Category Archives: reviews

Pencil by 53

pencil by 53

Pencil is a stylus product by FiftyThree, a company that started out by releasing the “Paper by FiftyThree” app for iPads. There’s no doubt, even by Apple’s own recent “Pencil” release, that styli are a valuable addition to a tablet, particularly for sketching/drawing/illustrating.

Pencil connects to your tablet in two ways: bluetooth and direct touch on your captive screen. Three models of Pencil are available from FiftyThree: Graphite, Gold and Walnut. I got the Walnut model to test.

pencil by 53

The Walnut model is the most unique, as it’s actually made from carved wood (the other models are aluminum), plus it includes an in-body magnet that holds the stylus to your iPad’s magnetic Smart Cover. The Walnut and Gold models retail for $60 and the Graphite model for $50.

pencil by 53

I tested the Pencil with several apps, including Adobe Sketchbook, Draw, and FiftyThree’s own Paper, and it’s a fine stylus. It has the typical “squishy” tip, at both the writing and erasing end, though because of the flattened design of the stylus, reminiscent of workbench pencils, the squishyness isn’t as pronounced as others I’ve used in the past. The eraser is a unique feature and works perfectly with Paper – just pair the Pencil and flip the stylus over, and it erases. Makes perfect sense.


pencil by 53

Because Pencil is a bluetooth device, it’s rechargeable through USB – just grab the stylus tip and pull, then charge the innards through USB. I’ve found the Pencil is fully charged in a matter of minutes, and the charge lasts for weeks.

pencil by 53

The only thing that has annoyed me about Pencil is the fit of the rechargeable tip  with the body never really feels flush – I feel like I’m always trying to seat it better into the stylus (see the picture above), though it’s functionality is always spot-on.

pencil by 53

Pencil also includes a single replacement stylus tip and eraser head – which is definitely a value-add to the package. Replacement sets are $8 from FiftyThree and include 2 stylus tips and 1 eraser.

I have little doubt that Pencil by FiftyThree is the best iPad stylus you can buy at this point. It works very well, and for sketching and illustrating on iPad, a stylus is a necessity. Though Apple has released it’s own “Pencil” stylus at this point, it only works with the iPad Pro. This Pencil is compatible with most iPads, even iPhones, and that gives it a definite advantage for the time being.


Otis & Eleanor Bongo

otis & eleanor bongoWith a focus on beautiful products made with sustainable materials, Otis & Eleanor has created the Bongo bluetooth speaker. In many ways, they’ve succeeded admirably.

Portable bluetooth speakers are easy to use, travel with, and charge, I can imagine a day when I have a half dozen of these around the house. The Bongo, however, stands out as the most beautiful I’ve used. While bluetooth speakers of this type (easily carried in a backpack) are usually black plastic affairs, O&E has chosen to work many premium details into the Bongo: beautiful, stamped wood, hemp and fabric speaker grills, a hemp carry bag (with a pocket for your cables!), and even a premium ribbon aux cable to accompany the micro USB charging cable.

otis & eleanor bongo unboxed

As for the size, the bongo is 6 1/2″ wide and 2 1/2″ high. The speaker bag is not expected in products like this, but as soon as I saw it, I thought it’d make a “beach speaker” bag. This is lighter weight than speakers of a comparable size, and while O&E touts lots of premium speaker and porting features, the sound quality is good, but not exceptional. I experienced a bit of speaker rattle on the upper ends of the volume level.

otis & eleanor bongo

At $140, the Bongo is beautifully designed, first and foremost, and certainly the speaker you’d want on your counter top or desk. It’s functional, easy to pair with, and as long as you’re not driving high volume levels through it, the sound quality is good.

As of today, there are 11 color combinations of Bongo speakers and Otis & Eleanor also sells a set of bamboo headphones as well. Visit Otis and Eleanor’s site here.

Simple Guy Stuff on The Morning Brew

I talked about holiday gift ideas on The Morning Brew in Albuquerque last week! Lisa gave some ideas for Simple Gal Stuff, and I got to talk about:

Beats Studio 2.0

beats titanium headphones

Beats has long been the envy of many headphone-wearers. On their initial release, it was alarming to imagine a set of headphones that cost the same as the audio players they accompanied ($300)…more alarming, maybe, was that they were everywhere. They can still been seen far and wide on celebrity DJs and musicians, and even looking around an airport, many of the headphones you see are Beats.

Now that Apple is an owner of Beats, its clear that the brand is going to be around for a very long time. I got a pair of Beats Studio 2.0s in Titanium to review. Monochrome colors like titanium are some of what you’ll see in the second generation of the Studio line. In the box, you’ll get a branded carry case with carabiner clip, a USB charging cable, an 2 audio cables: one matching the monochrome color (in my case, titanium) and one in standard Beats red with an inline mic/remote (pictured). The headphones themselves fold inward to fit in the travel case.

beats headphones in box

As far as build quality, these are incredible headphones. Heavy-duty metal hinges line the folding points, the headphones themselves are carry-able and wearable for long periods of time (the battery will last 20+ hours), yet relatively lightweight. Beats Studios power on when the headphone wire is plugged in and off when unplugged. One of my favorite elements of the pair is the leather earcups, which are low-profile, though large and comfortable, and prevent your ears from getting sweaty after long periods of wear.

Obviously, the critical detail of any headphone design is sound quality. Beats Studio are noise cancelling headphones, and when you put them on, you notice this. Without music playing, there is a subtle buzz that you’ll hear – if you’ve used noise cancelling headphones before, that’ll be familiar to you, though. Once you play music, movies, TV or games through the headphones, you’ll get a rich, deep sound that you’d expect from professional over-the-ear headphones. I experienced deep bass, though not out of proportion, and quality sound across the spectrum without any distortion.

beats headphones unboxed

Headphones these days are multimedia devices, and I even used my Beats to make some phone calls. I experienced some of the clearest calls I’ve ever made due to the noise cancelling. It was a great feeling, but I wouldn’t advise using them while driving as you won’t be able to hear the road noise at all.

Beats offers a wide line of audio products, and at $299, Studio 2.0s are a worthy and quality over-the-ear headphone experience. The titanium color is available at Amazon here. I particularly like the monochrome color options and the comfort during long-term wear (I use them to record our weekly podcast).


Cambridge Soundworks Oontz Angle 3

Cambridge Soundworks Oontz 3

I’ve recently found myself extremely interested in bluetooth portable speakers. I’ve found that I’m mentally further away from the idea of owning a “stereo system,” plus  you can get some killer sound out of these little guys and carry them from room to room easily.

The Oontz Angle 3 is a new bluetooth speaker from Cambridge Soundworks, who has always had a great reputation for making nice-sounding computer speakers back in the day. The Oontz is certainly a handheld speaker, measuring at just over 5″ wide, 2 1/2″ tall; the device has play/pause, next and previous track, and power buttons embedded in the rubber end caps. In the box, you get the Oontz, a stereo aux cable, and a charging cable (USB micro). Note that you’ll have to provide your own USB port or wall bug to charge the speaker.

Cambridge Soundworks Oontz 3 unboxed

The Oontz is built of tightly-sealed plastic and rubber. It’s also water resistant, too, so bathroom or poolside use is perfectly safe.

The 10 watt sound of this little unit is pretty outstanding – enough to fill a room with distortion-free sound. The Oontz is ported on the bottom to give you some rich bass and it’s definitely better than just iPhone speakers. The tightness of the plastic seal seems to improve the sound quality. The device paired easily and quickly every time I turned it on. Battery life is very healthy, too – if you’re listening to music at medium volume for an hour or two a day, you probably only need to charge it every 2 weeks.

The Oontz 3 has an MSRP of $29.99, and I’ve seen waver between that and $20 on Amazon. You can buy one here (Amazon affiliate link, multiple colors available).