USB chargers are two-a-penny these days but often they are cheap knock-offs with poor quality transformers that either pose a fire hazard or fail to deliver the required current to quickly recharge a smartphone or tablet. For not much more money, iClever offers a CE-marked UK spec wall charger with two USB A ports, delivering up to 2.4A from each. Let’s take a quick look at the IC-TC02.
The charger goes with the fairly standard design of a small cuboid connected to a power plug – I guess this is the BoostCube. This isn’t a travel charger (at least not in the UK spec), so there’s a three pin plug which doesn’t detach or fold up. Having said that, it does only weigh 82g. The charger appears well built and has a high gloss finish which makes some of the photos look a little odd because of the reflections. Hidden blue LEDs in the ports give off a soft glow.
The iClever BoostCube solves nicely the two device problem by having two charging ports. Many people have both a smartphone and a tablet so either two chargers are needed or one has to be charged before the other. Both ports will supply up to 2.4A each and iClever’s SmartID technology will ensure that the right current flows to the device.
I tried the charger with a couple of devices and encountered no problems. There was warmth to the transformer under full load but nothing close to being hot. Charging rates were as expected.
The iClever BoostCube 2-Port USB wall charger is available from Amazon UK for GB£8.99 at time of writing.
There’s an unboxing video below.
Thanks to iClever for providing the charger for review.
Rather than the usual “hands-on” review, this is more of a “bottoms-on” assessment as here we have a Sitpack Portable Compact Seat. Based in Copenhagen, Denmark, Mono+Mono announced the Sitpack on Kickstarter in 2014 and since then, over 35,000 Sitpacks have been shipped worldwide. Apparently it’s very popular in Japan, so let’s take a closer look.
At first glance, the Sitpack is not unlike a large drinks can and looks nothing like a chair, but it handily unfolds and telescopes out to T-shaped structure for an impromptu lean-to seat.
All folded up, the Sitpack is much the same size a 500 ml drinks can and weighs about 600 g. Made of glass-fiber reinforced polycarbonate, it’s solid in the hand and weighs in at 600 g. There’s a hinge on one end and peeling apart the other end reveals the telescopic pole, albeit slightly hidden by a large rubber foot.
The Sitpack uses a simple “extend and twist” to lock in place each segment of the leg. Fully extend a leg section and twist through about ten degrees until markers on each segment line up. Obviously it’s tricky the first few times, but it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it.
Fully extended the Sitpack is 87 cm tall. The Sitpack can be shortened by one segment for a smaller person, with shorter height of 75 cm. The material suggests that there is an even shorter length of 65 cm but I couldn’t figure out how to shorten it further as there are dire warnings on the top tube of shortening any other tube. If you want to see the extending and collapsing in more detail, Sitpack have a video.
What’s it like to use? The first few goes are really about building up confidence in the Sitpack and deciding the best length. I’m about 5’7″ and I eventually decided that the shorter length worked for me best as it was more of a sitting rather than leaning posture. At full extension, I felt I was leaning against the Sitpack and I didn’t have the confidence, especially on loose or slippy surfaces.
Is the Sitpack comfortable? Well, I’m not going to pretend that the top of the Sitpack is anything other than hard plastic and even Sitpack don’t recommend using it for more than 40 minutes at a time….but it does take the weight off your feet and it kind of feels that you are resting rather than standing. There is a seat cushion accessory (€25) for additional comfort but I wasn’t able to try it out.
For me, Sitpack works best when, say, waiting for a bus or train and you want to read your ereader or tablet. TIimes when you are reasonably static and either on your own or with adult company. It wasn’t a great success on a family outing, as trying to constantly corral two children meant that you never got two minutes to Sitpack still (sorry). I’d also suggest that the Sitpack isn’t the solution for an unsteady elderly relative: you need to be able to balance on the Sitpack.
Sitpack’s customer service is superlative. I had an unfortunate accident and managed to break one of the tubes. To start with, the Sitpack fully disassembles and there’s a video here on how to do it. I contacted Sitpack as an ordinary owner and they sent me out a replacement tube free of charge which arrived from Denmark within a few days. Brilliant.
The Sitpack comes in a range of colours; Pearl White, Pitch Black, Easy Blue and Power Pink plus a couple of special editions such as St. Patrick’s Green and Camo Black (it’s a camouflage pattern). The standard price is €55 / GB£46 / US$60 with one or two versions priced either side (€46 / €65). The foot can be customised too, with the standard black rubber swapped out for six other colours. It would be fun if Sitpack offered colour mixing as a black and white Sitpack with alternating sections would be cool.
Overall I liked the Sitpack and I can see the possibilities, especially for commuters on busy train stations without enough seats. Upfront, it does seem expensive at €55 but I think it’s one of these things where “the quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten”. And Sitpack’s customer service is great. On the downside, it is relatively heavy – you’re not going to be carrying the Sitpack just in case, and you do get a bit of numb bum after awhile. The sacrifices I make for Geek News Central….
This month, I’ve been tinkering with the Optoma EH400+ digital projector (DLP). Unlike last month’s diminutive ML750ST personal projector, the EH400+ is a multipurpose projector suitable for professional presentations in meeting rooms and training centres. Let’s take a closer look, though be careful as it’s very bright…
The EH400+ is about the size of a generous tin of biscuits, measuring 30 x 23 x 9.6 cm and weighing 2.5 kg. It’s entirely luggable, but prospective purchasers should note that there’s no carry case included in the box, though it is an optional extra. While we are on the topic, there’s only the projector, power lead and IR remote control in the box. It’s a standard kettle-style power lead (IEC C13) with no power brick.
White on the top and dark grey round the sides, the Optoma projector ticks all the standard projector boxes. Lens on front, buttons on top and ports on the rear. The recessed lens on the front will form an image on a screen from as close as 1 m to as far away as 12 m and at the furthest limit, the image will be over 7 m wide. That’s fairly big. The bulb puts out 4,000 lumens which is 5 times what the ML750ST put out, so can easily project a strong image in well-lit rooms. The large lens rotates smoothly through about 180 degrees to focus the image and there’s a lever on the top to zoom the image.
The buttons on the top of the projector offer the usual functions – turning it on, adjusting the image, accessing menus, etc. but the main area of interest is round the back with a selection of connectors, ports and sockets. There are two HDMI, two VGA, S-Video, composite video, two stereo sockets and a network port. Yes, a network port….
Turning the projector over, there are three rubber feet for setting the EH400+ on a table or other smooth surface. The foot at the front spins out to about a 1 cm to raise the projector up. For suspension from a ceiling in a permanent installation, there’s a three-point mount.
Turned on, the EH400+ is pleasingly quiet, though it does put out some light through the fan along with a fair amount of heat, as you’d expect with something this bright.
Connect up the EH400+ to a PC or laptop via HDMI and it appears as a full HD (1920 x 1080) monitor and with a suitable OS you can do the usual tricks of either reproducing the current desktop or extending the desktop to the EH400’s display. In most environments, it’s going to be showing the same display as the monitor but it’s a useful feature to have.
As with most digital projectors, the EH400+ has an on-screen display (OSD) for configuring the display and all the usual options are there for keystoning, image shifting and similar. But unlike most other projectors, there are far more options than are usually available. For example, there’s a small suite of test patterns to ensure the image is displayed perfectly. There’s even an option to adjust the colour output to compensate for the colour of the wall being used for projection.
On the downside, I didn’t find that the projector was very good at finding the input source automatically and most times I selected the input manually with the remote. Once selected, it took a few seconds to lock on but after that, the EH400+ stayed locked on.
While Powerpoint presentations are likely to be the bread’n’butter of the EH400+, it’s perfectly capable of showing films and movies too. I connected up my Sky Q and watched a few movies plus the new series of Thunderbirds in HD and 3 m across. My son loved it. The picture was good and the colours reproduced well, which is one of the headline features of EH400+ giving an accurate sRGB colourspace. The bright 4000 lumens coped well with an ordinarily lit room and while the sound from the built-in speakers would be acceptable in a meeting or training environment as it’s pretty loud, the quality isn’t going to win any hifi awards from the audiophiles.
And don’t forget, with two HDMI ports, a media streaming stick like the Roku or Amazon Fire TV can be plugged in permanently and powered from the USB port.
There’s no wifi with this Optoma projector (optional extra) but there is a network port which, at a minimum, can be used to control the EH400+. The projector can work with some audiovisual systems such as Crestron and PJ Link. I’ve no idea about these, but the web interface was actually a fairly handy way to control the projector – no faffing around pointing the remote at the projector and scrolling through options – just point and click. It’s even possible to sent email alerts from the projector if there’s a fan error or lamp life is exceeded. The web interface doesn’t cover all the features available via the built-in menus but it covers the main ones. Here’s a screen shot.
That’s about it. In summary, the EH400+ comes across as a solid DLP workhorse that will perform well in professional environments, displaying presentations and media to a high standard with good colour reproduction. Priced at just under GB£750 inc VAT, this is definitely business territory and would be a good choice when replacing a legacy projector with a more up-to-date unit and more relevant connections. The network port and web interface is handy too, especially when the battery has died in the remote control.
There’s a short video below and I must apologise for there being no demonstration of the EH400+’s projection capability. I didn’t have a suitable projection space and had to use a small screen which was incredibly bright at such a short distance. Suffice to say that the quality is impressive.
Update: I previously described this as a digital LED projector. It’s not, as DLP stands for Digital Light Proceessing.
Here on my desk I have an Optoma ML750ST LED projector. It’s a small short throw personal projector just 113 x 123 x 57 mm which makes it about the same size of a stack of CDs. Despite the diminutive form factor, the ML750 still comes with a good complement of ports and a couple of tricks. Let’s take a look.
White on the top and dark grey round the sides, the most noticeable feature of the Optoma projector is the disproportionately large lens on the front. It’s needed for the short-throw, which projects a large image from a short distance from the screen. Minimum distance is only 43 cm with a max around 3.5 m. At full distance, the image is around 5 m wide.
There’s a set of buttons on the top of the projector for turning it on, adjusting the image and selecting media (more on this later) but the main area of interest is round the back with a selection of connectors, ports and sockets, including HDMI and Universal I/O for VGA. The projector can read directly from media too and there are microSD and USB ports for data. A 3.5 mm stereo jack, power socket, IR receiver and Kensington lock round out the rear. Power is supplied via an external power supply, which keeps the size and weight down. There’s small remote control too.
On the bottom are three rubber feet and a camera screw mount. The foot at the front spins out to about a 1 cm to raise the projection up, and obviously the screw mount can be used with a tripod or ceiling mount. The large lens rotates smoothly through about 45 degrees to focus the image.
Connect up the ML750 to a PC or laptop and it appears as a WXGA (1280×800) monitor, and with a suitable OS you can do the usual tricks of either reproducing the current desktop or extending the desktop to the ML750’s display. The projector will lock onto the video signal and it sometimes took a second or two to pick up the VGA or HDMI. One of the benefits of an HDMI connector is that a media streaming stick like the Roku or Amazon Fire TV can be plugged straight in.
The ML750 does have a few other tricks up its sleeve (or USB port as the case may be). First of all, the projector has a built-in media player and Ms Office document viewer that will show films, play music and display Word, Excel, Powerpoint and PDF files directly from either a microsSD card or USB memory stick. Most documents that I tried worked fine, but some Powerpoint animations didn’t quite work as expected – to be fair, this is noted on Optoma’s website. The on-screen controls have big friendly icons in a subtle purplish hue.
If entertainment is more your bag, movies played well. Just for kicks, I connected up my new Sky Q and watched a couple of movies – it was all good fun with some big screen films. In a slightly darkened room, the picture was wasn’t bad – colours were good. The ML750ST puts out 800 lumens, according to the spec, whereas a powerful projector is 3000 lumens, so it’s not going to produce a bright image in a well-lit room. Bring the lights down and it’s fine. Sound from the built-in speaker was rubbish (what do you expect?) so take a feed from the source through a hifi or plug in some external speakers.
Next on the list of clever things is the USB WiFi dongle which plugs into the back of the ML750. Once connected to the “HDCastPro_XXXX” wireless network, you can use the complementary HDCast Pro app on your smartphone or tablet to play presentations and display media. You can zoom in and out of photos and documents, and the refresh is pretty snappy, though not quite instantaneous. It’s a handy feature and definitely much more relevant these days with the increasing use of tablets. The only downside is that while connected to the projector via WiFi, the tablet isn’t connected to the Internet…but Optoma’s thought of this, and with a little extra configuration the projector can be directly connected to the local WiFi network. The HDCast Pro app still works in the same way but now the smartphone or tablet is connected to the main wireless network and there’s normal connectivity.
Finally, Optoma have this really nifty software suite for projection mapping which helps create two dimensional visual displays, almost works of art. It’s quite clever but takes a good amount of work to do well. My efforts were a bit feeble so I’ll point you in the direction of Optoma’s website for now. I’m going to keep tinkering and once I have something half-decent I’ll bring it back to GNC.
Overall, I’m pretty impressed by the ML750ST. I’m used to projectors about the size of the phone book and the ML750ST was able to do everything they can do and more. The ML750ST isn’t exactly an impulse buy as it’s priced at GB£529 and the USB WiFi dongle is an extra GB£30, but as business purchase, it makes a great deal of sense, especially with HDCast application for tablets and smartphones. I wouldn’t recommend it for a permanent installation in, say, a training room because a brighter projector would be more suitable, but for ad hoc presentations and portability, the ML750ST is a good choice.
The projector can be bought direct from Optoma and thanks to Optoma for the loan of the review unit.
Here’s the problem….your broadband connection comes into the front of the house and your games room is at the back of the house. The free wifi router from the telco is rubbish and struggles with Netflix, never mind playing online gaming with the PS4. And the Bluray player needs a cabled connection. What are you going to do?
On solution might be to look at Devolo’s brand spanking new GigaGate Wireless Bridge which sets up a point-to-point 11ac WiFi connection and delivers gigabit-level performance. It’s fast. Very fast. Over about ten metres through one brick wall I had a connection speed of over 1 Gb/s in both directions.
The GigaGate has two units, one a base station which connects into your router via a cable, and a satellite station for the games room. The satellite offers five Ethernet ports and an 11n WiFi access point for connectivity. One of the LAN ports is gigabit and the other four are fast Ethernet (100 Mb/s). The GigaGate starter kit is a bit like Noah’s Ark – there are two units, two power suppliers and two network cables. Devolo recommends using their cables to ensure gigabit-level performance.
Getting started couldn’t be any simpler as the GigaGate bridge is configured out of the box. Connect the base station to the router, put the satellite next to the consoles and power up both units. Wait about twenty seconds for the lights to stop flashing and job done! It’s nearly idiot proof.
The base and satellite stations are shiny and black with white LEDs. As you’ll see from the pictures, they’re total dust magnets. Network ports are round the back and there are neat little feet which flip out to stand them up. The stations can be wall-mounted through the holes in the four corners, though I didn’t investigate this.
Devolo’s Cockpit app for PCs has been updated to include the GigaGate along with the dLAN powerline network units. The equivalent My Devolo app on Android doesn’t yet show the bridge though I’m sure it’s coming. Of course, both the base and satellite stations have a web interfaces, so it’s easy to log on for monitoring or configuration.
The interfaces are slightly different between the base and satellite stations. The base station can only communicate with satellite stations and the interface reflects that, showing information relating to the 5 GHz 11ac bridge. There’s only one network port too, though it is possible to connect eight satellite stations to one base station. This makes the GigaGate ideal for sending a broadband connection to outhouses – perhaps you have a garden office that’s currently supplied by a weak WiFi connection.
The satellite station offers more. While it can show the state of the bridge, the connection follows from the base. On the other hand, the base has five LAN ports plus an 11n WiFi connection which is configured here.
Frankly the best bit is checking on the Bridge Monitor to see the connection speeds between the two stations. Yes, that’s 1170 Mb/s. Most of the time, the Rx and Tx data rates were symmetrical. Occasionally they would become slightly asymmetrical but it never lasted long. Obviously YMMV when factors like building construction and WiFi congestion are taking into account.
The speed and capacity was impressive. To test the load I connected up via cable an HDTV, a gaming console, a laptop and two tablets via WiFi. None of the devices had any problems streaming video from a combination of sources (Sky Q, NAS, Netflix).
Any downsides? Well, when I first powered up the GigaGate, I found that on the default 5 GHz channel (36), the bridge seemed to stop the Hue lights in the room working. It’s slightly odd because ZigBee uses 2.4 GHz but moving the bridge to a higher channel (over 100) stopped the interference. I also found that occasionally the bridge channel would wander from the selected setting. Devolo support suggested that this would happen if there was interference on the channel.
Just as a point to note, the WiFi controls on the GigaGate aren’t as advanced as you might find on the Devolo’s dLAN powerline networking adaptors. Those offer features like guest connections and time settings which are missing from the GigaGate so don’t expect to see them on the satellite.
While talking about powerline networking, when would you use one over the other? Powerline networking would be better if, say, you lived in a building with really thick concrete walls and floors which interfere with the WiFi signal. On the other hand, powerline networking doesn’t work well (or at all) unless there is a single electrical circuit: I have this problem in my property which has been extended as there’s now two circuits and powerline networking doesn’t work well across them.
Overall, in a couple of week’s of testing, the GigaGate performed amazingly well. It’s fast and reliable but I’m not going to pretend that the GigaGate is cheap. It’s not, though it does compare favourably with competing solutions. The starter kit has an official price of GB£220 and an additional satellite station is GB£130. On the other hand it’s really good, and if you want proof, I ditched Sky’s much vaunted Sky Q network mesh in favour of the GigaGate and never looked back.
There’s a saying in photography that the best camera is the one that you have with you, and it’s a similar story when it comes to power packs for smartphones and tablets. The best battery pack is the one you have with you, and to make sure that you do have it with you, here’s the Dubleup Credit Card Power Bank, launching today on Kickstarter.
The Dubleup Credit Card Power Bank can be preordered on Kickstarter with a 15% discount for early birds. Coming in three different colours (black, silver, gold) and two connector types (Apple Lightning and micro USB) there should be a match for both colour preference and device type, though a USB C connector would’ve been cool. I’ve had the power bank for a fortnight and it seems well-enough made with no obvious problems – everything closes up, nothing catches, there are no rough edges. I think the top surface is metal and the back is a high density plastic but it’s hard to tell.
Physically the pack is 86 x 54 x 5.5 mm with curved edges and the connector is built-in, popping out when needed. On the back, there’s a power button and three LEDs showing the charge level in thirds. The height and width dimensions are genuinely credit card sized but the depth means it’s a little fat. To be fair, it was the thinnest one that I could quickly find on the internet from a vendor that I’d trust. The thinness comes at the price of capacity – it’s only 1,280 mAh which would about charge an average smartphone from 20% to full. Obviously it depends on the size of the smartphone’s battery! The charging current is 1A (not 2A) and in the box there’s a short USB to microUSB connector for charging the Power Bank.
I’ve done a quick unboxing video for the Dubleup Power Bank. I say quick but it’s five minutes but should give you a real idea of the size of the battery pack.
Overall, the Dubleup is a small solution to the everyday problem of not quite having enough power to get through the day. It is relatively expensive at AU$79 inc shipping, (US$60/GB£48), for the capacity but if the size means it’ll stay in your purse, wallet or bag when other battery packs get left at home, it’s probably worth it. YMMV. Delivery is expected in June and there are a few early bird discounts (AU$60) if you get in quick.
Thanks to Dubleup for providing the Credit Card Power Bank for review.
Less than a year after launching their first foray into the market, the team at Venturer have given their 2-in-1 Windows notebooks a quick refresh and adding an “S” into the product name. Consequently, on review here is the EliteWin S 11KT, the big brother to the BravoWin S 10KR, and these new editions are priced at an additional GB£50 over the original models. Let’s take a look and see if the new ones are worth the extra cash.
(The picture makes the keyboard look bigger than it is – it’s the same size as the screen..)
As before, there’s not much between the BravoWin S and EliteWin S models other than the size of the screens, which are 10″ 1280×800 and 11.6″ 1366×768 respectively. Both are IPS screens and at 11.6″, it’s a big tablet. The good news is that the bigger screen of the EliteWin S brings the benefits of a larger keyboard, which was my main gripe about the BravoWin when I reviewed the previous model. This time round, the bigger keyboard suits me much better, so it’s a good first impression.
As a hybrid, the EliteWin S comes in two pieces, namely the screen and the keyboard, which come together by slotting the screen into a hinge on the keyboard. The overall dimensions are roughly 30 cm by 19 cm (at the hinge) by 2.7 cm when closed up with a bit of an air gap between the keyboard and screen, though it tapers towards the front. The tablet itself is 11 mm thick. The screen can be positioned both facing into the keyboard or turned round for alternative viewing positions.
Opening the EliteWin as a notebook, the hinge rotates downwards to raise the rear of the keyboard up for a slight slope. Two rubber pieces on the hinge protect the desk surface and while the keys on the keyboard are quite small, they do travel nicely. There’s a small button-less touchpad at the front too where double tapping on the left and right side of the touchpad simulates the mouse buttons. It takes a little getting used to without any feedback.
The styling is much improved with the this iteration. Corners are rounded off and there’s a certain Surface-esque trapezoidal shape to the tablet section. Additionally, the flat surfaces are covered in a soft-touch exterior which is surprising in the first instance, but is much grippier than the usual metal or plastic. Coloured in gunmetal grey, the tablet looks much better, though the underside of the keyboard could do with a bit more styling and a matching finish.
Looking over the ports, there’s a microphone hole, HDMI mini, micro SD slot, DC power in, micro USB port, 3.5mm earphone, power on/off button, USB 2 port and Windows button. The EliteWin S can be charged both via the micro USB and the DC power in, with a PSU supplied in the box. On the back of the tablet, there’s volume up / down controls and camera. There are still no USB ports on the keyboard.
In terms of build quality, it appears to have improved. The keyboard and keyboard hinge seem quite sturdy, as before. The tablet itself is plastic although with the soft touch cover and gunmetal colour, it gives a good impression of being metal. It’s pretty sturdy too though it will flex if you force it. Though it’s not the best small keyboard I’ve ever used, it’s certainly very usable and I typed much of this article using the keyboard.
As before, the 11.6″ 1366×768 IPS screen is perfectly acceptable though it does continue to suffer a little from backlight bleeding around some of the edges. It’s most noticeable when the notebook is booting and the screen is black. It’s not something I’d worry about in day-to-day use, though. In terms of touch, I found the screen responsive and at times, I ended up using the touchscreen more than the touchpad.
Specwise, the processor is an Intel Atom Z3735F quad-core clocked at 1.3 GHz (boosts to 1.8 GHz) with 2 GB RAM and 32 GB (28 GB reported) of storage. A 64 GB microSD card is included in the box as there’s only around 16 GB of space free on the C: drive. Windows 10 Home is installed, though it’s only the 32bit version despite the 64-bit processor. There’s 11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth too.
Performance is perfectly adequate for what you might call undemanding tasks – surfing the web, watching YouTube, playing Cut The Rope – and you can have a few apps open before switching apps slows it down. Obviously this depends on the apps you are using and the EliteWin S is no Surface Pro 4, so adjust expectations accordingly. Regardless, I found it very usable. Battery life is rated at 8 hours and I got over six hours one day without completely exhausting the battery. However, it is possible to burn through the battery much quicker if you are streaming video.
The 2 MP cameras are a bit disappointing (tablet cameras usually are) but in an improvement over the BravoWin, all the cameras actually worked with the standard Camera app. Cortana interaction is much improved too and she was able to hear me clearly, also unlike the previous BravoWin.
Although I’m comfortable with Windows 10 as a PC operating system, I still struggle with it as a tablet OS. The tablet mode does help and the EliteWin S did detect the removal of the keyboard and pushed tablet mode for my approval, which was handy. The duality of Windows 10 is hardly the fault of the EliteWin, but it does make supporting the 2-in-1 nature of the device that little bit harder.
As I come to the end of the review, readers might be thinking that this review is very similar to the review I did before…and you’d be right because there’s very little difference between the generations. Cosmetically, the EliteWin S is much improved over the previous generation, so while S might stand for Speed with Apple, S equates to Style with Venturer. So….
Question 1: is it worth an extra GB£50 for the newer model? Probably. The S model looks better, seems to be a bit more robust, has a soft touch finish and it comes with a 64GB microSD card.
Question 2: Is the EliteWin S the best buy at GB£249? Harder to answer. There are definitely some competitors out there, even in the 2-in-1 space, and if you aren’t concerned about a detachable keyboard, there are a couple of options at the price point.
In terms of personal peeves, there’s not much to complain about. It’s a bit chunky, the rear of the keyboard could be styled better and an extra USB port would be handy.
Earbuds have evolved significantly from the wired junk that came with early smartphones to quality sound via Bluetooth and AptX codecs (and price tags to match). The apex of totally wireless earbuds has been challenging but in the last few months there have been Kickstarter campaigns and even Apple finally has their AirPods. A couple of weeks ago the team at Syllable sent me the D900 mini, a set of wireless earbuds complete with a cool charging case and blue LEDs. I’m in heaven, I thought. Let’s take a closer look…
Right from the start it’s apparent that the D900 mini is well designed and cleverly made. Take the charging case. There are small pogo pins in the cradle for each earbud. Placing an earbud lightly into the case lights up the blue LEDs to indicate the battery level of the case. It’s only when you close the lid of the case onto the earbuds, pushing them down onto the pogo pins, that the earbuds recharge. The lid is kept shut with magnets. All very smart.
The D900 mini comes with three sizes of eartips, a microUSB charging cable and a small suede-effect pouch. As usual, I needed the largest to fit my ears. All the sizes come with retaining hooks to help stop the earbuds falling out. The D900 mini earpieces do point forward slightly too but overall I found the fit was good and I was able to wear the headphones comfortably for nearly an hour, perhaps a little less.
There is a little weight to them so they never quite disappear from your consciousness. While the D900 mini is bigger than the standard earbud, it’s not so much that anyone really notices. With a woolly hat on, they’re completely invisible and the hat keeps them in too. Perfect for long winter walks. Having said that, I didn’t have any problems with the earbuds falling out once I had them in properly. As ever with earbud fit, YMMV.
The earbuds have only one button and that’s effectively the whole of the top surface. Pressing this turns on the earbuds, confirmed by a few tones, and a long press on the left bud will get them into pairing mode – the left earbud is considered the master. I had no problems getting the D900s connected up. (Syllable was even spelt right this time). Once paired with my OnePlus 2, they worked as any Bluetooth headset. Obviously with only one button per ear, the controls are fairly simple. Short presses on the button stops / starts music playback and accepts calls. Long presses reject calls and turn the earbuds off.
Battery life is somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours, which seems short, but given the tiny size of each D900 mini earbud, it’s pretty good. The charging case keeps the earbuds charged up so the D900s tend to be fully charged when starting to listen to music. The charging case is supposed to recharge the earbuds from four to six times. That seems about right be I didn’t exhaustively test this as I didn’t always run the headphones flat.
In terms of audio quality, the D900 mini is as good as any wireless Bluetooth headset I’ve listened to, especially in a quiet room, with good detail, rich sound and solid base. Yes, you will notice the difference against a pair of wired Sennheisers, but for (relatively) low cost wireless headphones, the sound is really good. The D900s are supposed adjust the frequency response to emphasise the bass even at low volumes, though as an engineer, what impressed me most was that both earbuds remained in step – I never once encountered one earbud playing behind the other. Really clever stuff.
Problems? I encountered a couple of minor problems with the D900 mini. Sometimes, particularly when outside, the bass would disappear resulting in a very thin sound. I never quite figured it out but I have a suspicion that it was noise cancellation or frequency adjustment not quite behaving as intended. The other issue I encountered was that sometimes the audio would drop out between one, other or both earbuds for a few seconds. It would always come back and faded in gently rather than just exploding back in, which was a better experience. I noticed that this tended to happen at the beginning of a listening session, so I’m not sure if this was some part of frequency setting or power level calibration. To be fair these were all minor niggles.
Overall, these earbuds are astonishing especially when the price is GB£40 from Amazon.co.uk (US$50 from Amazon.com). Certainly there are a few flaws but the D900 mini is incredible considering the engineering challenges, the technology and the sound quality. If these are first gen products, I can’t wait for the next iteration.
Devolo has rounded out the range of sensors in its smart home system, Home Control, with the addition of two new sensors for humidity and water (flood). Although previously announced over the summer, these devices are now available for purchase through several on-line and high street stores. The folks at Devolo were kind enough to send two units for review. Let’s take a quick look.
Both sensors use the same basic “mini PIR” design that’s shared with the existing movement and door sensors, though the water sensor has a long tail with the water detector on the end. Obviously this is so that the main part of the sensor can be mounted conveniently and the detector positioned down the back of the washing machine, touching the floor.
The sensors are a sturdy white plastic, much as you’d find any domestic security system. The rear clips off to change the battery which has a claimed life of up to 5 years. I’d be a little skeptical of that based on my experience of similar sensors in the range, but YMMV,
The sensors aren’t much use on their own and have to be paired into the Home Control central unit. All the sensors use Z-Wave to communicate with the central unit and getting them setup is easy to do out-of-the box. Simply pull the battery tab out of the back to put the sensor in pairing mode, and then use the app on a smartphone to detect and add the sensor into Home Control. The app goes through it step by step, with helpful videos presented for information. There’s a new Home Control app which is much improved over the previous version but does have a few cosmetic issues.
Once the sensors are in the Home Control environment, they can be incorporated into rules to do useful things. For example, if the water sensor detects water (under the washing machine), then send a text message or email to alert the owner. If the humidity sensor says that it’s too damp, automatically turn on the power to a fan (and then turn it off when the humidity falls). You’re limited only by available sensors and acting devices. The new smartphone app doesn’t provide rule editing features yet, so the full web app at mydevolo has to be used for the rules.
The water sensor isn’t terribly interesting as it’s all or nothing: either the floor is dry, or it’s time to call a plumber. On the other hand, the humidity sensor is much more fun as it records both humidity and temperature. The Devolo Home Control app shows the current state of the sensor and also historical data, so you can review the graphs to look for trends.
Overall, these are handy additions to the Home Control ecosystem. Each fulfills a slightly different role, in that the water sensor is for emergencies, whereas the humidity sensor has a day-to-day function. The sensors aren’t cheap, with an RRP of GB£49.99 (and they are a little more expensive than their main competitor) but if you are bought into Home Control, they’re worth considering. For me personally, the water sensor is ideal for my garage as it has a tap without a drain. If the tap is left on, even just slightly, the floor floods over a couple of days. With the Devolo water sensor installed I’d get a quick warning of the problem.
If you want to see more, there’s an unboxing video below.
Thanks to Devolo for providing the sensors for review.
Back in June I reviewed the Devolo dLAN 550 WiFi Starter Kit and this time round, I’m looking at the “plus” version of the same kit. What makes it a 550+? Simply that the WiFi adaptor is now bigger and has a power socket pass thru. Let’s take a mini look…
As the Starter Kit is broadly the same as last time out, I’m not going to be doing a full review. If you want to see screenshots of the setup procedure, Devolo’s handy desktop software or smartphone app, I suggest you take a look at my original write-up. All I’ll say in this review is that the 550+ WiFi works just as well in terms of setup. The adaptors are paired out of the box so getting started is simply a case of plugging them into power sockets and then connecting a network cable from a neighbouring router or switch. The wireless access point can be then be configured remotely. It’s easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy!
There’s no real technical change between the 550 and and 550+ WiFi units. Both provide 11n WiFi at 300 Mb/s, whereas the previous generation 500 only transmitted at 150 Mb/s; the upgrade comes from 2×2 antennas which boosts both the rate and the range with the 550s. Additionally, the transmission range across the electrical wiring is increased to 400m through the use of all three conductors (live, neutral and earth).
The main change is that the new 550+ WiFi is a bigger adaptor with the same rectangular form factor as the non-WiFi units, including a pass-thru. The picture on the left shows the old adaptor, which was smaller and squarer. My only gripe with Devolo is that the newer adaptors have the network cable coming out the top, rather than below.
Looking at the prices, the RRP of the 550+ WiFi Starter Kit is GB£109.99 whereas the 550 WiFi Starter Kit is ten pounds less at GB£99.99. Both kits do the same job, so if there’s no need for a pass-thru or a smaller unit is preferred, go for the cheaper one. If a pass thru is needed, take the 550+. As an aside, if speed or 11ac is needed, check out the 1200+ WiFi Starter Kit at GB£159.99.
For more detail there’s an unboxing of the Devolo dLAN 550+ WiFi Starter Kit below.
Thanks to Devolo for providing the dLAN 550+ WiFi Starter Kit for review.