STM Harbour 2 Case Hardware Review

STM Harbour 2 Case Hardware Review

Jul 17, 2014

STM, as a company, is probably best known for its laptop bags; we had the privilege of reviewing its Trust Messenger Bag quite recently. In fact, STM has quite a few smart device case and covering offerings in its arsenal, and we got a formal look at the STM Harbour 2 Case for the current HTC One (M8). Like it or not, STM has a reputation to uphold, so I was more than a bit curious about this accessory.

The review unit provided highlights the red piece we received (it also comes in black and charcoal); the red finishing pops through the clear product packaging. Removing the box reveals more: the reddish hue and grey accents and linings and the seemingly precise cutouts. The otherwise solid piece does have an interesting bit of flexibility built alongside a grey band; along this strip, the unit could be lightly bended and manipulated; this allows for docking and can even serve as a pseudo-stand. It feels solid, but not overly rigid, and the hard plastic (polycarbonate and TPU) comes across as well-formed. On paper, the case is 5.7 x 2.8 x 0.4 inches. It is barely bigger than the M8 when standing beside it, and that is somewhat reassuring for folks who are reasonably concerned with added girth.

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The unit snaps into place with a reassuring, subdued snap, and the first thing that really stands out is the fit. It does merge with the phone and feels with seamless; I didn’t get any creaking or unnatural gaps. The bottom ports have an open space in lieu of separate holes, and the power button, volume rocker are catered to. At the back, the dual cameras each have cutouts (which means the flashlight is also unencumbered), and there is also spacing for audio. The edges are mostly well covered, but there isn’t much of a lip for when the cased M8 is face down.

There isn’t too much added bulk, and the stand functionality does come in handy in portrait, even though it is isn’t as smooth of a solution as an incorporated kickstand. It does provide a degree of protection in pocket too, and the case still allows for wireless charging via add-ons. The SD card on the M8 is covered, but the IR blaster works flawlessly.

The case is a good option in a relatively crowded sub-section, and it more or less holds its own.

The STM Harbour 2 Case is available for $27.12 via Amazon.

Miccus Pool Party SPX9 Bluetooth Speaker Hardware Review

Miccus Pool Party SPX9 Bluetooth Speaker Hardware Review

Jul 16, 2014

Summertime is all about the outdoors, grills and pools. Why should the fun stop there? That is what the Miccus SPX9 Bluetooth Speaker asks out loud.

The review box Miccus sent us came with the speaker itself, a male-to-male 3.5mm coaxial cable, USB charging cable, wall adapter, user paperwork and a net carrying bag. The unit itself is mostly grey and black, and is formed in hard plastic, with dual, soft-feeling speaker grills on the front face with an LED indicator along. The top part houses the controls, with an on/phone answering button, back, play/pause and forward buttons, mic and volume toggles. The back piece is molded into a simple handle, and there is a flap that sp1hides opening for the coaxial cable, USB charging connection and micro-USB cable. All in all, it is solid without looking too straitlaced, and looks well fused together.

Pairing the device will be intuitive to anyone that has paired a bluetooth device; it’s a matter of activating the bluetooth source, and turning the speaker on by holding the on button for a few seconds, which puts the speaker into pairing mode. The device then uses beeps to help guide pairing.

The sound quality is admirable. there is a bit of lost sharpness at higher decibels, but the music is mostly clear and far from muddy. The added wired functionality is a boon to, as it makes the speaker available to a wider array of sources. It can be used to answer phones too via speakerphone.

Two elements also make this accessory stand out a bit more: the splash proof nature and the portable charging functionality. The SPX9 is advertised as pool safe, and the finishing and rubber protection underscore this. My admittedly cautious water testing didn’t cause the unit to miss a beat. I especially like being able to plug in a mobile device into the speaker for emergency juice.

Pound for pound, the biggest barrier might be the pricing; at $99.00 (via the Miccus site), it’s in for a lot of competition, even with the extras. Still, for a device that won’t shy away from the occasional wetting, it’s a decent offering.

Antec Bluetooth Headphone Hardware Review

Antec Bluetooth Headphone Hardware Review

Jul 14, 2014

The push to going wireless is alive and well, and Antec seems to be quite willing to take on the challenge, especially with its a.m.p Wireless Headphones

The review box which was provided to us showed the attention paid to product packaging. The product comes with the headphones, micro-USB cord, wall plug-in pins, 3.55 mm male-to-male audio cable, a carrying case with carabiner and paperwork.

The contoured black frame is mostly wrapped in somewhat glossy hard plastic with bendable ends that fold inside, a feature one almost expects in over-ear headphones to encourage compactness and portability. The cans are covered by soft, perforated material, and there is metal on the insides of the unit. The topmost inner part also has foam padding, and the cans are jointed, which allows them to rotate somewhat on a connecting axis. The right side has a micro-USB charging port, as well as a 3.55 mm port for wired sound feed. Also nestled on the right side are the track controls, volume rocker, LED light and power button. On the head, it is quite comfortable, and the innate flexibility of the set works well in real life, even when at rest around the neck, which it can do at 6.4 ounces.

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Charging didn’t take too long, and pairing it via the Bluetooth 3.0 chip to an audio source is easy and intuitive; it’s a simple matter of tapping and holding the power button till the LED alternates rapidly between red and blue, and finding the headphones and linking from the source device. It worked well with all types of audio, and the clarity was quite impressive. The bass output isn’t as sharp with some songs, but overall, it was loud enough in the ear. It streams close to the advertised 32 feet distance.

It also works with wire via the removable audio cable. This gives the set even more functionality. The “call”button, which is smoothly incorporated to the right end, is a nice touch. The call quality can be a bit jagged though.

All in all, while the exterior part of the device is prone to smudging, and the joints make me wonder about how it will hold up in the long term, I still think it is a decent value overall.

The Antec AMP Pulse Bluetooth Wireless Headphones is available for $79.99 via Amazon.com.

Antec a.m.p. Wireless Bluetooth Speaker Hardware Review

Antec a.m.p. Wireless Bluetooth Speaker Hardware Review

Jul 10, 2014

Portable output devices have more-or-less become must-have mobile accessories. Music? Podcasts? Word Cup audio? Heck, what about hands-free phone calls? These are things that the Antec a.m.p. SP-1 Bluetooth Speaker purports to take care of.

Antec was kind enough to provide us with a review sample; the clear casing hints at the product within, and the extra covering contains a male-to-male coaxial audio cable and a micro-usb cord. We received the pink units (it also comes in black, white, orange, red, blue and green).

The unit itself isn’t too big at all, coming in at 1.6 x 6.2 x 2.4 inches and weighing in at 1.3 lbs. The exterior is made up of hard plastic, and the entire shape is slightly trapezoid in appearance, with perforated labels taking up opposite long faces. On the one end, there are ports for the audio cable and charging, along with an on toggle. On “top” of the unit are hardware buttons for volume and pairing.

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Pairing? Like most Antec Bluetooth products, pairing is seamless, as long as the unit retains a charge.

In real life, it does well with producing sound. it isn’t ear-splitting, but the monaural output is pleasing, if a teeny bit hollow-ish at the highest volumes. It boasts an official range of 30 ft, and in regular testing, I was able to maintain a connection just a little short of that in open space; walls and such introduced more distortion quicker at further distances. It also came close the advertised 10 hours of usage time.

An additional feature that it has that is becoming more ubiquitous across the board is the the speakerphone capability. When paired to a telephony device, it is possible to answer and converse with callers via the built-in speakerphone.

It’s a compact device that has great sound and multiple uses, which make it a viable option, even, I daresay, to stereo output snobs. Officially, it is listed at $99, though it can be had for cheaper via other online retailers.

Neptor Bluetooth Speaker Hardware Review

Neptor Bluetooth Speaker Hardware Review

Jul 8, 2014

Mugsy Bogues. Mia Hamm. Messi. Well, the Neptor Portable Bluetooth Speaker looks to further prove that massive performance can and does emanate from relatively small packages.

The review unit we were provided with was relatively humble, containing the speaker and a matching, flat micro-USB cable. Size-wise, it could be described as diminutive; the cylindrical shape fits comfortably in the palm of the hand. Its dimensions are 3.5×2.5×2.5 inches, and it weighs about 8 ounces. The bright red coloring is only interrupted by the logo-ed band that runs across the frame, and the platform piece that makes up the bottom. At the top, perforated audio holes are incorporated, and at the bottom, a clear holder props the unit up. There is a micro-USB port that is hidden with a flap. In addition to red, the manufacturer also puts it out in blue, green, orange and purple.

What sets this seeming tyke apart are the physical controls, which mostly boil down to twisting and tapping. For example, turning it on involves tapping and pressing down on the top of the piece for three seconds. Conversely, pairing the unit to a bluetooth audio source follows the same pattern with most pairings of this type; with the one device seeing the other, one taps/presses down on the top of the speaker to initiate the pairing sequence, as signified by the flashing blue light. After pairing is complete, the light turns blue, and one is ready to go.

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Increasing the volume from the unit is a matter of twisting the upper half of the item along the aforementioned chrome band; twisting it in the opposite direction reduces the volume. Additionally, after connecting, tapping on the top can be used to toggle play or pausing of music. Long-pressing on it for three seconds turns off the unit.

The sound won’t shatter window panes, but to be fair, this isn’t what it seems to be designed to do; as a simple, easy-to-carry companion accessory, it works well, providing relatively clear audio. The added speakerphone functionality (calls can be answered with taps) is definitely welcome.

The sound will probably not be lauded by serious audiophiles, and the lack of wired option may give some folks pause. The battery did give out a bit before the advertised 4-hour limit, but all in all, it works well, and the exceptional portability adds to its value.

The Neptor Twist & Tap Bluetooth Portable Bluetooth Speaker is available for $29.99 via Amazon.com.

Arkon Smartphone Flexible Tripod Hardware Review

Arkon Smartphone Flexible Tripod Hardware Review

Jun 26, 2014

As smartphones become even more adept at serving as everyday image capture tools, having the right accessories specific to camera and video is shifting from want to need. Bonus points, obviously, for portability; if I can slip a non-bulky piece in the go bag (or even a pocket), I’m a happy guy.

Thus, having a chance to have a formal look at Arkon’s Smartphone Flexible Tripod is sure to be a fun endeavor; Arkon sent us a review package and it was on.

The package contains the main tripod assembly, and some interesting extra pieces. There universal smartphone holder, a ball pattern adapter plate, and a tightening ring for 17mm pedestals. There is also a handy black drawstring carry pouch with blue company lettering. The pieces themselves are black/mostly black, and the core is crafted out of hard plastic with greay and blue accents, with some metal in there as well.

When all compact, the item is fairly slight, but still feels solid in hand. The three legs are ribbed with foamy material, and are connected to the main frame, which itself is jointed for flexible movement. The upper parts are stiff, but the mechanical form is very similar to what seems to be standard for tripods, with user screws for tightening and a male connector piece at the top of the holding platform.

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Functionally, the tripod excels, as-is and especially with the extra pieces; the phone holder screws in seamlessly to the tripod, and is adjustable all the way to phablet sizes. The ball joint allows for added flexibility along the axis. The flexible legs are simply wonderful, and allow for some atypical mounting styles. The tripod also works with other third-party thumbscrew adapters, and in every use scenario, the device felt very well secured, even during shake tests. As an added benefit, it works with smaller cameras that have the right end, and other Arkon pieces.

I would have liked some adjustability, even a little bit, in the legs; if I were picky, I’d also like the unit to be rated for one-handed device insertion.

In the end, it’s productivity that counts, and this accessory is one that can definitely contribute in a simple, portable way.

The Arkon Smartphone Tripod is available at the Arkon website for $19.95.

STM Truth Gadget Messenger Bag Hardware Review

STM Truth Gadget Messenger Bag Hardware Review

Jun 17, 2014

Life is good.

You have the tablet, portable keyboard, backup drive, stylus, power bank and even a jump drive or two. Maybe you’re going big and even pack a mobile scanner, over-the-ear headphones and an emergency phablet. You, sir/ma’am, are the picture of mobile productivity, and are ready to go.

All one needs now is more hands and baggy dungarees with dozens of pockets. And, hopefully, understanding TSA agents and fellow travelers who won’t jump one for creating the airport metal detector bottleneck.

Seriously, just about as important as the tech gear we obtain is the gear we use to protect and transport them. A proper go-bag is a must have, and it goes without saying that the same things we look for in mobile gear — affordability, style and portability, amongst others — are the things we would probably wanna see in a functional bag.

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Enter STM Trust, a messenger bag that looks to strike a delicate balance between looks and functionality.

We received the small red version to try out (it also comes in olive and graphite, with differing sizes); the material is made of water-resistant poly. Officially, the exterior covers 1.22 x 14.96 x 4.72 inches for a capacity of 915+ cubic inches, and it weighs a bit over 2 lbs in weight empty. It looks quite unpretentious, with the red only broken by grey and silver snaps and zipper, black accents on the shoulder strap, and the grey bottom panel.

The bag compartmentalization is very well done, and will be perfect for folks high on organization and quick access. The front flap starts the party with a padded, zippered pocket, great for smartphones and other smaller delicates. Lifting that up reveals another zippered compartment, and another, more centralized pocket which is broken into smaller layers; this is suitable for all sorts of gadgets and devices. The main compartment is accessed from the top towards the back, and is lined as well. At the very back is a loose, easy-to-reach compartment without a a zipper, and there are pouches on the side.

The attention to detail is gratifying. The strap is easy to overlook, but on this bag, this key component is adjustable, optional and padded at the apex. The stitching is subtle and color-appropriate.

If I had to nitpick, I’d gripe about the placement of the hand handle, which is singular and offset towards the rear. I’d also prefer something other than hard plastic for the strap joints.

All in all, the STM Truth is easy to appreciate for its overall functionality and affordable style. It doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, and in the end, that might be its biggest draw.

The Small STM Truth Bag is available STM partner sites for $129.95.

Visioneer Mobile Organizer Hardware Review

Visioneer Mobile Organizer Hardware Review

Jun 13, 2014

You know me… if I can do it well on the go, than that’s where I want to do it. In other words, if there is a productivity task that can be done from my smartphone, and it can be done effectively and quickly, than I’d rather d it on the go. Why schedule time to be tethered if I don’t have to?

Such is my view of mobile scanning. Smartphone camera solutions are useful in a pinch, but, as we noted in our Visioneer Mobility Scanner, we don’t mind being spoiled. Thus, we had no doubts it’s cousin, the similarly minded Visioneer Mobile Organizer, would be just fun to look at.

The scanner that makes up the main piece of the review package isn’t too different from its cousin Mobility; they share the same color schemes, and hard plastic finish, but the former looks a bit more angled visually, and the black bottom creeps up higher as well. Dimensions-wise, it is 11.4 x 2.2 x 1.5 inches and weighs less than 1 lb. The box also contains a carrying bag, a RoadWarrior disc (with several software tools and an ebook), USB cable, calibration paper, a cleaning cloth and plenty of documentation.

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The scanner works well on its own; it boasts 11 second/sheet one-sided printing of letter-sized documents, and in practice it delivers; it also works with advertised paper ranges from 1.5 x 1.5 inches to 8.5 x 32 inches in size. The unit is powered via USB cable connection to, say, a laptop, so power cables are not needed. Scans produced are impressive, and it even works with formerly crumpled pieces of paper.

What the mobile organizer intends to do is be more than just a scanner, but an organizational hub and paperless lifestyle tutor. The software tools include a data organizer for the scanned data (which then becomes searchable by text). The aforementioned ebook brings core paperless principles to life.

It’s a different device than the Mobility, yes, geared almost to traveling folks who pack a laptop, but in that space, it is an excellent peripheral device.

The Visioneer Mobile Organizer is available on Amazon for $125.

Seagate Backup Plus Portable Drive Hardware Review

Seagate Backup Plus Portable Drive Hardware Review

Jun 12, 2014

Seagate is making strides in the mobility space, and its Backup Plus Portable Drive is another sign of this goal.

This drive really, really has mobility on its mind. Size-wise, it comes in at 4.4×2.9×0.4 inches, and comes in a host of colors. We got to review the blue unit, which comes with a proprietary cable and desktop software pre-loaded.

In its overt purpose, the Backup Plus does just fine. It works great at a USB hard drive, and is able to offload or unload data back and forth from Windows computers. When connected to, say, a laptop in conventional fashion, it appears as a mapped drive, and drag and drop/copy and paste operations are seamless. It installs the Seagate Dashboard unto the host device, which acts as a management tool.

Now, where it wants to excel (and, as underscored by its size) is the ability to be a mobile resource. When paired with the companion Seagate Backup Android app, it allows specific data to be transferred wirelessly from mobile devices, as long as the drive is connected physically to a laptop or desktop on the same wi-fi network. Additionally, it is possible to sync via Dropbox and/or Google Drive via 3G and 4G. In this way, even if one is away from trusted wi-fi, one can still have some piece of mind if using the Android app. As an added feature, it’s possible to save data from Flickr, YouTube and Facebook.

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The app (like the Dashboard Desktop Manager) allows for scheduled backups to occur, but for specific types: photos, videos, contacts, call log, messages and music. Scheduled backups can also be set here.

The biggest thing I would have liked is the ability to wirelessly send all type of files via the companion app. The ability to move media, messages and such is great functionality, but I would have loved to be able to move other data packets to and fro. The need to be tethered is a bit of a drawback, and it could have been somewhat alleviated by mobile OTG protocol, but the proprietary connection complicates that potential solution.

To be fair, Seagate does have the Wireless Plus, which is a great mobile option, and as such, this is clearly developed as a tethered solution with cloud compatibility.

It mostly does this very well.

TYLT Vu Wireless Charger Hardware Review

TYLT Vu Wireless Charger Hardware Review

Jun 11, 2014

Wireless charging is becoming less of a novelty, and with the TYLT Vu Wireless Charger, it is easy to why aesthetics can become a big part of the picture.

Off the bat, it definitely wins style points, with its deliberate angling and tapered look. The surface area is lime greenish with a subtle logo on the face, and black on the underside. The uneven, inverted V is very becoming, and the hard plastic feels solid in hand. The charger officially comes in at 7.5 x 3.5 x 0.5 inches, and weighs less than 5.7 ounces; it also boasts output of 5W off input of 12V/750mA.

The package contains a charger and documentation as well, and also comes in red, blue and black.

Setting the charger up is intuitively easy, and involves connecting the included wall charger via the port at the bottom of the device. The unit feels fairly firm, with no undue chance of tipping over. The broadest end of the unit bends into a brief lip, and this main part forms the main charging surface. In practice, the surface area is very liberal, which allows for relaxed placements. When paired with a few Qi-enabled devices, the charger immediately recognized them and started working immediately, as shown by the charging indicator on the devices. Charging is noticeably slower than wall charging, but this is something that is true of every Qi-enabled charger I have used.

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I would have liked an indicator on the charger itself, or even a vocal signature; if a device does not have an indicator, it can be hard to confirm charging if the screen is off. Also, the sleek design is easy on the eyes, but might make usage in places like a car a bit harder to pull off.

In any case, hats off to TYLT for making a modern charger that is cool enough to be as stylish as it is functional.

SwannEye HD Wi-Fi Security Camera Hardware Review

SwannEye HD Wi-Fi Security Camera Hardware Review

Jun 4, 2014

Even security is mobile nowadays, and Swann has been championing the cause for a while; we recently had an opportunity to review its smartdevice-enabled SwannEye ADS-445 HD IP Netwrk Camera.

The review package is packed. Literally. Manuals in different languages, warranty info, power cord, ethernet camera, installation software, camera stand, antenna, bracketing screws, security stickers and, of course, the camera itself.

The device itself is slight by sturdy; it really cannot be described as heavy, but it does carry a bit more heft than might be guessed before holding it at 0.73 lbs. It’s made up of the rotating and oscillating camera head, which is held up from the base on a swiveling platform specially designed to accommodate the varied movements. On the side of the camera is an SD card slot, and at the back are ports for the DC 5V power and LAN, as well as audio in and out, alarm input, and just above, there is a speaker.

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Towards the front, at the bottom, are LED lights indicating on status and connectivity, and a subtle built-in microphone. The camera lens itself is surrounded by a light sensor and a bunch of infrared LED lights.

Connectivity to a computer is easily achieved via the software, but for the purposes of this review, we were really interested in the mobile component. Using the SwannEye app available on the Play Store, a control connection can be established, and via gestures, the camera responds to basic commands. Video can be recorded to SD cards up to 32GB (using an Eyefi card is a cool option). The app also allows one to share images via connected networks.

There is noticeable lag when using the app, lag that isn’t as severe when using the Windows version. The software can be temperamental at times, but once one gets it up and running, it works for the long haul. Unobtrusive mounting is a bit hamstrung by the power requirement as well. The video quality was better than expected though, with the camera capable of 720p 1280 x 720 at up to 30 frames per second.

For wi-fi based camera needs, this camera is a formidable option, and the motion-detection is a great feature. The pluses outweigh the drawbacks.

RAVPower Qi-Enabled Wireless Charging Pad Hardware Review

RAVPower Qi-Enabled Wireless Charging Pad Hardware Review

Jun 3, 2014

It’s all about mobility these days, and frankly, that’s exactly how I want it. When it comes to smart devices and accessories, there is always room in my hear for tools or combinations that lessen the need for other tools, and especially for those that remove the need for wired and tethering.

Wireless charging is not exactly news anymore; the concept of inductive powering and gradual industry acceptance of the Qi standard is something all techies and enjoy. For those already on the train, accessories like the RAVPower Wireless Charging Pad will be great additions to one’s personal mobile ecosystem.

We got a white unit to review (the item also comes in black). It is not too big, but a bit removed from being diminutive; the exterior parts are made of hard plastic, and is a rectangle barely bigger than the HTC One M8, and feels lighter too. Officially, it is 5.7 x 3.11 x 0.31 inches, and under 5 ounces in weight. The review box also contains a micro-USB cable, plug and instructions.

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The continuity of the frame is only delicately interrupted by a micro-USB charging port at the “top” of the unit and a tiny LED at the bottom; at the front, there is a the company logo that serves as the charging sweet spot and slip guard, along with the written version of the logo.

Setting it up is as simple as it gets: wall plug cable to unit, and it’s on. The unit promises an output of 5V 1A max. I used it with an HTC One M8 and N5, and it worked well. With the former (which uses a third-party Qi element), the charging is slower than a wall socket.

The ease of placement makes it great for everyday use, though I admit I would have liked a physical guard in addition to the ant-slip mechanism.

It’s a fun gadget, and perfect for times when a device might be asleep for an extended period, like overnight.