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Author Archive for Ryan Preston

Kidz Gear (Wireless) Headphones for Kids Review

Manufacturer installed vehicle DVD systems are a terrific option to entertain the little ones, especially on those long road trips that often occur in the warm weather months of spring and summer.  A common accessory of these systems are wireless headphones.  No wires to get tangled and irritate the kids. I have reviewed the Kidz Gear Wired Headphones. Let’s see how the wireless version stacks up. Read More →

Kidz Gear (Wired) Headphones for Kids Review

Spring and Summer will be here before we know it (yes, my fingers are crossed in hope of sooner rather than later) and with warmer weather comes an increase in travel.  Whether it is a 12-hour drive south for spring break or a 30 minute drive to a local water park or beach, when the kids are not happy, it can feel like the longest drive of your life. Read More →

RC Cooler Review

You ever wanted an ice-cold beverage but were sitting too comfortably to get up to quench your thirst?  This gadget might be the tool that solves just such a dilemma.  The RC Cooler InteractiveToy Concepts is a remote-controlled cooler.  You might recall that Julie posted a comment on the site about this on 3-Dec-2009. Let’s check it out and see what it has to offer. Read More →

LeapFrog Fly Fusion Pentop Computer Review

FLY_Fusion_Pentop_29When I was a kid, the closest thing that I had for an electronic homework helper was a Texas Instruments calculator.  As you are probably aware, those days are long gone.  Families today have countless options for electronic tutoring; ranging in price, complexity and effectiveness.

Today I am reviewing one of such option.  LeapFrog’s FLY Fusion Pentop Computer, a digital pen that is targeted for children ages 8 and older.  It captures your handwriting, digitizes your notes, plays music and is basically loaded with educational and enterntaining software.  So let’s see how it stacks up. Read More →

Rebit 1 TB Multi-PC Backup USB Hard Drive Review

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Have you ever experienced a hard drive failure, losing critical data such as pictures and music?  As I begin this review, my main desktop computer is currently on life support and my data is in (little) jeopardy.  Fortunately, I have an external hard drive that I utilized for routine backup. So it is only fitting that I have the opportunity to review the Rebit 1 TB multi-PC backup USB hard drive.  Let’s see what it has to offer. Read More →

Star Kids Products Snack and Play Travel Tray Review

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Imagine driving a vehicle with atleast one small child strapped in a car seat behind you.  The child is reading a book or playing with a doll and suddenly it drops to the floor of the car.  The child desperately wants that item but cannot reach it due to the safety restraints, so the child begins to cry and whine, pleading for you to help which you cannot safely do because you are driving. Read More →

Glove Snap-On Case for the Blackberry Storm

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I recently purchased the Blackberry Storm and since it is my first exploration in to the world of touch screen phones I thought I might want to protect it.  The salesperson at my local cellular provider was fairly high on the Body Glove snap-on case.  Let’s check it out. Read More →

Atek Logio Secure Password Organizer Review

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Security is important to all of us and when it comes to technology our passwords are often a critical component.  Everyone knows that our passwords are only as good as we make them.  It is crucial that a password is not easy to guess.  No names, birth dates, need to use both upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters.
Read More →

HP Mini 1000 Netbook – Love and Hate, Plus Its Affect On My Domestic Life

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I have to be honest, when Julie communicated to her Gadgeteer Geek Gang that we would all be getting a new HP Mini 1000 XP Series Netbook, I was overcome with a feeling much like when I was a kid at Christmas.  You know, that happy/joyous feeling of anticipation that fills the youthful spirit until the climax of ripping through the paper on the very last gift. Read More →

Western Digital My Passport Essential 320GB Portable USB Hard Drive Review

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Lately you have probably been exposed to at least a few media covering portable hard drives.

The Gadgeteer has reviewed 3 portable external hard drives since the end of October. You might have purchased or received one as a gift for the holidays. They are a great investment as a backup tool or as a way to transport the valuable information stored in our computers. Read More →

SLAPPA Aura PRO-TOUR Laptop Backpack Review

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Just in time for the holiday season, the fine folks at SLAPPA have released a new series of gear bags with the Aura PRO-TOUR laptop backpack.  In the past, I have reviewed CD cases, laptop bags and sleeves from SLAPPA and I have always been impressed with the quality of their products. Read More →

Toshiba USB 2.0 Portable External Hard Drive Review

Recently, I have been concerned with the scenario of a potential hard drive failure on my family’s main computer. The memories captured in thousands of digital photos, the hours spent ripping music and the miscellaneous critical files lost due to any numbers of reasons that cause a computer’s hard drive to crash.

These fears have driven me to intensify my search for a good backup external hard drive. So my pursuit brings me to review the 400GB Toshiba Portable External Hard Drive. This is the largest size available in a line of personal storage solutions by Toshiba. The other sizes available are 160GB, 250GB and 320GB.

Hardware Specifications

USB powered
Compact size: 0.65” (H) x 3.2” (W) x 5.0” (D)
Weight: 6 oz.
Plug and play
Works with Windows (XP or Vista) and Mac (OS X 10.3.9 or later) software
Internal shock sensor and ramp loading technology to help protect your drive
3 year limited warranty
Available capacity: 160BG, 250GB, 320GB and 400GB
Buffer size: 8MB
Preloaded with NTI Shadow Backup Software

Package Contents

Toshiba Portable External Drive
USB 2.0 Cable
Quick Install Guide

I am initially impressed by the look and feel of the device. It has a high gloss black finish to it with five curved lines in Electric Blue color on the top. The other available colors are Carbon Grey, Hot Rod Red and Gecko Green. These colored lines add a nice pop to the glossy black surface.

The drive is compact in size at 0.65” (H) x 3.2” (W) x 5.0” (D) and weight, 6 ounces making it extremely portable. It easily fit into several pockets in my messenger bag.

The unit nicely utilizes rounded corners and edges to add to an element of softness to the cool sleek design.

The bottom has two raised rubberized feet that provide support to the drive by basically running the entire width, side-to-side.

The only noticeable feature on the portable hard drive is a mini-USB port located on the top edge. This single USB 2.0 port serves as the power supply and conduit between the drive and the computer. I am surprised and slightly disappointed that Toshiba did not offer a Firewire connection port.

The USB cable that Toshiba includes is way too short. The cable is only 13 inches in length, which is serviceable for use with a laptop but to connect to a desktop tower unit and conceal the drive requires more cable.

I connected the device to my laptop and searched the box for an installation CD to load the associated software. Guess what, there is no need for a CD because Toshiba’s award-winning NTI Shadow software is preloaded on the drive.

It is worth noting that you do not have to use the NTI Shadow software to use the hard drive. You can use a third-party application or do all your transfers manually.

After I connected the external drive to my laptop, I waited for it to be recognized and then I was ready.

The drive appears as “Toshiba EXT” in the PC’s My Computer section. Accessing the drive you find two files, “Shadow for Mac.dmg” and “Shadow for PC.exe”. I initiated PC version by clicking “Shadow for PC.exe”.

Installing the NTI Shadow backup software is simple and takes only a few minutes. Once installed you can use the software to create scheduled backups of folders and/or files.

You make your selections in the job wizard menu page which is broken down into two panels, much like Windows Explorer. The parent tree structure is in the left panel and the files and sub-folder are located on the right.

You have the option of selecting a location from the left pane, which will put a green checkmark in the box, or one from the right, which will put a red checkmark.

You can select where on the external hard drive you want the backup to reside and when you want the backup job to occur. You have three options for scheduling: 1. every time you save on your pc, 2. save backup every specified number of hours, days, weeks and 3. specify day(s) and time to perform the backup.

The NTI Shadow software also gives options regarding version of backups, so you can keep multiple versions or just one.

Upon completing the fields, users are presented with a summary page to review all the options selected.

The software also gives you the flexibility to execute the backup job in an ad hoc manner by simple pressing the “Start Backup” button.

When a backup job is being executed, the progress is displayed by a status bar and percent complete notification.

The backup software has a log feature too that not only displays the date and time each job was executed but also stores the features selected when setting up the job. Helpful when reviewing the log to understand the job’s settings.

In terms of performance, the Toshiba Portable External Hard Drive delivers average read and write speed. I use a SimpleTech external drive as the primary backup for my home PC and I was unable to detect a difference worth noting as a positive or negative in this review.

In conclusion, I really like the sleek and compact design of the Toshiba drive. The preloaded NTI Shadow backup software is extremely easy to use and has many different options for scheduling a backup job.

The only negatives that I found were the lack of a Firewire connection port and the short USB cable. A missing Firewire port is acceptable when compared to other options at this price-point in the market but a 13 inch USB cable just makes no sense to me.

I would easily recommend the 400GB Toshiba Portable External Hard Drive.

Alienware Orion Messenger Bag Review

I am always looking for a better mode of transportation for my laptop and other supplies/accessories/junk. Last month I completed a review of the Alienware Odyssey Messenger Bag from Mobile Edge. Now it time to check-out another Alienware branded bag, the Mobile Edge Alienware Orion Messenger Bag.

Specifications / Features

Fits laptops up to 17″
Semi-Rigid front panel provides extra support and protection
Loads of interior pockets to carry your gear
Wireless Security Shieldâ„¢ (RF-shielded pocket) protects your cell phone from hackers
Ergonomic backing and shoulder straps for maximum comfort
Superior Craftsmanship and Hardware
Heavy-Duty Rubberized Zipper Pulls
Laptop Compartment Dimensions: 17″ L x 12″ H x 2″ W
Exterior Dimensions: 20 x 13.5 x 5
Color: Black
Weight (empty): 2.85 lbs.

The Odyssey and Orion bags were definitely designed to target different sets of the population. While the Odyssey appears to target the young, non-professional crowd, the Orion has a more grown-up look to it. The branding strategy incorporated in the two bags might be partially responsible for my first impression.

One of my biggest complaints against the Odyssey bag was the amount of Alienware branding that was prevalent throughout the case. On the outside, the inside, it was everywhere. Orion takes a different approach. The only blatantly obvious mark is the small (approximately 1.5”), black chrome alien head icon located in the front.

The black 840 Denier Nylon material is great. It is highly durable and extremely easy to clean. For this reason it is the material of choice when designing a case.

All the external zippers are nicely sized at approximately 1.5” in length by 0.75” in width. Their size makes it very easy to quickly utilize the fasteners. Each black rubberized zipper is accented with black alien head icons. As I stated above, I am not a big fan of the over-branding of products but the zipper graphics are nicely indiscrete.

Two nylon handles wrapped in soft leather plus a good size, adjustable shoulder strap offer carrying options.

The shoulder pad is too thin for my preference but to be honest, this is routinely a point of dissatisfaction for me when reviewing bags. I like a good amount of padding, especially since I often carry a full bag. Unfortunately very few bags have the necessary padding, in my opinion.

The bag is flanked on each side by two pockets. The outer most is a mesh pocket with a width of 4” and length of 5”. Cables and other peripherals are secured in the pockets by the elastic top border. I have a small umbrella that fit perfectly on one side’s mesh pocket.

The mesh pockets are on the outside of the side zippered pockets. At 8” x 5”, the side pockets are great for jump drives, cameras, power cords and other miscellaneous items you want to be able to quickly access. My Dell’s Latitude power cord nicely fit on one side.

The front of the bag has a semi-rigid panel which is accessible via zippers on each side. This panel would be great for travel documents and other documents you need to access quickly. The rigidity of the front panel provides support and an impression of strength, like body armor, without adding much weight.

The back of the bag provides a nice combination of extra padding and ventilation. The Cool-MeshTM material provides great ventilation so that your back does not get too hot. The padding is strategically placed in ergonomic locations on each side and at the bottom to provide comfort.

A dual-zipper pocket and a pass-through section to easily slide over wheeled luggage, complete the backside.

Moving in to the large, front compartment you find a ton of storage options. There are over a dozen pockets including four medium to large size pockets secured via Velcro flaps, business card holders and 5 slim pouches. There are pockets for everything from pens and keys to presentation remotes and game controllers. This section also includes a headphone pass-through at the top.

This compartment has a feature that I have never found in any other bag, a cell phone pouch lined with RF-shielding material. This protects your phone from going off at inopportune times and provides security if you are concerned about hacker accessing your wireless devices.

I tested this 5 times with two different cell phones and neither phone would ring. As a matter of fact, the cell phones would display “searching for signal” message for about 5 seconds after being removed from the RF-lined pouch. Pretty cool, huh? The bad guys on “Prison Break” (television show on the Fox Network on Monday nights) could definitely use this feature to protect their data on those electronic card devices.

The main compartment is subdivided into two large sections, each measuring at 17″ L x 12″ H x 2″ W. The laptop fits into the back section, which is nicely padded and includes an elastic strap secured by Velcro.

The front section is most likely intended for books, files, folders and binders. Honestly with the available size, you could use the front section to easily fit another laptop in the bag. I carried my laptop, a notebook and a 1-1/2” 3-ring binder in the two sections of the main compartment. Having the ability to comfortably fit a lot of things, including two laptops, in this compartment is a huge advantage of the Orion.

In conclusion, I would definitely recommend the Mobile Edge Orion Messenger Bag. The bag provides a great deal of storage options in vastly different sizes, including the ability to carry multiple laptops. The hardware, durable material and lifetime warranty round out the high notes of the bag.

The Orion has all the positives that I discovered when I reviewed the Odyssey Messenger Bag but only one negative, the lack of padding in the shoulder strap and I as I previously stated that is a relatively small mark against the product.

Mobile Edge Alienware Odyssey Messenger Bag Review

My Dell laptop backpack has seen better days. There are several places where the material has frayed and it seems like it gets worse with each passing day. That is why I jumped at the opportunity to review a new bag.

Mobile Edge has put together a line of Alienware branded bags. This review covers the Mobile Edge Alienware Odyssey Messenger Bag. Although my current bag is a backpack, I actually prefer the messenger style of bag in terms of look, accessibility and comfort.

Specifications

SafetyCellâ„¢ computer protection compartment
Roomy interior with padded pockets for CDs, PDA, phone, and files
Made of ballistic nylon (Material: 840 Denier Nylon) for durability
Media pocket with pass-through port for headphone cable
Ergonomic adjustable shoulder strap
Exterior pocket for easy access to travel documents
Cool-Meshâ„¢ ventilated back panel
Color: Black Graphite
Lifetime Warranty
Weight 3.4 lbs
Fits Notebooks Up To:   15.5″ L x 12″ W x 2.3″ H, screens up to 17″ (diagonally)
Exterior Dimensions:   18″ x 16″ x 6″

My first impression of the bag is that it is designed with a target audience of teens, college students, and general non-professionals. I have struggled with a good description of what drove this impression. Maybe it is the Alienware logo, an alien’s face, which is approximately 2-inches in length and located on the front-face of the Odyssey Messenger Bag.

The bag looks and feels very durable. The ballistic nylon is a popular material in bags today and it is easy to understand why, because it is durable and easy to clean. Contrasting the look of the 840 Denier Nylon is a Cool-Mesh material, which is used primarily on the back of the bag but also appears in smaller, ribbed sections on the front-face.

The subtle difference in shades of black and graphite adds to the depth of the bag.

The Alienware Odyssey Messenger Bag has the standard front flap design secured by two adjustable, hard plastic slide-in buckles. I prefer messengers that use a single strap, just because I hate having to open two buckles to unsecure the flap.

The zippered, dedicated media pocket is on the top of the flap and has a pass-through port for headphones. While another external zippered pocket at the bottom is great for those items you need readily available like plane tickets, passport or a company photo badge and it includes three elastic bands for pens, a keyring on a removable clip and a mesh pouch so things do not fall out when you pocket is unzipped.

Each side of the bag has zippered pockets with Alienware stitched in the material. These pockets are great for accessories like power cables, presentation remotes, or even cell phones and keys.

A left to right zipper pocket runs the entire width of the back panel. This pocket would be great for a notebook or a file.

The back of the bag is primarily covered with Cool-Meshâ„¢ material that combined with the contours allows airflow to keep the heat down.

The shoulder strap and, more specifically the pad is less then impressive. The pad is not very comfortable and it feels like it lacks sufficient padding.

There are two more small pockets located at the base of the shoulder strap. These pockets are ideal for small things like jumpdrives, keys, lip balm, change and my iPod shuffle.

I really am disappointed that the bag design lacks a handle. I like having the option to not use the shoulder strap all the times.

Plastic buckles and metal zippers with approximately inch long lanyard extenders make up the external hardware. Nothing fancy but functional. Normally I would be concerned about the durability of plastic for hardware, but the bag has a lifetime warranty, so if it breaks the warranty is there to replace it.

Pulling back the flap, I move to the Alienware Odyssey Messenger Bag’s interior. The first compartment has two side-by-side mesh pockets that run the width of the compartment but do not go all the way to the bottom. It can be closed via a zipper.

The main interior section is also zipper shut and is partitioned into halves. The first has two long 4-inch wide Velcro-flapped pockets. The pockets are expandable and great for holding those long miscellaneous items, like markers, laser pointer pens, cords and large graphical calculators.

These two pockets are separated by 8 open pouches. You could use these receptacles for business cards, calculators or, if you are like me, your old Palm V.

The computer section is designed to hold a laptop with dimension not exceeding 15.5″ L x 12″ W x 2.3″ H. The SafetyCellâ„¢ computer protection compartment utilizes what I estimate to be ½ inch padding on all sides and a Velcro strap for security.

The interior is fully branded in a subtle manner with “Alienware” on the material visible when exposed to light. A more obvious brand is the alien face stitched with white thread in the padded wall separating the two partitions of the main compartment. At first, it caught me completely off-guard but I got use to it. At
least it is not on the outside.



I think the interior is roomy enough for a notepad or two, maybe even a text book with the laptop.
In conclusion, I found the bag’s many pockets great for holding a lot of stuff and organizing it quite nicely. The material is very durable and stays clean very well.

The lifetime warranty is a great added plus. I think it says a lot about a manufacturer when they are willing to stand behind their product by offering a warranty.

I am disappointed that the design engineers failed to see the need in a handle and that they did not use more padding in the shoulder strap. My biggest turn-off with the Alienware Odyssey Messenger Bag was the amount of branding displayed on the product. I have never been a huge fan of serving as a mobile advertisement for corporations and that is what I feel like with this bag. Of course, the Alienware fans might love to promote their favorite brand.

All-in-all, I still would have a hard time not recommending the bag. It terms of storing items for transportation, which is the main function of any case, this product delivers.

Garage Laser Parking System Review

I love anything that helps me maximize space in my house especially in those areas where space is somewhat limited, as is the situation in my garage. We essentially have a 2-1/2 car garage but with a full-size sedan and a mini-van plus my tools, kids’ toys and other miscellaneous items space can become sparse rather quickly.

Well the biggest variation in most garages is the placement of vehicles. In the past many inventions have been implemented to help ensure that vehicles are parked safe and consistently. Tennis balls suspended from a string to rubber floor bumps are in countless garages around the country. Let’s test the Garage Laser Parking System sent by Convenient Gadgets to see how it stacks up.

Hardware Specifications

Dimension: 4-3/4″ x 4″
Powered by 9V battery (not included) or AC/DC adapter
Red laser beam
Activates via motion detection
Weight: 2 lbs
Model Number: JB3800
Installation requires no wiring

Package Contents

110v AC adapter
Instruction sheet
Hook and loop tape
3 screws
Laser parking unit

The device is rather small and light, essentially fitting in my hand. The package is adequate and simplistic but nothing that would draw you to it if the device was on a shelf with other products.

Instructions, which are included, are denoted on a single sheet of paper, which drives home the point of simplicity of the product.

First decision you have to make is whether you want to utilize a 9V battery or AC adapter for power. I guess you could use both, utilizing the battery as a back-up. A critical factor in determining this decision might be the proximity between your location of installation and a power outlet. The adapter’s cord from end-to-end is approximately 5-feet in length, which really is not that long considering the device is going to be installed on your ceiling.

I am fortunate that I have two power outlets within reach of my desired install position but I decided to start the review with the unit powered by the 9V battery. The laser is motion activated and I am curious to see if the device will drain batteries quickly.

Installation is fairly simple. I picked a location on my garage’s ceiling, roughly centered on my van’s parking spot, marked the three spots for the screws and drilled pilot holes. Once the pilot holes were completed, I screwed the device’s back to the garage’s ceiling then completed the installation by sliding the device onto its back. You can use the hook and loop tape instead of the screws but I did not think it seemed very robust. The device in place, I targeted the laser to rest on the dash of my van. Installation was easy but did require a power tool and a ladder.

Using the Garage Laser Parking System for a few weeks, I noticed the laser is highly susceptible to variation because it is very difficult to park a vehicle exactly the same each time. Now the deviation, from right to left, is probably 12 inches, max but that definitely affected the ability to place the laser in a consistent position.

The laser also chewed through batteries like few gadgets I have ever seen before. In three weeks of use I went through two 9V batteries. I believe the laser’s motion activation is responsible for the extreme battery use. Each time I went into the garage to get a tool, put the trash out or pull our other vehicle in/out, the laser was activated.

Now I understand the manufacturer provides an alternative power source via the AC adapter but to drain two 9V batteries in three weeks is unacceptable. I did eventually plug in the adapter and noticed no difference in terms of performance.

Another negative that I attribute to the system’s motion sensitive power switch is regarding safety. When our van was not in the garage and our young children were in the garage, they were instantly drawn to the red laser on the floor. Watching them let the beam hit their hands while looking up to locate the point of origin, I realize that it is too easy for them to look towards the ceiling and get the dangerous laser straight in their eyes.

In conclusion, I like the concept of using an inexpensive and cool gadget to replace primitive mechanism (tennis ball hung from the ceiling). The fairly easy installation requirements and multiple power options, plus the under $20 price tag make the Garage Laser Parking System an attractive option.

That said the negatives are pretty strong against this device. Dispersion in parking your vehicle makes the laser fairly susceptible to inconsistency. Plus the fact that the system rapidly goes through batteries and the serious concern of safety, especially to children, makes me unable to recommend this device.

Great concept but too many strong negatives.

Soundcast OutCast Wireless Outdoor Speaker Review

One of the best things about summer is enjoying the great outdoors. For my family, that means evenings on our back patio, grilling out and taking pleasure in what nature has to offer. Unfortunately, unless we hook up a portable device, we often have to do this without one of our other great pleasures, music.

No one should be limited from enjoying their music by the confines of their house. Fortunately the engineers at Soundcast could not agree with me more and they have created the OutCast model to help it.

Hardware Specifications

Includes iCast transmitter dock for use with the Apple iPod
Allows connection of other audio devices using the auxiliary input/output jack
Transmits signals up to 350 feet outdoors
Features pause/play, track forward/backward buttons to remotely operate iPod
One 8” downward firing woofer
Four 3” high frequency drivers in an omni-directional array
100 watt digital amplifier
Made of water resistant plastic
Operates for up to 10 hours on the built-in, rechargeable NiMH battery pack
Internal AC power supply that can recharge the NiMH battery pack and operate the system at the same time
Transmitters constantly searches for open channels in the 2.4GHz band to avoid interference

Soundcast OutCast speaker

Package Contents

iCast Transmitter
NiMH battery
Instructions Manual
Power Cord (for OutCast Receiver)
AC/DC Adapter (for iCast Transmitter)
3.5 mm Mini to RCA cable
3.5 Mini to Mini cable

Soundcast OutCast speaker

Soundcast OutCast speaker

It became obvious at first sight of the box, the Soundcast OutCast is not a small device. Unloading the unit from the box, my first impression was confirmed, the OutCast receiver stands at approximately 26 inches tall.

The height was not my only surprise. The receiver is heavier than I expected too. Weighing in at just less than 30 pounds, you can definitely get a workout by lugging the unit’s receiver around.

The height and weight combination can make it difficult to move. If you have ever picked up a keg of beer, that is what I am reminded of when moving the receiver, although thankfully it is not quite as heavy. Still, I think the receiver is very portable.

In terms of looks, the iCast transmitter is predominately white in color and has a nice, futuristic look to it and a small footprint that allows it to sit nicely on table space.

Soundcast OutCast speaker

The receiver is light gray in color and has a cylinder shape to it. The shape slightly tapers from a circumference of approximately 37 inches at the bottom to 32 at the top. It is not terribly eye-catching but then again, I think it is design to be as inconspicuous as possible.

Soundcast OutCast speaker

The iCast transmitter has no user functions available but does have two lights, one to indicate it is receiver power, while the other light illuminates when it is transmitting to the receiver.

The OutCast receiver has seven buttons on top. The buttons from left to right are:

Previous track
Next track
Play/Pause
Power On/Off
Volume Down
Volume Up
Light On/Off

Soundcast OutCast speaker

On the side, towards the top are the input jack and the channel switch, both protected by a connected rubber cover.

Soundcast OutCast speaker

At the bottom, the connector for the power cord is located on the side. Again, a rubber cover is connected to protect the component when not in use.

Soundcast OutCast speaker

The receiver is supported by four, rubber covered legs on the bottom. They elevate the device more then an inch off the floor and provide great support.

Soundcast OutCast speaker

The initial set-up is very simple. The most difficult piece is installing the battery in the bottom of the receiver and I doubt that will cause you to break a sweat.

Soundcast OutCast speaker

Speaking of battery the NiMH battery is supposed to provide up to 10 hours of operating time. I stopped my test satisfied with 8 hours and 21 minutes on constant use. One of the nice things is that, using the power cord, you can use the receiver while you are charging the battery.

Soundcast OutCast speaker

Ok, with set-up complete I placed the iPod Nano in the iCast transmitter, which was located in my study towards the front of my house, took the receiver out back on our patio and let the music play.

I was immediately impressed by the sound quality emitted from the wireless connection from the transmitter to receiver. Ranging from low to high, the sound is extraordinary.

Speaking of high, the OutCast receiver will definitely allow you to rock the neighborhood. I know that I did not hit the max volume level but I did get it loud enough to know that this device can shake the foundations. The combination of the four omni-directional speakers, 100 watt digital amplifier and 8” downward firing woofer deliver great sound.

Soundcast OutCast speaker

I never experienced any issues with the wireless connection, no hiccups or interference with other wireless devices. I found the wireless strength to be great and even though, you have the option to change between three wireless channels, I found no need.

The system uses Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) technology to keep the 2.4GHz signal strong and without interference. FHSS is also used in Bluetooth devices. Besides keeping the signal strong and clear, it also allows as many as three systems to co-exist without disruption.

I put the transmitter in the front of my house and took the receiver to my backyard, about 250 feet away with two walls (one an exterior) in between, and experienced no issue. I cannot imagine requiring much more space between the two devices but the product specs state a range of 350 feet.

The only issue I had with the controls on the receiver was with the previous and next track buttons. Sometimes I pushed too hard and skipped multiple tracks, other times I did not push hard enough and it failed to register. Overall the controls on the receiver work pretty well. You do have to push the buttons pretty hard but I attribute that to the weatherproofing incorporated by the manufacturers.

Speaking of controls, the light feature on the receiver is pretty neat. A blue light, emitted from the bottom of the receiver, shines towards the ground. The light has two levels and it adds nice ambience to those times on the patio after the sun has set.

Soundcast OutCast speaker

The one complaint I found in testing the Soundcast via the wireless transmitter was the fact that there is no display screen accessible on the receiver. So if you are using the next and previous track buttons on the receiver, you have no way of knowing what the next track will be until the music starts to play.

The iCast transmitter’s functionality extends past just docking your iPod to charge and play music. You can connect it to your computer, amplifier or home audio system.

After I sufficiently tested the wireless connection, I plugged in the iPod Nano via the input jack and found that not much changed. Sound quality was equally great. The buttons used to control the transmitter no longer work, which makes sense, because you are not using the transmitter and the iPod is right there.

Soundcast OutCast speaker

In conclusion, I found the sound quality of the Soundcast system to be great. The strong wireless connection between the transmitter and receiver, plus the ability to move the receiver gives the user a great amount of flexibility in extending listening options to the outdoors.

At $700, the price of the unit is the largest negative, but at least Soundcast is offering some deals on their website, including no sale tax, 30-day money back guarantee and free shipping. Every little bit counts.

That said I could definitely see getting a lot of use out of the Soundcast system while relaxing by the pool, grilling on the patio or tailgating at your favorite sporting event. Plus, nothing says that you are restricted to using the device outside the house. You can use it to extend your music to the 2nd floor or in your basement. Wherever we go, it is great to be able to take our music with us.

Black & Decker VPX Starter Set Review

We live in a world of convenience and what is more convenient then wireless technology. Now power tools are probably not the first thing to pop into your head when you think of wireless technology, but if you have ever had to unravel an extension cord, navigate it around obstacles then coil it back up, all to complete a five minute job, no wires or cords sounds pretty nice.

So when Julie asked me to review the Black & Decker 1 VPX Starter Set, I tried my best to imitate Tim Allen’s Tool Man trademark grunt of happiness.

Hardware Specifications

All 3 tools powered by 1 VPX 7V Lithium-Ion Battery
VPX Batteries interchangeable with all other VPX products
VPX Chargers include Daisy Chain Cord to power multiple chargers on one outlet

1 VPX Starter Set Includes:
VPX1101 Screwdriver
VPX1301 Cutsaw
VPX1401 3 LED Flashlight
VPX Battery
VPX Charger
2-year warranty

3 LED Flashlight:
Up to 5 hours of runtime per charge
3 LED bulbs
Length (inches): 6
Width (inches): 2
Weight (lbs): 0.46
Charge Time: 3-6 hours
Integrated belt clip and lanyard

Screwdriver:
2 speed transmission
Forward and reverse
Weight (lbs.): 3.5
Width (inches): 4.25
Height (inches): 9
Easy bit changes with ¼” hex shank collar
Low speed (RPM): 195
High speed (RPM): 650
Low torque (inch-lbs.): 40
Low torque (inch-lbs.): 140

Cutsaw:
Up to 1-inch cutting capacity in pine, PVC, and more
Tool free blade change
Accepts standard jig saw blades
2 jig saw blades included
Weight (lbs.): 3.7
Length (inches): 13

Battery:
Daisy Chain System Allows Multiple Chargers To Be Powered Off 1 Outlet
Dimensions (inches): 7.3 x 5.5 x 8.8
Weight (lbs.): 2

Opening the clamshell-type box revealed the individual items very secure in their own compartment and wrapped in plastic bags. Unpacking each item, exposed the fact that there is not assembly required. Plug in the charger, load the battery and wait for it to charge. Nice and easy.

Black & Decker has updated their common branding strategy with its VPX line of tools. All the tools are white, silver, black and orange. The black and orange have been synonymous with Black & Decker for as long as I can remember and the white and silver is a nice change to the B&D’s common look.

Waiting for the battery to charge, I am struck with a dilemma, which tool do I play with first? Let’s start with the battery. That is the source of power for each one of these tools, so better start with the common denominator.

Battery:
The entire VPX product family is driven off the 7V Li-Ion battery technology. Understand that certain tools in the product line require more than one battery to operate but each product in the Starter Set utilizes 1 VPX 7V rechargeable Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) battery for power, which is very convenient. Three different tools, one battery, just remove it from the flashlight and pop it in the screwdriver.

Black & Decker plan is to unveil new tools in the future that continue to utilize this common 7V Li-Ion battery technology, some 7V and others that require 2 VPX batteries to achieve 14V of power.

The VPX battery is compact in size yet feels very stout. Black & Decker states the VPX is 60% lighter than there Ni-Cad power tool batteries. I bet 70% of the weight in one of my cordless drills is from its battery alone.

The technology in the battery charger is smart in that it stops charging the VPX battery when it is full. It also periodically tops off the charge too. The manufacturer also promotes that the Li-Ion battery holds its charge longer.

The other cool part about the charger is that even though its capacity is for a single battery, it has the ability to connect to another charger via a Daisy Chain Cord. So you can have multiple VPX batteries being charged of a single power outlet. The engineer/designer who thought of that needs a raise.


A charged battery and I am ready to try my first tool. So I loaded the battery into the flashlight.

Flashlight:
The mold of the flashlight is shaped like an oval tube and at only 6 inches in length; it fits very nicely in the palm of your hand or it can lay flat on a surface or stand on its base. It features 3 LED bulbs which are fairly bright.

The specifications say up to 5 hours of runtime per battery charge so I turned it on and left it for 4 continuous hours and when I returned it was still beaming brightly. Never had to use a flashlight for that long of a continuous period, but nice to know it is possible.

A belt clip and lanyard are included in the designed too. The lanyard incorporates an adjustable gizmo, which allows you to tighten it down, which is nice if you want to wrap it around a pipe or a piece of wood while you are working.

The best part of the VPX Flashlight is the pivoting head, which allows you to direct the light where you need it most. I know there have been times when I have been in a tight spot and my old light was too big and rigid to hit the target I was working on. The VPX Flashlight gives the user a great amount of flexibility with its size and pivoting head.

My one concern, and it is a small one, would be the narrow base of the unit. It is the compromise of a stabile base to maintain a small device.

Screwdriver:
The next tool is the VPX Screwdriver. It is a light and compact option for a cordless screwdriver. I wish I had this baby when I was trying to install a cabinet drawer rail inside my mother-in-law’s desk.

The tool fits comfortably in the palm of your hand and the size allows it to be utilized in tight spaces where other cordless devices might not fit. Plus it is nicely balance, so it does not feel awkward.

This is a screwdriver. Keyword here is screwdriver, this is not a drill. The screwdriver includes two speeds a low speed (0-195 RPM) for higher torque functions, including small diameter drilling, and a high speed (0-625 RPM) for tasks like assembling furniture. The dual speed transmission does a nice job of providing the power needed for driving and speed for drilling.

I have owned some other cordless screwdrivers that have lacked much power at all. I really wanted to give this one a good test. I placed 15 1-inch screws into a standard 2×4 using small pilot holes. I then screwed each one down flush and then put the screwdriver in reverse and took all 15 out.

The device passed the test without any trouble. I even switched the speeds midway through and was unable to notice a loss in performance. I expected the screwdriver to get hot, but I was unable to detect much difference in temperature after completing my test.

The VPX Screwdriver accepts ¼” hex-shaped bits, which makes for quick and simple bit changes but can limit the ability to utilize common bits between such tools. The other concern is that the bit seemed to come out to easily. During my test, I left the bit in a screw on 3 different occasions. In other words, my bit was left in a screw on 10% of my tests.

Cutsaw:
Like the other tools in the set, the cutsaw is light and compact, yet large enough to use two hands comfortable and sturdy.

It has a full ½” blade stroke and has a max speed of 1950 strokes per minute. The cutsaw accepts standard jig saw blades and two are included in the set (wood & metal). Black & Decker engineered the saw to require no tools to change the blade, which is a nice convenience. Just pop one out and load the next one.

The saw includes a nice safety feature too. You must slide back the switch at the top, and then squeeze the trigger to activate the blade. As a father of two young kids, I appreciate features like that a lot more.

My first test with the cutsaw was some 1 to 2″ diameter tree branches in my back yard. I cut about 5 branches with ease.

Next, I found a piece of pine 2×2 leftover in my garage. I easily cut completely through the wood 20 times without any complications. I even purposely made 3 cuts through tight wood knots.

So that was 25 cuts and I noticed no slip in performance. The cutsaw did feel slightly warm afterwards, but nothing extreme.

The saw has a face plate that is 1-3/4″ wide and is made out of 1/8″ thick steel. This plate provides a stable base that helps the user make nice, tight cuts.

Conclusion:
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the Black & Decker VPX Starter Set. I think it is easy to see that B&D spent a significant amount of time designing these products to deliver for the light project weekend warrior.

If I had to pick one of the three tools, I think I was most impressed by the VPX Cutsaw. I honestly was not expecting much from the lightweight saw but I could definitely see using the device for quick and easy cuts.

Each tool in the starter kit is nicely designed, lightweight yet sturdy and compact for use in some very tight places.

The Black & Decker VPX Starter Set sells for around $100, which is a steal, for the three tools plus a battery and charger. Consider that I found a battery and charger unit retailing for $39.99 at a major home improvement store and you can really see the savings from buying the set.

The one drawback I noticed from buying these tools in the Starter Set as opposed to buying each individually is that in the set Black & Decker does not include the accessories. For instance, the screwdriver comes with a storage case and 10 bits when purchased separately.

In closing, I would recommend adding the VPX Starter Set to your cordless power tool collection. I do not think you will be disappointed.

Black & Decker VPX Hand Vac (VPX2102) Review

Everyone has spilled something small and had to pull out their vacuum, unwind its cord and plug it in to clean up the small mess. I know at my house, it is almost a daily occurrence with my two young children.

Well Black & Decker has released a cordless hand vac to help you out. The 2 VPX Hand Vac (VPX2102) is one of the eight tools in B&D’s VPX line. I recently reviewed the VPX Starter Set which includes three other tools from the family.

The entire product family is powered by Black & Decker’s VPX 7V Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) batteries. Some, like those in the Starter Set, require only one VPX battery while others, like the hand vac, require 14V of power which comes from two Li-Ion batteries.

Hardware Specifications

Powered by 2 VPX 7V Lithium-Ion Batteries (sold separately)
Voltage: 14
Cyclonic action filtering
AccuReach extension nozzle
Crevice tool
Upholstery brush
On-Board storage for accessories

Opening the box, I see that this tool has some assembly required. As normal, I decided to throw the instruction manual to the side to see if I can put the hand vac together without assistance. Happy to say that I was successful in my attempt.

The VPX Hand Vac has the same updated color branding as the entire product line, white with black, orange and silver accents. The black and orange are synonymous with the Black & Decker brand of tools and the white and sliver complement them nicely.

The hand vac is nicely weighted and its handle fits comfortably in the palm of the hand. Even with the nearly 4 lbs. of battery weight, I find the unit to be appropriately balanced for comfort.

The two 7V Li-Ion batteries are loaded in the rear of the vacuum. Here you can see one loaded on the left and an empty bay on the right.

With both batteries loaded, I go searching for some messes to clean up. Lucky for me, I have two small children.

I immediately notice that the sliding power switch is extremely stiff. To say the least, it is not easy to turn the power on and off. My wife was able to turn the vac on and off but she did struggle slightly. I was hoping that stiffness would subside as the device was broken in but it never did in the course of this review.

I am impressed by the initial feel of power the vacuum gives when turned on. It seems like the 14V are providing sufficient muscle, but after sweeping up around the house, I start to notice something affecting the power. The filter was getting clogged up. The cyclonic action filter is designed to keep the filter clean from debris but unfortunately, it did a poor job for me, especially with lent-like (dust bunnies) fragments. When the filter starts to clog, the power is noticeably affected in a negative manner.

The cyclonic action is visible through the clear container where your dirt is stored. I swept up some dried cereal and you could see the cereal circling the filter, like a cyclone.

Emptying the hand vac is very simple. Just push the silver button and pull on the unit’s nose and the two halves separate.

Dump the dirt stored in the nose of the unit and reattach the halves. Simple and easy, just the way we like it.

The biggest plus for the VPX Hand Vac is the cool accessories. First, there is what Black & Decker calls the AccuReach extension nozzle that you pull out from the front of the unit.

It is sort of like the hand vac’s tongue but I have to admit AccuReach extension nozzle sounds a lot better then tongue when read off the side of a box. Anyway, the built-in extension nozzle is great to get into those hard to reach places like the track of my sliding glass door or inside my dryer’s lent trap.

The hand vac also has some other accessories that are not built in but are stored on the unit, which is extremely convenient if you are like me and tends to misplace small things. The crevice tool and upholstery brush are stored on the underneath portion of the base. The hidden tools just snap in and out.

The included accessories fit into the built-in extension nozzle. The crevice tool is great for getting in the creases of your car seats and other tight spots.

The upholstery brush can be used to clean up messes on your furniture.

In conclusion, I like the look and feel of the VPX Hand Vac. The simple push button mechanism to empty the dirt compartment is nice too.

The built-in AccuReach extension nozzle and accessories, which are stored on the device, really show the creativity of the designers that work at Black & Decker.

Alas, the Black & Decker VPX Hand Vac does have some serious drawbacks. The fact that this unit sells for around $40 without the 2 VPX batteries required for power, which run about $35 a piece, plus the ease in which the filter clogs on lent-like dirt are things to consider before adding this device to your cordless collection.

Insignia NS-HD2114 DVD/CD/HD Radio Compact Shelf System

Let’s face it, the constant evolution of technology has spoiled us. We, as consumers, crave electronics that have everything, yet are small enough to be inconspicuous when not in use. The people at Insignia have created a shelf stereo system with numerous features designed to please, yet small enough to not require a lot of space. For those of you not familiar with Insignia, it is the brand sold exclusively at Best Buy. Today I review their 75W DVD/CD/HD Radio Compact Shelf System with USB Port (Model: NS-HD2114).

Hardware Specifications

Complete component system includes progressive-scan DVD/CD/MP3 player, 2 speakers and digital AM/FM/HD radio tuner
Plays DVD, DVD-R, DVD-R DL, DVD+R, DVD+R DL, DVD-RW, DVD-RW DL, DVD+RW, DVD+RW DL, CD-R/RW, CD, VCD/SVCD, JPEG, MP3 and WMA formats
75W RMS power: 37.5W x 2, (10% THD RMS)
Front panel USB port is compatible with MP3 players and other digital music devices; provides music playback control (play, pause/stop, fast forward, skip forward, rewind, skip back and random)
Tray load DVD/CD player
CD random/repeat functions, track programming and direct track access
Digital AM/FM/HD radio tuner with 18 presets
Dual 2-way speakers each with a 1″ tweeter and a 4″ woofer
Multiple DSP modes include Dolby Digital decoding; 6 preset equalizers
VFD display shows song information on the front panel based on the metadata in song files
Inputs: 2 audio (1 rear, 1 front)
Outputs: 1 composite video (rear), 1 S-video (rear), 1 component video (rear), 1 digital optical audio
Clock, sleep timer, on screen display, bass/treble controls and bass boost performance
Main Speaker Watts per Channel: 35W
Frequency Response: 200Hz – 20kHz
Total Harmonic Distortion: <10%
Tuner TypeDigital: AM/FM/HD
Station Presets: 18
Dolby Digital Decoder: Yes

Package Contents

Main Unit
Two Speakers
Composite Cables
FM Antenna
HD Antenna
Remote Control
2 AA Batteries
iPod connectors


I was impressed upon opening the box and initial laying eyes on the system. The main unit is a small and light, black, sleek cube-like design.

The two speakers, which are slightly larger than the main unit, are wrapped in painted black wood, which nicely highlight the grain of the wood. The wood is a nice contrast to the sleek and shiny exterior of the main unit.

Each speaker has four circular, dime-sized, rubber stabilizers on the bottom.

Set-up is about as simple as it gets. Unpack the unit from the box, make the connections in the back and plug it in, and then you are ready to rock.

The speaker wires are hard-wired in to the back of the speakers and the other end is pre-fitted with connectors, which makes set-up easy but greatly limits your ability to upgrade or lengthen the speaker wires.

Moving to the remote, at first glance I was shocked by the shear number of buttons it contains. My quick count puts the total at 50, that’s right, 50 buttons on the remote. Of course, with so many buttons, they are crazy small.

The large total of buttons greatly reflects the crazy amount of functionality this system offers. An iPod dock, CD, DVD player (video out), HD radio, AM/FM radio and USB connector are all included. If Insignia would throw in wireless capability, it would be a complete package.

The one gripe is that the actual main unit’s front lacks half the functionality available via the remote. The front has only about 8 function buttons, meaning this system is way too dependent on the remote. If you lose the remote, you are in deep trouble.

Turning the device on, I decided to check out the basic AM/FM radio. Needless to say, I was less then impressed. I had trouble tuning in Indianapolis stations (approximately 50 miles north) that I clearly receive on my other home stereos.

The HD radio was not much better. I downloaded a list of local HD stations from the net and attempted to tune some in but just like the AM and FM radio, the reception was unclear and lacked consistency.

Fortunately for the system, listening to a CD allowed the 75 watts of sound to impress without the static from tuning in radio stations. I could easily hear rich and clear sounds throughout my downstairs, which is fairly large and open. The built-in 1-inch tweeter and 4-inch woofer speakers can really pump the volume up, yet give you the richness and clarity to enjoy the subtleties of your music.

I did think the default equalizer setting was extremely bass heavy. I played with the Bass and Treble settings until I found a combo that work for my ears, again this is probably a user preference.

The iPod dock, CD and DVD player work as you expect. Meaning that I was not disappointed by the functionality and it did not serve as a delighter.

The iPod dock provides you control over each track, play, stop and pause functions.

The DVD quality was adequate, nothing better or worse then the other players in the house. The menu system, although not extravagant, was very simple to use and navigate.

Now I have not made the digital TV leap yet but if you have, this system utilizes progressive scan output and component cable hook-ups for the best picture quality with a digital TV or monitor.

Here is a look at the hook-ups located in the rear of the main unit.

The USB port provides music playback ability to other digital players. I easily connected my iPod shuffle and a non-Apple player through the USB port and they worked great.

As previously mentioned the remote has an insane number of buttons, reflecting the amount of functionality present in the system. I did experience a terribly annoying response lag of at least two seconds when using any button on the remote. Even the volume dial on the main unit has a terrible lag, which drove me nuts.

The main unit has a VFD display that shows the music track information (album, artist) pulled from the digital music file metadata.

The Insignia shelf system has built-in sleep timer and automatic turn on settings. The auto turn on feature allows the system to be utilized as an alarm clock, although it does not support weekend schedules.

In conclusion, I was disappointed in the radio, the response delay and how heavily the system depends on the remote.

That said I definitely can see the niche this device fills. In a small apartment or college dorm room, this system would be ideal. For less then $150 you get a AM/FM/HD radio, CD and DVD player, iPod dock and a USB port that provides music playback connectivity for other MP3 players. I would love such a system when I was in college.

SLAPPA Ballistix Laptop Bags and Sleeves

I am always looking for a better apparatus to carry my laptop and miscellaneous supplies. When looking at a new one, I have some simple criteria: 1) comfort, 2) appearance (style) 3) durability and 4) functionality (how well does it hold my stuff). That in mind, I jumped at the opportunity to try out a few of SLAPPA’s products from their new Ballistix’s line.

Specifically this review covers the following products:

Ballistix AURA Black Laptop Shoulder Bag
Ballistix AURA Silver/Orange Laptop Sleeve (15.4″ version)
Ballistix P-TAC Black Laptop Shoulder Sleeve (17″ version)

Specifications/Features:

Ballistix AURA Black Laptop Shoulder Bag
Water and tear resistant 1680-D ballistic nylon with rubberized polyurethane (PU) accents
Quilted inner Twill Nylon lining with super-cush, water-resistant laptop padding
Laptop compartment fits both 15.4″ and 17″ notebooks
Special compartments for storing laptop accessories
Mirror plated alloy clasps and adjustable shoulder strap
Available in black or silver/orange
9 storage compartments
Keychain clip
1500 cubic inches of storage space
Epoxy domed logo
Adjustable shoulder strap with alloy clips featuring mirror plating
Dimensions: 18″(w) x 15.35″(h) x 6.3″(d), Weight: 4.26 lbs

Ballistix AURA and P-TAC Laptop Shoulder Sleeve(s)
Available in black (both) or silver/orange (AURA)
Water and tear resistant 1680-D ballistic nylon with rubberized polyurethane (PU) silver accents
Quilted inner Twill Nylon lining with super-cush laptop padding
Available in 15.4″ and 17″ versions
Rear compartment for papers and/or cards
Molded alloy zippers
Metal clasps for shoulder strap attachment
Dimensions: 16.14″(w) x 12.59″(h) x 0.78″(d), Weight 1.188 lb – 15.4″ version
17.71″(w) x 13.38″(h) x 0.98″(d), Weight 1.276 lb – 17″ version

Ballistix AURA sleeve

Ballistix P-TAC sleeve

Laptop Used In Review:
DELL Latitude D620

Upon first taking the products out of the box, I was immediately impressed with the look and feel of the bag and the two sleeves.

The majority of the outside of all three are covered by a ballistic nylon material that is water and tear resistant. Ballistics nylon is a material that was originally created and used in flak jackets to protect servicemen in World War II. Needless to say, this material screams tough and durable, which is exactly what I want.

The rugged ballistic nylon is beautifully contrasted by the smooth rubberized polyurethane exterior ascents. The ascents are utilized on the front-face of the products and, along with the black and sliver epoxy circular-domed logo, serve as a great eye-catcher.

The inside of the bag and sleeves reveal another contrast to the tough exterior. The interior is lined with soft, silk-like, Twill Nylon material. This silver material is quilted in 1″ x 1″ squares that feel like small bumps of protection when rubbing your hand over top.

The water repellent Twill Nylon textile covers the laptop padding, which I thought felt insufficient, especially in the bag, for protection purposes. That said, at the end of my month-long use, I did an experiment placing 5 eggs at the bottom of the laptop bag and 6 rolls of quarters in the exterior pockets to serve as added weight. I then dropped it 5 times from about waist-high (let’s say 4’) without breaking a single egg. Maybe that padding is deceptive in terms of how it feels and what protection it actually delivers.

Molded alloy is used throughout on the zippers, shoulder strap attachment rings and clips. The zippers are nicely sized for ease in use.

The Ballistix Aura and P-TAC laptop shoulder sleeves are great utility carriers for when you want to travel light but still need some protection. I like the fact that the slim cases are padded and made from water repellent material, plus they have the alloy rings to be utilized with the optional shoulder strap.

The rear compartment is a nice extra for holding papers and cords too.

The sleeves work great inside the Ballistix AURA laptop shoulder bag too, adding an extra level of protection. Here you can see them both in the bag.

I used the Aura sleeve on an overnight business trip to Boston. The sleeve worked great. I was able to easily slide it into my small piece of luggage without concerns about protection and the TSA security allowed me to just keep my laptop in the sleeve during scanning.

My only complaint would be that the shoulder strap is not included. You can purchase it for an additional $12.99 or if you happened to buy the laptop bag, you can use that strap.

Here you can see the silver/orange 15.4″ sleeve laying on the black 17″ laptop sleeve.

The Ballistix AURA black laptop shoulder bag is large (Dimensions: 18″ w x 15.35″ h x 6.3″ d, Weight: 4.26 lbs) with a front-flap design attached via two mirror plated alloy clasps. The mirror plating adds an extra bit of bling-bling when revealed.

The back of the bag has two zippers, one positioned towards the top, the other at the bottom. The dual zipper allows you to stack the bag on top of a wheeled carrier and pass through its extended handle. You can also just use top zipper and is serves as an extra rear compartment for papers.

A SLAPPA logo, raised with padding, resides in the middle of the bag’s back. While I first reduced this to simple self-promotion, I came to find this useful. That padding is thick, about ½”, and the logo is large in size, 7″ at the longest point. It is positioned almost perfectly to provide cushion on your hip and/or back.

The handle is located at the top of the bag and is nice, thick and padded for added comfort when wrapping your hand around it. Unfortunately this handle was the source of my biggest complaint. The handle tightly retracts, when not being utilize, to lay flat against the top.

The problem I experienced with this was each time I went to use the handle, the tension was so tight that the back of my fingers became irritated. Normally, I criticize the feel of the handle in the palm of my hand but I found this uncomfortable on the opposite side. I was hoping the tautness would lessen with use but I was unable to detect any decrease.

The bag’s bottom has two rubberized stabilizer strips that run parallel almost the entire length of the bag. The strips did a moderate job of keeping the bag upright.

Each side has a large, expandable flap pocket sealed via Velcro. These pockets are large enough to hold my bulky DELL AC power adapter and even a 16 oz. bottle of water, without closing the flap, of course.

Peeling back the bag’s large main flap, exposes the front-face where you will find two small Velcro flap pockets and a fairly large zipper pouch. The small flap pockets were nicely sized for my iPod, presentation remote and business cards, while the pouch is large enough to hold a paperback book without having any difficulty closing. Three pen/pencil holders and an attached keychain clip are located inside the pouch too.

The two main compartments are huge. I could easily fit a couple of pads of paper, a 2-1/2″ three-ring binder and my laptop inside them and it seems like I still had room. This is the first bag that I have used that would accommodate my computer and the large three-ring binders I tend to carry.

Lastly, on the interior side of the big flap cover, the engineers of SLAPPA added a long zipper compartment that runs the entire length of the flap. Not a usual place where you will find storage but I found this was a great place for my USB and network cables and accessories.

In conclusion, the durability of the exterior material paired with the silky soft, quilted interior textile and padding greatly protects your computer and other necessities.

The 1500 cubic inches of storage space found in the Ballistix AURA laptop shoulder bag impressively allows you to carry more then just your laptop, a lot more.

Unfortunately, I wish the shoulder strap was included with the sleeves and the retractable handle on the bag was a pain, literally.

Overall, I was very impressed with these samples from SLAPPA’s new Ballistix’s product line. I think they have created some great carriers for folks who like to carry a little or a lot. I highly recommend checking out these and SLAPPA’s other fine products, specifically the Ballistix P-TAC laptop bag is a sharp looking case with some additional compartments, if the AURA bag does not meet your needs.

Prices:
Ballistix AURA Black Laptop Shoulder Bag $149.99
Ballistix AURA Silver/Orange Laptop Sleeve (15.4″ version) $39.99
Ballistix P-TAC Black Laptop Shoulder Sleeve (17″ version) $39.99

boynq Sabre iPod Speaker System

The tremendous popularity of Apple’s iPod has created a niche for accessory manufacturers to flourish. Boynq is one such manufacturer that has created some great products that increase the functionality of your iPod.

The Boynq Sabre is a dock and stereo speaker system specifically designed for the iPod. Let’s see if it’s a worthy accomplice to add to your audio collection.

Features / Specifications:

Docking station for recharging the iPod
Docking station for data synchronization via USB and FireWire cable
Requires a computer with a USB 2.0 connector port or a FW connector port
PC with operating system Windows 2000 SP4, Windows XP, Mac OS X 10.1.5
2 x 10W RMS full range drivers (3-inch)
Bass and treble controls
Includes 6 different docking inserts to fill all iPod models
Stereo line-in connection for iPod shuffle and other auxiliary audio devices
Video-out for connection to television
Stereo line-out for connection to stereo system
Power adaptor input 100~240V, 18V DC/ 1.33A output
Frequency range 20Hz – 20KHz

In the Box:

Boynq Sabre
1/8” audio cable
S-video to RCA cable
1/8” (3.5mm) to L/R RCA audio cable
Power adapter
User manual
6 iPod dock connectors

I was instantly impressed with the look of the system. The body is unique with its curved lines and one 3” speakers on each side. It sort of looks like the iPod cradle is being unrolled off the speakers. Pretty cool.

The Sabre for this review is from Boynq’s Pour Homme collection, which I translate to mean for him. The molded plastic body is colored in black and silver and the speakers have silver-metal protective mesh covers. Definitely a masculine look to the system.

They have a sister model in their Pour Femme collection that is more girlie-looking, if that is something you desire. The Pour Homme model would probably blend better into your home environment, where the lavender/pink color of the Pour Femme Sabre will definitely stand out.

The docking cradle is located directly in the middle of the system, towards the front with the bass and on/off knobs to the left and the treble and volume controls flanking it on the right.

The volume, bass and treble are controlled via manual turn knobs which are becoming less common, being replaced with digital control options. I prefer the manual knobs because they give you the ability to be more precise with your tuning and they give the unit a retro feel, while the rest of the unit looks like something from the future.

Unlike the other three knobs, the power is not a turn control but activated by depressing the knob. When the power is on, the inside of the top of the knob is lit.

All the connections reside in the back of the unit. From left to right, line-in, line-out, s-video, USB, and power adapter port.

The Sabre is stabilized by two narrow rubberized strips that run the majority of the width on the bottom.

Setting the Sabre up is fairly simple. Remove the unit from it packaging, put it on a flat surface and plug the power adapter in. Select and install the correct iPod dock connector, attach your iPod, turn the power on (both on the Sabre and your iPod) and hit play.

With the set-up complete, I loaded the iPod and was ready to test the unit’s sound. I was interested to see how the side-facing placement of the speakers would affect the sound quality.

Even though, I was pleased with the sound quality of the Sabre, especially at a price under $100, I did notice some issues. At the low to middle volume levels, I found that I had to crank up the treble and bass controls to even slightly pick up details from the music.

Not sure how much can be attributed to the designed perpendicular placement of the speakers or the actual speakers themselves.

A positive, in terms of sound, you can really crank it up in this little unit to a very loud level and it handles it quite well. My wife might argue too well since she repeatedly told me to “turn it down”. Such sound from two 3” speakers, putting out 10 watts each, is fairly impressive.

The biggest negative, in terms of sound was the intermittent pops I experienced while the music was playing and the audio control knobs were in use. The pops were annoying, especially at the higher volume levels. Like fingernails on the chalkboard.

The connection this unit offers serves as a nice delighter. You have the option of connecting to your computer via USB or FireWire docking cable for data synchronization. The placement of the docking cable connector next to the power adapter is frustrating. If the power adapter is plugged-in, it is nearly impossible to pinch in the release points on the side of the docking cable to make the connection. Fortunately, you should not have to routinely make these connections once the unit is in place.

Another nice connection feature is the inclusion of line-out capability, via either S-Video or composite links. This element serves as a conduit between your iPod and video screen, allowing iPod videos and pictures to be viewed on a larger media. Personally, this would not be a feature I would utilize a lot but I am sure there are people out there who would. Just having the option is an added bonus.

Lastly, Boynq makes this unit’s functionality available to non-iPod owners by including the 1/8-inch line-in jack for other audio devices and the iPod shuffle. A fairly simple addition to connection options but a big plus for people who have multiple audio devices, not all being manufactured by Apple.

In conclusion, I was only slightly disappointed with the unit’s sound quality, lacking the ability to pick up the details at the low to mid-volume levels. In regards to sound, the intermittent pops were definitely the biggest mark against the Sabre.

I would like a wireless remote and the ability to utilize batteries to be included, but I am willing to accept their non-existence as long as the price is below the $100 margin.

Overall, I really like the small, stylish design of the Sabre. The unique mold of the unit makes it fashionable to reside anywhere in your home, while its functionality, specifically the interchangeable dock connectors and numerous connections ports provides numerous opportunities for use.

I definitely think the system is well worth the money. The look and features of the Sabre will not let you regret your purchase.

Mvox Duo All-in-One Wearable Smart Communicator

In today’s world, it seems that we are all trying to do three things at once, all while talking on our cell phones. I know that multi-tasking is part of my daily life, even though at times I wish it was not. Juggling multiple tasks at once is fine, except when one of those tasks is potential deadly if you are not paying attention, for example, driving a vehicle.

Some states, like California have even adopted laws against using a cell phone without a handsfree device. The Mvox Duo is an apparatus that allows users to communicate without holding their phones. Look ma’, no hands.

Mvox markets the Duo as the “world’s 1st all-in-one wearable smart communicator with one-touch voice dialing”. It is a Bluetooth headset, a Voice over IP headset, a handsfree car kit and a speakerphone rolled into one.

Let’s see what the Mvox Duo has to offer.

Features / Specifications:

Dual-usage, integrated speakerphone and headset
Speaker peak volume 104 dBA
Headset peak volume 90 dBA
Dual DSP processors
Advanced echo and noise canceller
One touch voice dialing
Speaker independent voice recognition and speaker adaptation
Dual microphones (SAM) with 3D voice pick up beam
Dual connectivity: USB Audio 1.1 and Bluetooth V1.2 (capable of Bluetooth V2.0)
Bluetooth operating range: up to 30ft/10m
Rechargeable lithium ion battery
Continuous talk time in headset mode estimate: 7 hours
Continuous talk time in speakerphone mode estimate: 3 hours
Standby time estimate: 150 hours
Dimensions: 3.0 x 1.1 x 1.2 inches (7.6 x 2.8 x 3.0 cm)
Weight: 0.9 ounces (25.5 grams) including battery
Minimum OS requirement Microsoft XP or Microsoft 2000
Caller ID announcement
VoIP capable via Bluetooth or USB connections
Built-in phone book manager

In the Box:

Mvox Duo
Holster
Earloop
USB cable
AC adapter
Mvox wizard software CD

Phone Used in the Review:
LG VX8600

Upon receiving the headset, my first impression was that of disappointment. Mvox Duo’s packaging prominently displays the unit through a clear screen on the box and it was through this that I immediately noticed the unit’s size.

The Duo looks fatter, for lack of better word, then the majority of Bluetooth headsets I have seen. The unit’s dimensions are 3.0(w) x 1.1(h) x 1.2(d) inches and it tips the scale at just under an ounce, 0.9 to be exact, so it definitely noticeable.

In comparison, check out the Apple iPhone Bluetooth headset review that Dave Rees recently posted. The Apple headset appears sleek and stylish, while the Duo portrays the opposite impression.

That said, I do like the color of the Duo’s plastic shell. It gives off that durable appearance, like it is made from steel.

The front face of the Duo (the side people will see, when on your ear), has some stylish lines, differing molded heights (it is not flat) and Mvox logo. A status LED is next to logo. The LED blinks blue when the device’s powered is on.

The left-side (will be pointed to at the floor, when on your ear) is where you will find the Volume Up and Down buttons.

The right-side (will be pointed up, when on your ear) has the Power/Mute and Headset Talk button, plus the USB port.

The USB port is utilized to charge the device and connect to your PC. I like the fact that Mxov provides two charging options, via the AC Adapter or USB cable.

On the back face (against your face, when on your ear) has the speaker, Speakerphone Button/Red LED and the Small Array Microphone (SAM).

Completing my initial inspection, I charged the device, loaded the software, slid the ear loop over the speaker mold and was ready to start using it. One thing to note, you will not find a paper user manual in the box. Mvox, instead, includes an electronic copy on the software CD.

Pairing the device with my LG VX8600 was simple. Press the Duo’s Volume Down button until the blue LED turns solid blue, indicating the Duo is in the ready state, put your mobile phone in pairing mode and in no time, your phone should recognize the Mvox Duo and the Duo’s LED should turn off.

The Duo felt awkward when place on my ear. I attributed this to its bulky size. I found the device uncomfortable to wear for more then 20 minutes.

To put these pictures into perspective, my head is not small. I have a huge melon and the device just felt too big. My wife said it looked “too big and dorky”. Not the ideal words of encouragement.

The Duo’s performance in headset mode was good. I was able to clearly hear through the speaker and, equally important, people were able to hear me. No one that I spoke to reported any distortion in my voice when using the device.

After testing the headset mode, I loaded the device into the holster (clip), which immediately activates the speakerphone option. I clipped the holster to my seatbelt and made some phone calls.

The Duo clearly outperformed any built-in speakerphone from a mobile that I have ever owned. The sound quality was great; people were able to clearly understand me and vice-versa.

The ability to clip the device close to my head made it easier to use the speakerphone functionality without have to hold my phone up, yelling or straining to hear over noise. I definitely think the holster mechanism and speakerphone functionality are the highlight of the Mvox Duo.

The clip itself is very pliable and can be fastened almost anywhere, to anything, you wish. The most common places I attached the clip was my car’s sun visor, shirt pocket and seat belt. Once the Duo is attached to the clip, it can be rotated 360 degrees to reach an appropriate position. When sitting in the clip, the headset is flipped onto its back.

The device also has functionality that allows it to be used in a voice over IP capability via Bluetooth or directly connected to your PC via USB. This means that you could utilize the Duo as a speakerphone or headset for VoIP applications, including AOL, Avaya, Skype, Yahoo, Gizmo Project, and Google Gtalk.

The Duo also has a built-in phone book capability. Meaning you can enter names and phone numbers in the software on your PC then sync the data to your Duo, then you can issue the device voice commands to dial a number.

To be honest, I would probably not use this function. The one-touch dialing is really the only advantage of the phone book and it is just another place to maintain data. I currently maintain such data in too many places already, why would I want to add another?

The one-touch dialing feature worked great. My commands were easily recognized by the device and, unlike other voice command tools, I rarely had to repeat my commands and it was accurate the vast majority of the time.

Besides the phone book capability, the PC installed software also has some nice diagnostic tools to assist you, if the Duo is not playing nicely.

Lastly, I think the cost of the Duo is rather high. For me to justify spending $250, I have to be in love with the item and I would categorize my feelings as more of a like than love.

All in all, I definitely think the Mvox Duo would be great for those road warrior types of people like my brother, who is in sales. Even though I was disappointed in the size of the Duo, the multiple functions it possesses, especially the speakerphone, one-touch dialing and diagnostic tools, could make it a useful device to some. I just do not think I would be one of those people.

Rocketfish Wireless Multimedia Bluetooth Keyboard and Laser Mouse

If you have not cut the cords and gone wireless with your computer keyboard and mouse, now might be a good time to jump on board the bandwagon. Let’s review the Rocketfish Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard and Optical Mouse to see if they have what you need to join the revolution.

Hardware Specifications

Color: Silver, Red, Black
Up to 30′ wireless range
Keyboard features:
104 keys
10 one-touch multimedia keys
One connect button
Optical mouse features:
4-way scrolling
4 multimedia keys
1000dpi resolution
Battery indicator
One pairing button
On/Off Switch
Ergonomic rubber side supports
Dimensions Keyboard: 1.1 x 19.8 x 8.3, Mouse: 1.6 x 4.6 x 2.6 inches
Product Weight: Keyboard: 1.6 lbs., Mouse: 3.2 oz.
Port Connection: USB
Serves as a Bluetooth hub
USB Bluetooth Adapter support below Bluetooth profiles:
Generic Access Profile (GAP), Generic Objective Exchange Profile (GOEP), Serial Port Profile (SPP), File Transfer Profile (FTP), Objective Push Profile (OPP),
Dial-up Networking Profile (DUN), Synchronize Action Profile (SYNC), Fax Profile (Fax), Personal Area Networking Profile (PAN), Human Interface Device Profile (HID), Headset/Audio Gateway Profile (HSP), Hardcopy Cable Replacement Profile (HCRP), Basic Imaging Profile (BIP), Basic Printing Profile (BPP), Generic Audio Video Distribution Profile (GAVDP), Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP), Auto Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP)
One year limited warranty

This package includes three of Rockerfish’s products. Included are the keyboard (model #: RF-BTKB2), mouse (RF-BTMSE2) and blutooth dongle (RF-BTAPDT).

Package Contents

Keyboard
Mouse
USB Bluetooth adapter
CD driver
User manual
4 AA batteries (2 for keyboard; 2 for mouse)

The use of the silver, red and black color scheme makes a nice first impression and provides a sleek, stylish appearance. Rugged black rubber nicely accents the sleek design while providing surfaces that can be easily gripped.

Further inspection of the rubber, reveals a leather grain-like pattern, which adds a nice, fine detail to both the keyboard and the mouse.

Installation was extremely simple. I just put the 2 AA batteries in the keyboard and the mouse, plugged in the USB Bluetooth adapter, turned on the mouse, my computer immediately recognized the new hardware and both devices were functional.

I was surprised that I did not have to go through any pairing process to connect the devices, but, just in case, this process is explained in detail in the user manual.

In regards to the manual, it is well put together with detailed drawings with callouts. The user manual appears to be too big but upon closer inspection you will see that it is repeated 3 times, in English, French and Spanish.

An electronic copy of the manual is also available on Rocketfish’s web site, along with the necessary drivers and warranty information. The warranty covers the product for one-year.

In comparison to the Microsoft wireless keyboard I was using, the Rocketfish is not as deep and feels lighter. Weight is not a huge factor because the majority of the time users will have the keyboard sitting on their desk but I often sit away from my desk a little and type on my lap, so even a few ounces less is noticeable.

The black, leather grain-like rubber, mentioned earlier, is on the keyboard’s built in palm support. The contrast from the plastic to the rubber is noticeable, in a nice, comfortable manner.

Ten one-touch multimedia buttons are positioned on both sides, flanking the 104 keys in the middle. The multimedia buttons are labeled with icons for easy identification. To utilize the functionality of these keys you have to do an extra installation step.

On the left side (top to bottom):
Home button,
Search button,
Email button,
Increase volume button,
Decrease volume button.

The right side (top to bottom):
Play/Pause button,
Stop button,
Next track button,
Previous track button,
Mute button.

A status LED is positioned in the upper-right section of the keyboard. The indicator descriptions are:
Green = System is ok
Flashing Red = Low battery
Flashing Red and Green = Pairing mouse and keyboard

The underside of the keyboard has the normal rubber-stopper feet, located beneath the palm support, and the two extendable legs in the back.

I found the keyboard to be too flat and preferred to have the legs extended while using it.

Between the two legs, you will find the connect button to pair with your PC and the battery location for the two AA batteries.

Moving from the keyboard to the mouse, eight features are located on the top of the mouse. These features include the basic three:
Left mouse button,
Scroll wheel button,
Right mouse button.

And four additional multimedia features:
Play/Pause button,
Previous track button,
Next track button,
Stop button.

Lastly another status LED is included on the top of the mouse, closer to where your palm would rest. The status indicators are the same as described for the keyboard.

The bottom of the mouse is where you will find the optical laser, an on/off switch, battery compartment and pairing button.

I really like the feel of the mouse. My hand just seems to cup around the mouse nicely and the rubber on the sides just adds a nice contrasting feel.

Another feature of the mouse, that my old one lacked, was the 4-way scrolling ability. Having the ability to scroll from left to right is not something that I would use everyday but I could definitely see that feature being useful.

For example, if you have a spreadsheet with multiple columns and rows, you can use the scroll wheel to navigate around the file, side to side and top to bottom.

In terms of use, the keyboard and mouse perform their duties like any other pair. The only issue that I experienced was when my computer was inactive for a period of time.

I found that if my computer was inactive for a period of time, before it entered standby or sleep mode, the mouse and keyboard would give a 2-3 second delay in responding to my commands.

I found the delay very annoying, especially since my wife and 4 year-old girl noticed it and continued to remind me of it and how it was affecting them.

I even tried to turn off my standby and sleep options, but that failed to improve the delay issue. This was very disappointing because I doubt that I would ever get use to the delay. I am an instant gratification person.

A positive of this package is the capability the USB Bluetooth adapter gives. By plugging that adapter in, the doorway to Bluetooth technology is opened on your computer.

That adapter gives you the capability to connect other Bluetooth devices to your PC. So this package offers functionality outside of the basics from a keyboard and mouse. Great!

In conclusion, I like the sleek and stylish design of the keyboard and mouse combo. Plus the extended functionality from the 10 multimedia keys and the USB Bluetooth adapter are a definite positive.

That said the response delays that I experienced were too much to overcome. That was the only negative that I found but, unfortunately, it was enough for me not to recommend this package.

Plantronics CS70N Professional Wireless Headset System

I don’t know about you, but it seems that multi-tasking is becoming more important with each passing day. This is no truer, then in our professional environments where it seems that we are trying to do so much in so little time.

Well, maybe you need the Plantronics CS70N Professional Wireless Headset System, to free up a hand and allow you to juggle more balls.

Hardware Specifications

Radio Frequency Technology: 1.9GHz DECT
Headset Wearing Style: Over the ear
Digital Encryption: 64-bit
Roaming Range: Up to 300 ft.
Headset Weight: 0.75 oz
Headset Controls: Volume, Mute, Call Answer/End
Battery Recharge Time: 1.5 hours for 80% charge, 3 hours for 100% charge
In-Use Battery Life: 6 hours
Microphone Style: Noise-Canceling Boom
Remote Ring Notification: Yes *Optional HL10 handset lifter required
Single Button Call Control: Yes
Integrated Base/Charging Cradle: Yes
Headset Battery: Rechargeable Lithium Ion
Boom swivels for use on either ear for optional wearing preference

Package Contents

CS70N Wireless Phone Headset
Base/Charging Cradle
Power Adapter
Instruction Manual
HL10 Phone Handset Lifter
Extra Ear Pieces (3 silicone, 2 foam)

Opening the Plantronics box, I was immediately impressed with the look of the wireless headset, which is prominently displayed to be the first thing you notice when the box is opened. The hard plastic and rubber coated components give off a cool and stylish appearance with the use of different shades of gray and a little bit of chrome metal accent.

The headset gives off more of a futuristic Uhura, Star Trek communications officer (for the non-Trekkies), vibe as compared to a fast food drive-thru worker.

The stylish design continues with the mold and color of the integrated base, which also serves as a charging station.

Set-up was a cinch, and I completed it in less than 5 minutes without assistance from the manual. The only thing that almost tripped me up was that other headsets I have used in the past take the phone cord from the wall outlet to the headset and from the headset to the phone. The CS70N makes the connection through the desk phone handset cord.

This set-up distinction is obvious in the manual, which I found nicely put together with text and image examples to assist user, if needed.

As with any new rechargeable device, you have to allow time for it to initially charge before you begin to use it. After letting it charge overnight, I was ready to go.

The base has a charge indicator light on the front face, just right of the charging cradle. It displays a yellow or amber blinking light when charging and a steady light when completely charged.

On the other side of the charging cradle, the base displays a steady red light to indicate the base is receiving power.

The other light, green in color, is at the peak of the base and it signifies that the headset is in use when constantly on. The green light blinks when the headset is in use and mute is applied.

A configuration dial is located on the left-side of the base. The dial has four settings that can be turned using a coin to get the best sound quality. The manual states that although your phone and headset configuration might work with many settings, only one will deliver optimal results.

The rear of the base is the control for the listening volume. The volume ranges from a 1 (loudest) to a 4 (softest). I kept the default setting of 2 during the review.

Above the base listening volume control, are up/down arrows for speaking (microphone) volume.

Completing the rotation, the right-side of the base is where you will find the CS70N IntelliStand switch. This allows you to choose how to activate your headset when answering/making phone calls.

In the up position, you answer/make/end a call by pressing the Call Control button located on the headset. This setting is recommended if you plan on wearing the headset most of the time.

The down position, calls are made/answered by taking the headset out of the charging cradle. The device has built-in a short delay to allow you time to put the headset on. This position is recommended for those who will only wear the headset when on calls.

I used the up setting for the majority of the review, mainly because it was set to the position by default. After I got used to the CS70N, I realized that the down position was a better fit to how I intended to use the device.

Switching focus from the base to the headset, you will find the listening volume up and down controls located on the piece that sits behind the ear. The buttons are raised and slightly separated, making them easy to operate even though it takes some getting accustomed to since you are unable to see the controls while using the device.

Holding down the volume down control will initiate and end the mute functionality. The user is notified of the muting by 3 consecutive beeps in the headset speaker.

The only other control on the headset is the call answer/end button. This button is basically on the opposite end of the ear piece. Slightly in front of this control, closer to the microphone, is a yellow/amber talk indicator light.

The headset is quite comfortable to wear. It is light, 0.75 oz, and biggest portion sits discretely behind the ear. Initially it felt awkward, mainly because it was new, but that feeling quickly dissipated and I almost forgot I was wearing it, which is a great compliment to Plantronics’ engineers.

The headset is flexible in that you can convert it to fit behind either ear. So regardless of your preferences or if you have a hearing limitation in one ear, this headset will work for you.

A rechargeable lithium ion battery allows you to use the device for up to 6 hours. A 80% charge can be achieved through 1.5 hours on the cradle.

What about sound quality? I was impressed with the sound quality of voices. The ear piece radiated crisp, clear sounds at least equal to that of my normal handheld receiver.

In terms of my voice, I never received a complaint from anyone that I talked to through the CS70N. I probably surveyed 20 callers and the only slightly negative comment came from Julie and she said “it sounds like you have a fan running in the background”, which I did not.

Plantronics markets the range of the 1.9GHz frequency headset to be 300 ft. I must admit that I did not measure the distance, but I was able to easily go to the centralized printer station on my office’s floor, which is some distance away and on the other side of a wall, to retrieve my printouts while talking on the phone. Again, no reduction in sound quality.

Speaking of range, the device includes an out of range warning mechanism. If you exceed the wireless range the headset will issue audible tones to alert you. During a phone call, you receive audible tones when you walk out of range and then again when you are back within limits. The manual states that phone calls will be suspended while out of range for up to 10 minutes before ending the connection.

Now in my job, I would not use the headset everyday but I routinely have conference calls where having the ability to talk without tying up a hand is beneficial. So to activate the device during the review, I would just take the phone receiver off the hook and click the call answer button on the wireless headset.

As an alternative, Plantronics sells an optional HL 10 phone headset lifter. The lifter is installed on your desk phone, between the base and its headset. When installed, you press the call answer button on the CS70N’s headset and the lifter does just that, it lifts your desk phone’s receiver off the base so you can answer a call remotely.

The lifter is a very cool optional feature. To include the HL 10 phone headset lifter, it adds $70 to the price tag, so I could only see people who would constantly use the device spending the extra cash for the lifter.

Overall, I was very impressed with the overall design, functionality offered and comfort of the wireless headset. Having the ability to utilize both hands while on the phone is a nice productivity improvement.

My only complaint is with the price. At over $300 ($399.95 with HL10 Phone Headset Lifter), the device is very expensive and I know a lot of people who stopped by my desk to look the stylish CS70N over were shocked to hear the retail price.

In conclusion, Plantronics has delivered a great wireless headset device with the CS70N.

boynq iCube II

Do you like your gadgets to have some color and that retro-style? Well if so, boynq’s iCube II speaker and docking system might be something to add to your collection.

boynq is an award-winning manufacturer of PC accessories and audio products. They are known for their distinctive designs and use of colors in their products.

Feature/Specifications:

Data synchronization via:
USB 2.0
Operating Systems:

Windows 2000 SP4
Windows XP
Mac OS x 10.1.5
2 x 5W RMS full range drivers for optimal clarity
3.5mm Stereo line-in feature
Treble control
Bass control
AC-power adaptor (100~240V)
Frequency range 20Hz – 20KHz

boynq icube ii

In the Box:

iCube II stereo speaker
6 inserts for iPod models
Equalizer card
AC-power adaptor
Line-in cable
Audio cable
Manual

Now, I am not one who enjoys things with flashy colors, so I was really shocked when I first laid eyes on the packaging. The box is purple; maybe even a pink-purple blend, either way it is definitely eye catching.

The reason behind the purple packaging is because this iCube II is from boynq’s Pour Femme collection. Now my French is non-existent but I assume that roughly translates into “for her”. So the color makes sense.

If you want something more masculine, check out the Pour Homme version of the iCube II.

The purple color continues from the outside packaging to the actual iCube II device. The external is covered in a rubber or neoprene-like material and the iCube’s simple, yet retro design harks back to something from the 60’s.

boynq icube ii

I say retro because the cube is not a simple six-sided figure with straight lines. The designers implemented subtle curves to this cube. These curves and the use of an oversized circular metal volume knob give it the old school feel.

boynq icube ii
Image courtesy of boyniq

On each side of the volume are two smaller metal knobs for Bass and Treble. So from left to right, the controls are the Bass, Volume and Treble. The bass and treble controls have nickel size circumferences, while the volume is bigger then a half-dollar. Good thing about the old school knob controls, you previous settings are saved between each use.

boynq icube ii

I was pleasantly surprised by the sound quality the small speakers put out. My initial expectations were low, mainly due to the size of the system, but I was pleased with the sound delivered. The sound quality might not satisfy an audiophile, but I thought it was good, especially considering the size and price.

I did set the bass slightly pass mid-point, while keeping the treble set in the middle and the volume this little device can produce is quite impressive.

The power is controlled by pressing in on the Volume knob. When the power is on, a cool light circle surrounds the outside of the Volume control and below it the word “boynq”” appears.

boynq icube ii

Turn the lights down and enjoy the added ambience from this system.

boynq icube ii

Regardless if the iCube II is powered on or off, it will continue to charge the docked iPod.

Connections are located on the back of the cube. From left to right, line in, line out, iPod USB connection and the DC power in.

boynq icube ii

The USB port provides a connection to your computer to allow users to charge and sync their iPods.

boynq icube ii
Image courtesy of boyniq

The line in features gives you the ability to connect the iPod shuffle and other audio devices, while the line out allows you to connect to your home stereo.

boynq icube ii

The iPod dock is located on the top of the iCube II. The system comes with six inserts so as to fit the iPod 3rd generation, 4th generation, 4th generation color, 5th generation video, mini 1st generation, nano 1st generation, and nano 2 generation.

Overall, I was impressed with the size, retro design and sound quality of the iCube II. While high-fi audiophiles may be disappointed, the adjustable bass & treble combined with good volume make the speaker and dock system worth the pricetag.

Like many similar devices, it would be great if a remote was included to control the cube’s functions plus the iPod but I definitely found the boynq iCube II a nice piece to add to your digital audio collection.