Gadget has updated its Five Question User Test for consumer technology. First through the gate is the Audio Motion Wireless LightBulb Speaker system. These could be the first truly wireless speakers, but there’s a catch, writes SEAN BACHER.
Ask anyone who has set up a home entertainment centre and they will most certainly say the worst part of the whole exercise is positioning the speakers and their associated cables.
The problem is that when positioning speakers, especially the ones that need to be behind the listener, you are always hindered by the cables. And, once the speakers are positioned in the appropriate spots, it is always a pain trying to hide the unsightly cables.
Many manufacturers have boasted that they have “wireless”” speakers. Although the speakers receive their signal wirelessly, they still need an electrical outlet – instantly making them non-wireless. Other manufacturers have designed their speakers to run off batteries, but then you’d better start saving, as batteries are expensive. Then there are the rechargeable wireless speakers, but here you can expect the speakers to spend more time in their docking or charging bases then around you.
Finally though, there is a speaker system that is truly wireless, although there is a catch. It comes in the form of the Audio Motion Wireless LightBulb Speaker system. The speakers are distributed by Tier One Electronics who also own the intellectual design: they bought the idea from another company and own the rights to manufacture the product ‚ ultimately transforming one company’s fantasy into another’s reality.
We put the Audio Motion Wireless LighBulb Speaker System through the new Gadget Five Question User Test and see how well a fantasy has been turned into reality.
1. Ease of use (including set-up)
As the name suggests, the speakers come in the form of light bulbs, which means they need to be fitted into a light-socket, which is where they get their power. That means, while they do not come with any cables, they still use a direct power supply. Technically, they are wireless, but not plugless.
However, the absence of cables and the lightbulb format should make for a quicker and more aesthetically pleasing set-up.
Easier said than done. I found the speakers to be too big to fit in any of the standard recessed down-lighter ceiling sockets in my house. I did, however, find a couple of bedside lamps had larger lampshades that allowed me to screw in the speakers.
Once in, the speakers worked like normal light bulbs. Flick on the lamp and the built-in LED in the speaker lights up as brightly as a 40-watt light bulb.
However, in order for them to produce sound, the included docking station needs to be plugged in ‚ preferably near a home entertainment centre. The docking station sends a wireless signal over a 2.4GhZ wireless connection ‚ or Wi-Fi. But, unlike Bluetooth or infra-red, it does not need to be anywhere near the speakers ‚ merely in the vicinity.
With the docking station plugged in, the speakers are ready to rumble. The station is able to connect directly to an iPod Touch or iPhone and has an auxiliary input that will accept most MP3 players.
Setting up the speakers and docking station is really a no-brainer. In fact, the instruction pamphlet is a mere A5 page with pictures. The only foreseeable problem in this department is that the speakers may not fit in every socket. Before you invest, check that the light socket destined to be transformed into a sound socket conforms to the E27 size standard.
2. General performance
To get things going, no software needs to be loaded nor does anything have to be paired. The docking station automatically picks up the Audio Motion LightBulb Speakers and pairs with them. Lights illuminate on the docking station, letting you know that the speakers have been correctly paired and are ready to work.
Once an MP3 player is connected to the docking station, the volume is controlled from the docking station. Should an iPod Touch or iPhone be connected, the docking station will also be able to skip and search through the stored music.
The included remote control not only manages this skipping and volume, but also turns the LED light on and off: great for listening to music during the day when you don’t need the light.
Tier One Technologies has also boxed two Edison/bayonet converters in the package ‚ which in themselves are great gadgets to have around the house. How many times have you bought a bayonet light bulb, only to get home and realise you actually need an Edison or screw-in type? These converters let you screw in or clamp the Audio Motion speakers into almost any fitting ‚ size permitting.
The Audio Motion docking station took the cake here. Any MP3 player we found was able to be hooked up to the docking station seamlessly. Our iPods and iPhones were even charged while docked. The fact that the docking station also controls the light in the speaker was a great bonus ‚ and an electricity saver.
3. Does it add value to your life?
Listening to the Audio Motion LightBulb Speakers sounds exactly like listening to music from a standard speaker. The only difference is that it is a little more difficult to determine the source of the sound. Tell a friend the sound is coming from your lampshade or ceiling and you may well be asked what you’ve been smoking.
At maximum volume there was no trace of distortion. However, the older beside lamps being used for the test were not built to handle rattling light bulbs, and the connectors started to loosen. But newer light fixtures with tighter fittings should handle the vibrations without any problem.
I did notice an issue when connecting the Audio Motion Wireless LightBulb Speakers into a series of down-lighters. The entire circuit needs to be on in order for them to work. This means that, in many instances, you could end up with six or more normal lights burning away during the daytime while you have the Audio Motion speakers pumping tunes ‚ not good for the electricity bill. That said, up to eight speakers can be paired with one docking station.
Using the speakers in standalone lamps works well, though. Should you put them next to your bed, you will have the benefit of both a bedside lamp and powerful hi-fi with just one power cord going to the lamp.
Great sound quality and a hidden sound source are all definite pluses. Add to this that you can pair eight speakers to a docking station and we have a clear winner. Eight speakers working in unison will put many sound systems to shame.
Unfortunately, the inability to isolate and power just the speakers is a limiting factor.
The way the Audio Motion Wireless Audio LightBulb Speaker system does away with cables is highly innovative. The designers have taken a stock-standard fitting found in any house and turned it into a speaker powerhouse without the need for additional fixtures or installations.
The ease with which the speakers connect to the docking station, combined with the brilliant use of older technology, could quite easily make the Audio Motion Wireless LightBulb Speaker system one of the most innovative speaker arrangements on the market.
5. Value for money
The system, including two light bulb speakers, the base station, remote control and two Edison/bayonet converters, retails for around R3 599. This is little expensive, considering you can get a more powerful surround sound system for half the price.
However, the Audio Motion Wireless Lightbulb Speakers are not about power, they are about aesthetics and anything that looks sexy and is easy to use comes at a premium. Nevertheless, the price counts against the wireless speakers.
Total score: 74%
Overall, the Audio Motion Wireless Audio LightBulb Speakers are a great, innovative idea. It is a clear sign of what is achievable in the wireless sector and an indication of what we can expect to see in sound innovation.
The Audio Motion Wireless LightBulb Speakers score 74%, which makes them an above average product.
* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher
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Amazfit Bip – An unassuming smartwatch competitor
The Amazfit Bip has everything a smartwatch needs: notifications, heart rate monitoring and a month-long battery life, writes BRYAN TURNER.
The Amazfit Bip is one of the most appealing devices in the smartwatch lineup from Huami, a low-cost brand backed by Xiaomi.
Coming in at around R1500 depending on where you shop, the price point puts the Bip into the budget smartwatch space. Combined with a large set of offerings, it makes one wonder: “Why aren’t more smartwatches like this?”
Aesthetically, the rectangular face is similar to the Apple Watch but, on closer inspection, is more reminiscent of the Pebble Time smartwatch. Ergonomically, the Bip has a single button which mostly acts as an unlock button and a back button in menus. The watch strap is made of hypoallergenic silicone and is replaceable.
The Bip has an always-on transflective colour screen with a backlight for darker situations. This kind of display is very similar to a 90’s Gameboy, and happens to be quite the power saver. The display is covered with 2.5D curved Corning Gorilla glass with an anti-fingerprint coating, giving that extra bit of knock resistance.
The unit is 18 grams without the strap and 32 with it on, making for an extremely light smartwatch that’s roughly half the weight of the Apple Watch. While the Bip is rated IP68 in terms of waterproofing and dustproofing (meaning it can withstand 30 minutes of being under 1.5 meters of water), Huami’s website says that it should not be used while swimming, diving or bathing, and should not be taken into a sauna. When the Bip we used got dirty from rock climbing, it was washed with a soap-free cleanser (as Fitbit recommends) and a soft-bristled toothbrush.
The number of sensors in the Bip is astonishing: heart rate sensor, accelerometer, geomagnetic sensor, barometer, and GPS. This sensor set is usually reserved for the premium smartwatch market but budget Bip packs all of these. Most interestingly, the geomagnetic sensor allows for compass readings (as well as assisting the GPS in locating the watch while it’s moving) and the barometer for measuring elevation by detecting changes in pressure.
Battery life has been optimised to a month of regular use, with some reports measuring up to 45-days with the heart rate sensor off. Huami claims the smartwatch can last for 4 months with only step and sleep tracking on. The 190mAh battery was run down in 28 hours with the GPS, barometer and heart rate sensor set to permanently on.
The built-in software is basic and lacks app support but redeems itself in other areas. Firstly, the customisation of watch faces is limited but can be easily changed with a third party app. Notifications are handled well, available for viewing only, and require the phone for replying or other interactions.
The menu options become available with a swipe left, notification settings with a swipe down, past notifications with a swipe up and the weather with a swipe right. The menu has options for checking one’s current status (steps, heart rate, distance, calories), followed by quick activity tracking (running, cycling, walking weather (a five-day forecast with icons), alarms, timers, compass and settings.
The companion app, Mi Fit, is well-designed and syncs quickly with the Bip. Mi Fit is where the watch and sync settings can be fine-tuned. Mi Fit also gives very detailed sleep analytics, including showing how much time one spent sleeping compared to other Mi Fit users.
Overall, the Bip is an attractive smartwatch for those who are looking to purchase a device that provides value for money while being highly-functional.
Samsung A51: Saviour of the mid-range
For a few years, Samsung has delivered some less than favourable mid-range devices compared to the competition. The Galaxy A51 is here to change all that, writes BRYAN TURNER.
It’s not often one can look at a mid-range phone and mistake it for a flagship. That’s what you can expect to experience when taking the Galaxy A51 out into the open.
Samsung went back to the drawing board with its new range of devices, and it shows. The latest Galaxy A range features some of the highest quality, budget-friendly devices we’ve seen so far. The Samsung Galaxy A51 is one of the best phones we’ve seen in a while, not just aesthetically, but in what it packs into a sub-R7000 price tag.
Looking at the device briefly, it’s very easy to mistake it for a flagship. It features a four-camera array on the back, and an Infinity-O punch-hole display – both of which are features of the high-end Samsung devices. In fact, it features a similar camera array as the Galaxy Note10 Lite but features an additional lens in the array. The cameras line up in an L-shape, clearly avoiding looking like a stovetop.
Apart from the camera array, the back of the handset features a striking pattern called Prism Crush, a pattern of pastel shades that come in black, white, blue, and pink. For the review, we used the Prism Crush Blue colour and it looks really great. The feel is clearly plastic, which isn’t too surprising for a mid-range device, but the design is definitely something that will make users opt for a clear case. It’s also great to see a design pattern that deviates from the standard single iridescent colours many manufacturers have copied from Huawei’s design.
Along the sides, it features a metal-like frame, but again, it’s plastic. On the left side, we find a SIM and microSD card tray while the right side houses the power button and volume rocker. The bottom of the phone features a very welcome USB Type-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack, which isn’t too uncommon for mid-range phones.
On the front, the device is pretty much all screen, at an 87.4% screen-to-body ratio, thanks to a tiny chin at the bottom and the small punch hole for the camera. The earpiece has also been hidden inside the frame in attempts to maximise this screen-to-body ratio. When powered on, the 6.5-inch display looks vivid and sharp. That’s because Samsung opted to put a Super AMOLED display into this midrange unit, giving it a resolution of 1080 x 2400 (at 405 ppi) in a 20:9 format. This makes the display FullHD+, and perfect for consuming video content like Netflix and YouTube in HD.
Hidden underneath the display is an in-screen fingerprint sensor, which is very surprising to find in a mid-range device. While it is extremely accurate, it takes some getting used to because the sensor is so large that one needs to put one’s entire finger over the right part of the display to unlock it. Most other types of non-in-screen fingerprint sensors don’t mind a partial fingerprint. The display itself feels nothing like the back and that’s because it’s not plastic, but rather Gorilla Glass 3, to prevent the screen from shattering easily.
What’s interesting about this device is finding accessories which aren’t quite available in phone stores yet. When browsing online for screen protectors, one has to be on the lookout for screen protectors that are compatible with the in-screen fingerprint sensor. Make sure to check out the reviews of users before purchasing them.
In terms of software, Samsung has made a great deal of effort to make the experience slick. Gone are the days of TouchWiz (thank goodness) and now we have OneUI in its second version. OneUI makes the phone easier to use by putting most of the interaction on the bottom half of the screen and most of the view on the top part of the screen, where one’s thumbs don’t usually reach.
Out of the box, the device came with Android 10. This is a huge step forward in terms of commitment to running the latest software for major feature updates as well as for Android security patches to keep the device secure.
It also has most of the cool features from the flagship devices, like Samsung Pay, Bixby, and Link to Windows. Samsung Pay is an absolute pleasure to use, even if it still confuses the person taking your payments. From linking my cards, I have stopped taking my wallet out with me because all merchants that accept tap-to-pay will accept Samsung Pay on the A51.
Bixby is useful if you’re in the Samsung app ecosystem, especially for owners of SmartThings devices like Samsung TVs and SmartThings-enabled smart home devices. Otherwise, Google Assistant is still accessible for those who still want to use the standard Google experience.
Link to Windows is an interesting feature that started with the Galaxy Note10 and has since trickled down into the mid-range. It allows users to send SMS messages, view recently taken photos, and receive notifications from the phone, all on a Windows 10 PC. This can be enabled by going to the Your Phone app found in the start menu.
The rear camera is phenomenal for a mid-range device and features a 48MP wide sensor. The photos come out as 12MP images, which is a common trick of many manufacturers to achieve high-quality photography. It does this by combining 4 pixels into a single superpixel to get the best colours out of the picture, while still remaining sharp. It also performs surprisingly well in low light, which is not something we were expecting from a mid-range device.
The 12MP ultra-wide angle lens spans 123-degrees, which is very wide and also useful for getting shots in where one can’t move back further. It’s not as great as the main lens but does the trick for getting everyone in for a group photo in a galley kitchen.
The 5MP depth-sensing lens supplements the portrait mode, which adds a blur effect to the background of the photo – the same lens as its predecessor, the Galaxy A50. It features a 32MP wide-angle selfie camera, which is perfect for fitting everyone into a large group selfie.
The processor is an Exynos 9611, which is an Octa-core processor. It performs well in most situations, and there is software built in to give games a boost, so it performs well with graphically intensive games too. In terms of RAM, there are 4GB, 6GB, and 8GB variants, so keep an eye out for which one you are trying. For the review, we had the 4GB, and it performs well with multitasking and day-to-day tasks.
For storage, it comes in a 128GB model on Samsung’s website, which seems to be the standard size. This is extremely welcome in the mid-range segment and is the largest we’ve seen for internal storage capacity as a starting point.
At a recommended selling price of R6,999, the Samsung Galaxy A51 marks the beginning of a great era for Samsung, because it provides a feature-rich handset at an affordable price.