Category Archives: Product Review

I tried out Ora’s graphene headphones — and they’re crazy good

Graphene took the world by storm. It’s a wonder material, opening the way for an entire class of 2D structures, with amazing physical properties and limitless applications.

Now, we’re starting to see the first graphene products — and it was worth the wait.

It usually takes years or decades before novel materials leave the lab and hit the shelves, but graphene (the novel 2D material consisting of a single layer of carbon) made its way to the market incredibly fast. Perhaps it was the Graphene Flagship, the billion-dollar initiative spearheaded by Nobel Laureate Konstantin Novoselov that spurred this, or perhaps it was the remarkable properties of graphene itself — but whatever it was, it worked.

It’s no coincidence that headphones are one of the first products in which graphene made its way. The material is highly conductive, flexible, strong, and light — it’s an ideal material for speakers, especially on something like headphones.

Ora, a Montreal-based startup, has turned graphene speakers into a reality — and they sent me a pair for review. Here’s what I thought of them.

Ora’s GrapheneQ Headphones

As I took the headphones out of the box, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I tried to avoid external information as much as possible to make a fresh impression.

The headphones are pretty big, a bit bigger than I expected. But as you hold them in your hand, they feel sleek and durable. It was pretty unexpected — I was expecting them to feel bulkier, but with graphene working its magic, that’s not the case; they’re light. Remarkably, despite being light, the headphones also feel sturdy, durable. It’s an impressive combination — light and sturdy is exactly what I want from my headphones.

The feel is nice, but of course, it’s the sound that matters. So I took the wireless headphones (they also come with a cable, but I tried them in wireless Bluetooth first), and plugged in some songs.

As it happens, my playlist at the time was acoustic rock — and it sounded good; real good. I planned on listening to a single song, but I got carried away and forgot to switch off after the second song, and then the third.

The sound was crisp and clear and I got swept away to the simple yet catchy guitar tunes. As far as first impressions go, you can color me impressed. But acoustic rock isn’t exactly the genre to put the headphones to the test. We needed something stronger.

Trying out different things

I imagine that, as high-end headphones, Ora’s headphones are aimed at people who want high-quality sound in the comfort of their home or office, and aren’t necessarily meant to be taken out in the real world. But I did anyway.

The headphones aren’t noise-canceling, which some disappoint some people. To me personally, it was great. I walk and cycle around quite a bit, and I hate when my headphones completely cut me off from the world. If there’s a car crazy-honking behind me, I wanna hear it. Even without noise-canceling, the headphones do a pretty good job anyway. They come over the year and block out all but the loudest sounds (at least at the level of music I listen to).

Even outside, I enjoyed the crisp quality of the sound. I tuned into some heavy metal, smooth jazz, and the ever-complex sounds of Pink Floyd. They all sounded great.

Billie Eilish also put the headphones to the test, as did Bjork. The low and high sounds blended excellently, and the multitude of instruments and tonal varieties was perfectly-represented. If you’d put a gun to my head and asked me to find a flaw, I’d say that on rare occasions, the highs don’t come in as big as they should. Again, this is a taste thing — I imagine to people who dislike aggressive highs this is an advantage, but I have no problem with a bit of screeching once in a while.

The bass is mildly boosted, and everything else sounds warm and crisp — I’ve used this word three times already because it’s exactly how I would describe the overall sound.

Since I only own one other pair of headphones (and borrowing from all my friends didn’t seem like a good way to do a comparison), I asked the owner of a music store to allow me trial and compare Ora’s GrapheneQ Headphones with some of the other high-end headphones they had.

Let me tell you, they stand up with the very best of them — and quite possibly rise above.

As I combed through the different pairs of high-end headphones, it was clear that different producers tend to emphasize different sound frequencies. I imagine some people love their big bass boost, whereas others love strong mids. As far as I’m concerned, I couldn’t find any headphones I enjoyed more than Ora’s ones — and the overall sound quality truly is superb.

The bottom line

It’s hard to say whether the headphones are better than what’s already on the market. At the top of the product range, the differences become minimal — and despite my occasional guitar-playing, I can’t claim to have a perfect ear. But what is clear is that the audio quality is indeed impressive.

Another advantage of the graphene speakers is the excellent battery life — far longer than what I’m used to. I used the headphones for days before remembering to plug them back in.

Overall, I enjoyed them — greatly. I had no problem taking them out in the world and felt good listening to all genres I could think of (which included everything from classical music to anime soundtracks). The bragging rights of enjoying graphene technology while working also felt good.

The headphones are pricey, however. They’re not something most people afford on a whim, and I can’t speak for lifetime durability (yet). The retail price is $499 USD, although recent Kickstarter backers got them for $299.

But they are cool nonetheless. Are they worth it? That depends. If you want top-notch graphene headphones, and are willing to pay the price, the answer is probably yes.

LEGO goes prehistoric with new dinosaur fossil set

LEGO has some good news for those dinosaur fans out there. A new dinosaur fossil set has been recently unveiled, which lets budding paleontologists build their own brick-based museum display.

Credit: LEGO

The set contains 910 pieces and lets you build three dinosaur skeleton models, a T. rex, a triceratops and a pteranodon (which is technically a pterosaur). Each of the models is posable, LEGO said, and they come with display stands so you can set them up in ferocious poses.

The set comes from the company’s LEGO Ideas platform, which lets fans come up with their own ideas for Lego sets and then take them to a public vote to lobby for them to be made. The Dinosaur Fossils set was designed by Jonathan Brunn, a graphic and web designer in France.

“When I was little, my passion for dinosaurs was almost obsessional,” said Brunn. “Dinosaurs were the most incredible thing ever for me, so I made this project to please my inner child! I would have loved it as a kid, and I think every kid who loves dinosaurs and science would agree with me.”

The Dinosaur Fossils set costs US$59.99 and will be available in stores and online on November 1st. If you’re having a hard time justifying the set’s price tag because of other adult fiscal responsibilities, Lego is also including a tiny paleontologist minifigure, as well as a Lego sapiens skeleton figure.

The paleontologist kit also comes with a booklet featuring easy-to-follow building instructions, fascinating facts about the Tyrannosaurus rex, triceratops and pteranodon, and information about the set’s fan creator and LEGO designer. It’s aged 16+ and for anyone with a passion for natural history and dinosaurs.

LEGO Ideas Friends Central Perk and LEGO Ideas Treehouse were released in the theme earlier this year. The first one allows creating the coffee shop of the popular TV show, with minifigures of the six friends. The second one builds a minifigure scale tree complete with treehouse shacks on the branches.

Three more LEGO Ideas product ideas were recently confirmed as approved for official release; Sesame Street, Playable Piano, and The Pirate Bay. The will be released in the first months of 2020.

Ilife V8 robot.

Product Review: iLife V8 Smart Robotic Vacuum

Chinese manufacturer iLife is back with a new flagship robot vacuum — the V8. But is this something that should interest you? After a week toying around with the bot, I think it should.

Ilife V8 robot.

Image credits Mihai Filip / Shotworks Photography.

It’s not perfect. It’s possibly not the most innovative or flashy robot vacuum out there, either. But the V8 digs down to the core identity of iLife’s products — good value — and doubles down on it. If you’re looking for a robot that will vacuum and mop with very little oversight on your part, the V8 is right down your alley. With a $250 price tag, it will be right down your wallet as well.

The design

For the V8, iLife stays true to the design principles it set down with its ‘A’ series — personally, I fell that they made the right choice. It sports a sleek, two-colored body with a touch of minimalism. It’s quite pleasant to see it go about its business through the house. The tried-and-true front bumper got a subtle redesign but is just as effective at protecting the bot from any eventual blunderings.

Its topside sports 5 buttons — power, home, schedule, spot cleaning and a mapping button — and a screen display for time and battery level. The underside houses the wheels and cleaning implements (more on that later).

The unboxing

It comes packed with two sets of cleaning brushes — including a tangle-free rubber brush that will become your best friend if you own pets — a dustbin for vacuuming, and HEPA filters. Should you be in the mood for (avoiding) some moping, the bot can be fitted with a water tank and two sink-washable microfiber cloths. The charging dock, power cable, user manuals, and remote control are also included in the package. You will need separate batteries for the remote.

Now onto the meat of it.

How well does it work?

The V8 outdoes its older cousins such as the A4 in raw power. Its vacuum is brawny enough to remove impressively-looking pieces of debris. The dustbin is large enough, at some 750 ml (25.3 fl oz), that you don’t have to empty it after every round. In my case, it hoovered up some 10 grams (0.35 oz) of dirt after every run. It has to be noted that my flat sits on the side of a major boulevard, and it gets really dusty.

V8 bottom.

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It was also very determined in going over anything I’ve put in front of it — only refusing to cross bunches of wires or particularly fluffy rugs. The last bit is actually not a bad thing: you can leave the floors in the V8’s care, knowing that it won’t get stuck on something it can’t cross. The bot is also slim and reaches under most furniture, so you don’t have to do any heavy lifting while it goes about its day.

Although I don’t consider mopping a central requirement for a robot vacuum, it’s a nice feature to have. The V8 also does it well. It will keep tabs on the amount of liquid permeating the cloth so it’s never too wet or too dry.

Something I do consider very important in such a device, however, are collision sensors and pathing options — the V8 carries itself well in both regards. It is one of the few such robots on the market with a ‘brain’ to help it self-navigate around rooms and a 360° live camera to help it avoid obstacles. It will softly bump into stuff sometimes to see if it can push it out of the way — which I always find funny. Should it fail that, it will just back off and move on. But it won’t drop down a flight of stairs, or from a tabletop, if you decide to put it there in the first place.

V8 pathing.

The robot will try to use a systematic approach to cover all floor surfaces — but it will improvise when a piece of furniture blocks its way. Image credits iLife.

It has two pathing options, and an inbuilt gyro array to ensure it stays true to its path. The redesigned remote also allows you to point at any spot you want the V8 to clean — very handy.

Its battery will last for a very good 2 hours at a time, taking 3 hours to fully recharge. When the battery runs low it will put its current tasks on hold, head to its charging station, and wait for the battery to refill.

Compared to previous iLife robot vacuums, the V8 also inches ahead in regards to cleaning speed.

What you should not expect

The ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ brand is quite appropriate for the V8. It will do a good job of cleaning your house, with the obvious limitations inherent to robotic vacuums. It will both mop and vacuum with enthusiasm — making it good, but not perfect, at either task. For example, it just doesn’t have the mass to scrub floors like a dedicated mop. But in a maintenance role, it holds its own against competitors.

The two main issues the V8 has are a lack of programmable barriers or a recharge & resume function. They are, however, quite minor problems in my view. My place isn’t very large, so the lack of barriers wasn’t actually an issue. Should you live in a mansion, however, your mileage may vary on this one. The recharge and resume function, in my eyes, is more of a flashy quirk. The bot will resume its duties from the charging station after topping off its battery, so it’s not something you really need.

If you really want those features, however, the V8 might not be for you.

Additional goodies

The V8 also comes with a voice alert assistant system that scared the bejeezus out of me the first time I heard it. However, it can be configured to keep you updated on the robot’s state — such as its battery level and the expected time of its job completion. You also get voice control options, so you can prompt the V8 to detail its current condition.

It’s the first iLife robot vacuum that has its own app. This allows you to track its movement in real time, or see where it plans to go clean next.

Finally, the remote control gives you complete control over the robot. You can schedule cleaning, choose cleaning modes, or prompt the unit to return to its charging station without even getting out of bed.

Would I recommend it?

Yes. It’s neither a perfect vacuum nor a perfect mop but it’s a good vacuum-and-mop. It will vacuum all but the most stubborn of messes and the mop functionality is good enough to keep floors in good condition.

A generous battery capacity coupled with solid hardware and software makes it very low-maintenance. Multiple features make it a versatile and convenient device and operating it is a breeze. It has a longer running time than competing robots and is more powerful than its older cousins from iLife.

With a price tag of only $250, this is a very attractive buy — probably the best if you’re shopping on a budget.

Product Review: ILife Beetles A4 Smart Robotic Vacuum Cleaner

Ah, chores. Some people hate them, and I hate them even more. So you can imagine my joy when we got a smart robotic vacuum! Now we had someone to keep the place clean while we languished around like kings. That vacuum is the ILife Beetles A4, courtesy of our friends from GearBest, and I’m here to tell you all about our experience with it.

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The unboxing

They say don’t judge a book by its cover but this isn’t a book and it looks awesome. We got the one in metallic gray and while the overall shape and design aren’t that different from other robot vacuums on the market, it’s sleek, elegant and looks really nice.

The front half of the robot is fitted with a bumper so that when it inevitably runs into furniture on its first few runs, neither will be damaged. And just to be extra safe, there’s an added layer of cushioning in the form of a soft rubber band all around the bumper. On the underside, the A4 has its motor and driving wheels, two sets of cleaning brushes (a pair of side brushes to sweep the floor and one larger drum brush to scoop everything up) a set of IR sensors and the dust bin.

The device comes with a manual, a remote, and a spare filter and side brushes. You’ll also find its charging station and the tools you can use to clean and maintain the bot in the box.

The first thing we did was let it charge overnight.

So how does it run?

We didn’t even read the manual before our trial run, but thankfully the device is pretty intuitive to use. Once you power it up all you have to do is press the “Clean” button on the top cover and the robot will take care of the rest. We watched it cleaning the floor and bumping into stuff for about 10 minutes. It’s slim enough to get under almost any piece of furniture, and it left a very satisfying line of cleanliness behind it. We folded some pieces of paper to test what it could pick up and, apart from chunky pieces of trash or stuff that we embedded in really fuzzy mats, it got everything on the first go. The side brushes can sometimes throw pieces of thrash away but if you leave the A4 to its own devices it will eventually scoop these up too. It handles dust and pet hair very well and doesn’t blow them up all over the room, either.

The A4 does have some difficulty navigating cables — more exactly, if you happen to have a lot of cables on the floor, the robot will snatch them up with its wheels. It will register them as an obstacle and move eventually, but it will drag the cable after it.

On its second run (so this would be around 15-20 minutes of use in the same room) it started to follow the outline of the furniture neatly, though by this time the cats started hunting for it and giving it all kinds of trouble — so we decided to test the IR sensors. The A4 model comes equipped with “Intelligent Drop Avoidance Induction,” a system that relies on the sensors on its underbelly to stop the robot if it reaches a high gap so it won’t fall to its doom — pretty handy. So we cleared a desk, put the bot on it and let it reach every margin a few times, but it didn’t fall once.

By now we were pretty happy with how it moved and cleaned so we wanted to test its cleaning modes. There are a lot of different settings you can pick — we settled for the scheduled auto cleaning mode and automatic re-charging. This is the most versatile mode, and it allows you to set a time each day when the A4 will leave its station and clean everything in sight, then come back to re-charge.

The robot’s battery is powerful enough to allow it to clean our (two-bedroom) flat in one go. Truthfully I don’t know how much it takes the little thing to recharge after — it does it all by itself. But if something’s bothering it it’ll let you know — the “Clean” button will flash orange if it’s low on battery or recharging, and a red flashing light means it’s run into an error. As long as the button’s green, you know it’s fine and going about its business.

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Oh, and it’ll even tell you — the bot is programmed to let you know, via some seriously cute beeps, about how it’s doing — such as accepting a command or routine problems it could run into. The tones are covered in the instruction manual.

Maintenance

The 0.45 L (15.2 oz) dust bin is big enough that you don’t have to clean it daily. However, if you plan to use the A4 in an environment that hasn’t been vacuumed in a while, I suggest you empty the bin a few times until it’s been all over the floor. Cleaning the bin is really simple and fast. It takes me around 30 seconds to do it.

The charging IR sensors and charging station’s pins should be cleaned regularly. I do it once a week just to be sure, but it really depends on how dusty your house tends to get.

One of the more time-consuming maintenance steps is cleaning the main brush. This can become a problem if you have pets that shed hairs (and/or long hair yourself) which can get caught in the main brush. The robot will still work but it’s gonna be harder for it to scoop up all the stuff on your floor. We had to do it after the bot’s first run when it got really tangled but after that, I found that once a week is often enough. Thankfully, removing the brush is really easy and straightforward.

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So would I recommend it? Yes, I would. It’s a solid design and the price-to-quality ratio is really good. Unless you have 50 cats and all your floors are covered in rugs it will get the job done. Just pick up the larger debris yourself and it will take care of the rest.

You can buy the ILIFE A4 Smart Robotic Vacuum Cleaner for $146.99 from GearBest.

Credits to Mihai Filip Alexandru for the photographs.