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Griffin AirCurve Play: Simplicity always wins

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There are hundreds of iPhone docks and amplifiers around, but SEAN BACHER finds the Griffin AirCurve Play amplifier has the edge with clever engineering, simple design and ease of use.
The AirCurve Play is as simple as a gadget gets: a plastic box with a rubber dock for an iPhone 4 or 4S, that uses cleverly designed acoustics to amplify any sounds coming from the phone’s speaker.

Numerous amplifiers are available from various manufacturers, but most of them require some kind of power supply, and in many cases are more expensive than the AirCurve Play. But is the latter a viable alternative to the powered amplifiers?

We put it through the Gadget Five Question User Test .

1. Ease of use (including set-up)

The AirCurve Play is not merely an easy to use device. It is one of the easiest yet. There is no instruction manual and it is a gadget that you can work out for yourself. Just slot an iPhone into the rubber inset, browse to your music, push Play and adjust the volume to suit the mood.

Because the AirCurve uses no power, there are no volume or power buttons on the amplifier; everything is controlled from the iPhone.

Overall, there is no faulting the AirCurve Play. It is ready to work straight out of the box. without the need for charging or an additional power supply. This is almost unheard of in a device that is designed to amplify.

Score: 20/20

2. General performance

The Griffin AirCurve Play does not only amplify music. At the back of the unit is a stand for vertical or horizontal positioning on a desk or bedside-table. This allows easy access to the bottom of the phone for charging and also frees up your hands when video conferencing or when watching videos.

However, because the AirCurve Play amplifies vibrations from the iPhone’s speaker and turns them into sound, the phone has to fit snuggly into the rubber inset. So, before it can be used, any protective cases or bumpers that are on the iPhone need to be removed. I found this irritating as my phone’s case, (and I am sure many other users will have the same problem) is not designed to be taken off on the fly.

That said, the rubber inset can be removed and will act as a case, albeit not a very protective one.

Score: 17/20

3. Does it add value to your life?

The Griffin AirCurve Play is the kind of device that can be used in most environments. It doubles up as an iPhone stand, making it a great bedside and office accessory. However, it really shines outdoors, as you don’t have to carry around additional chargers or power adaptors in order to use it, as long as you’ve charged the iPhone.

The fact that you are not constricted to a power outlet makes the AirCurve Play a versatile accessory wherever you are.

I did find a problem with the AirCurve’s plastic shell. It felt rather brittle and, if dropped, would probably crack and destroy all the acoustic properties it offers.

Score: 17/20

4: Is it innovative?

Using acoustics instead of power to amplify sound is not new. The concept has been around for years; going back to the original megaphones or even the gramophone, first introduced in 1877.

But the idea of being able to amplify an iPhone’s speaker using nothing but acoustics is definitely a novel idea. Griffin gets full marks here.

Score: 20/20

5: Value for money

Many devices score very well in the first four questions, but fail miserably when it comes to value for money. This is largely due to the manufacturers spending so much money and time researching, developing and building the “perfect” device, they don’t spend enough time researching what consumers are willing to spend.

This is not the case with the AirCurve Play. You can’t get much cheaper than R199 for performance like this.

Score: 20/20

Total: 94/100

Conclusion

The scores speak for themselves. The AirCurve Play got full marks in all but two departments. Overall, it scored 94%, the highest of any gadget we have put through the Gadget Five Question User Test, which shows it is often the most basic devices that come out top.

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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Hit the road with high-tech night light for bikes

Cyclists need effective lighting by night and day, writes JOEL DORFAN, in his test ride of the latest in high-tech from Fenix

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Since 2004, Fenix Light has been manufacturing quality lights ranging from flashlights and headlamps to lanterns and bike lights.

There are many folks who ride their bicycles at night for various reasons. Whether on-road or off-road, there is always the need to see the path ahead of you. During the day, it’s wise to have a really bright strobe light so others around you can see you coming. 

Enter the BC21R V2.0.

The original 880 lumen BC21R was released some years ago. Besides the main light, it also had two red lights at the side. However, there were several complaints about this older version. The main ones were:

  • Plastic construction – does not dissipate heat causing the light output to step down;
  • Rubber mount – stretches and perishes over time;
  • No helmet mount.

With the launch of the new light, now called the BC21R V2.0, the folks at Fenix have kept all of the good features and added a bunch more, as well as remedying all of the complaints from the original. In a nutshell, it offers:

  • 1000 lumen output
  • Removable 18650 LiIion battery
  • Built in USB Type-C charging port
  • Dual Distance Beam System
  • Battery level indication and low-voltage warning
  • All-metal heat fin; IP66 rated protection
  • Quick-release bike mount compatible with Fenix bicycle light helmet mount

The increase from 880 to 1000 lumens means that there is now better coverage of the road ahead. The dual distance beam system means that the areas both near and far are illuminated. They do this by graduating the top half of the front lens that refracts some of the light down towards the front wheel, allowing the rest of the light to illuminate the roadway.

When you do not need all 1000 lumens, sequential taps of the on/off switch will cycle through the different output settings of low, medium, high and turbo. In any of these modes, a double tap of the switch will put the light into strobe (alternating high and low output) mode. On a fully charged battery, runtime on Turbo is published as being 2 hours, and on low at 50 hours. 

Many lights today are sealed units. Once the battery stops taking a charge, the light would have to be discarded. The removable battery means that, once it reaches end of life ,it’s a simple matter of inserting a new 18650 battery. Also, should you be on a really long ride and find that the battery starts going flat, you could stop along the way and swap out the battery for either another fully charged one or two CR123 batteries. 

At any time, you can tap the on/off button, which will light up an indicator to tell you the current state of charge of the battery. This same indicator will flash red when it’s time to recharge the battery.

To prevent damage to the LED light source, temperatures are monitored and, if the light gets too hot, the output is reduced. This is not ideal when you are out on a ride on a hot evening. By changing the head from plastic to metal with cooling fins, however, the light will now remain cooler, allowing for full output for longer periods.

Instead of a stretchy plastic mount like on the older model, Fenix has now gone with a proper clamp type mount. This is secured to the handle bars using a thumb screw; and then there is a quick release that allows the light to be attached or removed from the clamp with ease. Two different-sized rubber inserts for the clamp ensure a good fit on different diameter handle bars.

A bonus of this type of quick release mechanism is that the light is now compatible with the Fenix helmet mount should one wish to mount it there. Also, should you wish to use the BC21R V2.0 as a handheld flashlight or to stop it being stolen, no tools are required to remove it from either the bike or helmet mount.

So how does the BC21R V2.0 perform in real life?

It puts out a very concentrated spot-like type beam optimised for distance. The lens setup ensures that most of the light is below the horizon where it needs to be, which also makes sure that it does not blind oncoming motorists. 

The light will start getting warm to the touch when stationary or when hand held. However, when cycling, the cool air passing over the finned head does keep the light cooler.

Being a single 18650 battery light, a ride of longer than about 90 minutes will see the light starting to reduce output. It’s the tradeoff of size vs run time. Therefore make sure that, if you’re going to need the full 1000 lumen output for an extended period, to carry a spare battery with you.

The older model cost $75, and the good news is that Fenix appears to have maintained this price even with all of the extra features of the V2.0 model. This places the BC21R V2.0 in the mid- to high-range of  single battery lights. Given the features and multi-use applications it’s pretty good value for money.

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Product of the Day

Hisense adds AI-cameras to handsets

Hisense has entered the AI-camera space with the Infinity H30, aimed at the mid-range market. BRYAN TURNER tests the new camera technology.

Click below to read the review.

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While many know Hisense for its TVs and appliances, it has an impressive lineup of smartphones. Its latest Infinity H30 smartphone packs a serious punch in the mid-range market, including features like a low-bezel screen and AI camera.

Out the box, the phone comes with the usual charger, charging cable and earphones. There is a surprise in the box: a screen protector and a clear case. A nice value-add to the already affordable smartphone.  

The polycarbonate plastic body feels premium, especially for a device in this price range. It has a colour changing body, depending on the angle at which it is held. The colour of the device we reviewed is called Ice Blue, and shimmers in darker and lighter blues. Aesthetically, this is a big win for Hisense.

The 6.5″ screen is a narrow-bezelled FHD+ display with good colour replication. Hisense is known for creating colour-accurate displays and it’s good to see it continue this legacy in its smartphones. The shape of the display is interesting, taking some design notes from Huawei’s Dewdrop display with what Hisense calls the “U-Infinity Display”. It makes the phone look really good. 

On the rear of the phone, one finds a dual-camera setup with fingerprint sensor. On the bottom of the phone, there is a speaker, a USB Type-C Port and a headphone jack. The speaker’s placement on the bottom isn’t optimal and the sound is muffled if one accidentally covers the single speaker area.

The 4,530mAh non-removable battery is very capable, providing a good 12 hours of medium usage (checking messages every half hour and playing an online game every hour) until it reaches 20%. The battery capacity isn’t the only power feature of the device; it runs on the latest Android Pie operating system, which includes AI power-saving software measures to keep background apps from using battery.

It is a little disappointing to see the device came with some pre-installed games. Fortunately, one can uninstall them. Hisense makes up for this by issuing Android updates and security patches as the come out. This, coupled with the MediaTek Octa Core processor, provides a good user experience for playing games and multi-tasking.

The H30 has a whopping 128GB of on-board storage, and it can be expanded even more with a MicroSD card. The 4G-LTE capabilities are perfect for most high-speed broadband situations, with around 40Mbps download and around 10Mbps upload in an area with good cell service.

The 20+2MP rear camera configuration is good at taking shots on Auto mode, but pictures can be better after figuring out all the camera modes available. There is a professional mode for those who want to be extra creative with their photography. It also includes a baby mode, which plays various noises to make a baby look at the phone for a better picture. The AI mode can be enabled to make full use of the processor in the device, and fif the camera mode to be selected based on scenes photographed. 

The 20MP front camera performs equally as well. This camera is the reason for the U-like shape at the top of the screen. The camera app has beauty-face filters, for those wanting a slimmer face or smoother skin.

Overall, the Infinity H30 is a prime example of a good phone in an affordable price range.  The camera is very capable, and the AI processing helps what would otherwise be a regular camera. The aesthetically pleasing colour saves the day, and makes this mid-range device look like a high-end flagship. The device is retailing for R5,499 from most major carriers.

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