Category: Product Review

Product Review–Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset

Introduction

I am reviewing the Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset which is a USB-connected gaming headset designed by SteelSeries on behalf of Dell.

This is a practice that a lot of manufacturers, distributors and retailers in the computing and consumer-electronics game have been involved in where they ask someone else to design and make the product to be sold under the client’s name. Infact, most of the Japanese consumer-electronics names had engaged in the practice themselves, either making “white-label” products for other companies to sell under their own labels or being the companies who called on others to design and build products.

One of the ways you would know that this headset was a SteelSeries design was the speaker cloth on the earcups had the label “Acoustics by SteelSeries” written on it. As well, I had a look through the product documentation and it required me to install the SteelSeries Engine software to be installed on my computer so I could gain more control over the headset.

Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset

Price

RRP: AUD$99 / US$49.99 / GBP£66.76

Shop Now – US / Australia / UK and Europe

Headset Type

Headphone Assembly Traditional over-the-ear
Driver Positioning Circum-aural (covers the ear completely)
Driver Enclosure applies to circum-aural or supra-aural designs
Closed back
Primary sound path Digital
Microphone position Microphone integrated in left earcup

Functionality

Pitched for Gaming
Active Noise Cancellation No
Remote Control Mic Mute

Connectivity

Connection for main operation Wired
Wired path USB Audio via Type-A
Supplementary adaptors None

The headset itself

Dell AE2 Performance USB HeadsetThe Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset is designed like most circum-aural headsets and implements the USB bus as its way of connecting to host devices. As to appeal to the gaming community, each earcup has a glowing white ring which illuminates when you have the headphones plugged in to your computer. But, as I have said later on in the review, you can determine whether this glowing occurs or not or what colour is used thanks to a configuration program called SteelSeries Engine.

I have done most of the reviewing of this headset without using the SteelSeries Engine control software, which would represent requirements where you can’t or don’t want to add extra software to your computer to gain more out of these headphones.

Connectivity and Functionality

Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset - USB plug

How the Dell AE2 headset connects to your computer

The Dell AE2 Performance Headset connects to USB-equipped computing devices using its USB Type-A connector and presents itself to them as a USB Audio input and output device. Windows 10 was able to even identify this headset as headphones and give this device priority over existing default audio devices like integrated speakers in a monitor or laptop. The headset has a maximum rated power draw of 150mA which means it shouldn’t place much demand on your laptop’s battery power as well as being able to work comfortably on a four-port bus-powered USB hub being used by input devices.

I had tried using this headset with my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Android smartphone by connecting it to the phone via a USB OTG cable. Here, it would work as a USB Audio device but I had found that this functionality didn’t extend to communications tasks like using the phone. Here, I would communicate with the caller via the smartphone’s speaker and microphone rather than through the Dell USB headset. The USB-based audio device as a mobile-phone accessory is becoming a reality thanks to USB Type-C connectivity and manufacturers doing away with the 3.5mm audio jack on their phones.

SteelSeries Engine 3 configuration screen for Dell AE3 Performance USB headset

SteelSeries Engine 3 configuration screen – graphic equaliser, DTS surround sound, etc

You can run the SteelSeries Engine 3 software on your Windows or Macintosh computer, which effectively allows you to gain more control over the headset. This program offers a DTS Headphone 7.1 surround decoder for headphone applications, a five-band graphic equaliser, a microphone-optimisation program along with the ability to control the lights on the earcups. You could even have the lighting change colour based on games events which works for some games thanks to API hooks that SteelSeries have published for game studios to use.

This program works properly as advertised and you don’t need to have it running all the time you use the headphones, which can be a boon for those of us who use laptops while on battery power.

Comfort

Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset - SteelSeries motif

SteelSeries design highlighted in earcups

These headphones are very comfortable to wear for a significant amount of time thanks to the circum-aural design and the fact that your ears are not touching anything hard. As well, they don’t feel sticky after that long time of use because of assuring some airflow around the foam surrounds.

Sound Quality

The Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset is able to handle music in a similar manner to most circum-aural headphones by being able to put up some good bass response. It was also able to work well with the vocals and other instruments but you may experience a bit of reduction of higher frequencies – it is not really something with hi-fi credentials for listening to detailed music.

Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset - glowing ring on earcups

Glowing ring on earcups

I have also tried these headphones with some video content in the form of watching an Inspector Morse episode (Sins Of The Fathers) from a DVD using my desktop computer. Here, the dialogue came across very clearly and I was able to hear the sound effects distinctly with the added bass response doing some justice to certain effects like the rumbling heard in the brewery that was part of the story. There were a few brewery scenes in that same show which represented a sound presentation not dissimilar from what would be expected from a lot of action-based computer games with people traipsing around the factory, the rumbling of machinery and the music score, with the Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset handling them very well.

I had placed a call using Skype to someone I know and they had noticed that I was able to come across very clearly with the headset while I was able to hear them very clearly. The Dell AE2 headset can earn its keep as a communications headset for VoIP softphones and similar online calling platforms, especially if they implement high-quality voice codecs.

Noise Reduction and handling of noisy environments

The Dell AE2 headset offers a significant amount of noise reduction which can be a boon for those of us who are commuting or working in a noisy office. It may not be as effective as active noise cancellation but can suit most of us in these environments.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One of the problems that will need to be answered with these USB headsets is for all mobile operating systems to treat them as headsets when they are connected to mobile devices.

Another desirable feature would be to have a hardware switch on the headset that turns the lighting on and off so you can be able to reduce your laptop’s battery drain when you run them and avoid the need to run a configuration program to achieve this goal. As well, headsets of this kind could benefit from a volume control on the earcups that controls the host system’s volume using the standard USB protocols.

Similarly, Dell and SteelSeries could implement a USB Type-C detachable connection so that they can be provided with a detachable cable allowing them to last longer by allowing you to replace damaged cables. This would also cater towards the newer USB Type-C direction as more of the computers come with this connection.

Conclusion

Personally, I would position the Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset more as suitable as a general-purpose computer headset for applications where you want to hear your computer software’s audio privately but are not expecting to pay attention to how music comes across through them. This is rather than just as something for chatting during games or hearing games effects privately and intensely.

The Dell AE2 Performance USB Headset also represents a newer trend for headphone construction where there is emphasis on “digital to the earpiece”, which can open up many points of innovation like optimised sound or active noise cancellation. The USB connectivity allows for this to work for wired-headset setups including allowing the host device to actually power the headset.

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Product Review–Brother P-Touch P900W label printer

I am reviewing the Brother PT-P900W Wi-Fi-capable label printer which is the latest in the range of labellers based on Brother’s P-Touch thermal-print labelling system. This uses the same “drop-in” label-tape cassettes as the rest of the P-Touch labellers such as the TZe-261 wide white tape that came with this machine.

There is a premium variant called the PT-P950NW which implements extra connectivity options. These come in the form of integrated Ethernet connectivity so you don’t need to use a Wi-Fi link to use it as a network label printer, USB host connectivity to work with USB-connected barcode scanners and similar devices along with the ability to work with an optional Bluetooth interface that only works with Bluetooth barcode scanners.

Users can also purchase a rechargeable battery pack if they want to run it on battery power and this charges with the supplied AC adaptor. As well, you can also purchase a serial adaptor to work with input devices like scales or barcode scanners that implement traditional serial connections.

But the piece de resistance that Brother puts forward is a touch-panel kit with LCD display that allows the machine to be purposed as a task-specific label writer. This includes the ability to work with pre-defined label templates or where you may have to enter numeric data.

This unit is part of Brother’s P-Touch thermal labelling system which uses TZ-series label cassettes and came with the TZe-261 label cassette which had a wide writing space.Brother P-Touch PT-P900W label printer

 

Recommended Retail Prices

The Brother P-Touch label printers

PT-P900W
– Wi-Fi, USB to computer, serial connection
RRP: AUD$699
PT-P950NW
– Ethernet, Wi-Fi, USB to computer, USB host, serial connection, optional Bluetooth
RRP: AUD$899

Optional accessories

Serial Adaptor
– connect to scales or barcode scanner with RS232C (DB9) connection
AUD$29.00
Bluetooth Interface for PT-P950NW
– connect to Bluetooth-capable barcode scanner
AUD$149.00
Rechargeable Battery Base AUD$99.00
Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery AUD$199.00
Touch Panel for PT-P950NW
– converts to standalone solution-specific label writer
AUD$199.00

The label printer itself

How you load the Brother P-Touch PT-P900W label printer

How you load the Brother P-Touch PT-P900W label printer

The Brother PT-P900 family of printers has a similar look to Brother’s latest business inkjet printers like the MFC-J5720DW inkjet multifunction thanks to the black housing with the rounded edges and flat top reminiscent of some 1950s-era home appliances. But it is easy to load and unload thanks to a lid that opens to reveal where the label cassette is.

Previously, I ran the Brother PT-P900W as a printer connected to my computer and it has worked as expected with the software installing properly after I had downloaded it from Brother’s Website. It also was a chance for all the P-Touch Editor software that was on my computer to be updated, which would represent a situation if you have one or more other P-Touch labellers that are customarily hooked up to your computer or on your network.

The Brother PT-P900W implements a highly-sophisticated network functionality for its Wi-Fi network. Here, it can work with 802.11g/n networks but needs you to set it up for a network that doesn’t implement WPS-based “push-to-setup” connectivity on its router or access point – thankfully most “Mi-Fi” portable Wi-FI routers can answer this call if you are setting up a mobile wireless network.

This unit can also be set up to work with WPA2-Enterprise wireless-network segments found in larger businesses where there is individual user-based login to the network. But you may have to upload EAP-TLS certificates to the device from a regular computer. As well, it is future-proof in that it supports IPv6 in a dual-stack form.

Brother PT-P900W label printer connected to Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Android smartphone

This smartphone is connected to the Brother PT-P900W label printer via the home network while the label printer is being its own access point

I set the Brother P-Touch PT-P900W label printer with my home network’s Wi-Fi segment and it worked properly, both with my phone connected to the home network and to the unit’s own Wireless Direct access point.

The supplied Brother P-Touch Windows software is very flexible when it comes to printing needs and it can allow you to “gang” multiple Brother PT-P900W / PT-P950NW label printers with the same labelling tape for “round-robin” multiple-machine printing jobs. This can help with dealing with intense jobs like a stocktake or large delivery for example.

As expected for devices based on the Brother P-Touch system, the output quality was very crisp and I had found that the TZe-261 label tape that came with the review unit could answer most labelling needs. This is more so if you, for example, make use of two lines for your labels.

Other people’s opinions

Brother PT-P900W label printer turning out a label

Brother PT-P900W label printer turning out a label

I brought the Brother P-Touch P900W label printer out to the church I worship God at in order to demonstrate it to a friend there who works as an electrician and obtain his opinion on this device. I used it along with my smartphone to turn out a label and he noticed that the machine turned out the label which he wanted to use on one of the mixing desk’s faders very quickly and clearly. It didn’t take long for the Brother labeller and my smartphone to set up together and I was able to have the label turned out very quickly.

But he noticed that this machine looked a bit bulky and mentioned to me that he wouldn’t find it suitable for regular portable “on-the-go” use. He reckoned that it would work well for office-based applications and occasional transportable use.

Limitations and Points for Improvement

Personally, I would like to see a manual override between Wireless Direct and Wi-Fi infrastructure operating modes, which can come in handy if you want the unit to start quickly or to deal with difficult situations.

Similarly, I would like to allow for mobile-based app-driven Wi-Fi setup similar to a lot of Wi-Fi-based wireless speakers and similar devices are set up. This is where you can have the opportunity to select Wireless Direct, connect your mobile device to the label writer’s Wireless Direct network, and use a mobile app to upload your infrastructure wireless-network segment’s parameters to the printer.

The WPS “push-to-setup” functionality could also be extended to client-device setup so you can enrol your “open-frame” mobile device to the Brother labeller’s Wireless Direct network at the touch of a button.

The baseline unit in this family could implement a USB Type A socket for barcode labellers and other data-input devices that use USB because this connection standard is being seen as the way to connect peripheral devices. This could be extended to having the machines recognise the standard USB keyboard or, in the case of the Bluetooth interface, Bluetooth keyboards as an input device so they can quickly be purposed as a label writer

Conclusion

Personally, I would see the Brother P-Touch PT-P900W and PT-950NW label printers not as being for use on the road but as a tool for office-based workflow labelling with a regular computer or mobile device such as a smartphone, especially where the mobile device is likely to be used frequently as an input tool. Examples of this could be inventory control for the “reserves” at the back of a shop; or in a kitchen to keep control of foodstuffs and their expiry dates.

This is whereas the Brother P-Touch PT-E550WVP handheld heavy-duty label writer can earn its keep in the back of a tradesman’s van for on-site labelling.

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Product Review – Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner

Previously, I reviewed the Brother PDS-6000 sheet-fed document scanner which scans both sides of a document at once very quickly. This model connects directly to a host computer and would work with most document-management software. Now Brother have released the ADS-2800W which is a network-capable sheet-fed document scanner that allows you to direct a scanning job to a computer or a file server / NAS, and this is the machine that I am reviewing now.

RRP AUD$899

There are some more expensive variants of this network document scanner that can scan at higher speeds but I am reviewing the entry-level model.

Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner

Scan Scan to Connection
Sheet-fed

600 dpi

Single-pass Auto-duplex

USB Mass-Storage

CIFS/FTP/HTTP network storage

Online Services

SMTP E-mail

USB 3.0

Ethernet

802.11g/n Wi-Fi

The scanner itself

Setup

Brother ADS-2800W document scanner document path

Single-pass document scan, easy to service if anything goes wrong

Brother have avoided the tendency to create a separate setup regime for the ADS-2800W network document scanner, which will be a bonus if you have stuck with this brand for your multifunction printer. Here, the software interface both at the scanner and at the computer are very similar and you can even use the ControlCenter 4 software to process your documents.

Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner Wi-Fi connectivity

Wi-Fi connectivity

It was simple to connect this scanner to the home network although I used the Ethernet connection which is what I would prefer for normally-sessile devices. Here, it can be connected to a Wi-Fi wireless network segment or a wired Ethernet network segment (which also works with a HomePlug network segment) with the former network type working properly if nearer the wireless router. Personally, I would recommend that you use the wired network (Ethernet or HomePlug) at your home or office as I would recommend for sessile equipment.

Walk-up and mobile operation

Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner - Web services

It scans directly to Dropbox

There is the ability to use a Web-based interface to set the Brother ADS-2800W network scanner to be able to scan to a computer, file server or NAS without the need to run a scan monitor on that computer. Here, the unit deposits the files to a known directory on the destination device in a predetermined form. As well, it can be set up to “scan and send” where it can send a document via SMTP-based email.

It also exploits the Brother Web Connect infrastructure to allow you to enrol it with Evernote, OneDrive, Dropbox, Facebook and other online services so you can use them as a destination for your scanned documents. You can also scan documents and images to your mobile device as long as you run the Brother iPrint&Scan mobile app, which is how I scanned some snapshots to be destined to Dropbox. An improvement I would like to have would be to see the scanned picture appear on the scanner’s screen so you can have the picture or document the correct way up.

Computer-based operation

The fact that this scanner makes use of Brother’s ControlCenter 4 software and uses the same scan monitor if you are running a Brother MFC alongside it means that you are not having to install extra software on your computer. When I ran the CD to install the drivers because I had issues with the Website, the installer detected the existence of the driver software associated with Brother printers and effectively updated the scan monitor to work with this scanner.

I even had the software set up so that blank pages were skipped even though the Brother scanner scanned both sides of the document when I was handling regular documents. This allowed for a single-side document to be worked on yet be ready to scan double-sided documents when dealing with “print-sign-scan-send” documents.

Scanning results

The Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner, like its stablemate the PDS-6000 implements a straight-through document feed which makes the scanning job quick but is kind to the documents because there is no curved path involved.

A job that I have been putting the Brother ADS-2800W network document scanner to over the past week is to scan a collection of snapshots due to the passing of someone whom I knew well. Here, I had set the Brother scanner to scan at the normal-for-35mm-snapshots “10x15cm” size with a resolution of 600dpi and fed the minilab prints in vertically. The document scanner had turned out the high-quality images while it was able to handle small batches of prints at a time like as though I was handling a multiple-page document. But I would like to see a “photo-optimised” scanning profile that copes with the glossy snapshots and works at a high resolution. As well, there could be the ability to determine whether a photo has a landscape or portrait orientation.

I had found that a bit of dust had ruined a scan of a photo and it was a cinch to remove that bit of dust from the scan head simply by opening up the scanner so I can see the scan heads. Then I was able to blow off the dust from the scan heads.

When I scanned a regular “print-sign-scan-send” document, the Brother ADS-2800W scanner made light work of this job and turned out the right number of pages based on what was marked. This avoided the creation of a 2-page PDF for a document that was written on one side only.

Limitations and points of improvement

A feature that would benefit the Brother sheet-fed document scanners, especially the network-capable units, would be to have functionality that gains the best out of photo scanning. This could be in the form of a “photo-optimised” high-resolution scan mode for scanning snapshots and / or a transparent-media scan mode with negative conversion for scanning film strips such as negatives.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Brother ADS-2800W network sheet-fed document scanner as a network-focused high-speed document-scanning solution especially if you want a high-speed dedicated-purpose scanner that can work independent of a regular computer.

For example, this could work well if you destine documents to the like of Evernote or Dropbox or to a NAS. Similarly, if you are wanting to get that hard copy document to be able to be viewed on something like an iPad, the Brother ADS-2800W and its peers can do the job properly.

But these devices would earn their keep if you scan many documents rather than the occasional few documents that have few pages and I would see it perform well with most businesses including tax agents who scan the receipts that are part of their clients’ “shoeboxes”.

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Product Review–Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother PJ-773 PocketJet wireless mobile thermal printer which is a highly-compact wireless-network-capable mobile printer. It is also the first mobile printer that I have reviewed that can work with a Wi-Fi network rather than having to be connected to the host computer for it to work. There wasn’t even a need for me to install or plug in a network adaptor for this functionality to come about.

This mobile printer implements direct-thermal printing technology that was initially used by fax machines to turn out incoming faxes. But Brother has rebuilt their faith in this technology for on-the-road transactional printing by using thermal-printing paper that is better than those rolls of thermal paper used with those fax machines.

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer

Print Paper Trays Connection
B/W A4 single-sheet USB 3.0
Direct Thermal A4 paper roll with roll attachment 802.11g/n Wi-Fi wireless
IPv6

Prices

Printer

The machine’s standard price: AUD$879

Optional Extras:

DC car charger (cigar lighter): AUD$49.00

DC car charger (direct wire): AUD$49.00

Carry Case and roll holder – rugged design: AUD$99.00

Rubber carry case: – rugged design: AUD$39.00

Vinyl carry pouch: AUD$19.00

Car mount with roll holder: AUD$199

Paper Guide – cut sheets: AUD$69

Paper Guide – paper rolls: AUD$69.00

Thermal paper

Standard A4 thermal paper (100 sheets): AUD$19

20-year A4 thermal paper (100 sheets): AUD$24

A4 perforated thermal roll (100 pages per roll, 6 rolls): AUD$89

A4 thermal roll (15m per roll, 6 rolls): AUD$99

The printer itself

Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer printing

Brother PJ-773 turning out a document – the printing side is on the back of the paper

The Brother PJ-773 Pocket-Jet wireless mobile thermal printer is based on direct-thermal printing technology which was first implemented in a mobile-printing scenario by Pentax when they released the PocketJet mobile printer in the early 1990s as laptops were becoming more common. Here, this printer used the typical fax paper which was ubiquitous then as its printing medium while being a compact printing device.

But Brother had purchased Pentax’s printing assets including the PocketJet thermal-printing technology in 2008 and started to use their branding in 2009on the PJ-5 series of these printers. Then they started to apply their innovations when they manufactured the PJ-6 series of these printers.

Here, this printer is slightly wider than the narrow edge of an A4 or Letter sheet of paper but as thick as a bar of Toblerone chocolate. This means that you could easily stash it in your laptop bag without it taking up much room.

Setup

Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer right hand side connections

USB and power sockets on the right side of the printer

The Brother PJ-773 printer is capable of operating on a lithium-ion battery pack or on an external power supply which would be the supplied AC adaptor. But you can purchase through Brother one of two DC adaptors that allow you to use it in your vehicle – one that plugs in to the vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket and one that is capable of being directly wired to the vehicle’s electrical-accessories wiring.

I have set up the Brother PJ-773 thermal mobile printer with my regular Windows computer and used software that was downloaded from Brother’s Website rather than the CD-supplied software. This software worked properly first time and found the printer over the USB connection.

Wi-Fi setup

Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile thermal printer printing mechanism

Very small print mechanism due to thermal printing technology

The Brother PJ-773 printer is capable of being set up to work with a Wi-Fi network. This means that it can either work as its own Wi-Fi access point or it can be part of a small Wi-Fi network or a large enterprise-grade Wi-Fi network. It also is future-proof where you can use the printer with an IPv6 network which is becoming the way to go.

You have to configure it for your network by connecting it to a regular Windows or Macintosh computer via USB and running the USB Device Settings Tool program. The only exception is if you are connecting the printer to a Wi-Fi router or access point that uses WPS “push-to-connect” setup where you hold down the Wi-Fi button on the printer for 5 seconds to instigate this setup routine at the printer.

This also applies if you wish to switch your Brother PJ-773 printer between using an existing Wi-Fi network or creating its own Wi-Fi network. Here, you have to determine whether to use “Wireless Direct” for the printer to be its own access point or “Infrastructure” for it to be a part of an existing network.

Printing

Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer alongside Windows test printout that it printed

Slightly smaller than the A4 printed page that it turns out

The Brother PJ-773 had worked properly with Windows 10 and with Android using both the Mopria printing abilities and the Brother iPront&Scan printing app. The latter situation may not work properly if you are using the Wireless Direct printing setup because the Android iPront&Scan software is dependent on an Internet connection for rasterising the documents for printing.

If you want to see the document come out more sharply, you may have to increase the density settings in the driver or app to see something darker.

I completed a document-copy test involving a multifunction printer to see how documents would turn out when copied using one of these printers. This included whether the thermal paper used for this printer would misfeed through an automatic document feeder which is common with multifunction printers offered to the business market. The reason I performed thsi test is because one could copy or scan a “print-and-sign” document as part of their workflow, such as to scan an invoice or repair quote for tax or insurance purposes; and is being underscored by the common “print, sign, scan, email” workflow underscored with the Internet and email.

Here,  I used the previously-reviewed Brother MFC-J5720DW business multi-function inkjet printer to perform these tests and printed the document using default settings for the PJ-773 and copied it using the default settings for the MFC-J5720DW. The thermal-paper original passed through the automatic document feeder on the multifunction without any problems while I found that a standard text document could copy properly on default settings. With some documents, you may have to increase the copy density on the MFC or copier if they come out a bit pale.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer could benefit from improvements as far as Wi-Fi setup is concerned.

Firstly, it could benefit from a hardware switch on the printer itself that allows you to select between Infrastructure or Wireless-Direct operation so you can have it work with an existing wireless network or as its own network without having to go through the rigmarole of connecting it to a regular computer via USB and running a configuration app to perform this switchover.

As well, it could support a “wireless repeater” mode like some mobile NAS units such as the WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS so you can have access to an Internet-supporting Wi-Fi network and the printer’s access point network at the same time. For setup in Wireless Direct mode, the Brother PJ-773 could implement WPS-PBC “push-to-connect” as a way of establishing a connection between it and a Windows or Android client device.

Brother could improve on the Pocket Jet direct-thermal printing platform by supporting duplex printing with suitable double-sided paper. This can appeal to applications where you need to turn out a 2-page document without needing to feed through two sheets of paper.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I find that the Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer earns its keep with basic “on-the-road” transactional printing from both regular computers and mobile devices. This is more so if you are turning out a receipt, invoice or similar document which only covers up to two A4 or letter pages. You may have to use the paper-roll kit of you expect to torn out a document with many pages at a time.

For best results, I would recommend thay you run the printer with the image density setting on 6 or 8. Here, you can have documents that last a long time and can be copied easily on most multi-function printers without any need to configure them. You could use the premium “20-year” paper to turn out legal-requirement documents such as safety and compliance certificates associated with installation work, or for tax invoices in those jurisdictions where you have to keep tax documents for over five years.

Similarly, it may be worth bargaining in the cut-sheet paper guide if you expect to use your Brother PJ-773 to frequently print multi-page documents. Buying the ruggedised carry case with integrated roll-paper holder may make for a practical no-fuss “ready-to-print” option for your briefcase.

On the other hand, you may have to use a Canon or HP mobile inkjet printer if you are expecting to turn out many pages at a time and place emphasis on on-demand colour or greyscale printing such as printing of photos, or you value a choice of media for “on-the-road” applications.

Therefore I would consider the Brother PJ-773 Wireless Mobile Thermal Printer as a tool for tradesmen and other mobile workers to have in their mobile office.

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Product Review–Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 detachable tablet

Introduction

I am reviewing the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 which is the first “2-in-1” computer I have experienced  that is pitched at the business user, especially where business-level security is considered important.

There is a “stripped-down” variant that has only 4Gb RAM and 128Gb on the solid-state storage, which may be considered as a starting point when you are bargaining for these tablet computers.

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 connected to Wi-Fi hotspot at Bean Counter Cafe

Price
– this configuration
RRP
Form factor Detachable tablet
Processor Intel Core M 5Y71 processor
RAM 8Gb RAM
cheaper option:
4Gb RAM
shared with graphics
Secondary storage 256Gb SSD
cheaper option:
128Gb SSD
microSD card reader
Display Subsystem Intel HD 5300 integrated graphics
Screen 11” widescreen touch display
(Full HD)
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD Audio
Audio Improvements Dolby Home Theater tuning
Network Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n/ac
Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.0
Modems LTE wireless broadband (optional)
Connectivity USB USB 3.0 on tablet
USB 2.0 on standard keyboard
High-speed connections eSATA, Thunderbolt, etc
Video micorHDMI
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Authentication and Security Fingerprint reader, TPM
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 8.1 Purchased systems will come with Windows 10 delivered or as a user install
Windows Experience Index – this configuration Overall: Graphics:
Advanced Graphics:
Insert variants with relative price shifts

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 as a tablet

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 – as a tablet

The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 is based on a “detachable tablet” form factor where the tablet docks in to a keyboard base. Unlike other detachable tablets, the tablet computer isn’t mechanically retained in the keyboard dock this wouldn’t be suitable for working on your lap. Rather this arrangement would be limited to working on a table or desk when you type up documents.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 didn’t overheat even when I was viewing a run of YouTube videos. This means that it shows a heat-handling behaviour that is expected of a mobile-platform tablet like the iPad or the Galaxy Tab S.

User Interface

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 detachable keyboard

Detachable keyboard with gully to rest Lenovo ThinkPad Helix tablet in.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 has its keyboard and trackpad on a separate unit that detaches from the tablet. Here, the keyboard was responsive and showed signs of a high-quality unit. It may feel a bit cramped for those of us who touch-type.

As for the trackpad, this behaved properly and wasn’t “hair-trigger”. There wasn’t the ability to turn on or off the trackpad but it may not be an issue for you.

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 detachable tablet

Rear of tablet with fingerprint reader – consistently accurate with the fingerprint scanning

As required for a business computer, the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 is equipped with a fingerprint reader on the back of the tablet. I would suspect that there would be problems with this fingerprint reader’s accuracy because it could be easily damaged in transit or if the Helix was laid on a dirty table. But I didn’t come across problems with its accuracy which was very consistent. Even working the fingerprint reader with a finger that has remnants of a sandwich dressing did not phase this device and its accuracy.

Audio and Video

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 as a laptop computer

I used the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 for the Skype video interview which I did with Matthew Hare from Gigaclear and this tablet performed excellently through the interview. Later on, I used the tablet to view some older episodes of a show I once liked which were available on YouTube.

The video display came up as being very smooth and sharp for video playback and similar applications. However, I wouldn’t consider this as being suitable for advanced video-editing work.

The sound came through loud and clear for the video content when I used the internal speakers but these would just come in handy for spoken content listened to closely by a few. Here, I would still use good headphones or speakers if you want to enjoy most audio or video content.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

There is a full-size USB socket on the keyboard so you can connect a USB peripheral like a mouse or trackball. Personally I would like to also see this replaced with a USB 3.0 socket so you can use USB memory keys with this computer at the best speed.

The tablet has a microSD card slot so you can move data off to your smartphone or use it as backup storage. This is also augmented with a microHDMI socket for you to use when connecting to a larger display.

The review unit came with a mobile-broadband modem but I didn’t have a spare SIM to test this modem’s performance with. As well it came with 256Gb solid-state storage but there is a cheaper variant with 128Gb storage which may be of use if you primarily store your data elsewhere.

I noticed that for reliable operation especially with fringe-area operation or where some legacy 802.11g access points are used, you need to download the latest drivers for the Lenovo’s Wi-Fi network adaptor. This is something you can do using Windows Update.

Battery life

Most activities didn’t place heavy demands on the battery thus it could be realistic to assume that you can get at least a workday out of this unit without needing to plug it in to AC power.

Other usage notes

Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 on church pulpit

The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 earns its keep on that pulpit or lectern

The Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 had performed properly with Skype when I did the video conference with Matthew Hare from Gigaclear especially as this had put the Wi-Fi network adaptor along with the system’s computing power and audio-video functionality to the test.

I had shown this computer to other people in the various communities that I deal with and they remarked that it is beyond the norm for the laptops and tablets they are used to using or seeing in action. One café owner in a popular shopping centre reckoned that it conveys the look of business compared to most of the consumer-based portable computing devices he has seen.

Although the review sample of the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix 2 came with Windows 8.1, if you buy one of these units, it will be delivered to you with Windows 10 installed.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

There are some features that I would like to see happen for the ThinkPad Helix lineup.

One would be to have a standard SD card slot that could be part of the keyboard at least. Here, it would benefit those of us who download photos from digital cameras especially where the cameras use high-speed standard SD cards for their storage.

Similarly, Lenovo could improve the mechanical attachment of the keyboard unit to allow proper laptop operation. One way this can be facilitated would be to have a kickstand or other mechanism that clips the tablet to the keyboard.

A variant that has the 8Gb RAM and the 256Gb SSD storage but without the business-level security requirements could be positioned for those of us who place emphasis on a durable tablet or 2-in-1.

Conclusion

I would position the Lenovo  business-focused tablet / subnotebook especially where content consumption like Web browsing or reading of online content; or use as a “pad” is expected to be an increasing part of the user’s computing life. It will also serve as a similarly-sized viable alternative to an iPad or Android tablet as a “speaker’s companion” or “preacher’s companion” tablet.

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Product Review- JBL Synchros E30 headphones

Introduction

JBL is best known over a long time for loudspeaker systems, especially PA/commercial-audio and hi-fi speakers. Examples of these speakers include the JBL hi-fi speakers that were designed the same way as in-studio monitor speakers and known for their tight bass response; and the JBL EON speakers which were one of the first active-design PA / sound-reinforcement speakers to use biamplification in that class of speaker.

But as for headphones, they haven’t been known much for this product class. This is because brands like AKG, Audio Technica and Sennheiser have dominated this product class when it comes to good hi-fi or monitor-grade headphones.

Now I am reviewing the JBL Synchros E30 headphones which are positioned more or less as “all-round” stereo headphones for personal-audio applications. These are a headset with an in-line microphone designed for use with your smartphone or tablet or as headphones for use with your MP3 player or laptop.

JBL also offers the Synchros E40BT headset which is a Bluetooth wireless variant of this on-ear headset which may be handy for those of you who value wireless connectivity with your smartphone, tablet or laptop computer.

JBL Synchros E30 headphones

Price

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$129.95

Type

Headphone Assembly Traditional over-the-head
Driver Positioning Supra-aural (on the ear)
Driver Enclosure Closed Back
Microphone Position In-line – detachable cable
Source Device Connectivity
Headset 3.5mm four-conductor plug
Adaptors None

The headset itself

Connectivity

JBL Synchros E30 headphones - detachable cable

Detachable cable

Like an increasing number of headphones that are coming on the market, the JBL Synchros E30 is equipped with a detachable headset cable which has an integrated microphone. This will most likely be wired for CTIA (Apple) applications and may not operate properly with OMTP applications.

The advantage of this is that you can repair or replace the cord if it breaks which is something that can easily happen with personal-audio headphones as you use them a lot. As well, you could have one or more headset cords made up for different applications very easily, something that can be done if you or someone you know is handy with a soldering iron.

Comfort

JBL Synchros E30 headphones - earcups

Hinge-style anchor for earcups

The hinge design that JBL uses for the Synchros E30 headphones makes it easier to store the headphones flat but it can take a while to get the headphones to fit properly on your head for best sound response.

The “over-the-ear” earcups have a vinyl ring that doesn’t absorb sweat but is very confusing where headphones that have a similar ring encourage you to have this wrap around your ear.

Once these headphones are adjusted properly, you can wear them for a long time without them being too uncomfortable.

Sound

The JBL Synchros E30 headset has the kind of efficience that you would expect for headphones that are to be used with battery-powered equipment. This means that they can sound loud therefore you may be able to run them on lower volumes to save on battery power.

Music

The JBL Synchros E30 does well on the bass response by being able to “reach down there” but it needs the use of equalisation at the source if you want to bring this out. This may be achieved by implementing a “bass-boost” function or a player that uses tone controls or a graphic equaliser. The high frequencies are still there and come out clear.

Video and games

I have watched some video content with these headphones and the dialogue does come through clearly. The effects may not have the punch unless there is some form of equalisation along the way.

I also tried these headphones with an iPhone that a kid was using to play a motor-racing game and noticed that the sound effects associated with that game came across very sharply. But as I have said with music, there still needs to be some equalisation to bring out the bass which is important for some sound effects like motor-vehicle noise or gunfight.

Communications

I have made and taken a few phone calls and the caller’s voice had come across intelligible and clear. The frequency range that these headphones offer could also make them suitable for HD Voice applications like Skype, Viber and VoLTE so you can hear your callers better.

Noise reduction and handling in noisy environments

I have used these headphones up the back of a transit bus and found that the JBL Synchros E30 headphones do reduce the ambient noise from the bus’s engine somewhat. As well, you can still hear the program content if you run the volume hard on your portable device.

Conclusion

I would recommend that one buys the JBL Synchros E30 as a baseline “all-round” headset for most users whether they listen to music, watch video content, play computer games or use them for online communications. This comes across more where users place emphasis on durability with such features as a detachable cord or a strong hinge design along with a sound that can come across as being “authentic”.

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Product Review–Brother DCP-J562DW Inkjet Multifunction Printer

Introduction

I am reviewing Brother’s DCP-J562DW network multifunction printer which is their latest in their lineup of compact entry-level multifunction printers.

This printer is the  successor to the previously-reviewed Brother DCP-J552DW printer and uses the same inks as the MFC-J5720DW and other Brother printers released this year. There is a fax-equipped variant in the form of the MFC-J680DW which can serve well as a replacement for that old thermal-transfer fax machine that you use at home.

Photo – Insert high-resolution photo of product INLINE

Brother DCP-J562DW multifunction printer positioning image

 

Print Scan Copy Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour / B/W 1 x A4
1 x 4×6” photo
USB 2.0
Piezoelectric Ink-jet Resolution ID copy
Optimised book copy
Manual Bypass 802.11g/n Wi-Fi wireless
Auto-duplex multi-purpose tray Others out of box or option
List IPv6 for all machines that can work on an IPv6 network

Prices

Printer

DCP-J562DW: AUD$129

MFC-J680DW (fax-equipped): AUD$159

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black  AUD$33.95 300  AUD$46.45 550
Cyan  AUD$19.45 300  AUD$30.50 550
Magenta  AUD$19.45 300  AUD$30.50 550
Yellow  AUD$19.45 300  AUD$30.50 550

 

The printer itself

At first glance, the Brother DCP-J562DW appears to be a compact printer and I even found that it is slightly deeper than an A4 page positioned vertically and has a footprint that is slightly smaller than an A3 page. This would place it in a similar league to the original HP Envy printers when it comes to how much bench space it would occupy.

Connectivity

The Brother DCP-J562DW printer can connect directly to your computer via USB or to your home network via Wi-Fi wireless. Like most of Brother’s inkjet printers, the USB cable is snaked around to a port within the printer rather than an ordinary USB port on the back. I was so amazed about how reliable it is when handling the wireless connection especially if it is placed at the fringe of your home network’s Wi-Fi coverage.

Paper handling

The Brother DCP-J562DW uses the traditional paper-feed arrangement rather than the newer landscape paper feed. There is also a bypass slot for you to put gloss paper in the back of the printer but this requires you to use one sheet at a time.

It is also worth knowing that there is a mezzanine drawer in the paper cassette so you can load a small stack of 4”x6” snapshot paper or index cards. This is pitched more at householders that want to print out snapshots from their phones or digital cameras,

Walk-up functions

The control panel clicks to the chosen operating angle yet can be folded back without you needing to operate a latch to do so. This makes for a simplified operation experience that suits most users, especially older users who may find operating these latches difficult.

I have copied a few documents including some pages from books and this printer has turned them out relatively accurately. Like most scanners, it still has a problem with newsprint by causing the “other side” of the newsprint and other thin paper to come through in the copy. The lid is hinged in such a way as to allow you to copy bound documents easily without these documents slipping or the document’s binding being damaged.

It can be difficult to gain access to the “advanced copy” functions because you have to select the functions under the “Options” menu. Here, the printer could implement one-touch access to some of these functions like what is achieved with some of the models that are higher up in the range.

There is also the ability to print from or scan to a memory card courtesy of a memory-card slot located on the left of the display behind a flap.

As for online services, the Brother DCP-J562DW supports mobile and online service in a similar manner to what the rest of Brother’s network-capable printers offer. This includes print from and scan to the popular online services, Apple AirPrint, Google; and these services can allow multiple-user enrollment as I have previously mentioned with similar products

Computer functions

Normally, when I review a printer, I try to download the software from the manufacturer’s Website. This is to obtain the latest code and also to find out how well it installs if you are loading it on to a computer that isn’t equipped with an optical drive. Here, I needed to use the supplied CD because the downloadable software came through with file-inconsistency errors for the compressed “file of files”. An alternative way to go about this would be for the installation software to be kept on the printer and for users to download it via a machine-hosted Web page for network setups or a USB Mass-Storage Device for local-connection setups.

Once I had got the driver software in to my computer, the user interface was very consistent and similar with other Brother printers. The ControlCenter scan application could benefit from a few tweaks such as being able to split and merge documents and could even support “poster-style” scanning.

Print speed and quality

The Brother DCP-J562DW turns out sharp printouts as expected for a typical home inkjet printer and the printout speed is similar for that kind of product.

The photo quality is very similar to the Brother MFC-J5720DW stablemate which uses the same print engine, with the proper contrast, brightness and definition. But the colour saturation was reduced and the skin tones in the group photograph came across more natural rather than being redder. This is a situation that I still find Brother working hard at where HP, Canon and Epson are “running ahead” with printers that are pitched for “photo-grade” printing, especially when these brands use extra colours like “photo black” or “grey” along with the standard colours.

The improvements that Brother had done with keeping a stable Wi-Fi connection have allowed this printer to turn out larger print runs even though it is on the edge of a wireless home network.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

This printer has Wi-Fi as its only connection to the network which is a trend affecting low-end personal/home multifunction printers and their network connectivity. But I would like to still see an Ethernet connection, even as a user-installable aftermarket option, or integrated HomePlug AV500 / AV2 powerline network functionality so as to cater for difficult setups.

Personally, I would like to have all the Brother inkjet printers that are based on a particular engine or design and use a particular ink-cartridge range use all of the ink cartridge sizes that are in that range. This can reduce the need for you to think of particular cartridge sizes for particular printers especially if you purchase machines using that design.

Another feature I would like to see implemented across the board would be the landscape printing because this can lead towards a highly-compact printer that turns out the documents quickly.

Similarly, Brother could take a few cues from what HP had done with the Envy printers and the high-end Photosmart printers to design equipment that excels at aesthetics especially if they want to target such equipment for use in the main household living areas like the kitchen or family room.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would recommend the Brother DCP-J562DW inkjet multifunction printer or the MFC-J680DW fax-equipped variant as an option to seriously consider for a light-duty home printer.

One key application I would definitely place it for is a secondary printer to keep in the kitchen, the upstairs study or the bungalow (granny flat); or a machine that you give to your oldest child when they approach their senior secondary school or college years.

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Product Review–Braven Mira Bluetooth speaker

Introduction

I am reviewing the Braven Mira which is a small single-piece portable Bluetooth speaker that is designed for use in the bathroom or kitchen. This circular speaker is designed to be water resistant so it can be used in the shower or near the sink and has a kickstand that can double as a hook to hang over the showerhead or something similar.
Braven Mira Bluetooth speaker

Price

The unit itself:

RRP including tax: AUD$129

Form Factor

Single-piece speaker

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
1 x 3.5mm stereo socket
Digital Audio Input Bluetooth
Network
Bluetooth A2DP and Hands-Free Profile with NFC setup

Speakers

Output Power Watts (RMS, FTC or other honest standard) per channel Stereo
Speaker Layout 1 2 full-range drivers
1 passive radiator

The unit itself

The Braven Mira is a circular portable Bluetooth speaker pitched for use in the bathroom, kitchen, laundry or pool area. This is due to it being water-resistant to IPx5 standards which means that it can survive water splashes or rainfall. But you have to make sure nothing is plugged in to it and that the cap covering the sockets on the side is closed properly.

Braven Mira Bluetooth speaker with kickstand

The C-shape kickstand that doubles as a hook

It also has a C-shaped kickstand that allows it to become a hook so you can hang it on a shower head, a tap (faucet) or door knob. This allows for versatile positioning options that suit your needs perfectly.

Like other Braven Bluetooth speakers, the Mira has four main operating controls with two that double as volume / track navigation controls. To make the speaker discoverable for pairing, you have to hold the PLAY button until the speaker makes a repeated beep tone. It doesn’t support NFC “touch-and-go” paring for “open-frame” (Android and Windows) personal-computing devices.

A feature that is very common on this class of speaker is that the Braven Mira can serve as a speakerphone for whenever you want to talk hands-free on the phone or engage in a videocall.

I have used the speaker with my phone and when I have run it at the maximum level, it sounds very similar to a small radio. You wouldn’t expect high-quality sound from a speaker like this one or any of its peers but it is loud enough to fill a small room.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Personally, I would like to see Braven add two extra buttons to the Mira for track selection rather than you holding down the volume buttons to change tracks. This can avoid operational mistakes when you skip a song when you intend to turn it down. As well, the controls could be embossed more distinctively so you can identify them at a touch especially if you are having to contend with shampoo in your eyes.

Like with some of their other Bluetooth speaker products, Braven could offer variants that have an integrated broadcast-radio tuner so they can serve as ordinary portable radios.

Conclusion

I would still see the Braven Mira earn its keep as a multipurpose utility speaker that you can use with your phone, tablet or 2-in-1 especially if these devices don’t put up much in the way of sound output for your needs.

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Product Review–Brother PDS-6000 document scanner

I am reviewing the Brother PDS-6000 high-speed sheet-fed document scanner which is intended for use as part of workflows where many paper documents have to be scanned. This machine offers a higher throughput than the scanners integrated in most multi-function devices due to the fact that it implements a “straight-through” paper path.

There are two variants of this scanner – the Brother PDS-5000 which can scan at 60 pages per minute and the Brother PDS-6000 which can scan at 80 pages per minute. The model I am reviewing is the Brother PDS-6000.

Scanning speed Price (RRP – tax inclusive)
PDS-5000 60 pages / minute AUD$1399
PDS-6000 80 pages / minute AUD$2199

Brother PDS-6000 high-speed document scanner

The scanner itself

Brother PDS-6000 high-speed document scanner - loaded deck

Ready to scan a document

The Brother PDS-6000 connects to your computer using a USB 3.0 cable and requires you to use the CD-ROM optical disc to install its driver and utility software. I would like to see Brother provide a complete always-updated one-click-install software package on its Website especially as we are moving away from optical discs as an installation medium especially with ultraportable computers.  For people who own Brother multifunction devices, they could provide a software plug-in that works with the existing Brother Utilities and ControlCenter4 software so you can scan in to that from this machine.

I scanned an old police-statement document using DS Capture and this worked properly, turning it in to a multi-page PDF very quickly. I also scanned a snapshot photo that I took in the 1990s using this same scanner and it turned out as a very sharp JPEG and without destroying the original photo. Similarly, this scanner worked well on single-pass duplex-scanning when I scanned a memento letter for someone else.

USB 3.0 connectivity on Brother PDS-6000 document scanner

USB 3.0 connectivity on Brother PDS Series scanners

As well, I raided my wallet and scanned a payment-terminal receipt that I had in it using this scanner to see how it handles those thermal-printed till receipts associated with many a transaction. This represented the typical crumpled condition that a lot of these receipts end up in when they live in wallets or shoeboxes until it comes the time to reconcile them for tax or reimbursement purposes. Similarly, you may be tempted to run the transaction journal from your cash register or your payment terminal through this machine to save it as a PDF file.

Brother PDS-6000 document scanner control panel detail

Control panel

The Brother PDS-6000 was able to handle this job well and turned out an accurate copy of this receipt without jamming. Brother recommends you using a carrier sheet that they sell as an optional accessory if you are doing many of these receipts or other small or brittle documents at a time. It is because the scanner uses a simple straight-through paper path that doesn’t involve going around bends which primarily allows for high-speed scanning but is gentle on documents.

There is the ability to start scan jobs from the scanner’s control surface but I primarily started these jobs from the computer more as a way to configure the machine for job-specific requirements.

Easy access for maintenance or rectifying paper jams

Easy access for maintenance or rectifying paper jams

As well, the Brother PDS-6000 document scanner opens like a clamshell so you can easily rectify paper jams or perform maintenance on it. This avoids you having to grope around the inside of the machine and ruin your fingernails if the paper was jammed in it.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One improvement would be to supply an always-updated installation package that can be downloaded from Brother’s Website or use local storage within the machine as a more valid alternative for deploying the driver and scanning software on optical disc. The software could support tying in with the software that Brother supplies with their multifunction printers so that you don’t need to go to different programs to scan from different devices.

It could then be a chance for Brother to build out an improved document/image scanning application that allows for functions like page reordering or deletion so you can effectively edit out scanning mistakes for that document you are electronically archiving like deleting pages or manually split and combine PDFs. This application, which could come with their scanners and MFCs or be available as a separate download, can come in handy if you are scanning parts of a document from your MFC’s platen while scanning other parts from a sheet-feed scanner or your MFC’s automatic document feeder. Such an application would appeal to those who do a lot of “scan-to-PDF” work.

As well, Brother could have it feasible that this device connects directly to one of their MFCs to supplement the integrated scanner on these machines. This could allow quick “scan-to-copy” for their laser products or quick “scan-to-fax / scan-to-email” for fax-enabled products and could allow the unit to integrate with the business’s network. Even connecting this to an HL-series laser or LED printer could enable these printers to work as copiers.

A feature that these scanners could have is a “slow throughput” mode which allows you to run delicate documents through the machine without a risk of them being damaged. Here, this may work with various optimised imaging modes such as being able to scan letters written on thin paper including the “aerogramme” letters that were commonly used for sending personal correspondence by airmail.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Brother PDS family of high-speed document scanners for professionals where there is a requirement to scan many paper documents to electronic form. This is especially with tax accountants who are working for employees or small businesses and need to scan all the receipts in their client’s receipt shoeboxes.

Similarly a law firm will find this useful for handling all the paperwork associated with litigation or other legal processes so they can have their electronic copies of the documents.

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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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