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August 2020 Product Reviews

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This month we have encrypted data storage, doggy water fountains, hi-res music streaming, smart note-taking systems, and audio sunglasses, so let’s jump in!

Qobuz – high res music streaming

While a large segment of music lovers still cling to vinyl and CDs the younger generation and those who live an on-demand, minimalist, and on-the-move lifestyle have embraced streaming for most of their movie and music needs. By now we are all familiar with Spotify, iTunes, and the evolving Google options and they are great for those who like music, but might not love it. True music lovers are the demographic Qobuz targets, streaming Hi-Res, and high-quality audio via some very well realized apps that will deliver a sublime listening experience no matter your lifestyle. For those running home music servers, Qobuz also provides a download shop so you can purchase and fully control the hardware streaming of your digital music.

Take a deep dive into the world of music and sound. Rediscover music’s history, its secrets, its roots and its influences, with original editorial content, available exclusively to our subscribers (articles, reviews, interviews, videos and more).

What impressed me most about Qobuz were the apps and web interfaces, all of which were pleasingly designed and packed full of engaging supporting content. Some offer digital booklets that accompany albums for those that miss the days of sleeve notes. Generally, the content and images offered are of excellent quality and paired well with recommendations for similar artists and albums. You can also subscribe to emails of music news and new releases or they offer a very nice online magazine covering well-curated industry news plus album and stereo hardware reviews.

The written recommendations provided by our discographers are not texts copied from record company blurbs, but original texts that aim to enlighten you, and to help you re-discover the world into which that album was born. At Qobuz, we love the album format. We celebrate more than a century of discography culture!

This being an audiophile product I expected a focus on classical and jazz but was so happy to find I could also find my favorite metal, pop, blues, country, and even 60s psychedelia. This is not a limited catalog by any means and I merrily jumped between Country Joe & the Fish, Dylan, Metallica, John Coltrane, Creedence, AC-DC, and Bach causing some odd looks from my coworkers.

Not all tracks are available in Hi-Res but depending on your needs you can seamlessly switch between different bitrates. This is a good feature for those switching between devices on data plans and those on fast broadband or home systems where every musical detail can be extracted and enjoyed. The interface really is great. It is very attractively laid out and easy to manage your library and connected devices. It recognized my external USB DAC and connected speakers and output a smooth and well-balanced sound even over good old fashioned wired earbuds.

Every week, the record industry delivers hundreds, sometimes thousands, of albums to our door. Our work is thus twofold: Every day, beyond the media hubbub, outside of the incessant stream of music news, we cherry-pick what is really interesting. We do this across every musical genre. This, again, does not sum up all that we do. Albums of the past constitute a huge, living museum that we work every day to curate and document.

It is a little more expensive than Spotify but at only $14.99 per month or $149.99 a year for the basic Studio Premier plan I think it is an incredible service. More plans are available for families or those wanting to mix streaming and downloads but the basic one serves up studio quality streaming up to FLAC 24-Bit up to 192 KHz, a surprisingly vast library and excellent apps for most devices. Sign up and enjoy a free 1 month trial with no strings attached here.


Kingston DataTraveler Locker+ G3 Encrypted USB Flash Drive

Sorry if this is a bit ranty but wow! I genuinely, maybe naively, though this kind of bad design didn’t happen anymore. The user experience and practical usability of this drive are terrible – simply terrible. Let me frst explain how a USB drive should work for a busy user: You plug it in and it pops up in your finder window as a drive. If there is a software encryption feature, you plug in your USB drive and a password entry window opens, you enter a password, and then it pops up as a drive in your finder window. Oh if only life were so simple!

DataTraveler Locker+ G3 is easy for anyone to setup and easy to use, with no application installation required; all the software and security needed is built in. It works on both Windows systems and Macs so users can access files from multiple systems, without installing a program on every computer used.

Yes, I understand about hidden drive partitions, ISOs, and limitations with auto-running apps on certain computers but the Kingston DataTraveler Locker+ G3 claims to be “Compatible with: Windows® 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 8, macOS v.10.12.x – 10.15.x“ and in my judgment, this is true but misses the point. You can make it work, but wasting your time making it work is not what consumers expect anymore. Tech is supposed to do the work for you. I also found it odd that they do not provide any info on the encryption level or standards you get, only the below information.


– Hardware encryption — the best in personal security to keep your data safe
– Superior password protection — user sets a password to prevent unauthorized access
– Versatile — works interchangeably between Mac OS X and Windows systems
– Secure — drive locks down and reformats after 10 invalid login attempts
– Stylish — durable metal casing with built-in key loop
– Optional cloud backup — access data stored on DataTraveler Locker+ G3 from your personal cloud storage
– Co-logo program available1 — customize DataTraveler Locker+ G3 by adding your logo and/or digital files and instantly increase your organization’s brand recognition. The Customisation Programme offers unique packaging, custom profiles, colour adjustments, content loading and more, all with easy and convenient ordering

The first time I plugged the new Kingston G3 into my MacBook Pro nothing happened. Nothing happened the second or third times either, so I looked in my Finder settings to see if I could find out the problem. Yes, the box to show ‘External Disks’ was checked. WTF? At a loss, I tried ticking all the boxes for connected devices and wow, after ticking the ‘CD, DVD and iPod’ box a CD icon appeared labeled as ‘DTL+G3’. CD stands for Compact Disc for the younger readers out there. The ‘DTL+G3’ link finally got me into the drive! OK, I thought, I’ll cut Kingston a break as this must be a first-time setup quirk, and manually installing the encryption software will prevent this happening again.

DataTraveler Locker+ G3 offers cloud backup as an optional feature. Users can chose to automatically back up data from their DataTraveler Locker+ G3 to Google Drive™, OneDrive (Microsoft®), Amazon Cloud Drive, Dropbox or Box, so if the drive is lost or stolen, their data is in a safe place.

I dutifully set up the software encryption, formatted it as exFAT and linked the drive to my Dropbox account for backups. So far so good, and the USB now showed up as an external drive called Kingston. I copied a file to the drive and it synched. I went to my Dropbox to check it was working and…. no new folder called Kingston or G3 USB or anything logical. Nothing. After some hunting around I found the new folder to which all my files synch in a folder abstractly called “Apps” and then inside a second folder called “USB-to-Cloud”, no mention of Kingston. I copied a second file to the drive and yes it appeared in this folder. Not ideal I thought, but I can get used to that.

Time to test the post-setup functionality; surely it will now be intuitive and user friendly. I ejected the USB in Finder and plugged it in again. No, it did not show up as Kingston or as an external drive. It showed up as a CD again and was called DTL+G3 again. No pop-up password prompt or anything to get me access to my files. I opened DTL+G3 and was presented once again with the install files for the encryption software. Out of pure frustration, I opened the software installer as I had done only minutes before and here, at last, was a password prompt. Yes, my password worked and the USB showed up as it should. Interestingly the CD named DTL+G3 was still there in Finder and accessible as a separate partition, which is exactly what it is. For your average user this process is unnecessarily confusing and for any user, it is a waste of time. For God’s sake why make using your USB complex in a world of “it just works”?

Put a lock on your personal data with Kingston’s DataTraveler® Locker+ G3. It’s a safe and convenient way to secure receipts, bank statements and other sensitive documents with hardware encryption and password protection for a double layer of data security. The drive locks down and reformats after 10 failed login attempts, so users can rest assured their data is safe even if the drive is lost or stolen.

To be fair to Kingston I borrowed a Windows 10 laptop and to my surprise found that all of the above seemed to apply to Windows too. To access an already set up USB you still had to enter a partition labeled as a DVD to then open the ‘DTLplus_Launcher’ app which then opens the password prompt which only then allows access to the drive. I checked that Autorun was enabled in Windows in the hope that it might automatically launch the password prompt next time I inserted it but… No this did not work. Nobody wants tech that doesn’t work easily anymore and especially if it actually makes your life harder, plus nobody wants a USB drive that requires a 26-page manual to use. I could not even wipe the drive and just use it as a regular USB.



Any Pros at all? Yes, the metal case is nice and solid but the cap is not very secure and will fall off and get lost within a week. Oh, and the LED looks like they forgot to cover it, just strange. A quick speed test with Blackmagic Disk Speed Test brightened my mood with 154 MB/s reads and 133 MB/s writes, which is very fast. I’m going to wrap this up now before I bore you all to death and sorry Kingston but I can’t recommend this device for anyone who wants to remain calm and peaceful while at work. I know that third-party hardware manufacturers face problems with both Windows and macOS but if you have a product design that doesn’t “plug and play” like this one doesn’t, then don’t make it!

If you decide this kind of pain is what you want in your life then check out the Kingston DataTraveler Locker+ G3 here and they sell for between $19.99 for 8GB up to $143.00 for 128GB.


Apricorn Aegis 3NXC

I have reviewed Apricorn’s excellent and user-friendly devices before but am particularly happy to balance my review of the 128GB Kingston DataTraveler Locker+ G3 with a review of Apricorn’s brand new 128GB Aegis Secure Key 3NXC a versatile 256 Bit AES XTS Hardware-Encrypted USB flash key – the first with a built-in C-type connector. Basically this is a USB-C version of their 3NX Secure Key and is a worthy update in response to a market that’s moving towards smaller and thinner laptops and tablets that can’t accommodate a USB-A port.

The Aegis 3NXC is the most versatile hardware-encrypted USB on the market: it is compatible with PCs and Macs, as well as any operating system, including Windows®, Mac®, Linux, Android and Symbian. This provides an effective way of safeguarding data across today’s remote workforces, where employees are using a diverse range of business and personal devices to carry out their work. The device automatically encrypts all information as the user uploads it, with military-grade AES XTS hardware encryption.

Both the Kingston and Apricorn devices offer hardware encryption, 128GB storage capacity and fast transfer speeds so apart from the different USB connections we can only compare their usability and looks. First a note on encryption, Kingston does not provide any information on their website about levels or standards for the G3’s encryption while Apricorn provides abundant detail. The 3NXC features FIPS 140-2 Level 3 validation (pending Q4 2020). NIST FIPS 140 is the cryptography standard program required by the US federal government for the protection of sensitive data. Much more detailed security info can be seen on the product page here. Far too much to list here so take a look for yourself and below is a summary.

The security and operational advantages of the Aegis Secure Key 3NXC include:

– No software – so there’s nothing to keylog or to hack.
– OS agnostic – the device is completely cross-platform compatible.
– Onboard keypad – all authentication takes place within the device itself.
– All data, passwords and encryption keys are 256-bit encrypted at rest.
– No host computer is involved in setup, authentication or encryption.
– Forced enrollment – no default PINs ensures that data is not put at risk by employees who fail to change a factory set PIN before deployment.
– IP-68 validation against water and dust damage.
– Separate administrator and user access.
– Read-only options that can be enforced by the administrator or set by the user if allowed by policy.
– Highly configurable with policy such as time out values, Data recovery PINs, and programmable PIN lengths.
– Brute force PIN attack protection.
– Ability to automatically configure multiple devices remotely using Apricorn’s Aegis Configurator tool.

The Kingston looks like any other sleek little USB and offers no hint that it might feature encryption while the 3NXC looks like it is designed to provide exactly what it does, secure, pin protected data storage. Its integral keypad is a bit old school in a time of fingerprint ID but it is super practical and sturdy as hell with robust hardwearing keys and an all-metal build. Due to the keypad, the whole package is bigger than your average USB key but it is so damn usable that these observations are moot. Sensibly, Apricorn has shunned a losable cap for the USB-C connection and instead goes for a simple if unglamorous rubber sheath. But again practical wins the day and the sheath is easy to use and provides an extra level of protection for your valuable data.

Jon Fielding, Apricorn’s managing director EMEA, says: “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, remote and mobile working was on the rise, along with the associated risks to data. As the global workforce shifted from office to home practically overnight, the demand for our encrypted secure keys skyrocketed, as did the demand for our A-to-C adapters. We accelerated the release of the Aegis Secure Key 3NXC to provide an efficient way of ensuring that employees using MacBooks, iPads and Android devices can securely store and move sensitive data, wherever and however they’re working.”

The double-sided instruction sheet that comes in the box provides very clear info on how to set up a new admin passcode and separate user accounts on the device, and worked flawlessly for me. A full and easy-to-follow manual in several languages is also preloaded onto the key. One feature I love is that you can easily unlock the device in one hand before you plug it into a computer. This is just genius and means there is no fiddly pushing of buttons while the key is connected to the side or back of your computer.

This also means that you never have to enter the passcode on the actual computer, eliminating the possibility of someone getting hold of it via a keylog or other hack. A rechargeable internal battery means unlocking is a joy, simply hit unlock, enter your passcode and hit unlock again and it is ready to go in almost any device. This whole keypad thing might put some people off but compared to the confusing and overly complex way the Kingston manages access via software it is a winner and colored LEDs make it clear if the device is locked or unlocked when in use.

Despite the USB-C connection data the 3NXC’s transfer rates are limited to USB 3.0 speeds in the region of 80 MB/s read and 70 MB/s write but as I had to use an adaptor I only got 41 MB/s reads and 38 MB/s writes, still no slouch for everyday use but not as blistering fast as the Kingston. No doubt this would be faster in a native USB-C port with no adaptor in the way.

“USB-C is the first truly universal standard for transferring data between devices, and is set to take over from USB-A as the new standard on computers of the future. While most computers and laptops still offer both A and C connector ports, the number of manufacturers exclusively committing to type C is growing. We’re developing our products with this next generation of computers in mind – but we will continue to manufacture USB-A compatible devices for those who need them for the foreseeable future.” Fielding continued.

Another great feature of all the Apricorn USB keys I have tried is that they are compatible with PCs and Macs, as well as any operating system, including Windows®, Mac®, Linux, Android and Symbian. This incredible flexibility addresses the diverse security requirements of today’s remote workforces, with PC, MacBook, iPad and smartphone compatibility. Seeing as this device has the USB-C connection needed I plugged the 3NXC straight into my Samsung Galaxy S9+ running Android 10 and it connected seamlessly. I transferred about 8GB of video files off the phone and on to the USB in under a couple of minutes. Seamless greatness! When I say plug and play, this is what I mean.

Particularly suitable for highly regulated sectors such as defense, finance, government, manufacturing and healthcare, the Aegis Secure Key 3NXC allows businesses to support safe and productive remote working on a large scale, ensuring that all workers follow information security best practice and comply with regulations such as GDPR.

While not small the 3NXC is not big either, and I had no problem adding it to my keyring and toting it around in my pocket all day. The 3NXC comes in a range of seven storage capacities from 2GB to 128GB, allowing IT departments to closely align deployments with the storage needs of each employee. Prices range from £48 to £145.


Livescribe Symphony Smart Pen and Journals

I have been waiting for a product like Livescribe for years, and so enjoyed testing out the Symphony pen and special Livescribe journals. I am now a devotee. Easy-to-use with seamless connectivity, Livescribe enables you to take notes, draw up plans or doodle on real paper in a real notebook with a real ink pen, and immediately have every letter, number and stroke instantly backed up on your phone or tablet. Several similar products have come across my desk but none have ever got the job done as well as this.

You need to charge up the pen every day or so if used regularly, and enable Bluetooth on your device, but that’s it. The pen transmits your writing to the app instantly where you can store, review, share, and backup your notes to the cloud as PDFs, Text, Docx, or images. The smartpen can carry up to 8 lined journals (No.1 through 8) at the same time between synchs, but be sure to not use two identically numbered lined journals at the same time as your smartpen might muddle the two. You can even review your notes as a feed that breaks each comment down by time and date so you can backtrack more easily if your pages are a bit of a mess.

Symphony Smartpen:

– Transcribe your notes in 27+ languages.
– Auto-sync your notes to your favorite cloud services.
– Store up to 1200 A4 pages on our pen before you need to sync.
– Our pens give you access to our Livescribe+ application that syncs to your pen and opens the doors for your handwriting to go everywhere with you.
– Access to our free Livescribe+ app.
– 90-day standby battery life.

Via the app or a shortcut printed on every journal page, you can also activate audio recording that will synch together with your notes as you go. This is genuinely awesome and just like writing, is easy to use while brainstorming or during an important meeting where you don’t want to miss a word. As a journalist, this is incredibly useful. No need to start recording on your phone and then struggle to match the recording back to your notes later – it is all just there in the app.

A pen for every occasion. The pen that fits into your day like a cup of coffee. With you always, but lasting longer and doing so much more. From taking notes in your meetings, to the idea that came on the way to the next. Mix your writing and audio together to relive that moment of inspiration, using just your pen. Save time, the pen makes your handwriting searchable giving your more time to brew another cup.

The Symphony pen itself is a little bit chunky but feels good in the hand. The USB charging port is discreetly hidden in the butt end and the fine ink point is a pleasure to use. The journals are good quality and much like any standard notebook your company might hand out. The special thing about them is the unique lines, dots, and symbols on the pages that enable the pen to track your writing and the symbols act as short cuts for media recording and playback in the app as well as bookmark options. They are purchasable in numbers 1 through 8 so you can progress from book to book and keep building up an archive of notes with a possible max of eight hundred pages before you have to start over.

Livescribe Journals:

– Hardbound journal with rounded corners and an elastic closure strap
– Scientific, financial and statistical calculator
– 5.5″ X 8.25″ dot paper
– Includes a ribbon bookmark
– 100 lined sheets
– When you’re done with a journal, you’ll need to archive it from your smartpen or application before you use another journal with the same index number. For information on archiving, please visit the Tips & Tricks section of our website.

The ease of use is what endeared the Livescribe solution to me. Without even reading the instructions I charged the pen, installed the app and was off to the races. In summary, it just works and is very intuitive. It syncs with the cloud well and is now in my bag everywhere I go. The Symphony pen is $109.95 here and a pair of journals will set you back $24.95 here.


Petsafe Drinkwell® 2 Gallon Pet Fountain

If your dog is bored with still water in a good old-fashioned bowl, then try out the PetSafe® Drinkwell® 2 Gallon Pet Fountain which, much like a self-contained garden waterfall system, cycles water from the main reservoir, up through a pump and trickles it back down into the main bowl again. If your dog likes to drink from taps then this will be a big hit.

System Includes:

– 2 Gallon Pet Fountain
– Carbon Filter
– Foam Filter
– Fountain Pump with Adaptor
– Quick Start Guide

The free-falling water stream has an adjustable flow control so you can go from little trickle to a pretty impressive stream of deliciously cold water. It’s nearly silent circulation on the lowest setting but ramps up to a more splashy stream on the highest.

The free-falling stream of water encourages your cat or dog to drink more which can help prevent urinary and kidney diseases. The large capacity fountain is perfect if you have multiple pets or a big dog. The square fountain design is large enough for several pets to drink out of at the same time with minimal splashing.


– 2-Gallon Water Capacity – This BPA-free fountain is the perfect size for cats, dogs and multi-pet households
– Encourages Hydration – A free-falling stream of water entices pets to drink more and helps prevent urinary and kidney diseases in pets through increased hydration
– Filtered Water – Replaceable carbon filter removes bad tastes and odors while the foam filter catches pet hair and debris
– Customizable Water Flow – Adjustable water flow allows you to customize the stream for you and your pet, or turn it off for a quieter operation
– Easy to Clean – The pet fountain is top-rack dishwasher safe (excluding the pump) and specifically designed with no hard to reach places
– Compatible Filters and Pump – Fountain uses PetSafe® Drinkwell® Carbon Filter #6 (PAC00-13906), PetSafe® Drinkwell® Foam Filter #5 (PAC00-13711) and Drinkwell® Replacement Pump (PAC00-16977)

The pump also uses a carbon and foam filter to remove bad tastes and odors from your pet’s water keeping it fresh for longer. The main bowl is top-rack dishwasher safe and specifically designed to have no hard to reach places to make cleaning easy. PetSafe® has come up with a cracker here. One of my dogs is addicted to it, so much so that he will drink, paddle with his paws, and blow bubbles in the bowl for an hour at a time. Let me just say that he is definitely hydrated after a play session in the Drinkwell Pet Fountain, if his frequent visits to the bushes are anything to go by!

Self-assembly is super easy and the PetSafe® Drinkwell® 2 Gallon Pet Fountain is available for $64.95 and I guarantee your dog will have a great time but keep a mop handy just in case he dives in like my Holmes 😉


Evutec & Mutrics Audio Sunglasses

This summer’s latest cool gadget is a pair of wireless audio sunglasses, and this sleek-looking offering from Evutec & Mutrics promises the cool Roy Orbison look combined with banging tunes. The younger generation might not want to look like Mr. Orbison (or know who he was) so they might opt for the white or red options rather than the black I received. They are surprisingly comfortable to wear considering the arms are quite thick in order to accommodate the technology. Charging was super easy via a magnetic connection and the battery life was impressive. I got a full seven-hour day of listening out of my pair with a mix of music and radio. For such a lightweight device, this is great.

– Hear the word around you Open Ear Design – The open-ear design Allows full awareness of your surroundings while you’re enjoying music. The unique design keeps you safe when you’re outdoors.
– Near-field Surrounding Sound System – Feel like “Dolby” surround effect with a special sound cavity and dual built-in micro speakers.
– Bluetooth connectivity for various devices – With built-in Bluetooth 5.0, the glasses can pair with devices with Bluetooth 4.2 or lower. They are compatible with multiple IOS/Android devices.
– Built-in microphone – Offer access to hands-free calls and Google/Siri assistance
– Interchangeable lenses – Replaceable lenses to meet your daily needs
– High-temperature resistance, sweat-resistance, safe driving – Adapt to various environments, can be used normally from -20°C to 70°C. Block up to 99% of UVA/UVB rays. IP55 sweat resistance.
– Long Battery Life – Charging one hour, use one week
– Comfortable to Wear – Ergonomically Redesigned Foldable Earphones for Easy Travel / Listening Comfort
– Ultra Slim Design – Mobile Phone Thickness Design, Flexible Material Frame and Very Light Like a Normal Sunglasses Weight. Exclusive US Style Design, Neat, Unisex, and Very Comfortable to Wear while Relaxing and Exercising
– Evutec Audio Sunglasses

The key feature of these glasses is the open-ear audio system. Music plays down and out of the arms and it is the proximity of the speaker to your ear canal that means you can hear the world around you as well as the tunes. For cycling or driving, this is a much safer solution than earbuds or over-ear headphones. The compromise is unfortunately sound quality though, and these glasses don’t sound amazing. They work fine but the lack of fidelity and bass means you don’t feel as immersed in the music as much as you might hope. Talk radio, however was much better, and listening while driving was great. Spoken-word is obviously not as dynamically demanding as music and worked a lot better for me with this open-ear system.

Cycling or driving alone is one thing, but if you want to use these on crowded public transport then be aware the open ear system means your neighbors will be forced to share your music taste. I know a lot of people are happy to share their tunes with a whole carriage of commuters but I don’t want to be that person. Bear this in mind if you pick up a pair of these.

Choose the look that best fits you. Featuring a selection of limited-edition colors – each sold separately – these replacement lenses are easy to interchange for a look that’s all your own with polarized options available. And they’re forged from premium materials to ensure they won’t easily scratch or shatter.

Connectivity was good and I had no problems hooking up via Bluetooth 5.0 to Android, iOS, and macOS devices and the on-arm controls are simple and work well. You can access Siri and incoming calls with the built-in microphone. Interchangeable lenses are also available so you can pop out the dark lenses for a polarized set if that kind of look appeals to you. Summing up, they are pretty good for private listening but unless you want to be unpopular, avoid wearing them in crowded social spaces. Take a look and pick up a pair from Evutec’s site for $129.99.

Tom Atkinson is Reviews & Dep. Editor at Tech Trends. Follow him on Twitter @techtrends_tech