Gadling Gear Review: Cubedge Edge.sound Portable Speaker

Update: 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.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.

Santa Fe On A Budget

Santa Fe has a reputation for being pricey, what with all the art galleries, boutiques, jewelry stores, restaurants, and hotels. And while it’s true you can blow a wad of cash there without even trying, it’s just as easy to enjoy Santa Fe if you’re on a budget. It just depends upon your priorities.

If you can live without purchasing a life-sized bronze sculpture of a bugling elk or Native American art, and you’re more interested in a cultural experience than shopping, Santa Fe is infinitely more affordable than many holiday hotspots. Even on a shoestring, you don’t have to miss out on the many incredible sights and experiences this small city has to offer, with the possible exception of a spa treatment or an overpriced, underwhelming meal.

Unlike many cities with a lot of money and cultural attractions, Santa Fe is all about casual. Locals are more concerned with comfort and self-expression than trends, so don’t worry about buying a new wardrobe for your trip or lugging lots of clothes with you. Bring a pair of beat-up cowboy boots and jeans or a long skirt, and you’ll fit in just fine.

Read on for tips on how to do Santa Fe right, local-style.

The biggest secret to saving money in Santa Fe is staying at one of a handful of little-known hotels in the downtown area. Sure, you can crash Super 8 or Motel 6 on the outskirts of town (I’ve done it), but you’re going to wind up paying just as much for a crappy, generic room that requires a car in order to see any of the sights.

Instead, spring for a stay at an adorable, pueblo-style hotel, like the following:

  • The Old Santa Fe Inn is a family-owned property just four blocks from the historic Plaza. A single queen averages $89-$209 low/high season, and includes a full breakfast and complimentary parking; pet friendly.
  • The Santa Fe Sage Inn (free parking, continental breakfast, shuttle, and pet-friendly; double queen $45-$135 low/high season) is located across the street from the thriving Railyard Arts District/farmers market near downtown and the Plaza.
  • The Santa Fe Motel & Inn has free parking and full breakfast, and is a homey little gem near the Plaza and Convention Center, for $89 to $145 a night (standard room; low/high season rates).

Note that low season in Santa Fe is between November and March, excluding major holidays, but can start earlier, depending upon the hotel property. Be sure to ask when making reservations; click here for information on year-round specials.

Eating and Drinking
Everyone loves to splurge on a great meal, but New Mexican cuisine is about as rustic and homely (in the true sense of the word) as you can get. It’s also insanely delicious, addictive, and filling, so those with small appetites can easily get by on one big meal a day (if you count your free hotel breakfast). Gluttons like me still have to work at finding room for three squares, but given the plethora of excellent restaurants in town, you’ll want to pace yourself. And be aware that the hole-in-the-wall spots are where the locals prefer to eat on a regular basis. The farmers market, which runs Saturdays year-round, is world-class.

Don’t miss these classic, uber-affordable spots:

  • Johnnie’s Cash Store: Serving Santa Fe’s best tamales since 1946, for under $3 a pop.
  • Bobcat Bite: The best green chile cheeseburger in town.
  • Santa Fe Farmers Market in the Railyard: The adovada breakfast burrito is a $6 bit of heaven, and coffee is only a dollar. Located inside the Market Pavilion, at the Farmers Market Cafe concession stand; open Tuesdays and Saturdays, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.
  • Tia Sophia’s: Escape the tourist hordes at this under-the-radar, just-off-the-Plaza eatery, beloved for its posole, green chile and breakfast burritos. Breakfast and lunch, only.
  • Pantry Restaurant: It’s not near the Plaza, but this down-home diner is a local favorite for all things New Mexican.
  • Casa Chimayo: Owned by a long-established local family, the posole is delicious, and service warm and friendly.
  • Roque’s Carnitas: A long-standing food cart on the Plaza, and a great lunch stop.
  • Evangelo’s: About the only true dive downtown (although regrettably, it’s been spiffed up a bit so it’s not as skanky as it once was) with strong drinks and live music most nights. Always a host of local characters (some more derelict than others). There’s also The Matador, right across the street and down a flight of stairs. If it’s Happy Hour specials you want, talk to your hotel concierge or front desk.

Things to do

  • Go museum hopping: Many of Santa Fe’s museums offer a free or discounted day; check individual websites for details. Two of the most popular, the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors, and the New Mexico Museum of Art, are free on Friday evenings, from 5-8 p.m.
  • Take a cooking class: The Santa Fe School of Cooking is relocating this week to a new, much larger space, which means more classes. Hands-on classes and workshops start as low as $50.
  • Hike or ride: There’s hiking and mountain biking in Santa Fe proper, on the Dale Ball Trail System, and Nature Conservancy Trail. if you really want to get out into the woods, however, try the Santa Fe National Forest, Hyde Memorial State Park, or Santa Fe Ski Basin.
  • Go for a walk: Santa Fe is one of the nation’s most walkable cities, with miles of creekside bike/pedestrian paths and enclaves of adorable neighborhoods made up of adobe homes festooned with chile ristras and flowers. I’ve literally whiled away entire days wandering the city. The city also offers a multitude of free walking tours focused on everything from coffee and chocolate to literary landmarks.
  • Dance: The Plaza is buzzing most evenings during high season with live music, festivals, and often, dancing. When I was in Santa Fe in August, the gazebo was full of couples practicing tango. You never know what you’re going to find, but call the Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-777-2489 if you want to plan ahead.
  • Windowshop: Even if you’re not in looking to buy, Santa Fe offers world-class window shopping, especially amidst the galleries and boutiques of Canyon Road.
  • Visit a pueblo: Although not walking distance, there are eight pueblos located just north of Santa Fe. Spend a morning or afternoon talking to the various tribes, explore the dwellings, purchase handicrafts, or attend one of the weekend Indian Markets, seasonal pow-wows, or other cultural events. Be open to talking to the residents; when I visited the Taos Pueblo, I ended up helping to construct a traditional adobe horno, or outdoor oven.

Getting there
Skip the rental car (which is unnecessary if you’re staying downtown). The shuttle from the Albuquerque airport, an hour away, is just $47/pp/round trip. Ultimately, it comes down to what you’re planning to do while you’re in town.

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

The 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.Geneva 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.

Giveaway: Win one of five iMainGo 2 portable iPhone/iPod speaker cases

Do you like music when you travel? Listening to your tunes on headphones is fine when you are on a plane, but once you get to your hotel room (or the beach), it is nice to have a bit more volume. This is where the iMainGo 2 speaker case can help.

This compact battery powered speaker protects your player too – and thanks to its clear plastic back, you can still control your tunes. The iMainGo 2 will definetely receive a mention in our upcoming gift guides – but this is your chance to win one for yourself. To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment telling us the first song you’d love to listen to on the iMainGo 2.

  • The comment must be left before Wednesday, November 24 at 5:00 PM Eastern Time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • Five winners will be selected in a random drawing.
  • Each winner will receive one iMainGo 2 portable speaker (valued at $39.95).
  • Click here for complete Official Rules.
  • Open to legal residents of the 50 United States, including the District of Columbia who are 18 and older.

Gear: The sweetest-looking iPod speakers

For travelers who never leave home without their iPods, it’s an extra convenience when hotels provide in-room docking stations that sound better than anything your ear buds or your laptop speakers can pump out. In fact, for a certain class of boutique hotel properties, an iPod dock is almost expected on the list of amenities (along with the flatscreen TV.)

In the past month, two of the five hotels I’ve stayed at (the Bellagio in Las Vegas, the Kimpton-owned Hotel Palomar in Philadelphia) have all carried iHome docking stations. When I later searched for the model numbers online to compare prices and specs, I was surprised at how quickly those numbers are phased out and replaced with newer, sleeker models like the iP90 ($99.99).

If you stay in a hotel that doesn’t have an iPod dock, iHome makes a sweet set of portable speakers: the iHM78B ($49.99). The set, which debuted in January, sports a funky bubble design and is available in fun colors like red and blue. The accordion-like speakers pop up for fuller bass and swivel down into a compact capsule. Magnets at the ends keep the pair together in your bag, so you don’t have to root around for the other half.

But does anyone actually travel with portable speakers? I feel like I always get bogged down by all my cords and chargers. But after testing out this set, I have to admit that it’ll be hard to return to the puny sound. Whether the speakers were plugged into my iPod or laptop, I actually had to turn down the volume because it was way too loud. Note: There’s no master volume control on the speakers; you have to adjust the volume level from your laptop or iPod itself, but that’s a small annoyance compared to the huge sound you’ll get.

Luckily, the mini speakers are good enough to use in everyday life so it’s not some travel gadget you’d only use once a year. The bottom line? Sure, if you always stay in hotels with iPod docks, portable speakers won’t be as useful. For everyone else, the iHome speakers are a solid pair to make space in your bag for.