Gadling Gear Review: Bluetooth Speakers For Travel

Bluetooth Speaker: Damson Twist
Damson

Smartphones, tablets and iPods have made it incredibly easy to carry your entire music collection wherever you go. This is particularly useful when traveling; you get an entire library of songs right at your fingertips, helping to make those long stays in airports and hotels just a bit easier. Add a portable Bluetooth speaker to the mix and you have a wireless entertainment system with high quality sound that can go with you anywhere. Those speakers have gotten smaller, lighter and more affordable over the past few years, making them a great travel companion for the music lover. Here are two unique options to consider for your next road trip.

Damson Twist ($69.99)
If you’re looking for a compact, yet surprisingly powerful, Bluetooth speaker to take with you when you travel, it’s tough to beat the Twist from Damson. This diminutive audio device really packs a punch and thanks to its unique design it even provides a solid amount of bass — something that can’t be said about most of the competition.

When taking the speaker out of the box for the first time you’ll probably be struck by two things. First, the Twist is quite small, measuring a shade under three inches in height and about two-and-a-quarter inches around. The second is that the speaker is surprisingly heavy for something so small. It tips the scales at 12 ounces, which doesn’t sound like much until you hold it in your hand. For such a small device the Twist feels incredibly solid, conveying the sense that it can take a little abuse and keep performing just fine. The build quality on the speaker is truly top notch and Damson should be commended for creating a portable speaker this good.Pairing the speaker with a smartphone or other Bluetooth-enabled device couldn’t be any easier. After charging the Twist to full capacity, I simply turned it on in “BT” mode and selected it from my iPhone’s list of available devices. The two gadgets communicated with one anther for a few seconds before the speaker gave out a brief chime indicating that it had successfully connected. After that it was ready to begin playing music and moments later it was doing just that, belting out tunes in a very satisfying manner.

Unlike most other Bluetooth speakers, the Twist incorporates what Damson calls “resonance technology” to improve volume and overall sound quality. While holding the device in your hand, you’ll barely be able to hear anything out of the speaker at all, even with the volume turned up fairly high. But place the Twist on a flat surface and it immediately begins pumping out audio at a higher level. In fact, when I set it down for the first time I was caught a little off guard at the jump in both volume and sound quality. The speaker uses natural resonance from whatever surface it is placed on to create a richer and more full audio experience and as a result, it delivers performance on par with a speaker much larger than itself. Damson says the Twist works best when sitting on a wood, metal, glass or even cardboard surface. During my testing I found that I preferred it on wood the most as that helped to amplify bass levels quite nicely.

Battery life is a bit lackluster on the Twist when compared to the competition, although that is somewhat expected considering its size. Damson says you will get about 4 hours of wireless music between charges and I found that to be a solid estimate during my testing. You can extend that life up to 9 hours if you forego the wireless options and plug your audio source directly into the Twist itself. A 3.5 mm audio cable is included in the box for that very purpose and a USB charging cable is included as well.

Available in four colors, the Twist’s outer casing is made of brushed metal. This gives it a very classy look that isn’t found on other speakers in this price range. Damson has even provided a nice travel pouch that helps the device to maintain those good looks when you hit the road. These small touches help to set the Twist apart from the crowd. The fact that it only carries a price tag of $70 doesn’t hurt either. At that price, you can afford to buy two and daisy chain them together for even better sound. Considering how good the Twist looks and performs, I’d say it’s a real bargain.

Bluetooth Speaker: Boom UrchinBoom Urchin ($149.99)
At the opposite end of the spectrum from the Twist is the Urchin from Boom. The two are both Bluetooth speaker systems, but the similarities between the products pretty much ends there. Where the Twist is a small wonder of modern engineering, the Urchin is larger, louder and built like a tank.

The distinctively shaped Urchin features a removable silicon shell that helps protect it from all manner of dangers. This speaker is shock and dust proof as well as water resistant, which means you can hang it in your shower, take it on a camping trip or pack it for your beach vacation in Fiji. In short, it is designed to survive in just about any environment while continuing to wirelessly pump out tunes without missing a beat.

Clearly Boom’s focus was on building a speaker that could withstand plenty of punishment but they didn’t skimp on the sound quality either. While the Urchin doesn’t provide the deep bass that the Twist offers, it does deliver a much more consistent level of sound that isn’t dependent on the surface it is sitting on in any way. The high end of the audio spectrum comes through bright and clear, while the mid-ranges are delivered vibrantly too. The Urchin sounds great even when the volume is completely cranked up with no discernible distortion.

Boom’s technical specifications say that the Urchin’s rechargeable battery should be good for up to ten hours of music and I found that to be fairly accurate. Adjusting the volume to lower levels can extend the battery life a bit longer but as it stands, this speaker is capable of providing music for a full day out. The included wall charger will replenish the battery fairly quickly as well so the Urchin will be ready for use again in no time at all.

One feature that the Urchin has that the Twist doesn’t is the ability to be used as a speakerphone. This is a useful feature for hands-free conversations or making a call in a group setting. When paired with a smartphone the Urchin’s built-in mic allows for two-way communication although I found it to be rather lackluster when used in this capacity. The voices of callers came through the Urchin’s speaker just fine but they reported that my voice sounded muffled and distant. The quality of the cell connection can play a role in this of course, but compared to other Bluetooth speakerphones that I’ve used, this one did little to impress.

Boom ships the Urchin with a carabiner for attaching the speaker to a backpack or even a belt loop. A suction cup and adhesive screw attachment are also included in the box, making it easy to lock down the speaker no matter where you want to use it. The suction cup works great in the bathroom for instance, giving you another reason to sing in the shower. The fact that the company recognized that this is how their customers would want to use the product is an indication of how much thought went into its design.

Both the Twist and the Urchin have qualities that make them great choices for travelers. One packs great sound in a small package while the other is designed to survive just about anything you can throw at it. If you want to listen to music outside in the elements, the Urchin is the clear choice, especially with its much longer battery life. But if you want an inexpensive speaker that you can carry with you when you hit the road, the Twist is an amazing piece of technology that performs beyond its size. Either of the two devices will make music-loving travelers very happy.

Gadling Gear Review: Microsoft Surface Pro

Microsoft Surface Pro
Microsoft

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ve no doubt seen the ubiquitous advertisements for Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet computer. You know the commercials I’m talking about. The ones that feature a good looking group of young people dancing around the boardroom while snapping the device’s removable keyboard into place with a distinctive “click.” Those advertisements would lead you to believe that the Surface is a device capable of handling the full workload of a laptop while still offering the convenience and simplicity of a tablet — which if true would make it the Holy Grail of travel devices. I recently had the opportunity to put a Surface Pro model to the test on two very different road trips and I can tell you that it (mostly) lives up to its billing. The device really is unlike any other I’ve ever used and it has the potential to make many road warriors very happy.

Before I dive too far into the performance of the Surface Pro it is important to point out that Microsoft has released two versions of the tablet. In addition to the Pro model there is also the Surface RT, which runs a stripped down version of Windows 8, which comes with a few compromises. For instance, it can only run apps specifically made for Windows RT, while the Pro model can run any Windows software that you care to install. The RT also has a less powerful processor as well, but it makes up for it with longer battery life, a thinner and lighter design and a smaller price tag. Since I haven’t had the opportunity to use a Surface RT for any length of time, this review is based off the Surface Pro, which is a considerably more powerful device. In simplified terms the RT is a tablet with laptop aspirations while the Pro is a laptop wrapped in tablet form.The Surface Pro comes in two configurations, one with 64GB of storage and the other with 128GB. It features an Intel Core i5 processor and a beautiful 10.6″ full-HD, multi-touch screen capable of generating resolutions up to 1920×1080. It also has 4GB of on board RAM, front and rear-facing cameras and an array of ports including USB and a microSD card reader. A built-in kickstand allows you to prop the device up on any flat surface while a set of internal gyroscopes and accelerometers orient the screen from portrait and landscape modes. The entire system weighs in at about two pounds, which is a bit on the heavy side for a tablet, but fairly light for a laptop.

One of the things that struck me when I first took the Surface out of its box was just how solid and durable it felt. Its case is built from VaporMg, a special type of liquid metal that Microsoft created specifically for the device. The material is lightweight, rugged and looks great too. I recently took the Surface Pro on a backpacking trip to Australia and the device held up very well to the abuse of travel. In fact, I never once felt that the tablet was in danger and it returned home without so much of a scratch on it thanks in large part to its VaporMg casing. If you often find yourself carrying your laptop into some demanding and difficult environments, the Surface may be the alternative you are looking for. Chances are it is both tougher and lighter than what you travel with today.

Microsoft Surface Pro
Microsoft

In terms of performance, the Surface Pro is fast and smooth, running Windows 8 exceptionally well. In fact, it feels like the touch-focused OS was made specifically for the tablet incorporating gestures, swipes and taps to accomplish all kinds of different tasks. Windows 8 apps extend the functionality of the device even further but the real strength of the Surface is its ability to run any other piece of Windows software as well. While the iPad and Android tablets are restricted to running only the software available in their respective app stores, the Surface Pro is capable of running off the shelf software that you find anywhere, including a full version of Microsoft Office. This is a huge advantage over other similar devices and one that should not be ignored by those who need to be productive while on the road but still want to carry a compact device.

One of the distinguishing traits of the Surface tablet is its keyboard, of which there are two versions available, both of which also serve as protective covers. The Touch Cover is lightweight, flexible and features soft keys, while the Type Cover is a little thicker and heavier, but has keys that are much closer to what you’d find on a notebook. Both versions lock into place by connecting to a special magnetic port on the bottom of the tablet and when used in conjunction with the Surface’s kickstand, the transformation to a laptop is complete. Both keyboards take a bit of practice to get accustomed to, but after spending a little time with them, I was able to type surprisingly well. My personal preference leaned toward the Type keyboard, which was so easy to adapt to that I almost forgot that I was using a tablet and not a true notebook. Inexplicably, the less expensive Surface RT includes a Touch Cover out of the box but it is an additional purchase with the Surface Pro, raising the price by $120. The Type Cover will set you back $10 more but is well worth it if you intend to do any serious typing on the tablet.

The Surface Pro has a few more tricks up its sleeve to help separate it from both the RT model and the competition as well. For instance, it has a built-in Wacom digitizer that works with an included pressure sensitive stylus pen that allows the device to actually recognize the user’s handwriting and convert it to text. It takes a little practice to learn how to use this feature but it can be great for taking notes in meetings or classes. Handwriting recognition has been a part of Microsoft’s tablet operating systems for years and it shows. The feature is robust, mature and surprisingly useful once you actually become accustomed to using it.

My one complaint has to do with the hardware rather than the software. The Surface has a port along its right side that serves the dual purpose of both charging the tablet via the AC adapter and holding the pen in place when it is not being used. Unfortunately that means you can’t have the stylus there at the same time as the device is being charged. I also lost the pen at the bottom of my bag on more than one occasion when it became dislodged from its cradle as I put the Surface away. Fortunately, I haven’t lost the pen altogether, although it seems like it would be easy to do. I would have much preferred a dedicated slot for holding the pen that is more secure.

One of the key features of any decent tablet is great battery life. The iPad is capable of 10+ hours of use out of a single charge and many Android tablets are in the 8-10 hour category as well. The Surface Pro doesn’t come anywhere near that, averaging about 5.5 hours of use in my testing. That isn’t great when you view it simply as a tablet, but if you instead consider it a laptop with some tablet capabilities it puts it more in line with many ultrabooks that are currently on the market. Still, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that the Surface didn’t perform better in real world battery use. Another 1.5-2 hours would have really made this a killer device on long distance flights. The Surface RT is rated for 8 hours of battery life although I can’t comment on whether or not it actually delivers on that promise.

So, is the Surface Pro the ultimate travel device? I’d say the answer to that is both yes and no. This is a device that straddles the line between being a laptop and a tablet and as such it needs to be evaluated a bit differently. For instance, it is heavier and thicker than an iPad, but smaller and more lightweight than most laptops. It doesn’t simply run apps either, but instead has access to the full Windows software library, which puts it in a category unlike any other. Add in handwriting recognition, the ability to connect all kinds of peripherals via the USB port and a rugged case that is designed to stand up to abuse and you end up with a product that has a lot to offer frequent travelers. On the other hand, the lack of a long battery life really limits its use when away from a power outlet and that is a shame. If there is one thing that Microsoft can do to improve this product with the next version it is to improve battery life.

The Surface Pro carries a price tag of $899 for the 64GB version and $999 for the 128GB model, although MS is currently offering a $100 discount on both. That’s actually a solid value for a device that is as versatile as this one, after all you’re actually getting both a full blown tablet and a laptop in a single package. If you’re in the market for a new travel computer and you want a system that is compact, yet powerful, that you can take with you anywhere, the Surface Pro is a great option. Just set your expectations for battery life appropriately and you’ll be quite happy with the experience.

Gadling Gear Review: Kensington Accessories For iPad And Smartphones

Kensington Accessories: KeyCover
Kensington

Smartphones and tablets have become an important part of our daily lives, putting a wealth of functionality and information at our fingertips. Straight out of the box these devices can do amazing things to keep us entertained and in communication while on the go, but companies like Kensington are making some excellent accessories that can extend that functionality even further and perhaps even enhance it. Here are three such accessories that can make your next road trip even better.

KeyCover Hard Shell Keyboard for iPad ($79.99)
There is no doubt that the iPad is a fantastic device, capable of some amazing things, but its onscreen keyboard can be a major obstacle for those looking to use the tablet to get serious work done. That’s where the KeyCover Hard Shell Keyboard comes in handy. This keyboard connects to your iPad via Bluetooth, instantly turning it into an ultra-portable workstation. With the right apps, it can even rival a laptop in terms of productivity.

Typing on the keyboard takes some getting use to, in part because the keys are smaller than what you find on a laptop. The first few times I put it to the test I found the backspace key was getting the most use as I was continuously correcting mistakes. But as with most things in life, practice makes perfect and before too long my large fingers adapted nicely to the smaller keys and I was able to type away almost as quickly and efficiently as I do on my larger notebook. The keys have a high quality feel to them and they make a nice, reassuring click as you type away. When you get on a roll, you might even forget that you’re actually getting productive work done on an iPad.The KeyCover has a few other tricks up its sleeve that will make it a favorite amongst iPad owners as well. Not only is it an excellent portable keyboard, but it also serves as a highly protective case that snaps snugly over the tablet, encasing it in a solid shell that protects the iPad’s screen very nicely. The case is made from anodized aluminum that looks great and provides a level of protection that you don’t get from most other cases. It can be a bit tricky to get off and on at first but after using it a few times it becomes second nature.

Like Apple’s Smartcover, this case uses magnets to automatically wake or put the iPad to sleep when it is opened and closed. It also has a built-in stand that can hold the iPad in either portrait or landscape mode, which is helpful when trying to get work done, but is great for watching movies or making Facetime or Skype calls too.

As mentioned above, the KeyCover connects to the iPad via Bluetooth (version 3.0), which means that it is an electronic device with its own built-in, rechargeable batteries. Kensington says the keyboard’s battery is rated for 120 hours of use between charges and I’ll have to take their word for it. In my testing I was never able to run the battery down fully, so it is clearly capable of lasting for quite a long time. The downside is that the KeyCover is one more item you’ll need to be sure is charged before you hit the road because it won’t be particularly useful if the battery dies.

If you love your iPad but found its functionality slightly hindered by the lack of a physical keyboard, then you’ll absolutely love the KeyCover. It really is an excellent companion for Apple’s tablet. Similarly, if you’re a road warrior who is looking to lighten your load and leave the laptop behind, the KeyCover can turn your iPad into a device that is far more productive. The keyboard even comes in handy for typing emails, iMessages or just about anything else that requires a lot of text entry. It truly will open up a host of new possibilities for how you use the iPad.

The KeyCover is available for the standard iPad. Owners of the iPad Mini will want to checkout some of Kensington’s other keyboard options for their tablet.

Kensington Accessories: Proximity Tag
Kensington

Proximity Tag ($39.95)
Are you one of those people who is prone to losing your keys? Do you often walk away from a restaurant or coffee shop, leaving your cellphone behind? If so, Kensington’s Proxmity Tag was made for you. This light and thin device is roughly the size of a credit card and is designed to be paired with a Samsung Galaxy smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth, although in theory any Android device should work. Once connected, either the sensor or the phone will alert you when they are no longer close to one another. So for example, you could attach the sensor to your keychain, carry-on bag or just about any other valuable item and if it moves outside of a range of about 30 feet from your smartphone, it will immediately alert you that your valuables have been left behind or taken. On the other hand, should you leave your phone behind somewhere and walk more than 30 feet away, the sensor will sound an alert as well, reminding you to retrieve your device.

Connecting your smartphone to the Proximity Tag is accomplished through an app that is available on the Google Play Store. The app allows you to configure a few options on the Tag itself, although its main use is to pair it with your Android device and to tell the sensor to emit an alarm when you can’t find it. So if you lose your keys and need to discover where they are at any given time, the app will tell the Proximity Tag to emit a sound that makes it easy to quickly track them down.

As mentioned above, Kensington says the Proximity Sensor is compatible with Samsung Galaxy devices, but since they use the Android mobile operating system, I assumed the app would run on any Android device. When installed on a generic Android tablet running the latest version of the OS the app ran fine as far as I could tell, but when I put it on an HTC One it crashed multiple times. I had to borrow a Samsung Galaxy S III to properly test its uses and, as you might expect, it ran without a hitch.

The Proximity Tag is powered by a user replaceable lithium battery that Kensington says should be good for about six months use. Once again, I’ll have to take their word for it, because during my testing it never ran out of juice. It did, however, work as advertised, providing alerts when either the Android device or the backpack that I attached the Tag to passed out of range of one another.

The fact that the sensor is small enough to slip into your wallet is a nice added benefit. That means you can keep it on you at all times and use it as needed. Keep it paired with your phone at all times and connect it to something valuable that you want to keep tabs of as needed. Or better yet, rest assured that you’ll never leave your smartphone or tablet behind again. That is quite a nice level of reassurance for a mere $40.

Kensington Accessories: EVAP Pouch
Kensington

EVAP Wet Electronics Rescue Pouch ($19.99)
Have you ever inadvertently jumped into a swimming pool forgetting you had your iPod in your pocket? How about accidentally dropping your smartphone in a full sink of water? There are few things that can kill an electronic device faster than immersing it in water and usually it means that gadget is gone for good. Fortunately, Kensington makes an accessory that can help with this problem, perhaps saving you hundreds of dollars in repair or replacement costs in the process.

The EVAP emergency pouch is designed to pull moisture out of an electronic device without damaging its delicate components in any way. It contains specially developed drying agents that are specifically made to work with electronics and their effectiveness is nothing short of miraculous.

There really is no trick to using the EVAP, you simply open it up and pull out the two sealed packets that contain the drying agents. Place those packets on either side of the waterlogged device and slip them all back inside and seal the pouch. Kensington says it will take anywhere from 6-24 hours for the process to complete, depending on the device and amount of water involved. A handy indicator on the outside of the EVAP will actually let you know when it has completed the process.

I tried the EVAP with an old iPod Nano I had sitting around my apartment. It still worked but had been replaced by a newer model, so I was willing to sacrifice it under the guise of product testing. I soaked it in a bowl of water for several minutes and when I took it out, it refused to turn on. After blotting it dry with a towel, I sealed it in the pouch and left it inside overnight. The next morning I checked the EVAP right away noticed that it had finished its work. I opened the pouch and took the iPod out and was pleasantly surprised to have it power-up in my hand. The EVAP worked exactly as advertised and my old Nano was back from the dead.

The EVAP is one of those products you hope you never need but you’re glad you have when you do. It is super easy to use, worked great in my test and may save you hundreds of dollars, not to mention endless heartbreak. The product is just $19.95, so it isn’t exactly expensive. It would be a good thing to keep around the house in case of an emergency and if you happen to own a boat, I’d store one there as well. Additionally, if you’re taking a trip to a destination where you’ll be spending plenty of time around the water, you may want to play it safe and have one in your suitcase as well. It could turn out that you’re very cautious and won’t need one, but this is the kind of product that is the epitome of “better safe than sorry.”

There you have it – three very unique and different products from one company. Each works well in its own right and are likely to make customers happy. Kensington’s reputation for creating innovative and functional products continues.

Augmented Reality App Shows Rome’s Colosseum, In All Of Its Glory

Augmented Reality shows us the Roman Coliseum like never before
Public Domain

Augmented Reality apps on our smartphones and tablets can do some pretty amazing things. The basic premise is that these apps use our device’s camera to show us the world around us while also overlaying information that may be of interest. For example, AR apps can give directions, complete with on-screen arrows showing us where to go, or they can display info about hotels, restaurants and bars that include Yelp scores, hours of operation, menus and more. The potential for augmented reality is so great that Google is even incorporating it directly into their Glass project.

But a company called AR-media is truly taking augmented reality to the next level with a new app in development that will let travelers see some of their favorite historical sites restored to how they looked when they were first built. In the case of the demo video below, that means using an iPad to catch a glimpse of the Roman Colosseum as it looked when it was newly constructed.

The software uses special programming to determine where you are in relation to the structure and uses 3D modeling to fill in sections of the building. The results are pretty amazing and show the possibilities of how AR can be used to educate and entertain, particularly in the travel industry.

Now, I wouldn’t recommend staring at some of our more magnificent monuments through the screen of any device. After all, you’re there to see it in person. But if a smartphone or tablet can enhance the experience, then I think that is technology that is working to make our lives better. In this case, the AR app practically allows us to step back in time and see the Colosseum in all of its glory.

Gadling Gear Review: Portable Media Servers For Music, Movies And Photos On The Go

HP Pocket Playlist portable media server
HP

Remember the days before smartphones and tablets? Back when our mobile entertainment options were limited to whatever books and magazines we could cram into our carry-on bag and that one movie that was shown three times on a single flight across the Pacific? It may seem like it was a lifetime ago, but it really hasn’t been that long at all.

Now days when we hit the road, we can carry our entire music collection, multiple movies and TV shows, a library full of books and thousands of photos with us. The options are nearly endless, limited only by the storage capacity of your mobile devices. But when the memory on those devices begins to get full, you have to start making compromises in order to fit everything you want in the limited storage available. In order to make room for the latest episodes of “Downton Abbey” for example, that digital copy of “The Hobbit” may have to go.

But what if you didn’t have to make those kinds of compromises? What if you could carry a tiny portable media server with you that would not only add storage capacity to your device but also allow you to wirelessly share those files with your traveling companions? A few years ago that would have seemed like something out of a science fiction movie but today it’s a reality with both HP and Kingston delivering excellent and affordable options to the consumer.Before I get to both of those gadgets, let me explain a bit about what they both do. These are small devices that can be loaded with music and movie files, as well as photos, before you ever leave home. Those files can then be simultaneously shared wirelessly between multiple devices while on the road. That means that if you have a favorite movie that your kids enjoy, you can save it on your portable media server and it is accessible to them at all times, whether they are connecting from an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad or a device running the Android operating system. The same thing holds true for music and photos as well. Both of these devices bring extra storage, which means you don’t have to completely load up your phone or tablet, nor will you have to delete items just to free up some space. For friends and families traveling together, these mini-media servers can be a life saver and for the solo traveler, they bring versatility and a little extra storage capacity.

HP Pocket Playlist ($129.99)
HP’s entry in the portable media server category is the Pocket Playlist, a sleek device that comes with 32GB of built-in memory. It is roughly 4.5 inches in length and mere .35 inches thick. It also weighs just 2.2 ounces, which means it is small enough to slip into your pocket or carry-on bag and you’ll barely even know its there.

Loading the Playlist with files couldn’t be easier. You simply plug it into a USB port on your computer where it’ll appear as a spare drive. After that, you can drag and drop the files you want on to the device and the Playlist will automatically catalog them for you. If you’re on a Windows PC you can use the included HP software to help convert video files to the proper format to be displayed on your mobile devices, although I found that this was seldom necessary.

Once you have all of your media files onto the Playlist, it can begin serving up those items to any PC, iOS or Android device. Up to five gadgets can be wirelessly connected at any given time without any noticeable degradation in performance. While testing the product I regularly had my iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and an Android tablet streaming various video and music files at the same time, and all of them ran flawlessly. Apps are available as free downloads in each of their respective app stores, making it a breeze to connect to the Playlist, search its media library and playback whatever movies, music or photos you’re looking for.

The Playlist’s 32GB of storage allows you to carry approximately an additional 16 full length movies, 7600 songs or 10,000 photos. That’s a lot of extra entertainment to have at your fingertips at any given time. The fact that the device can serve all of those files up quickly and easily is quite impressive, as once you connect to the Pocket Playlist, the files stored on it perform as if they are actually on your tablet or smartphone.

Most devices are only capable of connecting to one Wi-Fi source at a given time, which could be a problem if you’re hoping to surf the Internet while listening to music that is streaming from the Pocket Playlist. But HP has cleverly integrated Internet pass-through technology that allows you to connect the Playlist to a Wi-Fi router and than pass Internet traffic through to any other device that is attached to the media server. I expected that this feature would work in a pinch but that there would be obvious performance issues, but for the most part I really couldn’t tell that I wasn’t connected to the router directly.

HP claims that the built-in battery on the Playlist can last for up to five hours depending on the number of devices connected and the media being served. In my real world testing, I was routinely able to get over four hours of use before the device needed to be recharged. The Playlist ships with both an AC wall adapter for quick recharges, and HP conveniently includes a car charger to keep it running on long road trips. It can also be recharged via the USB port on your computer, which can come in handy when traveling internationally.

Performance-wise it is hard to knock the Playlist in any way. It is small, lightweight and delivers on the promise of providing more storage for your mobile devices. It is a refined product that is about as simple to use as anyone could ever ask for. HP has delivered a product that anyone can understand and appreciate, which should make the Playlist a hit with those who need extra storage or the capability to share multimedia files while on the go.

Kingston MobileLite Wireless Drive ($59.99)

Kingston MobileLite Wireless portable media server
Kingston

Kingston’s MobileLite Wirelesss drive is an alternative option to the Playlist that performs much the same way, although it does have some key distinctions. For starters, it doesn’t ship with any built-in memory, which is part of the reason it is less expensive than HP’s device. The MobileLite supports a wide variety of storage options however, which makes this a relatively painless thing to rectify. The device is capable of reading just about any kind of SD memory card, including microSD with an included adapter. It also has a full-powered USB port built in, which allows you to plug in a USB memory stick and access its contents as well. You can even plug in a USB hard drive, although that kind of defeats some of the purpose of having a portable media server.

All of these options for storage bring a level of versatility that the Playlist simply doesn’t have. While HP’s device is limited to the 32GB of on board storage, with Kingston’s offering you can swap out memory cards at any time, essentially giving you access to unlimited data. You could, for example, carry multiple SD cards with you when you travel saving one for music, another for movies and a third for television shows. Better yet, you can pull an SD card straight out of your camera, plug it into the MobileLite and begin viewing the photos you took that day right on your iPad or Android tablet.

Like the Playlist, access to the MobileLite is accomplished through apps that are available for iOS and Android. While Kingston’s apps are functional, they didn’t quite feel as refined as those from HP. They definitely get the job done, however, granting access to all of your files, which in this case can actually include Word documents, Power Point presentations, PDF files and more.

Where as the Playlist looks like a sleek piece of modern design, the MobileLite designers seem to have leaned more toward function over form factor. It is thicker (.35 vs .65 inches) and heavier (2.2 vs 3.4 ounces) than HP’s device and definitely feels chunkier in your hand. This is mostly due to the fact that it has a built-in card reader and USB port, which the Playlist doesn’t. Those features add to the versatility, but detract somewhat from the look and size.

The inclusion of the USB port gives the MobileLite the ability to actually provide a charge for your smartphone. Doing so will deplete the media server’s internal battery, of course, and it isn’t as useful as having a dedicated mobile charger, but it will do in a pinch. This feature is just another indication of the versatility of the device.

Like the Playlist, the MobileLite’s battery is rated for up to five hours, but once again I found it was closer to four when put to the test in the real world. Unlike HP’s product, however, it doesn’t ship with an AC or car adapter of any kind. Kingston simply included a USB cable for charging via a computer. If you want to charge from a wall outlet or while in the car, you’ll once again have to provide your own adapters.

The MobileLite features solid wireless performance but it isn’t capable of connecting to as many devices simultaneously as the Pocket Playlist. While HP’s media server can accommodate up to five devices, Kingston’s offering is only capable of handling three. That may seem like plenty, and for a lot of users it probably is, but for a family that is traveling together, it is possible you could run up against this limitation fairly quickly. The MobileLite does have the Internet pass-through option just like the Playlist, however, allowing you to browse files and surf the web at the same time.

Both of these portable media servers are excellent devices and both do their job very well. In fact, it is difficult for me to recommend one over the other, as they both have some advantages and disadvantages. For a family that wants to take the media library with them when they travel, I’d highly recommend the Playlist, as it is simple to use and has the ability to connect to more devices simultaneously. The MobileLite seems like the better option for professionals, however, as it provides more ways of accessing files while in the field. Professional photographers will probably love the device for instance, as it gives them the ability to review their work within seconds of taking their shots.

If you fall into either of the categories listed above, these portable media servers will make excellent additions to your travel gear. But even if you’re just looking to add a little extra storage to your mobile devices, both the Playlist and MobileLite are great options at affordable prices.