Martian mVoice Smartwatch Review — Alexa on your wrist

When it comes to smartwatches, I have been somewhat slow with regards to updates. Nothing wrong with the concept, it’s just that I tend to use watches in a very traditional way, and there’s something about a watch being tied to sunset-able OS that gives me pause.

With smartwatches being more health-conscious, it’s easier to adopt them, and now with connected homes, they make more sense.

That’s the background for or formal look at the Martian mVoice Smartwatch.

Physically, it looks much like a “regular” casual dress watch. The watch face has a classic look, with a prominent “12”, chrome accents and protruding knobs and buttons on the right side. The watch face also has a digital panel, as well as speaker, charging port and microphone on the sides.

The strap completes the classic look, made of brown leather with white threaded accents; other options are available, including beyond the OEM offerings. Altogether, it looks and feels like a watch one could wear almost anywhere, and the ability to swap out the strap adds more options.

Now, if you are already invested in Alexa, this watch will certainly appeal to you. By interfacing with the Alexa app (which should be installed on the paired Android device), the watch becomes an extension of the service, allowing you to invoke orders via the watch. A bit geeky, yes, but it actually works well in practice; after a bit of prep (including bluetooth pairing), the Alexa portion worked well.

The app also allows the user to customize how Android system alerts are received on the watch. It can be used as a wireless leash and also as a shutter control for pictures. The voice command portion is great for, say, driving and one doesn’t need to take eyes off the road.

If health monitoring is a core focus, this one might not be for you. It is a great secondary notifier, and just might be the watch for folks who want relative affordability (under $60) with something that doesn’t look overly futuristic.

Nomad Key Micro-USB Charging Cable Hardware Review

Nomad Key Micro-USB Charging Cable Hardware Review

Mar 31, 2017

My barber recently unveiled a very welcome new piece. What was it you ask? Not a new chair, or a special hair wash bath. Nope… he new piece that got so much attention was a standalone charging bay.

Charge your devices while your head gets mowed.

Brilliant, and just goes to underscore one point: it’s a power hungry world, and we just live in it.

Look, we need our gadgets, and they need power. We’ve said it before: the person who creates a smartdevice with really long battery life will make a mint. Till then, give me some useful accessories that can help me keep my devices juiced.

Enter Nomad Key Micro-USB Charging Cable. It’s been around for a while; we wanted to see if it is still a relevant piece.

At first glance, the Key is indeed small: keychain circle in chrome finishing, and a small USB to micro-USB accessory wrapped in hard black plastic.

In usage, it works especially well with power banks (Nomad makes one, but we used our own).

The biggest plus is the mobility and relative ever-present nature of the solution; if there is a USB power source available, it’s possible to charge a device that needs requires micro-USB input. Nifty and convenient yes, especially for this times one might need to an extra cable beyond the one packed in the go bag.

On the other hand, the lack of length does relegate to primary backup use (or with an aforementioned portable power bank), because the device to be charged invariably has to be very close to the power source, almost prohibitively so.

Now, the obvious drawback is the advent of USB-C devices. Sill, for now, we figure the Nomad Key still does most of the hings that would make it quite useful in today’s mobile landscape.

Just as well.

House of Marley Liberate XLBT Wireless Headphones Hardware Review

House of Marley Liberate XLBT Wireless Headphones Hardware Review

Feb 21, 2017

House of Marley. That Marley.

The legendary name is beginning to develop a bit of a following in the audiophile sphere. What’s not to like? Great construction, wireless options and beautiful sound.

Our wishlist is demanding.

This is what the new-ish Liberate XLBT Bluetooth Headphones have to live up to.

The review package HOM sent us reflected the piece in its retail housing; in the box, there is the headphones themselves, audio cable (hint, hint) and a nifty fabric carrying bag.

The headphones are a solid fit in hand, but not hefty. The band is framed in metal, but with soft leather on the interior; the insides of the cups are framed similarly. Said cups are attached to the frames by a jointed assembly held together by screws, and there are fabric and wooden accents sprinkled throughout.

The one cup houses the controls — power, volume, skip, pair/phone — as well as audio input and microphone. On the other, there is input for micro-USB charging.

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Trying the set on revealed a more-or-less comfortable pair; the band is wide, and also has a sliding mechanism for adjustments. The unit can also fold up, making it easier to put it in the carrying bag.

Pairing it to an audio bluetooth source is intuitive; as soon as we got that, we were able to test the sound quality. Like other HOM pairs, the sound is crisp, even at reasonable distance. In fact, we were notable to ascertain much of a difference between the wired (yes, it can do that) output and wireless output.

It also worked well as the answering end of a phone.

One big gripe for me is the construction. After a fortnight of consistent use, I found that the screws which secure the ear cup to the frame were loosened; sure enough, they fell out completely shortly thereafter, leaving the cup to dangle uselessly from the main band by only cable.

Replacing them seems to delay the inevitable, as it happened again.

This issue (which seems to be a design flaw) mars what is otherwise one of the best sounding, comfortable headphones we have looked at. We’ll update with HOM’s response to this; hopefully, we received a bum review unit.

Noreve Leather Cover Hardware Review

Noreve Leather Cover Hardware Review

Feb 20, 2017

Having been around mobile electronics as long as I have, I’ve seen it all. Almost.

I remember the first device I dropped: My Palm Tungsten T5. My clumsiness saw it drop to the floor; wrapped in a leather all-round portfolio case, it survived the drop, only taking a nick at the top of the stylus storage.

The case did its job.

I’ve seen the devices get thinner and sleeker, and it isn’t too hard to find pictures of device catastrophes. One thing I’ve learned is good protective accessories are valuable.

There will always be those iconic brands that stick with me. I was getting into the handheld computing game back when the Treo was the sexiest thing around.

Back then, Noreve was a major player. Protection that looks good? Sign us up. We were quite willing to see what the premium is up to now; we asked to Noreve to surprise us, and they sent over Leather Cover Rear Shell for the Samsung S7 edge.

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Now, if you know the device in question, you know it is a unique device to outfit; the curved edges mean typical cases can interfere with its functionality. The leather cover is crafted specifically for the device, from leather, and fits on the rear of the device. The cutouts are deliberate, such that all ports and buttons are easily accessible. It snaps on and off easily enough, and just be sure, we tried out the camera: no interference.

It has a firm feel, and we could not find any gaps. In practice, it does not add a lot of girth to the device,which is great.

The one drawback? The case is a bit too thick to allow for wireless charging; we tried hard with the four wireless chargers we had on hand.

Still, it’s a fine example of craftsmanship, and one of the better cases we tried.

No surprise, really; Noreve has been doing this for a while.

Seagate Duet External Cloud-Supported Hard Drive Review

Seagate Duet External Cloud-Supported Hard Drive Review

Jan 31, 2017

Vent time.

Look, marriage has been good to me; I am seriously blessed in that regard. I know it’s cliche, but my better half is close to perfect, one of those rare specimens that makes me better by simply observing her aura.

Fantastic as she is, she does have a weakness: smartphone storage management.

It blows my mind. She could run the world, but when it comes to managing media, she lives life like Captain Jack Sparrow, with no regard to the rules media disciplined folks — like me, by the way — live me. She takes pics and records video with abandon, and at some point, when her phone shuts down from the strain of all the data, she looks at me, wondering why I didn’t fix it.

*sigh*

The Seagate Duet, a cloud-supported hard drive with Amazon Drive specific functionality, is just what the doctor ordered for her… and for me.

Off the bat, the review unit Seagate sent us reveals a very slender device, smaller all round than most slab smartphones. The topside is fairly spartan in appearance beyond the Amazon logo and a small LED light; the bottom is has a somewhat understated swirl design. The unit has one port for a miro-B cable; this is included with the unit.

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We got right into the usage. Now, the documentations lets us know this works with computers physically and smartdevices via the Amazon Drive app; additionally, if using said app, the data is synced to Amazon Cloud. Thus, from a mobile point of view, this solution allows for physical and cloud storage in one neat package.

In practice, it all works well; the cloud functionality does require internet, but one cool aspect is that even though the documentation does not explicitly show physical connectivity with smartphones, this unit works with devices that OTG functionality. Using a micro-USB adapter, I was able to connect the device to Android tablets and smartphones, allowing the Duet to show up as a drive on either device. It can be manipulated via file manager.

Quite nifty.

The whole thing is a great concept, not the least of which is its portability. It comes with a year of free Amazon Drive storage (albeit for new users only). At $99, 1 TB doesn’t often look much slicker.

F300W Wireless Charging Pad Hardware Review

F300W Wireless Charging Pad Hardware Review

Jan 29, 2017

Truth be told, I have cottoned very, very well to wireless charging. Any concerns with regards to the speed of the process are mostly surpassed by the overall convenience; plus, being an Android old-head, I still have horror stories about damaged charging ports circulating in my brain.

I am still terrified of broken ports.

Incoming USB-C heads are definitely welcome, but I am especially attracted to accessories that allow me to be as wireless as possible. You know, stuff like the Spigen F300w Wireless Charging Pad.

The design is similar to ones we’ve seen before: an angled, tapered structure with deliberate bends that create a stand of sorts. It looks like a hard piece of synthetic material that is bent almost to 90 degrees, and then has a lip to place the device on.

The review unit we received is black, the aforementioned lib also has an LED charging/on indicator, and the back end has in incorporated micro-USB port for power input. When attached to power, the LED light stays red.

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Usage is fairly intuitive; one places a device with wireless charging capabilities (built-in or added coil) and places it on the pad; if everything is right, the unit’s red light changes to blue. The F300W’s claim to fame is the use of three coils along the charging base; this allows devices to be placed fairly liberally and still make enough contact to charge, even in landscape orientation.

One fantastic current advantage over some wireless chargers is the fact that it uses relatively common micro-USB (B) for input power. While we hear that USB Type-C is the new upcoming standard, most devices still use the former; thus, if one needs to use wired charging for any reason, an extra cable isn’t needed. It’s something small, but definitely a plus.

The design isn’t exactly new, but it helps that it is effective, and, daresay stylish. It is portable enough — maybe — but works well as an accessory that allows the device to be monitored while charging.

Pick up one of these at Mobile Fun for $34.49.

Stilo Stylus Hardware Review

Stilo Stylus Hardware Review

Dec 24, 2016

It’s true, we live in a touch-happy world. I do know this one bloke who believed that fingers would never supplant the glorious innovation known as a stylus. I…I mean… “he” was wrong, but, hey, I wouldn’t call it a comeback, because styli never really left.

Here’s to you, Note series and iPad Pro. Well done. Very well done.

There are some occasions when a stylus can be an elegant, effective means of smartdevice navigation and/or usage, and Stilo 2A looks to be a contender in that space.

As epitomized by the review piece we received, it’s a sleek item, with an even heft and a black finish. At the “writing” end, there is a cover, and popping this off reveals the fine 1.99 mm nib. At the other end is a ridge for the cap to be stored while the pen is in use (kind of like how markers use), and there is a very subdued “on” button on the body. Stats-wise, it is 6.7 x 1.9 x 0.6 inches, and one can also get it in white, rose and gold.

The review package also includes a battery; this is installed through the back, which has a screw-on cover.

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When the battery is installed, it can be turned on by pressing the aforementioned button (this opens up the electrical signal to the tip); with cap off, we’re ready to go. In our testing, it worked very much like a pen, though it is a tad wider along the barrel than most ballpoints. It is still easy to hold, and feels good in hand; the unit works well to replicate taps and even gestures, and worked with every Android device we tested it on. The precision can be adjusted via the tip, and the battery didn’t conk out in the fortnight we tested it (we didn’t find a way to have a reading on battery). When not in use, the unit turns itself off.

Now, the interesting usage came when we used it with a recommended app that we tried before: MyScript. This is a replacement keyboard that we looked at a while back, and have used with other styli. As a handwriting utility, it is the perfect test bed for a precision stylus such as this. The Stilo 2A acquitted itself reasonably with it.

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We had to try drawing as well.

Once one gets used to the bore, handling the unit becomes easier. There was a teeny bit of lag with the drawing app we used, but not nearly so much as do make it uncomfortable to use. It truly feels like writing on a touchscreen. With regards to taping and dragging, it is very effective.

It’s probably different from the standard stylus most folks are use to, but its overall functionality helps it to possibly supplant options with thicker tips. It can be used as well as one’s finger, and probably better in some use cases.

Won’t call it a comeback… moreso a valid reminder of what can be better.

Can be.

BRAVEN 105 Active Bluetooth Speaker Hardware Review

BRAVEN 105 Active Bluetooth Speaker Hardware Review

Dec 24, 2016

The Braven 105 Active Bluetooth Speaker is small. It’s meant to be though.

Ah, so let’s see if good things can come in small packages…

We received the orange unit to test (pardon… “sunset” per Braven parlance, with six more colors to pick from); it is indeed small, and quite portable, coming in at 3.8 x 3.8 x 1.3 inches and weighing 7 ounces. The entire surface supports its waterproof promise, with three rubber buttons on the circumference. It actually takes a little bit of doing to reach the rubber-sealed section that houses the micro-USB port, audio-jack and reset hole. This whole area is tidily hidden by the removable mounting plate attached to the unit by an elastic strap.

The retail box also has a micro-USB cable, mounting accessories and documentation; the unit boasts a rechargeable 800 mAh lithium ion battery, 8 hours play time and certified water resistance.

And how does it work in real life? Charging is an intuitive process, using a power source to the micro-USB slot via cable. Pairing is easy too, using the power button. It works as expected, in wireless fashion, to output audio from the Android devices we connected it to. The audio quality is surprisingly vibrant, especially when one considers its size. We didn’t quite get the advertised 8 hours of playback in testing, but it easily surpassed 6.

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Portability is one aspect that allows this piece to shine. It’s great for bike rides, and works well as a miniature boom box.

My biggest whine is related to the back panel. The efficacy of the solution makes sense, but it is not that easy to make it to the back innards of the unit.

What it might lose in ease of access, it mostly makes up in portability and functionality. It’s size lends its potential use in any number of scenarios: with laptop, phone, heck…. as an Amazon Echo Dot output speaker… it works, and works well.

Fidelity-wise, it probably wouldn’t make a serious audiophile bow, but it does hold its own in its niche category.

Vaja New Agenda Case Review

Vaja New Agenda Case Review

Dec 13, 2016

Almost as far back as I can remember — along my gadget-owning timeline — Vaja had been an accessory presence. The name mostly invokes classy quality, and even today, it looks to continually prove that smartphone protection need not be a completely utilitarian “p” word.

We figured it would be the perfect manufacturer to toss into our case roundup.

We asked Vaja to surprise us. They obliged with the New Agenda, custom made for the Samsung S7 Edge.

The review case underscores Vaja’s attention to detail, with deliberate wrapping. The case itself looks and feels good right out if the box, sporting premium Argentinean leather bound on a minimalist polycarbonate core. Said core commands most of the back of the case, and allows for a form-fitting snap-on system; it also had a getting flap that is intended to cover the front of the phone, and which gives it its “agenda” styling. It has the necessary camera cutouts, and the edgeless sides allow for manipulation of the host device’s signature panels.

It attaches to the device easily enough by snapping on, and the whole solution is quite intuitive, and just as easily removed. The fit is tight without being overly restrictive, and the four-corner design does an equitable job of keeping the case on securely.

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The leather exterior culminates in the aforementioned flap that provides adjustable cover for the front of the device; the inner part is in felt, and houses a magnet to facilitate secure closure.

In usage, the case had a small profile, such that it provides close to complete coverage without too much added bulk. The seams are well stitched, which allow it to reside in the pocket without causing discomfort. All buttons and ports are easily accessible, and the case can even be positioned to hold up the phone in landscape orientation.

The case does prohibit wireless charging in our testing, but, in another vein, does work with wet-applied screen protectors. Big bummer on the former, yay on the latter. This probably won’t provide the protection that a hardcore case would, but it does help provide insurance against wear and tear and small bangs while managing to look good while doing it.

All in all, it’s a fine looking accessory that has added benefits. For an expensive daily driver, it definitely is a great complement.

The case is $49 on Vaja’s website.

Pelican Case Hardware Review

Pelican Case Hardware Review

Nov 23, 2016

Smartphones are serious business; we have to protect these expensive mini computers. As such, we are taking some time to look at some case options for some of the more popular current devices.

Our loose criteria is based off of style, usage and choice (we’ll be testing with a flagship device, but expect the cases we test to have options made for other devices).

Pelican has made gear that has stood the test of time; seriously, we mean some seriously tough stuff. Now that they also craft smartphone protection, it peli3only make sense to how its mobile products work in the real world. We got to see the Pelican Protector smartphone case in action.

In hand, the case looks and feels like a solid piece of hard plastic, with the cutouts and allowances made for the specific device our test piece was made for: the Samsung S7 Edge. The exterior comes in a light shade of blue with grey accents, while the interior is mostly in grey (there is a black and grey option as well).

Getting it on is as simple as snapping the phone into place; at first glance, it hugs the phone very securely. Towards the left, it utilizes soft cover buttons that work over the volume toggles, and the same setup protects the power button on the other side. Each cutout is precise, and the ports and openings are unobstructed and quite usable while the case is in place. The non-slip finish does come in handy with regards to device usage on the go and the case is fairly easy to remove as well when required.

The S7 Edge provides some interesting challenges when it comes to case coverage because of its side panels; the Pelican Protector side coverage sits right at the base, allowing the device functionality to remain.

In pseudo drop testing, this lightweight accessory does a better than decent job of protection. We did not perform any face down drops though.

Now, the Pelican Protector doesn’t necessarily dazzle from a raw style perspective, but its svelte build allows it to provide a tough exoskeleton while creating little extra bulk. At $32 (on Amazon), it is an affordable way to get Pelican toughness at home.

Limelens Smartphone Lens Review: Looking Anew

Limelens Smartphone Lens Review: Looking Anew

Oct 15, 2016

The truth of the matter is that our smartphones aren’t becoming converged devices; they’re already there. GPS, computing, casting… heck, flashlight and measuring tool. The unique uses are becoming more ubiquitous by the day.

Taking pictures is a major one. Look at the image wars… every smartphone iteration packs bigger and better image capturing hardware and software. In my case, I found I hadn’t charged my relatively expensive camera in months. Not the camera’s fault, really; my smartphone camera is fine, it’s always with me, always (just about) charged and has better sharing tools to boot.

Then, when you toss in some cool accessories like the Limelens Smartphone Lenses, you get a chance to really take snaps that set them apart.

The review packet reflects the tidy retail manifestation: a zip-up lime green and (mostly) black carry case, two lenses, three clip/holders, stickers, cleaning paraphernalia and documentation/instructions. The lenses included were The Thinker – Dual Macro / Wide Lens and The Captain – Supreme Fisheye Lens.

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Now, the trick is to get the clip in place, and this depends on the particular device’s camera’s orientation; Limelens’ documentation and site provide instructions. With the clip adhered to the device, one can get one of the lenses and slide it in.

Then it’s time to have fun.

The pictures do get exhibit the expected effects.

One cool aspect to the whole setup is the expansibility. Limelens compiles a list of compatible hardware… stuff like cases that work with the solution. After the initial play with the lens, I decided to try the setup with a case listed on the Limelens website made by Amzer. The placement of the Limeclip mirrored that of the case-less device, and with a little prep, I had, in essence, a semi-permanent Limelens accessory.

All in all, I really came to enjoy the add-ons. They are practical, easy to setup, and fun. They won’t replace high-powered dedicated image hardware, but they aren’t really designed to.

TYLT VÜ SOLO Hardware Review

TYLT VÜ SOLO Hardware Review

Sep 27, 2016

It’s no secret that we are fans of TYLT’s designs. There’s something infinitely cool about the minimalist designs that allow them to be as functional as they are fashionable. TYLT generally manages to make mobile accessories that one can almost build decor around.

No small feat. Trust us.

With wireless charging becoming more of a standard feature, finding useful chargers is becoming more of a need. The TYLT VÜ SOLO isn’t entirely new on the scene, but looks to remain a serious player in the field.

The review package TYLT sent us does highlight the expected TYLT aesthetic: rich retail packaging that showcases the goodness within; inside, one gets the charging pad, unique flat micro-USB cable and relevant documentation. The most important piece is obviously the silicone pad, and outside the bright burnt orange coloring, the slight brick is almost understated, being pretty small in profile and very light. It has a simple led light, and a micro-usb port. The flat cable has an “alignment edge” to hello with precise placements.

Officially, it comes in at 3.44 x 3.35 x 0.59 inches and 2.6oz.

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The whole system is simple and intuitive with regards to setup. One needs a USB adapter (not provided) to connect the pad to an electrical source via the provided cable. Then, it’s ready to go.

The true action is initiated when one gets a Qi-enabled device and places it on the charger; we tried it with a Samsung device with built in wireless charging capabilities and also with an HTC device coupled with third-party Qi charging coil. The LED light announces the charging action.

In practice, the charging pad was fairly liberal with the newer device we tested on it; we didn’t have to work hard to position of the device. Of course, this may be more of a testament to the device, because it was a bit more temperamental with the coil accessory. As with all QI charges we have seen, there is trade-off with regards to time and heat generation, but in our testing, charging was consistent.

The TYLT VÜ SOLO is a nice, simple product that’s small and light enough to be portable when needed. it’s the perfect accessory for folks who are particular about charging ports and/or saving plug-in time at night. At $19.99 (for a specific color) on Amazon, it is quite affordable too.