Category Archives: Gadgets

Cool Gadgets!

Astro Max

Astro Max Unit

Is Astro Max as good as they say? Here’s my personal account on what its like to use Astro Max.

I managed to get hold of an Astro Max unit due to Astro’s initiative to reward faithful existing clients the opportunity to experience this new service via free upgrade of our existing unit with a brand spanking new Astro Max unit. With that…. who can complain?

I was happy to hear of the free upgrage from their notification letter and quickily called the Astro center to have the upgrade sent to us asap. I was informed that it will take about 3 weeks to have the unit delivered over but to my surprise again, it was delivered by one of their agents only after 3 days.

During installation we had to change a “receptor?” on the satalite dish because apparantly one of the sensors in it was damaged. What used to work for the old Astro unit will no longer work for the new Astro Max unit. This is because the new Astro Max unit requires all the sensors or receptors to work properly before it is able to operate properly. The changing of the part cost like RM80.00 (if I remember correctly) so… so much for the FREE upgrade. In any case, we’re still happy to receive the free unit F.O.C.

The Astro Max unit is touted to have various features:

  • Pause Live TV
  • Rewind Live TV
  • Records 60 hours of Live TV
  • Watch another show while recording another

Astro MAX highlights:

  • 80GB hard disk drive.
  • 60 hours of programme storage capacity.
  • 2 tuners – watch two time-conflicting programmes.
  • Creates a 30 minute buffer in the programme you are currently watching.
  • Lets you control live TV with pause, rewind, instant replay, slow-motion and frame by frame.
  • Fully integrated with the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) for easy to use recording

My Personal Experience (after a couple of months usage):

PROS

  • Astro Max ControllerI like the recording capability of Astro Max. The fact that we can record while watching another channel is a good plus point
  • Furthermore the ability to set the unit to record at a pre-designated time and interval is also useful.
  • The rewinding feature while watching Live TV has also been used but not all the time. Its good to have none the less.
  • The fast forwarding feature for pre-recorded shows are a good feature. I find myself fast forwarding past all the adverts. I wonder how they can charge as much now to advertisers. Most people will just fast forward through them right? … unless you’re dead bored and would watch anything out there.

CONS

  • Unlike old Astro units, this Astro Max unit takes ages to load! When you click on a button from stand-by or start-up it boots up like a PC. After all it is somewhat like a PC with a 80GB Hard Disk in it. This is what you see when you start up….
  • I have experienced lots of software issues with the unit. Luckily they’re really not that life threatening and I can close one eye and “reboot” when I am faced with such situations. I wonder if it uses a Microsoft Windows operating system… what’s with the reboots? Anyway some of the software problems I have encountered are:
    • Astro Max Startup ScreenSlow Startups. It takes up to 20 seconds or more for the unit to start showing a channel. The old units will normally display a channel within a couple of seconds.
    • Auto Checking and Updating of unit when starting up and sometime while watching astro
    • Channel Information sometimes does not show up automatically at all when changing channel. All I see is a channel number without the name of the channel. Everything else is blank. I will need to press the INFO button before I can see the name of the channel and also name of the show.
    • Unable to record certain channels. Sometimes I will be able to records Channel 30 WLT but sometimes it doesn’t even give me the option. I am sure this is not limited to Channel 30. Why is it I can record sometimes and I can’t at others?
    • Astro Max Signal ScreenUnable to start and watch pre-recorded shows during rain or poor signal strength. How frustrating have you felt when you want to watch astro and it starts to rain? Ok so you decide to watch pre-recorded shows… After all they are pre-recorded and you don’t need signal strength to watch it. But then, due to some unknown reason (probably software related rather than hardware), the unit is not able to start up without proper signal even though you are planning to watch pre-recorded MYMAX shows.
    • Hanging of machine. What’s new here? In order to get out of hanging, pressing any other button will not help. You actually need to swicth off the wall switch and back on again and keep your fingers crossed that the unit will boot up correctly. Of course in the meanwhile, you will need to wait for the starting up again. Sometimes it takes up to three reboots to get things to work properly. What gives?

 

Would I purchase my own Astro Max? – The answer to this is perhaps NO. Though it has all the perks listed above, it also has all the problems listed above. For ordinary Astro users, I think the old units will do just fine. However if Astro is able to address my concerns above and have them rectified, I think it Astro Max would be the way to go. After all, the features are good things to have. But from how I see it, Astro Max still needs a lot of tweeking to carry out. The hardware might have limitations but the software is definately way below par.

NOTE: This article is based on personal experience and need not be a full and complete representation on all users of Astro Max.

Astro Max Front Panel

Astro Max Rear Panel

 

To find out more about ASTRO MAX service you can find it here at

http://www.astro.com.my/astromax/

 

 

MRC’s XRB Helicopter Review

Introduction

At the January 2003 AMA Convention in Pasadena, CA. I first saw an XRB Mini Lama electric helicopter and I thought it flew great and was a very cool item. In my review of the convention I expressed my interest in getting the item but that: “I resisted…for now!” That model flew at the end of a 12 foot tether and for some reason that tether kept me from buying one. In October 2004 they came out with the new XRB SR (Sky Robo) Lama, flying without tether using a four channel FM radio system and a two cell Lithium battery for power. They even improved the looks of the model by making its basic color silver with red highlights. My resistance was now gone and I had to have one.

 

 

Kit Contents

The quality of this product was apparent to me well before I had finished unpacking the kit. I saved the box — I can easily store my XRB in its original packaging when not flying or displaying it. The copter took up the front 2/3s of the box and was packaged in plastic that allowed me to see what I was getting through the front of the box, while keeping the copter from shifting or being damaged in normal transport. The back 1/3 of the box securely held the transmitter and all other parts in individual bags inside two cardboard boxes that were secured in the cardboard “tray” in the back packaging. The box was/is an excellent way to store and protect everything when not in use.

My kit included a two-cell Lithium battery all ready resting in the battery tray under the helicopter. In a small box to the right of the transmitter were six sets of replacement blades with three pairs for the top of the mast and three pairs for the bottom of the mast. Also in that box was the hub for training gear for a beginner to use. In the second and larger box that was stored to the left of the transmitter were all the other parts. This included the Lithium battery charger, the safety (beginner) skid parts, the skid braces, the blade balancer, two small screw drivers and an Allen wrench, light weight stabilizer weights, a card to fill out and an excellent instruction manual.

The instruction manual was excellent and I highly recommend that every pilot read it before flying the XRB. It was a very quick read with large text and many pictures/drawings. Pages 19-23 described how to balance and adjust the helicopter for blade tracking, movement in any direction and adjusting the yaw. The instructions also covered fine tuning and setting the XRB up for an expert pilot. They clearly showed what transmitter control caused what movement with the helicopter and gave recommendations for starting flight. The assembly and reading of the manual took little time and was well worth the effort.

I did need to buy 8 AA size batteries and installed them in the transmitter. Otherwise everything I needed came in the box.

Assembly

For the inexperienced helicopter pilot they supplied a simple to assemble training skid that they called the Safety Skid. It snapped together as shown on page ten of the instructions. It’s to help keep the beginner from tipping over on landings and take-offs.

The Lipoly battery slid into a battery holder under the copter and plugged into the copter only for flying. They recommended that it remain unplugged when not flying to avoid having the voltage drawn down and possibly ruining the battery. The three wire plug was unusual to this reviewer and complicated trying to use another brand of Lipoly as a backup battery.

The XRB came with the standard round stabilizers that supply higher stability and slower response. But they also packed a pair of light weight (flatter) stabilizers for use by advanced pilots. These reportedly supply lower stability but quicker response. The switch between the two different pairs of stabilizers appeared simple in the instructions. They also showed how to change the connecting rod on the stabilizer to the other side of the stabilizer to get quicker response. All flights for this review were with the standard stabilizer.

To store my assembled XRB in the original box, after I installed the skid braces, I had to make some cuts in the protective plastic with my Exacto knife to fit the copter with the skid braces back into the protective plastic. The two pictures below show the plastic with parts removed to fit the skid braces. The second picture, showing the black back piece, best shows where I cut out plastic.

Side notes:

As mentioned in the introduction, I first saw the tethered version of the XRB at the AMA Convention in 2003. Below is a picture I took of it being flown in demonstration and a picture I saw on the Internet of the RED tethered XRB. in talking about it with a friend at the time, he didn’t like the look of the counter-rotating blades and thought it didn’t look real because of them. I told him that some of the first attempts at helicopter type vehicles involved counter-rotating props and that the Soviets even had an attack helicopter powered by them. The photo below of the KA50 Black Shark won me a free lunch. I have included a couple of pictures of it below.

If you would like an XRB Lama to look even more scale then the one I reviewed, they do sell an interior for the copter as an accessory. While I loved the scale looks of the Lama I understand that at the Tokyo Toy Fair last year they unveiled an Airwolf body that may become available as an accessory for the XRB in the future. The second picture below is from the Tokyo Toy Fair. The third picture is one that Tikaboo posted in RCGroups as I was reviewing the XRB. Unfortunately, I know nothing more about the Airwolf versions of the XRB other than the pictures are cool.

Improvements over the Tethered XRB

Besides the most obvious changes of RC vs. tethered and silver vs. red, I noted several other changes in the new XRB from the original. The first was the addition of the little jet engine on the top back of the copter. While purely cosmetic I found it a very eye appealing addition.

A more important change was the taller mast which gave more separation for the counter-rotating blades. This change was not important for most slow beginner style flights but was significant for the pilot that wanted to do faster more aerobatic maneuvers. In the faster maneuvers the blades of the original XRB were known to sometimes strike one another as the foam blades flexed during the rapid change in direction. With the taller mast that should be far less likely to happen. This is a design improvement that affects performance in a positive way.

Flying

I took my XRB to my church for the first flight out of an abundance of caution. This gave me a large and mostly empty fellowship hall in which to fly and got me away from possibly breaking Christmas decorations that are all over our family room, and I do mean all over the room. At the hall I did a final ground check of the XRB and listened to the smoothness of the servos as I slowly moved the transmitter sticks with the throttle off. I also did a range check with the transmitter antenna down and it failed my normal test with the antenna all the way down. However, I had plenty of range with the antenna at half mast. (They did a nice job wrapping the receiver antenna in the cockpit area of the copter.) With all systems go it was time to fly.

The power up procedure:

  • Always turn on the transmitter first and make sure the throttle stick is in the off position.
  • Remove the front compartment from the copter.
  • Plug the Lipoly battery into the fixed socket in the front right of the XRB.
  • Reattach the front bubble compartment.

I got my friend Bob Ramirez to come out of the church kitchen to videotape my first flight. I set the XRB on the ground facing away from me and I positioned myself behind it by about six feet. Its right was my right and so on. I powered up the motor, lifted off, and it wanted to fly backwards.

Downloads
Type Name
Size
This version of the first short flight is for dial up users.
0.1 MB
 

It was tail heavy (my fault) so I shut it down and landed. Per the pictures below, the wire from the battery can hit the bottom of the canopy. I had felt that resistance and thought the battery was all the way forward. When the XRB initially wanted to go backwards, I immediately thought of the battery and landed and I was right. I bent the wires coming out of the battery slightly, and it installed properly immediately. I put the canopy in place and was ready for attempt # 2.

Downloads
Type Name
Size
“Success” for dial-up users.
0.4 MB
 

The XRB hovered on the second flight, hands off, with only one or two clicks on the rudder trim tab during the flight. After the short videotaped portion of the flight I was able to get in another ten minutes of flying and was moving the XRB where I wanted with very good control. I even tried a few emergency let goes of the right stick when the XRB was in forward and slide flight and it stopped its progression and went into a hover within a few feet. This is a novice friendly flier. I went and asked my pastor, Reverend Robert Mitchell, if he could take a few still pictures of the XRB in the air and the stills below were some of the ones he took. After about 16 minutes of flight time I lost the ability to climb with the copter and during the next minute or so I flew just above the ground in a small box pattern before the low voltage forced me to land. No damage, no crashes, and, most amazing for me, I was not the least bit tense. I did intentionally make some slightly fast angled landings during the main portion of my flight time and safety skids helped the XRB land upright.

I went home and recharged the battery. (It takes about one hour and fifteen minutes to completely recharge after a full flight discharge.) I got in a second flight but this time I was by myself. I started on the coffee table and flew up and over the sofa and landed on the informal dining table in the family room. This was a tricky approach because of a low-hanging light fixture but I was successful. I had never tried that with my other copters but you can bet I will in the future…when I am home alone. Taking off from the table I slowly flew through the kitchen and a couple of archways as I went through the dining room and living room and back into the family room. I made a pass over part of the Department 56 “Dickens Village” and I caused a blizzard with the artificial snow and made an emergency landing as I was a caught off guard. Cleaning up that mess was the only downside to my flights. I recharged the battery so the XRB could be flown at my club’s Christmas party that night.

This was easily the most relaxing hands on flying experience I have had with any helicopter. I did get pushed around a Little when I was flying up near the air duct in the church hall when the heater kicked in. That action helped confirm that this is an indoor flyer unless there is no wind at all outside.

At the Modesto Club’s Christmas party I again had trouble getting the bubble compartment on the front of the copter due to the wire from the Lipoly battery. I had Jeff Hunter fly without the front bubble in place. This was Jeff’s first flight with the XRB and it was in a room full of people…but I had assured Jeff the XRB was rock solid. He took off from the table in front of me. I started the video camera about ten seconds into the flight. Jeff is an expert pilot, and he acknowledged that the XRB is very easy to handle as it flies so steady in the original set-up.

Downloads
Type Name
Size
  

This version of the flight at the party is for dial up users.
0.4 MB

Conclusion

This review focused on the XRB RC version in its most stable set-up, the way it was sold. With the battery properly forward the XRB was rock solid indoors with no heating or air conditioning on. When they came on I could no longer fly hands off but it remained very easy to control. If someone has some flying experience so that they know the vehicle’s left and right, coming and going then they can probably master this copter with just a little practice. Start with a lot of room and when you feel comfortable you can start flying in a regular room with furniture. I am fairly new to helicopters but I felt completely comfortable after I got the battery properly positioned during the flying on the first battery charge. I even felt comfortable flying it through archways between rooms at my home during the second battery charge. I love how it handles!

The only problem I had of any sort was getting the canopy on over the battery wires where they come into the fuselage. I was successful at the church and at home earlier in the day but I again had trouble at the party. I examined that more closely. A truly minor problem when I think of problems people have with some other micro helicopters! I removed a small piece of plastic about 1/16th inch wide about 3/8ths long center bottom of the plastic compartment. now the wire just jits in that slot and i have no problem with it. I look forward to flying it frequently during the next month or so in the current stable set-up. After that I will change over to the more responsive settings with lighter stabilizer weights with a flatter shape and move the rod to the other side for more movement. If that makes a substantial difference in performance I will either report that here or do a mini review update with a video. For now, if you are interested in learning how to fly a helicopter, this is an excellent choice.

Piccoz Helicopter

Picooz Heli

Geez! Have you seen the size of this little helicopter? It measures only about 6.5 inches in length and the all up flying weight is about 10 grams!

I would love to have purchased one of this if I don’t already have an electric chopper that does the works! Anyway this little toy is cool. Why? Coz u can fly it in confimed spaces without having the fear of breaking anything! I heard that this little thing can take whacks after whacks. That might be true but I do wonder how long the motors will be able to last? The last few choppers I had with brushed motors, they seem to burn out after a short period. If only they have brushless motors in these little buggers!

Anyway here are some specs and details on the Piccoz Heli by Silverlit. I wonder if that is the only brand out there. Anyway I heard they sell these things at Toys’R’Us but I personally saw it at this gadget shop at 1-Utama LG floor for about RM149.00 or so. Well its cheap for a flying chopper but all you get is 2 channels for left / right yaw and up / down motion. Hey what do you expect for something this cheap! I’d purchase it any day but unfortunately I’ve gotta save up for a TREX SE.

Picooz in your PalmProduct Dimensions
Length 170mm (6.5″)
Main Rotor diameter 130mm (5.25″)
Rear Rotor diameter 30mm (1.25″)
Product Weight Only 10g!

Details
Rechargeable Flight Battery
High capacity integral Lithium Polymer battery Charging
Integral Transmitter/Charger supplied with LED indicator/Auto shut off
Picooz Controller20-30 minutes for full charge Flight Duration
Up to 15 minutes between charges Control
Supplied completely assembled, ready-to-fly
Proportional Infra Red Control System Frequency
Infra Red Control System
Up to 3 Helicopters to fly together
Range About 100 Feet for the Transmitter Which Doubles As The Helicopter Charger

Go go gadget gadget!

We all love gadgets! And I’m sure there are many sites out there that tells us all about the nifty little gadgets out there. Well this is my little contribution to highlight which gadgets I think are cool and which ones I think are silly. Basically if they’re worth a mention, I’ll pen it down here!