I provide honest ratings and reviews on tech, toys, and consumer home goods that I've purchased and used. Reviews are based on hands-on testing and personal observations. All opinions and comments are my own.

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Friday, July 31, 2015

NordicEssentials Beach Socks Review

NordicEssentials Beach Socks Review

Buy it at Amazon: NordicEssentials Beach Socks [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Beach tested and approved.

At first, I thought the idea of beach socks was strange. What's wrong with just wearing flip flops? But I decided that give them a try anyway, and I have to say, I'll probably always take these to the beach going forward. With sandals/flip flops, you still manage to get hot sand under your foot and they are not exactly ideal for going in the water with. Because the beach socks wrap around your whole foot and up your ankle, you don't get any sand on your feet at all and the temperature is barely noticeable.

The material is lycra and feels soft and silky with a little stretch like active sportswear. There's a Velcro band at the top of the ankle to keep the sock on your foot since there is no elastic like regular socks. I only wish the band covered the entire vertical split versus leaving a tiny gap at the heel below the Velcro strap, since this is where sand tends to sneak in. The length above the ankle could also be shortened to appear more like "ankle socks." The heel and toe are reinforced to endure more wear and tear and the neoprene sole is thin, but soft and adequate for padding.

On the beach, the socks did their job protecting our feet from hot sand, pebbles, broken shells, and sunburn. The sand also did not stick to the material and slid off easily. In the water, they do get wet and saturated but dry quickly, in about 10 minutes. Again, I did get a little sand inside the socks through the gap above the ankle but below the holding strap due to the waves washing over my feet. Overall, these socks were comfortable to wear, performed well, and didn't build up a lot of heat. They were also easy to wash and clean.

Just a note on sizing, I'm a 7.5 mens so I ordered the medium, but they are slightly loose; so I recommend that if you're on the lowest end of the sizing chart to get the size smaller. The material will stretch to fit your foot and it'll feel a bit more comfortable.

Buy it at Amazon: NordicEssentials Beach Socks [Affiliate Link]
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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Red MP4 Player by GG Martinsen (4th gen) Review

Red MP4 Player by GG Martinsen (4th gen) Review

Buy it at Amazon: Red MP4 Player by GG Martinsen (4th gen) [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: This unit is okay for listening to audio, but it has limited resolution, screen size and file compatibility.

This MP4 player tries to match up to the Apple iPod Mini, but fails to reach the bar. I went in with significantly lowered expectations was still disappointed in the execution of the product. While the body construction is decent with an aluminum housing and brushed finish, the screen isn't stabilized in the frame so if you press on it, it will collapse in (it's not touch sensitive either, so don't). The headphones that the unit came with are super cheap, like the free airline ones; the sound is thin, boxy and they break easily.

The instructions are confusing and aren't well written. Add that to the problem of the controls being awkward and there's a steep learning curve. The click wheel has 4 buttons with a 5th button in the center but is not touch sensitive for scrolling and the buttons unintuitively change functions depending on which screen you're on.

This player has 16GB of internal storage space so at least it can be used as a thumb drive with decent capacity. It is capable of playing music files, video files, recording and playbacking voice recordings, receiving radio broadcasts, viewing photos, reading e-books and has several preloaded games. So at first it seems to be feature-packed.

I'll start off by saying that the audio capabilities of this player are largely fine and perform as expected. I didn't have any problems listening to MP3s and the sound with a different set of headphones) was clear and enjoyable. The radio function also performed well, and it picked up many local stations with only occasional static. You can even save stations and quickly scan between them. Note that your signal quality will be limited by radio reception in your area and where your device is positioned. It would probably make a fine MP3 Player, however, it's supposed to be an MP4 Player.

For video playback, I loaded a bunch of files in various formats and compressions; I was only able to get the player to recognize AMV and AVI video files. So ironically, this MP4 player couldn't play any MP4s I loaded to it (recorded on my cell phone camera). AMV files aren't easy to find, so it may be difficult to load videos to this unit that you'll be able to play. Photos loaded fine but the contrast was too high and the colors muddled when viewing them. The screen is just too small and has too low of a resolution to see any detail.

The e-book reader is farcical in its implementation. It only reads text files (no ePUB or PDF) and the text is so large on the little screen that you can only read 20 words at a time. That just does not sound like the ideal reading experience. The five pre-loaded games don't offer any instructions and while playable, the controls were awkward to the point where the game wasn't actually fun to play.

I reviewed the black version of this product previously and found that the battery couldn't hold a charge. I didn't experience the same problem with this unit. On a full charge I was able to get about 3 hours of audio playback on it. There is a sleep timer and the unit will shutoff after 90 seconds of inactivity in order to save on battery life.

The only thing I'll probably end up using this unit for will be as a portable harddrive, radio, or backup for music/audiobooks in the car. The screen is too small for viewing photos and e-books and I wouldn't want to watch video on it, even if I could find compatible files for it. If you're using this for just its audio capabilities it'll do just fine, but as an MP4 player, it's not great.

Buy it at Amazon: Red MP4 Player by GG Martinsen (4th gen) [Affiliate Link]
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BSHW Rechargeable Power Bank iPhone 6 Case Review

BSHW Rechargeable Power Bank iPhone 6 Case Review

Buy it at Amazon: BSHW Rechargeable Power Bank iPhone 6 Case [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Longer battery life and drop protection without a lot of bulk.

The case is a two piece hard-shell plastic with a one-third, two-thirds split. At first I thought this case would have trouble staying together, being a two piece case that simply slides apart, but I was happy to find that it holds together well when putting it in and taking it out of my pocket. It even takes a little effort to pull apart.

The entire case is coated in a soft feel matte rubber. It provides a decent grip and somewhat resists fingerprints. The cutouts for all the buttons and the camera were precise and not too large or small. The back of the case has a kickstand that allows you to view your phone handsfree in landscape mode for videos and movie playback. The case weighs 1.5 oz on its own and 5.5oz with the iPhone. It charges using a Lightning connector style plug on the bottom. Note that it didn't come with a charging cable and you'll need to use the one that came with your iPhone.

The case takes about 2 hours to charge and you will get at least one full charge for your iPhone with the 3500mAh battery. You can use your phone while it is charging in the case, however, your battery may drain faster than it is being charged. You can stop the charging to your phone at any time by pressing and holding the power button on the back of the case. If you plug the case in while your phone is charging in it, your phone will charge up fully before the backup battery begins charging.

Inserting your phone in the case is straightforward and easy. In terms of protection, the rubber absorbs some of the shock from bumps and drops. The battery acts as an additional layer of protection. Like many cases, be aware that there's no there's no protection on the front for the screen (there's no recession ridge). Also, this case covers the rounded edges of the phone so if you have an edge to edge screen protector that also covers the edges, this case may not fit your phone at all, or the screen protector may become dislodged.

The volume buttons are somewhat inhibited by the case because they are deeper and harder to reach once the phone is in the case. You might also need a separate headphone jack extension cord to access the headphone port as some accessories's headphone jacks may not be long enough to reach the port through the case. Note that the sound comes out of the front of this case, rather than the bottom as it would on the phone itself.

Overall this case provides a decent amount of protection for the back and sides of your phone while giving you the benefit of the kickstand and double battery life without adding a lot of weight.

Buy it at Amazon: BSHW Rechargeable Power Bank iPhone 6 Case [Affiliate Link]
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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

GG Martinsen MP4 Player (Black 4th generation model) Review

GG Martinsen MP4 Player (Black 4th generation model) Review

Buy it at Amazon: GG Martinsen MP4 Player (Black 4th generation model) [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Awkward controls, short battery life, and limited file compatibility.

This MP4 player tries hard but is a sad mimicry of the Apple iPod Mini. Even with the significantly lowered expectations of a knockoff product, it was still disappointingly executed. The body is made of aluminum with a brushed finish so at least it looks nice. The headphones that the unit comes with are very cheap, like the ones you'd get for free on an airplane; the sound on them is thin and boxy.

The instructions are confusing and aren't well written, so there's a learning curve; the buttons change functions depending on what feature you're in and it's not intuitive. The click wheel has 4 buttons with a 5th button in the center but is not touch sensitive for scrolling. There is a sleep timer and the unit will shutoff after 90 seconds of inactivity in order to save on battery life (which is very short).

This player has 16GB of internal storage space so at the very least it can be used as a thumb drive with decent capacity. It is capable of playing MP3 music files, AMV/AVI video files, record and playback voice recordings, receive radio broadcasts, view photos, read ebooks and there are several preloaded games. On the surface, it appears to be feature-packed.

I'll start off by saying that the audio capabilities of this player work fine and perform as expected. The audio is rendered clear for music, voice recordings and the radio. The voice recorder is decent if you hold the unit close to your mouth as the omni mic is located on the bottom between the charging and headphone ports. Using the radio function, I was able to listen to a bunch of local stations with occasional static. Just note that you'll need to have the headphones plugged in since they act as the antenna for the radio signal and your signal quality will be limited by reception in your area and the headphones you're using.

For video playback, I loaded a bunch of files in various formats and compressions; I was only able to get the player to recognize AMV and AVI video files. Ironically, this MP4 player couldn't actually play any of the MP4s I loaded to it (that recorded on my cell phone). AMV files aren't all that common, so it may be difficult to find any videos that you'll be able to play on this unit. Photos loaded fine but the colors were blown out and the screen is way too small with low resolution to see any detail.

The e-book reader is also a joke and appears to only be able to read text files (no ePUB or PDF). Even then, the text is so large on the tiny screen that you can only see about 20 words at a time. Imagine reading a 1000 page novel this way. There are five pre-loaded games, a few which are self explanatory, though none of them have instructions. While playable, the controls were awkward to the point where the game wasn't fun to play.

And finally, my biggest issue with this player is the battery life. Using it on multiple occasions, it barely lasted 30 minutes each time before shutting off due to low battery. That's with using a variety of features like music, video and radio playback at a volume level between 50-75% max. Charging the unit overnight inexplicably never seems to fill the battery meter. So either the charging mechanism takes longer than 12 hours or the battery simply can't hold a charge well.

The only thing I'll end up using this unit for will probably be as a portable harddrive, maybe as a portable radio, or backup for music/audiobooks in the car. The screen is so small that viewing photos, video and e-books on it are just impractical. If you're using this for just its audio capabilities it'll do just fine, but this is marketed as an MP4 player and on that front, it does not pass muster.

Buy it at Amazon: GG Martinsen MP4 Player (Black 4th generation model) [Affiliate Link]
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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

TaoTronics Bluetooth Wireless Sport Headphones (TT-BH06) Review

TaoTronics Bluetooth Wireless Sport Headphones (TT-BH06) Review

Buy it at Amazon: TaoTronics Bluetooth Wireless Sport Headphones (TT-BH06) [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: These earphones are lightweight and compact; average sound and comfort.

The construction off the headphones is a lightweight plastic that feels somewhat durable. The cord between the ear pieces if 24" which is a good length that's not too long and not too short. It comes with two additional sets of ear tips in addition to the "medium" size that is pre-fitted. The flattened wire between them, while perhaps more durable and won't break at the junction to the earpieces easily, gains this benefit at the cost of some flexibility. That is, it doesn't "hang" loosely and feels stiff at times.

The port to charge the headphones in on the side of the left earpiece and covered with a tiny rubber flap. Opening the rubber door on the charging port can be a little tricky, and experience tells me that the sliver of rubber that's holding it on will likely break or tear off after a while. It's super easy to pull just a little too hard when trying to get it open since you have to dig your fingernail into a tiny groove. It would have been better if it had a pull tab to grasp, but anything that small will probably have its own set of weaknesses in any case.

As for the sound quality, it's decent. The listening experience for both music and calls was enjoyable and the unit was easy to pair with my devices. The sound isn't high-definition, but if you're like me and not a an audiophile, it'll do just fine. The earpieces isolate most external sounds, so you don't need to increase the volume to uncomfortable or damaging levels to enjoy your music.

Firstly, when putting in the earpieces there's a "paper crackle" of the membrane that sits under the eartip to prevent it from getting clogged with dust. While annoying, it doesn't appear to negatively affect the sound quality which is good. I didn't like the placement of the controls on the right earpiece. Pressing the play/pause/call answer button is uncomfortable because you're pressing the earpiece deeper into your ear (there's that paper crackle again). Reaching up to press the tiny buttons to control the volume/tracks also didn't feel easy or convenient, probably because I had to be careful not to dislodge the earpiece from my ear while doing it.

I like these as a spare pair of headphones. I can keep my phone in my pocket while I'm listening to tracks allowing me to take/make hands-free calls on the fly. They're comfortable enough to wear, but I don't think I'll end up using them for extended periods because the eartips tend to put too much pressure on my inner ear canal after a few hours. As far as wireless IEMs go, this one is a nice value for the quality.

Buy it at Amazon: TaoTronics Bluetooth Wireless Sport Headphones (TT-BH06) [Affiliate Link]
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