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Blue Snowball iCE Condenser Microphone, Cardioid – Black (Review)

January 17, 2017 Comments off

Blue Snowball iCE USB MicrophoneBlue Snowball iCE Condenser Microphone
Blue Microphones
Amazon (Prime) $44.99

I know I’m not the first person to ever review the Blue Snowball iCE microphone (Snowball), but I am a professional reviewer, podcaster, and videocaster, so I’m evaluating it from the point-of-view of someone who might shop for this microphone to create professional voice recordings.

I purchased this unit from Amazon, myself, so it is not a review unit supplied by Blue Microphones or a PR company. I bought it for use as a home recording unit, because I use my Blue Yeti microphone for creating professional SecurityNOW podcasts with Preston Smith. Originally, I purchased this one to be the SecurityNOW microphone and to leave my precious Yeti at home. However, the Snowball lacks certain features that I require for my professional podcasts. So, I’m reviewing it here to give you the highs and lows of it in case you’re considering it for your own work.

What I like:

The Snowball is small, light and well-built. The price is right at $44.99 and free shipping from Amazon. The Snowball dismantles into the ball, the small stand, and the USB cable for a fairly compact transport. The sound is very good for the price. The microphone and parts feel durable and should last until its $45 value has been fully extracted. I like the cardioid voice pickup pattern. It filters out a lot of the ambient background noise from behind the microphone and in other parts of a large room, focusing on your voice.

What I don’t like:

The Snowball has no features. It’s a microphone on a stand and that’s it. It has no volume knob or any other adjustment buttons, sliders, or switches. It’s on when you plug it in and off when you unplug it. There’s no mute feature on the microphone. The non-adjustable stand is small and three to four inches lower than optimal height. The stand attaches to the microphone with a non-standard screw size, so you can’t mount it to a tripod of any kind, though you can optionally purchase an adjustable microphone ‘arm’ for $18.

The only accessory that I know of for the Snowball is the Ringer, which is a shock mount for $43.00 on Amazon. The shock mount gives you more options for placement, like the adjustable arm, plus it dampens sounds from bumps and other movements. Frankly, the Snowball should be used with a Pop Filter to filter out the “pops” you hear when speaking close to the microphone, which you really have to do with the Snowball to capture good sound quality.

The optimal distance from the microphone is probably three to four inches, depending on your voice quality and volume.

Here is a sample of raw audio from the Blue Snowball iCE.

However, if you spend $45.00 for the Snowball, $43.00 for the shock mount, and $10.00 for the pop filter, you’d be better off buying the Blue Yeti USB microphone for $100.00. It’s a much superior microphone and you’ll like it a lot better.

Overall, the Snowball is a decent microphone. I can’t say that I’d purchase another one, but for $45.00, it’s OK. I think my money would have been better spent on a different microphone that has options, better sound, and a more convenient or adjustable stand. If you’re wanting a microphone for some light podcasting, Skype, or test recording of some type, this microphone is certainly good enough. If you have any aspirations of doing anything long-term, professional, or something with an adjustable stand or even a volume knob, don’t buy this one.

Rating: 6/10

Recommendation: Don’t buy it unless you really like having no options and a mediocre microphone. Opt instead for the Blue Yeti.

Hammer & Anvil MK-ENG600 Professional Supercardioid Shotgun Microphone (Review)

July 19, 2016 Comments off

HAAMKENG600Hammer & Anvil MK-ENG600 Professional Supercardioid Shotgun Microphone
Adorama.com
$139.95

The Hammer & Anvil MK-ENG600 Professional Supercardioid Shotgun Microphone (ENG600) is a professional XLR microphone for serious videographers. Most amateur videographers won’t have the equipment required for connecting XLR microphones to their video equipment. The ENG600 can be mounted on-camera in the hot shoe, onto a boom pole, onto a tripod, onto a cold shoe, or hand held.

At $139.95, the HAAMKENG600 is a bargain when compared to other microphones of this quality. By comparison, microphones of this quality range in price from $199.95 at the low end and top out around the $600 mark.

For you audiophiles who understand all the details, here are the ENG600’s specifications:

Type:    Supercardioid Directional Condenser microphone
Frequency Response:    30-20,000 Hz
Sensitivity:    -33dB +/- 1dB / 0dB=1V/Pa, 1kHz
Signal to Noise Ratio:    80dB or more
Output Impedance:    Phantom – 300 Ohm or more, Battery – 600 Ohm or more
Power:    1.5V AA Battery or 48V phantom
Plug:    Mini-Pin Plug (3.5mm) & 3 Pin XLR
Length:    380mm
Net Weight:    146g
Filter:    Low-cut, Switchable

Why it’s Frugal: The Hammer & Anvil Professional Supercardioid Shotgun Microphone (HAAMK-ENG600) is frugal because it is a high quality, professional microphone that is half the cost of its competitors, plus it includes the XLR to 3.5mm connector (A $10+ value), and the “dead kitten” wind muff (A $25+ value). It also features phantom power and power from a simple AA battery. Frugal.

HAAMKENG600-2 XLR OutputThe ENG600’s proof is in the demo that I recorded using my iPad as a video device in the video. The audio is excellent even with the ceiling fan and two computers on just next to me. The audio is clear and I’m not peaking as I usually do with microphones of lower quality. Professional audio also doesn’t have too much bass in it or amplify any particular range, but rather replicates accurately.

The ENG600 is an all-around great microphone and this won’t be the last you’ll hear of it in my videos. I’m pretty sure that this microphone is going to be my professional “go to” microphone for stationary, as well as, walking around video using my iPad and my video camera. The XLR interface makes it an excellent choice whether you’re using it directly from XLR to the camera, to an audio recorder, or through the 3.5mm converter.

This microphone is great for interviews, documentaries, and YouTube audio capture. The size of the ENG600 (15 inches) is impressive as well as its ability to pick up sound directionally in front of it. It has a standard cardioid pickup pattern, but on supercardioid mode, its reach extends to grab input from several feet away, while still filtering out unwanted side and back noise. Although the ENG600’s size seems daunting, you’ll appreciate it once you hear the audio. It’s true that you might “stick out like a sore thumb” where you’re recording, but the results and the price speak for themselves.

HAAMKENG600-3 with Pop filterI’ve never seen a bad review of this microphone and you’re not likely to find one. The ENG600 is a lot of bang for the buck. I highly recommend it and I really love the quality of construction, its ease of use, the incredible shock mount (spare bands included in the package), the wind muff, and the XLR to 3.5mm converter cable. The only thing missing is the three pole to four pole converter so that the microphone can be used with iPhones and iPads. I know that’s not a requirement, but it would be a ‘nice to have.’ It’s an absolute winner.

Rating: 9/10

Recommendation: If you’re serious about audio, buy it. Buy two and realize that you’re still under budget.

Categories: Product Review

Hammer & Anvil MK-SLR100 Directional Condenser Microphone (Review)

July 15, 2016 Comments off

Hammer & Anvil MK SLR100Hammer & Anvil MK-SLR100 Directional Condenser Microphone
Adorama.com
$39.95

All microphones are not created equal. That statement is an overly obvious one to those of you who are in the filmmaking or videography game. However, not everyone knows it. There seems to be this highly outspoken rule that great audio is better than great video. In other words, if your video is mediocre, it doesn’t matter if your sound is great. And no matter how great your video is, if your audio is poor quality, then the whole thing is poor quality. It doesn’t seem fair does it? Well, it isn’t, but since people love great audio, there’s only one thing to do: Purchase great audio equipment for your videos.

The problem with creating great audio is that it’s not cheap to do it. But anything worth doing is worth doing right, so save your money for better equipment. There are some exceptions to the more expensive equipment rule making a better audio product. Hammer & Anvil products transcend that rule. In fact, I’d say that they break it. The HAAMKSLR100 (SLR100) microphone is one of those exceptions. Sure, you can spend more, but you won’t really get more. The SLR100 microphone is a directional condenser mike that delivers great audio for under $40.

Type:   Directional Condenser microphone
Frequency Response:    38-20,000 Hz
Sensitivity:    -40dB +/- 3dB / 0dB=1V/Pa, 1kHz
Signal to Noise Ratio:    75dBOutput
Impedance:    <1k Ohm
Power:    1.5V AAA Battery
Plug:    Mini-Pin Plug (3.5mm)
Dimensions:    109x75x45mm
Net Weight:    52g

I like the SLR100. It’s small, compact, has its own power (AAA battery), has a pop screen, and a “dead kitten” for windy outdoor shooting. You can attach it to a hot or cold shoe or directly to a tripod mount. It also sports a shock mount of sorts on the base. It’s a complete video camera shotgun microphone that delivers very good sound for a small price.

Why it’s Frugal: The HAAMKSLR100 condenser microphone is frugal because it is inexpensive ($39.95), but yet delivers great audio. If you’re on a budget, this is a perfect audio unit to start with. It’s frugal because you get a lot of audio quality for a little money and you can use it with your iDevices, if you buy an adapter/converter

Now, you’re probably asking, “What are the practical applications for this microphone?” That’s a good question. If you’re a YouTuber who doesn’t want to be wired to a lavalier microphone or dish out hundreds of dollars for audio that’s imperceptibly better, then this is the mike for you. Would I use it for filming a documentary that’s going on Netflix? Probably not. Not because it isn’t a great little microphone; it is, but Hammer & Anvil offers some very reasonably priced professional directional microphones for about $100 more and they’re just too tempting to resist. For example, I’m actually reviewing the HAAMKENG600 microphone as I’m writing this post.

HAAMKSLR100 with Pop screenThe HAAMKSLR100 microphone will do just about anything you want it to do and, as I pointed out in the review video, for a few dollars, you can buy a three pole to four pole converter and use this microphone on your iPad or on your iPhone as an external shotgun audio capture device. Awesome.
It’s awesome because you don’t have to blow a lot of extra money buying a microphone specifically designed for your iDevices. You can use this one everywhere and that’s a very good thing.

One of the things that I really love about the SLR100 is that when you turn on the mike, you can see clearly that it’s on because of the green light on the back near the ON/OFF switch. I’ve seen complaints on much higher priced microphones that don’t offer this basic feature. Bravo to the folks at Hammer & Anvil for providing that much needed feature.
Why am I making such a big deal about the ON light, you ask?
Well, after you run down a lot of batteries because you left your mike ON, you’ll understand why. The light clearly lets you know when the unit is ON and when it is OFF. To me, that feature alone is worth $40.

I’m quite pleased with the sound quality that I get from the SLR100. It’s quiet where I need it to be and it picks up sounds that I want it to and all for the price of an afternoon matinee. I’m sold on it. As I said in the video, it’s a solid microphone and deserves the rating I give it.

Adorama.com is a top-notch camera and accessory store for the amateur and the professional alike. This microphone is perfect for those who need something better than the built-in microphones on DSLRs, video cameras, and iDevices.

Rating: 8/10
Recommendation: Buy it for all your general video creation needs. It’s not a pro-grade microphone, but it’s darn nice for $40.

3Pod Orbit 4-Section Aluminum Photo/Video Monopod with Fluid Base and Tilt Head with Quick Release (Review)

April 19, 2016 Comments off

3Pod Monopod with Tilt Head BundleAdorama3Pod Monopod (3PVM4A)
3Pod T1 Tilt Head with Quick Release (3PSHT1)
3Pod Monopod with Tilt Head Bundle
Adorama
$59.95 Monopod only
$32.00 Tilt Head with Quick Release
$79.95 with Tilt Head with Quick Release Bundle ($12.00 savings)

If you’ve searched high low for a monopod that you can use in just about any situation, stop looking, this is it. The 3PVM4A Monopod by 3Pod, sold by Adorama is one fine piece of photographic machinery. And for under, a lot under, $100, it’s the best I’ve seen. At a whopping 65.5 inches high (max), it’s comfortable for taller photographers to use, without having to crouch or bend down. I should know; I’m one of those taller photographers. This one also quickly adjusts from two feet high (23.5 inches, to be exact) to any height in between. The fluid base allows you to make smooth panning movements when the feet are down. Without the feet in the down and locked position, you have a standard monopod featuring three fast open/close flip locks for quick and easy height adjustments.


Joseph Butler and I review the 3Pod Monopod with Tilt Head.

3Pod Monopod BaseThe best feature of all. Wait for it. Look at the picture and see if you can figure it out. That’s right! It can stand on its own. At the very bottom of the monopod, you can fold down three locking legs to steady the monopod while you walk away to get yourself on camera, have an interview, or just to check focus. Sure, you can use it like a standard monopod, but those three little legs make this the bringer of the best of both worlds. Frankly, since receiving this, I haven’t used a traditional tripod again. Which in part is some of my excuse for the delay in posting this review.

I suggest purchasing the bundle. You save $12.00 by buying the Tilt Head with Quick Release, so why not make a frugal choice? For $79.95, you get the Monopod, the 3PSHT1, bag, and adjusting wrench. Even if you decide to buy another monopod head, this one will serve you well.

If you’re worried about camera weight on the monopod, let me put your fears to rest. It has held a Canon 60D with 18-135 zoom lens and a shotgun microphone without any issues.

What I really love about this setup is that it’s built for the run-n-gun photo/videographer who also might need to jump in front of the camera to narrate or to introduce a guest. You can walk away with confidence that you’re not going to end up with a smashed camera in the process. For photographers and videographers on the move, the monopod has a large padded handle that’s easy on your hands, plus it’s non-slip feature keeps your equipment safe while you’re running for the shot. The three quick-release height adjustments allow you to keep moving while you adjust the height of the monopod too. And if you don’t want to run with the monopod feet in the down position, they have “step-on” releases so that you can pick up and run without hesitation.

Tilt Head w/ Quick ReleaseThe Tilt Head with Quick Release is a ‘must have’ item because you can remove your camera from the monopod without disturbing the monopod’s position with just a snap of the silver lever you see at the right of the quick release mount. You can also come back and place your camera on the monopod without twisting, turning, or fussing with a ‘pod screw mount. Just place your camera back onto the monopod and turn the lever to secure the quick release mount and start your scene. It is literally a one-two movement and you’re back in business. Plus the Tilt Head stays gravity-centered for vertical shots.

I love the 3Pod monopod. It is the perfect ‘pod for me. It’s not bulky and cumbersome like a tripod, nor is it awkward and always in hand like a traditional monopod. It’s also not a pain to setup and adjust like most tripods are. To me, it’s the best of both worlds. It is the monopod that I wish I’d invented, but for $80, who needs the headache of prototyping, crowdfunding, begging for supporters, and wasting a bunch of energy when 3Pod has created the perfect ‘pod.

Technical Specifications:

  • Material: Aluminum
  • Max Height: 65.5 inches
  • Collapsed Height: 23.5 inches
  • Weight: 2.2 lb
  • Max load: 18 lb
  • MountingReversible: 3/8 and 1/4-20
  • Leg Lock Type: Flip lock
  • Leg Sections: 4
  • Tilt Head Tripod mount: 3/8
  • Tilt Head Camera mount: Standard ¼-20
  • Tilt Head Movement: 180° tilt on a single axis
  • Tilt Head Weight: 9.4 oz
  • Tilt Head Max Load: 11 lb

Why it’s Frugal: If it isn’t already obvious, the 3Pod monopod-tilt head with quick release is extremely frugal. First, you can buy the pair and save $12.00 (frugal). Second, you don’t have to carry a tripod and a monopod everywhere you go and fumble around with them–you have a monopod that can stand alone (frugal). And third, you don’t have to have another person with you to handle the camera while you go stand in front for an introduction, an interview, or a focus (frugal). It’s the best $80 you’ll ever spend on photography equipment.

As you can see in the video, Joseph and I both love the monopod. We fight over it and it’s hard to pry it from our grubby hands once one of us has it in possession. Seriously, it’s that good. For serious photographers and videographers at any level, this monopod beats any that I’ve ever used or seen. And yes, I’ve used the one that you’ve heard of (Sounds like a character from Lord of the Rings) and this one beats it many times over. The build quality is excellent. The quick release latches are easy to use and quick to adjust. No slips, no tips, and no lost cameras.

Rating: 9.5/10

Recommendation: Buy the bundle, save a small bundle, and enjoy your new favorite and essential accessory.

Secur Six-in-One Car Charger (Review)

March 17, 2016 Comments off

Secur Products SP-4003 Six-in-One ChargerSIX-IN-ONE CAR CHARGER
MODEL NUMBER: SP-4003
Secur Products
$34.99 Free Shipping

The first thing I need to tell/warn you about is that you should NOT purchase this from Amazon. On Amazon, it’s $29.99 plus $21.00 for shipping. Purchase this from the Secur Products web site for $34.99 and free shipping. I’ve reviewed other Secur products on The Frugal Networker and I’ve never been disappointed with any of them. They always do what they say they’ll do and the build quality is superior. None of the Secur products that I’ve tested have ever failed or broken–even after multiple years of use. The SP-4003 Six-in-One (6in1) is no different. It is a superb product that does more than just charge your mobile phone when plugged into your car.

The 6in1 is a must have device for anyone who travels any distance at all on a regular basis. It is an emergency tool and you can keep your mobile phone charged on the way. It has a flashlight, an emergency flashing beacon, a seatbelt cutter, a window breaker, and a USB port. If it also functioned as a wallet, you wouldn’t need anything else.

  • Car Charger: Gives You a USB Outlet from Your Cigarette Lighter
  • Power Bank: Removable 2000 mAh Power Bank
  • High Power LED Flashlight
  • Flashing Red Emergency Light
  • Emergency Window Breaker
  • Emergency Seat Belt Cutter

The 6in1 is so good that my videographer, Joseph, “borrowed” it and then gave it to his daughter to take with her on her drive to school in California. He felt that it would make her safer on the long trek halfway across the country. Good dad. Bad reviewer. Hence we have no video review of the product. However, the fact that he took the device from the review queue and gave it to his daughter says something about how good the product really is. In fact, here is Joseph’s statement about the 6in1 after it hit the “next in line” in our review queue:

My daughter and I have been using this product for the last month. She just drove from Oklahoma to her college in LA. As a dad, this was the perfect item for her to have in her car at all times, because I knew if she had any troubles she could cut off her seatbelt quickly. Also, she did not have a reason she could tell me her battery was dead on her cell phone.

As she drove cross country, she was able to utilize the charger for her phone while she was navigating the highways from Oklahoma to California. While driving, we could use the flashlight and not turn on the overhead light in the car which would cause distraction to the driver. We were able to find change that had dropped on the floorboard much quicker.

Once the phone was dead it took the normal amount of time to recharge the phone from the device. The other feature that’s available on the charger also put me at ease is the window breaking tool, which we did not test, but I know she has that it if she were to get trapped. She carries the 6in1 in her Coach handbag. One other feature I liked being a dad, was that it has an emergency red blinking light.

I feel better knowing she has this device on her person while she is living in California away from me here in Oklahoma. She rides the bus, trains, and Uber, so I know she can get a quick charge on her phone and use it to get herself out of harm’s way if needed. The 6in1 does not take up much space in her hand bag; it fits perfectly next to the can of mace I gave her.

There you have a testimonial from a happy customer.

Technical Information:

  • 12 Volt cigarette lighter charger
  • 1000 mA USB charging port
  • 2200 mAh lithium battery power bank
  • 150 Lumen LED flashlight – 4 hours with full charge
  • Flashing red emergency light – 10 hours with full charge
  • Green LED four level battery power level indicator
  • Shock resistant case
  • 1.5″ x 4.5″ x 1″ diameter
  • 3 oz

Why it’s Frugal: The Six-in-One Charger is frugal because it is a multifunction device for the same price as many single function chargers on the market. For $35, you can have peace of mind and a charge for your mobile phone, no matter where you are. The peace of mind alone is worth far more than $35. Just ask Joseph.

I’m not sure that I can say more than Joseph did in his testimonial. But to summarize, the 6in1 is a safety device and a charger. You can charge your mobile device while driving or while walking, watching a football game, or taking a bus ride. And you can find your keys in the dark, cut your way out of a bad situation, or break glass in case of whatever. I’d say that the 6in1 is a premium device that is well worth the money.

Rating: 10/10

Recommendation: Buy one for yourself and for anyone you care about.

EasyAcc 2nd Generation Brilliant 10000mAh Power Bank

March 10, 2016 Comments off

EasyAcc 10000mAh Power BankEasyAcc 2nd Gen. Brilliant 10000mAh Power Bank
EasyAcc
Amazon $17.99 (Prime)

The EasyAcc 2nd Generation Brilliant 10,000mAh Power Bank (10K PB) is a portable, high capacity USB charger for your smartphones, tablets, and other USB-chargeable devices. Weighing in at eight ounces, it is a lightweight, go anywhere charger that provides multiple smartphone charges, one full large tablet charge, and power for multiple devices at once. Never be without power for your devices again with the 10K PB.

The video showcases both the 10,000mAh Power Bank and the 20,000mAh Monster Power Bank.

Features:

  • Capacity: 10,000mAh x 3.7V=37.Wh
  • Battery type: Li-polymer rechargeable battery cell
  • Input: DC 5V 2A
  • Output: DC 5V 2.4A (max)
  • Size: 5.67 x 2.95 x 0.58 inch / 144 x 75 x 14.8 mm
  • Weight: 7.97 oz / 226 g

It’s hard to remember a time before smartphones. It’s even harder to remember a time before cellular technology for most of us. And now to continually use a smartphone without access to extra power is going to be hard to remember in a couple of years. You can get the jump on those fading memories with a portable charger and the 10K PB fits your budget and your travel gear perfectly. At only $17.99 from Amazon (Prime), you can have it in two days (or less), and have all the power you need in every location and at every event from now on.

Why limit yourself to a few hours of smartphone usage during the day when you can have power any time you need it and anywhere you need it? You don’t have to turn off your phone or run it on power save mode anymore. Enjoy full access to cellular, WiFi, app stores, and the Internet with all the power you’ll ever need.

What is Included:

  • 1 x EasyAcc Power Bank 10000mAh
  • 1 x Micro USB Charging Cable
  • 1 x User Manual
  • 18 months warranty and provide friendly, easy-to-reach support

Just remember to plug in the 10K PB at night, using the included microUSB cable to replenish your portable Power Bank.

I’ve used the 10K PB for a couple of months now and can tell you first hand that it does what it says–it provides a lot of power in a small package. I’m never without mine. I’ve used it at events. My wife has used it to power up her ever-present smartphone. My daughter has used it to power her iPad mini and her smartphone multiple times.

The 10K PB can recharge a device multiple times–so many in fact that I forget that my daughter has it. And then days later she brings it to me to be recharged. So, the 10K PB is a wife-approved, teenager-approved USB charging unit. No complaints from them means the product scores major points.

Why it’s Frugal: The EasyAcc Power Bank 10,000mAh is frugal because it provides something that you can’t get at any price when you don’t have access to an AC power outlet. Plus, its capacity allows you to power up multiple devices or one device multiple times. You can take it anywhere and use it. It’s well made and perfectly priced for any budget. Frugal.

EasyAcc Monster 20000mAh Power Bank

EasyAcc Monster 20000mAh Power Bank PB20000MS

The EasyAcc Power Bank 10,000mAh and it’s big brother, the EasyAcc Monster 20,000mAh Power Bank ($35.99 Amazon (Prime)) are both must have devices. When you can’t be without power and you also can’t be tethered to an AC outlet for hours, then you need portable power and these two will do the job with no complaints.

Rating: 10/10

Recommendation: Buy one or more immediately. You gotta have the power.

EasyAcc DP100 Ultra Portable Bluetooth 4.0 Speaker (Review)

March 9, 2016 Comments off

EasyAcc DP100 Ultra Portable Bluetooth SpeakerEasyAcc DP100 Ultra Portable Bluetooth 4.0 Speaker
EasyAcc
Amazon $21.99 (Prime)

The EasyAcc DP100 Bluetooth 4.0 Portable Speaker (DP100) is a small (2.6 x 2.6 x 3.8 inches), coffee cup-sized speaker that is one cool sound machine. The DP100 sports a full 4 Watt 45mm driver that can turn any room into a fully immersed music experience. But please don’t damage your hearing or disturb your neighbors with this speaker. Now this speaker won’t vibrate the car next to you at a traffic light, but it does put out some great volume. And its small size means that it’s ultraportable and easy to carry with you on camping trips, day trips, picnics, and on the days when you can have lunch outside at work.

Features:

  • MicroUSB charging
  • 2,200 mAh capacity
  • Up to 25 hours of continuous play time
  • 10.6 ounces
  • Phone answering
  • 4 Watts
  • 30m/100ft unobstructed connectivity distance.

The DP100 pairs in seconds as you can see on the video, so no matter where you are or who you’re with, someone can connect to the speaker for shared play. You can control volume and all music controls via the soft press buttons on top of the unit. You can also control the speaker from your phone.

At home or in an office, the Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity limitation might be the standard 10m/30ft, but outside where there are no walls or metal frames, you can be separated by 30m/100ft. The cool thing is that you can still hear the speaker at that distance.

EasyAcc makes some great products and the DP100 is no exception. Look for other EasyAcc product reviews here on The Frugal Networker site. Every product from EasyAcc is well made, performs very well, and is priced perfectly.

Why it’s Frugal: The DP100 is frugal because it is a lot of product for a little money. Its solid construction, long battery life, and big sound means that you can keep this little gem for years of enjoyment and that’s frugal.

Check out the video for a good review of what’s in the box, a demonstration of the speedy Bluetooth connectivity, and a good sound sample. I really like the DP100, but did find that I have trouble with the controls. It’s possible that I just haven’t taken the time to learn the controls, but I haven’t really needed to use them either, so it’s a tradeoff. Read the included documentation to find out how to use the device and you’ll be happy. The DP100 is a great little speaker at a great price and it makes a great gift and a nice stocking stuffer.

Rating: 9/10

Recommendation: Buy it. It’s good frugal fun.

Polaroid Rechargeable Panorama Pan Head (Review)

March 9, 2016 Comments off

Polaroid Panorama Pan HeadPolaroid Panorama Pan Head
Polaroid
$49.99 Amazon (Prime)

The Polaroid Panorama Pan Head (Pan Head) is a tripod-mountable, remote control panoramic head attachment. It features still shots, 360-degree continuous motion panoramas, a 75-degree sweep mode, and a 10 second delayed 5-degree slow movement option.

In the box:

  • Panorama Pan Head Ball/Tripod
  • Remote Control Unit
  • GoPro Tripod Attachment
  • Phone attachment
  • UBS to microUSB cable
  • Instruction booklet
  • Carrying bag

The head unit is a fully rechargeable, stand-alone unit, meaning that it requires no wires or other attachments to make it work. It requires a few hours of recharge time, but once charged, the charge lasts up to three hours or more depending on conditions and usage.

The whole unit is coated with a non-skid coating that also won’t mar furniture or other delicate surfaces.

The bottom of the Pan Head has a female 1/4″-20 standard tripod mount and the top, where the panorama takes place, has a male 1/4″-20 tripod mount. The phone attachment has a padded inner surface so that you won’t scratch your screen or the rear surface, but be careful to only snug the phone in place. If you over-tighten, you can crack your screen.

My box didn’t ship with the GoPro nut that securely attaches the included GoPro tripod mount to the male tripod screw. I had my own, so it wasn’t a problem, but just be aware that it might not ship with one.

Personal Experience

Polaroid Pan Head Phone AttachmentUsing the Pan Head is a lot of fun and using the three attachments (tripod mount, phone mount, and GoPro mount) is easy. I’ve used this unit with my GoPro, my iPhone 5, and my Canon T3. I didn’t try it with my Canon RF H600, but I’m sure that it would work well too. Since the Pan Head can easily hold up to about a pound’s worth of camera, it can easily support old school film cameras, such as my Canon AE-1, Diana, Smena, or any of the other Lomography type cameras that are all the rage.

I used the Bluetooth connection between the Pan Head and the iPhone. It worked perfectly every time. You actually pair the powered-on Pan Head with your camera although it is the remote control unit that fires the camera. I assume it does so through the Pan Head. Since creating the review video, I have tested the unit with starting and stopping videos and it does work. Press the camera button to start video on your phone or remote device and press it again to stop video. Worked every time.

One thing to note: Infrared (IR) is line-of-sight, so be sure that you test your aim at the Pan Head from the Remote Control unit prior to attempting to take real photos or video. The IR receiver on the Pan Head is not the red button–the red button is the power button. The small black window is the IR receiver and you must be able to beam to that for the functions to work. Be patient with your aim and the response from the Pan Head–as it is not instantaneous. There is a short (half-second or less) delay between pressing the button and the reaction from the Pan Head. Don’t press twice, because either you’ll undo what you want to do or you’ll speed up or slow down the panorama head.

Using something like a Gorilla Pod, you can get some cool angles and panoramas. iPhones have a built-in Panorama photo function, but with this Pan Head unit, you’ll get perfect panorama shots every time and you can do them remotely. The same goes for time lapse shots.

Why it’s Frugal: The Polaroid Panorama Pan Head is frugal because for $50, you can have a real remote controlled panorama tripod head attachment that is also a tripod itself. Hardware with comparable functionality costs hundreds of dollars. This unit is affordable, durable, and a good investment for any level of photographer oRemote Control Detailr videographer.

I really like the Polaroid Pan Head. In fact, I love it. I’ve wanted one of these types of units for many years and now there’s an affordable one. Before this, they were just out of my financial range–good ones at least were and still are. The ball shape and flip out “wings” are very innovative and compact. I really love that the ball head is a tripod itself as well as a tripod head.

I think every photographer, phoneographer, and videographer should own one of these. Seriously, to be able to move your camera’s perspective remotely is extremely valuable. And to be able to start/stop video or take photos remotely is just too cool for school. Yes, I know, I just carbon dated myself with that saying, but seriously, this is a big bargain for an extremely practical photographic accessory. I’m glad to see that Polaroid is still innovating and still has its finger on the photographer’s creative pulse. I can’t wait to see what else Polaroid has up its sleeve. Now I’m going to have to dig out my 600 series Polaroid camera, buy some Impossible film, and get to shooting again. Thanks Polaroid, my wife will love you for the inspiring me to purchase instant film after all this time. I knew I saved that camera for some reason.

Rating: 10/10

Recommendation: Every photographer, phoneographer, and videographer should own at least one of these. Strong buy.

Getting fit with Withings Activité Pop and Activité Steel Fitness Tracker Watches (Review)

January 22, 2016 Comments off


Activité Pop
Activité Pop and Activité Steel Fitness Tracker Watches
Withings
$149.95 (Pop) and $169.95 (Steel)

When I first heard of so-called wearables, I was skeptical–skeptical of the hype, the price, and the practicality. I was curious though, so I decided to check out the Withings Activité Pop (Pop) Fitness Tracker Watch–or rather I decided to let my wife check it out, since she’s the avid walker/half-marathoner in the family. I’m also a walker/runner, but I am more in the category of fan/support rather than competitive walking and running.

I reviewed the black Activité Steel (Steel) Fitness Tracker Watch. I believe that the Pop and the Steel are very similar in functionality, workmanship, features, and look. The Pop came out first and we had time to work with it a bit before I received the Steel.

Activité SteelOne word of caution before I start the feature overview and review. The Activité Fitness Tracker Watches might make you obsess over your activity to the point where you are cognizant of every step you take. I’m not kidding.

Here’s an example: One day I went to the local Sam’s Club store to shop. Of course I had on my Steel, because I seem to wear it 24 hours a day now and I haven’t worn a watch in years. Anyway, I walked around pushing a shopping cart for about an hour, when I realized that I hadn’t received any steps (I’ll explain later) for this activity. I was annoyed. After I came home, I told my wife about this. Apparently, she had already solved this problem, by pulling the cart and not pushing it.

You see, the way most of these fitness trackers record your steps is by recording your arm swings as you walk. It is pretty accurate too. At first, the Pop was not so accurate, but there’s been an update since that time and now it’s spot on. If you walk 1,000 steps, the watch registers 1,000 steps. I’ve tested it, so you can trust that you have walked the number of steps that shows up on your watch and on your app.

Unlike some fitness trackers, the Withings ones do not have to be tethered to a phone. In fact, I never carry my phone on a walk. It’s too heavy and it just bugs me, so I leave it at home, while I torture…I mean while I walk.

A Journey of a Thousand Miles begins with a single Step

Daily Step GoalI set my daily steps goal at 10,000. That’s a convenient and widely accepted target. You set your daily goal when you setup your Withings app on your mobile device, but you can also change it at any time by swiping in a new number. Whatever number you select for your daily goal will be fed into the watch and split into tenths. As you can see on the dial face, there is an analog tracker that shows how close you are to your goal. Since mine is 10,000 steps, each large tick mark is 1,000 steps or around my block one time. It’s good that I know my target goal and a simple milestone, such as my block, that way I can compare the two results to be sure that I’m tracking correctly on walks in which I’m not sure of the distance.

Downtime

Sleep AnalysisThe Pop and the Steel both also track your sleep patterns. This is a bonus feature because sleep patterns are directly related to health. And the Withings products give you a sleep pattern assessment for each night’s sleep and then a weekly assessment. By assessment, you can see how long you slept, how many times you were awake during a night, and even see your sleep patterns of deep and light sleep.

Oh, and it knows when you take a nap. On a recent trip, I took a nap and it knew. One hour and thirty-three minutes of monitored bliss.

Take it for a Swim

App and SteelAnother bonus feature that surprised us is that the watch knows when you’ve gone for a swim. My wife went for an hour-long swim one day and exclaimed, “It knew I swam for an hour!” She didn’t have to tell it, nor do you have to do anything special when you sleep. I call these the Santa Claus watches because they know when you’ve been sleeping, they know when you’re awake, and they know when you’ve been bad (not reaching your goals) or good (when you have reached your goals). The watch is water resistant to 50m/150ft.

Get a Move On

To encourage you along the way, you win fitness badges at milestone distances. You also receive encouraging messages along the way, when you achieve your goals. Seriously, it becomes a personal competitive thing once you get into this whole fitness tracking shtick. You’ll find yourself taking more steps, making sure that your arm is swinging appropriately for the steps to count. You’ll self deprecate when you don’t reach your goal, but the app no longer scolds you for missing a goal. Originally it did.

Although I’ve never done it, you can set a wake up alarm on the watch. My daughter and my wife did this on the Pop, through the app.

Stylistically Speaking

I want to turn your attention to the look of the Withings Fitness Tracker Watches. Personally, I think they’re the best looking ones out there. They look like normal watches. They’re normal watch sized and they don’t have any unnecessary do-dads on the face or on the body of the watch. If people don’t know that you’re wearing a fitness tracker, then they don’t know from the Withings watch. They’re stylish, come in many colors, and all perform the same functions.

Withings Fitness Tracker Watches

I’ve looked at several different fitness tracker type watches over the past year and I really like the Withings ones. I like that they don’t have that blocky, ugly look of some fitness trackers or a huge profile. I like the watch-sized footprint and the fact that the watch itself is analog. I’ve never thought digital readouts looked like watches. It’s a personal thing. I love watches. I have a whole collection of different ones and they’re all gloriously analog. Not a digital readout in the bunch.

The Bumsters

What I don’t like in these fitness trackers is that I have to have a free swinging arm for it to measure my steps. But, to do it any other way would require a GPS unit and that would spoil the small, watch-like footprint of the Withings watches, so maybe that’s only half a bummer.
The app won’t update unless it is in the foreground on your mobile device–or at least it doesn’t on mine, although I receive messages that I need to open my Withings App to get background updates. Mine won’t do background updates. Be aware of that and your mileage may vary. I have an Apple iPhone 5 with iOS 9.x on it, so maybe that’s the issue.

Pricewise

At 149.95 for the Pop and 169.95 for the Steel, I’d say that they’re a little high for me. I’d prefer something a bit more competitive at say $99.95 and maybe as high as $129.95 for the Steel. When I see a price for a watch/fitness bad that approaches the $150 mark, I tend to drift away and look at the other options available to me.

The watches themselves are quality made. The bands are made of a silicone rubber material that seems durable and sturdy. The watches are certainly not afraid of water and that’s worth something too. The Withings watches would make great gifts, especially for those who want a simple fitness tracking experience. There’s no plugging in of the watch to sync it, no charging, no messing about with any on-watch apps, and no need to always have the phone nearby.

Bottom Line

The Withings watches do exactly what they say they’ll do. They accurately measure your steps, your sleep, your swimming, and they record the whole of your activity into an app that does not have to be constantly tethered to your phone. The watch connects via Bluetooth when in range and updates for you. I suggest not letting it go more than a couple of days without updating so that you don’t lose any data. If you take the steps, you want them to count.

There are features of the watch and of the app that I’m positive that I’m not using. I have simple needs. I want it to measure my steps and my sleep and it does.

The Withings Fitness Tracker Watches are simple to use and that’s a huge plus for me. If you know someone who wants a fitness tracker, but is afraid of all the complexity, these are the ones you want to buy–no doubt about it.

A well-made, well-supported, simple-to-use wearable that’s both stylish and functional.

Rating: 8.5/10

Recommendation: Buy as a gift or for yourself. At half the price and size of other fitness trackers, you’ll like it a lot.

The 24/7 Messenger Bag from Adorama (Review)

January 20, 2016 Comments off

24/7 Messenger Bag24/7 Messenger Bag
Adorama
$79.95

Joseph (thevideoguyjoe) Butler and I created a video review of the 24/7 Messenger Bag from Adorama on our My Technical Romance YouTube show. In the video, you’ll see our complete take on the Messenger Bag (Messenger) that is part of the 24/7 Traffic Collection. I was the primary reviewer of the Messenger. Joseph’s first time to see the bag was just before we performed the review on camera, so his impressions and commentary are all from his first impressions of it.

In the video, we discuss the bag’s style, its contrasting colors, its interior features, its 3-in-1 bag feature, its wearability, and its composition. We demo the bag’s fully and quickly adjustable shoulder strap, its protective raincoat, and its capacity to carry photography and computing equipment.

The Messenger is a classic style bag that is dual-purpose designed as a walkabout bag and as a bicycle rider’s bag. Since Joseph is an avid bicyclist, he takes the bicyclist’s perspective on photography gear and accessories. I’m more of a walkabout street photography with a tendency toward stealth and a bit of guerilla photography and filming. I snap candid photos of people on public transportation, on the street, in restaurants (often to my wife’s chagrin), and I love to catch people sleeping in public places. Carrying a visible camera isn’t always the best method for capturing unposed, impromptu shots. With the Messenger, I can “hide” the fact that I’m going to take your picture by posing as a random hipster with a cool bag.

The bag’s main flap either is coated with or completely composed of a water-resistant material, plus the Messenger has a built-in raincoat that pulls out of a bottom compartment. I really like that the raincoat, as I call it, does not detach from the bag. Being permanently attached means that you always have it available. Additionally, when the raincoat is tucked away in the bag’s bottom flap, it provides extra cushion to everything inside the bag. An added bonus for sure.

Messenger Bag and Bonus BagsThe Messenger is actually three bags in one. That is to say that within the large Messenger bag, there is a small mesh bag and a small camera and lens carrier. In the video, you can see the relative sizes of each bag. The mesh bag is for cables. It keeps your cables, chargers, and other items organized so that they aren’t lost by getting attached to other items that you’re pulling out of your other bags.

Camera BagThe camera bag is a smaller bag with a handle and double zippers. It will comfortably hold a DSLR with a lens attached plus at least two other lenses. This smaller bag is for quick camera access that doesn’t include a shoulder strap and a lot of accessories. For street photography, run-and-gun, or a bit of open-ended shooting where lugging around a larger bag won’t work.

The entire bag is well put together with very strong stitching and materials that are easy to clean, water resistant, and very sturdy. I feel like this bag would be one that could last for ten years or more even with very harsh handling and less than desirable conditions. You’ll change cameras long before this Traffic Collection series wears out. I’d love to see one of these bags five and tens years out to observe the type of abuse they can take. My guess is a lot.

I like the size of the Messenger. It’s not bulky and stiff like some messenger style bags are. It’s supple, but sturdy. It feels good in my hands and I have no fear of placing my most valuable equipment into it for a full-on street run.

24/7 Messenger BagNow the tricky part. There is possibly only one thing that I don’t like about the 24/7 Messenger, and honestly it won’t bother everyone, but it bothers me: The shoulder strap isn’t removable. I would prefer to have a removable strap that I could tuck away into a pocket or slot until I’m ready to use it again. At the ridiculously low price of $79.95 (Seriously, I thought it was a misprint until I called Adorama for confirmation), it’s a must have. If you ride a bike, motorcycle, or if you walk and shoot, I’m not sure that you could find a better bag at a comparable price. I’m actually not sure if you could find a comparable bag at twice the price.

If you check out our review of the 24/7 Sling Bag, near the end of the video Joseph says that he wishes the Sling had more room in it. Well, the Messenger is the bag with extra room, so guess who now has the Messenger bag as well as the Sling? If you guessed Joseph, you’d be correct. He convinced me that the Sling and the Messenger are two different bags (duh) with two different applications. Fifteen minutes later I’m too exhausted to argue, so he walks away with two bags. That’s OK, because he’s the one who usually carries around the DSLR and various accessories. For larger shoots, I have a small pullman bag that is part of a set of luggage my wife bought me last year. The luggage is really ugly, but at least this way no one would steal it. And if they do, the thief will be easy to spot.

Ken’s Review: 8/10

Recommendation: A great big bag bargain that’s actually three bags for an excellent price. One of the best values every. Buy it.

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