Saturday, March 1, 2014

Rapid Review vol. 3

Time for another dose of shortness. I've picked up several goodies over the course of the last few months and here are a few of the gems I found.

Philips BR-1X - $79

Introduced at CES 2014, this new Bluetooth speaker from Philips caught my eye at Target. The main reason it caught my eye was the two inch drivers as opposed to the normal one inch drivers for a speaker at this cost. Pulling the speaker out of the box, I was surprised by how huge and heavy it is. This thing is built tough, though not waterproof or indestructible by any means. The rubber housing is actually a case that can be removed if you wish, but I don't recommend it.

The front has volume controls and the power button. When the power button is pressed the speaker automatically goes into pairing mode, bypassing the need for any Bluetooth button. Also on the front are IN and Out 3.5 mm jacks because the speaker can be daisy-chained. The back has both a proprietary charger and microUSB port, which drew me to the speaker since this was unique and a first I'd ever seen. Also on the back are a Bluetooth history deleting button and an Outdoor/Indoor button (more on that next).

So how does it sound? Pretty good with an exception. First, this speaker is insanely loud for its size. I was thrown off by how loud it is. The clarity of the sound depends on the Outdoor/Indoor button. For indoor settings, the bass is solid and the clarity very good. The outdoor mode reduces bass with boosted treble to increase volume. The result is only so good to a point. After 80% volume, sound becomes scratchy and distorted. 

Battery life is rated at about 6 hours, which is about average for its class. One odd thing, all the pictures show my model with yellow speaker grills, but mine are black. Nothing important and I prefer them black anyway. Overall, I'm very pleased with this speaker. It matches value for performance.

The Good: Rugged design, powerfully loud sound, great clarity in indoor mode, can be charged by two different types of charger, great price.

The Bad: Outdoor mode distorts badly at high volumes.

Final Grade: A

Philips SBT10 - $30 ($20 - my cost)

I bought this little Bluetooth speaker on Black Friday and it's been in my sling bag since then. I've only used it couple of times, but its not a bad little thing. Size wise, it's thicker than my Nexus 5, but the other dimensions are smaller. It can basically fit in the palm of your hand or the back of your pocket. Inside the box is the instructions and a charging cable, nothing more.

For such a small speaker, it's pretty feature packed. On the top you've got a Play/Pause/Answer button, power button, and mute button. The bottom of the device has an Aux port for running the sound wired and a micro-USB port which is an necessity for any accessory purchases I make in order to maintain charging on the go. It also rubber stops on the bottom and back of the device so you can choose how you want to set it up. 

Pairing with the device was relatively painless, but it took a couple tries for my phone to find it. Afterwards though things were fine. The sound of the device is very good and clear. Bass is lacking, but for a device of this size I'm not going to knock it much. Amazingly, even at max volume, the speaker doesn't distort. It maintains clear sound even at max. However, it will only fill a small room. This isn't a sharing type speaker, more of a personal one. 

The battery is rated for eight hours which is pretty solid given its size. Overall, I would recommend this speaker for anyone on the go that just wants to have some louder music or even do a speakerphone call. However, don't look to this one to be a party speaker. The speaker can be purchased at Wal-Mart or Target. 

The Good: Very cheap, clear sound even at high volumes, excellent battery life, micro-USB charging, speakerphone capability is a bonus for its size, very compact.

The Bad: Weak bass, designed for a small room or personal use only.

Final Grade: A  

SanDisk Ultra Dual Drive 32GB - $59 ($29 - my cost)

These next two entries are actually two different solutions to the same problem: adding storage to cell phones and tablets on the fly. The Dual Drive works like a basic flash drive on one end, simply hooking it up to the computer. On the opposite side of the drive is a micro-USB output for connecting to your cell phone or tablet. 

Now there are some caveats. The device you are going to connect it to has to have USB-on-the-go or USB-OTG for short. A great deal of Android devices have this nowadays. My LG Nexus 5 has it, along with just about every recent Samsung and Motorola phone. Most tablets have it as well. 

I didn't have any issues getting the system to work for both my new Nexus 7 and Nexus 5, but the device only uses USB 2.0 instead of the newer 3.0 format. While I lack any 3.0 ports on my basic laptop, my Chromebook does support it. This leads to long transfers of large files or clusters of files. It also lessens any futureproof capabilities. I found the cost prohibitive as well. I managed to get the device on sale for about $30, but off sale at twice that is too much.

The concept of the Dual Drive is an interesting one, but limited in its scope. If you can find one on sale for what I paid, it's a decent deal, but any more than that and it's not worth it. You're better off using my next entry. 

The Good: Simple to use, variable storage options from 16 GB to 64 GB, compact.

The Bad: Only uses USB 2.0, costly when not on sale.

Final Grade: B-

Meenova MicroSD Card Reader - $12

My second foray into Kickstarter was this little gem. Like the Dual Drive above, the Meenova MicroSD Card Reader aims to assist with USB-OTG support without the need for a separate cord. Where it trumps the Dual Drive is flexibility. 

Smaller than the size of a quarter, the Meenova doesn't have its own storage. Instead, you supplement a MicroSD card and plug it in. This is very useful since you can choose what size you want to use and in the end, it will cost far less than the Dual Drive even with the cost of storage. 

The package contains the reader, along with a keychain attachment and adapter to connect it directly to a computer. Pulling off the cap and plugging the device into your phone or tablet, you'll see a blue LED light up letting you know your device is compatible. Some people don't like this, but I find it useful. My Nexus 5 is compatible, but my Nexus 4 wasn't and this let me know without scouring the web to find out why.

Overall, it's definitely worth it if you need to expand storage like with my Nexus phones that lack MicroSD card slots, but does just fine even with devices that do have one. Having the storage available on a keychain is a huge boon and I think this is probably the best solution to the expansion problem of devices. It's obviously not going to work on Apple devices and only uses USB 2.0, but it's an acceptable compromise given its cost.

The Good: Very cheap, LED indicator to help determine compatibility, keychain and adapter are great for the package, lots of potential and futureproofing thanks to using MicroSD as opposed to static flash.

The Bad: USB 2.0 only might be a drawback.

Final Grade: A+

That's it for this round. I'll be back with another Rapid Review when I find some more goodies out there in the world.