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Review: HMDX Jam Plus

HMDX Jam Plus

HMDX Jam Plus

I've been looking for an inexpensive portable bluetooth speaker solution for one particular place -- the bathroom. No, not for cranking my tunes when I'm taking care of business, but for those times when I'm taking a shower and want more sound than my puny iPhone 5 speakers can put out. The iPhone does OK, but when you have on the exhaust fan to keep the humidity at a minimum, combined with the pounding of water - it essentially drowns out most of my iPhone's sound.

I took to the streets - I looked high and low. Namely, the big box stores - Target, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart - as that's where I was when I decided to look. They had a few selections, some I'd never heard of -- but then one particular little speaker had some flare, and was in a plastic jar with a lid. What else would something called Jam be in?

The packaging intrigued me, so I did my obligatory Amazon search to see what the reviews were like. The original HMDX Jam had over 1,000 4 star reviews in Amazon, and the new HMDX Jam Plus has over 190. That's all I needed to see.

I took this little guy home and opened the jar of jam, so to speak, and pairing was a breeze. Press and hold the power button for 5 seconds, and then search for the device with my iPhone's bluetooth ability. That's all there was to it. Within seconds I was pumping up the Jam (pun intended) and enjoying my latest Spotify playlist.

The Jam Plus is a mono speaker, but if you buy TWO of them, you can pair them together to provide you with stereo sound. I only purchasd one, so I haven't tested that functionality, but it's nice to have the option. For me though, it wasn't necessary. For higher fidelity, I have my Kicker Ampitheater Bluetooth device. All that I required from the Jam was to be - Portable (it's 3" x 3" x 2.6"), Battery operated (it's rechargable via USB - lasts about 6hrs), loud, and inexpensive ($49 at Wal-Mart). The Jam Plus met all of these perfectly.

How does it sound?

Like you would expect an inexpensive speaker to sound. Good, not awesome. It's definiely louder and punchier on the bass than I expected. It's absolutely more than enough to leave in the bathroom during the shower and you can even move around from a room or two and still hear it just fine. Quite impressive for the price and size. Honestly, I've heard the Mini Jawbone Jambox, and I've not been impressed. This little HDMX Jam Plus sounds better to my ears and my wallet. It doesn't list frequency responce, but for this price, it's forgiveable. I had excellent results with music, podcasts, streaming radio - the whole gamet. I tested them all, and everything was audible, understandle and sounded nice and loud (but not distorted).

Final Thoughts

Nice little speaker for the money and sounds great. If you're on a budget - this is a definite buy.

HMDX Jam Plus - $59.95 USD

HMDX Jam Plus on Amazon - $39.95

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Review: LifeProof iPhone Case - Water Proof / Shock Proof iPhone Case

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Protecting our device is at the top of every iPhone owners list. With the dual glass screens, water sensors in the top bottom and middle, it's critical to keep it from any shocks or wetness. Well, LifeProof has come up with a solution for those that want to keep the slim stylings of the iPhone and still keep their high dollar device protected.

To get the benefit of the LifeProof, you have to put a little work in yourself. This isn't your typical case that you just slap the phone in and go. No, you need to learn about this case by watching some installation videos, doing a water test, check all of the ports for water tightness. I found the video instructions to be the best way to go, chiefly because they have a little bit of humor in them, and aren't just dry tech support vids. There is even a specifc way to snap the case together and apart (BTW, that  isn't meant to be done too often).

When I followed the directions for the water test, my first unit kept failing. I checked with LifeProof tech support and they gave me some alternate directions, but in the end it still didn't pass (see image below with condensation), so I simply decided to ask them for a replacement unit. This one worked.

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LifeProof touts that they are shock proof, waterproof, dirt proof, and snow proof. Pretty cool, eh? Take out the LifeProof case while you are snowboarding, mountain biking, or even lounging on the beach. The styling of the case makes it easy to do. The case is just a bit thicker than the iPhone itself, so it is  fairly thin and durable. To keep it waterproof you snap the case together, and then snap the dock port closed and then screw in the headphone jack dongle which seals off the port and will keep out any moisture from the phone. You plug in your earbuds into the end of the dongle — so if you plan on swimming with this case, your standard iPhone earbuds won't be your go-to item.  For times when you don't need the earbuds, it has a tiny screw in rubber grommet that will go into your iPhone's audio jack. They provide you with two — as you will lose one. Or two. This is just fine for someone who uses the iPhone as just a phone, but can quickly become a hassle if you want to switch back and forth between the headphones and just carrying it around in your pocket as a phone. This was the case for me — I didn't want the dongle all of the time, but found I needed it, but it was a hassle to switch back and forth. Ultimately, I just went with the audio jack unprotected — which pretty much eliminates the 'waterproof' aspect.

Overall I really enjoyed this case - with one MAJOR exception. The case has an integrated plastic screen, which is needed to keep your iPhone waterproof. However, the screen bowes out form the actual iPhone glass, so every time you touch the screen you feel the plastic on top of the glass, and it even makes a tapping sound. At first I thought it was just me — but I let a friend test the case, and they came to the same conclusion — it's quite annoying.  I'm hoping LifeProof will fix this in the next iteration of the case. Other major competitors don't have this issue, and I think that they definitely need to fix this issue. Ok, rant over…

The sound quality of the case was 50/50.  50% of the time it was fine, and the other 50% I felt like I could hear some distortion or reverb, which was simply the screen that lets audio pass through. The only way I can explain it is that it sounds like have blown the speaker on your phone. You can blow on it and then it's back to normal, but it did tend to happen a little more frequently that I liked. I had no complaints from folks on the other end of the conversation, so I assume they heard me just fine. The LifeProof case can actually make your iPhone sound a bit louder when using the external speaker. The space can add some extra 'bass' and reverb to the speakers, so it's almost like cupping the bottom of the phone in your hand, and it seems a bit louder.

For peace of mind, you really can't beat the LifeProof case — they put these to the test, and by the praise I see them getting online, it must be true. I didn't have any snow to test mine with, but I was able to take my iPhone and drop it 3 feet, wash it off in the sink (under running hot water) and my iPhone showed no signs of problems.  During my testing period I found myself treating my iPhone a little more 'rough'. Tossing it here and there, not caring if it was always out of harms way, etc. I felt secure enough with the LifeProof case that if I was a *little* rough it would be just fine. The LifeProof case isn't indestructible, so don't go crazy by driving over it to test the rugged durability. It's not designed for that — it's designed for active people that want to keep their $300 phone safe during these activities. If you want the full details on what can be expected should something go wrong, you definitely want to check out the warranty.

 

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Conclusion:

With a $79 price point, it's certainly one of the more expensive cases. However, one trip to the Apple Store to replace your broken iPhone is double that price and then some. If you have an active outdoor lifestyle, or just an average user that wants piece of mind that their device is safe from water damage or other contaminants, then the LifeProof is for you.

Pros:

  • Slim Design
  • Sealed ports to eliminate water entry

Cons:

  • Touch Screen isn't flush with iPhone
  • Pricey

 

Product: LifeProof iPhone 4/4S Case

Price: $79.99

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Review: Epson Stylus NX430 - Inexpensive Capable All-In-One

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The NX430 is one of the smallest printers we've tested, coming in at just 15 x 12 x 6 inches. With its sleek black look, it's attractive and small enough to fit inside a small office, dorm room, family room, etc. The moniker Epson uses is an 'Small-inOne' All-in-One printer. I'd say that's pretty spot on, as it is small, sleek, and also it can do three things — Print/Copy/Scan. While it looks great, it definitely feels a bit flimsier compared to some of their higher end printers. The main attraction to us Apple users is that this printer features compatibility with AirPrint. This enables you to print directly from your iOS devices, such as your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. In addition to that, it also supports Wi-Fi printing, so no need to hook up a USB cable if you don't want to be tied down to your machine.

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Setting up the Wi-Fi connection is simple. I went to the Wi-Fi setup with the 2.5" touch screen and did a manual configuration. I chose my network and then entered the password. Next I opened up the Printer settings on my Mac, choose 'Add printer', and then I was able to select from the Nearby Printers. Within an instant, it was all setup. You can access all of the typical settings, such as Supply Levels, Print test pages, clean heads, etc. I would say part of this is the ease of the printer, but also much of the ease comes being paired with Mac OS X.

If you want to print some pictures from your SD card, no problem.  You can insert an SD card, Memory Stick PRO duo, or a USB thumb drive  and do a slideshow to print and select photos. The LCD isn't much to be impressed with, especially when you are used to looking at Apple Retina displays all day long, but for a sub $100 printer, it gets the job done.

From the same multi-function touch screen, you can Copy and Scan as well.  The Flatbed scanner works quite well. I used the scan tool in OS X and was able to scan directly into Preview with ease. The maximum bit is 24-bit, and has a resolution of 1200 x 1200. I was able to get some pretty good scans, and when choosing the proper dpi, you can get the results you would like.

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Print quality was quite good with photos. It offers 4 color inks - Cyan/Black/Magenta/Yellow. I was printing on some of the Epson brand 4 x 6 Glossy photo paper and the high-res images I  printed came out looking awesome. I really do appreciate the photo quality that Epson has when it comes to printing photos.  The output on standard paper was good for a printer in this price range. The test prints I did were absolutely acceptable, text, graphics, PDFs, and photos.  My only gripe was running out of black ink too soon. I deliberately used a mix of colorful photos and graphics for testing, but still ran out of Black, way before I did of the other inks. This could have been my testing documents, but it did burn through quite faster than I would have expected. Here is the thing that irritated me though — until I replace the Black, then I can't print anything at all (even though the menu says I can still use other functions). It won't even let you do a nozzle test. However, scanning still worked just fine.

Supplies nx430

When the printing did commence, it's no speed demon, but it gets the job done. It's much slower than the Artisan 800 we had tested previously, however, it's also 1/4 of the price.

Conclusion:

With the built-in Wi-Fi, AirPrint capability, great photo printing, LCD touch screen, and respectable color printing, I found this printer to be a winner on most counts, and being a sub $100 printer, it's certainly capable for all that it offers.

Product: Epson Stylus NX430 Small In One Printer

Price: $99.95

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Review Sample provided by: Epson

Review: Labels & Addresses from Belight Soft - Best Label Program on the Mac

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Printing labels on the Mac isn't as easy as it should be. This became extremely apparent to me when my wife suddenly had the need to process postcards at an alarming rate for a project she was working on. I tried a few different applications, but none other than Belight's Labels & Addresses even came close to meeting my needs. Instead of a catch all program most people use, like MS Word or Apple's Pages, this is a SPECIFIC application that does precise labels, envelopes, mail merges, etc… and does it exactly right.

Setting up your first printing is extremely easy - they even have an assistant to get you started. Each one can customized to your own granular needs. The basic assistant offers you pre-defined designs, labels, addresses, and postcards. Most of them are good looking and well thought out, and can easily be customized to meet your needs. This is really for people that don't have an idea, but can use these as baselines and then go in and customize them.

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It supports hundreds of  popular pre-defined media types and they are easily searchable. If you need an Avery - 10 Video Tape label, no problem -- they've got it.  If they don't most pre-packaged labels tell you the dimensions, so you can input those into a custom label set.

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Labels and Addresses offers importing and placement of everything you could possibly need for creating the perfect printouts. Not only does it already come with a plethora of built-in clip art, but you can import images from your current libraries, create images with Belight's Art Text (if you own it), pre-defined handling labels, and even barcodes. I was impressed by the sheer amount of flexibility this application offers. For example, alignment tools are key for making your labels, cards, envelopes look great. Whenever you move something, the alignment bars pop up showing you exactly how everything aligns with the other.

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Merge printing is excellent, offering the ability to create specific lists from your addresses (it pulls your addresses from Apple Address Book, Microsoft Entourage, Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Excel, Apple Numbers, Now Contact and File Maker Pro). Additionally, during the printing process, you can also specify whether you want the country name surprised, cut marks, what label to start from ( we all have sheets around with just a few labels left on them).

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The flexibility of the program is perfect for the home user as well as a small business. If you want to increase the clip-art, they have an add-on pack that adds 40,000+ high quality images, and one that includes an additional 100 fonts. During my testing I shipped out 100 postcards, 200 mailing labels, and printed off some labels for my binders. Each one was done with ease - which really makes me appreciate this application.

Conclusion

With the level of sophistication and flexibility this product offers, I could never go back to using the cumbersome Pages or Word to create labels. By far, this is absolutely the definitive Labels, Addresses, Envelopes application for your Mac. In fact, it's the best I've used on ANY platform. As hard as I tried to find something wrong with it, I couldn't. Highly recommended.

Product: Labels & Addresses

Company: Belight Software

Price: $24.99 in the Mac App Store -- or from their Web site, where you can get a Free Trial.

5 apples

 

Print from your iPad, iPod, and iPhone on your Mac - for FREE

Printing from your iOS device can be a little mysterious. If you have a version of iOS that supports 'AirPrint', you've seen the 'Print' button. However, you click it and no printers show up. Well, thanks to a nice little exclusive agreement with HP, only select HP printers get the privilege of being able to be printed on. Apple really blew this one for the consumer.

No worries though.. some third party apps will let you use YOUR printer as long as your Mac is up and running and you have a printer(s) connected to it. .

First up is Printopia, from Ecamm. This is a great app offering more than just printing to all of your printers, it can also print a file to PDF, send it to your Dropbox, Evernote, or your Mac. You simply install the $20 app and it goes into your Mac's control panel and is instantly working. It's a breeze. I wasn't able to fully test it since my 7 day trial expired before I could write the review. Still, a good option, and I've read glowing reviews about it. Sadly, they didn't respond to my NFR request, so I couldn't give it a  good look. Originally version 1 of the App was $10. Version 2 upped the price to $20.

If FREE is more your style, and you only want to print to your printer, then all you need is AirPrint Activator from Netputing.com. This is a cool little app that will enable a Mac with OSX 10.6.5+ and iTunes 10.1+ feature to print to your printers that are connected to your Mac. Install this little app and you can print to any of your available printers.

Works great, and it's FREE. Just be sure to install the proper version for your OS. AirPrint Activator 2 (beta) is for OSX 10.5, 10.6 and 10.7 (Lion).

 

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