Computer Accessories Archive

Using Bluetooth audio devices with your laptop computer

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker – another of many Bluetooth speakers with speakerphone functionality

There is an increasing number of Bluetooth-connected wireless audio devices available for  use with smartphones and similar devices. But you may want to use these headsets, audio adaptors, Bluetooth speakers or Bluetooth-integrated audio devices with your laptop instead of those tiny speakers that are the norm for these computers. The best example for the speakers would be the Bose SoundDock speakers, especially the SoundDock 10, due to its good bass response, when used with the Bluetooth adaptor. As well, I ran a test setup with the Motorola DC800 Bluetooth adaptor connected to an older Sony boombox and had the review-sample Fujitsu LH772 laptop being fed through this Bluetooth adaptor.

Similarly, there are those of us who may want to use a Bluetooth headset like the Plantronics BackBeat Pro with a laptop computer so you can roam around the office or home listening to your favourite tunes or podcast or as a contingency measure to avoid missing that important VoIP call.

How a Bluetooth audio setup would function for a laptop

You can achieve these setups with Bluetooth-equipped laptops that run Windows 7, MacOS X Snow Leopard and Linux and newer versions of these operating systems. This is due to the supply of a class driver for the Bluetooth A2DP audio profile  and Hands Free Profile as part of the operating system distributions.

Initial setup

First, you have to set up the Bluetooth A2DP-capable audio device to become discoverable. The method for this is explained in the instructions that come with the device but you typically may have to hold down a setup button to achieve this goal.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones

Headphones you can treat your laptop to

Then you have to put the computer in to a “Bluetooth setup” mode in order to annex the device to the operating system. In WIndows 7, you would have to click on “Devices and Printers”, then click “Add Device”.

After you complete these procedures, both the device and the computer start to pair up and identify themselves to each other. The computer would then find and install the A2DP audio-device class drivers that are part of the operating system. In some cases, the class driver may be fetched from Microsoft’s or Apple’s Website. The same thing will also happen with the Bluetooth Hands-Free Profile or Bluetooth Headset Profile when you initially connect a Bluetooth headset, headphone audio adaptor or other device equipped for communications functionality.

Now the Bluetooth audio device is defined as a sound device and some Windows setups may have it run as the default audio device for all of the laptop’s sound output.

Which sound device

Bluetooth device listed alongside default audio device

List of audio playback devices including the Bluetooth audio device

But you may want to have a split setup so that music and video sound go to the Bluetooth speakers and all of the notification sounds come via the laptop speakers. Here, you would have to set the integrated sound subsystem as the default audio device. Then you would have to set iTunes, Windows Media Player or other media-management software to use the Bluetooth A2DP audio device.

This latter setup may not work well with software like games, the Spotify desktop program or Web browsers where there isn’t an option to specify the sound output device for that application. Here, you would have to specify the Bluetooth audio device as your default audio device to have the soundtrack from video on demand including YouTube videos, or your Spotify playlist coming through that device.

Bluetooth headsets and speakers with speakerphone functionality will cause Windows to purpose the Bluetooth Hands-Free Profile or Headset Profile as a Communications Device and may cause Windows 7 to determine it as a Default Communications Device.

The controls on these Bluetooth devices should map through to the applications’ controls courtesy of operating system support for Bluetooth AVRCP control profile for media navigation and the call-control functionality of the Hands-Free and Headset Profiles. This will apply to applications that currently have the focus for media playback or communications.

Multipoint Operation

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor - supports multipoint operation for two devices

The Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Adaptor – supports multipoint operation for two devices

An increasing number of communications-capable Bluetooth devices have support for “multipoint” operation where they can work with two different source devices. This function is typically to support people who use two mobile phones such as a “personal” one and a “work” one.

As I discovered when reviewing the Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth headphone adaptor, I fund that this function can also work with a computer. This can be of use if you are maintaining a playlist or listening to Web content on your laptop.

Here, you have to determine which device is your “priority” device which allows the headset to primarily control that device. This is something you would do either through the device’s setup menu, a desktop or mobile control program or a certain keypress sequence depending on the device. You may be able to at least use the call-control button to answer and end calls when you are using your secondary device. It is a good idea to set the laptop as the priority device when you are playing content from it or are wanting to use a VoIP app that may come across as being rickety.

Conclusion

Once you know what your Bluetooth-capable laptop can do with those Bluetooth audio accessories, you can then let it perform at its best with these devices and they don’t need juhst to be considered for mobile phones anymore.

Updates

This is to reflect newer Bluetooth hardware that I have reviewed along with highlighting the Bluetooth Hands-Free Profile used for communications purposes and multipoint operation offered by an increasing number of Bluetooth devices.

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Product Review–Plantronics Backbeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset

Introduction

I am reviewing the Plantronics Backbeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset which is my first attempt at reviewing a headset equipped with two key features: Bluetooth wireless connectivity and active noise cancelling.

The former feature links to mobile devices and laptop computers via Bluetooth wireless technology while the latter detects noise associated with transport or fans using microphones and applies a “counter-noise” to this noise through the headset’s speakers. When you listen to program content or take a call, the sound from the external device such as the music or your caller’s voice is mixed in with the aforementioned “counter-noise” so you can hear that sound more clearly.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones

Price

RRP:  AUD$349 (Street price AUD$299)

Type

Headphone Assembly Traditional over-the-head
Driver Positioning Circum-aural (over the ear with sound-containing foam wall)
Driver Enclosure Closed Back
Microphone Position Integrated microphone
Connectivity
Headset 3.5mm headset socket wired for Apple (CTIA)
Bluetooth
– A2DP audio with aptX
– Headset Profile
– Handsfree Profile with HD Voice
– Multipoint for 2 devices
Adaptors 3.5mm four-conductor headset cable

The headset itself

Connectivity and Usability

I was able to pair the Plantronics BackBeat Pro headset with my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphone very quickly – this supported NFC-based pairing which is currently implemented in Android only. But with devices that don’t support it, you can start the pairing process without needing to hold down a button on the headset.  There is support for multipoint use with a simplified call-handling experience where you just touch one button to answer calls from any phone.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset - right side earcup

Right side earcup with volume control and call handling button on earpiece

There is a 3.5mm four-conductor headset jack which connects to your device via a supplied cord that is wired for CTIA / Apple setups. This overrides the Bluetooth headset functionality so you can use the Backbeat in an airliner.

It is powered via an integrated rechargeable battery that lasts a long time – you could get a day or more out of the headset’s battery life when you are using it as a Bluetooth headset or as an active-noise-reduction headset with another device.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset - right earcup

Left-side earcup with track navigation toggle, play-pause button on earcup and noise-cancellation switch

The controls are easy to discover with a large ring on the right earpiece to adjust the sound volume, a large ring on the left earpiece to move between tracks, a large button on the left earpiece for playing and pausing music and a large button on the right earpiece for handling calls. The power and noise-cancel slide switches are easy to discover and locate with the former on the right earpiece and the latter on the left earpiece.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro headset - sockets

Connectivity options – USB charging socket and 3.5mm headset input jack (wired for Apple / CTIA)

There is a motion sensor that starts and stops your music device when you put the headphones on and take them off. But this can be very erratic in some situations such as a rough road or rail ride or sometimes even putting them on a table and subsequently picking them up has me find that they start playing too early. A supplied configuration program can be used to adjust this function but I would prefer a hardware switch to enable and disable this function.

Comfort and Durability

The Plantronics Backbeat Pro has the same kind of comfort level expected for most circum-aural headsets and could be worn for a significant amount of time. You could feel that they were there without it feeling as though they are crushing on your head and the padded headband provided that feeling as if they were just there.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headset

Cloth speaker grilles assure comfortable long-time use

The ear surrounds even didn’t come across as something that could end up being sweaty. As well, your ears rest on foam cushioning with cloth lining the earpiece areas so as to allow for increased comfort. Here you even have the sides that each earcup represents written on the cloth lining itself. The only comfort tradeoff you may find with the Plantronics BackBeat Pro and its peers is that due to their hard construction, they may feel uncomfortable to use when you are sleeping if you sleep with your head on your side.

As for build quality, I would expect them to last a long time. This is through the use of durable design practices like thicker plastic and placing a plastic conduit which houses the cabling between the earpieces against an aluminium strip.

Sound

I was able to run the Plantronics Backbeat Pro headset at lower volumes while the sound is still audible which makes for a headset that is designed with efficient drivers. This would then allow for the headset to run on its own batteries for a long time yet be useable.

Music

The music came through loud and clear and with that desirable amount of bass response. I even disabled any equalisation curves in my media player and any in my phone to identify whether the bass response was there without the need for added equalisation and found that these headphones still delivered the punch in the music.

Video and Games

The Plantronics Backbeat Pro has come up trumps with video content in that it was able to yield clear dialogue and give punch to those effects. I was even keeping an ear out for effects like gunshots or vehicle moment while watching Kurt Wallander because they are the kind of effects used in some of the games liked by “core” gamers and they came through with that desirable punch.

Communications use

I have made and taken a few phone calls using the Plantronics Backbeat Pro Bluetooth headset and have noticed that the conversation came through clearly for both myself and the caller. I also tried the headset a few times with Google Now and the voice assistant could parse what I was saying easily. The headset call button worked as expected with the ability to tap twice to call the last number or tap and hold to invoke Google Now or Siri depending on your mobile device.

Noise reduction and handling in noisy environments

I used the Plantronics Backbeat Pro headset in the back of a transit bus and had noticed some level of noise reduction when the bus was at speed and was able to hear my music content more clearly.

Active Noise Cancelling

The Active Noise Cancelling function is available when the headset is switched on and can work either with a wired connection or the Bluetooth connection. Here, you then enable it using a slide switch on the left earpiece and can notice the difference.

Here, the rumbling associated with trains and the like is cancelled out using so-called anti-noise. There was a noticeable difference when I used it on the train in Melbourne’s City Loop because I heard very little of the rumbling associated with through-tunnel train travel but could have my music at a decent volume. The experience was also the same when I used this headset in a few different transit buses and the noise from the engine was significantly reduced. As well the noise-cancelling function had no effect on the BackBeat Pro’s bass response. In some situations, I could hear the destination announcements that were called over the train’s intercom or a radio station played over a rail-replacement charter bus’s sound system more clearly and intelligibly even if I had my music going.

The only problem with using Active Noise Cancelling is that if you want to simply just run that functionality without the headset working with another audio device, you have to plug something in to the 3.5mm jack to override the Bluetooth transceiver. This may be of annoyance for those of you who are trying to sleep on the overnight train or that night flight or use the Active Noise Cancelling to effectively mute out the air-conditioner’s noise while trying to go to sleep..

Limitations

The active noise cancelling function  could be set up to run independent of Bluetooth operation or having the headphone cable plugged in. This could be handy when you are in a noisy environment without needing to deal with a cable that can entangle you. An example of this could be to claw some sleep when you are in the plane or in a motel room where there is a noisy old air-conditioner.

The microUSB charging socket on this headset could be set up to work as a way to connect the headset to a computer and have it serve as a USB audio sound device for that computer. The controls could also be mapped through as USB Human Interface Device controls for multimedia and telephony use. This would earn its keep when you are on the plane and using a laptop which is set up for “flight mode”, or are using the headset with a desktop computer for online communications and gaming, especially as traditional “three-piece” desktop computers don’t necessarily support Bluetooth.

The Plantronics Backbeat Pro could benefit from a hardware switch to enable or disable the sensors that allow it to play or stop the music source if you take the headset off. This can be of importance where the ride is bumpy and this function could be susceptible to false triggering.

As well, the headphone cord could benefit from a switch which selects between OMTP / Apple (CTIA) headset wiring mode. This is because not all mobile phones and communications devices are wired for CTIA (Apple) mode and you may want to make sure that your BackBeat Pro could work with anything your present to.

As for adaptors, the Plantronics Backbeat Pro Bluetooth headset missed out on an inflight-entertainment adaptor which is considered abnormal for a noise-cancelling headset that would be typically used in an aeroplane.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Plantronics BackBeat Pro for those of you who value a Bluetooth noise-cancelling travel headset that excels on usability especially when you use your smartphone as a music player when you are travelling on public transport. As well, it would earn its keep with those of you who aren’t necessarily after the fashionable headset brands but are really after something that does the job.

If you do need to use this headset as an active-noise-reduction headset without the use of any program-source device, you could use a 3.5mm plug which you could purchase from an electronics store and plug this in to the audio jack on the headset.

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Microsoft makes a foldable version of its universal Bluetooth keyboard

Article

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard (side) - press picture courtesy of Microsoft

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard

Microsoft Releases Universal Foldable Keyboard | Tom’s Hardware

Previous Coverage

Microsoft Hardware now offers a Bluetooth keyboard that works with all mobile platforms

From the horse’s mouth

Microsoft

Microsoft Universal Folding Keyboard

Press Release

Video

My Comments

Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard (open) press photo courtesy of Microsoft

The keyboard folded out

Microsoft previously released a universal keyboard pitched towards those of us who use smartphones and tablets. This Bluetooth keyboard is designed to be operating-system agnostic so you can use it with your iPhone, iPad, Android smartphone or tablet or your Windows Phone or tablet. This is facilitated with a hardware switch that allows you to select between different devices and keyboard layouts.

Now they have issued a variant of this keyboard that folds up like a book. They haven’t neglected the keyboard’s intended use and working around the problems associated with this. Rather, the Universal Foldable Keyboard is designed to be durable so as to allow for frequent and heavy “on-the-road” use which also involves throwing it in to backpacks, handbags and other similar personal luggage. The key pitch and keyboard switch design makes it similar to most small notebook computers, thus allowing for accurate touch typing.

At least this is an example of a keyboard that isn’t just about catering to an iPad or an Android tablet. Rather it is one that can even cater to a lot more devices that have Bluetooth connection for input devices, including desktops equipped with USB Bluetooth dongles or smart-TVs, games consoles and other video peripherals that have Bluetooth functionality and support use of Bluetooth keyboards. It is also about something that is neat and compact and ready for travel with your mobile devices.

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Integrating a Bluetooth headset in to a beanie

Article

Get Your Hipster On with Bluetooth Beanie | Bluetooth Blog

From the horse’s mouth

TRNDLabs

Bluetooth Beanie

Product Page

Video

My Comments

I was surprised to come across a beanie-style hat that doubles as a Bluetooth headset for your smartphone. The copy in the Bluetooth SIG article highlighted it as being part of the hipster’s image including being able to shift around that trendy inner-urban area like San Fran, Newtown or Fitzroy on a bicycle.

But what was interesting was how the headset was integrated in to something that would normally be knitted. Here, the Bluetooth receiver module had one of the speakers and the microphone along with a group of buttons as its control surface and was connected to a secondary speaker which served as the other speaker for the stereo headset. These were inserted in to pockets knitted in to the beanie so as to allow one to remove them when they wash the hat – avoiding any damage to the electronics while it is being soaked in water and Wool-mix.

This device, which can be charged by a USB charger, can run for six hours on talk / music activities and works according to Bluetooth 3.0 with Handsfree (communications) profile and A2DP / AVRCP (music playback) profiles. It has an operating range of around 10 metres (33 feet), effectively ticking the boxes for essential Bluetooth headset functionality.

It is an example of how one can design mobile electronics for integration into clothing and footwear but making sure you can remove it when you want to wash the clothing. The Bluetooth receiver and speaker could be offered as a separate “short-form” accessory for those of us making our own headgear to convey our own identity or for those of us making and selling such headgear.

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Now a program to help with troubleshooting your computer’s keyboard

Article

Desktop keyboard

Now you can check whether you need to replace that keyboard

Switch Hitter Helps You Diagnose Keyboard Problems | LifeHacker

From the horse’s mouth

Elite Keyboards

Switch Hitter Keyboard Diagnostic Software (Product Download Page)

My Comments

As well, you can determine whether you need to take the laptop in for warranty repair because of the keyboard

As well, you can determine whether you need to take the laptop in for warranty repair because of the keyboard

You may find that your computer’s keyboard may not be behaving in a consistent manner and this may be an issue that may have you taking your laptop computer in for warranty service or buying a new keyboard. Or you find that you are losing those battle games and find that the keyboard isn’t allowing you to demolish the enemy.

But there is a Windows utility that helps you to troubleshoot your keyboard. Switch Hitter gives a visual display similar to a touch-typing tutor program to show whether any of the keys are responding as you press them and identifies which keys are stuck down. This can also work with identifying contact-bounce problems which surfaces as repeated keypresses as well as keys that don’t respond and can be symptomatic of a keyboard that has had the life bashed out of it.

It also shows up which keyboard layout you are using and what keystroke combination you are sending, which may be an issue with area-specific layouts.

This can allow you to supply to a repair agent a more qualified diagnosis of the problems you are having with the keyboard, especially when it comes to that warranty service. As well, you can know if you are actually dealing with an improper setup, a dodgy keyboard-computer link or a keyboard that is to be replaced.

This can also be used to check whether that gaming keyboard is being responsive and satisfying the claims that the manufacturer is touting, thus being suitable for that online fragging session.

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Product Review–Brother PT-E550WVP handheld label writer

I am reviewing the Brother PT-E550WVP TZe-compliant handheld label writer which is pitched at electricians, AV and IT technicians and similar folk who work with different equipment.  This ranges from those who work out of the back of their trucks or vans to the maintenance and IT departments of different workplaces.

One feature that it has beyond the typical label writer is that it can work with other computer equipment via an existing Wi-Fi network segment or its own Wi-FI network. This allows for you to order labels on your smartphone or tablet and have it turn them out.

Brother PT-E550WVP handheld label writer

Price: AUD$329 Recommended Retail Price

The unit itself

Brother PT-E550WVP label writer with back removed

Where to install the battery and the label tape

The Brother PT-E550WVP label writer is a large handheld device which has a heavy-duty build and an orange-and-grey housing. It is equipped with a large dot-matrix backlit LCD display that lights up when you are actually using the device, along with a rubberised keyboard.

To load the batteries or label tapes in to this label writer, you have to remove the back cover from this unit by pressing a latch on the top edge. Here. you have clearly-identified compartments at each end of the device for the batteries of the tape.

It has what some people may describe as a “three-way” power supply arrangement where you can run it on mains power courtesy of a supplied AC adaptor/charger, a supplied rechargeable lithium-ion battery or 6 AA alkaline batteries of the Duracell kind. This means that even if you run out of power from the rechargeable battery while on the road, you can go to the convenience store and buy some batteries to complete that labelling project. Here, charging the unit’s lithium-ion battery pack is simple as plugging the unit in to mains power using the supplied AC adaptor.

Functionality

Brother PT-E550WVP label writer keyboard

Rubberised keyboard with accent selector

The Brother PT-E550WVP label writer is based on Brother’s TZe label-cassette platform which means that it can work with all of Brother’s TZe label products which suit different purposes. This includes their HSe series of heat-shrink label tubes that you use to attach to cables.

This label writer has quick access to label templates that are optimised for labelling cables, patch-bays, outlets and the like which can make it an electrician’s or maintenance engineer’s best friend.

As for on-device data entry, the large display makes it easy to see what you are typing in on the unit’s QWERTY-layout rubber-membrane keyboard. The disadvantage with this keyboard is that all the keys are “bunched-up” together rather than spaced out like a calculator’s keyboard. This can be awkward for some users, but you can at least feel which keys are which because each key on the main keyboard has a hemispheric “pimple” shape.

The label writer doesn’t feel extra top-heavy while you are entering text and it still has that comfortable hand-held feel that is expected of this class of device.

You have a dedicated accent key which can come in handy for entering the accents common in most of the Latin languages. This may also appeal to those of you who are learning foreign languages and use labels attached to items as a tool to reinforce your vocabulary. Here, you press the letter you want accented then press the accent key repeatedly until the desired accent appears. In the case of the “ß” used in the traditional German orthography, you type the S letter then press the accent key until the “ß” letter shows up.

As for the output quality, the labels come out of this machine very crisp and clear as has been expected for Brother’s thermal labellers.

You use the Menu and arrow keys to select the advanced functions like the network connectivity, cutting behaviour amongst other things. This leads me to the network connectivity which is one of its key features.

Connectivity

The Brother PT-E550WVP label writer can work as a label printer with a regular computer or a mobile device and can connect to the latter via Wi-Fi. This can be handy if you are wanting to run a batch of labels from your smartphone or tablet such as whenever you are out of the right label tape or you have left the label writer behind. Similarly, you can use this link to transfer databases or label templates created using the P-Touch software.

Brother PT-E550WVP label writer network operation menu screenshot

The user can select between direct Wi-Fi or a Wi-Fi network

This model has answered a problem that was exhibited by Brother’s PT-P750W Wi-Fi label printer where it would attempt to connect to the last Wi-Fi wireless network it used before working as a standalone Wi-Fi wireless device. Here, the user has to select whether to run the label writer as its own Wi-Fi network or have it join an existing Wi-Fi network by using the WLAN menu option on PT-E550WVP’s menu and selecting “Direct” for working as its own network and “Infrastructure” for working with an existing Wi-Fi network.

As for connecting via an existing Wi-Fi wireless network, you can connect this unit to Wi-Fi network segments that use WPS or classic WEP or WPA-Personal password setup methods. This typifies most Wi-Fi home or small-business networks but would preclude business networks that implement user-specific or device-specific authentication along with public hotspots that implement Web-based authentication.

Comments from other people

Brother PT-E550WVP label writerI showed the Brother PT-E550WVP label writer to a friend of mine who works as a maintenance electrician and let him have a play around with this device. He was impressed with this unit’s rugged design and ease of use. This was so much that he would suggest to his workplace to consider buying these labellers for the team he works with.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

A feature that may be considered nice to have for the PT-E550WP would be to allow the label writer’s keyboard to serve as an external keyboard for a tablet or smartphone. Similarly, this labeller could benefit from an optional car adaptor so it can be charged up from the vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket when you are driving between jobs or want to conserve battery power when you work out of the back of your van.

Similarly, Brother can improve on the display’s contrast to augment its useability. Here, they could implement display technologies like EL-backlit LCD displays or monochrome OLED displays which have a similar contrast to the vacuum-fluorescent displays but don’t consume as much power as those displays.

A function that could come in handy for people who use this label writer as part of IT support would be to print out the SSID and, perhaps, the password of the current network. This may be useful for preparing a network-configuration card to give to the network’s owner or attach the SSID to the router or access point they have configured.

Conclusion – Is it a tool or a toy?

The Brother PT-E550WVP handheld label writer earns its keep for tradesmen and maintenance departments who value a highly-durable label writer and want to have the ability to link it with their portable computing equipment whether now or in the future. Personally, I would consider this label writer to be a viable tool for these kind of users rather than a toy.

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KFC puts forward the idea of a flexible Bluetooth keyboard as a tray-mat

Article

KFC Puts Keyboards In Trays So Greasy Chicken Fingers Can Keep Texting | Gizmodo

My Comments

The fast-food industry are always working on ways to promote their wares and one way they have always used is the “tray-mat” which is a sheet of paper with promotional material printed on it that is placed on the serving trays. In some cases, especially with McDonalds, this is also used as part of a sweepstakes or competition where you can win prizes and, of course, these end up as a take-home collectable or souvenir.

But the KFC franchises in Germany have taken this further by integrating a Bluetooth keyboard in one of these tray-mats. Here, they pitch the idea of keeping your greasy fingers off the smartphone screen while you type out replies to SMS, social-media or other messages. This exploits the standard Bluetooth HID Device Profile supported by the mobile operating systems and pairs with the host device when powered on.

Do I see this as being more than a promotional gimmick or toy? It can be an alternative to various’”laser-projector” ideas that project the keyboard to a surface like a table or desk and could have appeal for wherever you have to enter text in a dirty environment. It is also a way to prove that Bluetooth can be integrated in paper, flexible plastic, cloth and similar materials and can be implemented with these materials as a human interface device.

In this context, the flexible Bluetooth keyboard could work well as a “roll-up” keyboard or as part of a loose-leaf folder system whether as a binder, divider or a leaf. Use of different layouts could come in handy like a piano keyboard for music input or a group of buttons that work with particular apps.

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Keeping your portable equipment safe through the summer

Beach shotThrough the summer, we are likely to take our portable equipment with us more frequently as we spend more time outdoors. This is whether to play music off an MP3 player in the car, use our smartphones on the road more frequently, take heaps of pictures with our digital cameras at the beaches and beauty spots we visit, or entertain our kids during the long road trips using a tablet or laptop.

Device security

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 smartphone

Smartphones are so well used during summer yet misfortune can happen to them

When we are on the road, we are likely to carry our gadgets with us more frequently. But this becomes a temptation for light-fingered thieves to get their claws on our stuff. This has ranged from gadgets like smartphones disappearing at the beach to cars being broken into and possessions being stolen.

You can store your devices securely in your car. As well, making sure you don’t leave handbags, backpacks, laptop bags or similar luggage lying around in the car. This is because thieves can deduce that these bags contain items of value and break in to the car to steal these bags.

A locked car trunk (boot) can be the safest place to store your mobile technology when you are out and about

A locked car trunk (boot) can be the safest place to store your mobile technology when you are out and about

If you are using a sedan (saloon) or similar vehicle that has a separately-lockable luggage compartment i.e. the boot or, in the US, the trunk, this is the safest place for these valuables if you are not using them at your destination. This can apply to tradesmen’s utes (pickup trucks) where there is a lockable box that is securely attached to the cargo bay on these vehicles.

Volkswagen Golf hot hatch

Hey, do you know where the luggage blind is for your hatchback or 4×4?

Hatchbacks, station-wagons (estate cars) and SUVs (4-wheel-drives / 4x4s) aren’t all that secure in this context but using the luggage blind or removeable luggage shelf that may come with your vehicle can make it easier to keep the valuable items “out of sight, out of mind” but these aren’t necessarily secure. For that matter, where is that luggage blind or luggage shelf that came with your car if your car came with that?

The glove compartment in the dashboard or the box in the centre console that doubles as an armrest serves well as a secure storage location for small items like MP3 players, smartphones or small digital cameras. This is more so  especially if you can lock it with a key.

If you are at the beach, pool or beauty spot as a group, you may be tempted to keep all the smartphones, cameras and similar equipment in a pile near the drinks or picnic food especially as some of you go off for a swim or to admire the beauty. In these situations, make sure there is a trusted adult near that pile of equipment at all times to keep watch on it. Also hiding the equipment amongst bedding, towels, picnic rugs, the picnic basket or in common-looking bags may work as a way to make it less attractive to thieves.

Avoiding damage

One major cause of damage to a lot of the portable gadgets during the summer is water and other fluids; or sand getting inside the devices.

If you find that there is a greater risk of this kind of damage happening to these devices, it is a good idea to have liquid-tight containers for the devices. For cameras, you can purchase weatherproof cases from your favourite camera store. These come either as a generic case that suits cameras of the type or a manufacturer-designed case that suits a particular camera model. You may also come across weatherproof containers for smartphones and tablets like the iPad.

The common zip-lock sandwich bags that you can get from the supermarket can work well with smartphones, portable media players and remote controls that are more likely to be baptised in swimming-pool water or have a drink tipped over them.

Avoid the temptation to carry a smartphone or MP3 player in your pocket or wedged in on your swimwear when you are near the water unless it is kept in a zip-lock bag or something similarly waterproof.

The battery, SIM and memory cards have to be removed from the device if it gets wet

The battery, SIM and memory cards have to be removed from the device if it gets wet

Attention hotels and similar establishments: You could make sure that your Housekeeping department keeps a supply of the zip-lock bags of varying sizes on hand! This can come in handy with guests as a way to contain leaks from toiletry bottles or allow guests to protect their smartphones from water damage.

Water or other fluids inside device

The battery should be removed from a waterlogged camera while they are switched on so the lens doesn't retract

The battery should be removed from a waterlogged camera while they are switched on so the lens doesn’t retract

If water does get inside a device, these steps may help in mitigating the damage that this may cause to the device. Situations like the device falling in to sea water, a swimming pool or accompanying a load of laundry through the washing machine can make things worse due to chemicals being part of that water.

Shut down the device fully. In the case of a camera with a lens that retracts when it is turned off, remove the battery while the camera is on and the lens is extended. With smartphones and tablets, this may involve following the operating system’s shutdown procedure like pressing the sleep button for a long time to bring up a shutdown menu, then selecting the Shut Down option.

SIM card

Dry SIM and memory cards with a soft tissue or micro-fibre cloth

Remove all batteries, memory and SIM cards from the affected device if possible. Dry off the memory and SIM cards with a tissue or micro-fibre cloth before you consider installing them in another device like a spare mobile phone.

Shake as much of the water out of the device as you can. Avoid the temptation to run a hair-dryer over the device or run it under that hand-dryer in the public restroom. This introduces extra heat to the device which can damage some components very easily.

Smother the device in a bowl of raw rice or place it in a zip-lock bag with a dessicant pouch or plenty of raw rice. Make sure that all of the covers and doors for the various compartments on that device are open when you do this. Leave it in this bowl or zip-lock bag for three days in order for the device to dry out effectively. This procedure effectively mitigates the damage that the water does to the device’s circuitry, switches and mechanisms.

Sand or dirt in your equipment

You can get dry sand or dirt out of your electronic equipment either by shaking it out, using compressed air to blast it away from the equipment or using your household vacuum cleaner to suck it out. If you use the vacuum cleaner for this purpose, you may find that the crevice nozzle that isn’t perforated on each side may give you better results.

Before you do this with a camera, smartphone or other device that has small removable memory or SIM cards, make sure you remove these cards from your device before you clean it out.

Dealing with insurance

Smother the wet device with dry rice and leave for a few days

Smother the wet device with dry rice and leave for a few days

When you purchase any device, make sure you have the receipt or the instruction manual for that device. In the case of a smartphone, MiFi or similar communications device that you have bought as part of a subsidised-equipment contract, keep the details about the contract that you bought this device under. These documents are useful for your insurance claim as a way of proving you own that device.

As for home / contents insurance policies along with travel insurance policies, make sure that the policy does cover for accidental damage to portable electronics while they are used on the road. Beware of those policies that require you to pay a large excess on accidental damage claims because these large excesses may be more than equipment of a similar standard is worth in the case of small devices. In some cases, an insurance policy that offers excess-free coverage for theft and accidental damage to portable equipment on the road for a modest extra on the premium may be worth its salt.

Similarly, some mobile carriers may offer a specialised policy that covers smartphones and associated devices for theft and accidental damage, usually for equipment that is part of an ongoing subsidised-equipment contract. These may be worth investigating especially if they offer coverage for associated accessories, “on-the-road” damage or “other-device” coverage; along with excesses that you pay during a claim. The main limitation with these policies is that they provide cover for specified devices, namely the smartphone or tablet that is part of a particular contract.

Conclusion

Once summer comes, it is worth making sure you don’t run in to trouble regarding your valuable electronic equipment.

This article will be published around May to coincide with summertime in the Northern-Hemisphere countries like the USA, Canada, UK and Europe, but will be re-published during November for summertime in the Southern-Hemisphere countries.

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DisplayLink demonstrates a USB-C dock setup for all notebooks and tablets

Article – From the horse’s mouth DisplayLink Corporate Logo courtesy of DisplayLink

DisplayLink

Press Release

My Comments

DisplayLink has extended its reference design for a “video-over-USB” setup to USB-C and designed a dock that can work with all notebooks and tablets just by having them connect to the device via a USB-A or USB-C cable.

This is hot on the heels of Apple announcing their latest MacBook Air and Google announcing their Pixel 2 Chromebook, both of which implement the new USB Type-C connector. Here, the dock will support multiple-screen video using DisplayLink technology. They also underscore the ability to use the dock (and multi-screen setup) with existing equipment courtesy of the DisplayLink standard and the legacy USB Type-A plug.

One way I see this progress is that the dock could be equipped with the USB Type-C socket and equipment that has this connection is hooked up using a Type-C cable while legacy equipment is hooked up using a Type-C-to-Type-A cable. I also see it as a way to innovate with these devices especially if we are thinking of desktop docks that come in to play when you are using a portable computer at your office.

The idea can be taken further with the dock having MHL software abilities so as to work with Android phones and serve as a simple external-screen device for all computing devices.

What I see of this is the ability for the standard to be raised when it comes to the design of “single-connect” docks or expansion-modules that make it easer to engage in desktop-portable or “work-home” computing.

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Product Review–Kingston HyperX Cloud II Gaming Headset

Introduction

Kingston HyperX Cloud II gaming headset - boom removed

The headset with a removable boom

The Kingston HyperX Cloud II Gaming Headset is a traditional-look headset with a detachable boom microphone. Here, this allows you to use it as a pair of stereo headphones or as a “full-on” stereo headset. This includes using it in the plane thanks to an “in-flight-entertainment” two-plug adaptor so it can plug in to your seat’s armrest.

It also comes with a USB sound module so you can use the headset with your computer when playing games and this provides claimed surround-sound abilities as well as supporting the audio input and output required of the headset.

The headset is available with a choice of either red accents or grey accents to suit your style.

Kingston HyperX Cloud II gaming headset

Price

RRP: AUD$149

Type

Headphone Assembly Traditional over-the-head
Driver Positioning Circum-aural (over the ear with sound-containing foam wall)
Driver Enclosure Closed Back
Microphone Position Boom attached to headphone assembly
Connectivity
Headset 3.5mm four-conductor phone plug
Adaptors USB sound module
Two-pin airline inflight-entertainment adaptor

The headset itself

Connectivity

The headphones that are part of the Kingston HyperX Cloud II come with a four-conductor 3.5mm phone plug which can work with most smartphones and stereo equipment.

Kingston HyperX Cloud II headset USB adaptor

USB headset adaptor for your regular computer – separately adjustable input and output levels

But Kingston provided a USB-connected sound module that presents to Windows as a logical sound-output device and a logical sound-input device. This is done using the class drivers that were provided out of the box with Microsoft Windows and is something you would experience with your Macintosh or your Linux computer. This works properly and is more to allow you to have a separate communications channel for games while you have the sound effects coming through the computer’s speakers.

For Windows users, it is worth reading an article I have written about how you can manage multiple sound devices like headsets especially if you want this to be a private-listening or communications headset.

Comfort

The Kingston HyperX Cloud II Gaming Headset does feel securely tight on your head and is comfortable to wear. This is thanks to the padded headband and the ear cushions which also don’t feel sweaty.

This means that you can enjoy wearing the headset for a long time without any fatiguing even on hotter days or intense gaming sessions.

Sound quality

Music

As far as the bass response is concerned, it is there but not overpowering. It doesn’t overpower the vocals nor does it overpower melodic or harmonic instruments in the mix. Here, this means that you still have that “kick” that is desireable for a lot of music but it doesn’t boom.

Video content

I watched some video-on-demand content using a review-sample laptop and have found that the Kingston HyperX Cloud II gaming headset does treat dialogue and sound effects very well. The headset even handles ambient effects clearly and gives bite to the “sounds that matter” like the aggressive engine sound of a vehicle used in a hit-and-run scene in the show I was watching. This gives it some worth when it comes to using the headphones with your laptop for watching video content or playing games.

Communications use

I have made and taken some calls with this headset and do hear the caller clearly and have used it with the microphone for a video call on my computer. Here, I had to raise the volume on the supplied USB adaptor to get my voice heard by the caller when I was making a Skype call.For portable use, you still need to run the Kingston HyperX Cloud II Gaming Headset hard with some devices to obtain a decent loudness and this may also have an impact on your device’s battery life. With laptops, I could get a decent sound out of the headset without running it at a high level.

Noise reduction and handling in noisy environments

I have used the Kingston HyperX Cloud II gaming headset as a travel headset and integrated a bus journey as part of my travels. Here, I sat up the back of a typical transit bus and used the headset there to determine whether the engine noise was reduced while I used it.Here, I noticed a significant amount of noise reduction while being able to hear the program material that I was listening to and concluded that you can benefit from this somewhat for bus or train travel but may not be effective for air travel especially when the plane is in flight.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

One feature I would like to see for the Kingston HyperX Cloud II Gaming Headset would be to have a detachable cable and the availability of replacement cables. This is because whenever you are engaging in heavy gaming, you may pull on the headset and this could cause the connection to become unreliable.

Similarly, the USB adaptor could be offered as a standalone accessory for use with headsets so you can connect a headset of your choice with your computer for gaming, videocalls or voice recognition. Here, it could be switched between the Apple configuration or the OMTP configuration so it can be used with headsets destined for the iPhone or open-standards devices. This is something that will be important for the Windows platform as Cortana comes to the Windows 10 operating system as a voice assistant or for businesses who want to use softphones as part of their IP-based telephony needs.I would also like to see the headset plug able to be switched between Apple and OMTP configurations to work with smartphones, along with a switch on the cable or headset for call control.

Conclusion

It is easy to think of the Kingston HyperX Cloud II Gaming Headset as strictly a gamer’s headset but it can work well as an all-round headset you could use with your laptop or your smartphone. This is more so if you are on a budget but you still want some “kick” from your music or sound-effects.

As for value-for-money, I do find that this headset does offer that especially if you want to see it in use beyond your games console or “gaming-rig” computer, such as for Skyping friends, listening to music or watching videos using your tablet or laptop.

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