The tech world has been peppered with releases of third-party gear to supplement the operation of iOS devices, places where Apple has given the minimum attention. One of these areas is audio. Notwithstanding the release of stereo speakers for the iPad mini (finally!), audio reproduction hasn’t been high on the list of priorities of Apple. So scads of companies have stepped in to take advantage of the burgeoning market for stands, cases, speakers, add-on lenses and any number of additional gear.
Recently released is Carbon Audio’s Zooka Wireless Speaker Bar, a competent, yet weighty and slightly ungainly speaker-cum-stand (stand for the iPad, that is), and they’ve thrown in their hat in the circle.
A former Kickstarter project, the Zooka is a simple device: it’s basically a foot-long Bluetooth-enabled speaker shaped like a bar, with the speakers on either end, and encased in durable silicone/rubber. It comes in eight different colors, but the one that arrived at Technoodling headquarters for review is a nice black. It’s a bit heavy for what it is, but it gives off a well-built, sturdy vibe that looks like it’s going to last for a long while. It’s meant for the iPhone, iPad, iPod or any other device that can connect via Bluetooth.
There is a slot along one side of the device where you can insert an iPad, whether in landscape mode (which is about the full length of the speaker bar), or in portrait mode. There is a cut-out in the middle of the device which is meant to allow access to the front-facing camera or the home button of the iPad if you insert it in portrait mode. There is a two-and-a-half inch steel rod included that you can screw in to the back of the Zooka to enable it to act as a stand for your iPad; otherwise it works just fine sitting apart from your device. You can also attach it to the top of most laptops, as long at the top of the screen is thin enough. I attached it to my 11″ MacBook Air, and while it attaches and works fine, I found that the angle of the screen has to be more or less upright. The Zooka is a bit too heavy; if you lean the screen too far back, it tips the Air over. Not a problem with other weightier laptops, but it’s a valid concern for me.
There is a line of control buttons along the side of the Zooka: a power button, volume up and down buttons, a mic and a Bluetooth button. The Bluetooth button also acts as a speakerphone button allowing you to make calls on your phone. The quality of the speakerphone is just ok; it sounds like you were using a desktop mic or headset microphone. There is an AUX IN port as well that allows you to use it with non-Bluetooth devices; the Bluetooth automatically shuts off when you plug in to the AUX port. And there is a micro-USB slot for charging as well, which you can do as you use the device; it gives about eight to nine hours of power, and takes about two to three hours to charge. The cable included is a bit short though, and it makes it a bit difficult to charge and use it at the same time.
The line of control buttons and ports are kind of difficult to access when you use it as an iPad stand though, because the side where they are will be flat onto the table. You’ll have to lift it up and over to adjust the volume controls or access the speakerphone button, but that’s one of the limitations of the product; there’s only so much space you can put the controls on.
The packaging is nice, but the documentation is limited, which is one of the shortcomings of the product. There is a graphical little manual included, with sparse multi-language instructions where needed. It does tell you graphically that you need to press down on the Bluetooth button for three seconds for it to connect to your device, but it doesn’t tell you that you need to press down on the power button for about a couple of seconds to turn the device on. Or that the Bluetooth button is also the speakerphone button, or that it blinks blue when it’s charging and lights steadily when charged. Or that the Bluetooth password when pairing is “0000″. (All this information is available on an online manual though.)
Sound-wise, the Zooka is adequate. It reproduces audio at about five times the loudness of the device it’s connected to, and can fill up a small room with sound. The reproduction is so-so though, and it suffers from the usual problems of static and disconnection that Bluetooth devices go through (which is often corrected by a simple off-and-on routine). The audio is a bit noisy and rough from the Zooka, but it’s adequate for Facetime or watching the occasional video. But if you’re an exacting audiophile, it’s best to stay away from this one; it’s a Bluetooth device after all, and it comes with all the niggling little faults that technology has.
Carbon Audio’s Zooka Wireless Speaker Bar is a great, everyday speaker, which doubles as a stand for your iPad or iPhone if you want it to. But if you’re looking for a great audio system for your device, it’s best to look elsewhere.
AVAILABILITY Digital Hub, Digital Walker and Beyond The Box branches
PRICE (US$99 online)
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