A Couple of Mini Bluetooth Reviews: Braven 710 Speaker and Mpow Sport Headphones

This post is a mini review of a couple of bluetooth (wireless connection) speakers I've been using recently, one small brick speaker for the home, and a pair of earbuds for the gym.


Above we have the Braven 710. I lifted the (almost-certainly CGI) image from their web site; if I would have not been lazy and instead taken a photo myself, I would have put something there for context so that you can see that it's small... it's about the size of a sort-of-squished hotdog bun.

We like it. It's got great sound from such a small package. I've connected all our phones to it so that we can each use it when we like. It's splash resistant so we can bring it in the bath, and it's easy to bring with us as we do tasks around the house.

It has a lot of extra features, like acting as a portable power brick for small mobile devices, bridging to a non-bluetooth stereo, NFC support, and more. For lots of details, see this review at AppAdvice.com, which is the review that prompted me to buy it. Or, perhaps, this overview video from the company.

I recommend it, but I must point out that the Braven 710 suffers from the same problem that every bluetooth audio device I've ever tried suffers from: stupid where smart user-interaction design should be. For example, there's no simple on/off switch that you can glance at to see whether the thing is on... you have to press a rubbery button for several seconds and listen for a weird deep rumbling chirp from the thing... the nature of the chirp tells you whether you just turned it on or off. Wanted to ensure it was on but just turned it on? Repeat.

It overloads its many functions onto just a few buttons. You can see from the image above that there are four buttons on the side: plus, minus, power, play. Yet by combinations of press/hold timing and magic unicorn-horn context, functions these four buttons perform include volume up/down, volume mute/unmute, track skip forward/backward, play/pause, answer a phone call and hang up, pair the unit with a new device, and of course to turn the thing on and off. It's very unsatisfying.

Still, every bluetooth audio device I've encountered suffers from the same problem, so I don't think you'll find anything better.

Pros

  • Good big sound for the small, convenient package.
  • Splashproof, so we can bring in the bath or outside.
  • Easy to bring when on the go.
  • Can use to charge your phone in a pinch.

Cons

  • Stupid bluetooth-standard user interface design.

I got my Bravin 710 at Amazon.com last month for $166 with shipping. It seems to be $150 at the moment.


Next we have a pair of wireless ear buds, Mpow® 2nd Gen Sport Bluetooth Stereo Headphone Wireless Headset, that I use at the gym while working out and stretching.

Wireless buds are extremely liberating, but only if they stay in. I think I have pretty normal ears, but normal ear-buds headphones never, ever feel comfortable nor stay in my ears. I've tried many brands, and they're all not made for me. The worst by far are the latest from Apple (that come with the iPhone 5s)... I can't get them to stay in for even one second... it's as if they're meant to be magnetic and my ears are just not metal.

So, I was thrilled to find that this kind of clip-ish set works perfectly for me. They sort of clip over your ears and so don't require any ear-canal friction, so the shape of one's ear doesn't really matter.

If find them easy to put on and take off, yet when they're on they on and in place through any activity I've tried, including high-speed pushups and gracelessly falling off a balance ball. I can turn my head and crane my neck to the extremes and they stay firmly in place. In this regard I'm extremely satisfied.

Of course, they have the same stupid UI design caveat above that applies to all bluetooth headsets. The buttons require some concentration and luck to work while wearing (e.g. to temporarily mute, or to skip a song).

Pros

  • STAYS PUT; doesn't fall out of my ears if I blink, or if I twist-n-shout.
  • Good enough sound for me (I think it's pretty good).
  • Good enough battery life for me (I've never exhausted the battery).
  • Easy on / easy off.
  • Good range... I can leave my phone in my bag as I move around the gym.
  • Small and unobtrusive. You can forget you're wearing them.
  • Easy to see you're wearing headphones, so people leave you alone.

Cons

  • Easy to see you're wearing headphones, so it creates a barrier to community.
  • May not be easy to wear with glasses that have thicker temples in the ear area.
  • Charging-port cover is a bit wonky, and mine broke off right away. I feel they're better for it, though a day of heavy sweat may have me regret the lack of a cover.
  • Stupid bluetooth-standard user interface design.

I got mine at Amazon last month for $23 (shipping included). A great value.

At the same time I'd also gotten two other headsets to test: ECSEM® Mini Lightweight Wireless Stereo Headphones ($25), and Avantree AS8Q Neckband In Ear Sweat-proof Stereo Bluetooth Wireless Headphones ($38). But like any other in-ear buds they just fall out, so once I tried the Mpow ones, I ignored these. Maybe I'll give them to Anthony or something.


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