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.

Disclosure: ReviewedbyPhil is reader-supported. If you click on or buy something via an affiliate link on this site, I may earn a commission.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Shekoo 1.5 Inch Flat Iron Hair Straightener Review

Shekoo 1.5 Inch Flat Iron Hair Straightener Review

Buy it at Amazon: Shekoo 1.5 Inch Flat Iron Hair Straightener [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Heats up quickly, straightens fast and efficiently. Easy to use, safe for close to the scalp/skin hair straightening.

The flat iron measures 11" long and has a 9 ft long power cord. The spring hinge is pretty easy to squeeze and the iron has a max opening of 2" between the ceramic plates. The plates are 1.5" wide and 3.5" in length. The iron has a soft-touch silicone rubber exterior so that your hand will have a good grip on it and it won't slip.

Between the handles just under the paddles is where the controls are so you don't accidentally change the settings while you're straightening your hair. There's a power button, temperature adjustment keys (+ and -), and max heat button (M) which will set it to 450 degrees F.

To turn the unit on, just click the power button and you'll see the temperature on the LCD panel start to increase immediately and very quickly. By default the target is 350° F. Clicking the temp adjustment keys adjust the temperature by 20° F and there are 11 levels of temperature. Pressing the M key sets it to 450° F. It only takes 60 seconds from the time you press the power button for it to reach 350° F.

For safety, I use wear a heat-proof glove on my other hand as I feed my hair through the iron and I work in small sections at a time, smoothing my hair from the scalp towards the ends. With this iron, I can get pretty close to my scalp without worrying about burning my skin and I can use it even if my hair is short. If you straighten often you may want to consider using a heat protecting spray for your hair, but never straighten your hair when it is wet or damp and this damages its structure. It makes quick work of straightening my hair and is safe and effective.

Buy it at Amazon: Shekoo 1.5 Inch Flat Iron Hair Straightener [Affiliate Link]
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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Reminder: LAST DAY to Enter to win iLive's Multiroom Speaker!

LAST DAY to Enter to win iLive's Multiroom Speaker Review

Learn more about the prize: iLive's ISWF576 Multiroom Speaker [Affiliate Link]

Contest ends 4/28/17 @ 12:00 AM! Enter here: https://reviewedbyphil.blogspot.com/p/giveaways.html

Buy it at Amazon: iLive's ISWF576 Multiroom Speaker [Affiliate Link]
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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

SymaToys Quadcopter X5UW Drone Review

SymaToys Quadcopter X5UW Drone Review

Buy it at Amazon: SymaToys Quadcopter X5UW Drone [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Great toy grade drone; stable, easy to control, camera better than expected, 720p video/photos.

You'll receive the drone, remote control, two sets of replacement fan blades, two batteries, a USB battery charger, 720p camera with included 4 GB microSD card, a USB card reader, 4 blade guards, a mini screw driver, the instruction manual, and a cute little build your own model helicopter (like erector set pieces).

The drone is made of a lightweight plastic and is a medium size measuring 12" square and 3" tall. There is some assembly required but it's pretty straightforward. The instructions are very poorly translated though. Assembly consists of snapping the four blade guards around each propeller into place, loading the battery, and attaching the camera (optional). I like that the battery uses a simple slide in/slide out connection rather than trying to fit a small plug on delicate wires into a tiny port. This is the first toy grade drone that I've used that had this feature. The remote control requires 4 AA batteries which are not included.

Connecting to the drone via the Syma Go smartphone app for first person viewing of the camera was quick and easy. I was able to use the camera and video buttons to toggle on and off video recording and snap photos too. However, I wasn't able to get the on-screen flight controls to work so I'm assuming that those are for use with a different model. What I really liked about this drone is that it has a one-click take-off and landing key (top right shoulder button). This makes it easy to lift off to start the flight and take the drone down for a soft landing if you get into trouble. The drone takes off pretty smoothly and is easy to control once you get the hang of it. It's very stable compared to earlier model toy grade drones. It can hover with minimal movement indoors and can achieve high speeds. But outdoors, it can't fight the wind very well and there is no auto return on this drone. The range of the controller is 30-40 ft, so if it goes outside this range you could lose control of it. If you lose connection with the controller, you won't be able to bring the drone back to you so don't let it get too far away from you. The drone is also capable of doing 3D flips which is does nicely.

The camera footage doesn't have any sound but has HD 720p resolution and I was impressed with the quality of the video and photo footage compared to some of the other drones I've used in its price range (those typically have 2 MP or less resolution that's choppy and grainy). The camera performs best outdoors in bright conditions and dark environments may cause the image quality to degrade. Other than that, the drone flies pretty well and having the first person view from the camera on the phone is pretty cool. With two batteries fully charged you can get about 15 mins of flight in a single session. If you remove the camera and don't utilize the WiFi, you'll be able to squeeze an extra minute or two out of each battery. The caps on top of the propellers do pop off easily though, and I've already lost one in a crash, so I wish it had come with some spares.

Buy it at Amazon: SymaToys Quadcopter X5UW Drone [Affiliate Link]
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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Winexpert Piesporter White Wine Homebrew Kit Review and Tutorial

Winexpert Piesporter White Wine Homebrew Kit Review and Tutorial

Buy it at Amazon: Winexpert Piesporter White Wine Homebrew Kit [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Delicious white table wine, easy to follow instructions. Semi-dry profile, light body, fruity nose, and smooth mouth feel.

Get everything you need at Amazon (Affiliate Links below):
Wine Making Equipment/Kits: https://geni.us/vYsG
Home Brew Stirring Spoon: https://geni.us/Fm91P
Star San Sanitizer: https://geni.us/ookTbXg
Piesporter Wine Kit: https://geni.us/lQPU0b

The kits comes with all the ingredients you'll need to make the wine. They only things you need to provide are the fermentation equipment (e.g., bucket, siphon, airlock, carboy, sanitizer, bottles/corks etc.). This kit contains a bag of white grape juice, bentonite, potasium metabisulphate, potassium sorbate, isinglass, a Lalvin yeast packet (EC-1118), a satchel of dried Elderflowers, a set of instructions and a smaller juice bag for finishing.

The whole process took about 4 weeks and following the directions was super easy. The only problem I had after the first racking was that the elderflower bits jammed my siphon so that the discharge nipple wouldn't close and seal. I had to use tweezers to pull out a dried stem from the nipple. Since I started the fermentation in the winter, I used a few blankets/fleece jackets and temp controlled heating mat to keep the fermentation in the 72-75°F range. The wine cleared up fine after the addition of the isinglass. As I mentioned in the video, I corked my bottles with the Ferrari double-lever corker, but couldn't get them to go in all the way or without tearing (even after a short soak). Perhaps I had a defective unit as my hand corker never gives me this problem (I had misplaced it for this batch). This kit made 29 bottles of wine.

We waited 6 months to crack open the first bottle for dinner. The wine came out excellent, with a semi-dry profile, light body, fruity nose, and smooth mouth feel. It reminds me somewhat of floral Reisling. We serve this wine at our parties and have shared it with friends and family and everyone really enjoys it. I would make this one again. It's been 1 year since bottle and we've got 7 bottles left.

Buy it at Amazon: Winexpert Piesporter White Wine Homebrew Kit [Affiliate Link]
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Friday, April 21, 2017

When It Comes to the Drivers in Your Earphones, Two Is Better Than One

UiiSii T8 Dual Dynamic Driver Earphones Review

Buy it at Amazon: UiiSii T8 Dual Dynamic Driver Earphones [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Rich, detailed sound, lots of dimension, bright trebles and good bass but muddy mids; comfortable to wear.

You'll receive the earphones, 5 additional sets of ear tips, a snap open vinyl carrying case, and an instruction manual. The earphones have a unique design with dual mesh vents on each ear piece, one for each driver, and soft rubber ear stabilizer, that's this little nub here, and thick strain relief at the bottom of each earpiece. The total cord length is 50". The ear tips are also unique because they're not completely smooth. There are two textured areas on the pre-installed medium-sized bullet silicone tip which help it grip and stay in your ears better. The other ear tips you receive are a large and small size in the bullet style, which have a narrow opening, and a set of small, medium, and large bowl tips with a wider inner diameter. Just choose the tips that are most comfortable for you and give you proper isolation for external sounds.

Coming off the right earpiece there's a set of in-line controls with volume up, play/pause/call answer, and volume down, however, they are unmarked. The button closest to the earpiece is the volume up key. Interestingly, the manual has pretty specific tempering instructions for these earphones. In order to get the best sound quality, you can't just start blasting music through them. Instead it recommends 12 hours of use with soft, gentle music, 12 hours of use at 2/3 volume, 72 hours at normal listening levels and 24 hours at 130% normal volumes. Now I'm not sure how many people are actually going to go through all that or attempt to listen to music at volumes above normal listening levels which could be harmful to your ears. However, if you do go through the trouble of exercising the diaphragm of the earphones, you'll notice that they sound way better than they do out of the box. You'll probably just notice this over time through regular use.

Once properly tempered, the sound from the earphones is warm and balanced. It has crisp highs and impressive bass response. For example, when listening to Unfinished Symphony's Massive Attack the opening bass drum beats rumbled deeply and had a nice long roll off, though the attacks weren't as tight as they should've been. The vocals ae balanced up top without sounding too forward, however, the midranges can sound a bit muddy depending on the track, especially for live performances. At the loudest volumes it's largely free from distortion and at moderate volumes the isolation is pretty good. Overall, the sound is rich and detailed given the price point of the earphones. It re-creates the sound stage surprisingly well with plenty of dimension and is all in all enjoyable to listen to and comfortable to wear.

Buy it at Amazon: UiiSii T8 Dual Dynamic Driver Earphones [Affiliate Link]
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AmazonBasics Toslink Digital Optical Audio Cable Review

AmazonBasics Toslink Digital Optical Audio Cable Review

Buy it at Amazon: AmazonBasics Toslink Digital Optical Audio Cable [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Sound transmits fine, clear w/o distortion; connector is large, not great for tight spaces.

The cable has a heavy gauge with a thick, soft rubber coating. The length was accurate to 6' long. It is pretty flexible but make sure not to fold until it pinches to avoid damaging the glass fiber core. The connector is on the large size, measuring 1.5" to the edge of the collar, so it might not be great in small tight spaces. On the end of the connectors are rubber caps that need to be removed before use.

I used it with my soundbar and connect it to my TV. The cable plugs into the optical port pretty easily and snaps into place. It's pretty secure though there's a tiny bit of wiggle room. It doesn't fall out on its own, and I have to pull firmly to remove it. On the TV side, it clicks into place but has a little bit of play as well. The audio plays correctly from my TV. The cable transmitted the signal fine, and I didn't notice any garbled audio or pops and crackles. Works well and simple to use.

Buy it at Amazon: AmazonBasics Toslink Digital Optical Audio Cable [Affiliate Link]
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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Zeuste 5 ft Braided Nylon Lightning Cables Review

Zeuste 5 ft Braided Nylon Lightning Cables Review

Buy it at Amazon: Zeuste 5 ft Braided Nylon Lightning Cables [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Nice length, metal connectors and fabric cord feel durable; plastic under the connector is weak though and not impact resistant.

UPDATE: One of the cables no longer works. To be fair the phone fell off the table while plugged in because the cat thought the long cord was a neat toy. The Lightning connector end bent pretty badly and wiggles now so it doesn't connect anymore. As a counterpoint though, I've dropped the phone while charging with the Apple cable before and it's survived such treatment. However, the vendor shipped me a replacement cable anyway, which was awesome. The replacement works fine, but I'll be sure not to treat it as rough this time.

I've had these for a couple weeks now and they've been working fine (all 3). I have an iPhone 6 and iPhone 7 that we charge with these cables every day at least once. The cables charge both phones at comparable speed to the OEM Apple cable. The connectors on the cable are made of aluminum which is a bit nicer than the plastic of the original Apple cable. The connectors are about the same dimensions as Apple's Lightning cable which make them compatible with most iPhone cases too. I like that the cables are long because it's easier to access outlets that are far away. The fabric wrap is more flexible and moderately more tangle resistant than the rubber cable. Overall, I'm happy with this purchase, but will update the review if/when any fail.

Buy it at Amazon: Zeuste 5 ft Braided Nylon Lightning Cables [Affiliate Link]
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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Purelux Wise Oil Rubbed Bronze Bathroom Sink Faucet Review

Purelux Wise Oil Rubbed Bronze Bathroom Sink Faucet Review

Buy it at Amazon: Purelux Wise Oil Rubbed Bronze Bathroom Sink Faucet [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Quick to self-install, looks great, soft, even water flow, easy water temp mixing.

You'll receive the faucet, two 26" flexible water lines for hot and cold, a cresent washer with rubber pad, a 5" shaft bolt, and plastic mounting tool. The faucet is constructed of heavy-weight metal and has an oil rubbed bronze finish. It measures 7.5" tall and the nozzle will extend 6" out over the sink. The tip of the faucet has an aerator that adds air bubbles to give the water a softer feel. The hoses are color coded blue and red for cold and hot water. You'll also receive a set of illustrated installation instructions. However, it does not come with a deck plate nor hole covers if you have more than 1 hole in your sink. This faucet cannot accommodate a plunger drain plug so you may need a strainer basket or other plug to block or stop the drain. I prefer using a pop-up drain plug and you should be able to find one in a matching finish easily (oil-rubber bronze).

Installation took about 15 minutes and following the instructions was pretty straight forward. The only tricky part was screwing the water lines into the faucet because they flail around as you turn them. The new hoses worked fine and I didn't experience any leaks. Make sure that when connecting the lines to your water shutoffs, the nut on the bottom is pulled all the way down before you tighten it so that the inner washer seats and seals correctly. Operation of the faucet is smooth and easy. The water from the faucet runs with good pressure with a gentle, soft flow as it passes through the aerator. The standard sized fixture is a medium height and fixed in the center position, which is great for hand washing in a half-bath but a little low for face washing. On the other hand, the tall version would be too high if you don't have a vessel sink that requires the extra height. Overall, the installation was straightforward and the fixture looks modern. It even matches the mirror frame that I have above the sink.

Buy it at Amazon: Purelux Wise Oil Rubbed Bronze Bathroom Sink Faucet [Affiliate Link]
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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Kingbo Higrow 1000W LED Grow Light (GL-1000W) Review


Buy it at Amazon: Kingbo Higrow 1000W LED Grow Light (GL-1000W) [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Bright, powerful, and effective; durable build, easy to use, my plants love it.

The light is quite large measuring 20" L x 11" W x 2.5" H. It weighs nearly 14 lbs and feels solidly constructed. The housing is made of steel and is vented on the sides with three fan vents on the top. There are 200 LEDs each with its own glass lens; these lenses are not fixed to the LEDs and will rattle bit when the light is moved. The lights cover 12 bands for full spectrum lighting over two modes: Primarily red light for flowering and primarily blue light vegetative growth. The lights are really bright at 1000 Watts, so you don't want to look directly into them. All the lights fired up fine except for two, that I could tell but I'm not too worried about it since this represents 1% of the total output.

On the back/top of the light, there are four mounting points to clip the included wire hanger to. The four wires are connected to a carabiner clip for hanging the light, but I swapped it for two ratchet rope hangers so I could easily adjust the height and increase stability. With the light I started my garden vegetable plants from seed (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, pumpkins). I started with only blue light for the first two weeks. After 2 weeks, many of the plants had a set of true leaves forming and the plants weren't leggy despite the light being 2 ft from the tops. When I used tube grow lights, I always had to have them 1-2" from the tops of the plants which sometimes made it difficult to water them as I'd have to adjust the lights each time to get access to the trays. Compared to plants that I started from seed by a south facing window, those plants were leggy, weak, and hadn't shed their seeds coats by the second week of growth.

With using blue light only, I did notice the color in some leaves blanching (e.g., a faded green) so I turned on the red light for the following two weeks. The lights do run warm and make the room they're in a bit warmer by a few degrees so keep this in mind if you need tightly controlled temperatures. The fans are a bit loud as well like running two overclocked computers at full speed.

The plants under the light grew fast so around week 3 I had to increase the height of my lights since I noticed yellowing starting to occur in some of the leaves of the tallest plants. I definitely prefer growing under the lights and the plants look much healthier and have gotten a better start versus the ones grown by the window. The light has a nice wide spread but you'll need a light stand that can hold its weight and is tall enough to keep the light 2.5' above the plants' tops as they grow taller. I recommend using adjustable grow light hanging ropes.

Buy it at Amazon: Kingbo Higrow 1000W LED Grow Light (GL-1000W) [Affiliate Link]
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Friday, April 14, 2017

Keyco CR2032 3V Coin Cell Battery Review

Keyco CR2032 3V Coin Cell Battery Review

Buy it at Amazon: Keyco CR2032 3V Coin Cell Battery [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Cheap, multipack of a commonly used coin cell battery for remotes, key fobs, sensors, kitchen scales, etc.

The batteries come in 5-pack strips. Each battery is encased in its own blister pack that can be torn off individually. These should last about 6 years in the package. The battery can be easily pushed out of the back of the pack when needed.

I bought these batteries because they had the best price for the quantity and I decided to chance the mixed reviews on it. I needed to replace the one in my keyless entry key fob right away and it did the trick. Six weeks later and it's still working fine. I also replaced the battery in my Canon remote shutter, kitchen scale, and Amazon Fire Stick remote. All of them seem to be working fine with my normal usage so far. If any of them run out in less than 6 months (under-perform) then I'll come back and update this review.

Buy it at Amazon: Keyco CR2032 3V Coin Cell Battery [Affiliate Link]
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Thursday, April 13, 2017

JSVER USB 3.0 SATA III HDD Dock Review

JSVER USB 3.0 SATA III HDD Dock Review

Buy it at Amazon: JSVER USB 3.0 SATA III HDD Dock [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Useful tool for converting old/backup internal HDD to external drives. Plug-and-play, no software needed.

You'll receive the hard drive dock, a 5' power adapter, 4' USB cord, and an instruction manual. The unit is fairly compact, measuring 5" L x 3" W x 2.5" H. This dock has a matte aluminum metal exterior with chrome beveled edges and plastic interior. On the back are the ports for the USB cable, power cable, and a power switch. Note that there is no eSATA port. The unit has two LEDs on top for power and read/write activity.

The slot on the top can accommodate 2.5" and 3.5" SATA internal HHDs. The door will fold down for the larger size hard drives. The dock is plug and play and requires no special software. The spec is SATA 3.0 so the max bandwidth will be 5Gigabits/s.

I used this with a 1 TB Hitachi hard drive. When the unit is plugged in and turned on, all the partitions on the drive pop up as external disk drives in Windows. When moving files to the drive, the average write speed is around 80 Mb/sec. When copying from the hard drive to my internal hard drive, I get about 100 Mb/sec. Overall, the hard drive dock performs well. It nearly always recognizes the drive upon powering up, though sometimes I'll have to scan for errors before a particular partition will appear. However, as a tool for reading/writing to old backup hard drives, it works great.

Buy it at Amazon: JSVER USB 3.0 SATA III HDD Dock [Affiliate Link]
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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Carved Acoustic Acorn Wood Bluetooth Speaker Review

Carved Acoustic Acorn Wood Bluetooth Speaker Review

Buy it at Amazon: Carved Acoustic Acorn Wood Bluetooth Speaker [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Beautiful wood casing, made in USA; clean/clear sound and portable, but can sound a bit thin and boxy.

The speaker comes with a 19" barrel style plug to USB cable for charging and the instructions for the unit are printed on the packaging from the box. The unit comes in two styles: walnut and bamboo. The speaker itself is pretty simple in design. It's made from real wood so the grain pattern on each speaker will be unique. The shell is sanded smooth and sealed for a polished and durable finish. The single 2.5" driver pumps out over 85 decibels at its loudest and has a frequency response range of 120-Hz to 16 KHz.

On top, towards the back is the power port and an LED indicator light. Then on the bottom you have the power button and a pinhole reset. The unit connects via Bluetooth only. The built-in 600 mAh battery takes 2-3 hours to charge and has a playback time of about 5 hours depending on your volume level.

The sound from the speaker is bright with a heavy focus on the trebles for vocals that pop. However, the mids and lows are somewhat lacking. Without a strong bass response most tracks just don't sound full or deep. At max volume, you'll likely notice a bit of distortion as the upper ranges get clipped and on bass heavy tracks, the speaker also vibrates heavily.

Overall, the sound is clean and clear but the balance is a little off and it can sound a bit thin. Carved's speaker are all made in Elkhart Indiana and the build quality is premium for the price. You do get a lot of sound from a cool looking speaker that you can throw in your bag or stuff into a pocket.

Buy it at Amazon: Carved Acoustic Acorn Wood Bluetooth Speaker [Affiliate Link]
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Monday, April 10, 2017

GGMM E5 WiFi Bluetooth Speaker w/Alexa Review

GGMM E5 WiFi Bluetooth Speaker w/Alexa Review

Buy it at Amazon: GGMM E5 WiFi Bluetooth Speaker w/Alexa [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Great sound quality and design, GGMM app doesn't support Pandora but you can use one that does.

You'll receive the speaker, a carrying strap, a 5' long universal power adapter with US style plug, and instruction manual and an Alexa quick tips card. This compact speaker weighs just under 3 pounds and it measures 10.25" x 5.5" x 1.5". The materials used are high quality from the durable plastic shell to the metal speaker grille in the front. One the base are two rubber feet and on top you have the controls set in a brushed stainless steel panel with machined aluminum knobs and buttons. On the back you have the 1 A output USB port for charging devices, WiFi pairing button, power port, and Aux-in port.

The unit takes 3-4 hours to charge the internal battery which can last up to 15 hours of playback depending on volume level. The leatherette carrying strap is 15" in length and has metal strap ends. The instruction manual, while thick, is actually quite brief.

Connecting over Bluetooth was straightforward. The sound from the speaker is really nice. At medium bass and treble it has a good balance across the ranges. I like that if the balance is off, you can adjust the treble or bass independently right on the speaker. What surprised me is that for a speaker this size, it had no trouble reproducing a tight thumping bass and rumbling lows; that said, you have to pass a certain volume threshold and play around a bit with the EQ knobs to really hear those come forward. With the four 5 Watt drivers and reflex bass, the quality of the audio is very clean and clear with sparkling trebles and fully supported midranges. Even at max volume there was very little distortion unless you also maxed out the bass and treble gain, and the E5 provides plenty of sound to fill a mid-sized room.

The other way to connect and stream to the speaker is over your home WiFi network.The GGMM E-series music app lets you stream from a handful internet radio stations like TuneIn, IHeartRadio, and Spotify, although you'll need a premium subscription to stream Spotify. When using TuneIn you can favorite stations by long pressing the heart button, but I wasn't able to do this with IHeartRadio, or Spotify. To set these as favorites, you'll have to manually add them in the app. I was able to stream Pandora using a different app by iLive. You can save up to 6 total stations and cycle through them without using the app by pressing the heart button on top of the speaker at any time, even without launching the app. The speaker should automatically reconnect with your WiFi network each time it is powered on and switched into WiFi mode.

In WiFi mode you can also use the Amazon Alexa feature. The speaker isn't always listening the way the Amazon Echo does. You'll have to press the microphone button on the top of the speaker. If you have multiple GGMM E-series speakers on the same network you can control each one separately and play something different in each room, or sync them up to play the same exact thing on each speaker. You can even link them up to play separate left and right channels for a true stereo experience. You can even set each speaker to play separate left and right channels for true stereo playback.

Overall, the E5 gets high marks for sound quality and design. The speaker looks and feels high-end and produces great audio however, the app doesn't support Pandora, though you can work around this by using a different one.

Buy it at Amazon: GGMM E5 WiFi Bluetooth Speaker w/Alexa [Affiliate Link]
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Friday, April 7, 2017

Affordably Outfit Your Home with iLive's Wireless Multiroom Speakers

iLive Platinum Multiroom WiFi and Bluetooth Speaker Review (ISWF576)

Buy it at Amazon: iLive Platinum Multiroom WiFi and Bluetooth Speaker [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: These speakers have great sound, multiple units can be synced across different rooms over WiFi.

You'll receive the speaker, a charging base w/5' power adapter, 40" male-to-male audio cable, and an instruction manual. This is speaker fairly compact, measuring 8.5" L, 2" W and 4" H. It has a solid build with a rigid metal grill, rubberized non-slip foot, and playback controls along the top. On the back towards the bottom is the Aux in port and on the bottom are the contacts for wireless charging. When the base is plugged in, set the speaker on the base to charge it. The charge indicator will turn red when charging and shut off when the battery is full.

For the controls you have a power button, WiFi WPS pairing button, 6 internet radio preset keys, mode and playback key, and volume and track navigation. In order to set the speaker up on your home network for internet radio streaming, you'll also need to download the iLive WiFi control app.

There are several ways to connect to the speaker to stream your music: Bluetooth, Aux-in, and WiFi via WPS or manual network setup. In WiFi mode you can stream to the speaker from any DLNA and AirPlay device on the same network. However, the app lets you do a handful internet radio streaming as well like Spotify, Pandora and iHeartRadio. Regardless of which service you use, you can select a preset position to save it in and store up to 6 stations. The speaker automatically connects to your network when turned on and you can listen to those stations without using the app by pressing the corresponding number on the speaker. If you have multiple iLive speakers on the same network you can control each one separately and play something different in each room, or sync them. You can even link them up to play separate left and right channels for a true stereo experience.

Regardless of the mode, the audio quality from the speaker is really nice. It has good balance across the ranges, though tends to bring the trebles forward for brighter vocal tracks. The bass is present but not super powerful. The speaker can also get pretty loud, enough to fill a small room, but flirts a bit with distortion at max volume so it performs best at moderate volume levels. Overall, the iLive Platinum provides an enjoyable listening experience across a number of genres, has a decent amount of functionality, and is a pretty good budget-friendly alternative for creating a multi-room connected home audio system.

Buy it at Amazon: iLive Platinum Multiroom WiFi and Bluetooth Speaker [Affiliate Link]
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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Aukey SK-M17 Portable Bluetooth Speaker and PA System Review

Aukey SK-M17 Portable Bluetooth Speaker and PA System Review

Buy it at Amazon: Aukey SK-M17 Portable Bluetooth Speaker and PA System [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Clear and clean sound, lots of projection but not much bass; a decent PA system for parties/karaoke.

The speaker comes with a 31" USB charging cable, 47" male-to-male audio cable, magnetic coil microphone with ¼" plug, and an instruction manual. It is pretty sizable measuring 12" across with a 8.5" in diameter. It weighs about 6 lbs. However, it does have a built in 5200 mAh battery which can last over 8 hours of playback at max volume so it is "portable" in the sense that is doesn't need to be plugged in. The materials used are mid-grade. The plastic is fairly lightweight and cheap looking but the main body is wrapped in a soft-touch silicone which gives it a nice texture; however, it also tends to attract dust and lint. It's marketed as on "outdoor speaker" but only applies in the sense that you could use it in a large open space. Note that it is not weather or waterproof at all. The speaker actually isn't all that rugged either so you don't want to drop it or get it wet. On top of the speaker are two fold down handles for carrying it. On the right hand side are the controls and ports for the unit and below those are the main drivers.

The power input is a barrel style plug so the USB charge cable isn't as common as say a microUSB cable. This means if you lose the cable, you might have trouble finding a replacement. There are playback controls like skip tracks, play/pause, and mode key. This unit has two ¼" microphone input ports because the unit actually functions as a PA system which comes in handy for parties and other events. You can also plug in other input sources like an electric keyboard or instrument. If you're streaming from a mobile device, you can use Bluetooth or the Aux-in port. This speaker also has an FM receiver built-in, though you can't select individual channels; you'll be stuck doing the auto-scan search for active broadcasts in your area, using the Aux-in cable as the antenna. For audio control, that is an EQ bass dial and analog volume control for the input sources and a separate volume and echo control for the mics. The mics can't be controlled independently though and the echo control is kind of gimmicky. Honestly, I would have rather seen a second volume control knob for the other mic instead of echo control.

The speaker uses two 3 watt drivers and has a 15 watt subwoofer on the opposite side for bass enhancement. The sound the speaker produces is clear and crisp; the balance focuses on mid and high ranges with little in the way of deep bass response. If the sound is a little boxy, try turning up the bass EQ to fill out the sound and make it fuller and more rounded. This works in most cases, however, even at max bass, you won't get super low bass response for rumbling and deep lows, which is a bit disappointing for a speaker this size and spec. It sounds sort of like a smaller speaker;s components were built into a larger housing. While the sound isn't bad, per se, you could get similar sound quality in a much smaller speaker size. That said, the volume of this speaker can get loud and it projects well for larger spaces without distorting. Because the stereo drivers are situated right next to each other, you won't hear a lot of separation between the channels.

The cord on the microphone is 10' long so you've got some room to move around when using it. The mic can be used in Bluetooth mode or Aux mode and mixes the music source with the mic inputs so you can singalong and karaoke with a track or just have some background music while speaking. The mic doesn't come with a foam wind guard which doesn't make it great for outdoors on windy days. When in radio mode, the mic overrides the radio signal so you won't be able to talk or sing over a radio broadcast. Note that the main volume and bass EQ dials won't affect the mic performance.

Overall, the speaker works decently well with average to good quality audio. The PA system functionality and its loud projection are the big winners for me here because if it didn't have these features, I would probably go with a smaller speaker, even at the expense of less power and volume.

Buy it at Amazon: Aukey SK-M17 Portable Bluetooth Speaker and PA System [Affiliate Link]
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Monday, April 3, 2017

EchoLife Abusive Birthday Party Balloons Review

EchoLife Abusive Birthday Party Balloons Review

Buy it at Amazon: EchoLife Abusive Birthday Party Balloons [Affiliate Link]

Takeaway: Hilarious (and mean-spirited in a joking way) birthday balloons for an adult party and those who are 'over the hill'

You'll receive 25 balloons in assorted colors: Purple, blue, orange, green, and pink. Each color has its own phrase and you get 5 of each. The phrases are:
Purple – F*ck you I'm old
Blue – Happy F*cking Birthday
Orange – You are a Waste of Blood and Organs
Green – Another year closer to the sweet release of death
Pink – Old as F*ck

With the exception of the orange balloons, these are all birthday or age related and make funny adult party favors the next over the hill birthday you or a friend may be celebrating or lamenting. The balloons are easy to fill with air or helium if you want them to float.

They are 11" when inflated to full size and the text remains easy to read after they are inflated. Here's a quick tip if you're filling them with helium. Latex balloons typically deflate with 4-5 hours, so to make them last longer, give them an all over coat with an aerosol hairspray to seal in the helium. Just let them dry completely for a few minutes before allowing them to touch or float up to the ceiling. I was able to keep these balloons floating for about 16 hours this way when fully inflated with an 80/20 helium gas.

Buy it at Amazon: EchoLife Abusive Birthday Party Balloons [Affiliate Link]
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