Taobao product recommendation – child toilet seat adaptor

Not a lot to say on this one, except that it fulfills its intended purpose. For a short period we were using a portable toilet bowl, which requires cleaning up after use. What I discovered was that by the time a child is ready for toilet training, they’re big enough in size to go direct to the real toilet bowl, so you might as well do so. Obviously, a portable toilet bowl is very expensive (S$40+), whereas the child toilet seat adaptor cost only 66 yuan (S$14.50) from Taobao. It is also much lighter than the portable toilet bowl.

Portable toilet bowl
Portable toilet bowl

Taobao product recommendation – SJ7000 Action Camera

I get nauseous easily from watching non-stabilized video, so I never wanted to get a camcorder to record video that I know I can’t bear to watch later on. However, i now need one to record the proceedings of an upcoming indoor event. With an under S$100 budget in mind, I turn to Taobao as usual.

At the back of my mind, instead of getting a Camcorder in the traditional form factor, i was toying with the idea of getting one of those action cameras meant for sports enthusiasts that are hugely popular now, since it has the video recording capability that i need anyway, and can double as a video recording tool on a trip (it can perform a few other tricks too).

Prior to this, i know next to nothing about action cameras, except that it was made popular by GoPro. A quick search on Taobao introduced me to a popular GoPro knockoff called SJCAM. It is so popular that almost all of what is sold on Taobao are not the real SJCAM, though all of them claim to be. I think it is probably the case that SJCAM outsources the manufacturing and simply puts its branding on the OEM products. I don’t mind a single bit getting something that is not officially SJCAM branded because the price alone – at less than half that of the comparable SJCAM branded one – justifies everything.

SJ7000 housed in the waterproof casing, comes in a generic box without any brand
SJ7000 housed in the waterproof casing, comes in a generic box without any brand

The model i settled on getting was the SJ7000. The package that includes an extra battery, at RMB 280 (S$62), costs only RMB 15 more than the package without, definitely more worthwhile. Shipping to Singapore cost another S$9. For the “princely” sum of S$71, i’m getting what appears to be the same camera as the SJCAM X1000 which retails at US$99 (S$140), so it’s almost exactly half priced. If one is tight on budget, the non-WiFi version is available at RMB 195 (S$43). However, i thought the WiFi version makes possible some fun usage scenarios. You could use it for security surveillance – place it in some corner and monitor what’s happening remotely through WiFi. You can even mount it on a drone. For the fun factor alone, i thought it was worth paying the extra S$20. The other fun thing one can try with the SJ7000 is time lapse video recording.

Overall, I think the video quality is satisfactory. The LCD display quality is rather mediocre, which is fine, since it mostly serves the purpose of a viewfinder and also to show an index of the videos and photos captured (there is no point using this camera for photography though, your mobile phone probably performs better). For my intended purpose of recording an indoor event, with camera mounted on a tripod, there is constant image noise on those static parts of the scene (i.e. the general background), due to video compression and probably an inferior quality CMOS sensor. In the case of using the action camera while on the move, as the camera is designed to do, this wouldn’t be a problem, since the scene is constantly changing. Again, this is acceptable to me, since i wasn’t intending to record professional quality video in the first place. The audio quality turned out to be above average, a pleasant surprise.

Another important aspect about this camera is that video is shot in wide angle (i.e. fisheye), which is mostly a good thing – you can capture a lot of the scene from a very short distance, also the footage will appear to be less shaky (less nausea inducing) when you’re using it on the move. In exchange for these advantages, you’ll have to accept the distortion that comes with shooting in wide angle.

Prior to buying this camera, i read that it (as with all the SJCAM cameras) has a 4GB file size limit, due to the use of the FAT32 filesystem by default. This restricts the maximum recording time, at Full HD resolution, to about 35 minutes per file, when the 4GB file size is reached. When this happens, there will be about a one second interval before the camera starts recording a new video. I was hoping that the fix to overcome this problem, as suggested in some online sources – re-formatting the SD card into exFAT filesystem, would work, but unfortunately it does not. Unless you constantly need to record very lengthy videos of more than 30 minutes, this would not be a problem though. By the way, a Class 10 UHS-I SD Card is good enough for recording a Full HD video, and these are dirt cheap.

The WiFi functionality worked as advertised – tested on Android using an app called Youmera. The link provided (through the QR Code on the box/manual) points to a Youmera download that is broken, but you can find this app on Google Play.

All in all, I think this was a good buy and i doubt you can get better bang for buck with any other action camera.

ezbuy (65daigou) review

First off, it is important for me go clarify that this is not a paid review (and I say again that none of the reviews on this site is). 65daigou and many of the third party Taobao parcel forwarders pay bloggers to write reviews. Reading paid reviews always feels distasteful to me and takes away credibility from the author despite how objective they say they are. That said, and I think it’s obvious, the monetisation strategy for this site is plain old advertising, so don’t be surprised if you see a 65daigou advertisement on this page (i hope 65daigou catches the hint).

Prior to this, I never used 65daigou, since it is easier to just use Taobao’s consolidated parcel forwarding. Besides, Taobao’s parcel forwarding goes by actual weight, whereas 65daigou, and practically all third party parcel forwarders go by volumetric weight, which typically costs more, unless your parcel is very compact and dense. My preference is always for actual weight because i think it’s less likely to spring me a nasty surprise. Nevertheless, I think 65daigou’s economy air shipping rate, at $1.99 $1.69 per 0.5kg volumetric weight (basically the industry standard), is quite competitive (for comparison, Taobao’s shipping rate starts at S$6.40 S$5.30 for the first kg, and thereafter S$2.65 S$1.85 per 0.5kg).

While trying to order a video camera, Taobao’s parcel forwarding option was not available, due to the lithium battery in the video camera. I was left with no choice but to go with a third party forwarder. Naturally, I turned to Google to find out which one was better, but was not able to arrive at a conclusive answer. Eventually I went with 65daigou, because they appear to be more established (having the capacity to handle shipments from China, Taiwan and USA says something), and they have an on-time shipment guarantee.

I would say 65daigou’s website is very intuitive to someone who understands the overall concept of buying from Taobao. I was promptly informed about the arrival of my parcel at their China warehouse, way ahead of the delivery status update on Taobao’s website. I made the payment for the shipment via an Internet Banking transfer, and received acknowledgement of my payment within 1.5 hours (they promised to update within a few hours). The shipping to destination happened in less than one day after that. The estimated date of arrival given was one week from shipping date, although the given estimation on the website is 4 to 6 days. Anyway, my parcel arrived in 5 days, so their guideline on the estimated time to ship proves to be accurate. I picked up my parcel (for free) from their warehouse in Seng Kang, which is just minutes from where i stay. The pick-up timing is 6-9pm for this particular warehouse, which is probably convenient for most people. It’s nice that they have a proper warehouse.

IMG_20151201_192753_wm
65daigou’s Seng Kang Warehouse

Update 12 Feb 2016: I have since tried their ship-for-me service for USA as well. Again, very prompt notice of parcel arrival, both at the US warehouse and arrival in Singapore. The shipping rate is also much cheaper than what i was using before (Flat S$3.99 per 0.5kg vs US$11.80 for first 0.5kg and US$3.25 for subsequent 0.5kg). Gosh! i was paying way too much before!

Update 30 Nov 2017

Ezbuy was in the news recently for their failure to fulfill customers’ buy-for-me orders. Somehow, Taobao wasn’t happy with ezbuy’s way of buying thousands of items per day using just a handful of Taobao accounts. If you’re one of such customer who use ezbuy buy-for-me, i would suggest it’s time you moved on to buying from Taobao yourself. It will save you money in the long run, and it will be easier for you to resolve problems by communicating with the seller directly.

Anyway, i have something good to say about ezbuy. Just today, a parcel was received into the USA warehouse on my behalf, and ezbuy’s staff managed to repack the parcel, reducing the volumetric weight from 2.59kg to 0.66kg! That saves me S$12!

Survey of Singapore credit cards

I’ve written about the best credit cards for overseas spend (one of the more popular posts on this site) and also about credit cards that earn you the most cash rebate (it is slightly outdated already). Here’s my personal take on all the credit cards in the market. Note that corporate credit cards and cards aimed at specific demographic or special-interests or tied to specific merchants are generally excluded (e.g. high rollers, students, golfers, petrol, departmental store etc.). Cards for accumulating air miles are also excluded. Let me be honest about this – i don’t believe in accumulating air miles, since i am never insistent on sticking with any particular airline for flights. Even when you use your miles, you will still be paying taxes and levies, which can sometimes amount to as much as the price of a discounted flight ticket. Continue reading Survey of Singapore credit cards

Lazada review

Lazada is a relatively newcomer to the online retail platform business, coming at the heels of Qoo10 and other wannabes. Despite seeing promotional ads for the site umpteen times, i never felt there was a reason for me to check out their site. It was while searching for a Hand Blender that a product listing from Lazada showed up in the Google search result, that i decided to take a look.

For the particular Hand Blender, 3 relevant results representing 3 different companies selling the product came up in Lazada’s search. The prices were about the lowest offered in the market (i.e. equal or lower than what you will find in an electrical/electronics departmental store). Obviously, it is cheaper to buy it online because you can apply a few discounts:

  1. Promo codes – there were at least a few promo codes for Lazada available, which gave a minimum of $10 worth of discount. I even saw an ad at a bus stop that offered a $11 discount on Lazada.
  2. helloPay – prior to this i had never heard of helloPay. It was during checkout that i noted using helloPay offers a 15% discount. For an $8 item, a 15% discount ($12.75) is definitely better than the $11 bus ad promo code, so i decided to check out helloPay (by the way, there is supposedly a $15 discount available if you use their app to order, but i didn’t try). Apparently, helloPay works like PayPal. At present though, it seems that no other merchant, other than Lazada, accepts helloPay payments. I proceeded to sign up an account under my wife’s name, since i was going to use her credit card to make payment. Lo and Behold, i got a $5 credit for signing up. I further noted that they had a referral program whereby you earn $10 if someone you referred made a payment through helloPay. I immediately referred myself. I got a $5 credit as well. So for the $85 Hand Blender, i am paying $85 – $12.75 – $5 + $2.5 (delivery charges) = $67.25
  3. Shopback – I made the Lazada purchase by going through Shopback and received a $3.6 cashback (obviously this is not available if you order through their app).
  4. Bank of China Credit Card – 5.5% cashback on online purchases, which is about $3.7. Taking into consideration the Shopback cashback as well, what i really pay for the Hand Blender is $67.25 – $3.6 – $3.7 = $60, which is a $27 discount overall! Not forgetting, my wife received $10 in her helloPay account for the successful referral, which effectively makes it a $37 discount!

Continue reading Lazada review

Shopback review

Now that I’ve received the first payout from Shopback, I guess I’m qualified to say something about them. The $25 payout consisted of $15 from an Agoda booking and $10 from the bonus given for signing up through Citibank and for updating the personal particulars.

Shopback Payout

The best part of Shopback so far is in getting $15 Cashback for making an Agoda booking. $15 is awarded for any booking that is above $50. If you do the sums, that represents a whopping 30% discount on a $50 hotel booking! With the cashback, it becomes more worthwhile booking a $50 hotel than a $40 one.

agoda

Shopback relies on cookies for tracking purchases made on merchant sites. It has worked every time (for Agoda, Groupon, Redmart purchases) I used Shopback except my latest Agoda bookings. I’m pretty sure I completed the booking within the same window I was redirected to from Shopback, but the cashback wasn’t registered. Thankfully, Shopback actually provides a feedback form for missing cashback. The cashback entry (with incorrect amount at this point of time) appeared in my account within 2 days of submitting my missing cashback request. It’s pretty amazing that Shopback provides this missing cashback form, since I can imagine that it will result a lot of workload, especially when it can be easily abused.

With the $15 cashback offer, the Shopback and Agoda combo is unbeatable. What’s more, Agoda has a tie-up with booking.com and offers some of the hotels on booking.com as well (at the same price) that would have been otherwise not found in Agoda itself. If you factor in the cashback, it is obviously better to book through Agoda than booking.com.

The only downside of Shopback, and most cashback sites, is the long waiting time to receive the actual cash. For Shopback it is typically 60 days after the completion of the transaction (for hotel or flight bookings this means completion of the trip), plus up to a week to process your redemption request.

All in all, i found that Shopback is quite intuitive to use, and it works. Extra cash is always welcome, right?

Update 14/11/2015: Shopback now offers only $10 cashback for Agoda. I noticed that some of the sites i frequently shop on have been added to Shopback’s merchant list, including booking.com ($10 cashback for $50 and above bookings, i,e. matching Agoda’s offer) and ebay (1% cashback). Shopback is making a lot of progress!

Honestbee review

I received my first Honestbee groceries delivery yesterday. Well, they were more than 3 hours late. So much for “get groceries fast”. I was sceptical and my scepticism turned out to be right. If you read their website about how they work, they basically recruit temporary staff to do all the work – packing and delivery, and I would imagine that more often than not, these temporary staff are not up to the task, especially if they only do the work on and off.

I was handed 3 recyclable groceries bags, and among the items I bought were frozen mid joint wings. Guess what was the state of the frozen mid joint wings? That’s right, half thawed. Obviously, with many deliveries to fulfill, it is not unreasonable to assume that by the time i received mine, it would have been at least more than an hour since they packed the stuff (or worse, and i think likely the case, it could have been more than 4 hours, since they were more than 3 hours late). Without cooler boxes, frozen items thaw very quickly. It goes to show Honestbee has not given enough thought to their operations. In contrast, Redmart delivers frozen stuff in cooler boxes, and they can even deliver ice cream without problem. Furthermore, the Redmart delivery always comes in sealed boxes which are only opened in your sight, so Redmart saves themselves some trouble if there were to be any discrepancy between what was ordered and what was delivered – it can only be caused by the packing personnel. And since packing is done in a centralised location (unlike Honestbee whereby they actually gather the stuff together from an actual supermarket – which I think introduces a lot of unpredictability), Redmart can deliver on time. The delivery window for Redmart is 2 hours, whereas Honestbee is overly optimistic in setting theirs to be within one hour.

Anyway, why did I try Honestbee? It’s because of the one-off promotion of $25 discount on a $60 order. Will I try Honestbee in the future? Only if they have attractive discounts. The minimum purchase required to get free delivery is $60, which is harder to hit than Redmart’s $50. Honestbee did get themselves onto Shopback.sg though, offering less than 9% of cashback. Now that Redmart is no longer on Shopback (Update 9/10/2015: Redmart is back on Shopback), perhaps there is a case for Honestbee. But honestly speaking, I think Honestbee will have to make their operations a lot more fail-proof.

It is interesting to note that the Uber (part time taxi driver) business model can even be applied to selling groceries, whereby you get part time helpers doing marketing (buying groceries) on your behalf. Goes to show that there is a huge shakeup that is happening in all traditional business models, to the benefit of consumers. It is slashing at the margins. Adapt or perish.

Update 15/11/2015: Get 9% cashback on Shopback for your Honestbee purchases. On top of any other discount you’re getting, you can get a further 9% discount on the final amount of your order.

Update: They’re no longer on Shopback. I guess they leveraged Shopback for their kick start marketing, and they don’t have much margin to allow such deep discounts, unlike Redmart. Theirs is a very high cost operation.

Taobao product recommendation – Orico Dual Bay Hard Drive Dock

These days, with everything going digital, everyone needs some kind of digital backup storage (to store photos, videos, documents etc.). It can be in the form of an external harddisk, thumbdrives, cloud storage (Dropbox, Google drive etc.) or the now-probably-obsolete optical disks (DVD, Bluray). In terms of safety, probably nothing can beat cloud storage, since it is managed (someone guarantees the safety) and it is offsite (you’re fine even if your house is burnt down). To store a large amount of data (in the Gigabyte range), though, it is probably not practical to use cloud storage, since it will be expensive and considerably slow even with the high-speed internet we have today. I’m a cheapo when it comes to.. well, everything, and my choice of a digital backup storage is a hard drive dock.

Prior to this, i used DVD-Rs to backup photos. Although cheap, it is quite a chore to burn the DVDs, plus, if you missed out some files, you may not be able to add to the already burned DVD. The size of DVDs at 3.7GB is usually not enough to contain all your photos, so your photo back up will span a few DVDs, and it is again a chore to load and eject DVDs if you wished to view the photos. The next lowest cost storage available is the hard disk. A hard disk overcomes all the shortcomings of a DVD, except it may not outlast a DVD. Hard disks have a typical life span of 2 to 8 years, with the added risk that they may fail abruptly at any time. The way to tackle this problem is to have redundancy – do the back up onto two or more hard disks. The likelihood of both hard disks failing at the same time is small enough to make this solution workable. In fact, the practice of having redundancy of hard disks has become standard to the point that a standard is actually devised, called RAID 1. For the average consumer, to be able to take advantage of RAID 1 simply means buying a hard disk enclosure or a Network Attached Storage (NAS) that supports RAID 1. The price point of such an enclosure is around US$70 at present (this excludes the price of the hard disks). The advantage of using RAID 1 is that you need only to do the back up once and it will be automatically duplicated onto the hard disks. If, at any point in time, one of the hard disks fails, you can simply replace the failed hard disk and all the back up data will be duplicated onto the new hard disk automatically. The disadvantage of RAID 1 is, well, the price. You do have to pay a premium for having this facility.

The alternative to RAID 1 is to duplicate the back up data onto each of the hard disks manually. This simply means you need to back up the data more than once (usually twice, since two hard disks is normally sufficient redundancy). I have chosen this as my back up solution, because the hard disk enclosure/dock without RAID 1 is far cheaper. I managed to get one from Taobao at 126 Yuan (S$28) – Orico dual bay hard drive dock (USB 3). Orico is a well known Chinese brand that’s sold on Amazon as well. At this price point you can forgive the slogan ‘Easy your PC’ (a literal translation from Chinese that’s supposed to mean making PC usage convenient) and the past tense of back up being spelt ‘backuped’.

Orico_dock_box

You can plug either 2.5 or 3.5 inch hard disks into the dock. Obviously, a 3.5 inch hard disk is cheaper, so you’ll go for that. I got Toshiba 1TB drives since they are the cheapest available (S$61) and they cost only marginally more than the 500GB one. With only 2 years warranty, these probably will not last much longer than 2 years, if it will last 2 years at all, but redundancy takes care of that anyway. At any point in time, if one of the hard disks fail, you’ll get a replacement and copy all the data into the replacement hard disk, and you’re safe again. And the beauty is, neither brand/model nor the capacity matters. You can just get any harddisk that has at least the same capacity, or more.

Orico_dock

First test run of 10GB back up took 4 minutes to be copied into both hard disks, not bad. To make it easier to copy files to both hard disks simultaneously, i used the utility n2ncopy. My 4 years old laptop didn’t have USB 3, but thankfully it came with an ExpressCard expansion slot. I got hold of a USB 3 ExpressCard from Taobao for 38 Yuan (S$8.50), which is dirt cheap. So, for a grand total of S$166 (inclusive of shipping cost), i managed to put together a 1TB redundancy back up solution with decent data transfer speed.

Honda Jazz 2009 Review

Honda_Jazz

I’ve had my Honda Jazz 2009 1.3A for a month now. Here’s my verdict of the car:

The good

  • Spacious interior
  • Excellent field of view
  • Good fuel economy
  • Paddle shift allows for manual override
  • Agile handling
  • Effective air conditioning

The bad

  • Underpowered
  • Poor noise insulation
  • Soft brakes
  • Slightly bouncy ride

The ugly

  • None actually, this is a pretty stylish car

I had high expectations in terms of fuel economy for this car, something to the tune of 15km/l, but so far i managed to get only 12 – 14km/l (depends a lot on how much distance is travelled on expressways vs roads laden with traffic lights). I think it takes a while to know the car enough to know how much pressure to apply on the accelerator so as not to waste fuel unnecessarily. I am confident that in the near future i will achieve 14km/l or more consistently.

The car pickup is dismal and it struggles up slopes. Stepping harder on the accelerator makes the engine roar seemingly in protest, burning lots of fuel without really delivering. The screeching sound of worn out brakes of surrounding vehicles can be heard loud and clear, not to mention the rumble of buses. These are the main gripes i have of the car, but i can’t fault the car too much on these since my priority is to have a safe, comfortable and cost effective means of transport.

The expansive field of view gives you good visibility, as do the large mirrors, so you can drive safer. The legroom and headroom available seats 5 adults comfortably enough. The ride is a tad on the firm side, but i think the suspension was designed this way to achieve better contact with the road to give a more secure feeling. I definitely prefer this to cars that seem to float.

All in all, i am pleased with this car. It does the narrow lanes, narrow parking lots and 90km/h speed limit we have around here just fine.