30 September 2016

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OXO Good Grips Deep Clean Brush Set

Two brush set for scrubbing hard-to-clean places

The OXO Good Grips Deep Clean Brush Set is a great little set of brushes that will replace that worn out toothbrush you use for cleaning little corners and the like. With stiffer bristles, and a grippy angled handle these little brushes will go places a toothbrush cannot. The stiffer bristles will stand up to quite a bit of force and really get the gunk out of cracks and corners. The tapered brush even has rubber corner cleaner for those really hard to get clean spots. But what I think is really great about these brushes is how much easier they make it to clean another great Cool Tool, the Kuhn Rikon garlic press. I purchased the Rikon garlic press based on a review on Cool Tools. The review indicated that is easier to clean the many garlic presses and this is definitely true. Easier does not necessarily mean easy though. Then I got the OXO brush set. The straight bristled brush makes clean-up of the Rikon garlic press a breeze. I was so pleased to find two Cool Tools working together to make my life even easier.

09/30/16 -- Dan Mushrush

29 September 2016

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Pijio Tea Infuser

Tea brewer you can drink from

I love tea, but having a ready supply during my workday has been a problem for me. Brewing one mug is too small for my preference, if I get distracted it’ll oversteep, and brewing pitchers takes too many steps – plus a pitcher is too large for my shared work fridge.

I have been using this to cold brew tea. Not just traditional ice tea, but any flavor of tea you can find! I put some loose tea in the infuser, add cold water, leave in the fridge for 2+ hours and I get no-hassle tea in a grab and go container.

The Pijio bottle has been a great solution for me. I just put tea in the filter + water in the bottle then walk away. When I’m ready to drink tea, I just grab the bottle and take it anywhere. It’s actually faster than brewing ice tea because you start with cold water. I am getting two bottles, so that when I put one in the fridge to start brewing, the other will be done brewing. Constant supply! The bottle made temperature and shock resistant borosilicate galss, so you can put hot or cold liquids in it. The sleeve protects your hands and helps maintain temperature. It is super easy to clean and refill.

09/29/16 -- Amy Larson

28 September 2016

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Steel Thumbnail

Save your keratin thumbnail

I’ve had a one of these little beauties for a couple of years now and it’s saved me from countless encounters with genuine anguish. One year I gave one to every male I know for Christmas and received universal rave reviews. It’s nothing more (or less) than a small (about an inch and three-quarters long), key chain ready, steel thumbnail designed expressly to save yours.

According to its designer it was originally designed to open recalcitrant folding knife blades for which I can personally testify it does an admiral job. But I also use mine for everything from removing sticky labels to prying open those damn pill bottle tops and, now and then, a quick turn of a small screw.

Frankly, I can’t think of a another single product as handy and compact as this minor stroke of genius. Sells for a paltry $5.95 with the basic Black Rucarta handle or a more deluxe version with a Cocobolo (yes, just Saul Goodman’s desk) for $7.95. Far as I know, only available by mail order from the A.G. Russell Knife Company, but dedicated researchers may find another source.

09/28/16 -- Jim "Txinkman" Lanham

27 September 2016

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Xiaomi Mi Band 1S

Silent alarms/notifications and sleep tracking

This review was prompted by the recent “Fitbit as a Silent Alarm Clock” review. I recommend a cheaper alternative — Mi Band 1S. It’s an inexpensive ($15 shipped) wrist band which absolutely requires a smart phone (Android 4.4 and up or iOS) to function and it features:

  1. Silent (vibrating) alarms
  2. Activity tracking
  3. Sleep tracking
  4. Pulse rate meter — this is the “new” feature of the 1S version (released in fall of 2015) over the older 1 version.

There are no physical buttons on the Mi Band, although it can detect taps. However either I’m doing something wrong or they’re hit or miss. The wristband itself has no display (aside from three inscrutable LEDs), so you will absolutely need a smartphone to monitor data it records and set things up (alarms, etc).

It lasts about a month on one charge! Due to irregular hours which I’ve had to keep at work I needed at least two of these features — silent alarm and sleep tracking. I needed a silent alarm because I sometimes sleep during the day with the ear plugs, rendering regular alarms useless, and I was curious about the quality of my day-time sleep. The band’s activity tracking and pulse rate meter are a nice bonus, but I wasn’t (and still am not) much interested in those features. I can’t comment on the accuracy of the pedometer, other than to say that I think it’s decently accurate. At the very least, it’s no worse than similar and more expensive bands (with the exception of maybe Garmin), although as I understand how the Mi Band 1S works, it doesn’t keep a BlueTooth connection to the phone at all times so it can’t enjoy additional accuracy derived from your smart phone connection.

The pulse rate measuring is pretty accurate and it’s a nice bonus in a $15 device. I believe that it’s used a lot to determine if you’ve fallen asleep (more on that later). As an owner of an Android Wear wristwatch I wasn’t looking for the day-time wrist notifications about events on my phone. Unfortunately, all Android Wear devices wear out (haha) their batteries pretty quickly — usually well within 24 hours, so you have to pick either using it during the day and charging it at night or charging it during the day and only using it as an (expensive!) silent alarm.

And this was one of the two reasons I’ve ordered Mi Band 1S — it lasts about a month on its puny battery and it has a vibrating silent alarm, which is great if you don’t want to wake up your spouse or if you need to sleep with earplugs. The Mi Fit app lets you schedule up to 3 alarms, any of those can be either recurring or a one-time alarm and they can be set to be “smart” alarms, which monitor your sleep pattern within 30 minutes of your desired awakening time to buzz when you’re farthest from deep sleep. (This smart alarm feature never properly worked for me, neither with Mi Band 1S nor with the other Android apps before — I’d just be awoke 30 minutes before I needed to. So I cut my smart alarm testing after 1 or 2 unsuccessful attempts.)

The regular alarms work *very well* on this wristband. With a selection of 3 alarms, you can set a recurring alarm for the weekdays, another recurring alarm for the weekend and have one slot available for your one-time alarms when you need them. The Mi 1S Band is very worth its price just for this feature alone. Once programmed, alarms operate independently from your smartphone — the alarms are stored in the wristband memory so you can set them up, switch the smartphone off, and the wristband will still wake you.

Besides the alarms, the wristband can be set to vibrate when your phone is ringing (and locked) and also upon new texts or additional (up to 3, I’m assuming to preserve battery) apps. There’s a third party app in the Play Store which will let you configure wristband notifications for as many apps as you want or even set up different notification patterns based on the sender of the e-mail, instant message or text, but as I said I have my Android Wear for that.

Here’s the reason I decided to get a Mi Band 1S — sleep tracking. As I mentioned earlier, my sleep hygiene was pretty poor and I wanted to: 1) Monitor the hours I spend sleeping, and 2) Monitor the quality of my sleep. Here’s what I learned: If you fall asleep between 8pm and midnight and don’t launch the Mi Fit app on your phone half-way through the night, the sleep detection is fantastic. It does *not* count the time I spend reading in bed as sleep. So all in all, it can detect when you’ve fallen asleep and when you woke up with fantastic accuracy. Sleep tracking does fall short though. It does not detect very well if you wake up for a few minutes. So if you need to wake up for, let’s say a sip of water, in the middle of the night and you’re back in bed within minutes, it won’t register it. And if you need to launch an app (causing it to connect to the band and fetch the data) in the middle of the night — for example to set or adjust the wristband alarm, your sleep data is ruined for the night. Worst for me, it seems that the wristband doesn’t even try to detect the sleep during daytime. This was my biggest disappointment.

There are of course a few things which could be totally improved with the software and not the device itself: 1) While lacking normal a LCD it has three tiny white LEDs used to indicate your progress towards your daily step count. The problem is, it blinks at night sometimes. If you’re in bed with your wrist close to your eyes as you’re trying to fall asleep this blinking can be unpleasant. 2) The phone app is a bit awkward to use and lacks clarity and finesse, especially if you’ve been spoiled by some American companies’ pursuit of perfect user experience. Things have changed for the better in the recently released version 2.0, but even there I’m struggling to have the wristband vibrate with the Android’s stock alarm clock. However at $15 (just check aliexpress.com to find a large number of sellers willing to send your order all over the world) it’s a fantastic little device and if you don’t already own a more expensive activity tracker with long battery life I can totally recommend Mi Band 1S.

While this review was being prepared for publication, Xiaomi has released the new version of their fitness band — Mi Band 2. The review of Mi Band 2 (and its comparison to Mi Band 1S reviewed above) is coming up soon.

09/27/16 -- Stan Grishin

26 September 2016

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Champion Mens Elite SmartTemp Boxer Briefs

No more thigh chafing while hiking

I’ve been using these for about 3 years now and I love them. I’m a 71 year old male, weigh 200lb, hike 3 times a week, 4 to 8 miles. These are stretchy “bike short” like, and moisture wicking. Great for the hot and sweaty hiking here in Hawaii. They also keep one’s “personal parts” securely yet comfortably in place. Really improved my hiking experience!

They go down your legs a little from the crotch so if your thighs are rubbing they protect the skin from chafing. I tried “Glide” but that didn’t work for me. I did try the COSTCO knock offs and Haines version of these, but both of those rode up on my thigh and Haines just fell apart. I buy them at COSTCO but I see Amazon and Target have them too.

These are a Cotton/Polyester/Spandex Blend. For some reason they make you look good too. My “Dear Wife” likes it when I walk around the house in them. Much sexier then the “Whitie Tighties” apparently. Ain’t life just grand!

09/26/16 -- Rob

25 September 2016

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Google Feud/Nippies/Fakespot/Splash

Recomendo: issue no. 9

Game:
Google Feud is a game that challenges you to guess the top ten Google autocompletes for a particular word or term. For instance, the game might prompt you with “my friend is addicted to” and you have to fill in the rest of the query. (FYI, the top ten autocompletes for this example are weed, her phone, drugs, coke, pills, drama, oxycodone, crack, anime, and alcohol.) — MF

Stuff:
Over the years, I’ve had to buy a variety of bras for different types of dresses and tops (racerback, backless, strapless, etc.), but the most useful purchase I’ve made has been Nippies. I’ve had these for a couple years now. They are washable, reusable and so comfortable I forget I have them on. — CL

Tip:
Before buying something on Amazon, enter the URL for the product at fakespot.com. This free service will analyze how many shill reviewers have rated a product, and award a “Fakespot Grade” from A to F. A low grade doesn’t necessarily mean a product is bad, it just means you shouldn’t take the reviews and user ratings into consideration when making your decision to buy something. — MF

Tool:
I’m trying out Splash, a cool free experimental photo search engine from 500Pixels. You sketch the rough contours of a photo you seek in color, and it will display two dozen images that “match” your sketch. The match is mostly in color, mood, and rough shapes, but it does present you with some interesting images, all licensable. — KK

Readables:
A long time ago, after a bad breakup I read If the Buddha Dated by Charlotte Kasi. By the time I had finished the book, it was covered in notes and dog-eared pages, and I felt healed and ready to move on. Now, as a newlywed, I am enjoying listening to If the Buddha Married on Audible. So many great insights and communication tips. — CL

Stuff:
All my dress shirts are now “Non-Iron” cotton material. I don’t know how this stuff works, but the ones I clumsily fold into my luggage, will unwrinkle shortly after I put them on. I use Non-Iron Oxford shirts from Land’s End and L.L. Bean, but most clothing brands seem to carry them. Eagle brand Non-Iron shirts are popular on Amazon. — KK

Want to get our next Recomendo a week early in your inbox? Sign up for next Sunday newsletter here.

09/25/16 -- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Lamar

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CargoRAXX – unrecommended

This appears to be a shill review. Many thanks to Cool Tools reader Matthew Connor for looking into this. He wrote:

Meaghan Hollywood works for CargoRAXX. Meaghan Hollywood put a review up quasi-anonymously on Amazon. A similarly worded review is now anonymously on KK.org.

On Amazon there are two reviews for the product (https://www.amazon.com/CargoRAXX-S1A-Interior-Management-System/dp/B01A6X4MBS). Neither is attributed by name but the one from January 18th, 2016 refers to “my Tahoe” and read similar to the KK.org review. Let us suppose the author is, in fact, the same person.

Clicking on the name for the review – merely “Amazon Customer” brings up their profile (https://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A1CF94IIWSAE00/ref=cm_cr_dp_pdp). This profile contains one Wish List on the left side. Clicking on it revels – the name of “Amazon Customer” – it is Meaghan Hollywood.

Ok. I believe at this point the author of the KK review and the author of at least one of the two reviews on Amazon are in fact the same person and that person’s name is Meaghan Hollywood.

Here’s the kicker, CargoRAXX has a website with a blog feature – their blogger’s name is Meaghan Hollywood. (http://cargoraxx.com/5-reasons-re-organize-suv/)

About Cool Tools

Cool Tools is a web site which recommends the best/cheapest tools available. Tools are defined broadly as anything that can be useful. This includes hand tools, machines, books, software, gadgets, websites, maps, and even ideas. All reviews are positive raves written by real users. We don’t bother with negative reviews because our intent is to only offer the best.

One new tool is posted each weekday. Cool Tools does NOT sell anything. The site provides prices and convenient sources for readers to purchase items.

When Amazon.com is listed as a source (which it often is because of its prices and convenience) Cool Tools receives a fractional fee from Amazon if items are purchased at Amazon on that visit. Cool Tools also earns revenue from Google ads, although we have no foreknowledge nor much control of which ads will appear.

We recently posted a short history of Cool Tools which included current stats as of April 2008. This explains both the genesis of this site, and the tools we use to operate it.

13632766_602152159944472_101382480_oKevin Kelly started Cool Tools in 2000 as an email list, then as a blog since 2003. He edited all reviews through 2006. He writes the occasional review, oversees the design and editorial direction of this site, and made a book version of Cool Tools. If you have a question about the website in general his email is kk {at} kk.org.

13918651_603790483113973_1799207977_oMark Frauenfelder edits Cool Tools and develops editorial projects for Cool Tools Lab, LLC. If you’d like to submit a review, email him at editor {at} cool-tools.org (or use the Submit a Tool form).

13898183_602421513250870_1391167760_oClaudia Lamar runs the Cool Tool website, posting items daily, maintaining software, measuring analytics, managing ads, and in general keeping the site alive. If you have a concern about the operation or status of this site contact her email is cl {at} kk.org.