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No wires, but big on batteries

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Many speaker manufacturers claim that their devices are wireless, but they still require a power point. Is the Verbatim Audio Cube different? SEAN BACHER tries it for power.
An inherent problem with most external computer speakers is the spaghetti-like maze of wires they bring to the desktop. While many manufacturers will argue that their speakers are wireless, they are usually only referring to sending a music signal wirelessly. You still need a power source, which means being plugged in.

However, storage and memory specialists Verbatim think they have the answer, and it is called the Verbatim Bluetooth Audio Cube. As the name indicates, it is a cube-shaped device designed to be both unobtrusive and elegant.

We put it through the Gadget Five Question User Test to see just how wireless it is.

1. Ease of use (including set-up)

The Verbatim Bluetooth Audio Cube doesn’t need any software before use, nor does it need any drivers. It will pair with any Bluetooth compatible device, including cellphones, tablets and computers.

It gets its power from four penlight batteries and, once they are inserted and the Audio Cube is powered up, it simply needs to be paired with a compatible device to play music.

The Power button, Volume controllers and buttons to skip, fast-forward and play or pause tracks are all located at the top of the Verbatim Audio Cube. These buttons let you take control of your playlist without having to dash over to the music-playing device each time.

The Cube is so easy to use that even an old-timer will quickly work out how to operate it. What is more, it looks and feels very sturdy and will survive the odd knock and, perhaps, even and accidental drop.

Score: 20/20

2. General performance

The Verbatim Audio Cube doesn’t seem to put much strain on its batteries (four are included). My review unit has been running for around two hours every day for the past five days and the batteries don’t seem to be showing any sign of going flat. If they do give in unexpectedly, the included USB cable will keep the tunes pumping until replacement batteries can be found. Better yet, use rechargeable batteries.

Two 50mm 8 Ohm speakers generate a total power output of 2 Watts. This is by no means loud, not even in when comparing the Verbatim Audio Cube to similar wireless speakers, but I found the sound quality and level more than adequate for watching movies and listening to MP3s while at work.

Unfortunately, the Audio Cube lacks a miniSD card slot, which most other wireless speakers use. The ability to use memory cards means you are not confined to the Bluetooth range and can carry music around wherever you go – on one device. The Verbatim Audio Cube requires you to carry two devices around but, when at home, you just have to be in the Bluetooth 20-30 meter range. The Audio Cube uses Bluetooth version 2.1, but is backward compatible with older versions, so this range will vary depending on the device paired with the Audio Cube.

The Audio Cube produces great sound, doesn’t chew batteries, but the lack of a miniSD card slot is a let-down.

Score: 12/20

3. Does it add value to your life?

Any device that is compact and doesn’t bring more clutter to an already chaotic desk, adds value. Cables are the bane of almost any gadget user’s desk life. The fewer, the better.

18/20

4. Innovation

Unfortunately there is nothing innovative about the Verbatim Audio Cube. Manufacturers have been sending sound over Bluetooth connections for the past decade or so. As for battery-powered speakers, that’s hardly new. Some even come with rechargeable batteries.

13/20

5. Value for money

Retailing for around R400 from most electronic retail outlets across South Africa, the Verbatim Audio Cube is a little expensive for what you get. A few more features would have made it a great value for money speaker.

13/20

Conclusion

The Verbatim Audio Cube is a truly wireless speaker. But the batteries aren’t cheap, and translate to an ongoing cost that is less than perfect.

That said, if you have a look at what companies like Fulton Innovation and Powermat (review coming up) demonstrated at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in terms of wireless power, I think the idea of a proper wireless speaker that doesn’t use batteries, or uses built-in rechargeable batteries that are automatically charged, is not that far off.

Total score: 76%

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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Featured

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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