The perfect office Bluetooth speaker: the OontZ Angle PLUS

I’ve been looking for a good Bluetooth speaker for my desk at work and I finally found one: the Cambridge SoundWorks OontZ Angle PLUS. Interestingly enough, what I like about it is the “feature” it doesn’t have compared to other speakers: voice prompts. Yeah, sounds stupid, but all of the other ones I tried would loudly proclaim things like, “YOUR PHONE IS CONNECTED.” Not something you want to hear in a quiet office environment. Read more

Bluetooth adapter for Apple 30-pin speaker docks

If you are a long-time user of Apple products, their switch to the Lightening connector probably left you with orphaned 30-pin connector devices, like iPhone/iPad powered speaker docks. Well, this handy $15 adapter will turn those into useful Bluetooth speakers! (Even if you still live in the 30-pin world, this would be a great thing to get.)

I just got one and it works great. The only caveat is that the dock must be one that charged your iPhone/iPad, since the adapter requires a power source.

Mpow® Bluetooth A2DP Music Audio Receiver Adapter for Bose Sounddock and 30-Pin iPod iPhone Dock

Repurposing an old iPad as a picture frame/media player/digital mirror

In the past, I usually sell my devices when I upgrade. I’ve done this with phones, iPod touches, iPads, etc. Unfortunately, I inevitably regret that decision, feeling that I could have used the device I sold and really didn’t get that much money out of it (particularly after eBay and Paypal take their cut). So when I upgraded to the new iPad Air, I kept my iPad 3 and decided to make it a picture frame and media center.

As an AppleTV owner, its pretty easy to get spoiled by its awesome screensaver and not be very content with the boring built-in iPad slideshow. As such, I tried several iPad picture frame apps. I settled on Picmatic. It was the closest I could find to the AppleTV screensaver and even displays date and time. A feature to have it sleep (nice, if you use 24/7) was added recently which is very welcome. (However, it does this by reducing the screen brightness. If you try to use the iPad during the “off” hours, the display does not automatically return to normal brightness.) I did upgrade to the Pro version ($1.99) which unlocks more layouts and supports the developer. Read more

Best Bluetooth Headset for convertible: Etymotic EtyBLU2

I did a lot of research before buying a Bluetooth headset for use in my Miata and settled on the Etymotic EtyBLU2. It’s been a few years since my last convertible and back then I was using Jawbone. The problem with the Jawbone was that although the person I was talking to could hear me pretty well, I couldn’t hear a thing because the eartip sat in the ear and not into the ear canal. I bought a third-party eartip that did, but I could never get the volume to work comfortably.

The EtyBLU2 is a totally different experience. First off, people I talk to don’t even know I’m in my car…and that’s with the top down! It also sits comfortably in my ear and I can hear perfectly. You couldn’t ask for more. It’s perfect.

Now, I will admit it looks like something a telemarketer would wear, but ya can’t argue with the results. You can take the windscreen off the boom mic, but I settled for the smaller of the two provided ones. It also comes with an assortment of eartips as well.

If you’ve got a convertible and need a Bluetooth headset, this is the one for you!

Tunelink Auto, a great Bluetooth FM broadcaster auto adapter (Update: FAIL!)

Tunelink Auto from New Potato Technologies is a very cool device. Basically, it allows you to connect an iOS device via Bluetooth and broadcasts the audio to an FM station. The entire device plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter plug.

The station you use to broadcast can be set using a free app that you download from the Apple App Store. Your mileage will vary greatly depending on whether or not your area has a lot of FM stations. In San Antonio, TX, there are a few open frequencies which work fine. In Los Angeles, it’s difficult to find an open one. The app, has a feature called Speed Tune that uses your location and suggests frequencies to use.

Of course, the audio quality isn’t very good. For better quality, the device also has an 1/8″ stereo output plug so you can also connect to an Aux In or a cassette adapter, if you have one of those. It even has a USB connector so you can use it to charge your iOS device too. It comes with a 30-pin connector USB cable. The Apple Lighting adapter works fine if you’ve got an iPhone 5.

What I really like about this device is that you can set it up so that it automatically connects my iPhone to the device when I start the car and starts playing music from where I left off. When you shut off the car, the player also stops. It’s wonderful! It also plays nice with my car’s built-in Bluetooth phone connection.

I will have to say that my initial experience was less than satisfactory. Most of the time it wouldn’t connect to my iPhone and when it did, it would usually not stay connected. I also couldn’t get it to use any station other than 88.5. I contacted techsupport and they sent me another after I mailed them my old one. This one worked perfectly.

Well, my replacement unit from Jan started to get flakey with symptoms like not staying connected, difficulty pairing, etc. I sent it back and got another unit. This one is flakey too. I’m giving up. Based on the review on Amazon I am not alone. It’s got barely over 2 stars and 160 reviews! I’m going to try the Belkin Bluetooth Car Hands-Free Kit (4 stars and 677 reviews). The Griffin Technology BlueTrip also looks interesting. Look for a hands-on review soon. Wish me luck!

iHome iW3 AirPlay Rechargeable Speakers

I’ve been thinking about whether to get a Bluetooth speaker for use with my iPad/iPhone or an Apple AirPlay one. I’ve been using a jury-rigged Bluetooth set up with an old iPad speaker dock and a Logitech Bluetooth adapter connected to the Aux input. Not a very elegant solution.

The thing about using Bluetooth is that it pretty much takes over all of the iOS device’s audio output. So audio notifications can get problematic. AirPlay on the other hand can be limited to specific apps, like the Music app. The downside of AirPlay devices is that they are EXPENSIVE! I thought about doing an AirPlay DIY project that uses an Apple Airport Express, but I wanted a small self-contained unit.

Best Buy had the iHome iW3 on sale for $179, so I decided to give it a try. So far I love it. It’s pretty compact aside from it’s giant AC adapter–I think Apple should be in charge of designing all AC adapters ;-)

Connecting to your WiFi network is a snap. It’s got a USB port and I just connected my iPad to it using the included 30-pin style connector. A little dialog box appears asking if you want to allow it to access your WiFi setting. That’s it. I assume it would work if you used one of the newer Lighting cables, but it doesn’t list the iPhone 5 or iPad 4 as supported devices on the box.

There are some basic playback controls on the top. The entire unit is relatively heavy and sits on it small charging base. To move it, you just lift it by the recessed handle in the back. Most of the unit is covered in this speaker material. Your natural instinct is to grab the unit by the sides, but I would worry that this wouldpermanently stretch the material. Only time will tell. I would have preferred a plastic or metal covering.

The sound is good, but to be honest I’m not a big audiophile.

Rocketfish RF-MAB2 Bluetooth Headphones

I had a gift card burning a hole in my pocket and decided to use it on a pair of Rocketfish RF-MAB2 Bluetooth Headphones. (Rocketfish is Best Buy’s house brand.) I was pretty much expecting to return them, but after using them for the past several weeks, I find that I really like them. The freedom of wireless headphones is great.

They support stereo A2DP Bluetooth so they work quite nicely with my iPhone 4. I can change tracks, adjust volume, play/pause music, etc. The sound is pretty good and I like the open-air design. You can pause music and still carry on a conversation without removing them. Volume is adequate.

They are relatively comfortable. Since I sometimes wear glasses, I find it more comfortable to wear them upside-down–where the loop in the band goes under my ears instead of over. You’d think they would slip off, but they don’t. If I’m leaning with my head back, I loop them under my chin. This is awkward at best, but it works.

They have a built-in mic so you can use it to make calls too. Performance is so so, and I find that they only work acceptably in a relatively quiet environment.

I don’t know how much abuse they could take but construction is pretty good. I doubt the band could tolerate being severely bent. I’m not overly proctective, but I do try not to squash them.

I haven’t tested it’s supposed 14 hours of battery life, but I think it might be able to achieve this. I go all day without needing to recharge. It has a standard micro-USB connector for charging.

I highly recommend them. I got them for $49 at Best Buy.

Using a Bluetooth headset in a convertible (car)

UPDATE: See also this newer post Best Bluetooth Headset for convertible: Etymotic EtyBLU2

I drive a 350Z Roadster and like to listen to podcasts. Sure, I can pump it through the radio–I added an Aux jack, but you really have to crank up the volume to understand the conversation over the roar of the engine and road noise. Now, you can find plenty of Bluetooth headsets that have outbound noise-canceling–so others can hear you, but try finding one that has inbound noise-canceling–so you can hear your phone. I’ve found none. The best I could do was the Plantronics Voyager 855 Bluetooth headset which is an in-ear canal headset and, therefore, does a reasonable job of blocking out road noise. Still, I often had the volume at or near 100%, which can’t be very good for my hearing. I also considered the Plantronics Voyager Pro, perhaps, with a custom molded ear piece from AverySound, but I just couldn’t convince myself that this behemoth wasn’t hideous. Besides it didn’t support A2DP or AVRCP so you can’t remotely control a media device.

I got a pair of Audio-Technica ATH ANC3BK noise-canceling earphones and found they did a superb job of canceling out road noise. Initially, I plugged them into the Nokia headset adapter that came with my N97. This let me remotely control volume, make phone calls, etc. albeit with a wired connection. Unfortunately, with the ATH ANC3BK’s bulky control box (including AAA battery), I looked like a Christmas tree when everything was all hooked up.

Searching for a better solution I stumbled upon the Sony DRC-BT15. It has a built-in mic and media controls. Basically, it turns standard wired headphones into a wireless stereo Bluetooth headset. (I’m pretty sure Nokia made a similar device, but I could not track it down.) The Audio-Technica earphones work great with it. The set up is still a little bulky, but eliminating the wired connection to the phone makes it much more palatable.

So until they make an in-ear canal, inbound noise-canceling Bluetooth headset, this is the best solution I’ve found. I can drive with the top down on the freeway with the volume very low and clearly hear callers and understand my podcasts. It’s probably saving my hearing as well. Of course, I only have one side plugged in, so the other side of the earphones dangles. I haven’t been brave enough to cut one side off yet :-)