Mid-way greetings from TidBITS's reluctant reporter from the Consumer Electronics Show (see “CES 2019: CES unveiled kicked off by the annual gadget party, January 8, 2019). It is always interesting to see what new and sometimes bizarre things are revealed on the show, but some will never happen, while others disappoint upon arrival. Sometimes we have published reviews, but few of these products deserve a full dive throughout the article. So this year, we're trying collections of shorter reviews.
MyCharge HubMax Universal Battery
It's hard to get so excited about a battery, but the unpretentious HubMax Universal quickly went from "interesting" to a regular part of my equipment. It's a 1
I have a few disagreements, mostly that the obvious lack of function is a micro-USB cord, since it is always needed for small things. MyCharge's separate HubMax battery offers that cable, but you will give up the USB-C cable for that.
The USB-C cable is only outgoing, so you cannot charge HubMax Universal from a MacBook Pro running on AC. The built-in wires are short enough to make it difficult to use a device while charging; It's easy to carry around a phone and battery sandwich, but tilt the phone to use the screen and it's easy to loosen the cable.
I'm not sure what voodoo some batteries use to stop charging a full phone, but HubMax Universal doesn't seem to have it – leave a phone plugged in overnight and it will completely empty HubMax Universal. It's a lot of juice, given that a full HubMax Universal can provide an emergency of 60-90 minutes to my 13-inch MacBook Pro. Perhaps more importantly, it took just two minutes to charge the MacBook Pro from brick to boot.
But the most important thing about HubMax Universal is its size. With dimensions from 11.7 to 7.1 x 2.3 cm and weighing 19 ounces (.54 kg), it fits easily in a (men's) pants pocket or any small bag. I have a huge battery in my backpack, but when I travel lightly I used to dedicate several pockets to a small battery and the necessary cables to keep my dipping things going. Having power is a big deal for me because I could be stranded by a dead phone. With HubMax Universal, I can grab it and go, knowing that my phone and iPad won't run out of power all day.
For $ 99.99 you can find cheaper batteries in the same power storage class, but nothing I've seen is this convenient. MyCharge's Hub series includes a variety of similar products, with models offering either USB-C or micro-USB with lightning, in different battery capacities and prices starting at $ 49.99.
Nahimic Audio Equalizer for Mac
Nahimic is an audio equalizer that runs in the Mac menu bar and promises to make your music and movie sound better. At the first launch, or when it detects new audio hardware, it prompts you to set up an audio profile for the device. The app contains a long list of manufacturers, speakers and headsets – more popular models are more likely to appear – and says that the frequency adjustments will be perfectly tuned for each one. Unless the hardware is included, the app relies on stock profiles, and Nahimic requests permission to send data back to the mother ship, allowing it to create and push new profiles based on mass data.
Many other apps provide an equalizer with frequency band and technical mumbo-jumbo, which can lead to endless fiddling – only Kirk McElhearn knows the difference between classic and Live Hall iTunes presets. With Nahimic, there is no way to mask with hardware or individual frequency settings, and the app presents your choices in a sentence with three options:
I want my (music / movie) in (stereo / 3D) with (neutral / deep bass / clear sound / clear vocals / great sound)
This is a great interface. Each audio output option is quite audibly different: light sound actually underlines the frequencies that make pop music, eh, pop, while punchy sound produces a bass sound that is not the same as volume increase. The 3D effect makes it sound like there are several headsets floating in the front and back of my ears; it's good enough that the "stereo" sounds flat, and I don't see why anyone would use it.
The app is just missing one thing and it's understandable. iTunes lets you create an equalizer customized and permanently attached to each track (Edit> Song Info> Options> Equalizer, if you've never seen it), but Nahimic can only provide a setting to control them all.
But get past the improved sound and the software has a few annoyances. There were times when I had to fiddle with audio output in System Preferences or Nahimic's interface, and once or twice I apparently lost output until a reboot – these problems haven't happened in a while, so Nahimic may have fixed them in a software update. Oddly, Nahimic offered to set up the iPad as a sound device – but when it is the target of output, it is dead quiet.
That said, sound now sounds better to my ears, and that's what the app is for. There's a free trial to find out if your ears agree and the price is $ 9.99, which makes it almost no brainer if you often listen to Mac audio and care about the sound (or use cheaper headsets which loses some frequencies). Just don't click OK if Nahimic suggests non-speakers as audio devices.
SoundCore Liberty Air True Wireless Headphones
Only in the past year have we seen decent competitors at lower prices for Apple's AirPods, such as SoundCore Liberty Air. SoundCore is a brand manufactured by Anker, which has a good reputation for batteries and chargers. And in fact, Liberty Air is pretty good – about half the price of AirPods, with about half as many great features. Like Nahimic, the sound is great, but then it goes downhill.
When it comes to sound, you have no complaints unless you are an audio file that spends far more than $ 80 on headphones. . Music is crisp and clear with decent bass, and unlike many Bluetooth headsets I've tried over the years, there is no frequency dropout that makes songs I know sound good to sound wrong.
If your ears are not in the correct shape for AirPods, you will appreciate Liberty Air's three pairs of rubber ear tips that help you get the right fit and provide better sound insulation than the AirPod teardrop. But if you want to hear ambient sounds because you are allergic to oncoming traffic, these earbuds are not for you – an ear tip that lets in sound will also come out of your ear when you are pushed.
The other way Liberty Air stands out is battery life. SoundCore claims 5 hours in the knobs and four charges in the battery box, for a total of 20 hours. It may even be longer. Some days I can almost go from awake to sleep while playing music or podcasts all the time. It seems that the short times I use the battery box – just to hold the knobs so I don't lose them while ordering coffee or something – are enough to keep them going.
Unfortunately, that's where the awards end. The Bluetooth connection is annoying. There are frequent short dropouts from the left earplug and occasionally longer links that require resetting (by putting both knobs back in the case for a moment). I wouldn't be surprised if this problem is more common when surrounded by RF transmitters, such as 25 different Wi-Fi networks or a dozen visible mobile phones. It is annoying when the left knob falls so long that I do not know if it will come back on its own or whether I need to reset it.
The microphone is so bad that I'm surprised it is advertised at all. In dead silence, it works for Siri and Google Assistant, but if the recordings I've made by myself are any indication, they are no joy to some people listening to you. In a light breeze or moderate fan noise, I have never completed a short conversation without switching to the handset. Frequently asked questions about SoundCore admit that call quality is not good in this type of design, but makes the claim that Liberty Air uses digital signal processing to make voices clearer. That may be true, but suggests that the result is workable and it is not.
The carrying case is well designed with just the right booklet. It is not too heavy in the pocket and has a comfortable tactile feel and curvature. The lid has a little wobble when I close that I wouldn't notice if I didn't do a review. But sometimes the earplugs don't sit properly and after a few hours I take them out to find that they are dead. If that's the right one, none of them will work, because only the right earbud can be used for mono sound. The other annoyance is that if I charge the case from a micro USB cable with the home hub, it disables the earphone charge until I disconnect the cable. This does not happen when you charge the case from a battery. One reason I'm not sure how much time I get from a charge is that the case's three-light LED battery indicator spends almost all its time on two lights; I only see three lights when fresh from a charge, and one light just before it dies completely.
When it comes to earplugs themselves, they are comfortable enough that I forget I have them on – which has been a problem when I took off a sweater and launched one all over the room. (Buy white or black depending on the color of your floors and shop for contrast. Drop a black earpiece that crosses a city street, and you'll never find it until it is broken.) Sound controls are performed with touch-sensitive pillows instead of buttons, such as sounds cool, but works poorly – that means just brushing the earbud triggers features. If I leave the left knob in my ear for better sound, I can sometimes talk to Siri. Half the time when I have a knob in my hand for a moment to hear what's going on around me, I put it back to find out that I'm listening to another song or the knobs are turned off completely. And for all those problems, standard functionality like changing the volume can't be done without Siri's help. Like any other Bluetooth headset, but not AirPods, these stubbornly stay connected to a device until the Bluetooth is off or out of range. if I pack my MacBook and forget to turn off the connection, it happily monopolizes my earbuds while Power Napping and my phone are not connected.
All that said, it's a market for $ 79.99 good sound earbuds and long battery life. Just don't buy these if you depend on them for something else, especially a functional microphone. I've had several cheaper wired Bluetooth headsets that sounded a lot worse and didn't last as long, despite much more room for larger batteries.