Elliott C. Back: Internet & Technology

Hidden Radio: A Review

Posted in Hardware, Music by Elliott Back on October 5th, 2012.

If you aren’t familiar with Hidden Radio & BlueTooth Speaker by John VDN + Vitor Santa Maria, it is one of the more popular Kickstarter projects, having $938,771 on a $125,000 goal. Their plan was to create “the simplest, most powerful radio and wireless speaker for iPhone + iPad ever.” In this review, we’ll see if the bluetooth behemoth lives up to the hype!

Unboxing

The packing for HiddenRadio is immaculate, iPhone style, with a certain simplicity that seems to be directly ripped off from an old-school iPod box. There’s no Microsoft-esque list of system requirements or tacky stickers. You’d feel proud wrapping one of the Hidden Radios up for a gift. There is a subtle panel of use-cases on the back, while the other three sides are product shots:

I opened it up; inside you get a few accessories:

  • A USB mini cable for charging
  • An audio mini-jack FM radio antenna cable
  • An audio mini-jack cable to connect to your Sony Walkman or … whatever
  • A microfiber drawstring dust pouch

Also, there’s the unit itself. A rounded grey (hey dude, I order silver!) cylinder, it looks sleek and is shorter than a beer bottle, and slightly smaller than your palm in diameter. They’re cute looking little devices, and it’s the design concept rather than the sound engineering, I believe, which got them their first million dollars in Kickstarter sales:

Build & Sound Quality

So how does it sound? I received two units, and they are slightly different. Both units exhibit a mediocre range with very little bass when placed on a flat surface. Treble is also attenuated, so you end up having to set EQ on your iPhone to “Rock” or a similar setting to get a response that sounds similar to the song you’re trying to listen to. When held in the air, the speaker sounds quite a lot better. Also, the volume control doesn’t work terribly well. If you set your iPhone to 100% output (no eq), the Hidden Radio will actually distort. So instead of using the beautiful twist feature to control volume, you’ll most likely leave your HiddenRadio 80% open and control volume from your iPhone. More than 80% and the sound quality again degrades.

Another sound quality issue I encountered was a constant buzzing from the unit–but only one of them. The other HiddenRadio didn’t have the same poor circuitry causing the buzz. Fortunately, it seems to be worst only when turned on, or in front of a monitor, and not playing sound. Once it locks onto a bluetooth signal, the buzz amplitude is reduced or eliminated–but you might notice it on a quiet song!

As for the build quality, it’s not good enough. I’m not sure why you twist the device left to open, which is an awkward motion for right-handers. The device feels plastic, and doesn’t have enough weight in the base to stick to the surfaces you place it on, so actually turning it on usually takes two hands: one to stabilize it, the other to twist it open. This defaults the main point of Hidden Radio: the gorgeous twits-to-open feature. Both of my units suffer from superficial defects: the first has paint already chipping off the plastic around the base ring, while the second one’s grille has a permanent dimple. See if you can spot it:

Hidden Radio definitely needs to improve their quality assurance process before selling to the mainstream customer. Another example–one unit came with some charge, while the other (better) unit was entirely uncharged:

The base also needs a few more pounds of weight so that it sticks. Right now, I either need to apply more downwards force than it would take to fire an NYPD glock, or pick the thing up in two hands to turn it on.

Ports

The Hidden Radio has all of its input ports on the bottom–you charge it through a mini-USB cable that plugs in on the base. You can also either give it direct audio input or FM antenna through a minijack on the base. There’s also a bluetooth/direct input/FM radio switch and channel picker to control the modes there:

Other Reviews

You can check out their KickStarter comments page which includes mostly negative feedback. The founders appear to be removing anything but positive comments from their Facebook page. Here are a few comments from Kickstarter:

  • I bought a five pack to give as gifts, unfortunately, the one I opened to try (only after hearing all the negative reviews) it sounds TERRIBLE. At low volume it is so distorted that I cannot bear to listen.
  • I received two units, both look very nice. But the first one has a lot of white noise in the background while charging via USB, the second one’s volume control is out of order.
  • Well add one more backer with the frustrating automatic shut-off between two and three minutes. This only happens in wireless and wired mode though. In FM mode the HR stays on.
  • Everything worked flawlessly out of the box. Simple, easy to use, well made and it really does sound good.
  • Frankly I have to say that the sound quality is horrible yet especially at the max volume. Voice being distorted and sound stage is bad.
  • First of all, this thing is solid. It’s surprisingly heavy, which is nice because with the “no movement” pad on the bottom it has no problem staying in place on a variety of surfaces (I tested glass, wood, and laminate). Secondly, the range is amazing. I have a small 3/2 house and I can sit it in one corner of the house and play music in the other corner. That’s going through 3 walls, one of which is insulated. Finally, the volume is loud, surprisingly loud.

TechHive also gave it a big “meh” review.

My Take?

This is HiddenRadio v1, which for $115/unit, you get a gorgeous bluetooth speaker you can plug into your bedroom and kitchen and rock out while you read, cook, do chores, etc. The sound quality is acceptable, if you know how to goose the settings, and hopefully the Hidden Radios will survive the test of time. I’d give it a 3/5, for now, until they improve the frequency response of the units. Bluetooth is also a bit gimmicky, and quite static-prone.

I don’t care about direct minijack access or FM radio; just give me an amazing bluetooth speaker with great batter life, a bigger speaker or more speakers for better sound, and a twist-to-the-right to open, and I’d happily give you 5/5!

Obama Kills Again: Assassinates American Citizen

Posted in Homeland Security, Law, Politics, President by Elliott Back on September 30th, 2011.

Obama wasn’t content to rest up after his illegal assassination of Osama bin Laden back in May, this time stepping up his game to take out American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki with a predator drone / Hellfire missile in Yemen. The audacity of conducting public assassinations on the territory of sovereign nations aside, the New York Times picks right up on the issue of due process:

The strike appeared to be the first time in the American-led war on terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that an American citizen had been deliberately killed by American forces, a step that has raised contentious constitutional issues in the United States. It was also the second high-profile killing of an Al Qaeda leader in the past five months under the Obama administration[.]

The White House decision to make Mr. Awlaki a top priority to be hunted down and killed was controversial, given his American citizenship.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which fought unsuccessfully in the American court system to challenge the government’s legal justification for its so-called targeted killings program, which was used to take aim at Mr. Awlaki, condemned that program in reaction to the news of Mr. Awlaki’s death. “As we’ve seen today, this is a program under which American citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public but from the courts,” Jameel Jaffer, the A.C.L.U.’s deputy legal director, said in a statement.

For what it’s worth, Foreign Policy’s blog agrees that Anwar was a US citizen due an appropriate trial. The correct course of action would have been extradition from Yemen to the US for trial.

Obama Murders Osama: The Illegal Assassination of America’s #1 Enemy

Posted in Homeland Security, Law, Politics, President by Elliott Back 2 weeks, 2 days ago.

What gave President Obama the right to order Navy Seals to invade the foreign sovereign nation of Pakistan, fly inland 50 kilometers from the Capital, and murder an unarmed foreign citizen? According to Reuters, “‘this was a kill operation,’ U.S. national security official [said], clarifying no desire to capture Osama bin Laden alive.” In the NY Times article New U.S. Account Says Bin Laden Was Unarmed During Raid, they clarify:

Bin Laden’s wife, who was with him in the room, “rushed the U.S. assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed,” said the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, reading from the brief account, which was provided by the Defense Department. “Bin Laden was then shot and killed. He was not armed.”

Despite expecting Bin Laden to put up a fight, Mr. Brennan said the assault team had made contingency plans for capturing, rather than killing him. “If we had the opportunity to take Bin Laden alive, if he didn’t present any threat, the individuals involved were able and prepared to do that,” he said.

After the atrocities of World War II, there were held a series of military tribunals called the Nuremberg Trials, where German leadership was tried under doctrine drawn up by the occupying powers. By attempting to create and follow a criminal war-crimes procedure rooted in justice, the trials dispelled notions of “victor’s justice” and “murder by court.”

So why couldn’t we do the same with Osama? Here are two reasons why we should:

Executive Order 12333

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan signed into law this order which stated that “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” This restated Gerald Ford’s ban on political assassinations, and Jimmy Carter’s ban on indirect assassination. Of course, this does not apply to enemy combatants…

“Grave Breaches” of the Geneva Convention

We haven’t seen any evidence that Osama was actively engaged against the United States; when he was confronted by Navy Seals, he was unarmed. He should therefore have been accorded protection as a prisoner of war, fairly treated, and granted a fair trial. Instead he was assassinated.

I’d like to leave you with this quote from Reason’s Did the killing of Osama bin Laden violate U.S. law?:

“We’re violating our basic values and our basic principles, which is that we accord everybody due process and we don’t engage in summary executions,” argued libertarian Fox Business Channel host Judge Andrew Napolitano. “Justice is not a summary execution by a Navy SEAL in your bedroom.”

The Economist’s obituary of Osama bin Ladin is also worth reading.

Update: In the LA Times article “Osama bin Laden’s son says U.S. broke international law ‘if’ his father is dead”, Omar bin Ladin says “We are not convinced on the available evidence in the absence of dead body, photographs, and video evidence that our natural father is dead.” Omar also accuses the US of “breaking international law by killing the unarmed terrorist leader without a trial.”

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