Category: Mobile Phone Accessories

Trying to reduce the number of USB chargers around the house. What can you do?

Belkin BOOST Charge 68W GaN Dual USB-C Wall Charger (Australasia) product picture courtesy of Belkin

You may need to end up rationalising the number of USB chargers you have in your home

You can easily end up with too many USB wall chargers in your home. This can happen as you purchase more devices that come with these chargers or you find and use better chargers like multi-outlet “charging bars”.

Then you think of rationalising the number of chargers you have on hand in your home as you find you have too many of them. But how can you go about this effectively without sacrificing convenience?

Here, the idea is to keep enough chargers on hand and in appropriate locations that assures you of convenience. No-one wants to find that they can’t power or charge their devices because there aren’t enough of these chargers available near to them for their needs.

Which charges do you keep.

Firstly, you need to retain chargers that have at least one USB Type-A socket and/or USB Type-C socket on the charger unit itself. That means you don’t really need chargers that have a USB micro-B or Apple MFi Lightning plug on the end of a cable wired to the charger itself.

This will mean that you can use them to charge any device as long as you have a connection cable with the appropriate connectors on each end. You can even consider the use of longer cables for more flexible connectivity setups.

As well, prefer to keep powerful chargers or those that implement USB Power Delivery for USB Type-C units or Qualcomm fast-charge standards (for USB Type-A units. This will mean that you can quickly charge up your phone or tablet or allow them to work in a high-performance setting while connected to AC power.

Keeping one or more USB-C chargers that use USB Power Delivery and can put up at least 60 watts to at least one USB-C port is a good direction to go. This is important when you are using or intend to purchase an ultraportable laptop or 2-in-1 that has this kind of power needs, something that will be very common in the near future. Sometimes the more power output the charger can make available the better.

Chargers that have two or more outlets, including the many-outlet “charging bars” should be kept for the long haul. It is preferable to have them in the kitchen or the home office especially where you are likely to be charging multiple devices in the same location.

You will be finding that there will be more of the powerful multiple-outlet chargers on the market thanks to power-supply designers, manufacturers and vendors investing in Gallium Nitride technology that allows for compact powerful power-supply devices.

Here, you are factoring in many realities when you use mobile technology. Here, as your portable devices get older, the batteries don’t run for the same long time that they used to when they were new. As well, most of us like to run our portable devices on external power as much as possible to conserve battery runtime.

It is something we used to do with portable audio equipment and some pocket calculators since these devices came around in the 1960s.  We even did things like minimise any battery-draining activities like fast-winding of tapes with our portable tape players unless the equipment was connected to AC power. Or most portable devices that had dial or display lighting had this lighting come on when they were powered from external power but have a button to activate it as needed when on batteries. This was driven by the fact that batteries for these devices that ran for a long time were at a price premium then.

There are also the accessories that support our mobile devices like Bluetooth headsets or powerbanks and these use a USB-based cable for charging their integrated batteries. It is also underscoring that the USB Type-A plug or USB Type-C plug is being seen as the “universal DC power plug” for many devices thus simplifying what we use to power these devices with. For example, some LED-based decorative lighting is appearing that is powered by a USB charger rather than a specially-designed power supply.

As you find that you acquire more powerful USB chargers, you may find that it is high time to send the least-powerful ones away for e-waste recycling. That is unless you are using a device that uses the USB charger purely as a power supply and can work with a low-power USB charger.

You may also find yourself migrating to the newer USB Type-C connection for your devices and then find that it may be a better time to move towards chargers that use at least one of these connection according to the Power Delivery specification.

If you find that your charger uses an IEC-standard “figure-8” or “cloverleaf” AC input socket, this opens up a pathway of flexibility which may give you more reason to keep it. Here, you could use a longer AC cord that has the appropriate connection if you want it further away from the power outlet.

For travel purposes, you may find it simpler to purchase an AC cord with the destination country’s national AC plug to use it in countries using that kind of AC power outlet. Typically you would buy these cables from a local electrical retailer or office-supplies store as an AC cord for a radio or laptop. You then end up with some form of flexibility about where you locate it in your travel accommodation. This situation is more advantageous where you end up frequently visiting countries using that same AC power outlet.

Where should we keep USB chargers?

At least one of these chargers should be kept in each of the main living areas in the house.

If you find that you don’t like the idea of these chargers strewn around the house, it may be a good idea to keep them in a drawer in the appropriate room while they aren’t actually in use. But make sure everyone is aware of the chargers existing in those storage locations when you store them. This is where the ultra-compact chargers really earn their keep because they don’t take up much storage space.

In the lounge areas like the living room or rumpus room, it may be a good idea to keep a powerful USB charger of some form near one or more of the armchairs or couches. This is because most of us would be using a smartphone or, more likely, a tablet there in order to interact with online resources like Wikipedia, search engines or social media when we watch TV for example.

You may find that plugging a charger in to a standard extension cord may work if you are wanting one to serve someone sitting in a chair or sofa that is located away from a wall. Similarly using a powerboard to plug your table or floor lamp and a charger in to may work wonders here. The use of longer AC-current cords may benefit these applications better due to keeping the power conversion process closer to the device using the power and reducing voltage drop where it matters.

The kitchen area may be a good location for a multiple-outlet “charging bar” due to people charging their devices in that area. On the other hand a small two-outlet powerful wall charger may earn its keep here if you are trying to avoid excess clutter.

Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt dock

It is best to focus USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 docks like the Dell WD19TB Thunderbolt 3 dock towards peripherals that are being used with the dock’s host computer

The same goes too for the home office at least. Here, you may be using this as the “go to” place to charge powerbanks and mobile accessories in a location where they can be found. You may think of using that USB-C or Thunderbolt dock that you are using to connect your laptop to the big screen and keyboard for this purpose. But you may find that having a charger, like a “charging bar” may earn its keep here when you are simply charging devices that aren’t necessarily peripherals for your computer so that all USB sockets on that dock serve those peripherals.

You may want to keep a charger or two in the bedrooms if you do charge your smartphone or tablet there. It is also important to make sure the guestroom has one or two of these chargers so that guests who stay overnight have somewhere to charge their devices.

If you do keep accessories on hand for travel, one or more small USB chargers can come in handy here. You could even consider a multi-outlet “charging bar” again for packing when you travel.

At least, making sure you are keeping the powerful capable chargers that work to current standards and keeping them in areas where they are useful can work out as a convenient and effective way to rationalise these devices.

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Belkin joins the GaN bus with two highly-compact USB PD wall chargers

Article Belkin BOOST Charge 68W GaN Dual USB-C Wall Charger (Australasia) product picture courtesy of Belkin

Belkin GaN charging is ready to power your day | Ausdroid

From the horse’s mouth

Belkin

BOOST-CHARGE GaN USB-C PD 30W Wall Charger (Product Page)

BOOST-CHARGE GaN Dual USB-C PD 68W Wall Charger (Product Page)

My Comments

A significant trend over the last few years is to see the use of gallium nitride as the new electronics semiconductor. It is being seen as the “new silicon” – a new highly-impressive highly-capable semiconductor material that opens up new doors.

At the moment, the application that impresses is highly-compact highly-efficient power supply circuits. Here, such power supplies run very cool and a USB-C PD “wall-wart” AC charger based on this technology occupies the same space on a power outlet as an ordinary AC plug yet able to yield at least 30 watts.That is due to it wasting less energy as heat therefore not needing much in the way of cooling space.

Belkin, a household name associated with computer accessories, has now joined the party with their own gallium-nitride-based USB-C Power Delivery wall chargers.

One of these can support a 30-watt load which would answer use cases like smartphones or tablets. The other is a 68-watt unit that has two USB-C outlets and a dynamic load-balancing circuit. This can mean that one of the outlets can be used to power something like a Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook while the other is used to charge that smartphone or battery pack.

The idea of combining USB-C PD and the GaN power-supply technology is appealing towards having these devices that can work with laptops, smartphones and tablets yet not take up much room on that powerboard.

What Belkin and other respected accessory vendors need to work on are multi-outlet USB-C PD charging stations that can support at least two or three USB-C PD devices with a draw of at least 45 watts each. This would be important for situations where multiple tablets or ultraportable laptops are likely to be used in the same space.

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USB-C Power Delivery car chargers now exist that are fit for today’s ultraportables

Products

Satechi 72W USB-C car charger used in car - product image courtesy of MacGear Australia

These USB-C PD car chargers are about using or charging your tablet or ultraportable laptop computer in the car or boat

Satechi ST-TCPDCCS 72W Type-C PD Car Charger
MacGear Australia (Australia / New Zealand distributor)
Dick Smith Electronics – AUD$54.99
MacFixit – AUD$49.99
60W PD + 12W Type-A from 12V DC input

Laptop Plus 45W USB Type-C Car Charger (AUD$69)
45W PD + 18W Type-A from 12-24V DC input

Laptop Plus 65W USB Type-C Car Charger (AUD$89)
65W PD + 18W Type-A from 12-24V DC input

Laptop Plus 90W USB Type-C Car Charger (AUD$99.00)
90W PD from 12-24V DC input, captive USB-C cable

Baseus LED (45W) PD USB-C Car Charger for Phone / Tablet
Gadgets4Geeks.com.au – AUD$34.95
45W PD and 18W Type-A from 12-24V DC input

Targus 45W USB-C Car Charger
Officeworks – AUD$97
45W PD from 12V DC input

My Comments

Satechi 72W USB PD car charger - product image courtesy of MacGear Australia

This Satechi 72W USB-C car charger is one of these devices

Previously, I had covered the use of high-capacity USB-C Power-Delivery-compliant powerbanks that serve as an external battery pack for your laptop or tablet. Now I am looking at the idea of USB-C Power-Delivery-compliant car chargers that do the same thing but work from your vehicle’s or boat’s DC power infrastructure.

You may think about using the computer’s AC-based charger along with an inverter but this can be too cumbersome to deal with. As well, there are inefficiencies that this approach comes with due to converting the electric current twice – from 12-24 volts DC to 110-250 volts AC in the inverter then down to 5-12 volts DC in the AC-powered charger for your laptop to use.

But there are a few car chargers compliant to the USB-C Power Delivery standard that put up at least 45 watts. There are even some that can put up at least 60 or 65 watts, if not 90 watts in order to cater towards the more powerful computers that are appearing.

Dell XPS 13 8th Generation Ultrabook at QT Melbourne rooftop bar

Even something like this Dell XPS 13 can be used in the car from the vehicle’s power supply without the need for an inverter if you are using a USB-C PD car charge with at least 45W

All of these plug in to a vehicle’s or boat’s DC accessory power outlet, commonly known as a “cigar-lighter” socket due to the use of these sockets for a “push-in” thermal cigar lighter. But most of these will work between 12 volts to 24 volts DC, allowing for use in large trucks, buses, large boats and the like that work on 24V. The vehicle will have to be wired for negative earthing which has been the accepted standard for vehicle wiring since the late 1960s.

You may also find that some portable solar-power setups pitched at campers will offer 12-volt DC power through the “cigar-lighter” accessory socket, so you could run your equipment from solar power while in the bush.

Some of these chargers have a standard USB Type-A socket to supply power for charging smartphones, mobile-platform tablets or accessories using the traditional USB charging cable. It is of importance if you are using something like a Mi-Fi router or a mobile printer or scanner.

What can you do with these chargers? You can top up a laptop’s battery while you are driving so as to have more power on hand when you are at your destination. This will please field workers who are more likely to work in rural or remote settings where there isn’t the likelihood to have AC power readily available.

If you are a passenger and you use your laptop or tablet while travelling in a vehicle or boat, these adaptors ae still relevant as a way to save battery runtime. For example, you may be catching up with some work while you are being driven to an appointment or a kid may want to play a game or watch a video to while away that long car trip.

Even at your destination, you may find that you want to “spin out” your laptop’s or tablet’s battery runtime by running it from your vehicle’s or boat’s DC power using one of these adaptors.

For mobile workers whose vehicle is their office, it may be about doing some of the site-based “homework” on a laptop or tablet. But you don’t want to run the computer’s battery down deeply during, say, sending off some email or editing pictures.

This may also appeal to motorhome or boat users whose vehicle’s or craft’s main supply of auxiliary power is the 12-volt or 24-volt DC power available from an accessory power socket. Here, a lot of these users would be relying on a laptop or tablet for communications or entertainment while they are travelling.

What I also see of this is newer compact yet powerful power-supply designs also affecting this class of power supply. This is with more of these car chargers providing USB-PD-compliant power of at least 90 watts from 12-24 volts DC power sources including some that provide two or more “rails” of USB-C PD-compliant power from the same power input.

So at least keep an eye out for USB-C PD-compliant car chargers that put up at least 45W, if not 65W, of power and consider them as a viable laptop accessory if you think of your ultraportable laptop being used on the road.

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Google to make USB Power Delivery mandatory for newer USB-C Android devices

Article

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

Newer Android smartphones and tablets with USB-C ports will need to be compliant with USB Power Delivery

Google now requires Digital Wellbeing and USB-C PD charging standard for new Android phones | The Verge

Google will require ALL Android devices with USB-C to support USB-PD | AusDroid

Google requires new Android devices with Type-C ports to not break USB-PD compatibility | XDA Developers

What Is USB-PD And Why Is Google Enforcing It? | Gizmodo

USB Power Delivery explained | Android Authority

My Comments

A feature that is asked for with smartphones and tablets is to support fast battery charging as well as the ability to operate the mobile device on external power while it charges.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook - USB-C power

… to have the same kind of USB-C power-supply connectivity as this Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook

Typically this was satisfied by USB battery chargers working up to 5V 2.4A and feeding the device from a USB Type-A socket to a USB Micro-B, USB-C or Apple Lightning (MFi) port. As well, chipset manufacturers like Qualcomm introduced proprietary fast-charge solutions that different phone manufacturers implemented. These required the use of chargers that had the corresponding chipset circuitry and often they were offered by the phone’s manufacturer as a supplied or “official” accessory.

But Google are now requiring that Android devices that have a USB-C connection are to fully support USB Power Delivery. This was initially a recommended feature but from September 2019 it will be a mandatory feature for new Android smartphones to gain full software support like Google Play Services and the Google Play Store.

USB Power Delivery is already implemented as the power source for laptops like recent iterations of the Dell XPS 13 or Apple MacBook Air or as a power-source option for USB-C-equipped laptops like the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible laptop. This is augmented with the availability of power-supply devices working to this standard such as battery packs or USB-C monitors.

Here, Google wants to implement the USB-PD standard for the Android platform for a number of reasons. Here USB-PD implements a standard voltage-and-current ladder to supply power to the device according to what the power-supply device can offer and what the device can take. Therefore an Android device manufacturer can design a device to take the right power level to, perhaps, facilitate fast-charging or high-performance operation while connected to a USB-PD power source.

As well, the standard is a known common standard that is managed by USB Implementers Forum rather than a device or chipset vendor for the benefit of the industry. This puts less pressure on power-supply vendors to cater to different proprietary fast-charging requirements.

This standard will also accelerate the availability of USB-PD-compliant power-supply designs for every sort of application and at price points that appeal to everyone. It can also encourage innovation when it comes to power-supply design whether this is for one or more devices or to work from an internal battery, 100-250V AC mains power or 12-24V DC vehicle/marine/aircraft power.

Householders won’t even have to worry about the number of USB chargers available that will charge their mobile device quickly. As well, the environment will benefit because of the reduced number of useable chargers going to landfill but the reality with these chargers is that they are still kept available as “spare” or “convenience” chargers until they fail to function.

USB Power Delivery can also allow for a mobile device to be a power source for a peripheral like a portable hard disk or a USB digital noise-cancelling headset. This may require the mobile device to be equipped with two USB-C sockets if it is to be of use with people who need to be able to run their devices from external power.

Personally, I could see this happening that someone will engineer a cost-effective way to have a USB-PD-compliant power supply to simply be a general-purpose power supply. This will end up with this technology being used simply to power all sorts of lighting, novelties and other devices, like what is happening with the current USB specification.

Google’s approach with mandating the use of USB Power Delivery for all Android mobile devices equipped with USB-C connectors will keep up Android’s fame as the mobile platform built on common open standards.

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USB-C Audio modes–something worth understanding for this new connector

Articles

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

There needs to be some work to make USB-C a worthwhile replacement for the 3.5mm audio jack on a smartphone

What you need to know about USB-C audio | Android Authority

My Comments

At the moment, the USB-C audio application case isn’t being implemented consistently across all mobile devices that rely solely on that connection form.

There are two operating modes – a “passive” accessory mode which creates inbound and outbound analogue audio paths as if it is a 3.5mm audio jack, and an “active” mode which uses USB Audio device classes and outboard digital-analogue audio circuitry to create the sound to be heard via the accessory.

Passive setups

The former passive setup is primarily exploited by USB-C jack adaptors and basic headset implementations, especially “earbud-style” headsets. Here, the host device which is typically the smartphone or tablet would use an onboard audio chipset to convert the sound between an analogue and digital representation.

If there is some form of remote control, a basic implementation may be in the form of a single button that starts and stops media or answers and ends calls. On the other hand, if the USB Human Interface Device specifications are implemented properly in mobile operating systems, it may allow for a device to support advanced multifunction remote control.

At the moment, it may be a case of trial-and-error to find out if a USB-C Audio passive-mode headset or adaptor will work across USB-C-equipped regular computers. So for, to my knowledge, recent iterations of the Apple MacBook lineup of laptops that use this connection will provide some support for this setup.

Active setups

The latter active setup would be targeted at premium or audiophile applications such as highly-strung USB digital-analogue adaptors, noise-cancelling headsets or headsets with highly-strung digital-analogue circuitry. In some cases, this setup may also support accessory devices that implement multiple-microphone arrays.

It may also apply to wired setups involving home or car audio equipment. In this case, one would be thinking of this kind of equipment providing digital-analogue interface, power to the host device and remote-control / accessory-display abilities.

Here, they have to fully implement the USB Audio Device Class 3 peripheral class as expected in the “textbook”. As well, iOS and Android need to provide a native class driver for this device class and implement its code as expected for a mobile device which will do communications and / or multimedia. This would mean that microphones have to be used as an audio endpoint for communications purposes including regular telephony as well as for multimedia purposes. It may be a non-issue with regular computers running the Windows or MacOS desktop operating systems where it is easier for the operating system or application software to “purpose” an audio endpoint.

USB Audio Device Class 3 provides inherent support for audio-processing so accessory manufacturers don’t need to reinvent the wheel by creating their own software to implement any sort of sound processing. As well, Android and iOS need to support the inclusion of audio-processing logic in the inbound or outbound audio-signal paths in a purpose-specific manner.

Power and connectivity

There will be power and connectivity issues raised for both implementations of the USB-C Audio application. Active devices will need to draw power from the host unless they have their own battery. But with proper implementation of USB-C Power Delivery, it could allow a USB-C Audio accessory with a very high capacity battery to provide power to the host smartphone.

The passive setup wouldn’t work properly with USB-C hubs or devices that have this function unless it is assured that the hub will assure a proper clean electrical connection between the host and the accessory.

Remote control and accessory display

Another issue yet to be raised is implementation of USB Human-Interface-Device Classes and Usage Tables when it comes to using a USB-C accessory as a control surface for the host. The key issue here is whether there is proper operating-system support especially in the mobile operating systems. In the same context, there will be a market requirement for the accessory device to be able to view host-device-held lists like call lists, message lists and track lists.

The functions considered relevant to this usage case would be sound volume and transport control (play / pause / next track / previous track / etc) for multimedia; and caller volume, microphone mute and call control for communications. Accessory-based display would also need to be factored in with USB-C audio adaptors and in-line remote-control modules which implement an LCD or OLED display.

There may be use cases where multiple remote control devices are used in the same setup, typically to offer complementary functionality. Examples of this may include a USB headset with elementary remote-control for volume and a single-button control for multimedia “start-stop” or call “answer-end” functionality; along with a display-equipped inline remote control which allows for track navigation or advanced call-control.

Broadcast-radio reception

There will also be an issue regarding use of the USB-C cable as an aerial (antenna) for broadcast-radio reception whether the tuner is built in to the smartphone or the accessory. It is because of a long-standing design factor for Walkman-type radios with separate headphones where the headphone cord served as the radio’s aerial. Similarly single-piece headphone-based personal radios implemented the headband as their aerial.

It also extends to the ability for mobile operating systems to control broadcast-radio tuners integrated within smartphones or accessories to the fullest extent possible. This would include preset-station management, “follow-this-station” operation for stations appearing at other broadcast locations, graphical identifiers amongst other things.

Conclusion

If the smartphone and audio-accessory industry wants us to think of using the USB-C connector as the point to connect all peripherals, they need iOS and Android to have full native USB Audio Device Class 3 support including support for advanced-audio modes. As well, the operating systems need to have USB Human Interface Device class support for remote-control and accessory display abilities. Similarly, there would have to be proper support for broadcast-radio operation with USB-C-based mobile-device setups.

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USB to improve on charging of smartphones and laptops

Article

A sure-fire logo-driven certification program to come from USB to permit safe fast charging of laptops and smartphones with USB-C connectors

USB about to get better at charging laptops and phones fast | CNet

From the horse’s mouth

USB Implementers Forum

Press Release via BusinessWire

My Comments

The USB Implementers Forum are working on a project to achieve a reference design for USB battery chargers and power supplies in order to support fast charging or stronger power output.

USB-Certified Fast Charger logo courtesy of USB Implementers Forum

The logo to look for

It is an extension of the initial USB Battery Charger specifications used for just about every smartphone charger but is extended to encompass USB Power Delivery which is being used to provide power to laptops. The goal is to be able to use USB PD chargers on all USB-C devices that support this power-intake path thus reducing e-waste and creating room for innovation when it comes to designing USB-based charging devices.

Here, it is based on the USB Power Delivery 3.0 standard but makes heavy use of the Programmable Power Supply function that is part of that standard. It allows for backward compatibility with existing USB devices that honour prior versions of that standard.

The idea of a Certified USB Fast Battery Charger as a logo-based certification program has been brought about due to the existence of poor-quality USB chargers and cables sold online or through a myriad of stories that are placing our devices at risk of being damaged. Here, it also allows customers to quickly identify power-source devices that will properly and safely provide the high current throughput in a vendor-independent manner, in a similar approach to how the Dolby symbol allowed us to identify the fact that a cassette player was able to play pre-recorded cassette tapes at the best quality or our favourite film was prepared with surround sound.

One of the desires also being raised in this certification process is the ability for host devices to implement authentication of cables and other devices and use this as a machine-level manner for verifying devices.  The device-authentication feature is a goal that the USB Implementers Forum are intending to implement by this year’s end and is also appealing towards verifying that USB devices are what they say they are so as to protect against USB-borne computer attacks.

What is being achieved by the USB Implementers Forum is that there is a goal to permit fast charging of smartphones and laptops in a safe manner without having to be tied to a particular vendor’s accessories.

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Windows to introduce quick-pair for Bluetooth

Articles

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel

Quick pairing to come to Windows 10 to simplify connecting Bluetooth headsets to these computers

Bluetooth quick pairing feature in the works for Windows 10 | Windows Central

Bluetooth “Quick Pair” Feature is Coming to Windows 10 | Thurrott blog

Previous coverage on Bluetooth quick-pairing

Bluetooth Fast Pairing–to be part of the Android platform

My Comments

Google Fast Pair in action - press image courtesy of GoogleApple and Google have put up a simplified Bluetooth pair-up approach for commissioning newly-purchased Bluetooth headsets and other accessory devices with host devices based on their mobile operating systems.

This approach has the Bluetooth device sending out a short range “beacon” to compliant host devices, causing them to pop up a notification inviting the user to instigate the pair-up procedure. Google even had the ability to invite users to download and install any companion apps for devices designed with the “app-cessory” approach.

It is rather than having the user head to the Bluetooth menu on their host device and to make sure they choose the Bluetooth peripheral device they intend to pair to. This can be arduous where Bluetooth device names appear to be very confusing such as to only show a model number or the device is being set up in an area where other Bluetooth devices are being setup to be discoverable such as “always ready to pair” default setups like Alpine car stereos.

Now Microsoft is working on similar functionality that will appear in the next or subsequent feature release of Windows 10. In this case, Windows users will have the ability to enable or disable this feature and the notifications will appear as pop-up messages.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones

.. to make these easy to set up

The Windows 10 host computer would need to be equipped with a Bluetooth interface compliant to Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (Bluetooth Smart) standards for this function to work. It effectively makes the user experience for Bluetooth devices very similar to the “plug-and-play” experience that Microsoft achieved for peripherals directly connected to a Windows host computer.

Why would I suspect that a user be required to put a “fast-pair” Bluetooth device in setup mode?

One reason that I would see some manufacturers require a user to place a “fast-pair” Bluetooth peripheral device in a setup mode or specifically enable this feature on that device would be to conserve battery runtime on a portable device. Here, having a device broadcasting the beacon signal all the time may be taking power away from the device’s main functionality thus shortening the battery’s runtime.

It could also be a device security requirement to cater for environments where multiple compliant host devices are likely to exist and you want to make sure that your accessory device isn’t ending up pairing to someone else’s host device. It is an important issue with health and allied devices like fitness bands which work with your smartphone and these devices are dealing with very personal information. This can also be a user-experience issue regarding pop-up notificatiosn for other users’ devices.

What is showing up now is that a simplified user experience is being made available whenever you are commissioning a newer Bluetooth device.

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Bluetooth Fast Pairing–to be part of the Android platform

Articles

Android main interactive lock screen

Most recent Android smartphones may be able to support one-touch pair-up for Bluetooth accessories

Android ‘Fast Pair’ will quickly connect Bluetooth devices | Engadget

Announcing Fast Pair – effortless Bluetooth pairing for Android | Android Developers Blog

My Comments

Google has answered the setup method that Apple has implemented for their AirPod wireless in-ear headset by implementing a software-driven “quick-pair” setup that will be part of Android.

This method, called Bluetooth Fast Pairing, works on Android handsets and other devices that run Android 6.0 Marshmallow onwards and have Google Play Services 11.7 or newer installed and support Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (Bluetooth Smart) connectivity. You will have to enable Bluetooth and Location functionality in your handset, but you don’t have to look at Bluetooth device lists on your smartphone for a particular device identifier to complete the setup process.

Google Fast Pair in action - press image courtesy of Google

Click or tap this image to see Google Fast Pairing in action

It is meant to provide quick discovery of your compliant Bluetooth accessory device in order to expedite the setup process that is involved with new devices or to “repair” Bluetooth connections that have failed. This latter situation can easily occur if data in the device regarding associated Bluetooth devices becomes corrupted or their is excessive Bluetooth interference.

The user experience will require you to put your accessory device like a Bluetooth headset, speakers or car stereo in to Bluetooth-setup mode. This may simply be through you holding down the “setup” or “pair” button till a LED flashes a certain way or you hear a distinct tone. On the other hand in the case of home and car audio equipment that has a display of some form, you using the “Setup Menu” to select “Bluetooth Setup” or something similar.

Then you receive a notification message on your Android device which refers to the device you just enabled for pairing, showing its product name and a thumbnail image of the device. Tap on this notification to continue the setup process and you may receive an invitation to download a companion app for those devices that work on the “app-cessory” model for extended functionality.

Google implements this by using Bluetooth Low Energy “beacon” technology to enable the device-discovery process. This is similar to the various beacon approaches for marketing and indoor navigation that are being facilitated by Bluetooth Low Energy, but they only appear while your accessory device is in “Bluetooth setup” mode.

The Google Play servers provide information about the device such as its thumbnail image, product name or link to a companion app based on a “primary-key” identifier that is part of the Bluetooth Low Energy “beacon” presented by the device. Then, once you tap the notification popup on your Android device, the pairing and establishment process takes place under Bluetooth Classic technology.

I see this also as being similar to the various “Plug And Play” discovery process implemented in Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS whenever you connect newer peripherals to your computer. This is where Microsoft and Apple keep data about various peripherals and expansion cards that are or have been on the market to facilitate installation of any necessary drivers or other software or invocation of class drivers that are part of the operating system. For Google and the Android platform, they could take this further with USB-C and USB Micro-AB OTG connectivity to implement the same kind of “plug and play” setup for peripherals connected this way to Android devices.

This system could be taken further by integrating similar logic and server-hosted databases in to other operating systems for regular and mobile computer platforms to improve and expedite the setup process for Bluetooth devices where the host device supports Bluetooth Low Energy operation. Here, I would like to see it based on the same identifiers broadcast by each of the accessory devices.

The Bluetooth Fast Pairing ability that Google gave to the Android platform complements NFC-based “touch and go” pairing that has been used with that platform as another method to simplify the setup process. This is more for manufacturers who don’t have enough room in their accessory device’s design to provide an NFC area for “touch-and-go” setup thanks to very small devices or where NFC doesn’t play well with the device’s aesthetics or functionality.

It may be a point of confusion for device designers like Alpine with their car stereos who place their devices in “discoverable” or “pairing” mode all the time so you can commence enrolling your accessory device at your phone’s user interface. Here, the device manufacturer may have to limit its availability to certain circumstances like no devices paired or connected, or you having to select the “Bluetooth” source or “Setup” mode to invoke discoverability.

At least Google have put up a way to allow quicker setup for Bluetooth accessories with their Android platform devices without the need to build the requirement in to the hardware.

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Mixing audio and Bluetooth Low Energy–what is happening

Article

Sony SBH-52 Bluetooth Headphone Audio Adaptor

Audio over Bluetooth Low Energy could make these devices last for a long time on a single battery charge

Apple Used Bluetooth Low Energy Audio for Cochlear Implant iPhone Accessory | MacRumors

My Comments

Any of you who have used Bluetooth headsets with your smartphones may have come across situations where the headset ceases to function or sounds the “low battery” signal when you use these devices a lot. This can happen more so if you are listening to music then make or take a long phone call using the headset and is something I had experienced many times with the Sony SBH-52 audio adaptor. But the audio protocol is being worked on to avoiding consuming too much battery runtime.

Plantronics BackBeat Pro Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones

.. as it could with Bluetooth headsets

Apple and Cochlear, who are behind the Australian-invented Cochlear Implant hearing-assistance technology, have developed Bluetooth Low Energy Audio to provide a high-quality audio link between mobile devices and headsets but make very little demands on the battery. As well, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group are working on a similar protocol to achieve these same gains, with the goal to have it part of Bluetooth 5.0. But this has to be supported in a vendor-independent manner in the same context as the current Bluetooth audio technologies that are in circulation.

But why is there an imperative to develop a low-energy audio profile for Bluetooth?

One key usage class is to integrate Bluetooth audio functionality in to hearing aids and similar hearing-assistance devices that are expected to run for a very long time. Here, we are also talking about very small intra-aural devices that may sit in or on your ear or be integrated in a set of eyeglasses. The goal is to allow not just for audio access to your smartphone during calls or multimedia activity but even to have an audio pathway from the phone’s microphone to the hearing-assistance device as well as the phone being a control surface for that device.

Similarly, there is a usage goal to improve battery runtime for Bluetooth headsets and audio adaptors such as to avoid the situation I have described above. It can also cater towards improved intra-aural Bluetooth headset designs or lightweight designs that can, again, run for a long time.

Let’s not forget the fact that smartwatches are being given audio abilities, typically to allow for use with a voice-activated personal assistant. But devices of this ilk could be set up to serve full time as a Bluetooth headphone audio adaptor with the full hands-free operation. The expectation here as well could even be to have the display on the wearable active while in use, whether to show the time, steps taken or metadata about the call in progress or whatever you are listening to.

Once audio over Bluetooth Low Energy technology is standardised, it could be a major improvement path for Bluetooth-based audio applications.

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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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