Creative Sound Blaster Roar Review

Creative LogoWhile everyone’s eyes have been on drones, portable Bluetooth speakers have been the sleeper hit of the past few years. From low-fi to hi-fi and prices to match, there’s a speaker for everyone. On review here is Creative’s Sound Blaster Roar, a compact portable Bluetooth wireless speaker with NFC, though this description sells it short by a long way. Let’s take a look.

To start with, the SoundBlaster Roar is about the size of four DVD boxes stacked on top of each other, though it’s a bit narrower (57 x 202 x 115 mm). It’s no lightweight either with a bit of mass (1.1 kg), which is reassuring when it comes speakers. There’s metal mesh on four sides and a swathe of controls, slots and sockets on the fifth with soft touch rubber which spills over onto the top. The design itself won a Red Dot Award in 2014.

Creative Roar

Some of the controls are self-evident such as the power button and volume controls, but it’s not immediately apparent why there are buttons for record, play and pause. Even more surprising and concerning is the switch marked “ARM”, which fortunately is in the off position for now.

The Roar is much more than a Bluetooth wireless speaker. It’s a hands-free speaker phone, a USB digital sound card, an MP3 player, an audio recorder, microSD card reader, a battery pack and a siren. It’s quite the box of tricks with versatility to take it from the office to the party.

Powering up the Roar plays a satisfying little jingle – it’s on and ready to rock. Starting with the basics and playing music from a smartphone, it’s straightforward to pair the Roar, with a choice of two techniques. Pair via the normal Bluetooth passcode or else swipe the NFC hotspot on the Roar to automatically set the pairing, assuming your device has NFC.

With the pairing done, it’s time to play some music. Given Creative’s long history in audio, it’s not unsurprising that the Roar sounds good. For it’s size, it’s very good indeed which rich sound that’s far bigger than the box itself. To achieve this presence, the Roar houses five speakers in the unit’s body, with sets of speakers tuned to deliver in the bass, mid and high frequency ranges. For extra volume, the ROAR button will turn it up to eleven, through it needs to be plugged into the mains to get maximum volume output.

The Roar is a portable speaker and as a necessity there’s a built-in battery that according the specs gives eight hours of playback. I’m not going to disagree with that – it’s in the right space. The Roar can be recharged either from a supplied power brick or via micro-USB through a port on the rear. There’s a full size USB port too for recharging other devices such as smartphones and tablets from the Roar. Battery status is shown by three round green LEDs on the top.

That’s the main presentation out of the way and if that’s all that’s needed from a portable wireless speaker, the Roar delivers well and is worthy of closer inspection.

Creative Roar

But it’s so much more. As the speaker pairs with smartphones via Bluetooth, it’s not entirely unexpected that Roar doubles up as a speakerphone. In use, call quality was good and echo was minimal, and unlike most speakerphones, the audio from the phone call can be recorded to the inserted microSD card. Potentially a useful feature, but check the legality of recording conversations in the relevant jurisdiction.

The Roar works as a USB audio device too, and installation is largely limited to plugging a USB cable between the PC and Roar. Windows auto-loads the drivers and a few seconds later, the Roar is good to go to play music (and other sounds) from the PC. In this mode, the Roar is powered by the PC and the battery charges up as well. The Roar complements music streaming services such as Spotify or Google Music.

Next up, the Creative Roar can work as a standalone music speaker. Load up a microSD card with mp3s and pop it into the Roar. There are simple controls for play, next track, previous track, repeat and shuffle.

Finally, returning to the ARM button, the Roar has a siren feature. Arm the unit with the switch at the top and press the Alarm button to get a whoop-whoop siren to get everyone’s attention. What more could you want?

Overall this a portable wireless speaker that is crammed full of features and the Roar is everything you need for music on the go, in the office or at home. It’s a great sounding wireless Bluetooth speaker, speakerphone, call recorder, MP3 player, USB digital sound card, battery pack and personal alarm in a portable package costing GB£129. There’s nothing to quibble about here, though I’d really like to see it in yellow. Available now from good retailers and direct from Creative’s store.

Thanks to Creative for the loan of the Roar.

Divoom Airbeat-10 Bluetooth Speaker Review

Divoom LogoIt’s rare that products sent for review offer any great surprises: usually gadgets arriving on my desk meet my expectations in terms of build, functionality and price. However, occasionally a device delivers more than expected and I’m pleased to say that this is one such occasion. The Divoom Airbeat-10 punches well above its weight with loudness and clarity that belies its diminutive size. Sorry if this ruined the review but let’s take a look anyway.

The Divoom Airbeat-10 is portable Bluetooth speaker with speakerphone. It’s splashproof and comes with a suction cup and bike mount, though Airboot is just as happy to sit on the table or hang from a hook. A USB to micro-USB cable is included for charging and a 3.5 mm stereo lead comes in the box for devices without Bluetooth.

Airbeat-10 Contents

The Airbeat-10 is about 9 cm along the sides and around 4.5 cm tall. Covered in a soft touch rubber, it’s available in four colours; black, white, red and blue. An LED on the top lights up to show Bluetooth and charging activity, on the side there are four buttons for power, phone functions and volume up/down, along with a covered port for USB charging and 3.5 mm aux in. On the back of the Airbeat is a standard camera screw mount which is used for the suction cup and bike attachment but can be used with other camera accessories such as a GorillaPod. The Airbeat 10 weighs in at 155 g, meaning that it’s not hollow plastic.

Airbeat-10 Buttons

Pairing is straightforward. Turn the Airbeat-10 on, search from the Bluetooth settings on the phone or tablet and pair up. Easy-peasy and time to make some noise.

And this is where the Airbeat-10 delivered well beyond my expectation – it produced rich and surprisingly loud sound for such a small device. Certainly it’s not audiophile hi-fi and it’s not stereo but for a pocket-sized portable device the Airbeat-10 is very good indeed. Music comes across well through the range with little of the tinniness normally associated with small lightweight devices and good amount of lower end bass.

Airbeat Speaker with SuckerI had the Airbeat on my desk for the review period and it was great to have it handy for a quick listen for both music and podcasts. It’s portability and wireless connectivity meant that I could move it round my desk as I needed space. Battery life is a claimed six hours and that seems about right – I found that I needed to charge the Airbeat-10 once or twice a week depending on usage.

The Airbeat-10 is splashproof as well and with the suction mount, it’s ideal for use in the shower. I whacked it onto the tiles with the sucker, started the radio app before stepping in and listened to the morning news in the shower without getting my smartphone wet. Excellent.

There are three minor issues that I found with the Airbeat. First, when using it as a speakerphone, the microphone on the side needed to be pointing at the speaker otherwise the caller on the other end of the line didn’t hear too well. The second was that sometimes “silence detection” seemed to be overly aggressive and between music tracks or between people talking in podcasts, the Airbeat would go silent (presumably to save power) but then there would be a small pop as the sound restarted and the first half-second of speech or music would be lost. Adjusting the volume upwards on the smartphone or tablet usually helped. Finally, the soft touch rubber coating was a bit of a fluff magnet!

These niggles aside, I was impressed by the Divoom Airbeat-10. Although small, the quality of the sound and volume is better than anything I’ve heard at this size, and the portability and wireless connectivity make it the perfect casual speaker whether in the office, in the shower or out-and-about. At this time of year, I’d recommend it to the music Festival crowd and later in the year I’d be suggesting it as a great stocking-filler.

The Divoom Airbeat-10 is available from retailers worldwide with an RRP of £29.99 in the UK.

Thanks to Divoom for the Airbeat-10 for review.

Azoi Kito Health Tracker at Gadget Show Live

KitoFor me, the Azoi Kito and HP Sprout were the stand out attractions from Gadget Show Live. The Kito is a health tracker disguised as a smartphone sleeve that measures five health stats; heart rate, ECG, temperature, blood oxygen and respiration rate. The Kito can also measure blood pressure but that’s not yet approved.

Previously known as Wello, the Kito is insanely easy to use. Simply hold Kito in both hands (like a Nintendo DS) for a few seconds to take a reading and then the measurements will be transmitted via Bluetooth 4 LE to nearby smartphone. Both Android and iOS is supported, and Kito is available as a case for the iPhone 5/5s and as a standalone unit for use with all other supported phones.

Kito

Expected to come to the UK market at around £150, I think this is a no brainer for anyone who has a chronic condition or for a family who want to track their health on a regular basis and it’s so easy to use. To learn more, listen to my interview with Hammish Patel, Azoi CEO.

Otone Audio at Gadget Show Live

Otone AudioManchester-based Otone Audio might only be a few years old but they’ve been busy producing a neat range of audio products from soundbars and headphones to speakers and digital radios. It’s impressive what they’ve achieved in such a short period of time.

At Gadget Show Live, Otone demonstrated a selection from their line-up including the BluWall speakers and the BluMotion radio (lower shelf) plus the Blufiniti and SoundBase II soundbar (upper shelf). It’s hard to get a good listen in the hustle of a trade show but initial impressions were good.

Otone Audio

The Blufiniti portable Bluetooth speaker comes in a range of colours and is priced at £49.99. To learn more, listen to my interview with Shruti from Otone (sorry about the background noise from a neighbouring stand.)

London Tube Testing Bluetooth Beacons for Visually Impaired Passengers

Underground logoTechnology has come a long way in improving many aspects of our day-to-day lives. But we’ve become so used to being surrounded by sensors, screens and other devices that in many cases, we take them all for granted. That’s why regular passengers on the London Underground may not have noticed a special series of Bluetooth beacons placed along specific paths of select Tube stations.

These beacons are being used to test a new system that would help visually impaired passengers gain more independence when using the Underground. From the BBC:

Members of the Youth Forum of the Royal London Society for Blind People (RLSB) said they wanted to navigate the tube system independently.

Currently most have to rely on friends to help them get used to familiar routes or phone ahead to request assistance from London Underground staff. Many do not feel confident about using the whole network.

The beacon system was created with the help of a digital design group called ustwo. The beacons use Bluetooth to send audible signals to smartphones and other mobile devices. Passengers who have their devices set to pick up those signals will hear specific directions that guide them throughout Tube stations, allowing them to reach their destinations without the aid of another person.

[Read more…]

Denon Innovates Presentations with Kudo at CES

Denon logoWe’ve all heard the horror stories of presenters who showed up to a location only to find that the venue’s in-house presentation system isn’t compatible with whatever gear they’ve brought with them. Usually, a combination of NASA-like engineering and prayer follows and eventually, the presenter’s device is made to work with the venue’s A/V system. Denon’s new Kudo presentation device should make these kinds of nightmare scenarios a thing of the past.

Nick and Jamie met with Eric from Denon. Eric showed off the new Denon Kudo, a portable device that will hopefully be found soon in every conference room or meeting hall with a projector. Kudo takes a number of different inputs: USB, HDMI, LAN, WiFi, bluetooth, micro SD, AirPlay, MirrorCast and DLNA. It then takes that input signal and outputs it in glorious 4K to any projector or other A/V device. Kudo is platform agnostic, so it fully supports the bring-your-own-device movement. Got an iPad or Android phone? Mac or Windows laptop? No problem. Kudo works with all of them.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly and Nick DiMeo of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology. For the Tech PodCasts Network.

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Monitor Tyre Pressures with FOBO Tire

Fobo LogoIn-car tyre pressure monitoring is a valuable safety tool, alerting the driver to a potential problem as soon as the pressure drops. Depending on the cost of the car, the alert can be a single red warning light on the dash through to wheel-by-wheel pressure levels. Usually the feature has to be installed by the manufacturer but Fobo Tire is an after-market solution that can be easily fitted to any vehicle, both cars and bikes. Jamie and Nick take to the road with Kevin Tan from Fobo.

Fobo Tire is Bluetooth-based tyre pressure monitoring system, consisting of four sensors that screw onto the tyre’s pressure valve, replacing the dust caps. The sensors transmit data via Bluetooth both to a small monitoring unit that can remain in the vehicle and also to the owner’s smartphone or tablet. The smartphone app works with both iOS and Android, and the app can track up to 19 cars (4 x 19 sensors), so it’s good for multi-car families or small business.

Fobo Tire costs $179 for four sensors and the in-car monitoring unit, and Fobo Bike is $79 for only two sensors. Available now from Fobo’s on-line store.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly and Nick DiMeo of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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Massive Audio Dr Who Bluetooth Speakers

Massive Audio LogoTom Baker will always by my Doctor with his long scarf and robotic K-9 companion. I haven’t really followed the recent successful re-invention of Dr Who but the Tardis and the Daleks will forever be part of my childhood. For fans of the show, the folks at Massive Audio now have a range of Dr Who Bluetooth speakers. Jamie and Nick get Whovian with Jeremy Larsson from Massive Audio.

Officially licensed from the BBC, the range includes a Tardis and two Dalek models, which have sound effects and flashing lights for extra fun. There’s a ten hour rechargeable battery and the unit can act as a speakerphone with a noise cancelling microphone.

The Tardis and Dalek Sec are currently on pre-order for $119 and the Assault Dalek is $149. The initial stock run sold out so the next batch is expected in March.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly and Nick DiMeo of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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aiFi is a Stackable, Configurable Speaker System at CES

Aifi logoWith the invention of portable media players and earbuds, music listening moved from an inherently social event to an isolated experience. The problem has only been exacerbated over time, as boomboxes and portable stereo systems have fallen out of favor with consumers. aiFi is a new speaker system that’s looking to bring music back out into the open.

Scott met with Fredrik from aiFi. Fredrik explained that aiFi is a unique speaker system that can be used in multiple ways. One aiFi speaker works just fine on its own. But when it’s stacked with another aiFi speaker or setup with two or more other aiFi’s, the speakers will configure themselves, depending on the location of each aiFi. For example, stacking two aiFi’s will increase the bass response of each unit. Or, three aiFi’s could be placed together to create a sound-bar system for TV viewing. aiFi speakers accept input thru either bluetooth, optical line-in or standard audio line-in, so these speakers can be used with nearly any type of sound source.

Interview by Scott of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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Altec Lansing Brings new Waterproof Speakers to CES

Altec logo

Electronics and water. Two things that just don’t go well together. And while it’s easy enough to keep your electronics dry at home, what about those times when you’d like to play some music or listen to a podcast at the beach or next to a swimming pool? Altec Lansing has a new line of waterproof bluetooth speakers that you can use virtually anywhere.

Scott had a chat with Jill from Altec Lansing. Jill showed off an impressive array of products from the company’s “jacket” line. Starting wit the Mini h2o Jacket ($39.99) going all the way up to the Boom Jacket ($199.99), these speakers are wireless, waterproof and highly durable. All of these speakers are also designed to float, so no worries if they’re dropped into the ocean or knocked into a pool. Altec Lansing even put these speakers thru a series of tests, including fire and bullets. And each time, the speakers came thru, still working as expected.

Interview by Scott of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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