Summertime Brings New Consumer Tech Products

By Mark Vena - August 9, 2018

Summer is here. While many folks are enjoying vacations, that doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting new consumer products appearing on the scene. In this week’s column, I look at 2 products: one in the security space, and one in the hearing enhancement category. Both of them are easy to use, and most importantly, address real problems that consumers are facing.

The new Izzbie ONE device.  MARK VENA
Izzbie reminds you that Internet safety never takes a holiday
Admit it, you’ve all been there—you stopped by a Starbucks (or the like) and mindlessly connected to the chain’s free WiFi to send an email or do some quick surfing on the Web. Free and easy WiFi access at public restaurants, coffee shops, and airports (among other places) is simply too difficult for many of us to resist. For many people, the risk of network infiltration and bad actors attempting to steal your personal data is a secondary consideration—convenience often trumps security. Here’s where Izzbie ONE comes in. Supported the by Apple iOS, Google Android, and Microsoft  Windows operating systems, the Izzbie ONE is a small 4” X 4” device that allows you to quickly and securely connect to your home network when you are outside your home. The device easily plugs into your home router, which you can connect to from wherever, using the Izzbie app on your smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc. The Izzbie ONE utilizes AES-24 encryption technology to provide end-to-end, military-grade encryption to protect your data and provides total privacy without utilizing a third party VPN. The beauty of the Izzbie ONE is that it allows you to stay connected while you are traveling outside of your home. The Izzbie ONE provides IP masking, allowing the user to see what they would see on their home network. I’m generally not a big fan of traditional VPN hardware solutions (or cloud-based VPNs) because they almost always have a significant impact on network speed. Izzbie’s Internet access isn’t going through cloud servers, so your overall network speed performance shouldn’t suffer a tremendous hit. The Izzbie ONE also provides the capability to link up multiple networks to form one centralized private network. This may be overkill for most consumers but could be useful for small businesses who manage several networks. Priced at $129 (including a 1-year subscription) during its Kickstarter phase, Izzbie arrived to me in an unadorned barebones brown box. The unit arrived with a Quick Setup Guide, a small power adapter, Micro USB, and Ethernet cables. Setup couldn’t be simpler: plug Izzbie into an AC power source, and then into your wireless router. Membership for software and firmware updates are free for the first year; a subsequent yearly subscription will cost you $96 ($8 per month). I did notice a 10% speed reduction with the Izzbie ONE plugged into my router (versus when it was removed), but that difference was much more modest than I had expected. What’s more, I was able to confirm Izzbie’s secure connection by connecting outside of my home and validating that the IP address matched my home network. Refreshingly, even occasionally stubborn cloud storage apps like Dropbox and Box worked outside my home. Additionally, Izzbie works everywhere (unlike traditional VPNs which do not operate in several countries outside of the United States). From my perspective, $129 is a modest price to pay for the secure Internet connection that Izzie provides. Many consumers access the Internet in a disturbingly nonchalant manner outside of the home. Izzbie goes a long way to providing highly secure protection against Internet “bad guys”—I encourage all consumers to consider this cost-effective and easy-to-use solution.
The IQBuds BOOST hearing solution.  MARK VENA IQBuds BOOST: great speaker, less than optimal hearing aid As I noted in my enthusiastic Forbes column on Eargo’s hearing aid product back in May, I’ve been excited to evaulate innovative new “hearing helper” solutions that are designed to assist people with mild to moderate hearing problems. I jumped again at the chance to spend some time with Nuheara’s new IQBuds BOOST hearable device, a solution that purports to both amplify ambient sound and provide Bluetooth support for music devices. While IQbuds BOOST is not designed to be an absolute replacement for a traditional hearing aid, it would provide someone with modest hearing challenges a bit of an assist. To Nuheara’s credit, the IQBuds BOOST have been validated by the National Acoustic Laboratories for NAL-NL2—a well-respected, non-linear prescriptive formula that is used in many hearing aids on the market. The IQBuds BOOST are excellent Bluetooth-enabled earphones. In my testing, I found the sound quality for calls and streaming audio to be very good—on par with Apple’s vaunted AirPods. In particular, I loved the ability to be able stream audio from my Bluetooth-enabled 65” Sony television (side note: though many legacy TVs on the market don’t have Bluetooth support, Logitech sells a very inexpensive $39 Bluetooth adapter). Among its key features, the IQBuds BOOST is water-resistant and sweat proof.  Additionally, it offers up to 20 hours battery life with Bluetooth streaming and up to 32 hours if used strictly in an “on-the-go” hearing processing-only mode. The iOS and Android apps provide easy setup after the pairing process and initiate an “EarID” process that is essentially a basic hearing test. It assesses your ability to hear sounds, prescribing the necessary amplification with the aforementioned NAL-NL2 formula. While I did find the Bluetooth audio streaming capability of the IQBuds BOOST to be quite good, I found its ambient sound amplification less clear than Eargo Max’s product. Obviously, this is a subjective comment, but I simply did not find the IQBuds BOOST to be as consistently effective. In addition, while I could wear IQBuds BOOST comfortably for a couple of hours at a time, I have relatively small ear canals and they didn’t always stay firmly in place due to their relatively large size. The Eargo Max, on the other hand, fit my ears perfectly and (most importantly) are virtually invisible with their inconspicuous design. The Eargo Max design also has the virtue of being able to be comfortably used for several hours, if not the entire day. On the plus side, the IQBuds BOOST does include a small convenient storage pod (like the Eargo Max) for convenient charging. All of that said, the Eargo Max solution is priced at $2,450—a significant premium over IQBuds BOOST’s $499 price point. In my view, the IQBuds BOOST could be a great value if you’re looking for a compromise solution that is also a great Bluetooth audio device. From my perspective, the Eargo Max is a better long-term investment despite the higher price—assuming your number one objective is to amplify ambient noise. Wrapping up All in all, both of these solutions are worthy of consideration. If you’re a regular reader of my Forbes columns, I tend to focus on interesting startup products from companies that don’t have large brand awareness. I like to provide visibility to worthy solutions that might not cross the average consumer’s radar screen. It’s been my experience that solutions like these lay the foundation of future winning products, as these startups are willing to take risks in the market that much larger “establishment” companies tend to shy away from. In this space, you never know who might be the next Apple or Google .
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