Archives For Accessories

Will Apple Crush The PlugBug?

Dave Zatz —  November 1, 2011

Apple accessory maker Twelve South is out today with the PlugBug. As with their other gear, it offers a clever and effective solution to a problem you may not have realized you had. Assuming you’re into all things Apple. In this case, the $35 PlugBug retrofits your existing two-piece Macbook (original, Air, Pro) power adapter to also provide 10w of USB power — sufficient for iPad or iPhone recharging. Nifty, yes? And there’s no reason you couldn’t charge non-Apple USB devices like that corporate Blackberry. While Twelve South holds that most favored position of retail Apple Store product availability, I wonder if their latest initiative will run afoul of Apple… who previously took issue with vendors riffing off their (patented) MagSafe power adapters. Regardless, as a guy with too many gadgets, I think I’m in.

The organization that controls the HDMI spec appears to be cracking down on unlicensed products. And its first significant victim is Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI cables, as the specification only permits HDMI connectors. In fact, Macrumors reports that Monoprice has already pulled their inventory… offering instead an adaptor/dongle.

As a Macbook Air owner intending to turn this 23″ television into an external display, I’m somewhat bummed that I hadn’t previously made a purchase. However, I expect cables to remain available via a variety of online storefronts – including ebay.

Of course, it’s worth reiterating that HDMI licensing and related specifications (including HDCP) are the factors preventing devices like the Slingbox from utilizing the more compact and lossless technology to capture video (along with audio). It’s not a technical limitation, it’s the terms. And why we spotlighted both the Gefen HD PVR and HDFury which had seemingly bypassed those requirements to enable recording over HDMI. Yet, unlike possibly misguided DRM attempts to limit piracy, attempting to remove the relatively harmless but oh-so-practical Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI cable from the marketplace emphasizes an overly restrictive and antiquated industry thought process. C’est la vie.

Here’s a weird one… Should your 3rd generation Amazon Kindle begin spontaneously shutting down, fail to reliably power up, sprinkled with a dash of page sync issues, the culprit is most likely your official Amazon Kindle Leather Cover. Apparently, Amazon has been aware of this issue since at least late last year… and the cover is no longer available for purchase. Yet, for obvious reasons, they haven’t wanted to draw attention to it with any sort of support note or user outreach that I’m aware of.

Unfortunately, Mom found out the hard way while away on travel. I suggested she contact Amazon, upon returning home, to troubleshoot the unidentified weirdness and/or replace the unit. Her rep stated that what she’s been experiencing is not unusual, but wouldn’t elaborate on the cause, other than to finger that official Leather Kindle Cover. He guided her through removing the offending model and provided a $60 credit to purchase the fully functional upgraded cover with light.

Based on what appears to be symptoms of electrical flakiness and what I gather from the commentary, it seems like the cover’s integrated metal clasps could be getting bent or paint may wear off, resulting in some sort of short. However, regardless of cause, the course forward is clear. Remove Amazon’s leather cover… and call in for your free replacement.

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


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 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 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 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.