Gadling Gear Review: Braven 600 Portable Speaker

Braven 600 Portable Speaker SystemA month or so back we posted some suggestions for tech and travel gifts for dads and grads with the Braven 600 portable speaker earning a spot on that list. This small, yet powerful, sound system is so impressive that we thought it was worth a full review as the compact speaker has a lot to offer travelers beyond just listening to their music on the go.

The first thing you’ll notice about the Braven 600, even before you take it out of the package, is how attractive it is. Wrapped in anodized aluminum, this speaker has a clean industrial design that is simple and elegant without drawing undue attention to itself. Measuring 6.25 inches in length and weighing just 12 ounces, it won’t take up too much room or add extra weight to your bag either.

The speaker manages to pack quite a lot of technology under its metal shell. As with other wireless speaker systems, the Braven 600 uses Bluetooth technology to easily connect to smartphones, tablets or mp3 players. It also features a built-in microphone, which gives it the ability to act as a hands-free speakerphone and its powerful battery not only keeps it operating for up 12 hours on a single charge, but also has the ability to recharge other devices as well.

As a lightweight, portable sound system it is hard not to be impressed with the Braven 600. It pumps out surprisingly crisp and clear sound with plenty of volume, particularly for a speaker of this size. Bass levels are solid but don’t overpower the mid and high ranges, which gives listeners a satisfying audio experience over a variety of musical genres. I’d be willing to bet that even audiophiles will find this to be an acceptable portable wireless sound system.Braven 600 Portable SpeakersWhile overall audio quality is excellent, I wasn’t quite as impressed with the device’s performance as a speakerphone. The built-in mic does serve its purpose at an adequate level but voices still sounded a bit muddled on both sides of the conversation. It is hard to fault Braven for including the functionality in their speakers and I’m sure there are some who will find the option useful, just don’t expect to be blown away by this feature.

Battery life on any portable device is of the utmost importance and the speaker doesn’t disappoint in that area either. Braven says that the device can be powered for up to 12 hours on its rechargeable battery alone but I found that it actually exceeded that time by nearly an hour. Performance will vary some based on volume, speakerphone usage, devices connected and other factors, but for the most part the 1400 mAh battery is a real strength of this speaker.

That powerful battery can be put to use for more than just cranking out music and podcasts. Braven included a USB port on the speaker giving it the ability to actually charge your mobile devices while on the go. Doing so will obviously put a hit on the overall battery life of the speaker itself but it is a nice option to have when you’re traveling and need to top off the battery on your smartphone. I tested the feature on my iPhone and found that it was a fast and efficient way to recharge the device, although it wasn’t quite as useful with my third generation iPad, which has a much larger battery to fill.

Braven has included a number of other nice touches on its 600 speaker that will surely be appreciated as well. For instance, the device uses audio cues to let users know when the Bluetooth capabilities have been activated making it easier to connect their devices. This simple addition may seem like an obvious choice but competing products don’t always include this option. It is also possible to daisy-chain several Braven speakers together providing an even more well rounded portable sound system. Travelers will appreciate the included carrying case and audio and USB cables, which make the Braven 600 road-ready right out of the box.

If you’re in the market for a lightweight, durable sound system that works great at home or on the road, it’s tough to beat the Braven 600. It packs a great deal of functionality into a compact package that offers fantastic sound, a speakerphone, great battery life and the ability to recharge your devices on the go. For me personally, this is the best portable speaker I’ve ever used and with a price tag of just $149, it won’t exactly break the bank either.

Gadling Gear Review: SuperTooth Disco Portal Speaker

The SuperTooth Disco portable speaker systemOne of the best things about carrying smartphones, tablets and laptops with us when we travel, is that we are also generally carrying our entire music libraries with us as well. The problem is, the speakers on those devices aren’t usually the best for enjoying that music and we don’t always want to wear headphones to get the best sound. Fortunately a number of companies now make excellent portable speaker systems that do offer great sound and are fun to take with us on the road.

One of those speaker systems is the Disco from SuperTooth, which can stream music from any device that supports Bluetooth 2.0 technology. Once paired with such a device, the Disco pumps out surprisingly loud and clear music, streaming audio, movie soundtracks or anything else that you can throw at it. I was impressed with how this relatively small device could fill a room with sound, serving up distinct highs and lows and clear vocals from a variety of sources.

While the Disco does included a standard wired audio port for devices that don’t use Bluetooth, the best way to connect is wirelessly of course. Pairing my iPhone and iPad with the Disco was simple and took just seconds and once they were connected, it was a breeze to stream my personal music library, as well as audio from Pandora, Stitcher Radio or any other app. It was a joy to listen to podcasts while wandering around my apartment and it was fun to use the speaker system as a mini-home theater while watching movies on my iPad too.All of that great sound comes courtesy of two 8-watt speakers and a 12-watt subwoofer, but the Disco is packing more than just a quality sound system. It also features a built-in rechargeable battery that allows you to take it with you just about anywhere. The tech specs say that the battery is good for anywhere from 3 to 10 hours, depending on volume, and in my testing I was routinely getting 8-9 hours on a moderate setting. That’s plenty of time for most single-day outings, but you’ll want to pack the charger along with you if you take it on a trip.

While I found the Disco to be a high quality product, with better sound than I was expecting, I do wish it were a bit more portable. It is slightly more than a foot in length and weighs in at 2.5 pounds. As someone who likes to travel light, that’s a bit on the heavy side for my liking. I love having it around the home and for day trips in town, but I’m not sure I’d want to add it to my suitcase or backpack when I’m heading out for a longer trip.

SuperTooth saw fit to include a speaker cable and a decent carrying case in the box, but I wouldn’t have minded having a remote control as well. While most of the time you’re controlling the music and volume from the phone itself, it would have been nice to be able to pause, skip tracks and control the bass booster from across the room too. Once you get accustomed to wirelessly controlling your audio, it is a bit jarring to have to cross the room to adjust a setting.

All of that said, this is one of the better portable Bluetooth speaker systems that I’ve come across, particularly for the money. The SuperTooth Disco carries an affordable price tag of just $149, which is actually a steal for a device with these features and high quality sound. In fact, I’ve used systems from competitors that cost much more but didn’t sound nearly as nice.

If you’re looking for a great way to wirelessly listen to your favorite music, podcasts and streaming audio, either at home or on the road, then the SuperTooth Disco is a great option. Simply put, you’ll have a very hard time finding anything else that sounds this good in the same price range.

Gadling gear review: Supertooth HD Bluetooth car speakerphone

The Supertooth HD handsfree deviceOne of the best accessories for any road trip these days is a good handsfree Bluetooth device that allows drivers to take and make phone calls while keeping their hands firmly on the wheel. An increasing number of new cars come equipped with these systems, but for those of us not fortunate enough to own such a vehicle there are a number of options available that deliver similar functionality. Take for example the Supertooth HD, which packs a lot of features into a small, easy to use device.

The Supertooth HD comes with a built-in clip that securely fastens the device to a vehicle’s sun visor. This keeps the unit conveniently close at hand for when the driver needs to access the controls and helps to more clearly pick up voices when on a call. The device also features a powerful speaker, which makes incoming calls sound loud and clear, while two integrated microphones help to reduce background noise for the person on the other end of the line. A large jog-wheel makes it a snap to adjust volume without taking your eyes off the road and several well-placed buttons grant access to some of the Supertooth’s more advanced features with just a click. Some of those advanced features include the ability to voice-dial contacts, announce incoming caller ID and read texts and emails.

On paper the Supertooth HD seems like the perfect handsfree device for those looking to get the most out of their smartphone while on the road. It does feature good sound quality, both incoming and outgoing, and is a breeze to pair with a phone. It took me just a minute or two to connect with my iPhone, for example, and I was making calls shortly there after. Some of the other features are not as easy to use, however. For instance, to get the most out of the voice dialing system you’ll have to program it with specific numbers ahead of time or rely on the built-in voice dialing on your specific phone as a fallback. The device also has the ability to read incoming text and email messages for you, although that particular feature is only available on Android and BlackBerry devices, and not the iPhone.The Supertooth HD speakerphone One of the other big features of this device is that it can compose and send outgoing texts, emails, tweets and Facebook status updates using just your voice. It is a useful feature to have at your fingertips while driving, although it does require the Handsfree Assistant subscription service, which comes at an added expense. Using the service can take a bit of getting use to, and at times it can be slow to respond, but in my testing I found that it was accurate and reliable, for the most part.

Powered by a built-in rechargeable battery, the Supertooth HD is good for 20 hours of talk time and a thousand hours of standby. Those numbers seem fairly accurate from my use of the device, which can be recharged with the included USB car charger. Supertooth has even included the ability to inquire about the status of the battery at any time through a simple voice command.

For the most part, the Supertooth HD is easy to recommend for road warriors looking for an inexpensive and easy to use handsfree speakerphone for their vehicle. It offers excellent sound quality, easy set-up and the ability to connect two phones at the same time. Android and BlackBerry users will get a bit more functionality out of the device, although iPhone owners will find a lot to like as well. It even works well with Siri, which can trump some of the features that are a part of the subscription service.

If you’re in the market for a Bluetooth speakerphone system for your car, then the Supertooth HD should be on your shopping list. It delivers a lot of value for the $129 suggested retail price.

Gadling gear review: Satechi SoundFly View Bluetooth FM transmitter

The Satechi SoundFly ViewOne of the great features of owning a smartphone is that it allows us to carry our entire library of music, not to mention stream live audio or video, anywhere we go. That feature is great for when you get stuck in line at the DMV or are stranded in the waiting room at your doctor’s office, so it seems only natural that smartphone users would want to listen to that music or streaming audio in their car as well. But unless you have a stereo that accepts external input in some fashion, that can be a challenging, and potential expensive proposition. The SoundFly View Bluetooth FM transmitter from Satechi not only accomplishes that feat, but also brings hands-free phone calls to the package as well. Better yet, it manages to do all of that, without breaking the bank.

The SoundFly View is a small, relatively simple device, which is powered by a 5V port in your vehicle. Once plugged in and activated, it is a two step process for getting the SoundFly to wirelessly transmit music or phone calls to your in-car audio system. First, you need to pair it with your cell phone using Bluetooth technology and then you’ll need to find a clear, unused, FM radio channel to accept the transmission. Both processes are fairly straight forward, and easily accomplished, and I had my iPhone sharing music and making phone calls in just a few minutes.

Using an FM transmitter to get music from an mp3 player or smartphone onto your car stereo is not a new concept, although the technology is far from refined. In theory, it should work well, but low-powered FM transmitters can be easily over powered by radio signals, and finding a free channel to use in larger urban areas can be a real challenge at times. Satechi hasn’t completely overcome those issues, but for the most part, the SoundFly’s built in FM transmitter is strong enough to resist outside signals, allowing you to listen to your music, or stream Pandora or Spotify, while driving. To accomplish that, you simply set your radio to an unused channel, then set the SoundFly to transmit on that same channel. Sound quality is surprisingly good, with solid bass and clear vocals, which hasn’t always been the case with similar devices in the past.Once you have the system up and running, the SoundFly’s two-inch display shows artist and track information for the music you’re listening to and operates as a caller-ID for incoming phone calls as well. That screen is solid, and accomplishes what we need, but it is far from remarkable. Satechi has given us the ability to adjust the contrast, and choose from three different background colors, but no one will be wowed by the quality of the LCD display.

As mentioned, aside from streaming audio from our smartphone, the SoundFly also allows us to make hands-free cell phone calls. When paired with your phone, the device downloads your phone book, giving you access to it directly on screen, or if your phone supports voice commands, you can simply tap a button and tell it to dial a contact. While on a call, the incoming audio is transmitted to your car speakers, while a built in mic picks up what is said and sends it to the person on the other end. That mic does a solid job for how small it is, but it will pick-up background noise from time to time, making it a challenge for others to hear what is said. Your mileage will vary of course, but a quieter vehicle helps to keep background noise to a minimum.

Satechi managed to pack in a few extra features to the SoundFly View that help to make it an even better option for drivers. For example, it has built in audio-in and out ports that help to improve sound quality over the wireless technologies that are used and extend its functionality to devices that don’t include Bluetooth at all. It also includes a USB port that can be used to charge your devices while on the go, while an SD-card slot gives you the option to skip the device altogether. A handy remote control is also included, although it is debatable whether or not a remote is needed when the SoundFly can be situated so that it is right at your fingertips.

All in all, this is a very good option for streaming audio and making phone calls in your car. Travelers making long road trips will love all the functionality that Satechi has put into this device, and it makes a great companion for any smartphone. It even works with Siri on the iPhone 4S, giving you the ability to use her services hands-free as well. Considering the SoundFly View is just $79.95, it is also an affordable option for those looking for a way to integrate their phones more fully with their vehicle, without paying hundreds of dollars. With the Spring Break and summer road trip seasons ahead, this device could be a very popular one with travelers hitting the road this year.

SkyMall Monday: Cell Phone Handset Battle

gadling skymall monday iphone cell phone handset batttle

If you’ve used an iPhone, you know that holding it up to your ear for a long period of time can be uncomfortable. If you need to be on a lengthy call, cradling the iPhone in your hand can get tiresome. Speakerphone is not always a viable option and headphones can be unsafe for your ears. Thankfully, SkyMall offers two options for adding a handset to your iPhone. This week, SkyMall Monday pits the iPhone Desktop Handset against the Retro Cell Phone Handset. Two handsets enter; one handset leaves.

Let’s meet our contestants (or, you know, take a look at their product descriptions):

iPhone Desktop Handset

This is the stand that transforms an iPhone into a more comfortable desktop handset phone. With the handset in one hand, your other hand is free to navigate an iPhone’s applications, such as calendars, e-mail, and the Internet.

Sorry, I started giggling after “your other hand is free to navigate.”

Retro Cell Phone Handset

Send your phone back to the 20th century with the vintage styling of the Retro Phone! This must have, mobile phone accessory has classic looks and functionality. Simply connect your cell phone via the 2.5 mm or 3.5 mm audio jack and alleviate erroneous touch-screen or key activation! The Retro Phone will give your phone a new dimension of classic cool while also reducing the effects of harmful radiation from your phone.

Because radiation wasn’t an issue in the 20th century!

Now that we’re familiar with the combatants, let’s dial in.

gadling skymall monday cell phone handset battle iphone

And there you have it. The iPhone Desktop Handset defeats the Retro Cell Phone Handset 3-1. In the end, though, haven’t we all lost?

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.