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Hands-On with Griffin’s TuneBuds Mobile 01 December 2008 at 9:57 am by

Tunebuds1

Apple has been dragging its feet with the release of its new iPod Touch compatible, remote control headphones with mic. Neither the in-ear nor the regular earbuds have yet made it into the stores, which has given the third-party makers a head start. Grifin sent us a pair of its TuneBuds Mobile earbuds to try out. Here’s how they fared.

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The TuneBuds are of the in-ear type, and will work with many new iPods. The iPhone gets to take advantage of all the features. The inline button will answer and hang up calls, pause, play and skip songs, both forward and back, and the microphone will also let you record sound.  The 2G iPod Touch gets all of this except the part pertaining to telephone calls, and the 4G iPod Nano will work with the mic, but not the remote controls, as will the 120GB Classic.

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So, how does the hardware shape up? There are three different sized rubber grommets which push onto the plastic inner section, so unless you are a ninety-year old man with big flapping lugs or a mewling babe, you should be able to get them to fit. One in, the buds stay put. This is their greatest advantage over normal earbuds, which require constant – and annoying – readjustment. The rubber doesn’t seal out external sound completely, but I like that — I listen to podcasts while riding a bike and I like to hear the traffic.

The headphone cords are particularly nice. They have a woven sleeve which feels tough and prevents tangles — you can throw these in your pocket and they won’t turn into a rats’ nest of knots. The switch, too seems solid yet still light. The switch and mic are both housed inside a small cylinder which sits inline with one of the two cords which go to your ear. This means that the mic is right by your mouth for phone calls.

The call quality is, I think, fine. I didn’t try them out with an iPhone, but the TuneBuds turn an iPod Touch into a VoIP phone. That’s right. Using VoIP software like Fring, you can make Skype calls direct from your iPod over WiFi. It works great, although the Fring call quality was a little shaky. Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: Can you hear me?

The Lady: Of course. You’re in the next room.

Me: Yes, but can you hear me on Skype?

The Lady: It works!

Recording voice notes also works great. I tried it with Griffin’s own iTalk, which is designed to, well, record your voice. Despite having a terrible cold, I sounded clear and free of background noise.

Next, music. The TuneBuds sound a lot better than the earbuds that ship with the iPod, but that’s not hard. In fact, when we first tried them out, the Lady and I both heard a dreadful hissing. This turned out to be on the MP3 track, and I hadn’t noticed it before with the Apple ‘buds. The Griffins won’t replace your high-end cans, though. While not tinny, there is a rather lot of shrill top-end to the music. Treble can sound harsh. A quick trip to the iPod’s EQ screen is in order. The "Treble Reducer" setting takes care of everything.

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The Remote control works fine. One click for play/pause; two clicks to skip forward and three to skip back. It’s simple and easy. But it brings us on to the fatal flaw with the review unit. If you jiggle the mini-jack in the socket, the iPod pauses. Or starts up. It’s completely repeatable, and renders the headphones unusable for anything other than listening at a desk, or while carefully cradling the rig in your hands. This could, however, be a fault with this particular unit.

How annoying is it? Aside from music cutting in and out at random, the worst part is that the iPod can switch itself on. This may kill the batteries, and it may also leave you a few minutes or a few hours ahead in podcasts or in audio books.

To be fair, I have only tested these properly with the 2G iPod Touch, so they may fare better with the iPhone or the new Nano. I have some suspicions as to the problem. Take a look at this closeup:

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Do you see it? Of course you do, you smart, observant reader. The iPod’s jack socket is rimmed with metal, and the shape of it doesn’t really hold a jack plug steady. I suspect that the plug is bending in my pocket and metal is touching metal, causing a short. That’s speculation, but it seems to fit the facts.

So, should you buy them? Aside from the weird bug, they’re fine. They sound better than the $30 Apple buds, and they’re certainly better put together (my Apple ‘buds usually only last a few months). Until Apple actually releases its new mic-equipped earbuds, we can’t compare. We can take a look at the prices, though. The TuneBuds are $40. The Apple in-ear cans will be $80. They also come with a neat little case, which I will probably have lost by the time I finish writing this review:

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To sum up. A good, cheap alternative to Apple’s own headphones. They also have the advantage of not being white. The TuneBuds are sadly crippled with the iPod Touch, though, due to the weird, and almost random, track skipping error. We’ll be looking into that. Until then, if you want remote control and a microphone for your iPod, you don’t have much choice.

Product page [Griffin]

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Samsung’s X360 ultraportable reviewed: cheaper than competition, but not as good By 28 November 2008 at 11:31 am and have No Comments

cheaper than competition, but not as good

If Apple’s Macbook Air is the poster-child for “form-over-function,” and Lenovo’s X300 its utilitarian cousin, Samsung’s X360 falls somewhere in between on the 13.3-inch wafter-thin ultraportable family tree, serving as another solid, though somewhat underwhelming choice according to TrustedReviews‘ full write-up. It’s not as thin as the Air, but is slightly lighter while still feeling reasonably durable, and with a full complement of ports certainly has the edge in terms of utility. It also manages to be a bit more visually appealing than the X300, is blessed with a “superb” keyboard (which we liked, too), and the five hours of battery life in real-world usage impresses as well. But, it’s hampered by a disappointing 1280 x 800 glossy screen and an under-performing 1.2GHz Core 2 Duo CPU. The thing is popping up at online retailers a bit cheaper than we’d expected (we found one for about $150 lower than Samsung’s indicated $1,899 MSRP), but, in the US at least, might just be priced a little too close to its proven competitors to make it a serious contender over here.

[Thanks, Simon W]

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Samsung’s X360 ultraportable reviewed: cheaper than competition, but not as good originally appeared on Engadget on Fri, 28 Nov 2008 11:31:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Cellphone boarding pass gets tested, experience gets journaled By 27 November 2008 at 7:04 pm and have No Comments

The biggest problem with a new scheme — particularly one involving you, technology and the TSA — is the very real fear that introducing something fresh into a traditional system will create more havoc than good. As Grant Martin of sister blog Gadling discovered, there’s a reason that belief exists. Upon realizing that he could utilize a mobile boarding pass on his flight from Detroit to New York, he excitedly pulled up a one-time use QR code on his iPhone and shuffled through to security. Upon reaching the checkpoint, he was greeted by a less-than-enthusiastic boarding pass checker who seemed to take entirely too long to send him onward; at the next step, the agent seemed miffed and discomposed by the fact that the passenger couldn’t simultaneously rid himself of all electronics and keep his boarding pass on his person while passing through the metal detector. In the end, Mr. Martin concluded that the system holds a lot of promise, but it’s still going to take some time before everyone else working at the airport adjusts to the year 2008.

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Cellphone boarding pass gets tested, experience gets journaled originally appeared on Engadget on Thu, 27 Nov 2008 19:04:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Gateway’s 16-inch MC7803u laptop reviewed: great rig for the price By 27 November 2008 at 9:02 am and have No Comments

We can’t explain the sudden onslaught of 16-inch laptops hitting the scene, but if neither the R610 nor the Aspire 6930 suited your fancy, maybe Gateway’s MC7803u will. The multimedia-minded rig recently hit CNET‘s review bench, and generally speaking, critics were pleased with what they saw. The expansive display was found to be quite useful, the recessed touch pad was a nice touch and the “minimalist” design was thoroughly lauded. Reviewers did find time to bash the shallow key travel, the omission of a Blu-ray drive and somewhat sluggish performance in a few of the benchmarks, though. Evidently those negatives weren’t enough to put a damper on the system as a whole, as it still managed to snag a 3.5 out of 5 golden star rating — still not quite high enough to buy blind, but it’s probably solid enough that you don’t need to refuse shipment on the one that’s already halfway to your doorstep.

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Gateway’s 16-inch MC7803u laptop reviewed: great rig for the price originally appeared on Engadget on Thu, 27 Nov 2008 09:02:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Sony’s iPod-lovin’ AIR-SA20PK S-AIRPLAY music system reviewed By 26 November 2008 at 5:38 am and have No Comments

We’ll just cut to the chase: if you’ve been cautiously eying Sony’s S-AIRPLAY system in hopes of it solving your multi-zone audio desires, you’ll be sorely disappointed at how it performs in real world use. The AIR-SA20PK showcased just decent audio quality, odd design choices, unintuitive controls and a wireless range that was less-than-stellar. ‘Course, the unit was being held to some pretty high standards, but given the $400 sticker, we can understand that. In the end, critics determined that the unit wasn’t an outright failure, but for four bills, they’d prefer it to be much easier to use and sound quite a bit better. Good thing you didn’t pull the trigger already, huh?

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Sony’s iPod-lovin’ AIR-SA20PK S-AIRPLAY music system reviewed originally appeared on Engadget on Wed, 26 Nov 2008 05:38:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Acer’s 16-inch Aspire 6930 reviewed: right on the money By 25 November 2008 at 9:24 pm and have No Comments

In the battle between new 16-inch multimedia notebooks, it’s safe to say that Laptop Mag prefers Acer’s rig over Samsung’s R610. The Aspire 6930 (or 6930G-6723, if we’re talking specifics), was said to have an eye-catching design, great Blu-ray playback and solid all-around performance suitable for a media-minded lappie. Not to mention the sub-$1,000 sticker — that helped, too. In actuality, the only real knock was the fact that a 1080p display wasn’t included at the $999 price point, but we all know that’s just being greedy. These critics didn’t hesitate to dish out a 4 out of 5 star rating for Acer’s latest 16-incher, calling it “a winner” for anyone looking for a “relatively lightweight desktop replacement that’s not too expensive.”

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Acer’s 16-inch Aspire 6930 reviewed: right on the money originally appeared on Engadget on Tue, 25 Nov 2008 21:24:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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LG’s first U.S. smartphone Incites praise By 25 November 2008 at 9:01 pm and have No Comments

Last week, we told you about LG’s first foray into the U.S. smartphone market with the LG Incite. Today, we have the review. We’re not crazy about its curious name (though it does make for corny blog entry titles), but we do have to say it’s …

FCC leaks info on AT&T’s Pantech Duo 2 By 25 November 2008 at 8:20 pm and have No Comments

(Credit: FCC)

Before collapsing under the incredible blogger peer pressure and buying an iPhone, I was a user of Helio’s Ocean. The thing was great. It did everything the iPhone did and still outperforms it in some ways (MMS and video capture, anyone?), and Pantech’s engineers used the …

HP shows off Atom-powered mini-Q nettop in Taiwan By 25 November 2008 at 8:18 pm and have No Comments

It’s no slate PC / digiframe hybrid, but it is a touch unorthodox. HP Compaq is reportedly preparing to launch a mini-Q nettop, though it could ship under a totally less exciting Presario 2030 / 2020 moniker. Packed within the diminutive box will be an Atom 330 / 230 CPU (respectively), Windows Vista / XP (also respectively), 2GB of DDR2 RAM, a 160GB 7,200RPM hard drive, dual-layer DVD writer and a 6-in-1 card reader. No mention of a release date just yet, but pricing is expected at around NT$9,900 ($296) / NT$12,900 ($386).

[Via Electronista]

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HP shows off Atom-powered mini-Q nettop in Taiwan originally appeared on Engadget on Tue, 25 Nov 2008 20:18:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Sony, Olympus SLRs await Adobe camera profiles By 25 November 2008 at 7:48 pm and have No Comments

I’m a big fan of Adobe Systems’ camera profiles, which when editing the raw images that higher-end cameras can produce imbues photos with what I find to be more natural hues. So I was glad to hear camera profiles are moving out of Adobe Labs and into Photoshop and Lightroom.

Originally posted at Underexposed