inStream SeptimusB 7 Port USB Charging Station Hardware Review

inStream SeptimusB 7 Port USB Charging Station Hardware Review

Jul 30, 2015

As we like to say, more mobile devices, more problems… power problems to be specific. Even as batteries get better, there is always a need to keep our power units powered.

Yeah, one can plug in a charging peripheral to every outlet at work or at home, but then, one needs to walk all over the place to retrieve them. It’s just better to have all of them in one place, especially for those of us with a healthy helping of OCD.

And then, here comes the wordy inStream SeptimusB 7 Port USB Charging Station.

Alrighty.

The review unit we received contained the unit in its retail packaging. it contains the main unit, power cable, a loose micro-USB cable and documentation. It’s relatively compact, coming in as a symmetrical rectangular cuboid with soft corners. The one side houses the power cable port, as well as a prominent on/off toggle; the opposite end has seven (yep, 7) USB ports and a green LED. Outside monogrammed names and such, the review piece has a hard plastic, white exterior. Officially, it is 4.09 x 3.86 x 1.1 inches and a hair over 7 ounces.

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Usage is easy. Connected to power, and all one needs is a compatible USB charging cord that connects to a smartdevice that needs to be charged, and flick on the power button. The unit boasts a smart charging chip that allows each of the 3A ports to adjust to the charging needs of the device connected to it; this means it should be able to charge the humble FroYo device or the juice-hungry 10-inch powerhouse on demand. In practice, fresh out the box, it did just that.

With regards to organization, the inStream SeptimusB could use some help. Because it doesn’t have any built-in tray or shelf system. This means that when units are attached and being charged, there really aren’t too many ways to keep the whole conglomeration tidy beyond just stacking them on each other. Thus, in some ways, a lot of space is needed, and probably charging cords of different lengths to make it work.

Still, the size is of benefit, and the central power button is a nice touch. Combined aesthetics aside, it’s a piece that definitely holds its own. Tied in with its relative affordability ($39.95 on Amazon), and it’s easy to like it.

NU2S Smartphone Hardware Review

NU2S Smartphone Hardware Review

Jul 29, 2015

There are many reasons folks dabble into Android.

Love of the OS, appreciation for the extended Google ecosystem… even a hyper anti-Apple sentiment get cited as reasons. Critically, one can enjoy the diversity of product as well as as apps availability across carriers.

One element that increasingly becomes part of the device ownership narrative is price; the ability to get a device at just about any price point is, well, priceless. And, to be fair, we are not talking about just anything at any price; we expect quality, even when we pay what might be considered a good price for an Android smartphone. Now, obviously, the ability to have OEMs battle to bring the best devices to market at the lowest cost is a function of the Android landscape, but we’re not complaining.

NUU is a device manufacturer out of Hong Kong that is making waves with its unlocked devices which are now available in North America. We had a chance to formally check out its budget NU2S Android phone, and off the bat, it odes take on the term “value” head on.

The loaner NUU sent us came in standard retail furnishing; in the box, one gets the device, charging cable and adapter, cleaning cloth, screen protector and documentation. In hand, the black NU2S is quite handy, and doesn’t even come close to phablet territory; officially, it comes in at 5.25 x 2.6 x 0.36 inches, and only 4.8 ounces. It comes in the familiar slab style, with a bottom bezel housing capacitive navigation buttons. Up to the top, there is 2MP camera (in addition to the 5MP one at the back), and a 2000 mAh battery.

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It comes with 512 MB RAM and 4GB internal (which can be buttressed with up to 32G of external memory), and packs a quad-core processor. Screen-wise, one gets an IPS screen boasting 960 x 540 ppi. And yes, one gets Android 5.0.

It feels good in hand, slight but not silly, with serious stylings that offset the light materials.

In use, the device works really well. Downloaded applications work smoothly, and the screen is great at full brightness. Phone-wise, the dual SIM is a nice feature, and calls work well on T-Mobile’s network, at still and on the go; no dropped calls, and clarity was great. It worked well to receive calls (we didn’t test two SIMs).

The HotKnot functionality is cool, allowing folks to transfer information by physically touching phones. It has a casting feature built in to the unit.

For folks looking for ALL the bells and whistles, the NU2S might be a tough decision. The screen isn’t as vibrant as what is seen on the major flagships, and the cameras could be sharper. There are not a whole lot of third-party custom accessories that I could find either. The relatively small number of uninstallable stock apps is admirable.

So… in the battle of budget smartphones ($100 on Amazon), this one manages to outperform its financial station. It’s sleek, and easily carries a reasonable portion of the load carried by more renown device heavyweights. In the end, all folks want is a great phone at a great price.

Well, here ya go.

Arkon Universal Tablet Headrest Mount Hardware Review

Arkon Universal Tablet Headrest Mount Hardware Review

Jul 20, 2015

Summertime is travel time for my family. We love going places, and almost always enjoy ourselves.

Still, it’s the going that can be troublesome. Boredom is young person’s kryptonite, and backseat bickering is mine. Thus, for all concerned, having mobile technology is such a blessing, and the Arkon Universal Tablet Headrest Mount helps harness that blessing.

The review package arrived in clear cellophane, just as it does in retail form; it contained 6 pieces, and involved a lit bit of onsite prep t get together. I wasn’t a fan of the diagrams, but to be fair, I was able to cobble it together in an intuitive manner. When set to go, it uses the 2-post system available on the headrest of most cars to attach itself, and then physically extends towards the middle, such that the tablet is held in a central position mostly between the two front seats. It works great for two heads, but can be effective with three in our hands-on testing.

In practice, it’s an interestingly effective solution. It extends out across the forefront of a conventional back row, and allows for occupants to consume tablet content from the central position. the setup allows for some movement as well, and as such, can be adjusted to fewer passengers. It was an effective holder for video and even controller-based gameplay

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It is pretty easy to set up, and works well with a large range of tablets, and as such is the perfect accessory for road trips of varying lengths. The assembled piece can be removed, and say, stored in the trunk when not in use (or used in another vehicle), which gives is a slight degree of mobility.

It’s another piece from Arkon that mostly adds functionality to larger mobile devices… but then again, what did we expect?

TYLT RIBBN Car Charger Hardware Review

TYLT RIBBN Car Charger Hardware Review

Jul 15, 2015

As our use of mobile devices increases, so does the need to keep them powered. Portable chargers do the the trick, but one key concept is the ability to charge in vehicles.

TYLT has established a name in the power accessory segment, and with good reason. The units it puts out tend to straddle the fence between form and function quite admirably; it’s nice to have a piece that looks good, and, well, works. We recently had an opportunity to review its RIBBN 4.8A Car Charger.

We didn’t hesitate.

It utilizes TYLT’s flat cable design, which, with the rubberized finish, makes this piece quite flexible and stowable. It is pretty long as well (3 feet of primary cable), so it can be deployed quite far from the plug-in part itself. It incorporates an extra USB port, in essence creating a dual prong option that can source devices with different type of charging ports. The plugin portion is fairly long, which allows for it to be removed and reinserted quite easily. It mostly feels well constructed, with care placed in the melds, and it thrives being stored in cars in different weather conditions over time. We got the black piece to review, and it comes in other colors (which can be seen in the gallery at the very end of the article).

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One of the best aspects of this unit is the integrated functionality. First, the 2 amp charger just make sense. More devices need it, and those devices are quite mobile, so having an adapter that draw this is invaluable. Secondly, the extra USB outlet allows for one to use a USB cable of any length and just about any type (MiFi, micro-USB, mini-USB, etc), such that an extra mobile device can be attended to quite easily. In one instance, I was able to charge a device used in the back of the vehicle from the front. It spits out up to 2.4A per cable, which is plenty enough to keep most thirsty electronics satisfied; the flat cable is also useful, giving the main cable the ability to be used around corners without crinkling or tangles.

Altogether, it’s a sleek, atypical piece that fills a need properly, and manages to do just a bit more. It’s what we’ve come to expect from TYLT, and underscores why the company remains a serious player in the mobile accessories segment.

The TYLT RIBBN is available for 39.99 via TYLT’s website.

Gosin Car Mount Hardware Review

Gosin Car Mount Hardware Review

Jul 2, 2015

When it’s all said and done, I prefer accessories that help my mobile devices to be, well, more mobile. Let them roam… do what they are made to do.

One of the first draws to getting a smartphone way back when was the ability to derive GPS voice navigation with the help of software. Having readily available directions on hand is invaluable. So is being safe, so getting a helper piece to hold one’s phone securely — handsfree — is not only smart, it’s legally prudent.

And so we get the Gosin 360° Rotating Car Mount-Air Vent Universal Smartphone Holder.

It’s a mouthful, and the review package Gosin sent us shows why. It is relatively sizable, and comes in two pieces: a portion that ends in a suction piece, and the device holder. On the retail package, diagrams help one get it together, the one piece snaps into the other, and with that, it becomes a unique, multi-jointed unit. All together, it is pretty heavy-duty, but not too heavy, and is constructed with mostly black, hard plastic. Officially, it is under 10 ounces and is 6 x 4.9 x 3.7 inches. Plus, it does not weigh very much as it weighs 9.6 ounces

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It has several buttons set in which control bending and angling, such that when it is attached to the windshield with the suction control mechanism, it is possible to tweak the whole unit very precisely — and this is not an understatement. It can literally be moved around for the perfect fit/angle. With a little bit of usage, it is possible to place and release device one-handed.

In some aspects, it does feel a bit busy. The physical functionality of the unit also means that it has quite a few moving parts: nuts, buttons, ratchets and more. It also bis a bit bigger in profile than other items of of similar function, which can be an issue on sleeker cars because of the incline of the windshield. Some of the button usage might not feel intuitive at first, but to be fair, it does get easier to use with practice.

Still, it’s a pretty useful solution; it does what it sets out to do safely, and even more importantly, does it effectively. The potential for one-handed usage is invaluable, and the price (under $14.99 via Amazon) is to die for.

The Gosin 360° Rotating Car Mount Air Vent Universal Smartphone Holder has a $4 off coupon code. Applying the Code PM52CCP9 at checkout the price will $4 cheaper than its current price and Free Shipping w/ $35+ Purchase or Free 2-Day Shipping w/ Amazon Prime.

Arkon Travel Tablet Stand Hardware Review

Arkon Travel Tablet Stand Hardware Review

Jun 30, 2015

Easy does it.

Yep, that is my moto when it comes to accessories for electronics. You can the coolest high falutin’ helpers, but in the end, it just seem like the best accessories are easy to handle, move and implement. Why have a piece that is more complex than the smartdevice it is supposed to support?

The Arkon Tablet Stand is one that seems to fit this bill… at least, on the surface.

The retail unit Arkon sent us was simply packaged, and contained the unit for review and documentation. It possesses a unique design; at first glance, with the unit folded, one might be forgiven for not being impressed. At rest, it looks like a somewhat irregular piece of plastic. Closer inspection shows that it is actually made of three joiined pieces — arms, if you will — that can be pulled apart from an axis. The axis is intricately constructed, such that the arms move somewhat independently of each other, but are still able to form a shape. Two matching form the base, and the third arm, which is padded and jointed, becomes an adjustable support. It is simple, yes, but the way it is conceived allows it to be pretty sturdy in action.

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A strong point for this solution is the overall efficacy. because of it’s adjustable nature, it can be used with several devices of different sized in either orientation. The back support can be adjusted, and this allows the viewing angle to be tweaked, which can be invaluable; the base arms have grooves, which help with stability.

The uses are too many to list. It was used to create a “monitor” to type up this review. It can be used to take in media, videochat, or everyday browsing. It just works.

Obviously, the portability is a big benefit. Because it can be folded up, it easily fits in one’s go bag, or even pocket. I was even able to tuck it into a tablet sleeve with the tablet.

All the moving parts give me pause; the arms are a bit stiff, and the ratcheting system could be a point of weakness down the line. This is conjecture on my part, so I am willing to give the whole piece the benefit of the doubt.

For now, it’s on my favorites list.

House of Marley Chant Wireless Speaker Hardware Review

House of Marley Chant Wireless Speaker Hardware Review

Jun 18, 2015

Yes, I admit The House of Marley intrigues me. Beyond the iconic name, the company makes some nice-looking accessories, and its commitment to use sustainable materials can only be lauded. It’s Chant Bluetooth Speaker looks to be an example of what House of Marley can bring to market, and we were quite willing to give it a try.

It’s cute, but can’t be accused of looking trivial; it possesses a small cylindrical shape that almost makes it resemble a small candle jar. It has a hard cloth/denim-like material on the exterior, with cutouts at the bottom and a zipper at the top, plus a caribiner and Jamaican flag accents; this is indeed the cover (which is made out of natural materials and recycled goods), and inside, the smooth, bamboo-trimmed main speaker sits. The main grill is at the top, with two smaller ones towards the bottom. There’s an on switch and LED at the top, and mini USB charging port, microphone and 3.55 mm plugin port. On its own, it looks okay, but when paired with the zip-up case — as it is meant to be — it looks a bit more defined. Officially, it is 5.9 x 4.4 x 4.4 inches and about 1 lb.

Pairing it is easy and intuitive; turning it on puts the unit into pairing mode, from which it can be discovered and paired to from a host advice. At this point, it’s a simple matter of piping audio through it, and we put it through the paces.

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The main output comes from the top; thus, the unit works optimally with the top of the case unzipped with the covered pulled back. With different types of music, we put the speaker on full throttle. It gets decently loud, but not as loud as bigger units. At higher registers, there is a hint of tinniness, but a decent helping of base. Laying on its side, it did provide decent directional sound. If vibrating chandeliers off the roof is the goal, these probably won’t suffice

It works well as a makeshift speakerphone; calls in are handled well, and fairly seamlessly.

If one were to nitpick, it would probably be about some minor things… like the mini-USB port. It does come with its own cable, but for folks that like to move around, using the more ubiquitous micro-USB standard makes it easier to use on the go… in theory at least.

As a portable entertainment extension, the Chant excels. It is very mobile, and can be used in a number of situations in different locales. It looks equally at home on a window sill or strapped to some handlebars, and does a good job of audio transmission. The ability to go both ways (wired and wirelessly) is a nice benefit.

The cool factor is just the cherry on top.

Writing Smart: Neo Smartpen N2 Review

Writing Smart: Neo Smartpen N2 Review

Jun 11, 2015

An opportunity to check out the Neo Smartpen N2? Yes, please…

It looks sleek, but still retains a professional feel. In a meeting of executive ballpoint pens, the N2 wouldn’t look too out of place. It has a dark finish, is angled but still faintly cylindrical and almost pyramidal; with the cover off, it tapers to the writing end. There is a power button and a color LED towards the “bottom” of the pen, and at the very end portion, there is a micro-USB charging port.

The pen is designed in such away that a small camera is incorporated towards the writing end; this is part of the solution that allows the unit to capture written text.

Now, to get the unit going, we charged it with the supplied cable. When the unit is powered on and plugged in, it’s easy to see where the unit is with regards to battery level via the LED light. As soon as the unit was topped off, we were truly ready to go.

One aspect of the solution is the cross-platform Neo Notes app. This apps helps with registering the pen and otherwise getting the pen connected to it via Bluetooth. When it is connected to the app and host device, it allows one to see captured notes.

And how does one capture notes? Simple. The review unit came with an N Notebook, specially designed to work with the N2. When one writes in said notebook, the text automatically shows up digitally in the app; if the app is on and connected to the pen, the written material shows up close to real-time. If not connected, it syncs whenever the smartpen is re-connected. In practice, it all works quite well, as the captured text appears in collated notebooks within the app. And yep, it all syncs with Evernote.

I admit, I was impressed. It’s a cool setup.

As-is, the solution works well, but some of the other features really had me heel-clicking. When a captured note is viewed in the app, one can act on it: it can be shared, or a voice note can be added; it also supports tagging. The feature I was most looking forward to checking out is the transcription.

Reliable handwriting transcription is the holy grail of smartpens; Neo has the popular Myscript transcription engine built in, and it is surprisingly effective. Some live testing is below:

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The transcription window allows for some editing, which is simply swell.

My biggest complaint is related to the proprietary paper needed. To be fair, this isn’t that odd with regards to smartpens, but it is something to consider from a refill standpoint. I think the app could be a bit more streamlined in places; as much as I like the transcription, it could be improved upon. Also, with the $169 price tag, this is an investment.

What the N2 does effectively is to make it hard for folks to go elsewhere. It just feels like this sector is getting crowded, but based on this solution, Neo seems to be in a great place.

PowerIt Multipurpose Charging Kit Hardware Review

PowerIt Multipurpose Charging Kit Hardware Review

Jun 9, 2015

As always, I am a huge fan of measured convergence. I’ve said it before and will say it again: give me a combo device, as long as it does multiple things well.

This is especially true of portable battery packs. One stays in the go-bag whenever I am out; but what if that unit can charge multiple batteries, add something useful like a flashlight, and… oh… say… jump a dead car battery?

Ah. Maybe the PowerIt Jump Start Kit?

400A peak current with rugged automotive design; dual USB port charges 2 devices at once; jump starts cars and SUVs with 12V batteries; over current, charge, and discharge protection.

The review package we were sent brought the charging goodness right where we wanted it; it starts with a zip-up blue carrying portfolio, which does an excellent job of keeping all the components organized and portable. In this is a bunch of other pieces, including the main unit, power supply, USB outlet cable, car charger cable, charging clamps and documentation.

The main unit serves as the hub of operations. It’s relatively diminutive as a rectangular cuboid, and mostly is black and gray in color. On the one side, there are a series of ports: a 1A USB port, a 2.1A USB port and its own input port, and these the openings are bracketed by power level LED on the one side and an output jack for the charging clamps. On the one side, there is flashlight, and on the broad side there is a power button. Altogether it comes in at 7.28 x 3.27 x 1.69 inches.

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The unit came with a full charge, so it’s possible to get right into checking it out. I really wanted it to see how the devices chargers worked, and, using my own USB cable, I was quite able to get some of my hungrier devices going seamlessly; charging two devices simultaneously also works, which is great on the go and/or in multiple person emergencies.

I had to “create” a situation to check the auto charging functionality. With the unit charged (and a dead car battery artificially created), I was able to jump-start a car from dead. It took longer than I would have liked, and I wish the clamps had longer cables, but it actually works. It advertises a 200A starting current and max 400A max, and the standby time is decent. I’d like to see how that latter aspect does over time.

Not bad.

In the end, it’s the little things that count. Flashlight? Check. Morse code generator? Check. I like that one can purchase this in different output tiers, and the carry case is a nice touch. At $99.00, it isn’t too cost prohibitive. It probably won’t replace AAA, but it could help save on using up those tows, while keeping those mobile devices going.

Divoom Voombox-Party Wireless Speaker Hardware Review

Divoom Voombox-Party Wireless Speaker Hardware Review

Jun 4, 2015

We love to check out wireless solutions, especially speakers. A tool that can enhance sound on the go? Let me loose!

Well, here’s the Divoom Voombox-Party.

The review package we were sent contains the speaker, power cable, audio cable and documentation. The unit looks like it means business; it looks like a solid brick of technology, with gently tapered angles and a defined rubberized finish. The control bank at the top is simple to navigate: power toggle, bluetooth pairing, phone answering and two buttons for volume. To the side, there are covered ports for power and audio cable. In hand, it is hefty piece, and it feels well crafted. Officially, it comes in at 9.17 x 2.13 x 4.06 inches and 2.4 lbs.

It takes a while to charge up the unit, close to 3 hours. Once the unit is ready to go, connecting it to a source is easy simple, and I suspect anyone who has played with bluetooth protocol will be at home pairing this: tap the bluetooth button on the speaker, search for it from the mobile device, and it’s good to go.

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The sound quality is surprisingly good; it reflects clearly at different volume levels; at louder ones, it did feel a tad hollow, and I think it could use some range. The subwoofer definitely has personality, and mostly keeps the unit from being overwhelmed by itself. The additional phone functionality is peachy too; the voice quality is decent, and the switch-over is seamless. The audio port allows for conventional wired usage, and that is nifty to have on occasion.

My biggest gripe with the unit mostly has to do with the design. I found myself trying to set it lengthwise because I kept on losing the controls. For semi-permanent usage, this isn’t a a big problem, but I tend to move speakers around a fair bit.

It’s easy to like the Voombox-Party. Without a doubt, the positives easily outweigh any and all negatives. It’s a wireless piece with wired sensibilities. At $91.50 (via Amazon), it could be just the piece one is looking for.

Satechi 7-Port USB Charger Hardware Review

Satechi 7-Port USB Charger Hardware Review

Jun 3, 2015

*Groan*

There I go again, whining about the, uh, problem of having so many tech pieces. They begin to add up, and until someone makes a fortune from making a truly long-lasting battery, one is going to need a whole lot of electrical sources. If you’re somewhat of a platform agnostic individual like myself, you wanna own a device from as many mobile platforms as possible. Add in some tech-obsessed offspring, and we have a charging problem.

Still, I’m a sucker for simple solutions. My current one (plugging devices into several outlets across several rooms) is not reasonable. Thus, I am kind of digging the Satechi 7-Port USB Charger — even before formally checking it out.

The concept is simple: a self-contained dock especially suited to store and charge phones, tablets and most things in-between. So, with one power source, we get to take care of seven rechargeable devices.

Nice.

Satechi sent us the white version (black is also available); the retail package contains the charging dock, the power supply, velcro ties and documentation. The main base is mostly white, and the top part is black, and has eight clear dividers affixed, such that there are seven distinct slots for mobile devices. On the one side, there are USB ports that line up with the created slots, as well as a port for the included power supply. Also pertinent to note is the power button/LED light on the open surface of the unit. Officially, it is 7.4 x 5.5 x 2.6 inches and weighs 13.4 ounces.

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For the curious, 4 of the USB outlets are rated for “mobile” devices — in other words, 1A. The other three do 2A, which is becoming increasingly more important for more powerful devices. Each port has surge protection (huge), and the whole piece includes a smart chip to prevent over-charging.

In practice, it does swimmingly. In extended testing, it works great as a cross-platform charger, and it does bring a distinct organized feel to multiple devices. Because of th design, it is useful with rechargeable bluetooth keyboards and even a smartpen or two.

The unit does not provide USB cables, so there is a bit of a jumble with regards to the excess cable if one isn’t using short ones. Still, I rather prefer the bring your own cable concept, as it allows me to bring out the archived Palm PDA with its proprietary USB cable. The included velcro strips do help with taming the excess.

it’s a useful piece; value-wise, it is a bit of an investment ($54.99 via Amazon), but with the extra device protection, the price does feel a bit more palatable.

Edifier Luna Eclipse HD Wireless Speaker System Hardware Review

Edifier Luna Eclipse HD Wireless Speaker System Hardware Review

May 31, 2015

When looking for wireless audio speakers, I tend to believe that units that do a bit more than, well, connect and transmit are infinitely more useful. Some companies do this better than others, but after checking out Edifier’s Prisma Encore Speakers a while back, we were hooked.

As such, we were helpless when an opportunity to review its Luna Eclipse System came up.

The review package Edifier sent is a representation of the system in its retail glory; in the box, one gets the pair of speakers, power cords, audio cable, optical cable, speaker-to-speaker cable, RCA-to-3.5 mm adapter, a remote and documentation. We got the black color (blue, red, orange and white are options), and the two speakers are almost mirror images of each other, in that they both look like ovals with defined cutouts. The one side (right) serves as the control unit, with volume and power rifles, as well as ports for power and connecting. Officially, they come in at 4.80 x 8.34 x 8.74 inches and just under 8 lbs. Compared to the aforementioned Prisma Encore, this set is fairly compact. It has a glossy, smooth finish, and I admit it’s nice to look at.

It utilizes Bluetooth 2.0, and each head packs a tweeter and speaker drive. Audiophiles will be pleased to note the official continuous power rating of 74 Watts.

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Connecting via bluetooth is easy, in my testing I used two Android devices (and a Windows tablet for good measure). The sound output was rich; little echo, and a healthy dose of base that isn’t overpowering.

Using the included remote, I was suitably impressed by the high volume reaches; distortion is minimized.

Next, I used a wired connection to patch in to the TV using the supplied audio-cable. Again, it enhances the built-in sound output, and works very well.

Off the bat, the variety of connection options are a big draw. Using the provided cables, one can connect via optical cable and “regular” audio 3.55mm audio cable including wireless bluetooth wireless. In one scenario, I connected the speakers to the TV, and, with the help of the remote control, was able to “take control” of the speakers with my pre-connected phone via bluetooth.

The mix of style and functionality is probably what sets them apart. No, they are not the most mobile, but provide enough sound that semi-permanency does not take away from its overall shine. Even without the optional stands, it makes for a stylish piece with plenty of powerful sound. Still, while I am not one for superfluous apps, but do feel one would have been fantastic here.

For a multi-dimensional piece, $159.37 (via Amazon) isn’t overly unpalatable, so it is an investment that might be worth it.

And we are not just talking style here.