Gadling Gear Review: Cubedge Edge.sound Portable Speaker

The Cubedge Edge.sound portable speaker systemUpdate: After posting this review I received an updated Edge.sound speaker with firmware 1.1 installed. That updated addresses a few minor technical issues and enhances the sound quality fairly significantly. The speaker is now much improved over the one that I initially tested, with bass sounding more pumped up and a better level of quality across the board. With the firmware update installed, it is easier to recommend this portable speaker system than the initial review would imply.

Over the past couple of years, the portable Bluetooth speaker market has gone from just one or two options to a dizzying array of choices. As smartphones and tablets have become increasingly popular, so too has the demand for small, lightweight sound systems that can be carried with us anywhere we go. Travelers especially enjoy having the ability to listen to their favorite music, podcasts and audiobooks without having to settle for using crappy earbuds or uncomfortable headphones.

The latest portable speaker system comes to us from a company called Cubedge who released their Edge.sound product just a few weeks ago following a successful Kickstarter campaign. Like most other portable speaker systems from the competition, it is powered by a rechargeable battery that is charged via an included USB cable and wall adapter. It features a built-in microphone that allows it to be used as a speakerphone and it even resembles other portable speakers, measuring roughly six inches in length and weighing in at just 10 ounces.

Music is pumped to the speaker via Bluetooth 3.0, which, in theory, provides a faster connection with improved audio and battery life. Connecting a smartphone, laptop or tablet is incredibly easy and doesn’t even require the entry of a PIN code. It was so simple, in fact, that I was wirelessly streaming tunes from my iPhone within seconds. The Edge.sound will also remember the last connected device and automatically re-connect when it is powered on.The Cubedge Edge.sound portable speaker system.Audio quality, the most important aspect of any speaker like this one, is solid but mostly unremarkable. While using the Cubedge speaker, I was a bit surprised at how muted some of my music sounded. Other speakers I had tested, such as the Jawbone Jambox, offered a fuller and richer experience across a wider audio range, which made the Edge.sound a bit disappointing overall. I’m told that Cubedge has a firmware update available that addresses some of these audio issues, but at press time I couldn’t find that update anywhere on their website.

Similarly, I found the Edge.sound to be just adequate when used as a speaker phone. It got the job done, although audio quality wasn’t especially good. To be fair, this isn’t exactly a strength of most of the competition either, but it is still a nice option to have when you need it. The quality of a speakerphone is also highly influenced by the environment in which it is used and the cellphone’s connection to its network, which can vary greatly depending on location.

The Edge.sound’s internal battery provides about ten hours of life before requiring a recharge, which puts it about on par with the competition. Plugging the device into a wall outlet fully juices it back up in about two hours. Cubedge even offers an optional solar panel to keep the speaker charged while on the go, although I wasn’t able to test how efficient that option actually is. Battery life does vary a bit based on volume, but overall it was very dependable and steady throughout my testing.

As a frequent traveler, one of the things I did appreciate from the Edge.sound is that it is both lightweight and durable, which comes in handy when hitting the road. The boxy speaker is wrapped in rubber, which helps to keep it nicely protected from day-to-day abuse. The device is also lighter than many of its competitors, which makes it a nice option for those looking to shave ounces from their luggage. The Edge.sound’s unique design helps it to stand out from the crowd to a degree as well and I appreciated the integrated light that provided visual cues for when the speaker was getting low on battery or was ready for pairing with a device. Other competing products don’t always provide those kinds of cues, making them a bit more challenging to use.

The Edge.sound is available now for $150, which again puts it on par with the competition. Overall, it has a very good build quality and the designers paid attention to some important details that make it a good option for travel. But the average sound quality makes it difficult to recommend over some of the other Bluetooth speaker systems that are available, particularly at that price. Still, as a first effort from a new company, it is a solid entry into this competitive market space. If the promised firmware upgrade can indeed improve the overall sound, this device will become a much more attractive choice.

Gadling Gear Review: Phiaton Noise Canceling Earbuds

I had a moment of anxiety when I boarded a recent flight from Amsterdam to Seattle. The middle cabin, where I was seated, was full of very small children. Now, before you hit send on that hate mail, let me tell you that I am always sympathetic with the yowling little ones; they’re expressing exactly how I feel when I park myself in coach for a ten hour flight. But the noise, oh, lord, the noise, does not make the flight any easier. You know this as well as I do.

When I first started testing noise canceling gear, I had hoped these miracle devices would make everything go away, that I would be in a bubble of beautiful silence, serenaded only by the voices of Ira Glass (“This American Life”) or Jad Abumrad (“RadioLab”) from podcasts I’d downloaded to while away the tedium of flight. Not so, not so. I’ve tried several different brands and configurations; they do not make the noise of the plane go away.

They do, however, make for less noise, and that’s a good thing. But headphones are bulky and take up space in your bag. Phiaton makes active noise canceling earbuds that do a good job of eliminating airplane noise – as good as the other over-the-ear headphones I’ve tested. They take up a fraction of the space; I can stuff them in my pocket and they’re feature packed.The buds have Bluetooth so you can use them while your phone is stuffed in your pocket or in your bag on the back seat in your car. Bluetooth doesn’t work when your phone is in airplane mode (that was news to me) but there’s a connector cable so you can wire the headset to your device. The controller – the earbuds are wired to this – clips on to your shirt (or whatever) so it’s easy to find and easy to use once you get the hang of it. The device charges via a mini-USB cable and the battery life is impressive; it easily lasts the life of a ten hour flight with juice to spare. They’re comfortable, too.

With regard to that noise reduction feature, the marketing language ensures, “background noise is virtually eliminated.” I’m not going to go that far. There is a significant reduction in that grinding engine noise; frequent fliers know exactly what I’m talking about. You will notice the difference; I absolutely did, but “virtually eliminated” is a bit of stretch.

Noise canceling headphones or earbuds do make a big difference in the quality of a flight experience. I pack mine whenever I fly and I am very pleased that now, they’re small enough to pack with barely a nod towards consideration of space. The Phiaton noise canceling earbuds are easily as good as my traditional, low- mid-range noise canceling headphones. That’s a terrific improvement. And anything that eases long haul travel – oh, I’m for it.

Phiaton’s earbuds are listed for $159 MSRP, shop around, though. I’ve seen them listed for $129 on the big online shopping sites.

Gadling Gear Review: Jawbone Jambox Portable Speaker

The Jawbone Jambox portable speaker systemA few years back the Bluetooth portable speaker market was a small one that mainly consisted of tiny, underpowered speakers with mediocre sound. Then along came the original Jambox by Jawbone and consumers realized it was possible to get high quality sound in a small, yet stylish, package. Since then, the company has continued to refine the product, offering new features and updates. Their latest innovation even allows customers to personalize the look of their Jambox by selecting from literally hundreds of different color patterns.

Starting tomorrow, Jambox customers are invited to Remix their speakers by selecting from a variety of grill colors and styles, and matching them with their choice of body color. This allows you to choose exactly how your Jambox will look and gives you the option to create one using the colors of your favorite sports team, alma mater or what ever else appeals. The process is fun, easy and doesn’t add any additional costs to the Jambox’s $199 price. Once you’ve selected your personal look, Jawbone will custom build your Jambox and ship out in about a week.

I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the new Remix process and after spending a little time on the Jawbone website, I was able to order my own custom Jambox. It took just a few days to get it in my hands and like previous models, the speaker features great build quality and sounds fantastic. The diminutive device is just 6 inches in length and weighs about 12 ounces, which makes it an excellent travel companion. An included soft case helps to keep the speaker well protected when not in use.Jawbone Jambox RemixFor those who haven’t used a wireless speaker like the Jambox before, it pairs via Bluetooth with your smartphone, tablet or laptop and allows you to stream audio from any source. That means you can listen to music, podcasts, movies or just about anything else. Considering its size, the Jambox is capable of putting out an impressively big sound and it can easily fill a room with your favorite tunes. While putting the device through its paces, I enjoyed listening to Pandora, Last.fm and Spotify, both at home and on the go, and was constantly impressed with how loud and clear the audio was. In fact, be careful when using it for the first time. When I started jamming tunes on mine it actually scared the heck out of my cat.

The Jambox has built in voice cues that are actually quite helpful. For instance, it’ll let you know when it has powered on, when it’s in discovery mode for Bluetooth pairing and even how much battery life remains. The pre-programmed voice works well, but Jambox users can download a number of other unique voices from the Jawbone MyTalk website. MyTalk also has some installable apps to extend the functionality of your Jambox, and when connecting to the site, it’ll even check to be sure you’re running the most recent firmware.

As if being a great portable sound system wasn’t enough, the Jambox also works as a hands free speakerphone too. While testing it in this mode, calls were clear both on my end and those that I was chatting with, which isn’t always the case with similar speakers from competitors. Speakerphone mode not only works with your favorite cellphone, but also Skype, Facetime and just about anything else that uses a microphone. A round button on top of the device not only activates the mic but also grants access to Siri.

All in all, the Jambox is a great portable speaker that travelers will love to have with them. Its ability to wirelessly play back audio of just about any type makes it a great option for entertainment on the go and its ability to act as a quality speakerphone is a welcome addition. With a battery life of about ten hours, you won’t need to worry about charging it often and its rugged construction makes it more than road ready. The fact that you can now order one custom built in your favorite colors is simply icing on the cake. It makes an already excellent product even better.

Gadling Gear Review: Geneva Model XS Travel Alarm Clock And Speaker System

The Geneva Model XSThe travel alarm clock was once required equipment on any trip. These small, usually battery operated, clocks were essential to getting us up and moving in the morning no matter where we slept the night before. Slowly over time, the travel alarm clock has mostly been replaced by our cellphones, which have included alarm options for years. But if Geneva Sound System has their way, the travel alarm clock is poised to make a big comeback in the form of their Model XS.

Stylish and elegant the Geneva Model XS is unlike any travel alarm clock you’ve ever seen. As you would expect, it packs a bright, easy to read LED display and an alarm that is powerful enough to wake you from the deepest of sleeps. It also has three incredibly loud, yet clear, speakers (2 tweeters, 1 woofer), an FM radio receiver, integrated Bluetooth for streaming audio from a smartphone or tablet and a built-in lithium battery that promises five hours of untethered play time. On top of all of that, the entire package comes wrapped in a high-quality faux leather hard case that looks great and keeps the unit well protected from the rigors of the road.

It only takes one look at the Model XS to see that Geneva has put a lot of thought into the design of this device. When the case is open the lid serves as a natural brace for the speakers and clock, which collapse neatly inside for storage when not in use. Touch controls line the top of the case and are logically laid out and simple to use. They also light up nicely, making them easy to find in the dark, which is much appreciated when you’re on the far side of the planet, suffering from severe jet lag and need to be up before the crack of dawn.The Geneva Model XSGeneva is quick to point out that the Model XS is not simply a travel alarm clock but is in actuality a portable sound system. After hearing it in action it is hard to argue with this assessment as it definitely delivers clear, high quality audio from a variety of sources. The device includes a direct line-in option that allows it to work with any audio source, but it is the wireless Bluetooth capability that really sets it apart. Once paired with a smartphone, tablet or laptop it is a breeze to send your favorite music, podcasts, or streaming audio to the powerful speakers, which actually have the ability to fill a room with sound.

The addition of an FM receiver to this device also helps set it apart from the competition as it is often nice to listen to local radio when visiting a new destination. A hidden telescoping antenna helps to pull in the signals, but unsurprisingly the audio quality wasn’t nearly as good when compared to streaming from another device. Radio reception was a mixed bag, with some unexpected static even on strong stations, but overall it performed about as well as you would expect.

It is actually hard not to be impressed with the Model XS, which simply exudes class and quality in every way. But the device is a bit large in size, which could be a turn-off for travelers who like to hit the road as light as possible. The unit measures just over 6 inches in length and weighs in at 1.1 pounds, which makes it much larger and heavier than a typical travel alarm clock. It also lacks features like dual time zones or multiple alarms, which can come in handy for road warriors.

The size of the device isn’t the only thing that is large on the Model XS. The system also sports a hefty price tag as well. Geneva has priced the unit at $250, which makes it an expensive option for many travelers who simply need a lightweight clock to carry with them when they hit the road. Then again, this device isn’t really aimed at that market and for those looking for a great portable sound system, that also happens to tell time, the Model XS is the perfect choice.

Available in three colors (red, white and black), the Geneva Model XS is a beautifully crafted piece of technology that packs excellent sound. For travelers looking for a great portable sound system to take with them on the road, this is a fantastic option, provided they don’t mind adding a bit of extra weight to their bags. The clean, classic design of the device makes it stand out both at home and while on the go, which will make this a popular product with those who appreciate high quality portable audio.

Bluetooth Zombies Stalk Our Travel Spaces

no bluetooth sign arinell pizza If you’re a frequent traveler you’ve seen them. Unlike real zombies, they don’t just come out at night; they stalk airports, hotel lobbies and various modes of public transport everywhere. They’re Bluetooth zombies, roaming our travel spaces, spewing words forth, loudly, into our public spaces.

This morning, at a business class hotel in the Midwest, I had breakfast next to a woman who spent her entire breakfast, and mine too, making a series of hands-free calls loud enough for the entire room to hear. I’m not sure why, but there is something about travelers who are constantly on the phone as they walk through airport corridors, eat their breakfast at the hotel or stand in line at the car rental counter that is disconcerting to me.At first, you hear them talking but see no phone and wonder if they’re talking to themselves or someone else in the vicinity. How are these folks any different than any other travelers who walk around using mobile phones? It might be my imagination, but it seems like they tend to talk louder in public spaces than normal callers. I’m not sure if this is because they’re overcompensating for the fact that they aren’t directing their voice into a device or if they only seem louder because their voice booms out into the air, rather than into a device.

zombies at mcdonaldsAlso, Bluetooth zombies are more empowered to multitask, since they aren’t using their hands to hold a phone. This means that many think nothing of continuing their conversation while ordering their coffee or meal at the airport, checking into or out of a hotel, renting a car and so on. Some businesses, like Arinell Pizza in San Francisco, refuse to serve people who are talking on Bluetooth devices, and I don’t blame them (see their illustration above).

If you have to physically hold a phone, it’s a bit more cumbersome to be taking your food tray, digging into your wallet or purse for ID, credit cards or money and the like. The Bluetooth zombie is free to keep talking, oblivious to the world.

I know that business travelers have to make calls while on the road to earn a living. I worked in sales for a time right after college, so I know how that goes. But I think this particular piece of technology, while perfect for making calls in a car, is a bit of a scourge in terms of inflicting noise into our public travel spaces.

If a traveler plans to make a longish call, or a series of calls, why not go to a spot in the airport with some privacy rather than doing so seated, in a crowded area, right next to a variety of other travelers waiting to board their flight?

Virgin Atlantic is already allowing in-flight phone calls on at least one route, and according to CNN, in-flight calls are going to be par for the course everywhere soon. That might seem like a frightening development, but there are two rays of hope. First, the calls will be expensive, so hopefully people won’t talk that much, and second, people are talking less and texting more anyway.

Some young people are barely capable of conversation, while old-school business travelers use new technology to inflict noise on the rest of us. But why is it that a traveler having a loud conversation on the phone seems more intrusive than two people having a face-to-face conversation at the same volume level in the same space? I have no idea, but there’s something about the army of Bluetooth zombies that march through our travel spaces that rubs me the wrong way.

[Photo by Disrupsean on Flickr]