Archives For Accessories

One Plug to Rule Them All

Mari Silbey —  February 14, 2011

One of the best conversations I had at CES this year was with the VP of sales and marketing for a company called Green Plug. Now granted, meeting with Graeme Finlayson was also the first chance I’d had to sit down in many hours, but even so, the GreenPlug story is one I’ve wanted to tell since coming back from Vegas.

GreenPlug was founded in 2006 with the goal of fixing the “broken” power model. You know how there are a bazillion different adapters for a bazillion different gadgets? Well, it would be nice to standardize them all and be assured that when your lovely little laptop power cord breaks, there’s another nearby that can be switched out from a different device. Unfortunately, as anyone in the industry knows, there is huge resistance from manufacturers around standardizing power accessories. According to Finlayson, the technical challenges of creating one power adapter for all major devices is essentially solved, though there would likely need to be different versions for different power needs – like a 15-50 watt version, a 50-150 watt version, etc. Trying to get manufacturers on board is the major nightmare. Apparently the IEEE is attempting to standardize power adapters for laptops, but when we’ll get any concrete solutions from that initiative remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Green Plug has extended its efforts beyond just creating a universal power adapter. In order to make powering devices more efficient, the company is proposing to add a little CPU, and a new communication wire into the cord that goes between your device and the outlet on the wall. The purpose is to create a feedback loop that communicates battery status, enabling functions like rapid charge and power shut-off when a battery is powered to capacity.

This is a fundamental shift in the way we think about power. Instead of dumb power cords, we’re suddenly looking at intelligent power networks. The Green Plug concept also provides another way to connect devices into the smart grid, which has its own set of implications. That new communication wire makes it potentially possible to connect with a larger grid even when a device, for all other intents and purposes, is turned off. Continue Reading…

The Best iPad Stand?

Dave Zatz —  February 12, 2011

ipad-griffin-loop1

I’ve had a loaner iPad on hand the last month or so, and one of my first goals was to track down a case and stand (on my dime). As innovative as Apple’s 10″ tablet may be, it’s been awkward to comfortably hold and transport safely… without at least one accessory of some sort.

As I never found a case I loved and knowing the iPad 2 is coming soon, I chose not to invest in any sort of exterior protection. However, I tracked down a simple and versatile iPad stand in the Griffin Loop ($30). Not only has the weighted plastic base been an effective iPad stand around the home, in portrait and lanscape, upright or reclined, I suspect it’s got a bit more longevity than various alternate solutions… And should accomodate tablets other than the original iPad. So, while my iPad is going back shortly, I’m hanging onto the Loop.

Powermat has ruled the retail consumer market for more than a year now with its wireless charging solutions. However, as evidenced by multiple CES exhibits, other brands are jumping into the fray. That’s a really good thing because Powermat products have always felt just a tad on the pricey side, and a little competition should help drive retail costs down. Meanwhile, Powermat isn’t standing still either. Even as new companies introduce their own inductive chargers, Powermat is slimming down its cases and just announced an agreement with GM to put Powermat surfaces in the Chevy Volt and other future GM cars. Viva innovation.

New Wireless Power Entrants

Enercell
Enercell wireless inductive charging pad CES 2011

Enercell, which sells products exclusively in RadioShack stores, is scheduled to introduce its first two induction-based charging pads in April. At launch the company will have cases/skins for the iPhone 4 and iPod Touch, however it’s also committed to introducing Blackberry solutions in the near future. (No immediate word on Android handsets) Charging pads will run you $49 a pop, with skins in the range of $29-$39. That’s bargain basement compared to Powermat.

Dexim
Dexim Frixbee wireless inductive charger CES 2011

The makers of the Visible Charger I posted on earlier during CES also have an induction charging solution planned for spring. The first retail SKUs will be a “super slim” charging pad, and a case for the iPhone 4. Bundled together, the two products will run $80. Again, no immediate word on when an Android case might appear, or, in this case, a Blackberry phone option, though both are presumed likely possibilities.

Energizer
Energizer wireless inductive charger CES 2011

Energizer: The well-known battery brand actually launched its all-purpose wireless charging pads back in September, but CES was the first place I’d seen them on display. The company’s three-position charger pad runs $89.99 at Amazon, and cases for the iPhone and Blackberry Curve retail for $34.99. Interestingly, Energizer has had a wireless charging system for Wiimotes available for more than a year. It’s apparently now broadening its horizons to include a non-gaming audience.

The CES Unveiled event last night was a mob scene with only a few truly worthwhile displays. That said, a round-up of photos never hurt anyone. Check out some of the buzzed-about (and not-so-buzzed-about) products below. Captions free of charge.

Dexim wasn’t only showing off its Visible Charger, it also had a really cool iPad case with magnetically attached Bluetooth keyboard called the iBluek . I was excited for the keyboard set-up alone, but Engadget also ferreted out that this was made for an iPad 2 device. Due out in March.

Joby introduced two new iPad stands/cases: the Yogi, based on the popular Gorillapod, and the Ori, which is foldable in a gazillion ways.

Quick look at Lenovo’s prototype tablet running Windows 7. (Not the U1) Though as Brad Linder points out, what are the odds this thing will actually ship?

Poor D-Link. Iomega is stealing all its Boxee Box thunder. Here’s the original box looking a little lonely at the D-Link table.

Test Driving MyFord Touch

Mari Silbey —  December 6, 2010

Let me preface this post by saying I’ve never been big into cars. Give me something that’s reliable, preferably with a stick shift, and I’m good to go. However, the advent of GPS, mobile broadband, and digital radio systems have had an effect. I may never care a great deal about horsepower, but I am now paying closer attention to add-on car tech features.

Last month, I indulged in a demo “ride” with the MyFord Touch system at a New York Pepcom event. The system was introduced at CES last January, but Ford only started shipping product with the 2011 models of the Ford Edge, and the Ford Lincoln MKX. The demo is stunning. Three beautiful displays grace the dashboard, two on each side of the speedometer in front of the steering wheel, and one larger one in between the driver and passenger seats. There are four main functions supported: entertainment, navigation, phone, and climate. The functions are color-coded for easy identification, and accessible via the touch screens or by voice command.

In case you’re wondering, yes, the screens look like they could be quite distracting while driving, but as Consumer Reports pointed out, the ability to control functions just by talking to your car could mitigate the problem. In the test I saw, a voice command to find nearby shoe stores did bring up a good list of options, though the response time was a little slow. I have to admit I’m also not convinced that voice control solves everything given how temptingly attractive the screens are, but since most people are already playing with smartphones and GPS units, I supposed this isn’t any different.

The big plus in my mind with the MyFord Touch is the ability to plug in a USB mobile broadband stick and create a traveling Wi-Fi hotspot. If you’re already paying for mobile broadband, why not give the wireless benefit to everyone in the car? Not to mention all your own connected devices? Sure, you could buy your own mobile hotspot device, but MyFord Touch bundles it in, and it’s a great option for anyone who spends a lot of time in the car with Wi-Fi-hungry family, friends, or colleagues.

I’m not buying a new car any time soon, but when I do get around to it again, I hope there are more connected cars available. The number of gadgets piling up in my front seat – music player, GPS, smartphone – is starting to get a little unwieldy.

I’m heading overseas for a short getaway, giving thanks to airline deregulation and inexpensive Skype calling from abroad. When traveling Internationally, and/or for vacation, I prefer to go laptopless. However, I found a decent-enough Incase tote ($60) to house my new MacBook Air and replace my colorful-yet-ratty old bag with no-longer-functional zipper. So it’s coming along on this trip to protect my Kindle and a variety of paper magazines, courtesy of a small amount of soon-to-expire frequent flier miles.

Also, I made the very difficult decision to return the new Canon S95 (~$370). I totally waffled on this purchase, feeling both guilt and regret. The Canon’s still picture capabilities are unmatched in a cam this small. But after shooting the quickie Hulu Veebeam video, I had to let it go. I was aware that you couldn’t zoom in/out while filming. However, the S95 will not adjust focus at all as you shoot. Meaning that initial focal length remains even as you attempt to capture objects or people at different distances.

So I raced to the Sony store Sunday night (thank you, holiday hours) and picked up the WX5 (~$270). It doesn’t have the ability to natively handle complex or low lighting situations like the Canon, but through trial, error, and trickery decent shots can be obtained. This Apple TV one is a good example. The Sony also has the benefit of being slimmer than the Canon, with a 5x zoom lens, and ability to shoot (with continual focus) 1080p video. And, unlike previous Sony gear, this camera accepts SD cards (!) in addition to the more limited Memory Stick. Hopefully the S95 will see a firmware update and I’ll return to the fold, as it’s truly a special piece of hardware. But I’m unwilling to travel with both a still and video camera. Continue Reading…

Like so many products we cover these days, the new Veebeam ($100 – $130) attempts to facilitate the piping of web video and local media to our televisions. However, unlike Intel’s Wireless Display (WiDi) technology, Veebeam is mostly agnostic – in terms of both hardware and operating system.

The Veebeam solution consists of two components: a small USB stick that wirelessly transmits AV from a computer to a larger receiver/set-top that you connect (preferably over HDMI) to your television. The model I looked at handles digital audio and 1080p content. However, you’ll want to review hardware specs carefully… two Core 2 Duo laptops I tested on provided slightly different experiences. A 2.0Ghz model with 3GB of memory produced some dropped frames/stuttering when running Hulu.com Flash content fullscreen, while a 2.4Ghz model with 4GB of memory ran pretty darn smooth all things considered – as you can see in my video above. (The computers also house different graphics cards, but I don’t have that info handy at the moment.)

Setup and operation is mostly a straight forward affair… Load up the Windows or OS X software and the Veebeam service runs. Pop-in the USB stick that automagically links to the Veebeam receiver. Once everything’s up and running, inserting the USB stick triggers laptop audio and video to be intercepted and passed along to the Veebeam receiver in what’s referred to as screencasting mode. Audio is also kindly muted on the host machine. Additionally, Veebeam can natively pipe select video files (think rips or home movies) straight to the television without any chrome in the video play-to mode – leaving your laptop free for additional tasks. The Veebeam receiver houses the USB antenna when not in use, and inserting it puts Veebeam into standby.

Like WiDi and similar solutions of this nature, Veebeam is partially hobbled in not providing a remote control. Then again, their assumption is that your computer is the remote. And, given the capabilities of their wireless technology (WUSB), they expect us to keep a laptop in the same room. During screencasting I couldn’t simply force the video to stretch or match the television’s resolution, resulting in black bars – perhaps a minor annoyance and something that I imagine could be better handled through a software update. Also, be aware, the OS X streaming software isn’t quite as reliable as Veebeam’s Windows variants at the moment. So if you run a purely Mac household, I might suggest holding off on a purchase for the time being.

Click to enlarge: