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Abco Tech

Abco Tech brings tunes to the tub while the Snugg keeps your iPad Air cozy

By Jim Bray
May 1, 2014

Is your life so busy that you need a phone in your shower? Are you looking for a nice case for your iPad Air that'll keep it safe and scratch-free? If so, here are a couple of products that may be right up your alley.

The first is the Snugg, and though the British company makes such cases for plenty of gadgets other than the iPad Air (including the Galaxy and the Surface) it's the iPad Air version that I've been using for the past few weeks and it's proven to be my favorite such case so far. The only downside, and it may not be a downside depending on your needs, is that it doesn't have a Bluetooth keyboard built in.

Snugg does make ones with keyboards, but I only use such products when I need to do serious typing; the rest of the time I'm quite happy opting for size over typing ease. I reviewed two Bluetooth keyboard cases that work really well in different situations here. I used the ZAGG version last weekend when covering the Alberta Motor Transport Association's annual conference in Banff, Alberta and it worked great. And I used the iHome one at an event I covered the week before; it's best suited to being used on a flat surface such as a desk or table, whereas the ZAGG was perfect for perching on my lap - different tools for different needs.

Alas, the problem with most of the Bluetooth keyboard cases I've tried is that they make the iPad Air a lot bigger for all practical purposes, and isn't its incredibly thin size one of the reasons you bought your iPad Air? It sure was for me! So I find myself prying the iPad out of those cases when I'm not going to be typing furiously, and then I slide it snugly into the Snugg. It's still bigger there, but not as bulky as the ones with the keyboards built in - and it offers a simple but clever stand concept that makes it perfect to use in many positions and applications.

The Snugg is available right now for about $30 and as I said it has become my favorite case for everyday use. It's flexible, has a nice flap that protects the screen, and it even has a little elastic strap you can slide your paw through to keep the iPad, well, handy, when you're walking around. There's even a little loop you can use to store a stylus if you use such things. In all, it's a well thought out device.

The leather construction is quite attractive (my sample came in black but there are oodles of other colors), and it's child's play to get the iPad into and out of it. It just slides in easily with a little tab that velcros closed around it to keep the tablet from sliding out and committing suicide.

Snugg says the case is wipe-clean and tear-resistant, with a soft nubuck cushioning lining. Flip that cover back and stick it into the little tab on the back and you have a two position stand, either vertically (Snugg says "for FaceTime and Skype video calling") or flip the whole shebang around and it's in an ideal position for typing and/or surfing. And of course it has cut-outs to give you access to all of the iPad Air's sockets, switches and cameras.

The manufacturer also says the case automatically switches the tablet on and off, though I didn't find that (and didn't really care); perhaps my iPad Air is just plain lazy. The Snugg iPad Air PU Leather case (no, it doesn't really stink) comes with a lifetime guarantee; whether it's your lifetime or the Snugg's is unclear.

The Snugg isn't perfect, of course, but the only real complaint I have - and this applies to just about any such case - is that my house has cat hair all over the place and when you brush it off the screen it tends to get lodged under the edge of the case. I don't know how it could be designed differently, however, and it certainly wouldn't be a deal breaker for me. And of course if you don't have pets, you have nothing to worry about.

Tunes for the tub…

Abco Tech's Waterproof Wireless Bluetooth Shower Speaker, on the other hand, is a product I just don't get. Maybe it's me - for one thing, I refuse to let my life get so busy I need to take calls in the shower. For another thing, I fancy myself a bit of an audiophile and I'd rather put a good not-waterproof speaker on the bathroom counter than use a waterproof speaker that sounds like a basic AM radio from a 1968 Mustang.

But as I said, maybe it's just me because I read a bunch of reviews on Amazon and most folks there think it's the greatest thing since, well, Bluetooth. Some 60 per cent of reviewers gave it either four or five stars, and that really surprised me. Of course, there are crazy people everywhere…

The product does work as advertised, at least as far as its features are concerned, and if you're into singing in the shower it could be just the thing you've been looking for. Too bad you can't record yourself!

But it seemed to go out of its way to annoy me (perhaps it has read my columns…). I ran into trouble first when I tried to turn down the volume and it kept going up to its maximum. Then I figured out the buttons are reversed from what common sense would dictate: the top button (which also does duty as "skip backward") turns it down while the bottom button (a.k.a. "skip forward") turns it up. How weird is that?

The waterproof rubberish buttons are also hard to read. They have icons on them but they're the same gray color as the background and I can't read them without putting on the glasses I don't wear in the shower. Oh, you learn the four buttons quickly enough (there's also one for power and one for answering phone calls), but still…

Streaming tunes from my phone works fine - and you can always use the phone's volume control instead of the Abco's as long as you don't mind shorting it out. You could also set the phone's volume in advance, though the noise level will change once you're in the shower.

Pairing was straightforward, and the unit's hook fits nicely around the hardware in my shower.

I got my dear wife to phone me to check out the phone performance, once she quit laughing at the concept, and it was an even more unpleasant experience than talking to her face to face. I could hear her, despite the running water and the AM-radio quality of the speaker, but it wasn't great. Worse, she had the dickens of a time hearing me at all. Of course, she took that as a marvelous excuse to not listen to me…

The FM tuner works pretty well, despite the fact that I live in an area somewhat sheltered from FM signals by a big nose-shaped hill (we call it Proboscis Peak). I also used the device to stream radio station and music apps via my phone and it worked as well as streaming tunes did.

Here are the specs Abco Tech claims for the product:

  • Range: 10 meters
  • Frequency Response: 100 Hz-20KHz
  • Output: 3 W
  • Operating Time: approximately eight hours
  • Charge Time: approximately three hours

That 10 meter range didn't work out well at stately Bray Manor (or is it manure?) because my cell phone lives on another level. It worked much better if I parked the phone on the bathroom counter, but that kind of defeats the purpose: I could just as easily have parked my Bose SoundLink Mini there with it and got far better sound quality, even though it would be outside the shower stall. To be fair, however, the Abco has forward/backward skip buttons that the Bose lacks and it's less than a quarter of the Bose' price. That said, and this is only speaking personally, I'd rather have the Bose', even if I have to listen to it through the shower doors and pay a lot more for it.

There's undoubtedly a market for a product like this, as you can see by the customer reviews on places like Amazon (assuming they're real - and I have no reason to think they aren't) and at $35 it's a pretty cheap investment. It appears obvious now, however, that its market doesn't include me.

Copyright 2014 Jim Bray

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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