Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Bluetooth’

Logitech Tablet Keyboard for Android

January 23rd, 2012 1 comment

Logitech Tablet Keyboard for Android
It’s no secret that extended typing on a tablet or smartphone is challenging task. That’s why innovative tablets like the ASUS Transformer are so popular––people want a real keyboard for long typing sessions. But for tablet owners who don’t have an ASUS Transformer, a portable Bluetooth keyboard is a nice alternative. Logitech, with their years of keyboard-building know-how, released the Bluetooth Keyboard for Android Tablets, which does a little transformation of its own.
Read more…

BlueAnt Q2 Bluetooth Headset

March 31st, 2011 2 comments

4 Stars- techdad
BlueAnt Q2 Bluetooth Headset

BlueAnt is one of the heavy hitters in the Bluetooth headset market and the Q2 is their latest premium headset — their follow up to the popular Q1. Aliph, Plantronics, Jabra, and Motorola all make very good headsets that most people would probably be happy with, but what grabbed my attention about the Q2 was the claim — “Smooth, Rich and Mega Loud Audio.” Again, the market leaders all make very good headsets but I’m not sure just how much better voice audio can sound than it already does. Music audio, on the other hand, could definitely use a big boost as more and more users elect to listen to music through their phones.

PROS

  • Music sounds better than on any other BT headset I’ve ever used
  • Sound quality for voice calls are reasonably good
  • Voice controls work well
  • Nice ear fit options
  • Multipoint support
  • A2DP support

CONS

  • Bing-411 feature has questionable value
  • Android app isn’t customized for the Q2
  • Included carry pouch a tad too small for use with ear hook

The A2DP feature allows music and navigation instructions to be heard on devices that support it. The feature isn’t standard on all devices but is becoming more common and should be a requirement for anyone who owns an iPhone or Android smartphone. Unfortunately, most A2DP-supported devices have good voice quality but are unacceptable for music use, in my opinion. They usually sound so muffled that even with A2DP support, I typically choose to listen to music through the phone’s speaker, rather than the headset. The BlueAnt Wireless Q2 Smart Bluetooth Headset changed all that.

BlueAnt Q2 Front ViewBlueAnt Q2 Side ViewBlueAnt Q2 Side View 2
SOUND QUALITY
First and foremost, any good Bluetooth headset needs to have good voice call quality. In that regard, the Q2 passes. In most of my test calls, I was told that I could be heard clearly. Though in some rare instances, I was told that I did sound a bit muffled, but not so much that they had difficulty in understanding me. The sound quality of the caller on the other end almost always sounded fantastic and plenty loud. Oddly, there was one test call in which the person on the other end was using a Jawbone Prime headset and THEY sounded a bit muffled to me but when they switched to their handset’s mic, I could hear them clearly.

The most intriguing feature of the Q2 for me is the sound quality of music on the Q2. I came away very impressed. On my Droid X, I tested music audio using Winamp with high quality (LAME VBR) local music files, Slacker radio streams, and Amazon Cloud Player. In all my tests, the music quality sounded above average. It sounded good enough that I actually enjoyed listening to my music through the Q2 and constantly drained the battery while using it. Will it replace a good pair of earphones? No. Any reasonably good set of earphones will still sound better, but the Q2 is a mono voice-controlled headset; expectations should be set reasonably for a device like this. Without a doubt though, in my drawer of Bluetooth headsets, this is the one I choose for music listening.

COMFORT
It’s actually been a while since I’ve had a Bluetooth headset that was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t wear it. Then again, I try to stick to the higher-end headsets that come with different fit options and are better designed. The Q2 comes with five ear gels and an ear hook to assist in finding the best fit. I normally like to find an ear gel that I can just stick into my ear without fussing with a hook, but I found that with the Q2, I actually prefer using a slightly undersized ear gel with the ear hook. This combination affords me the best balance of comfort and sound quality. To my delight, the ear hook is actually rather easy to put on, even one-handed, with a little bit of practice. I think the fact that the ear hook is semi-rigid allows it to hook easier than one that is too flexible. Like most headsets though, I probably couldn’t leave it in all day without taking a break. It’s still the most comfortable headset I’ve ever used, thanks to not having to rely on jamming it into my ear to stay on.

VOICE CONTROLS/VOICE PROMPTS
The first time that I used a headset that had voice prompts, I was sold on the feature; I no longer had to try and decipher beeps and blinking lights (the Q2 does use a tone for a few things). The Q2 has pre-recorded male voice prompts that provide all sorts of useful information including battery and connection status. There is a female, computer-generated voice that so far, I’ve only heard when announcing the device that the Q2 is connected to. Humorously, when I connect it to my Droid X, the female voice sounds like it is saying, “ZOINKS” because it doesn’t know to separate “X” from “Droid.”

I absolutely love caller announcements and taking calls by simply saying, “answer.” The Q2 supports up to 2000 phonebook entries. Keep in mind however, that if you have multiple numbers for an individual, each number counts towards the total. In addition to being able to answer calls by voice, you can also dial by voice. How well this works is largely dependent on how well voice dialing is implemented on your phone. Unfortunately for me, voice dialing has never been the strong suit of Android phones. I’ve gotten so used to not using voice dialing that using it with the Q2 felt rather strange. You can also check the battery status, ask if you’re connected, or redial, all by voice. There are some functions that you do need to use the physical buttons for, like switching to another call or call conferencing. If you use those functions frequently enough, you’ll easily remember what button combinations you need to press to use them.

One other voice feature that the Q2 has, is the ability to access Bing-411 as a “Favorite” such as Information, Sports, Movies, Stock Quotes, Navigate, Traffic, News, and Weather. From what I could tell testing it, all it really does is call Bing-411 for you and then you go through Bing’s prompts to get the information you want. I don’t find this feature useful to me at all. I suppose if I were on a long drive and desperate for information but couldn’t pull over to look it up physically on my Droid X, I might use it.

PHYSICAL DESIGN/DURABILITY
The Q2 feels solid in my hands and the multifunction button and two volume buttons work very easily. At first, I had a problem accidentally hitting the volume up button while trying to push the multifunction button but I got over it fairly quickly. The Q2 also has an individual power switch to turn it on and off. As you might already know, I love having a separate power switch to quickly turn headsets on and off. The bummer about the power switch on the Q2 is that they designed the switch poorly and then placed it in a hard to reach place. The power switch is nearly impossible to use one-handed, while wearing the Q2. The switch is not only small, but it has a slippery, glossy surface, so be sure to turn it on before you wear it and turn it off after you take it off. Hopefully BlueAnt will refresh the design on the next version.

BATTERY/CHARGING
It takes about four hours to completely charge the Q2, which is actually quite a long time compared to some other headsets I own. Talk time is rated at 5 hours and standby at 100 hours. The Q2 uses a standard micro-USB port for charging and comes with a travel charger and a short USB charging cable.

MISC
The Q2 can read text messages for you by using a Vlingo-powered custom BlueAnt app. Unfortunately, the app was made for the Q1 and BlueAnt didn’t bother to customize it at all for the Q2. In fact, when you install it and run the app for the first time, you’ll get a notification that a new firmware is available. Disregard that message because it thinks you’re using a Q1. I personally didn’t try the text message reading feature because I don’t really text that much anymore since I can choose to chat instead using Google Talk.

While I appreciate that a travel pouch is included in the package, storing the Q2 with the ear hook is a tight squeeze. A quarter of an inch wider would’ve made a big difference. The pouch also has no padding so it only protects the Q2 from scratches and dust. It’s still better than nothing.

CONCLUSION
The BlueAnt Q2 Bluetooth headset is an advanced headset and the most advanced that I’ve ever used. It has great call quality and superior music sound quality. While the voice command features are terrific, they do come with the cost of less than ideal battery life, especially in standby. Exotic sports cars have poor gas mileage, but they’re no less desirable because of it. Good audio performance, especially for music, make up for the battery life and the questionable value of the Bing feature and Android app. I personally would like the Bing stuff removed and the Android app improved. Regardless, the Q2 is a fantastic Bluetooth headset overall and one of my personal favorites.

Available from Amazon.com.

* Review sample courtesy of BlueAnt Wireless

Categories: Reviews Tags: , ,

BlueAnt S3 Compact Car Speakerphone

March 18th, 2011 1 comment

5 Stars- techdad

BlueAnt S3 Compact- Front View

A blue ant, according to the Wikipedia entry, is not a blue ant at all. It is a solitary wasp sometimes known as a flower wasp and is native to parts of Australia. BlueAnt Wireless on the other hand, is a wireless communications company specializing in high-quality Bluetooth mobile devices and is also native to Australia. The BlueAnt S3 Compact Car Speakerphone is BlueAnt’s latest Bluetooth speakerphone. The S3’s big brother, the S4, is widely considered to be the best and most advanced Bluetooth speakerphone on the market today. To make sure the S4 didn’t grow up an only child, BlueAnt gave birth to the S3 Compact.

PROS

  • Easy pairing and simple to use
  • Good, loud sound with A2DP audio support
  • Physical On/Off switch
  • Answer/Ignore calls by voice
  • Great battery life
  • Multipoint support
  • Good build quality w/2 year warranty

CONS

  • Music sounds just OK

 

BlueAnt S3 Compact- Product Contents

CONTENTS, BUILD QUALITY, & DESIGN
The S3 package includes a car charger with a USB port, a micro USB cable, 1 small and 1 large visor clip and a manual.

Upon opening the package, the first thing I noticed was how solid the S3 Compact felt in my hands. There were no visible open seams in the plastic and it felt very durable. I went over the the entire unit with my hands and put pressure on it to see if any part of the S3 would flex but couldn’t find any.

The S3 unit itself only has 1 physical button– the on/off switch, which I love. I’m learning to dislike Bluetooth devices that require you to hold a button down to turn it on and off. A switch is quicker and more convenient. The other functions of the S3 are controlled via it’s front touch-sensitive control panel, which include a multifunction button and volume controls.

BlueAnt S3 Compact- Side Angle Clip View
USAGE
I once helped someone set up an integrated Bluetooth system in their Acura and it was hard to set up and not very intuitive to use. Setup and usage of the S3 was a different experience. When I turned the S3 on for the first time, I was asked to confirm the language by pressing the multifunction button. I accidentally selected Australian English and had a male voice with an Australian accent walk me through the rest of the pairing process. Luckily, I was able to change the language later after a reset. The S3 then automatically entered pairing mode and the male voice instructed me through the pairing process. It was very simple and I didn’t even need to enter a code. It then transferred my phonebook. On my Droid X, I got a prompt to confirm whether I wanted to transfer the phonebook. After I confirmed the transfer, it completed in just a few seconds. I have less than 100 contacts but the S3 can store up to 2,000 contacts, per phone. The benefit of transferring the phonebook is that the S3 will announce the name of the caller if they exist in your phonebook.

Making calls by voice worked reasonably well but the best part was being able to answer and ignore calls by voice. I was able to answer calls by just saying, “Answer” or ignore them by saying “Ignore.” These voice commands are really what help distinguish the S3 from other speakerphones that require you to physically touch a button to answer or ignore calls.

The touch buttons on the S3’s control panel were responsive and changing the volume of the speaker was simple enough–just swipe your finger from the “-” to the “+” to increase the volume or the other way to decrease it.

The S3 also has a sensor to detect vibrations from your car door so that if left on, it will try to reconnect to your phone when you return. Since I have children in car seats, they are the first ones to enter the car. While buckling them in, I could hear the S3 blabbing about something but couldn’t quite make out what it was saying. Once I entered the car myself, I could see that the S3 and my phone had established a connection. I’m guessing that once the S3 disconnects from your phone, it goes into a power saving mode and when the sensor detects that you’ve opened the car door, it takes it out of power saving mode to reconnect. I’ll likely just turn the S3 on and off as needed, but it might be a very useful feature for those who would prefer to just leave it on for most of the day.

SOUND QUALITY
I found the sound quality to be good on both ends. The speaker got plenty loud enough to hear at highway speeds and the A2DP support allowed me to listen to music from my phone and hear GPS instructions as well. Music didn’t sound great, but it was an improvement over my phone’s speaker.

On the other end, people said that they could hear my clearly, though one person said that they could hear a slight echo. When I tested the noise cancellation, people on the other end said that they could hear some background noise, but my voice could still be heard over the noise. I rolled my driver’s side window down at about 35MPH and was told that they noticed more background noise but that my voice was still clear.

BlueAnt S3 Compact- Side View Clip
CHARGING & BATTERY LIFE
Since the S3 charges via a micro USB port, I was able to use my Motorola Droid X chargers to charge it up. It only took a few hours to completely charge it and is rated at 20 hours of talk time and an incredible 600 hours of standby; that’s over 3 weeks! I can’t think of a headset that comes remotely close to those battery times.

CONCLUSION
The BlueAnt S3 Compact is a very good Bluetooth speakerphone. It is simple to install and simple to use. Other than an FM transmitter, I can’t think of another premium feature that the S3 lacks. The feature I like most is the ability to answer and ignore calls by using my voice. In lieu of an integrated OEM phone system, the S3 Compact might just be the next best thing. Maybe even better.

Available from Amazon.com.

* Review sample courtesy of BlueAnt Wireless

Categories: Reviews Tags: , , ,

Plantronics K100 Bluetooth Speakerphone

February 27th, 2011 5 comments

4 Stars- techdad

Plantronics K100 Bluetooth Speakerphone

Plantronics has been around a long time. Since 1961 to be exact. That’s a lot of experience in perfecting audio technology. Unlike some technology companies that were left in the dust by newer, more nimble companies, Plantronics has done an admirable job of keeping up with the latest advances. Their Bluetooth headsets in particular, are among the best that money can buy. The K100 Bluetooth Speakerphone is their very first device of its kind in Plantronics’ stable of products. And just like their headsets, it is an impressive product.

PROS

  • Simple to use
  • Quick connection
  • Good audio quality
  • Voice announcements
  • Great battery life
  • Good value

CONS

  • Average noise cancellation
  • Volume level could use an increase

For nearly as long as I have been using mobile phones (since 1996), I have been using headsets. I got my first wireless Bluetooth headset in 2005 and they have become an absolute necessity in my mobile arsenal. When California banned the use of mobile phones while driving without a hands-free device, I recommended headsets to all my friends and family. My wife’s headset ended up at the bottom of her purse, never to be heard from again. It dawned on me that perhaps headsets weren’t an ideal solution for everyone. I was used to spending a few minutes pairing my headset to my phone and inserting it in my ear before putting my car in gear, but I’m getting the sense that not everyone finds that convenient. When I observed my wife struggling to hear a caller through her phone’s speakerphone, I found it unacceptable and began researching Bluetooth speakerphones.

USABILITY
The initial pairing process of the K100 was very easy and quick. Once the pairing process was completed, it connected to my Motorola Droid X very quickly each and every time. In fact, it connected faster than any headset I’d ever used. Why is this important? Because I don’t leave my Bluetooth feature on all the time and sometimes when I’m on the road, I’ll get a call and have to quickly turn it on. If the headset, or speakerphone in this case, takes too long to connect, I may miss the call before I can answer it. I did have an issue with the K100 not connecting to a phone it’d been paired to, but was not the last phone connected to it. I added a second phone to the K100 and it connected great. But when I went to connect the first phone I had paired, it would not connect. I was on the road so I could not troubleshoot it while driving. In that situation, the K100 was supposed to connect just by tapping the multifunction button once.

The K100 only has 3 buttons and a volume dial. There is a button to turn on or off the FM transmitter, a multifunction button, and a mic mute button. All the buttons are large and easy to locate and actuate. The volume dial is notched so you can just spin the dial to increase or decrease the volume. The dial however, free spins 360 degrees. There is no end point to let you know that you are at max volume, nor is there is an indicator to let you know what level the volume is set to. You do get a voice prompt that tells you that it’s at max volume though. The multifunction button turns the K100 on/off, takes and ends calls, rejects calls, and performs a few other functions. I wish that Plantronics would have created a single power button or switch though. Three or four seconds may not seem like a lot of time to wait, but it can get a bit cumbersome to wait those few seconds when you’re in a hurry. The mic mute button actually has two functions. Tapping it will mute or unmute the mic. Pressing it down for 2 seconds will activate or deactivate “night mode”, which just means it will turn off the LED so it doesn’t distract you while driving at night.

I also really appreciated the voice announcements on the K100. Rather than trying to decipher a series of beeps, the unit’s female voice will tell you any number of useful information. Some of the alerts include, Power On/Off, Battery Low, Lost Connection, Call Terminated, Connected, Mute On/Off, and more. I was spoiled by the voice status alerts on my Plantronics Discovery 975 headset so I was pleased to see this carry over to the K100 speakerphone.

Overall, I found the usability of the K100 to be very simple and easy enough for even non-technical people to use. I would have no problems recommending it to my parents or other technophobes.

AUDIO QUALITY
I found the audio quality of the speaker to be more than adequate for conversation. My only complaint was that in my SUV with rather loud all-terrain tires, it didn’t seem to get loud enough at times. Turning up the volume on my phone helped, but the point of using the hands-free device is to be able to control the most important functions easily without having to fuss with the phone itself. When I had my radio turned down and my kids were quiet or absent in the vehicle, people on the other end of the call said I could be heard perfectly without the typical hollow speakerphone sound. Unfortunately, when my children were present, it didn’t do as good a job of canceling out the noise that my Plantronics headsets are capable of doing. Still, I feel I’m nitpicking a little bit since it should be rather easy to obtain a fairly quiet environment inside a vehicle. The lack of a more advanced noise cancellation technology probably serves to keep the cost down and achieve better value.

FM TRANSMITTER
Until I received the K100, I didn’t know that it had a built-in FM transmitter. I found out that a couple of other speakerphones on the market also have this feature, but I was pleasantly surprised. I did keep my expectations in check though, since my experiences with FM transmitters have been very mixed over the years. My problems with FM transmitters in general are that they rarely perform consistently and the sound quality tended to be poor. To my delight, the K100’s FM transmitter worked fantastically! When I pushed the FM transmitter button, I was prompted by voice to tune my FM radio to the station it recommended. The 5 frequencies that the K100 uses are 88.3, 88.7, 89.1, 89.5, and 89.9. Though 88.3 wasn’t completely clear of audio from the radio, once the transmitter decided to use it, it superseded whatever source that frequency had been receiving signals from. Since the K100 supports A2DP, I was able to use the music player on my Droid X to listen to MP3s as well as my streaming audio apps like Pandora and Slacker. GPS navigation instructions also fed through to my car speakers flawlessly.

BATTERY
The lithium-ion polymer battery inside the Plantronics K100 speakerphone takes 2.5 hours to fully charge. Since it’s a lithium-ion battery however, you can top it off at any time without worrying about discharging it fully in order to get the best performance out of it. Talk time is rated at 17 hours and standby at 15 days. Included in the box is a micro USB cable and a cigarette lighter adapter. Since the charging port of the K100 is micro USB, the same as my Droid X, I was able to use all of my Droid X chargers to charge the K100. The micro USB cable is very handy. Imagine this scenario. You’re driving into work and while using the K100, you hear the voice status alert say, “low battery”, which means you have about an hour of battery life left. You want to use the K100 on the drive home but you’ve already made it to the office and can’t just sit in a parked car charging the K100! Well, with the micro USB cable, you can bring the K100 inside the office with you and just plug that puppy in to your computer’s USB port and in a couple of hours, will have a fully charged K100 for your drive home–yay!

MISC
No doubt, Bluetooth speakerphones are extremely convenient. They mount easily to your vehicle’s sun visor and you get to be a good law-abiding citizen while you close that last big sale of the quarter or talk to your spouse about your kid’s birthday party planning. Great. But um, has anyone considered what happens when it’s sunny out and you know, you actually have to flip your sun visor down?? Now you have to remove it and flip the speakerphone to the other side, which probably isn’t the safest maneuver to perform while driving in direct sunlight. My idea? Make a magnetic mount that allows the speakerphone to be quickly removed from one side and placed on the other.

CONCLUSION
The Plantronics K100 Bluetooth Speakerphone is a great hands-free solution for your vehicle. It’s easier to deal with than headsets and great for people who don’t like sticking things inside their ear. The K100’s versatility is magnified with support of A2DP and the inclusion of a surprisingly functional FM transmitter. If you or someone you know refuses to use headsets, the K100 is a great alternative and definitely worth a look. Heck, I love using my headsets but I think I just might end up using the K100 a lot more.

Available from Amazon.com.

* Review sample courtesy of Plantronics