Rowkin wireless earbuds are Apple Airpods competitor

Ever since Apple announced it was removing the headphone jack from its new iPhones, the world is going crazy for completely wireless earphones. Apple’s Airpods are both a trendsetter and the gold standard when it comes to wireless headphones or earbuds. But plenty of competitors have come on the market to compete with them. Most notably, Samsung released its IconX headphones for Android phones and devices. But there’s also another option. Rowkin makes a competing set of earbuds it markets as “the world’s smallest”. While Rowkin wireless earbuds are definitely small, and cleverly designed with a rechargeable case, how well do they hold up during real-life testing, and how do they compare to Apple or Samsung’s models? I received a pair of Rowkin earbuds for testing and review. Here’s what I found after spending several weeks with them.

Continue reading “Rowkin wireless earbuds are Apple Airpods competitor”

6 smart light hacks for Christmas holiday decor

There are two types of people when it comes to lighting up the house for the holidays; the gung-ho Clark Griswold types, and those for whom the thought of climbing a ladder in the cold inspires dread.

If you’re in the latter camp, know there are easier ways to make your home festive thanks to technology.

Holiday Hack #1: Smart Plugs for Automation

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Want to control your Christmas lights from another room, or even another city? Smart plugs like the WeMo Switch allow you to plug in virtually anything, from Christmas lights, to mobiles or animated figurines and turn it off an on with your smartphone or tablet. This works really well for tree lights in particular, since crawling under or behind the tree to pull out the plug is often a pain.

Smart plugs can also be used on automatic timers, coming on at dusk and turning off when you want.

Holiday Hack #2: App-connected string lights

Plaubulb string christmas lights smartMiPow, makers of Playbulb lights has come out with a smart connected string light for this holiday. These smart LED light strings give you smart functionality via a Bluetooth connection; you can turn them on or off with your smartphone, adjust colour to dozens of different subtler hues, you can set timers, or use a handful of special effects, all automatically. Best of all, these are for indoors or out.

With a kit like this you don’t even need a smart plug. Read my full review of String here.

Holiday Hack #3: Stick-up LED Lights go anywhere

img_7356-2The amazing thing about smart lighting is how versatile and flexible it is. Case in point; a couple new LED string lights that are thin, pliable and flexible so you can stick them up anywhere.

Philips Hue String, Osram Lightify Flex and MiPow Playbulb Comet are just three great examples of lights you can stick anywhere for holiday decor.  If you use removable 3M Command adhesive tabs, it makes moving them and removing the tape even easier.img_7347-2

Use these light strips on the inside of a window frame to show your neighbourhood your red, green or icy blue colours. Coil them into frosted glass vases for temporary colourful lamps, wrap them around large mirrors, or stick them under furniture for holiday ambiance.

Want to go to another level? Nanoleaf Aurora is a unique set of flat plastic panels that can be stuck pretty much anywhere; you can use them to create a holiday-themed wall decoration, and adjust the lights to flicker red and green or frosty blue and white.

Holiday Hack #4: Make a light-up Christmas Tree

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Feeling creative? Why not use the Aurora to create a flat panel Christmas tree in a small space where a real tree is just not realistic? Simply arrange the triangular shaped panels in a tree shape, configure the panels to turn green (go for a gold on on top, reminiscent of a star!) and you’re holiday ready!

Read my review and all about the Nanoleaf Aurora here.

Holiday Hack #5: Use a wireless lamp in your table settingimg_9005

Table setting is an art, if you ask me. Matching dishes to napkins and selecting florals requires some level of flair which I struggle to achieve. That’s where I pull in smart lamps; I can turn the Mipow Sphere glass globe green to match my good china, or I can set the Philips Hue Go lamp to a cool snowy hue for a winter feast. The Go lamp also works well under the Christmas tree to give it some extra colour pop or by the fireplace.

Holiday Hack #6: Use coloured bulbs for decor

img_9003As I’ve written before, smart lights are an easy way to decorate your home for any occasion. Painting your room with light can warm up a room, cool it off, or give it a holiday theme with the touch of an app. Lights like Philips Hue smart bulbs can be set to holiday red or green easily, you can use LIFX’s ‘scenes’ to create a holiday glow, or employ a MiPow Playbulb to provide both a light show AND music from its built-in speaker!

Holiday Hack #6: Use the Internet of Things to automate … ANYTHING

img_7355-2If you haven’t experimented with IFTTT (If This Then That), you’re missing out.  IFTTT uses apps and smart devices to create actions that happen automatically. I wrote about how you can use it to turn coloured smart lights blue when snow is in the forecast.   But you can also use it for holiday fun. Need a quick lesson on how it all works? Click here.

If you own a smart doorbell and some smart lights you can use an IFTTT ‘recipe’ to play Christmas music on a Sonos speaker when the doorbell is pressed, and to set lights flashing green and red. Read more about how to do that, or to achieve the same effect with a motion sensor, via the Yonomi app here. You can also surf the IFTTT website for holiday light and sound recipes that have already been created and borrow one that suits you.

Do you have a Holiday hack or IFTTT recipe we should try? Post your ideas in comments below!

New Philips Hue lights & accessories review & how-to

img_6004As the days grow shorter, it’s a perfect opportunity to take a look around your home and assess whether your lighting can use an upgrade.

Philips has recently announced several new products and accessories in its smart lighting kit lineup called Hue.

I recently had a chance to test out some samples of these new lights and accessories. Regular readers, or viewers of the monthly CTV Tech Talk know I really like smart lighting for its versatility, colour changing abilities, ease-of-use, and low energy consumption. So anytime I have an opportunity to test new product, or see upgrades that have been made, I love to educate readers and viewers about what’s new, what they can expect, and if these gadgets work as they should in the home environment.

What’s new with Philips Hue

The new additions to the Philips Hue kit I tested included a motion sensor, LED adhesive strip lighting, and new more saturated coloured light bulbs. We’ll look at each piece of the kit, what makes it unique, different, or new and improved, and how well it works.

I should note right off the bat, that all of the accessories and lights in the Philips Hue kit require the use of the Philips Bridge to connect all the devices together, and  to connect your smart phone via your Wi-Fi network. A great way to join the smart lighting club is to purchase a starter kit, which comes with three bulbs and a bridge.

You will also need to the Philips Hue app, or other third-party app to control your lights and get the most from them (More on those below). With the Philips app you’ll be able to set timers and alarms, control colour changing, set scenes or moods, and group certain lights together to turn on or off in sync.

Philips Hue – Reviewing Lightstrip Plusimg_5897

Philips Hue Lightstrip plus is a flexible length of LED lighting. It will display both white or coloured light in just about any situation you could imagine. The light strip plus is completely bendable, so it can wrap around anything from a mirror frame, to a window, a headboard, or even your television.

For you feature geeks out there, the light strip plus emits 1600 lumens at 4200 Kelvin and uses AC power. Extensions to the kit are available but are sold separately.

I set up this light in a couple of ways. Though the light strip plus comes with an adhesive backing, I rigged up a temporary set up so I could move the lights from location to location in my home. I tested them under the kitchen cabinets, then underneath a sideboard in the dining room (there’s a photo at the top of the page). My final test was to wrap the light strip around our 50 inch TV in the media room.

The light strip is very versatile and easy to use with the Hue app. Though the app is not as intelligent or interesting as it could be, it works just great, allows you to use all the basic functions, and is very responsive. Several third-party apps add more fun and functionality to the Philips Hue kit, but the basic app works just fine.

I very much enjoyed having more available task lighting that I could place exactly where I needed it. I also really love the look of using it underneath a piece of furniture to create less harsh lighting in the room, and more of a soft ambient glow.

Try ambient lighting in your media room

I’ve done some reading which suggests ambient light around or behind your TV can help combat eye strain. I decided to try to add the Philips Hue Lightstrip plus to the edge of my 50″media room TV. Though the set up was only temporary and didn’t look very attractive, it’s easy to get the idea of how this would look in a permanent installation.

I played with several different settings of colour and brightness during a movie. The subtle back late was a nice change of pace from the normal stark blackness of my media room.img_5988

While there are special apps that claim to be able to adjust the colour of your lights to the program or movie you are watching, the Phillips Hue app itself does not do this. So while you can adjust the general ambient colour or brightness, you can’t customize the experience; not without paying for an extra app. This is something I’d like to try down the road, but for this review, that’s kind of secondary.

Bottom line; this light strip works well, has good strong colour saturation, is very versatile, and if you rig up temporary adhesive (like a 3M command strip) you can move it as you need to.

Philips Hue Motion Sensor 

img_5896The addition of a motion sensor was a big deal for Philips. The small 2-inch square motion detector is light and compact with an adhesive back. If you don’t want to install it permanently, you can tuck it nearly anywhere, from a counter, dresser, even on top of a painting or frame; wherever you need it to detect motion. The motion sensor is powered by two AA batteries, meaning it’s completely wire-free, and with regular use those batteries should keep the sensor powered for  two to three years.

It won’t blind you at midnight

The motion sensor adds a lot more versatility and new functions to the Hue lighting lineup. More than just turning the lights on and off, this device gives you many new options. For example, using the Hue app you can set the lights to come on at different strengths or colours depending on the time of day or night;  you can set a night light function, so if someone in the house wakes up in the middle of the night, and goes to the bathroom, the Philips Hue lights will turn on, but only dimly to light the way.

Motion detected instantly

The sensors have a great range, and can see about 100° in all directions. Indeed, I have the sensor in my dining room, with a direct line to a hallway about 18 feet away, and when I walk past, it’s still able to see me.  The lights fade on in less than a second; there’s really no lag from detected motion to lights-up.  I was actually quite impressed with the responsiveness.

New version Philips Hue bulbsimg_5997

While the Philips Hue kit is very easy to set up and use, if I had to find fault with one aspect of it up to now, it’s been that the light bulbs aren’t super colourful and aren’t as richly saturated as some other bulbs I’ve tried. (Namely Lifx and Osram WeMo).

That’s all changed now with the re-issue of new bulbs from the company. They look identical but it’s the guts inside that now produce deeper richer colours. I did notice that they do appear noticeably stronger and more saturated, allowing you to use them to decorate with light for holidays like Christmas, Halloween and Easter, or to just enjoy relaxing or invigorating colour scenes at home.

Philips has also added some new bulbs to the Hue line; the GU10, popular in Canada (for halogen fixtures) and the BR30 spot light.

I have lights… why do I need SMART lights?

It’s a fair question; why upgrade to (often more expensive) smart lights when you can get illumination the old fashioned  way? To answer that question, I present, “5 COOL things you can do with Philips Hue lights.”

  1.  Get your lights to flash when the doorbell rings. You’ll need a video or connected doorbell for this one, and the free IFTTT app. (What’s IFTTT? Read my explainer here) Using IFTTT, you create an ‘applet’ (formerly called a recipe) that tells your lights to flash when your doorbell, like the Ring Video Doorbell is pushed. In simplest terms, you allow IFTTT access to your doorbell and your Hue hub, and the app gets them to talk to eachother, even though they don’t normally work together.
  2. Get lights to change colour according to the weather. This is a feature I love.  Use IFTTT again to get your local weather info to send alerts to your light bulbs.  Have them come on bright orange when it’s going to be a scorcher, or turn blue for a snow day. Click here for my how-to.
  3. Turn on lights inside when motion is detected outside. Another applet function from our friends at IFTTT; use a dedicated connected motion detector, or camera like the on on the Ring doorbell, and then have it communicate with your lights. When it detects motion at your door, day or night, that action triggers the lights to turn on to make it seem as though someone is awake or at home. The applet can be found here.
  4. Sync a light show to music. If you have a connected speaker like Sonos, you can get it talking to your Hue lights. Get it to create you a light show that complements your music.
  5. Use a Hue go lamp to wake you with warm light:  Not new, but also worth mentioning as part of the Philips Hue kit is the Hue Go lamp  which I’ve written about previously; it’s actually the light I use to subtly wake me up at my 3am alarm time. Using the Philips Hue app, I have it set to slowly fade on about 15 minutes before my alarm goes off, to a soft sunrise pink-orange. By the time my alarm rings, the room is bathed in soft light for a gentle wakeup.

What would you do in your home with new smart lights and accessories? Let me know in comments below. The new Hue motion sensors sell for $39.95 (CDN or USD). The Light strip is $89, and the starter kit of bulbs is $179-$199. Check out the whole line here.What

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LG Music Flow H3 speaker review

LG Music Flow H3 4All about the LG Music Flow H3 wireless portable speaker – Wireless portable speakers are popular because they can be placed in any room, they sound great, and often they’re easy to set up and use, integrating seamlessly into your life.  If only that were the case with the LG Musicflow H3 Smart Hi-Fi Audio speaker I have been reviewing since a unit was first shipped to me back in May.

Basics of the LG Music Flow H3 Speaker

The LG Music Flow H3 is a small, portable speaker.  It measures about 5” by 7” and pushes out 30 watts of sound. The speaker is heavy, which made me think it was solidly built, and a great user experience was ahead of me. The speaker comes in black or white, and requires just an AC power connection; you’re supposed to be able to control everything else through your smartphone or device. The speaker is supposed to let you play music, podcasts, or Google Cast streaming services (like TuneIn Radio, Pandora or Spotify) among other things.

Watch the short video review below, or click through HERE to read the full text of the review I did for Best Buy Canada.

 

Don’t forget you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @ErinLYYC.

Parrot Zik3 Headphones Review

parrot 3Just when I thought I’d seen it all when it came to headphones, I found myself surprised again! The Parrot Zik3 over ear wireless headphones seemed at first glance to be headphones like any other. It wasn’t until I started reading into and experimenting with all the amazing features these headphones have, that I realized how truly unique and revolutionary they are.

Set up: Parrot Zik3 Wireless Headphonesimg_1006

I give high marks to companies whose products are very easy to set up. No one wants to fuss with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections and multiple attempts at getting their new toy working. Fortunately Parrot has it figured out. Once these babies are out of the package, you’ll need to install the rechargeable battery, then fully charge them before first use. The battery compartment is accessed by a hidden magnetic compartment in one of the ear covers. Once they’re fully charged, all you need to do is go to your smartphone’s Bluetooth menu and connect them. My phone found the headphones on the very first attempt, and they connected instantly. I was ready to rock out!

It’s worth taking note that these headphones can only connect to one device at a time. Some other wireless headphones are able to connect to multiple devices at once, allowing you to have both your tablet and your phone connected at the same time, for example. But not in this case; fair warning.

Comfortable and padded: Zik3 Headphones are easy to wear

One of the things I hate the most about over-ear headphones is that they are often very uncomfortable; either instantly or after an hour of use they press on your ears and lead to achiness and itchiness. Not so with the Parrot Zik3. The earpieces are well padded, and large enough so that they fit comfortably around your ear without touching or pressing down on it. Even the headband is nicely padded for additional comfort. Another nice feature; the headphones will fold down flat so they can be stored away, or packed for easy travel.Zik 3 control

Control the headphones with touch

The Parrot Zik3 are controlled via a brilliant smart touchpad on the right ear cover. Drag your finger up or down the cover to adjust the volume. Tap it to play or pause or receive a phone call. This function is extremely responsive and works marvelously.

Features that are made for travel

Parrot Zik3 are an ideal pair of over ear headphones for traveling, thanks in particular to one of their great features; noise cancellation. These headphones, when paired to your smart phone or device, allow you to set different levels of noise canceling. For example, you can set them to block out any and all outside noise electronically. Meaning if someone else in the room is watching TV, kids are playing, or an airplane is droning on in the background, you can mute this outside noise and focus on your music, podcasts, TV, or whatever you’re listening to.

Similarly, if you do need to hear what’s going on outside those headphones, such as if you do you have little ones you need to keep one ear on, or you’re walking around in a high-traffic area and need to stay alert, you can set the headphones so that you can hear conversation, noise, and talking around you along with your music. It’s a great effect, and it sounds really neat to have your ears sealed inside these over ear headphones, but still be able to hear a conversation going on next to you. Parrot-Zik-3-Wireless-Headphones

The Zik 3 also have an optional cable to connect directly to your smart device so that if you are on the road and want to preserve battery life, you can.

Parrot Zik 3 – Neat features

These headphones have a unique ability to allow you to adjust the music you’re listening to. Using the Equalizer function, you can adjust the levels of bass or treble, and give the music a different sound. You can choose ‘pop’, or ‘punchy’ sound,  or to put the focus more on the vocals. Whatever way you like to hear your music, these headphones allow you to adjust for it easily by selecting your option with the touch of your smart phone screen.

Another setting called Concert Hall allows you to adjust what I can only describe as the size of the sound in your ears. Selecting ‘living room’ for example gives you a more direct and intimate sound then the concert hall setting which provides a much bigger more 360° sound picture. It’s a neat effect that’s hard to describe, but fun to play with. Parrot’s website explains it like this: “The Concert Hall effect externalizes the music and reproduces the sound of a real stereo system. Several concert hall acoustics are reproduced for a harmonious and more natural listening experience, which also reduces tiredness during long listening sessions.”

Make and receive phone calls with Parrot Zik3

The Zik3 phones are able to work with your cell phone; no longer do you need a microphone and cables to make or receive calls with your headphones. These headphones have all of that built in. To receive an incoming call, you just tap the touchpad on the right ear cover. Music is muted and the built-in microphone picks up your voice. The headphones also have a caller identification feature you can enable where the headphones will use your phone’s directory to announce who’s calling so you don’t need to pull out your phone. I found the headphones were perfect for conference calls, allowing me to take notes without cords snaking across my desk.img_1008

More smart features: music stops if you take them off, starts when you wear them

Parrot has developed a ‘movement recognition algorithm’ which allows the headphones to react to your head movements.  Pull the phones off your ears and put them around your neck to stop the music or switch off a call. When you’re ready to resume, put the headphones back over your ears and the music or podcast starts up again. Never miss a thing!

Also handy; when starting up, the Parrot Zik 3 will automatically connect to the last device it was connected to. You can disable this feature if you use more than one device with your Parrot Zik. The Zik 3 also has an auto-off timer you can set, so if you’re they type who’s bound to forget your headphones are powered on, these will automatically shut off for you to save battery life. Speaking of battery life, these headphones are rechargeable via USB, and of course you can use them with a mini cable if you don’t want to go wireless.

Overall: Parrot Zik 3 Review

I really, really like these headphones. They’re very comfortable, they sound great, and the adjustable features mean you can fine tune any music or audio to your own personal listening preferences.  I think the  noise cancelling feature is one of the most useful; being able to block out noise in the comfort of the home is smart, and it’s also clever to be able to let in some of that external noise when you’re on transit, or walking in the street.

I also like the fact these phones fold flat for easy travel and transport too. I short, I’d definitely buy these as my next pair of headphones.

For more info, check out Parrot’s website. The Zik3 retail for $399 USD, and come in a variety of cool colours.

 

Reader Q and A: Glow Headphones

Since I posted an unboxing video and review of the Glow headphones, I’ve had many questions and my YouTube Channel has been pumped with inquiries seeking more info about the product.

It’s my understanding this gadget started on Kickstarter, and I’ve heard from several backers who say they’ve been left in the dark about the product they helped get to market, and they’re looking for some answers.

I’ll answer some of the questions I’ve been asked about the headphones as best I can, but it should be noted I’m a blogger and reviewer and not affiliated with Glow in any way.  My answers are based on my experience with the set I was sent for a review, so I’m afraid I can’t answer any questions about whether this is the final or exact product Glow will ship to backers. (Though it’s worth noting the headphones are currently for sale on the Bell.ca website for $199 CAD.)

These questions below reference back to a mini-review and unboxing video I posted at the end of November.  Please read and watch those for further details on the headphones. Since then I’ve been able to spend more time testing the headphones and can answer some of the questions I’ve been sent.

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Question: Is the package you received the final product shipping?

A: I don’t know. I received a set from a public relations contact, and they went on sale on at least one website several days later, so I assume so.

IMG_8526Question: Is that little bag the carrying case? We all were expecting a nice little case given the renders they made for us on KS and the fact we reached the milestone to get one. That bag is causing quite the uproar.

A: The little bag that comes with the phones is a faux velvet with string pull-ties. I’d say it feels synthetic, not luxurious. That said, I think it’s fine for what it’ll be used for.

The charging cable in the box was unusual; it’s not a full USB charger, it’s a flat piece of plastic with copper connectors. I’ve never used one like it before. (Photos below)

IMG_8525Question: Did it come with any more ear tips? It was supposed to include different sizes, we didn’t see any in your unboxing.

Yes, it comes with a total of 6 different pairs of tips (4 extras, 2 on the phones); both the in-ear size and the hooks for holding it in place. I didn’t find any of them fit particularly well, or felt comfortable, and I found the phones slipping easily from my ears. I have a similar shaped set of Adidas/Monster in-ear headphones with the little hooks and they are comfortable and lock in place very well. These are not at all like that.  I’d be afraid to run in these.  But this could just be my own ear shape/size.

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Microphone

I also felt the headphones themselves were quite light. While that’s good for portability, they didn’t feel substantial, and didn’t have the heft of other quality headphones I’ve tested this year.

The laser cables are also rather stiff, which I think contributes to them popping out easily.

Question: About the controller; How does it feel in hand? Lightweight cheap Chinese plastic, or something that looks like they put some thought into (especially considering the many delays they claimed in making it feel premium).IMG_8531

A: The controller feels very lightweight, and to use your word, “cheap”. In fact, the controller case broke open on me after a couple days, and I can’t get it to snap back together. The top with the button markings lifted off the rest of the puck, exposing the guts. I’d be concerned about its durability if I owned one. I would definitely not describe these headphones as feeling “premium”.

Question: How would you characterize the sound quality? I currently and using a pair of Beats in-ears and expect for something costing almost double to at least sound the same given the Glow. I’ve also had Bose in-ears that were even better than those.IMG_8535

I compared these to another in-ear style I have (Monster Adidas), and while it’s similar in sound quality, the Monsters feel better to me. (I also think the lack of being able to get a good in-ear fit plays into this too.) I also felt like there was noticeably less bass in the Glows. It sounded noticably tinnier (treblier??) and the Glow just didn’t give me that richness of sound that I’ve had with higher-end headphones, even when I pushed them further into my ears to get a good seal.

I then tried the Glows against an over ear style by Jabra.  There was no competition.  The sound quality of the Jabras was far and away better than the Glow.

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Glow inner case/round box with foam pad

Question: Would I buy the Glow headphones?

A: I wouldn’t for myself.  I didn’t like the fit, the weight, and I was disappointed at how quickly the controller broke. I also think there’s much better sounding headphones out there on the market. I would, however,  get these for a kid or a teenager, since the glowing mechanism is really cool, and it works well, and since teens and kids are probably less concerned with top quality fidelity than many adults, though these are rather expensive for something for a child to use. Overall it’s a really neat and unique new product, and I’d like to see a second generation of the Glow, if and when that happens.

More questions on the new Glow Headphones? Ask away in comments below.

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Extras are hidden under flaps in the box.
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Back side of the controller

 

 

Cool Glow headphones are a technological attention grabber

IMG_8243When these arrived this week, I was in no rush to test them; after all, I test quite a few headphones each year, and for the most part they’re all vastly the same. Indeed, direct out of the box these Glow headphones look pretty much like any other. While they have a nice long cord, there’s a huge controller disc in the middle of the set up, which is big, bulky, and kind of gets in the way. Not to mention the fact it feels rather cheap.

IMG_8289But once I unwrapped these headphones and got them plugged into my music and started playing, I was blown away! The color laser light that emits from these headphones is strong and bright and very noticeable. It casts quite a glow around you. These are definitely what you might call “look at me” headphones.

The set I tested are red but Glow are also available in green or blue. Using an app that’s available for these headphones you can also control the glow pattern, from having them always on, or always off, to “pulsating” with either the beat of your music, or just off and on .IMG_8265 Turns out a feature that would have pulsated the Glow to your heartbeat is not an included feature in the model I tested.

The controller I mentioned, though definitely big and bulky, serves several purposes. It’s a five way remote control that does what you’d expect, including allowing you to change volume and skip tracks as well as snapping photos from your smart phone. But it also acts as a remote control for photo taking too, giving it a nice extra function.

I like that Glow headphones’ earpieces have a hook design that holds them securely in your ears, and as you would expect there are different size attachments so you can fit them to you.

While the sound seems rather tinny and a bit hollow and not what I’d call high-quality, that’s probably OK, since I’m pretty sure these headphones are meant for a younger crowd that isn’t as demanding when it comes to sound quality.

I suspect these will be a popular item this holiday season, as they’re like nothing else on the market right now, particularly when it comes to headphones. I see Glow being a huge must-have for teens and kids in particular.

The Glow headphones originated on Kickstarter, but will be available in Canada exclusively from Bell.    You can also find them here.

To have a look inside the package, watch my short unboxing and test video.