As we get through the spring and make way for the beginning of summer, many consumers and work-at-home users refresh their technology at a feverish pitch. Here’s my take “quick take” on four products that caught my eye this season that I believe deserve attention.
Sonos Roam: everything a mobile smart speaker should be
For the past several years, Sonos has enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for superior audio quality and innovation, albeit at a premium price. In many ways, the Roam fills a critical spot in the company’s portfolio audio solutions as the general market is moving towards more valued-priced products. At its core, it is a “take it with you” audio solution that demonstrates all the company has learned about the battery-powered Bluetooth home speaker category over the past several years.
At just 6.61” by 2.44” by 2.36” and weighing just under a pound, the highly compact and stylish Sonos Roam will be at home in your bedroom, home office or even the beach. Its flexible industrial design supports both horizontal and landscape orientations without compromising audio quality. Designed for indoor and outdoor use, the Roam is sturdily built, drop-resistant and waterproof to three feet of submersion for 30 minutes. The Roam wirelessly charges with Qi-certified chargers or a typical USB-C cable. Battery life is approximately ten hours, assuming continuous playback on a single charge. The Roam is available in two colors, Shadow Black and Lunar White.
The well-designed Sonos app allows you to browse and search across all your music services, save favorites and uncover new music on the terrific new Sonos Radio streaming channel announced last year in April. What’s more, the Roam provides both integrated Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant functionality as well as AirPlay 2 support for iPhones, iPads and Macs. I appreciated the Roam’s seamless ability to work with other Sonos speakers in the home. Speakers can be grouped to play in sync, or paired in the same room for more immersive, stereo sound. As for the sound itself, I found the Sonos’s audio quality to be crisp, full and clear—not surprising, given the Sonos brand. With its integrated microphone, the Roam can also be used to make and receive phone calls via Bluetooth with impressive clarity.
What did surprise me is the price—at $169, the Roam will appeal to many consumers wishing to participate in the Sonos’ feature-rich audio ecosystem without spending a considerable premium. In short, the Roam is a pleasant springtime surprise, and I suspect it will be a hot commodity throughout 2021.
The Bose Videobar VB1: an all-in-one video conferencing tool for the home or office
During the pandemic, video conferencing has become the singular “work at home” tool for many users. While video conferencing via a PC is satisfactory for most meetings, many users desire a richer, repeatable, higher-quality audio and video experience, particularly when engaging with external customers or third parties.
The Bose Videobar VB1 is an integrated USB conferencing device that brings high-caliber audio and video to small meeting areas, whether that’s in a corporate or home office. If you’re interested in dedicating some space to video conferencing rather than relying solely on your laptop, this could be the product for you.
At first glance, it might be hard to distinguish the VB1 from the typical sound-bar that you might see in a home entertainment system. However, looks can be misleading. The VB1 includes a 4K ultra-HD camera, which is head and shoulders over the vast majority of integrated laptop webcams. The camera delivers crystal-clear video auto-framing, giving remote participants the feeling that they’re in the same physical room. The VB1 utilizes proprietary Bose sound technology, supporting both Bluetooth audio and natural voice optimization. With its single-cable connectivity (no discrete audio and audio cables), the speaker can also aid in reducing office clutter.
From an installation standpoint, the VB1 can be wall-mounted below a TV using the traditional VESA mount (sold separately) or via the included table stand. The VB1’s control settings (e.g., adjust volume, mute, pan, tilt, zoom, zoom presets and Bluetooth pairing) can be easily changed on your smartphone in real-time via the Bose Work mobile app. Enhancing the VB1’s flexibility is a wide array of Unified Communications platform support, including Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and Zoom.
At $1,199, the VB1 is not an inexpensive accessory for the typical work-at-home user. However, its graceful design, ease of use, and excellent audio and video attributes should still be popular in offices that need a quality videoconferencing solution for small conference rooms, as well as executives who require professional virtual meeting technology at home.
Firewalla Gold: best of breed router and network protection for your smart home
If you’re working from home, most professionals strongly encourage that you harden your home network with a discrete hardware firewall. Silicon Valley-based Firewallaoffers a family of top-flight cybersecurity solutions that are powerful, easy to use, and reasonably priced. In 2019, the company announced its Firewalla Gold, a multi-gigabit cybersecurity solution for the home. Announced on Indiegogo, the project garnered nearly $1.5 million in backing from over 3,400 backers.
The $419 Gold model is modest in size (somewhat larger than an Apple TV). It’s an industrial-strength, exceedingly configurable hardware firewall and router with an expansive set of features for the most technical user to utilize. It plugs into your router and protects your connected home from various network and Internet-based “bad” things. The firewall functionality identifies and blocks external access to the different smart home devices you have in your home, such as a smart speaker, smart thermostat, and baby monitor as well as other connected devices.
Firewalla Gold employs parental controls and mandatory safe searching to keep your children from the nasty side of the Web, as well as built-in adblocking that speeds up browsing. The product also offers smart conduct monitoring, which essentially alerts you to “questionable” apps or potentially hacked devices. While Firewalla is indeed powerful from a security standpoint, it does not come at the cost of ease-of-use. Its base features are primarily autonomous, demanding hardly any intervention from the user itself. Firewalla’s smartphone app (available in iOS and Android), which manages the entire user experience, is nicely designed, if not entirely intuitive.
Firewalla is available in 4 models: Red ($109), Blue ($179), Blue+ ($199) and Gold ($418). The chief differences in these models are hardware-based. The Blue models include various flavors of faster 64-bit CPU and additional memory versus the baseline Red model. The Firewalla Gold model, which I tested, doubles the hardware power with many specs and includes support for 1GB broadband connections.
Unlike other competitive devices (e.g., Norton Core), there is no ongoing subscription cost —- once you pay for the hardware, there are no additional costs for the device's lifetime. While Firewalla Gold might be overkill for the average consumer who has light requirements, it could be just the ticket for work from home users who need industrial-strength cybersecurity protection but also want to protect the myriad of smart devices in their domicile. With ongoing cyberattacks showing no sign of abating, Firewalla Gold is a worthy home network protection device that should be on your consideration list.
Expand your PC/laptop real estate with the Vissles-M 15.6” Portable Touchscreen Monitor
Wrapping up this blog is the Vissles-M 15.6” Portable Touchscreen Monitor. It’s hard to imagine how I was productive in my home office before I received it.
My home office setup is relatively straightforward in design and likely unremarkable from millions of other users’. The central productivity system that I use for work is a new Apple M1-based Mac Mini paired with a Dell UltraSharp 38” Curved Monitor. There are certainly wider monitors on the market, but still, I prefer 38” as it is the ideal size for my home office without cluttering my desk.
While this Dell monitor has been a godsend for me from a productivity standpoint, there have been occasions where I’ve wanted more screen real estate, without adding a bulky secondary display. This scenario is where the Vissiles-M comes in.
At 15.6”, it adds display real estate while saving significant setup and desktop space. It’s been perfect for multitasking and video playback, but especially videoconferencing. This display allows me to conduct Zoom, Webex and other video conferencing calls while simultaneously utilizing the Dell monitor for other productivity applications. The product works effortlessly with macOS, Windows and Android, though the touchscreen functionality only works with the latter two. It also features an integrated kickstand so you can prop it up on the go.
Setup is a breeze. The display connects to your PC, laptop or Android device via a USB-C or micro-HDMI connection. The display offers terrific full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution and is pleasingly bright (250cd) and thin (5.3mm). It’s thin and light enough (only 21 ounces) that you won’t hesitate to take it with you on the road to use with your laptop. At $189, it’s an absolute no-brainer that could immediately enhance your productivity, wherever you might be working from.
Some closing thoughts
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be covering a new WiFi 6 router targeted at the home office/small business, an interesting new “smart” button which allows you to control anything (literally) with a push and new smart robot vacuums focused on pet owners and floor mopping. With Apple’s “Spring Loaded” event slated to occur next Tuesday, I suspect that I’ll also be providing commentary on the company’s growing interest in tracking and tracing devices, both Apple and non-Apple. Stay tuned.