Black+Decker SMARTECH Cordless Lithium Hand Vacuum Review

My wife and I have been mulling over the idea of a new vacuum recently, so I was intrigued when Black+Decker sent out their SMARTECH hand vacuum (model number HHVJ320BMF26) for me to review.

What is SMARTECH?
Before I get into my own experience with this vacuum, I want to get into what the “SMARTECH” in this product’s name refers to. In fact, Black+Decker has a whole line of vacuums that share this feature set. Here’s how their site describes SMARTECH:

SMARTECHâ„¢ BATTERYSENSEâ„¢ AUTOSENSEâ„¢ + FILTERSENSEâ„¢ features help you clean smarter, not harder.

    BATTERYSENSE shows you how much battery remains, so you know how much longer you can clean before you need to recharge.
    FILTERSENSE alerts you when it’s time to clean the filter so you continue to get maximum performance.
    AUTOSENSE helps you power through your cleaning by automatically adjusting suction from bare floors to thick carpet.
    POWERBOOST gives you added power with the push of a button.

In reality, I’ve come to expect the benefits of battery and filter notifications in any newer products where they would be applicable. I understand that other products may not offer this, so I’m at least appreciative that they exist here. On the other hand, AUTOSENSE and POWERBOOST are the pleasant surprises here, with AUTOSENSE being the headliner. Vacuuming can be such a mundane chore that it can be easy to forget to turn off POWERBOOST when you don’t need it. This can drain the battery faster than necessary and it becomes evident by looking at the BATTERYSENSE indicator. At nearly full charge, all three battery indicator lights are lit with POWERBOOST off. Turn it on and only two battery indicator lights are lit.

With all that said, I’m not sure AUTOSENSE works on – or is designed for – the handheld vacuum and may be more of a feature for the 2-in-1 vacuums that have a stick vacuum add-on. Whether this is the case or not, I was unable to experience AUTOSENSE during my testing.

Of these features, if I could change one thing, it would be the BATTERYSENSE indication lights. Some form of indication of minutes of use remaining would be far more useful to me.

Does it Suck
The lithium battery provides decent suction for typical handheld vacuum tasks like picking up small dirt and debris. There is a noticeable difference with POWERBOOST on and this was very handy when it came to removing cat hair from a cloth couch cover. While testing this, I was able to make a clear X on the couch cover distinguishing the vacuumed X from the untouched portion. I have four cats, which put this product to the test. On carpeted stairs, I had less success, requiring several passes to get all the cat hair up. All other tests with small debris were successful as I had expected them to be.

Pros and Cons
As mentioned above, I had limited success removing lots of cat hair from carpeted stairs and I imagine a more useful indicator of how long I can expect to run the vacuum on the remaining battery. Additionally, I found the air output to have inconvenient placement. The air sucked into the vacuum makes its way through the filters and then back out the bottom of the vacuum. While using it on the floor, air began to push around debris I had not yet vacuumed. Now that I’m aware of this I can be conscious about how I position the vacuum, but it would be better if I didn’t have to think about it.

There are a number of things I like about this little machine, as well. At just over 2 pounds, it’s light without compromising much in the way of power or features. The battery indicator, while not perfect, does differentiate between remaining usage expectations for normal use versus POWERBOOST. The extendable crevice tool helps with getting into tight spaces, but it also helps reach higher places and requires less bending over when cleaning up small messes quickly from the floor. Having only about 15 minutes of run time, the wall-mountable charging cradle can be a big plus. As long as you return it to its cradle when you’re done, it should always be ready for use. The debris compartment is pretty small, but it’s also bagless and very easy to clean by just pressing the release button, pulling out the filter, and then dumping the contents of the compartment into the trash.

Specifications
AIR WATTS 22 Watts
CAPACITY 16.9 oz.
REPLACEMENT FILTERS VBF10
WEIGHT 2.13 lbs

Conclusions
Many companies (including Black+Decker) offer handheld vacuums that are cheaper, but they also have fewer features or may not work as well. This vacuum retails for about $89.99 and is worth the price. It feels comfortable but sturdy and shows promise of working well for a long time, which is worth spending a little more for. My gripes are small and few and I would easily recommend this to anyone shopping for a handheld.

Coin and Coin 2.0 – A Year In Review

In November of 2013, I was pretty excited to hear about a digital credit card that could replace all of my physical cards for fifty bucks. It was an early backer price and seemed a bit high for taking a chance on something new, but my mind couldn’t let go of the idea of it. Sometimes I see an innovative new gadget and I just have to have it. As Kickstarter was gaining momentum, I felt comfortable giving it a shot and handed over my money. Even though I knew I’d have a wait ahead of me, I often wondered over the next nine months when it would come. In August of 2014, my Coin 1.0 arrived. More than a year later, Coin 2.0 was released and I was upgraded for free.

Coin Digital Credit Card
Coin Digital Credit Card

What is a Coin digital credit card?
Before I get too far into my personal observations, I should take a moment to talk about what Coin is. Coin is a smart device, the size of a single credit card, that can store the information of up to eight credit cards and work as any of them when swiped. It has an e-ink display to show which card is selected and the last four digits and expiration and a button to switch between cards. Coin also has the ability to set up a Morse code style password so you can unlock your Coin with a few short and long button presses when your phone is not nearby.

One year with Coin 1.0
While I’ve had Coin for a year, I’ve honestly only used it for a few months total. For starters, it didn’t always work when I would swipe it. Almost half the time, I had to try again and too often, I wound up pulling out the actual bank-issued card to complete the transaction. Coin’s two big selling points for me were convenience and security. Having to try multiple times and eventually use my other cards sometimes eliminates the convenience I would otherwise gain with a single card to carry around. That said, I now only carry my Coin and one major credit card.

As for security, the thought is that I no longer hand over a card to someone who can simply copy the numbers and make purchases online. Additionally, my Coin (and by extension, all my credit cards) become unusable when away from me for more than 7 minutes. I always worry that my server at a restaurant won’t get it swiped in time, but it hasn’t been a problem yet. Of course, the other side of the security argument is that I now have all my credit card information in a device that uses Bluetooth. What if it gets hacked? I use an RFID shielded wallet, so I’m more concerned about someone obtaining access to my phone than I am my Coin.

The several months in between usage can be explained by the fact that I’d get a new phone and have to enter all my cards again. For the sporadic level of swipe success, it sometimes felt like something I didn’t even want to bother with and my Coin would sit in a box on my shelf for a couple months.

Coin Digital Credit Card
Coin Digital Credit Card

Coin 1.0 and 2.0 Compared
Using a coin is pretty simple and basically the same with both versions. When I’m getting ready to pay, I just pull it out and choose the card I want to pay with and hand it off to the cashier or swipe it at a terminal. With both versions, most cashiers are awestruck having never seen something like this before and usually tell me that they think it’s pretty cool. It can be nice, but it also means I usually have to tell them what it is and how it works when they ask. The first incarnation of Coin – despite a long wait that included being envious of west coast beta testers – did not always work. Above all, that has been my biggest complaint. As mentioned above, just under half the time, it would not work on the first attempt. Thankfully, improvements have been made to really cut down on this. While I’ve only had Coin 2.0 a week or so, everywhere I’ve tried it was a success. There was one place it failed on the first try and I immediately reverted to my bank-issued card because there was a long line behind me.

The Morse code security feature hasn’t proven useful for me yet. The one time I left my phone in the car, I completely forgot that I could unlock the Coin without it and just grabbed my phone. Had I remembered the feature, I don’t think I would have remembered the code. For others, this may be an indispensable feature, but to me, it’s just a possible security hole if I lose my card. Luckily, the Coin app will tell me if it can’t see my Coin when the Bluetooth connection drops. This is another great feature for other people, but not as much for me. Having a shielded wallet means that every time I put my Coin back in my wallet, the app thinks I’ve left it behind. This is an acceptable trade-off, I suppose.

Coin comes with an internal battery that will last about two years with “normal” use. Normal use is defined as using your Coin about 5-6 times a day. I’m assuming I’ll get up to 3 years out of mine since I don’t use it nearly that much.

EVT and NFC are concepts new to Coin 2.0. While the new Coin doesn’t have an actual EVT chip, NFC provides a contactless form of EMV payments. It seems that this will only be useful for cards that support EVT. While shopping earlier this week, I attempted to tap to pay with both of my cards and it simply would not work. This was at a single merchant and I have yet to try again. This was one of the key upgrades with Coin 2.0, so I’m hoping it will prove to be a usable feature for me.

Conclusions
Coin is a great little device, but it has found its struggles as the pioneer in an odd little niche product market that seems to have caught on in the last year or so with a few competitors. Despite the challenges, Coin has done well to support those who believed in it by giving free Coin 2.0 upgrades to early adopters, but it will need to work hard to keep up as competitors innovate with new features. Coin 2.0 offers much needed improvements, but unless there’s a feature-rich Coin 3.0, it will probably be the last of its line. At $99 with a two year battery life, you’ll be in for about $50 per year, which is still not bad if you’re able to make the most use of it.

The Magical FlutterBye Fairy Reviewed

At one of the local shopping malls last week, I saw some incredible – and very large – fairy displays the mall had commissioned for the holidays. I imagined this was because the holidays are a magical time and fairies are pretty magical in their own right. Last night, I spent some time with a fairy of my own, FlutterBye.

FlutterBye Fairy

What Is FlutterBye?

My first thought when I saw this toy was, “Another remote control toy… Cool!” But There’s no remote control here, at least not how you’re thinking. The fairy flies in the same way a helicopter or quad-copter might, with a kind of propeller except that she is the propeller. For the most part, she will fly on her own and without guidance she will eventually crash down. The control comes from your use of sensors on underneath FlutterBye that can tell how close your hand is. She will attempt to hover inches above your hand, but will wander off horizontally. Check out the review video below for a demo and a better idea of how she works.

The Magic

When I get toys in the mail to review, I joke with friends about how horrible it is that I have to go play with all these toys. In this case, I wasn’t dreading it, but I wasn’t prepared for how much I’d enjoy FlutterBye. After some initial doubt (see below), I found myself having a lot of fun with it and forgetting I was reviewing it.

I also found the battery life to be pretty amazing. With a remote controlled helicopter, I often get about six to eight minutes of flying time on a charge. Here, I was well into about 15 minutes with no sign of slowing. And while I’m comparing her to a helicopter, she turned out to be tougher as well. Crashing her a lot of times before getting the flying down, I left no sign of damage anywhere on her. She’s one tough fairy.

Some Cautions

Something that wasn’t immediately apparent to me was the risk of long hair and propellers. Though I hadn’t thought of it, it’s worth mentioning although the use of a pony tail and and not headbanging to FlutterBye are probably sufficient precautions. Having that fast propeller hit your hand is another story, though, so you’ll want to heed the advice in the user guide and grab FlutterBye close to the ankles when recovering her mid-flight.

Control eluded me at first, but it wasn’t like with R/C aerials that require practice. This was more about learning. Once I learned how to control her height and became more comfortable with when to grab her feet to regain control, all was well.

Final Thoughts

Retailing for about $28, she’s priced well to fit under nearly any tree this Christmas and well worth the cost, which is probably why it made the Amazon Hot Holiday List, among other things. While the box indicates FlutterBye is a toy suited for children aged five and up, I would think this would be a great toy for girls seven to twelve or so.