Accessory review roundup (Bluespoon AX, more)

Aug 07 2005 - 08:41 PM ET | Accessories, Review
By Larry Becker - After my article on my top 10 favorite Treo 650 accessories ran in this space, accessory makers seemed eager to provide their products for review. I absolutely love gadgets and I’m thrilled to report on some cool stuff that has arrived from the friendly package delivery guys lately. Read on for reviews of goodies from BoxWave and Bluespoon. BoxWave Corporation in Bellevue, WA sent a collection of cool things, most of which are unique to them, and Bluespoon sent along what has to be one of the most unique, tiny Bluetooth headsets on the market. I'll tell you about all of them. The BoxWave package came with three different accessories that are quite helpful and useful to just about anyone with a Treo 650 (or any one of the newer models of palmOne handhelds with the same “Multi-Connector” power/data connection port). Keep in mind that BoxWave sent me a Treo 650 miniSync/charger cable because they know I have a Treo 650. They have similar miniSync cables for a wide variety of phones and handhelds that all work with the gadgets in this review.

BoxWave miniSync charger

The miniSync ($18.95 miniSync alone) came as a car charger bundle package (plus $9.95 car adapter). The thing that makes it a "car bundle" is the cigarette-lighter-to-USB port converter. Actually, these are quite common and I already own a few of them from other similar accessories I own. Nevertheless, it's important if you want to use any USB cable as a power source while you're in a car. The other half of the bundle is the really cool part. It's one of those cables that auto-winds into a super-small package or extends out to as long as 42". I've owned several of these self-winding, center hub cables in the form of phone cables, USB cables, Ethernet, etc. Some feel cheap while others feel more substantial. The mini-Sync cable from BoxWave falls into the more substantial feeling category. One end of this cable plugs into a USB port on your computer (or the provided cigarette-lighter-to-USB port converter) and the other end plugs into the bottom of your Treo 650. While your Treo 650 can be charged with the tiny 6mm x 6mm plug palmOne calls a "power tip,' the BoxWave miniSync charger is a full-width plug that fills the power tip and data portions of the Treo. That's because when the cable is plugged into a PC or Mac, it can act as a HotSync cable and power cable.

BoxWave VersaCharger and battery adapter

While the provided cigarette-lighter-to-USB port converter isn't especially thrilling, a couple of other power offerings BoxWave sent along are especially cool. One is their VersaCharger and the other is the battery adapter. The battery adapter ($19.95) is little more than a holder for 4 AA batteries that provides voltage, via a USB connector, to the miniSync charger so you can juice up your Treo 650 while you're in flight or somewhere else that USB power isn't available. The on/off switch isn't readily apparent from the web site's pictures, but it's nice to know about because you won't be running down the batteries while the charger's not in use. While the miniSync charger and battery combo method serves a definite purpose, it does seem to be limited to the slower, trickle charge. Don't expect to juice up anywhere near as quickly as the Treo's factory wall charger does. BoxWave's VersaCharger ($24.95) should probably be called a VersaAdapter and even though that doesn't sound quite as cool, it is more descriptive. This little device is almost the same exact size as the cigarette-lighter-to-USB port converter but it has pull-out prongs that allow the unit to be plugged into a standard household outlet, and electronics that change the current so your USB powered device doesn't get cooked. Now with one adapter, you can use your miniSync charger in your car or in a wall socket. This is one of those things that should have been invented a long time ago and I'm glad it's here now. As someone who travels quite a bit and owns a Treo 650 and a palmOne LifeDrive, both of which have the same power and data connectors, I bought a special pouch for my travel bag so I can juice up my gadgets in the car, from my laptop, or from a wall socket wherever I go.

Bluespoon AX Bluetooth headset

sideviewAX2_sm.jpgBluespoon has one of the coolest looking little Bluetooth headsets on the market. When I was at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January I noticed that there had to be hundreds of booths dedicated to Bluetooth devices. If you go into your local Best Buy or Staples, you might run across a half dozen or so Bluetooth headsets but I assure you, there are many more than you might imagine. The Bluespoon AX headset is worth a look. Bluespoon claims to have made a headset that is the smallest available in the world. While I didn't do sufficient research to be able to confirm their claim, it is pretty darn small and their claim is certainly believable. At $99 retail, it isn't the cheapest unit on the market but the functionality is on par with more expensive (and cheaper) units so you're paying for size. Let me start by saying that I believe the choice of Bluetooth headsets is a personal decision and you should never buy a headset that can't be returned if you discover something about it you don't particularly like. Fit and signal quality with your particular phone can only be determined by trying it out. Also, I need to mention that I used a Treo 650 for testing purposes and the reception with your particular model of Bluetooth equipped phone might be better or worse than mine. There are several innovative things about this headset that deserve mention. First, there is no wall wart charger. They have a mini USB port on the device and Bluespoon supplies a mini-USB to standard USB cable for charging purposes. This clever, simple solution works for everybody with access to a USB port and that's just about anyone. Another clever innovation is Bluespoon's method of attaching their unit to your ear. No part of this earpiece hangs over or clips onto the outer part of your ear. Their lightweight little headset fits in your ear and a 1.5" slender, flexible rubber stalk gets wound into the inner folds of your ear to help hold it in place. The rubber stalk can be trimmed with scissors to a proper length for your personal taste and it takes a little getting used to. You have to practice inserting the device in your ear and practice tucking the rubber stalk into the outer folds of your ear and ironically I found it more difficult to do while looking in a mirror. These days I put it in without looking and just double-check in the mirror that I've successfully tucked the whole length of the stalk in place. ax_large.jpgBluespoon gives you two different rubber ear inserts, so you'll need to trim each to your comfort and then see which amount of ear canal penetration is most comfortable to you. Setup of the device is simple and practically the same as any other Bluetooth headset from most any manufacturer. You charge it all the way, press the appropriate buttons to get it in discoverable mode, find it with your phone and pair the devices, and you're on your way. I found the battery life to be quite good (though I didn't push the limits because I just don't have that many friends to talk to). The controls are all easily usable while the headset is in place and the volume and voice quality as well as signal strength are all quite good. One button answer and quick connection speed were also on par with today's generation of headsets. Compared to several other popular Bluetooth headsets, the Bluespoon AX performs admirably. The really cool thing, and the major selling feature, is its noticeably tiny size. I used to get comments about any Bluetooth headset but the public is becoming accustomed to them so comments are fewer and farther between these days. While wearing the Bluespoon AX for a few days, the comments picked back up again and were practically all from Bluetooth aware people who were impressed by its small size. As for in-the-ear-canal style headsets, they all have similar pros and cons. The more your headset is seated in the ear canal, the more it blocks outside sounds. Good for cell conversation, but this makes in-person conversation and the enjoyment of stereo music a bit challenging at times. And if you're in the habit of wearing a Bluetooth headset all day, or for extended periods, even the most comfortable in-the-ear-canal mounted units can be irritating after a few hours. I have used all kinds of headsets that don't go into your ear canal, such as the over-the-ear hook with a little dip into the outer ear but no in-the-ear-canal rubber. (Bluespoon AX is strictly in the ear canal and doesn't offer this mounting option.) The problem with an over the ear hook is that sunglasses are a pain because the arm of the sunglasses battles with the over-ear hook, and because they don't seal out external noise, they aren't as good in noisy or windy environments like a convertible at highway speed. The good thing about this style is that you can wear them all day and forget they're even there because they don't block as much environmental noise and there's no ear-canal irritation. There's good and bad with any Bluetooth headset and the Bluespoon AX has a bunch of cool features. If you want to forget you're wearing a headset during the day and you want better environmental hearing, find a headset that doesn't go into the ear canal. However, if you don't wear your headset all day and if you want a super small, in-the-ear-canal Bluetooth headset that works well and has plenty of "wow-factor,' you have to check out the Bluespoon AX.
Larry Becker is an author, technology trainer, and writer and lists among his clients GE, Sony, palmOne, Lawrence Livermore National Labs, the National Association of REALTORS®, and others. Larry produced the first ever Palm OS training video (now a series) and has released several videos about using Treo 600s and Treo 650s. Information about Larry Becker's training videos can be found here.