Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Silicone baking mats by Teresa's Kitchen

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My wife loves to bake and I love to eat what she makes so anything that improves the process is A-OK in my book. People will usually use parchment paper to prevent anything from burning or sticking to a pan and it makes any cleanup much easier. The only way to make it better was to have that paper reusable and these silicone baking mats do just that.

Build- Just a nice sturdy mat of silicone that appears to be fiber reinforced making it harder to tear. They are still very flexible though so I was able to roll them up almost to a paper-towel tube size to give to my wife for Christmas. Made them a little less obvious. They have a pretty tacky texture. I like that the corners are cut as well which lets them fit into rounded corners better.

Function- They are advertised as being able to take 482F and while we haven't pushed them to their breaking point they held up fine to making a batch of macaroons. As you can see between the two pictures it didn't react to the heat at all and you can even see that shininess is still there. The empty spots are where a few of the cookies had already been... taste-tested, and there wasn't a bit left behind. On another batch that wasn't fully cooked there was a little left but that came right off with a little water. One concern I had before trying them was that the silicone wouldn't transfer the heat the same as metal but the perfectly done batch you see had a nice crispy bottom so it's just like using a regular pan.

I've found nothing to complain about with these. They work as well as if they weren't there but stay pretty clean if everything is cooked right and clean off fine even when it isn't. I have to be honest I'm not always looking for a new way to be green but when it's this easy to not throw away parchment paper every time there's no reason no to use them. Especially at these prices. I received this product free in exchange for nothing more than my honest opinion.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Bluetooth speaker by Krazilla

Get one from Amazon here

I've now tried several bluetooth speakers from the large and flashy(literally) to the light and horrible sounding. After playing around with this one by Krazilla for a while I'd place it toward the upper end of your average low-priced speaker. I'd change a few things but all around I was satisfied with it.

Build- As soon as you pick this thing up you'll notice it is heaaaaa-vy. No to the extent that it would be a pain to carry around but it will hang low in a pocket. You're probably thinking "So?" and I would agree with you here. In something portable I think it's more about size than weight. By those measurements you've got a winner because this thing is small. I can almost close my thumb and middle finger around it's 2ish by 2ish by 2ish volume. You really wouldn't want to go any smaller as you'd start to compromise the possibility of getting good sound out of it. Up top you have a sturdy metal grille, soft touch coated metal main body and plastic base that is covered on the bottom with a thin but grippy rubber. The weight combined with the bottom means it has less of a chance of getting knocked off something or sliding around if it's in a car. Starting from the mini-USB(not micro; one negative) charging port and going clockwise you have the status indicator, full size usb for flash/hard drive sources, aux 3.5mm input, volume/selector, and micro-usb slot.

Function- Most important is always sound quality and again I'd place it towards the upper end of your average bluetooth speaker. Where some may cause you to want

to turn the music off tinny or muffled sound I actually enjoyed what it produced. Nothing mind blowing but perfectly adequate for small portable sound. My biggest complaint is the blindingly bright blue LED that is constantly on. You can use it to navigate the other side of a room it is placed in and don't even think about going to sleep with it if you haven't taped over the light. It juts seems unnecessary to have it when all it really does it tell you the unit is on. The other thing is the inclusion of a mini-usb port. When most phones have a micro and some are even making the switch to type-c this just seems outdated. Operation is pretty straight forward beyond the volume/selector which is a two-way rocker which also presses in as a button. Nothing too difficult once you try it a bit.

This is the type of bluetooth speaker I would recommend to friends. If you're going bluetooth there's no reason to get anything high end because the sound quality it always going to be limited unless you move to wifi. It needs to be small and sound good and this one checks the boxes. I received this product free in exchange for nothing more than my honest opinion.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Clip holder on arm for celphones

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I have to say I've been looking for one of these forever. My wife and I sometimes lay in bed just looking at things and sharing links with each other. Being the lazy person I am, my arms tend to get tired holding something up in front of my face. A flexible arm like this with a generic clip means you really can place it anywhere. Included is a basic stand that's nothing special but if you wanted a stand too; it works fine.

Build- It's mostly plastic and there's really no getting around it with this type of product. It keeps everything fairly light and none of the pieces. One end has a clip with a sturdy spring for it's size while the other has one that opens like a claw to accept your phone. The arm itself is a very stiff piece of what I can only assume is an aluminum alloy to keep it's shape but still allow for repeated reshaping.

Function- Overall I like the product but it has minor things at each end I'd like to see changed. The clip that grabs furniture has a strong spring but because it is two flat paddles coming together there is a very specific shape it is most suited for. I've used it from 3/4 of an inch up to almost two and it doesn't fall off but it would hold a lot better if it had a deeper grip. You end up with a little tilt of everything if there is too much torque on the arm and you have to compensate for it with an adjustment of the bendy-bit.  Then there is the phone end. If you just have a phone then you'll be all set. I have a Nexus 7 that I'd like to put in it sometimes but I find it holds it for at most 5 seconds before the tablet just shoots out. When you open the claw far enough to insert the device the "fingers" if you will end up at an angle that can barely clamp that size and once it slides in the rubber pads enough there's nothing to hold on to.

Even with my complaints though it does do the job of holding a phone where you want it. Minor things aside I'd recommend it if you find it for the right price. I received this product free in exchange for nothing more than my honest opinion.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Double Camping Hammock by Live Infinitely

Hang one up yourself from Amazon

I love this thing. No two ways about it. After taking it to a my wife's family's cabin on an Alabama river over Thanksgiving weekend I had plenty of time to try it out. Even after some tentativeness about the weight capacity it came through and I even have a couple family members who want one. While some products will only come with a hammock and expect you to make a separate purchase to get straps this one helpfully includes everything you need to walk out into the woods and set it up in minutes.

Build- For something purported to hold two people's weight you would expect to have some solid construction. I'm glad to say everything about it held up wonderfully. The main body is made up of a parachute type fabric that showed no strain when I was in it and was just as fine when my wife hopped in with me for a nap on a nice 70 degree day. I looked everywhere and there was no sign of seams pulling out anywhere. Even though the fabric seems so thin it is very wide so when it all bunches together at one point around the very thick paracord all the strain is spread out to the straps. Speaking of the straps, they are a must with this type of hammock and I like to see that they are included. They are very long which lets you pick any two trees that are the length of the hammock up to probably twice that length. just looking at them you can see they are made well and would have no trouble holding two peoples weight. One side of the hammock has a bag shape attached to it allowing it to fold right up into itself for transport.

Function- Well, I lay down in it and don't fall out so I suppose that's a good thing, right? Depending on your mounting strategy you can have it fairly taut giving you a somewhat flat surface to lay on. A loose mount will give you more of a U shape. To actually attach it to a tree I found that the best way was to start with the strap loop against the tree and wrap it around and over the loop while still leaving it exposed. Once you can't quite get a full turn or your hammock is too far away, stick it through the loop and attach it. The loops of strap hold tight just from the friction of their overlap. When you're done it really isn't had to pack into the small bag because the material is so light. I just fold it side-to-side until it's about 8-10 inches across and then roll it end-to-end. This usually leave it int he right shape and stuffing it works to finish it off.

This doesn't have to just be an outdoors/woods item. I was just as happy strapping it between two post of out pergola in the yard and enjoying a sunset. Kids love to play in them too and as long as they don't have anything sharp there's not really much they can do to it. As I said before I know several people who want one after trying it so that says a lot. I'd recommend it to anyone. I received this product free in exchange for nothing more than my honest opinion.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

HDMI to HDMI+Audio splitter by Allreli

Grab one here

The use cases for a product like this are many but in my case I have a Blu-ray player and Chromecast that are plugged into my TV and I have an older receiver that lacks any sort of HDMI input. I'd like to have their audio go through the better speakers and now I can split it off through the RCA plugs.

Build- I'm a fan of how this thing is put together. The folded steel construction means that when it's sitting in the back of a cabinet and getting pushed around you never have to worry about it. It's nice to have this piece of mind when everything else is coming as plastic these days. The design is simple as well: One side has the input and single control while the other has all the outputs. The icing n the cake, at least for me, is that the power adapter is the type that goes 90 degrees to the side instead of down so you can easily fit it in a power strip.

Function- It worked perfectly for me. This is the type of product that I like to just be a set-and-forget and that seem to be the case so far. When I fire up the Chromecast and start some music the audo comes through it to my receiver with no issues and sounds fine. What more could you ask for? The only thing noticeable that someone somewhere might complain about is that there is a .5-1 seconds pause when using the slider to switch modes. Even then who would care? You'll probably only ever use it once. Something useful to know about the slider is that audio is always passed through no matter what. You can turn off the splitting and use pass-through, use 2ch and pass-through, or 5.1ch and pass-through. The advantage here is that you can use the TV itself as a psuedo-center channel.

Overall there is nothing about this I don't like. It is built solidly and does it's one job very well. I recommend it. I received this product free in exchange for nothing more than my honest opinion.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Ultrasonic Humidifier/Diffuser by Zen

I'm not a big humidifier or diffuser person but my wife likes to use different oils to make the house smell better. We tried this one and liked the 2-in-1 idea but it ends up lacking a little on both. In the end though all my notes are minor things; we like it overall.

Build- It is of course all plastic but nothing feels too cheap on it. Operation is easy with a simple dial to change the intensity(I was surprised how high it went as well). We love the color changing LED light but it's not very bright. If we were to have it in a room at night we wouldn't want the light at all so it seems like thy should be bright enough to see easily in a lit room. Not a big deal though. How to use it is somewhat self explanatory but the instructions aren't very clear English wise. Basically all you need to know though it fill the reservoir and add the cap, place the oil on the metal circle in the base, add the tank, and turn it on.

Function- As a humidifier you can see it pumping out a fair amount of moisture but because it's small it has a limited tank capacity. My wife did mention this isn't all that bad though because it means if a child  like our curious daughter gets a hold of it the amount that spills is limited. You get a fair run time for the size but then as a diffuser it also could use improvement. Because this uses a reservoir tank for the water you'll see in the instructions that you're supposed to place the oil drops on the ultrasonic emitter at the bottom and then place the tank in. This lets the water run out over the oil and works fine at this point. The problem is that the water that runs out initially is all you get for the oil and once that is used up more water runs in; but all the oil is gone. The amount of time running it with oil ends up being less that the time a dedicated diffuser would run. At that point you don't want to bother lifting the tank and adding more oil. You COULD add the oil to the tank itself but then you'd need to keep it clean and there's no way to scrub the inside through the small hole.

After all that though depending on your needs this could work fine. If you just want a small amount of fragrance and then still need the humidifier function that would be perfect. We don't dislike it but the natural consequence of two uses just means it doesn't shine at either completely. I received this product free in exchange for nothing more than my honest opinion.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

LED 20W Edison Filament Bulb

I was impressed with this one. Everyone's trying to make something new and everything has to include LEDs these days. Usually though you'll expect to pay quite a premium for anything good. For under 10 bucks these decorative lights are a good deal to add some flair to your place. Exposed filament bulbs look great and add mood to any room. You'll often see them out at restaurants and I've always wanted some for my home. These allow you to do that while still saving on energy.

These bulbs will fit in any regular socket you'll find in your house and are the exact same size as an old incandescent one. That means you can use them anywhere. While I wouldn't go tossing them around I think these are more durable due to the plastic that makes up the "glass". If you give it a tap you almost can't tell the difference. The model I tried was the 20W equivalent so you won't light a room with it: decoration only. If you want more power though go ahead and try the 60W ones which really aren't that much more expensive. You do get the exposed filament feel with these but I think the light temperature is a little cooler than incandescent. Still a warm white though. One of my pictures includes it with a few other bulbs that are considered "warm".

I have no complaints. Screw it in and enjoy what it adds to your home. I need to get a couple more now. I received this product free in exchange for nothing more than my honest opinion.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

3 port HDMI switch with 4K support

Grab one here on Amazon

Really? I mean Really!? I like to start my reviews out with a nice summary and then get into the details but this product surprised me so much with a glaring bug that I have to make sure it's clear to anyone looking to buy the splitter that there's a problem. I try to explain it but also included a short video showing the bug.

It's not that it's unusable; it certainly works in that it lets you switch between three hdmi signals  while skipping any unused slots... with a catch. I was really interested in this model because the remote allows you to specify exactly which signal to go to instead of making you cycle through each one. The only problem is it doesn't work. I had signals plugged into inputs 1 and 3 and can switch between them with the cycle button with no issues. When I try to press "1" though, nothing happens. I can press "2" and it will go to input 2  but it won't go back to 1. Then it get's worse: if you press "3"... it switches to input 3, the one with nothing plugged into it. And you can't go straight to 3 either; you first have to go to 2 and then you can do 2-3-2-3-2-3 all you want but never to 1. Just because I was curious I moved the cable from input 1 to input 3. At this point you can chose input 1 and 2, but not three. Really?

The important thing I want you to remember is that at any point during all this you can cycle to the input you want. What baffles me is how something like this gets into a finished product with nobody noticing. The fact that you can switch the inputs and get the bug to show up in a different place means this is a design issue and I'm very disappointed.

If you just need something to switch between HDMI inputs this will work. If you want a good product that behaves as it should and shows care went into it; this isn't for you. I received this product free in exchange for nothing more than my honest opinion.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mini Softbox by Ohuhu

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As someone who makes use of a softbox whenever possible it was great to see there is a smaller version that is much more portable. I can see my self making use of this is some situations but it does have slight issues that might not make it my go-to modifier.

Build- Externally this softbox is made of rip-stop nylonwith elastic covering the ribs that give it structure. In the back you have some more elastic to go around the head of your flash as well as velcro that is meant to go around back and hold it in. Internally is a nice reflective fabric to bounce all available light out the front. What is nice is the two options for diffusing as well as a separate set of mounting velcro for each. The both are about the same as each other translucent-wise but how they hang affects the light. One attaches to tabs at each corner and allows light to excape around the edge to provide a form of ring light while the other covers the entire front providing a complete diffusion.

Function- The softness of your light also depends on the size of your modifier so it will still be fairly directional with something this small. It is however still going to soften more than a bare flash and I tried to capture the difference in a couple pictures. The complaint I have is the setup. I think the elastic to go around the flash is a good idea but I haven't found a quick way to do it. Once you get it in and wrap the velcro around everything slides around a little bit. It needs some sort of silicone on everything to give it a good grip.

A portable softbox is a great thing to have. I expect I'll use this in situations where I have a speedlight on a stand but don't want to worry about a big box getting blown around in the wind. If you don't mind a little wobble it'll work fine on camera but just be aware. I received this product free in exchange for nothing more than my honest opinion.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

8GB USB Digital Audio Voice Recorder

I was going to include pictures but instead I figure it makes more sense to throw them in a video and I'll record this first paragraph on it.

For something that looks just like the dime-a-dozen flash drives that are everywhere and even being given away these days I was surprised at this voice recorder. Operation is dead easy and it excels in it's simplicity. I' see some other reviewers complaining about lack of voice activation but I've used high quality recorders that don't even have that feature. It doesn't cook me breakfast either but what it does do is make long recording easy and does it in a small package.

Build- As some would market this as a spy tool I do have to say it is very unassuming. The case has one small hole for a status LED and the control switch almost blends in with the dimpling at the end. That's all there is that could ever even make you think it isn't just a normal flash drive.

Function- To turn it on you just flick the switch to on and it does it's job. Something important to remember is that it doesn't start recording until the LED turns itself off. It will be solid, then blink, then off. It turns on again when switching it off to tell you it's saving the file and will do so on it's own when the battery runs out. At this point you're recording and doing so quite clearly. You're of course going to be limited with such a small microphone but I was amazed at how clear I sounded once I plugged it in to my computer. Speaking of that; the fact that is it just a flash drive means you never have to worry about cables. Everything you need is built in. The best part about this though is the length of recording you get. I turned it on at the beginning of a day and off again at the end and still had battery so did it again the next day. On one charge I was able to get a few minutes under 14 hours and only used 5.18 of the 8 Gig capacity. That's enough to get another workday of recording after a charge without even emptying it.

Sure, it's simple and it doesn't have bells and whistles. If you just need to record something though this is the way to go. It can always be in your pocket and ready and with that large battery could just be on all day if you needed. The sound is good enough that unless you're going something archive quality there's no need to go for anything more expensive. I received this product free in exchange for nothing more than my honest opinion.

Mini LED Strobe Light by JS Lighting

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When I was younger I collected party lights so I've had a couple strobe lights. I think this one is something that would be best considered a novelty and used in a man-cave, child's room, or home party. It has some advantages over some higher priced models but it wouldn't ever be used in a professional setting.

Build- Everything is plastic on the casing to the mounting bracket. I like to see stronger materials most of the time but in this case it works as a plus. It's so small that it's enough to protect it from a drop and it keeps the entire package light. You have a clear panel on the front to protect the LEDs; something that may not be needed but there less chance of them being crunched in a bump. The single control is in the back along with the power cord.

Function- There is no power switch on this model. It keeps costs down on this bare minimum amount of electronics but I'd like to see one so you don't have to plug it in every time you use it in a more permanent setting. Once it's on though you just turn the knob on the back to adjust the speed of the flashes from fairly slow to a quick pace but not as fast as others I've seen. Brightness is ok too but again, nothing that will blow you away. The last thing I noticed is that the cord coming out the back has a strain relief clamp to prevent it from coming out but it's not tight enough so the cord slides in and out anyway.

The audience for a strobe light like this is someone who just wants to add a little fun to a room or maybe even a wedding dance floor. Enough to add effect but no one will go blind. The plus with this over more powerful ones is that LED panel should last indefinitely. No need to ever hunt around or have to shop online for a replacement bulb. This strobe light has a basic set of features but could just use a little improvement. I received this product free in exchange for nothing more than my honest opinion.