29 January 2016

Plantronics BackBeat Fits: Great headphones for at work or working out

I spent several days researching different Bluetooth headphones from Jaybird, Motorola, and others before finally deciding to take a chance on these Plantronics BackBeat Fits. I was trying to match various requirements and desires, but ultimately the deciding feature I wanted was a design that wouldn't isolate me from the world around me. I was seeking a set of headphones to wear at work, and I needed to be sure that I could stay aware of things going on nearby (desk phone ringing, boss talking to me, etc) while listening to my music. That strict requirement readily eliminated a lot of potential contenders.

After having these BackBeat Fits for a few months I am so glad I picked them. They sound good (not audiophile quality, but work perfectly well for casual listening while at work), fit comfortably without a lot of finicky adjustment, and the earpiece design makes it easy to hear when a coworker is asking for my opinion or my desk phone starts ringing. They actually sound a LOT better than I anticipated, and I was actually able to carry on a conversation with my wife while listening to tunes with the buds seated in both ears (at a reasonable volume of course). The controls are a bit funky (long-press the volume-up button to turn the level down) but work just fine once I got used to them.

27 January 2016

Anker Lumos A1: Flexible desk lamp, comfortable light, twitchy controls

The Anker Lumos A1 LED Desk Lamp ships fully assembled (well, minus the power cord) but folded flat. Once extracted from the friendly packaging the lamp can be positioned to place its illumination exactly where you need it. In addition to the 90- and 180-degree joints at the top of bottom of the vertical arm, the horizontal arm up top also rotates side-to-side 180 degrees and 270 degrees longitudinally to let you case light directly up or to either side. The build is lightweight without feeling cheap, and I love being able to fold it flat for transport or storage.

The small AC adapter "wall wart" was just a teeny bit too wide to fit between two existing plugs on my power strip, but it fit comfortably once relocated to either end. The usual round DC adapter fit snugly into the receptacle on the lamp's base; I was quite pleased to see that it won't come unplugged accidentally.

25 January 2016

Anker PowerLine+ Micro USB: I never thought I could be impressed by a USB cable...

But Anker has made a believer out of me.

This PowerLine+ cable ships not in a cheap plastic pouch or a frustrating blister pack, but in a friendly, easy-to-open box. The cable is then tucked inside a high-quality carrying pouch, which feels like a heavy felt material, stays shut thanks to a magnetic closure, and includes a handy hook-and-loop strap stitched to the fabric for securing the cable. I initially scoffed at the pouch, wondering what sort of pretentious cable needed to be transported in such luxury, but I soon realized just how convenient this pouch could be. It obviously makes a great way for transporting the cable without getting tangled with other inferior cables, but you can also use the cable while secured in the pouch by simply pulling either end to the desired length. That makes it easy to use when you don't need the full six-foot length. The carrying pouch is definitely an unexpected bonus, and I'm really quite glad for its inclusion.

24 January 2016

Martian Notifier: The Watch that Wants to be Smart

Everybody, it seems, wants to be in the wearables game - but there's not a lot of agreement on what the rules of that game actually are. You've got companies like Pebble that opt for e-paper LCDs and big friendly buttons, brands like Apple that want a square touchscreen that goes black after a few seconds, platforms like Android Wear that want you to "Be Together, Not The Same" with a variety of shapes, form factors, and features to choose from, and things like the Rufus Cuff that offer brilliant opportunities to cosplay as Leela from Futurama.

The Martian Notifier is the entry-level offering from a company that seems to think all of those options are just a little bit too smart. Instead, they offer a "genuine timepiece with smart features, rather than a miniature phone on your wrist". In other words, it's a classic analog watch with a small monochrome OLED display to show a single line of text.

Martian will sell the Notifier to you for $130 from their website but you don't have to look too hard to find it for around forty bucks. I saw it offered from Android Area for $36 and figured it was worth trying out for that price. The large price variation makes it a bit difficult to evaluate this watch fairly. There are few smartwatches worth considering in the sub-$50 range, but $130 puts it competing with Pebbles ($100 for the Classic, $150 for Time) and a lot of older Android Wear devices. For reference, my smartwatch background includes both the original Pebble and the Huawei Watch (my thoughts on how they compare), but I've also owned many "dumb" watches from Seiko, Luminox, Marathon, Casio, and others. I was hoping that the Martian Notifier would wind up somewhere in between.