Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Product Review: Pressy and the Perils of Kickstarter

Ah, Kickstarter, what a wonderful idea. I love the notion of encouraging creativity and removing the middle-man of corporate influence in the creation of products and ideas. Kickstarter has been responsible for the creation of several products I own and thousands of other projects I never got to try.

One of the biggest issues I see with Kickstarter, and I myself on occasion fall into, is a lack of tempered expectations. The old saying: "If it's too good to be true, it probably is" rings extremely true on Kickstarter. You'll get people assuming that a project must be delivered on the first day of the projected month. When that fails to happen, they demand their money back and rant about how the project creator is a fraud and a shyster. They fail to understand that products, services, art, entertainment, etc, get pushed back all of the time. Sometimes designs change for the better or worse and they feel cheated then. This is completely normal human behavior.

Alternatively, project creators often offer the world in the hopes of getting the funding they need. Sometimes they actually believe they can deliver on their promises and sometimes they use it to mask any inadequacies the project has. Often, due to production being cheaper in bulk, they set their goal so high it is pretty much unattainable. Both of these are problems with crowd-funding that need to be addressed in a meaningful way.

Enter Pressy. The concept of the little device doesn't seem very interesting. In essence, it's a 3.5 mm headphone tip with a button on the end. The goal is to create an on-demand customized button. In theory and to some degree practice, this works. More on that in a moment, however.

Pressy is the epitome of what happens with production delays, impatient backers, design changes, and excessive promises. I backed the project back in October of 2013. The projected delivery date was March 2014 and I didn't receive the Pressy until late August 2014. Truth be told, this isn't uncommon. My Impulse controller was a couple months late if I recall as well, but in the instance of Pressy, it helped create a great deal of anger.

One thing that changed was the design of the holder for the Pressy.

The original case design pre-April 2014

The case design that was shipped to backers
As you can see, they made some pretty drastic changes. The original appeared to be of a more harder silicone with a key ring through it. It was a simple design, but considering the project, that's not bad. Afterwards, they used a cheaper, more flexible silicone with a slot to put your headphone cord in. The change was not well-received and I agree. The new holder is much flimsier and runs a back risk of tearing at the loop.

Still, this isn't a massive issue to me considering I was in it for the actual button, not necessarily the extras. 

One of the other issues was a lack of some functionality upon delivery and issues with getting the Android app into the Play Store promptly. This led to fears of a lack of official Android support, but in the end, things worked out. However, there was (and still is) some missing functionality such as the Pressy Screen Drawing and Pressy-to-Talk. 

However, most of the app integration and functionality are intact I can proudly say. I was able to easily program most of my commands and execute them well. Sometimes they took a second or two to activate, but they worked like defined. I will say that the app is very fluid and well designed. I can't say for certain that it follows the Material guidelines for Android L, but it's certainly close enough you'd have trouble guessing.

What I don't appreciate is having to activate the app with the code provided in the packaging. This seems very draconian and somewhat dangerous considering if one loses their code, their Pressy is useless. Of course, this came about because naturally there were copycats. Pressy's delay in shipping facilitated that for certain. There are comparable versions of the button out there for less than a tenth of the asking price. Are they any better? I cannot say, but app reviews on the Play Store put them at a little less than Pressy itself. 

With the copycats coming out of the woodwork, designs changes, delays, and missing functionality, it was the perfect storm to ignite hatred against the little start-up. Reviews for the button have ranged from horrible to average to pretty positive. This is entirely expected from a first generation product. People aren't understanding Kickstarter and what it means. You are investing in something whether it be hardware, software, a movie, music, book, or whatever ever else. You're not buying a product. The reward is to show that something came of the project.

This has led to a burgeoning series of scams unfortunately. There are always people looking to take advantage of a situation for their own benefit. However, this doesn't mean things are bad. Look at PebbleiMpulse, and Meenova who are now on their second generation of Kickstarter projects. Unencumbered by funding issues, they have made improvements to the original and worked on addressing complaints. This is how Kickstarter should work and how people should view it. You're helping someone get their idea off the ground. You're not buying something. Once they've established themselves, you're free to be anger at delays, but these things are projects and ideas, not a streamlined corporation pouring out your goods. 

In the end, I'm alright with Pressy. It was an idea that took a great deal of work to get off the ground, but came through, which is more than can be said of other projects. Would I buy a second generation Pressy? Or perhaps another iMpulse or Meenova reader? Of course, because I've seen how the product develops and how a small company can better address concerns a large one may ignore. I have plans on getting the newer Meenova certainly. Pressy is in an even better place. There's little that can be altered at the hardware level. To succeed all they really need to do is improve the software, which they appear to be doing. 

Is it an A+ product? No, but it's good enough for me and will likely get better. We should support it along with the other hopefuls who want to change the world or at least get their ideas out there. Crowdfunding is a powerful idea that can really make waves. Pebble basically pushed the smartwatch industry into overdrive. The Dual Drive I reviewed came AFTER Meenova. This shows what kind of influence it can have. Just remember though, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Rapid Review vol. 5

After a very long downtime, I'm back with a few new toys to review.

I've gotten into beta testing recently and this Arcadia wall charger was offered to my to try out. First off, dual USB chargers are nothing special to honest. They are a dime a dozen, so anyone of them that can make me take interest is a good thing. The first thing I noticed about this charger was the compact form factor and labeling.

With a sleek, 2-inch cube design and flip down plug, the Arcadia NT90C charger is compact and goes just about anywhere. The labeling of which runs as 2.4 and 1 Amp is excellent and something I rarely see on other dual chargers with variable power. The 1 Amp side is par for the course, but the 2.4 Amp side is excellent for tablets and smartphones alike. I was able to charge my Nexus 5 from 20% to almost 80% in around thirty minutes. The only drawback I've noticed is its cost is a little greater than competing models.

The Good: Excellent form factor, fold down plug, clearly labeled set-up for each USB outlet.

The Bad: A little bit more expensive than some competitors.

Final Grade: A

Portable storage is always a plus in any instance. It had been a long time since I bought a hard drive of any type. I had a few Best Buy reward zone certificates and decided to pick this little guy up. 

My first impression upon opening the package was how solidly this thing was constructed. Most portable hard drives, whether they be USB or AC powered, are made of plastic, but this little guy was entirely encased in metal. It's smaller than my old WD Passport at almost exactly the same thickness as my Nexus 5 (0.35 in vs 0.34 in). This is compared to my older hard drive of a half inch or more thickness.

Plugging in the SS USB 3.0 cable instantly installs the drivers for Windows and works within a couple seconds on Chrome OS. You get your usual onboard backup programs and locking password system. The hard drive only runs at 5400 rpm, but it was very quick and responsive on just about any test I could throw at it. My regular laptop is limited to USB 2.0, so unless I do a large file transfer from my Chromebook, transfer speeds remain limited for me. 

Still, the hard drive is whisper quiet and the brushed aluminum is quite beautiful. The hard drive works with both stand microUSB cords and the SS USB that comes with the hard drive. It also has a three years warranty, far more than I would expect. One thing I would have liked to have seen, not just with this hard drive, but in general for portable hard drives, is a case included. Unless you need gobs of space, this hard drive will suit most average consumers quite well. However, for about $20 more than the standard price you can get a 1 TB version that's a little thicker.

The Good: Solidly built, fast, affordable, works with both regular and SS USB cords, very small and slim.

The Bad: Nothing outside of wanting a case included.

Final Grade: A+

Sol Republic Tracks HD V10 - $77 ($37 - my cost)

Sol Republic is one of those companies I'd been curious to check out for a while now. I had the opportunity recently with these headphones that were dramatically marked down in price. Sol Republic, for those that don't know, was co-founded by Kevin Lee who had a hand in the creation of Beats.

Thankfully, these headphones sound nothing like the bass-heavy Beats. Instead, they very balanced with a bit more towards the mids. Still, both bass and high response is very good. I found the presentation very nice with the packaging. Once I opened the box, I found the headphones are actually the earpieces with an interchangeable vinyl band. Vinyl being the same material in my Philips O'Neill headphones make the band virtually unbreakable. The wires individually hooked up to the earpieces and are designed to break away rather than damage the surprisingly tough cord.

The headphones themselves are actually quite beautiful with metal casing for the earpieces. It also has a three button remote built-in to the cord, but sadly only the Pause/Play button worked for my Android devices. Also, since the earpieces are on-ear rather than around ear, they get uncomfortable after a while and adjusting the band to a comfortable setting takes some work. I found the carrying case cheap, being comprised of loose neoprene. A few issues aside, they are a good set of headphones worth purchasing.

The Good: Very good sound, interchangeable and indestructible headband, breakaway cord, three button remote on cord, beautiful appearance.

The Bad: Somewhat uncomfortable, flimsy carrying case, limited remote use for Android.

Final Grade: A-

Motorola Buds - $70 ($46 - my cost)

Bluetooth headphones should be a true wireless solution to music listening. However, this does not seem to be the case with the ones I have encountered. The Motorola Buds have a unique design of highly adjustable earbuds with cords that travel down to a U-shaped area where the battery resides. Motorola claims 10 hour battery life with these and I'll take their word for it. 

The Buds have very clear quality for Bluetooth headphones which others tend to sound fuzzy in my opinion. The issue I had was the volume never got loud enough, even at max. Earbuds are generally inferior to your average pair of on-ear or over-the-ear headphones, but these lack in volume even to my Logitech earbuds. 

Outside of that, I had no problems pairing them up to any devices I own. The magnets at the end of the U base hold the earbuds, which is a nice touch to prevent tangling, but a carrying case would have been better. 

The Good: Good battery life, clear sound, magnetic bits to hold the headphones.

The Bad: Very weak volume, no carrying case.

Final Grade: C-

That's it for now. I've got reviews for the Pressy and Martian Notifier in the near future. Till next time...