Sometimes it’s the unexpected things that make a user like a technology product or service.
You’d expect a £200 (approx) pair of headphones to be better than a £100 pair, but when it comes to Plantronics latest range of cans, we actually preferred the cheaper unit and would like to suggest that less is more.
Don’t get us wrong, the Plantronics Savi 8220 is a really nice piece of kit, but we had a better time with the Plantronics Voyager Focus UC B825 Bluetooth Headset from the company’s latest range of cordless PC headsets.
Before we get into the technical details, let’s provide a basic what, why and where of why we like the Voyager Focus.
Firstly, it’s the weight… at 155g these headphones feel super light and it’s very easy to use them for extended periods of time.
Second, it’s the connectivity factor… we paired them with a Huawei Mate 20 and an iPad fifth generation unit via Bluetooth. As long as we only had the one paired device on the pairing was instantaneous without the need to open settings.
Third, it’s the design simplicity of the product. The power button is in an easy-to-detect location right next to the microphone, which swivels down for phone calls or whatever other kinds of communication you want to engage within. So many headphones we look at now have too many buttons, this unit makes it easy to power on and power off and it’s equally easy to find the Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) button on the other side.
Plantronics has carried that design simplicity through into one other superb function… when you turn the unit on, it tells you how much ‘talk time’ (i.e. power) it has left, why don’t all smart headphones do that?
Finally, there’s a super-simple volume switch in the shape of the whole right ear (assuming you wear the microphone on the left, the device is completely switchable after all)… the user simply turns the whole right earpiece in a sort of twisting motion upwards or downwards for more of less volume.
Sexy black leather
The Plantronics Voyager Focus UC B825 has large leather ear cushions that are on-ear and three precision-tuned microphones filter out low-frequency background noise.
The quality of both music and voice is very good… so good that we mostly forgot to switch the ANC noise cancellation on. But, if you do need to pay attention to what’s going on around you, simply press the OpenMic button which will instantly stop active noise cancellation.
This headset uses a Bluetooth USB dongle to connect to PCs, but can also connect wirelessly to tablets and smartphones. It sports a seemingly quite massive 45-metre range and you also have up to 12 hours of talk time off of a single charge. Quite why anyone would need to be 45-metres away from their device is anybody’s guess.
According to product details listed on OneDirect, “Integrated intelligent sensors turn off music when a call is received and the mute function is easily toggled via a button on the headset. A light on the USB key will let you know if you are in silent mode or not. An LED light on the outside of the headset will alert your colleagues if you are taking a call. If you just don’t want to talk to them, this can be activated manually.”
Yes we should have enjoyed the pricier Plantronics unit more, but we didn’t. We even liked the USB-connected cradle unit that works as a power stand/cradle — although you can just power up direct to the device with a USB mini cable.
There’s even a nifty little carrying case, if you like that kind of thing.
Oh okay, this headset is rigid and not foldable, there… we found the one bad thing about this kit… otherwise these cans are a good choice… you can watch the product video here.
What’s better than one trip with the ruggedised (ruggedized) reporter?
Answer: hopefully it’s obvious i.e. it’s a chance to find that the ruggedised reporter rides again.
Our first trip out road testing ruggedised toughened kit saw us put a Conker Windows tablet through its paces across the jungles of Sri Lanka.
Conker stepped up again for our second trip, this time to the ancient city of Marrakech in Morocco. With dusty back alley ‘souq’ markets strewn throughout a city that sits in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, Marrakech is as mad as it is magnificent.
Our test was simple: could we survive a 5-day trip to Marrakech working with a full set of Office-type Android apps on an 8-inch device? Conker suggested the Conker SX80… and we accepted the challenge.
This device runs Android 8.1 and has an Octa-core processor and a 6,000 mAh battery.
Its makers say that the SX80 is the ideal device for mobile workers across a multitude of industries. With features such as optional 2D barcode scanning, fingerprint reading, wireless charging and 4GB RAM/ 64GB memory.
So (given the whole barcode option and the carry strap on the back of the unit) the SX80 isn’t perhaps designed with on-the-road reporters in mind, but perhaps that’s just a happy accident of product excellence? After all, there’s a built-in microphone and high quality (really loud) speaker and the display is IPS Resolution 1920×1200 with Touch Capacitive Multi-touch.
For the dimensions, the Conker SX80 ships at 510g and is 229 x 136 x 11mm.
Cameras includes a 13 megapixel rear with flash (for taking pictures) and a 5 megapixel front camera (for video chats etc.)
There is a Micro-USB power point and Micro SD: up to 128GB SIM with nano memory 4GB memory 64GB storage.
Because we wanted to use the SX80 in place of a complete laptop, we teamed it with a Logitech iPad keyboard, but we could have used any small Bluetooth keyboard for the job.
We also used an Anker stand to prop up the device itself. This was due to the fact that Conker has included a tough-build strap on the back of the unit, rather than any kind of stand.
This again suggests that the SX80 has been created with field service professionals in mind, who would carry the device around in their hands rather more than using it sitting on a desk – or in dusty bars and markets as we did.
The toughened ruggedised factor was useful on this test i.e. we slung the SX80 into our North Face backpack without worrying about how and where our pack dropped. Between the backpack and Conker’s outer device casing (as tough as Conker shell, get it?), there was more than enough protection.
Is this device perfect… well what device is?
The only naught niggles we found were the SX80’s lack of inherent ability to rotate its screen from portrait to landscape on the home screen.
To be clear, the apps themselves do automatically auto-rotate between portrait and landscape once that option is selected in settings, but if you want to use the device like a mini portable desktop computer, then you’ll need to download one of the several ‘screen rotate’ plug-in overlay apps for Android that exist on the Google Play store.
These work pretty well, although it’s not impossible to function with the device home-screen in portrait only mode.
STOP PRESS: Correction on the above. There is in fact a way of managing the home screen auto-rotate function. Long press a blank space on the home screen to bring up the Wallpapers, Widgets, Home Settings function and select Home Settings – the bottom of the three options is Allow Home Screen Rotation. This is a core Android function and one of those things that you just have to look for i.e. even Conker’s engineering team didn’t know how to do this when we asked them.
Oh… and the battery power line is Micro-USB rather than the more modern USB-3, but we know that toughened ruggedised units are generally slightly behind on trends like this because the product development team is more directly focused on creating a workable device than worrying about the ever-changing power inlet trend.
To sum up then, the Conker SX-80 is a nice piece of kit.
We managed to function with it on the road in Marrakech, Morocco for the best part of a week using it in place of a fully-functioning Windows (or other OS) laptop.
The device is marked out for its impressive battery life, a full charge appears to offer somewhere up to around 20-hours of usage, although this figure would no doubt drop depending on how intensive the user is with any chosen set of applications.
Apart from the toughness, the best thing about the Conker SX-80 is its great versatility, which is funny in a sense, as it’s not the core USP of the product itself… but here’s what we mean:
- We managed to connect easily to Bluetooth headphones and a Bluetooth keyboard at the same time.
- We managed to use Google Docs both online and offline to write this actual review, on the device itself.
- Once work was done, we managed to enjoy BBC iPlayer downloads via Nord VPN outside of the UK to watch some TV shows.
- We managed to use Gmail effectively to respond to mails and clear our inbox.
- We kept up with friends on Facebook and monitored home heating using Hive.
- We logged into our Content Management System to file this story AND also upload photos taken on a smartphone, but synched with the Conker SX-80 using Google Photos.
- We used bespoke apps such as the Paris Metro app to navigate between hotels and airports while on the go.
- We managed to log onto various hotel, airport and in-flight WiFi services with relative ease – and this not always a given (some devices take several reboots and reconnects as most users will know).
This device is tough for sure, but it is the unit’s core versatility that marks it out. Yes you can drop it if you want to (it has a toughened glass Drop Test of 1.2m), but it’s too pretty for that, so why would you want to?
The price for a Conker SX80 with 2D barcode scanner is £629 — without is £499.
Conker SX-80: tough tablet.
It’s winter in Northern Europe, so we’re cold.
But, despite the cold, the Inspect-a-Gadget team still needs to keep connected and stay online on the move.
So then… coats, hats, scarves and gloves are on.
But there’s a problem, as soon as we get our gloves on, we’re unable to use our smartphones or tablets. That’s okay because we’ve got some touchscreen gloves.
But there’s still a problem, touchscreen gloves are generally really thin because they need to have some kind of user flexibility in the fingers, so you get to use your device, but your fingers stay pretty cold.
Because of this reality, we tried out the latest line of touchscreen gloves from Mujjo.
These gloves are different because they are truly touchscreen – all over – just like your fingers (remember them?) as if you had no gloves on at all. But, crucially, they are double insulated with 3M technology.
The company says it has lined the inside of the entire gloves with an extra layer of wind-resistant double-bonded Micro Fleece. The extra layer of insulation greatly improves wind resistance and doubles up as a soft and comfortable lining against the hand.
Insulate with 3M Thinsulate
In between, the lining is entirely laminated with an extra layer of 3M Thinsulate™ creating an enhanced double-insulated triple-layer ‘sandwich’ construction that makes the gloves soft, comfortable to wear and even warmer in cold climates.
The Mujjo size guide is linked here, but a word of caution in terms of how to use it.
When you put your hand up to the screen to size yourself using your fingers, go for a pair one size bigger than the hand that matches your hand. The double insulation inside is thick, so you need to accommodate for that in your hand sizing.
The company did tell us that it takes user feedback really seriously and goes back to the drawing board every year to tweak designs both of its products and of its the way it presents itself on the web.
The gloves themselves are clearly a work of engineering prowess. If there is a criticism to be made, they could be more supple… there is a little stiffness here, but then they are exceptionally warm, so we (for now at least) do perhaps have to shoulder some kind of trade-off.
Also, while the touchscreen technology works really well, the ends of the fingers are a little chunkier than other cheaper versions of this product, so precision touch is rather more of a challenge – but again, that’s because your fingers are warm. Playing games is tough, but answering calls and even using email apps is pretty fluid.
The gloves start at €49,90 for the Improved Insulated Touchscreen Gloves and €59,90 USD for the Double-Insulated Touchscreen Gloves (incl. VAT for European customers) and the company ships worldwide.
Inspect-a-Gadget has been on the road — it’s been a busy tech conference season and so all the normal home comforts have had to be forgone for a good part of the autumn period.
Upon getting back to base though, the go-to comforts include a portion of non-chlorine washed chicken, a cup of proper tea and a serious blast in the gaming chair (okay it’s a couch, but it’s a place to park).
As an additional treat this holiday season, we got to play with the HyperX Cloud Orbit S headphones.
This is a heavyweight piece of kit.
They’re heavyweight not as in they weigh a lot (even if they do come it at heavier than most at 368g), but heavyweight in terms of functions and complexity.
Weird, but good
These cans are built with what 3D audio technology from sound-specialist company Waves, that creates a three-dimensional sound space.
Once you cycle through the different 3D sound options (ON, OFF, MANUAL or AUTO) using the button on the left-hand side of the unit (all controls are on the left headphone unit, so PC gamers can use their mouse more easily) then you get immersed in a very strange, but good, sound experience.
The 3D modes are detailed as follows:
- Off – Off, no effects.
- Manual – Set centre point manually by looking in a direction and tapping the button
- Auto – Automatically resets centre point every few seconds to be where you are looking
- On – The effect is on, but head tracking is not, so the sound will not rotate around you and this is the only 3D mode available on the standard Orbit.
The sound is crystal clear and lustrous (you’d expect it to be for £269.99 a pair) with finely laced treble notes, subtly intertwined middle notes and warm pillowy bass tones — but that’s not the real point – the point is the 3D effect.
To explain how this plays out (literally and figuratively) allow us to give you the official explanation and then the oh my gosh this is weirdly good version.
According to HyperX, “Head tracking technology, only available on the Cloud Orbit S, tracks the tiniest head movements nearly 1000 times a second to provide total immersion as it stabilises in-game audio environments to deliver pinpoint sound localisation.”
What that means in less technical language is that wearing these headphones provides a surreal experience. Plugged into an iPad to listen to music you would swear that there’s music playing out loud in the room you’re located in – the headphones provide a kind of ‘loudspeaker effect’ (as if you’re sitting in front of a real speaker) so if you move your head left or right, the sound with shift left and right accordingly to mimic the effect of listening in the real world.
Here’s more of the official commentary, “[Get] audio immersion with Audeze™ planar magnetic drivers and Waves Nx® 3D audio technology. Hear sounds with breathtaking clarity and incredible precision thanks to the super-fast frequency response and distortion resistance of the 100mm planar magnetic drivers. 3D audio technology creates a three-dimensional sound space.”
But of course these headphones aren’t just meant for listening to music, they are specifically designed for gamers.
Luckily, Inspect-a-Gadget is very fond of Assassin’s Creed, Just Cause and Tomb Raider. The in-game sound in all three is special, each in different ways.
Moving through catacombs and dungeons in Assassin’s Creed provides an extra sound experience i.e. you actually turn your head to look for dripping water, cracks in the buildings you’re walking through or distant bangs caused by intruders — and of course those head-turns heighten the experience because of the Audeze planar magnetic drivers already described. Tomb Raider provided a similar experience.
For a race we fired up Forza, which was great, but not quite as immersive as a third-person perspective adventure type game, but that’s obviously a matter of personal preference. Just Cause bangs, crashes and explosions were also glorious, but then they’re already quite fabulous in 2D sound.
There is a noise-canceling microphone with detachable jack, but we didn’t play with that too much — the core sound quality appears to match that of the headphones themselves very closely.
On the downside, the Cloud Orbit S requires a wired connection and the user can choose between 3.5mm, USB-A, or USB-C. Cable lengths are shown below, but you could buy longer versions if you really wanted to and the cable only has to go from your head to your XBox or PS4 handset or your PC. Connection options are as follows:
USB Type C to USB Type A: 3m
USB Type C to USB Type C: 1.5m
3.5mm plug (4-pole): 1.2m
If you’re a serious gamer and want to experience another level of immersive inclusion, then these cans could well be a head-turner for you.
As any dedicated gamer knows, you need to have ‘everything just right’ in order to get the most fully immersive experience out of the challenges you set yourself in console land.
Gone are the early days of the Atari 2600 and its fairly joyless joystick that would have been better employed as some kind of device for making the holes in homemade bagels.
Now , today, we expect better.
PDP makes a range of gaming accessories and we tried them out in advance of the festive season to get a grip on whether we could be doing better.
The PDP stands for Performance Design Products (we are told) and the company’s focus and brands are different enough to warrant this story.
The firm concentrates on making predominantly wired controllers — but why use a wired controller?
- First, you never need to worry about replacing the batteries.
- Second, they’re usually lighter.
- Thirdly, you’re probably sitting close enough to your console (or PC) to be able to use a wired cabled device without any worries.
- Lastly, they’re often cheaper.
The company claims to be the market leader in 3rd party controllers and one of its core units is the PDP Wired Controller for Xbox One & Windows. This gamer’s tool comes with non-slip grips, textured triggers and shoulder buttons.
There’s enhanced gameplay with vibration feedback (from dual rumble motors) and an audio control button located directly on the front of the controller, so you can adjust game and chat audio levels without interruptions.
The device has a 3.5mm audio jack for chat with friends and an 8-foot detachable cable. It is compatible with Xbox One, Xbox One S, Xbox One X and Windows.
Wired for sound, wirelessly
Also from PDP we looked at the LVL50 Wireless Headset for Xbox One.
Although we’ve played with some Sennheiser wireless cans which do have a ‘virtual touch-based finger slider’ volume function on the side, PDP has kept it simple, in a good way. These headphones have a volume dial, on the side.
This is superb for games that feature a real mix of loud and quiet moments such as Just Cause i.e. one minute you’re sailing along listening to the lilting theme music as you fly a plane or use the wingsuit – and the next minute you’re wreaking havoc by blasting out a township in a helicopter gunship… and now you can adjust your volume accordingly without getting up.
The microphone also has adjustable volume controls.
“This wireless stereo headset delivers dynamic sound through a pair of powerful 50mm High-Definition drivers. Hear your games the way you’re supposed to and make sure your commands are received loud and clear through the flexible noise-cancelling mic. Make volume adjustments on the fly with convenient on-ear audio controls,” notes the company, in its product materials.
The headphones themselves have breathable nylon-mesh over-the-ear cushions and an adjustable lightweight headband. It’s better than some we’ve tried for long gaming sessions.
It works wirelessly with the Xbox One Console via USB dongle up to 40 feet and there’s a battery life of up to 16 hours.
Overall… PDP’s kit makes a lot of sense, the company appears to have taken the ‘obvious’ route to making its products likeable, workable and playable.
Now that we have Wi-Fi at home and at work, good options for global cellular roaming and (for times when neither of those are accessible) we also have Wi-Fi portable hotspots too.
One would imagine that we might stop there, but no.
Skyroam has already produced the Skyroam Solis, but has now tried to go one better with the Solis X… this is not a hotspot, this is a so-called ‘smartspot’.
What makes it smarter?
Well yes, it’s still a Wi-Fi hotspot and yes it’s still a power bank, but now (the new unit, Skyroam Solis X WiFi Smartspot ) is also a remote camera and smart assistant. That’s smarter, see?
In Skyroam’s trademark orange, the device still resembles a hockey puck and it is indeed no bigger than ‘pocket-sized’ as the promo material promises.
The power charge on this device is sensibly built longer-than-a-working-day to a full 16+ hours — when you want to suck some of that juice out, the Solis X has a 4700 mAh battery that works as a portable power bank to charge smartphones.
Skyroam’s Virtual SIM (vSIM) technology connects in over 130+ countries and is shareable on 10 different devices. The device offers 4G LTE speeds across a wide range global frequency bands.
The vSIM term stands for Virtual SIM technology and is the proprietary cornerstone of the Skyroam brand. Founder, Jing Liu spent years engineering this technology to enable a virtual connection between any Skyroam product and local mobile data networks, without a traditional SIM card.
We tested it in Greece, the United Kingdom and the United States — we got the same level of good performance in every location, so there’s no reason to suspect that it might be flaky elsewhere, unless you happen to be in some unknown corner of the planet.
The Solis X remote camera is 8MP with flash, wide angle view and self-timer to capture, record, monitor and live stream on-the-go. Users can control it through the Solis WiFi app.
There’s also the Solis X smart assistant, powered by built-in GPS and IFTTT, so users can control or automate of apps and services from the Solis WiFi App and Smartspot with a tap.
“The Solis X was designed to enhance social, family and travel experiences for anyone who wishes to do more from anywhere,” says Skyroam Founder and CEO, Jing Liu. “By expanding upon what Skyroam does best, we are enabling so many more consumers to stay connected with loved ones, stay powered on, stay socially engaged and stay integrated into their “smart” lifestyle with no geographic limits. We see Solis X as a platform and are excited to see how our customers will use their imagination to bring its possibilities to life in hundreds of new ways.”
Users need to download the Solis Wi-Fi App, which enables the use of the remote camera, smart assistant feature and allows users to buy Wi-Fi and manage their hotspot.
At the time of writing, users can purchase the Skyroam Solis X Wi-Fi Smartspot at £179.99. No SIM is needed, users will need to register and choose their Wi-Fi plan (pay-as-you-go or subscribe).
Okay, so let’s start with a real world use case story to justify this product review.
I have been using a Huawei Mate 20 Pro to play my music on — and, as this smartphone comes with no headphone slot, I’ve been carting around the 3.5mm jack-to-USB-C connector on flights and while walking to meetings — looking after it carefully, in a little box.
One of the nicest things about the Jabra Evolve 65t earbuds set is that they come in their own little box, which is in fact smaller than the one I have been using to ferry about my pesky headphone cable.
Making the leap from cable-bound headphone duress to earbud freedom has been a revelation. Who knew shopping in Lidl could be done to the beefy grungey beats of Soundgarden as you drown out your fellow shoppers and the incessant beeping tills?
Now obviously I could have used ANY headphones to turn Clapham Junction’s Lidl into a late 1990s Seattle grunge-fest, but the point is, I never bothered… basically, because ‘traditional’ earphones with cables are often just a little too much hassle.
The Jabra Evolve 65t is so convenient, so quick to Bluetooth-connect, so quick to put on pause (a quick tap on the right earbud does this) when you need to speak to a till assistant (or any other human being) and so high-quality in terms of build and sound quality, that shopping any other way simply doesn’t cut it anymore.
We tested Jabra’s Evolve 65t on a flight from London Gatwick to Zakynthos. The passive noise cancellation technology worked well enough to block out most of the sound from the Jet2 engines. Users slide the earbuds into their ear canals and then ‘rotate’ them into the natural shape of the earlobe that they have been ergonomically built to align to.
Unless you have extremely strange ears, they should fit in snugly.
We also tested this unit on a conference call. The earbuds switch to auto turn-on as soon as you take them out of their case and the built-in four-microphone Ambient Noice Cancellation (ANC) technology worked perfectly. The caller at the other end didn’t know whether we were using a telephone or not.
Jabra has built the Evolve 65t with enough oomph to power 5-hours battery on a single charge — and that ups to 15 hours with the pocket-friendly (Ed – I think they mean it’s small) charging case.
The whole package ships with two extra pairs of silicon rubber earjels. This way you can fit them snugly into your headspace whether you have small, medium or large lugholes.
There’s a Bluetooth adapter for PCs or laptops built without Bluetooth if you happen to have one… and there’s a charging cable too.
The cable may, possibly, be the only shortcoming with this device i.e. Jabra has used the fast-obsoleting micro-USB port rather than USB-C… but hey, we’ve all got plenty of devices and cables with the old standard too, right?
Jabra Sound+ app
The earbuds themselves run Bluetooth v5.0 and users are encouraged to download the Jabra (free) Sound+ app from either the Apple or Google stores in order to keep the device firmware up to date.
In its bid to position the Evolve 65t as a truly UC-certified product (as in Unified Communications), Jabra has also included the ability to pair up to 8-different devices with the unit… there is also voice assistant support for Amazon Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant. The product is certified for Skype for Business, Cisco, Avaya etc.
According to Jabra, “With the Evolve 65t you can instantly connect to Amazon Alexa, Siri, or Google AssistantTM, allowing you to get the information you need – whether that be setting appointments, finding nearby events, having messages read back to you, or checking the weather.”
More details from Jabra note that users can personalise the sound for calls and music. Users can tailor the sound experience with the customisable equalizer found in the Jabra Sound+ app.
We’ve used other wireless headphone sets before… and a few in-ear offerings too, but this is the best of the crop so far.
Prices for the Jabra Evolve 65t are in the region of GBP £200 at the time of writing… okay so they’re not cheap, but this bud’s for you.
The aviation sector is a hotbed of innovation, according to the head of global innovation at the International Airlines Group (IAG), Dupsy Abiola.
While is seems obvious someone with her job title might say this about her industry, Abiola went on to convince me this might be the case by filling me in on Hangar 51, the startup accelerator run by IAG which gives startups an opportunity to work closely with people and companies in the aviation sector to see if their businesses could fit into the space.
IAG has several different businesses under its banner, including airlines, loyalty and logistics, and Abiola pointed out in some cases a business may have been tried and tested in another sector already, and some come to Hangar 51 to see if the idea has other use cases.
She said: “It’s a short space of time for them to explore the opportunities they might be able to have with businesses such as our own. It’s the beginning of some really meaningful conversations that the entrepreneurs and their product teams can have about what it takes to be and scale within a group like ours and within and industry like ours.”
The programme itself was launched in 2016, and is hosted in Madrid and Barcelona in collaboration with Iberia, Vueling and IAG Cargo.
The 10 week accelerator programme is designed to help startups develop their technology businesses, test them in the context of the aviation industry and potentially scale them globally.
The participants will then have a Demo Day where they can show their tech to those who matter – Abiola told me at least three or four CEOs from the various companies under IAG’s banner attend.
The hope of the startups, alongside the input of senior professionals already in the sector, is the opportunity for further support and funding to help them grow their businesses.
Applications can be submitted under one of seven categories including airport operations and logistics, future of customer interaction, disruption management, future cargo logistics, sustainability, new products and services, and wildcard.
Abiola told me the programme gets hundreds of applicants that are whittled down to 10 – and the programme is picky.
So picky, in fact, she told me the programme is actually harder to get on to than it is to get into Harvard.
But the benefits seem obvious – while most accelerators boast facetime with people in the industry, Abiola claimed in many cases this may mean a few meetings or hours with people in a firm.
Hangar 51 allows entrepreneurs to work really closely with teams within the business, and they have access to people “from c-suite all the way down”.
Of those who have been part of the programme over the last three years, five companies have received investment from IAG.
Businesses who have been through the accelerator in the past have developed technologies such as virtual reality for in-flight entertainment, a block-chain powered check in service and a suite of chatbots tailored to the travel sector.
But of course, there’s something in it for IAG too – much like other accelerator programmes, it’s an opportunity for IAG to keep an eye out for fresh technologies and see if the aviation sector makes a good use case for them.
Abiola said: “Over that 10 weeks we really road test their technology, incorporate into the business, see what value we can get from it, and devise a plan if its working of how we can take that particular technological innovation forward.
“Our aim is to, first and foremost, do mutual learnings and road test these businesses, and we expect that not everyone is going to end up working with us or is going to be a decent fit, but it’s a good opportunity.”
Applications for Hangar 51’s most recent cohort are open until 2 August, after which 40 applicants will be invited to a pitch day on 3 September. Successful applicants will start the programme in late September.
Abiola summarised: “There are huge opportunities in aviation, it’s crazy.”
People use headphones while they’re at work, get used to the facts.
Now then, some of those people are call centre workers, some of them are air traffic controllers, some of them are telesales people and some of them have a job that inherently demands that they don a pair of ‘cans’ over their ears — we’re not really talking about any of them.
We’re looking at the kinds of businesspeople who would typically want to use headphones for Skype or other VoIP-based services — and we’re also talking about the kinds of workers who want to be able to ‘drown out’ the rest of the office in order to get on with their own tasks.
This is the market Sennheiser is targeting with its Sennheiser MB 360 UC Active Noise Canceling (ANC) headphones.
Coming in at £168 at the time of writing, the Sennheiser MB 360 is around £100 cheaper than its big brother/sister unit the Sennheiser MB 660.
Before we look at the unit itself, let’s consider what the company is saying about the way we work today and why this type of equipment might be de rigeur for a modern contemporary workplace.
The way we work
Sennheiser says that today, 70% of workspaces have transitioned to open plan, yet 63% of professionals claim loud colleagues are their greatest distraction.
“Our latest study shows that 29% of office workers use a headset when they need to concentrate”, said Theis Mork, vice president of product management for enterprise solutions at Sennheiser. The office space per person has declined over the past 20 years and open offices are on the rise, making it harder for us to concentrate without being interrupted by our co-workers. Sennheiser’s recent study shows that almost a third of office workers use a headset to concentrate without distraction.”
Sennheiser says the MB 360 UC Bluetooth headset itself is a double-sided headset with ANC that connects to a mobile device and is optimised for Unified Communication (hence the use of UC).
That UC element is the fact that users can use the same headset for entertainment and work-related audio application. They offer a talk time of up to 25 hours and have pretty nice soft ear pads.
The ANC itself works well, it comes on automatically as soon as you power up the device. Sennheiser has used the right headphone body unit to put the power button in place, next to that there’s a ‘function’ button and next to that there’s a volume button.
The only complaint here is that we assumed users would need to hold the power button down to engage the Bluetooth connection (after all, the blue Bluetooth power light is next to the power button), but you need to in fact hold the volume button in to get Bluetooth docking to happen.
The function button performs different functions depending on which app you are using. For example, when using Spotify, the function slider takes you back to the start of a track or onto your next one. When using an online radio service such as Absolute Radio (which has around 10 stations playing different genres of music), the function button takes you between stations.
The Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) is smart, it constantly monitors the user’s background environment for noise using Sennheiser’s NoiseGard adaptive ANC technology to adjust the level of noise reduction in the headset.
There’s a variety of connection points on offer with this headset. We’ve already mentioned Bluetooth (which appears to ‘hold’ its connection well to a chosen device even if you turn the headphones on and off), but there’s also a Bluetooth USB dongle so that users can connect with PCs and laptops that may not have Bluetooth.
There’s also a 2.5mm (inserts into device) to 3.5mm (standard headphone jack) analogue cable, should users wish to go retro and cable themselves to their device.
There are two built-in microphones and the device works well on Skype and indeed when connected to a smartphone for calls.
The only real gripe here is that switching between devices can be a little troublesome when doing so using Bluetooth. Moving from iPad to a Windows PC was easy enough, but getting the headset to be recognised again by the iPad afterwards (even with the PC powered down to ensure the Bluetooth radio was off) wasn’t quite as seamless.
As always with Sennheiser (full disclosure, I’ve been a fan of this company since the 1980s when I first got a pair of the old yellow foam headphones that used to be produced), the sound quality is rich and lustrous. This is the kind of quality that makes you want to sit with Spotify and play some of your favourite tracks to see how different they sound when you can hear instruments and parts of music or voice that you’d not picked up on before.
The BakkerElkhuizen UltraBoard 950 Wireless Compact Keyboard is difficult to pronounce and requires a full lung-full of air to say in one go… but it’s a piece of kit that stands out for a number of reasons and this is the story of why.
Before telling you about some of the features and feel… let us (well, me) explain that I have two desks.
At desk number one I work with a Logitech K780, which is a great keyboard as it allows me to switch between 3-different Bluetooth sources at the touch of a button.
At desk number two I work with a wired version of the BakkerElkhuizen UltraBoard range. I like the ‘clack clack’ of the keys a lot, they’re almost reminiscent of the sound of a Commodore Pet back in the day, but without the harshness… and the keys have a nice ‘travel’ about them to let you know you’ve actually hit them.
The only shortcoming of BakkerElkhuizen UltraBoard in the wired version is that it is connected to the machine you are connected to, obviously.
Wireless Bluetooth freedom
Thankfully, BakkerElkhuizen has got around that problem with the BakkerElkhuizen UltraBoard and it’s gone one better (two better, in fact) than Logitech because it allows the user to connect up to five different Bluetooth devices at any one time.
Doing so is pretty simple: the user hits Function (highlighted in blue as Fn) and then hit the Bluetooth symbols on keys 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. It’s then a simple matter of pairing with each device you want to connect to using the Bluetooth CONNECT nipple on the underside of the keyboard. The user can then switch between devices very simply using Fn 1, 2 and so on.
In practice, this worked just fine between Windows and Mac OS/X and the keyboard was able to switch between the two in a matter of seconds. Mac OS/X shows a “connected” logo and “connection lost” logo on screen — Windows, on the other hand, shows nothing (unless you open up the Bluetooth devices menu to check that the keyboard is connected), but it works regardless and you can type between two machines fairly fluidly.
Specs & stuff
In terms of other specs for this device, the unit itself is specifically designed without a number pad (this is bad for ergonomics, apparently… and unless you’re an accountant you probably don’t really need one) and has an 81/82-key wireless keyboard with 4 hotkeys for fast and easy working with figures, Home, Mail, PrtScr (print screen) and NumLock to PC (Mac system does not support the 4 hotkeys).
As mentioned, it can register up to 5 Bluetooth hosts and power comes from 2 x AAA Ni-MH rechargeable batteries, charging via Micro USB cable.
If you’re hell-bent on living a wired life, there’s even support for USB with a cable to connect a PC via micro USB cable.
Cross-OS platform support by holding Fn key and “W” key for PC or “A” key for Mac, although most functionalities appeared to work fine without this switch.
A final note on the ergonomic factor, Microsoft research has suggested that an active computer user’s fingers can travel up to 32 kilometres per day.
As WhatMobile noted here, “The benefits of removing the numeric keypad leaves you with a compact keyboard. The major advantage of this design is that you can place your mouse closer to your body, which means you will not have to reach as far to use your mouse. Because you can keep your arms alongside your body, the discomfort you feel in your hands and wrists all the way up to your shoulders will decrease.“
Let’s see how true that is, we shall look for the benefits and hope to enjoy it.