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Author Archive for meredyth

Driinn Cell Phone Charging Ledge Review

Have you ever heard of the phrase “Purse on the floor, always be poor”?

Probably not… I propose a new version of this old adage: “Phone on the floor, always be poor”

I can say from personal experience that nearly every time I have left my phone on the floor I have become slightly less wealthly. Why? Because I’ve stepped on it.

When I am at home this usually isn’t an issue. I have multiple tables dedicated for the sole purpose of charging my gadgets. However, when I travel, hotels do not call me in advance to inquire about my preferences on where to place furniture in relation to the wall sockets. I usually have to resort to charging my iPhone on the floor.

Enter the Driinn Mobile Phone Holder. Read More →

Brando’s Nintendo Wii Accessory Roundup Review

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I love gadgets. I love my Wii. Since the release of the Nintendo Wii in November 2006, there has been several gadgets developed to make the whole Wii experience even better. When I found out that Brando stocked many of these accessories, I begged Julie to ask Brando for the opportunity to try some of them out. Read More →

ShowerPets Starfish Water and Temperature Monitor Review

showerpets-starfish-fp

Like several gadgets that I have reviewed, I am often attracted to products originally designed for children. Many children’s gadgets are brightly colored and are simply designed which makes them visually appealing. The ShowerPets Starfish Water and Temperature monitor naturally fits into these categories, Plus…

Read More →

Otterbox iPod Swim Kit

iPods are a great way to lessen the monotony of exercise. Their compact size makes them easy to carry with you nearly anywhere. However, electronics and water tend not go together which makes using an iPod while swimming problematic. After my recent arm surgeries I have have been swimming regularly as rehabilitation. It’s a good workout, but quite boring. Since one of my new year’s resolutions is not to electrocute myself, I was very interested in trying out the Otterbox iPod Swim Kit.

First Impressions

The kit includes a set of H20 waterproof headphones, an Otterbox 5th generation iPod case, and removable armband.

I have one minor problem with all of the Otterbox cases I’ve owned: The packaging is extremely difficult for me to open. More often than not, I end up cutting myself in the process of opening clamshell casing. Luckily, my friends and coworkers have seen me struggle with this, or else I might be targeted as a suicide risk! The packing on this Otterbox case is made of the same, tricky to disassemble plastic. Thank goodness the packaging for the earphones and armband were much easier to remove.

As usual the construction quality of Otterbox is exceptional. The seals are tight, the hinged clasp is easy to open and close. I love that Otterbox clasps always make such a satisfying “snap” when they are properly closed. The shatterproof plastic chassis has significant improvements to previous models, such as a sleeker design and click wheel access.

I was especially excited see the H2O Audio headphones firsthand. Designed to fit around the back of the head, the white neck-wrap is made of a lightweight plastic with silicone earplugs that also serve as earbuds.

The armband, created to replace the built-in belt clip, is made of neoprene lined with silicone bumps to keep it secure on the biceps while swimming. It is secured with velcro to make it adjustable within a variety of biceps sizes.

Testing

I tested out the kit in a variety of wet environments: swimming in a pool, soaking in a bathtub, and walking in the rain.

Swimming is wonderful exercise for the body, but I find my “Type A” brain gets bored rather quickly. This is where the Otterbox set impressed me. The case fits the iPod snugly, allowing complete clickwheel access.

The included H20 earphones sit well on my head and fit snugly in my ears. I do not use earplugs while swimming, but I found that very little water leaked into my ears while in use, so this may also be a suitable alternative for those who have ears sensitive to chlorine.

I especially like Otterbox’s armband attachment. I am usually not a fan of armbands designed for full-size ipods as they tend to loosen during exercise and wiggle down my arm. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the adjustable band stays secure even during vigorous swimming. The neoprene dries quickly and be rung out and stowed in a gym locker. I also tested the armband in a swimsuit drier and it appeared to be quite durable. However, since the drier I used for testing is labeled “swimsuits only” I was asked to discontinue this by the locker room attendant at my gym. I decided it was best not to test the durability of my membership contract at the same time as the durability of the armband.

During my bathtub testing, I used only the case and the headphones, allowing the ipod to dangle directly into the water. Usage in the tub offered similar results to swimming in a pool. I was however, surprised to discover that the case does not float in the water like some of my other Otterbox products.


Water tinted pink for visibility

I live in a city where there are far more rainy days than sunny ones, so testing the waterproof kit while walking in the rain is a natural environment for me. Usually when I listening to my iPod and it starts to rain, I tuck my iPod into a pocket or bag and leave the headphones to be exposed to the rain. Although I had no doubts of the safely of my equipment while using the Otterbox case and H2O headphones, I found the kit to be too cumbersome for day-to-day outdoor use.

Overall, this is a great set of products to allow you bring your iPod in the pool, but the bulkiness of the case makes it impractical for outdoor rainy-day use.

Vaja iVolution Lady Holster for the Apple iPhone

Working in the technology industry, I get a fair amount of products in the mail. Over time, I have become less enthusiastic about package deliveries. I love opening boxes and trying new things, but I no longer obsessively check tracking numbers multiple times a day or intercept the delivery man as he is walking up to my sidewalk. However, there are still a few products that I await the arrival of with bated breath: in this instance, a Vaja leather case for my iPhone.

vaja iphone lady holster

I’ve always coveted Vaja cases. They are made with the finest leather, with an array of customization choices such as dozens of colors as well as text or graphic engraving. The newest iVolution series for the Apple iPhone epitomizes all that embodies the Vaja style.

Imagine my delight, when Julie offered me the opportunity to test out the women’s version of the iVolution iPhone holster case, after she had reviewed the unisex version of the holster.

First impressions

vaja iphone lady holster

My Vaja iVolution Lady Holster arrived nicely boxed in white cardboard. The presentation is both striking and practical.

vaja iphone lady holster

I opened the top flap of the box. Inside, I was treated to the luxurious scent of leather. Perfectly dyed in a marvelous hue of green usually reserved for crayon drawings of dinosaurs was my dainty leather case. Nestled next to it in the cardboard enclosure was the included wrist strap.

As previously mentioned, there are a plethora of options available to customize your case. The model I selected was the Lady Holster in “Vibrant Green” personalized with my name, lest I forget it.

vaja iphone lady holster

Testing and use

Although the case is made of soft leather, the construction is rather rigid and keeps its shape without an iPhone to support it. The iPhone slides in with little effort and stays firmly in place while in use. The texture of the Caterina leather is finished to give just the right amount of friction to be able to grip and hold with ease.

vaja iphone lady holster

vaja iphone lady holster

The back of the case is adorned with a subtle Vaja Logo and a loop to attach a wrist strap. If you decide to personalize the case with a name or logo, this is also where the laser embossing is placed.

vaja iphone lady holster

The wrist strap is easy to thread though the loop in the back. At the top of the loop is a matching enamel version of the Vaja logo.

vaja iphone lady holster

The Lady Holster is a minimal coverage case. None of the screen is covered and approximately 1/3 of the top is cut away to allow full access to all of the ports, switches and camera.

vaja iphone lady holster

vaja iphone lady holster

As you can see from from the following pictures, this leaves the iPhone vulnerable to impact on the top two corners. This type of damage is usually not a danger for me, except that I am unaccustomed to carrying my phone on a wrist strap and therefore let it swing wildly about and accidentally dented my phone during testing.

vaja iphone lady holster

I blame my own clumsiness and lack of experience more than the physical design of the case as so many people can and do use wrist straps every day without being accused of carrying a bludgeoning weapon. I need to get more practice before venturing out in public again.

Overall, I very much like the design of this case. In fact, it is the best case I have found to-date. The amount of coverage is the ideal design for me to maximize protection and usability. The minimal bulk suits my finical au courant taste in cell phone cases.

Cyber Snipa Dog Tags with USB Flash Drive

I’m such a loser. All my friends and family agree with me: I have a terrible habit of losing USB thumb drives. Not only have I left them in the most unlikely of places, but I have also laundered them, stepped on them, and even left them out in the rain. A few of the drives I’ve owed over the years have included a neck lanyard, but I’ve never used them because they look so ugly.

Cyber Snipa, a company known for their PC modification and gaming accessories, has taken a fashionable stab at solving this common dilemma by integrating a USB thumb drive and a mini-toolkit into military-chic dog tags.

Initial impressions

The Cyber Snipa Dog Tags are attractively packaged in a cardboard box with a plastic film cutaway that allows you to view the actual product. The uniform shape as size of the box appears to be easy to gift wrap.

The box contains the two aforementioned tags along with several lengths of beaded chain. As I have never had the honor of serving in the military, the proper assembly of the tags on the chain confused me for a few moments.

Both tags are made of etched metal, surrounded by a semi-soft “bumper” of rounded plastic around the edges.

The first tag’s sole function is a USB drive. The dongle portion slides away from the protective case with little resistance, but not so easily that it could be accidentally removed. I was given the 512 MB capacity version for testing, but all of the offered versions are identical to mine in size and design.

Engraved on the back of this tag is a serial number that can be registered with Cyber Snipa to expedite the recovery process in the event of its loss.

The second tag contains a set of mini-tools: a flat-head screwdriver with file, a Philips head screwdriver with bottle-opener and mysterious divet, a tiny set of pliers with groves along the inside that are excellent for stripping wire, and a led light bright enough to cause spots when I accidentally shined it near my eye. Each one of the tools are similar in quality to those in a multifunction knife: not my preferred tools, but quite serviceable

Although none of these tools in the second tag are especially dangerous (or even sharp) I imagine that the TSA would not not allow then to be carried on a plane. Luckily the design of the beaded chain allows for easy removal of either tag.

Product Testing

I have been wearing these tags intermittently for the past few months and I must say that I’ve found them rather useful. The length of the chain and weight of the tags make them comfortable to wear all-day.

During testing, I have experimented with adding my Secure-ID tag to the chain as well. The extra tag adds a bit to the awkwardness factor, but not prohibitively so, if you need to carry a similar tag at work or play.

While the capacity of the USB is not enormous, it is large enough for me to carry important day-to-day files with me wherever I go. To date, I have not lost (or even left behind) the USB dongle.

Although the tools are useful, I have found them to be most helpful in situations where I would never think to bring a set of tools, but somehow found myself in need of them, such as my last road trip where I needed a small flashlight to read directions. Overall a handy little set.

Cost: MSRP $39.00-149.00 US, depending on size of thumb drive.

Q3 Innovations ThermoHAWK 200 Infrared Thermometer

In my mind I have two classifications of gadgets: ones that are tools and ones that are toys. Most of my favorite gadgets are both.

In preparation for a upcoming review, I needed to buy an infrared thermometer. I debated buying one of these “touchless” thermometers a few years ago, but eschewed the idea because the few available for consumers were expensive, bulky and rather ugly. Professional models, like the Fluke 63, were less unsightly but even more expensive and cumbrous.

I am pleasantly surprised to discover that the market for such devices has changed: not only has the size of most thermometers shrunk considerably, but so have the prices! However, many of the products are still visually uninviting.

Subsequently, when I saw that Q3 Innovations made a simple, inexpensive thermometer that is small enough to keep in a pocket, I decided to give it a try.

Initial impressions

The ThermoHAWK 200 has minimal packaging and is easy to open. The package contains the thermometer, 2 L1154 watch batteries, and a user manual.

The ThermoHAWK’s design is austere: Tube shaped and aluminum in color, it is sleek and unadorned.

Made from a lightweight metal, the thermometer itself weighs ~ 1.5 ounces and is roughly 5 inches long by roughly half an inch in diameter.

Temperature readings and remaining battery life are displayed on the 11/16 inch monochromatic LCD. Next to the display is the ‘trigger’ for taking a reading.

The model I own, the ThermoHAWK 200, has a measurement range of -27°F to 230°F which is more than sufficient for my needs. If you require a wider measurement range, Q3 makes several other models of the ThermoHAWK that have this capability.

Readings can be displayed in either the Fahrenheit or Celsius scales. It does not convert readings into degrees Kelvin, but I think it is safe to assume that if you know what the Kevin absolute temperature scale is and need to record temperatures in Kelvin, you already are more than capable of doing the conversion yourself.

On the opposite side radially is a recessed button to toggle between the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales. It can be activated with a paperclip or similar object.

Product Testing

The ThermoHAWK 200 is extremely easy to use. To take a temperature reading, first slide the sensor cap off the end of the thermometer. Next, position the sensor an inch away from the object for every inch you want to measure. For example, if you want to measure the average temperature of a 5 inch diameter surface, position the sensor roughly 5 inches above the object. This is called a 1:1 “Distance-to-Spot” ratio.

When you are finished, simply replace the sensor cap. The thermometer will automatically deactivate.

Functionality testing of the ThermoHAWK 200 was rather informal but fun. My methodology consisted primarily of wandering about my home while measuring the temperatures of a variety of household things. Here’s are some of my highly unscientific results.

Object Temperture °F
Turtle Tank 1 80°F
Turtle Tank 2 78°F
Ice Cube in Freezer 7°F
Can of Red Bull in Fridge 53.5°F
Flatbread Pizza (~2 minutes after removal from oven) 132°F
Hot Wax (melted for candle making) 163°F
Water in Bathtub 125°F

My research background requires me to state this caveat: aside from the adhesive thermometers attached to sides my turtle tanks, I don’t have another thermometer to verify that these readings are accurate. However, since the tank readings correspond with my existing, sticker-based system, and all of the other measurements appear to be plausible, I’m willing to assume a reasonable amount of accuracy. Q3 claims that the ThermoHAWK is accurate +/- 1° for temperatures within 10-100°F and +/-2.5° for temperatures within 100-230°F. I’d like to reserve the right, pending tools, to properly evaluate the ThermoHAWK’s accuracy in the future.

The design of the ThermoHAWK 200 is such that it can also be used as a keychain or clipped on a beltloop.

Most infrared sensors are delicate, but the cap gives more than adequate protection from the type of dangers that lurk in one’s pockets.


I initially found the rounded metal cap a bit tricky to remove and replace, but it became less so with use. The feel and weight is solid without being too heavy.

Overall, I’m quite satisfied with the ThermoHAWK 200. It’s a great mixture of design and functionality that isn’t so expensive that I have to call Julie for a loan. It is a great toy and a tool that I plan on using frequently in future product reviews.

Sylvania’s Dot-it mini LED Light

I am a huge fan of white LEDs. Light Emitting Diodes are bright, compact, and require little power, which makes them perfect for small spaces. While reorganizing my utility closet last winter, I became frustrated that it did not have any built-in source of light. Briefly contemplating the idea of rewiring of my house, I decided to look for a battery powered light source made to stick to a wall or ceiling.

While browsing through Amazon’s listings of LED lights, I noticed Sylvania’s Dot-it light. The design was so sleek and different from the other lights on the market that I immediately got out my credit card and put it in my shopping basket.

Initial impressions

The Sylvania Dot-it is a small battery powered LED light that can placed virtually anywhere that needs illumination. Using a 3M 300LSE reusable adhesive, the light can stick to a variety of non-conventional surfaces such as fabric, leather or glass as well as plaster and wood. This type of adhesive is also suitable for a wide variety of temperatures.

Measuring a little over 2.5 inches in diameter and .8 inches in height, the Dot-it contains a cluster of 3 LEDs. Each LED is rated at 10,000-12,000 mcd (mcd, or millicandela, is a common measurement of luminous intensity in LEDs) with a viewing angle of 15 degrees.

The Dot-it is simply packaged in cardboard-backed plastic. This is one of my favorite types of packaging because it’s easy to open and leaves behind minimal waste.

Although the Dot-it is available in a variety of fanciful colors, I selected the boring, yet safe, natural aluminum color so that it matches my home decor.

Product Testing

I’ve been testing the Sylvania Dot-it light for about 3 months, specifically on the inside wall of my utility closet. Since I don’t frequently use this space, I thought a multi-month testing period was important to fully test the features and durability of this light.


The Dot-it light has a good feel to it. The outside casing appears to made of metal and has a smooth finish. All the seams fit well and do not creak.

The back is made of a grey plastic and is held together by three philips head screws. This is also where the 3M adhesive is located.

The included two AAA batteries are already in place behind the Dot-it’s back panel, so there’s no need to use a screwdriver until the batteries need to be replaced. Since LED lights draw such a small amount of power, I expect that it will be a long time until they require a fresh set.

Similar to the DaysAgo timers I previously reviewed, there is pull-out tab that “activates” the included AAA batteries so that no power is wasted while in transit.

The acrylic dome that houses the LEDs is also a toggle switch for the light. To turn the light on, simply tap the center dome. The motion on the dome is very smooth and clicks quietly when activated. The dome is made of a plastic that is not scratch-proof, but resists the type of small scratches that can occur from light use.

The 3M 300LSE adhesive sticks very well to my wall. It is removable and re-stickable, which is important since the Dot-it must be detached to replace the batteries. In the past three months I have noticed no drifting or change in it’s position on my wall. If you need to replace the adhesive, there are several 3rd party websites that sell 3M 300LSE to consumers.

The one thing I was severely disappointed with about this product is its solitary function: furnishing light. Three LEDs do not provide nearly enough light for my intended purpose, a 4×3 utility closet. My Dot-it only illuminates the space with the brightness of a night-light. This is helpful for getting a general idea of the closet’s contents, but not enough light to be useful.

To distract myself from discomfiture, I sat down for a little math. I understand that arithmetic makes for less than riveting reading, so feel free to skip to the last sentence of the next paragraph– you won’t be missing much.

Using the luminous intensity numbers provided to me by Sylvania, I decided to calculate the brightness of my light in layman’s terms. Each LED is rated at 10-12 thousand mcd. Taking the average, 11,000 mcd, I multiplied it by the three LEDs in the light which totals about 33,000 mcd. Sounds like a lot, but raw numbers are meaningless without relative comparison. The average candle is 1,000 mcd and the average 100 Watt incandescent light bulb provides 120,000 mcd. So, a rough estimate of the amount of light given off my the Dot-it is similar to 33 candles or a 25 Watt bulb which is consistent with my observations.

Although I like the concept and design of the Dot-it LED Light, the light is far too dim for my original purpose. However, the versatile adhesive makes it useful in applications with textured surfaces that require little light, like illuminating the inside of a toolbox or suitcase. I believe that the Dot-it could be significantly improved by adding more or brighter LEDs to the light dome.

Speck Products TechStyle-Puck 2nd Generation iPod Shuffle Case

Since when does the package need to resemble what is inside? I for one wouldn’t like fish-shaped sushi or a cow-shaped hamburger. So why do electronics cases have to be the same shape as the gadgets they protect? So when I saw that Speck made a toroid-shaped case for the Gen 2 iPod Shuffle, I thought it might be fun to give it a try.

Initial impressions

As I mentioned before, this product differs from the majority of iPod cases in that the case is not contoured to resemble the object inside. Instead, the TechStyle Puck is a black circular zip-up case that resembles an oversized yo-yo or a jelly donut.

Designed to protect the 2nd Gen iPod Shuffle and a pair of earphones with a ridged EVA plastic core, the outside of the TechStyle is covered with a durable woven nylon with a cheery asterisk adorning the center. A carabiner-style clasp is also provided so that the case can be secured on your person.

Inside the case, mounted on scratch-resistant fabric, is a clamp that holds the Shuffle in place. This clamp serves double-duty in that it also provides a place to wrap a set of earbuds around, winding them like an extension cord or garden hose.

Product Testing

As usual with Speck’s products, the packaging is easy to open and remove the case from within.
Just pop open the top flap, and slide the clear plastic “cradle” out. The TechStyle was not tethered to the cradle, so no scissors were required to cut the case free.

My first impression of the case is that it seemed awfully big for such a small device. Measuring 3.25 inches in diameter, the case is not especially large, but bigger than I imagined. I hoped it was something I could easily stow in a pants pocket.

Visually, I like the tight weave of the TechStyle’s external fabric: it has a nice feel to it, it is durable without being too utilitarian and doesn’t snag or show dust.The round shape disguises the contents inside, which I like as well.

The carabiner is easy to attach and detach from a belt loop. To test this feature more in depth, I enlisted the help of my father who frequently takes long walks with his dogs while listening to his Shuffle.

After several walks using the case latched to his belt, the case stayed attached to the clip without any signs of strain. However, he was personally not comfortable with the dangling free from his belt and felt it might catch something as he walked around. He thought the case would be ideal for him if it had an alternate way to strap it tightly to his belt so it would not swing around. In this case, Dad has never used a carabiner-style clip before: If you have used carabiner clips before and like using them, this is likely not a drawback.

The zip enclosure on the case has a squishy fob which makes it easy to grip.

However, the first time I unzipped the case, it was very difficult to open. The zipper is rather tight but it loosened slightly with use. I have heard of several home remedies for a stiff zipper such of olive oil or soap, but I’m not quite ready to test them on something that closely holds my electronics.

The Shuffle clasp is a structural part of the case, not merely attached to the fabric, and therefore holds the iPod tightly in place. When the Shuffle is properly secured, there is an audible “snap” so that you know that you have inserted it correctly.

The sides of the TechStyle’s clasp can be used to store a set of earbud style earphones. The large size of the case is especially helpful for accommodating a variety of ear pieces.

However, when using the TechStyle I discovered one slight design problem. Some headphones, such as my Elecoms, have larger mini-jack adapters which make it a tight squeeze. There are only a few millimeters of clearance from the edge of the adapter to the hinge. I consider this to be only a minor flaw because most earbuds, such as the ones included with the shuffle, do not have this problem.

Overall, I like the TechStyle Puck. Although it’s size prohibits it from it being easily put in a pants pocket, it can be tucked into a deep pocket or tethered to a belt-loop or bag. If you go through magnetic security devices often, digging earbuds out of pockets repeatedly is a nuisance. This case nicely bundles the Shuffle and earbuds into a compact package that can be put through a metal detector easily.

The crush-resistant design is perfect for “pack-it and forget-it” people (like me) who need both protection and cord management. It’s a different way to protect and carry your shuffle on-the-go.

DaysAgo Digital Day Counter

“Don’t worry honey, I just fed the dog for today”
“Um.. I already fed the dog two hours ago!”

This type of conversation is a common one in my household. From feeding the dog to cleaning out the fridge, it can be complicated to keep track of it all. When I saw the DaysAgo timer, I knew that I had try one as soon as possible, so that we could stave off potential canine obesity in my household.

Initial impressions

The DaysAgo timer is so simple it’s brilliant. Originally designed to track the number of days since opening a jar of baby food, this product quickly was utilized for a variety of applications. Measuring just 4 centimeters in diameter, the face of the timer is divided into two parts, display and a single button. The display is easy to read and depicts the number of days it has been since it was last set.

In each package there are two small timers.There are two types of timers available: magnetic and suction.

Both work by the same interface mechanism and come in four colors. They are also water resistant, but should not be submerged in water.

Product Testing

The packaging of the DaysAgo timer is simple and easy to open. The clear molded plastic stapled to a cardboard back creates minimal waste to throw away.

To activate the timer for the first time, simply pull the clear plastic tab on the side. This creates a circuit between the battery and the timer. This is a great idea so that batteries are not wasted prior to your first use.

To set the timer press the the semi-circle shaped button on the bottom of the timer for 5 seconds. The display will bank out and then read “0”. The DaysAgo will keep track of up to 99 days in between resets. If you want to know how many hours (in addition to days) it has been since the last reset, press the button for one second.

Attaching the magnetic timer is completely self-evident you just stick it to any surface that usually attracts a magnet. I have have found a that applying a small drop of water to the center of the suction-cup version of the timer gives it a much more secure hold. This is really helpful for surfaces that are handled frequently such as medicine bottles or tupperware.

Although I haven’t had the need to replace the battery in the 3 months that I have been using the DaysAgo timers (each battery lasts about 18 months) the size G8 watch-type battery is fairly common and appears to be easy to replace.

This is one product that I can say that I want to purchase in bulk. They are visually appealing, easy to set and reset. The more I used the timers, the more uses I found around my house. I have used them for leftovers, feeding my dog and turtles, taking vitamins, and timing cleanings of the turtle tank. It’s useful for pretty much anything you ask yourself “How many days ago did I?”

Kaftan iPod Cases

Even though the iPod is the most popular MP3 player, each person’s iPod is unique on the inside. The iPod’s clean exterior design makes it another perfect canvas for customization.

Recently, there has been a trend towards technology accessories that are made with more exotic fabrics and designs. When I saw Northshore International’s Kaftan line of iPod and Nano cases, woven using classic Turkish motifs, I decided to get a closer look.

Initial impressions

Northshore International named this line “Kaftan” after the precious garment worn by Sultans and other dignitaries during the Ottoman Empire. From the moment I opened the package, I was impressed with the detail and quality of the cases.

Detailed in one of seven traditional patterns, the Kaftan’s outside fabric is custom woven in Turkey using a richly colored senetic (a washable cotton/nylon blend).

For my review, I tested two cases: The NR1 Nano case, which is adorned with a delicate floral embroidery pattern reminiscent of an illuminated manuscript. In contrast, the V030 iPod case is a classical “oriental rug” pattern that is whimsical, yet still professional.

The interior of both cases are lined with a semi-ridged black leather with cutouts for the screen and click wheel. On the V030 case, the Kaftan’s sides are made of black elastic so that it can accommodate a variety of widths. The NR1 has leather-trimmed sides as Nanos do not have much width variance.

The cutouts on the full-sized case are shaped so that the case can be used with the click wheels for either 4th and 5th generation iPods.

Both cases also have a loops on the outside for a removable leather wrist strap.

Product Testing

One of the first things I noticed is each size case is designed differently to the individual aspects of each iPod. The full-size V030 case latches at the top with an opening for headphones, the NR1 case snaps together on the bottom, the location of the headphone jack.

The first time I put my 5g iPod into the case, I noticed a small amount of resistance, but the leather quickly loosened into a firm, but not tight fit around my iPod.

The Kaftan is not only beautiful it also provides moderate protection for the iPod, a bonus for someone as clumsy as myself. While carrying the Kaftan about by the wrist strap, I bumped into a few things. Each time, my iPod sustained no damage.

I’ve never owned a flip style iPod case for any length of time and this a great introduction. I love the designs available and the construction of the product is solid. Marco Polo would be glad to know there is still a market for eastern imports.

Price: $12.95 for the Nano case, $15.95 for the iPod case

Elgato EyeTV Hybrid TV Tuner Dongle

I’m a big fan of USB gadgets. From the whimsical to the practical, I find them all fascinating. When I saw that Elgato condensed one of their EyeTV tuners into a USB dongle, I began to daydream of watching live network TV while sitting in a coffee shop or in a laundromat. “Never again will I miss an important football game!” I thought to myself while handing over my credit card.

Features

Universal Binary support
Exports recorded content to iPod
Toast 7 compatibility
Supports several regions of television formats including ATSC & NTSC

First Impressions:

Elgato makes several versions of the product, depending on which area of the world you live in. Since I live in the US, I am using the North American version which supports ATSC and NTSC standards. The European/Australian version supports PAL, SECAM, DTT and DVB-T.

The Elgato EyeTV Hybrid is packed in a compact cardboard box containing an installation disc, USB dongle with extender and a variety of auxiliary break-out cables such as audio splitters, S-video, and composite.

The USB dongle is solid, compact and sturdy. No “creaking” here. One end of the EyeTV Hybrid connects via USB to your computer, the opposite end has a coaxial connector and a port for the break-out cables.


Usage:

Before using the EyeTV Hybrid hardware, you need to install and configure Elgato’s EyeTV 2 software from the included disc. When I first launched the included EyeTV software the configuration wizard guided me through the setup process.


Configuration for your local channels is a fairly straightforward process, but you do need to create a Titian TV account to be able to view the channel listings.

There are two ways that you can view programming on the EyeTV Hybrid: via cable connection (NTSC/Digital) or through the air (ATSC).

The ATSC reception without an antenna is rather poor. The software only recognized two channels, and neither of them was visible.


If you have problems with reception, Elgato’s site recommends visiting http://www.antennaweb.org for regional reception information and help selecting an antenna. Since I primarily use a laptop, buying a bulky external antenna negates the benefit of buying a small dongle. All the pictures on the box depicts laptops wirelessly viewing content while connected to the EyeTV, so I expected some ATSC reception without assistance. With all the extra cables included in the box, why didn’t they include a small snap-on antenna?

Disappointed in the ATSC functions of the EyeTV Hybrid, I decided to test it with my home cable connection. The software immediately found the analog channels, to search for the digital channels I had to click the auto-tune button.

The quality is rather good, and can be viewed in a variety of sizes, including full-screen. The manual record function is intuitive and even supports iPod formats.

Your recorded content can also be edited later using the EyeTV2 software or sent out to Toast to archive for later viewing.

I was unable to properly test the automatic record function, as each time I attempted to connect to TitanTV’s program guide to select a program to record, the server returned an error.

After a few not-so-quick calls, it appears that the problem is not with Elgato or TitanTV, but with my cable provider who is currently upgrading service in my area, which will be completed in late January 2007. No automatic recording of the Rose Bowl for me.

Overall, the Elgato EyeTV Hybrid is a neat device with a good interface. However, if you wish to use it wirelessly, the mobility factor is significantly hampered. Portability aside, it would be excellent for someone with a desktop computer and limited space.

Abbi New York Jade Laptop / Messenger Bag

Canvas, Cordura, Leather, Silk?

No, there is nothing wrong with your RSS feed, you are reading a review on silk gear bag. Yes, it is indeed possible to have a practical bag made of silk.

Initial impressions

I relish coming home to see a package sitting at my door, and the day that my Abbi New York Jade bag arrived was especially exciting for me. I love Chinese silk brocade, and testing out a gear bag made from this elegant material piqued my interest.

Swaddled in a protective dust bag, the Jade is a rare hybrid of luxury and practicality. Medium in size, the dimensions of the bag are 15.5″x12.7″x3.9″. This will accommodate most 15″ laptops, including my 15″ MacBook Pro.

The exterior of this messenger style bag is made of a pale green silk brocade, accented by a bright pink satin interior.

On the exterior of the bag there is one large pocket that runs along the length of the rear. This pocket is shallow in depth, which makes it perfect for a magazine or a small folder of papers.

The bottom of the bag is protected from snags and stains by four metal feet.


Between the external and internal fabric layers is a thin cushion of Duraflex padding, which is dense yet light. There is similar padding on the matching arm strap.

The interior fabric is snag-resistant and not too slippery. The interior has several loops for pens and 3 pockets, one large catch-all pocket, one medium pocket suitable for an iPod or PDA, and one flat zippered pocket with a loop to prevent the metal zipper from scratching anything in the main compartment.

Product Testing

Since I’m a bit clumsy and it is winter here in Pittsburgh, I decided that I should Scotch Guard the outside of the bag before carrying it on a regular basis. This kind of fabric treatment is an inexpensive way to protect all kinds of clothing and accessories. The brocade was colorfast and did not run or discolor after application. I did not apply the treatment on the inside of the bag, since I never carry liquids inside my bags.

I carried the Jade every day during my month of testing and it is very light and comfortable. The matching arm strap is adjustable and removable and has slip-resistant padding which distributes weight across the whole shoulder.

The construction of the Jade is exceptional for its price range. Even after carrying several very heavy (>50 pounds) loads, the seams showed no sign of distress.

The design of the internal pockets makes it very easy to locate items, like a ringing cell phone, one-handed while carrying the bag. The silk brocade was remarkably durable– no signs of snags or tears.

There are two design issues that I noticed while testing.

First, the Jade does not have a dedicated laptop compartment. I like to separate my computer from the papers and other things in the main compartment, so I used my Tucano sleeve on my MBP as well. This added bulk, but helped me organize and protect everything in the main compartment better.

Second, the front flap is secured by velcro. This caught on all sorts of things. A simple magnetic snap would be better.

Overall, I liked the Jade and carried it everyday, even when I didn’t bring my laptop. I received many complements on it wherever I went. The simple design makes it versatile enough to use every day.

Otterbox 1920 Case for the Treo 650 and 700

Some cellphone cases are designed to be stylish, some cases are designed with function in mind. Some companies eschew size for durability and design cases to conform with military specifications for protection against impact, dust, and water. Otterbox is one of those companies.

My Un-met Case Need

Although my everyday life is hardly considered a battlefield, I do like the outdoors. I also like my Treo 650. Hiking, fragile electronics, and me do not have a good track record together. My 650 needs military-grade defense from my meredyth-grade clumsiness. When I saw that Otterbox released a case specifically designed to protect the Treo under harsh conditions, I decided to give it a try.

First Impressions

Constructed from black ABS plastic and grey rubber grips, the Otterbox 1920 Treo Case is a crush resistant, drop resistant case made for the Treo 650 and 700 models.


The screen is protected by two layers: a ridged external panel to protect the LCD from physical harm which flips up for access to the internal soft “membrane” that safeguards the screen against liquid damage while allowing interaction with a stylus. The stylus is stored externally by a clip along the right side.

Just like a tank is not the most efficient way to transport 4 people, the 1920 is not the smallest case on the market. It is substantial in size as well as in protective features. From antenna to microphone, this case wards your smartphone from drops and weather.

To give you a size reference for the case, here is my ex-football-player-turned-geek husband dramatically modeling the Otterbox 1920.


My first thought after opening the package that contained my Otterbox 1920 was “Can I actually carry this around?” After a quick bit of research on the Otterbox site, I discovered that there is a belt clip kit available, which I decided to also review with the case.

The belt clip accessory kit is sold separately ($19.95) and includes the tools necessary to install the clip on the rear shell.

Installation and Usage

I’ve been using the 1920 for the past few weeks in a variety of situations. To assemble the case, insert your Treo into the top half of the shell so that the camera lens on the back of the phone lines up with the clear portal in the back of the case.

Then, starting at the bottom, slide on the rear panel.

To seal the case, hook the latch into place.

The belt clip kit has clear instructions that make installation easy. There are a few parts on the rear portion of the case that are swapped out to accommodate the clip. Once installed, the clip withstands over 130 pounds of force and the release mechanism is difficult to inadvertently engage.

Palm Functionality

Despite its size, the 1920 feels good in the hand. External buttons on the case make the keypad accessible, it took me a bit of time to get acclimated to using the keypad as some of the keys are not marked.

The side selection keys are also usable through the case.

One major drawback is that the ringer mute switch is covered by the acrylic top and the case must be removed to access.

The outside of the case has a place to hold a stylus. I used an old spare stylus while testing, in the event that the clip did not hold. During my weeks of testing, the stylus held firmly in place, yet easy to remove when I needed it.

The internal screen membrane is thicker than most screen protectors and requires slightly more stylus pressure. This extra thickness is to protect the screen from water and dust, so I think that it’s a good trade-off. However, if you use a fingernail as a selection tool on the screen it is very difficult through the membrane. The screen is slightly less bright through the membrane, but not significantly more than other screen protectors that I’ve used in the past.

Phone Functionality

Again, even though the 1920 case is bulky, the rubber grips made it comfortable to hold up to my ear while using the phone.

However, the protective shielding within the Otterbox 1920 does dampen the sound on the microphone and speakers quite a bit. I’ve found three workarounds to this drawback: First, bluetooth headsets work very well while using the 1920 case. I have not observed any signal problems while testing with a variety of headsets.

Second, there is a Palm utility called VolumeCare. I downloaded a trial version of this while testing, and this utility does the trick of making the volume loud enough to overcome the dampening effect of the case. As a side note, I like this utility solution so much, I may purchase a license when my trial period runs out.

Lastly, the bottom of the case has a moveable rubber flap so that a wired hands-free headset can be used. This flap also allowed for syncing and charging through the case. Any of these solutions solved the problem sufficiently for me.

Life Functionality

One of the things I liked the most about this case is the security I felt while using it. While clipped onto my pocket, I accidentally ran into numerous doors, tripped down stairs and got caught in the rain. The entire time my phone was secure and dry. During my adventure with a flight of stairs, I lost a shoe but my 1920 stayed clipped to my pocket! I likely will not use this case everyday, but it’s going with me whenever I go hiking, to amusement parks, or the beach.

Speck Products SeeThru Macbook Pro Case

12/26/06: Update at bottom of review in Red

Hard plastic cases have become very popular accessories for MP3 players, cell phones and other types of handheld electronics. They provide protection as well as personalization for the gadgets that we love and abuse daily.

Recently, I bought my mother a clover green Lexan case to protect her new Razr phone. A few days later she called me to tell me that not only she has gotten many compliments on her unusually colored case, it also protected her phone when it was (inevitably) dropped.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could envelope everything in plastic? Okay, maybe not, but how about bigger electronics like laptops? For those of us, myself included, who have driven ourselves crazy trying to prevent scratches on our beloved notebooks such protection would be a welcome respite. When I read that Speck Products released such a case for the 15″ Macbook Pro, I was excited to test it out.

Features

Made of rigid polycarbonate to resist scratches
4 rubber feet for air circulation and traction
Available in 2 colors: clear and red

First Impressions:
The See-Thru comes in 2 colors. I initially tested the clear version, but switched to the red tinted case because the clear version was so transparent that it was difficult to photograph.


The See-Thru is wrapped in minimal packaging. The 2 piece case is filled with a supportive foam core and shrink-wrapped. This visually appealing package not only evokes the user’s imagination on it’s use, but it is also easy to remove (I have a long term deep hatred for clamshell casing) and leaves behind a negligible about of waste.

On the bottom of the foam filling is a set of instructions on how to attach each piece to your laptop.

Both parts of the See-Thru are very easy to install. However, when attaching the bottom portion it is important to make sure that the rear hooks are firmly in place.

Once assembled, the See-Thru covers most of the external surfaces of the MBP. The exterior finish on the polycarbonate case is glossy, yet fingerprint resistant.

Three sides of the See-Thru have cut-outs for access to ports and indicator lights.

Additionally, there are special ventilation slits placed along the bottom to help prevent overheating.

Usage:
As soon as I assembled the See-Thru, I opened my MBP lid and noticed that the range of motion on the hinge was slightly limited due to the top and bottom pieces of the case rubbing together. Concerned that the installation was not as self-evident as it seemed, I took the top case off and consulted the instructions. Yes, the top case was indeed on correctly. A small angle reduction is not a huge drawback.

Unfortunately, while using the See-Thru, more problems with the case became apparent.

Several of cut-outs were slightly out of alignment, including the security slot (which I use frequently) and the sleep light.


The See-Thru also creaked when picked up or moved. I decided to remove the case and consulted the very simple instructions yet again, and it was on correctly. I consulted other people and they too read the directions and attached the case to my laptop in the same fashion, and there were still problems with the See-Thru’s alignment and fit. After such rigorous testing I believe my See-Thru suffers from product design-errors, not user-error.

On a positive note, each time I removed the case to reassemble it, I had a bit of difficulty removing the bottom case since it was so securely latched to the MBP. During all this removing and reassembling of the See-Thru, I became worried that I may have scratched my laptop; as it turned out, case removal did not scratch the finish.

Overall, I was disappointed with the execution of the See-Thru. Speck’s new case is an innovative concept that doesn’t quite have all the details worked out yet. Here’s hoping the next version will be an improvement. Maybe next time?


Update:

Shortly after the publication of this article, I spoke with Andrea Lim at Speck Products and discovered that the case I used for review was defective. She immediately send me a replacement (which is also modified to be compatible with the newer Core 2 Duo Macbook Pros) and and I’m delighted to say that the fit is excellent: There a good range of motion using the hinge, perfect fit with the cut outs for the ports, and no creaking whatsoever.

I love happy endings!

Also, in the comments from this review, there were concerns about heat while using this case. I mentioned that I did not notice any significant heat changes while using the See-Thru case. Using a handy software utility called SMC Fan Control, I tested the internal temperature of my MBP after 1 hour of use and 3 hours of use with and without the Speck case. The case did not raise the internal temperature with one hour of use; at three hours the temperature difference was less than four degrees.

Kensington Pocket Presenter Wireless Laser

I’ve recently had to give several presentations using MS PowerPoint and Keynote. Although nothing replaces preparation and knowledge in a successful presentation, a good gadget can go a long way to give your lecture professional polish.

Product Details & Features

The Kensington Pocket Presentation Wireless Laser is a handheld device that allows the user to control slides from up to 50 feet away. Additionally, there is a built-in laser pointer in the front so that user can point out specific details on a slide.

Initial impressions

The remote comes packaged in clear plastic clamshell casing. The package
includes the remote, USB receiver, 2 batteries, and an instruction booklet. I especially like that the batteries (CR2032) are included. The last thing I want to do before a speech is hunt down obscure batteries.

Unlike many other presentation remotes on the market, the Kensington remote is curvy and fits well in the hand. The remote itself is about 10 cm (~ 4 inches) and weighs about 40 grams (1.4 ounces).

The bottom of the remote is coated in a black, slightly spongy, material that gives just the right amount of friction in my nervous, sweat-coated hands.

The USB receiver is about 8 cm ( 3″) and the the size and shape of a USB key-drive and has 2 LED indicator lights.

When finished, the receiver neatly stows away in the bottom of the remote for storage.

Product Testing

Sounds great in theory, but how does it perform in the battlefield… I mean boardroom? I tested the remote on both the Mac and a PC platforms using several presentation applications including Powerpoint, Keynote and ImPress.

My criteria for testing the presenter focused on complications during set up, ease of use when distracted or flustered, and range of signal.

Quick set up is a must in some of my presentations. The Kensington remote requires no installation drivers; Simply insert the detachable USB dongle into a USB port just like any other key-sized device.

However, I have noticed with some applications, the USB receiver needs to be inserted before launching the application, a minor drawback.

Despite its size, this Kensington remote feels secure and comfortable in the hand. There are 3 buttons for presentation control (forward, backward & stop) and one button for a laser pointer. The circular layout of the buttons is slightly sloped and is a natural resting place for the thumb.

This parabolic design is excellent for use one-handed, without looking at the buttons. When pressed, the buttons give just the right amount of resistance, which prevents accidentally advancing slides while fidgeting during a talk.

The range of the remote exceeded 50 feet in all of my tests, except when used with an older, bulky PC tower which was stowed under a metal-covered podium. In this situation I was only able to get approximately 10 feet of range.

Additionally, the remote is designed to prevent the laser pointer from being engaged accidentally (and consequently) running down the batteries. If the USB dongle is stowed in the remote, the laser will not function. This is especially helpful if you store the remote in a snug pocket where the buttons may be squeezed.

Overall, this product is a great tool. The Pocket Presenter’s simple controls and easy setup makes it the perfect partner for all my lectures and presentations.

Knomo Cholet Laptop Bag

When I recently replaced my Powerbook for a Macbook Pro, I realized that the laptop compartment of several of my gearbags was too short in length to accommodate my new machine. I’ve been looking at Knomo’s line of bags for several months and my new upgrade was to perfect excuse to give the Cholet a try.

Features

Fits most 15″ laptops, including the Macbook Pro
Removable laptop compartment
Bundle bag for electronic cables
Tracker system for lost bags

First Impressions

When I saw the box from Knomo seated on my doorstop, I scooped it up and immediately went in search of a box cutter. The moment I opened the box, I was treated to the wonderful aroma of leather. Inside the unadorned white box, swaddled in tissue, was the Cholet.

The model I was sent is a bright cherry red, the color of lollipops and Ferraris.

My first impression (aside from “Wow, that’s a red bag!”) was amazement due to Knomo’s attention to detail. The construction of the bag is reminiscent of Bespoke tailoring: perfect color matching across fabrics and materials, precise stitching, and luxurious finishing details.

Product Details & Features

The outside of the Cholet is covered in soft rich leather that is smooth textured and top stitched. The sides of the bag are made of a durable, snag-resistant fabric. The bottom of the bag, also leather, is protected by four dainty metal feet. Even the zipper was made with attention to detail: sturdy tiny perfect teeth, two sleek aluminum decorative pulls, and it moves smoothly when operated.

Additionally, there are two hidden external pockets good for stowing small flat items, such as parking lot tickets, building access cards, or IDs.

The inside of the Cholet is lined in putty colored nylon with red leather accents. There are two nylon panels each on opposite sides of the bag to prevent internal contents from spilling out when open.

On one side of the interior is a zippered pocket that runs long the length of the bag. This side also has a key holder with a snap.


The other side has a variety of pockets and penholders.

There are two removable accessories included with the Cholet: a 15″ laptop compartment and a case for electronic cables. The laptop [case?], which can be stowed inside the middle middle of the bag, is quilted with extra protective padding and has leather handles that are very easy to grip both inside and outside of the bag.

The matching cable case is large enough to accommodate most AC adapters and is designed to contain extra lengths of cord while in use.

Usage

I’ve been carrying the Cholet daily for the past few weeks in a variety of different situations.

The first thing I’ve noticed is that this bag is deceptively roomy. The zipper opens the bag quite wide so that I can easily stow all my gear. However, many of the built-in pockets are oddly sized and don’t fit any of my gadgets, so I’ve been packing them loose in one of the main compartments. I’ve been daily packing my 15″ MacBook Pro, Treo 650, iPod, Canon SD550 camera, wallet, 3 sets of keys, Victorinox Cybertool, small makeup bag, 5-6 file folders, and an AC adapter. Even when fully packed there is still plenty of room to stow a thin sweater!

Most laptop bags with shoulder straps are designed to rest on the hip. The Cholet is designed to be carried like a purse with the majority of the weight resting between the armpit and the hip. This change in weight distribution made it a bit awkward to carry at first, but after a few days I found it to be not only light and comfortable, but also easier to maintain ‘good body posture’ than any of my existing gear bags. There is, however, one major drawback to the minimalist exterior design – while carrying the bag it is difficult to reach inside and find my phone when it rings.

The laptop pouch is easy to pack and remove: The leather reinforced handles are sturdy and feel secure my hands, the quilted padding is thick without being too bulky. I love this accessory design and wish they sold additional ones individually as I’d buy extras for my other bags.

I was less impressed by the adapter pouch. Designed to enclose the adapter while in use and to hold excess cable, there are two zippers at either end that do not connect in the middle. I found it time-consuming to pack my bulky 85W MBP adapter inside and, later, to unwrap the ends or use. Additionally, the case acts as an insulator so my power brick became warmer than usual. Even if the pouch was easier to pack, I do not think I would be comfortable using my adapter for any length without good air circulation. Although this pouch is interesting and creative concept, I wish that the adapter pouch was a standard one-zipper design made to merely hold adapters.

Inside the bag, there is a unique serial number that can be registered with Knomo.

If (gasp!) the bag is lost, the finder can call the number (UK) on the inside tag and arrange for a happy reunion of the bag and owner. Being the untrusting American that I am, I was unwilling to lose my bag to test this feature out.

Overall, I think that Knomo’s Cholet bag is an exceptionally well made, well designed bag that I’m planning to use as one of my regular gear bags, especially when I want to be more elegant and feminine.

Retail Price: 154.99 British Pounds (~$245.00 US excluding VAT)

Madsonline Lucille Apple Powerbook/iBook AC Adapter

Power adapters. These bulky bricks are a necessary evil for electronics, even more so for gadget lovers. My gear bag is daily weighed down by several power adapters and when I travel my bag contains at least 5-6 adapters.

Many devices are now able to be charged via USB or Firewire, but on a laptop ports can be a premium. Additionally, many laptops do not charge external devices while in sleep mode.

My Un-met Adapter Need:

I have been looking to get another adapter to keep in my gear bag so that I do not have to constantly disconnect my existing one from my desk setup. Since space in my bag is at a premium, I wanted an adapter that was compact and could charge some of my other gadgets at the same time. After several years of looking I discovered Madsonline’s “Lucille” power adapter.

Features:
Charges G4 Powerbooks and white iBooks
Charges most USB and Firewire Device
Works with a variety of voltages (90-240V) for international use
12V DC firewire, 5V DC USB

First Impressions:

The Lucille is a relatively compact 65 Watt AC adapter which beaks down into two parts for easy storage. It has a good sturdy feel to it, without being too heavy. Additionally, this adapter operates within voltage input ranges of 90-240 Vac, which makes it useful for international travel with a plug adapter.

The power plug attaches to the laptop at a right angle, which ostensibly makes it less prone to cord injury. The 20 gauge wire is rugged appears to be able to withstand daily use.

The USB and Firewire ports are adequately spaced apart to be able to accommodate most devices. The voltage output for the Firewire and USB ports are 12Vdc and 5 Vdc respectively.

Usage:

For a few weeks, I’ve been using this adapter for day-to-day charging, and it worked beautifully. However, I wanted to put the Lucille to a more rigorous test: multi-day travel. So I packed the Lucille up and brought it with me on a weekend trip to Philadelphia and used it as my sole device for charging my 12″ Powerbook, iPod and Treo.

While on my trip, I drained the batteries on all of my gadgets by the end of my first day. This seemed the ideal time to test the charging capabilities of the Lucille, so I plugged the Powerbook in and connected a USB cable from my Treo and a Firewire plug from my iPod to the adaptor.

The time to charge the 12″ Powerbook appeared to be identical to my original 65 watt power adapter. Also, the times to fully charge my Treo and iPod were similar to if they were charged from my laptop’s actual ports. However, when charging multiple devices, the Lucille does get a bit warm to the touch, but not more so than other device power adapters I have owned.

Overall, this is a great product that not only charges my laptop, but other devices as well. There is one major and one minor drawback with this product for me. The lack of mag-safe adapters for the Macbook/Macbook Pro is a major issue since I usually carry my 15″ MBP with me. According to the product page, the Lucille does not charge the Motorola Razr directly. However, I personally do not own a Razr so this not a major drawback for me.

Bose iPod SoundDock Review

 

Over the past few years, I have evolved to a new level of gadget collecting:
buying gadgets for my gadgets. What seemed to be a innocent iPod purchase has
turned into entire lifestyle.

My Un-met iPod Need:

I have been looking to replace my component-based stereo system in my dining
room. My existing system is big and unsightly with multiple cords. I want a
drop-in solution with few cords and at least the same sound quality as my aging
Bose bookshelf speakers. Additionally, I want to be able control my iPod from
across the room. So, when I heard that Bose offers an all-in-one iPod stereo I
decided to give it a try.

First Impressions:

Bose shipped the item to me in the original
retail packaging. There is no extraneous external box, which is good, as it
saves cardboard but also bad, as it it is immediately recognizable sitting on my
doorstep. This can be slightly problematic if you want to hide your purchase
from a significant other or potential thieves.

Similar to the

InMotions
speakers from Altec Lansing, the SoundDock is sleek, white and
glossy. However, that is where the design similarities end. The overall shape of
the Bose is demi-lunar, giving it a slightly organic feel and the speakers are
appointed with a grey metal mesh. The simple, yet sophisticated design is
beautiful enough to be displayed in even the most formal of living or dining
rooms.

Upon closer inspection, all the edges and seams appear smooth and well finished
and the overall construction quality is high.

The footprint, approximately 12 inches in length by 6 inches width and 8 inches
high, is large as far as iPod speakers go, but still much smaller than a
traditional stereo.

Set Up:

The SoundDock is quick and easy to set up. Just attach the included AC cord and
select the proper size template for your iPod and you’re done.

Bose includes several templates for use with dock-enabled iPods. I tested them
with a mini, 10 GB 3rd generation, a 20 GB 4th generation, as well as a 60 GB
iPod photo and all fit perfectly.

Usage:

The SoundDock is simple to control. There are two physical buttons on the base
to adjust the volume all other controls are handled either on the iPod itself,
or using the included remote.


The remote is light and small, but not so petite that it is difficult to use, or
become easily lost. Featuring buttons to control the volume, change tracks,
play/pause, and to turn the device off, the remote fits well in my hand and can
be easily stowed in a pocket or drawer. The remote also has a reasonable range
at about 30" and is powered by a 3v lithium cell battery. The remote is somewhat
unreliable when tested around corners, but that is not uncommon with the
majority of remotes currently included with sound systems.

The rear of the device has no input or output ports, which both simplifies the
design and limits the use.

One part of the Bose setup poses a significant drawback for me: the power
adapter "brick" is rather large at 5 inches long and 2.5 inches wide. This can
be tricky to hide.

Features:

* Charges the iPod (through the dock connector) when attached to the AC adapter
in both the on & off settings.
* Remote
* Templates for a variety of dock-connector iPods.

Sound:

Bose does not publish the SoundDock’s amplifier specifications. However, I
repeated same types of tests I did with previously with my InMotion speakers and
SONY SRS-T55 foldable speakers.

I tested the sound using an audiobook, classical and techno music and the tone
range is exceptional on all tested types of audio for all-in-one device with no
speaker separation. These speakers are significantly better in all categories
than either of my two existing iPod setups. A specifically noteworthy aspect of
the SoundDock, is its performance at high volume. Unlike my other iPod setups,
there is no noticeable sound distortion or crackling at full volume.

Again, some audiophiles will find the quality to be lacking, but remember these
are made for use with an (awesome, albeit limited) MP3 player. Although this is
a great little sound system, it is not in the same league as Bang & Olfsen’s
loudspeakers. So I’d like reiterate: If you are looking for pro-quality sound,
why are you using MP3s anyway?

Overall, I found the Bose SoundDock to be a good solution to replace my
traditional component stereo system and now has a place of honor in my dining
room, until the next temptation comes along.

 

Price: $299.00

Pros:
Connects to all dock-connector iPod models
Matches iPod-white color scheme
Charges iPod while plugged in
Great stereo-quality sound

Cons:
Pricey
Not easily portable
Large AC power brick
No external sound input or outputs
Cannot use while the iPod is wearing a case, such as the iSkin

Solar Powered Mosquito Guard Review

 

Summertime in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is mosquito city. I have an ornamental pond in the backyard which is an attraction to mosquitoes to lay eggs. After dark, the yard is practically a Bela Lugosi film festival, there are so many creatures after my blood!

For those of you who are not up on mosquito 411, here are a few facts from mosquito.org, the site for the American Mosquito Control Association, about our blood drinking unwanted summer guests. Female mosquitoes are the ones that bite, requiring blood to nourish her unborn young. Mosquito bites can transmit diseases such as Yellow Fever, Malaria, West Nile Virus, and various types of Encephalitis. A necessary part of gestation, mosquito eggs are laid in water and join together to form "rafts", so any place with water can be a potential incubator.

In the past, I’ve tried several citronella candles and bug sprays with mediocre results. Frustrated and itchy, I decided to give a product from Restoration Hardware (a great gadget store) a try.

The solar powered Mosquito Guard is an interesting concept. It is a key chain (and belt clip) attached to a high-frequency generator. The device is powered by tiny solar panels that recharge in about 5 hours. The sound emitted by the Mosquito Guard repels the mosquitoes away from the user.

Product Details & Features

The Mosquito guard is comes in several colors, is 2" H x 1" W x.5" D inches and weighs about 24.3 grams. An On/Off toggle switch to save power when not in use.

Initial impressions

After opening the box, The device clips easily to belt or waistband and stays there, even in heavy activity. When turned on, I can hear a very soft high pitched noise, likely not the actual frequency that repels the mosquitoes but rather to let the user know that the device is on and charged.

Upon reading the box, I noticed the phrase:
While no scientific evidence proves that mosquitoes can hear, it seems to work for most people.

That doesn’t seem too reassuring. However, a bit of online research showed ultrasonic repellents testing has been inconclusive.

Because, there are many things that science has not yet explained or proven so I donned the gadget and bravely went outside in the interest of mankind.

Product Testing

I decided to charge it up and test it in several situations: using the belt clip during the day, using the belt clip at night, in a pocket during the day, and in a pocket during the evening. Here are my limited (and non-scientific) findings.

Belt Clip Day:
For this portion of the testing, my dad volunteered to be the one wearing the device, while I went out unprotected. We walked our dogs in a grassy area where mosquitoes and other bugs tend to bite. Over the span of 20 minutes I was bitten twice, while my father was bitten three times.

Table top at Dusk: Dusk is prime time for mosquito I put the device in the center of my glass top table while entertaining some visitors. I was bitten once, and my guests were bitten several times.

Belt Clip Night:
For the night test, I recruited my husband to wear the device and go for a walk with me along the same route. I was bitten once, while my husband, who was wearing the device was not bitten at all.

Overall, I was disappointed with the performance of this product. The concept and design are good ones, I just did not believe the mechanism was especially effective. Also, if this key chain is kept into your pocket, the results are reduced even more.

 

Price: $9.00

Pros: 

No chemicals or dead bugs to worry about
Solar Powered
Small and lightweight, perfect for camping or travel
Inexpensive

Cons: 

Not particularly sturdy
If kept in a pocket it is not exposed to light and therefore will not recharge.
Not as effective as traditional methods, such as DEET
Can frighten some animals

inMotion iPod Speakers by Altec Lansing Review


When I first received my iPod as a gift, I did not think I would get much
use from it. After all, there is a pile of dust gathering upon the myriad of
portable tape and CD players ( I even have a Diamond Rio 600 still in its box)
that I already own. Then, I discovered the joy of having a entire audio
collection encased in a glistening silver and white rectangle. I have been
converted.  My 10 gig iPod follows me just about everywhere I go.

My Un-met iPod Need:

At the end of a hard day, I
want a zero-thought plug-&-play way to listen to my iPod at home. When I read
about the
inMotion speakers, I was intrigued by the concept and decided to give
them a try.

First Impressions:

When the box first arrived I
was shocked at how small it was. Upon opening, I noticed that they did not waste
any packaging space. As a person who obsessively saves all the boxes from my
gear, the lack of box-bulk is a great bonus. 

   

Once the box was opened, I
found that the product inside evoked an "iPod-esque" form: flat, glossy, white.
This albino beauty passes the famous Gadgeteer Creek Test with flying colors.
The official dimensions are  8x 5.4 x1.2" but I thought it would be easier to
spatially imagine shown in contrast with a 15" PowerBook and a USB thumb drive:

This petite footprint is
excellent for an office, travel (comes with a black
velvet-lined
protective
travel case), or dorm.   

Set Up: The inMotion is very
easy to unfold and set up. If you are unsure, there is a  card with clear,
illustrated instructions.  

The inMotion speakers can be
used with a variety of iPod models (and other devices) including the original
non-dock iPod (connects to the speakers via the included cord to the back
auxiliary port), iPods 10-30 GB, and even the mini (free mini iPod adapter can
be ordered directly from Altec Lansing’s website). Instructions on how to set up
each device is included on the instruction card.  

Usage:

Altec Lansing subscribes to
the "less is more" philosophy for the user interface of this product. When you
insert the iPod it makes a cute little electronic chime to let you let you know
it is seated properly.  

There are few buttons to
confuse the user: Volume up & down and a toggle power switch (with an LED to
tell you the speakers are on and changes color when the AAs are getting low).
Just drop your iPod into the dock-shaped slot, turn the power on for the
speakers, and press ‘play’ on your iPod and soon you will start hearing the
audio of  your choice.  

The rear of the device has
ports for an AC adapter, headphone jack, auxiliary input, and sync cable.  

While examining this product,
I was confused by the external headphone jack. After all, isn’t the reason why
you use this product is to hear
the music out loud
? However, my husband quickly pointed out that the
headphone jack would be good to attach a pair of bulky, high-quality headphones
that you would not necessarily carry around with you, like the Bose Quiet
Comfort noise canceling headphones. Fair enough.  

When you are done, the
speakers fold flat for storage. 

As a side note, one of the
things I noticed is that if you insert the iPod while wearing a iSkin (or
similar silicone ‘skin’ product , I’d imagine) it will not properly connect to
the dock. 

Features

* Speakers can be operated via
an (included) AC adapter or using 4 AA batteries (not included)

* Charges the iPod (through
the dock connector) when attached to the AC adapter in both the on & off 
settings. 

* Auxiliary port in the back
so that it can be used with a variety of audio devices

* External volume buttons that
are  easy to use

* Headphone Jack in the back
to attach bulky

* Foldable so that it can be
stored after use.

* External slot to connect
(cable not included) to a computer for synchronization and data transfer

Sound

I already own a pair of Sony
SRS-T55  foldable speakers that I use for travel which have mediocre sound
quality. Since I these are portable speakers, I decided to use the Sony’s for
comparison.  I tested the sound using an audio book, classical and techno music
and the tone range is quite good in all tested types of audio for a portable
device.  Overall the sound quality is very good, much better than the Sony
foldables. The class D amplifier is loud enough to be heard anywhere in a fairly
large room.  Some audiophiles will find the quality to be lacking, but remember
these are made for use with an (awesome, albeit limited) MP3 player.  If you
want high-end sound, why are you
using MP3s anyway? 

Overall, the inMotion speakers
have met (and exceeded) my expectations and I would recommend them to anyone
looking for a small, but powerful set of speakers for the iPod.

Price: $149.95

Pros:
Runs on both AC and AA batteries
Connects to all iPod models and compatible with many other audio devices
Matches iPod-white color scheme
Charges iPod while plugged in (and, according to Altec Lansing, conditions the
battery while charging)
Perfect size for travel

Cons:
Pricey
Cannot use while the iPod is wearing a case, such as the
iSkin
You won’t be giving away your Bang & Olufsen loudspeakers for these