It's a mixed bag this week, with Zach trying out the SIM rental iPhoneTrip, Jason adding a budget gaming headset to his collection and Darren finding success with a Western Digital WiFi range extender. Turns out, it's thumbs up all around. Click through to see what we liked.
Have you ever crossed a border without swapping out your SIM? It's a rookie mistake or, for the deep-pocketed, a convenient solution. Tracking down a local data plan can be time-consuming and sometimes even impossible, leaving travelers to surf the web using a foreign SIM card, at astronomical rates. Want to load a webpage or tweet a picture? That'll be 50 bucks, please. Sure, roaming is an option, but it's far from the best. There is a way to get the best of both worlds, though.
A new service called iPhoneTrip brings the convenience of roaming with tolerable pricing tiers. Packages start at $8 (100MB of data in a single country) and range all the way up to $17 per day (unlimited data in more than 200 countries), with a few options in between. There are discounts on offer for longer trips as well. Those daily rates net you a standard or micro-SIM that you can use in any unlocked device -- despite the company name, compatibility goes far beyond iPhones. If you opt for the World package, you can hop from country to country without skipping a beat -- your handset will switch to a new network as soon as you cross a border, or you can manually select from any of the available carriers, just as if you were roaming with a SIM from AT&T.
I used a free trial of iPhoneTrip's service during my trip to IFA in Berlin and IBC in Amsterdam. The included SIM was programmed for "unlimited" use (note: a daily limit of 500MB may apply), so I often used it for laptop tethering, and even to share data with other smartphones over WiFi. It worked flawlessly -- I was even able to hop onto AT&T before and after the trip, and an unscheduled stop in Belgium didn't trip up the SIM, even though it wasn't one of the two countries I listed. The service I tried would have run $17 per day -- compared to about $40 monthly for a local SIM with plenty of data in Germany and Holland. For short trips, it's definitely a cost-effective solution, but if you're planning to be in one country for a week or longer, buying a prepaid SIM once you arrive is likely the better bet. Still, considering what you'd spend for regular roaming service, it's a bargain. iPhoneTrip has surely earned a spot as my default global data service -- when I can afford it.
-- Zach Honig
Sometimes, people confuse value with cheapness. Eschewing a trip to a steakhouse to cook up a romantic dinner for your date? Based on my personal experience, that's good value. Bringing your date to Burger King on Valentine's Day? I think most of us can agree that's cheap. This brings me to the Afterglow Universal Wireless Headset by Performance Designed Products. As someone with $200-plus gaming headsets by Astro Gaming and Turtle Beach, the Afterglow's $90 price tag seemed relatively affordable. To be honest, though, I wasn't really expecting much. Then I put it on: this thing sounds way better than its price tag would suggest.
Featuring 50mm drivers and a honking set of earpieces, the Afterglow delivers crisp sound across all ranges with some clean bass. The sound quality extends to video game systems when using the Afterglow as a wireless headset. Despite lacking Dolby support, its Immersive Audio mode still does a decent job of conveying surround sound. It also has Pure Audio and Bass Boost modes to help round out your audio choices. To connect to a console, the Afterglow uses a USB transmitter dongle and a pair of red-and-white RCA cables. Digital purists might be dismayed by the decision to use an analog connection, which PDP says is necessary to lower costs. On the plus side, you can use the headset and mic functions on the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii and even a computer. The wireless range also proved to be farther than my other headsets, though you start getting degradation on your mic's signal if you walk too far away even while your game audio still sounds fine. Battery life is more than 10 hours.
As far as fit goes, the Afterglow uses a strap-based mechanism that's quite snug. Admittedly, it might be too tight for folks with large noggins. Its plastic band is also pretty sturdy and can withstand abuse, but is laughably large. In fact, I think the Afterglow's design might be alienating for some -- and by that I mean it can make you look like an alien from an old B-movie. Folks who don't like its light effects can simply turn them off. There isn't much you can do about its imposing size, though, which limits its use as music headphones when you're out and about. Despite its faults, the Afterglow arguably provides the best bang for your buck among gaming headsets. If you're looking for a sub-$100 headset that works with all major consoles, then the Afterglow is worth a look.
-- Jason Hidalgo
For those holed up in studio apartments, the notion of needing a range extender is a silly one. For Rich Kids of Instagram, however, covering a mansion in internet waves is quite the challenge. In all seriousness, even smaller homes with thick walls -- not to mention complex office buildings -- frequently need a boost when it comes to distributing WiFi. The only router I've found with genuinely impressive range is Netgear's N900; the rest could use a little help when it comes to blanketing two-story adobes.
That's where WD's My Net Wi-Fi Range Extender comes in. The unit itself looks pretty much exactly like a router -- it's got your typical "black box networking equipment" kind of vibe. Thankfully, it's pretty easy to hide, and setup is shockingly simple. I tested the unit in a home with a conventional Westell DSL modem-and-router combo. It's a pretty cheap box with no WPS support to speak of. All I did was plug the Range Extender in some 100 feet away, and the Dashboard process walked me through everything. I connected the extender to the router, punched in its WPA password, and then reconnected to the router's SSID. Once the setup is complete, you'll never know it's there... save for all that extra range you'll enjoy.
In my testing, it added another 150-some-odd feet of range, and that's through two walls and up a flight of stairs. Oddly, WD hasn't published an expected range boost, but I'm guessing that's because each home / office will see varying results based on the layout. Even with only the first set of boost LEDs lit (out of three), I was able to take that relatively weak signal and enjoy the same download rates as I could being right next to the aforesaid Westell router -- despite being two rooms away. For $80 or so, it's a fairly reasonably priced way to boost your signal without forcing devices to latch onto a new access point, and the inbuilt Ethernet port means that you can use it to install an original Slingbox in places you couldn't before. Nifty!
-- Darren Murph