Level Up! Holiday Gadget Special (Mania.com)

By:Tim Janson
Date: Monday, December 16, 2013
Source: Mania.com

It’s time again for Level Up to take a look at some of the cool new gadgets that are available for that special someone on your Christmas shopping list this year.  
Phones are one of the most popular items sold during the holiday season and one of the items you absolutely must have to protect your smart phone is a good case.  In fact it’s probably more of an essential item to get with your new phone than even other accessories like a car charger.  In this part of our Holiday Guide we take a look at several cases with quick bullet reviews
Ballistic EV0993-M105 Every1 Case (Ballistic) for iPhone 5
Grade: B
The Every1 case is rated to withstand drops from 6 – 15 feet which is quite a wide gap.  Solid drop protection but not waterproof.  The case is bulky but not as bulk as other similar cases.  Can still fit comfortably in a pocket although maybe not while sitting.  The buttons all are responsive when pushed through the screen protector.  There is a small hole around the front facing camera that could potentially let in dirt or water so beware.  Some owners have reported the belt clip breaking off although I personally don’t use them.  Comes in 10 different colors.
Ballistic HC0956-M005 Hard Core (Ballistic) for iPhone 5
Grade: A-
The Ballistic Hard Core Series Case is engineered with five layers of engineered drop protection, including a built in screen protector, water resistant mesh over bottom speakers and an extremely durable rotating holster.  The case is actually five layers in all: Built in screen protector, Ballistic shock absorbent polymer, Tough impact resistant polycarbonate, An additional layer of our Ballistic shock absorbent polymer, and Optional outer layer of silicone. Despite the layers it’s still surprisingly sleek.  It CAN be problematic to take the case apart and put it together again.  The protection it affords unfortunately does not lend itself to quick disassembly and assembly.  It is not waterproof, however, despite the layers of protection.
Ballistic SG Maxx (Ballistic) for iPhone 5
Grade: B+
Here’s another solid case from Ballistic.  The Drop test indicator notes approximately safe at around 12 feet.  The case itself offers four layers of protection that obviously increases its profile but doesn’t make it obtrusive.  It’s padded especially well on the corners, comes with its own holster as well as its own high impact screen protector.  The layers leave the phone slightly recessed inside which allows you to lay the phone screen down without it actually touching the surface.  The case is not waterproof.  There is a bit of a loss of sensitivity on the touch screen when using the included screen protector.

Ballistic Smooth (Ballistic) for iPhone 5
Grade: B+
The Ballistic Smooth is in direct contrast to the previous Ballistic cases.  As opposed to those other cases that completely enclose your phone with multiple layers, the Smooth is a single layer that you insert your phone into.  Not sure what it’s made of…maybe neoprene.  But while its thin it is fairly rigid and durable.  It’s not going to give you the kind of drop protection of the other cases but on the other hand, it’s the least bulky by far and barely adds any weight or size to the phone making it easy to carry in your pocket.  Now one interesting aspect is that it comes with four sets of corner bumpers, each in a different color, to allow you a small measure of customization.
Seidio Obex Waterproof Case (Seidio) Samsung Galaxy S4
Grade: A-
If you have a need a waterproof case for your new Galaxy S4, look no further than the Obex case.  Tested this out (without my phone in it!) and what do you know…it truly is waterproof.  The case halves snap together firmly, and it seals well. Sound performance for calls is very good but not so much if you want to use the speakerphone.  But hey…use it with a Bluetooth earphone and problem solved.  Definitely increases the profile of the phone but you expect that for the level of protection.  The S4 fits into this quite nicely and the port cutouts are lined up perfectly.  The screen protector really shows off the fingerprints and is one of the things I dislike most.  The holster is outstanding.
Bem Wireless Boom Box (Bem)
Grade: A-
Remember those giant boom boxes of the 1980s that were the size of a small suitcase and weighed as much?  Well Bem has released a new Boom Box that features all the power and lush sound in a size of a small mailbox.  Measuring 12 x 5 x 9.5 inches and weighing just 6 pounds, the Bem Wireless Boom Box packs a lot of punch into its small size.  Inside the box you find the speaker, 3.5mm cable, wall charger, and the user guide. 
The unit itself is quite sleek with an oval shape.  The front and back metal casing makes it durable for taking with you on the go.  And by on the go I mean it is Bluetooth compatible so you can connect with any Bluetooth device such as your phone, iPod, iPad, Playstation, etc…and if you don’t have a Blu-tooth device, no problem.  It has a smooth handle allowing you to carry it like a bag or prop it up on your shoulder if you want to relive 1980’s glory days. The 3.5MM cable allows you to connect it easily to a speaker or headphone output. The unit comes with both aux input and output.
The speaker provides 2.1 channel stereo powered by two 4.5 watt speakers and an 8 watt subwoofer.  The sound is quite good with deep, resonating bass and clear mids although with the volume pushed up too high it can become slightly distorted.  But the sound is clear and loud enough to use at parties and small gatherings.  It boasts a range of up to 25’ from your wireless source and that can be plus or minus depending on variable conditions. 
The Bem Wireless Boombox can last about 9 – 10 hours on a full charge and features power level, charging, and Bluetooth indicator lights.  The only real downside to me is that the $249.00 price tags is a little steep.  I’ve seen speakers with similar specs for a lower price although admittedly they were not as portable friendly as this one.
SwannEye HD Plug & Play Wi-fi Security Camera (Swann)
Grade: B
If you’re looking for a low-cost and easy to use (mostly) Wi-Fi security camera, look no further than the SwannEye HD Plug & Play camera.  The camera is generally easy to setup.  Just download the App for your phone or tablet, scan the unique QR code that comes with your camera, and then you are ready to view video in crisp 720p quality from anywhere…no networking needed.  The app is available both for Apple and Android devices.  The camera can be mounted on any flat surface including walls or ceilings and obviously freely moved about wherever you want.  
The camera has motion sensors which start recording as soon as motion is detected and can send you and e-mail alert.  Built-in infrared LEDs offer night vision capability up to 32’.  The camera has a built-in microphone for one way recording.  The camera has a micro SD slot that can handle up to a 32 GB SD Card for recording/storage.  The video is much crisper than I expected.  Surprisingly clean and I was impressed.  The sound is average but then again my expectations were not very high.  


Not the down side, the camera is designed for indoor use only.  I suppose you could put it outdoors if you live in an area where you don’t deal with a lot of elements and cold weather as long as it’s covered but otherwise you will need to keep it inside.  The camera is NOT a spycam.  It’s 6 ¾” tall and 3 ½” wide so you could stash it behind something if that was the intent but then you’ll be covering the motion detector.  While the plug & play aspect works fine, networking is another issue.  Your router has to come with a pairing button which mine did not.  It does come with an Ethernet cable to connect with a wired connection but then that limits your ability to move the camera around.  You can connect wireless in a time consuming process that has you connect via Ethernet, connect to your network via the software, then disconnect the cable..  I personally did not try this method so cannot speak to how well this method works.
Overall for the price the SwannEye HD Plug & Play Camera ($129.00) is a solid little item but not one to be a whole home security system.
Phiaton Chord MS 530 Headset (Phiaton)
Grade: A
At $299 the Phiaton Chord headset is pricey but they are also well worth it as a top-of-the-line set of headphones.  The Chord MS 530 has incredible sound quality featuring Bluetooth 4.0 and active noise cancelling technology.  The Noise cancelling technology cancels up to 98% of ambient background noise so you get all of the music you want without outside distractions.  The bluetooth connection works well and easily paired with my phone. The built in mic worked fine with my phone and laptop.
The sound is exceptional and very balanced highs, mids, and lows.  The base is incredibly clean and never muffled even when turned up high.  The headphones are rechargeable via the included micro USB to USB cable and can play for up to 30 hours with normal play/talk time or up to 18 hours when using the noise canceling feature.  The noise canceling feature can be turned on or off and the headset also comes with controls to play, pause, or stop music, adjust the volume, skip to the next song forward or back, or fast forward/rewind.  There’s also a button for answering or making calls.
The headphones fit comfortably on the ear although they can get a little hot after a long period but that’s true with most headphones I think.  The package comes with the headphones, micro USB cable, mic cable, inflight adaptor, carrying case, and instruction guide.
Charge It Universal Power Bank (Digital Treasures)
Grade: B
We love chargers here at Level Up and this time out we have a compact, universal to take with you on the go.  The Charge It! Is only 3600mAh but it does have two features that really make this item a nice gift.  First of all it is compact, measuring only about 3 ½” by 2 ½” so it easily fits in the palm of your hand, pocket, purse, or laptop bag.  Open up the case (which stays attached via a hinge) and you see four different connectors inside: Apple 8 pin, Apple 30 pin, Micro USB, and USB.  Plug the USB end into any USB compatible charger to charge.  A bank of blue LED lights will display the current charge level.  
Turn the unit on to charge up your phone, iPod, or tablet.  The cords to each connector are only about 1” long so they are extremely short but fold up completely inside the unit’s case.  These short cords mean you are not going to be far from whatever you are charging obviously and you probably want to hook it up to something that allows it to rest on a table rather than hanging from a wall type charger.  
At 3600mAh the unit isn’t going to be able to give you many uses and isn’t meant to.  The Charge It is meant as a backup or emergency charger when you are not near an available outlet and for that, it serves its purpose well.


Follow Mania on Facebook and Twitter. If work has you blocked out, download our app on iTunes for your iPhone and iPad.