Review: Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo

Apple’s AirPods have quite possibly been the most hyped headphones I can recall. They’re fully wireless, they recharge in their case, they allow you to talk to Siri, and they offer surprisingly decent audio quality. But some say they look stupid, and if your ear isn’t perfectly shaped, they have a tendency to want to sneak out of your head. Then there’s the issue of backorder. Nearly 6 months after their release, they’re still perpetually shipping in 4-6 weeks.

The Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo, on the other hand, claim to offer many of the same features and functions of the AirPods, comes in $30 cheaper, and they’re available with 2-day shipping on Amazon Prime. But can they compete?

Overview

The Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo ($129.99 on Amazon) earbuds are tiny. Unlike the AirPods which have a little stem for the battery and mic, these are as discrete as an earplug.

Rowkin took a more traditional approach When it came to using their EarBuds. Unlike the AirPods, which have no physical buttons, each Bit earbud has a physical multifunctional button on the back, which is used to pair them both to each other, and to your device. After a failed attempt to pair, left me with only 1 of these connected to my phone, I consulted the directions – something I’ve never needed to do with a pair of headphones. Pairing requires pressing both earbuds button, waiting for them to connect to each other – indicated by little white lights – and then connecting via the Bluetooth menu on your device.

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the magic of the AirPods, but this was a mediocre experience at best. I’m guessing the average person would find this pretty frustrating.

If I had to compare the sound quality of these to something, I would equate it to the speaker of an iPhone 3G, piped straight into your ears. These are $130 earbuds – mind you, they are wireless – but I have $9 wired earbuds that offer notably higher quality sound. The Rowkin Bit earbuds offered almost no perceivable bass, and seemed to distort quickly on the high end of the EQ. Both music and spoken audio were disappointing.

Fit wise, the Bits are a little better than AirPods. Because of their design, they actually fit into your ear hole, so they stay in place much more solidly. While running and working out, I didn’t need to adjust them a single time to make sure they were staying in place. The same is NOT true for AirPods.

Another disappointment is how the headphones interact with one another and your device. Rowkin reference the idea of primary and secondary earbuds in their pairing guide. When everything is connected, the primary earbud blinks a single white light. The secondary blinks twice. This may seem unimportant on the face of it, but becomes important when using your devices digital assistant or making phone calls.

Only the primary earbud can communicate with Siri or handle phone calls. Unlike the AirPods which can act interchangeably, the Rowkins force you to be attentive to which earbud is which. A single tap on either earbud will pause or resume playing audio, but the symmetry ends there. Double tapping the button on the primary earbud will activate your devices assistant. Double tapping the button on the secondary earbud does nothing.

Once you’ve activated Siri – or Google, whatever – the audio responses only come through that same primary earbud… the other one is just there for decoration. An overpriced earplug, if you will.

Of course, when you resume audio, both earbuds return to pumping disappointing sounds into your ears. That is, until you use them while moving. Take, for example, my walk from my car to my desk at work. In the 500 foot walk, the secondary earbud dropped connection or stopped playing audio a whopping 6 times. Each time, after a few moments, it slowly faded back in as if to pretend it was there the whole time.

Whatever technology they are using on these is not worth $130. In fact, the only part of the entire box that felt useful was the charging case for the earbuds, and that’s because the 2100 mAh battery can double as an portable battery for your smartphone. Just plug in to the USB port, and give your device a little boost.

Verdict

All-in-all, the Rowkin Bit Charge earbuds look very compelling online. They’re small, wireless, and actually fit INTO your ear. Unfortunately, their Bluetooth signal is weak, their audio quality is weak, the charging case is probably a little too bulky for your pockets, and functionally, almost any other pair of Bluetooth headphones or earbuds that I’ve used are a better option.

Pros:

  • Secure fit
  • Case doubles as external battery

Cons:

  • Poor sound quality
  • Poor Bluetooth signal
  • Bulky case
  • Confusing Siri/Phone call experience

For $159, the AirPods are incredible. If those don’t work for you, try the $149 Beats X (Certified Refurbished for under $130) because the Rowkin Bits are bad.

 

Disclaimer: The Rowkin Bit Charge Stereo earbuds were provided to me at no cost, for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

Review: Mpow M3 Headphones – Good Sound, Great Price

I love music and I love headphones, but I don’t like dropping tons of cash when I don’t need to. That leaves me in a weird spot. Is it possible to find decent headphones at a decent price? Today, I am checking out the MPow M3 Bluetooth over-ear headphones, but can they compete with the more expensive competition?

Overview

The M3 Headphones ($35.99 on Amazon) are the latest offering from accessory maker Mpow. The company’s focus is on building quality consumer electronics and accessories, often at a much better price than their big-name competitors.

The most obvious thing to look at with the M3s is their style, and they look very nice. The glossy black and bright pops of red looks great together, and the silver highlights and buttons on the ears fit in perfectly as well, with the whole setup reminding me of the Beats Studios.

As far as the actual important matter – sound – goes, the M3s were pretty surprising. I wouldn’t consider myself an audiophile by any means, but I do know how I like my music to sound, and the M3s offered that. Music had a well rounded sound, without overpowering the lows or distorting the highs and stayed very clear and crisp at any volume.

The ear cushions also offer passive noise isolation to help keep unwanted noise out, and while using these at the gym or while mowing, they blocked outside sounds pretty well. Note that this isn’t actual active noise cancellation, but rather quality padding that simply attenuates the outside world.

Like most other Bluetooth over-ear headphones, the M3s can also be used with the included 3.5mm cable if the battery runs low or you don’t have Bluetooth available. Audio quality is slightly different when plugged in, and seemed slightly louder than with Bluetooth, but not definitively enough that I felt like I was missing out.

When you are using Bluetooth, the M3s can easily last 10-15 hours, but it is worth noting that when the battery drops below 30%, a low battery alert chimes in quite frequently, essentially forcing you to plug-in and recharge. Even at that, though, you can expect a solid 8+ hours of uninterrupted playback.

M3 Headphone controls

The one major drawback I found with the M3s is in their handling of volume controls. While some Bluetooth headphones will adjust the volume output of your device, the M3s utilize an independent volume controls, meaning your device and the headphones each have separate volumes. It’s a small thing, but proved to be a huge frustration in practice.

Verdict

Rating: 4

I was very impressed with the Mpow M3 over-ear headphones. They were comfortable, offered clean sound, and looked cool (in my opinion). They fold up to fit comfortably in most backpacks and laptop bags, and provided plenty of power to get me through a full day of listening.

Pros:

  • Clear sound
  • Great price
  • Solid build quality
  • Well styled

Cons:

  • Volume control is independent of device

Ultimately, for under $40, it’s hard to expect perfection, and while these may not be perfect, they’re definitely a great option. Pick up a pair of the Mpow M3 headphones for $35.99 on Amazon, today!

from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

Kickstarter: Rigiet – A Stabilizer for your Smartphones

The iPhone is one of the most popular cameras in the world, so there is no shortage of ways to make it more versatile. With a new Kickstarter campaign, the Rigiet is looking to make shooting video smoother.

Shooting video by hand works great if you’re standing still, but when you start moving, video quickly gets shaky, and even nauseating. The Rigiet – a new Kickstarter project – is designed to take out the shake of your moving video, and enable you to shoot smoother video much more affordably than the competition.

What is Rigiet?

The Rigiet is a stabilizer – or Gimbal – for your iPhone, Smartphone, or GoPro (with adapter), using a combination of weight and small motors to balance your device and keep it level while you shooting videos or photos. Additionally, it offers a simple joystick for controlling the pan and tilt of the camera.

Rigiet supports a smartphone in landscape orientation, which really is the only acceptable way to shoot video. Rigiet also works in portrait mode, which works for Facetime or live streaming, if that’s your thing. Unlike many other gimbals on the market, Rigiet can also be used in the “underslung” position, without needing to stop recording.

rigiet-normal to underslung gif

The Rigiet device also offers Bluetooth to pair with their app, which enables mode switching (photo, video, slow mo, time lapse, and panorama), as well as a record button to start and stop video in the app, and a toggle for front/rear camera selection.

With that, Rigiet does require power. The pre-production model I received had 2 batteries in the box – but the device only requires one. The battery is non-standard, but can be charged via the device over microUSB. In my testing, a charge of one battery easily covered me for a few hours of shooting. A second microUSB port near the head of the gimbal also allows for pass-through power and charging of your smartphone, enabling you to recharge your device as you shoot.

How does it work?

First things first. You’ll need to charge the batteries – or at least I did –  since the included batteries were dead when it arrived. Second, either download the Rigiet app or get ready to fire up your favorite video app.

Once the Rigiet is charged, you’re ready to get setup. Open the mount, slide your iPhone in, and close the mount. Using a little trial and error, get the phone and counterweight in balance. Once this is done, make sure the clamp is secure.

As a note, balancing the Rigiet required me to tape a couple nickels to compensate for the iPhone 7 Plus weight. If you’re using a lighter weight device, you shouldn’t need to do this, but for me, it was the only way to balance the device before getting started. It did work without the weights, but had a very slight tilt without the added nickels.

Once things are balance, press and hold the power/shutter button to power on device. When the motors engage, you’ll see and feel a little bump as things lock in place. From here, you can fire up the Rigiet app or another video app, and you’re ready.

man holding rigiet in air

It’s a pretty cool tool. Video while walking was noticeably smoother, going down stairs appears as a glide, and pans and tilts were smoother and consistent. In my testing, the record button only worked with the Rigiet app, which is fine because there are some bonus features in there, anyway.

Within the app, there are modes for motion time lapse (affix the Rigiet device to a tripod, set start and end points, and watch it move automatically), multi-shot panorama (again, tripod required), and the standard time-lapse, slow motion, video, photo, and traditional panorama modes.

All-in-all, the Rigiet is a pretty cool device, and for the price, it’s a solid option for aspiring videographers. Check out their Kickstarter, and let me know what you think in the comments section.

from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

Review: Mosaic – Simple Window Management for Mac

I have been a Mac user for more than 10 years, and while many things have changed about what I use the Mac for, and how I do my work, one thing has remained consistent – I always move app windows so they line up nicely without overlapping whenever possible. It is tedious, and probably somewhat OCD of me, but I like seeing everything lined up and positioned so I can easily switch from app to app without diving to the dock or doing a ⌘-tab to switch around. Thankfully, Mosaic – a new Mac utility – is here to save the day.

Overview

Mosaic by Light Pillar Software is a simple Mac utility that allows you quickly resize and reposition apps on your desktop. Using either keyboard shortcuts, drag and drop, or even the Touch Bar, apps can be positioned consistently and conveniently to allow for a great aesthetic or a functional working space.

Mosaic App Dialog
Currently available in two different pricing models, Mosaic can be purchased from the Light Pillar website, or as part of the Setapp subscription catalog.

Using the app is super simple. After getting things setup (allowing accessibility permissions for the app to allow placement and sizing), grabbing any app window and dragging it presents you with a a dialog box across the top of your screen. Simply drag your cursor over one of the sizing options, and BOOM, the app is perfectly positioned.

Mosaic Grid Menu
Being one to tinker, I personally adjusted this setting so the option key must also be pressed before the dialog appears. The ability to adjust these settings to better suit your needs is great in Mosaic.

Other options, like “Click and Select” allow a keyboard shortcut to present a layout picker for the currently active application. It also allows for quick access to custom layouts, where you select a section of a grid size the application. This quick customization is fun, and can be useful for larger window apps (like a web browser).
Mosaic Group Menu
Unlike Apple’s current approach to fullscreen multitasking applications (with their full screen and 2 up views), Mosaic doesn’t require the app to support special full screen or side-by-side, but simply needs to be resizable. And if an app can’t be resized, a simple notification lets you know “Hey, something couldn’t be resized because reason“. It’s a delightful experience.
Mosaic Layout Menu
The other big benefit of Mosaic vs the built-in macOS variant is the ability to have 3, 4, 5, or more apps all designated in their appropriate spaces without overlapping or needing to swipe through spaces. On a giant 27″ 5K iMac, this actually feels usable. Huge kudos to the folks at Light Pillar for one-upping Apple.

Another great feature of Mosaic is the ability to create your own custom layouts. For me, the first thing I did was make a three-section layout for Tweetbot, Messages, and Slack (since I often bounce around those three when I’m not doing actual work).

Mosaic Custom 3 App Layout
I also setup one for work, specifically to set a browser to ~72% of the screen (5/7), and ~28% for my Remote Desktop client (2/5). Making this layout pairing, and adding it to my group menu has likely saved me 30 minutes in the past month (did I mention this was an OCD thing for me?).

Other great features of Mosaic include a quick positioning option (moving an app to any side or corner of the display without resizing), and options for screen shotting the selected window and saving it to your desktop (or wherever you choose), or grabbing a screen shot and copying the image to your clipboard. These “extra” features are great power user tools, and are super convenient (for me, at least).

Mosaic Quick Grid
The only feature I find currently missing (one I hope the developers add) is an “auto-arrange” that puts all the currently active apps in a pre-determined position. This would save the step of click and drag, and enable a simple keyboard shortcut or click of the mouse to move all my apps to their assigned locations.

Verdict

Mosaic is a delightful utility that solved a problem that I didn’t know NEEDED solving. It has improved my efficiency on my computer by enabling me to spend less time fiddling and more time actually working. As I use it more and more, I find that I miss it when I’m on a computer that isn’t mine. For being a third party application, it feels like a native part of macOS, and I can only imagine it getting better from here!

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Pros:

  • Custom layout templates
  • Easy to use
  • Screen capture & quick layouts

Cons:

  • No auto-layout feature (yet)

If you’re anywhere near as fiddly as me when it comes to the layout and organization of apps on your Mac, Mosaic is hands down a fantastic utility to check out! Get it today from Light Pillar or with a Setapp subscriptions

 

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for by the developer. Light Pillar did supply a complimentary copy of the app. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

from Ian Fuchs – MacTrast

First Impressions: Hands-On With Google Glass – The (Possible) Future of Mobile Computing

We all know (and if you don’t, SHAME!) of Sonny Dickson.  He’s the guy that leaked several dozen photos of the new iPhones and iPads this past fall (with near perfect accuracy, I might add).  Not only is Sonny a super sleuth when it comes to connections in Apple’s production line, he’s also been kind enough to get us, at MacTrast, into the Google Glass Explorer program.

Glass-artsy

After getting invited to join the program, we thought it would be fair to share with all of you, what Google Glass is all about.  Today, we’ll take a look at what comes in the box, and I’ll give a few of my initial impressions.

Before I get to that, though, I will remind all of you that Google Glass is currently in a sort of quasi-open beta program.  Those allowed early access to the product are selected on a invitation basis, and have only seven (7) days from receiving their invite to order their Glass.  I would venture to guess that there are between 10,000 and 20,000 explorers out there right now, but I could be way off (Google didn’t seem to have any real solid numbers publicly available), and that number is growing as Google is in the midst of opening their second string of invites.

Enough about the technicalities though – head over to MacTrast.com for all the juicy details!