Thursday, September 21, 2017

How To Get Smartphones To Play Audio On Radios Without Bluetooth

My kids have older cars without Bluetooth on their radios, so finding good ways of getting audio from their phones through their car stereo systems has become kind of a quest for me lately. I've bought a couple other devices to do this, one worked reasonably well and one was a dud. Then I found the Roav SmartCharge
Car Kit F2. This is the third device and I must say it's the all-around best one I've used.

The device is compact, and fit well into the car's lighter outlet without taking up a ton of space in the console. Once I plugged in the device, I tuned my radio to find an empty space with no other stations and then used the arrow buttons to tune the device to broadcast on that empty frequency. Then I got the phone and it paired almost instantly. Because the Roav is using Bluetooth 4.2, a voice told me the phone was paired. I started playing a song from Spotify and it sounded GREAT through the car stereo. No distortion, clean quality, no loss of fidelity unlike some other items in this category.

I found some other great features in this device as well. There are 2 USB ports that can be used for charging and they use some kind of technology that can adjust the amount of power sent to a device to maximize charging. I have to say that port charged my phone every bit as fast as when I plug it into AC at home. Very impressive. The top port charges as well and doubles as an input for a USB device like a memory stick to play audio from the device. The Roav delivers really good sound quality on phone calls, but be aware that the microphone is on the left side of the top of the unit. That can make you sound soft to the person calling you if the mic is obstructed or if it's not pointed towards the driver. I saw some comments about problems with callers hearing users of this device, so I made sure I had a clear shot from my mouth to the little hole for the microphone.

One really cool thing about this device is the app you can use with it. it's a free download from the Play Store and it lets you note where you parked your car and using GPS can help guide you back to the parking space. I think that will be especially handy when I'm parked a million miles away from the stores when I'm doing my holiday shopping. When you shut off your engine, the app records where you are via GPS and can help get you to your car by letting you know when you're nearby. The app will also help you find an empty FM channel to play music through.

As I said, there are a lot of devices that will play music and calls through your car stereo by finding an unused frequency. This one seems to do it the best, has tremendous charging capabilities, and an app to go with it. It's a winner in my book.

Roav was kind enough to provide me with the device used for this review.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Playing in the world of Voice Assistants

If you know me, you know I'm a geek and the person who wants to try every new thing first. I've been messing with all the Voice Assistants on the market-Siri, Google Assistant (or whatever they want to call it) Alexa, Cortana, Bixby, and a couple still in development.  I know we're at the beginning of the world of Voice Assistants so I'm not quite ready to commit to one platform only to have it blown out of the water by another variant in six months or a year. I learned that lesson from choosing Betamax.

I simply despise Siri. I've used it on iPhone, iPad and Mac and the bottom line, at least for me, is that it sucks. Bad responses, problems understanding questions, all the things that make it (still) a second-tier product. Cortana works pretty well on PC, but I haven't seen much in the way of standalone devices for that platform yet.

I love Google's assistant but I love it on my Android phone, not so much as a home assistant. And yes, I've dumped my iPhone and went back to Android with a slick powerhouse from OnePlus and I use the Google Assistant a lot. So that leaves Amazon's Alexa platform.

Call me crazy, but I don't want to invest in an Amazon Echo just yet. I'm not ready to go all in on an ecosystem that might not end up winning the battle of the voice bots, even though I think Amazon is leading the pack right now with the best software and darn good hardware.

I've looked at Amazon's other devices and they seem lacking in features, and their industrial design doesn't do much for me either. Enter the Eufy Genie from the people at Anker, one of my favorite manufacturers of things like power banks and cables. The Eufy Genie is 35 bucks at Amazon, (you can find discounts every once in a while on the Interwebz) and while it doesn't have all the features of a full-size Echo, it looks better than the Echo Dot and will give me a taste of life with a voice assistant waiting for me to utter its name for service.
The Eufy Genie

I've only been messing with the Genie for a few days, but my first impressions of it are very good. It's attractive, small enough to fit almost anywhere, and sounds good. Maybe not as good as the big Echo, but it fills the room with voice or music and that's good enough for me at this point. Being that this device is so inexpensive, it doesn't have Bluetooth or 5 GHz WiFi like its Amazon cousins, but it does have workable 2.4 GHz WiFi with good connectivity and a 3.5 mm audio cable to connect it to other speakers. Also, the power cord is a bit short for my tastes, but that's just me being Mister Pickypants.

I'm impressed that Amazon has made most of Alexa's skills available to a third-party because this device does almost everything Amazon devices can do with a few exceptions. You have to download the Eufy Home app in order to activate the speaker, and once you've done that, you can download the Amazon Alexa app and use it to get the Genie to learn Alexa skills and do most of the things the Amazon devices do.

So now I can ask Alexa, through the Eufy Genie, to play "Free Bird", give me news updates from the sources I choose, and the Cubs score. As Alexa adds new skills, I can use them with this device. That goes for things like home automation as well. The trigger word is still "Alexa" and the experience is very much like using an Echo Dot, but with a smaller footprint and (at least in my opinion) better sound. If Amazon ends up winning the Battle Of The Voice Assistants, I've got another speaker to add to my network. If they don't, I'll have had the chance to use Alexa without investing too much.
The Genie is compact. Here it is against my keyboard. 

The Genie gives me an inexpensive, well-made entry into the Alexa ecosystem. It's very hard to see the downside to buying this device if you're unsure about which platform will prevail in the long-term (which may only be a couple of years) or if you just want to dip your toes into the waters of Voice Assistant World.

Eufy provided me with a sample of the Genie for review purposes.