up a Wi-Fi mesh network among its devices. This is what makes up Insteon's patented dual band technology. All of our testing demonstrated a 100% device activation success rate.

Read more: Insteon Home Control System

zBoost Mobile1 Cell Phone Signal Booster

Do you everbox

  1. Travel (drive, train etc.) and find yourself losing cell service?
  2. Hike, bike ride (motor or pedal), explore only to find yourself in a cell service black hole? 
  3. Find yourself in the woods, in a tent, with a bear....and sketchy cell phone service? ...
  4. ... Up a creek, with or without a paddle, and barely one bar on your cell phone?

Who ya' gonna' call???

 

NOBODY!

 

Cause you don't have a signal...unless...

you have the zBoost ZB245 mobile 1 cell phone signal booster.

 

Read more: zBoost Mobile1 Cell Phone Signal Booster

Netgear Neo TV NTV200

Did you know your TV is stupid? I didn't know mine was, but apparently it is. flatscreen-dunce1This came as a bit of a surprise to me as I was always quite content with the fact that my flat screen displayed whatever channel I requested. Time and technology bring about changes. I will confess that I am old enough to remember when dumb terminals were replaced by smart terminals. Those existed back in the computer Stone Age when the computer meant a mainframe or a mini computer system.

I actually found out my TV was stupid a year or so ago when the advertisements for smart TVs started appearing. I'm not actually sure what makes them "smart". I've stood in front of many of them and asked them questions, but I have yet to receive an answer. It's sort of made me feel like Scotty in Star Trek IV. 

It turns out that to make a TV smart only requires that it can connect and communicate across the Internet. Apparently "Internet" = "Smart".... At least for TVs. If it were that simple for humans a lot of people who spend their day watching cats play the piano on YouTube would be (place the adjective or expletive of your choice here) geniuses.

Read more: Netgear Neo TV NTV200

Plantronics Savi W740 Multi-Device Wireless Headset System

We all talk about the fact that with the plethora of mobile device capabilities and communications options available, we are finally untethered from our desks. Well, call me cynical, but that's a crock. I actually find myself more tethered than ever because there's almost no place or time I can't be reached by somebody I don't want to talk to.

It can be particularly irksome if I am sitting at my desk and have to deal with incoming communication from my desk phone, my cell phone or a computer generated call. I can't tell you how much fun it is juggling headsets and earpieces. There are some creative solutions becoming available for this dilemma and one of the nice ones we found is the Plantronics Savi W740.


So what does it do?

The Plantronics Savi W740 is billed as a 'multi-device wireless headset system'.Savi-W740Oddly, it is and does just that. First off, the Savi W740 is a wireless DECT™ 6.0 headset for your desk phone. When combined with the HL10 lifter, which is a separate device ($79.95 MSRP), you have a wireless headset that can answer a single or multi line phone with the press of a button. When a call comes in and you press the headset button to answer, the HL10 lifter automatically raises the handset off its cradle and the call is wirelessly sent to the headset. This is particularly valuable on multiline phones,because no matter which line rings it will be answered automatically in the samehl10_lifterway you would lift the handset manually. When you finish your call, simply press the headset button again and the lifter returns the handset to the cradle.

Secondly, the Savi W740 has Bluetooth capability. This means you can pair it with your cell phone or other Bluetooth devices with which you might want to use its capabilities. This is very convenient if while you're sitting at your desk using the headset your cell phone rings. At the push of a button, you can now answer your cell phone. This means no more fumbling for a different Bluetooth headset or having to put one piece of equipment down to pick another up.

Finally, by means of the supplied USB cable, the Savi W740 connects directly to your PC or laptop. This is one of the features that make this device so versatile. This article is being dictated on Dragon Naturally Speaking 11.5 using the Savi W740 wireless headset as I walk around the office. Now that's untethered! Also, if I happen to get a Skype call or similar, I can answer that using this same device.


What do you get?

The Savi W740, comes with a multifunction base that allows you to switch between headset-mounting-optionsdevices at the push of a button, the rechargeable battery and headset, which comes with a myriad of earpieces and headband attachments. These options allow even finicky users like myself the ability to find a comfortable solution for mounting the device over your ear, in your ear, with headband over the head or behind, or just a simple earhook. Something in this box will be comfortable for just about everybody. You also get the necessary power supply and USB cables. I would strongly recommend purchasing the HL10 lifter and related pieces as this is a tremendous convenience.


What about setup?

Setup will take you about 10 minutes. We installed the HL10 lifter, the adapter cable, the base device with headset, attached the cables and paired the Bluetooth in about that much time. The only thing that doesn't come in the box is some utility software (Plantronics Spokes™) that you need to download, which Plantronics makes available (and points out in their installation instructions) from their website.


How well does it do all that stuff?

The Plantronics Savi W740 does an excellent job with all the functions it is designed to perform. Range on the wireless DECT 6.0 headset is excellent and I have yet to have the battery run out of power during the day. Moving between functions only requires a simple push of a button on the base unit and the software is courteous enough to tell Skype not to disturb you if you are on the phone. The noise cancelling microphone does a fine job of eliminating background noise and delivering a faithful reproduction of the speakers voice. 


Summing up

Whether you are in a large office or home office, if your day is spent moving between devices such as your phone, your computer or your cell phone, the Savi W740 is an indispensable tool. The components are well designed and it has an excellent range. I have walked several rooms away while speaking on the phone with no interruption. We heartily recommend this product.

The Plantronics Savi W740 retails for $399.95 and is available in stores and online for under $300.

Magellan Wireless Back-Up Camera

I live in a four season part of the country. Each season has its own special beauty and appeal. Each, it's own hazards. In the fall we see the leaves come down off the trees and cover our sidewalks and lawn. In the winter it's the ice and snow and shoveling sidewalks and driveways. In the spring and summer its tricycles, bicycles, skateboards and kids all over the place.

back-up-child-view-smFor as dangerous as wet leaves can be, and as treacherous as ice and snow can be, nothing scares a driver more than the possibility of backing his car up into an oncoming small child. Many new cars are now coming equipped with rearview cameras built-in. Not all of us intend to go out tomorrow and trade in our car to get the benefit of this new technology. To help with that, a number of manufacturers have designed aftermarket rearview cameras that can be installed in vehicles that have existing screens for viewing. Some of the challenges of these products are the size of the built-in screen in the existing vehicle and also running the wires from front to back within your vehicle. This can be especially challenging if you have a larger minivan truck or SUV.

To help solve this dilemma and make the possibility of a backup camera available to any vehicle, including larger trucks, Magellan® has produced their Wireless Back-Up Camera. We had an opportunity to install this and use it in conjunction with their RoadMate 9055 GPS which we previously reviewed.


Specs and Features

The CMOS imaging sensor in the camera has a 640x480 resolution with an approximate 100° vertical by 120° horitzontal view. This is a slightly 'fish-eyed' perspective but great for seeing everything behind your vehicle. The output to the GPS screen is mirrored so that when you look at the screen in front of you, the image reflects the correct position of objects behind you. fisheye-sm

The camera mounts neatly over the rear license plate. The wireless transmitter attached to the camera operates in the 2.4Mhz frequency range. Don't confuse this with the 2.4Ghz range that microwave ovens and many cordless phones use. You shouldn't expect any interference at these frequencies and we did not experience any. The transmitter has a 45' range so it will not only work for all standard vehicles but also on small to mid-size trucks. This can be incredibly helpful if you tow a travel trailer or have a motorhome built before this technology was factory installed.

The camera is dustproof and water proof. It is rated IP67 which means in normal English, it is totally protected against dust and protected against the effect of immersion between 15cm and 1 meter. In other words, it should withstand normal use in the elements.

Lastly, Magellan recommends professional installation. That's a really good idea. Here's why...


The Installation

Like any tech crazed group we wanted to open the box and install the product ourselves. The components, as you can see in the picture,Backup_Camera-5-Item-Display-Image seem simple enough. However, this is not an issue of the technology in the box but of the car wiring harness. If you don't have years of experience installing things in late-model cars with spaghetti like wiring harnesses, attempting the installation and expecting not to see smoke somewhere along the way is a pipe dream, at best.

Every brand of automobile has its own wiring model and harness layout. There are hundreds of lines running between everything from your electric door locks to your trunk release. This includes every light and electric option in the vehicle. You don't want to mess this up!

After I was able to quell the sounds of disappointment and re-holster the eager screwdrivers and pliers, we set out on a little road trip to a local installation firm called All That Jazz. They say a picture is worth 1000 words, and in the video below you'll see several thousand worth. It took them a little over an hour to complete the installation and I think you'll understand as you see these pictures why you should leave this to the professionals.



The Results

Using the camera is as simple as putting your car in reverse. Being wired into the backup lights circuit, power to the camera is automatically triggered when the backup procedure begins. The system is programmed to override the GPS image on the screen with the picture coming from the camera and automatically revert once the car is taken out of reverse.

The image is reasonably sharp and clear with the 120° horizontal field of view being amply wide to see everything around the vehicle. Daytime images are excellent as well as those in well lit parking areas. I cannot give a strong endorsement to nighttime situations. Low light capabilities are not this camera's strong point.


Summary

Magellan's Wireless Back-Up Camera offers a very real option for vehicle owners looking to add rearview camera capability. It's wireless design makes installation simpler and more flexible for various kinds of vehicles. While it may not be as fancy or high-resolution as some available wired solutions, at $149.99 it does a first-rate job of delivering a clear crisp image.

Magellan's Wireless Back-Up Camera is available on line and in most brick and mortar electronics stores.

More Tech News

BBC News - Technology