A “glowing” review of 5 USB accessories you don’t need (but you might want) - Macenstein

A “glowing” review of 5 USB accessories you don’t need (but you might want)

Posted by Dr. Macenstein

Above: From right to left, the USB Mini Lava Lamp, USB Rats Speakers, Disco USB Light, USB LED Fan

Now that we are all benefiting from lower electricity bills (thanks to Apple’s much publicized move to Intel for its performance per watt ratio) what better way to spend that extra money than to buy some energy-wasting USB-powered accessories of debatable usefulness? We got a truckload of these do-hickeys dumped on us from USB Geek, so we figured we’d pass along our take on some of the cooler ones. All of these accessories are relatively cheap, and most are surprisingly well designed and fun to use.

First up is the USB Mini Lava Lamp. I admit I am one of those people who is easily distracted by shiny objects, and out of all of these glowing accessories, this is perhaps my favorite. It is not a traditional “Lava” lamp, as there is no gooey pseudo-lava inside like those found in good ol’ Spencer’s Gifts. Instead, there are many tiny silver flakes that catch the light given off by a series of slowly changing multi-colored LED lights (red, orange, green, blue, pink, etc.). The effect is very soothing, and one can spend hours neglecting real work staring into its swirling depths. It doesn’t take a lot of juice, either, and can be powered off the USB port on an Apple keyboard without causing a “low power” alert (even with another light plugged into the other free port).

USB Mini Lava Lamp
Price: $11.00

Next, we have the USB LED Fan. This is obviously the “coolest” accessory, at least temperature-wise. Mounted on a flexible neck for easy positioning, this little fella can be pointed at pretty much any angle, and delivers a surprisingly strong gust of wind that can actually make you feel quite a bit cooler. It can also be used to blow back the stench from a foul-smelling co-worker. The one we were sent had only a green colored LED light, but the current description claims to have a multi-colored set of LEDs on it. I had 1 snag with the fan popping off the motor, but it went back on easily, and as long as you can resist the urge to stick your fingers in the blades to stop them, you’ll be fine (the blades are soft rubber, and you will likely find yourself sticking your fingers in there a couple times a day, just because its fun). I also noticed after about 3 weeks or so, the noise of the motor got a bit louder, but you can minimize this by changing the angle, or re-setting the fan head on the motor.

Price: $11.00

The USB Rat Speakers are easily the most bizarre of any of the USB accessories we have here today. Coming in at $27, they are also the most expensive. While a set of USB powered speakers molded in the likeness of black rats with glowing blue eyes is not for everyone, these speakers sound surprisingly good thanks to a built-in amplifier and two 3W speakers. There is a volume control on the cable which can control the Mac’s system volume, and the blue glow can get even brighter when you lift the rats heads to expose the glowing speaker grills. If you are into bizarre form factors, or just looking for something weird to spice up the old workstation, these conversation pieces sound as good or better than any $30 speakers you are likely to find.

USB Rat Speakers
Price: $27

The Disco USB Light has a similar form factor to the USB fan, consisting of the same flexible style neck to allow for positioning at any angle. The “Disco” light lives up to its name by flashing a pattern of changing LED lights against whatever surface you point it at. As you can see by the picture at the top of this article, I have these lights set up on a Mac mini enclosed in the acrylic mini Tower by Plasticsmith. This, combined with the Apple Keyboard’s acrylic frame combine to catch the light and create some dazzling effects. Although I don’t doubt it CAN get the party started, the Disco Light is the most annoying of the accessories tested, as there is no way to change the pattern. The constant, almost strobe-like effect is annoying when you are sober, and you will find you probably won’t keep this one plugged in for day-to-day use. Also, the lights, while plenty bright in a dark room, are less than dazzling in normal lighting. The USB Lava Lamp, on the other hand, looks great in all lighting. If budgetary concerns have you worrying about which of these lights to drop your $11 on, forget the Disco Light.

Disco USB Light
Price: $10

One of these things is not like the others…

The final USB accessory we have for you today is the Super Mini Sound Box. No, this doesn’t light up (aside from its battery indicator). This is actually a portable speaker designed for an iPod (or any MP3 player, really), but it falls under a USB accessory because it has a built-in battery which charges over your USB port. The packaging for the Super Mini Sound Box is somewhat misleading, as it shows an entirely different product than what is inside. However, what IS inside is pretty neat. The Super Mini Sound Box consists of a fairly small white speaker with a stereo mini jack input. There is an LED power indicator on the side (for some reason, it turns RED when it is charged, and GREEN when the battery is low). But what really sets the Super Mini Sound Box apart from other $15 speakers (are there any?) is the “Retractable resonator” which the manufacturer claims provides louder sound. It seemed to provide a little more bass in our tests, but we found the speaker was plenty loud without it. This is certainly not a speaker you would want to do the majority of your music listening with, but for $15 you will be pleased with the sound. We pretty much used it for our kids who watched TV shows on our iPod in the car or at grandma’s. They didn’t complain about the sound quality, and they liked that the batteries seem to never crap out like with their i-Dog.

Above: The Super Mini Sound Box looks slightly less stupid on the white model. We think.

There are only 2 problems with the Super Mini Sound Box. First, it connects to the iPod only via the speaker jack, meaning it flops and spins around as you move the iPod. This is really meant for fairly stationary listening. It would have been nice if there was some sort of mounting clip or something to hold the Mini Sound Box steady. Second, it is pretty ugly. It looks slightly less stupid when attached to a white iPod, but forget about looking cool with a black iPod and this thing sitting on top. Still, I have to say out of all the USB accessories listed here, we have gotten the most use out of this speaker. The battery last about 15 hours or more, and it charges in about 3 hours. I’ve watched movies on my iPod at work using this little speaker, and while it doesn’t come close to the sound of good headphones, if you need portable, simple audio on the go, it delivers. (And for crying out loud, it’s only $15!)

Super Mini Sound Box
Price: $15.00

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