Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: Philips CushionSpeaker

A must-have product, if money is no object for convenience.

SmileSurprisingly loud; Extremely comfortable; Excellent heat insulation; Hassle-free cable management; Packs in a USB audio device; Very convenient
Sad smileExpensive; Lacks rake; Heavy; Loses tonal balance at maximum volume

Philips CushionSpeaker
Price: Rs 3999

Entertainment for kids in the early 90s meant pooling lunch money to rent tapes of Peter Jackson classics such as Braindead and Bad Taste. Back then, movies meant huddling in front of the bulky CRT TV set during summer vacations. In this age of Youtube, the TV and VCR have been miniaturised into laptops that can fit in a backpack. It's possible to use a notebook PC on the lap, sofa, or the bed, but the weak inbuilt speakers render dialogues incomprehensible. Laptop speakers are of no use either; unless, of course, you're Prince Goro and have an extra pair of spare hands to hold them. Despite all the technological advancement, watching movies still constrains one to the desk. That is, until Philips decided it had enough and made the CushionSpeaker.
It's A Cusion, It's A Speaker, It's  A Philips!
The CushionSpeaker is just what the name says - a cushion and a speaker. It is a comfortably plaint foam cushion with a hard, flat top that's large enough to accommodate laptops of any size. A horizontal grille runs across the front lip, which houses a pair of speakers of unspecified power output. The speakers hook up to your notebook PC through a USB cable emerging from a hole at the back of the cushion. These speakers are meant for laptop users wishing to experience movies and music away from the desk, without the hassles of unwieldy external speakers and cumbersome headphones.The whole shebang sounds simple enough, but the devil is in the details. The speakers are driven by neodymium magnets, which make them surprisingly loud. The hard top is sticky enough to arrest laptop rubber feet remarkably well. I could lean back and angle my HP Pavilion DM1Z to about 30 degrees without it sliding onto my belly. Ditto for an older, heavier 15.6" Dell notebook. Even if your laptop's rubber feet are ruined or otherwise slippery, Philips includes chunky replacement feet that can be stuck onto its base.
Pillow Talk
The CushionSpeaker has an inbuilt USB audio device, which delivers plug-and-play convenience and total independence from your laptop's audio hardware. It connects through a 0.5 m cable housed in a nifty self-winding mechanism. The hassle-free cable management system also allows the retractable spool to lock the cable in place after every few inches. This way, the spring tension doesn't yank it off the port. Fortunately, the cable is long enough to reach all USB ports with ease.

The hard top surface may not have a fan to cool the laptop, but it ensures optimum movement of air underneath the laptop. That's much better than having the vents blocked by clothing or bed sheets. I recommend installing the bundled rubber feet, as they deliver better ground clearance and hence improved airflow. The foam cushion is thick and strikes a perfect balance between softness and support. The CushionSpeaker is fashioned out of a heat resistant material, which is evident with the total heat insulation it delivers. If one were to nitpick, I would say that its half kg heft and a lack of inclination are its only flaws design-wise.Small Size, Big Sound
It's obvious that these speakers will not beat your desktop speakers - they aren't meant to either. They're designed to be louder and better than the inbuilt laptop speakers, striking a middle ground between performance and convenience. The loudness of the CushionSpeaker took me by complete surprise. Movies that were nigh-inaudible with the inbuilt speakers at full blast, would convey the slightest whisper with great aural authority on this device. This is despite the volume being cranked up to just 50%. While it would be foolish to expect a full dynamic range, the Philips surprised me with its performance. To be honest, I would personally prefer these speakers over using ear \ headphones for the two-hour runtime of a film.
Musically, the CushionSpeaker shows admirable tonal balance till the 80% mark, after which it gets a tad too bright for comfort. Apart from the tonal imbalance, I didn't notice much distortion at maximum volume, which the manual warned me of. Bass response isn't exactly tight, but it's good enough to convey the infrasonic frequencies without any clipping, distortion, or cabinet resonance. Yes, you inevitably do lose out on the minute details that make headphones or dedicated stereo speakers good, but it's still decent enough for casual listening. Both the loudness and musicality of this device exhibits a competence beyond its size and nature. Quality-wise, the CushionSpeaker lies between proper desktop speakers and inbuilt \ entry-level laptop speakers.A Specialised Beast
The only major flaw of this device is its price. At an MRP of Rs 3999, this is prohibitively expensive. Once can argue that that the same price will fetch an excellent pair of headphones or speakers, so why bother? That's mostly because it would be akin to saying that an Armani suit is a better choice than a wetsuit. This would be true if you were to attend a party, but not if you plan to go scuba diving. The CushionSpeaker similarly serves a much specialised purpose - to deliver a louder, fuller sound while maintaining the portability of the laptop, and it does the same with great competence. If you want to enjoy movies and music on your lap, couch, or the bed, go for it by all means.
Performance: 4/5
Design And Build Quality: 4/5
Features: 3.5/5
Value: 2/5
Mojo: 4/5
Overall Rating: 3.5/5


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