Whether you're in the back seat of a car trying to watch a YouTube video, or on your bed streaming the radio, it's safe to say we could all use some help pumping up our audio at one time or another. You know, something quick that's short of actually docking your handset into a speaker.
That's where the Eco-amp comes in. Designed and manufactured in Los Angeles by Eco-made, the Eco-amp, using the company's O.G. 2.0 pattern, is a small audio amplifier for the iPhone 4/4S and costs about $10 for a pack of two. While it's not meant to be the most technologically advanced mobile speaker available, it'll definitely attract attention with its interesting design.
Admittedly, the Eco-amp's minimalist but quirky design is what drew my attention. According to Eco-made, it's entirely made from "post-consumer recycled fibers." For the most part though, it's paper.
The Eco-amp ships completely flat, and it looks like a mushroom with a long stem. A graphic pattern covers both sides, with tabs and small instructional text labeled in corresponding places.
When fully assembled, the Eco-amp will end up looking like a cardboard phonograph (or should I say, iPhonograph, har har!) for your handset. There is a hole for your left bottom speaker, and the amplifier goes over your right speaker. A larger circular hole is left on top so you can still access your iPhone's home button.
The Eco-amp comes with prefolds, so you won't have to create the initial creases. Though there are small instructions on the Eco-amp itself (like "fold over to align the squares," "tab A," and "fold up to align arrows"), putting it together using just these instructions wasn't very intuitive.
As a personal experiment, I tried putting it together based solely on the arrows and folds of the Eco-amp and ended up assembling it inside out. The instructions on the package were much more helpful, and in general, it takes about a minute to put together.
You essentially have to fold in the segmented triangles into one another to form the cone. Then you fold the rectangular bottom half that's used to later insert your handset. No adhesive or glues are used, just a lot of folding and threading tabs through slits. For those using iPhone cases, don't worry. The width of the Eco-amp is adjustable and should accommodate most cases.
I can't tell you how many times my friends and I have found ourselves trying to build a makeshift speaker for our phones. From rolled-up newspapers to empty shoe boxes (we saw the trick once in physics class with a tuning fork, but have yet to duplicate results) -- you name it, we've tried it. I'm happy to say that the Eco-amp works (and looks) better than these home remedies.
However, it's not by much. While audio from music, moves, and calls indeed sound louder, the difference was very slight. And for some songs, particularly ones that had a lot of high hats and cymbals, audio sounded even flatter or tinnier.
The Eco-amp did help out with the audio radius of the speaker, however; audio was carried in a wider span around the iPhone, though not necessarily farther or deeper.
Another concern I had was how flimsy the Eco-amp was. Of course, from something made out of paper I shouldn't expect much, but due to its cone shape, one literal misstep or accidental sit-down would basically render it useless. When I used it outdoors and took the iPhone out for a minute, the Eco-amp flew away almost immediately. And worse, when I dissembled the amplifier and reassembled it, the tabs and creases didn't fit as snugly as it did when I initially put it together.
I understand that I shouldn't criticize paper products like this too harshly for lack of endurance. And to the amp's credit, its pleasing aesthetic depends on this unconventional cardboard build. But given how much you tote around your phone everywhere, it's not too much to expect that your mobile accessories should hold their own.
The Eco-amp is definitely a nifty and quick item to have around when you find yourself wanting to turn up your handset's volume slightly. But despite the novel design, I can't overlook its disappointing performance coupled with its fragile build. I get that the Eco-amp wasn't designed to be a replacement for a speaker dock by any means. For one thing it's wireless, and made out of paper, and can be demolished by a leaf blower. But at $5 a pop, it's best to save the money and tell your friends to just scoot in closer to your iPhone.