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Apple HomePod mini Review

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Although considerably later to the smart speaker segment than Google and Amazon, Apple launched the HomePod in 2018. The speaker finally made it to India over two years after its global launch, priced at Rs. 19,900. Like many Apple products, the HomePod is built to work well within the Apple ecosystem, thanks to specialised connectivity and voice assistant support through Apple’s own technologies such as AirPlay and Siri. If the size or price of the HomePod are key factors in your buying decision, Apple’s latest launch has made it a bit easier to own one of its smart speakers.

Enter the Apple HomePod mini, a smaller and more affordable smart speaker priced at Rs. 9,900. Launched alongside the iPhone 12 series, the HomePod mini is Apple’s attempt at making its smart speaker range more accessible, while maintaining the same capabilities as the larger HomePod. How good is the HomePod mini? Find out in our review.

apple homepod mini review top 2 Apple  Apple HomePod mini

The HomePod mini has no buttons, only a touch-sensitive panel at the top to control volume, playback, and Siri

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Apple HomePod mini design and specifications

The ‘mini’ nomenclature on the HomePod series is as accurate as with the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini; the HomePod mini has a smaller form factor, but with the same set of features as the larger HomePod. However, Apple has changed the shape a fair bit, with the smaller device sporting a spherical body rather than the cylindrical form of the bigger HomePod.

The shape suits the size quite nicely, and the HomePod mini is easily the nicest looking compact smart speaker you can buy today. The outer side of the speaker has a soft, mesh-like fabric cover which adds to the attractive design. The bottom has a grippy texture, and that’s aso where you’ll find the only Apple logo on the device; strangely completely hidden away from view in normal operation. The HomePod mini is available in two colours – white and space grey – and while my white review unit does look good, the grey does look nicer, in my opinion, and will also be less susceptible to discolouration from household dust and grime.

The top of the speaker is touch-sensitive for controlling volume and playback, and invoking Siri. There are no physical buttons or ports anywhere on the device. Unlike other smart speakers, the power cable is fixed, with a USB Type-C plug on the other end that connects into the included power adapter. This means the HomePod mini is always on when plugged in, and once set up, it’s always connected to your Wi-Fi.

The controls are quite simple – the touch zones for volume are marked with symbols, while the centre is a multi-function zone that controls both playback and Siri. Of course, the microphone is always on and listening, so you can control volume and playback with the ‘Hey Siri’ wake command as well. While other smart speakers have physical switches to mute the microphone, you can only deactivate Siri on the HomePod mini from the Home app on iOS.

Setting up and controlling the HomePod mini needs an iOS device, and I used my iPad mini (2019) to complete the process through the Home app. Although it took a while to get through, the process is easy and reliable, with the HomePod working fine for me after that. Apple sent me two HomePod mini units, so I was also able to set up and test the stereo pairing mode. You can also use multiple units for traditional multi-room connectivity, if you choose.

The Home app gives you access to most settings related to the HomePod mini, and also lets you play music directly on the speaker while using your iOS device as a controller. There is also the ability to control ‘Intercom’, a new feature that allows users to send messages directly to specific Apple devices, as well as broadcast messages to all devices in your home. You can also set up and voice control any HomeKit compatible IoT accessories in your home using the HomePod mini.

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apple homepod mini review home app Apple  Apple HomePod mini

The Home app for iOS is used to set up and tweak settings for the HomePod mini

 

I did have some connectivity issues with stereo pairing, with the speakers not reliably holding the connection all the time. I often had sound coming from just one, and occasionally had the connection from one of them drop off for a few seconds before resuming. With only a single HomePod mini operational, I didn’t have any significant connectivity issues with iOS or macOS.

Additionally, I noticed that stereo pairing isn’t supported by the macOS system on my MacBook Air, even after the update to Big Sur. When online, both speakers are detected separately, and I could choose either one for system audio but couldn’t use them together as a stereo setup. Using an Apple app such as Apple Music or Apple TV on my laptop did allow me to use the speakers as a stereo pair, but this was obviously not the ideal scenario for use with my computer.

Like with the larger HomePod, the HomePod mini only directly works with the Siri voice assistant and Apple Music to stream music through voice commands. This means that you’ll need an active Apple Music subscription on the account linked to the smart speaker in order to play music on demand. The device does also support iTunes Music purchases, Apple Music Radio (for free streaming), Apple Podcasts, and news briefings. You can use AirPlay to stream from some other services such as Spotify with compatible devices, which I was able to do using my iPad mini.

The HomePod mini has a single full-range driver and two passive radiators for sound, AirPlay 2 for audio streaming over Wi-Fi, and a four-microphone system for picking up the ‘Hey Siri’ wake word and subsequent voice commands. The Homepod mini does have Bluetooth 5, but this can’t be used to stream music like on other speakers; it’s only used for the initial setup process and communicating with smart devices. There is also the Apple U1 chip, which enables Apple’s Ultra Wideband connectivity to detect other U1-enabled devices in the immediate vicinity. It can be used to hand off audio from an iPhone just by holding it near the speaker, with more personalisation features coming with future software updates. .

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Apple HomePod mini performance

As with the rest of Apple’s audio products, the HomePod mini makes up for all of its Apple-specific limitations with sound quality. This is the best-sounding compact speaker you can buy, and its tightly controlled ecosystem of services and features helps maintain the quality of the sound and performance. Although not as loud as other speakers its price, it is sufficiently loud for desktop use, and using a second HomePod mini in a stereo-paired setup does give the system enough oomph.

As mentioned, the HomePod mini is designed to work with only the limited protocols and services that are fully tied in with Apple. This means that there’s no old-fashioned Bluetooth audio playback, and you’ll have to use AirPlay for connectivity with source devices. If you have a Mac computer, iPhone, or iPad, you have all you need to put the HomePod mini to good use. I largely played music on the speaker using Apple Music on either my laptop or tablet, but I also tried Spotify on my iPad, as well as regular AirPlay to stream system audio from my laptop to the speaker.

apple homepod mini review cable Apple  Apple HomePod mini

The power cable of the HomePod mini is fixed, with a USB Type-C plug at other end

 

The Apple HomePod mini stands out for its sound quality, and it’s particularly impressive how loud and refined this speaker sounds for its size. I quite enjoyed listening to Truth by Kamasi Washington on the HomePod mini, with the speaker offering a great combination of detail, a clean sonic signature, and plenty of refinement across the frequency range. The speaker held its own through the track’s slow, calculated buildup and eventual orchestral levels of engagement, with the jazz drums in particular sounding punchy and emotional.

Although the sound was immersive and engaging across sources and genres with even just one HomePod mini, Apple’s support for stereo pairing brings out a whole lot more if you are able to pick up two to use together. With some smart positioning, I was able to get a wholesome and impressive soundstage with proper stereo separation from the paired HomePod minis.

Kamasi Washington’s Truth sounded even more beautiful and detailed with the stereo setup, with the speakers offering up plenty of detail. This is the kind of sound I would expect from a high-end multi-speaker system. Although this particular genre and track benefited a lot from the stereo setup, it did help music across genres, with even the lively and cheerful Alfonso Muskedunder by Todd Terje sounding more lively.

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The Apple HomePod mini has a four-microphone system for voice commands. This worked well from even distances up to around 3m, but not any farther than that. Siri has improved considerably in its ability to understand the Indian accent, and I generally had no trouble with basic tasks such as playing specific tracks, setting timers, and getting simple questions answered. HomeKit’s ecosystem of IoT devices is still quite limited as compared to Google Assistant and Alexa, so there wasn’t much I could do with the HomePod mini in terms of smart functionality.

apple homepod mini review stereo pair Apple  Apple HomePod mini

If you have two HomePod mini speakers, you can set up stereo pairing for proper stereo sound

 

Verdict

The HomePod mini is an appealing product that delivers where it matters. The device links smoothly with any other Apple products you might have, works well as a compact smart speaker, and sounds pretty great for something this small. I used it as a convenient wireless speaker for my laptop and tablet to good effect, and the smart functionality was somewhat useful as well.

Buying a second HomePod mini will let you set up a proper stereo smart speaker system at around the same price as that of the larger Apple HomePod, and I quite liked how the speakers sounded in this configuration, albeit with some connectivity issues. A single HomePod mini works just fine on its own, too.

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All of this said, the HomePod mini is a product meant for a very specific audience, and needs you to be heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem to make full use of it, including having an active Apple Music subscription and at least one iOS device. If you’re an Apple fan, the HomePod mini is the best smart speaker you can buy for the price, but do also consider the larger HomePod if you have the budget for it.


Are iPhone 12 mini, HomePod mini the Perfect Apple Devices for India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.

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TP-Link Tapo Smart Home Lineup With Four 2K Security Cameras, RGB Light Strip Launched: Price, Details

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TP-Link Tapo Smart Home Lineup With Four 2K Security Cameras, RGB Light Strip Launched: Price, Details

TP-Link has launched its Tapo Smart Home product lineup in the United States with the launch of two indoor and two outdoor 2K security cameras. This new lineup includes the Tapo C210 and Tapo C110 smart indoor surveillance cameras. It also features the Tapo C320WS and Tapo C310 smart outdoor security cameras. The company has also unveiled the Tapo Smart L900-10 multicolour RGB LED strip that can offer up to 16 million colour options and features music sync capabilities.

The two indoor smart security cameras — TP-Link Tapo C210 and Tapo C110 — are priced at $34.99 and $29.99, respectively. On the other hand, the Tapo C320WS costs $59.99 and the Tapo C310 has a price of $49.99.

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All of these products are available on the TP-Link US website.

The TP-Link Tapo C210 features pan and tilt capabilities across 360 degrees horizontally and 114 degrees vertically whereas the Tapo C110 offers a 115-degree stationary field of view. Both of these security cameras are capable of recording 2K videos. They also offer IR night vision, instant push notifications, two-way audio, and AI-based instant push notifications. There is also a built-in siren and light alarm. These surveillance cameras are capable of recording footage 24/7 onto up to a 256GB microSD card.

The TP-Link Tapo C320WS features spotlights, night vision, and two-way audio recording capability. It is capable of recording 2K resolution videos similar to the Tapo C310. These outdoor security cameras also boast an IP66 weather-resistant design. Their dual external antennas are said to improve Wi-Fi connectivity. They are programmed to instantly send notifications based on their AI-powered person and motion detection algorithms. They can record and store footage continuously on up to 256GB of local storage.

TP-Link has also launched the Tapo Smart L900-10 RGB LED light strip, which is priced at $49.99. As previously mentioned, it can offer up to 16 million colour options and be synced to music.


How is Alexa faring in India? We discuss this on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

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Apple Introduces HidrateSpark Smart Water Bottle Accessories: All You Need to Know

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Apple Introduces HidrateSpark Smart Water Bottle Accessories: All You Need to Know

Apple’s latest offering in the accessories section is not another pair of AirPods or a keyboard. The Cupertino-based company has now launched a smart water bottle from the brand HidrateSpark. As the name suggests, these smart water bottles claim to keep you hydrated by monitoring your water intake. To use the smart features of this smart accessory, one needs to sync the HidrateSpark to the Apple Health app via Bluetooth. The HidrateSpark smart water bottles are currently only available in the US. Interested buyers in India might have to wait a little longer to get their hands on these.

Apple HidrateSpark Smart Water Bottle price

Apple‘s product listing page in the US is currently displaying four variants of the smart water bottles – HidrateSpark 3, HidrateSpark Pro Steel, HidrateSpark Pro, and HidrateSpark Steel. The most expensive of these variants is the HidrateSpark Pro Steel, which is currently listed at $79.95 (roughly Rs. 6,100), while the Pro version is available at $59.95 (roughly Rs, 4,600). The other two variants are priced at $69.95 (approximately Rs. 5,400).

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Apple HidrateSpark Smart Water Bottle features

The HidrateSpark smart water bottle, being listed on Apple’s website and retail stores, can monitor your daily intake of water while syncing it with your Apple Health. The device helps in achieving personalised hydration goal using LED sensors placed at the bottom, and sends alerts to Apple Health whenever water is consumed.

To sync it with Apple Health, one needs to download the HidrateSpark app on their iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch. After creating an account, the app will ask for access to Apple Health to track personal info and other data. If the person is drinking water from any other source than the HidrateSpark PRO bottle, it can be added in the data for seamless calculation of water consumption. The bottles keep your water BPA free. They can be easily washed in a dishwater and the sensor can be wiped using a damp cloth.

The Hidrate Spark 3 Smart Water Bottle comes in three colour options — White, Yellow and Black. It comes packed with a Lithium cell CR2477 battery, which has a life of approximately six months. The dimensions of the water bottle are 10.4 x 3 x 3.25 inch. To access it on your devices, one needs to have iOS 13 or later, while Apple Watch must run watchOS 4.3 or later. It comes with Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. The package contains the smart water bottle, finger loop, a battery, and instruction manual.

The HidrateSpark Pro Steel Smart Water Bottle is currently available in black and silver colour options. With a stainless-steel, vacuum-insulated chug, the smart bottle packs a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which runs 10-14 days on a single charge, which takes about 2.5 hours to charge. It has connectivity compatibility for Bluetooth 4.0 and Bluetooth 5.0 and can be charged using a USB cable. The dimensions of the bottle are 11.3 x 3.8 x 3.8 inch. User should have iOS 12.3 or later on iPhone and watchOS 4.3 or later on Apple Watch to connect the HidrateSpark app.

Next in line is the HidrateSpark Pro Smart Water Bottle that comes in Tritan Plastic Sea Glass body with colour options green and black. User should have iPad or iPhone with iOS 12.3 or later, or an Apple Watch that runs watchOS 4.3 or later, to connect the app. The features of this water bottle are similar to HidrateSpark Pro Steel Smart Water Bottle, while the dimensions are 10.9 x 2.8 x 2.8 inch.

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Another product in the line-up is the HidrateSpark STEEL with dimensions 10.7 x 3.2 x 3.2 inch. With the same features as the above two bottles, the HidrateSpark Steel is available in silver and black colour options.

Apple HidrateSpark Smart Water Bottles availability in India

Apple India may take some time before introducing the HidrateSpark smart bottle in the country. As of now, the product has been not listed on Apple’s website in India.


Will the 2022 iPhone SE sink or swim? We discuss this on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.

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Kent CamEye HomeCam 360 Wi-Fi Security Camera Review: Very Easy to Use

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Kent might be best known in India for its range of water purifiers, but the company also sells a diverse set of products across various home appliance segments, including kitchen appliances, air purifiers, vacuum cleaners, and security cameras. Talking specifically about the company’s camera products, Kent has a small range which includes security and monitoring cameras for cars as well as a Wi-Fi-enabled model for homes. The Kent CamEye HomeCam 360 Wi-Fi Security Camera is the product I’m reviewing here, and it is priced at Rs. 2,999 in India.

Much like the Godrej Spotlight Pan-Tilt Home Security Camera, which I had reviewed earlier, the Kent CamEye HomeCam 360 is meant for your home, and promises quick and convenient access to a video feed using Wi-Fi connectivity and a dedicated app. You can also adjust the camera angle to look all around your home for more flexibility, and there are many other features worth talking about, which I’ll elaborate on in this review. Is this the best low-cost home security camera you can buy right now? Read on to find out.

Kent CamEye HomeCam 360 design and specifications

The Kent CamEye HomeCam 360 competes directly with the Godrej Spotlight Pan-Tilt camera, and offers a similar range of vision and features. However, its design is considerably different. The camera sits within a ball-like module that allows it camera to look up and down, and the entire plastic casing can rotate on a fixed base.

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The Kent CamEye Home Cam 360 has a microphone and speaker, both of which are on the back of the device. This allows the camera to not only pick up audio along with the video feed, but also enables two-way communication, alert chimes, and an intruder alarm feature. The front of the camera has a status LED which indicates its power and connectivity states.

kent homecam 360 review base Kent

The bottom of the Kent HomeCam 360 is rubberised, and the camera rotates on this fixed base

 

The Kent CamEye HomeCam 360 has a fixed base with a rubberised surface for grip, and the rest of the camera’s body rotates on that base. A socket on the underside allows you to mount this camera on a tripod, wall, or ceiling. No kit or bracket for mounting is included in the box and one will have to be purchased separately. In the sales package, you get a wall adapter and a USB Type-A to Micro-USB cable to power the security camera.

On the base, you’ll find the Micro-USB port for power, and a MicroSD card slot that supports up to 128GB capacity cards. The device has a 2-megapixel camera sensor with support for up to full-HD video recording. The camera has a horizontal rotation range of 350 degrees and a vertical rotation range of 65 degrees. The field of view is specified as 120 degrees horizontally and 95 degrees vertically. There are six infrared LEDs to enable visibility in darkness. The camera connects to the Internet using only 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, and the 5GHz band is not supported.

Kent CamEye HomeCam 360 app and features

As with other Wi-Fi-enabled home security cameras, the Kent CamEye HomeCam 360 works with an app that allows users to monitor the video feed, control the camera, access stored footage, and more. The Kent CamEye app is available for iOS and Android, and I used the former platform to test the features and functionality offered by the app. If you have multiple Kent CamEye cameras, they can all be controlled and monitored together.

Once you’ve registered and created an account through the app, you’ll be able to link the security camera and get it connected to your home Wi-Fi connection. After this, tapping on the camera icon will take you to its video feed, and you’ll be able to adjust the camera angle and settings, activate the speaker and microphone (either simultaneously or separately), take a snapshot to save to your smartphone, and more.

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The app is very easy to use, and has most options and functions in convenient places. For instance, you can easily activate two-way communication or take snapshots with a single tap. The D-pad to adjust the camera angle is also directly accessible, and it usually took just two to three seconds to activate the camera and show the video feed.

Going deeper into the menus and settings lets you enable privacy mode, in which the camera does not activate itself or record footage. You can also access your saved recordings and images, and look at a list of alerts generated by the camera based on motion or noise detection parameters. Usefully, the alert sensitivity is customisable. Turning on all settings generated dozens of alerts per day when the camera was placed in front of my main door, so it’s nice to have this kind of control over the various functions.

kent homecam 360 review app Kent

The Kent CamEye app controls the camera, and lets you view the live feed or stored footage

 

The Kent CamEye HomeCam 360 can upload its footage, particularly event-triggered video clips, to the company’s own cloud platform. This is a premium feature and prices for storage space start at Rs. 150 per month or Rs. 1,500 per year. You can store up to seven days’ worth of video clips triggered by some event, and these clips are around 12 seconds long. The paid tiers go up to Rs. 400 per month or Rs. 4,000 per year to store up to 30 days’ of video history. A one-month subscription is included with each purchase. 

I was able to use the one-month plan for this review, and it allowed me to store and view older footage from the cloud. Even after the plan expired, I was able to view some clips within the app, and download them to my smartphone.

As per the information on Kent’s website, a paid subscription allows you to capture event-triggered recordings which are saved to the cloud, and also play them back directly from the cloud. However, all other functionality, including memory card recording and playback, live streaming of the video feed in real time, two-way communication, and privacy mode are available even if you aren’t subscribed to a paid plan.

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It’s possible to link the Kent CamEye HomeCam 360 to your Amazon Alexa account through a skill, which then lets you access the video feed from within the Alexa app or on an Alexa-enabled smart display such as the Amazon Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen). This worked well for me, but I wasn’t able to adjust the camera angle when using the Alexa link.

Kent CamEye HomeCam 360 performance

An important factor in the functioning of any home security camera is reliability; you need the device to work when you need it. The Kent CamEye HomeCam 360 worked reliably for me on my 2.4GHz Wi-Fi connection. I was able to get it up and running in a matter of seconds whenever I needed it, and the app is well designed, putting important features within easy reach.

The Kent CamEye HomeCam 360 records a full-HD video feed, which shows in full colour during the day, and in monochrome when it’s dark. The security camera is able to automatically detect low-light conditions and activate the infrared LEDs as required, and this worked reliably for me with most details and faces identifiable despite the lack of colour in the feed. There were some occasions on which the camera took a couple of seconds to react to lighting changes and recalibrate the video feed, but this wasn’t really much trouble.

kent homecam 360 review back Kent

The Kent HomeCam 360 has a speaker and microphone for two-way communication, which can be activated through the app

 

Full-HD footage captured by the Kent CamEye HomeCam 360 was sharp and detailed in most conditions if movement was occasional and slow, but quick movements did cause some artefacts. This wasn’t really a problem as there was still plenty of detail to be seen in faces, clothing, and small items such as boxes and packages.

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You can, of course, reduce the resolution to HD or SD if necessary, which might make the stream more stable and detailed with slower Internet connections, or if you need more hours of footage to be recorded onto a storage card. This largely tended to affect the legibility of text on items such as boxes and packages, but faces were still recognisable even at SD resolution.

The camera angle can be adjusted across a wide range. With 350 degrees of panning, it’s possible to look almost all around where the camera is placed. The 65 degrees of tilt range combined with the wide viewing angles of the camera itself allow for plenty of flexibility. Although the camera took about a second to react to commands from the app to adjust its angle, movement was easy and precise for the most part.

The speaker on the Kent CamEye HomeCam 360 is loud, getting quite noisy and at its loudest when I activated the siren mode. The chimes were also loud enough to be heard from different parts of my home, and two-way communication was clear and convenient when standing near the camera. The microphone picked up a lot of ambient sound, but was able to more precisely capture speech when someone was talking near the device. Usefully, you can activate only the microphone without the speaker if needed.

The camera suitably captures video clips of human movement when it’s set to detect this, but it cannot track a moving object or person. Saved clips were still clear enough to recognise faces and objects though.

Verdict

A good Wi-Fi security camera is a simple and efficient way to set up a home monitoring system, and the Kent CamEye HomeCam 360 is a decent option to consider for this. Although this device faces strong competition from products such as the Godrej Spotlight Pan-Tilt camera and Mi Home Security Camera 360, Kent’s offering sets the benchmark by offering a good all-round experience with no significant flaws.

With a good companion app, useful features such as two-way communication, a paid subscription cloud storage option for event-triggered video clips, and reliable performance, this is among the better basic Wi-Fi security cameras you can buy right now. It’s well priced, and is definitely worth considering for your home security needs.

Price: Rs. 2,999

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Rating: 8/10

Pros:

  • Wide range of motion for wide coverage
  • microSD and optional cloud storage for event-triggered recordings
  • Works well in all lighting conditions
  • Excellent, easy to use companion app

Cons:

  • Mounting kit not included in the box

Why are they still making more Harry Potter? We discuss this on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.
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