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February 2012
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April 2012

Review: Shave Well Fog Free Mirror

If you don't shave in the shower, you should. And if you shave in the shower, you need the Shave Well Fog Free Mirror. Seriously, just buy one.

I've tried countless shaving mirrors over the year. This one wins hands-down, and it's great for traveling too. It's plastic so it won't break, and light enough that it won't weigh you down.

Some "fog free" mirrors use special coatings or complicated water-circulating attachments to keep the mirror clear. I've tried all those. They suck. The Shave Well uses science--you lift the mirror from its hook and run it under the water for a moment. This equalizes the mirror's temperature with the water's so it doesn't fog up. Simple. At only $10 this one is also less expensive than most other mirrors.

The only improvement I'd make to the Shave Well mirror is that it comes with a hook that has permanent adhesive. I don't want to stick that to my shower wall, and I want to travel with the mirror, so I bought a package of inexpensive suction cup hooks at the grocery story and threw away the hook they supplied.


Review: One Good Earbud

My car doesn't have built-in Bluetooth, and I don't drive often enough to remember to keep a bluetooth headset or speaker charged up, so I end up using my iPhone's headset for hands-free operation while driving.

But I'm paranoid about being able to hear traffic and other noises, so I only keep one of the earbuds in my ear. (The Right one, it has the mic and volume controls.) That leaves the other bud dangling, where it gets caught up and generally just annoys me.

But recently I discovered One Good Earbud . It seems like an ideal solution. It's not just a headset with one side cut off (which I'd considered doing myself, believe me), it mixes the stereo audio into one ear so everything sounds right. (Less of an issue for phone calls, but important for music.) If I were a jogger or somesuch, I'd leap at the chance to have one ear uncovered yet still listen to my music this way.

But since my interest is for use in the car with an iPhone, I opted for the more expensive model that includes a microphone. At $26 you might wonder if it's worth it, but a few weeks of use, I'd say it is. I'm not entirely pleased, however, due to the following:

  • The headset's wire is sturdy, so it doesn't coil easily like Apple's headphone wiring. This is more than a tactile complaint; it means One Good Earphone doesn't pack as small or unwind as easily as I'd hoped.
  • The wire is also a little short. I'm a tall guy, and during use the wire just reaches to the front pocket of my pants with only a little bit of slack. When driving, the short length means I need to keep the phone on my body, not on the car's console.
  • It's a good thing the short wire keeps the iPhone nearby, as the only control on the mic is a pause button. There are no volume controls, and there's no way to trigger Siri from the headset. This is quite unfortunate.
  • The audio quality is quite good for one small earbud, but it's easy to overdrive the speaker until it sounds horrible. This is more of a downside than you might think because, again, there's no volume control on headset. You'll be reaching for your iPhone to adjust the volume instead.
Overall, I like using it better than dangling one of Apple's stock headsets. Given its few weaknesses and great benefits, you might find that it still works for you, too. For more details, see the company's website, but if you're a Prime member, it's better to order from Amazon and avoid the shipping charges.

Audio-only monitoring of your pet

I've previously written about using webcams to monitor your pet when you're away from home. Recently, I've been trying out audio-only monitoring. In some cases, such as if you have a dog that tends to howl when left alone, being able to hear what's happening at home is more than sufficient. Additionally, audio is much less problematic when it comes to positioning and lighting. That is, you can probably hear your dog scratching or whining in the next room, but with a webcam you'd never know that anything was wrong.

One solution is the Evoz Monitor app, for iOS devices. It's particularly handy if you have an old iPhone or an iPad that you leave at home all the time. You install the app on the device that stays home, and on the iPhone you carry, and then you can listen in from wherever you are. (Yes, you have to remember to start the app on the home device, known as the monitor, before you leave.)

Evoz's 2 week free trial is long enough to help you decide if the app is going to work for you. After the trial period, unless you pay for a premium account, you're only allowed 30 minutes worth of monitoring a day, but I've found that limit is approximate, at best. Note that Evoz is designed to monitor human babies, so none of its premium features (such as parenting discussion or crying baby alerts) are useful for pet owners. (My experience confirms that a barking dog does not set off the "your baby is crying" push notification.)

The mic sensitivity (I used an iPad 2 as a monitor) and the sound quality is quite good. You should find it more than sufficient for listening in at home. In fact, if you live in a quiet area, you might want to leave a radio playing at home (if you don't already) just so you can be sure the system is actually working.

I did have problems with the monitor remaining connected and active for long periods of time (several hours), but I wasn't able to narrow the cause of this down to my trial period ending, my iPad locking itself after not being used for a while, or some other random thing. If you start a trial of your own, figuring out the best strategy for leaving the monitoring device turned on should be your first priority. If you find a good solution, please let the rest of us know.


Lorex home webcam using Skype

I finally got my hands on the Lorex Live Connect camera that I mentioned earlier. Overall, I'm mostly pleased with the results. I got the least expensive package ($149), since I have no use for the in-home monitor ($299). I can imagine that's a pretty handy thing if you're using the camera as a baby monitor and don't have an iPhone or other iOS device around to keep on eye on your little angel. (But for the money, you'll be lots happier buying an iPod touch instead.)

As a home security or pet monitor, the cam isn't exactly ideal. Primarily because it doesn't offer any pan or tilt controls. (You probably don't need those if you're monitoring a baby in a crib.) The cam does have the decided advantage of being battery-operated, though, which gives you lots of flexibility in placement. Lorex says the battery will last 4 hours, but as is typical, my real-world results are about half that. Fortunately you can also run the camera plugged-in, so if you have an outlet nearby, that's a better choice. You can use a standard USB-style power supply, or the one that Lorex provides.

The remarkable (if not brilliant) feature of this camera is that it's basically a Skype device that's set to auto-answer calls from Skype users that you authorize. Using Skype solves a huge problem associated with webcams--they're all damn tricky to configure. With the Lorex Live Connect, you doh't have to hassle with port forwarding, dynamic DNS, or a subscription to a third-party proxy server. The darn thing just works.

Well, most of the time. Despite the greatly simplified setup you still have to create a Skype account for the camera, then create one for yourself to use when you're away from home (if you don't have one already), and then reciprocally add the accounts to the address books. This feels like jumping through several hoops, but once you're done, it's smooth sailing.

Well, most of the time. The Lorex Live Connect comes with a Skype router that connects to your home network (Wi-Fi or ethernet) and a camera that connects wirelessly (like a cordless phone, not via Wi-Fi) to the router. I've experienced frequent problems where the router is online with Skype, but it's unable to talk to the camera. When this occurs, you can connect via Skype, but you can't hear or see anything. I contacted Lorex support, but they weren't at all helpful with this problem. Eventually, I figured out that turning on the router, waiting for it to connect to Skype (indicated with a light on the router), and only then turning on the camera seems to avoid this problem. So far, anyway. (If you never turn your camera and router off, presumably you'll avoid this problem.)

The camera can talk to up to four different cameras. I only have one, but according to the documentation, after you connect to the first camera, you use text chat to switch to another. Seems like this would work, but boy does it feel like a hack (and a hassle).

The audio quality of the camera is surpassingly good. The video, however, is quite poor. Now a lot of the quality has to do with Skype and your connection speed, but even when you have a fast Wi-Fi connection the picture is fuzzy. (See example.) The camera has automatic infra-red illuminators, a nice touch, but like all IR cameras the color fidelity suffers. Overall, for my purposes, the quality is sufficient, but if you're hoping for better you might be disappointed.

Skypeexample

This may sound like a lukewarm or negative review, but really it's not. The camera's price is reasonable compared to other solutions, and the amazing ease of use it brings via Skype is commendable. With some work on overall reliability, Lorex is onto something great, let's encourage them.