Category Archives: review

EarFun Go Portable Bluetooth Speaker Review



These days, listening to music is all too often a solitary affair. The earbuds are in, the playlist is loaded and it’s time to yourself. On the other hand, there are situations where the music needs to be a shared experience with friends and family: here the EarFun Go portable Bluetooth speaker can help out. Let’s take a look.

The EarFun Go is a portable Bluetooth personal speaker with 24 hour battery life and IPX7 water resistance. It’s a roughly cylindrical unit with flattish parts for the buttons along the top and the speaker grille on one side. It’s about 17 cm long and 6 cm tall. There’s a hanging loop at one end, and round the back there’s a rubber plug covering the USB C charging port and 3.5 mm aux in. Covered in a soft touch rubber coating with four little nubbin feet, the Go is black. All black.

For those uninitiated in water resistance ratings, IPX7 means that the device will survive immersion in up to 1m of water for half an hour. In reality, this means it’s perfect for pool parties or going to the beach where there is a risk the speaker’s going to take a dunk, but it’ll be fished out in fairly short order. Weighing in at 430 g, it does initially float but I get the feeling that once the air has escaped from behind the grille, it’ll be heading for Davy Jones’ locker. I’d be inclined to attach a small float to the loop for activities on open water. If you want to see the EarFun going in a bucket, check out the YouTube video.

In the box, there’s only the EarFun Go itself, a 60 cm USB C cable and instructions. What else were you expecting? Ok, a carry pouch or bag might be a handy little addition.

Pairing with a range of smartphones and tablets was faultless and once connected up, it was time to crank out the tunes.  The Go supports Bluetooth 5.0 which is in most high-end phones from 2018 onwards e.g OnePlus 6, Pixel 2, LG G7, iPhone 8. To be honest, I’ve no idea why Bluetooth 5 is better than 4…

The EarFun Go has two 6W speakers and it is surprisingly loud and clear but it’s not going to get a beach party going. Remember, it’s only a little over 6″ long. The Go is perfect for tables, sun loungers, picnics and beach towels. Audio quality is good for something this small, though it’s relatively easy to pump up the volume to distortion levels.

It is possible to pair two EarFun Gos together for wider stereo separation. I wasn’t able to try this as I only had the one speaker. Sorry.

Battery life is phenomenal. The manufacturer states “Up to 24 hour playback” and I don’t think they’re far wrong. I used the Go for over a week listening to music and podcasts for a couple of hours a day, and I still had 27% battery life remaining. Charging the battery takes about four hours from flat. I’m not going to disagree with that, either.

And for the EarFun Go’s final party tricks….there are five embossed buttons along the top: power, Bluetooth connection, multi-function, volume down, volume up. All the buttons do what’s expected of them, though the multi-function does a whole lot more. To start with, pressing the button once, twice and three times will respectively play/pause, skip forwards and skip back. Pressing the multifunction when there’s an inbound call will pick up the call, and pressing it again drops the call. And finally, holding the button down for 2 seconds will launch your digital assistant of choice, such as Alexa, and allow it to answer questions. I haven’t seen this feature before but I can see it being handy at times.

Any downsides? Well, there can be a bit of distortion at higher volumes, but my main gripe is that it’s only available in boring black. The EarFun Go deserves to be in bright colours, like red, blue and orange.

Here’s the full spec from the website
– Bluetooth Version: V5.0
– Bluetooth Profile: A2DP , AVRCP , HFP , HSP
– Transducer: 2 x 40 mm
– Output Power: 2 x 6W
– Signal-to-noise ratio: >=80dB
– Battery: 3.7V, 4400mAh
– Play Time: up to 24 hours – varies by volume level and audio content
– Charging Time: About 4 hours
– Dimensions: 58x171x62 mm
– Weight: 430 g

If the EarFun Go needs to be in your life, it’s available from both Amazon.com for US$39.99 and from Amazon.co.uk for GB£35.99. There are some special offers so check those out to save some extra cash.

Overall, the EarFun Go is a fun little portable speaker perfect for keeping you and your buddies entertained, even when it’s wet.

Disclosure: The EarFun Go portable speaker was sent to me for review at no cost.


Hidizs Sonata HD DAC Review – USB C to 3.5 mm



There’s no doubt that USB C is the new standard for smartphones, tablets and laptops and it replaces a plethora of legacy ports, including all the annoying variants of USB. In addition, USB C supports digital audio and several device manufacturers have decided to remove 3.5 mm audio sockets from their phones and tablets. Google, OnePlus, Samsung, Huawei and LG all have at least one model which only has USB C.

This is not good news if you have invested in high-end headphones or earbuds that connect via a cable. Yes, manufacturers typically include a USB C to 3.5 mm adaptor for the devices but my experience is that the sound quality isn’t that great – frankly, it’s rubbish.

Both my smartphone (OnePlus 6T) and tablet (Huawei Mediapad M5) are USB C only devices, and as an owner of some half-decent headphones, I’d been looking to improve the audio experience. I came across a recommendation for the the Hidizs Sonata HD DAC Cable II so I thought I’d try it out. I ordered via Amazon.com to be shipped to the UK, so it set me back about US$45 in total.

The Hidizs DAC comes in small zipped case typical of audio goods. Inside there’s the Sonata DAC cable itself, plus a USB A to USB C converter for use with laptops and PCs that don’t have the newer type of USB. It’s also needed for flashing the firmware, but more on this later.

First impressions are that this is a good product – the cable has lovely plaiting and the socket is metal….but we’re not here to look at the Sonata. What does it sound like?

Brilliant. The difference between the Hidizs DAC cable and the Huawei OEM one was easily noticeable. The sound was much clearer, with greater clarity and really opened up the performance.  Very impressed and would definitely recommend the Sonata if you have any kind of quality headphones. I tested with a range of headphones from Sennheiser to 1more, both over-ear and in-ear.

Using the USB A to C converter gives the benefits of the DAC over whatever penny chip was used in a PC or laptop. Windows 10 picked up the DAC on insertion and resetting the audio output to the new device yielded much better sound across the board too.

Finally, the Sonata 3.5 mm input is a TRRS type and supports headphones with a microphone, meaning you can take phone calls when you have your headphones on, as long as there’s a mic on the ‘phones. Interestingly, the firmware can be updated too and if you don’t use the phone function, the output audio quality can be enhanced further to 24bit/192kHz. I didn’t actually try to flash the firmware…

Overall, the Hidizs Sonata HD DAC Cable II is a big improvement over the cables provided in the box with smartphones and tablets sporting USB C. Recommended.

There’s more in the video below.

 


S-Charge 10,000 mAh Portable Power for Nintendo Switch Review



The Nintendo Switch is unique among the current generation of gaming devices, morphing between a console and a handheld. It’s a novel idea implemented well and a key factor in my choice to buy one for Christmas last year. For gaming on the go, the internal battery lasts a couple of hours which is usually enough for a commute, but for long journeys the Switch will need a recharge and this is where InDemand Design’s S-Charge comes in. Let’s take a look.

The S-Charge is a 10,000 mAh battery case for the Nintendo Switch that combines extra power with card storage and a multi-angle kick-stand. Originally, an Indiegogo project, the S-Charge is now available direct either from S-Charge or from Amazon for GB£65. This price includes the S-Charge itself, a carry case that takes a Switch with the S-Charge attached, a 45cm USB A to C cable and a screen protector.

The Switch slots into the S-Charge much like it slots into the standard TV dock, connecting into the lower USB C port. The Switch is retained in the S-Charge by a top hinge which rotates round and clicks into place, holding the the Switch securely while still giving access to the buttons and vents along the top edge of the console. The card slot’s not realistically available but it’s not much effort to flip the top up and switch the game card over.

Once connected up, pressing a small button on the left side powers up the S-Charge and there are four small white LEDs which show the battery level. Next to the button is a standard USB A port for charging other devices, such as phones or Bluetooth earbuds. Finally, there’s a USB C port for recharging the S-Charge via the supplied cable.

The long and adjustable kickstand on the S-Charge addresses one of the Switch’s other weak points, namely the flimsy, offset and single position built-in stand. The one on the S-Charge runs the full length of the unit and will click into about five different angles to get the Switch just right. Underneath the kickstand is space for two game cartridges.

Using the Switch with the S-Charge attached in handheld mode takes a little getting used for two reasons. One, the S-Charge weighs 325g and two, where do you put your fingers? A Switch with joycons attached tips the scales at 400g, so once the S-Charge is added, it’s 725g all in, which is hefty enough to hold. Depending on hand-size, fingers can either curl behind the joycons or lie along the the back of the S-Charge, but it’ll take a little getting used to. Obviously, neither of these are an issue if primarily using the Switch in tabletop mode.

The carbon fibre effect carry case is good too. It’ll take a Switch with both the S-Charge and joycons attached and there’s space for an extra six game cartridges. In the lid, there’s a zipped pocket to keep the charging cable and any other extras, like a screen cleaning cloth. The only thing I’d say about the case is that the zipped pocket has a metal pull on the zip itself. For the sake of the left hand joycon, I would have preferred a plastic one or at least a rubber coating.

The battery in the S-Charge is a beefy 10,000 mAh – that’s over twice the capacity of the Switch which Nintendo says is 4,310 mAh. How much extra gameplay depends entirely on the games being played with Zelda burning through the standard battery in less than three hours. Starting with the Switch and S-Charge at full capacity, Breath of the Wild play time could be extended to ten hours.

I used the S-Charge extensively over a couple of weeks and while I never managed to fit in a whole day of non-stop portable gaming, my experience was very much in-line with expectations. Taking the console round to another family’s home over Christmas, there was some serious Mario Kart for a couple of hours with only the loss of one white LED.

The S-Charge isn’t a pocket money purchase at GB£65, but you do get a multi-functional unit with a carry case and overall I think it’s a very good solution. Not only does it extend gaming-on-the-go to at least ten hours, the stand is much better, there’s cartridge storage and the S-Charge can recharge other devices too. It’s the perfect travelling companion for the Nintendo Switch.

There’s more on my YouTube video.

Thanks to InDemand Design for providing the S-Charge for review.


Jingle All The Way with a Bluetooth Bauble Speaker



Looking for the final decoration to finish off dressing your O Christmas Tree? Well take a look, or rather a listen, to the Accelerate Holiday Tunes bauble with Bluetooth speaker. Connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth and instead of a Silent Night you’ll be Rocking Around the Christmas Tree. The decoration comes in four different colours – Red, Gold, Green and Silver Bells.

The 200 mAh battery will Jingle Bells for about two hours before needing a charge via the supplied USB cable. There’s a microUSB charging port on the back and it takes a similar amount time recharge. You could go for a Sleigh Ride while you’re waiting.

Avoiding a Blue Christmas is straightforward. Hold down the power button to put the bauble into pairing mode and look for HOLIDAY TUNES in the Bluetooth settings of your smartphone. Once paired up, any music played on the phone from Spotify, Amazon Music, iTunes, etc. will come out the Holiday Tunes bauble. It’s not worth Driving Home for Christmas just to hear the music but the sound quality’s better than you’d imagine. There’s a hanging loop for putting the bauble on the tree.

The Holiday Tunes bauble is available from Amazon.co.uk, priced at around GB£12-£15 (the price changes a little). You may find it cheaper in store too – try Home Bargains. It’s kitsch Christmas fun so even if it’s a White Christmas and It’s Cold Outside, you’ll have a Holly Jolly Christmas with your favourite tunes.

More in the YouTube video below. It really is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

Disclaimer: This was a personal purchase.


Kärcher 10 Year Window Vac Anniversary Edition Review



The clue is in the title….it’s been ten years since Kärcher introduced its first Window Vac for streak-free glass cleaning. Competing with sponge and squeegee for the perfect finish, the Window Vac sucks water from the smooth surface of the window, removing drips and drops, and leaving the glass dry. Sounds like a great a idea, but do windows need a vacuum cleaner? Let’s take a closer look.

The box for this anniversary edition is a marginal step up from the normal six sides of cardboard, with a magnetically closed gatefold showing the evolution of the product from the original in 2008 through to 2018. There’s been six editions of the Window Vac but all remain true to the original from ten years ago with steady incremental changes between each one. This year’s model promises extended battery life….

 

While this all looks lovely, disappointingly Kärcher haven’t really got their heads round the presentation of the contents of the box – inside everything is higgledy-piggledy. I appreciate that it’s low environmental impact but a bit more organisation would improve that first impression. This is a gadget that has a list price of GB£100 after all.

Setting this to one inside, inside the box is the Window Vac itself, in the usual black and yellow Kärcher combination. There are two wiper blades, one 280 mm and the other 170 mm. These clip in and out of the Window Vac to suit the size of the window being cleaned. To charge up the Vac, there’s a neat AC power adaptor too with a 120 cm cable. There’s a nifty spray bottle which comes with an attachment to take a microfibre cloth, which is actually really handy. Finally, there’s a set of paper manuals and guides, and a small sachet of cleaning concentrate for use with the spray bottle.

 

The Window Vac is not dissimilar to a handheld vacuum cleaner and it’s surprisingly lightweight – officially it’s 600 g. The two wiper blades clip in and out at the top, there’s a charging port at the bottom, wastewater bottle on the underside and the Vac is designed to sit on its end when not in use. There’s an push on/off button on the handle with an LED which goes solid green when on. The Max line on the water bottle lets you know when it’s time to pour the sucked-up water out by lift out the plug in the top of the bottle. It is possible to remove the top section of the Vac completely, which is handy when you accidentally suck up something a bit larger than usual, such as a leaf.

Looking at the power adaptor, it’s a relatively small unit, sticking out about 6 cm from the wall but with very little height or thickness – it won’t obstruct neighbouring sockets at all. The cable ends in a neat plug which slots into the bottom of the handle. A matching slot and groove stops the connector being put in the wrong way round. Charging from flat is slow, taking several hours – 185 minutes! I found the best approach was to be disciplined and fully charge the Window Vac before putting it away, meaning that vacuum was ready for the next cleaning session.

Before we get to the performance of the Window Vac, I have to give a big thumbs up to the spray bottle and cloth attachment. I don’t know if Kärcher came up with this idea but whoever did, it’s brilliant. Simply, it means that you can spray cleaning solution onto a window (or other surface) and then wipe the liquid over the window with the cloth using just one hand. There’s no squirting-putting-down-picking-up-wiping. It’s excellent and with the spray bottle in one hand and the Window Vac in the other, you’re a window cleaning machine!

So…what’s the Window Vac like in action? I tried it in four scenarios – windows, mirrors, roof windows (Velux) and a shower cubicle. For those who prefer video, here’s my review on YouTube.

For GNC readers, each scenario provided slightly different challenges and associated benefits, and the Kärcher acquitted itself well. For me, the overall big benefit was not the dry, clean and sparkling finish, but that there was no dripping water on the floor or hands getting cold and wet. It’s the package of spray bottle with cloth and Window Vac that is the winning combination. Let’s look in turn at each scenario. By the way, the Window Vac makes very little noise.

Mirrors are easily cleaned with the Window Vac. Typically not really dirty anyway, but quick squirt with glass cleaner and then run over the mirror with the Vac. Gets the liquid off the mirror faster than kitchen towel and less rubbing.

Standard windows. Big benefit over using a squeegee is that the water goes into the Kärcher Vac rather than over your hands and you do get a really good streak-free finish. Obviously it doesn’t clean round the edges of the window frames to get rid of spider webs, so I found the best approach was to go round the window frames with the bucket and sponge first, and then do the window with the Window Vac. In terms of battery life, I cleaned three glass doors and eight windows without any trouble. The specs say 35 minutes, 105 m² or 35 windows.

Roof windows are where the Window Vac really shines. The big problem with Veluxes and similar is that while the window rotates to allow cleaning from the inside, all the muck, dirty and water falls into the room. Normally cleaning is a big hassle with dust sheets but with the Vac, the grubby water gets vacuumed up without hitting the floor. This is a big win for me.

Shower cubicle. Technically the Kärcher worked fine, sucking up the water on the shower cubicle walls and glass door but the value was limited – you’re not worried about water on the floor or streak-free tiles and the Vac needs to be to hand. Squeegee wins in this scenario.

There is one final scenario that didn’t make into the video and only became apparent after recent storms. The Kärcher Window Vac is really good for clearing rainwater off garden trampolines. It sucks up the surface water quickly so that the trampoline can be towelled dry and it’s back to bouncing for the children. Result!

Overall, I’m quite pleased with Kärcher 10 Year Window Vac Anniversary Edition. It makes cleaning windows much easier and is great for roof windows. I have to say that it’s not something I would have thought of buying and it’s not an impulse buy with a list price of £99. However, you can easily find it reduced and it’s currently only £49.99 at several online retailers, including Kärcher, which makes it much more reasonable.

Disclosure: I paid the current sale price for the Window Vac as part of The Insiders UK Kärcher campaign.


Delete Old Text Messages with R-Bot SMS Cleaner



Messaging is one of the killer apps for mobile devices and has followed the industry from first mobile phones through to the smartphones of today. It began with SMS, became notorious with Blackberry, integrated with social media and then became a battleground with law enforcement as end-to-end encryption kept conversations private.

Even with all these developments, SMS texting remains a popular choice as it simply works. Once you have someone’s mobile number, you can send them a text. There’s no need to check if they’re on WhatsApp, FB Messenger, Telegram, Signal, BBM…

I receive a handful of texts each day with the usual range of personal, work and spam messages. Some get deleted, some don’t, but by the end of the year, there’s probably over 1000 messages cluttering up the inbox. Texts don’t take up much space so there’s no imperative to have a clear out but eventually it has to be done.

Surprisingly, the standard Android SMS app Messages doesn’t have any management features at all and it’s not possible to delete messages in bulk. I want to be able to delete all messages more than two years old or, say, set a limit of 2000 messages. No can do, and it’s not a feature that I found in any other of the SMS clients that I downloaded.

Fortunately, I did find R-Bot SMS Cleaner which does delete old text messages. Hurrah!!!

To be clear SMS Cleaner isn’t a messaging app and all it does is find and delete old messages, but it does the one task pretty well. It has two modes, one called “Recommended” which deletes text messages older than a few months or weeks, and “Custom” which allows a more granular selection. With Custom, it’s possible to look for messages with keywords, specific contacts or in a chosen date range.

    

The “View” button shows the messages found by the search for double-checking before deletion. Once ready, deleting needs R-Bot to switch in as the default SMS app, which it politely requests, and then switches out when done. It’s a very well-behaved app. Adverts are displayed occasionally but there doesn’t seem to be a paid-for “pro”, which I would prefer.

The only “bug” I found is that there is an option in “Recommended” to exclude texts from contacts, the idea being that it’s an easy way to get rid of spam messages which typically come from unknown numbers. Normally, it works well, but it did get confused by international dialling codes. If a number was prefixed by, say, +1, +44, +353, SMS Cleaner wasn’t able to recognise that as belonging to a known contact. Just watch out for that.

Overall, R-Bot SMS Cleaner is a handy app for keeping the SMS inbox under control. Try it out or if you’ve a better suggestion, let me know in the comments below.


Shoot-Em Up with the Bitmore AR Gun



Looking for a last-minute stocking filler? Take a look at the Bitmore AR Gun. It’s a Bluetooth-enabled toy gun for a bit of smartphone shoot-em up action. Let’s take a quick look….

The AR Gun is a bright blue wooden toy gun with a smartphone mount on the top. The idea is simple. Put the smartphone in the mount, load up the app, pair the gun with the phone over Bluetooth and start shooting aliens, planes, tanks, spiders, dinosaurs and sharks. What’s there not to like?

Working with both iOS and Android phones, it’s almost as straightforward as it sounds. The app is branded “Geekplay AR Gun” in the Google Play Store rather Bitmore but it’s not that hard to figure out and get it loaded. Mind you, it’s a big app at a little under 300MB.

The gun needs batteries and these aren’t supplied, so you’ll need to have 2x AAAs to hand but once inserted, you’re all set.

The AR Gun app takes care of the Bluetooth pairing within the app itself and the gun goes into pairing mode when the trigger is held down for a few seconds. Once paired, the app offers around a dozen games that are variations of AR and 3D worlds.Unsurprisingly, all involved shooting in some shape or form. A few of the games use the camera (AR) to show the room or space around you and superimpose planes, aliens and fish (not in the same game), whereas other games exist in their own world. Other than that the apps work in the same way: moving the gun moves your point of view or vehicle. Pulling the trigger shoots.

A few screenshots will give you the idea. Click on any of them for a bigger picture.

     

   

The graphics in most of the games are surprisingly good but the app seems to be a little bit of a work in progress. Two of the games didn’t work as they were under maintenance and there were a few features, such as a login screen, that seemed to be there for future developments. Some instructions wouldn’t go amiss too as I couldn’t work out what I was supposed to shoot in the aquarium game – sharks, lionfish, orcas, parrotfish? Who’s the baddy?

The AR Gun itself is a slightly odd mix of high and low-tech, being made from 3 mm sheets of wood, and while I like that the gun is wooden, the grip and the trigger could benefit from being rounded off to make it a little more comfortable to use.

But let’s not overthink this – it’s simply a fun toy. If shooting aliens is your thing, the AR Gun is priced under GB£20 and available direct from Bitmore or Urban Outfitters.

Thanks to Bitmore for supplying the AR Gun for review.