Blink XT review

Normally I’d just post a review like this on the merchant’s website – in this case Amazon.  Yet perplexingly when I tried to do so, I was given the error message:

Sorry, we are unable to accept reviews for this product. This product has limitations on submitting reviews. There can be a number of reasons for this, including unusual reviewing activity.

Hmmm… curious.  I tried revising my star rating from 2 to 5 to see if it were so blatantly influenced by that, but it did not make a difference.

Anyway, FWIW here’s my review:

First up, the Blink XT cameras do not work with normal batteries – you have to buy quite expensive Lithium batteries.  Use of any other types of AAs will result in the camera not triggering reliably, failing to record full videos (or at all), etc.  So factor in about $20 extra per camera for a pair of such batteries.  Also, the two year quoted battery life appears to be a joke – I had to replace the first set of batteries after only a month or so.

Second, the video quality is not great.  They’re ostensibly 1080p but it looks both upscaled (probably from 720p) and it appears the video is recorded on the sync dongle, not the camera itself, so it’s subject to any radio interference issues that might exist, which will result in noticeably degraded video quality – or recording corrupting or cutting out entirely.  Overall the video quality, even in the best case, is like that of a very cheap smartphone (as of 2018), or say a 2010 iPhone.

Third, the only way to remotely control the cameras, and view recorded videos, is via mobile apps.  No desktop apps, no website, nothing.  So it’s very tedious to view the recordings, manage them, etc.

Fourth, the mobile app for iOS is not great.  It’s very slow – Cloud-saved videos are never loaded in advance, only on demand, and can take up to a minute to start playing.  It’s also a bit buggy.  e.g. a lot of the time it’ll fail to do whatever you asked, responding instead with a long delay ended with an error message along the lines of “the camera is busy”.

Fifth, wireless range is limited – I have one camera only about ten metres from both my wireless router & the sync module, through one exterior wall, and the video quality is noticeably degraded sometimes.  I tried placing one camera with line of sight about 30 metres away, and it worked (barely) for an hour or two and then never again, until I moved it much closer.

Sixth, motion triggering is inconsistent and lacks important configuration options (like zoning to denote areas to ignore or conversely to focus on).  e.g. for one video looking out the front of my place, it unavoidably has the street in view, which means that even on minimal sensitivity, we get a video & notification every single time a car goes by on the street.  Yet it still won’t reliably trigger when a human walks up to the front door, until they’re right in front of the camera.  Yet it’s nonetheless sometimes triggered by squirrels up to 10 metres away.

So, solidly not recommended.  Not the worst thing ever – the system does function in a very minimal sense, and I’ve managed to get some utility out of it, but it’s definitely disappointing – and many of these errors could surely be easily fixed by better software, firmware, or hardware design (e.g. support for normal batteries).

FTZ adaptor hates tripods, straps, and harnesses

The FTZ adaptor has a surprising and very frustrating design flaw – it’s impossible to mount it to the camera body when you have almost any kind of mounting plate, strap, or harness (e.g. Cotton Carrier) mount point attached to the camera body.  This is because the FTZ has a big fat foot, as can be seen in the above photo, which sticks down well below the bottom of the camera body.  Furthermore, the camera body’s tripod socket is very close to the front edge of the body – and thus the FTZ’s foot.  Anything you attach to the camera body’s tripod socket tends to stick out from the front of the camera’s body – a lot.  The FTZ’s fat foot collides with that, and makes it impossible to use both at the same time.

I suppose nominally you’re never supposed to use the camera body’s tripod mount when you have the FTZ attached, but that’s naive – if you’re going back and forth between native to adapted lenses, you’re not going to be constantly removing & reattaching things to tripod sockets.  At most you’d want to have the same widget in both the camera body’s and the FTZ’s tripod sockets, so that you always have one available irrespective of what lens you have attached.

I miss companies that gave some thought to having all their products work well together (this is just the latest example I’ve noticed in an increasing trend).

iOS 7 first impressions

I found this post in the ‘Drafts’ folder from 2013 – evidently I started writing, got distracted, and forgot about it.

It’s interesting to me even now because the aesthetics of iOS have been stuck in iOS 7 ever since.  I still don’t like the look, the design language, how many things operate – the interface is ugly, unintuitive, lacks personality, and – as the hosts of ATP might say – is absent the whimsy that defined Apple for decades.

It felt like a betrayal, too – now iOS, as of version 7, looked like a cheap Android rip-off.  Apple had wilfully and pointlessly thrown away their most important positive differentiators.  Insult was further added to injury by the mere existence of Windows Phone Metro, which – while still ugly to me too – at least demonstrated originality and a kind of bravery – it at least had a style, even if it wasn’t the one for me.

And it was dog slow.  It basically killed my love of the iPad, because it made my iPad 3 frustrating to use.  Even when I later got an iPad Air 2 (as a hand-me-down), my iPad love never really rekindled.

Nonetheless, I had been wondering for a few years: were I to go back now to iOS 6, would I be revolted & repulsed by it, and suddenly realise that iOS 7 and its ilk are in fact the current pinnacle of user interface & visual design?

A few months ago I got out my original iPad and turned it on.  It was running iOS 5, the last version of iOS support on it.  I hadn’t intended to go back in time – I’d forgotten entirely that it was pre-iOS 7.  I didn’t realise straight away, either.  My first thought, upon booting to the home screen, was “wow, this looks amazing”.  It genuinely took me a while to figure out why this non-Retina, decade-old, square & heavy iPad felt fantastic.

Then I realised – because it looks good and is easy to use.

Screenshot of iPad 3 home screen running iOS 6
The default iPad 3 home screen under iOS 6.  Admittedly prettier than on the original iPad, thanks to the Retina display, but you get the point nonetheless.
Screenshot courtesy of Dane Wirtzfeld via Flickr.

Without further ado, my until-now unpublished iOS 7 first impressions:

It’s buggy. The task switcher has a terrible time dealing with landscape orientation.

It’s slow. Both in general – perhaps just lacking some optimisations – and by apparent design flaws. e.g. many new animations are unnecessary to begin with, and unnecessarily slow to boot, and you can’t interact with things until the animation is done. It’s quickly frustrating.

The new slide-up gesture (for the little control sheet) steals scrolls periodically, which is exceedingly annoying. Perhaps in time I’ll recalibrate where I need to touch things in order to avoid that, but it’s annoying in the meantime.

Actually installing it was a pain and took multiple attempts, as per usual for any system restore. Le sigh.

Spelling correction is more aggressive now, and will even re-incorrect things after you explicitly fix them. Fucker.

To delete emails you now have to swipe the opposite direction – from right to left. No obvious reason, and certainly no indication on how to do that.

The new icons and dock design look like UI mocks. By someone who’s either not very good at them or just needs a really basic placeholder. They’re probably the most disappointing thing about iOS 7 so far.

The new lock screen is obtuse, as others have noted. The whole slide to unlock debacle is ridiculous and Apple has no excuse for it. But furthermore, it displays your chosen lock screen image arbitrarily cropped, and jitters it about randomly in what must be intended to be this infamous parallax effect, but in reality has no apparent relationship to the orientation of the iPad, and so just looks broken and stupid. Big cock-up all round there.

I love (meaning am tremendously sad) how certain aspects of those first impressions have lasted – some becoming huge memes of their own (e.g. damnyouautocorrect.com).  And how some parts of the iOS upgrade experience – like having to do the install repeatedly to get it to work – persist to this day.