By: Aaron Lai
April 17, 2015
In technology, there are distinct levels of needs for different devices. For example, when you start building a computer, there are components that are required for your build, such as a processor, a motherboard, some sort of storage drive, RAM, a power supply, and something to hold it all together. The quality of these items can vary, but these components are required to start your computer. Next are the gray area items, like graphics cards and third-party CPU coolers. While most computers can run without needing to purchase these additional hardware, they make your experience better and/or prolong the life of your computer. At the end, there are the nice to haves, like gaming peripherals, monitor arms, mouse pads, or fan controllers. You could provide a situation where all these parts are actually needed, but for the bare necessities, you can do without them. These parts are not like the processor or RAM, which you need regardless of the system you build. Thus, the real problem is in the final group of products. While the other levels are important components, the third group is targeted at a niche market. These non-essentials will only be purchased if manufacturers can curate a need for them, and if they can perform well. If not, people will not buy the product, or go elsewhere for their wants. Today's product is a nice-to-have in the Inateck BR1001. With this small device, you can add Bluetooth capabilities to any wired device. I can definitely see the market for a device, as it adds wireless streaming to all types of devices, whether it is headphones or speakers. So the real question is in its performance. Is this something everyone should have in their back pocket? These questions, and more, will be answered in today's review.
Today's review unit of the Inateck BR1001 arrived from Amazon's warehouse in Mississauga, Ontario. Traveling on the ground with Canada Post, this package moved more than 2700km or 1600 miles to get to our APH Networks location here in Calgary, Alberta. The package arrived in a bright yellow/orange padded envelope. This envelope has been employed many times from Amazon in their past shipments. It is generally good at holding small items that require very little protection. Thankfully, there were no unintended holes either way, and Canada Post delivered the product in pristine condition.
Directly inside the envelope is the retail packaging of the BR1001. Thankfully, this is not a blister package, and it is easily opened by separating the front and the back shells. The design of the container is quite plain, with a few small words printed on the front. It says "Bluetooth Audio Receiver" as a description of the product itself. One thing I do not really like about the BR1001 is the name of their product. It is not a memorable or catchy name, and is probably a model number. If Samsung released their next phone as the Samsung SM-G920, rather than under their "Galaxy S" moniker, it probably would not sell very well. I know this product is not marketed the same way, but I think Inateck could at least give it a better name, such as the Inateck Square, or the Inateck Mini BAR. Either way, this is just my opinion. On the back there are a few features and specifications, as well as contact information.
As the box is tiny and lacks the space for features or specifications, I pulled some off the website for the more curious readers:
- Bluetooth protocol: Bluetooth 3.0 + EDR
- Dimensions: 40 x 40 x 12mm / 1.57 x 1.57 x 0.45in
- Battery capacity: 120mAh (Built-in battery)
- Supported Bluetooth modes: A2DP, AVRCP, HFP
Out of the box you will get three things. Once is a white square, which is the BR1001 receiver itself. The second is an extremely short micro USB to USB 2.0 cable, used for charging the device. A short cable is generally undesired for any device, as it forces unit to not rest on anything while charging, and therefore cause strain on the plug. However, as the BR1001 is very light, this is not of concern. The third item is a 3.5mm male-to-male audio cable, which measures a meter in length. Otherwise, this is a standard rubber cable, with gold-plating on both ends.
As for the unit itself, the entire design is rather plain. However, this is not really a bad thing either. I showed this device to Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Kwan, and he said it reminded him of a miniature first generation Mac Mini. I can see the resemblance, with the white glossy square middle, and a silver band around the edges. All the white parts are a glossy plastic, which looks nice, and does not show too many fingerprints. The real stain magnet is the center button, which is glossy and reflective. Despite it being small, you will quickly see your digits leave stains behind every time the button is pressed. Oddly enough, the website shows this center button in a matte gray finish, and I would much prefer that over the current shiny centerpiece. Overall, the design is average and feels kind of cheap. All the buttons wobble about, and I wish there was just a bit more care put into the manufacturing process. But for $14, I do not have high expectations.
The multifunction button, as its name implies, has multiple functions. It is used for Play/Pause, Power, and to begin pairing the device. It is also used to answer and decline calls on your phone. There is an LED light placed under the button, and it blinks various patterns to show different statuses of the device, such as pairing states and battery alerts. Beside the button on the left there is a small hole where the microphone for the device is located. As for dimensions, the Inateck BR1001 measures in at 40 x 40 x 12 mm, with a weight of around fifteen grams. This device can easily fit in your pocket without any issues.
Moving to the sides, there are two places of interest. The first is the top edge, which holds the volume rocker. Volume Up and Down are marked by plus and minus keys. However, these keys can also be used as Next and Previous by holding these buttons down for around six seconds, respectively. Thankfully, this implementation works quite well (Other than six seconds often feels like an eternity, especially if you want to skip multiple tracks), but it does mean you should not hold the volume buttons to gradually change the volume, unless you want the music to be softer while you are skipping the song. This is not really a big deal, but I should note it anyways. On the other edge there are two ports. First is the audio jack, which plugs in a standard 3.5mm end. This is where you can plug anything in, whether it be speakers, stereo systems, or headphones. Using the included 3.5mm cable, you can also plugged into your auxiliary jack in your car for Bluetooth streaming. The second is a micro USB port, which is used for charging the device. The back is a flat glossy backing, with a rubbery circular center to add some grip to the device.
Internally, the battery is measured at a manufacturer specified 120mAh, and is said to last five and a half hours. This is somewhat disappointing, as Inateck should have thrown in a larger battery for longer playback time. Even though it will raise the cost of the device, and make it a little larger, I would much rather compromise both for extended battery life. Time to fully replenish the charge is said to be around one hour. The Inateck BR1001 uses Bluetooth v3.0, and offers modes of A2DP, AVRCP, and HFP. In short, these profiles mean the BR1001 can stream music, control your device remotely, and be used for calls. The specified range given by Inateck states the BR1001 should work within ten meters of the transmitting device, and for the most part the device lives up to its claim. As this is Bluetooth, it should work with any modern operating system, including Android, iOS, and Windows.
To get started, pairing the device is the same as any other Bluetooth. For the BR1001, power on the device, then keep hold the center button down until the LED flashes red and blue. This indicates pairing mode. Then using your device you will be able to search and find the BR1001 to pair the two together. One problem with this process is users can often unintentionally go into pairing mode after powering on the device. I would much rather see a separate button or switch for power, as they had done so for the Inateck BTSP-10 Plus. This allows users to complete these two actions distinctly. However, the core problem is the multifunction button, and this is revealed with daily usage. Because it does so much, users are left having to remember the combinations of clicks or holds corresponding to their wanted action. It would be much better if they reduced the functionality of the device, or added a few more buttons to separate these functions. This problem is compounded with the lack of visual cues. I ended up using this purely for music so this problem was not as crucial, but it can be quite confusing.
As for music usage, another issue appears. First, any sort of Bluetooth audio streaming will undoubtedly require some sort of digital compression. Compared to a wired connection, the quality is reduced, but the difference is not generally noticeable. Newer versions of Bluetooth have made improvements, so it is much better than it used to be. Our recent Bluetooth speakers and headsets have not displayed too much of a sacrifice in quality, which is why we do not always mention the reduction in performance. However, with the Inateck BR1001, the loss is noticeable, especially when compared with other Bluetooth products. When I tested the Inateck BR1001 I used multiple devices and headsets, in various environments. While it is always capable of receiving music, the compression is clearly audible. The characteristics of the music and headset stay the same, but overall quality is degraded. All frequency ranges are affected, and it reduces the natural sound I would expect from the music. A poor digital to analog converter is probably also a factor. In addition to all this, a faint hiss can be heard in the headset throughout audio streaming. Using things like ear buds or headphones will amplify these problems since the audio output is plugged directly into your ears. With stereo systems or external speakers, the problem is not as apparent. Besides the quality issues, I can say it does work functionally. Within ten meters, I can move around with my connected phone without hearing any drops or skips. Despite its convoluted one-button system, it still is able to perform the tasks it promises.
Going back to my introduction, I really should have asked "To what extent are you willing to sacrifice quality for convenience?" The Inateck BR1001 puts me in a tricky spot. On the positive side, it is a small little device with the ability to add wireless, namely Bluetooth, capabilities to any audio output. Whether it is a pair of speakers, your headphones, or even your car with auxiliary in, the Inateck BR1001 connects and works well. The size means it is portable and can be moved with your other devices without adding too much bulk. In addition, it functionally works without any skips or drops in wireless connection. However, the problems appear in the details. Audio quality is noticeably fuzzier than wired options, and even apparent compared to other Bluetooth audio devices. Even disregarding the audio quality, which is the whole point of the product, the overall user experience and build quality needs to be fixed. Adding extra battery capacity would also be a welcome addition. In answering the question posed in the introduction, I can say the BR1001 hits all the points, but not very well. Looking at its retail store on Amazon.com, the Inateck BR1001 retails for less than a single Jackson, at around $14. While the quality is not the best, you have to admire the fact it functions for such a low price. Otherwise, unless you are on a tight budget or you just want something that can stream music regardless of the quality, I would look around at other options out there for a Bluetooth receiver. However, do not count Inateck out for good. They has proven before they can do Bluetooth in products like their BTSP-10 Plus speakers. They are a young company, and I am excited to see the improvements of their coming Bluetooth receivers, as well as their other products.
Inateck provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
APH Review Focus Summary:
5/10 means An average product with no real advantages; drawbacks and advantages just seems to cancel each other out.
4/10 means With disadvantages that slightly outweigh its advantages, you should not get this product unless there are no product alternatives that does its job.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 4.8/10
Please note that the APH Numeric Rating system is based off our proprietary guidelines in the Review Focus, and should not be compared to other sites.
At $14, the Inateck BR1001 proves you will get what you pay for. You should not expect a world of wonders, but at least it works, and it is cheap.
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