Geeky Gizmos

The life wireless — are we ready to cut the cord?

I hate wires. For every piece of technology I own, there seems to be at least three cables that come along with it. A work colleague often refers to the daily routine of plugging our laptops into the monitor, keyboard, power source, mouse etc. as putting it on life support.

It feels as if wireless technology is still trying to catch up with all the cool gadgets that are created every year. Why isn’t everything wireless yet? If I want to make toast outside on the stoep, I shouldn’t need an extension cable to do it (others would argue I shouldn’t make toast on the stoep, but what do they know?).

The worst place to find wires is on a music device. iPods are all well and good, if you don’t mind wires running through your clothes or flapping about in the wind. But there are better ways.

My contempt for cables has driven me to find some interesting solutions. If you are looking to break free from the oppressive shackles of the coaxial of evil, look no further.

My first attempt at going wireless was by using Bluetooth. Most people these days are comfortable with the idea of pairing two devices using this technology, so the RCA Jet Stream Series 1GB Wireless Sport MP3 Player (about R400) should be a pretty simple concept to understand. There’s the player, and there’s the earphones. Switch on Bluetooth, and the two pieces pair with each other in perfect harmony.

Now, I should have known that a device with ‘Sport’ in the title wasn’t ever going to suit me exactly (my friends will tell you that I don’t ever run unless I’m being chased). Apart from the fancy arm-band pictured below, here’s another two features that were completely lost on me:

* Splash Proof: Built for workouts, this device is water and sweat-resistant so you can take it with you on a jog or bring it to the gym

* Stop Watch: Track your lap time or run time with this easy-to-use integrated stop watch, Integrated Pedometer, Calorie Counter, and Body Mass Index Calculator. Built for the active, these features report your work-out progress by tracking your steps taken, number of calories burned and your personal BMI ratio

Yeah, no. Here’s what I do like about it. 1GB is enough space for roughly 340 songs, which is plenty (just how long are you ever going to be jogging for!?). It’s also small. As well as the controls on the player, there’s some on the earphones too. It has a built-in FM radio, and you can even record from the radio, should you find Gareth Cliff’s charm and wit compelling enough to keep for posterity.

But the clincher was that the Bluetooth technology still requires fairly chunky-looking earphones. They are prone to fall out your ears, and, well, you also just look silly. I suppose this doesn’t matter too much if you are running past people very fast. And even though the player sat snug in the pocket of my jeans, the distance to my ears was enough to cause the Bluetooth connection to dip pretty often. I guess if you are the kind of boet who likes to klap the gym, these are ideal. If not, you might want to try something else.

If you are not going too far, the other solution to the wire problem is to use a base unit and a pair of headphones that communicate via a radio frequency. They work like so: Find an audio-playing device (iPod, television, baby monitor), and where you’d normally plug in a headphone jack, plug in the base. The base then ‘broadcasts’ the audio via a set frequency to your headphones. These types of sets cost from R50 to R1000 depending on their range. Some keep you on a virtual dog-leash, meaning you could barely make it from the TV to the toaster (wherever you keep your toaster) before the signal cuts out. Others allow you to pop over to the neighbours and feign interest in their conversation, while all the time being able to keep listening to what’s going down on 7nde Laan.

My favourite solution so far is a no-name brand pair of headphones I ordered off the internet (for about R400). There’s a slot for a tiny microSD card in the one speaker, meaning you can choose how much memory you want to have with you on the go. All the controls you need are on the headphones themselves, and cleverly designed so that you can activate them with a quick flick of the thumb, and before passers-by have any idea about the awesomeness that’s wrapped around your head.

A couple of hours’ charge via a USB cable gives you plenty of battery life (mine have been going strong for several days now), and should the need arise to plug into something, they give you a cable for that too. A built-in FM radio is another bonus.

For an unknown make, they have a surprisingly good build quality (I find that the more popular brands like Skull Candy are actually quite flimsy and brittle). The over-ear style is comfortable on the ear, and in these winter months, keeps them warm too! Judging by their advertising, I’m meant to feel like this when I wear them:

However, I end up feeling more like this guy from Star Wars:

Either way, on-board memory or memory card slots is a great idea! I’m not sure why this isn’t a more commonly found solution, and why I had to do some serious Googling to find these.

As always, if money is no object, you can find some very nice options out there. Denon just brought out these amazing over-ear Bluetooth headphones that have all the bells and whistles, but will set you back some $500. In the battle to be wire-free, there’s always a price to pay.

Now I’ll just have to wait for my wireless toaster to arrive.


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