Posts Tagged ‘electronics’

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.


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


  • 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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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

* Review sample courtesy of Plantronics

BlackRapid SnapR Bag/Strap

February 3rd, 2011 4 comments

5 Stars- techdad

BlackRapid SnapR Bag/Strap

If you haven’t heard of BlackRapid, it probably won’t be long before you start to hear about them more often. To great fanfare, they took the standard camera strap and ingeniously created an innovative camera “sling.” Until BlackRapid came along and introduced the R-strap, the only innovation in camera straps were related to padding and comfort. I see many DSLR owners out and about with their original OEM camera straps around their necks. To that, I say “ouch!” With a small but growing product line, BlackRapid decided to introduce a new solution for point & shoot cameras. Their hard work paid off with the new SnapR Bag/Strap. If you’re a Canon G-series or Nikon P7000 owner, you should keep reading.


  • Perfect fit for Canon G cameras (G9-G12) and Nikon P7000
  • Quality construction including zippers
  • Two side pockets for accessories
  • Unique, yet practical method for carrying your camera
  • Very easy to bring the camera up to shooting level from hip level
  • 3 ways to use the SnapR


  • Could use a small grab handle

The first thing I noticed about the SnapR was the build quality. The quality materials were well put together and the zippers opened and closed smoothly. I’d dare say that the build quality surpasses that of Lowepro, who you might already know I’m a big fan of. The attention to detail was very refreshing. From the buckle covers to the expandable side pockets and the rubbery bottom, you can tell that someone at BlackRapid was paying very close attention. The SnapR is not a small bag. It’s not meant to be. The SnapR is an advanced bag/strap for your advanced point & shoot. So Canon G12 and Nikon P7000 owners, this is the bag you didn’t know you wanted, needed or even existed.  BlackRapid states that the SnapR fits cameras up to the following dimensions, 5.25″ x 3.25″ x 2″. The Canon G12 is 4.41″ x 3.00″ x 1.90″ while the Nikon P7000 is 4.5″ x 3.1″ x 1.8″.

BlackRapid SnapR Bag/Strap

The SnapR in its basic form, is a camera bag with a removable shoulder strap. The strap has a thin but comfortable shoulder pad that is also removable. The strap has a non-slip side that keeps it from venturing off on its own. The opening where you place the camera inside is unique in that it’s actually on the small side (not the side with pockets) of the bag, not on the top. This works well in combination with the strap function of the SnapR.

In the strap configuration, you screw a stainless steel fastener to your camera via the tripod socket. The fastener is unique to the SnapR and is referred to as the FastenR-SnapR. Like their other fasteners, it has a loop that you thread a short male buckle strap to, which you then connect to a female buckle end that is attached to the long shoulder strap. In this configuration, you can let the camera hang down on your hip and when you need to take a photo, you can slide the camera up to your shooting level very quickly. The female buckle end on the main shoulder strap glides freely up and down the strap. This also has the advantage of securing your camera in case you drop your camera while handling it; it’ll just slide down the strap back down to your hip.

If you decide you just want to carry it in your hands, you can unbuckle your camera from the shoulder strap and attach it to the included wrist strap. When you’re done shooting, just unbuckle it again and store it inside the bag. Amazingly clever, don’t you think? If you want to put your camera down on a flat surface, give the FastenR-2 a few twists to remove it, otherwise you’ll have to lay your camera down on the LCD or lens.

The official SnapR video below requires a few seconds to buffer up before it starts.

The MSRP of the SnapR is $39.95, which is a very small price to pay to help protect and conveniently use your $400+ camera. The only thing I hope BlackRapid will consider adding in the future is a small grab handle at the top. When setting the bag down, I’m forced to either grab the entire bag by the sides or use the long shoulder strap. Neither of those are as convenient as having a small grab handle.  BlackRapid warranties their R-strap for 1 year and I assume it is the same with the SnapR.

If you own an advanced point & shoot camera, this is an amazingly functional bag/strap to pair it with. Even users with smaller cameras will likely find it useful. The build quality is top notch and bests even industry stalwarts like Lowepro. The BlackRapid SnapR is one of my favorite camera bags of all-time.

Available via 3rd party sellers on or directly from

* Review sample courtesy of BlackRapid Inc.

Crumpler Industry Disgrace Camera Strap

January 24th, 2011 2 comments

5 Stars- techdad

Crumpler Industry Disgrace Camera Strap

Why review a camera strap? Don’t cameras come with a strap in the box? Yes, but there are two reasons to buy a replacement strap. One, the straps included with cameras are typically not that comfortable, especially if you have a heavier body and a big lens. They can truly become a pain in the neck. Second, the OEM straps have the manufacturer’s logo and sometimes the actual model of camera written all over it, drawing unnecessary attention to you and your expensive gear. Comfort, is definitely the better reason to pay for something you already got for free. The minor theft deterrence is just an added perk.


  • Added comfort will keep you focused on your subjects, not your neck pain
  • Secure loops will keep your camera off the pavement
  • Discreet appearance may deter the unscrupulous
  • Flexible neck pad stores well in camera bags


  • Initial sticker shock

I looked at all sorts of straps ranging from about $15 all the way up to over $50. I initially liked the idea of getting a strap with a quick-release system but too many of those straps had poor reviews from flawed quick-release buckles. Thoroughly frightened of dropping my camera onto concrete from failed buckles, I focused my search on standard strap systems, with comfort in mind. The search led me to Crumpler. The Crumpler Industry Disgrace stood out because of all the positive user reviews at multiple online stores. Once I received the strap, I understood why it was so universally acclaimed.

The Industry Disgrace is very comfortable. The part of the neck pad that touches the back of your neck is made of neoprene and is slightly stretchy. It’s not bungee stretchy, but has just enough give to relieve some of the stress from the weight of your camera. The parts of the neck pad that go around the side of your neck are made of an air mesh material that should prove beneficial in warmer temperatures. Other than that, there’s not much to the strap.

As previously mentioned, the strap loops that connect the Industry Disgrace to your camera are the standard fare. I originally threaded the loops normally but whenever I lifted the camera up to take photos, the 1-2 inch loose end of the strap threatened to poke my eyes out. I re-threaded the loops so that the loose ends were hidden inside of the looped strap instead and my eyes were relieved of the danger. Aesthetically, the Industry Disgrace is nondescript and the only way you can tell who makes it is the circular Crumpler logo on the side of the strap. The “Crumpler” name is also written on the inside of the neck pad but is hidden when you put it on.

Crumpler Industry Disgrace

An additional benefit of the Industry Disgrace is that the neck pad is flexible and folds into thirds so that it can be stored more easily in a variety of camera bags. It easily fit into my Timbuk2 Snoop Camera Messenger Bag.

For photographers who want to carry their cameras around their neck, the Crumpler Industry Disgrace is a great choice. The added comfort and discreet styling make it infinitely better than using the OEM straps that Canon, Nikon, Sony, and others include in the box. The $30 USD price tag will seem steep only until the first time you put it around your neck. From then on, you’ll only be thinking about your photo subjects, which is how it should be.

Available from and other retailers for $30 USD.

Categories: Reviews Tags: ,

Timbuk2 Snoop Camera Messenger Bag

January 20th, 2011 2 comments

5 Stars- techdad

Timbuk2 Snoop Camera Messenger Bag

After trying a few different camera bags, I was left feeling a bit unfulfilled. None of the bags I had tried really left me feeling the same way about the bag as I did about my new Canon EOS Rebel T2i. I started looking at bags from Crumpler, which looked great and were well rated. Out of curiosity, I decided to browse through my favorite bag company’s website. Hold the presses! Timbuk2 now makes a frickin’ camera bag! Had I known earlier, I wouldn’t have bothered with the other bags.


  • Subtle, but attractive appearance
  • Very durable
  • Good camera padding
  • Weather resistant
  • Removable camera compartment
  • Easy to adjust strap
  • GREAT customer service
  • Adjustable tripod straps


  • No grab handle
  • Front pockets not very useful
  • Shoulder pad not comfortable enough

There are bags, then there are Timbuk2 bags. There are bag companies, then there is Timbuk2. In 1989, Timbuk2 began making messenger bags for, well, bike messengers and for the young, hip crowd in San Francisco. For as long as I’ve lived in San Francisco (since 1995), I considered Timbuk2 bags as the crème de la crème of messenger bags. I’d long pined for a Timbuk2 bag and was finally able to have one to call my own just a few years ago––a limited edition Commute laptop bag.

Timbuk2 Commuter Cross

Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to add a few more products from Timbuk2 and for the most part, they have been outstanding additions. The company also stands out for having outrageously good customer service as well. I have never been disappointed in their service. They’ve always been prompt, courteous, helpful, and even downright funny. When I found out that they recently added the Snoop Camera Messenger Bag, I knew without a doubt, which bag I wanted for my gear.

The Snoop looks just like their classic messenger bags. It retains the three-panel design, their unique logo, ballistic nylon fabric, and reflector tails. If you didn’t know any better, you’d say it was just your average Timbuk2 messenger bag, which is why I love the bag so much. There would be no way for anyone else to look at your bag and tell that you had thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment inside. It comes in three different color combinations to suit most anyone’s tastes. Build quality is also top-notch, as always. Every stitch is perfect and you’ll never find a loose thread on a Timbuk2 bag. Chances are, the Snoop will outlive your equipment.

Timbuk2 Snoop Camera Bag storage

The Snoop comes in two sizes– small and medium. The medium is actually difficult to find as it sells out fast whenever it’s in stock. I consider the small size just big enough to carry a DSLR, a couple of lenses, an external flash, and a few small accessories. The slash pocket inside can also hold a small amount of papers, folders, or magazines. It’s also large enough to fit a small laptop inside but I wouldn’t recommend it on a regular basis as it doesn’t have any padding on the backside and it also makes the bag extremely heavy. The medium Snoop, which is the size I prefer, is larger all the way around than the small. The camera compartment can probably fit the camera, 3-4 lenses, flash, battery charger, spare batteries, and maybe a filter wallet. You could probably remove a lens or two and fit an extra body in there as well. The velcro dividers are easy to work with and can be configured in a number of ways. I only plan on storing my Canon Rebel w/18-55mm lens attached, 55-250mm telephoto lens, an external flash, battery charger, and lens caps in the actual padded compartment. It’s also nice that I can leave my Crumpler camera strap attached. I prefer the medium bag because I can put bulky items like my charger in the bag without having to rely on the front organizer, which isn’t very useful.

Timbuk2 Snoop Camera Bag organizer pockets

The front organizer is a layered layout which means that once you store something in one pocket, it invades the space of the other pockets. In their classic messenger bags, this is OK because items in those pockets can take up a little space in the main compartment and it works. The Snoop bag however, has the padded camera compartment pushed right up against the back of the organizer pockets allowing only really flat items to be stored in them. The Napoleon pocket on the other hand, is bigger and deeper and can hold more items. For now, I keep my charging cord, LensPen, and Spudz microfiber cloth there for quick access without having to unbuckle the cover. I also would have appreciated a water bottle pocket on one of the sides but as far as I know, none of the Timbuk2 bags have one. When deciding on which size to choose, I would say go with the small if you really only plan on carrying the bare necessities with you. Go with the medium if you want a little more flexibility. Keep in mind though that the medium is almost half a pound heavier than the small. The dimensions of the two sizes are below:

Size Width Height Depth Weight
Small 15.9in 9.65in 4.72in 2.16lbs
Medium 19.3in 10.43in 7.87in 2.57lbs

Adjusting the main strap is incredibly easy and the True Fit cam buckle allows you to unbuckle it for easier placement on or removal from your shoulders. You just click the buckle back in for your pre-selected fit. The large velcro strips on the front and the two buckles keep the cover securely closed. The Snoop also comes with a pair of velcro silencers if you need to access your gear more discretely. The shoulder strap is nicely padded but I found that with all my equipment inside, it was actually a bit uncomfortable. Luckily, I bought the Timbuk2 Deluxe Strap Pad and it is much more comfortable. I highly recommend the Deluxe Strap with the Snoop. At the bottom of the bag are two tripod straps to allow you to carry your tripod with the Snoop. The only bummer is that when you go to put the bag down, you’ll be placing your tripod on the ground with the weight of the bag on top of it. Still, having the straps is better than having to carry your tripod by hand. Lastly, the entire camera compartment zips up independently of the messenger bag and can be removed. This is a cool function that allows you to use the Snoop as a normal messenger bag when you don’t need to carry your gear around with you but still need the utility of a messenger bag. How cool is that? There is one omission from the Snoop though, that I can’t understand why it was left out. The Snoop could really benefit from a grab handle. If you look at the photo of my Commute bag, you’ll notice the grab handle. It would make life with the Snoop a bit easier if I could grab it by a handle rather than having to grab the entire strap. Since Timbuk2 saw the benefit of a grab handle on the Commute laptop bag, I’m surprised they didn’t also see the benefit of it on the Snoop camera bag.

Timbuk2 Snoop Camera Bag interior

Timbuk2’s Snoop Camera Messenger Bag is a great camera bag and has some unique functions that differentiate it from your average camera bag. The price is definitely not for the timid, but trust me when I say that this bag will last a very long time and if it doesn’t, Timbuk2 will make it right. I only had a couple of small nitpicks, but they certainly didn’t detract enough from the overall quality and function to keep me from recommending the Snoop. Go get it. Now.

Available from or from Timbuk2 direct.

Categories: Reviews Tags: , , ,

Lowepro Passport Sling Camera Bag

January 7th, 2011 4 comments

4 Stars- techdad

Lowepro Passport Sling Camera Bag

Now that I just purchased my first digital SLR, I needed a bag to carry it in. I originally chose a standard style bag but quickly decided it wasn’t for me. It looked too much like a camera bag and I didn’t care for the way it was organized and the dividers didn’t quite work for me. More research online led me to the Lowepro Passport Sling Camera Bag. If Lowepro is listening, I have some suggestions for a new bag that would work even better for me and perhaps others.

Read more…

Categories: Reviews Tags: , , , ,

Monster Turbine High Performance In-Ear Speakers

December 19th, 2010 No comments

5 Stars- techdad

Monster Turbine High-Performance In-Ear Speakers

Monster Cable makes headphones? Yes they do, and quite well I might add. The company that created the high-end cable market has branched out to consumer electronics. They have taken the headphone market by storm and have co-branding deals with Dr. Dre, Lady Gaga, and the late Miles Davis. The Monster Turbine High Performance In-Ear Speakers are their entry-level offering and have won over some serious audio peeps. I decided to join in on the fun and take them for a spin too.

Read more…

Headroom Total BitHead USB DAC/Headphone Amplifier

December 15th, 2010 No comments

4 Stars- techdad
Headroom TotalBitHead

When I began amassing a headphone collection, I had no intention of becoming a headphone amp guy. I listen to nearly all my music and all my movies from my desktop computer. I rarely bother with portable players because well, I’m practically always around a computer or stereo. When I’m out with my kids, it’d probably be considered irresponsible to plug in noise-isolation earphones. In my quest to improve the overall sound quality, I got rid of my Logitech Z-2300 THX-Certified 2.1 Speakers and decided to focus on improving the sound via headphones. My first thought was to upgrade my on-board sound card to a discrete card, such as an Asus Xonar card. After a couple of weeks of research, I decided a USB DAC would be preferable for my purposes and decided on the only USB DAC I knew of– the Headroom Total BitHead.

Read more…

Categories: Reviews Tags: , ,