review

Edifier W295BT Plus headphones review

Packaging

IMG_6103.jpg

The unbox experience is very good. The headphones are presented in a molded carrier inside a nice box. Underneath are the extra eartips, charing cable and the carrying tin. Yes, a carrying “tin” — a metal circular box that is about 1.5 inch tall and 3 inches diameter. This box certainly will protect the headphones, although it is a bit bigger than the typical soft pouch.

Battery life


The reason I picked this particular model is that it has a claimed battery life of 12 hours! I am looking for a bluetooth headphones that someone can use almost constantly during the day without the need for recharging. With my run down test, after 11 hours of music playing at a normal volume, the battery shows 40% according to the report by the connected iPhone. By playing music at 50% volume I measured 15 hours of playback time before the battery ran out. Now that I have used it under normal condition, the batteries definitely last for an entire day each day.

Design and Fit

The earbuds and the remote control module both are larger than the normal bluetooth earbuds. I assume that’s where the larger batteries are located. The earbuds are not too large to be uncomfortable. It stills sit in the ear unobtrusively. I like memory wire setup, but like most other memory wire, it takes a bit of adjusting to get it right. Once it is bent to the right shape, it helps the earbuds stay in, and fit around my eyeglasses frame easily.


Sound quality

Initially I find the sound quality average. I burnt them in for probably two days, during the battery test. The sound stage is still not very wide. Bass is natural, not overly boosted. The highs are slightly harsh. After the burn in period, I give it a B+ for sound, which is good in terms of earbuds at this price range.


Overall, these are a good buy, especially if you want a long lasting, comfortable pair of in ear headphones.

Plantronics Voyager Focus UC Wireless Headset Review

tl:dr; If you are looking for the best wireless headset for making video calls when working for home, this is the best headset to get. Great sound. Comfortable to wear. Connect to computer and phones seamlessly.

Review criteria

I work from home most of the time. I conduct online video meetings several hours a day. Having tried many different brands and types of headset, these are the top requirements I use to determine which headset is the best:

Wireless

There are cheaper wired USB headset. But wireless headset let me stand up and walk around, go get a cup of coffee, all without missing anything. And no cord to get tangled. Not all bluetooth connects are the same.

Three Mic setup with swing down boom

Great Microphone Sound

It is hard enough to talk and listen over a video link. I want to sound good and clear so that people on the other end can hear me. Most high end headset has good sound, including the Jabra evolve and Apple AirPods.

Battery Life

Most smaller headsets, like the AirPods, last only an hour or so with constant use. There is nothing more annoying then having to switch headset during a call. I need something that has at least 4 hours of realistic talk time.

Comfort

Using a headset several hours a day is not comfortable. Most in ear headsets are out with the exception of the AirPods. Pressure in the ear canal is never good. On ear headset is actually more comfortable than over the ear for someone who wear glasses. Weight and head band design also matters.

Why the Voyager Focus UC

Long Battery Life

The voyager, being a full size headset, has great battery life. It is rated at 12 hours talk time. I have never ran out of battery during a day’s worth of conference call. Because it comes with a easy to use charging stand, charging the headset overnight is easy to do. No trying to figure out the right direction to plug in a micro USB cable. Although you can charge it using USB as well, especially if you are on the go or in a hotel. The headset comes with a soft slightly padded carrying case.

Stable Connection to iPhone and MacBook Pro

The Voyager connects to my iPhone XS using standard bluetooth 4.1, but connect to my MacBook Pro 2017 using a proprietary adapter/dongle. I attach it to a USB-A to USB-C adapter and plug that into my MacBook Pro. Initially I thought this will be a hassle. But the dongle has a useful LED light that tells me the connection and mute status. I grew to like it.

The headset switch seamlessly between my iPhone and my Mac. I find that I need to give the headset a few seconds to get connected. Do not flip the boom mic down until it is connected to both the phone and the computer. It has audio status to tell me that it is connected.

The Earpad and headband design is comfortable

The on-ear earpads are comfortable. The clamping force is very low. The headband is a suspended design that put very little pressure on the top of my head. The elastic suspended design also means the headset will not go out of adjustment.

Mic Quality

I conducted two mic sound tests. I record myself talking into the headset, first with music playing from my Amazon Echo on my desk. When I discovered that almost none of the music is recorded, even the full size Echo device is only three feet or so away on my desk, I was amazed. Then I played a coffee shop ambient sound track very loudly on my home stereo, then walk around with the headset recording my voice. Again most of the ambient sound is filtered out. You can listen to a sound test here:

Design

The Voyager Focus has a lot of good design features:

  • I like the physical on/off and pair switch. It is easy to locate. Easy to use.

  • The control groupings are intuitive: All media control is on one side, including volume, track next/pre, play and pause. The other side is the mic boom, and the power and answer control. On the boom itself is the mute switch. While there are many physical switches, they are sensibly grouped.

  • Ambidextrous design: You can actually wear the headset with the mic boom on left or right. The headset can tell and will route the left and right channel accordingly. Smart huh? However it does not switch the volume “Knob” direction. So depending on which side is the volume “knob”, forward can means louder or softer.

  • The headset has a smart sensor. When you remove the headset from your head, it will pause music playback. It works with all audio app on my iPhone, and native music apps on my Mac, like iTunes. It will not pause a video playing inside a browser.

Useful Apps

There is a plantronics app call PLT Hub on iOS, and a Plantronics Hub app for OSX on the Mac. both are free software. They allow customization of various things on the headset and the connection dongle.

Conclusion

The Voyager is the best after I tried several other types and brands. The Apple AirPods win on comfort, sound and compatibility, but fails on battery life. I had to charge one earbud after the other during a call to keep going during the day. I tried the Jabra Evolve 65e neckband style headphones. The mic quality is great, but it is uncomfortable for my ear, and the bluetooth implementation does not work well with the Mac at all. In fact their support document says it is only designed for mobile use.

This headset is not cheap. But for the number of hours I use it each day, it is easily one of the best gadget purchase.





















Muji Double Fastener Case Review

Muji has a line of pouches that I find very useful. They comes in three sizes, large, medium and small, and in multiple colors: blue, light grey, mustard and black. Here I am reviewing the medium and small case together. The medium case is 5in x 7in, or 13.5cm x 19cm, just slightly smaller than a A5 notebook. The small is 4in x 5in or 10cm x 13.5cm. 

Both cases have two compartments — the front one has a mesh front and the back compartment is enclosed. The two zippers have a different zipper pull on them. The front zipper pull has a thumb loop to make opening it easier. I can see replacing the standard pull with a custom pull, although the hole is just a bit too small for a standard size 550 paranoid.

The polyester material is good quality with a tight weave but thin. They are definitely not as rugged as say halcyon or cordura, but are perfectly adequate for normal use.

For the cost, I think these just became my favorite every day pouches.

Book review: Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play

If you are in EdTech, interested in how technology can be used to make positive contribution to education and creativity in particular, you should read this book. The format of the book makes it very easy to consume. There are interesting real world example in each chapter to illustrate the points being made. As a whole, the book makes a compelling argument for how technology can work hand in hand with the right support from teachers, mentors and peers to engage learners to grow into creative thinkers. Creativity doesn’t come from laughter and fun: It comes from experimenting, taking risks, and testing the boundaries.Using Seymour Papert’s idea of Hard Fun. Technology can help to challenge children and provide a platform for discovery.

I have been involved with the Scratch community from the beginning, almost ten years ago. Most of the content, in isolation, is not new to me. But even with that familiarity, the book as a whole ties all the research and learning together, reinforcing the connections.

One of the important notes I took from the book is how to find the balance when working to create an environment for children. Someone in the teacher position needs to move between a variety of different roles: catalyst to help start an idea, consultant to supply expertise in specific areas, connector to bring peers together to help each other, and collaborator to jump in and work together.

Go pick up this book. You can probably finish it over one weekend. It will change the way you approach the use of technology in education and learning professionally, and personally.

 

Osprey Pandion 28L Backpack Review

I use this Osprey Pandion pack mostly as a three day travel pack for business. While at 28L it is on the small size, I love the light weight, the mesh back, and the kickstand for travel.

Main Compartment

Starting with the main compartment, here is where I put my clothes and toiletries. I use a small packing cube for things that I can roll up like t shirts, and a pack-it folder for shirts. I have a LL Bean small toiletries bag. All these and one or more smaller organizer pouches fits in the main compartment together with my laptop. The laptop compartment is suspended and well padded. There is a document pocket in front of the laptop area, followed by a medium size slightly padded zipper pocket. Maybe a small tablet can fit in there. I seldom use that pocket because my iPad Pro only fits in the document pocket.

The Pandion has a slightly larger brother, the tropos which has a separate laptop compartment. The size of that pack is 32L because the laptop compartment gives maybe another inch of depth. While sometimes I wish I can pull the laptop out easier, I do not want the extra depth and weight. The Tropos and the Pandion also differ in the front of the pack:

main compartment for cloths

That was inside

Laptop and tablet slots

 

Outer Pockets

Front Stuff Pocket

The Pandion has a elastic front stash pocket that is extemely useful for travel. I stuff my light weight outer layer in there when I go through TSA Pre or in and out of cars. It probably won’t fit a winter coat, but any light weight puff jacket or hoodie will fit just fine.

The Tropos has a center zipped compartment and I think is less useful.

Padded Eyeglasses pocket

The Pandion also has two large elastic and mesh water bottle pockets on each side. They are very deep, certainly fits a large 20L bottle. During travel they are more useful as extra dump pockets for things like snacks as well.

Finally there is a slightly padded, sunglasses pocket at the top of the pack that I use for dumping my phone when I go through TSA.

Second large compartment

Organizers

There is a second compartment in the pack that runs the full height of the pack. The back wall has organizer pockets up top, and a zipper pocket in the bottom half.  It is useful when I have random things I want to be able to get to quickly, like my Amazon Basics foldable iPad stand. This compartment is pretty deep (front to back) and I can fit my bond travel gear pouch in there with all my electronics.

 

Suspended Mesh Back and Kickstand

Suspension Mesh back

These are two innovative features of this osprey. I find the mesh back really comfortable for walking around the airport. Often I ended up walking 10, 15 mins or more around the terminals and the suspended mesh definitely makes the walk easier. Together with the load lifters, and the chest strap, the fully loaded feels like nothing during the walk. The pack comes with detachable half inch waist webbing, but I removed them since I don’t find that I need them.

One thing about the mesh back — if I am wearing something smooth like a synthetic hoodie, the mesh tend to move slightly as I walk and I can hear a whoosh-whoosh side is it run against the synthetic materials.

I read some reviews that said they do not like the kickstand and I never can understand that. Especially with the thinner profile Pandion (comparing to the Tropos) I find that the bag will stand on the kickstand 90% of the time. It is really useful when I am waiting in line at the TSA, or working in a conference room. I can just put the bag down anyway.

Conclusion

This is a great travel pack for business. I have used this for 10+ trips in the last few months. My alternative is the Cotopaxi Allpa pack that I also like a lot. I can fit more things in the Allpa but I have to leave it at the hotel once I get to my destination. Whereas the Pandion I take that to work each day at my destination.

Check out my Video Review

This is an affiliated link.

Vanquest Katara 16 Backpack Review

The Katara 16 is a 16L everyday carry backpack that can be converted easily to a left or right single shoulder sling bag. There are a lot of options out there for a 16L day pack. The Katara serves this space well with smart design and nice styling.

Styling

While the pack is only available in tactical colors (coyote tan, wolf grey, black, multi cam black) , I find the multi cam black can pass for, must to the dismay of true fans of tactical gear, more of a fashion statement because of the pack’s overall styling. The Katara has a much softer outline. The low profile hypalon MOLLE and the low key Vangquest logo on the front helps as well. Both the front and side profile are much softer. The two external pockets has a wedge shaped side profile that make the pack more distinct and also giving it more capacity.

Materials

The use of 500D really make the pack softer and lighter. Note that high wearing areas are still made with 1000D. The inside are all done with 210D high visibility Vanquest orange that I personally really like. There are also several zippered translucent pockets in all of the compartments.

Design and Usage

The compartments in the Katara naturally falls into three categories. The main compartment is the largest one with a hydration or laptop pocket. I can fit my 13 inch MacBook Pro with touch bar and my 10.5 inch iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard attached in there. Note that with a slim profile( 3.5 inch from my measurement although their spec says 4), these electronics will eat into the rest of the available space. This laptop pocket cover is tapered at the top so that you can get to whatever is inside from the sides when you use this pack as a sling. I am not sure this design is needed. If I have a small iPad or kindle in there I can get to it from the side. But with my MBP there is no other way to take it out other than from the top. The front of this pocket is looped covered which is great, but with that tapered top it drastically reduce the usable area for the looped back.

 The top of the main compartment, on the front side, has a full wide zippered pocket that is just over 4 inch tall I find I can get to this pocket by zipping open just the top of the pack. The zipper stopping webbing on both sides help with keeping the rest of the pack close. For a EDC pack, it is all about quick access to many items and I find this design very smart.

There front of the main compartment also has a three way opennng pocket. Again this is designed for side access. In this case it works well and let me keep some items separately from the main content and get to them quickly. If you do not want to use this pocket, you can also unzip it completely and roll it down to the bottom, giving you a simpler main compartment.

 

But there is more! The sides of the main compartment both have a pocket and webbing at the top. If you have narrow longer items, you can put them in there. Flash lights and tools perhaps?

Review Break

Let’s take a break. As you can see at this point — this pack in typical vanquest fashion, has (too many) many organization features. This is a good thing because while you cannot use all the organization at the same time, you can fit the pack to your particular usage. This is a signature design of Vanquest and I am a huge fan of that.

Front Compartments

The two front compartments both have an interesting side profile. The bottom one is deeper at the top, and the top one is deeper at the bottom. Both compartments have open pockets in the back and a zipped pocket in the front. The top compartment’s open pocket also have one row of elastic webbing. I find that with these two compartments, I can sort out my EDC items between them. I put the most frequently accessed items in the top compartment, and secondary items at the bottom compartment. The Katara design is not perfect, I wish there is a pen slot somewhere. I ended up just slotting my pens behind the elastic webbing. I also wish there is a fleece lined eye glasses/phone pocket.

 

The outside of the top front compartment is completely covered with loop materials so that you can decorate your pack with a lot of patches. The vanquest logo is sewn on discretely. The only problem I have with the loop front is, because of the shape of front and the lighter backing material, it is slightly difficult to make the patch stands out.

 

The Back and straps

The back panel is very well padded. The last quarter of the back padding is extra thick. This helps this small pad rest on the lower back. The design of the convertible straps to switch from backpack mode to sling mode is very well designed. The pack comes with stowaway waist straps. I don’t think anyone would use the waist straps with such a small pack. At least the straps are small and easily put away.

The shoulder straps have a lot of design feature. The straps are well padded and S shaped. There is a one inch webbing sawn on top, segmented for easy lashing There is a detachable chest strap. The straps can be opened near the bottom, and the buckle is covered by a elastic loop for security.

There is a padded top carry handle on the pack. The padding is great, but there is a small seam that runs along the center underneath. The padding is nicer than the padding on the same handle on the Javalin 3.0.

Conclusion

This is a very well designed small everyday carry pack. It is a good balance of organization feature and weight. Think of this as the other extreme from a Goruck Echo. While I like the sleek look of the Goruck, I always think for smaller packs, well design built in organization is important. For that I really like the Vanquest Katara 16.

Video Review

Bond Travel Gear Escapade Gear Pouch Review

I own a lot of different pouches, some no name brand ones, some expansive ones from well known tactical gear companies. As a mobile tech professional, I find this pouch fits my EDC need extremely well. I carry my MacBook Pro charger and cable, my slim rechargeable battery pack, my Anker small charger, several cables, all in this pouch. Adding to that lip balm, pen, and other smaller items.

The key to this pouch is the organization design. It is not just a few rows of elastic loops. I do not find elastic loops useful for office gear. They are good for flash lights and multi-tools, but I am not carry those around. Instead, the different size pockets in the Escapade pouch let me organize my gear inside and keep them separate. As a result, the overall, full packed size of the pouch is still very small and slim. Very space efficient. The elastic loops also have a sticky rubber strip inside of them, which helps hold on to items if they are not fully stretching out the elastic. Great design detail.

I only have two minor complains, one is the material, while rugged, seems to attract lint and other particles. I also wish it has a small strip of webbing in the back so that I can use it as a handle.

Overall, this is a really well design and made in America pouch. With the lay flat opening, I take this with me as I move between offices. Once I am at a desk, I zip this thing open and everything I need is inside, easily accessible. When I am ready to leave the office, or leave for the airport, I just put everything back inside, zip up the pouch, throw it into my bag and I am ready to go.

 

 

 

Jibo Review Day 1

We unboxed Jibo this evening. Here are some quick observations:

  • The packaging is very nicely done, and it is easy to unbox
  • The setup process is friendly, and almost entirely done on Jibo except initially you need to install their iPhone app to setup WIFI on Jibo
  • It uses a QR code to send the WIFI info from the iPhone App to Jibo, nice touch
  • It rebooted many times before becoming useful
  • The built in apps / capability right now is not that great, it cannot play music, make calls, etc

So what does it do well? The movement is definitely well done. It can find and look at the speaker initiating the conversation. It has good programmed personality. I don't think anyone would pay full price for it until more applications are developed. But as an original Kickstarter backer, I am glad it's here, joining our household of multiple Amazon Echos.

Check out this quick video:

Enfonie Echo Dot 2 Battery Pack Review

Sometimes you found a product that you did not think you need until you tried it. The Enfonie Echo Dot battery pack is such a device. When the manufacturer offer this battery pack at a discounted price for a review, I accepted because I always wonder why anyone would need such a thing. I have a full size Amazon Echo in my office, and the Echo Dot in my bedroom. They are always plugged in.

 

When I connected this battery pack to my Dot, I realized now I can move the Dot around the house and use it as a portable speaker ! Since I use the Echo a lot to listen to the radio and music, it works really well. The batteries lasted about a full day. It died over night so I think the advertised 10 hours of battery life is accurate. Normally you would plug the pack back in often, so it will never die on you.

$29.49 $46.99

I have the original Echo Dot, so this battery pack actually does not fit perfectly with it, whereas the current version will mate with the pack seamlessly.

One cool feature of the battery pack is that it has an additional USB out so you can use it to charge a phone as well. Just for fun, I used it to power my micro:bit, as you can see in the picture. It works, but because the micro:bit draws so little power, the pack shuts off the charging after a minute or too.

If you want a portal Alexa machine, this pack is for you.

Axgio Backfit sports bluebooth wireless headphones review

The Axgio Backfit sports bluetooth headphones are a interesting pair of affordable bluetooth headphones. When it arrived I was surprised by the minimal packaging. It came in a very small box, just the size of the included carrying case. I like the eco friendly packaging. It comes with S/M/L ear tips, a carrying case, a short micro USB charging cable, and a small instruction manual.

Charging and Batteries

All the electronic access is on the right ear bud. The micro USB charging port and a tiny multi color LED  is there. The LED shows red when charging, and turns blue after charged. It took less than 2 hours to fully charge up the headphone and it lasted just under 6 hours on continuous playing to discharge it, well matching the advertised 6 hours of play time.

The headphones have voice response in its operations. It says “power on, connection successful” on power up. Because the headphones have a 10 minutes automatic power off, you can just hold the center button for 3 seconds to switch it on, or hold the center button for 5 seconds to turn it off. When the battery gets low, the headphone will say “battery low”. I got the warning when it hits 10% battery.

Bluetooth Performance

For me, the bluetooth performance is a big deal with there headphones. Initial pairing is simple. Hold down the center button for 5 seconds, and the LED flashes blue and red. I paired it with both my iPhone 7 and my Retina MacBook Pro. The Backfit uses bluetooth 4.1, and will stay paired two devices at the same time. For example, I can be listening to a podcast on my iPhone, stop play, switch to my MacBook Pro, and start a youTube video. The Backfit will switch over automatically from the iPhone to the MacBook Pro.

The bluetooth range is very good. With my iPhone in one corner of the first floor of my house, I can maintain a connection on the entire floor of about one thousand square feet of semi open floor plan.

The instruction manual explains that you can clear the entire paired device list by holding the center button for 5 seconds until it flashes blue and red (which means it is ready for pairing), then release the center button, and hold the + and the - button until the LED flashes blue.

Sound Quality

The Backfit has a high noise floor — there is a audible hiss at low or zero input volume. This is slightly annoying but not a deal breaker as the hiss will disappear with most music once started playing. The sound quality is good but with a pronounced boost at the high frequencies. 

Test Tracks

Brandi Carlile, The Story, Wasted: The track starts with a piano chord passage and Brandi slowly adds her vocal. The hiss is noticeable until the overall volume increased. The base, piano and guitars all comes through clearly with good sound stage.

Vienna Tang, The Waking Hour, Eric’s Song: This is a simple track with Vienna’s silky vocal singing along a piano. I can hear all of the nuances of her voice.

Lissie, Catching a Tiger, Record Collector: This otherwise enjoyable track shows the boosted high frequencies problem with the Backfit. The high hat cymbal at the beginning of the track can be harsh.

Radiohead, OK Computer, Exit Music (For a Film): This dark track with low and booming male vocal sounds wonderful with the Backfit. Thom Yorke’s melancholy voice shines.

Sting, Brand New Day, A Thousand Years: This is another track that shows off the bassy sound of the Backfit, but at the same time the high end boost gives too much sibilance to many parts of Sting’s vocal.

Comfort

The Backfit is extremely comfortable. This is the first pair of earbuds with a rectangular shape body that I tried. I thought it would be heavy and hard to stay on. Instead it is very light, and stay on my ear firmly even when I am out jogging. I find the headband unnecessary. In fact it is slightly awkward to get the loop to go above my ears. I have to put the ear buds into my ear first, then move the band into place. It does work with me wearing glasses.

Miscellany

The instruction sheet has some bad formatting, missing spaces, and a typo: “until theearphone…” and "Witch between the earphone and phone…”. I hope they will fix these in the next print.

Conclusion

The affordable bluetooth headphone space is going to get crowded now that Apple has killed the headphone jack. I was surprised how good is the Axgio Backfit. It is extremely comfortable with great battery life making it a good pair of workout or commuting headphones. Something that works and you won’t feel really bad if you loose them. The only downside is the sibilance. I am hoping burning the headphone in will reduce it, or you can correct it with equalization. If you are looking for a pair of budget bluetooth headphones with good overall performance, definitely give the Axgio Backfit a try.

Promotion

The manufacturer has made the following coupon offer:

Short Link: http://amzn.to/2eDOlY4

And the promo information: 

Coupon Code: J6QA76WR
Deal Price:$19.49
Normal Price: $29.99
Valid Date: till 12.31

Bose QuietControl Bluetooth Noise Canceling Headphones QC30 Review

Unboxing and Packaging

The Bose QuietControl QC30 active noise canceling bluetooth headphones comes in the usual premium Bose packaging. The box folds open left and right revealing the headphones in a molded plastic tray. The headphones come with three sized ear tips, USB charging cable, and a largish semi hard plastic zip case. The zip case reminds me of my old Sony Discman. The lid part of the zip case has a elastic pocket that is perfect to store the charging cable.

Build Quality

Remember that this is a US $299 pair of headphones and I expect nothing but top build quality. The QC30 feels premium. The cable is round, thick and soft. It comes out of the neck band into the ear piece without any sign of possible areas for breakage. The neck band has a matte rubber finish that is pleasant to touch. The back part of the neck band is much thinner than the front and sides. It feels good riding on my neck directly. The cables are quiet short so there are not a lot of slack when wearing the headphones.

Comfort

The StayHear+ QC ear tips, at least for me, are some of the most comfortable ear tips. There is absolutely no pressure in my ear canal, yet it provides a good seal so that the noise cancelation works extremely well. The neck band is light enough that I forgets it is there after a while. 

Controls

The neckband has one button, recessed into the band material, on the right side. It is the power button, and also serves as the bluetooth control button. The button is small and somewhat difficult to click. There are two very small, almost pin hole like, color LEDs next to the button. One is for power/charging. The other one is for bluetooth status.

$299.00

The power LED shows green when on, and yellow then flashing red as the battery level decreases. During charging, the LED will flash amber, and go to solid green when fully charged.

If you hold down the power button for a few seconds, it will enter bluetooth pairing mode, and the LED will blink white. Solid white means the headphones is paired to at least one source.

The right hand side wire also has an inline control. The inline control provide volume up and down, and a center button for play/pause. On the side of the control there are two buttons for stepping the noise cancelation level up or down. I counted 12 steps of control. I wish there is a key press that will immediately take the noise cancelation down to zero. This is available on the Bose QC20i wired noise cancelation headphones.

Bluetooth

The bluetooth implementation is one of the best feature of all newer Bose bluetooth headphones, including the soundSport Wireless. The QC30 will stay connected to two devices at the same time. When one of them output audio, the QC30 will switch to that device. I normally have the QC30 paired to both my Macbook Pro and my iPhone7 at the same time.

The impressive feature is that the QC30 actually stores pairing information on up to eight different devices. If the last top two devices are not available, it will go down the list until it finds devices that are available. This means that I can have the QC30 connect automatically to my work laptop plus my iPhone 7 when I am in the office, then automatically switch to my home laptop plus the same iPhone when I get home.

If the QC30 takes too long in looking for a device, you can press the power button with 3 seconds of powering on to force it to go to the next device.

At home, the bluetooth connection holds for about 20 feet in my semi-open house. In the office, the connection holds for over 40 feet in a open plan office. I would expect more interference in the office but that is not the case.

Battery Life

The QuietControl QC30 took just under 2 hours to be fully charged. The battery ran out after one day of hard use, with about 3 hours of conference call and music listening inbetween. I estimated the battery life is around the claimed 6 hours total.

Sound Quality

A lot of people, myself included, use to think a bit less of the Bose sound signature. However I find that the QC30 sounds good. With Eric’s Song by Vienna Tang, her calm detailed vocals shine through clearly. On Exit Music (For a Film) by Radiohead, the deep vocals is clear without being over bearing. Yorke’s voice is haunting and you can hear all the details over the simple guitar.

Sting’s A Thousand Years is my go to track for testing out deep electronic base at the beginning of the track. The QC30 performs well for a pair of earbuds style headphones. Listening to Viva La Vida by Coldplay, where Chris Martin add layers upon layers of tracks as the song build up, each instrument tracks can be heard clearly. Sound stage is wide. The sound stage is even better when playing Happy Theme Song by Grace Kelly. Her sax is punchy and warm up front as the rest of her ensemble plays in the back around her. Finally, a fun track to listen to is Black Horse and the Cherry Tree by KT Tunstall. It’s simply enjoyable through the QC30.

Not to forget, the active noise cancelation works extremely well both in a simulated test environment, playing white/brown/pink noise in the background, as well as in my office. The QC30, just like the QC20, completely cuts out ambient noise from the AC and other lower frequency hums. The ear tips have enough passive isolation that I can barely hear regular volume talking 10 feet away.

The one area that the QC30 seems to fall down is the microphone quality. I assume that it is using the noise canceling mics on both ear piece to capture sound. On my conference calls, the receiver on the other end tells me the audio is just ok, and is definitely assuming I am using so sort of bad mic.

Conclusion

Since I bought and used the Bose SoundSports wireless as my primary running and around the house headphone, I have been waiting for the QC30 to come out. The QC20i (wired noise canceling version) has been my travel headphones for a while so I know the noise cancelation is going to be as good on the QC30. Together with the great bluetooth implementation, the QC30 is now my main headphones for everything — office, gym. I only switch to my high end setup when I am sitting down for a true music session. The convenience  and the comfort of the QC30 simply is a winning combination for everyday use. 

Anki Cozmo Review First Week

This is going to be the hottest toy this Christmas. Anki has done a great job in putting personality into Cozmo. Right from the start it behaves just like a likable puppy arriving at a new home.

Unboxing

Cozmo arrives in a unusual packaging. Cozmo itself sits in the top half of a vertical box, visible through transparent packaging, like many toys. However, it is held down by a well designed bracket that requires some handling and reading of the simple diagram to remove. No cheap twist ties for Cozmo. Removing Cozmo and the thin documentation package reviews the charger and the cubes.

The charger has a flat tangle free USB cable which is nice. The charging base, where Cozmo sits, is connected to the actual charging unit via USB. The charging unit/brick is very small with a set of foldable plugs. I assume the charger can be plugged into a different USB charger, like many that we have around charging our phones.

Once nice packaging tough -- the charger's USB cable is tied down with a piece of straw, not the typical plastic ties.

Setting Up

It is important to note that Cozmo requires a smartphone or iPad to function. Much of the "smarts" is actually in the application running on the smartphone/tablet. You need to connect the smartphone to Cozmo via a private WIFI connection provided by Cozmo. When you switch Cozmo on, it shows a very long alphanumeric password on it's face/screen.

$179.99

Here comes the first issue. I tried many times and I keep getting invalid password or connection error trying to connect to cozmo. Anki's documentation recommends you first type the long password in another application (notes, or evernote on my iPhone in my case). Then you can correct typing, and copy and paste to retry. While Cozmo's display is nice, the font it uses to display the password is small. Make sure you tell S apart from 5, and 8 apart from B. If you run into problem, I recommend turning off and back on wifi on your phone, and try pasting the password again.

First Encounter

Cozmo charges up very quickly as it came partly charged. This is important because there is nothing more frustrating than having to wait an hour to try it out. In our case within minutes I got to try playing with Cozmo. The Cozmo app first take you thru an introductory task, like "Meet Cozmo" where you can train Cozmo to recognize your face and say your name. My two kids and I all "registered" our name and faces with Cozmo. The facial recognition works well enough to tell us apart.

There are then other task and games that you can unlock. I assume as you interact with Cozmo, the app lets you move onto new things. We played the reaction game first with one color, then with two colors with Cozmo. It is fun to see him losing some time, and gets mad and flip the cube in disgust.

There are tasks like lifting a cube, and stack a cube that you can let Cozmo try. I don't know if this unlocking task process is just there to make you interact with Cozmo, or you actually need to train Cozmo's AI (at this point mostly to see correctly) before moving onto more difficult tasks. I assume it is the former.

Summary

This review is written only after playing Cozmo for two days. It definitely is fun. I am going to test out the SDK next. I think this "toy" will appeals to both kids and adults, either just as a fun "home robot pet", or something that you can start programming additional behaviour as a STEM toy.

MixCder ShareMe Pro bluetooth Headphones Review

The mixcder ShareMe Pro headphones, besides being a pair of reasonably priced, bluetooth, full-size headphone, it has a secret feature: If you have two of these, you can linked them together, and two people and listen to the same music/sound source at the same time.

With two kids in my family sharing one iMac, there is a constant headphone usage dilemma going on. They need to plug and unplug their own personal headphones as they use the computer. Then if they want to watch a youTube together, they have to unplug the headphone to use the speakers. A lot of audio jack action reaching behind the iMac. Having two pairs of ShareMe Pro headphone may just solve my problem.

Unboxing and Construction

I am slightly spoiled by the mixcder ANC-G5 active noise canceling headphones’  premium packaging which I also have. The ShareMe Pro in contrast arrived in a simple box with a basic plastic tray holding the headphones. When I open the box, the included cables were placed in the bottom of the tray, promptly dropping onto the floor. One positive is that it does come with a reasonably length USB charging cable, as well as a 3.5 audio cable for connecting the headphones directly to a earphone out port.

The construction of the headphones however are very good. At this price point, the headphone is mostly made from plastic. The adjustable ear cups rides on a steel band with plastic rails in the middle. The ear cups are covered in a very soft padded leatherette ear pads. The headband is also covered in a similarly padded material.

Comfort

These headphones are very comfortable. The clamping force is low. The ear cups swivel just over 90 degrees — from flat for storage, to just over 90 to  conform to different head shapes. I find that I can wear them for a long time without problem.


Sound Quality

These headphones uses 40mm drivers with 32 ohms impedance. Being bluetooth, I expected them to be driven nicely by the large internal batteries. I was slightly disappointed with the overall sound quality even after 20+ hours of burning in. I am listening via bluetooth using my Retina Macbook Pro playing iTunes music m4a files.

When I am listening to simpler jazz vocal pieces: Vienna Teng’s Eric Song, Autumn Leaves by Partricia Barber, Save Me by Aimee Allen, they sounded over during the quieter passages. Once the vocal and instruments play together, the over sound became muddled. I moved on to some classic rock tracks like Angie by the Stones, and With or Without You by U2. Similarly the headphones seem to get overwhelmed and lost clarity.

I also tried the same tracks with the headphone connected via the audio cable. There is no any noticeable difference.

I resorted to add EQ to the audio — boosting the 1K and 2K band fixes the sound enough so that it is passable. However I don’t think these will be my goto audio bluetooth headphones. But it is fine for casual listening. My kids find them perfectly usable for youTube listening.

 
 

Design Notes

I have some minor usability issue with these headphones.The headphones have volume and power buttons on the left ear cup, and track forward/backward/pause buttons on the right. These buttons feel a bit cheap when you press them. And the order of the volume buttons are: volume up / volume down / power. I really would prefer the power being in the middle. At the beginning I keep pressing the power button when I want to turn down the volume. Finally I realized that the volume buttons have little dimples on them, so I can to feel for them and not press the power button by mistake. But that is more work than necessary.

If you ever want to use the headphones with wires, the jack on the ear cup is at an angle, so the audio wire sticks out toward the back awkwardly. However I do not see why you would need to use them with wires as the batteries performance is great.

Batteries

I normally do a charge time and discharge time test. But these headphones have such large batteries that I have yet to get a measurable discharge time. That is, once charged, they play for days, which is wonderful. The only drawback is that there is no way to chat the battery levels. So sometime in the future I expect they will just stop working and I have to charge them back up.

Bluetooth performance

These are headphones with bluetooth 4.1. The range is similar to other bluetooth headphones that I have. With line of sight, 20+ feet is fine. With two walls in between, the headphones will cut out at about two rooms apart on my first floor. It is nice that the audio will simply stop when it is out of range, so you won’t get static or random sound. Once back in range, the audio will restart nicely. The headphones do not seems to support multi-point connection. So you can only pair them to one source.

The link two pairs of ShareMe Pro together, I find that the best way is to move away from all other bluetooth sources. Then I can put both headphones in pairing mode, and they did pair with each other automatically. Once that is done, you need to make a note as to which one of the two is the primary one, because that is the one that needed to be pair to your audio source.

This is important because there are times you only want to use one pair of headphones. In that case only the primary pair works.

Finally, perhaps because of the sharing feature, there is a noticeable delay in the audio stream. When I watch a movie, the audio stream is perhaps 100ms to 200ms slower than the video steam. It can be annoying for watching movies or TV shows. I tried re-pairing the headphones several times, as well as with different computers, and the result is the same. I hope mixcder will come out with a software fix in the future.

Conclusion

Given the sharing function and the price point, I think it is a unique product that has a place for a family wanting to share audio in private. My kids are using them as I write this review watching a youTube together.

Note: I received the product from the manufacturer at a reduced price for review, but the opinions are entirely mine.

MixCder ANC-G5 Noise Canceling Headphones

The ANC-G5 active noise canceling headphones can be had from Amazon for 60 USD. How does it compare to the number one noise canceling headphones, the Bose QuietComfort QC20i?

Comfort

The ANC-G5 is surprisingly comfortable. The design of the ear tip is oval in shape and it does not fully insert into the ear canal. There is a fine balance of not having a very tight seal for comfort, but have a good enough seal to eliminate sound leakage. The Bose’s design is great for that. The ANC-G5’s tip is a lesser quality soft rubber, but never the less it works well.

The earpiece is not too heavy. It has a similar designed wire-as-ear-loop as the Bowers & Wilkins C5. I find that the ear loop is simply not necessary, not I can get it to actually fit into my ear. So I just kept the loop small and the headphone stays in anyway.

In terms of comfort, the ANC-G5 is as good as the Bose. I do worry that the ear tip rubber eventually will degrade. It is very thin. It is also oval in shape because it is stretched into the oval shape by the port on the earpiece. Compare to the Klipsch headphones for example, the Klipsch ear tips are oval as molded.

There is a minor annoying with the ANC-G5. The controller “box” is at the headphones end. That means the weight of the controller is pulling on the headphones all the time. I have no choice but to clip it onto my shirt. Compare to the Bose controller box, which is at the very end of the wire, on the plug end. I can just leave it in my pocket or on my desk.

Noise Canceling Performance

Since this is a pair of noise canceling headphones, the most important factor is how well does it actively cancel environmental noise? I tested it three different ways. I tested it against a brown noise generator .The ANC-G5 cancels out the brown noise without problem, as good as the Bose. I tested it against a coffee house background noise generator . The ANC-G5 successfully blocked out most of the background noise and effectively made the human voices more audible.

I then tested the ANC-G5 in my day to day office environment. The headphones successfully cancelled out the low frequency hum of our office AC, leaving me with a nice and quiet workspace.

Sound Quality

I tested the sound quality mostly with the noise canceling  feature switched on as that should be the normal mode of use. I fed the headphones from my retina Macbook Pro running iTunes. I largely listen to jazz and vocals.

After burning in the headphones for 24 hours (I ran the burn in without the active noise cancelation), a listen to Autumn Leaves by Partricia Barber. Her vocal against the deep double base comes through cleanly. While I don’t expect it to reproduce the very low notes perfectly, it did an more than adequate job.

I moved onto Vienna Teng’s Eric’s Song, a track with very clean vocal against piano. I can hear her breathing in between notes.

Moving onto Brandi Carlile’s Wasted, more of a rock track - female vocals against piano, drums, electric guitars and precessions. The soundstage is good but it is noticeably compressed compare to higher end headphones. (OK maybe it is not fair to compare it to a pair of RS-1 driven thru an amp). Overall I definitely enjoy listening to my styles of music as I work in the office.

I also tested using it for two Skype calls. The microphone works fine as well.

Design Issues

Besides that the controller is at the headphone end as mentioned before, the only thing that annoys me is that it uses a micro-A USB connector for charging. All other non Apple equipment I have uses micro-B USB connectors. This means that I cannot use the various charging stations that I have setup both at work and at home to charge this pair of headphones. I have to use their charging cable.

 
$59.99 $69.99
 

Battery Test

After completely ran down the batteries, I charged and ran down the headphones twice to time the charging and usage. Both times the headphones charged to full charge in about 1 hour 30 minutes. The discharge ran way beyond 11 hours both times, however I do wonder if the battery life will be shorter if it was doing heavier noise cancelation in an noisier environment than my house.

Conclusion

For the money this pair of headphones is a no brainer purchase if you need active noise cancelation. The Bose QC20i is slightly better in all features, but it is four times as expensive. If you must have iOS/OSX volume controls on the headphones than you have to look else where or wait for Mixcder to come out with an Apple compatible version. Otherwise it is affordable, sounds great, comfortable, and most importantly cancel background noise well.

Note that while I received this unit from the distributor for review, the opinions expressed are completely my own. 

My Very Old Swiss Army Knife

Having moved from country to country, I have very few possession that I kept with me over the years. This Swiss Army Knife is one. My father bought this for me when I was very young. I do not remember when exactly but checking the stamping on the blade against this webpage, it is a pre-1973 ecoline model.

I remembered my dad taught me how to sharpen it on his wetstone, and I have sharpened it many times. There is a chip in the main blade but I do not remember when I chipped it. I have kept this in actual use with me as I moved from Hong Kong to England to America, as well as a lot of trips overseas. Recently I decided to "semi-retired" it to my desk drawer at home, so that I can pass this on to my kids.

Anker SoundBuds Sport Headphones Review

I was interested in this blueteooth earbuds for a long time. I finally brought them when they are on Amazon’s daily deal for $20. The bottom line: If you are looking for a pair of bluetooth headphones for workout or sports, it is worth it !

Pros

The built quality is good. The cable is nice. I tested one from MPow and they were much worst. The plastic feels ok. The buttons are very mechanical feeling with little damping. The earbuds are very lightweight and they do stay in my ear once I get them pushed in properly. The sound quality is fair. It is a bit boosted in the base and the highs are muddled. Hard to compare this to my Klipsch X11i for literally 10 times the price.

Finally it comes with a nice soft pouch with a spring loaded top that works really well.

Issues

Anker does very nice USB charging devices. Looks like their product design department took many ideas from other headphone manufacturers and implemented them, poorly:

There are magnets in the headphones so that you can clip them close around your neck when you are not using them (like the Jabra Rox), but they are weak, and they do not turn the headphone off.

It comes with a optional cable clip to shorten the cable for the back of your neck, but it clips the cable with a single fold (see photo). A tri-fold design works much better. A single fold just makes the cable stick up in the back of your neck.

All the controls are on the earbuds themselves. They are on the long side of the body, so when you try to insert the earbuds into your ear, you end up pressing the buttons. This is problematic especially for the power button on the right.

The bluetooth range is fair as long as it has line of sight. Once I go behind a wall 15 feet away, the connection starts to drop.

The bluetooth connection does not support multipoint. It will only connect to the last connected devices. Most newer headphones will automatically switch between two latest connections (like the Jabra stealth).

The ear gel tips are very fragile. They are super thin. I tried to remove them for the photos and ended up leaving them on as I am afraid that I will tear them. Again compare them in the photo with the Klipsch. The size of the port is quite large — I am not sure I can swap them out for comply or other ear gels.

The software gives out audio notes to indicate that it is powering on (low-high tone), powering off (high-low tone). This reminds me of older generation of other bluetooth headphones that I had.

Finally, the mic quality is poor. I used my iPhone voice memo to record from different headphones. My Jabra Stealth headset sounds perfectly fine, and that is the one that I use normally for taking calls. The SoundBuds volume is low, and crackly. The mic is a single pin hold on the right earbud, which faces almost directly into my face at the ear level. As such seems like it is having a tough time picking up my voice.

Real Life Test

I took the earbuds out for a 11 miles bike ride. The cable free experience is great. I had my iPhone 5s in a sling behind me, and there were no bluetooth connection problem. The earbuds stay in my ear almost all of the time. My ear did not get too sweaty from wearing it, and having music along the ride is definitely great.

Conclusion

In conclusion — for the money it is a great pair of earbuds for use in the gym or outdoor. The non multi-point and the microphone quality problem mean that I cannot use it in the office for music and phone/conference calls. I hope they upgrade their bluetooth software soon. V2 will probably be a great product, as Anker seems to improve their products all the time.

 

Ti2 Design TechLiner Pen Review

The Ti2 TechLiner pen differs from my other fav Kickstarter pens in that it uses magnets to hold the cap to the pen. How cool is that? My Titanium with gonzodized (by Brad Martin) finished arrived today. What a beautiful finish ! It is hard to describe it in words. Checkout the pictures.

The grip section is really comfortable. The pen is thiner than, say the Tactile Turn Mover, and it is a little lighter. Overall I find it very comfortable to hold and write with. The magnetic cap is neat, but it also makes capping and uncapping quicker. Useful. I do not know if the Signo 207 refill will dry out if left uncapped. Anyone knows?

I bought the extra lanyard cap. I think it looks much nicer. I find a small issue with it - the cap has a slight give when capped, which does not happy with the standard cap. I wonder why.

The magnets are really strong so there is no danger in the pen getting uncapped accidentally. In fact is is really fun to play with the cap and pen. Note that polarity matters. So when you take the pen apart, make sure you put the magnets back in the right orientation.

Take a look at this diagram (drawn with the TechLiner) below. There is a filler and a magnet in the back of the pen. When I took the pen apart to see the refill, they fell out and I nearly lost them. So be very careful when you disassemble the pen. There is also a small ring in the front that acts a little like a shim. Do not loose that!

Over all, this is going to be my fav pen now. It uses a very nice Signo 207 0.5mm refill. Since there is a spacer in the body, other refills may work also. Stay tune for an update.

wise-walker OS-01 urban day bag review

I have always interested in getting a Nomadic wise-walker bag. Jetpens sells some online, but from the description it didn't seems to fit my needs. Luckily I am in Hong Kong and found the right bag for myself. Here is a review of the wise-walker OS01 bag.

Why is this bag so good? It looks small on the outside, but the carrying capacity is great. It is comfortable to carry, and it is secure.

The bag has a large rectangular main compartment, and a ton (well maybe 14) of organizing pockets and areas. When travelling or commuting, a lot of the items I crarry are small. They will all fit outside of the main pocket, leaving the main compartment for the larger items like laptop or camera and a sweater.

The bag is comfortable to carry. I like to carry these bags messanger bag style, with the bag resting on my lower bag. This bag has the air meshed in the back to reduce sweatiness, important when in Asia. The shoulder strap has a padded pad in the middle.

The bag is designed to keep its content secure. This is especially important in some cities like Hong Kong. I can keep wallet and ID cards etc in areas of the bag that is very difficult to be pick pocketed.

How to Use

When running around the city:

  • I carry my Olympus E-M10 for pictures, a polo shirt for when entering crazy air conditioned restaurants and malls, and sometimes my kindle, in the main compartment
  • My battery pack for my iPhone also goes into the main compartment
  • My field notes and pen goes into the back compartment with my wallet
  • Sun glasses, lip balm goes into the front compartment under the flap

When flying:

  • Amazingly, same items as above, plus
  • my travel wallet in the back main compartment
  • currencies goes into the secure compartment
  • when going through security, all my metal items goes into the front compartment under the flap temporarily

Details

The shoulder strap pad is sewn on as part of the strap. It is not movable. As a result it will not slide back and forth. This I think is a good design, but there are two related problems: one is that sometimes I like to slide the bag from my back to my front, for example when I am on a crowded subway train. Because the pad location is fixed, when the pad is set right for the back, it will be wrong for the front.

Most of the inside organizer pockets are made with a semi transparent mesh. So you can see what is in them. The ones that are not made with messed are padded.

Packaging -- look at the little "tab" that is used to wrap the strap in the packaging. Nice touch.

There are 10 pockets according to the product leaflet. In fact there are more. Check out these little touches:

  1. inside the front outside zipped pocket, there is two small shallow pockets that are good for subway pass cards.
  2. under the front flap, the lower zip pocket is for plane tickets
  3. the second zip pocket is double zipped, has three meshed organizer pockets
  4. the zip openning on the pocket is 2/3 high of the actual pocket depth. So things are not likely to fall out after the zips are opened
  5. the main compartment under the flap is about three inches deep, which is what I like about this bag compare to others. A 13 inch MBP fits into it with no problem
  6. the back zip pocket is double zipped, and the openning is 1/2 of the height, again good for not having things fall out
  7. inside there are two mesh pockets across the very back (outer side), three slightly padded pockets and two pen slots on the other side, and two meshed pockets behind them.
  8. There is a headphone cord openning right at the center of the back of the bag
  9. The back of the bag has the "airmesh" type materials. I can tell you it really makes a difference after testing it out in the hot humid (33C, 70% humidity) Hong Kong environment.
  10. There is a "security" pocket in the back of the bag between the back pocket area and the main area of the bag. Why it is a security pocket? It is closed with velcro across the entire length of the bag. If someone try to reach into there it will be difficult, and you will definitely hear and feel the "ripping" of the velcro
  11. and finally, there are two water bottle pockets on either side of the bag, and they are large enough for 500ml size bottles.

Problems

  1. I wish the bag has either little feets on the bottom, or maybe a different materials on the bottom, for when I need to put the bag down on the floor
  2. This is the only medium size problem -- the bag has a flawed side wing design in the main compartment. In theory when the front flap is closed, the side wings will fold inwards to make sure rain will not get into the bag. But I find that most of the time the wings ended up folding outwards instead (see pictures).
  3. Finally, the none movable strap padding problem as I mentioned above. I may replace the strap with something custom or more comfortable

But seriously this is a very well thought out bag. I highly recommend it. However I seems to not be able to find it online in the US, nor in Shanghai.