Reviews

Bose SoundLink Mini II Review: Big Sound in a Small Package

Having reviewed a variety of Bluetooth speakers over the years, I've seen (or heard) it all. Some have been great with a lot to offer and others have been pretty generic with subpar sound quality. But once in a while, a Bluetooth speaker comes along that really exceeds my expectations. Enter the world of Bose.

Bose is the kind of brand that I've heard about all my life, but never actually took an interest in owning any of their products. This is primarily due to the fact that Bose products have always been a little out of my reach in regards to price. Much like Apple, Bose tends to charge a premium for everything they sell. Well, at least most things.

The Bose SoundLink Mini II is a Bluetooth portable speaker that retails for just $199. Not only is this more affordable than expected, but the speaker has a lot going for it. Its overall design is beautiful and the build quality is just fantastic. While a little on the heavy side, the exceptional sound quality more than makes up for it. Believe me, this thing does not disappoint.

Playback controls on top include power, volume down, mode, volume up and a Bluetooth pair button. On the side of the speaker is a 3.5mm connection for headphones, as well as a micro-USB port. And charging? It's seamless, thanks to the included charging cradle. Simply place the speaker in the cradle and you're good to go. Battery life is an estimated 10 hours.

Getting into specifics, sound quality of the SoundLink Mini II doesn't even compare to portable speakers that I've used in the past. For the most part, highs and lows sound crystal clear and bass performance is simply awesome. There have been those brief moments where lows can sound a bit muddy, but this issue can be resolved by adjusting the EQ on whichever device you're using to play audio.

In regards to Bluetooth range, Bose says a max of 30 feet should do it. My iPhone is typically within inches of the speaker when playing music, so I have yet to experience any kind of dropout during playback.

Do you know what I enjoy most about the SoundLink Mini II? It works exactly as advertised. Bose has created a speaker that only excels in the audio department, but it also looks good doing so. For the user who cares about a product's design and performance, this is the speaker for you. Buy it here and you'll thank me later.

LG V20 Review

As someone who is primarily an iPhone user, I was excited to see a review invitation in my inbox from LG regarding the upcoming V20 — the successor to the V10, which featured a unique secondary display that could be used for app shortcuts and quickly  toggling device settings like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Like past LG phones I've reviewed, the V10 featured some truly remarkable cameras. Pair them with a beautiful display that produces some of the richest blacks I have ever seen, and I was hooked right away.

Needless to say, I enjoyed my time with the V10. It was a fresh take on what a smartphone can be. Check out my video review below for some extended thoughts.

Fast-forwarding to today, as I type this review with the LG V20 by my side, I have a lot to say about the device. Sure, it's more of the same from what we've already seen with the V10, but LG continues to push the smartphone market forward with a few innovations that are worth noticing.

Overall performance of the V20 feels snappy and responsive. For example, launching the default camera app and taking a photo takes just a second, and multitasking works well. And of course, customizing Android to your liking is very satisfying.

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Performance and freedom are two things that come to mind when expressing my thoughts on the V20. It's an incredibly powerful phone that lets you do just about anything your inner geek desires. 

Speaking of performance, can we talk about the cameras for a bit? There is something about Android phones and their rear cameras... They simply never cease to amaze me, and the V20 is no different.

The rear 16-megapixel camera produces some truly breathtaking results, as does the 8-megapixel wide-angle camera — provided you're a fan of that GoPro-esque look. Below is a handful of photos that I shot and eventually edited using Google's Snapseed app.

Another huge benefit of going the Android route when taking photos is the extensive amount of controls that are available in the default camera app. From setting a custom white balance to adjusting manual focus, the V20 is the device to use if you're serious about smartphone photography.

The secondary display on the V20 hasn't changed all that much coming from the V10, but I will say that it's noticeably brighter and easier to read. This is helpful when you want to quickly glance at the time without having to unlock your phone. It can also be used for a variety of shortcuts, including the ability to instantly turn on the flashlight.

Oh, and the build quality of the V20? It's exceptional. I'm actually surprised at how light the device feels, even with the battery installed.  Weighing in at just 6.14 ounces, the V20 feels well built and carefully thought out.

Now of course, there is so much more to talk about with the V20 (like the fingerprint sensor), but because this is such a feature packed phone, I decided to focus what means the most to me. However, that doesn't mean I am finished talking about it. Feel free to watch my video review below for additional thoughts.

If you're interested in buying the LG V20, pre-orders go live shortly. Unfortunately, pricing has yet to be determined, but I'm expecting it to cost at least $600 — which is the norm for most premium smartphones. Sign up here to receive alerts.

Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro Review

If there is one accessory that I can absolutely recommend for the iPad Pro, it has to be Apple's Smart Keyboard. While its price can be a bit on the steep side (save a few dollars on Amazon), I believe the cost is worth it. After all, Apple is touting the iPad Pro as a notebook replacement for some users, so a keyboard only seems necessary.

The build quality of the Smart Keyboard, as you can expect from most Apple products, is exceptional. Typing feels natural, despite the keys not having much travel, and it's designed well to the point where it's comfortable to use for extended periods of time.

You don't have to worry about getting dirt stuck in between the keys, either. Everything is woven together in a custom-fitted fabric, which is a big plus for those who like to keep their gadgets in pristine condition.

One of my favorite features of the Smart Keyboard is the ability to use shortcuts in iOS. Below are a few shortcuts that I use most often:

Command-H - Go to your iPad Pro's Home screen
Command-Tab - Switch apps instantly, similar to macOS
Command-T - Open a new tab in any compatible apps
Command-Space - Spotlight search while using any app

These shortcuts make using an iPad Pro more useful and much like a notebook, further proving the point that tablets can eventually become an everyday computer for most users. That day is still a ways off, but we're certainly getting closer.

And speaking of shortcuts, holding down the Command key in any compatible app displays an overlay of keyboard shortcuts that can be used. This is especially apparent in Apple's apps, like Safari and Pages.

Let's talk about the Smart Connector, a new technology that Apple is implementing into their "Pro" line of products. Because the Smart Keyboard uses the Smart Connector interface, this means that you never have to worry about Bluetooth pairing or even charging. Everything is handled by the iPad Pro, which is a huge convenience. This alone can save you a ton of time and frustration.

The Smart Keyboard also doubles as a case. Disconnecting the Smart Keyboard via the Smart Connector allows you to fold it into a case, thus protecting your iPad Pro from everyday wear and tear. While this functionality tends to skip my mind since I primarily work at a desk, it's certainly a nice bonus for those users who prefer to work while on the go.

But as great as the Smart Keyboard is, there are two areas I think Apple can improve in — the first being physical shortcut keys. Software shortcuts in iOS work great, but the lack of having shortcut keys for basic functions like volume and display brightness seems like a simple oversight to me. Instead, you are often having to rely on lifting your fingers from the Smart Keyboard itself andusing the controls on the iPad Pro.

Another setback is the lack of backlit keys. While this isn't personally a big deal to me, I have seen complaints from other Smart Keyboard users, and rightfully so.

If the above setbacks are important to you, then I suggest looking into Logitech's Create. It features physical shortcut keys and backlit keys, and for less than the price of what Apple is asking.

Overall, I have to say that I am enjoying the Smart Keyboard. In my opinion, it's a necessary accessory to truly experience what the iPad Pro has to offer — aside from the Apple Pencil, of course. Pricing starts at $149.

If you are interested in learning more about the Smart Keyboard, check out my video review below.