36 Holes No Problem: Powered to go (and go) with RELi3ON® InSight lithium batteries.

How To Convert Your Golf Cart to Run on Lithium Batteries

This product review focuses on a decision many golf cart owners face when the original lead acid batteries start failing: replace with the exact same or consider an alternative brand lead acid batteries.  Until recently, these were the only viable options.  You could call the shop you bought your cart from and have them order and replace the lead acid batteries, you could locate a supplier of similar sized lead acid batteries and do it yourself, or you could just buy a new golf cart.  Ok, maybe that last option is a bit extreme, but I know owners who do just that.

A few years ago, some of the OEM golf cart manufacturers started selling their carts with the option of a single large lithium battery versus the traditional four (12-volt) or six (8-volt) lead acid batteries in 48-volt powered golf cars. 

Around the same time that OEM golf cart manufactures began offering lithium batteries as an option, a few battery manufacturers started producing lithium batteries for replacement of lead acid batteries in existing golf carts. This opened a new alternative to consider and brings us to this review.

I have a 2017 Yamaha Drive2 PTV golf cart with Yamaha’s AC motor, and it came new with six 8-volt lead acid batteries.  The cart gets used an average of three times per week on one of our two golf courses, both of which have sizeable elevation changes throughout the courses.  After three and one-half years the original Trojan T-875 batteries were failing and barely able to make it through one round.  Based on my research, I decided to go with RELi3ON® InSight lithium batteries, provided at cost by RELi3ON®.

This review focuses on the logic behind my decision, the replacement process, and the result.

The logic behind my decision

Lithium batteries offer several compelling advantages over lead acid batteries, including:

  • Lighter weight
  • No maintenance
  • Faster charge
  • Retains charge for longer
  • Longevity
  • Direct fit, no modification

The weight savings of lithium over wet lead acid batteries is one of the biggest advantages.  A normal set of lead acid batteries tips the scales at 378 pounds.  Lithium batteries pack more power than lead acid, and in the case of InSight batteries, each battery supplies 48 volts and 30-amp hours.  You can comfortably replace the six lead acid batteries in your cart with just two lithium batteries.  If you go with two lithium InSight batteries, your total weight will be 69 pounds or a savings of 309 pounds!  Even if you go with four lithium batteries as I did because of the considerable elevation changes on our courses, your new total weight will be 138 pounds, or a savings of 240 pounds!

This weight savings is immediately noticeable in your cart’s moving from a full stop, in its steering and handling.  Hauling a minimum of 240 pounds less each time you drive your cart will mean components like brakes, suspension and tires will last longer.

Another advantage of lithium batteries is that there is zero maintenance.  You never have to check or add water for the life of the battery.

Because of the chemistry, the lithium batteries charge much faster than lead acid, typically coming up to full charge after a round in just a few hours.  Also, unlike lead acid batteries that lose their capacity quickly over time (when not left on a charger/maintainer), lithium will still have 80% of their capacity after 60 days and will take two years to drop to 20% of their capacity.

Lead acid golf cart batteries normally last between three and five years, and usually have a 12-to-18-month warranty.  Lithium batteries are rated to last eight to ten or more years.  The RELi3ON® InSight lithium batteries reviewed here, carry a 7-year full warranty and are rated for greater than 6,000 cycles @ 80% depth of discharge.

A consideration, especially for the DIY golf cart owner, is how difficult will be the conversion from wet lead acid to lithium batteries.  As it turns out, not difficult at all since the RELi3ON® InSight batteries are a direct size replacement for the OEM lead acid batteries.  More on that shortly.

With the advantages being so impressive, why wouldn’t everyone replace their lead acid batteries with lithiums when it is time?  There are a couple of reasons I can think of.  Many golf cart shops are still unfamiliar with, and have no experience with, lithium options for replacements.  Similarly, since it is a relatively new technology, few golf cart owners have heard of lithium aftermarket batteries and therefore do not consider them when their batteries die.  But the biggest reason is the initial cost outlay difference.

If you are in the market for a new golf cart, possibly your dealer has offered a lithium version as an option.  Currently the lithium option adds between US$2200-$4000 to the regular cart price over traditional lead acid batteries.  Returning to the focus here, replacing original lead acid batteries in the golf cart you already own, a set of six good lead acid batteries will cost about $1600 plus installation plus another $75 to $100 for a battery fill kit if you want/need one. 

Depending on how you use your golf cart, and how hilly your golf course is, you can choose to replace the six eight-volt batteries (48-volt system) with either two, three or four 48-volt lithium batteries.  A major difference between the lead acid batteries in a golf cart and lithium, is that lithium is scalable.  That is, you can start with a two-lithium battery system, and if you find you need more range, you can simply add one or two more lithium batteries to your system later.

Two InSight batteries will provide 60-amp hours and 20-35 miles per charge, three will provide 90-amp hours and 30-50 miles per charge and four will go 40-65 miles per charge with 120- amp hours.  The current price for the RELi3ON® InSight lithium 48-volt batteries is two for $2595, three for $3295 and four for $3995. This price includes free shipping to your door, spacer batteries to fill the empty battery slots, a RELiON approved charger (that works through your cart’s regular charge port), and CAN cables (allow each battery to ‘communicate’ data to the other batteries).  [Note: check with RELiON’s web site to get the latest pricing and bundle options.  The latest bundle includes their new fuel gauge, discussed towards the end of this review.]

Considering cost alone, for example, if instead of replacing the lead acid batteries twice over eight years you purchased two InSight lithium batteries, you would save $500 to $600.  If you went with three InSight lithium batteries, you basically break even, and if you went with four you would spend an additional $700 to $800 over the lead acid batteries.  When you consider the advantages of lithium discussed earlier, it could be a very good option for you.

Why RELi3ON® over other lithium options?  I was impressed by several factors including the actual design of their InSight battery, their steps to ensure the safety of lithium technology for this application, and their customer service. Unlike some competitors, RELi3ON® did not modify existing lithium batteries and components to work in a golf cart environment, rather they designed the InSight from the proverbial Tabula Rasa or ‘clean sheet’ approach.  In essence they laid out everything they wanted a lithium battery to be able to do in a golf cart and golf cart environment, and then designed the battery to do that.  I encourage you to check out their website[1] to learn more detail about the battery’s chemistry, construction and impressive ‘unique SuperSmart BMS’- battery management system that is incorporated into each battery.  They also have a number of very informative YouTube videos, for example, explaining the construction of the battery.[2]

Installation

The four RELi3ON® InSight lithium 48-volt batteries along with the charger unit arrived within about a week of ordering and were delivered on a pallet.

The first step was to remove the six 8-volt Trojan T-875 lead acid batteries from my cart.  To facilitate this, I removed the seat and switched the “Tow/Run” switch to tow to ensure that the cart motor and electronics were not inadvertently damaged by the removal and installation of the batteries.

My cart had an auto-fill system attached to each of the Trojan batteries (this system makes it easier to maintain the correct fill level when adding distilled water for required battery maintenance).  After I removed the hose connections, I put duct tape across the fill hole in each battery to ensure no acid sloshed out when I removed the battery.


Next, I used a 9/16 or a 14mm socket to remove the nuts securing the battery cables (be careful to not short across the terminals with your wrench).  You can save and reuse the original cables; I discuss this shortly.  Follow by removing the nuts on the battery retainer brackets.  On my cart, these required a 12mm socket.

Now you are ready to lift the batteries out.  The easiest way is to use a battery lifting strap (under $10 at an auto parts store or Amazon) that hooks onto the lift tabs at top of the batteries.  Take care, as the batteries each weigh about 60+ pounds and you want to lift each up as straight as possible to avoid spilling out any of the battery acid.  You can dispose of the lead acid batteries at most auto supply shops or battery shops (like Batteries Plus Bulbs) for free.  If that is not convenient, call your local recycling facility.

After you remove the batteries, take a couple of minutes to clean out the battery tray of any debris that has accumulated.  Also use some sandpaper to clean the cable ends from your cart that run from the batteries to the motor/controller and from the charging port.

Empty battery tray

As mentioned, you can reuse some of the battery cables you removed (you won’t need all of them), but it is best to use cables of equal length for the connections between your new lithium batteries.  If your original cables are equal length and in good shape, go ahead and use them.  If not, I recommend you order new 4 AWG cables.  You will need one pair of new cables if you go with a two-lithium battery set up, two pairs for a three-lithium battery set up, and three pairs for a four-lithium battery set up like I did.  The length that you need to order will depend on how your batteries sit in your battery tray.  In my case, I ordered ($15 per pair from Amazon) three sets of Spartan Power 4 AGW one-foot-long cables with 5/16 ring terminals.

Now you are ready to install the RELi3ON® InSight lithium 48-volt batteries.  This process is the same, whether you decided to go with two, three or four to power your cart.  Place the lithium batteries onto the battery tray, using the positions closest to the negative and positive cables from your motor/controller.  You will follow by putting in the spacer units that came with your batteries to enable the reuse of the battery retainer brackets.  Finish by reattaching the battery retainer brackets.

Next step is attaching the cables.  Note: this is very different from how your lead acid batteries were connected.  Your lithium batteries are connected in parallel.  That means the cable from one battery’s positive terminal is connected to the next battery’s positive terminal.  Similarly, the cable from one battery’s negative terminal is connected to the next battery’s negative terminal.

Start with your ‘first’ lithium battery in the group—that will be the lithium battery you are connecting the negative cable from your motor/controller (see above picture, first battery is labelled #1).  On that battery, you connect the negative cable from your motor/controller and one connecting cable to the same negative post on the RELi3ON® InSight battery.  You will also connect the negative cable from your cart’s charger port here.  The nut on the RELi3ON® InSight battery post uses a 13mm socket (there is also a stud that uses an M8 Allen wrench that can be used).  Tighten to 6.6 to 7.4 ft-lbs if you have a torque wrench.  Otherwise, tighten firmly but do not over tighten.  Now connect the other end of the cable attached to the first battery negative terminal to the next battery’s negative terminal.  Continue connecting each of your battery negative terminals the same way.

Going back to the ‘first’ lithium battery, now connect its positive terminal to the second battery, again using either the 13mm nut or M8 stud.  Continue to your last battery.  Now connect the positive cable from your motor/controller to the last battery’s positive terminal.  Also, connect the positive cable from your cart’s charger port here. 

Recheck all of your cable connections.  The first battery should have the negative cable from your motor/controller and be connected to the second battery negative terminal.  The first battery does NOT connect to your motor/controller positive cable.  Its positive terminal only connects to the second battery positive terminal.  The last battery in your system should have the positive cable from the motor/controller connected to its positive terminal, as well as be connected to the positive terminal on the next battery in the parallel set up.  The last battery does NOT have a connection from its negative terminal to the motor/controller negative cable.  You can see this in the following image.

Positive connections highlighted in green, Negative highlighted in yellow

When you opened the boxes with your new RELi3ON® InSight batteries, on top was a CAN cable for interconnecting the batteries.  This cable is used to enhance charge and discharge balancing between batteries.

With all the battery cables now in place, it is time to connect the CAN cables.  Before you connect them, take a close look at the end of one of the CAN cables as well as the CANbus ports on top of a battery.  You will see that the female connector on the CAN cable has an angled section that must be aligned with the same section on the CANbus port on the battery per the following images.

Now, begin with the ‘first’ battery (the one connected to the golf cart negative motor/controller cable).  Connect the CAN cable to the Output CAN port, ensuring that you have it angled sections aligned.  It is the one on the positive side of the battery (#3 in this image).  Take the other end of this Can cable and connect it to the Input CAN port (the negative battery side, #2 in this image) of the second battery.  Continue connecting the remaining CAN cables the same way for the rest of your batteries.

Properly wired in parallel (positive to positive, negative to negative)

When you are done, recheck all of your CAN cable connections.  Your first battery should only have one CAN cable connected (at the Output port) and the Input port remains unused at this point.  Similarly, the last battery should only have one CAN cable connected (at the Input port), and the Output port remains unused at this time.

The final connection step is optional.  If you ordered the InSight series ‘fuel’ gauge (list $175 but will shortly be priced in respective InSight battery bundles), you would need to connect it at this point. 

The fuel or battery gauge is not required, but very useful.  Each of the RELi3ON® InSight batteries have a state of charge set of LEDs on the top of the battery, that function to tell you the remaining charge, ranging from 0 to 100%.  However, to see this, you would need to lift your cart seat.  The InSight gauge can be used as a direct replacement for your cart’s original battery gauge, or as in my application, as an additional gauge.  The odds are that your original gauge will not correctly tell you the state of charge because it is normally designed to measure voltage, rather than current.  The InSight gauge provides you two continuous readouts, one displaying the % of charge remaining and the number of amp-hours remaining, the second display shows also the % of charge remaining along with the number of lithium batteries connected.

Connecting the InSight series gauge is very simple.  At the end of the wiring harness supplied with the gauge, you’ll find a red wire with a ring terminal, a black wire with a ring terminal, and a CAN connector.  Go to your ‘first’ battery, connect the red ring terminal to the positive pole, the black ring terminal to the negative pole, and the CAN connector to the unused CANbus Input port.

Now route the gauge harness up to the place you are mounting the meter, using zip ties to secure the harness along the cart frame.  You can simply replace your cart’s existing meter if it is a standard round gauge or mount the InSight meter separately.   In my case, I left the original meter since it also functions to display when my cart’s turn signals are on as well as when the headlights are on.  I purchased an add on automotive gauge pod from Amazon (under $8 Etopars Carbon Fiber 2″ 52mm Universal One Hole Dash Dashboard Car Gauge Pod Mount Holder) and mounted the InSight gauge into it.

Lastly, you need to attach the charger to cart wiring harness to the RELi3ON® InSight supplied charger.  Different OEM golf cart manufacturers use slightly different female connectors to their cart’s charging port.  When you order your RELi3ON® InSight battery bundle, you identify the type of cart you have, and they include the correct charger harness.  All you are required to do is attach the harness to the charger- basically connecting the harness ends via screws on the charger base and screwing on the protective cover.  The Lester Summit II unit that RELi3ON® supplied for my bundle also has a Bluetooth smartphone app for monitoring charge cycle status.

Now you are finished.  The whole installation process from start to finish will probably take you a couple of hours.  It really is simple to do once you review and become familiar with the details.

Ready to Go (and go and go 😊 )

Now for the fun part.  The first time you power on your new RELi3ON® InSight batteries you simply press and hold the Power button (see #4 in image) on the first battery until you see the first LED flash green.  It will then continue to flash green every five seconds.  Shortly thereafter, you will see the remaining batteries come to life; their respective first LED will similarly flash green.

Once all the batteries are ‘awake’ you can press and release the power button once on each battery, and then the two LEDs will tell you the state of charge.  You are now ready to go!  Along with the satisfaction of having done this conversion be prepared for the very noticeable ‘seat-of-the-pants’ feel of the quick acceleration and easier steering/handling of your golf cart.

After you have taken it out for its maiden spin, plug your new charger in.  The recommendation is to plug your cart in after each use.  The charger is a ‘smart’ charger/maintainer and can be left on without concern.

Preliminary Conclusions

After my first couple month’s use of the RELi3ON® InSight lithium batteries, I have found that they perform perfectly.  No matter how hard the cart is pushed, they never even get warm to the touch.  They charge back to 100% and 120-amp hours in just a few hours.  Even after driving around and playing 36 holes on my very hilly courses, the remaining charge is still in the mid 60% range.

Handling and “zippiness” are superb due to the permanent weight reduction.  Another bonus is not ever having to think about checking and adding distilled water to the batteries.

My only ‘nit’ (and it is a small one) is with regards to the CAN cable connection.  I’d recommend RELi3ON® add a visible alignment line on both the cable and the battery port to make the proper connection simpler.

Other than that, the quality of all the components included in the RELi3ON® InSight battery package is outstanding.  Customer Service/Technical Help was excellent.  The ‘seat-of-the-pants’ feel brings a smile to my face every time I am in the cart, even if my golf game does not.

My rating: Clearly deserves a 5 out of possible 5 lightning bolts!

I hope you found this useful. Please let me know if you have any questions!

Cheers

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZpXBc5UzpU&ab_channel=RELiONBattery


[1] https://relionbattery.com/insight

Fledging Shell Slim External NVMe PCIe SSD Review: Small and Super-Fast

Recently a new style of solid-state drive has been used in computers and laptops called NVMe PCIe SSD.  They differ in several ways from SSDs you possibly have in your computer or laptop.  Instead of being similar in shape and size to a small cell phone (standard SATA SSD), the NVMe M.2 looks more like a memory stick. 

They are designed to be significantly faster than regular SATA hard drives as well as faster than SSDs.  To fully realize their speed, however, your motherboard needs to be a newer model that has native M.2 module slots built in.  These M.2 modules have direct lanes to the CPU, unlike going through typical expansion slots first.  It is possible to use the NVMe M.2 in either internal adaptor cards, or externally through a USB 3.1 C or Thunderbolt™ connection, but again, the resulting speeds will be less than you can achieve with a native M.2 module slot on your motherboard.[1]

This review is of the new Fledging Shell Slim, supplied with a 1TB NVMe 2280 SSD, by Fledging’s Brand Manager.

What’s In The Box

Along with the Fledging Shell Slim is a small screwdriver, package with two brass case replacement screws, a small soft carrying case for the Shell Slim, and one fun Fledging icon sticker.

My unit had a 1TB NVMe PCIe SSD pre-installed, so it was ready to go.  The Shell Slim can be ordered as just a case, or with 256GB to 2 TB SSDs.

The unit weighs 1.2 oz (34 gm) with the SSD installed.  It is 3.79 long (9.63 cm) by 1.24 in. (3.15 cm) by 0.35 in thick (0.89 cm). The USB C connector on the case adds 0.25 in (0.64 cm).

The Shell Slim case by itself lists for US$45.99 and with the 1TB SSD as tested, US$179.99.[2]

Inserting your own NVMe PCIe SSD in the Shell Slim is easy.  You unscrew the two brass screws, one on either end of the case, open the case and pull out the board by using the attached USB C connector.  You then insert your SSD into the board and screw in the retainer screw per the following diagram (Courtesy of Fledging):

The only slightly challenging part is reinserting the two case screws once you have inserted the board back into the case.  They are very tiny (and that is why Fledging probably provided the extras 😊).

Initial Field Test

I used a LG Gram laptop Z990 with an 8th Gen Intel® Core™ i7 processor, DDR4 dual-channel memory, 256GB M.2 2280 SSD, 16GB DDR4, Windows 10 with a native Thunderbolt™ 3 Interface port to run the performance analyses.

Two different types of ‘real data’ tests were conducted.  The first was designed to replicate the post-shoot file transfers I do as a professional photographer.

For this test, 2 sets of files were loaded directly from an XQD card, one 6.14 GB (311 items) and one 47 GB (842 items), each containing a mix of images, videos, pdfs and text. For performance comparison four different drives were used:

  • Shell Slim
  • Thunder-Thunderbolt 3
  • The LG Gram motherboard mounted M.2 SSD
  • Micro SD SDXC card (in the SD port of the laptop)

Test 1 results:

 6.14GB47.0GB
Shell Slim00:18.9802:54.55
Thunder-Thunderbolt 300:29.9903:40.57
LG Gram motherboard M.2 SSD00:24.305:37.34
Micro SD SDXC card01:36.611:36.03

The second test was based on directly writing from the LG Gram laptop 256GB M.2 2280 SSD to the two faster drives from Test 1, the Shell Slim and the Thunder-Thunderbolt 3.  Both external drives were connected to the LG Gram Thunderbolt™ 3 Interface port.  One 47 GB (842 items) and one 72.8 GB (8996 items) data set mix of images, videos, music, pdfs and text were used.  The tests were run twice, reformatting the drives in between and letting their temperatures return to ambient before the second write.  The table shows the average times from the two runs.

 47.0 GB72.8 GB*
Shell Slim01:55.2404:13.85
Thunder-Thunderbolt 303:06.1407.73.89

*Temperature rise on writing to the respective drives: Thunder-Thunderbolt 3 15.5⁰F increase; Shell Slim 22.5⁰F increase.

Preliminary Results

As a photographer, anything that can speed up backup transfer while ensuring the integrity of the images, is always welcome.  As can be seen in Test 1, replicating the options available to me when I normally transfer directly from my camera XQD card, the Shell Slim was the fastest for both the smaller 6.14GB and larger 47GB data write operations.  In fact, it would have saved me nearly 9 minutes in the transfer of the large data set as compared to the SD SDXC card!

In Test 2, again the Shell Slim was considerably faster than the Thunder-Thunderbolt 3, when both were connected to the LG Gram Thunderbolt™ 3 Interface port.  Note, the Shell Slim doesn’t have to be connected to a Thunderbolt 3 port but can work with any USB C port.

I think is worth reemphasizing the high functionality combination of the extreme speed of the Shell Slim packaged in such a small unit that directly connects to your Thunderbolt™ 3 Interface or USB C port.  No cables to carry, no power supply needed.

In summary, this Fledging Shell Slim External NVMe PCIe SSD earns a solid 5 out of 5.


[1] See Thunder-Thunderbolt 3 review https://insight.daumphotography.com/2020/10/31/kingston-kc-2500-nvme-m-2-2280-2tb-ssd-fast-and-small/

[2] Fledging webpage https://fledging.net/collections/shell-enclosures/products/shell-slim

[3] See https://insight.daumphotography.com/2021/01/27/fledging-shell-thunder-thunderbolt-3-ssd-external-storage/

Make no bones about it- I can hear you now! AFTERSHOKZ OPENCOMM Bone Conduction Headset

The following is a review of a different class of headsets, one based on bone conduction technology.  The AFTERSHOKZ OPENCOMM headset was provided to me by the marketing director of AFTERSHOKZ, for review.

For those not familiar with bone conduction headsets, there are two key differences between them and the more familiar in-the-ear or over-the-ear headsets.  (1) They do not sit in or on your ears. Bone conduction headsets are designed to rest on your cheekbones.  (2) By design, they transmit the sound through your cheekbones directly to your cochlea, bypassing your inner ear and ear drum.

Because of this key difference, they result in a qualitative difference in the sound you hear and the experience of wearing headsets.  But more on that shortly.

What is in the box:

The OPENCOMM headset arrives attractively boxed and includes the headset, a semi-hard travel case, the User Guide, and the magnetic charging cable.

Set Up and Specs

You charge the headset by connecting the magnetic charging cable to a USB port.  The User Guide indicates it takes 60 minutes to full charge.  According to AFTERSHOKZ webpage[1] a full charge will provide you with 16 hours talk time or 8 hours of listen time.  Also, if your battery is running low, you can add 2 hours of talk time with just five minutes charge.

The Bluetooth 5.0 built in the set allows for very quick and easy pairing.  Once you are paired, that is it- there is no app to download or further set up with the OPENCOMM headset.

One of the first things you will notice about the OPENCOMM headset is how light weight it is.  A mere 33 grams or less than 1.2 oz!   It is built on a titanium frame that is completely wrapped in a semi-soft rubber.  The frame is not intended to be adjusted (bent) from its preformed shape.  In fact, the only adjustable component is the boom mic, which you rotate down to be near your mouth.

The boom appears to house two microphones, one for its noise cancelling software and one to pick up your voice.

The set is IP55 Water-Resistant.  According to DSM&T[2] , that means it is “Protected from limited dust ingress” and “Protected from low pressure water jets from any direction.”  In other words, it is fine for use in low dust environments and somewhat water resistant. It even has a built-in moisture protection alert.

The OPENCOMM headset retails for US$159.95 and is manufactured in China.

Sound Test and Actual Use

The unit can only be worn with the mic boom on the left side of the head because of the preformed arch that goes above each ear.  It is not reversable.  The OPENCOMM headset has three buttons on the unit.  Two are on the lower part of the frame just behind the wearer’s right ear.  In contrast to the matt black frame, the buttons are orange.  One is marked + and one -.    The + is used to turn on the headset as well as turn it off, and is used to increase the volume, while the – is used to decrease the volume, and pressing both will mute the call.  The third button is located on the same side of the frame, but in front of the ear on the sound conduction component and is a multi-function button.  It can be used for a variety of functions including answering incoming calls, hanging up, pausing music, etc.  Most presses are accompanied by hearing a voice prompt from the set.

My voice sounded clear and of normal volume, the same as if I was on my cell or land line when talking with incoming or outgoing calls over the OPENCOMM headset, according to the individual I was talking with. 

The noise cancelling technology was astounding.  For example, the individual I was talking to heard me clearly with no other noise when I was standing right next to a running vacuum, or where I had music playing quite loudly in the room.

Even though these are not truly designed for listening to music because bone conduction can’t reproduce with the finesse that the inner ear can, I still ran a few tests similar to those I normally do with earbuds, for example with the Jabra ANC Elite 85c (see https://insight.daumphotography.com/2020/12/01/jabra-anc-elite-85t-big-sound-little-package/).  I listened to Symphony No.1 in D minor ”Gothic’‘ – Havergal Brian.  You could hear the vast range of instruments from tympanies to bells, but the separation was muddied and you did not feel like you were actually in a symphony hall.  Another test was with Santana’s Evil Ways.  In this case the stereophonic separation was faithfully reproduced, but again the distinction between instrumentation and vocals was not clean.  Another sound test was with Rodrigo y Gabriela Satori.  This is a complex recording with two acoustical guitars.  The sound seemed to reproduce the range but lacked crispness.

Initial Conclusions:

The AFTERSHOKZ OPENCOMM headset is an extremely well made, light weight headset.  The magnetic charging cable snaps smartly onto the headset and quickly recharges.  However, since it is a unique adaptor cable (versus being able to use a more universal USB C) you will have to remember to take the magnetic cable with you (and not lose it).  The nicely designed travel case will help in that regard.

The OPENCOMM headset is reasonably comfortable to wear for long periods of time, especially since it does not sit in or on your ears.   The headset sound reproduction units rest directly on your cheek bones with a slight but continuous pressure.  Some individuals may not find that comfortable, and you cannot adjust the titanium band to modify the pressure.  Also, because of the way the titanium band goes behind the ears and around the lower back of your head, it would not be comfortable to sit or recline with your head against a chair back.  The frame would be pushed forward as well as the loops going over and around your ears.

The active noise cancelling (ANC) technology is amongst the best I have found in any headset in terms of what the individual on the other end of the call hears.  A caveat of the off-ear design, however, is that you still hear all the noise surrounding you.  This can be very helpful or a hindrance.  If you are on a call and someone or something nearby is trying to get your attention, they will succeed where that would not be the case with in-the-ear or over-the-ear headsets with ANC.  But, if you are trying to hear over the OPENCOMM headset and there is a lot of ambient noise, the ANC will not help you at all on your end- it does not boost or compensate the incoming signal.

So, is the OPENCOMM for you?  That depends on your intended use.  These would be excellent for situations where you spend extended periods of time talking on your cell phone or over your computer, or on a Zoom video conference (and look a ton better than most over-the-ear headsets with a boom mic). They adequately handle music as well, but if your primary purpose is to listen to music and you enjoy hearing the nuances, then this would not be the best choice.

They would also be an ideal choice if you have any inner ear/ear drum damage impacting your hearing normally through the air.

The OPENCOMM headset would be very good as well for walking or jogging, since they stay put on your head.  With the full open ear design, you will also remain aware of your surroundings.

Overall Rating:  5 out of 5


[1] https://us.aftershokz.com/products/opencomm

[2] http://www.dsmt.com/resources/ip-rating-chart/

Wen Times Boreas Winter Jacket Review

This is a product review of the Wen Times Boreas winter jacket.  The sample was provided by its distributor Naturality.

The Boreas is a low bulk, relatively light weight jacket based on a new insulating material, originally developed by NASA for spacesuit insulation.  The filling is called silica aerogel.

Here are some highlights from Wen Times Indiegogo’s crowdfunding campaign website[1]:

  • With extreme temperatures in mind, we brought you the thinnest, warmest, and most fitted winter jacket ever made. This jacket consists of silica aerogel, the highly resistant and lightweight material researched and developed by NASA to insulate spacesuits.
  • No more bulky layers to stay warm! As thin as just two millimeters of foil, the aerogel filling will maintain your core temperature in any weather condition, ensuring complete comfort and protection for your next chilly adventure.
  • Essential safety comes first. From the hood to the ribbed waistband, and down to the cuffs—every inch of the Boreas is 100% resistant to flames and ignition.
  • Coffee spills and grease stains will no longer ruin your day. The Boreas all-round resistance to stains will keep dirt away from your clothes, and from the fun!
  • The Boreas interior is fully covered with a film of the nano-silver coating.

Widely known for their anti-bacterial properties, the silver nanoparticles nested into the fabric can also enable the lining layer to reflect near-infrared wavelengths back toward your skin, maintaining the temperature inside the jacket while preventing the loss of body heat.

  • The two aerogel-filled pockets, spacious and conveniently designed on the sides of your jacket, will keep your hands warm and comfortable even in the coldest winter conditions.
  • MSRP US$499

[1] https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/boreas-the-warmest-jacket-made-with-nasa-tech#/

Quality & Construction Review:

The manufacturing quality and attention to detail in producing the Boreas jacket is excellent.  All the seams line up, stitching is uniform throughout.  The outer material feels very smooth, somewhat slick, and soft.

All zippers function smoothly. Though, perhaps as a result of its newness, getting the main zipper fully engaged in the retainer box is sometimes balky. The main zipper has two pulls, so that you can unzip from either the top or bottom.  Because of this, you need to get the lug through the lower zipper pull and then the retainer box.

The interior shell is as nicely finished as the outer shell.  The sleeves and back have a silver reflective liner.

The four outer pockets are large and properly finished, as is the one zippered inside pocket.  There is an additional open chest pocket on the inside.

There are elastic cuffs on the inside of the sleeves along with Velcro straps to further secure the ends of the sleeves.  Inside, there is an elastic waist band that has a slip catch to ensure both outside air and snow don’t come up under the jacket.  The slip catch is a little difficult to slide together.  At this point it is hard to judge the durability of the slip catch.

They have included a digital thermometer strip on the inside lapel of the jacket.  While the readout appears reasonably accurate, the practicality is questionable.  But it fits with their marketing theme.

The hood is fully adjustable to fit snugly and comfortably around your head.  I would recommend that some sort of storage, for example into a built-in pocket beneath the neck guard, be considered for when the hood is not being used.

Fit:

I was provided a medium sized Boreas jacket.  I normally wear medium in outwear whether a ski jacket, lightweight jacket, or coat.  However, I found the Boreas too tight from an activity point of view.  The jacket fit me snuggly and was fine for just walking about.  However, there was not enough room to comfortably raise or swing my arms.  The arm holes and material across the back of the coat would not comfortably permit movements as you would normally do in outdoor sports.

Even though according to their sizing chart I would expect the M to fit:

My measurements are chest 96 cm, waist 81 cm, weight 64.8 kg.  All well within their chart’s range for M.  The only measurement that I was outside of the chart M was for height at 172.7 cm.

Since the Boreas jacket fit OK for just walking about, it would appear that additional expanding or stretch material be considered around the arm holes and across the back to enable active movement.

Insulation results:

The first test was by nature subjective.  Wearing the Boreas in cold ambient temperatures, felt nicely warm and remained that way for extended walks.  It appears that the combination of reflective lining and the silica aerogel did a good job.

Since comfort is clearly subjective (even with the ability to reference the built-in thermometer), I decided to do a more scientific test of the insulating ability of the Boreas jacket. 

Cold ‘pass-through’ testing

To see how well the Boreas insulated against outside cold temperatures, I used a frozen cooler pack.  To monitor the temperature in the jacket, a wireless Bluetooth digital thermometer was placed on top of a microfiber towel, inside of the jacket, with the jacket closed over the thermometer.   The frozen cooler pack was placed above the location of the thermometer on the outside of the jacket and covered with several microfibers towels and a book to ensure the frozen cooler pack remained in full contact with the coat.  A digital timer was used to indicate 5, 10 and 15 minutes passing for the temperature measurements.

In addition to the Boreas jacket, for comparison purposes, a regular non-insulated but lined jacket, an Omni-Heat vest and a standard ski jacket with Thinsulate™ Lite Loft™ Insulation were all tested.  In each case, one of four identical frozen cooler packs was taken directly from the freezer and placed as noted above the location of the thermometer on the outside of the respective jacket at the start of the test.

Frozen cooler pack results:

As can be seen in the table, the Boreas performed second best of the four jackets in its ability to insulate and reduce cold transfer.

Preliminary Conclusions

The Boreas jacket is a very well made and executed cold weather jacket.  It does a good job reflecting one’s own body heat back and retaining it while blocking the incursion of outside air.

It has great storage, wind, water and dirt rejection capabilities.

As noted, there are a few areas that could be improved: an easier means of securing the waist band, a self-storage area for the hood, and more accurate sizing or the inclusion of flexible material around the arm holes and upper back.

5 out of 5 for quality

5 out of 5 for innovativeness

3 out of 5 for fit.

Nearby Beauty

A positive ramification of Covid restrictions, is the opportunity to take time and explore one’s local flora and fauna.  We set out to hike a trail that is part of the Hoover Dam railroad line, built in 1931 to provide a means of getting concrete and supplies needed for construction of the dam.

The trail follows on the path of the original rail line, but the rails are no longer there. It provides gorgeous vistas looking down on Lake Mead and of the rock formations as you pass through five of the original rail tunnels through the rock.

This is one of my favorite images, as the colors reminded me of Monet’s Water Lilies painting.

Here is a short slideshow of the hike if you would like to see more: https://youtu.be/-EIc-_Y9cZE

Jabra ANC Elite 85t: Big sound, little package

The following is a review of the Jabra ANC Elite 85t wireless earbuds.  I was supplied the Jabra 85t for an independent long-term review by Jabra GN.  My orientation in writing this is from the perspective of a range of potential end users—those who are considering new earbuds and will make their decision based on a combination of value and comfort across relevant environments, as well as those who will, in addition, consider the technology.  Of course, in evaluating earbuds, most of the conclusions are subjective and should be taken as such.  To that end, I hope I have provided sufficient information to assist you in reaching your own conclusions.

  • Technical specifications[1]
    • Noise isolating fit
    • Noise reduction on calls using 6-microphone technology
    • Wind noise protection
    • Audio codecs supported SBC, AAC
    • Speaker size 12 mm / 0.47 in
    • Speaker bandwidth (music playback) 20Hz to 20kHz
    • Speaker bandwidth (calls) 100Hz to 10kHz
    • Microphone type 6 x MEMS
    • Microphone bandwidth 100Hz to 10kHz
    • Active Noise Cancellation Jabra Advanced ANC™ using 4 of the device’s 6 microphones; includes HearThrough and In-ear pressure relief
    • List price US$229.99
  • After unpacking, I downloaded the free Jabra Sound + app.  It quickly paired my Samsung S10 (Android) phone with the Elite 85t buds. The app includes a Quick Start Guide that walks you through the different elements of the charging case, how to insert and wear the earbuds.  The app also includes a “Welcome to MySound” that tailors the sound set up to your personal hearing.  It runs through a short (about two-minute sound test) after you enter you sex, and year of birth.  It then generates a personal hearing profile. 

At the end of the profile it checks for and asks to download the latest software update.  After the update is downloaded, it instructs you to place the earbuds back inside the charging case and close it.  Once you do the purple/pink LED on the front of the case flashes to slow the update being loaded to the earbuds.  It states it can take up to 15 minutes.  It took about 11 minutes for the update to complete.

  • Note: when you look for the app on your phone, it is called Sound+, not Jabra Sound+
    • When you open the app, it shows you the battery charge in each earbud as well as the remaining battery life of the charging case.
  • One of the first things you notice about the earbuds is the shape of the silicon gels, they are oval rather than the typical round.  They feel amazingly comfortable in your ears and don’t require pushing them in firmly.  They immediately feel very comfortable and the earbuds themselves fairly light.
  • The active noise cancellation (ANC) was the best I’ve experienced with earbuds.  At one point while listening to a soundtrack at moderate volume, my wife walked in and apparently was loudly trying to get my attention.  I didn’t realize she was there until she stood right beside me, and I saw her in my peripheral vision, though still not hearing her.  I found the overall sound much fuller and richer if I used ANC and/or passthrough vs neither.
  • Receiving and making calls:  the six built in microphones apparently do a great job in that people I called said my voice was clear, sounding just like a land line connection.  Similarly, I could easily hear them.  To answer an incoming call, you simply press on the center circle part of the bud.  Unlike on some other earbuds where you have to find a small area on the surface to answer or mute, these have a real ‘button’ switch that is a circle nearly the size of the outside of the bud, it depresses when you push on it.  You use the same button to activate or deactivate the ANC, fast forward music, lower or raise the volume, or activate voice assistant of Siri® and Google Assistant™ by varying the number of presses or holding the button.
  • You charge the Elite 85ts by putting them back into the charging/carrying case.  Each charge according to Jabra GN Technical Specifications sheet, is good for 5.5 hours, and then by reinserting in the charging case, a total of an additional 19.5 hours.  Conveniently, you can get about an hour’s charge added by leaving in the case for just 15 minutes.  To fully charge the case using the supplied USB cable, takes about two and one-half hours.
  • Now to the sound test. 

Initial comparisons were made using a Samsung S10 and Amazon Prime Music downloads.  The same songs were also sampled using  a PC with Windows Pro OS, Intel Core i9-9900K Coffee Lake 8-Core, 16-Thread, 3.6 GHz (5.0 GHz Turbo) LGA 1151 (300 Series) 95W with Noctua NH-D15S 140mm SSO2 D-Type Premium CPU Cooler, EVGA GeForce RTX 2060 KO GAMING Video Card, again with Amazon Prime Music. 

The Jabra Sound+ was set to about 50% HearThrough and the equalizer to Neutral when using the Samsung. 

Since one of the key considerations for many is the ‘value ratio:’ the quality of the audio reproduction versus the cost.  For this reason, I have included a comparison with a pair of Boltune Wireless Earbuds BH024.  The Jabra 85t lists at US$229.99 and the Boltune BH024 at US$59.99.

In the following, the first comment is based on the Jabra earbuds and the second on the Boltune.

  • Listening to Pink Floyd The Dark Side of the Moon: Time, there was excellent separation of instruments, voices.  All tones were clean and crisp.  The bass was unmuddied, and very well balanced. The bells and symbols shined.
    • The Boltune 024s did reasonably well on the separation, but the overall sound lacked bandwidth- it was as if you compressed the dynamic range.
    • Adele He Won’t Go gave a good test of the buds’ range, cleanly handling the highs while keeping the bass impactful.
      • The Boltunes did fine on the highs but muddied the bass.
    • Listening to Leonard Bernstein conducting Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture, Op. 49 you can clearly differentiate the violins, oboes, trumpets and drums.  As the crescendos built to the ‘canons,’ the bass drum explodes with a distinct roll off each time.
      • The Boltunes matched the Jabras in the softer sections but seemed more compressed in the build up to the ‘canons.’
    • Queen Play the Game was a treat- the voices were incredibly distinct against the beat of the percussions.  The electronic tones and echo effects felt like you were in front of live production.
      • The Boltunes cleanly projected the electronic tones and effects, and the vocals were clear, but the result was like listening through a headset vs the Jabra feel of being in a live production.
    • A real test IMO of the sensitivity of the earbuds is in playing Arvo Pärt Tabula Rasa.  This amazing score really tests the ability to cleanly play the strings along with the rest of the orchestra accompaniment in the background.  The 85t produced perfect strings throughout their range with no distortion or sharpness while clearly preserving the bass and midrange.
      • The Boltunes matched the Jabras on cleanly projecting the strings but did not reproduce the bass as richly.
    • Beatles 2019 Mix Because really shows off the 85t’s ability to distinctly and cleanly separate the ethereal vocals from the electric spinet Baldwin harpsichord and Moog synthesizer.
      • The Boltune 024s were not as clean sounding, and did not do as well in differentiating the bass from the vocals
    • Hovergal Brian Gothic Symphony is a great piece to demonstrate whether earbuds can comfortably reproduce a range of instruments from piccolos to harps to timpani.  The 85t truly provided a feeling of sitting in the center of a perfect acoustical hall during the performance.
      • The Boltunes faithfully reproduced the range of instruments but fell short of feeling live.
  • Second sound tests were done using CDs and a PC with Windows Pro OS, Intel Core i9-9900K Coffee Lake 8-Core, 16-Thread, 3.6 GHz (5.0 GHz Turbo) LGA 1151 (300 Series) 95W with Noctua NH-D15S 140mm SSO2 D-Type Premium CPU Cooler,,EVGA GeForce RTX 2060 KO GAMING Video Card, and an OWC Mercury Pro 16X Blu-ray unit.
    • The first CD test used Rodrigo y gabriela Satori.  This percussion instrumental includes two acoustical guitars.  It ranges from light distinct runs to fast, heavy instrumentals.  The 85t beautifully separated and reproduced the stings from the ‘drum-like’ beats on the guitars, as well as the ability to hear their fingers slide along the strings.
      • The Boltunes matched the 85t in reproducing the percussion acoustics with only a slightly smaller perceived width of the sound.
    • Sanata’s Evil Ways provides an opportunity to see how well the earbuds can reproduce heavy instrumentals with vocals.  The 85t produced crystal clear vocals, clean timbales, unmuddied bass.  This was a digitally mastered edition, and to my ears, the music was too stereophonic for my taste.
      • Here the Boltunes did slightly better handling the heightened stereophonic effect of the digitally mastered edition.  However, the bass was a little muted in comparison.
    • Andrea Bocelli Sacred Arias: Panis angelicus [Franck orch. Michelot] provided a sample of the ability to reproduce Bocelli’s voice against the coral and the background of the orchestra.  The 85t shined in preserving the depth of Bocelli’s voice and even the harp against the coral and orchestra.
      • The Boltunes did a good job reproducing Bocelli’s voice, clearly and distinctly.  However when the coral came in there was not as much separation and for example, Bocelli’s rolling of the “r”s was less clear.
    • KT Tunstall Drastic Fantastic White Bird tests the ability to reproduce a mix of electric guitar and solo vocals.  With the 85t you get to cleanly hear KT Tunstall’s bluesy voice along with her fingers on the strings, crisp percussion, and super clear individual electronic bell tones.
      • The Boltunes nicely reproduced the vocal of KT Tunstall, the finger slides on the string, and the percussion.  However, with a less real vs recorded feeling.

Preliminary Conclusions

Five out of a possible Five Clefs rating

  • Audio Reproduction:

The Jabra Elite 85t did an outstanding job of faithfully reproducing soundtracks ranging from rock to operatic, from electronic instrumental to acoustical.  Regardless of the instrument or the vocalist, the sound was clean, crisp, and never distorted.  In most cases the fidelity resulted in ones feeling like they were dropped into a live concert.

  • Comfort:

The Jabra Elite 85t were very comfortable for extended wear and were easy to put in and remove.

  • Build Quality:

The Jabra Elite 85t are very well designed, appear to be solidly built and yet lightweight.  The charging/carrying case is equally well made.  My only nit, so to speak, is that with the smooth sides of the 85t earbud, it can be a little difficult to remove from the case because of the strong magnets that ensure the bud connects with the charging posts.

  • Value:

The Jabra Elite 85t are in the mid to higher cost range of earbuds, and not quite four times the cost of the Boltunes BH024.  However, you get a number of things on the 85t including ability to tailor the sound to your taste (and hearing), larger speakers, much more effective sound cancelling and greater richness to the sound than with the Boltunes.  One area the Boltunes exceed the Jabras is in the waterproof rating.  The Boltunes are rated at IPX8 while the Jabras are rated at IPX4.  IPX4 – A device with a level 4 water resistance rating can survive splashes of water from any direction. IPX8 – A device with a level 8 water resistance rating can survive immersion in water deeper than 1m (usually up to 3m).[2]


[1] From Jabra’s website

[2] Audio Reputation Blog: IPX Ratings Explained Updated on October 2, 2020 by James Longman

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best regards,

   Jeff

Jeff Daum, Ph.D, PPA

Photojournalist, Technology & Product Analyst

Website: www.DaumPhotography.com

Blog: https://insight.daumphotography.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jwdphotog/

Muck Rack: https://muckrack.com/dr-jeff-daum

A brief visit with a Silverback and his family

by Jeff Daum, Photojournalist, PPA

For many, the concept of a Gorilla conjures up King Kong.  While they can be quite intimidating based on their typical size- 200 pounds for the females, and 400 pounds for the males, this short video shares their more ‘domestic’ side.

It was shot in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda.  Somewhat aptly named, because to catch a glimpse of the Mountain Gorilla, you need a permit, a guide and the willingness to slog up the mountain which is at times akin to a rainforest.   There are no paths.  The Impenetrable Forest floor is typically slippery, often thorn laden, with lots of roots to trip you up. Everyone falls at least a few times- the trick is to not get hurt when you do.  Your guide leads you up to where the Gorilla family was last seen.  Along the way, lower branches and nettles are cut away with a machete.  The trek can be anywhere from a couple to four hours up the mountain before you hear, then come across the Gorillas.

In this video, you will initially see the adult male Mountain Gorilla, called a Silverback because of the silver/white hair down part of his back, relaxing in the grass near his family.  Next is the mother cuddling one of the young gorillas.  A sibling is seen foraging nearby.  Mom then goes off for a snack.

Two of the young brothers (?) take this as an opportunity to get into a brief scrap and then appear to be conspiring.  The Silverback then rejoins the family, where the mother is laying down with the young gorillas playing around and on her.

Finally, all pack off with one of the young gorillas hitching a ride on the mother’s back, while everyone follows the Silverback off.

Hope you enjoy the excursion.

For more images of Mountain Gorillas, please visit https://www.daumphotography.com/Nature-Images/Gorillas

Nature at your doorstep

This morning a feathered friend came to keep an eye on things.

His presence seemed to upset the other birds. I watched him in awe and when I realized he wasn’t going anywhere I went and grabbed one of my cameras.

Though perched about twenty feet above me in one of our Date Palms, with the aid of my camera lens, I realized what may have been upsetting the other birds that frequent our trees.

Clearly, one doesn’t always have to travel far to see some magnificent examples of nature’s beauty.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did, and look forward to your comments.

Cheers!

A Visual Taste of Italy: Lombardy & Tuscany Regions

Perspectives of a globe trotting photojournalist part 2

As with part 1, Highlights of St Petersburg, https://insight.daumphotography.com/2016/11/17/highlights-of-st-petersburg-russia/ this is another response to the challenge of providing a mini-tour of one of my trips.

This is an al dente tour (that is, hopefully not too short nor too long to adequately provide a ‘just-right’ taste) of the Italian regions of Tuscany (central Italy) and Lombardy (northern Italy).  It begins at the Ligurian Sea west of Pisa, continues up to the magnificent mansion on Isola Bella, north of Milan.  Then onto Milan and the Duomo. Next some countryside and wine tasting. Followed by Pisa.  Back to the coast for Cinque Terre, some more wine tasting and the countryside around Peccioli.

I hope you enjoy!  Looking forward to your comments.  Ciao!

Aipower wearbuds™ review

Aipower wearbuds™ review

This review focuses on an innovative product from Aipower called wearbuds™.  I was provided a pair for an independent review by Aipower.

Background

Several features of the wearbuds™ create a niche market over the plethora of wireless earphones available to the consumer, including that the earbuds are transported and charged in an Apple-like watch (on steroids).  Originally introduced through Kickstarter, they are also now available through Amazon.

The wearbuds™ come well packaged.  Here is what comes in the box:

I

Included is the multi-function fitness watch, right and left Bluetooth earbuds, a USB charging cable and the Quick Start Guide.  It is fairly easy to set up following the Quick Start Guide.

Here are the specifications as provided by Aipower:

Earbuds

  • Qualcomm QCC3026 Bluetooth chipset
  • Speaker 10Hz-40KHz, 100dB at 1KHz
  • Microphone 100Hz-10kHz; 38dB
  • Water resistance IPX6 (can survive strong water jets projected by a 12.5mm nozzle at any angle)
  • Operating range 50ft/15m

Watch

  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • Processor ARM Cortex M4
  • Touch display 80×160; 0.96 inch; 65k colors; TFT
  • Sensors: 7 axis accelerometer (including barometer); heart rate sensor; vibration motor
  • Water resistance IPX5

There is a free Aipower wearbuds™ app that you’ll want to download to your phone (Android or IOS).  You need the app to initially set up the time for the watch, and the app will allow you limited customizing of the display in several color output options, as well as time in 12 or 24 hours format, along with the day, month and date format.   Actually, you don’t set the time, once you pair it with your phone, it synchs with the phone time.  You can also set the display to ‘wake’ on movement.  Here are the primary watch screens:

You’ll find that the earbuds are very lightweight, approximately 3.6 grams, and comfortable in your ears.

In this image you can see the earbuds extending out (red arrows) of the watch body after you push in on each one to release

And the wearbuds™ now outside of the watch body.

When you press to release the earbud, it automatically goes into pairing mode with your phone (after the original pairing) or any other Bluetooth device (again, after the original pairing with the respective device) such as a laptop.  You can use either or both wearbuds™ (operates in monaural if you only use one at a time).

Review

While the watch with the wearbuds™ still in the watch body, is very light and reasonably comfortable to wear all day, it takes some getting use to its bulkiness.  It sits up about ¾ of an inch off of your wrist.

I like the auto-awakening of the clock face with movement of your wrist/arm.  I would prefer an option to have it auto-rotate between information screens, rather than your having to swipe the face to change to another screen.

It is extremely convenient to have the ear buds right there on your wrist for when you want to use them, as well as the fact that the watch serves as the charger for each of the ear buds when they are reinserted.

I found that the overall fit and finish was very good.  Once in a while, the left earbud would not easily come out of the watch after you had pushed to release it. Tolerance on release mechanism not quite right.  I also found the watch band (very similar to Apple’s) was a bit too long for my smaller wrist, however, it was extremely comfortable once you got it hooked on.

The Bluetooth link up was OK until linked separately with a laptop and the Android phone.  Then it became buggy, in essence not connecting at times.  The phone App would say the Wearbuds™ were disconnected when in fact they were playing music from the phone.  Even though I had set Wearbuds™ to allow push notifications for messages or emails, that never seemed to work.  However, incoming call notifications worked well along with answering incoming calls.

The call quality was very good and individuals on the other end of the call, said they could hear me clearly and with little to no background noise.

The audio quality of the Wearbuds™ for music listening was very good, with clean definition of highs and lows.  They seem to have moderate passive ambient sound muting.  They were quite comfortable for extended use.  For example, listening/watching two movies in a row on my laptop.  The Wearbuds™ battery life easily handled that, and then could be recharged by inserting back into the watch.

You control the Wearbuds™ by ‘swiping’ across the smooth ear bud surface to increase, decrease volume, pause, answer and hang-up calls.  The action is not exacting and sometimes you get it wrong.

The very high gloss of the watch face quickly showed smudges from touching the face to change the display, take a heart rate reading, etc.

There were some problems in addition to the bugginess of the Bluetooth connection (when previously paired with multiple devices) and the failure of push notifications.  The heart rate monitor and the sleep monitor (only in conjunction with the phone app), seemed very erratic and inaccurate.

A bigger software issue was the way the Wearbuds™ app interacted with two of my cars via Bluetooth.  While driving, without the Wearbuds™ watch and also with out the ear buds in, if a call came through or I made a call, my car would connect the call but then it would immediately hang-up.  After having this happen multiple times, in two different OEM (GM and BMW) cars, I found that it was the Wearbuds™ app on my phone that was causing the disconnect.  After deleting the app from my phone, the calls could be made or came through properly (as they did prior to loading the app).

Interim Conclusion

Aipower wearbuds™ are a clever way to transport, charge and have available very comfortable ear buds, which function well for both music and receiving/talking on phone calls.

However, software issues reduce the value of the watch as a fitness tool at this time.

I plan on doing a comparison between Bluetooth enabled ear buds in the near future- stay tuned.