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Multi-monitors setups are not uncommon. For the best seamless experience, however, a large, ultra-wide, monitor provides better usability than two smaller monitors. This is what LG’s ultra-wide curved 34UC99 monitor tries to do. This huge 34-inch monitor is also the largest monitor I’ve reviewed on this blog.

The LG 34UC99 is a very cool monitor in many ways. For starters, this ultra-wide monitor is curved, and it’s 34-inch IPS panel has a resolution of 3440 x 1440 pixels and 21:9 aspect ratio. This aspect ratio might not seem like getting two 16:9 monitors side-by-side, but considering the approximately 31-inch horizontal expanse, this is still plenty of width.

Given the size of the monitor, the 3440 x 1440 resolution needs no scaling. Windows can display everything at 100% size, and you don’t have to deal with app scaling problems that today still exist in Windows 10.

Let me digress a little for now to mention the unboxing of this LG 34UC99 monitor. Being a huge monitor, the packaging that the 34UC99 comes in is quite a big size.

The LG 34UC99 is quite well-packed within, and some instructions are provided to help with unboxing and assembly. Fortunately, LG provides a styrofoam insert inside the box that can also be used to hold the monitor panel face down during assembly.

All the parts are neatly packed. The monitor stand, the base of the stand, and the panel itself are individually bagged and stored securely in the styrofoam inserts.

In terms of cabling, the LG 34UC99 comes with one USB Type-C to Type-C cable, one HDMI cable, one DisplayPort cable, and a USB Type-A to Type-C adapter.

Assembling the stand and base is a straight-forward tool-less affair. It is not unlike how Dell monitors are assembled with their stands.

This stand provides height adjustment, -5° to 20° of tilt, and 3° of rotation in either direction. You can’t turn landscape mode to portrait, but the small bit of rotation can help you level the monitor in the unusual case where the surface it sits on is not flat. (I don’t know why this will be useful, since if the surface isn’t flat, I’d also have a problem with my keyboard and mouse.)

All the ports are on the back of the display panel. There are two HDMI ports and one DisplayPort connection. There is also a USB Type-C port for connecting a notebook. This port supports USB data, Power Delivery, and DisplayPort Alternate Mode.

On the back of the display panel, you’ll find one USB Type-C upstream port, one DisplayPort, two HDMI ports, two USB 3.0 Type-A downstream ports, one headphone jack and a DC input jack.

The USB Type-C port supports USB data, Power Delivery, and DP Alternate Mode. This means your notebook can not just receive power, but also send video, and make use of the monitor as a USB hub for other downstream devices. This is really convenient.

A rather interesting thing with the LG 34UC99’s controls is its use of a single control button. Instead of having to feel and grapple with four or five buttons that you typically find on most monitors, this single control button works as a four-way joystick and button.

This same button is also the power button. Press once to turn on; press and hold to turn off. When the monitor is on, pressing once will bring up a quick menu. From here, it’s easy to change input sources, display modes, or head to the main menu.

The joystick is really intuitive to use, and I would love to see more monitors adopt this style of physical controls.

LG claims over 99% sRGB colour gamut coverage on the 34UC99. I have my own Spyder5PRO colorimeter, so I can perform my own tests, and its good: 98% sRGB, 70% NTSC, and 75% AdobeRGB. If you care about colour accuracy, you’ll be happy to know that the LG 34UC99 does a pretty good job.

For gamers, apart from the special display modes that the LG 34UC99 supports and allows you to quickly toggle to them, the monitor also supports AMD FreeSync. This is, however, not a high refresh rate monitor, supporting only the standard 60 Hz refresh. So perhaps although LG wanted the 34UC99 to cater a little bit to gamer needs, it really isn’t intended to compete where speed is the utmost concern.

There are two 7 Watt stereo speakers under the display, so you can use them in a cinch when you don’t have any other proper speakers connected to your computer. The 34UC99 supports MaxxAudio, so it seems like LG is making an effort to make the monitor actually sound good.

In my opinion, however, if you care any bit about audio quality, a proper set of external speakers, or even a good under-monitor soundbar, will always do a better job. That said, the 34UC99’s speakers are decent enough, and maybe I’d even give them above average by the standards of monitor built-in speakers.

I also must mention LG’s cool Screen Split function. The 34UC99 lets you use the monitor to display multiple inputs simultaneously. There are a few modes, such as side-by-side or picture-in picture.

The LG 34UC99 retails for around S$999.

Conclusion

The LG 34UC99 is a capable curved ultra-side monitor that delivers a far better seamless viewing experience than any multi-monitor setups.

Pros:

  • Good variety of input ports
  • USB Type-C port can be used for power, data, and video
  • Very intuitive control stick
  • Decent built-in speakers

Cons:

  • No support for higher refresh rates
  • Not 4K
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Two months ago, I wrote about the difficulty getting out of Geneco, and my intention of returning to SP Group for my electricity. Sounds crazy? No. It can actually be cheaper. Now, I’ve finally got my electricity bill to show it.

When the government opened up the retail electricity market to residential consumers, many people left the regulated tariff plan from SP Group for the better rates offered by retailers. The new retailers are mostly middleman, although some of them are from the power generating companies themselves. They typically offered plans that gave a fixed flat rate, or a fixed discount off the regulated tariff. Some retailers also offered a wholesale electricity plan, but these come with surcharges.

I was surprised to learn from a friend that SP Group themselves also offer a wholesale electricity plan. The wholesale pricing is a bit complicated, but when you buy from SP Group, there are no extra surcharges (compared with similar plan from a retailer).

I now have a bill for about a three weeks (due to bill cycle). Would you care to know the effective electricity rate I’m getting?

For the partial month of June, my final effective electricity rate is 14.81 cents per kWh (before GST). [Security deposit is, of course, omitted from the calculation.]

The best rate from Geneco right now, which is probably among the best in the retail market at present, is 16.80 cents per kWh (before GST). This is provided you are a first time customer, and you sign up a 24 month contract.

My plan with SP Group has no contract. I can quit any time. How nice is that?

Here are some things you need to know about the wholesale electricity plan. First, the price of electricity changes every half hour. This price is known as the Uniform Singapore Energy Price (USEP), and you can look at historical data as well as forecast data from the Energy Market Company. The USEP price presently varies around 10 cents per kWh.

On top of USEP, you need to pay for transmission charges. This rate varies less frequently, but there are two prices: one for peak period and another for off-peak, and this is presently 5.44 cents and 4.12 cents per kWh respectively.

Now, those two components together make up the bulk of the electricity cost. As you can surmise by now, you stand to save a lot if you use electricity primarily during the times when the prices are low.

There is one component, the Vesting Contract Debit/Credit, that is variable, and only determined after the fact. The actual price, however, tends to be rather small, as you can see in my bill.

Finally, there are other charges:

  • Meter Reading and Data Management (typically fixed charge)
  • Market Development and Systems Charge
  • Retail Settlement Uplift

All of the above components are the same with the wholesale electricity plan from Ohm, for example. Ohm, however, levies an additional monthly fee on top of all of that.

Note that in the bill, SP Group has simplified the Electricity Supply Charges into a single rate, instead of showing every individual half-hourly detailed charging.

How do you switch to SP Group’s wholesale electricity plan? If you are still on SP Group, you can simply do so on their portal. If you are already with a retailer, you have to tell them you want to quit, and return to SP Group on their wholesale electricity plan. You can’t ask SP Group to “pull you over” like how retailers can “pull” you out of SP Group. You may have to take into considerations complications with your contract, renewal, and such, like the problems I encountered with Geneco.

If most of your electricity usage is mainly in the period with lower rates, the wholesale electricity plan may be good for you!

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Nullspace Robotics recently reached out to me about their recently launched education product, ThinkCrate, a series of Arduino project kits for children and adult learners to have a dab in basic electronics and programming. My elder son chose a spirograph project, and we got started with it on a Saturday morning.

ThinkCrate projects are varied, ranging from decorative items to interactive games. They involve the use of an Arduino microcontroller, which is not quite a computer, but nevertheless something that is simple to work with and integrate with a hardware project.

Each ThinkCrate is shipped with all the hardware, including electronic parts and other accessories, packed nicely into a box. Complete instructions, including step-by-step videos, PDFs, and downloadable program code, are provided on the ThinkCrate portal. Even beginners should be able to follow the guides to assemble the project and enjoy their completed work.

The ThinkCrate projects aren’t just for children. Adult learners can also find these projects to be a great way to embark on their electronics and programming learning journey. Better yet, learn together with the kids, and have fun together as a family.

Simply assembling the project can be fun enough for some people. For those who yearn to get a better understanding of how their projects work, ThinkCrate provides additional content to explain the hardware and software.

My son was perhaps a little ambitious selecting the spirograph project, because it’s labelled as a tier 3 project, the highest of three levels of difficulty. He had little experience, the Micro Bit being his first and only electronics project. That project did also involve a CruiseBit, but there wasn’t much electronics that he needed to know.

Luckily I’m no stranger to electronics and the Arduino. However, what I thought would be a simple two or three hour Saturday morning project, ended up taking most of the morning and night (we had other activities in the afternoon).

The difficulty we faced, however, isn’t so much about the complexity or difficulty in following the instructions. ThinkCrate’s videos were excellent, showing at every step what needed to be done. The problem was more about our impatience in getting to the end, frequently missing steps in-between.

Quite hilariously, I decided to “cheat” and took out my multimeter to assist in my troubleshooting. As luck would have it, my multimeter turned out to be dead (it hasn’t been used in ages), so I had no choice but to go through all the steps again to verify all the connections were correct.

For this tier 3 project, it was unlikely that my son could have figured out the complete assembly on his own. If you are just starting out, don’t be too ambitious.

The fun doesn’t end when the project is completed. You can program the Arduino to do anything you fancy. You have a bunch of electronics and other parts with which you can use to do other things. That’s the bigger fun of such maker projects. If you’re interested, check out the projects available at ThinkCrate’s shop.

Ps: I will have a review of the ThinkCrate spirograph with more details in another upcoming post.

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A common trait of Xiaomi products is their affordability, so it should come as no surprise that their Mi Home Security Camera 360° 1080P carries a very attractive price tag. This camera also turns out to be quite capable, making it an extremely good value for money security camera for any home.

Xiaomi has a diverse and impressive portfolio smart home products. I haven’t really been keeping up-to-date with their line-up. I’ve known about the Mi Home Security Camera, but never really paid much attention to it until it came bundled with Google’s new Nest Hub.

The Mi Home Security Camera is a surprisingly capable camera. It does Full HD 1080p video recording, has motion detection, works at night with built-in IR LED, and can be used as an intercom with its built-in speaker and microphone. It also pans and tilts. It does pretty much everything you’d expect to need from a security camera.

Along with other Xiaomi smart home products, the Mi Home Security Camera is managed through the Xiaomi Home mobile app. It is through this app that you setup and configure the camera, as well as monitor and playback video.

The setup is a little interesting. Instead of the mobile app scanning a QR code on the camera, the Xiaomi Home mobile app displays a QR code for the camera to scan and connect itself to your home network.

I’m quite pleased to see that the live monitoring and playback functions on the Xiaomi Home app work very well. In fact, videos are started with lesser delay, and real-time monitoring has less latency, than what I’m used to seeing in other products. The low latency makes the intercom function practical to use. Other actions like pans and tilts respond quickly too.

With the Xiaomi Home app, you can easily integrate this camera into a variety of other home automation routines. The user interface is simple and easy to understand, and it’s fairly straight-forward to setup if-this-then-that rules in the app.

One thing that Xiaomi lacks is support for a cloud recording service. I’m quite alright with that. The Mi Home Security Camera can record to a clever hidden local microSD that’s on the camera ball head itself, and gets tucked out of sight when the camera is pointed at certain tilt angles.

Why does Google have a promotion that bundles the Mi Home Security Camera with the Nest Hub sold here? This camera can be linked to Google Assistant, and you can stream video from the camera to your Nest Hub! It’s a convenient way to start live video monitoring on your Nest Hub, or even a Chromecast connected TV, just by voicing your command.

Wall mount brackets and a Micro-USB cable is included with the Mi Home Security Camera. The power adapter is not included.

The Mi Home Security Camera retails for around S$55, depending on where you buy it.

Conclusion

The Mi Home Security Camera 360° 1080P is excellent value for money, doing most things you’d expect a security camera to do.

Pros:

  • Good Full HD video quality
  • Pans and tilts
  • Reasonably low latency video

Cons:

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Mobvoi’s latest TicWatch S2 is one of the most affordable Wear OS smartwatch you can find. It launched earlier this year, alongside the similar TicWatch E2. Despite its low price, the TicWatch S2 is surprisingly functional, and it has all the most important features that matter.

You probably haven’t heard of the company Mobvoi. They are like the underdog of Wear OS smartwatch companies. Mobvoi’s first Wear OS smartwatches were the TicWatch S and TicWatch E, both launched in a Kickstarter campaign back in 2017. The present TicWatch S2 and E2 are refreshes of those models.

The TicWatch S2 is the sportier version of the otherwise mostly identical TicWatch E2. The former adds some sporty styling, a bit of different materials, MIL-STD-810G rating, and 5 ATM of water-resistance. This costs just a mere S$30 more, and just a little bit extra thickness.

Like the TicWatch S from before, the new TicWatch S2 goes for a simple, functional, casual design. The plastic watch case feels alright, but clearly won’t work as a timepiece for a dress-up dinner function. This, however, helps keep the TicWatch S2’s weight down. The watch is 12.9 mm thick, and the silicon watch strap can be easily replaced with other 22 mm watch straps.

The screen features a 1.39-intch AMOLED display with 400×400 pixels. Its bright enough to work even under sunlight. Indoors, I find just 2 / 5 level is bright enough, and unfortunately, without an ambient light sensor, the brightness wont get adjusted automatically.

There’s one single physical button on the side of the watch. Everything else is controlled through the touchscreen or gestures.

On the underside, you’ll find the heart rate sensor and low latency off-body sensor. You’ll also see the 4 metal contacts that mate with the charging dock for charging the battery.

Not unexpectedly, the charging dock is a proprietary accessory. The good thing about the dock is that it mates easily with the TicWatch S2. The watch and dock are held in place magnetically, and they won’t be easily knocked out of alignment.

Under the hood, the TicWatch S2 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 2100 processor with 512 MB of RAM and 4 GB of storage. Sticking with the Snapdragon 2100, which was launched way back in 2016, and Snapdragon 3100 already seen in 2018 smartwatches, could be Mobvoi’s way of keeping costs down with the TicWatch S2.

For connectivity, the TicWatch S2 has Bluetooth 4.1, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, and positioning support with GPS, GLONAS, and Beidou. There is no cellular or NFC support.

The 415 mAh battery should, according to Mobvoi, get up to 2 days of run time. Unfortunately, it was struggle to get the TicWatch S2 to last more than 24 hours. In my typical usage, the TicWatch S2 is primarily used to read notifications and occasionally respond to them. For this battery run time monitoring, I did not use the microphone for any Google Assistant features, no Wi-Fi, no GPS, and no heart rate monitoring. With Always On Display in use, I get about 24 hours of use; without Always On Display, I get a max of about 28 hours.

The battery will certainly last the whole day out. I was just hoping for a little bit more, like maybe getting me to 1.5 days. I know, that means I still ought to charge the TicWatch S2 every night anyway, so it’s not better than getting 24 hours of battery time. However, I like to know that after 24 hours, I still have some buffer to spare, so that if I use Google Assistant a bit more than normal, the watch won’t die on me before the next day. Or, I can go for a mid-day run, with GPS, without worrying that the watch won’t last to the night.

Speaking of that GPS, I estimate that with run tracking, the TicWatch S2 will drain to flat in about 4.5 hours. Lesser if the Always On Display is switched on. It’s certainly longer than any run that I’m going to run, but it does mean that I definitely need to charge up the TicWatch S2 after the run.

In all honesty, the TicWatch S2 has reasonable battery longevity. I just wished that it could be better.

The TicWatch S2 runs the latest Wear OS. On top of the usual Google fitness and health apps, Mobvoi has their own suite of apps. There are the usual features for step tracking and exercise tracking. A nice feature from Mobvoi is that the TicWatch S2 can detect when an activity has started, and commence tracking automatically, as well as stop when it detects the activity has completed. There is no need to manually start/stop your exercise tracking app.

In the box, the TicWatch S2 ships with one charging dock, and some paper documentation.

Mobvoi sells the TicWatch S2 in Midnight (black) or Glacier (white) colours on their website at S$269.99, inclusive of free shipping to Singapore. Interestingly, you can also order the Midnight version with an extra Charging Dock at the exact same price.

Conclusion

Mobvoi’s TicWatch S2 is an excellent value Wear OS smartwatch.

Pros:

  • Rugged build quality, MIL-STD-810G rating
  • Good for swims, 5 ATM water-resistance

Cons:

  • GPS is slow to lock
  • Old Snapdragon 2100 processor
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This odd box that look suspiciously like a rugged luggage is actually Zendure’s SuperTank, an extremely powerful and versatile portable power bank. Born out of a Kickstarter project, the power banks are starting to get delivered to backers right now.

The SuperTank, in a nutshell, is a high-capacity 27,000 mAh power bank with two USB Type-C Power Delivery ports and two USB Type-A ports. The first USB Type-C port can deliver up to 100 Watts of power, while the other Type-C port is capable of up to 60 Watts of power delivery. For the USB Type-A ports, one gets you 18 Watts of power while the other supports up to 15 Watts of power.

Most power banks that include any USB Type-C ports at all usually only have one of them. Zendures SuperTank has two, and both of them support USB Type-C Power Delivery. The first port supports up to 100 Watt of input and output, while the other delivers 60 Watt of output. The 60 Watt is already enough to charge the Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro at full speed. With two USB Type-C ports, the SuperTank can easily charge two notebooks at the same time, and more.

The SuperTank’s 27,000 mAh capacity is carefully calculated to work out to 99.9 Wh, which is just below the 100 Wh limit allowed by airlines on flights. This is the largest power bank you are allowed to bring on an aircraft. The SuperTank’s total power output is 138 Watt.

I’ve only had a few hours of testing so far with the SuperTank. I can only say “it works”. Windows 10 on my Lenovo Yoga 920 complains, when I plug in the SuperTank, that the connected USB device has malfunctioned, but it still gets charged nonetheless.

The battery level remaining is nicely displayed in percentage values in a segmented LED display. However, I’ve not yet finished a full discharge-charge calibration to be able to report meaningfully about my observed capacity. I’ll update in another full review post soon.

In the Kickstarter campaign, the SuperTank was offered from US$89 at the early bird reward level. The campaign also included SuperPort, which is a 4-port charger that has 2x USB Type-C with Power Delivery (one up to 100 Watt), and 2x USB Type-A ports.

The SuperTank ships with a well-built USB Type-C cable, and the reward includes case. The case is well made, but the SuperTank fits a little too snugly.

Delivery of the SuperTank was originally expected in May 2019. I received mine yesterday (early July 2019). The two months delay is perhaps not unexpected of Kickstarter projects. I’m surprised, however, that I can get it even before Zendure could provide me the shipping tracking number.

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Google officially launched the Nest Hub in Singapore last week. Even if you haven’t seen it since the initial U.S. launch in October 2018, you’d probably already be familiar with this device. It’s basically a Google Home with a touchscreen display.

The Google Home, and Home Mini, worked very well as an always-listening Google Assistant, ready at all times to help you with something or other. Sometimes, however, it’s just easier if there is a screen you can see and interact with. This is, in essence, the difference that the Nest Hub brings to the table.

With its 7-inch touchscreen display, the Nest Hub brings an additional layer of interactivity to enhance your smart home experience. It is also beautifully designed to fit right into your home. The soft rounded corners, and the fabric material around the back, helps the Nest Hub blend in with other items in any room of your home.

If you are not too familiar with the Google Home, here are some of the basic things that the Nest Hub shares with it. As an always-listening Google Assistant with far-field microphones, you can literally speak your commands naturally without having to specifically be next to or face the Nest Hub.

Just say “Hey Google, good morning”, and Nest Hub comes back with a personalised overview of your activities from Google Calendar, your commute from Google Maps, your reminders, and the latest news. With its display, the Nest Hub also shows a visual overview on the screen, and you can now watch video news from several sources such as the Straits Times, instead of only just listening to it.

The main display of the Nest Hub is setup as a photo frame by default. You will be prompted to configure a live album, a new feature from Google Photos which automatically collects recent photos of chosen family members and friends, and rotate through them on the display. It’s a great way to relive recent memories with your loved ones.

The Nest Hub also serves as an important home automation hub. Swiping down from the top will reveal a dashboard for your connected home controls, allowing you, for example, to dim your Philips Hue lights or adjust the temperature of your air conditioner.

In the kitchen, the Nest Hub can help home cooks and new learners prepare recipes easily. You can simply use your voice to browse endless recipes and start cooking, hands-free. Try speaking, “Hey Google, show me how to cook Hainanese Chicken Rice”. Google has teamed up with food channels like Tasty, Food Networks, and Genius Kitchen to bring their fun, family-friendly recipes to the Nest Hub.

You can unwind with some music on the Nest Hub too. You can hook up with Spotify. The audio quality isn’t fantastic though. It’s about the same as what you’d get with the Google Home, which while I think is great at projecting speech, may be sub-par for music.

At the end of the day, there’s a cool unwind routine you can run with the Nest Hub. Just speak “Hey Google, good night”, and you can set an alarm for the next morning. With connected home automation devices, the Nest Hub can also do things such as turning off lights, TVs, and lock the door.

The automatic Ambient EQ is particularly good. It adjusts the display brightness to suit the ambient light around the Nest Hub. You won’t ever find the Nest Hub too bright at bed time with your room lights switched off, nor will you find it too dim in the day. It works much better than adaptive brightness works on most smartphones.

aWhile you can watch YouTube videos on the Nest Hub, unfortunately it doesn’t work as a general purpose display in the way of the Chromecast. You can’t watch Netflix on the Nest Hub, for example. There is some integration with other Google services though. For example, you can instruct Nest Hub to show you the video stream from a connected security camera on its display.

There is no camera on the Nest Hub. This could be a good thing for those who are concerned about their privacy. No software glitch or security attack will result in surreptitious video recording.

The Nest Hub is powered from a DC barrel jack with the supplied power brick. I wished it could have used USB Type-C, but I suppose this would have added to the cost of the Nest Hub.

The Nest Hub retails at S$189. When you buy from Challenger, COURTS, and M1, you can get a free Google Assistant compatible Mi Home Security Camera 360° 1080P by Xiaomi. This offer should be coming to Google Store customers soon.

Conclusion

For users invested in the Google ecosystem, the Nest Hub makes for an excellent always-listening Google Assistant, now with touch and visual elements, addition to their homes.

Pros:

  • Beautiful design
  • Everything about Google Assistant
  • Added visual interaction

Cons:

  • Mediocre speakers
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Yet another credit or debit card? I’m usually not interested. I don’t like to carry and keep track of so many of them. YouTrip, however, has a unique value proposition. I don’t mean rewards, rebates, miles, or other privileges. They simply give great value in foreign currency transactions.

YouTrip is quite new, having just launched only in August 2018. They describe themselves as a multi-currency travel wallet and money changer app that is linked to a physical Mastercard. The beauty of the YouTrip Mastercard is that you can pay in 150 foreign currencies with no currency conversion or transaction fees.

It’s not easy to understand what YouTrip is about. YouTrip is so different from anything I’ve used. I had many questions, especially what is it about a wallet, what the app is for, and how does the bit about money changer even fit in?

Let me break it down by showing how it is used.

  1. YouTrip is a virtual wallet you manage with a mobile app (Android or iOS). It is also linked to a real, physical Mastercard.
  2. As a wallet, you need to load money into it before you can spend. You can load money in the app, by paying for it with a regular VISA or Mastercard credit or debit card.
  3. Once there is money in your wallet, you can use the YouTrip-linked physical Mastercard to spend at any merchant. It works like any other Mastercard. Payment is immediately deducted from your wallet balance.
  4. If you transact in a foreign currency, YouTrip converts to SGD in real-time using near wholesale currency exchange rates. There are no other fees.
  5. Instead of only holding SGD currency in the YouTrip virtual wallet, you can also hold 9 other supported currencies in the wallet. YouTrip supports SGD, USD, EUR, GBP, JPY, HKD, AUD, NZD, CHF, and SEK.
  6. You can convert any of your wallet currency balances to any other currency at near wholesale currency exchange rates. The rates can been seen in the YouTrip app.
  7. When you transact in a foreign currency, YouTrip uses that currency from your wallet first, before using currencies in your other wallets in a predetermined order: SGD, USD, EUR, GBP, JPY, HKD, AUD, NZD, CHF, and finally SEK.

That’s basically the gist of it. There are no card network fees and no bank fees. For the 10 in-app currencies supported, the rate you see in the app is the rate you get.

I put YouTrip to the test on my recent trip to Bali. My first transaction was at a supermarket. I was standing-by to pay in cash, in case the YouTrip Mastercard somehow gets declined, but it worked just fine. Armed with new confidence that the card really works, I used the card many more times on that trip. It worked every time. Balance deduction is reflected quite immediately in the app, though the merchant transaction details themselves are sometimes delayed.

Initially, I only loaded a small SGD balance in the YouTrip wallet. I found myself having to top-up multiple times on that trip. It was easy, instantaneous, and I had no problems at all.

The money changer function doesn’t get you cold hard cash. For that, you need to use something like Thin Margin while you are still in Singapore. The purpose of the YouTrip money changer is to hold foreign currency in your YouTrip wallet, in case you expect the present rates to be better than when you actually need to transact later. For example, if you are expecting USD value to go up, you may want to convert your SGD to USD now, so that you can spend your USD balance later.

The Indonesian Ruppiah (IDR) rates in YouTrip were very good. Thin Margin gave me 10,259 IDR for 1 SGD, which is better than the average brick and mortar money changer in Singapore. In Bali, street-side money changers were offering between 10,000 IDR to 10,400 IDR for 1 SGD (Thin Margin’s rate had climbed to over 10,300 IDR to 1 SGD since the SGD had strengthened a small bit since). YouTrip gave me in excess of 10,400 IDR to 1 SGD in every instance, and in fact, it can sometimes go over 10,450 IDR to 1 SGD. Remember, this is net, with no other fees.

For comparison, I used my regular VISA card to pay for one lunch. The final charge on my card came up to 10,140 IDR to 1 SGD. YouTrip was 3% cheaper.

I made another comparison. When I shop on Amazon, they give me a rate of 1.4301 SGD to 1 USD. With YouTrip, I pay 1.3572 SGD for each USD. In this case, YouTrip is almost 5.4% cheaper.

Speaking of Amazon, you can use the YouTrip Mastercard with online merchants too. It works like a normal Mastercard, after all.

One thing you should take note is that some of the transactions may not be finalised immediately. Transactions in currencies supported in-app (i.e. the 10 listed above) are finalised immediately. For all others, you will initially see indicative wholesale exchange rates from Mastercard in YouTrip app. The status will be marked as pending. The final charges will be confirmed when the merchant completes the transaction, typically 1-2 days (maximum 7 days) after your actual transaction. You may see some changes in the rates used.

Signing up with YouTrip is very simple. Just start by downloading the mobile app, then register through the app. For Singaporeans, you can use SingPass MyInfo. This way, you don’t need to submit any other documents. The whole process takes just a few minutes. After that, you just have to wait for your card to arrive. This can take up to two weeks.

Once the card arrives, there is some activation to complete through the YouTrip app.

As an all digital company, your interaction with YouTrip is entirely through the app, with support channels on the web and social media. The mobile app can be used to lock/unlock your card to protect unauthorised use, and you can order a replacement through it if you lose one.

The YouTrip Mastercard is most useful for overseas or foreign currency transactions. Since there are no other rewards, your other regular credit cards may be more attractive to use in Singapore. There is a $5 per month dormancy fee after 12 months of inactivity. Just remember to use it for something once a while. It can even be for public transport, since it works as a EZ-Link (it’s actually the new SimplyGo contactless VISA/Mastercard payment).

I know some credit cards offer greater rewards for overseas spend. I suppose you’ll need to work out if the savings that YouTrip offers is better off or not.

For me, I like to see my savings immediately up-front. Hence, I expect I’d be using more of YouTrip on my overseas and foreign currency spending.

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Most people know Synology as the network storage company. The company, however, started to make consumer broadband routers in late 2015. Their latest router product is the MR2200ac Mesh Router. This is also their first mesh router product.

The Synology MR2200ac was initially launched in Taiwan in October 2018, and it arrived on our shores last December. This tri-band mesh router has one quite notable highlight in its feature list: WPA3 Wi-Fi security support. This is the latest standard in securing Wi-Fi connections. Client-side support for WPA3 is becoming more easily available, especially since it is supported by Windows 10 version 1903 (May 2019 update).

Synology’s routers have mostly been quite plain looking. The MR2200ac is especially so. It is a so nondescript, you might not even know it is a Wi-Fi router, especially since it has no external antennas. The tall-standing form factor allows the internal antennas better reach for expanded coverage.

The front has some ventilation at the bottom, some branding, and a lighted Wi-Fi symbol that serves as a rather ambiguous status indication LED.

Around the back, you’ll find a reset button hole, power button, power input jack, two RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet ports, a USB 3.0 port, Wi-Fi button and WPS button.

One of those RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet port is for your WAN connection. That leaves just one port for a LAN device. That’s a little too few for my comfort. Many people may not find the need for a wired Ethernet connection anymore, so the MR2200ac may work just fine for them. If you have more complicated needs, you may find yourself needing an extra network switch.

The MR2200ac is a tri-band router. You can get up to 400 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band, and up to 867 Mbps on each of the two 5 GHz band, the aggregate giving you the AC2200 rating. One of those 5 GHz band is used as a dedicated back-haul, so router-to-router traffic won’t compete with bandwidth needed by your devices.

Apart from the aforementioned WPA3, the MR2200ac has the MU-MIMO, beamforming, and automatic band steering support. The USB 3.0 port can be used for connecting storage devices or printers.

Setting up the Synology MR2200ac is straight-forward. You can use the DS Router mobile app, available on both Android and iOS. Since each MR2200ac is sold individually, you have to pair the mesh units. That is easy to do, just follow the instructions in the included setup guide.

Synology says each node can cover 2,000 square feet.

You can also setup and configure the MR2200ac via its web interface, if that’s what you prefer. The DS Router mobile app, however, is mighty convenient. The dashboard provides an overview of all Wi-Fi points and devices, and shows how they are connected.

The MR2200ac supports Guest Wi-Fi, and allows you to configure the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands individually. A nice bonus of the MR2200ac is that if you already have the older Synology RT2600ac router, you can add it to extend the latter’s coverage.

For families with younger children, you can create user profiles to limit Internet access hours, as well as setup web filters and SafeSearch features. You can also limit web access to only white-listed sites. Furthermore, you are able to see when they are online, and the young ones can submit requests to you to unlock websites if needed.

Most mesh routers tend to have rather basic software features. The MR2200ac, however, is as feature-rich as what you’d expect of full-fledged standalone routers.

I used the MR2200ac for about a week as my main Wi-Fi router. I didn’t have any problems with connections, coverage, and speed. It isn’t the fastest mesh router, but its overall performance is reasonably good. The dedicated back-haul helps ensure that connections from the remote Wi-Fi point doesn’t suffer performance degradation.

In the box, the Synology MR2200ac comes with an AC adapter, Ethernet cable, and a quick setup guide.

Synology’s first mesh router is most impressive for its capable software features, as well as support for WPA3 Wi-Fi security. The parentel control features are especially useful for families with younger children.

The current street price of the Synology MR2200ac is S$220. Units are sold individually, so without any bundle discounts, the costs adds up quickly when you need multiple devices.

Conclusion

Synology’s first mesh router, MR2200ac, has plenty of software features, capable parental controls, and support for the latest WPA3 Wi-Fi security.

Pros:

  • Plenty of software features
  • Capable parental controls
  • Simple and easy to setup and manage
  • WPA3 support

Cons:

  • Just one LAN port
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These days we are so used to be doing so many things online. However, you’d think that there are things that won’t go digital, won’t become an online business. Like money changers. Surprise. There are online money changers.

I came across Thin Margin in a news article last year. They are Singapore’s first online money changer. It’s a really fascinating service. You can check out their foreign exchange rates on their website, then buy and pay for the currencies you want. Your cold hard cash will be delivered to you by a courier. This part, of course, cannot be online.

I’m sure you have many questions. Are they safe? Are they legit? What if the courier steals the money? What if the courier loses the money?

Well, Thin Margin is supposedly regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. This is what they say on their website, not that I’ve independently verified it myself. There has been several reports about Thin Margin in the mainstream media, such as this Today’s article in December 2017. Thin Margin also bears all risks until the cold hard cash is in your hands.

I had to check them out. Their rates seemed rather reasonable. I needed to change some Indonedian Ruppiah (IDR). The rate I got was 1 SGD to 10259 IDR. I checked some rates on CashChanger and found Thin Margin was somewhere in the middle of the pack. Their rates weren’t the best, but they were hardly bad. Now, consider the inconvenience of having to physically get to a brick and mortar money changer. Thin Margin is just so much more easier.

Thin Margin does charge a $3 delivery fee. This is waived if you buy a prepaid travel SIM or an insurance product from them, or if you transact more than S$2,000. There are also some things you need to take note:

  • Minimum transaction per currency is S$400 equivalent;
  • Delivery may be about at least 3 days ahead.

There is currently a S$2 off promotion, so that delivery fee, even if you have to pay for it, is effectively reduced to just S$1.

Payment for your current purchase can be done by Internet bank transfer, Pay Now, NetsPay, PayLah, or Pay Anyone. Credit card payment is not accepted for currency purchases.

Thin Margin lets you choose 2-hour time slots. My delivery came punctually, right in the middle of my 2-hour slot. The courier counted the money by hand in front of me. Once I am satisfied, I sign the delivery acceptance.

My experience with Thin Margin was very pleasant. The quite simple, and very convenient. Just take note of the delivery lead time, don’t leave it to the last few days before you organise the currency exchange.

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