Posts Tagged portable music
Just as all the money in the world couldn’t save Steve Jobs from cancer, all the money in the world is not going to save you from the army of lawyers running the entertainment and social media tech sites you would like to keep using when you travel. Even the richest expatriate is going to get stymied when trying to log onto Netflix, Pandora, iTunes, Spotify, or Amazon. In some countries (like Vietnam and China), you may not even be able to send a simple status update to Facebook or Twitter. Unless you have something like Hotspot Shield.
If you travel a lot, there’s one small investment you should make: a proxy service subscription. This will enable you to click a button or two and be surfing the web from what looks like Rhode Island or California, not Botswana or Bulgaria. Once you have made that connection, you can stream your Netflix film or download those songs you bought from iTunes or eMusic without a bunch of suits getting between you and your entertainment.
There’s a second part to this too, which is another layer of protection in your surfing. Google can’t follow your around your neighborhood and the globe so easily when you’re covering your tracks and neither can all those damn marketing companies trying to watch your every move. Neither can that squirrelly looking guy two tables over in the coffee shop.
Now don’t get the impression this is all some super-simple process where everything always works out perfectly. I’ve tried at least four of these services during stints traveling and living abroad and all of them had their bugs. Hotspot Shield is not immune from bugs either, but it has fewer than most and the price is downright crazy cheap: $30 per year. If you can’t justify that tiny amount and are tempted to go with the free version—don’t. It’ll only take you a couple days before you’re ready to throw something at your computer because of the annoying ads and hijacked browser. Trust me. Mine slips into free mode sometimes by mistake and I instantly turn into Mr. Hyde.
Overall though, Hotspot Shield is $30 very well spent. With it installed on the multiple devices it allows, I can be surfing away undeterred in one room while my wife is watching a Netflix show and my daughter is logged into Youtube. All from Mexico, no problem. I’ve downloaded songs, streamed Pandora, and logged into my credit card accounts no problem.
The bugs I just had to get used to and live with, after support solved a few but the rest were not to be. None of us can send an e-mail from Yahoo Mail while logged in and others have reported similar problems from other web-based e-mail programs. Sometimes I get a strange “service not available” message from some websites. Occasionally messages I send from Thunderbird will get hung up for no reason.
Overall though, this proxy server service works as advertised and unlike others I’ve used in the past, I’ve had very little downtime. You can even choose to log on from the US, UK, or Australia—a good backup and quite useful if you’re a webmaster and you want to see search results from other countries.
Get a trial run direct from Hotspot Shield and ignore that free option with ads. Trust me. And if you don’t trust me or this link, you can also get it from CNET.com in their downloads section. Here’s a link with the price since for some reason they hide that even though it’s a deal – $29.95.
In my travels, I have seen a lot of snazzy alarm clocks in hotels. In fact, I do appreciate when there is an electrical outlet near the bed or an iPhone-charging clock that allows me to keep my smartphone plugged in overnight. But, I must admit, sliding the bar to stop the alarm on my iPhone is tough in the dark or when I am only half awake.
This clever iPhone alarm clock from Distil Union allows me to do just what we all want to do to our alarm clock when it wakes us up: give it a nice slap!
It comes with a clever, minimalist-style wooden stand that allows your phone to slide right inside and a large functioning rubber snooze bar. It stores your phone on its side and facing you while also leaving enough space for it to charge from its power port. There is an internal wedge that can slide in or out to accommodate bulkier cases allowing you to keep your phone in its case when you insert it into the stand.
Since it is secure in its wooden stand, you don’t need to worry about it falling off the night stand and becoming unplugged or wedged in between tight spaces when you are blaringly awakened mid-dream.
The solid maple wood stand also has a no-slip silicone bottom keeping it from scratching expensive furniture and preventing it from sliding off of a smooth surface. To activate the slap-happy snooze function, you have to download their Snooze Alarm App, which is free in the iTunes store.
The snooze function is simple to use, and Distil Union even provides a handy guide on common questions and answers.
Since space is often an issue for me with only a carry-on bag, I probably would not travel on longer trips with this device although it is ideal for shorter hops when I do not have as much clothing or gear. I have made it my go-to stand at home though, and it looks quite modern and stylish on my glass nightstand. No more need to pick up my phone and fumble for the sliding bar, now I just smack the wooden box and enjoy just a few more minutes of dozing.
We’ve tried out a fair number of Bluetooth speakers here and there are certainly plenty of good ones to choose from on the market. But this Braven wireless BRV-1 speaker takes it up a serious notch. You can drop it, submerge it, and toss it like a baseball to your clumsy friend without hurting it. Above is a video demo where my teenage daughter puts the claims to the test.
That video is a fun one and not too long, but as you’ll see in there, the speaker keeps cranking out music after being sunk in a bucket of water. Not that you’re going to do that every day, but it shows that if you get caught in a rainstorm or you spill your beer on it, no biggie. The party keeps going.
It sounds really great too, with far more bass than you’d expect from something this size. The BRV-1 is kind of heavy, as it needs to be to give you full dynamic range instead of just the top half of the spectrum. If you set your iPod or other music player to an EQ setting with bass booster, you’ll actually be able to rattle the chair or table it’s sitting on, without distortion. But it cranks good ole rock-and-roll in full fidelity too, or sounds good with some Sunday morning jazz. You can control the volume on the speaker itself, a nice touch when your device is on the other side of the room.
It’s a Bluetooth speaker and so far, the only one I’ve tested that never failed to connect. It features some nice audio clues to what’s happening, with an upward-turning tone when it is turned on, and lower-turning tone when it’s being turned off, and a separate connection tone with a device syncs up. I tried this with an Apple, Android, and Windows mobile device and all easily worked.
This Braven wireless speaker comes with what you need out of the box: a micro USB to regular USB cable and a two-male plug for connecting it to a device that doesn’t have Bluetooth, like an older MP3 player or a laptop. I tried out this option too and it checked out fine.
You reach these connections by unscrewing the locking, watertight cap on the back. So naturally you can’t dunk this underwater if you’re using the BRV-1 with a plug or you’re charging it. (Most people hopefully know you shouldn’t dunk anything in water while charging it…) In my tests over a couple months it never took more than three hours to fully charge, even when I did it by solar with a Goal Zero panel. Five lights by the charger input show when you’re on full power again. Then you’re good to go for 12 hours on average before needing to charge again.
But wait, there’s more! You can also charge other small portable devices from this Braven speaker if you really need to. And you can use it as a speaker phone. If you’re listening to music from your phone and a call comes in, you hit the play button arrow on the speaker: that pauses the music and lets you hear and talk through the speaker. Cool.
My only complaint about this Braven speaker is the heap of plastic packaging I had to wrestle with at the start. But after I disposed of all that, smooth sailing.
Want a self-sustainable music player that doesn’t sacrifice sound quality? This Rukus XL boombox from Etón charges by solar power but is no wimp when it comes to playing your tunes at top volume.
Most people are going to use it as a Bluetooth speaker, pairing whatever Apple, Android, or Windows phone they carry with them wirelessly. I tried all three in my tests and only one time (out of 20+) did I have a Bluetooth connection problem—trying to connnect the Apple device after having just used the Android one. After I powered both down and started over, it was fine.
The large solar panel on this boombox puts it well above the toy level. It’s as big as the front panel and can be tilted to catch the maximum amount of sunlight. Still, this is a big boombox with a big battery, so takes a good six hours of direct sunlight to fully charge. With the included wall charger it was faster, but that kind of defeats the point unless it’s a rainy day and you’ve got no choice.
Then it’ll run for about 8 hours, which is quite good considering how loud it is. A Rukus indeed: this thing puts the boom back in boombox and cranks out the kind of sound that’ll make your neighbors wonder why they didn’t get invited to the party. That sound is really good for a portable speaker too. You can crank the Eton Rukus up to top volume without the sound turning to mush.
Controls on the device are simple and make sense: bass boost cranks the bass up even more (without distorting it like a pimpmobile’s) and the aux button is how you switch from Bluetooth to something plugged in. Most of the basic music functions you can do from your connected device you can also do on the player itself, such as skipping to the next track or changing the volume.
Battery icons show how full it is, but also flash at various times, like they’re trying to speak to you in code. There’s not much info in the manual though, so I’m not sure what Virtual Hal is trying to tell me.
The one confusing control is a switch marked “Charge.” What would you think that would be for? Oddly, it’s got nothing to do with the charging process, in or out. Instead it’s a button you’re supposed to flick to off when you’re not using the device. Apparently it keeps the battery from draining.
You can use the USB hub as a charger for your device, but be advised it has no cut-off mechanism (thus the odd “Charge” button I suppose). So if you leave your phone plugged in overnight like I did in my test, it will continue to pull power and can drain the whole battery. So it’s best for a quick emergency charge or when the device is in sunlight. There’s a compartment and an elastic band to hold a phone or MP3 player in place.
I only got this device as a loaner and didn’t have enough time to try it out on multiple trips, so I can’t speak to the long-term durability. It’s far from weatherproof, with lots of warnings about water and humidity in teh instructions. The warranty language in the instruction booklet seems intentionally vague, with clauses like “representative determines warranty service is needed…”
Overall though, I can definitely recommend this Rukus XL and might end up buying one for myself or as a gift in the future. This is a solid, eco-friendly boombox that really cranks out the sound through four speakers and four other passive sound radiators. Something this big is more useful on car camping trips and beach parties than for anything involving a flight, but it’s also powerful enough to be your regular stereo in an apartment. Basically anything your phone or tablet can play, this thing can play. So if you’re using Rhapsody or Spotify, you’ve got a giant music collection ready to be queued up.
The Eton Rukus XL lists for $199 at the Etón website and you can find it on their site, in some retail stores, or on Amazon. For something with sound this big and a Bluetooth connection, this stereo is a good value. Add in a big solar panel for charging and it’s a real bargain.
These classy, over-ear noise canceling headphones have a distinctive look that is sure to turn heads on an airplane or train. And that is not because the sound leaks out of the side (one of my biggest pet peeves from clueless travelers when they have no idea they are sharing their music with everyone on the plane). V-Moda headphones have memory foam ear covers that lock in the sound improving quality and saving the sanity of your seatmates.
I tested out the V-Moda M-100 Cliqfold model on several trips. One of my favorite features was the ability to fold the headphones at the earpiece edge into a more compact shape taking up less room in my carry-on bag.
I was not sure what benefit the dual headphone inputs would have (one cord into each ear rather than just one side), but noticed this was a special feature touted by V-Moda. It did lead to a more powerful sound that contributed to a more even and realistic balance in my ears. A second cable is included to allow friends to listen in as well. I was impressed with the durability of the Kevlar-coated cables that keep them from fraying or twisting in an over-packed briefcase.
One downfall of over-ear headphones is that it is difficult to sleep with them on especially if on an airplane as you can only sleep on your back. If you turn your head, it becomes obstructed by the ear piece and either falls off or shifts uncomfortably on your ear. But, I still prefer this model over in-ear pieces that irritate my ear canal after long periods of use. Plus, those just seem more dangerous if you like to turn the volume up.
Luckily, the head band on this pair adjusts easily to fit your head. When napping, I like to keep them snug so they don’t slip off and wake me up. You can even twist the head band a bit to loosen the pressure of the ear cups by angling them out a bit without losing the pressure on your head. I found this useful if I did turn my head to the side and wanted some leeway without losing them completely.
The sound quality of this pair of headphones is one of the best I have ever experienced making it more than worth the hefty $310 price point on V-Moda’s website and Amazon. I consider this an investment in comfort, and this pair has more of a hip edge and superb sound quality that makes it a great contender for the more expensive Bose models.