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by K. Samwell on March 14, 2007 in Gadgets

Brando offers a wide range of special, useful and helpful technology products. Alongside the myriads of USB products are a wide selection of LED items, which will also be illuminated in this spotlight.

USB Air Refresher, MP3 Pen, Card Reader


USB Air Refresher

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Well, this is pretty much everything it says it is, as pictured, it’s a very small, and thankfully very quiet air refresher. There’s an option to ionize the air, or just have it working as a little fan. The box shows this particular item being used in a vehicle on the dash without any visible wiring, however since my vehicle doesn’t have a USB port, and I cannot open this item to insert batteries of any kind, I have to assume this was just a hypothetical picture. It’s very straightforward, there are two buttons on the front and two indicator lights as well, one for power and one for ionization. This gives you the option to use it as an ionizer or simply a fan.

I like the fact that it has a peel and stick pad on the bottom of it, however, I have a feeling once it’s stuck, it’s stuck for life. Had there been a battery option, this would have actually prevented changing the batteries, but since it appears to only be USB powered, that’s not an issue. This does however allow you to stick this item out of the way, no more need to keep yet another item on your desk. The fan outlet rotates a total of about 45° and therefore can be aimed towards or away from your seat as preferred.

There’s an interesting, if not questionably translated, statement on the side of the box about Anions – vitamins in the air: and I quote it for you, verbatim, here:

Anion is everywhere. Thundering and lightning which can often be seen actually is a kind of way to sterilize and purify the air for they can release a large quantity of anions. This solves the mystery why we feel the airis particularly fresh after raining. In the analysis of the air quality, scientists find the air in forests, waterfalls, mountains or seashore is very fresh. This is because there are a lot of anions in these areas. This arouses the curiosities of many scientists. It’is approved that negative ion is everywhere in the nature.

Overall, a handy little item if you just want to clean the air around your desk, definitely worthwhile in a cubicle situation where sick people are always leaving their contaminated air behind. I love that it is absolutely silent unless you hold it up against your ear, and even then it’s a very quiet whirr. And at a mere $20, it can clean the air around you quite effectively, and I recommend this item for its simplicity and ability to deliver what it claims, quietly.

USB MP3 Pen + FM Radio + Voice Recorder

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I felt a little like La Femme Nikita assembling a sniper rifle when I first opened and assembled this pen. (Rent the original, not the dubbed or sad remake).

First surprise was the packaging, a sleek metal box with a viewing window on top. Nicely compact and holds everything for easy access and travel needs. Much to my surprise, under the pen were even more goodies, headphones, USB cord, instructions, a disk and even a travel charger. Neat! Even more attractive is that the pen itself is metal. Very nice grip and width, with high quality ball and ink – a very nice write. I could write a book with this, but don’t worry I won’t make you read it!

Now there are several features to this pen so let me highlight them one at a time.

1. FMRadio: Ok I’ll be the first to admit, I only listen to FM radio when I’m in my car. I don’t even stream, but I figured what the heck, I’ll try this out. I plug the headphones into the end of the pen and press and hold the FM button. I used the >> and << arrows to move up and down the stations, however, it took me a very long time to find BobFM because there's no indication of where you are on the dial. Once I found Bob, it was a decently clear signal, however the headphone coupling was loose and I was cutting out just from the headphones themselves.

I dug out an old pair of mini headphones and plugged them in and they worked much better, so my initial analysis is the headphone jack on the headphones themselves was loose. It happens. So I’m listening away while playing a game and a really good song comes on so I go to turn the volume up…and I cannot. The volume buttons are the same as the channel scan buttons. I unfold the instructions to see if there’s a trick to it, and there is, you need to HOLD those buttons down for volume.

Ok mystery solved whew. I think it will take a while to get used to what all the LED colours mean, if it is in FM mode, there is a solid blue light with a flashing green light, which just makes the light look teal as it does not turn off the solid blue one. When in recording mode, the blue LED will be always on but flashing when recording. But when both green and blue flash, time to recharge. At least I think that’s what they mean!

2. Storing and playback: While there is software to install, you apparently do not need to, as this is a plug and play device, meaning you plug it in, and drag mp3s to the drive as it shows up on your list of drives. There is already an am3d_intro.mp3 on the drive, and it’s the startup introduction you get when you turn the device on with the headphones plugged it. It’s rather impressive, actually and I suggest you have a listen before you remove it, should you choose to do so.

So I drag a little Nina Simone over and the transfer was VERY fast, it didn’t pop anything up, it didn’t complain, it just did what I told it. I unplugged it and started playing, and again the sound quality was amazing. Now I didn’t drag my entire music folder over, but there’s 1GB of room on this model, so more than enough for a playlist. I can see using this feature when traveling and I don’t want to fill my laptop with mp3s. I can simply choose my roadtrip music, load it up to my pen and go from there.

3. Voice Recording: Last time I was at E3, the big final one, I loaned my lovely digital voice recorder to a co-worker at my previous place of employment, and I have never seen it again. Now I have a replacement! Yay! I have always found digital voice recorders to be VERY handy, it’s hard to write down what people are saying when you interview them because you’re trying to pay attention to them and not sit there scribbling on your notepad, or typing furiously. Plus you can then offer up the recordings to be downloaded as a podcast if need be.

In a quiet room, with the pen’s audio receptor turned towards me, I simply spoke: “This is recording mode.” and plugged it back in to hear the playback. The files are saved as individual wav files in a voice folder. Simple enough. Playback was only a matter of double clicking the file. Wow is that what I sound like? Guess so. It was fairly clear but I’m also in a quiet room with moderate electronics. Had I been in something as noisy as a conference floor, I’m not sure how much interference there would be. But then again, a la Maxwell Smart, I could always ask people to speak into my pen.

I have to admit, they packed A LOT into a pen, and with some practice, I’ll learn what all the coloured LEDs mean and how to navigate the multifunction buttons. Four buttons and approximately 15 functions total depending on what mode you’re in. Quite the achievement! Why would I buy this over a simple Sansa MP3 player or a Sony Digital Voice Recorder or a Bic? Simple – I wouldn’t need any of those if I have this. It’s all in one very sleek, stylish, functional and quite honestly impressive package. When you show people this pen, they immediately want to know more. You can even secretly record them asking about it and show them later! And at a $68US price tag for the 1G model, that’s LESS than I paid for my .5G MP3 player and LESS than I paid for my ‘missing’ Digital Voice Recorder individually. Not to mention this is much more compact than either of those.

And who doesn’t love a gadget that makes you feel like Nikita and Agent 86 at the same time?

MP3 SD/MiniSD/MMC/RS-MMC/T-Flash Card Reader

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Let’s start with the specs on this, then I’ll tell you all about this all-in-one wonder. (I’m tempted to start ranting “it slices, it dices, it juliennes…”, but that’s perhaps too obscure a reference) This little wonder is: an MP3 player, an SD card reader, an MiniSD card reader, an MMC card reader, an RS-MMC card reader and a T-Flash card reader. It fully supports USB 2.0 U disk functions without driver installation and you can directly upload or download the MP3 files into the SD/MMC memory card. It supports MP3 format audio file playing, which includes On/Off button, Play/Pause control, Volume control, plus an LED indicator. All that and Plug and play Support for Windows 98SE/2000/ME/XP/Mac OS 8.6 or above!

Now for the fun stuff. It takes a AAA battery, which befuddled me a little on how to remove the cover from the battery chamber, but with some gently poking, I realized the cover and the entire end of the unit slides off, exposing both the battery area AND the insertion slot for the memory card. The opposite end also slides off exposing the USB connector. Now since both my monitor’s USB ports were full (lol USB heating blanket and Warmer/Cooler, look for their reviews in this writeup also) I dug around the back of my comp in search of a free USB port. Thankfully there was one, however it was positioned so as to be between my cordless keyboard and mouse puck input and the edge of my case.

I could not insert the USB card reader in there, due to its bulk, as it is quite thick, and just ended up clashing with my case. I moved the keyboard mouse puck input closer to the edge of the case, however the orientation of this reader meant the battery conflicted with the other input. Bummer. Now I understand the majority of the time you’re not going to be plugging this into the BACK of your comp, but this may limit its ability to fit into other USB slots due to its thickness and width.

Sacrificing my drink warmer, I then easily plugged this into my monitor, and those inputs are spaced out enough that they did not interfere with each other. Now to find an SD card. My camera came to mind first, and I did need to pull all the images for this Brando spotlight off the memory, so it was a perfect opportunity.

When I finally realized the reason I was having so much trouble is that I had put the memory card in backwards, things got a lot easier :-) Now I’m in a bit of a Catch 22 with regards to pictures, I was all set to take a pic of the unit with my memory card in place, however, it’s my camera’s memory card…so um I can’t take a picture without the memory card in my camera so you’ll have to use your imagination!
I was a little concerned at how far the memory card needed to slide in and if I didn’t have fingernails I would have problems getting it back out. All that remains exposed are a few millimetres of the corners. There’s not much available to grip, but once you do, it slides out quite nicely.

Now that everything is in place, all the images you see on this review were uploaded using the USB card reader. It very simply showed me what was on my camera disk, I just dragged and dropped the images and movies from the folders on the disk to a new folder on my desktop. Transfer rate was pretty fast, considering how many images I had initially and it didn’t try to install software, it didn’t pop up anything, it didn’t complain or balk when I accessed it. Surprising since I have heard nothing but bad things from people who have used other USB card readers. Perhaps this one is the exception! And at a $15US pricetag, you get what you pay for. It may be a little clunky but it appears to do the job which is more than I can say for some other readers out there! So if you’re like me and have long lost your USB to camera cable, this is a very solid option.

Oh I almost forgot, you can load it up with your music and take it with you, this is also an mp3 player!