Category Archives: Bluetooth

iClever Wireless Speaker Review



iClever LogoDesigning out the headphone jack on the iPhone was a brave move by Apple but the price of both Bluetooth headphones and speakers have fallen to the level of an impulse buy. Consequently the change isn’t quite as costly as it would have been a few years ago. Naturally audiophiles may disagree on audio quality grounds. Still, anyone with a Bluetooth equipped smartphone might be interested in this compact portable speaker for music on the go.

On review here is the iClever Wireless Speaker (IC-BTS04). It’s shaped like a small brick measuring 16.2 cm by 6.2 cm by 2.8 cm and weighs a little over 250g. Consequently, the BTS04 can be conveniently slipped into a cargo pocket or a backpack for travel. Unlike some of the more brightly coloured competitors, this speaker goes for understated black plastic and dark grey metal. It certainly doesn’t shout “look at me!”

iClever Wireless Speaker

Along the top there are five buttons for controlling music and managing calls. Round the side is the microUSB charging port and audio input socket, both covered by a rubber flap. There’s some nice details to the speaker, with small hex screws on the metal grilles.

In the box there’s the speaker itself, a carry strap, a 3.5 mm audio cable, USB charging cable and the usual assortment of instructions, guarantees and happy sheets.

iClever Wireless Speaker

Getting started is easy once you figure out which is the power button. Oddly it’s marked with a “minus” sign rather than the usual circle and bar but once that’s pressed for a few seconds, the BTS04 powers up and the LED on the middle multifunction button starts flashing for pairing mode. After that it’s the normal process which ends with a voice announcing “Connected” and the blue LED on the button going solid.

With music playing, the buttons work as expected. Play / pause, next track, previous track. For volume control, the two track buttons are used with long presses: to start with I found this a little fiddly and jumped tracks instead of adjusting the volume but I got the hang of it. In terms of loudness, it’s surprisingly loud for a pair of 5W speakers. It has little sticky feet on the bottom which keep it still on smooth surfaces, otherwise it would vibrate its way across the table at full volume. While the sound quality isn’t going worry Sonos or Bose, it’s fine for a some casual listening in the office.

The BTS04 works as a speakerphone too. When a call comes into the smartphone, pressing the middle multifunction button pauses the music and connects the caller. Pressing the button again drops the call. Don’t want to take the call at all? Long press the multifunction button.

iClever Wireless Speaker

Battery life is rated at 10 hours which sounds about right as I got more than a working day of tunes. The multifunction button glows red during charging or if the battery power gets low.

If I’m being honest, the iClever speaker doesn’t have a single standout feature, but it is a neat assembly of features that won’t disappoint – solidly made, reasonably loud, decent sound, blends in, doubles as speakerphone. Priced at US$27.99 or GB£24.99, it’s a perfect Christmas present for someone who prefers something discrete. I suspect teens and tweens would want something more colourful.

Thanks to iClever for providing the IC-BTS04 for review.


Bluetooth Versus Wired



Coloud The Snap Active EarbudsFor some months now, persistent rumors have been flying that the next iPhone will do away with the 3.5mm wired headset port. There have been plenty of people arguing both against and for this idea. Some people say that the demise of the wired headset port is inevitable.

As an over-the-road truck driver, I’ve been using Bluetooth devices for years. To be perfectly honest, the majority of Bluetooth headsets suck, regardless of price. They typically suffer from poor audio quality, especially those intended for phone calls.
I have yet to find a Bluetooth microphone that produces anything approaching acceptable quality for anything other than phone calls.

Bluetooth stereo is great for certain uses, such as in the car or for use with certain Bluetooth speakers intended for casual listening.

With this in mind, let’s examine how a smartphone would work without a 3.5mm wired jack for the way people use these devices today.

I see plenty of people using wired headsets, day in and day out. That tells me that, unlike the floppy drive, which was dropped because most software was being shipped on CD-ROM’s, the wired 3.5mm headphone jack is NOT obsolete. The 3.5mm headphone jack is NOT falling into disuse. There are still millions and millions of people using wired headsets with their smartphones on a constant basis. Wired headset use is NOT dropping off.

Modern smartphones are also extremely good high-definition video cameras. While they have built-in microphones, because of the 3.5mm headphone jack it is also possible to plug in a wired microphone. Wired microphones on traditional consumer camcorders have either been absent or an option for costlier prosumer models. Take the 3.5mm wired headphone jack away and the option of plugging in a superior wired microphone goes away with it.

If Apple takes the 3.5mm wired headphone jack away, it doesn’t matter to me, because I don’t have an iPhone and don’t want one. There will be plenty of remaining Android models to choose from that keep their senses.

In fact, there have already been Android smartphones available on the market that leave out the 3.5mm wired headphone jacks. The Chinese company LeEco released three jack-less phones in April of this year. Ever heard of them? Me neither, until I did a search. I don’t get the impression they are burning down the barn with popularity.

I make extensive use of Bluetooth as well as the 3.5mm jack on my phone. I will never buy a phone that doesn’t offer a 3.5mm jack any more than I would buy a phone that doesn’t offer Bluetooth or WiFi.


iClever Outdoor Wireless Speaker Review



iClever LogoOn review here is the iClever Outdoor Wireless Speaker IC-BTS03. It’s an IP65 water resistant Bluetooth speaker with a 10 hour playtime. Perfect for outdoor tunes! Let’s take a look.

The iClever Speaker is a orange and black cuboid with speaker grilles on two sides, controls on the top, inputs on one side and a camera mount on the bottom with a rubber carrying strap on one corner. Roughly, 10 x 9 x 5 cm, there’s a bit of a ruggedness to the speaker too with a rubberised exterior and informal drop tests show that it’ll stand up to the odd accident. IP65 specifies that the speaker is totally protected against dust (6) and it’s sealed against low pressure water (5). Basically, it means that it’s ok to get splashed or dropped in shallow water.

iClever Wireless Outdoor Speaker

In the cardboard box, there’s the speaker, a USB-to-microUSB cable, a 3.5mm-to-3.5mm jack cable and instructions. The USB cable is used for charging only and can’t be used to play music from a PC or laptop. Both the microUSB charging port and the aux in socket are under a rubber flap that needs to be peeled away to get access. iClever Wireless Outdoor SpeakerWhen charging, the sole LED on the front will light up red and it’s green when the aux socket is in use.

Across the top, the controls are straightforward – power, volume down, play/pause/answer, volume up. When turned on, the BTS03 is straight into pairing mode with the LED flashing blue. A voice helpfully intones, “Power on. Pairing”. You can then connect to the speaker in the normal way, receiving “Connected” when done and the LED goes a solid blue. As a bonus, the iClever can work as a speakerphone too – it’s kind of fun (or bonkers) if you are with a group of friends.

On the bottom, there’s a standard camera screw fitting which makes it compatible with a wide range of mounting accessories.

iClever Wireless Outdoor SpeakerThat’s the physical out of the way. What does it sound like? Well, if you are expecting this to sound like a $500 Sonos, then you are going to be disappointed. If you expect it to be a $30 5W portable speaker weighing less than 300g that you can throw into a bag for a day at the beach, you’re going to be happy enough. The sound is clear, with vocals coming across well. As you’d expect, the bass is under-represented but crank up the volume and there’s a fair beat. It’s not massively loud but it fills a room well enough.

Overall the iClever Outlook Wireless Speaker ticks all the boxes for an outdoor speaker. Semi-rugged, long battery life, splashproof and reasonably loud. It’s available now from Amazon.com (US$30) and Amazon.co.uk for GB£17.

Thanks to iClever for the review unit. Unboxing below.


iClever Tri-Folding Bluetooth Keyboard Review



iClever LogoI’ve always had a soft spot for folding keyboards, starting with the Palm Portable Keyboard from over fifteen years ago. On review here is the iClever Tri-folding Bluetooth Keyboard (IC-BK05), which brings the folding keyboard up-to-date with wireless connectivity and funky LED backlights. Let’s take a look.

iClever Folding Keyboard Folded

The keyboard comes in a small cardboard box with the iClever keyboard itself, a USB to microUSB cable, a cloth carrying bag and instructions. The keyboard’s dimensions unfolded are 29.1 x 11.7 x 0.8 cm and 16.6 x 12.0 x 1.5 cm when folded. The back or outer shell of the keyboard is metal, so it’s well protected when all closed up, and there are some magnetic catches to keep the keyboard close up. Unfolded, the keyboard feels a little flimsy in the hand, but once it’s on a firm surface with the two outer rests flipped down, the keyboard is solid enough. The iClever Folding Keyboard’s hinge mechanism is on display and looks neat, while also being part of the support for the keyboard.

iClever Folding Keyboard Unfolded

The IC-BK05 has a couple of notable features. First, it works with Android, iOS and Windows. Second, it connects both with Bluetooth and USB. Finally, it has coloured LED key backlights which can be cycled through red, green and blue. The keys are chiclet style with five rows of full size keys and a small sixth set of function keys across the top.

iClever Folding Keyboard HingeThe function keys provide a range of additional functions such as Home, Search, Cut, Copy, Paste, Play/Pause and so on. There’s some variation depending on what OS is in use but I found it handy to have a Home key with Android tablets.

The keyboard can be connected to two devices at the same time, though one has to wired via USB and the other wirelessly via Bluetooth. I’m typing this via a wired connection to a Windows 10 laptop but can switch back to my Nexus 9 with a quick function key.

The IC-BK05 turns on automatically when the keyboard is unfolded. Battery-life is a claimed 300 hours without backlight, but reduces to only 5 hours when the lights are on. The lights have two levels of brightness but I never typed long enough to find out if the estimate is correct. As expected, the keyboard is charged via the USB port.

iClever Folding KeyboardI used the iClever Folding Keyboard wirelessly with my Nexus 9 over a couple days to write a few articles for Geek News Central and found it very productive. I can touch-type and didn’t have any difficulty getting used to the spacing for the vast majority of the keys and everything was where it should have been on the keyboard. It’s worth noting that this is US (not UK keyboard) layout, so there’s no £ sign and @ is where ” normally is. Obviously the lettering on the keys can be overridden in the layout settings but it’s worth pointing out.

I only had one minor problem with the keyboard and that was with a couple of plastic covers on the hinges which had a tendency to pop off when pulling the keyboard out of the drawstring bag. The covers were easily popped back in and I suspect a drop of glue would keep them in place.

Overall, I liked iClever Tri-folding Bluetooth Keyboard and its definitely worth getting this or a similar keyboard if you are going to be doing lots of typing on a tablet. Priced at around GB£35 or US$55, it’s also worth considering non-backlight version (IC-BK03) which will save £10 / $20. The keyboard is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Unboxing video below.

Thanks to iClever for the review unit.

 


Playbrush Brings Fun to Toothbrushing at Gadget Show Live



Playbrush LogoGood oral hygiene is important for everyone but getting children to brush their teeth can be a bedtime battle. Playbrush should help win the war, bringing fun into the bathroom. I get the toothpaste out with John to find out more about Playbrush and continue coverage of the British Inventors’ Project.

The Playbrush is small bulbous gadget that slips over the handle of a manual toothbrush and turns the toothbrush into a game controller. Communicating via Bluetooth, the toothbrusher plays a game “Utoothia” on their tablet or smartphone, encouraging correct brushing technique and duration. The Playbrush can be shared among a family with game apps supporting up to six people. It’s rechargeable and will last around four-to-six weeks on single charge, depending on use. The games are in both the Apple and Google app stores.

Playbrush with app

Originally a Kickstarter Project, the Playbrush launched back in November and is available now from the Playbrush store for GB£31 (says the store). There’s a bathroom kit for an extra £8 which is a vinyl pocket to hold the smartphone during brushing and keep it toothpaste free. It sticks to tiles or a mirror using suction cups.

I think this is neatly executed idea that’s very affordable, especially as it can be shared with more than one child, though I think Playbrush need a neutral colour that’s not blue or pink!


Chipolo Tracker at Wearable Tech Show



ChipoloThe Bluetooth tracker tag market is busy at the moment with several players making a name for themselves. Into the fray steps Chipolo, another ex-Kickstarter project, with their colourful tags. Andrew asks Nika and Katja what makes Chipolo different?

Much like other tracker tags, the Chipolo tag is paired with a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth LE. The Chipolo item finder app keeps track of where and when the phone was last in touch with the tag. If you can’t find the tag, but it’s in range, the tag can ring to help you find it. The reverse is true too. Shake the tag and your phone will ring.

The Chipolo works as a remote camera shutter button too, so it’s easier to take group shots with everyone in the picture. Set the smartphone app, shake the Chipolo and snap the shot.

The Chipolo app is available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone, and it’s good to see Windows being supported. On sale now, a single Chipolo tags costs 24.99 € (GB£19.99) though four tags is 89.99 €.

Chipolo


Product Review: 1byone Outdoor/Shower Bluetooth Speaker



1byone logoIt’s a basic rule of safety when using personal electronics: water and electricity don’t mix. It’s super important to take caution when using electronic devices in bathrooms or outdoor environments. Fortunately, there are products that are designed specifically to be used in these situations. With this in mind, I was given a new 1byone Outdoor Sports & Shower 4.0 Bluetooth Speaker to test out and review.

1byone Bluetooth speaker box
1byone Bluetooth speaker box
1byone Bluetooth speaker unboxing
1byone Bluetooth speaker unboxing
1byone Bluetooth speaker unboxing
1byone Bluetooth speaker unboxing
1byone Bluetooth speaker unboxing
1byone Bluetooth speaker unboxing

The speaker comes with a user manual, a hook for hanging the speaker and a USB cable for charging and connecting to a computer. Using the speaker is pretty straightforward. Hold down the power button and when the speaker powers on, a voice prompt lets you know if the device is connected to an external sound source, either via Bluetooth or USB. Pairing the speaker to my iPad worked flawlessly, triggering another voice prompt from the speaker indicating that it was connected via Bluetooth.

I tested the Bluetooth speaker by sending spoken-word audio from a couple of different podcast apps. The connection worked but it had some issues. By nature, spoken-word audio has some gaps of silence. And when the podcasts I was playing would have a moment or two of silence, the audio stream would cut out and “skip” to the next portion with audible speaking. This made it difficult to listen to spoken-word audio via the Bluetooth speaker. (For the sake of troubleshooting, I tried a couple of different podcast apps and two different Bluetooth devices but the problem never went away.)

I also tested the Bluetooth speaker by playing some music (most likely what the speaker is designed for) and in that case, it operated as expected without any of the issues I experienced while listening to podcasts. I suspect the speaker itself is designed to go into some kind of “low power” mode when the incoming audio drops below a certain threshold. Thus, causing the speaker to try and “turn off” when the podcast audio reaches a silent part.

The speaker is charged over USB and it can also be connected to a computer to use as a USB speaker. When I connected the speaker to my Mac, a voice prompt announced that the device was in USB mode. But the speaker never appeared as an available sound source in my Mac’s Sound System Preferences. The speaker can also play back media from a TF/Micro SD card but I don’t have a card in this format so I can’t test that out.

The 1byone Bluetooth speaker has no display. It provides its status thru voice prompts. The device is controlled by a series of buttons on its side. This includes power on/off, play/pause, volume up/down which also doubles as track forward/backward, a “phone” button for answering/ending phone calls and a “mode reset” button. The controls are molded into the chassis of the device and they are difficult to see in low-light conditions. Having the volume and track controls be shared by the same buttons can be a bit awkward as it’s necessary to hold the buttons down to adjust volume, while pressing the buttons once will skip ahead/rewind depending on the type of app you’re using to send audio to the speaker.

1byone Bluetooth speaker controls
1byone Bluetooth speaker controls

I tested the speaker by letting it play in the shower, The speaker has more than enough volume capacity to be heard over the running water. And while I didn’t position the speaker in a place where it’d get too wet, it did get some water on it and it came thru just fine. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to fully submerge the speaker (why you’d want to do that is beyond me, anyway) but you shouldn’t have to worry about operating it in damp environments. Also, the speaker is very sturdy. It’s covered by a rubber shell that should protect it from most of the accidents that can occur in a typical day.

The 1byone Bluetooth speaker is available direct from the manufacturer for $45.99 (link above) or at a nice discount from Amazon for $19.99.


Eton Solar Powers for Good and Bad Days



Eton LogoEton‘s motto is “Empowered by nature” and in this case, it’s powered by nature too, with a full range of solar powered gear. Scott gets charged up with Sharon Cook, Eton’s VP of Marketing.

First up is the Rukus Xtreme, a solar powered Bluetooth speaker with USB charging ports. Five hours of charging gets around eight hours of playing time and with an IPX-4 rating, the Xtreme won’t mind a few splashes either. Available for US$179 (MSRP $199).

Next is the the Xtreme’s baby brother, the Rugged Rukus, which is perfect for camping or hiking weighing just a pound. Retails for US$79 (MSRP $99), it charges and plays for similar times to the bigger Xtreme and has the same IPX-4 rating.

On standby for emergencies, Eton have the Scorpion II, a “rugged, portable multi-purpose digital radio, that charges smartphones with crank power back-up and weather alert”. Think of this as being the information equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife or Gerber Multitool. You need one of these in your emergency packs and at US$50 you’d be a fool not to get one.

Finally, FRX5 is the big brother of the Scorpion II, with all the emergency features you can think of from torches to emergency beacons, am/fm radio to NOAA weather alerts and SAME regional alerts. Powered by solar, crank, rechargeable batteries or three AAAs, you can charge via USB if you need to. Perfect for the home or car at US$100 (MSRP $129).

Note Eton is known as Soulra in some countries.

Scott Ertz is a software developer and video producer at F5 Live: Refreshing Technology.

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Smart Cooking in the Kitchen with SmartyPans



Smarty Pans logoTracking nutritional information when cooking from a recipe can be difficult as it’s not as easy as looking at the back of the packet to find out how many calories are in 100g. Aside from adding up the constituent values, the cooking process can alter the composition too. If this is a familiar problem, then the Smartpans smart skillet might be the solution. Scott finds out more from Prachi Baxi, CEO and founder of Smartypans.

The solution comprises of two parts, the smart skillet and the complementary app, which communicates with the pan via Bluetooth. The clever bit is that the pan includes temperature and weight sensors, simplifying the cooking process as weights can be measured on the fly; the chef enters the food, such as chicken, into the app as it’s being added to the pan. The pan measures the weight of chicken being added, passes that to the app which then calculates calories and other nutritional information, adding that to the total for the meal.

The cooking processes can follow two different paths. The app can guide the inexperienced pot-stirrer through the recipe, directing what and when, but for the seasoned chef, the app can follow along and help out only as necessary.

With an expected retail price of US$299, the Smartypan is currently on pre-order for $209. The interview references an Indigogo campaign but that doesn’t seem to have started at time of writing.

Scott Ertz is a software developer and video producer at F5 Live: Refreshing Technology.

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Altec Lansing BoomJacket Bluetooth Speakers at 2016 CES



boomjacket-blue-front-1024x512Scott Ertz interviews Jill Byeff, marketing for Altec Lansing Speakers. They discuss Altec Lansing’s BoomJacket line of waterproof, shockproof Bluetooth speakers for active outdoor lifestyles.

The BoomJacket speaker is priced at $199.00 and is IP67-rated waterproof, sandproof, shockproof and snowproof construction. It is also floatable and submersible and has a 50 foot Bluetooth range. It has a 40 hour battery life at spoken word volume level. The BoomJacket also features a built-in universal mounting mechanism for easy attachment to equipment and structures like bikes, kayaks, jet skis, and motorcycles.

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