Toy Review: 2015 Hess Fire Truck And Ladder Rescue

Actually *two* trucks! (Image via Hess)
2015 Hess Fire Truck and Ladder Rescue (Image via Hess)

 

Only the Hess toy trucks at the babysitting room at our local Y have convinced our two boys to accept a drop-off there. They’re much better built and way cooler to play with than one might otherwise expect from a toy made by a gasoline station.

Hess, it turns out, has been producing its Toy Truck line since 1964. The first make was a tanker trailer, modeled after the ones that brought gas to the stations. For $1.29 (including batteries!) you could put the tanker trailer under the Christmas tree for your little one.

2015’s model is especially awesome:

This year’s Hess Toy is a red Fire Truck with oversized tires, swiveling chrome-detailed fire hose nozzles, LED lights including a high-powered pivoting LED searchlight, a slide-out ramp and 4 realistic sound effects. The accompanying Ladder Rescue features a rotating extension ladder with a movable nozzle and push-activated friction motor.         (source)

Here it is (click on any image in this post to enlarge):

 

Hess Box

 

Hess Box Open

 

You’re really getting two trucks for the price of one. Which is good, because the toy is $30.99. That’s more than most parents I know would want to spend on a truck for their kid, but it also includes free shipping and batteries. Given its high-quality construction, the truck looks like it will last a long time, so I don’t think it’s an unfair–if high–price, especially considering all its features.

Here’s what the trucks look like with lights on:

 

Both Trucks Lit Up

 

I got quite a start when I pulled out the ramp at the back of the larger truck–it makes a robust sound that you’d expect from a real-life mechanical ramp. It’s not the kind of annoying sound that will bug you when on repeat, but this might be a toy for kids to take out of their brother’s bedroom and into the living room when they wake up at 6:30 a.m. to play. The ramp makes for an easy entrance/exit for the Ladder Rescue truck to go do its own thing.

The Fire Truck has more sounds than the ramp. There is also an Ignition button (very realistic), a Horn, and a Siren. Each sound plays for about 10 seconds and is–this is worth repeating–not something to play with while baby sister is napping. But that makes the toy all the more fun and awesome. The horn sounds like there’s a real emergency at your house. (Not to mention the siren!) If need be, you don’t have to wait 10 seconds for it to stop; you can just push the button again to silence it. (That’s a thoughtful feature!) So long as your neighbors know it’s just the Hess Toy Truck and don’t go calling 9-1-1 on you, you’ll be fine.

You can turn just the lights on via the switch under the truck. There are two options: you can have the lights solidly on, or turn them on in flasher mode. Regardless of what you do at the bottom of the truck, turning on any sounds causes the lights to flash. There’s also a button on top of the truck that turns just the spotlight on.

The wheels are on both trucks really securely, so you can run them across the kitchen floor at full speed and not worry about it running into the fridge. It’s a smooth ride.

The smaller Ladder Rescue truck is fun in its own right. It’s got a fully extendable plastic ladder with a small water spout (not real!) on the end. Both trucks are sturdy and made of hard, solid plastic. The trim pieces (mirrors, ladder hose, front visors) feel a little flimsier than one might hope, but it would take a child’s deliberate act to break anything here. (Not outside the realm of possibility.) The ladder swivels a full 360 degrees and can be snapped into place when not extended.

 

Ladder Rescue Lit Up Extended Ladder

 

The Ladder Rescue truck also lights up via an on/off switch on the bottom of the truck. What this means for parents is that your child will turn off all the lights and find the darkest place in the house right away, so as to test the truck properly. 🙂 Parents will also want to make sure to turn the toy off at night so as to not let the batteries drain.

You can’t open the doors to either truck, so your LEGO minifigures will have to latch on somewhere else, but there is plenty of room for them to hop on and go fight fires.

This is really an awesome toy, and the more I played with it (yes, I played with it), the more I enjoyed it. Hours of countless fun for children are inevitable. Both trucks are thoughtfully designed and excellently executed. And the Fire Truck is pretty giant as far as children’s toy vehicles go, so you could do well to make this the “big” present you’re getting your child(ren) this Christmas.

 

Back of Ladder Rescue

 

One other cool thing: Hess has made 100 individually numbered Silver Editions of the Fire Truck and Ladder Rescue toy. I got the expected red one and was not disappointed.

You find out more and purchase the truck here. You can find the Hess Toy Truck on social media (#2015HessToyTruck) here: Facebook/Twitter/Instagram.

 


 

Many thanks to the fine folks doing PR for Hess who set me up with the free product sample for review, with no expectations as the the review’s content.

Review of Audiosharp AS1130 Earbuds

 

Earbuds 2
Image via Audiosharp

 

After I ran a 5K my sweet three-year old picked off one of my earbud covers and left it who-knows-where. So I’ve been in search of a good replacement. Audiosharp’s AS1130 earbuds (currently on sale for $25 at Amazon) have been an exceptional choice for every-day headphones.

Here are the specs from Audiosharp:

 

  • Perfect design: Solid all-metal construction even down to the plugs, Three size soft silicone ear buds provide a super comfortable, secure fit and One Compact rugged case for safe storage are included.
  • Accurately reproduce clear natural vocals: High intensity listening experience with crisp, clear sound and deep powerful bass, Ultra-fast,accurate speaker design delivers the full details of today’s digital music with extreme clarity and deep bass.
  • Awesome noise reduction: Sealed in-ear design reduces external noise for a better music experience. the voice is still clear over the din of the store so you can enjoy uninterrupted music on the go.
  • High Performance: High Quality Tangle Free Cable.Micro-strand wire and flux tube for clear audio with reduced interference.Innovative, cable design is ultra-flexible and tangle free.
  • Audiosharp Features: Audiosharp is the most professional headset seller, Our products are designed by high-end designers and rigorous professional inspection. All Audiosharp products come with a 1-year warranty.

Most surprising was the packaging in which the earbuds arrived. It’s impressive, if excessive:

 

Image via Audiosharp
Image via Audiosharp

 

The carrying case is especially cool–and useful! It’s easy to wrap the earbuds up and store them in their protective cover:

 

Earbuds in case

 

The construction is high-grade, and these appear to be earbuds that will last a long time. The all-metal design looks cool, too:

 

Earbuds

 

Cable

 

As for the sound, the quality greatly exceeds what I expected for an under-$30 set of earbuds. Bass is fully present (but not overly so), and highs and mids are clear. It’s definitely an upgrade from the standard issue Apple set.

Having the earbuds in really does silence outside noise, too. They’re not noise-cancelling (nor do they claim to be), but noise-reducing, for sure.

They stay in my ears well even when I’ve got them outside on a run–a non-negotiable for me with a set of earbuds, and a feature which seems to be missing in most kinds that I’ve tried.

If you’re looking for greater sound quality than what you get with a $5 pair of earbuds, but for something that won’t break the bank and will last you a long time, Audiosharp’s AS1130 earbuds are an excellent option.

 


 

Thanks to Audiosharp for the review sample, given to me for purposes of review but with no expectation as to the content of this post. Find the earbuds here.

Review of WaterField’s External Keyboard Slip Case

Logitech makes an amazingly good external keyboard, the K811, which I reviewed here. At the time I noted:

It would be nice if the keyboard came with a carrying case or simple sleeve, though–you’ll have to figure that one out on your own.

And, boy, did I figure it out! Turns out a San Francisco manufacturer named WaterField makes just such a product: the Keyboard Slip Case. Here’s their description:

Thin is in. The Keyboard Slip Case offers gentle protection in a slim ballistic nylon case with a lightly padded liner. A piping trimmed edge lets you choose to add a splash of bold color, or to stay under the radar with subdued tones. Pack it up and off you go.

I can at last not worry about whether my keyboard keys will pop off inside my messenger bag, and my neighbors and friends can now avoid the unseemly sight of my walking around with an external keyboard in my hand. (I mean, not literally just walking around with it. But going from point A to point B.)

The dimensions are 12″ x 6″ and 3 ounces, perfect for the Apple wireless keyboard and my Logitech model.

To remind you, here’s what the K811 looks like:

 

Image via Logitech
Image via Logitech

 

And now, in its case:

 

Keyboard in Sleeve

 

Pretty awesome, yeah? I know–I’m too excited about a piece of gear, but I use my K811 a lot, and am glad to protect it well.

The inside is protective yet soft:

 

Soft Inside

 

It’s made in San Francisco, so you’re buying a made-in-the-U.S.A. product with WaterField.

There’s even a nice little piece of trim that gives it a slight pop:

 

Trim

 

Here it is next to an iPad:

 

With iPad Air 2

 

The slip case is well constructed, and looks like it perfectly blends being lightweight with protecting your keyboard.

The keyboard fits snugly, so the lack of a closure is no loss. I’d initially wondered about this, but it’s not a problem. And it’s still easy to slide the keyboard in and out. (But if you’re worried, you can get this model.)

My only critique is that the nylon exterior is a little slippery. When carrying around an iPad and notebook and keyboard-in-its-case today, I felt the iPad slip against the keyboard case. So be aware of that so you don’t drop something!

Otherwise, the K811 has found its perfect match. Or as I put it in a six-word review on WaterField’s site:

Just what my external keyboard needed.

WaterField makes a lot of other really cool-looking gear, which you can learn more about here. Find the Keyboard Slip Case here.

 


 

Thanks to WaterField for the product review sample, given to me for purposes of review, but with no expectations or influence on the review’s content.

Review of SHARKK® 15W Bluetooth Wireless Speaker

 

I’ve been jamming to some sweet tunes with SHARKK’s 15W Bluetooh Wireless Speaker recently. I’ve used it around the house for some organizing projects, as well as took it on a trip with me.

Here are the full specs from SHARKK:

◦ Rock the House with this Powerful 15 Watt Bluetooth Speaker with 2200Ah Lithium Battery which supports up to 10 consecutive hours of playing time.

◦ Subwoofer + high-performance amplifier combine for incredible volume and high quality sound.

◦ Can also be used to charge your phone or other rechargeable USB devices with its built in Power Bank.

◦ Supports AUX, Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC with Siri/S Voice Functionality. Make and receive phone calls with the built-in Mic.

◦ Includes Charger, Carrying Pouch, and a 3.5mm audio cable.

Here is what it looks like out of the box (images via SHARKK):

 

 

Sharkk Speaker: What’s Awesome

Battery percentage indicator

 

You can see the battery level right next to the phone battery percentage—it’s always visible from the device from which you are streaming music. There’s no real battery life indicator on the speaker itself, so being able to see it from your device is neat.

 

Sound decent for cost

 

The sound is good for the cost. Not stellar, but solid. The bass is noticeable, if not wholly sufficient, and the highs and the mids come out, though perhaps not as crisply as one might want for a speaker at $80. Still, the sound is decent.

 

It remembers your device

 

Once you connect a device to the speaker via Bluetooth, the SHARKK speaker remembers it, so you don’t have to keep setting it up each time. I really appreciated this.

 

Totally portable

 

The speaker fits on a towel rack in the shower room. It’s easy to hold in one hand and move around the house to follow you from room to room. Highly portable and light enough to carry around, if you want.

 

What’s Not Awesome

The speaker died one night

 

One night, for no reason that I can discern, the speaker died. I charged it overnight. It still didn’t work. I charged it a second night. Still nothing. Then on the third day (I don’t mean this to be a religious parallel), it sprang back to life and has been working fine since.

Support was responsive throughout the issue, but I never could figure out why the speaker stopped responding like that.

 

No remote control

 

Lacking is a remote way to control the speaker. You cannot do it via remote control or from your phone. I know it’s not a huge deal to get out of your chair to turn it on or off, but a speaker in this price range should support remote control.

 

Play/pause button flashes

 

The play/pause button flashes blue when the speaker is on. I noticed this one night in the middle of the night from across the room, when I had forgotten to turn the speaker off. A minor nuisance, and certainly not a deal-breaker. But an auto-off feature would be nice.

 

Cloth carrying case

 

The speaker comes with a cloth carrying case, which is handy, but doesn’t do much to protect the speaker. On a recent trip where I wanted to take the speaker (it is very portable), I just packed the speaker up in its original box, which was a much better solution.

 

+ and – buttons

 

It’s awesome that you can play and pause your iTunes or even Spotify app from the speaker itself. One tricky thing, though, is that the “+” button fast forwards the track. Only holding the button turns the volume up (the expected result from a button like that). So, too, with the “-” button. It turns the volume down, but only if you hold it. Otherwise it rewinds the track. I found this less than intuitive, and still think it’s an odd design decision, but I got used to it over time (mostly). It is nice to be able to change tracks from the speaker itself.

 

Concluding Evaluation

I can recommend the speaker, but only with the reservations above. I’m not sure it would be my first choice for a sub-$100 speaker, but it does have some nice features that make it an attractive option worth considering.

Find the speaker here (SHARKK) or here (Amazon).

 

Thanks to SHARKK for the review sample, given to me for purposes of review but with no expectation as to the content of this post.

Review of Belkin’s MIXIT↑™ Metallic AUX Cable

Belkin cable

It was probably about my fourth time unsuccessfully digging through the same bag of old cables before I got in touch with Belkin for the one I really needed: an auxiliary 3.5 mm cable to plug my phone into the back of some speakers.

The look of the cable is unremarkable, but the only person I’ve ever met who cared about aesthetics in cables this small was the guy at Radio Shack who tried to convince my old college roommate and me that we were idiots for buying a pink aux cable when we could spend a dollar more for a black one. (We rocked the pink.)

I’ve been making good use of this Belkin AUX cable, especially while in the kitchen. It’s durable and does exactly what it should.

Here are the summary features, from Belkin:

  • Auxiliary cable connects any two devices with 3.5mm port
  • Sleek cable with metallic finish
  • Available in five colors to match your device
  • Designed to withstand heavy use
  • 4-foot length ideal for use everywhere

It works at home, it works in the car, and it coils up nicely for transport. I’ve never had the audio cut out or give feedback while listening via the cable.

At four feet long, it’s all the length you need–not too much, not too little.

Given its durability, the $20 asking price is fair, though some buyers may want to seek out more budget-conscious options–even if they are pink.

But I expect to make use of this (stylish gold) cable for many more hours of audio.

Find it here (Belkin) or here (Amazon).

 


 

Thanks to Belkin for the review sample, so I could write this review. Receiving the cable for review purposes did not influence the content or nature of this write-up.

Review of Logitech Bluetooth Easy-Switch Keyboard K811

Images in this post via Logitech
Image via Logitech

 

There is a proliferation of external keyboards for iPads and iPhones. Logitech’s Bluetooth Easy-Switch Keyboard K811 is by far the best.

Here is a short video of the keyboard in action:

 

 

This is no foldable, plastic, tag-along keyboard. It looks and feels like something native to an aluminum-body Mac Laptop.

This is what’s great about the keyboard:

  • It’s backlit. You can use it in the dark and make out all of the keys easily.
  • It’s got three keyboard shortcuts for toggling between three Apple devices at a time. So once you’ve paired it with, say, a computer, an iPhone, and an iPad, you can switch between any device the keyboard is paired with… with just one press of a button. You don’t have to pair, un-pair, re-pair, etc.

 

Logitech K810 Image 2

 

  • That backlit keyboard? It’s smart. The keyboard has sensors that allow it to adjust the illumination level based on the light in the room. Amazing. (You can also manually adjust the keyboard brightness via its F5 and F6 keys.)
  • The battery life is long. It’s rechargeable via an (included) USB cable. And there’s an on/off switch, of course, so you don’t drain the battery between uses.
  • There’s no lag. The Bluetooth connection is fast, so there’s really no lag between the time you type and see a character on the screen, regardless of the device you’re using.
  • It is a full keyboard. Nothing is missing–the command key, volume up/down keys, the escape key… all here.
  • It’s got “hand proximity detection.” From the product page: “A motion sensor detects your hands as they approach the keyboard and turns the backlight on/off to help you save power when you are not typing.” From what I can tell, this feature also helps to preserve and prolong the battery life.
  • Setup couldn’t have been any simpler. I probably could have figured it out without the manual, but the manual succinctly and clearly explained how to pair with devices.
  • Having easy access to up/down and left-right arrow keys for iPad and iPhone is really cool.

And here is what I really like about the keyboard:

  • If feels better than any other keyboard (portable or otherwise) I’ve typed on. Very smooth, and just the right amount of resistance on the keys.
  • You can use keyboard shortcuts with iPad as easily as you would on a desktop computer. The app Drafts and this Logitech keyboard make for a great combo. I started this blog post in Drafts, for example, and then with a single key stroke had sent the draft to Evernote for backup and future work across devices.
  • This is a little thing, but there is a keyboard key (on the actual keyboard) that lets you toggle your iPad on-screen keyboard on and off. Unlike other external keyboards, you can even have your native iPad on-screen keyboard up at the same time as using this physical one.

As for drawbacks? Nothing significant, that’s for sure. It’s not foldable, so of course it’s less portable than other external keyboards, but that is the (small) price one pays for its durability and full-size feel. I don’t mind that it can’t be folded up. It would be nice if the keyboard came with a carrying case or simple sleeve, though–you’ll have to figure that one out on your own.

The keyboard isn’t inexpensive, but it’s the best external keyboard on the market, easily. Find out more at the product page here, or via Amazon here.

 


 

Thanks to Logitech for the product review sample, given to me for purposes of review, but with no expectations or influence on the review’s content.

Apple Music Launches Today

Apple Music
Image via MacRumors/Apple

 

Apple Music launches today, and you can jump right in with a free, three-month trial. Individual user subscriptions will be $9.99/month thereafter.

The big question will be: How does it compare to similar subscription-based, streaming services like Spotify? MacRumors has a nice round-up of some early reviews here. From that article:

Everyone will be able to test out Apple Music for themselves soon enough, with the official launch of the updated music app in just a few hours at 9 AM Pacific. Those interested should remember to first download the new iOS 8.4 update an hour before in preparation for the streaming music service’s debut.

Get all the details at Apple’s page here.

Review of Anker PowerDrive 2 Lite 12W 2-Port Car Charger

Impossibly Cute (and a Good Charger)
Impossibly Cute (and a Good Charger)

Yeah, I know: it’s weird to refer to a phone charger as “impossibly cute,” but this little guy (pictured at left) from Anker looks great. More important, it charges a device (or two at once) just as fast as your typical wall charger.

It’s the Anker PowerDrive 2 Lite 12W 2-Port Car Charger.

You can connect any USB cable to it, allowing you to charge your iPhone (of any generation), iPad, or other device. The best thing about it is that you can charge two devices at once–so you and your friend don’t have to fight over whose turn it is to charge a phone on a long road trip.

Here are a few things I like about the charger (with no counterbalancing complaints so far to lodge):

  • As with another Anker charger I tested, the PowerDrive 2 Lite charges a device quickly. I have an Apple wall charger that gets warm when plugged in, but this one maintains a normal temperature.
  • It’s small. You can easily fit it in your pocket, or stash it in even the smallest compartment of your car. Anker lists its weight as 0.7 ounces. (!)
  • The design isn’t fancy, but it looks great. The red and black color combo gives it an attractive look.
  • It pops in and out of the cigarette lighter (what else do you call that port in your car?) really easily. It’s nice and secure when plugged in.

Despite its size and being 12W as opposed to a 24W model Anker makes, this model gets the charging job done just fine. At the time of writing, the 12W model appears out of stock on Amazon, but the (comparable) 24W model is here. (UPDATE: Here‘s the in-stock link to the model I’m reviewing here.)

And you can check out the 12W PowerDrive 2 Lite at Anker’s page here, with all the specs.

 


 

Thanks to Anker for the review sample, offered for my honest impressions.

I Don’t Have an iPhone 6, but Here is a Review of Anker’s Ultra Protective Case for iPhone 6

Anker Ultra Protective Case With Built-in Clear Screen Protector for iPhone 6
Anker Ultra Protective Case With Built-in Clear Screen Protector for iPhone 6

 

The iPhone 6 upgrade never happened, but Anker had already sent the review sample of a sweet iPhone 6 case. I told them I’d still post about the thing, reviewing it as best as I could.

The Anker Ultra Protective Case With Built-in Clear Screen Protector for iPhone 6 appears to achieve that rare balance in mobile device cases between lightness and durability. You put its front screen protector and back casing on separately. It’s not a heavy case at all, so I doubt your hand will get sore even after playing too many minutes of games on your encased phone! The case adds only 0.15 inches and 1.6 ounces to the dimensions of the iPhone 6.

The openings for the charger cord and earbuds appear to be cleanly cut:

 

Anker iPhone 6 case openins
Image via Amazon/Anker product page

 

Anker says the case was “drop tested 6 times from 3 feet onto its corners and back on a hard concrete floor without sustaining any damage.” Presumably this test took place with the iPhone 6 in it.

As much as you think you will just be careful and never drop your phone… you WILL drop your phone. This case has some good grip to it, so your phone is unlikely to slip out of your hands, but if so, you may get lucky and still have a working phone after the drop!

Especially for the $15.99 current price at Amazon, this kind of protection is a good idea.

  Thanks to Anker for the review sample, offered for my honest impressions.

Review of Anker 10W Home and Travel Wall Charger

Anker Plug
Anker 10W (2A) Home and Travel USB Wall Charger

 

I’ve been testing and using a fast, reliable, and highly portable wall charger from Anker lately: the Anker 10W (2A) Home and Travel USB Wall Charger.

Any USB cable connects to it, so you can charge your iPhone (of any generation), iPad, Samsung, etc.

Here are a few things I like about it:

  • It charges a device quickly
  • It doesn’t get hot when plugged in (one of my Apple chargers does)
  • The prongs fold in–especially useful for travel or putting it in a pocket
  • It’s compact and lightweight (under two ounces)
  • Sleek and simple design
  • There’s an 18-month warranty

I haven’t found anything so far that’s not to like. The wall charger seems built well and looks to last a long time. It’s $7.99 at Amazon.

It’s especially suited and recommended for those who travel often, and need a charger that is quick and easy to pack up.

 

Thanks to Anker for the review sample, offered for my honest impressions. The case reviewed above can be found at Amazon here.