UP24 and why I will buy a Fitbit next time

TL;DR The design flaw of the UP24 makes for a product that breaks easily and cannot be repaired. It is too expensive for what it delivers.

Last year, the second of July 2014, I bought an activity tracker from Jawbone, called the UP24. It was very stylishly made in matt black plastic. It performed well and has made me realise I need to move more. So far so good.

But now, less than a year later it is broken. The plastic is deforming at both ends, the small status light no longer works, battery charging is nearly impossible because the connector is loose and the button on the other end no longer works.

It has become just a piece of dark plastic that I will probably have to throw away. 150 euros down the drain (it currently sells for 129 euros, fyi).

My colleague, who has a Fitbit, recently broke his plastic bracelet. Rather than buying a new activity tracker, he just bought a new bracelet for about 30 euros. Still a lot of money for a plastic bracelet, but a whole lot cheaper than buying a new Fitbit.

The Fitbit itself is just a small device inside the bracelet, so he transfered it into his new bracelet. While he paid 30 euros for the bracelet, at least his is still functioning. At least he had the choice to replace it whole or in part.

I love the app, I love the functionality. But I don’t like throwing money away.

The next activity tracker will need to be sturdier, and/or be able to be repaired or have similar functionality like the Fitbit. So the next activity tracker unfortunately for Jawbone, won’t be anything from them.

Surface Pro 3 Review

I’ve been using a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 ( a 2in1 hybrid tablet/laptop pc ) for a few months now, and I thought this would be a good time to share some feedback.

The Surface Pro 3 I bought is equipped with an Intel Core i5 CPU, 256 GB SSD and 8 GB ram. I chose this version because I wanted a good CPU that will last me a year or 3, and enough disk space to comfortably store stuff. It’s the laptop that I tote with me just about everywhere.

Here are some bullet points that capture my feelings towards it:

– WEIGHT : it’s incredibly light, my backpack feels almost empty, especially compared to when I take my (2011) Apple Macbook Pro. The current Macbook Pro weighs a lot less, and against a Macbook Air the weight difference is almost negligible ( Surface 3 is 2.42 pounds (with keyboard) against the Air’s 2.96 pounds). It’s a handy carrying size.

– SCREEN : the screen is big enough and with a high enough DPI to really make your pictures and movies ‘pop’. I love it.

– DRAWING : I originally bought the Surface Pro 3 for the included N-Trig pen, as I wanted to take notes, and I always wanted to learn how to properly draw. I’ve found out that I’m not using it as much as I want to, although note taking works fine it’s something that I will have to get used to. I’ve bought Clip Studio Paint to draw with, which works fine if you want to freeform draw. But what I’m really looking for is a ‘webdesigner’ vector drawing program that is usable with gestures and touch. On the mac I would go for iDraw, Artboard or Sketch. On Windows 8 I can’t really find a similar program except for Inkscape and the now-defunct Microsoft Design which isn’t fully touch-compliant. Adobe Illustrator or the now defunct Fireworks seem good alternatives, but they cost too much for my limited usage of them.

– WINDOWS 8.1 : using it with Touch it now makes sense. Suddenly everything is much more intuitive. I didn’t really understand how to work Windows 8.1 until I started using it on a touch-capable laptop. It all makes sense : the charms, the swipe up or down, swipe from left to get to your previous app – it all works beautifully. I even started swiping the screen on my mac (to my great frustration). Touch really adds an intuitive dimension, and I for one am waiting for Apple to add it to their laptops.

– HARDDISK SIZE : 256GB for an SSD is plenty of space. Although it is filled up for about half of it’s size already, now that most programs are installed, there should not be a lot of extra disk space needed, bar a few games now and then. I’ve bought a Sandisk 128 GB memory card from amazon on which I store music, movies and some less-frequently used software. If I need the soft I move it first to the SSD – launching from there is very slow, but that is probably more due to the micro sd card.

– PERFORMANCE : I really can’t fault the performance of the Surface, there are no hiccups, everything runs smoothly, even QGIS and a few games on it. The i5 Surface has a Intel 4400 graphics card. While some older graphic-intensive games do work (Fallout 3, Divinity Original Sin), in general they make the fan go on and the Surface gets really hot. You can certainly play games (a few of the best can be found in the Windows store AND are adapted for touch), but it’s best to limit yourself to some less graphic intensive games.

– KEYBOARD : the clip-on keyboard really should be integrated in the price – without one, you are buying an over-priced tablet. With one, the ensemble of tablet + keyboard is still pricey but you suddenly have a good laptop as well. The keyboard is ok, the keys have a bit of a good give and I would not want to work on this keyboard day and night like I would with my macbook pro, but they suffice well for travelling.

– BUGS: there were some initial bugs (not sleeping, not waking, iffy wifi connectivity) that were not immediately solved which garnered quite a bad press. Since then there have been several firmware releases that have solved the majority of the bugs. I only experienced the limited wifi issue in the beginning, but after an update this bug went away. However, it still (very infrequently) comes up and the only solution is to reboot the system (which goes fairly fast, but is still a hassle for such a pricey beast as this one).

My current conclusion :

All in all, I’m very happy with my purchase. It is a very fine fully featured travelling computer with enough space to store all your stuff in. I absolutely love the intuitive way of working with a touch display and hope that Windows 10 will keep this functionality (or I won’t be upgrading). I like Windows 8.1 in it’s Touch-enabled version quite a lot more than on a regular laptop, but in all honesty I still prefer the Apple desktop as I have more experience with that and it makes more sense to me.

If Apple would add a touch screen to their new or future macbook (one that I can draw or write upon with a pen) that would probably be my next buy instead of a Surface 4. Since that won’t be the case for quite some time or maybe for ever, I will continue using my very nice 2-in-1 hybrid tablet / laptop.

SquareUp accepts CHIP cards now – will it be enough to get back on track ?

It seems that Square has seen the light, perhaps sooner than the rest of the US : swiping your card is showing to be more and more to be a security and fraud risk. In 2015, all new cards in the US will contain an EMV chip.

This is the reason why I wrote on this same blog in 2011 that Square wouldn’t be able to work in Europe in it’s current configuration

So a few weeks ago, they introduced a new cardreader that can accept EMV Chip-enabled cards. The EMV page contains some worthwhile statistics about exactly *why* the US is moving to using EMV cards. The numbers are staggering : it seems that the US has 24% of all credit card sales, but 50% of the fraud !

The following are lots of links to articles around the web discussing this new card reader and it’s impact for Square.

Mashable has a short article about this new reader, but if you want the technical in-depth details, go for the Ars Technica article. There you can learn for example that the new card reader is not yet fully chip-and-pin compatible : for now, you can only do a signature using the chip card, as the new guidelines in the US do not require that PIN is enabled.

Forbes has some interesting tidbits as well about Square, that it has lost 100 million in 2013, and has burned through more than half of it’s venture capital. Not good for a young company that needs to grow.

Which makes me think that Square is betting big on this new card reader to climb back out of the red.

If they are very quick (and *if and when* their adapter can also do PIN) they might still be able to grab themselves a slice of the market here in Europe and other parts of the world – there are still people here that would love to use the Square card reader as well. However, more and more competitors are launching themselves here, for example iZettle is already active in several European countries.

Google ChromeCast : nice but limited (in Belgium, for now)


Last month I was passing through France and had the opportunity to buy a Google Chrome Cast doohicky for 35 euros; since then you can now also buy it in Belgium.

For those not in the know : the Chromecast dongle allows you to ‘cast’ things from your smartphone to your tv. So for example you can show Youtube clips or the latest snaps of your kids on your tv.

Setup is a breeze, really the easiest setup ever for such a complicated interaction of software and hardware – just install the hardware on your tv and install the chromecast app on your smartphone, the app gets you up and running in minutes.

Behind the scenes it must be quite complex: the app disconnects your smartphone from your wireless network, searches for the Chromecast dongle which is on it’s own default network, and asks your wifi password so it can pass it on to the Chromecast, updates it with the latest firmware, reconnects to your network, and it’s working ! I was fairly impressed with the ease of setup.

Once the setup is done, you can start ‘casting’ pictures, home-videos, etc from your smartphone to the chromecast. Each app that can do that has a chromecast icon somewhere that you can tap, and then select your chromecast dongle.

The data you are casting is actually not directly sent to the chromecast, but first goes up to the internet, and then back down to your dongle.

  • Disadvantage : your casted picture/video travels out of your local network, to make a detour on the internet – more distance makes it slower
  • Advantage : Google Movies / Netflix movies / Youtube clips stream at a decent resolution for your smartTV, and probably come ‘directly’ from the Google/Netflix/Youtube servers instead of traveling via your app.

I played around with it for few days, and here is my feedback :

  • It makes any tv with a spare HDMI and spare USB port a ‘Smart TV’ so you can upgrade your TV for a low low price of 35 euros
  • It plays well with your smartphone and any apps that can cast data (I use Android, YMMV on an iPhone)
  • In our world where our mobile phone is becoming more and more a centerpiece of our live, this integrates very nicely
  • If you could just use it for casting your own pics and (silly YouTube) videos, then the price of 35 euros is just right to make your tv smart, but it will be sitting mostly unused behind your tv: unfortunately out-of-view is out-of-mind
  • However, when you can use it to control your NetFlix account (or other similar streaming service)and order movies from your mobile to stream to your TV, *then* it becomes much more interesting !
  • Netflix has announced that it is coming to Belgium sometime this year. Meanwhile Google has quietly opened Google ‘Play’ Movies in Belgium as well… in the same week as they announced that their Google Chromecast is available in Belgium as well…

    Hmmmm… smells like a strategy to me :-)

TP-Link, D-Link, Devolo with HomePlug AV are all compatible

I just bought a new TP-Link starter kit to replace my last Devolo device (since I’m not a fan of Devolo anymore). Cheap when compared to other devices, especially as it has 2 ETHernet ports, which is what I was looking for.

The title on the box of the TP-Link starter kit, however, is a bit misleading : 300Mbps AV500 Wifi Powerline Extender Starter Kit.

My eyes just skimmed over the first words (300Mbps) and I immediately went looking for another device than this, because I was searching for a *500* Mbps AV device. Not a 300 Mbps.

I took me a few times to actually completely read the description on the device (after looking at more expensive devices). Turns out that it is actually a 500Mbps AV device, and the 300Mbps is for the WIFI part of it !!

TP-Link, you might want to change that… Customers might think like me that this is a 300Mbps device and go for another device.

The devices itself are small. The plastic does not feel perhaps as sturdily made as Devolo or D-Link, both of them seem like big blocks compared to the TP-Link device. However, that is not what you buy it for… So far, the TP-link devices certainly work, with almost zero setup.

Using WPS on the router I activated the Wifi-Cloning at the TP-Link device, a few blinks, done, and then it automatically repeated my wifi. Where the wi-fi reception in the kitchen was guaranteed to be close to non-existant, due to the router being behind multiple walls with different angles all the way at the other side of the house, suddenly reception of my network is now between 3 and 4 bars ! ETHernet ports work as well, as I can stream video from my NAS to my tv.

I can also confirm that TP-Link, D-Link and Devolo all happily talk to each other – as long as it states on the box that they are AV Homeplug compatible they should work fine together !