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Amazon Prime & eBay for Business?

amazon-ebay-logos

Both eBay and Amazon have been major players in the online retail market for many years but How are they to use for business? We've been using eBay for business over the last decade, mostly to obtain hard to find replacement parts for laptops, desktops and servers that we still have on maintenance long after support has been withdrawn by the manufacturer, but Amazon is a new voyage of discovery. Amazon offers a service known as Prime, which for a fixed monthly charge (currently £7.99) gives FREE next day delivery on a large range of products, which in itself can be an attractive proposition for businesses who spend a fair amount on carriage annually. In fact, our carriage bill for the last 30 days is £134.98, so if we could source everything from Amazon we would save £126.99 over the month. We cannot of course purchase everything from Amazon, but we're looking to see if the Prime deal is workable and viable. 

In order to offer a fair comparison we will select a few business consumables and then order them from Amazon, eBay and an online store and review the whole journey. 

Shopping Time

Item Description Amazon Prime Ebay Online
Duracell CR2032 Lithium Battery 2 pack £4.99 (2 days later) £1.69 (next day) £2.89 Curries (next day)
EPSON WF-3620 EXTRA LARGE BLACK CARTRIDGE £33.32 (next day) £30.00 (2 days) £37.59 Cardridge Discount (3 days)
HP 24f Display £99.00 (two days) £109.00 (5 days) £99.00 AO (next day)
HP PREMIUM PHOTO PAPER A4 x20 £13.98 (next day) £13.96 (2 days) £19.76 Photopaperdirect (2 days)
hulker 3 way power strip £15.99 (next day) £23.00 (3 days) £18.99 BlockCube (7+ days)
TOTAL £167.28 £177.65 £178.23

 

Amazon Search me not

The first thing you notice about Amazon search is that EVEN IF YOU SELECT PRIME ONLY, and EVEN IF you select order by LOWEST PRICE FIRST ( both of which you have to do EVERY TIME YOU SEARCH because they reset to Non-Prime and "Featured" ) you are presented with a bunch of items that are not prime and are not what you searched for. In our first search for the Duracell CR2032, with PRIME and SORT PRICE LOWEST FIRST set, we first get double A cells, chargers, and a "Homidy Digital Hygrometer Indoor Thermometer, Xiaomi Mijia Rare 360°HD E-ink Display Room Humidity Monitor Swiss Sensirion Industrial Grade High Accuracy Temperature Humidity Meter" which is so far out of scope it makes no sense at all. HP Premium Photo Paper A4 again Primed and Sorted Lowest price gives you HP Office A4 80gsm, Kodak Premium Glossy Paper, Hp Everyday Glossy Paper - see the issue here, NOT WHAT WE SEARCHED FOR!. This makes purchasing from Amazon awkward and time intensive. 

eBay

Not content with bashing Amazon's creative search results, eBay has, since its inception had the issue where you MUST select UK ONLY, and Order Lowest First for nearly every search or you will unwittingly end up buying something from China that takes 4 months to arrive. That notwithstanding, eBay is fully loaded with fraudulent items, both electrically unsafe, non-compliant right through to outright illegal knockoff copies that underperform, all seemingly in the UK but when your item arrives its from overseas. I don't believe eBay has any intention to deal with this simply because its been happening for at least a decade and they've done nothing about it so far. Amazon may be a more sanitised marketplace but ONLY if you select PRIME, otherwise you're back to dodgy items from China in many cases. 

Price & Performance

As you can see the price performance on these few items swung in favour of Amazon Prime. Don't forget we've paid a monthly fee for the one day free delivery and that one day usually means two or more, but its still less than eBay and Online. There are however other issues to consider when using Amazon & eBay as opposed to online stores and retailers. With both Amazon and eBay you are isolated from the seller, more so with Amazon but anyone who's used eBay for a while soon learns that the phone numbers provided in the listings are rarely real numbers. Both eBay and Amazon do provide a method to communicate with the sellers via messages, and ebay has their "Resolution Centre" which is actually quite useable as long as your prepared to wait 40 days for your refund. 

Help me Amazon

Today I'm going to focus on Amazon, simply because this was a new journey into procurement, and because their communication was certainly lacking. 

Taking our first Item, the Duracell CR2032, these were required for part of a presentation system that was being shipped the next day. I ordered them on a sunday for delivery Monday (as is the promise with Prime) but by late afternoon they were still a no-show. I sent someone down to our local supplier to get them for our shipment, but I then thought I'd contact Amazon and enquire as to where they are? Your first greeted with the Orders page, you find the item and hit Track and you'll see something like the screen to the left. Pretty uninformative but gives some hope that its going to arrive today, even if it is long after the office has closed. 

Then you go on a veritable treasure hunt to find the missing contact us page hidden within the depths of the amazon.co.uk website. Even for this article I've spent another 10 minutes trying to find it again. For anyone else being sent around endless help pages looking for it, its at https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/customer/contact-us

Now you've got here, and ignoring Track Package because you've already done that, select "Where's my stuff" then "check status of my order" and moments later you're given the options of e-mail, phone or chat which is recommended. So I enthusiastically clicked Chat and was presented with the screen to the right. Great news, I'm blocked for some reason, and this is the first time I've tried to contact amazon for anything. Never mind I'll use the Phone option, its probably just as quick. 

Amazon offer a callback service, which makes total sense and saves you from an endless queue of poor quality music. I entered my desk phone number and clicked "Call Me Now". I was excited to receive the message immediately to the right. I have no idea why my number would be blocked, I've never contacted them before but there is a pattern forming here. 

Given that attempt 1 and 2 have failed let's see if e-mail is any better. Following the e-mail option you are quickly reminded that email's take 12 hours (normally) to respond, which is of no use today then. I did call the 0800 number and after some time got through to a very nice person who told me simply that it wasn't going to be today and *should* be tomorrow, a fact which I was already aware of since it was long after 17:30 and I was the last chicken in the henhouse. Is this journey indicative of Amazon or did I just pick a bad day? I don't know, all I can show is this day. 

What can we take away from this article? 

Amazon is certainly an option worth considering and overall may save some money at least in the shipping department, but the awkward search and lack of any assistance is a significant downside for mission critical supplies. eBay is great providing you're not in a rush for anything and are happy to live with ordering a proportion of orders from China simply because you forgot to click "Uk Only" every time you search. Online stores I think are going to be increasingly rare in the future with Amazon and eBay taking up ever increasing search engine results with their listings (and their proxies). Ignoring the cost, independent online stores only winning features are accurate search results, contactable and not inadvertently buying junk from China, all of which I don't believe are sufficient to draw market share away from the big two. For us, we are committed to purchasing from distribution in quantity, and that won't change, but one off items such as cartridges where we would normally pay £10 in shipping could be beneficial in the long term. 

As a hardware supplier, the goods we provide are quoted very competitively with margins between 2% and 3%, but we are occasionally told that "I can buy that cheaper on eBay" to which our reply is always, go ahead. This is always going to be a risk reward based decision for any business, if the customer can save £5 and get it from eBay that's great but when it breaks who you gonna call? That's right, no one. 

As always comment if you have something to add, and please take a moment to rate the article. 

 

 

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The curious case of Traffic Exchanges

TrafExchange

Traffic Exchanges are not a new phenomenon but have in fact been around for at least 10 years if not longer, but they do come and go each rarely surviving more than a few years. The concept is a simple one, you browse someone else's website and they'll view yours. At this point we break these down into two groups, auto and manual. With a Manual traffic exchange each user selects sites to view, usually for a selected time and earns point for this. Those points are then spent with other users viewing your site(s). In auto, a browser (either program, plug-in, extension or just javascript) cycles through websites automatically usually for less points per view. Some of the more advanced exchanges allow specific geo-targeting, refer, and even an attempt at search engine -> site simulation with varying degrees of reliability. In most cases you can of course pay for points which are then consumed by users. None of the research and testing done for this article involved paying for anything. 

The aim of all this is threefold. Firstly, website traffic from human visitors can be an opportunity to convert into sales providing what you're selling is something of interest but with auto surf there absolutely zero chance of this.

Secondly, some advertising networks pay per view rather than the more normal per click or conversion, these networks whilst generally immune to fraud can be fooled by traffic exchanges generating negligible income for site owners.

Thirdly, search engine positioning as well as ordering of ad banners on networks is driven by complex algorithms, some of which may (or may not) be influenced by the increased presence of visitors to a site. In reality I can find almost zero data to support this belief but the persistence of such traffic exchanges would tend to suggest there must be something to it. Many of the sites listed below use different terminology for the actual 'points' such as minutes, tokens or credits but for the purpose of this article I shall just call them points as the principle is much the same. 

During the research I've searched, located, signed-up and tested as many traffic exchanges as I could find and will list them here together with my observations which I hope will be helpful.

Traffic Exchange Websites

RankBoostup.com

A bright and clearly produced site from Australia that looks maintained. This site is purely a traffic exchange and it does it very well. Auto-Surf is done with a browser plug-in and there's one for both Firefox and Chrome. Whilst it doesn't show every visit it does show the number of visits per day and with that we can match that to visitors fairly accurately. This site offers a few more options for a recurring fee of $10 allowing limits to be set as well as geo-targeting, referrer spoofing and several others. For an extra $10 you can buy 12k points. If your just starting out then this one is a fairly easy one to get with and won't cost the earth. 

FollowLike.net

A fairly recent entry to the market, Followlike.net provider some features not often seen such as OK.ru, Vimeo, Reverbnation, ask.fm, VK, Mix, Dilgo, Pocket, Folkd, Reddit and 9Gag to name a few. I've tested a few of these and found it to work and it provides accurate tracking of your accumulated points. The auto-surf works although it views sites in a pop-up window which you then can't easily mute in most browsers. Firefox has a plug-in that auto-mutes all new windows so that was an easy fix. Interestingly this site is hosted in the UK on Webfusion. If your looking to have a shot then this one is definitely worth checking out and with recurring plans starting at approximately $5 for 5k points.

Hitleap.com

Very clean and modern layout and simple easy to understand operation from Hong Kong. Auto-surf is by an application and this works well in Windows (Linux version also available). You can have up to three websites listed. Geo-targeting and bounce reduction are available at a cost starting at $15 approximately per month which includes 10k points. Certainly worth a try if this is something you want to explore.  

otohits.net

Another good example of how to do it from France, clearly laid-out and with manual approval of sites it's a safe bet that it's regularly maintained. Even on the free account you can have referrer spoofing, user-agent overriding, Click simulation, scrolling simulation and geo-targeting and in our tests works exactly as advertised. Auto-surfing is again via an Application and this works well. There isn't a recurring fee, but points can be purchased for as little as 2 euro (about $3) for 1.5m points. OtoHits also offers an API for integrating your applications but I haven't explored this option. 

10khits.com

Nice clean design from the USA. In testing this site works as described and has fairly accurate tracking of visits and for a recurring fee of $29 you can have geo-targeting, referrer spoofing as well as 200k points, 45 websites and more. Auto-surfing is done via an Application (Windows) that you can set and forget. Certainly a serious competitor in this marketplace. 

AddMeFast.com

This exchange has been around for a good number of years and offers far more than just traffic exchange and in fact the traffic exchange is quite poor but its still worth listing especially if you want human Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Pinterest or Soundcloud likes and follows. The actual tracking of where your points are going is non-existent but tracking visits to a site that has zero normal visitors does indicate that it is working as advertised. There are paid plans starting at £199 per WEEK but these apparently give unlimited points although I'm not sure how that actually works. 

LinkCollider

Another long lived exchange which offers much of the same, but includes blogger posts and some others but this site has some non-functionality and almost constant service outages that would suggest its no longer actively maintained. The auto-surf is also broken and only surf's a few sites before stopping, mostly due to connectivity issues with the site, and in our tests we often found that the auto-surf thought we had multiple windows open when we didn't and whilst we viewed the sites no points were accumulated. if you set no-referrer it still uses linkcollider.com as the referrer in the web requests. Apart from these few issues its certainly worth a look with recurring monthly plans starting at £20 for 5k points. 

Manyhit.com

Manyhit.com, hosted in the USA is Unlike other players in that it suggests you could actually earn real $ by surfing sites but in testing this wasn't the case. No matter how many sites I surf'ed the 'account' still showed $0. Judging by the "This banner URL is incorrect" everywhere, this site may well no longer be maintained but is listed for completeness. 

Somiibo

Whilst this site from the USA promises much its complexity and reliability issues with its 'auto-surf' software move it down the list. Because of the issues I wasn't able to successfully test this site and I can't say if its maintained or not. They have a recurring monthly package $14.95 and I'm sure for that you'd find things would work as expected, but for this article I was only testing the free account. 

9hits.com

I've included this one because I really like the site design, its the best I've seen so far and it seems to have some sweet features such as Macro's. Unfortunately the only way to auto-surf is with their Application and the windows version requires FLASH which I'm simply not prepared to inflict on my PC. Recurring monthly premiums are only $6 for 100k points which is very reasonable but again couldn't test due to FLASH. I suspect this one is worth keeping an eye on. 

YouLikeHits.com

Another site that's been around for a while and only supports manual web surfing. Points can be purchased at a rate of $10 for 3k without any recurring charges. After adding a site, accumulating some points there were trackable visitors so this one works as advertised. This site also offers completing surveys as a way to accumulate points but I didn't try any of those. 

The Dangers

So, you've got a PC somewhere running an auto-surf, or even a browser on your PC running in the background viewing sites, but you don't know what those sites are going to be. They could be malware infested sites, bitcoin harvesting sites, Denial of Service sites, Sites that attempt to deposit files on your PC or even sites with illegal pornography and its all traceable back to YOU. (See our blog article on Tracking). Whichever way you throw it, your trusting these sites to monitor and vet all the links with them which they simply don't do. In the test we ran there were a few instances of porn and a few more of malware but nothing we couldn't handle because we were monitoring it. 

Socialmedia Purchasing

As you will no doubt find the majority of these sites also provide an option to 'purchase' using your points, socialmedia metrics such as followers, likes, etc. This is not a great idea because whilst search engines do use your total followers as a positive metric, they are more focused on the quality of your socialmedia proponents. If you consider the rep or footprint of a socialmedia profile is based on that entities posts, likes, dislikes and follows then your rep is based on the rep of those who post about you, follow you and like you. For a normal real person socialmedia account that's great and these accounts have reputation and normal activity, but the ones your buying on these sites will have thousands (or more) likes, follows and shares that are clearly fake, unrealistic and ignored by Google so don't waste your time and money. 

Backlink Purchasing

It is no secret that quality backlinks can greatly enhance your sites appearance in search engines, but likewise poor quality backlinks can greatly damage your appearance in search engines. Your site will rank far higher with just one good quality backline than 1000 poor quality ones, but how can you judge quality? Simple, anything you BUY on sites like the above are POOR no matter what they tell you and these will damage your ranking. The only way to obtain QUALITY backlinks is with effort and perseverance. As a point of interest it has been a long standing weapon in SEO that competitors can be knocked off their spots by spamming their sites with thousands of poor quality backlinks, so please don't spam yourself out of search engine existence. 

Summary

I am not sure of the actual benefit from traffic exchange and there's no guarantee that its not going to hurt your rankings rather than improve them, but website ranking especially in Google is something that takes months to affect and during this articles research the timeframe was about a week. I can see some benefit assuming the users browsing your sites have the Alexa Toolbar or similar plug-ins (that sends all the domains you visit back to a server somewhere, which personally I think is a ridiculous idea) and these would be influenced by the increased traffic. As for having any effect on search engine ranking I cannot see how unless the surfers first went to the search engine page, entered some keywords, paged through until it found your site and then clicked it, all of which is quite complex and unpredictable.

In order to track the effectiveness of these traffic exchanges, I used a different URL with each and then dumped the log files and compared to the reported figures. All the ones I could test came out with about the right number of hits give or take, but be aware that tracking social media likes/follows is far more complex. . Just considering Facebook then FB Likes would require these sites have linked your FB account and had access granted to an App on your FB account in order to accurately register likes and follows which none of them seem to do. Google, Twitter, Linkedin all have a similar method for tracking.  

I'm going to leave it running for a few more weeks with a couple of theses sites and see what, if anything happens to ranking or placement and I'll update the article with the results. 

I'd be very interested to hear if anyone has another take on this? please leave a comment. 

 

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Spring Clean your Personal Computer

1

Modern operating systems like Windows and MacOS generate vast volumes of needless data during normal operation by design. For almost as long as these operating systems have existed there have been tools to clear down the needless data and optimise files, tables and configuration to speed up operation. One of the first of these tools was "Norton Utilities" created by Peter Norton in 1982 for MS-DOS (later sold to Symantec in 1990). In the intervening 35 years Operating systems have become over more advanced and demanding and the number of competing tools increased. We, as a solution provider have used most of these tools over the years but recently we've focused on a powerful and lightweight tool from MacPaw. 

MacPaw, a Ukrainian company has been producing "ClearMyMac" for many years and are now very much the market leader in this space. Recently MacPaw entered the Windows market space with "CleanMyPC" and with their proven track record we adopted this product as our core offering for Windows users. This article is going to review both products and highlight the key features of both. 

CleanMyMAC  

For as long as we've been using Apple products, CleanMyMac has been a pre-requisite and it brings a comprehensive toolbox to the platform. The most signifiant of which is its junk removal feature which can free up a significant volume of space on each run but removing Cache Files, System Logs, Broken Preferences, unused Universal Binaries, unused Language files and Localisations, Deleted Mail Attachments, iTunes junk, Browser Cache and History and of course your Trash Bins. This whole process is automated and after a few minutes of processing a figure of storage is given. In running it on this very workstation whilst writing this article CleanMyMac found 1.7GB of junk to be removed. 

The Un-installer is one feature that is still missing from MacOS even today. Some App's once installed are complex and awkward to uninstall and most require a return to console commands to remove everything. CleanMyMac allows complete removal of Applications including preferences and local data. CleanMyMac can even uninstall multiple applications at once which is really handy. 

MacOS has a number of tools only available from the command line such as flushing DNS, rebuilding the launch database (Launchpad), repairing permissions etc and CleanMyMac brings these to an easy to use menu. 

Privacy is something that is becoming more important now that the nefarious practices of some Websites is becoming public knowledge. CleanMyMac gives a simple click and do approach to clearing this data and ensuring privacy. CleanMyMac also includes a secure file deletion tool which promises to eradicate all traces of a selected file or files. 

Extensions, are pluggable add-ons for MacOS Browsers and Applications such as Finder and Launchpad. CleanMyMac lists all these Add-ons and allows you to simply point and click to enable and disable them. Especially useful is removing Launch Agents, which load automatically when you login and can be really annoying. 

CleanMyPC    

With the same clean and modern interface, CleanMyPC brings the same toolset to windows and focuses on the key issues that still effects windows PC's daily. The "Cleanup" feature clears Cache Files, Logs and of course Trash. Running it on a PC in the office a moment ago we free'd up 1.5GB of space automatically. 

The Windows Registry is the store for all settings for Windows and most Applications. The Registry is a database and suffers from Fragmentation as well as junk. CleanMyPC swiftly cleans the junk and optimises the Registry files to speed up access and keep it relevant. 

Windows does have an Uninstaller but you can only uninstall one application at a time and there are often issues with uninstallation. CleanMyPC brings the same multi-application uninstaller with added clean up. 

Windows Extensions are again plug-ins and add-ons for Browsers, Windows Explorer and these can again become damaged and require repair or removal. 

Autorun, which is the same as Launch Agents on MacOS and is a list of applications that will automatically be started when your PC boots up and/or you login. CleanMyPC Gives you a simple click to enable/disable list to easy manage these.

Privacy is again a concern maybe more-so for Windows users and CleanMyPC not only gives you a list of data to be cleaned but also suggests the data's "Safety" or risk. CleanMyPC also brings with it the same secure erase functionality ensuring any trace of the selected files is removed and rendered unrecoverable. 

The NEW Version of CleanMyMac

CleanMyMac X takes the product to a whole new level with CPU & Memory monitoring, Malware Protection and performance tracking all of which just add to an already awesome toolset. 

Overall

Both tools offer a wide range of really useful services and perform flawlessly. This is not free software and there's a price but its very reasonable, is FREE to try and on a cost/reward basis is well worth the money. If your looking for more than 5 copies then please contact us for a corporate license. 

 

 

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Royal TS/TSX - The perfect tool for connecting to everything

manageeverything_crown

There are some tools that you work with so often that they become invaluable. Anyone who spends their days connecting to different systems and servers will know that the tools generally available are system specific; Windows desktop = Microsoft RDP Client, Linux box = Native SSH or Telnet, FTP Server = FileZilla, Cute or WinSCP and the list goes on. Each tool has its own qwerks and issues but we learn to live with them in order to get the job done. 

A few years ago now I was looking for a better SSH client because in my job when I have many SSH windows open its easy to loose track of which is which and I downloaded the first beta of Royal TSX (For Mac). It was a work in progress but I loved it. Now I can have my SSH clients in Tabs instead of separate xterm windows and I can name the tabs so its clear to see. I can even automate the login by scripting so I no longer have to waste time looking up passwords and leaving sessions open way longer than needed just because I have to lookup passwords. Royal TSX even in its early stages was a well thought out tool that instantly made its way to my quick launch bar. 

The first beta could connect to SSH, Telnet and RDP and I quickly found time to add all my regular connections and never looked back. 

Now that was a good few years ago and today Royal TS for Windows and Royal TSX for Mac are well polished and comprehensive toolsets with connectivity options to just about everything you could ever want...

Telnet, SSH: With full control over credentials, session, scripting, emulation and much more. 

You can clearly see the TAB's showing connections to multiple servers with varying connection types. 

File Transfer whether FTP, SFTP, SCP can be a bind to manage but no longer

Simple drag-drop file transfer. But there's more, much more...

RDP: for connecting to windows workstations and servers. 

TeamViewer: For anyone that still uses it. 

VNC: For your GUI based connections to Windows, Mac, Linux, IP KVM's and more. 

File Transfer: Over FTP, SFTP, SCP and more. Simple drag-drop functionality.  

VMWare: List instances, control on and off, connect to the console and more.

Hyper-V: Instance control, data and connections. 

Serial: Yes, even Hardware Serial over USB is a click away for those serial console moments that blindside you on an idle Tuesday afternoon. 

An all-in-one Tool, one screen, one set of configs! The organisation of connections allows you to create folders and move connections into folders so finding that connection is logical. I have folders for each customer, then a folder for each site within the customer folder which really helps. Royal TS/TSX stores all your connections and configuration in a 'phonebook' file which can easily be migrated or even sync'ed between workstations. I for example sync between my main desktop, laptop and mobile phone (yes, there is a mobile/tablet companion product!) 

But that's not all, how about windows Events? We all hate those, and monitoring can be a pain especially with multiple servers over multiple domains. Royal TSX cuts through all the nonsense with direct connections to Windows Events.

Windows Services, no problem. Windows Processes a click away, simple as anything and of course Powershell is also a click away. 

If your not already looking for where to download this tool then I'd be surprised, did I mention its FREE for up to 10 connections and after than the full product is only €35 or $46 for an individual license which is seriously undervalued in my opinion. If I add up the thousands of hours I've saved over the years then the true worth of this product would be 5 figures plus. 

When I first started using TSX and it would spend a good part of the day on my screen, where co-workers, visitors and even customers would ask, What are you using to do that? The product literally sells itself through its smart clean look and feature set. 

The developer, Royal Applications, are an Austrian company with a tight focus on their core product line. The product is actively developed and there are updates with new features and connections arriving regularly. The Support is outstanding with quick responses and assistance, and there's comprehensive documentation also available.

Its important to note that Royal Applications are not paying or influencing this review in any way. I genuinely love the product, use it every single day and paid willingly for my licenses. I strongly recommend anyone not already using it to give it a try, for FREE remember. 

You will find their product at www.RoyalApplications.com, and a quick link to their download page would be https://royalapplications.com/ts

 

If you found this review useful and I managed to save you hours a day then drop us a comment... 

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Toyota's Touch 2 & Go Review

2016-Toyota-GMS_Touch-1000x668

The Touch 2 & Go head units fitted to new Toyota Vehicles promises a great deal "The TOYOTA TOUCH® 2 multimedia system gives you a world of information and entertainment every time you get behind the wheel. And it’s all displayed in high-resolution colour-rich graphics on a simple touch screen." from the Toyota Website, and yet when you actually use it for a week or so you start to feel a little let down. Again from the Toyota Website "All smart. All simple. All for you." seems like a good place to start and for completeness we'll break this down into the main features. 

Multimedia

Toyota claims "To enjoy the journey even more, you can connect your iPod or MP3 remotely to the Toyota Touch® 2 multimedia system via Bluetooth® or USB and enjoy your favourite playlist in high quality audio with album, artist and track information displayed" but in reality that's not going to happen. Connecting via Bluetooth provides audio, but intermittent album, artist and track information, no ability to select or browse tracks. Connecting via USB does provide this but then you've got to leave the USB connected to your phone which you rightly want to reside in the Qi charger instead. The other significant issue with USB is that you cannot browse folders on the device but instead all the media regardless of folder is shown. This means you can't, like me, order your music into folders on your USB stick and play media from a folder. DAB is ok but with only 6 presets its kinda awkward to operate if you have more than 6 favourite stations. It has a CD player but as I've not owned a CD for the last decade I can't test that. There's no sign of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and 'Mirrorlink' is only compatible with phones from the last decade so practically useless today. There is no support for any form of video to be played from USB storage so don't waste time trying. 

The audio quality is very subjective. With its 6 speakers, all mid range and no subwoofer it does a reasonable job at low to moderate volume levels with even sound coverage. Turn it up too far and you start to loose what clarity it had but for the price point and in the lower end of the market it's not bad at all. 

Phone

The phone integration is ok and the hands free is very workable but there are a few obvious issues when using this. It's not clear or intuitive how to get from the "last called" list to the phone book or back again, its do-able but needs touch work that shouldn't be required whilst driving. 

When looking at the last called, dialled and missed lists there is no way to navigate without using the touchscreen (unlike every other vehicle where you can do it from the controls on the steering wheel) this means that again your distracted whilst trying to hit the right number which is actually quite hard to do whilst driving. 

Whilst you've got the "last called" list up, you can no longer see the signal strength which to my mind seems ridiculous when the main use of the 'last called' screen is to recall after getting cut off due to the miserable cell coverage in this county. To add insult to injury, once your call has been cut off and you reach to press the screen to redial, a pop up rolls down from the top of the screen, obscuring the last called number to tell you want media you're listening too just in case you had forgotten! What possible use is that and how did that ever get past QA?

There is also a significant delay between getting into the car, starting it and driving and the phone becoming available. Its as if the unit has to sync the entire phonebook from scratch on every start up, which for me with a sizeable phonebook seems to take forever. There is no search facility so you have to use the A-C, D-F and so on which is a nightmare when you've got a lot of contacts. The handling of contacts (from an iPhone) is also unusable where your contacts are for companies. An example would be for company Fred Bloggs Inc, having two contacts, in this case you can find Fred Bloggs Inc but you have no idea which contact its going to call meaning you need to pick up your phone, use its contacts to make the call which defeats the whole purpose really. Since the majority of my contacts are businesses and I'm forced to dial from my phone then I looked for a way to stop it syncing but found none. 

Navigation

Toyota claims "Toyota Touch® 2 with Go features enhanced satellite navigation with clear visuals showing signposts, junctions and lanes with real-time traffic updates alerting you to congestion on your route and suggesting detours" and it does do some of that but for the first 2000 miles I've yet to see anything 'enhanced' about it. It does seem to detect traffic alerts but it simply tells you "Traffic Jam Ahead" and then directs you into the back of it without suggesting any detours. Maybe it will in the future, but so far that's a zero. 

The voice navigation also leaves a lot to be desired with 'Turn Half Right' being its favourite phrase of the moment. What exactly is a half right? I have no idea and I'm sure you don't either so looking at the Navigation screen, which is only on the centre console touchscreen and not replicated to either the dash (except for an arrow) or the heads-up display is a prerequisite of using this system.  It does sometimes show junctions and lanes, but don't rely on it as it gets this wrong from time to time and your back to looking at the map to figure it out for yourself. 

The navigation data is significantly out of date, even when updated to the 'spring 2017' data, there are still roads just in my locality that are incorrect and that's unfortunate. Whilst sitting in traffic on a road that doesn't exist in Toyota land, I loaded TomTom GO on my phone and of course the road was found. I wonder why TomTom can get their maps up to date, but Toyota can't? 

There is a definite delay in processing current vehicle position especially noticeable on roundabouts where the 'screen' and your actual position can be a junction or two out meaning you're going to come off at the wrong junction. This is annoying especially when it gets the exit number wrong, which it does periodically. Most modern Navigation systems use GPS and Wheel turns to calculate position but the laggy behaviour of this system would suggest its only using GPS. 

The route planning is fairly poor with only major roads factored into any route. We planned a series of routes and whilst it gives you the Fast, Short and Ecological routes they are invariably all the same. If you take a route which you drive regularly and get it to plan it, then it will only use main roads. If you plan a route between two villages then it will plan the route ok but if you plan a route city to city then you only get main roads and the short route simply doesn't work. 

A most notable absence from the Navigation system in our EV is any way to navigate to your nearest charging point, something that I believe every other EV we've tested has as standard. 

Another 'feature' that I was eager to test was the Speed Camera Alerts which are built into the system. The Toyota Website Claims

"Cyclops is a driver safety app that gives you professionally-verified fixed speed camera alerts combined with real-time updates for mobile cameras from the Cyclops community. Cyclops delivers the most accurate and reliable safety camera databases and smart software - you can enjoy these benefits by using our Cyclops App – specially designed to alert you to currently active mobile camera sites. And all other fixed camera types are automatically updated too! Cyclopse has comprehensive coverage of over 90,000 sites across 48 countries and automatic updates ensure that you always have the most accurate information possible."

Which sounds great, but actually finding any information is like pulling teeth out of a Donkey. There's nothing on the Toyota website and a web search eventually renders this Wikipedia link and possibly this company website which might be the company in question. Regardless in my daily drive the data seems to be outdated & inaccurate and whilst it gets the majority of long term fixed camera's its notably silent as I passed two mobile vans. There's an inference that its updated somehow online but there's certainly no feedback on the screen to show that. I'm not sure quite how much of my £199 goes to cyclops because the Toyota website doesn't say but as GARMIN seems to include it for free I suspect it's not a lot. 

Coyote on the other hand is an App that you have to pay £87 a year for, and promises "With Coyote, always be warned safely directly on your embedded screen. You will receive the relevant alert at the relevant moment, to adapt your driving style to road hazards reported by the Coyote community, in real-time." and this does indeed pop-up for the majority of fixed speed camera's, but so far not a single mobile one. There is no further information on the Toyota website (any of them) so your back to searching the web. A best guess would be this company which seems to have versions in every language except English. The Coyote app is also infuriatiating because it pops up OVER the navigation screen meaning that you can no longer see the map and in city's these days with speed camera's every 5 meters this means the navigation is impossible to use and your left with yet another distraction that you have to deal with instead of watching the road. 

One point to note is that if you have the coyote app loaded it seems to kill off the cyclops camera warnings which would indicate that Toyota believe Coyote is 'better' but again there's nothing on the website to explain the benefits/drawbacks of these two systems so once again its left to the end user to guess. 

"To keep you connected and in control wherever you are, you can send your chosen route to your mobile or device." is a claim on their website, and indeed you can send a route to the car from their website. What they don't tell you is that their website is poor and allows just simple from and to input without any navigation functionality. The best way forward I've found here is to go to maps.google.com, plan the route then copy/paste the destination into their website in order to send to the car. It doesn't recognise things like HOME or any of your other favourites so you have to enter the full address in to both and it's not country aware so always specify the country along with the address. 

Apps

Now for the section that I'm sure everyone has been waiting for.. The Toyota Website (as of today) says

"In today’s world of connectivity Toyota Touch® 2 (Go and Go Plus navigation systems) won’t disappoint. With our Toyota online services and applications your car can be a hub like your computer. With the ability to download great apps such as AUPEO! which gives you the chance to personalise your in-car music experience, it learns your music taste and suggests tracks by theme, genre, artist or even mood. And Coyote, the community-based speed camera awareness app, with 3 million drivers already helping one another against every road hazard. The integration of Google Street View™ and Panoramio™ provide imagery of your current location, or a location of your choice, allowing you to start navigating directly from the image, so you’ll never be lost."

So let's break this down. Firstly Google Street view is there, and it sort of works although you can't move around it like you can on google maps, but at least its there. There is no sign of "Panoramio" and AUPEO went out of business at the end of 2016, but who cares, "With our Toyota online services and applications your car can be a hub like your computer" so let's get on line and start downloading those apps!

Arriving at the toyota.co.uk website, registering, adding your vehicle and steaming over to the e-store, your invited to "Discover exciting new apps, update your navigation apps, and download the latest software for your Toyota's multimedia system" and its at this point that your expectations are quite literally crushed into dust.

 

There are no apps, well no useful apps anyway. If you take away Coyote which we've already talked about above, and eStore isn't an app anyway, then your left with 'Glass of water' which to my mind does absolutely nothing useful, and Park&Go which likewise has no real world use. This is what Toyota believes to constitute their "great range of apps". There is a 'weather' app that's pre-installed but seriously, a weather app? just look out of the WINDOW!

There were also some other pre-installed apps which are not on the 'e-store' such as Twitter that simply doesn't work and says "Unable to connect to the server" immediately no matter what you put into it , AUPEO that went out of business last year, A-ha that sometimes works, a parking app that only works with some car parks, and a fuel prices app which shows pricing from some fuel stations, the distance to, but fails to do the obvious mpg -> distance calculation. 

 

If your dealer has told you that there are 'more exciting apps coming' then you may want to ask them why there have been no new apps since the system was released, and that's now almost two years ago?  Its because there are no new apps coming, and no one is developing them. We collectively spent an entire day on the phone trying to find someone in Toyota who knew anything about apps and got nowhere. We tried contacting Harman who make the unit and again got absolutely nowhere. We sent numerous email's, left voicemails and even sacrificed a Toyota pen to the great car manufacturing eternal but so far not even the courtesy of a reply and this was weeks ago now. 

Just take a moment to consider the list of actually useful apps that Toyota could have developed - EV Charging Point Map, AllStar fuel locator, CRM integration (be able to pull salesforce, vtiger, sugar contacts into navigation/phone), Guages (show data from the CAN bus such as charge, engine, power, RPM, etc), Facebook, Youtube, Vimeo and the list goes on and on. 

If you expected to get 3 years of 'connected' services and map updates for FREE, then you don't and it'll cost you another £199 for that privilege although the only thing of use here is the map update. 

Annoyances

Every system has a few annoyances but Touch 2 & Go seems to have more than most and some, maybe most of these should never have made it past Quality Assurance. 

The screen is high gloss and when the sun is shining on it especially mid morning/afternoon its impossible to read it and you end up trying to shade it with your hand, which is probably the reason that other manufacturers have their screens recessed and heavily polarised. 

When you get into the car and start it, if you had the music playing loudly when you shut it off then it will start playing again at the same volume but you have to wait for the touchscreen to boot before you can shut it off again which can be annoying or embarrassing depending on who your with. 

Coyote - As we've discussed above, this app takes over the entire screen blocking your view of the navigation map which is really annoying and as a bonus it doesn't do anything when passing mobile speed camera's. Coyote rarely seems to work out of the box and you wind up having to end it, then restart it to eventually get it to work. This isn't how it should be. 

Internet Connectivity for "Connected Services" comes and goes but there's no indication on the screen at all. When your in an area with intermittent data then things just stop updating without any indication of such. You would expect an icon to be shown or something to show that connectivity has been lost but no. The only way I've found so far to verify if 'connected' means connected is by going to the Apps and selecting Weather to see if it can get any data.  

The Toyota.co.uk Website

This is by far the worst website I've had the misfortune of using in recent times. The site is slow and its use of Ajax is embarrassingly poor. Even the details like the spinning icon whilst it's downloading content isn't clipped properly and in vehicle details if you want to see "Audio Information" then you have to select something else and then back to Audio Information to get it to update. Pretty much every option you select presents you with a full width picture and the content you're looking for is only visible once you scroll down, and don't even start me on mobile friendliness as the site navigation doesn't even work properly on an iPad. Something simple like the owners manual even after you've logged in still needs the VIN which of course everyone can remember. You can get to the owners manual from the my vehicle, then somewhere towards the bottom of the page but its hard to find, in fact everything is hard to find and unintuitive. 

If you're looking for detailed or technical information then expect to find it spread piecemeal over several websites sites, one often contradicting the other and all woefully out of date. If you were impressed with their new "gas-injection heat pump powers the air conditioning" and wanted more information then your out of luck because there isn't any. Toyota.co.uk often links to other websites with vastly different formats and the whole approach seems disparate and messy. Whilst we all understand that Toyota isn't a Premium brand as such, there really isn't any excuse for this and I'm sure it must have an adverse effect on potential and current customers alike. If Toyota would like us to fix this then we'd probably do it for free in exchange for the source code to their head unit so we could fix that too. 

You'll also be greeted with the following or similar regularly for unknown reasons, just try again. 

iPhone/Android Apps

Unlike the earlier versions of the system there's no longer any App's available except the 'MyToyota' app that has no impact on the audio system and requires you to re-enter your password on every use which just makes you not want to use it.  

PHEV Specific complaints

The new Prius PHEV is a fantastic vehicle and fun to drive but there is a complete lack of EV information on the touchscreen. You can see the 'power' flow even though its slow to update, but with things that you'd consider essential for an EV such as KWh charged, KWh used, KWh regenerated, KWh/Mile and so on are completely missing which is a real disappointment especially as everyone else manages to provide this (even if it's not accurate). Maybe this will come with later software but I doubt it, essentials like this come with the launch or don't come at all generally. 

Overall

Its far from the best system we've used, but its not the worst. If you were wowed by the dealers promise of over the air apps in an vibrant app ecosystem, fantastic navigation, realtime mobile speed camera alerts and 'Premium Audio' then you're going to be hugely disappointed for sure, but if you were spared all that and just expected a vehicle with navigation and the ability to play music then you're going to be in luck. 

This entire article is based solely on our opinion after using the Toyota Touch 2 & Go for a few months in real world situations and its not meant to be an exhaustive analysis of the system or its features. We may well do a technically biased article in the future. If you have a specific question then please feel free to post it in the comments, or pop in to your local Toyota dealer and ask them. I'd recommend staying away from blog.toyota.co.uk because the comments are heavily moderated and a 'difficult' question is unlikely to even make it to the site let alone be answered. We've posted a few questions and they were all just ignored. There is the enquiries@toyota.co.uk email address but likewise in our experience awkward questions are ignored and simple ones just get passed on to a dealer so your email can be added to their spam lists. 

IF you found this useful then please take a moment to rate it below. If you have a question then feel free to post it below and we'll reply. 

 

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Recent Comments
Technical Support Team
Nope, just the opposite in fact, it seems to 'go off' rarely and even for some fixed speed camera's that have been there for years... Read More
Tuesday, 22 August 2017 09:08
Technical Support Team
Unfortunately Not. We did try a stick with some divx, mpeg4 and wmv and avi files that the Ampera can play but this system just ig... Read More
Friday, 08 September 2017 16:29
Technical Support Team
There are rumours that it can only display album art of 200x200 and no bigger, but likewise in our experience it seems to only dis... Read More
Saturday, 02 December 2017 19:23
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Cheap IP Cameras - Worth it?

Cheap IP Cameras - Worth it?

As you probably know GEN supply IP CCTV systems to businesses around the UK and we generally use Samsung or Sony camera's to provide to highest quality picture and stable video, however, we though it would be worth checking out some cheaper chinese camera's to see how they compare price/performance wise and here's what we found: 

Test 1: The Foscam FI9828W

This Wifi (not that anyone would use Wifi) enabled camera comes without POE and audio (although audio can be added separately). Its listed as having 1.3 Megapixel (1280x960p)  resolution, H.264 video compression and frame rates of up to 25 fps. On the face of it that sounds ok, but whilst it has a 360 degree pan/tilt it only has a 4 times optical zoom which is about as much use as windows 10. We had no real issue connecting it to the system although we did have issues with frame rates above 15fps on variable bandwidth. Setting it to constant bit rate of 4k solves that issue. The picture quality was, well, poor at best and the colour rendering was pale and unexciting. The pan/tilt speed was acceptable but we found we'd ofter overshoot and have to come back which made operating it cumbersome. Setting patrols seemed to work for a short time but the camera would drift out of sync and the patrol positions would therefore move until a camera reset restored operation. The Infrared night vision was extremely poor suffering from reflections from inside the dome and we found no way to turn off the IR LED's but keep it in IR sensitive mode as you would always expect to be using a separate IR source anyway. 

So in summary, the Foscam FI9828W is ok for domestic use, but no where near the mark for commercial use. We ordered two, and one came with duff optics but despite several phone calls, and email's we were unable to get Foscam UK to exchange it despite their promises to the contrary. As a side note we also ordered in FI9805E which packed up working after about 2 weeks and once again support was non-existent. 

Test 2: HIKVISION DS-2CD2132-I

This is advertised as a vandal resistant external dome camera with a 4mm lens, and it is all that for sure, but once again night vision suffers really badly from internal reflections from the dome. The configuration was more flexible and we could disable the IR LED's but keep the sensitivity which resolved that issue. The picture quality is pretty good although the compression could have been implemented better. We found a frame rate of 12fps, with constant bit rate of 4k produced the best video feed but again the colours were wishy washy and the camera suffered badly in sunlight and would clearly require additional housing if used in an area where sunlight was an issue. We mounted one vertically and one horizontally and found the vertically mounted camera suffered from rain on the dome which we mitigated to a reasonable extent with some RAINX.

So in summary, the HIKVISION  DS-2CD2132-I makes a good attempt at being a quality camera, but the actual picture quality and lens lets it down. It would be fine in a domestic setting but not really in the game for commercial use especially in low light or fast motion. It has to be said that both HIKVISION cameras worked out of the box and during the testing which took several months without issue so we were unable to experience the support channel which was unfortunate. 

So there you have it, are they really worth the hassle? Well, a typical 3MP sony IP Dome Camera is going to cost you around £600, and a HIKVISION 3MP IP dome is going to be around £120, but on a price performance basis the Sony wins hands down with crystal clear video, vibrant colours and excellent low light performance. In a large installation you could save 20K on camera's if you can put up with the issues but you will soon be eating into that 20K saving with replacement camera's on a regular basis as well as service charges and so on. 

Anyway, if you found this interesting then let us know? If you want us to test a specific camera, let us know? 

 

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The Nomad RoadTrip

 

With Mobile devices becoming more indispensable every day there's a growing market for additional battery capacity. Companies like EE have for many years been supplying USB power packs that can be used to charge your mobile devices when away from the office, and we internally use a 12Ah unit to change multiple devices when off site. 

The Nomad is slightly different to the usual footprint because you can only change it in the car

During out test, we struggled to find a cigarette lighter socket in our vehicles that would take the size of the unit but when we did (in the boot) it fitted very well with no movement and remains firmly connected. The charge indicator is on the top and clearly visible in the vehicles we used. When you compare this to the usual setup where your power pack floats around the vehicle on its charging wire as you drive this is hugely more practical. 

The device connections are USB-A (the standard usb socket we're all used to) and the new USB-C socket which is a new standard. The reason for this is unclear, and I suspect many of us would have preferred 2 x USB-A until the USB-C standard becomes more widely used but it is what it is. The power output is apparently 1.5A per port (so that's 1.5A useable unless your lucky enough to have a USB-C cable to use). 

When charged which takes a couple of hours, and we're assuming having all the LED's illuminated indicates this, then pressing the button supplies power to the accessories. Its a real shame that you have to actually do something to make it start supplying connected devices as in our test we found that we were pre-programmed to just plug it in and go forgetting to push the button and of course not powering anything. I have no idea why they did that either, surely when you connect it to the car it should power the output automatically? I can't think of a situation where you would plug it in to the car, connect your devices and NOT want it to start supplying them, but its too late to change it now. 

In our test we used an iPhone 6S+ and it charged it from just below 50% to full in about an hour which you may not think is particularly fast but it is comparable with other devices. 

So in summary its a good idea but with a relatively small capacity (3000mAh), relatively high price $50 and problems finding a socket in your vehicle that will take the size of the unit its probably not something that will go mainstream anytime soon. As a side note, for anyone in the UK we did find that it interfered with DAB radio especially when placed in the boot near the DAB antenna so that's something to watch out for. 

Please see the Nomad Website Here

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DESKTOP ENCRYPTION made simple

I was recently made aware that MacPaw Inc, a well known software house traditionally of Apple Mac Software had released a free of charge encryption package I felt compelled to try it. 

ENCRYPTO is a great tool which provides quick and easy AES256 encryption for your files. The setup is simple and operation couldn't be easier. Simple drag files into Encrypto and your done. A Password is used to secure the files and of course this is an absolute requirement to decryption. 

AES as a standard has some serious support for being strong and reliable, and much of internet encryption is now based on AES. 256 bit encryption means the likelihood of someone being able to crack your sensitive data is approaching zero. 

Advantages: 

  • Well, its so very simple to use and in our testing it worked flawlessly.
  • We liked the password hint feature but also felt it could jeopardise the security if not correctly applied. 

Disadvantages:

  • Whilst its available for both Windows and Mac, it is not available for Linux or iOS which will doubtless loose it some ground for multi-platform sites. 
  • There is no command line version so automation isn't going to be possible. 

The future: 

Well, its free of charge and I don't know how much more development MacPaw are going to put into it, but I hope they take it forward maybe with a paid version that supports command line automation, a range of Ciphers and possibly Linux and iOS support. There's a fairly small number of competitors that have any credibility in this market area such as GPG and OpenSSL both of which require some technical knowledge to operate. 

Please feel free to click the link above to go to MacPaw and take a look at Encrypto and their Gold Standard CleanMyMac/PC which I can highly recommend to anyone. 

 

 

 

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