Friday, May 31, 2013

Panasonic KX-TG7623B 1.9 GHz DECT 6.0 3-Handset Cordless Phone With Answering Machine And Bluetooth

I have been using the Panasonic KX-TG2226SV 2.4 GHz GigaRange cordless phone for 6.5 years and it worked very well, with good range and durability. However, once we moved into a new apartment, the phone would develop noise when the handset was further away from the base more than 10 feet or so. I assume that it was due to an abundance of wireless WiFi routers in the building. 

Additionally, we needed more handsets, so I decided to get a DECT 6.0 phone with multiple handsets. Since I have always had good luck with Panasonic phones in terms of sound quality, durability, ease of use and ergonomics, I went with the Panasonic KX-TG7623B phone.

I tried the 2-handset version before that: Panasonic KX-TG7622B 1.9 GHz DECT 6.0 2-Handset Cordless Phone With Answering Machine And Bluetooth

About the Phone 

The Panasonic KX-TG7623B is a DECT 6.0 1.9 GHz cordless phone with a digital answering machine, 3 handsets, caller ID, call waiting and call-waiting caller ID, built-in handset speakerphones, Bluetooth, lit buttons. 

The base unit has Bluetooth connectivity that allows it both to use Bluetooth headsets and to place/receive cell phone calls using the phone. The phone has a 3050-place phone book, 18-minute digital answering machine. Each handset can have individually-set ring tone and volume and have individually-set “silent mode” that prevents the handset from ringing during certain hours. Each of the handsets also has an alarm clock functionality. The list goes on. 

In Operation 

Each handset uses included 2 NiMH rechargeable AAA batteries that require about 7 hours of initial charge (even though they were not completely discharged when I inserted them into handsets). The use of standard-size NiMH batteries takes care of the need to look for the specific battery for your phone model and also reduces the cost of replacement, even though I expect the batteries to last a very long time. 

The phone was easy to connect (to AC power and the phone line). The initial setup was easy and required no manual reading. 

The phone is very easy to use. It uses three soft keys, not unlike modern cell phones, as well as clearly marked Menu and Up/Down/Left/Right buttons. You can see your choices on the backlit LCD screen, which is well-legible. You can adjust the LCD contrast. The buttons are also backlit, which is convenient in the dark. Unlike the yesteryear, the handsets have no protruding antennas and are convenient to hold and light, without being flimsy. 

The phone lets you select among various ring tones, varying from subtle to loudly-annoying or you can choose from several polyphonic melodies. You can also select several degrees of the ring volume and speaker volume, all of which are set per handset.

The handset is well-balanced and the button have good tactile feel. You can easily scroll through the five last dialed numbers and redial them. The phone also stores last caller ID entries and lets you dial them with ease. 

The handset features a 3050-entry phone book with manual entry and has a feature that lets you import you cell phone contacts.

One issue I found was the inability to quickly change the ring volume while the phone is not in use. You have to go through several layers of menus to do that. But the “silent mode” helps here: I set 2 of the 3 handsets not to ring between 10pm and 6am, 


I did not test the outright range, but whereas my 2.4 GigaRange would produce poor reception at anywhere over 3 feet from the base (due to interference), this phone has no problem or any issues with sound quality at 30 feet range through several concrete walls. 

The base unit is located in one of the bedrooms, at one end of the apartment and I can easily use the handset at the other end of the apartment with no noise at all.

Sound Quality 

The sound clarity is improved and is pretty close to the corded phone-like. Previously, I liked the sound quality of my mother's analog 900 MHz Panasonic phone (Panasonic KX-TC1731B). My digital 900 MHz phone of the approximately same vintage sounded noticeably (but not excessively) worse (slight static and fuzziness). The 6.5-year old 2.4 GHz model provided excellent clarity, which was as close as I have heard to the corded phones and this new DECT 6.0 model did even better.

The volume of the receiver is very loud at the loudest setting and I had to dial it down all the way to 1 bar, where it is still slightly too loud for me. Same applies to the speakerphone mode.

Answering Machine 

The built-in digital answering machine can store up to 18 minutes of messages and greetings. You can use the default greeting or record your own. I found the sound quality of the answering machine to be good. 

You can also listen to your messages using the handset or even remotely, by dialing your own number and then entering a passcode. 

Handset Bases 
The handsets other than the one that is placed on the main base come with compact charging stations and AC adapters. You can sprinkle them around the house (we put ours in each room). 


The phone seems to be well built and replacement handsets can be bought for it in case of damage (or if you want more handsets for more rooms, up to 6 handsets total).

The use of AAA NiMH batteries makes for easy battery replacement if needed. I have been using it for about 15 months so far and everything works like new.

Hands-Free Operation 

I synched one of my Bluetooth headsets to the base unit and can use it for conference calls and such with ease. 


There is a built-in intercom. You can call any handset from another handset - the feature we frequently use.

Private Mode 

You can enable “private mode” in which when one handset is used, the other handsets cannot be used to listen in. Or you can use a couple of handsets simultaneously to have a 3-way call.

Pros: Excellent clarity and range, no interference with WiFi, Bluetooth, 3 Handsets, esy to use, features.
Cons: No easy way to quickly change ring volume of handsets.

Bottom Line 

The Panasonic KX-TG7623B  is an excellent phone/answering machine. With clear sound, good range and features like caller ID, Bluetooth, handset speakerphone, combined with its ease of use, it is an excellent choice.

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Lenmar CBI209 NiMH Replacement Battery For Panasonic HHR-P509A

My mother’s Panasonic cordless phone recently started acting up. After about 20 minutes of talk time, it would suddenly turn off and won’t work again until recharged. The culprit was its original NiMH battery that reached the end of its useful life. 

Upon opening the headset, I discovered that the original battery was a NiMH Panasonic model HHR-P509 and had a note on it that it should be replaced with a Panasonic HHR-P509A battery. 

Searching online, I found several matching replacement batteries from no-name companies. I also found Lenmar CBI209, which I ended up getting. 

What Is Lenmar CBI209 

The Lennmar CBI209 is a replacement battery for some Panasonic, AT&T, Lucent and Sprint phones. It replaces Panasonic HHR-P509, HHR-P509A, P-509A, P-P509, P-P509A, AQHHR150AAZ3 and General Electric GE-TL26407 batteries. 

It is a NiMH rechargeable battery with 2.4V voltage, 3.6 Wh capacity (1500 mAh). 


The package recommends before use fully charging the battery, then letting it discharge fully. We let it charge for about a day and have been using the phone for over 3 days and the battery is still not discharged. This is excellent performance and I expect good longevity from this battery. 

Pros:  Excellent longevity and performance .
Cons: None.

Bottom Line 

I am very happy with this battery’s performance and highly recommend it.

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Olympus XZ-2 Digital Camera - Another Amazing Lens From Olympus

Olympus XZ-2 Digital Camera Reviewed by Dmiko on .

Having used the Olympus XZ-1 for several months, I tried the new Olympus XZ-2. Larger and more refined-looking, this camera improves on the XZ-1 in several areas. While the amazing lens of XZ-1 didn’t change, the sensor did. The former is a good thing as it is 28mm at wide angle, has a large aperture, optical image stabilization and is very sharp. The latter is now a 12-megapixel 1/1.7-inch backlit CMOS sensor. 

About the Olympus XZ-2 
The Olympus XZ-2 is a 12-megapixel digital camera with a 4x zoom, 28-112mm equivalent zoom range, f/1.8 maximum aperture at wide angle (f/2.5 at telephoto), optical image stabilization, a 3-inch articulating OLED display with 920,000 pixels, up to 1080p HD video mode and an accessory shoe. The minimum aperture is f/8 at wither wide angle or telephoto. The camera has a removable grip.

The camera is powered by a rechargeable Li-Ion battery and stores pictures and videos on SD/SDHC memory cards. It has full manual control, aperture and shutter priority mode, art filters and a built-in Neutral Density filter (ND). It also has face detection and ISO range of 100-12,800. 

In the Box 
The camera comes with a small printed quick start guide, but the full manual is on the included CD, which I have not opened yet. The battery is charged while in the supplied charging station. The charging can take up to 3 hours, but upon arrival took less than 1. I inserted the 4-GB SD card I had, attached the straps to the lens cap and the camera itself and was ready to use it. 

Upon turning it on, the camera asked me for the current date and time, location and the language I would like to use for the menus. Just as was the case with the XZ-1, the f/1.8 lens and optical image stabilization allowed me to take reasonable pictures indoors with no flash. 

Similar, if not the same, as the lens in the XZ-1, the lens in XZ-2 is bright, allowing you to shoot in low light with relatively low noise. It is also very sharp. Unlike most cameras that exhibit blur in corners of the frame, this one is sharp corner to corner at wide angle at all apertures and is only slightly blurry in corners at full telephoto and its widest aperture of f/2.5.

In JPEG mode, the barrel distortion at wide angle is very mild and pincushion is low at telephoto. In RAW mode, there is more barrel distortion at wide angle, so apparently the image processor compensates for some barrel distortion when writing the JPEG file. 

The XZ-2 has some purple fringing at both wide angle and telephoto in the corners in the areas of high contrast. 

As most zooms, this lens behaves best in the middle of the zoom and aperture range, but even at very wide angle and f/1.8 it was sharp and therefore detailed. One issue with such a big lens though is flare. And unlike some mega-zoom models from Panasonic, there is no lens hood included. Plus you have to buy an adapter to use filters, although I found one for my XZ-1 for only $7 and it works for the HZ-2 as well. The only caveat is it does not allow you to use itself at full telephoto, unless you also buy an extension ring.

Ease of Use 

The XZ-2 is very well built and has solidly-feeling controls, but it is moderately sized and not light. It is even larger and slightly heavier than the XZ-1, which was not light or compact to begin with. You would not be putting it in a pocket. But this is the price you have to pay for having a camera that looks and feels substantial, plus for having an articulated LCD.

My gripe with the Olympus XZ-1 was that it didn’t have a well-defined grip, which made holding it slightly awkward. The XZ-2 comes with a removable grip that solves the problem. And otherwise, the controls are well laid out and the 3-inch screen is not only large, but has very high resolution. It is bright and easily viewed from any angle, plus it tilts so you don’t have to look at it at an angle most times. 

The top deck has a rotating mode selector with Auto, Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Art effects, Scene modes, etc. The large screen has enough real estate to show you all shooting parameters, settings, live histogram, etc. and have enough space for framing your subject. 

Settings are changed by rotating the ring around the lens, rotating the small ring around the control buttons on the back panel or pushing the said buttons. Sometimes it is not clear which does what. One improvement that was made was to add a mechanical switch to the front of the camera to switch the front ring around the lens between two modes. In one, the ring rotates freely. In the other, there are detents and the ring “clicks” through them. 

There is no viewfinder (although you can buy and attach an electronic viewfinder (EVF). And the lens cap has to be removed and recapped manually. That is probably due to the size of the lens. There is a cheap third-party extension tube with doors that lens pokes through when the camera is turned on, reducing the need to re-cap it.

The camera powers up fast, in less than 2 seconds. Same applies to the shutdown. I could take pictures with no flash about once a second. And the battery lasted over 170 shots so far and is still going strong.

Formats, Settings and Modes 
You get a choice of several resolutions and 2 compression levels for each (Fine or Standard). You also get a choice of saturations, with Natural being default. Natural is not something I expected Natural to be. From using Fuji cameras, I am used to Natural being soft, muted colors. In the case of this Olympus though, Natural means pleasing to the eye with saturated colors, enhanced blues and reds. But there are other modes for muted colors, vivid colors and even monochrome. 

There are also art filters, including the one that looks like black and white grainy film and another for soft focus. 

There is an Auto Gradation setting that helps preserve shadow detail in harsh light. It works very well. 

The flash is extended when you slide the corresponding switch. The flash is slightly uneven at the wide angle and slightly dim at telephoto as well as in most shots indoors where I used automatic settings. But you can adjust the flash output to compensate. Plus it is useful to have a slightly dim flash if you want to combine available light with the flash. The flash recycles in about four seconds. 

There is strong detail and low noise at ISO 100. Some chroma noise visible at ISO 200 in very low light, but not in moderate to bright light. ISO 400-800 result in more noise and less detail. Fortunately, with wide available apertures and sensor-shift optical image stabilization, there is normally little need to venture into higher ISO range. There is ISO up to 12,800 available, but I dare you to get anywhere close to it.

The camera has automatic focusing as well as manual focusing. The automatic focusing is aided by face detection and by AF-assist light in low light. It has little trouble focusing in low light. 

With 12 Megapixels of resolution and relatively low noise, you can print up to 13x19 at ISO levels up to ISO 400 with good results. 4x6 prints are okay up to ISO 1,600. I wouldn’t go higher than that, but you can if you absolutely have to.

USB Interface 
The USB 2.0 interface on the camera is very fast. I measured it and it was close to 8 MB/sec. I usually prefer to use the card reader though because it does not discharge the camera’s battery and doesn’t make you plug any cables into the camera, but with this camera, USB is not a bad option. Not only can you get fast transfer rates, but the USB also charges the camera while connected to the computer. 

Additionally, the camera supports wireless photo transfer with Eye-Fi and Flash Air memory cards, which I have not tried.

Pros: Excellent lens, sensor, large LCD, great build quality, looks and performance, convenient to hold.
Cons: Not compact, filter adapter sold separately, expensive.

Bottom Line 
The Olympus XZ-2 is an excellent, albeit expensive, camera. Although it is not pocket-able, it is still more compact than an SLR and produces pictures that are of better quality than the compact models. It has all the flexibility I need, including full manual control, ND filter and RAW mode. And now, it is finally convenient to hold.
Rating: 5 stars out of 5.

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Motorola RAZR 2 V8 (MOTORAZR2) GSM Phone with MP3, WMA, 2-Megapixel Camera

I have been using my Motorola RAZR V3 on the T-Mobile network for almost two years and became eligible for a phone upgrade program recently. Among the phones T-Mobile offers, I chose the Motorola RAZR 2 V8. It was not cheap, even after 2-year contract extension and the $50 rebate. But I wanted better reception and call clarity than that of the original RAZR. 

Although the RAZR V3 was perfectly acceptable at the time I got it, its reception was not perfect and I suspected that I could get better call clarity from a newer model. Also, although it survived 2 years of use pretty well, it had an annoying issue with the dust accumulating behind the screen, or rather between the screen itself and the transparent plastic over it. 

Although I could have gotten a new RAZR V3 for free (which I did for my mother) and the new RAZR V3 has no holes that allowed the said dust to get to the screen, I decided to go for the RAZR2. 

Features and Benefits 

The Motorola RAZR2 V8 is stylish flip-style phone, features large and colorful screens both inside and outside. The outside screen is 2 inches and the inside screen is 2.2-inch with double the resolution of the original RAZR. Both screens have 240x320 QVGA resolution (262k). 

The phone is constructed of stainless steel, as opposed to aluminum of the RAZR. It features 2 GB of memory, ability to act as a USB drive and a music player with MP3 and WMA playback. The outer screen has touchscreen functionality when used as a music player. 

The phone has no external antenna, but still features excellent reception. The RAZR 2 has a 2-Megapixel camera with 2x or 4x digital zoom. It lets you record videos as well. You can take a picture and attach it to a phone number so that when the person calls you, you can see their picture and recognize who is calling you. 

The phone also lets you browse the web. It has Bluetooth connectivity. It has 4-band GSM compatibility (850/900/1800/1900) and can be used in any countries that uses GSM (virtually all European countries as well as AT&T/Cingular and T-Mobile). It also comes with a charger that can be used in any country (110-240 V). 

The phone lets you record voice memos. It also has good voice recognition for phone number/names and commands. 

The MOTORAZR2 V8 features nice polyphonic ring and good talk/standby time (4-8 hours of talk time). It has a speakerphone functionality as well. 

Getting Started 

Once I received my phone, I inserted my SIM card, attached the supplied battery and closed the back cover. I plugged the supplied worldwide charger into the wall outlet and the cord into the phone. The battery was fully charged in less than an hour, at which point I was ready to use the phone. 

The phone offers you to go through the initial setup, which is rather easy. The menus of the phone are easy to use, even for someone who have not read the manual. The phone automatically set the time, which I find convenient, but did so after a delay. 


The phone is very well-made and has a very sturdy construction. The materials it is made of are durable and look nice. The stainless-steel construction make it heavy and it feels very solid. 

Update as of 01/2011: I actually dropped it twice. It fell once on a concrete floor from about 3 feet and the other time from about 4 feet on hard tile floor. In both cases there was no damage whatsoever (well, the battery door opened and the battery fell out, but I put them back and everything still works).

The phone is a flip-style with good amount of effort required to open or close. The buttons require good effort to operate. The buttons have good tactile response and backlit well. 

The original RAZR was not exactly flimsy, but the RAZR 2 is much more solid and has very good materials throughout.

The only item that didn't stand the test of time is the plug that covers the charging/USB port. It broke and fell of within the first 6 months. Overall, now (after almost 1.5 years) the phone still works as well as new.


The phone is very easy to use. I have not read the manual at all for most functions and only had to look through the it for about 5 minutes to figure out the advanced functions of the phone: voice commands. The rest is easy to use and intuitive. 

The menus are easy to use and the large screen lets you see a lot of information. The voice dialing is a convenient feature that works well. Unlike the RAZR V3, it does not require you to create a duplicate phone number entry in the phone’s memory (even if you have the same phone number on your SIM card already) and attach the recorded name to it. You just say the name or say Dial Number #######

You can send email or SMS messages easily and also can use instant messenging through AIM. You can also browse the web (something I do not do). 

The phone lets you customize its numerous features, e.g. you can specify if you want to answer a call by flipping the phone open, by pressing any button or neither. You can select from numerous ring tones for incoming calls, SMS or voice mail. You can also customize what picture appears or what tone sounds when a certain person calls you. 

You can customize the volume of tones for all functions (incoming call, SMS, etc.) independently. The volume can be set to a rather loud level and you can also select a profile that makes the phone ring and vibrate at the same time, which is useful in loud environments. 

I find the phone's buttons on the side not very convenient to use. They are narrow and although they are now located on the thicker part (the one that houses the buttons), they do not stick out far from the case. 


The most important aspect of the performance of a cell phone is its reception and sound quality. The RAZR 2 is a good improvement over the original RAZR, which itself was an improvement of my earlier phones (Nokia 6610, Motorola C650 and Innostream 89). 

I now can get reception close to the middle of the building where I work, which was not something that happened with the RAZR V3. 

The sound quality is better than the RAZR V3 as well and, although still not quite up to the sound quality of the land line, approaches it to the extent I have not heard any other cell phone approach. Overall, I am very impressed with the reception and sound quality of the RAZR 2. 

The battery lasts quite a long time for its size. I have not validated the claims by Motorola about up to 4-8 hours of talk time, 200-300 hours of standby time. But I know that the phone can definitely handle a week of my, admittedly short, phone conversations (even using a Bluetooth headset) and standby with no need to be recharged, which is enough for me. 

The 2-Megapixel camera provides pictures that are pretty good for a camera phone and adequate to use as photo caller ID or for emailing. The camera has effective 4x digital zoom and produces pictures that are a little noisy in low light, but still usable. 


In addition to the Bluetooth connectivity, the phone can also be connected to the computer using the supplied micro-USB cable. The computer charges it and you can copy (or drag-drop if it is your forte) files to and from it. You can copy music to/from it as files or, using Windows Media Player, sync it with your music library. 

The micro-USB port is different from the larger min-USB port of the RAZR V3, but my phone came with a min-USB to micro-USB adapter so I do not have to replace my car charger left over from the V3. 


The 2-GB music player is built-in and you can use the supplied stereo headphones/handsfree device. The headphones are pretty good for music listening and the outside screen has virtual touchscreen buttons for play/pause/cue/rev/pref/next. The sire buttons control volume. 

Unfortunately, there was no micro-USB to 3.5 mm headphone plug adaptor supplied, but I might be able to find one online. This way I can use better headphones for music listening. 

The sound quality is excellent, even with the supplied micro USB-plug headphones. And 2-GB capacity is enough for me. 


The phone is stylish, thin (even thinner than the original RAZR), very well-built, has excellent interface/menus, great functionality, performance, large screens, 2-GB music player, Bluetooth, great battery life. It is super-durable (dropped it twice on hard surfaces from 3-4 feet already with no ill effects).


Pricey, pretty wide (because of the large screen), no access to music player without opening phone, no music player mode that does not power the phone on (on the airplane). 

Bottom Line 

I am very happy with the MOTORAZR 2 and recommend it to anyone. With cool styling, worldwide compatibility, excellent reception and sound quality and good battery life, as well as a 2-Megapixel camera and a 2-GB music player, it is an excellent choice. I feel like it was money well spent.

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Terk HDTVi for HDTV (HDTVA) - Excellent Reception and Solid Design for Free HDTV

First, I need to point out that Terk HDTVi and HDTVa is not the same antenna. The HDTVa is the HDTVi with amplification. With this little detail taken care of, I have to say both work amazingly well. 

I live in a concrete building with no direct line of sight towards the signal. Even though I live in the middle of the city and the signal should be strong, the concrete walls probably make the signal so weak that I have to get reflected signal. 

Previously, I have used Terk TV-1 antenna, which, although is a pretty decent piece of equipment, did not guarantee a good watching experience. I could only get about a dozen channels. The TV-1 is mostly designed for VHF, which currently carries major analog channels, whereas major digital channels are mostly on UHF. 

It was time to try the Terk's HDTV line of antennas. I was originally going to get the HDTVi, but decided to get the HDTVa. Upon receipt, I did try it in the non-amplified, HDTVi mode first. 


The antenna is larger than it looks on the picture, yet still manageable. Its log-periodic UHF element looks cool and can be positioned vertically or horizontally. What is not apparent from some pictures is that the antenna has VHF dipoles that can be very long when extended. 

The antenna is solidly built, but it is a little unstable ¨C it is really easy to tip it over if you touch it, especially with dipoles fully extended. 

The HDTVi connects directly to the TV, whereas the HDTVa has a little ¡°power injector¡± box. You connect the antenna to it and the cable form the box to the TV with another cable to the power outlet. 


I use this antenna with my Hitachi P50H401 50-inch plasma TV. Even with no amplification, I got twice as many channels as before, albeit some of them were freezing or becoming blocky. And after I connected the amplifier, the signal meter on my TV showed 95-100% signal strength (45-70% before that, with no amplification). 

Although the noise is also amplified and amplification does not free you from having to position antenna in a certain way to catch a direct or (in my case) reflected signal, the result in my case was excellent reception of about 20 channels and ok reception on another 5 or so. 


Updated 12/2011: I have used this antenna for 3.5 years, with great results. It also was able to withstand an earthquake that made it fall off the hight of approximately 4 feet on the carpet, with no damage. I also dropped it a few times accidentally with the same result.

Pros: Excellent performance, reasonable price, looks nice, does not take too much space.
Cons: Not very stable foundation.

Bottom Line 

I am extremely happy with this antenna. Despite looking small and dorky, it works perfectly well with excellent non-amplified reception (HDTVi) or amplified (HDTVa). I highly recommend the former if you expect good signal strength and the latter if you expect weak signal.

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2009 Toyota Corolla LE - The Distilled Mediocrity

I had a privilege of driving a 2009 Toyota Corolla LE for 2 weeks while my 2004 Infiniti G35 was repaired after being rear-ended. I have to admit that with this car, Toyota has achieved an nonparallel level of... mediocrity.

The car I drove was in excellent condition with 17K miles on the odometer.

My first impression about the car's exterior was "generic but agreeable". The shape is relatively sleek and in driving at higher speeds that results in pretty quiet motoring. The car slips through the wind pretty well.


Once I got into the car and got accustomed to its controls, seats and adjustments thereof, I started getting mixed feelings. The seats are rather comfortable and have a decent side/lateral support. The visibility backward is rather good (both through the mirrors and the C-pillars). The 3-spoke steering wheel looks sporty. Unfortunately, these are the only positives I can think of.

The dash and door plastic is hard and doesn't try to conceal this fact. The panel gaps are uneven and are rather exposed, especially between the dashboard and the door panels. I wouldn't mind in a cheap car, but the Corolla is not cheap. But wait, there is more.

Once I decided to reset the trip odometer, I was unpleasantly surprised by how the button behaved. It is a rather long cylinder and whereas on most (if not all) other cars I used it was made of hard plastic, in the Corolla it is made of the material that partially resembles a pencil eraser. So when you push on it, it slightly bends sideways. OK, weird, but not lethal.

The range of adjustments made the seat rather comfortable and the mirrors are electrically adjusted with ease. The appealing steering wheel turned out to be a bit inconvenient, whereas the positions where your hands lay naturally are too low. Toyota should have studied how other car makers make steering wheels, 3-spoke (e.g. my Infiniti G35) or otherwise (e.g. my wife's Honda Accord).


This is when the gold medal in mediocrity should be rightfully given to the Corolla. In fact, this is probably the car with the worst driving characteristics I have ever encountered, but since the road irregularities are absorbed so easily and the noise from the road and wind is so low, we arrive at the complete mediocrity. It is a perfect car for people who don't like to drive and would simply like to get from point A to point B in relative comfort and silence.

Strangely, when driving this Corolla, I found that it feels like you are driving a much larger car. Not in the solidity, but in the feel that the car is significantly larger than it is. It feels larger than my G35 or Honda Accord. But it isn't. The suspension is very soft, which requires constant small corrections at highway speeds. It behaves very similarly to Camry in this regard.

None of these faults are caused buy the Corolla's size. I drove a small Volkswagen Polo (smaller than Jetta or Golf) in Germany for several hours straight at almost 130 mph with complete confidence. And it felt way more solid than this Toyota apparatus and was better in every way.


Let's start (if we must) with the drivetrain. The 1.8-liter engine has enough power to accelerate at city speeds and a 4-speed transmission is anachronic, but sufficient. But at full throttle the engine sounds like an angry vacuum cleaner and the freeway merging and acceleration are pretty unimpressive. And because you are constantly revving the engine, the supposedly good fuel economy is rarely achieved. In 80% freeway driving with relatively gentle gas application, I averaged 34 MPG. Impressive? Maybe, but I get the same or better MPG in the 2.4-liter Honda Accord. Without being subjected to appauling Corolla's dynamics. In fact, I can get over 38 MPG in the accord if I use the Marvel Mystery Oil in its gas and drive to maximize the fuel economy.

Transmission Shifter

For some reason, Toyota insists on installing transmission shifters that need to be led to your selection in a maze. Perhaps they think that this is something that makes a car appear royal and prestigious. Jaguar did it and so did Mercedes-Benz. In a Corolla it is just silly. Some might like it. I don't care for it at all.


But wait, it gets worse. The steering completely lacks any on-center feel. Scratch that, it lacks feel. Period. This is the first car I have driven (and I have driven quite a few) where you can turn the steering wheel with the engine off using one finger about 15 degrees left or the same 15 degrees right. At low speeds, you can turn the wheel 15 degrees and the car will keep going straight. It is spooky.


Another first for me. When you come to a complete stop, the brake pedal can be depressed about 4-5 inches further with little increase in the force applied to it. The brakes are super mushy with very non-linear stopping power comparing to the force applied. The pedal travel before any braking happens is also among the longest I have seen.


There are airbags aplenty and according to authorities the roof is pretty strong. So this Corolla gets many starts in the crash tests. If you buy one, you will need all the airbags you can get, because with unresponsive brakes, steering and engine, this is an accident waiting to happen. Strangely both times I needed a rear bumper replaced it was because of Toyota products. The first was caused by an older Corolla running into my parked car in the parking lot and the recent incident by a Scion xB. My wife's car was rear-ended by a Lexus LS (no damage) and later by a Camry (bumper replaced). I don't mind it as long the drivers have insurance, but the trend is present.


The trunk is rather large and has a couple of small compartments in the right corner, which work well to prevent smaller items from sliding around. The trunk upholstery is good.


The windshield wipers worked well during a rain we had. The stalks have good feel.


The CD player can play MP3 and has an aux input. The sound was ok, about what one can expect from an inexpensive car. Radio reception was adequate.

Instruments and A/C

The instruments were legible. The A/C had very good power (and the fan is very powerful), but the mechanically-linked controls for it required way too much effort and felt very cheap overall.

Pros: Good seats, visibility, low noise, soft ride, decent fuel economy, features, good A/C.
Cons: Unresponsive brakes and steering, unrefined engine, cheap interior and controls, anonymous looks.


I highly recommend this car if you don't like to drive, like low noise, comfortable seats and soft ride, can get it for cheap and like the interior. 

If you like to drive, need some steering and brake feel, responsiveness, decent engine note, reasonably nice interior or above average acceleration, look elsewhere. A used Honda Accord is head and shoulders above the Corolla in virtually all respects.

Canon EOS Rebel XS / EOS 1000D Digital Camera with 18-55mm IS Lens

Canon EOS Rebel XS / EOS 1000D Digital Camera with 18-55mm IS Lens Reviewed by Dmiko on .

Although I already had a Canon digital SLR camera (Canon Digital Rebel XT), I wanted to be able to take sharper pictures, especially in low light conditions. The idea was to take photos of my son, mostly indoors, handheld. Since I knew that Canon Digital Rebel XS came with a sharper and image-stabilized zoom lens, I got rid of my Canon Digital Rebel XT and got the Canon XS with its kit 18-55 mm image-stabilized lens.

At this point (05/2013) I got to use it for several years and below are my impressions. I mostly use either this camera or my Olympus XZ-1. Both work well for "challenging light" conditions.

What is Canon Rebel XS / EOS 1000D 18-55mm Kit? 

The Canon Rebel XS EOS 1000D is a digital SLR (Single-Lens Reflex) camera with 10.1-Megapixel resolution. This model supports interchangeable lenses of Canon EOS series. The kit also includes the 18-55 mm EF-S f/3.5-5.6 IS image-stabilized lens, which is 29-88 mm equivalent (the APS-C Size CMOS sensor warrants 1.6x conversion factor). 

The camera has a 3:2 aspect ratio APS-C size CMOS sensor, which is perfect for 6x4 prints and very close to other formats people usually choose for printing. The sensor in this model is self-cleaning and uses ultrasonic vibrations to remove dust from its low-pass filter (EOS Integrated Cleaning System). 

The camera stores the images on inexpensive SD or SDHC memory cards and is powered by a rechargeable proprietary battery pack with contacts redesigned compared to previous versions to prevent accidental shorting. The XS features fast Digic 3 processor and in addition to JPEG can record images in RAW format. 

The camera has a built-in flash as well as the hot shoe for external flashes. It features automatic modes as well as manual ones. The camera has a 2.5-inch high-resolution LCD screen and an optical through-the-lens viewfinder. The camera uses a CMOS sensor instead of a CCD that most compact consumer-level cameras use. 

The camera accepts EF and EF-S lenses. The included kit lens features manual and automatic focusing and a solid construction as well as optical image stabilization. The camera supports ISO 100-1,600 and features fast USB 2.0 interface.

Improvements Over The XT

Since I am switching to this model from the XT, below are the most dramatic improvements over the XT: higher resolution, larger LCD screen, faster processing, use of SD and SDHC cards instead of bulky CF cards, much better kit lens (sharper and image-stabilized), better battery.

Getting Started 

I did not bother even opening the manual, but was able to attach the lens to the camera, charge and insert the battery and the SD memory card that I have and was ready to shoot.

If you plan to use the camera's advanced features or haven't used a digital SLR before, the included manual is quite comprehensive. 

Make sure there is no excessive dust present where you are attaching the lens, because the dust is a big problem and a headache if it gets on the sensor (CMOS), even though the camera has dust-reduction technology.

In the Box 

The camera comes with its lens (if purchased as a kit, like mine), battery pack, battery charger, strap, video and USB cables, manuals and software.


The camera and the lens are very well constructed. The camera is pretty light for a digital SLR and relatively compact. The lens has the zooming and focusing rings that require just enough effort to rotate to have a solid feel. 

The memory compartment lid is solid as is the door of the battery compartment. The camera came pre-set to its automatic mode and I was able to take pretty good pictures in that mode by switching the lens into automatic focus mode (the switch is on the lens itself) and just pointing and shooting. The camera even pops its flash up when there is not enough light. This mode is obviously designed to let even people who are not familiar with photography take good pictures. Point and shoot is something this camera does well without any knowledge. And the image stabilization of the included lens helps with better/sharper photos, especially in dim light or at high zoom levels.

When using a digital SLFR camera, if you have used a compact digital camera before, you might be surprised that you cannot use the LCD when composing the shot, at least in its regular mode. The screen stays blank until you take the picture. The XS also has a mode that lets you use the camera like the regular digital camera: you can see what you are about to shoot on the screen (see below). I tend not to use this mode, however.

Aside from this kind of preview and review, the screen is also used for menus and control functions. You use the viewfinder to compose the shot, confirm the focus in manual focus mode or the focus points in the automatic focus mode.

The Live View mode lets you use the camera similar to a compact digicam: view the subject and compose the shot using the LCD screen. The camera uses its 2.5-inch LCD screen for displaying its shooting parameters (basic shooting information like shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation). The shooting parameters are also shown in the viewfinder, under the frame. The camera lets you adjust the shooting parameters (aperture on aperture priority mode or shutter speed in the shutter priority mode) by rotating the thumb-wheel on the top of the handgrip. Overall, the controls are mostly carried over from the previous model, which is a good thing since the ergonomics are excellent and time-tested. 

Ergonomics and Ease of Use 

The camera is convenient to hold. The handgrip has good surface texture and configuration and the lens lends itself to being held by your left hand, SLR-style. The viewfinder is slightly dim with the supplied lens (the lens has a maximum aperture of f/3.5 at wide angle or f/5.6 at telephoto) but adequate for most situations. 

As expected, the major controls are within easy reach. As with any SLR camera, you have to remember that you zoom using the ring around the lens and manually focus (should you decide to forgo autofocus) by rotating the outer barrel of the lens as well.

The camera shows you where it focused in the automatic mode by briefly illuminating the selected focus points within the viewfinder, which is convenient. The tripod mount is located well and the camera is stable when mounted on a tripod.

The menu system is easy to use and some functions are called directly by a push of a designated button (e.g. White Balance). The kit lens has an outer barrel that rotates when focusing, which may make using a polarizer difficult, but not impossible. The zooming ring has clearly marked focal lengths, but the focusing ring has no distance markings. It is difficult to expect a non-rotating barrel on a cheap kit lens though and pre-focusing, then adjusting the polarizing filter works well.


The camera lets you adjust a wide range of parameters. The resolution can go up to 10 MP. There are also different modes of RAW shooting: RAW and RAW plus JPEG. 
You can also adjust the ISO (100-1,600), white balance, sharpness, contrast and other shooting parameters using the menus. The menus are quite easy to use, appear fast and look good. 


The camera powers on or off instantaneously, and even the sensor cleaning doesn't seem to take much time. The focusing is very fast at a second at most, even in the dim environments. The only issue is sometimes the camera focuses on the focusing point other than the one you actually wanted.

The shutter lag is virtually absent when pre-focused or when using the camera's manual focus.

Image Quality 

I no longer use the RAW mode because I simply have no time to convert the images. I mostly use JPEG at 10MP resolution. The JPEG pictures are very pleasing in color, have good white balance and color saturation. All images have very low noise levels, excellent detail level and dynamic range. 

The included 18-55mm IS kit lens produces sharp results with very slightly soft corners at full wide angle or full telephoto. It is much better than the original Canon EF-S 18-55mm USM lens, which was mostly soft. The new lens is sharp even wide open.

There is very little purple fringing (chromatic aberrations) at wide angle, but nothing visible at telephoto. 

The colors were pleasing and WB worked well in full auto mode. The noise levels are very low. There is no noise visible at ISO 100-800. At ISO 1,600, there is some noise, but it has fairly fine pattern. 

The lens's optical image stabilization works well and lets you shoot at about 2 (and sometimes 3) stops slower than normal. Result: sharper photos in low light and/or at telephoto.

Caveat: this only works with stationary subjects. My son is still mostly blurry when he is not completely still. I have to use ISO 800 or 1,600 with him to make photos sharp when shooting indoors.

The camera produces 10-Megapixel images that can be printed sharp as enlargements at over 13-inch sizes at pretty much any ISO up to 800 and higher ISO photos will look great at smaller sizes. Cropping with smaller-size prints is an option as well.

Battery Life 

The battery that comes with the camera should be able to produce up to 500 shots. But if you use Live View and/or flash a lot, the number of photos will be lower. I took about 250 photos with no signs of battery depletion. 

About the Kit Lens 

The supplied image-stabilized lent is solidly built and works great for an inexpensive kit lens. For general photography it will be more than sufficient. The IS (image stabilization) works well, lets you shoot at about 2-3 stops slower shutter speed and results in sharper photos in dim light or at telephoto when shooting handheld.

Pros: Price, solid construction, performance, excellent kit lens.
Cons: Sometimes focuses on point other than the one you wanted in auto focus mode.

Bottom Line 

I am very pleased with the Canon Rebel XS (a.k.a. EOS 1000D) and its 18-55mm IS kit lens. With their solid build and performance, the camera and the lens and feature-rich and combine their strengths to produce sharp photos. The great image quality, resolution and great battery life make it an excellent choice. I use it all the time and highly recommend it.
Rating: 5 stars out of 5.

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