Dynex Wireless Keyboard and Mouse: Boo.

I don’t usually shop at Best Buy, but I had a $25 gift card that had been floating around with me for a year or two and I finally decided to use it on January 15th 2014. I stepped into the store and surveyed my options. Ahh, here was a Dynex Wireless Keyboard and Wireless Optical Mouse (Model: DX-WLC1401) for around the right price.

Dynex Wireless Keyboard and Mouse DX-WLC1401.
Dynex Wireless Keyboard and Mouse DX-WLC1401.

My standing desk at home is a bit cluttered with cables and all – eliminating two of them seemed like  a reasonably good use of a gift card. I took the unit home and set it up. It worked grand for the first few days, maybe two or three weeks – I don’t recall exactly…but then the v key got stuck – and it hasn’t worked correctly since.

I’ll just return it to Best Buy…except for I didn’t keep the receipt and Best Buy returns require a receipt. Bahh, humbug. For larger IT purchases I’d usually keep a receipt – but come on, keyboards/mice are so simple and should be so reliable – I figured there was no need…I was wrong.

I’ve pried the key off and checked for debris, I’ve reset the key and so on, all to no avail. So, here I am, typing away and pounding repeatedly the v key every time I need it – not a lot of fun…so soon I’ll be buying another wireless keyboard and mouse…but it won’t be a Dynex.

Besides this failure there is one feature lacking that really: A cap lock notification LED. This is pretty much standard on every keyboard I’ve ever used – but not on this one. Sure it has nice music controls at the top, and a notification LED regarding whether the unit has successfully paired and how low the battery is – but no LED for the caps lock button. The only way to tell if caps lock is on is to type – and if it is, delete and hit caps lock.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I occasionally hit the caps lock key by accident…so this becomes a real nuisance spread out over hundreds of occasions over a period of weeks/months.

So, there you have it…my not so great experience with the Dynex wireless keyboard and mouse.

One other note is that the battery light has been glaring at me for a few days now, complaining that it is running low (the keyboard uses 2 AAA batteries), and its been less than two months since I purchased and began using the unit. This isn’t a huge deal – but the lifespan for the batteries seems  a bit on the low side – especially for not having LED features like caps lock on it.

Why I LOVE My FitBit.

Introduction

For Christmas my brother (Paul) and sister-in-law (Kiki) bought me a Fitbit One. I’ve been eyeing these quantified self devices long before they came into the public awareness – but have held off and held off…now I finally have one and I LOVE it.

I really wasn’t sure how great it was going to be. There are still a few features I’m waiting for a QS device to offer – like monitoring my blood pressure, heart rate, and automatic caloric intake analysis – and while I would have probably waited until these features became available – I’m really glad that Paul and Kiki didn’t – b/c I love the FitBit and would recommend others who are holding out for the “next generation” to make the leap – what it can do currently is quite helpful.

This is a screenshot I took of my FitBit dashboard on 1/23/14 at 10:30 am. I haven't yet exercised for the day - nor have I entered my breakfast - but it gives you an idea...
This is a screenshot I took of my FitBit dashboard on 1/23/14 at 10:30 am. I haven’t yet exercised for the day – nor have I entered my breakfast – but it gives you an idea…

Let me tell you why I love my FitBit

Comfort

I have been using my smartphone (currently a Samsung Galaxy S3) as my QS device for a couple years now. I thought, “hey, I have it in my pocket all the time, it isn’t that big, why buy a separate device?” Boy, was I ever wrong! I find myself taking my smartphone out of my pocket all the time now – knowing that I’m still collecting QS data via the FitBit. Now carrying the smartphone around the house or office feels like an absolute drag – and I don’t even notice the FitBit is clipped to the inside of my pants pocket!

Food Log

I’ve used Noom and other applications for food logging – but I’ve never been very good at it. I always ended up skipping meals – but the FitBit offers me enough other data that I want to login every day (and, hear this Noom – it also has a web-based interface – which I strongly prefer over a mobile first interface) – e.g. it tracks my sleep and my caloric burn.

FitBit’s food logging is no harder or easier than other options I’ve used – I figure there isn’t much room for innovation or improvement on this front until automatic food logging comes into play (which could be quite a while, though some basic caloric intake analysis is hopefully just down the road).

Dynamic Caloric Goals

Each day FitBit not only tracks how many calories I am expending but also calculates (based on my input to the food log) how many calories I am consuming – and tells me on a constantly revised basis how many more calories I should consume for the day. This is great in helping me determine whether I really want to have that bowl of ice cream or that bag of popcorn, etc. I also enjoy driving my caloric intake numbers down and my caloric expenditure numbers up (no, not crazily).

Sleep

The FitBit is no Zeo, that is for sure. But with Zeo out of business and my sensor on the wonk, the FitBit has become my only sleep tracking mechanism. It does a good job of keeping track when I am asleep, how long I stay asleep, how long it takes me to fall asleep, how many times I am awakened and so on. Unfortunately, it does make me tell it when I am trying to go to sleep and when I awake – otherwise it won’t begin tracking / won’t end tracking. This is annoying, I wish it could figure this out on its own.

That said, I’ve been able to remember most days to both start and stop the sleep tracking functionality – which is saying something for its ease of use when you consider my ADD nature.

Other Tracking

I mainly use Food, Activities (exercise), and Sleep but Fitbit can also track weight (which I use, but pretty much only actual weight, not BMI, etc.), Journal (for general reporting on one’s day – I do this separately), heart, blood pressure, and glucose. You can also add custom trackers (I haven’t).

I’m hoping that soon we’ll see more of these items being gathered automatically. I saw that FitBit has partnered with Aria to create a weight scale – I didn’t notice whether it integrates with FitBit and performs automatic weight, BMI, etc. recording – but I’d think it would. Cost is $130 which is too much for me – especially when similar devices sell for $35 on Amazon (FitBit integration would be worth a $15 price premium to me, not but nearly $100).

Weight Loss

The real question is, “Are you losing any weight using the FitBit?” Okay, maybe that isn’t your question, but that is mine. I was 135 lb. as a teenager, 150 lb. my first year in college, and ballooned to 195 lb. a few years ago. Since then I’ve battled back from 195 lb. to 185 lb – but that has been a real battle.

When I began using the FitBit on December 31st I clocked in at 176.6 lbs. (I was sick over the holidays, so food consumption was low – even lower than normal). As of the 20th of January (around one month later) I am at a fairly steady 172 lbs. (I oftentimes fluctuate around 5 lbs. in weight between measurements) – or a lost of 4.6 lbs. Not too shabby.

Now a FitBit by itself won’t make this happened – but paired with monitoring my caloric intake/expenditure (which FitBit makes easy) it can be a real help.

What I Want

So where could the FitBit improve? Boy, I’m so glad we think alike! I was just about to share that with you!

Automatic Blood Pressure and Heart Rate

As I noted earlier, I would like to see FitBit automatically and continuously tracking my blood pressure and heart rate – I believe these should be very easy additions for FitBit. At first they might use an app on the phone to integrate these – as with the FitBit clipped on it may not be able to track these accurately (though with the wrist band it should be able to). Eventually it would be nice if this functionality was integrated directly into the device (which is where their newer wristband models come into play).

Automatic Sleep Monitoring

Additionally, I’d like to see automatic sleep monitoring – w/out the need to start/stop it. This is especially the case for me, b/c I have Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS) which results in me napping several times a day, and I’d like to be able to easily analyze these sleeping patterns in conjunction with my nighttime sleeping patterns…but I usually forget to start/stop the FitBit when I am napping (as it is a very heavy, quick, overwhelming sleepiness that descends upon me).

Again, I think with a little refinement this should be fairly easy to accomplish. An algorithm should be able to detect when an individual is sleeping (perhaps due to lack of movement, location (GPS), and body temperature (which it doesn’t measure, but could, and would be useful as well – “Hey Mom, I have a temperature of 101 – the FitBit says so – must stay home from school today!”).

Automatic Glucose and Caloric Intake Monitoring

I believe these two will be difficult to achieve – but they should be on FitBit’s radar. There is a company that claims it is able to do caloric intake analysis based on looking at the blood through the skin and its coloring – but this is in dispute and the company has not yet released its product.

I’m not diabetic (at least the last several times I’ve asked to be tested they’ve told me I’m not), but I do have severe craving for sweets (mainly candy) and I’d like to be able to better monitor what my glucose levels are at throughout the day, whether there is a correlation between levels and cravings, and what my body does as far as glucose levels when I consume large amounts of sweets (I used to be able to consume absolutely monstrous amounts of candy – but I can still consume a giant box of Good and Plenties, a giant box of Hot Tamales, and a good number of jelly beans in a single sitting! [I try not to.]).

Automatic Weight / BMI / Body Fat Measurements

I’m fine if this uses another device (a separate weight scale), but it should integrate automatically and not be excessively pricey. This is a fairly easy goal and may already be available with the Aria, I’ll have to look into that…

Help! I’m Lost!

One of my great fears is losing my FitBit. Accidentally knocking it out of my pocket (the clip is pretty tight and I haven’t had any problems thus far), putting it through the wash, or just losing it when I take it off (and when the cats get to it!).

Recently I misplaced my FitBit. I was distressed and searched everywhere multiple times. I was able to check on the FitBit Dashboard and see it had successfully synced only a few minutes ago – so I knew it had to be in the vicinity but I couldn’t figure out where!

I love how smartphones can now be configured to ring or make other noise when needed to help you find them – I’ve used this feature on several occasions. The FitBit should offer the same functionality.

There is also that new credit card replacement company (that offers a card that can “accumulate” all your cards within it), I cannot recall their name at the moment, but they have a pretty nifty feature where if your “card” becomes separated from your “smartphone” by over a certain geographical distance your phone starts screaming. That would be helpful.

On a side-note, which will probably become less needful as I think we’ll be moving to wristband and then transparent patches for QS devices – it would be nice if the FitBit had a water sensor that would similarly cause a smartphone to start screaming when it detects it is getting wet. This could save folks a lot of agony when they discover that, yes, they did just run their FitBit through the washer and dryer! (I was really afraid of doing this at first, now I don’t worry as much, but I know it is still a real possibility!)

Creating Meals

When I go to the Langhorne Coffee House I always get the same thing – two eggs scrambled, home fries, and multi-grain toast. When I go to Panera Bread it is chicken noodle soup in a bread bowl, bread as the side, and a wild berry smoothie. At Red Robin it is a Royal Red Robin Burger with bottomless fries and bottomless freckled lemonades.

Right now in FitBit (as in all other food logging services I’ve used) one has to enter each component of a meal. It would be nice if one could create “common” meals and choose these which would then include all the components rather than having to add each one individually. So far it hasn’t been too big of an inconvenience – but a year from now or three years from now – I may grow tired of entering the same old components in individually.

Wristband Issues

When you go to sleep at night you are supposed to place your Fitbit in a comfortable wristband and place this on your non-dominant arm. I do so but have run into an issue with some regularity – the wristband comes off. I move around in my sleep (I think) and so it just comes apart. This could be easily rectified by using something besides simple Velcro to hold the wristband together. For the time being I am placing a rubber band around the wristband to hold it in place – this worked without incident last night and hopefully will become a sustainable (if hodge podge) solution.

I LOVE SSD!

From Aug. 2005 until Feb. 2013 I worked full-time in various Information Technology positions. As such I had access to robust computing equipment and frequent upgrades. When I became a full-time pastor in 2013, those benefits of working in IT became significantly less available. What does that mean? On a practical level, that I’m still using the same laptop I had three years ago – even though that is way beyond my usual “upgrade cycle” historically.

OCZ Vertex SSD Hard Drive.
OCZ Vertex SSD Hard Drive.

So, what does one do when its time to upgrade one’s workstation but you don’t want to spend the money to purchase an entirely new system? In the past my answer would be “upgrade the RAM” but now it is “maybe upgrade the RAM and definitely go to a SSD hard drive.”

See, most computers I buy these days come with a decent bit of RAM – 4 GB or more. For the average user, you aren’t going to see a “big” performance boost adding RAM above 2 GB or 4 GB to your system…at least, the performance boost becomes less with each additional upgrade.

Replace a standard “mechanical” hard drive with a solid state drive (SSD) though and you will see an huge performance difference. I’d probably have broken down and bought a new machine by now if I hadn’t bought and installed an SSD drive for this laptop in January before I left Cairn University.

The SSD drive took my boot time down from several minutes to under a minute (and I have a pretty heavy load of stuff on my system, many individuals doing lighter work might see load times around thirty seconds). It also makes system performance overall much more snappy – especially anything that involves reading/writing data from the hard drive (aka, almost everything).

I won’t go into all the details of why a SSD is better than a traditional hard drive – you can check out Storage Review’s article on this topic if you are interested in the details.

For those who are interested, I purchased my SSD via Amazon, specifically the OCZ Technology 128 GB Vertex 4 Series SATA drive (cost currently: $130). I couldn’t be happier with it.

I chose the Vertex 4 because (a) it was compatible with my laptop, (b) the drive has massively positive reviews from hundreds of customers, and (c) it comes with a 5-year warranty.

You’ll notice that the price is significantly more than for a traditional hard drive (HDD), but the price is worth it. Still, one will want to avoid buying too much disk space and wasting money – that is why I went with a 128 GB drive. I wouldn’t go smaller than that, unless all you do is browse the internet – and I wouldn’t go larger than that unless you really need the extra space.

If you do need the extra space, you might want to look at a second internal hard drive (this is usually possible with desktops, only a few laptops include this feature) or an external hard drive (this will work with desktops and laptops) or a cloud drive (e.g. from Google, Microsoft, SugarSync, Dropbox, etc.).

One final important note: It has always been critical to backup your data. I can’t tell you the number of individuals and businesses I know that have lost significant amounts of critical data due to hard drive failures. This problem is only exasperated with SSD drives, which tend to be harder to recover data from than their HDD equivalents.