Portable-Media Archives

February 5, 2007

Tiny USB Drives

It's the best of both worlds for USB storage drives -- even more capacity, and shrunk to amazingly small sizes -- both at the same time!

The Sony Micro Vault Tiny is now up to 4 GB (coming this spring, price TBD) -- in a design which is basically a memory card with a vestigal USB interface (but without the USB connector).

And the Kingston DataTraveler Mini with Migo is just large enough to hold a USB connector, with a sliding retractable protective cap. It's available with 1 GB for $15, and up to 2 GB.

See more in the Portable Storage Gallery, under Flash USB Pocket Drives.

February 8, 2007

Charge through USB -- MDI kwikSynCh

Tired of carrying a bag of power adapters to charge all your electronic devices? A better answer is to carry one charger, with a collection of adapter tips to fit your specific devices -- cell phones, MP3 players, digital cameras, and other small electronic devices.

But why even carry a special charger, when your laptop can charge devices through the USB connection?

The MDI kwikSynCh Dual Charger ($14.95) takes that USB connection and splits it in two -- one cable for power and data (for example, to charge and sync your MP3 player or PDA), and a second cable with just power so you can simultaniously charge a second device. Just buy additional tips ($6.95) to charge all your devices -- saving weight (and money) compared to additional adapters.

Even better this is all just standard USB -- the tips work with any USB cable, and MDI also offers wall and car power adaptors with a powered USB connector so you can charge without a computer.

See more in the Portable Power Accessories Gallery

February 12, 2007

Portable Pocket Drives Reach 12 GB

USB "thumb" drives with flash memory have reached 4 GB -- and for under $100. And if you need more storage, USB pocket drives based on tiny hard drives how now reached 12 GB -- a bit bigger then a flash drive, but still under a couple ounces.

The Memorex Mega TravelDrive is now available from 4 GB for $119, to 6 GB for $99, 8 GB for $129, and 12 GB for $149.

And the Verbatim Store'n' Go USB HD Drive reaches to 8 GB for $135, and 12 GB for $179, in an even smaller design.

See more in the Portable Storage Gallery, under USB Hard Disk Pocket Drives.

February 14, 2007

NewerTech USB 2.0 Universal Drive Adapter

Hard disks have almost become the new floppies -- yet another form of swappable storage. External drives are great for auxiliary storage and backup, and even internal drives are loosening up -- you can swap them in slide-out trays, or mount them in drive kit enclosures from companies like ADS Tech, turning a bare internal hard drive into an external USB drive or even a networked drive.

But mounting a drive in an enclosure is lot of hassle when you just want to quickly access its contents, whether to grab an old copy of a file or to transfer the entire contents of an old disk.

Instead, what you need is a quick adapter to convert the drive to USB, like the
NewerTech USB 2.0 Universal Drive Adapter -- available now for $24.95 (introductory pricing).

This is a small adapter attached to a USB cable, and sporting three interfaces for different kinds of disk drives:

  • Full-size 40-pin ATA connector for 3.5" IDE/ATA drives and 5.25" ATAPI drives

  • Mini 44-pin ATA connector for smaller 2.5" IDE drives

  • Serial ATA (SATA) connector for 3.5" / 2.5" SATA drives (This also should work with an eSATA drive using a standard SATA to eSATA cable.)

Besides having the proper interface connector, you also need to power the drive. NewerTech therefore includes a power adapter with a 4-pin connector that powers full-size drives directly, plus a SATA adapter. (No external power is required for 2.5" drives, which are powered directly by bus power over the USB interface.)

Connect the wires, power up, and your bare internal hard disk drive now mounts as an external USB drive -- on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Newer Technology does warn that you should be careful running a bare internal drive without a protective enclosure in this way, and place the drive on a rubber surface like the bottom of a mousepad to protect against electrostatic discharge.

See more in the Portable Storage Gallery, under Portable Hard Disk Drives.

February 15, 2007

Playing with the Microsoft Zune

Microsoft kindly loaned me a Zune player for a couple weeks to demo at some local events. There's been a lot of discussion about the interesting decisions made for this product, including the exclusion of support for Microsoft's own Windows Media DRM / Plays For Sure format for purchased music, plus the Zune's limited Wi-Fi support for sharing music for a limited period.

But I wanted to focus on the design of the player itself, and the playback experience, which is quite nice. Because of the relatively large screen for a handheld player, the Zune can be a great portable player for enjoying and sharing your own music, photos, and videos.

Continue reading "Playing with the Microsoft Zune" »

February 16, 2007

JVC Noise Canceling Headphones

Earbuds and headsets, earphones and headphones -- listening has moved beyond delivering sound to also cutting out unwanted noise. You can block some sound with in-ear buds or over-ear pads, and then go further to add in active noise cancellation to dynamically sample and reduce outside noise.

The new JVC Noise Canceling Headphones (model HANC80, $59) provide a great example of the kinds of features that are now available -- over-ear but still light and comfortable, foldable design for convenient travel, and a neat switchable option between wide (airplane) and low (train / bus) modes.

Continue reading "JVC Noise Canceling Headphones" »

February 20, 2007

Aliph Jawbone Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headset

Bluetooth headsets for mobile phones let you talk without wires, but at the cost of a possibly noisy connection for the person listening to you -- After all, you're talking out the side of your mouth to a tiny microphone in your ear.

As noise-reducing headphones have become popular for listening to music, the same idea is now available for Bluetooth headsets, but with a new wrinkle -- the Aliph Jawbone Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headset doesn't just improve what you're listening to, it also significantly improves the sound for the person you're talking to.

The trick with the Jawbone is a tiny nub on the inside of the unit -- a voice activity sensor that rests against the side of your cheek, so the Jawbone can detect when you are speaking and reduce the background noise on the outgoing signal. (It also dynamically adjusts the volume and frequency of the incoming signal so you can hear better as well.)

For example, when I stood between cars on a moving train, or next to an industrial air compressor -- with overwhelming outside noise -- the Jawbone amazingly almost completely removed the background noise from the outgoing signal.

More on using the Jawbone below ...

Continue reading "Aliph Jawbone Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headset" »

March 21, 2007

JVC In-Ear Noise Canceling Headphones

Following up on my earlier post on the JVC Noise Canceling Headphones with folding over-ear design (model HA-NC80), JVC has released its first In-Ear Noise Canceling Headphones (model HA-NCX77, $79.95).

These are rated to cancel up to 80% of the background noise (more than 14dB at 120Hz), in combination with a tight seal from the earpieces. As a bonus, they work fine as headphones even when unpowered, and include a helpful Monitor switch to turn off audio playback so you can listen to important announcements.

In my testing, especially riding on a train, these headphones clearly dropped the level of the background environment, providing a quieter and more peaceful experience to focus on the music.

Continue reading "JVC In-Ear Noise Canceling Headphones" »

April 1, 2007

Archos Portable Media Players

Archos has introduced a new latest Generation 4 line of hard disk-based media players focused on a larger-screen experience, video capture, and wireless connectivity.

The Archos 404 has a 3.5 in. screen and 30 GB for $299 with a stereo headphone mini-jack, and TV output jack, and supports voice recording. Archos also offers a model with an integrated camera.

The Archos 504 is bulked up in capacity with up to 160 GB of storage (40 GB $349, 80 GB $399, 160 GB $599). It sports a 4.3' in. widescreen display (480 x 272).

The Archos 604 sports a 4.3 in. widescreen display (480 x 272), with 30 GB for $349. It also offers a model with built-in Wi-Fi for $449.

The Archos 704 adds wireless networking for sharing and streaming media (80 GB $549). It has a 5 x 7-inch touch-screen (800 x 480).

The new Archos line also goes beyond playback and audio recording to offer video recording with a separate Archos DVR Station module that can be added to the players to even offer scheduled recording,

See full article: Archos Portable Media Players / Recorders

April 4, 2007

Moxio USBCELL: USB Rechargeable Batteries

Our portable devices require portable power, especially if you're using them regularly or on an extended trip. You can use standard batteries, but the cost adds up, and they need to be disposed of properly. Rechargeable batteries make a lot of sense since you can reuse them, but they don't hold as much power as a standard battery, and then you'll need to carry along a charger when you travel so you can tank them up again.

The obvious solution is a battery with the charger built in -- not to plug into the wall, but instead the USBCELL from Moxio Energy, with a built-in USB interface to recharge from any powered USB port.

The first product from Moxio is an AA battery, released in September 2006, at a price around $19.50 for a two-pack.

The USBCELL is particularly useful to power accessories for your notebook computer, like a wireless mouse. No need for large packs of batteries, and no need to carry a separate charger.

See more in the Portable Power Accessories Gallery

Continue reading "Moxio USBCELL: USB Rechargeable Batteries" »

April 7, 2007

Convenient Audio Books: Playaway Ready-to-go Audio

Audio books are a great idea for making productive use of your traveling or exercise time -- or just for escapist entertainment. But buying books on tape or CD gets expensive, borrowing from the library may restrict your choices (or take too much planning), and managing electronic book rentals by can get logistically difficult with the downloading and syncing to portable players.

Findaway World of Cleveland, Ohio has a different idea that combines the best of both for convenient use: the Playaway "Ready-to-go" audio player -- a small and light digital audio player that you buy preloaded with an audio book.

The Playaway site currently lists around 360 audiobooks in a variety of genres, although more than half are fiction, and many more are children and young adult titles.

Prices range from around $29.99 to $54.99 for best-sellers and classics. For example, Angels & Demons by Dan Brown is $49.99 (20 hours), though Bleak House by Charles Dickens is $74.99 (39.5 hours).

Books are available at stores including Barnes & Noble, Borders, Hudson Books and Brookstone, and at some public libraries, including New York, Chicago and Cleveland. And they were listed in the "O List," in O, The Oprah Magazine.

Of course, that's a high price for a book, especially compared to a paperback, and even a lot for a portable audio player that you can't access and reload. But the Playaway delivers an audio book in a really convenient package -- especially if you're at the airport facing a long trip.

Playaway actually encourages customers to share their units with friends and family. And it offers a RePlay Rewards program to return units for 50 percent off the next purchase.

Continue reading "Convenient Audio Books: Playaway Ready-to-go Audio" »

April 11, 2007

Full Power: MFUEL World Pak 120

I've been having a lot of fun trying out portable power solutions for small devices like cell phones and MP3 players -- including the MDI kwikSynCh USB chargers for powering up from USB, and the Turbo Charge cell phone charger to top off a phone from a AA battery.

But what is a road warrior to do when you assemble all your devices -- from smaller mobile phones and media players to larger cameras and notebook computers. And how can you be sure you can charge wherever you go -- from wall power, but also in cars and on airplanes.

For this you need to pull out the heavy machinery, like the MFUEL World Pak 120.

This product includes:
- a base charger unit with 120 watts of power
- with adaptors to plug into AC wall outlets, DC car/boat cigarette lighters, and airplane jacks
- plus a World Jack adapter that transforms to fit four styles of wall outlets in over 120 countries worldwide
- plus a car charger adaptor to power devices that fit car cigarette holders
- plus two power cords to simultaneously feed both high and low power devices
- along with 27 Hot Tips and accessories that should fit more than 90% of current high and low power electronic devices.

And as a bonus, the World Pak 120 includes USB and Ethernet Hot Tips that allow the low power cable to be used as a standard USB or networking cable. And MFUEL includes a surge protection guarantee that protects your compatible portable electronics from unstable power. And there's a travel bag to fit this all into.

The World Pak 120 unit is approximately 5 1/2 x 2 7/8 x 1 1/4 inches and 720 grams. When plugged in, the MFUEL logo glows, and blue LEDs indicate the voltage being supplied on the high and low power lines.

The World Pak 120 is priced at $249.99 at the top of the MFUEL product line, which includes a variety of options for different power levels and sources, as described below.

See more in the Portable Power Accessories Gallery

Continue reading "Full Power: MFUEL World Pak 120" »

May 8, 2007

Multi-Port Flash Drives

Flash storage is just exploding -- with capacity increasing and prices falling. Flash enables tiny devices, from portable music and media players to USB "thumb" drives -- now busting into multiple gigabytes of storage at affordable prices.

USB drives come in a wonderful profusion of sizes and shapes, from amazingly tiny fingernail sizes, to bulkier and more rugged to endure the hazards of business travel, to blinged-out fashion accessories from USB knives to Disney characters.

Lots of companies are entering the flash storage -- For example, SanDisk and Kingston are expanding from their core memory business; Verbatim, Imation, and Memorex from optical and other storage media; and Sony from consumer electronics.

Another company that is trying something different with USB drives is RITEK Corporation, with its RiDATA brand of storage and accessories (also known as Advanced Media Inc., the American subsidiary).

The RiDATA USB flash drives are exploring new ideas in packing up flash memory in fun and interesting designs -- interesting concepts like the USB laser pointer, choices of alternative designs like rotating and retractable USB connectors, and whimsical shapes like the Monkey and Elephant.

But if storage is good, then more storage is better, so why stop at a single USB drive? Instead, RiDATA offers multi-port designs like this Yego EZdrive so you can chain together multiple drives, or even use a drive as a hub to plug in additional drives.

Current prices for these products are approximately: 1 GB $14, 2 GB $23, 4 GB $38

Continue reading "Multi-Port Flash Drives" »

May 24, 2007

Video Players Go Wireless: Archos 704 WiFi

Now that mobile phones are encroaching into the domain of media players with downloadable and streaming music (see the impending Apple iPhone), it's only fair that media players return the favor by also becoming connected devices.

For example, the SanDisk Sansa Connect is a flash-based music player with WiFi connectivity, but focused on subscription music. Users with a Yahoo! ID can listen to Internet radio, browse Flickr albums and photos, and see what friends are listening to. And users with a Yahoo! Music Unlimited subscription can download tracks and albums, and receive song recommendations from friends.

Meanwhile, Archos has been developing fill-fledged portable video players with full WiFi access, including Web browsing and access to files on your local network. Yes, you can check your e-mail from your media player, and stream videos wirelessly from local computers or Internet sites.

I've had a chance to try out the Archos 704-WiFi, part of the Archos generation 4 product line -- larger-screen portable players with hard disk storage for serious video clips, plus models with wide screens, massive storage, build-in camcorders, and WiFi.

See more on the Archos gen 4 line: Archos Portable Media Players

The Archos 704 is focused on video playback, with a large 7-inch widesceen color display (800 x 480) and stereo speakers below to share the fun. There's even a kick-stand in the back so you can stand it up on a table. Plus, the 704 sports a touch screen interface, so it has a very clean design with a minimum of buttons.

It's available with an 80 GB hard drive for $549.99, to store up to some 40,000 songs, 100 movies, or 800,000 photos.

Just be aware that this is not a cute little player to carry in your shirt pocket -- it's 7.05 x 4.96 x 0.78 inches, and weighs a noticeable 22 ounces. It's powered by a removable Lithium-Ion Polymer battery, and rated to run for up to 25 hours of music playback and 5.5 hours for video.

See more in the Portable Media Players Gallery, under Hard Disk Video Players.

See full article: Video Players Go Wireless: Archos 704 WiFi

    Check out the Archos 704-WiFi on

June 15, 2007

ARCHOS Generation 5 Portable Media Players

ARCHOS has just announced its new Generation 5 line of Portable Media Players (PMP), with prices ranging from $170 to $500, for devices featuring 2 to 160 GB of storage.

The new line will be available at retail beginning in September. This overview is based on preliminary announcements and brief demos, and therefore is incomplete.

The new products look very familiar from the previous Gen 4 players, with the same metallic case design and user interface -- The focus here was on making them thinner and lighter and less expensive -- plus adding interesting upgrades like fun Widget applications and streaming Flash video over WiFi from sites including YouTube.

The top of the line, the ARCHOS 705 WiFi and 605 WiFi, have 800 x 480 widescreen displays with touch screen interfaces, and, obviously, the WiFi wireless networking.

- The larger ARCHOS 705 WiFi has a 7 inch screen, and comes with an 80 or 160 GB hard drive, and weighs a noticeable 22 oz. The price will range up to $500.

- The ARCHOS 605 WiFi is pocket-sized, with a 4.3" screen, weighs 6.7 / 9+ oz., and is available with a 30 GB hard drive for $299 or 160 GB for $339.

In a new development, the 605 also comes in a version with flash solid state memory -- 4 GB, plus a SD Card expansion slot, 4.2 oz., for $229.

Then ARCHOS is offering two more flash-based players, without WiFi.

- The ARCHOS 405 is a smaller version of the widescreen players, with 3.5'' 320 x 240 display, 4 GB memory, and SD slot, 4.2 oz. -- a lot for $169.

- And the ARCHOS 105 is a different animal -- a mini media player with 1.8'' OLED display, 160 x 128, 2 GB flash memory, and weighing 1.8 oz. It supports a more limited set of formats and features than the other players.

See full article: ARCHOS Generation 5 Portable Media Players

See more in the Portable Media Players Gallery

    Check out the current Archos 704-WiFi on

June 20, 2007

RCA Opal - Digital Media Player

RCA has introduced a new RCA Gem line of digital media players -- small portable devices based on flash memory (product information).

The RCA Opal is small and light -- just over 1 ounce, with a 1.5 inch color OLED screen, and plays music, and displays photos -- and plays video clips! It uses a built-in (not user swappable) lithium battery, with a rated music playback time of 15 hours.

The thin design fits nicely in the hand (1.81 x 3.63 x 0.34 inches), with a Menu button and typical 4-way control to navigate the menus. The Opal connects to a PC through a single multi-purpose earphones/USB/line-in recording jack at the top of the unit.

For music, the Opal supports MP3, Windows Media Audio (WMA), WM DRM-10 for purchased music, and Audible for audio books. For photos, it supports JPEG format, with the pre-stored images at 640x480 resolution. And for video, it supports a custom SMV format (around 3.4 MB for a 1 minute clip). And it supports digital voice recording with the built-in mic, as well as line-in recording.

However, transferring media is a disjoined process -- you can sync music through Windows Media Player or Yahoo! Music Jukebox, but you drag and drop photos through Windows Explorer, and you must convert videos to the special format using the supplied RCA Video Converter software. After syncing, the unit works for a while re-building its ID3 tag database to navigate the music.

The Opal is available with 2 GB (680 songs) for $75 (model M4002 / blue). Other models planned are M4001 (red) 1 GB / up to 340 songs, M4004 (black) 4 GB / 1360 songs.

    Look up the RCA Opal media player on

Continue reading "RCA Opal - Digital Media Player" »

June 27, 2007

Creative ZEN Stone -- Simply Music

The Apple iPod shuffle is the canonical tiny screen-less music player (0.55 oz., 1.07 x 1.62 x 0.41 in. with clip) holding some 240 songs in 1GB, for $79.

But if you're more of an Anything But iPod type, you might be interested in a similar device that does not require iTunes, and works with your collection of Windows Media Audio (WMA) music (including purchased music) -- and costs around half the price -- almost an impulse buy.

If so, check out the Creative ZEN Stone -- still tiny and light (0.65 oz., 2.1 x 1.4 x 0.5 in.), same capacity (some 250 songs in 1GB), and for only $39.

The Stone is available in six colors (white, red, pink, yellow, blue, black). Playtime is rated as up to 10 hours of continuous play, using a rechargeable (through USB) Li-ion polymer battery.

The design is nice and simple, with the typical play controls on the front to skip through tracks and adjust volume, plus a mode switch on the top to switch between normal and shuffle (random) playback. Plus, you can use the mode switch to jump between folders of music, from one album to the next.

Continue reading "Creative ZEN Stone -- Simply Music" »

August 4, 2007

Kingston USB Memory Card Readers

Our portable devices need more storage, so we collect a growing variety of memory cards -- SD and MMC, and reduced to mini and micro. And these removable cards provide another option for copying files between devices and a PC -- after all not all devices have USB interfaces (like some mobile phones), or they require an extra and sometimes non-standard cable that is not always at hand.

The answer, then, especially for travel, is small USB card readers about the same size as USB thumb drives. Slide in the card, plug in to a PC's USB port, and access the memory card like a removable disk drive.

Kingston has recently added several such portable card readers, with different numbers of slots to support various memory card formats. And there's also a USB drive with built-in memory, plus a slot to read additional cards.

The Kingston USB microSD Reader is a tiny device -- Pull out the USB connector, insert the microSD card, and reassemble.

It's available bundled with a 1 GB microSD card $25 (black), and 2 GB $41 (red).

The Kingston DataTraveler Reader is a 1 or 2 GB USB Flash drive with a card reader slot.
It reads SD, SDHC, MMC, and MMCplus cards, plus (with a separate adaptor, not included) miniSD, microSD, RS-MMC, MMCmobile, and MMCmicro.
It's available bundled with a 1 GB SD card for $24, 2 GB for $54 (list), with 4GB coming soon.

The Kingston MobileLite 9-in-1 Reader opens on both sides with three card slots.
Side A reads SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, RS-MMC, and MMCmobile. Side B has a slot for miniSD, and a second slot for microSD and MMCmicro (the reader appears in Windows as three drive letters).
The reader is $11, or is available bundled with a 1 GB SD card for $29, 2 GB SD soon, or 1 GB microSD for $29.

See more in the Portable Storage Gallery, under USB Memory Card Readers.

Find the Kingston USB microSD Reader on
Find the Kingston DataTraveler Reader on
    Find the Kingston MobileLite 9-in-1 Reader on

August 5, 2007

Kingston USB Flash Drives

Kingston continues to release USB flash drives with interesting designs, and now with up through 8 GB of storage.

The Kingston DataTraveler 100 USB Flash Drive has a simple capless design with single-handed "thumb-action" slide.
The retractable USB connector is housed safely inside the casing. It's available with 1 GB for $19, 2 GB for $32, 4 GB for $59, and 8 GB for $116 (MSRP).

The Kingston DataTraveller II Plus - Mingo Edition includes Migo synchronization software to bring your Windows deskstop to multiple PCs in different locations, and still leave no trace of personal data behind.
It brings along your own desktop's files, folders and icons, Outlook email contents, Internet Explorer settings, favorites, cookies and history. And it automatically synchronizes your data when you return to your PC. It's available with 1 GB for $20, 2 GB for $40, 4 GB for $75, and 8 GB for $154 (MSRP).

See more in the Portable Storage Gallery, under USB Memory Card Readers.

Find the Kingston DataTraveler 100 on
Find the Kingston DataTraveller II Plus on

August 7, 2007

Kingston Mobility Kit: microSD to USB

Kingston just announced a new USB / microSD Mobility Kit, that combines its Kingston USB microSD Reader with a 1 or 2 GB microSD card, plus two adaptors, for both a miniSD and full-size SD card. It's everything you need to add storage to devices like cell phones which use the tiny microSD, and then read the memory on any larger miniSD / SD slot.

The reader is amazing -- it's basically just an extra-long USB connector, with the USB interface at one end and a slot for a microSD card at the other (the microSD card actually is so small that fits loosely in a USB connector).

Then pull the handy keyloop to slide the USB connector into the protective cover to shield the card. The Mobility Kit is available bundled with a 1 GB microSD card for $27 (black), and 2 GB (red) -- soon.

See more in the Portable Storage Gallery, under USB Memory Card Readers.

Find the Kingston USB microSD Reader on

August 9, 2007

Sony Wireless Bluetooth Headsets

It's the best of both worlds for mobile music fans -- A multi-use stereo headset to listen to your music, that also has an integrated microphone for hands-free mobile phone use. These take advantage of two upgraded Bluetooth specs: A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) for stereo music (not just mono voice for mobile phones), and AVRCP (Audio Video Remote Control Profile) for remote control of the playback device.

These Sony Stereo Bluetooth Headsets have controls to adjust the volume, answer calls, play and stop music, and even forward and rewind. And they can simultaneously connect to two devices: a portable media player for playing music, and then switch over to a mobile phone for receiving and making calls.

They use Li-ion batteries that charge in 3 hours, to provide 11 hours of talk and music playback time, and 100 hours of standby time.

The Sony Stereo Bluetooth Headset DR-BT30Q is a minimalist design -- It has earpieces that clip on behind the ear, connected with a 20" retractable zip cord. It weighs about 2.1 oz., for $129.

The Sony Stereo Bluetooth Headset DR-BT21G is a snazzy "street style" headset worn behind the head that hooks over the ears. It weighs about 2.3 oz., for $129. It folds up for storage.

If you're looking high-end wired earphones, check out the Sony Stereo Earphones MDR-EX90LP with a metal housing. It includes 3 sizes of earbuds and a leather carrying case, for $100.

See more in the Portable Audio Accessories Gallery

Find the Sony Stereo Bluetooth Headset -- clip-on on
Find the Sony Stereo Bluetooth Headset -- street style on
Find the Sony Stereo Earphones on

August 11, 2007

Sony Travel / Wireless Speakers

Continuing with Sony audio accessories ... Portable music players are great for personal use, wired to a headset or wireless to a Bluetooth headphone. But sometimes you want to share the music, or just listen without having to wear earphones.

Sony offers two interesting options: a pocket-size portable speaker that doesn't even need batteries, and a lap-sized Bluetooth speaker that can play wirelessly.

The Sony Travel Speakers - SRS-TP1 are passive travel speakers. Just attach to your music player and they just work -- no batteries or AC adaptor is required. They're not terribly loud, but work great in a relatively quiet room.

These pocket-size speakers even store flat; the protective speaker lid folds under as a speaker stand. They connect to players with a 12" straight stereo mini plug, weigh 7 oz., and are available in white or black for $24.99.

The Sony Bluetooth Speakers - SRS-BTM30 has a stereo minijack input for direct connection to audio players, plus support Bluetooth A2DP for stereo audio. These 3W stereo speakers sound great playing wired to a tiny MP3 player, and wirelessly from a mobile phone (your experience will of course depend on the quality of the original material).

These lap-size speakers have a volume control, and are powered with AC adaptor or 3 AA batteries They're around 11 x 4 1/2 x 5 1/5 inches, weigh 1 lb. 10 oz., and are available for $149.99.

See more in the Portable Audio Accessories Gallery

Find the Sony Travel Speakers on
Find the Sony Bluetooth Speakers on

August 12, 2007

USB Power Adapters - Belkin and MDI SynCharger

Many portable media players, cell phones, and other devices like phone headsets use USB connections to synchronize with computers, and to recharge over the same cable. But sometimes you don't have a computer handy to recharge your device, or you need to recharge multiple devices at the same time -- which is why stand-alone USB-based power adapters can be so useful.

Here's the idea -- A wall power adapter with a standard USB interface, so you can plug in your devices just like you do with a computer, using the same cables that came with your devices. Then add additional cables and adapter tips to charge other devices. There's no product-specific custom connectors or adapters -- just standard USB connectors.

The Belkin Dual USB Power Adapter is a handy package for charging iPods and other devices that use the mini-USB interface. The power adapter has two USB connectors, and folding prongs.

The product includes two 6 foot cords. Use the USB-to-dock connector cable for iPods, including video, nano, and minis. Use the USB-to-mini-USB cable to charge many popular cell phones and other mini-USB charging devices. It's available for $29.99.

MDI SynCharger has expanded on this idea with a broad line of USB-based power adapters, charger cables, and mTips adapters for iPods and media players, mobile phones and smart phones, portable game players, mobile headsets, and other devices ($6.95).

MDI has new adapters for Nintendo Game Boy, Samsung smartphones, HP PDAs, as well as more USB Micro mTips for cellphones, headsets and other devices. You also can use the 6V and 9V Boosters to step up from 5V USB.

There's a new slim Dual USB Wall Adapter ($14.95), which you can use with the kwikSynCh Dual Charger cable (pictured above, $14.95) to charge four devices at a time.

So you can charge multiple devices from your computer, or from wall power, or with a car adapter.

See more in the Portable Power Accessories Gallery

August 15, 2007

Energizer Energi To Go Instant Cell Phone Charger

Does your cell phone or PDA run low on power after a busy weekend away? Need a quick boost of power on the go? Even if you're carrying a power adapter, you can't always to stop by an outlet to charge up, or rely on claiming a scarce outlet at the airport.

What you need is a battery-powered charger, with an adapter for your specific phone or PDA.

The Energizer Energi To Go Instant Cell Phone Charger comes in different packages with adapters for various combinations of phones (e.g., Nokia and Palm Treo, or LG and mini USB).

The case is very light plastic. And since it uses two batteries it's rated to provide up to 9 hours on GSM phones and up to 3 hours on CDMA phones.

The product includes two Lithium AA batteries, and is priced at around $19.99.

See more in the Portable Power Accessories Gallery

    Find the Energizer Energi-To-Go Charger on

August 16, 2007

Energizer Chargers: DUO / Dock & Go

Energizer has introduced some interesting new approaches for battery chargers.

The Energizer DUO USB Charger is powered through its attached USB cable, or with the included USB wall charger.

It's a bit large for travel use, and the prongs on the wall adapter do not retract. But it's a convenient option for easily charging from a spare USB port. There's even software you can download to monitor the charging process.

The top folds opens to charge two AA or AAA NiMH batteries, and the cord tucks in wrapped around the base. It charges AAA batteries in 2+ hours, 3.5+ for AA.
It's available in three colors, for $13.99 (including AAA 900 mAh NiMH batteries).

The Energizer Dock & Go Charger has a base charger unit with two pods that hold up to four batteries each.

Each pod holds 4 AA or AAA rechargeable NiMH batteries, with indicator lights for charging, in queue, and ready to go.

It charges one pod (up to 4 NiMH AA or AAA batteries) in under 3 hours, or both pods (8 AA or AAA) in under 6 hours.

The Energizer Dock & Go is $33.99 (including 4 AA 2500 mAh NIMH batteries).

See more in the Portable Power Accessories Gallery

    Find the Energizer DUO USB Charger on

August 18, 2007

Retractable Thumb Drives: SanDisk Cruzer Contour & Memorex M-Flyer Pilot

As USB thumb drives grow in capacity -- to 4 GB under $100 and 8 GB under $200 even for higher-end drives -- they become more valuable as they hold more of our digital stuff. And yet we also want style and performance and convenience, and rugged designs to keep up with our active lives. It's also time to get rid of the protective little end cap which always wants to hide, and move to designs with a retractable USB connector. Of course, these drives need to be a bit larger to enclose the connector, and simply to add some protective bulk so they don't disappear with the cap.

The SanDisk Cruzer Contour has a unique sliding design to protect the retractable USB connector.

The Cruzer Contour is rugged and fast and high capacity (up to 8 GB), but the design is really striking. It has a glossy black body that slides within a silver metallic outer frame. Slide the body back and then then forward to extend the USB connector from the end of the body, and then slide it forward and then back to retract the connector into body. There's even a tiny flap that flips over the end of the connector to cover it completely.

The drive also provides performance, writing at 18 MB/sec, and the reading at 25 MB/sec. It also supports ReadyBoost for Microsoft Windows Vista.

The drive includes Windows-only U3 software for taking your desktop on the road by running applications directly from drive, plus password protection with AES hardware encryption. These include Skype, SanDisk CruzerSync to synchronize files, Protecteer SignupShield Passwords, plus Big Fish Games - Sudoku and Mahjong Towers Eternity. It's priced at $99.99 for 4 GB, and $189.99 for 8 GB.

Another example is the newly updated Memorex M-Flyer Pilot with higher capacity, a "splash" of color, and a spring-loaded, retractable USB connector.

The M-Flyer Pilot's USB connector slides within the outer shell. Push the end to extend the USB connector out the other side, and then press the button to have the connector spring back into its retracted position.

The drive includes Windows-only Mingo security software for password protection and encryption, and is Enhanced for ReadyBoost for Windows Vista. It's priced at $49.99 for 2 GB (silver and blue), and $79.99 for 4 GB (silver and red).

See more in the Portable Storage Gallery, under Flash USB Pocket Drives.

Find the SanDisk Cruzer Contour on
Find the Memorex M-Flyer on

August 19, 2007

SanDisk Extreme Ducati Edition USB Flash Drive

Speed and beauty, power and performance, form and function ... are we talking about a classic car, cutting-edge motorcycle, or a USB thumb drive?

The new SanDisk Extreme Ducati Edition USB Flash Drive takes design and performance to a new level for USB drives, inspired by the famed Ducati motorcycle brand.

The SanDisk Ducati Edition Drive has the same glossy red chassis and black trim as the Ducati team motorcycles, complete with the Ducati Corse racing logo on the top of the drive. It even has a red "tail light" that illuminates when the drive is connected to a USB port.

The design feels rugged -- the USB connector retracts within the red and black case, and slides out and extends for use. It has fast read and write speed at 20 MB/sec.

The product includes SanDisk RescuePRO Deluxe software for recovering accidentally deleted data. It's available with 4 GB for $124.99.

See more in the Portable Storage Gallery, under Flash USB Pocket Drives.

August 26, 2007

Portable Hard Drives: WD Passport & Memorex Ultra TravelDrive

These days there's no excuse for not taking your data with you -- after all, USB thumb drives offer up to 8 GB for under $200. But the same price range also can buy you 250 GB of hard disk storage, in an amazingly light and even pocket-size package. Even better, you don't need to carry an additional power adapter -- these portable hard drives can be powered from the USB cable, just like a USB thumb drive.

The Western Digital WD Passport portable hard drive is now available in up to 250 GB for $199. (Isn't technology wonderful -- the same $199 bought you around 160 GB at the beginning of this year.)

The WD Passport drive is sleek and thin, with a clean piano-black finish. It measures 5.11 x 3.14 x 0.59 inches and weighs only 0.23 pounds. It's available from 60 GB for $79, 80 GB for $99, 120 GB for $119,160 GB for $149, to 250 GB for $199.

The drive is USB powered, with no external power adapter. An optional splitter cable is available for the few computers that limit bus power (to pull power from two USB ports). There's a single blue light on the side that shines to indicate a good connection, or otherwise blinks if the connection is weak (e.g., you're using a substandard cable or an unpowered USB hub).

The disk includes WD Sync file synchronization and software, offers 128-bit encryption, plus Google Desktop, Picasa, and Toolbar software.

The new Memorex Ultra TravelDrive is a little bigger and thicker, designed to fit the palm of your hand.

The Ultra TravelDrive includes two interchangeable color faceplates, and has rubberized anti-slip surfaces. It measures approximately 5 1/4 x 3 1/2 x 3/4 inches, and weighs 0.4 lbs. It's available from 80 GB for $99, 120 GB for $119, and 160 GB for $149.

The drive is USB powered, but in my testing of a pre-production unit it needed to use the included second USB cable to provide additional power for reliable use. A speed indicator light signals a USB 1.1 or 2.0 connection.

It includes back-up and synchronization software, and has a Quick Backup button to launch the backup application.

See more in the Portable Storage Gallery, under Portable Hard Disk Drives.

    Find the Western Digital WD Passport on
Find the Memorex Ultra TravelDrive on

September 7, 2007

New Apple iPods -- Pricing Comparisons

As you may have heard, Apple has refreshed its Apple iPod line for the second consecutive September.

    Apple iPods 07: iPod shuffle, nano, classic, touch -- iPhone

- See my updated Portable Media Players Gallery for details on each of the new products, with comparisons to previous generations and competitive products.

What's particularly fun about tracking the iPod line is the way it exemplifies the tremendous and continued price drop for storage -- combined with substantial upgrades in capabilities (music to photos to video, 1" to 3.5" displays, mono to color).

- See my updated Apple iPod Pricing tables to track the increased capabilities Apple has been able to offer at different price points -- $79/$99 shuffle entry point, $149 and $199 nano with display, $249 and $349 iPods with hard drive.

New iPod line summary below

Continue reading "New Apple iPods -- Pricing Comparisons" »

September 16, 2007

Gallery: SanDisk Sansa View video player

SanDisk is comfortly settled in as the second largest seller of MP3 players in the United States, with a broad product line of flash-based Sansa media players. For music (plus display and FM radio), there's the Sansa Clip music player, fun Shaker with speaker and dual headphone jacks, and small-screen Express and c100 players.

Then for video and photo playback, the Sansa e200 adds a 1.8" color LCD. and at the CES conference in January, SanDisk pre-announced a new Sansa View product, with a 4” widescreen color display and integrated speaker.

Now SanDisk has retooled the product, and recently announced the redesigned Sansa View, to be available next month.

The new View has the same form factor as the e200 line, but a larger 2.4" color screen at 320x240 resolution. The View includes FM radio and voice recording, plus a MicroSD/SDHC expansion slot for up to 8 GB of additional storage.

It supports MP3, WMA (with DRM), and WAV audio; MPEG-4, H.264, and WMV video, and JPEG photos.

The View is priced at $149 for 8 GB of storage, $199 for 16 GB.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for details on these products, with comparisons to previous generations and competitive products.

    Find the SanDisk Sansa View on

September 19, 2007

Solio Hybrid Solar Chargers

Better Energy Systems is expanding its line of Solio Hybrid / Solar Chargers.

These combine a high efficiency solar panel with a large capacity integrated battery -- so you can leave the panel charging in your room, and then top off your portable devices when you return.

The Solio chargers combine:
- Universal charger - With interchangeable tips for portable devices (including USB and Mini-USB)
- Stores power - Internal battery stores power for up to 1 year (1 hour of sun = 15 min. talk time or 40 min. of MP3 music)
- Hybrid charger - Recharge through solar panel, plus wall power or USB port

The Solio Classic ($99) unfolds with three panels, and includes a suction cup to attach to a window. The battery is 3.6 volts, 1600 mAh -- A fully charged unit is rated to recharge a typical mobile phone up to two times, or deliver up to 15 hours of MP3 music.

The Solio Hybrid 1000 ($79, due next month) is designed for more rugged use, with a carabiner-clip handle. The battery is 3.7 volts, 1000 mAh -- A fully charged unit recharges a mobile phone once, or delivers 10 hours of music.

See more charging options in the Portable Power Accessories Gallery

    Find the Solio Classic Charger on

September 22, 2007

Samsung Music Players, with Style

Have you noticed Samsung lately? It has expanded from its core technologies including memory and displays into a major presence in the computer and consumer electronics businesses, including mobile phones, televisions, media players, cameras and camcorders, computers and peripherals, and even home appliances.

So it's not too surprising to see the very different design approach that Samsung is bringing to its line of portable media players -- with strong colors and elegant interfaces. (Oddly, Samsung does not apply the same style to naming these products -- they all have single-letter names with an associated model number (U3, K3, T10, P2) that just are not catchy.)

For example, the Samsung YP-U3 is a stick music player with 2 GB for under $89. It's available in some uncommon pastel-ish colors, white, black, blue, green, and pink.

The U3 is small and light at 3.44 x 0.96 x 0.5 inches, 0.8 ounces, and includes a voice recorder and FM tuner. The bottom end has a built-in slide-out USB connector, so you don't need a separate or special cable to connect to a computer or recharge.

The U3 is designed with no exposed buttons for the playback controls -- you just press on the smooth surface of the front of the player where the controls are marked. The end cap flashes to acknowledge button presses, and to show the player is still active even after it dims the display.

As you use the controls, the 4-line blue OLED has enough room to navigate the menus and display song names and playback status. The main menu has a nice animation as you switch modes -- the icons for Music, FM Radio, Voice Record, Settings, and Now Playing are made with blue dots, which morph from one shape to the next.

The Samsung YP-K3 has a similar design sense, as a slim and elegant player with 2 GB for $119, and 4 GB for under $169. The player is framed in silver around the edges, with the rich colors on front and back: black, red, and green.

The K3 has a 1.8" color OLED display, and measures 3.78 x 1.73 x 0.27 inches, 0.76 ounces. It plays music and photos (including slideshows), has an FM radio, but no mic for voice recording.

The K3 has only one exposed button -- power/hold on the side. The playback and navigation controls appear when the smooth touch pad on the bottom face lights up. The interface has a similar animated feel to the U3, with more detail and subtle animation. The frequency display for the FM radio is particularly elegant, with a subtle drop shadow under the numbers.

And these are just the beginning -- Samsung is now releasing the T10, like the K3 but upgraded to add video playback (and available in purple!), and the P2, upgraded to a 3 inch widescreen display, which is also a touch-screen interface with finger gestures.

- See the Portable Media Players Gallery for details and comparisons.

    Find the Samsung YP-U3 and Samsung YP-K3 on

More on Samsung below ...

Continue reading "Samsung Music Players, with Style" »

September 26, 2007

Portable Power - Instant ChargeNgo and Black and Decker Power to Go

If you're on the go, say at a wedding, it's good to know you have spare power for your electronic devices -- camcorder and camera, mobile phones, and maybe even a game machine for when the reception drags on too long. But that's a lot of devices to worry about -- It's a pain to carry spare batteries for each of them, much less all the power adapters in the hope that the church pews are wired ...

A nicer solution is to have a single portable power source -- i.e., carry one larger battery, with the ability to charge up whatever devices that end up needing a boost. As summarized in my Portable Power Accessories Gallery, there are a bunch of options along these lines, ranging from AA batteries with adapter tips (Energizer Energi To Go, Turbo Charge) to complete systems of large chargers/batteries with adapters and tips (iGo, MFUEL). And now there are some new options in between -- more than a little power, but also not a huge brick of a battery to carry around.

The U.N.O. Instant ChargeNgo Portable Battery Charger is the size of a few AA batteries at 1.6 ounces, but it's a fixed rechargeable Li-ion battery that holds more power compared to AA alkaline batteries. Recharge it from wall power (it fully charges in 3 1/2 hours). Then use the interchangeable adapters to charge your specific device on the go (including USB adapters for devices including MP3 players and Bluetooth headsets).

The Instant ChargeNgo is rated to charge completely depleted mobile phones in 90 minutes to 2 1/2 hours, or provide 50 hours of continuous play for MP3 players and iPods. It's also designed to allow charging devices directly when the A/C charger is plugged in, but I could not get this to work with several devices. It's priced at $39.99, and adapters around $8.99.

For more power, try the line of Black and Decker Power to Go Cordless AC/USB Power Supplies. These plug in to the wall to charge (for some 10 to 15 hours), and then offer both an A/C plug and USB jack for charging your electronic devices.

Just plug in the USB cable or AC adapter that came with your device, and charge away. The Power to Go line includes a smaller Compact 0.6 pound / 8 W unit for around $51 that provides up to 1 hour of extended runtime (estimated for typical mobile phones), a midsize 1 pound / 16-20W unit ($69) for 4 hours of runtime, and a larger 2 pound Laptop / 80-100W model ($99) for up to 9 hours of runtime.

These could provide the just-in-case boost you might need for your devices, without having to carry all the cables and adapters for all your devices.

See more in the Portable Power Accessories Gallery, under Portable Battery Chargers.

    Find the Black and Decker - Compact - Power To Go on
Find the Black and Decker - Laptop - Power To Go on

September 30, 2007

Power from Audio Jack: Inflight Power Recharger Cable

Have you ever been trapped on an endless journey -- the eternally-delayed airplane flight, or the bus ride to forever? Your only solace is to lose yourself in your favorite music from your portable player -- but then the batteries start running dry! Your nightmare can be over with the Inflight Power Recharger Cable -- which actually generates power from the standard audio jack on passenger seats in planes, trains, and buses.

The Inflight Power Cable converts the audio signal into USB power, so it works with devices including cell phones, smart phones, music players, and game players using existing USB charging cables.

The unit charges in cycles, trickle charging for 3 to 5 minutes, and then outputting power to the attached device. You also can insert 2 AA batteries to provide additional continuous power.

The charger works best with strong audio signal -- loud music, at full volume. Inflight would like to see airlines provide a dedicated "Charging Tone" signal, and provides a sample clip that you can download to test with -- to charge your iPod from itself by playing the 500HzPowerTone clip.

The Inflight USB Power Unit is priced at $34.99, and is also available with adapter tips for iPod/iPhone or Blackberry ($44.95), and iPod plus USB mini B ($49.99, i.e., for many small MP3 players and Bluetooth headsets).

You also can get USB adapter tips for a wide range of other devices from the MDI SynCh line -- see previous post on the USB Power Adapters - MDI Syncharger.

See more in the Portable Power Accessories Gallery, under Portable Power Adapters.

    Find the Inflight Power Recharger Cable on

October 2, 2007

Apple iPod nano -- Stunning

I'm not a mindless cheer-leader for all things Apple, but the new iPod nano makes me sound like one...

The iPod nano really is a stunning device -- beautiful in the subdued colors, light but not fly-away, small but still easy to handle. And the new larger 2" color display works great for watching video clips, especially widescreen. As I've shown it around, it's clear that even people who are not gadget lovers can't resist it!

The display is bright, with a strong backlight, with 320 x 240 resolution (same as the video iPod and new iPod classic). It's still smaller than the iPod classic display (2" vs. 2.5"). The width works well with menus, as well as widescreen video - and the built-in games like Klondike solitaire. Plus the nano uses Apple's new Cover Flow interface to scroll through your music collection by the album cover artwork.

The nano is easy to handle -- fitting well in your palm (2.75 x 2.06 x 0.26 in.), solid but still light (1.74 oz.), with the colorful anodized aluminum front and polished stainless steel back. It's just barely thick enough to fit in the audio jack, dock connector, and hold switch along the bottom.

The nano is available in silver with 4 GB of flash memory for $149 (holds some 1,000 songs), or 8 GB for $199, in silver, black, blue, green, and red (2,000 songs). It syncs well with iTunes, of course (update required), for music, movies, TV shows, podcasts (audio and video), audiobooks, and games. It also syncs as a handheld organizer, with calendar, contacts, and notes.

Oh, and the iPod shuffle now comes in similar colors -- silver, blue, green, purple, and red, with 1 GB of flash memory for $79. That's enough storage for some 240 songs, easily hidden in a pocket or clipped to your belt.

(It's actually not clear that the shuffle would make sense with more storage -- as you add thousands of songs onto a player, you'd really want some kind of display to help you search and find specific music that you want to listen to, instead of randomly shuffling though it all.)

See my updated Portable Media Players Gallery for details on these new products, with comparisons to previous generations and competitive products.

    Find the Apple iPod nano and iPod shuffle on

October 5, 2007

Sennheiser CX 400 Earphones

Sennheiser continues to introduce interesting new earphone designs, in its CX series of in-ear headphones, in Classic, Street, and Style lines, and in an array of fun colors.

You can pick the style and features that you prefer:

- The Classic CX 400 features shallow ear canal adapters for wearing comfort and passive noise attenuation, and include three ear fit adapters (S/M/L), for $99. It has a short cable that's great for use with a player in the pocket or on an armband, or when used with a remote control or microphone.

The package also contains a 3 foot extension cable when needed, plus a cable clip, cable winder, and carrying pouch.

- The top of the line CX 500 has a wider frequency response and integrated volume control, for $129.

- The CX 55 Street is designed to provide powerful low-end frequency response for street use, with bass-driven stereo sound, for $79. The posts are shaped for ergonomic ear position.

- The CX 95 Style is designed to provide very balanced sound and highest possible sound resolution, for $139. It features both the ergonomic design and short cord.

See the Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for details and comparisons.

    Find the Sennheiser CX *300* Earphones on

October 7, 2007

Plantronics .Audio 480 Virtual Phone Booth Headset

With its acquisition of Altec Lansing, Plantronics has developed some interesting new devices combining its expertise in lightweight communications headset products with enhanced sound and music capabilities.

The Plantronics .Audio digital computer headset line ranges from lightweight stereo voice headsets to DSP-enhanced and virtual surround sound hardsets with full ear cushions, featuring PC and Mac compatible USB sound card adaptors for plug-and-play digital audio.

But the new idea is the Plantronics .Audio 480 Virtual Phone Booth Headset, designed as a portable computer headset especially for mobile laptop users. It strips down a headset to the essentials: a pair of stereo earbuds especially for listing to music, plus an adjustable boom microphone for VOIP calls.

It's available in two versions, with analog connectors ($89) or USB, with an analog-to-USB adapter with a built-in sound card interface, especially for Macs ($109).

The "Virtual Phone Booth" concept is designed for laptop users in public spaces. It's based on two elements: sound-isolating earbuds to block out external noise, and a noise-canceling microphone and wind-reduction technology to minimize external noise for callers.

The product includes a selection of earbuds for a comfortable fit. This is especially important since there's no headband or over-ear loop -- instead the left earbud with the mic has an eartab extension that nestles in the folds of your outer ear as a stabilizer.

The cord also has a thin inline controller with a mute button and volume slider, so the entire headset still collapses down easily into the included carrying case for travel.

See the Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

    Find the Plantronics .Audio 480 Virtual Phone Booth Headset on

October 10, 2007

Turbo Charge - Squared

Got the low power blues? Is your cell phone battery indicator blinking on its last bar? Need more juice, but out of time to stop by an outlet for a pick-me-up? What you need is portable power -- batteries, plus a compatible adapter to connect to your particular device.

And that's what Turbo Charge does -- and now in two models: the original single-battery version, and the new Turbo Charge Squared (TC2) with two batteries.

The original Turbo Charge could keep your phone working after it ran low, and give it a boost, but it was not designed to fully recharge. The new TC2 provides more power -- hundreds of hours to help keep you going (Lithium batteries recommended).

The Turbo Charge Squared is available in three versions, all priced around $24 to $29:

- Portable Cell Phone Charger, with 8 adapters for all popular cell phones
- Portable Charger for iPod, with 30-pin iPod connector for iPod, iPod nano, iPod mini models
- Portable Game Charger, with adapters for PSP, and the Gameboy Advance SP, Micro, DS, and DS Lite

See more options for portable power in the Portable Power Accessories Gallery, under Portable Battery Chargers.

    Find the Turbo Charge T2 Cell Phone Charger and iPod Charger on

October 23, 2007

SanDisk Sansa TakeTV PC-to-TV Video Player

Today's multi-gigabyte USB thumb drives are a great way to move digital files between PCs -- including music and video clips. But to view those clips, you need to get back to a PC, or move up from a USB drive to a media player -- with a headphone jack for a music player, and a color display for a video player. But with today's high data capacity and high-res video, a tiny handheld screen does not provide a nice viewing experience, for your personal use, much less to share with a group -- that's what TVs are for.

Within your home, you can bridge PC content to a TV with various approaches for media sharing, with media extender boxes like the Apple TV or game machines like the Microsoft Xbox. But these require yet another set-top box, and struggling with networking and connectivity issues.

At the CES conference in January, SanDisk introduced an alternate approach, what was then called USBTV -- drag content onto a USB player as usual on your PC, and then carry that device to the TV to play back the content on the bigger screen (as you can now do with some iPod TV docks).

And now SanDisk has introduced its first such product, renamed the SanDisk Sansa TakeTV PC-to-TV video player.

Download content to the TakeTV player on your PC, and then slide it in to the dock connected to your TV with standard AV composite or S-Video cables. Then use the built-in remote control and on-screen guide to select the stored content to play.

The TakeTV supports the DivX, XVID, and MPEG-4 video formats, up to 720x576. It's available with 4 GB of flash memory for $99.99 (five hours of video), or 8 GB for $149.99 (10 hours).

SanDisk also announced the public beta of its new Fanfare download service, offering both free (ad supported) and paid programming. It uses the SanDisk TrustedFlash content protection technology for flash media.

See more in my Portable Media Players Gallery

    Find the SanDisk Sansa TakeTV on

October 24, 2007

Wi-Fi MP3 Player -- SanDisk Sansa Connect

Today's mobile phones are becoming music players -- you can sync songs from your PC music library, plus get the immediate gratification of downloading songs from online libraries over your wireless data connection, as with Verizon Wireless V CAST Music.

Then wireless PDAs like the Palm Treo can browse the Internet to download music clips and play Internet radio stations over the wireless data connection.

Then the Apple iPhone takes this further, mating the iPod player with a mobile phone, with the option of using Wi-Fi for faster broadband access to the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store

(See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on wireless media, under Mobile Internet and Multimedia.)

Meanwhile, media players are also going wireless by adding Wi-Fi. The Microsoft Zune uses Wi-Fi to share content bewtween players, and the ARCHOS 605/705 WiFi players with big touchscreen displays have an integrated Web browser, and can access and play media from your local network.

And Wi-Fi even makes sense on a mini player with a small screen. The SanDisk Sansa Connect is handheld -- but not tiny -- at around 2 x 3 1/2 inches, with a 2.2 inch color screen and usable controls.

It plays music and photos (but not video), so the screen is great for navigating menus and browsing the stored media files. It also has an internal speaker to share music with friends.

The Connect comes with 4 GB of internal memory for around $129, and is expandable with a microSD expansion slot.

But what makes the Connect especially interesting is its built-in Wi-Fi support. You can connect to Internet radio stations to stream music from any number of channels and styles. Users with a Yahoo! ID can listen to LAUNCHcast Internet radio, browse Flickr sets and photos, and communicate with Yahoo! Messenger friends and other Sansa Connect users nearby. Users with a Yahoo! Music Unlimited To Go subscription can discover and download music, and listen to and download tracks friends have recommended.

The Wi-Fi setup automatically finds available networks -- you can connect to a public hotspot, or enter the password for a protected network (but not arbitrary parameters). In testing it around New York City, it worked great in hotel hotspots, but unfortunately not in Bryant Park (it saw the signal, but could not connect, apparently because the service requires acknowledging a terms of service screen).

In fact, the Connect makes a handy Wi-Fi meter, listing the signals found, open and lock, and signal strength.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for details on these products.

    Find the SanDisk Sansa Connect on

October 26, 2007

Creative ZEN -- Credit card video

Yes, the Apple iPod players are popular and elegant (see summary post), but the line has only three models, with a limited selection of capacities and colors. If you're the type who likes lots of alternatives when you're shopping, then check out the Creative line of portable media players.

(See my Portable Media Players Gallery for details and links. Photos not to scale, prices approximate.)

If you want a small MP3 / music player beyond the iPod shuffle, the tiny Creative ZEN Stone is 2/3 ounce without a display with 1 GB for only $39 (see review post).

The ZEN Stone Plus is 3/4 of an ounce with the addition of a blue OLED display, with 2 GB for $69, plus FM radio and voice recording. Or try the slightly larger ZEN Nano Plus with 1 GB for $49, also with line-in recording.

Or for highly portable video playback, there's the amazingly small Creative ZEN V Plus, only 2 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches and 1.6 ounces, with 1.5 inch mini color screen -- 1 GB for $69 and up to 8 GB for $169.

Then to store your entire media library, step up to disk-based players like the video iPod, with much more capacity, larger screens and therefore heftier designs.

The Creative ZEN Vision has a 3.7 inch display at 8.4 ounces, and the Creative ZEN Vision W has a 4.3 inch widescreen display, with 30 GB $279, 60 GB $399.

But the big screen, high capacity, built-in speaker, and removable battery add bulk -- the ZEN Vision W measures 5 1/4 x 3 x 1 inches and weighs 10 1/2 ounces.

Which brings us to the new Creative ZEN (yes, just "ZEN") -- a best-of-both-worlds option like the new iPod nano (see earlier post), with video playback on a somewhat larger screen, but still small and light since it's based on flash memory.

The ZEN front is sized like a credit card with a 2.5 inch screen, at 2.2 x 3.3 x 0.44 inches, and 2.3 ounces. It's available with 4 GB for $129, 8 GB for $199, and 16 GB for $249.

(Compare the iPod nano with smaller 2 inch screen at the same 320 x 240 resolution -- smaller and lighter at 2.75 x 2.06 x 0.26 inches and 1.74 ounces, and priced at 4 GB for $149, 8 GB for $199.)

The ZEN supports multiple media formats -- audio (MP3, WMA, WAV, Audible audio and AAC4), video (WMV9, MPEG4-SP3, DivX 4/5, XviD, MJPEG), and photos (JPEG). Beyond playback, it has FM radio, voice recording, and an expansion SD card slot. Plus it can sync organizer data with Microsoft Outlook.

The Li-ion battery provides up to 25 hours of audio playtime, or 5 hours of video.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for details on these and similar products.

    Find the Creative ZEN on

October 30, 2007

Sony Bluetooth Wireless Transmitter / Receivers

Bluetooth is not just for wireless audio between your mobile phone and in-ear headset. It is being built in more and different kinds of devices, and you also can use standard peripherals to add wireless capability to existing components.

There's music packed up in your phone and MP3 player, so now you can share from your phone though Bluetooth -- and play through your PC speakers or even your hi-fi system. Or broadcast in the other direction, from your MP3 player or PC media library to listen on your phone headset.

For example, see the Sony line of Bluetooth transmitter / receiver accessories:

The Sony Ericsson MBR-100 Bluetooth Music Receiver receives music from your phone, so you can hear it though your hi-fi system ($79).

Find the Sony Ericsson MBR-100 Bluetooth Music Receiver on

The Sony TMR-BT10 Bluetooth transmitter module sends stereo audio from a digital music player to a Bluetooth-equipped headset, speaker system or car stereo ($79 / $53).

Find the Sony TMR-BT10 Bluetooth transmitter on

The Sony HWS-BTA2W Bluetooth transmitter/receiver is dual-use ($79). As a transmitter, it streams stereo audio from devices with standard stereo mini plugs, such as cell phones with adapters, MP3 players, PCs, and home stereo systems. As a receiver, it converts almost any speaker system into a stereo Bluetooth speaker from the line out jack.

Find the Sony HWS-BTA2W Bluetooth transmitter/receiver on

See more on Bluetooth headphones and accessories in my new article on Trends in Audio Accessories

See the Portable Audio Accessories Gallery under Wireless Transmitter / Receivers for details and related products.

October 31, 2007

Eye-Fi - Wi-Fi SD Memory Card

In these days of wireless communications, why are we still physically connecting digital cameras to access our photos? Tired of finding and connecting the proper USB cable, or chasing down a compatible memory card reader?

Your problems are solved, with the Eye-Fi Wi-Fi-enabled SD memory card ($99 for 2 GB). Just configure it on your PC or Mac to connect to your home network, and then plug it into your camera. Then whenever you store images on the card, and it's in range of your network, it will transfer the photos to a folder on your computer.

You just need to be running the Eye-Fi Manager software on your PC or Mac -- which then also can upload your images to a website.

UPDATE: The Eye-Fi card also can be set up to communicate directly over Wi-Fi to the Internet and the Eye-Fi server, which can then dispatch your photos to a variety of photo sharing sites. General FTP transfer is not supported (yet).

See review on Gizmondo

See more in my Portable Storage Gallery

    Find the Eye-Fi Card on

Audio Accessories Trends

We're entranced by video -- sucked in to TV shows and movies and now short clips on YouTube -- but we're also seeing a flowing of music and audio -- with MP3 players and mobile phones and libraries of albums on our computers.

So here's some trends in audio accessories for your holiday consideration, with representative product lines that demonstrate these trends:

- High-performance surround-sound boards to deliver blow-out entertainment and gaming, with build-in sound mixing and enhancement.

Just what you needed to turn your PC into a high-def entertainment center.
(Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi)

- Noise-canceling headphones to isolate your ears from outside sounds with the padded earpieces, and then apply active noise cancellation technology to eliminate extraneous background noise.
(JVC HA-NC250 & Panasonic RP-HC500 noise-canceling headphones)

- Bluetooth headphones (including noise canceling) to enjoy your music wirelessly.
(Sony Bluetooth / Wireless Headphones)

- Bluetooth transmitter/receivers to share your music between portable devices, computers, and even hi-fi systems.
(Sony Bluetooth Transmitters / Receivers -- see previous post)

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for details on audio headphones and accessories.

See full article: Trends in Audio Accessories: Surround sound, Noise reduction, Bluetooth

November 3, 2007

Samsung P2: Media Players Expand with Bluetooth

What's next for portable media players? Everyone does FM and voice recording and now video playback. But then there's wireless Bluetooth to play on headsets and even integrate with mobile phones, plus support for the AAC format to open up possibilitites for sharing music with the iPod line.

Samsung is driving these directions with its line of new players -- the (not very helpfully named) YP-P2, T10, and S5.

These all feature Bluetooth connectivity to play wirtelessly to stereo headsets and portable speakers (including the new Samsung YA-BS 300 Bluetooth Stereo Speaker -- coming soon). And, with an upcoming firmware upgrade due in December, they will support paring with mobile phones to answer calls -- no need to get out the phone when you get a call while you're listening to music.

Samsung is promising an aggressive upgrade schedule, adding Bluetooth file transfer and support for AAC audio in December, games and more functionality in January, and more user-derived features in March.

The three media (video) players in the Samsung portable media player line all support Bluetooth, will have 2, 4, or 8 GB of flash memory, and are availalbe in stylish colors:

- Samsung YP-P2: Widesceen / touch screen
    3" widescreen display, 480 x 272, touch-screen for finger taps and gestures
    3 ounces
    4 GB $199, 8 GB $249

- Samsung YP-T10: Slimmer
    2" display, 240 x 320, 1.5 ounces, 4 GB $149

- Samsung YP-S5: Integrated speakers
    1.8" display, 176 x 220, 3 ounces, 4 GB $179
    The integrated 1.5 W stereo speakers slide out and tilt for playback.
    It even can be used as a speaker phone when paired with a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone.

See previous post on the Samsung Music Players.

See the Portable Media Players Gallery for details and comparisons.

    Find the Samsung YP-P2 on

November 9, 2007

New Microsoft Zunes

The updated line of Microsoft Zune portable media players is due to ship next week, with a disk-based player with more capacity, the first flash-based players, an updated software interface, relaxed restrictions on Wi-Fi sharing, and a new online community Web site.

I haven't had a chance to try them out, but you can check them online, and see my Portable Media Players Gallery for details and comparisons.

A new black Zune 80 GB hard-drive model ($249) joins the original 30 GB model ($149) -- with a slightly larger screen (3.2" vs. 3") at the same 320 x 240 resolution, and weighing less (4.5 vs. 5.6 oz.).

Plus, the line adds two models with flash memory, the Zune 4 and 8 GB ($149 and $199), available in pink, green, black, and glossy red. The screens are 1.8", but still 320 x 240, and they weigh 1.7 oz.

The added models have a new Zune Pad touch-sensitive navigation button, and a redesigned PC and device software with new menus and look and feel. Existing Zunes also can be updated with the new software.

All the Zunes continue to have a built-in FM radio, and Wi-Fi wireless networking (802.11g,b, 54/11 Gbps), with range up to 30 feet. While the Zune is positioned as a “connected entertainment" device, the original Wi-Fi networking was usable only for Zune-to-Zune sharing, and shared music was heavily restricted -- even unprotected files. The slightly relaxed restrictions now allow you to listen to shared songs up to three times, but with no time restrictions (they used to expire in three days), and songs that were shared to you can now be passed on to others. The Wi-Fi connection now also can be used for wireless sync with your PC media collection.

Finally, Microsoft has developed the Zune Social beta online community Web site to share your music tastes, knowledge and experiences with others. You even can create a Zune Card and personal profile at to reflect your musical identity, and have the Zune software automatically post updates to reflect your music listening on the Zune or your computer, including most recently played tracks.

    Find the Microsoft Zune 80 GB and Zune 8 GB on

November 12, 2007

Custom Zunes from Microsoft

The new Microsoft Zune players will be available tomorrow. See my previous post for a summary.

Microsoft is offering some interesting options to customize your player -- not just covers or stickers, but permanent laser-engraving.

Zune players purchased directly from Microsoft at the Zune Originals site can be customized in three ways, with free engraving and shipping for a limited time:

- Artist Series: One of 27 designs created exclusively by 18 world-renowned artists
- Tattoo Series: One of 20 graphics, with up to three lines of text
- Up to five lines of personal text

See Gizmondo's Complete Guide to the new Zunes for a walk-though of the PC and player interface changes.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for details and comparisons to other players.

    Find the Microsoft Zune 80 GB and Zune 8 GB on

November 16, 2007

Npower Electronics Products for Kids from Imation and Nickelodeon

Portable MP3 players are wonderful for entertaining kids on long trips, and digital cameras are great for kids to get creative and have fun, but what parent wants to risk their digital devices for the kids to run around and play with? Especially for younger kids, Imation/Memorex has partnered with Nickelodeon to offer a better solution -- the new Npower line of consumer electronics products, featuring familiar Nick personalities including SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer, Go, Diego, Go!, and The Naked Brothers Band.

Released starting in October, the full Npower line has more than 20 products, including digital cameras and photo frames, MP3 and video players, an alarm clock, and even a LCD TV and DVD player. The products are designed to "combine ruggedness, affordability, and functionality with both the irreverent Nickelodeon personality and the specific attributes of the brand's most iconic characters and personalities."

They're fun, simple to use, and useful for kids.

- The simple Fission Digital Music Player for $49 has an easy-to hold design with a slight curve, at 3.6 x 0.7 x 1.7 inches. It plays MP3 and WMA formats, including protected WMA files.

The 1 GB flash memory holds up to 500 songs, plus there's a slot to expand the memory with a SD/MMC card. (The design has a nice window in the back so you can see which memory card is inserted.)

The Fission also has a microphone for voice recording. And for fun, with the Music Mixer feature you can shake the player to the beat to add silly instrument sound overlays (Boing, Foghorn, Marimba, Ukulele).

When I tried out the Fission, it interfaced well with Windows and Windows Media Player to synch songs onto the player and re-build the artist tag information for easy playback. I did find the interface a bit clunky -- you have to hold down the Menu button hard to access the menu, use the Left/Right control pad to navigate (but not Up/Down, even for vertical menus), then press Menu (and not Center on the control pad) to select while navigating, and then press Menu hard again to exit the menus.

- The compact SpongeBob SquarePants Flash Micro Digital Camera for $19 features a striking yellow SpongeBob eyeball design, has a small LCD used for a few digits of status information, plus a built-in USB connector on the bottom.

It shoots medium-res JPEG photos good for sharing by e-mail or on the Web. The 8 MB internal memory can hold 24 fine-quality or 84 normal photos at 640 x 480, 93 fine or 179 normal at 320 x 240. It's 3.2 x 0.8 x 2.2 inches.

The Personal CD Player is designed for preschoolers (3 to 5 year olds), in Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go! models, for $24. It has a clever canteen-style design with carrying case, shoulder strap, a twist-cap control knob. For kids on the move, it includes 60-second anti-skip protection.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for details and comparisons with other players.

    Find the Micro Digital Camera and Personal CD Player on

November 20, 2007

Samsung BS300 Bluetooth Portable Stereo Speakers

MP3 players and even mobile phones are great for enjoying personal music through earphones, but sometimes it would be nice to share the music with others, or just enjoy our collection playing in our own room. You can use a speaker dock for iPods and other players, but a better answer can be wireless Bluetooth speakers -- no wires, just playing music from any compatible cell phone or media player (see Portable Speakers in my Audio Accessories Gallery).

The new Samsung BS300 Bluetooth Portable Stereo Speakers are just about as portable as your music player -- just 3 3/4 x 1 4/5 x 1/2 inch, and 2 1/5 ounces. Yet they put out 1W per speaker, which you can still hear across a large room. (Shown with optional clip / speaker stand to set up on a table.)

Wireless speakers will make even more sense as MP3 / portable media players beccome more common -- like the new Samsung P2 portable media player and other devices in the product line (see recent post). The BS300 speakers support stereo audio, with Bluetooth 2.0, and a wireless range of up to 32 feet. And as a bonus, they do include a line-in jack for listening to wired audio devices the old-fashioned way.

The speakers have play controls (Play/Pause, Forward/Back) and volume for your music. They also include Samsung's DNSe (Digital Natural Sound engine) technology to add 3D Surround Sound Stereo and/or Bass Boost, 3D effects. And since the speakers are so small, they're rated for up to 4 hours of music playback, and 150 hours of standby (they charge through an adapter that plugs into a USB port).

Even better, with Bluetooth-enabled cell phones, the speakers can work as a hands-free and conference call device.

This is our wireless future -- the phone connection, media storage, headsets, and speakers, all interconnected to route and share our conversations and entertainment.

November 21, 2007

Parrot PARTY - Stereo Portable Bluetooth Speakers

The Samsung BS300 Bluetooth Portable Speakers (see previous post) are wonderfully small and portable for trips (the same size as portable media players), and put out a respectible 2W of output -- good enough to be heard across a quiet room.

But for less controlled enviroments, you can step up the Parrot PARTY Stereo Portable Bluetooth Speakers, with a stronger 6W of output (around $119).

Though these are not pocket size at 9 x 3 x 3.3 inches and 21 ounces, they're still quite compact to bring along for some fun -- or to fit easily under a monitor or on a shelf.

Besides volume controls, the Parrot PARTY also has buttons for two audio effects -- Stereo Widening and Virtual Super Bass (which reinforced bass frequencies well). You can use it up to the Bluetooth range of around 33 feet, or it also does have a line-in audio jack.

Parrot's focus is Bluetooth, with hands-free car kits and digital photo frames, and now extending into speakers with the Parrot PARTY, and even higher-end products:

- Parrot BOOMBOX
    hi-fi compact digital speaker
    2.1 sound, 60W stereo
    ($279 list)

    wireless Hi-Fi speakers
    60W (per speaker)
    ($449 list)

The other way you can use these is for better sound for music stored on your notebook. Use your computer's built-in Bluetooth, or a Bluetooth USB adapter, and then your media player software can be blasting sound through these external speakers.

- Parrot USB Bluetooth DONGLE
    ($37 list)

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products

    Find Parrot PARTY Speakers on

November 24, 2007

Noise Reduction -- BlueAnt Z9 Voice Isolation Bluetooth Headset

Bluetooth headsets for mobile phones were originally about getting rid of wires, but now they have become our lifelines, as we go though our day's activities chatting away. But it's noisy out there in the world, especially when trying to talk to a small device plugged in our ear. So it's good news as sophisticated DSP (Digital Signal Processing) technology is reduced to fit in even tiny headsets, to provide noise reduction and voice enhancement so both you and your caller can hear more clearly.

The bottom line: Today's noise reduction technology really works, in headphones, and even headsets. It's worth the incremental cost to step up to get some of this magic.

For example, the BlueAnt Z9 Voice Isolation Bluetooth Headset is a tiny marvel -- It's slick looking, and has dual microphones for voice isolation ($99 / $61). It won a CES 2007 Innovations Design & Engineering Award last January, and was released widely in August.

This little bug is small even for a headset (1.5 x 0.69 x 0.44 inches, 0.39 ounces), with a built-in spring clip to attach to your clothes when not in use, and a fully adjustable translucent ear hook. It has dedicated volume up and down buttons, plus the main multi-function button, although it can perform some 20 calling functions (with multiple presses).

The Z9's signal processing to separate the voice signal from the background noise works on both the incoming and outgoing signals, with noise suppression, echo cancellation, frequency correction, and automatic gain adjustment of the voice level. A single press of the main button also switches between Standard mode and Max Voice Isolation for extreme noise environments -- with spoken voice confirmation of the change (not just beeps and tones)!

In my testing, the Standard mode worked well with various kinds of background noise like trains and machines and fans. The Max mode seemed to work harder, but with noticeable distortion of the voice.

The Z9 uses a standard Mini USB Type A interface to charge the battery, which opens the possibility of not having to carry yet another custom charging adapter. It also supports firmware upgrades though USB, although it's a multi-step process to set up. The battery is rated at up to 5.5 hours talk time, 200 hours standby.

The BlueAnt Z9 demonstrates how noise reduction technology is coming fast to audio devices, packing more processing intelligence and even voice prompts in to a nice small and lightweight unit. Whatever your preferences for comfort and style for your next headsets / earphones / headphones, definitely look into noise reduction.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products

    Find the BlueAnt Z9 Headset on

November 27, 2007

Stereo Headsets -- Plantronics Voyager 855 Bluetooth Headset

Wireless headsets for mobile phones are so mono -- designed for only voice calls. But mobile phones are becoming music players -- to sync, download, and stream music in full-up stereo -- which demands that your second ear come into play.

Which is the idea behind the Plantronics Voyager 855 Bluetooth Headset ($149/$129). It adds a second earbud connected with a detachable cable for full stereo sound. (And yes, it's not strictly wire-less with the cable to the second earbud.)

The cable cleverly connects though a detachable ear loop, which leads to some of the other interesting differences from conventional phone headsets:

- The design is an in-ear headset, with no ear loops -- The ear buds fit snugly in the ear to hold the headset in place, and to help block out noise. As a result, the headset is easier to quickly put on and take off, especially if you are wearing glasses over the ear. (It does include optional ear loops if desired.)

- The side of the headset has a sliding boom that extends closer to better catch your voice. And it also serves to answer and end calls.

The Voyager also has two-way noise reduction, reducing background noise and adjusting audio levels to enhance sound quality on both ends of the conversation.

Plus, it can pair two devices, so you can switch between listening to music and taking incoming calls.

And you don't need to get out your devices to operate them -- the headset supports the Bluetooth remote control protocol, with dedicated controls for call and music playback (volume, mute, call answer /end, track forward/back, pause/play).

Plantronics also offers the Voyager 815 Bluetooth Headset, a mono version of the 855, without the stereo cable and earbud ($129/$99).

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products

    Find the Plantronics Voyager 855 Headset on

November 29, 2007

Noise Reduction -- Aliph Jawbone Bluetooth Headset

I've just blogged about a couple of Bluetooth headsets with noise reduction technology -- along with other interesting features:

    - Plantronics Voyager 855 Bluetooth Headset
    - BlueAnt Z9 Bluetooth Headset

Both do a nice job of noise reduction, but the Aliph Jawbone I covered early this year still does the best job for me of eliminating almost all background noise, including while standing between trains or next to industrial equipment. In particular, the voice sounded the most natural, without sounding like the audio had been processed:

    - Aliph Jawbone Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headset

Here's a summary of the three products:

Aliph Jawbone Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headset
The Jawbone is slightly chubby, but with an elegant design. A tiny nub on the inside rests against the side of your cheek to sense you speaking to help cancel out background noise. ($119 list)
Find the Aliph Jawbone on

BlueAnt Z9 Voice Isolation Bluetooth Headset
The Z9 is especially small, and has a built-in clip to secure on your clothes when not in use. It has a Max voice isolation mode for extreme noise environments. ($99)
Find the BlueAnt Z9 on

Plantronics Voyager 855 Bluetooth Headset
The 855 has snug ear bud to fit in the ear, for easy insertion and removal without an ear loop. It also has a sliding boom that extends closer to the mouth when on a call. But the big addition is a second earbud with a detachable cable to listen to stereo sound. ($149)
Find the Plantronics Voyager 855 on

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products

December 1, 2007

Digital Holiday Trends 2007: Portable Media and Accessories

It's holiday shopping season again, and time to explore the trends and new possibilities in portable electronics and associated accessories.

This first installment focuses on portable media and accessories, looking at trends in these areas, and some sample products that illustrate them (click links for full articles):

Portable Media Players -- Video playback, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity

Mobile Media -- Video and Internet everywhere

    Audio Accessories -- Earphones and Headsets, Wireless, Noise Reduction to enjoy music on the go

    Portable Power -- Universal Chargers to fuel all these electronic goodies

    GPS Navigation Goes Mobile

These summary articles link back to my Digital Media Galleries for more information and related products, and to this blog for postings on these topics and specific topics.

Summary of portable holiday trends below

Continue reading "Digital Holiday Trends 2007: Portable Media and Accessories" »

December 12, 2007

AirDrives: Outer-Ear Stereo Earphones

And now for something different in earphones -- the AirDrives "Outer-Ear" Stereo Earphones.

These don't insert into your ear like earbuds, or cover your ear like headphones -- instead they hook over your ear, with the speaker hanging outside your ear.

The result is an eye-opening (to mix metaphors) and somewhat more natural sound, like you are listening to outside speakers. While the experience is not as intense or as focused as sound literally plugged into your ears, the AirDrives provide a very comfortable and pleasant way to listen and enjoy.

The AirDrives have several other interesting advantages:

- You can remain aware of your surroundings, since your ears are not covered or blocked. The AirDrives are recommended for activities like jogging, when you really don't want to be oblivious to near-by cars. And they're great in the office or around the home when you need to be responsive to visitors.

However, they obviously don't work well for activities like travel on airplanes and trains, where you may well prefer sound isolation and noise reduction. Since the AirDrives are open, the sound also can be heard by people near-by, which is a problem unless they're friends with the same taste in music (and even then when you're listening to an audio book).

- They're comfortable for long-term wear, since they're just hanging on the ear, and not squeezing against your head or rubbing in your ear canal. The AirDrives have molded ear grips that are adjustable, and described as durable and water resistant. They also work fine with glasses.

- The AirDrives are also promoted as good for helping to avoid possibly damaging decibel levels, since they do not plug up the ear and hold in the sound.

The product design has some additional nice features. There's a very small control on the cord with a volume slider, especially convenient for quickly muting the sound. And they have a sliding cord joiner that can pull the left and right cables together for easier storage.

The AirDrives were released in October 2007. They were developed by InAir Technology, which was acquired in 2006 by Mad Catz Interactive, makers of interactive entertainment peripherals, including the GameShark line.

They are available in two versions -- the standard model, black with silver earbud for $99.99, and a smaller / Kids model in white for $69.99.

Find the AirDrives Outer-Ear Earphones on

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products

January 1, 2008

The Apple iPhone is a Holiday Delight

The Apple iPhone has been a tremendous success in revitalizing the smartphone concept. The iPhone combines phone, PDA, and Web usage -- with the full iPod player experience (syncing content with iTunes), mobile phone, plus Wi-Fi wireless networking.

While dedicated devices like the Palm Treo are focused on hard-core organizer functionality -- large contact lists, fast e-mail access, one-handed operation -- the iPhone provides a much more integrated and pleasing experience. Even in its first release, the iPhone (and its companion iPod touch without the phone features) will make a very satisfying holiday acquisition, with the promise of future upgrades for hard-core organizer needs.

What really makes the iPhone special, however, is the delight you feel in using it. You can read plenty of rave reviews (and unbelievers) online, but the real test is when even techno-agnostic spouses (the kind that aren't so enthused by each new electronic gadget) actually enjoy using it -- happily browsing the Web and viewing and shooting photos as soon as they first get their hands on it.

See full article, trying out the iPhone in Princeton and New York, and comparing it to the Treo -- The Apple iPhone is a Holiday Delight

See my Portable Media Players Gallery and Mobile Communications Gallery for details and related products

More with fun links on iPhone delight and trade-offs ...

Continue reading "The Apple iPhone is a Holiday Delight" »

January 21, 2008

Tiny MP3 Player - iriver Mplayer

"MP3 players" are growing into "portable media players" -- with products like the Apple iPod nano growing larger screens for showing photos and playing video.

But what's the minimum you need for a basic MP3 music player? As the iPod shuffle has shown, you don't even need a display on a music player -- you can just shuffle randomly or play through a playlist. The minimum requirements for a simple MP3 player, then, are two controls -- one for volume, and one for next/back.

So here's an iconic design that satisfies these constraints, the iriver Mplayer -- a 1 GB music player in a tiny Mickey Mouse head.

It's ridiculously small and light -- 1.7 inches from ear to ear, and 0.6 ounces. And the Mplayer is trivial to use -- just twist one ear to adjust the volume, and the other ear to skip forward or back within or between tracks.

Just plug in to the headphone jack between the ears, and power up and transfer files using the mini-USB port on the bottom (it plays for about 9 hours on a charge). There's also a power button on the side, and a small light for status.

Unfortunately, while the Mplayer is a top seller in Korea, launch dates in the U.S. are still tentative.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for details and comparisons.

January 29, 2008

SanDisk Sansa Clip MP3 Player -- Now 4 GB

If you like the idea of a tiny music player that's easy to carry, then check out the SanDisk Sansa Clip.

It's not quite as tiny as the Apple iPod shuffle (0.9 ounces vs. 0.55 ounces for the shuffle), but it adds a bright multi-line display so you can browse through your music.

And, like with other non-Apple players, the Clip also adds a FM tuner with 40 preset channels, plus voice recording with a built-in microphone. It plays MP3, WMA (Wiondows Media Audio), secure WMA (purchased music with DRM), and Audible audio formats.

The design includes a sliding Power button on one side that also serves as a hold switch, Volume control on the other side, and a Menu button and control pad on the front to access the nice SanDisk menus, complete with simple animation. Like the shuffle, the Clip also has a clip on the back -- but it is removable to make the player even smaller.

The Clip nicely uses a standard mini-USB connector, so you don't have to carry a special Sansa cable. The internal rechargeable battery is rated to provide up to 15 hours of play time.

The original Clip from the summer 2007 is available with 1 GB of storage for down to $29, and 2 GB for $59 (compared to the shuffle with 1 GB for $79). And SanDisk has announced a new 4 GB model for $79, due in February, in a "stylish" silver color (shown above) with a mirror finish on the front. That's enough storage for some 1,000 songs.

For more music, plus videos, still in a light package, the flash-based SanDisk Sansa View video player will be adding a model with an amazing 32 GB of memory for $349.

That's some 48 two-hour movies or 8,000 songs on a light player under 3 ounces.

The View features a 2.4" screen on a 2.9 ounce player. The initial models have 8 GB for down to $129, and 16 GB for down to $169.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for details and comparisons.

    Find the SanDisk Sansa Clip on

February 7, 2008

More Memory for Apple iPod touch and iPhone

More memory for portable media players --
Apple has added a 32 GB model for the iPod touch,
and a 16 GB model for the iPhone.

The iPod touch line now has 3 models:
    32 GB $499, 16 GB $399, and 8 GB $299.

And the iPhone now comes in 2 models:
    16 GB $499 and 8 GB $399.

What can you do with 32 GB of storage?

- Apple estimates you can carry up to 7,000 songs, 25,000 photos, or 40 hours of video.

- SanDisk also has a new 32 GB version of its Sansa View for $349, which it estimates holds 48 two-hour movies or 8,000 songs (using different assumptions for compression formats.

In three just years, flash memory has caught up to hard disk -- The original small media players based on flash memory like the original iPod shuffle from February 2005 had only 512 MB of memory (for $99), rated to hold a whopping 120 songs. And the original iPod from fall 2001 had only a 5 GB hard disk, which grew by early 2005 so the iPod Photo could make the jump from 40 to 60 GB (for $499 and $599).

Also, as announced earlier, the iPod touch adds a $19.99 upgrade with several of the iPhone networked applications omitted from the first product: Mail, Maps, Stocks, Weather, and Notes.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for details and comparisons.

    Find the Apple iPod touch
    and SanDisk Sansa View on

February 8, 2008

Corsair USB Flash Drives -- Rugged and Secure

Corsair has expanded from its core focus on performance memory modules for high-end workstations and extreme gamers into products for more mainstream consumers. In particular, it offers some interesting options for rugged and secure flash USB drives, recently expanded to 32 GB.

The durable Flash Voyager -- enclosed in an all-rubber housing -- is now available with 32 GB for $229.

The rugged Flash Survivor -- with aluminum case, shock dampening collar and water resistant to 200M -- is now available with 32 GB for $249.

The Flash Padlock -- with hardware-secured lock and customizable PIN -- is available with 1, 2, and 4 GB, starting at $33.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for details and comparisons on memory cards, USB drives, and hard disk storage.

    Find the Corsair Flash Voyager, Flash Survivor
    and Corsair Flash Padlock on

February 13, 2008

Gibson Robot Guitar

I don't play the guitar, but I have to say that one of the coolest things at the recent CES conference was the Gibson Robot Guitar, which was demoed in a big tent out in front of the Convention Center.

You can appreciate it simply as a clever product concept -- and as a very nice bit of engineering.

No, the Robot Guitar doesn't play itself, or act as your virtual rodie. Instead, it tunes itself -- you press the control, and the tuning keys up at the top of the neck turn, by themselves, to adjust the tuning.

This is obviously very useful to set up the guitar before a performance, and is an incredibly useful aid when changing strings.

Guitar players also need to change the tuning for different songs in a set, so instead of swapping to a different guitar, they can select one of six presets (several user-defined), strum, and the guitar sets up to the new tuning in seconds.

The engineering elegance comes from adding these components to a guitar without disrupting its feel or balance. Gibson started with a Les Paul guitar, added some small electronics in the back of the body, and one Master Control Knob on the front to select the tuning functions. The motorized tuners are constructed in a lightweight alloy housing, and are not any heavier than common tuning keys.

But what about the wires? Did Gibson need to drill a hole up the neck to run wiring up to each of the tuners? Nah -- If you think about it, guitars already have wire strings. So the control signals, and the power, actually run up the strings to the keys!

Gibson's limited edition first-run Robot Guitar shipped in December, for $2,499. Enjoy!

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for details.

February 16, 2008

New Kingston USB Drives -- DataTraveler 110, HyperX, and Style

Portable storage is getting much more interesting, with USB "thumb" drives now reaching 8 and 16 GB, and even to 32 GB (see the Corsair line for around $229).

The Kingson Technology line of USB drives includes USB memory card readers, some combined with a flash drive, plus the family of DataTraveler USB flash drives that span mini sizes to raw speed to fun styles (see previous posts).

The DataTraveler Mini is a tiny drive that's not much bigger than a USB connector, and also includes Migo software to synchronize your personal workspace to run on public machines (1 GB around $12, to 4 GB $32).

The DataTraveler Mini Fun is a colorful mini drive in stackable blocks (1 GB $12, to 4 GB $37).

The new budget DataTraveler 110 drive has a capless design with a retractable USB connector (1 GB $12 to 8 GB $104).

For faster data transfer, the new ultrafast DataTraveler HyperX has zippy 30 MB/sec. read and 20 MB/sec. write times (2 GB $74 to 8 GB $266).

Or to keep track of your data, the new DataTraveler Style features side insert "skins" to identify and customize your drives (1 GB $19, to 8 GB $116).

See my Portable Storage Gallery for details and comparisons on memory cards, USB drives, and hard disk storage.

    Find the Kingston DataTraveler 110, DataTraveler HyperX
    and DataTraveler Style on

February 17, 2008

Lexar JumpDrive USB Flash Drives

The Lexar Media line of JumpDrive USB flash drives also includes models focused on a variety of needs, including size, security, durability, and speed. Several drives also have an external capacity meter that displays the percentage utilization of the drive -- even when the drive is not plugged in.

The small JumpDrive FireFly is available in stylish colors (256 MB $14, to 8 GB $149 list).

The JumpDriveSecure II Plus includes security software and capacity meter (512 MB $24, to 8 GB $159).

The premium JumpDrive products then include the Secure II security software, PowerToGo software to bring your Windows environment on your drive, and are Windows Vista compatible / enhanced for Windows ReadyBoost.

The spiffy JumpDrive Mercury with a brushed metal look is rated at 15 MB/s read and 10 MB/s write speeds, with capacity meter (1 GB $34, 2 GB $59).

The more compact JumpDrive 360 has a capless design with rotating metal jacket, and is rated at 15 MB/s read and 10 MB/s write speed (1 GB $34, 2 GB $59).

And the zippy JumpDrive Lightning is rated at 30 MB/s read and 21 MB/s write speed (1 GB $39, to 8 GB $179).

(Lexar is a wholly owned subsidiary of Micron Technology, and also supplies consumer memory upgrades under the Crucial brand.)

See my Portable Storage Gallery for details and comparisons on memory cards, USB drives, and hard disk storage.

    Find the Lexar JumpDrive Firefly
    and Lexar JumpDrive Mercury on

February 19, 2008

Apple iPod shuffle Drops Price, Adds Capacity

Apple has followed up on adding more storage for the high-end iPhone and iPod touch by also updating the small end of the iPod line.

The iPod shuffle with 1 GB is now $49 (down from $79) , and there's a new 2 GB model for $69.

This brings Apple's pricing closer to the range of competitive products from companies like Creative and SanDisk (though price really isn't the primary attraction of the iPod line...). -- See my Portable Media Players Gallery for details and comparisons.

    Find the Apple iPod shuffle on

February 20, 2008

Imation Pivot Plus USB Drive Adds Hardware Security

In other news on USB flash drives, the Imation Clip and Pivot drives are designed for durability on the go, with tough casings and sturdy key rings to carry on backpacks, shoulder bags or belt loops.

The Imation Clip is water resistant, and tucks the drive into a soft rubberized casing (around 2 GB $22, 4 GB $68).

The Imation Pivot has a, yes, pivoting design -- The drive tucks in to the protective cap, and rotates out for use. In January, the line was extended to 8 GB, and added Windows Vista ReadyBoost compatibility (1 GB $29, to 8 GB $199).

The new Imation Pivot Plus is the same design, with the addition of built-in hardware security -- 256-bit AES hardware encryption integrated into the drive controller to protect your data (1 GB $69, to 8 GB $249).

The key point here is that the entire drive is protected -- You simply can't store unencrypted content on it. In fact, you can't even access the drive unless you enter the password.

The drive actually is displayed in Windows Explorer as two drives: a read-only CD drive that contains the encryption software, and a second writable removable disk -- which is not mounted until it is unlocked.

The Imation Encryption Manager Plus software on the drive launches automatically under Windows, and installs a driver that permits the drive to be accessed. You can set the drive up with a User password, or configure it in Corporate mode with an additional Administrator password to manage a collection of drives.

With hardware encryption, all the content is always encrypted, so you need not worry as much when you (inevitably) lose a drive.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for details and comparisons on memory cards, USB drives, and hard disk storage.

    Find the Imation Clip, Imation Pivot,
    and Imation Pivot Plus on

February 24, 2008

NewerTech USB Universal Drive Adapter

Got some extra disk drives? As hard disks and optical drives grow quickly in storage capacity and transfer speed, it's becoming more common to swap out drives, including 3.5" hard drives for desktops, 2.5" laptop disks, and 5.25" optical CD/DVD drives.

But whether you've swapped out a drive, or saved a drive from an old system, there's still the problem of how to access its contents, whether to extract some files or to reformat it before passing it on.

The NewerTech USB 2.0 Universal Drive Adapter provides a great solution. It's a kit that connects up to external drives to connect them though USB to a computer.

Start with the adapter unit, and use the appropriate connectors and cables to connect it up to a variety of IDE, ATA, and SATA drives (including power). Then just hook it up to your computer like any other removable USB drive (with Windows 2000/XP, Mac OS 9.2 or higher, and Linux 2.4.X).

The new version of the adapter adds connection status LEDs to indicate connection and disk activity (USB, IDE/ATA, SATA). It's available for around $29.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for details and comparisons on memory cards, USB drives, and hard disk storage.

December 30, 2007

JVC HA-NC250 Noise Canceling Headphones

(with Brian Dixon)

The JVC HA-NC250 Noise Canceling Headphones are JVC's new top-of-the-line model ($199 list, $139 street price) -- both with better performance and better comfort than the earlier HA-NC80 model.

The soft earpieces provide good sound isolation, the new feedback technology adds noise reduction, and they are light weight and fold flat for travel

The headphones wear comfortably for long periods with the soft "memory foam" ear pads. The oval earpieces have a double housing structure with extra sound insulation layer, so they do a better job of sound isolation to begin with, blocking outside sounds.

You can use the headphones stand-alone (with no audio playing) to quiet your environment -- the 4 foot cord uses a standard audio jack and detaches from the headphone. And you can use them as regular headphones, without the noise reduction circuitry enabled.

For noise reduction, the NC250 features new feedback technology, rated to eliminate up to 85 percent of extraneous background noise (speced as >16.5 dB at 150 Hz, compared to up to 75 percent with the earlier NC80, or >12 dB at 300 Hz). The NC80 also has a switch for two noise cancellation modes ("wide" and "low"), which is omitted in the NC250, since the technology has improved.

We first tried the NC250 stand-alone, without playing any audio through them. Turning on the noise reduction clearly reduces the background room tone, particularly at the low end. For example, it significantly lowers (but does not completely eliminate) fan noise from computers.

Then with music, the NC250 again reduces background sounds. However, the technology also slightly boosts and shapes the sound, so you can't make an exact A/B comparison. We did detect a very slight distortion in certain passages, such as a quiet piano piece when the sound swelled, although this was noticeable only with a trained ear, and nothing like this was heard with louder music.

The NC250 is designed for travel, at 5.3 ounces. It folds flat (the earpads twist), to fit in the included hard case. However, it doesn't collapse quite as far as the NC80, which has foldable arms to tuck the earpieces into the headband. The product also includes airline and phono adapters.

The NC250 is powered by a single AAA battery, which is inserted by removing the right earpad (the same side as the noise cancelling On/Off switch). The headphones are rated to run 50 hours with an Alkaline battery.

The HC250 uses a 40mm neodymium driver in each earpiece, for a wide frequency response (8 Hz - 24,000 Hz). While they don't have the flatter response of more expensive professional units, they provide good sound, nice comfort, and effective noise reduction.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products

    Find the JVC HA-NC250 Headphones on

January 7, 2008

JVC Bi-Metal and Air-Cushion Headphones

(with Brian Dixon)

Headphones are a great luxury when you travel -- They deliver better sound, provide over-ear coverage for sound isolation from your fellow passengers, and even can add active noise cancellation technology to reduce the hiss of air conditioning and roar of engines.

But in today's world of cramped airlines and slogging though airports, even foldable headphones like the JVC HA-NC250 Noise Canceling Headphones (see previous post) just take up too much space in my carry-on. So it's time to break out the tiny earphones.

Given their small size, you can't ask for too much sound perfection from earphones, especially because you'll likely be listening with them in noisy environments (streets, subway, airplanes) and on portable MP3 players with compressed music.

What you do want, given reasonable sound, is a good fit (to block outside sound) while still being comfortable to wear for extended periods. Some people can't stand earbuds that insert in the ear (typically with replaceable earpieces), while others don't like the style that hooks over your outer ear (typically with replaceable nets).

But for my travels, I want an in-ear bud to block outside sound, so the big issue is the comfort of the earpiece that's going to nestle up in there.

JVC has a couple new interesting options in earphones, the higher-end JVC Bi-Metal Headphones (HA-FX300, $99) and the JVC Air-Cushion Headphones (HA-FX66, $29).

The JVC HA-FX66 Air-Cushion Headphones are designed for a secure fit while remaining comfortable. They have an angled earpiece that inserts in the ear, while the base nestles securely inside the outer ear. They're available in blue, black, red, and white, at a street price down to $20.85.

JVC provides several options for getting a comfortable fit with both of these earphones -- you can try out three sizes of soft silicon rubber earpieces for a comfort fit, and one memory foam earpiece for a customized fit. And both have nice design features for the cord, with a sliding cord joiner to make it easy to wrap up, and a friction noise reduction cord that reduce noise from moving and rubbing the cord.

The high-end JVC HA-FX300 Bi-Metal Headphones incorporate several new technologies for clearer sound, including an aluminum evaporation diaphragm (more accurate high-frequency detail), a Bi-METAL structure (reduces vibration and energy loss), an aluminum housing (reduces resonance) and an oxygen-free copper cord (minimizes transmission loss). They're available in black, red, and bronze for $99.95.

They have a contoured and angled design, with the cord running directly down the face, but did not fit as snugly in the ear -- which some people may like, but we found them too easy to pop out

The bottom line on earphones is to find a style that's comfortable for you for extended wear, and that offers a range of earpiece options like these JVC designs. While more expensive designs can sound better, especially in quieter listening environments, you may find other features that make the deal for you.

For me, for example, the Sennheiser CX 400 Ear Canal Headphones ($80, see previous post) have good sound and small and shallow ear canal adapters that nestle comfortably in my ear. Plus they have the bonus feature of a short cable that reduces dangling when I stash my media player in my shirt pocket (although it gets tight for hooking to the in-seat audio or to a computer, which is why they include a separate extender cable).

And as a reminder: Please practice good hygiene if you share earbuds by cleaning off the accumulated ear wax (ick!), and keep the volume down so you don't blow out your ears with the speakers that you've wedged in your ears (ouch!).

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products

    Find the JVC Air-Cushion Headphones on

February 29, 2008

Ultimate Ears 10 Pro Headphones

(with Brian Dixon)

Earphones are convenient and easy to carry, but you still give up a lot of performance compared to higher-quality headphones. Or maybe not ...

Ultimate Ears develops custom molded professional ear monitors for professional / touring musicians around the world -- claiming an over 80% share of the professional ear monitor market.

And the company has developed a range of products for the broader consumer enthusiast market, for users with a highly educated ear and discerning music taste.

We tried out the Ultimate Ears 10 Pro personal earphones and were really impressed -- which should be expected with $399 earphones.

These actually contain three individual speakers for each ear, with a crossover circuit that directs specific frequencies to dedicated speakers -- low-end for bass, mid-range for vocals, and high for treble.

The result is a wonderful clarity in the sound -- so we can dinstinguish the components of the music -- the kick drum in a rock song, the high strings in an orchestral piece, even the squeak of the guitar string was more distinct in a softer Folk song.

Even better, the clarity also seems to help separate the stereo field, so we really can hear a better stereo representation and interesting panning effects -- We can be convinced that we're inside the sound.

The earpieces also provide up to -26 dB passive noise isolation when properly inserted with the correct size ear tips. But Ultimate Ears carefully warns in the user guide that you should be careful to protect your hearing from loud volumes, and recommends not listening for more than an hour a day.

The result is earphones that provide a clear and intense listening experience that is closer to good headphones or even studio monitors. We were able to hear details like compression artifacts in aggressively encoded MP3 files, and subtleties in a mix that we did not necessarily notice on other specific monitors.

But who would use them ...

Continue reading "Ultimate Ears 10 Pro Headphones" »

March 4, 2008

Maxell NC-IV Noise Cancellation Headphones

Tired of the background noise in your life -- the whine of computer fans, the hum of the air conditioning, the roar of the train or plane, or just the clatter of all the people around you?

Today's noise reduction headphones fight back with active noise cancellation -- digital signal processing that uses a microphone to listen to the outside sound and generate an inverse signal to cancel it.

While this kind of processing can't totally eliminate the environmental noise, it can move you away, into a quieter place. You can wear the headphones even without listening to music to feel calmer, or plug in to your media player to enjoy the music in relative peace.

There are a lot of options for noise-reduction headphones available these days for around $50 to $150, including from familiar names like JVC, Maxell, Panasonic, and Sony.

For example, I've covered the lighter JVC HA-NC80 Headphones which fold into the headpiece for travel, the top-of-the-line JVC HA-NC250 Headphones which offer up to 85% noise reduction, and the JVC HA-NCX77 Earphones with an in-line box with noise cancellation electronics.

The Maxell line of noise cancellation headphones also includes light-weight headphones and new noise reduction earbuds, ranging from around $49 to $129 list.

The Maxell NC-IV Headphones are the current top of the Maxell line ($129 list, $70 street).

Besides the advanced noise reduction, these feature full-size ear cups, leather-lined for comfort, that also swivel to pack flat.

The earpieces are particularly comfortable since they are large and well-padded, enclosing the entire ear, and resting on the head.

The cord is textured braded nylon to limit tangling, instead of smooth (like those knot-free shoelaces).

And to protect your hearing, the headphones have an in-line attenuator to limit ear-damaging volumes with low, medium, and high settings.

See my full article on noise-reduction headphone options -- Quieting Down: Noise-Reduction Headphones.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for details on headphones.

    Find the Maxell NC-IV Headphones on

March 9, 2008

Altec Lansing Orbit-MP3 Portable Speakers

With today's portable media players, you can store and organize all your favorite music and videos in a handheld device. And while headphones and earphones are great for enjoying your music collection on the go, sometimes also you want to share the fun.

Portable speakers like the Altec Lansing Orbit-MP3 let you share your personal music beyond your ears to friends and family.

The Orbit is designed to lay flat and generate a 360-degree sound field, though it also can sit on its edge for directed, more personal listening.

The speaker is relatively small and light -- some 3 1/2 inches diameter, 1 3/8 inch deep, and 8 ounces. The 8 inch cord wraps around the speaker and tucks away.

It's powered by 3 AAA batteries, rated to play up to 25 hours. There's a power switch, but no volume control -- just crank up your music player and enjoy the sound -- certainly enough to fill the room.

The Orbit-MP3 is designed to be durable and shock-resistant for travel, with a metal speaker grill. It also includes a 3.5mm-to-2.5mm adapter for listening to music phones.

The Orbit-MP3 iM207 is available for $29.95.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for details on headphones.

    Find the Altec Lansing Orbit Speakers on

March 11, 2008

Altec Lansing SoundBlade Bluetooth Speakers

Wired speakers like the Altec Lansing Orbit-MP3 (see previous post) work great for plugging in to MP3 players and music phones to share the fun. But these devices are going wireless with Bluetooth, so why bother with plugging in?

I've covered larger wireless Bluetooth stereo speakers like the Sony SRS-BTM30 and PARROT Party, and smaller more portable versions like the Samsung BS300.

The Altec Lansing SoundBlade Stereo Bluetooth Speakers have 2" high output speakers in a smart thin “blade-like” design -- 6 x 11 inches and only 1 inch thick, with a pop-out stand. It's a wireless stereo speaker with remote control, plus a wireless speakerphone with built-in microphone.

The two-way remote control functions, using small buttons along the top of the unit, include volume, mute, and track forward/back. And the wireless speakerphone uses an echo-canceling microphone and supports voice-activated dialing.

As a speaker, the SoundBlade includes SRS Trubass technology and has a shielded design to prevent speaker buzz from cellular frequencies.

You can run it on 6 AA batteries, with up to 24 hours playback, 3 days standby, or use the included AC adapter. And it also has an auxiliary audio input for wired playback.

The Altec Lansing inMotion SoundBlade iMT525 is available for $129.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for details on headphones.

    Find the Altec Lansing SoundBlade Speaker on

April 11, 2008

ZAGG invisibleSHIELD Protective Film

Is your portable media player getting banged and bruised as you carry it around? Is the beautiful "brushed metallic" surface looking bruised, or accumulating ugly finger smudges? Or, worse, did a key in your pocket scar the screen?

You can get fancy cases and carriers to protect your media player, in snazzy colors and with cute animals and bright rainbows, but these take up more room and can make it clumsy to access the controls.

Or you can wrap your player in a thick layer of bulletproof plastic -- or at least something close to it -- ZAGG invisibleSHIELD Protective Film.

invisibleSHIELD is a clear, thin adhesive film that provides tough and durable scratch protection for a wide variety of gadgets. The film is a clear urethane plastic, with self-healing and abrasion resistance properties. It's based on a material used to protect the leading edges of helicopter blades in the U.S. military.

The InvisibleSHIELD covers are custom designed for each device, available both in front cover screen protectors and full-body wraps that protect the entire device, including the screen, front, back, edges, corners, and sides.

Covers are available for some 2,000 specific devices, including iPods, MP3 players, cell phones, smartphones, PDAs, game systems, GPS devices, digital cameras, laptops, and even watches.

Prices for front covers to protect phone and music player typically range from $9.95 to $14.95 (for the iPhone). Full body covers range from $19.95 for smaller devices like the iPod nano to $24.95 for larger devices like the iPhone, iPod classic, and LG chocolate phone. And you can protect your notebooks, with protection for the MacBook Air including wrist rest coverage for $24.95, standard coverage for $39.95, and full body for $54.95.

What's great about the InvisibleSHIELD, besides the protection, is that it is so non-obtrusive -- so thin that you don't even notice that it's there. So the video iPod, for example, still slips snugly into its small case.

See the InvisibleSHIELD site for videos showing the installation process and strength tests.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for information on players and accessories.

    Find the ZAGG invisibleSHIELD Film on

More on installing the InvisibleSHIELD below ...

Continue reading "ZAGG invisibleSHIELD Protective Film" »

April 12, 2008

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 Noise-Cancelling Headphones

(with Brian Dixon)

Coming from a name like Audio-Technica, with its background in high-performance audio for home and professional use, we had high expectations for the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 QuietPoint Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones.
And we were not disappointed; With a list price of $219, but a street price of around $119, these headphones clearly delivered better sound than other noise-reduction products in the $100-plus price range (see previous posts on Headphones).

Audio-Technica rates the QuietPoint active noise reduction as up to 85%, a similar claim to competing products -- although A-T goes further to spec the reduction as up to 20 dB. The performance is certainly at least as good as other sets we've tried.

But the big difference is in the better, more accurate sound. Noise reduction can result in a somewhat muddier sound, especially for higher frequencies. But these A-T headphones had no such problem -- the highs came though well.

We were most impressed by the clarity of the headphones. The lows and mids sound very rich and satisfying, and the high end was very pronounced without being grating or tiring to the ears.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for information on headphones and earphones.

    Find the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 Headphones on

Continue reading "Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 Noise-Cancelling Headphones" »

April 19, 2008

Callpod Chargepod 6-way Charger Hub

If you're tired of wrangling power cables for your various devices, especially when packing for trips, take a look at today's universal chargers -- just one power cord, plus individual adapter tips for your specific devices. You can find a wide variety of these -- small and large, for cell phones to laptops, with and without batteries.

But if you have a bunch of handled devices, check out the Callpod Chargepod -- a power hub that simultaneously charges up to six devices.

Adapters are available for devices including cell phones, Bluetooth headsets, music players, PDAs, portable gaming systems, digital cameras, and other mobile electronics that operate in the 5 to 6 V range.

The hub itself is small and light (around 2 1/2 in. diameter and 1/2 in. thick) -- the power brick is larger (2 x 3 1/4 x 1 1/8 in.) The hub has individual LEDs on each port, which light up when an adapter is connected (although not necessarily charging).

The base unit is around $49 without adapters, or $89 bundled with a car charger and 6 popular adapters. Individual adapters are $9.95.

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for information on power chargers and adapters.

    Find the Callpod Chargepod on

April 28, 2008

ARCHOS Expands Media Player Connectivity

While the Apple iPod line defines portable media players, there are a lot of other options if you're interested in alternate features, form factors, and designs -- see, for example,

SanDisk is focused on portable flash memory players, Creative has a broad range of models for specific needs, Samsung has developed some stylish designs with new features like Bluetooth, and the Microsoft Zune has entered the market with Wi-Fi connectivity.

But if you're looking for something beefier -- a personal media player with a bigger screen and built-in speakers so you can share your music and photos and videos on the go -- then look to the Archos Gen 5 line.

ARCHOS specializes in upscale players with similar designs: widescreen, 4" to 7" screen, some touch-screen, high capacity hard disk storage up to 160 GB, and a docking station for A/V capture. But the most interesting ARCHOS 605 and 705 WiFi models have full Internet connectivity with Web browsing, media playback, and e-mail.

The ARCHOS Gen 5 line was introduced last year, and this month ARCHOS has significantly enhanced the line with new firmware upgrades, plug-ins, and add-ons:

Web Browser Playback of Flash 9 and WMV 9 Videos

Free firmware update to enhance the Web Browser plug-in ($29), which already plays common video sites. Now supports the newer Adobe Flash 9 and Microsoft Windows Video 9 formats to view social networking sites including YouTube and MySpace, plus media on sites such as CBS, NBC, PBS, MTV, and BBC . (Free upgrade, 5/08)

Web TV and Radio Plug-in

Search and play Web radio and TV stations, streamed live over the Internet. Access more than 9,600 Web radio stations, 600 Web TV stations, and 110,000 podcasts. (Available 5/08, $19)

TVportation Plug-in - Stream live TV

Use the ARCHOS TV+ WiFi Digital Video Recorder as a streaming media server. View live home TV over the Internet, change channels. (Does not currently support recorded / stored content, or files shared over the home network.) Also can use an ARCHOS 605 or 705 WiFi with DVR Station as the server for live TV. Clients for ARCHOS 605 and 705 WiFi, Windows PCs / laptops, Windows Mobile smartphones. (Available 5/08 - free download of server for ARCHOS TV+, $49 for ARCHOS 605 and 705 WiFi)

GPS In-Car Holder for ARCHOS 605 WiFi

In-car windshield holder with GPS antenna. Software provides full-fledged navigation system with TeleAtlas maps. (Available 4/08 - $129 stand-alone, or $399 bundled with 30 GB ARCHOS 605 WiFi player)

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more information on portable players, from music to video, flash memory to hard disk, tiny to widescreen.

    Find the ARCHOS 605 WiFi on

May 1, 2008

LaCie Portable Hard Drives

I love flash drives for carrying data files, saving photos, and quick backups when travelling. But for long trips, and especially when I'm shooting video, it's definitely worth bringing along a portable hard drive for the much greater storage and faster transfer rates.

For example, check out the LaCie product line for a nice selection of colorful and fun designs, to find your preferred capacity and size, using hard drives that are only 1.3" to 1.8" to 2.5" around. Each has built-in USB connectors with short cables that also power the drive.

Starting small, the LaCie USB Key Max is shaped like a credit card, and comes in black or day-glow orange. Two years ago, LaCie used this design to offer 4 and 8 GB of hard disk storage for $99 and $149. Today the same size and weight holds up to 40 GB. (LaCie prices are list, retail are lower.)

Credit card:
    LaCie USB Key Max

30 GB $109, 40 GB $139.
1.3" drive, 3.34 x 2.16 x 0.23 in., 2.1 oz.

The LaCie Little Disk, designed by Sam Hecht, has several models that share the same clean design, black with glossy finish, with a removable end cap to access the extractable USB connector.

The smallest Little Disk 30 / 40 GB uses a 1.3" drive to provide up to 40 GB of storage in a box that you can wrap in your fist.

Match box:
    Little Disk 30 / 40 GB

30 GB $119, 40GB $149
2.64 x 1.69 x .67 in., 3 oz.

Or double the size with the LaCie Little Disk 60 GB to move up to a 1.8" drive with 60 GB, still in the same price range.

Or double the size, and weight, again (but with about the same thickness) with the LaCie Little Disk, 80 - 320 to use a 2.5" drive, offering serious capacities of 80 up to an impressive 320 GB -- starting at $80 and up to only $159. This larger size is also available with dual USB / Firewire (1394) interfaces.

Cigarette case:
    Little Disk 60 GB

60 GB $129
3.15 x 2.52 x.71 in., 4.44 oz.

Shirt pocket:
    Little Disk, 80 - 320 GB

80 GB $79, 120 GB $89, 160 GB $99, 250 GB $139, 320 GB $159
5.08 x 3.19 x.71 in., 6.88 oz.

You still can't beat flash drives for their tiny size and ruggedness. But hard drives offer significantly more capacity at similar prices, and better performance. High-performance flash drives from companies like SanDisk offer read speeds around 15 - 25 MB/sec and write speeds around 10 - 18 MB/sec. In comparison, the Little Disk hard drives spin at 3600 to 5400 rpm, with burst transfer rates up to 30 - 35 MB/sec.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for details and comparisons on flash memory cards, USB drives, and hard disk storage.

    Find the LaCie USB Key Max on
    and the LaCie Little Disk 30 / 40 GB, 60 GB, and 80 - 320 GB

May 2, 2008

SanDisk Sansa Video Players -- Fuze and View

SanDisk has made a nice business expanding from its roots in flash memory with its SanDisk Sansa line of MP3 music and now video players. With lower prices for larger capacity, it's quite feasible to use memory-based players for video clips -- like the Apple iPod nano, with 4 GB for $149 and 8 GB for $199, playing 340 x 240 videos on a 2-inch screen in an amazingly thin design.

Meanwhile, SanDisk has developed a common look across the Sansa line, with clean black designs with rounded edges and blue highlights -- including a thumbwheel controller framed by a glowing blue circle. The older Sansa e200 from way back in 2006 has been joined by the larger-capacity Sansa View and the new smaller Sansa Fuze. The new players are thinner, with a simpler thumbwheel and button, and support higher-capacity microSDHC cards.

SanDisk Sansa e200 - 2 GB $99, 4 $119, 8 GB $149
    1.8" screen, QCIF+
    3.50 x 1.70 x 0.52”, 2.6 oz / 20 hours music

SanDisk Sansa Fuze - 2 GB $79, 4 GB $99, 8 GB $129
    1.9" screen, 220 x 176
    3.1 x 1.9 x 0.3 in., 2.1 oz / 24 hours music, 5 hours video

SanDisk Sansa View - 8 GB $149, 16 GB $199, 32 GB, $349
    2.4" screen, 320 x 240
    4.29 x 1.95 x 0.35", 2.9 oz / 35 hours music, 7 hours video

The View's screen has a portrait layout, great for scrolling though long menus when you have a large library of clips or lots of photo thumbnails, and with plenty of room to show song information with the album art. But when you display photos and videos the screen flips to landscape orientation so you can hold the player on its side for wide-screen images -- and the backlit button icons cleverly switch orientation to match.

These players all include a built-in microphone, FM tuner, and voice/FM recorder. And they all include a card slot for additional removable storage --1 or 2 GB microSD cards ($19 and $29), plus the newer players add 4 to 8 GB with the new microSDHC cards ($49 and $139).

The newer players directly support JPEG photos; various forms of MPEG-4 video; and MP3, WMA, secure WMA, WAV, and Audible audio; plus subscription music from sources including Rhapsody. The Sansa View also plays H.264 and WMV videos. While the older e200 used the Sansa Media Converter application to transfer photos and videos, you can transfer media to the View by simple drag and drop (if already in supported formats), or through media management software including Windows Media Player (to include album art and convert formats as needed).

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more information on portable players, from music to video, flash memory to hard disk, tiny to widescreen.

    Find the Sansa Fuze and Sansa View on

May 7, 2008

Microsoft Zune Update - TV Show Downloads

Microsoft has announced new software features and content for the Zune online store, music community, and Zune Pass monthly subscription service.

The Zune video store is expanding to include downloads of more than 800 episodes of popular television shows that can be downloaded and synced to a Zune device.

The TV shows, from sources including Comedy Central, MTV, NBC Universal, Nickelodeon, Starz, Turner, Ultimate Fighting Championship and VH1, are priced at launch at 160 Microsoft Points per episode (approximately $1.99).

The Zune online store now offers more than 3.5 million tracks, two-thirds of which are available in pure MP3 format, 800 television shows, 4,800 music videos and 3,500 audio and video podcasts. The “Zune Social” music community Web site has had more than two million users join in its first five months, so music fans can discover new music, browse each others’ playlists, and comment on their discoveries and tastes.

Members of the Zune online music community get a free, customizable Zune Card, a playlist which automatically reflects the songs played on a Zune player or Zune PC software. Previously, this only resided on the Web, but now has become portable. Consumers with the Zune Pass subscription now have the ability to take what their friends are listening to from the Zune music community on the go via Zune Card personal playlists. The Zune Pass subscription allows access to millions of tracks for $14.99 per month.

The new updates to the Zune online music community include drag and drop syncing of Zune Cards to a Zune device -- subscribers get the full tracks on their Zune, while nonsubscribers have full album information and artwork. There are also social networking updates for sharing and searching Zune music community profiles, posting artist and albums reviews, earning reputation badges, and connecting via Windows Live. Zune Pass subscribers can set up automatic, real-time feeds of the music their friends are listening to.

The Zune software also has been updated based on customer feedback. Users now can browse their video collection by genre and series, edit track or album information quickly via multi-select and drag-and-drop, sort by genre, sync to multiple Zune players simultaneously, and enjoy gapless playback both on their Zune device and in the Zune software.

Press releases:

May 5, 2008 - Zune Expands Beyond Music to Deliver Integrated All-in-One Entertainment Experience
    New software updates bring popular television shows to online store, enhancements to online music community and subscription service.

May 5, 2008 - Zune Community Brings New Shared Experience to Music
    Spring release adds features that inspire people to explore, discover and discuss their favorite music

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for details and comparisons to other players.

    Find the Microsoft Zune 80 GB and Zune 8 GB on

May 11, 2008

Belkin USB Hub and Mini Surge Protector

USB is not just about data connections any more -- it's also becoming the standard way to power up your portable devices as well. When you plug in to your computer to sync with a MP3 player or PDA, you're also feeding power over the same cable to recharge your device. Some portable devices now even don't bother to include a wall charger in the box -- instead they include a USB cable and a USB wall adapter.

This trend makes it a lot easier to travel with multiple devices, since you don't need to bring a separate custom wall charger for each device. Instead, just pack up the USB data cables for your products that use custom interfaces (like the Apple iPod), and add a standard mini-USB cable for devices that just use the USB interface (or even micro USB for small devices like Bluetooth headsets).

Yet while you then can charge these devices from your laptop when you are on the road, this still can get clumsy when you are dealing with multiple devices -- for example, when you need to charge a mobile phone and Bluetooth headset while you are using a USB mouse and storage drive.

Again, Belkin comes to the rescue with two clever ideas to manage and power multiple USB devices (see previous post).

The Belkin Swivel USB Hub splits one USB connection into 4 ports (all high-speed USB 2.0) -- so you can access and power multiple devices at the same ($29 list, around $19 retail). It also includes a power adapter if needed for power-hungry devices.

Yes, you can find smaller hubs (but with an additional connecting cable), and larger hubs with more connectors -- but this Swivel Hub is travel sized, and has a handy two-way adjustable swivel connector. Rotate it sideways so you can still access additional USB connectors on your system, angle it up along the side of your system for easier access when you're inserting and removing devices, or fold it down to lie flat for storage.

And for powering multiple devices, the Belkin Mini Surge Protector / USB Charger provides three AC outlets, plus two powered USB outlets, all with surge protection ($25 list, around $19 retail).

The USB outlets are for power only -- they do not serve as a hub for transferring data. The product includes a mini-USB cable to charge many compatible devices, or else you can use the custom connector cable that came with other devices. The hub also has a rotating plug which locks at each 90 degree position.

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for other power systems, battery packs, and universal chargers that offer adapter tips for a wide variety of portable devices -- including cell phones, music players, cameras, and game machines -- so you can charge them all from USB power.

Also see my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more fun devices, organized by company.

    Find the Belkin Swivel USB Hub and Mini Surge Protector on

May 14, 2008

Market Share for MP3 / Media Players

The NPD Group has released new market share numbers for portable MP3 / media players. The Apple iPod line continues to dominate the market at over 70%, and the SanDisk Sansa line remains a clear second at around 10%. Meanwhile, the Microsoft Zune gained one percentage point to 4%, as Creative declined further to 2%.

Company Q1 08 Q1 07 (Q2 06)
Apple (iPods) 71% 70% 75%
SanDisk (Sansa) 11% 10% 10%
Microsoft (Zune) 4% 3%  
Creative 2% 4% 5%

See further analysis from Wired.

Microsoft recently reported that it has sold 2 million Zune players since its launch in November 2006.

In comparison, Apple reported that it has sold 10.6 million iPods in the first quarter of 2008, and iPhone sales were 1.7 million.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for details and comparisons of media players.

June 6, 2008

SanDisk microSD Storage -- Wake Up Your Phone

Got a slot? SanDisk would really like you to notice that your cell phone, your PDA, and your MP3 player (though not if it's an iPod) probably have a memory card slot that you could be taking advantage of -- for more storage and more fun.

Wake Up Your Phone

SanDisk has been promoting the use of microSD flash memory cards in its Wake Up Your Phone advertising campaign. The accompanying website provides information about how to use the memory card slot to add more storage capacity to your mobile phone -- from finding the right kind of card, to transferring downloads to your phone.

With removable storage cards, you can "sideload" media files from your PC to the card to play on your phone, or transfer photos and other files from your phone to your PC. You can currently get up to 8 GB on a microSD card, to hold some 1,000 songs (128 Kbps MP3), 1,200 photos (2 MP), or 21 hours of video (MPEG-4 at 384 Kbps).

Mobile Ultra Memory Cards

Conveniently, SanDisk has a broad line of tiny little memory cards for mobile phones, in microSD and Memory Stick Mobile (M2) formats, including larger capacity / higher performance microSDHC (currently up to 8 GB for $99). To access these tiny cards on your computer and other devices, there's also microSD Mobile Memory Kit with SD and miniSD adapters, and compact MobileMate Readers (USB card adapters)

SanDisk recently announced Mobile Ultra premium memory cards for mobile phones in microSD and Memory Stick Mobile (M2) formats, bundled with its tiny MobileMate Micro Reader (press release) which handles microSD, microSDHC, and Memory Stick Micro cards.

SanDisk describes the Mobile Ultra line as "high-performance" cards that provide fast side-loading speeds -- though it does not publish transfer rate specs due to the broad variability in performance between different devices.

Suggested retail pricing for the Mobile Ultra microSD cards plus reader is 2 GB for $34, 4 GB for $59, and 8 GB for $119.

Sansa Sessions Card

But SanDisk's vision for flash memory goes beyond added storage. Memory cards can also be pre-loaded with content distribution format. SanDisk is making this point with its Sansa Sessions free music promotion for its new Sansa Fuze media player.

Purchase the 8GB Sansa Fuze (in snazzy silver, list $129) before August, and SanDisk will send a free microSD card preloaded with DRM-free music from new and emerging artists (press release).

The 500 MB card has a Music folder with the music tracks from 55 artists (with associated album art), all in non-copy-protected MP3 format (mostly at 128 and 256 Kbps). Plus there are Photo and Video folders with a handful of additional music video clips (MPEG4 in AVI files).

There's even a little space left over for you to store your own files.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

    Find the SanDisk Mobile Ultra microSDHC Card on

    Find the SanDisk Sansa Fuze 8 GB MP3 Player on

June 20, 2008

Offload PC Security -- Yoggie Systems

The never-ending mess with Windows and viruses and spyware is an embarrassment to the IT industry -- Even as a computing professional, it's a pain to try to keep my own system safe, much less help friends and grandparents set up a simple system to get online to send e-mail and check the Web without running into trouble. Technology like protected operating systems and hardware virtual machines have been around for decades, but on today's PCs it's still horribly easy to accidentally click the wrong thing and suddenly find your entire system under attack.

Even worse, it's a pain to keep up the effort to try to defend yourself -- loading and managing multiple (and sometimes conflicting) applications, clicking through incomprehensible warning pop-ups (and nags to buy upgrades), and then suffering through slow-downs as the software sucks up your processor running scans and downloading updates.

A better answer is to off-load all this checking and scanning onto another device, like an enterprise gateway server for businesses. But you still need to be able to defend your personal systems, and your business laptop on the road.

So check out Yoggie Security Systems, which has developed a security engine that off-loads your system by running on a USB stick, and now in an ExpressCard device for laptops.

The Yoggie devices are miniature stand-alone computers -- 520 MHz Intel processor, 128 MB RAM and 128 MB Flash memory, Linux OS, plus 13 security applications built directly into the miniature device (see below). Yoggie offloads all the security processing so that your machine boots and runs faster, and automatic handles security updates and upgrades. (The products include one year of updates, then most have a $30 annual subscription.)

The Yoggie product line includes several USB devices that you plug in to your system:
- Firestick Pico - $119 - Firewall only, no annual subscription
- Gatekeeper Pico - $149 - For consumers
- Gatekeeper Pico Pro - $199 - For corporate, with VPN and centralized management

Plus Yoggie is now adding the same capabilities in a laptop card that you can insert and forget, instead of having to plug in a USB device:
- Gatekeeper Card Pro - $199 / $159 - Security computer in a ExpressCard

Yoggie also offers two corporate devices that are physically separate from your computer on your network connection, and which can be remotely managed and monitored by the IT organization:
- GateKeeper Pro - $220 - For corporate, with pass-though network connection
- Gatekeeper SOHO - $249 - Network protection for up to 5 computers.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for details and comparisons on memory cards, USB drives, and hard disk storage.

    Find the Yoggie Gatekeeper Pico on

More on the Yoggie software ...

Continue reading "Offload PC Security -- Yoggie Systems" »

July 17, 2008

SanDisk Write-Once SD WORM Memory Cards

Memory cards have become incredibly popular as a convenient, rugged, and more affordable storage medium for a variety of uses, from mobile phones to high-definition video cameras. Compared to tape, optical disc, and even hard disk storage, solid-state memory provides immediate access to files, and does away with expensive and sensitive mechanical transports and flying read heads.

And capacity continues to rise, with prices for 8 GB SD cards falling under $50 -- That's more memory than Windows XP can effectively use on a desktop workstation!

So it's not surprising that SanDisk, the world's largest supplier of flash memory data storage products, has announced a new format for professional uses -- the SanDisk SD WORM card, a Write Once Read Many (WORM) digital memory card (see press release).

(image is the SanDisk Video HD card)

Digital data written to the SD WORM cards is stored permanently; there is no physical way to alter or delete individual recorded files. Yet the cards are readable in any standard SD slot, attached to a computer or other SD-compatible device. SanDisk estimates a 100-year archive life, when kept under appropriate storage conditions.

This is important for applications that require tamper-proof recording, especially to meet legal requirements for genuine and original records, such as police photography and other court records, cash registers and other tax records, and medical devices and other patient data.

SanDisk is working with the SD Card Association for approval of SD WORM as an industry standard. Writing to the cards does require new firmware, so SanDisk is partnering with manufacturers of digital devices including cameras, digital voice recorders, medical equipment, and electronic cash registers.

The SanDisk SD WORM cards are available now in 128-megabyte capacity, and are expected to be available in higher capacities later in the year.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

    Find the SanDisk 8GB Video HD SDHC Card and
    SanDisk SanDisk 8GB MicroSDHC Card on

August 1, 2008

Plantronics Discovery 925 - Designer Bluetooth Headset

Plantronics may not have a particularly sexy company name, but it has been producing innovative headsets for mobile phones, cordless phones, and computer audio. And its acquisition of Altec Lansing in 2005 added strength in portable and powered audio systems.

The new Plantronics Discovery 925 Bluetooth headset, introduced in April during the Spring 2008 New York Fashion Week, combines technology and design into "signature line of designer headsets for both men and women." Plus, there's some nice design touches and cool technology.

The "VFrame" design extends the microphone on a boom closer to the mouth, tilted diagonally down to follows the contours of the face.

And the design is clean, without an additional earloop or other attachment hardware. The earpiece rests in the outer ear (not shoved into the cavity), and is stabilized with a soft flexible eartip flange (included in 3 sizes). As a result, the Discovery 925 is very easy to insert and remove for occasional use, and still is surprisingly secure in the ear -- It hangs in even if you shake your heard vigorously, although I would not recommend heading a soccer ball.

On the technology side, the Plantronics AudioIQ automatic noise control works both ways, removing background noise from your voice, and adjusting the incoming volume. As a result, I was able to talk and hear clearly, and in a conversational tone, while walking the streets of New York City and waiting for a train in Penn Station.

The headset supports Bluetooth v2.0 + EDR, with volume control, call answer/end, last number redial, and voice activated dialing. And it has a multipoint option for an active connection with two Bluetooth phones.

The Discovery 925 includes one more clever feature -- the carrying case is also a recharger, and provides one full charge to the earpiece. The product includes both a USB cable and an AC adapter to charge the headset or case, for a full charge in 3 hours. The headset provides up to 5 hours talk time or 7 days standby.

The Discovery 925 weighs 8 grams, and is available in metallic and jewel tone colors -- traditional Onyx Black, and now also Alchemy Gold and Cerise Pink. List price is $149, with street prices more around $79.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

    Find the Plantronics Discovery 925 Headset on

August 7, 2008

Samsung Pebble - Mini MP3 Player

MP3 players have expanded way beyond music -- with photos and video, FM radio and voice recording, plus huge capacity to store your entire music library, podcasts, and videos.

But there's still a place for simple music players -- small music-only players that are easy to carry, with 1 or 2 GB of storage, enough for 100's of songs to play for 10+ hours. The Apple iPod shuffle is the minimalist example -- reduced to a clip-on rectangle with basic controls and no display, 1.62 x 1.07 x 0.41 inches, 0.55 ounce, available with 1 GB for $49, 2 GB for $69.

Samsung has been developing an interesting line of media players, featuring distinctive designs and advanced features, including the high-end Samsung YP-P2 with widescreen touch screen and Bluetooth connectivity (see previous post).

At the minimalist end, the Samsung Pebble (YP-S2) is a simple MP3 player like the iPod shuffle, but with a smooth rounded "pebble" look, designed to hang around your neck with the included lanyard earphones.

The back side of the Pebble is flat, with the playback controls embedded flush the surface.

But it's sometimes hard to tell what's happening with a player that has no display. So Samsung added a concealed LED light that flashes different colors and patterns to indicate playback, sound effect, and charging status. Besides the usual controls for Play/Pause, Left/Right, Up/Down, there's also a Smart button on the side (again since there's no display for a menu), to select the play mode (random, repeat), Samsung DSNe audio enhancement, and LED on/off.

The product includes Samsung Media Studio software, which upgrades to the newer EmoDio software. You can organize media files, create playlists, sync music to the device, and burn CDs. The software also takes care of finding and installing firmware updates, and includes options to download datacasts (blogs), and Text To Speech. However, this software is new, and the prompts and help are clumsily translated to English. (You also can drag and drop files directly as a removable disk.)

The Samsung S2 Pebble supports MP3, WMA, and OGG formats. It is 1.66 x 1.62 x 0.65 inches, and around 0.6 ounces. It's available in glossy colors: black, white, red, green and purple, with 1 GB for $39/$46, and 2 GB coming.

See the Portable Media Players Gallery for details and comparisons.

    Find the Samsung S2 Pebble on

August 15, 2008

JVC Gumy Air Earbuds

JVC has updated its line of popular and inexpensive Gumy earbuds. The original Gumy (HA-F130) is available in fun colors for only $9.95 -- a tasty snack impulse buy to pick up at the checkout counter.

The new JVC Gumy Air (HA-F240) adds an earpiece covered with a soft silicon rubber air cushion, which flexes to gently conform to the contours of your ear.

It's available for $14.94, in seven fashionable colors (over the body and the cord), matching the 3rd-generation iPods (nano and shuffle).

The Gumy Air also has a 3.3-foot friction noise reduction cord to reduce noise from rubbing, and a gold-plated iPhone-compatible plug.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

    Find the JVC Gumy Earbuds on

August 25, 2008

Aliph New Jawbone Bluetooth Headset

The Aliph Jawbone Bluetooth headset, introduced way back in December 2006, set a new standard in noise reduction with its adaptive "Noise Shield" technology (see previous post). For example, I tested the Jawbone while standing between cars on a train barreling into New York, and it just cut away the background train noise to let my voice come through clearly (see previous post).

The special feature of the Jawbone is a small nub on the back that rests against your cheek, so the device can sense the vibrations when you are talking to help separate your voice from the background noise. As a result, the headset is larger (and thicker) than others, but it has a clean and elegant design.

The (now "Original") Jawbone stood up well for over a year an a half, but now Aliph is back with the New Jawbone, about 50% smaller than the original (half as wide) -- and still with a clean design and great noise reduction. Both use "invisible touch" controls -- there are no visible buttons, just press on the outside shield to activate the two controls.

The New Jawbone, introduced in May, now features "military-grade Noise Assassin technology," that blows away background noise while still keeping voices sounding natural and not computer-enhanced. I've tested it on New York streets, in the suburbs with a lawnmower, and in the car driving with the radio on and with windows wide open. The Jawbone does a great job, though you can overload it in situations like wind noise in the car at over 40 to 50 MPH, or with the radio blasting.

See video demos of the New Jawbone in action.

Because of its design, getting a good fit is especially important with the Jawbone. Not only does the earpiece need to be snug in the ear canal for you to best hear the caller, but the unit itself needs to be resting snugly against the cheek for the voice sensor. The Original Jawbone included a choice of 6 ear buds and 4 ear loops of different sizes, and the earloops had a distinctive suspension design. The New Jawbone comes with 3 earbud sizes and two sets of simpler earloops, one pair in soft leather and the other plain slim metal (especially for use with eyewear). You then should experiment with the fit, bending the earloops as needed for the correct spacing to the earpiece, and choosing the best fitting earpiece to keep the unit snug but not too tight.

The New Jawbone is available for $129, in snazzy black, silver, and rose gold. It also has a new fast-charge battery for an 80% charge in 35 minutes, and full charge in 50 minutes. However, it does require a special cable with a custom charging adapter, that can be charged though a USB port, or with the included USB wall-charger adapter. It's speced for talk time over 4 hours, standby over 8 days.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products

    Find the Aliph New Jawbone headset on

September 10, 2008

Apple Refreshes iPod Line

It's September -- and time for the annual refresh of the Apple iPod line, with new generations of the iPod nano and touch, tweaks to the iPod shuffle and classic, bright colors, and fun enhancements to iTunes 8 with the Genius feature.

Apple describes the iPod as the world’s most popular family of digital music players, with over 160 million sold and holding at over 70% of the market. Its iTunes Store has moved up to be the #1 music distributor in any format in U.S., with a catalog of 8.5 million songs, over 30,000 TV episodes, and over 2,500 films including 600 in HD. And the new App Store has seen more than 100 million applications downloaded since the launch on July 11, with more than 3,000 available, over 90% under $10, and more than 600 are free.

- The new 4th generation iPod nano returns to a vertical design, with the same screen resolution in an even slimmer design (reducing from 1.74 to 1.3 oz.). It also adds a built-in accelerometer: rotate sideways for a widescreen view with Cover Flow album art, or shake to shuffle music. It's available in nine colors, with double the storage at the same price, 8 GB for $149, 16 GB for $199.

- The new 2nd generation iPod touch is smaller and lighter (from 4.2 to 4.05 oz.), and adds integrated volume control buttons and a built-in speaker for casual listening. It also doubles the storage with 8 GB for $229, 16 GB for $299, and 32 GB for $399.

- The iPod classic simplifies to one slimline model with 50% more capacity, with 120 GB for $249.

- The iPod shuffle adds four vivid new colors, still at 1 GB for $49, 2 GB for $69.

- iTunes 8 adds enhanced visual browsing by album and video covers, and adds high definition television programs from ABC, NBC (returning to the iTunes store), and Showtime for $2.99 per episode.

But the big addition is the new Genius feature that automatically creates playlists from songs in your music library that go great together, as well as recommending related music from the iTunes Store. You also can create Genius playlists on-the-go with the new iPods.

For more info:

- For a good time, see the Steve Jobs keynote introduction of the new products -

- For Apple's summary of specs for the new iPod line, see

- And for details on the new products, and the iPod product line history, see my Portable Media Players Gallery

    Find the Apple iPod nano (gen 4)
    and the Apple iPod Touch (gen 2) on

September 17, 2008

Microsoft Updates Zune Line and Software

The Microsoft Zune line of media players also has been updated, with increased capacity (matching the recent changes in the Apple iPod -- see previous post), and new 3.0 software with even more emphasis on music discovery features -- supported for all existing devices.

The flash memory Zune doubled capacity at the same price, with 8 GB for $149 and the new 16 GB for $199 (remaining 4 GB units drop to $129).

The hard disk Zune stepped from 80 to 120 GB for the same $249 (remaining 80 GB units are now $229. That's some 4,000 songs or 48 hours of video in the 16 GB flash memory model in a smaller 1.7 oz. size, or 30,000 songs or 375 hours video in the 120 GB hard drive model that's somewhat larger and certainly heavier at 4.5 oz.

The new Zune device software upgrades the firmware to extract RDS and RT+ data feeds from FM broadcasts, so you can Buy from FM -- tag songs to access later. You can download when docked to your computer or at a Wi-Fi hot spot, or listen over Wi-Fi with a Zune Pass subscription. The device software also adds support for audiobooks, the beginnings of games to play on the go, and a handy clock.

The new Zune PC software adds new music discovery features, including channels with music programming in different genres, and personal recommendations based on comparing your library with others. There's also new visualization interfaces, including the Mixview dynamic display mapping artists to their influences, related artists and power listeners.

Also check out the Zune Originals online store with exclusive color combinations and options to customize your Zune player with laser-engraved art and personal text (see previous post).

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on the Zune players and software, and the development of related products.

    Find the Microsoft Zune 16 GB
    and the Microsoft Zune 120 GB on

October 4, 2008

Npower Gadgets for Kids from Memorex and Nickelodian

The Npower consumer electronics line is designed for 5 to 12 year-old kids, and includes digital cameras, digital photo frames, music players, and audio accessories. The line was introduced last September 2007, distributed by Memorex, and featuring familiar Nickelodian personalities including the infamous SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer, Go, Diego, Go!, and The Naked Brothers Band.

The products are decorated in bright colors with the Nick characters, relatively straightforward and simple to use, and inexpensive while still resistant to damage from kids (often in basic hard plastic).

This year's new line adds the hot new iCarly, with several new products available exclusively at Toys"R"Us through December:

The iCarly Micro MP3 Digital Music Player is small and simple (like the iPod shuffle), and stores some 250 songs (in 1 GB). It comes preloaded with a sample of iCarly’s new single, “Leave it All to Me!” ($29.99 at Toys"R"Us)

The iCarly Travel Speaker Case is a zippered case with shoulder strap, with a nook for a MP3 player on one side and built-in speakers on the other. Plug in the line-in jack to play your music out load, or use the dual headphone jacks to listen with friend.
($29.99 at Toys"R"Us)

The SpongeBob SquarePants Eyeball Speaker Dock is a wacky yellow sponge speaker. Nest your MP3 player in the cradle on top, wire up line-in to the player and left/right audio to the two eyeball speakers. And the speakers are removable -- select ROCK mode to have them wobble, rock and roll with the music (as a motor runs inside). ($39.99 at Toys"R"Us)

The SpongeBob SquarePants Digital Photo Viewer is a small and simple way to share photos, as the cover flips around as a stand to show the tiny 1.4" display. It stores up to 59 photos (in 2 MB), but requiring the built-in ImageViewer software to transfer files (Windows).
($24.99 at Toys"R"Us)

See my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more on the Npower line

October 6, 2008

Duracell Daylite - Bright LED Flashlight

I'm a big fan of LED flashlights -- they're rugged and last forever, and quite bright. But now my flashlights pale by comparison to the new Duracell Daylite LED Flashlight, that has such a brighter and whiter beam that it washes out my old light.

The trick is Duracell's TrueBeam technology, which uses both a lens and a reflector to capture and project up to 100% of the light from the LED, and without the dark spot from old flashlights. The beam is adjustable from narrow spotlight to wider floodlight.

The Daylite flashlights are rugged (aircraft grade aluminum), with a lifetime guarantee.

The Daylite line is available with 3 different included batteries: AA or AAA batteries (3W / 80 Lumens, $24), or a CR123 model (4W / 160 Lumens, $34).

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for more details.

    Find the Duracell Daylite LED Flashlight on

November 6, 2008

V-MODA Vibe Duo Noise-Isolating Earphones / Headset

Combining "fashion-conscious style and audio-enthusiast sound," the V-MODA Vibe Duo is a noise-isolating dual-use headphone that's also a headset with the integrated hands-free microphone.

It's lightweight, with a solid alloy composition and 32-inch black fabric cable.

The subtle design also includes touches like a small music/call button on the mic to switch between listening to music and talking on the phone, the plug mounted with the cord angled at 45 degrees for strain relief, and texturing of the earpieces for a better grip. The package includes three sizes of earpieces in soft silicone.

The resulting sound is strong but not distorted. It features V-MODA V-MASQUE dynamic driver technology for a "precise yet natural soundstage," plus BLISS (Bass Level Isolating Soft Silicon) technology to reduce ambient noise and enhance the bass response.

The V-MODA Vibe Duo is available for around $100 in chrome or "gunmetal/rouge," -- definitely stylish, although the look can give the appearance of chrome bullets in your ears...

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for information on headphones and earphones.

    Find the V-MODA Vibe Duo on

November 7, 2008

Sleek Audio SA6 Modular Earphones

Some like it hot. Some like it cool. We all have our own individual preferences on how we listen to music -- which also depends on the type of music, from cool jazz to hot rock, vocal to orchestral, simple unplugged to deeply layered. As you experiment with different speakers and headphones you can find your favorites that match the acoustic profile for what you're listening to, and how you want to listen to it.

Or, you can get earphones that let you customize the sound of music, like the Sleek Audio SA6 acoustically adjustable in-ear earphones. These feature Sleek's tunable VQ technology, with interchangeable bass and treble tuning elements.

The interchangeable tuning ports are small cores that are inserted in the back of the earphone (bass) and under the ear tip (treble).

The three tuned bass ports (plus, neutral, minus) are speced to provide 10 dB difference at 20 Hz for low frequency. And the four treble ports offer sustained high frequency or smoother response with less upper high end, a new extended high frequency element.

The product also includes three pairs of noise isolating soft ear canal tips and a 50-inch detachable cable that can be worn in three ways: with the cord up over the ear, or down, or worn upside down with the cable lying at the cheek for small ears.

The Sleek Audio SA6 is available for around $299.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for information on headphones and earphones.

    Find the Sleek Audio SA6 on

November 8, 2008

Energizer Hard Case LED Flashlights

Today's LED flashlights are light and rugged -- and bright, like the Duracell Daylite LED Flashlight (see previous post).

Energizer also has an extensive line of LED flashlights, for home, work, pro, outdoor, kids, and on the go.

For example, the Energizer Hard Case Work line is designed to provide rugged and dependable lighting with bright LEDs, shatterproof lenses, and tough cases, with a selection of models designed for different numbers and sizes of batteries.

The Energizer Hard Case Professional line then features designs for specific professional needs, including lanterns, headlights, and spotlights.

For example, the Energizer Hard Case Professional 2AA Swivel Light features a rotating swivel head (125 degrees) and a choice of lights: the main high intensity white LED, two red LEDs for night vision, and a green LED for pipe inspection.

The LED produces 80 lumens of light, and is rated for a 4 hour run time with the included two AA Energizer Max alkaline batteries.

It fits comfortably in the hand, with impact resistant plastic with rubber fittings and grips, and a shatterproof lens that survives a 20 foot drop.

The Swivel Light is available in 2 and 4 AAA battery models for around $29.

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for more details.

    Find the Energizer Hard Case Professional Swivel Light
    and Energizer LED Flashlight on

November 11, 2008

SanDisk slotMusic - A New Music Format

The CD is fading away as a purchased music format, and digital music is growing, but it's still clumsy to manage digital music files -- rip or purchase songs, keep them organized, and then sync or download to the desired mobile phone or portable players.

So maybe there's still a place for a new physical purchased music format -- the SanDisk slotMusic card, available this holiday season with more than 40 "albums" from major labels: EMI Music, Sony BMG Music, Universal Music, and Warner Music.

The slotMusic format is just a standard microSD card, preloaded with music (plus additional content such as liner notes, album art, and videos). A typical "album" on a 1 GB slotMusic card contains some 12 songs, and sells for around $14.99, much like a CD.

The music is in standard MP3 format, with good quality up to 320 kbps. And it's DRM-free, without any copy protection, which means it should play on pretty much any device. You can copy and play the music files on other devices (including a PC -- they are packaged with a tiny USB adapter). And you can copy your own files to the slotMusic cards -- again, they're just a standard microSD card preloaded with MP3 and other files.

SanDisk also has released an accompanying dead simple player device -- the SanDisk Sansa slotMusic Player. It just plays MP3 and WMA music files from the microsSD slot -- there's no internal memory and no display. But a 16 GB card can hold up to some 4,000 MP3 songs, which can keep you occupied for a while. The player is small, under 2 ounces, and only $19.99.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on music and video players

November 19, 2008

Microsoft Zune Price Cuts and Software Update

Microsoft has cut prices on its flash-based Zune players and accessories for the US and Canada -- the Zune 4GB is now $99 (was $129), Zune 8GB is $139 (was $149), and Zune 16GB is $179 (was $199).

The Zune 3.1 software update also is available. This is an incremental update, improving overall stability and performance in the Zune PC software and device firmware.

It's sweetened with three new games, Checkers, Sudoku, and Space Battle, plus a new multiplayer mode and single player difficulty levels for Texas Hold’em.

The PC software has a refresh to Zune Social, so it's easier to navigate, and adds a new “like minded listeners” feature so you can see how compatible your music tastes are with other listeners.

Just connect your Zune to your PC, and the Zune Software will guide you though the process of downloading and installing the upgrade.

See the ZuneInsider blog for further news updates.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on the Zune players and software, and the development of related products.

    Find the Microsoft Zune 16 GB
    and the Microsoft Zune 120 GB on

November 26, 2008

3M MPro110 Micro Pocket Video Projector

Usually I try to explain why a new product is interesting, and set it in the context of the market, but the heck with that -- this is just too amazing --

The new 3M MPro110 Micro Professional Projector is a portable video projector that literally fits in your pocket.

It's around the size of a digital camera, a bit smaller than a Palm Treo at around 4 1/2 x 2 x 3/4 inches and 5 1/2 ounces.

Just hook it up to your notebook computer, DVD or MP3 player, or handheld video game system and project the image up to around 6 feet, for a big 50 inch diagonal display. Yes, it's not super bright at around 8 lumens, but you can still see the picture clearly as long as the room is not flooded with light.

So now you can carry a video projector to share your fun anywhere (OK, or business presentation). Just project on the wall, or a piece of poster board -- or on the ceiling to add ambience to the room. There's a focus knob on the front to adjust the picture from around 1 to 6 feet. And a tripod mount for stabilizing the display.

The MPro110 uses a LCOS imager with LED light, which means it runs cool (no need for a fan), and long (10,000 hours, so no worry about replacement bulbs). The battery runs for 40 to 60 minutes.

The display itself is 640 x 480. The MPro110 comes with a VGA cable for displaying from a notebook (it accepts higher resolutions), and a RCA cable for displaying NTSC and PAL video signals.

(However, there's no speaker, so you'll need more equipment to show movies from a portable player. And you'll need an additional video adaptor to display from an iPod.)

The 3M MPro110 Projector lists at $359, and is already available for around $300.

Also keep an eye out for the Optoma PK-101 Pico Pocket Projector, due around December for $399, which uses DLP technology (tiny mirrors), is a little smaller (4 x 2 x 3/5 inches, 4 ounces), and includes speakers and an iPod kit.

See my Home HDTV Gallery for details

    Find the 3M MPro110 Micro Projector and
    Optoma PK-101 Pico Projector on

November 30, 2008

Season for Storage: 32GB SD Cards

'Tis the season to bulk up on storage for the holiday season -- for your digital camera, camcorder, game player, or other portable devices.

After all, why worry about carrying extra cards to swap in when one fills up, when you can just get a bigger card that can hold all your stuff -- even the full set of your holiday photos or hours and hours of video.

The SDHC format (SD card, High Capacity) blew away the now-pathetic 1 or 2 GB capacities of just a couple years ago, expanding the SD card format to 4 to 32 GB, with the bonus of faster data rates to support the demands of fast-shooting 10+ megapixel digital cameras and high-def video.

And as storage continues to re-double in size, that promise has come to fruition this season with 16 and now 32 GB SDHC cards, plus 8 and 16 GB microSDHC cards, from SanDisk and Kingston.

The new Kingston 32 GB Elite Pro SDHC card is listed at a premium of $293, as 16 GB cards have fallen to around $40 to $60, and 4 and even 8 GB have fallen under $20 (even for some higher-speed cards).

Meanwhile, the ridiculously small microSD cards, designed for use in tiny mobile phones, are only a step behind. The SanDisk 16 GB microSDHC card lists at $99, with 8 GB for $49, 4 GB for $29, and 2 GB for $19.

While the highest-capacity cards may not be generally available yet, they help continue to drive ongoing price reductions. While 1 GB cards were priced around $60 two years ago, we're now looking at under $10. Prices vary dramatically this season, so stay alert for better deals. For example, the SanDisk CyberMonday sale is running through, well, Monday, on memory cards, USB drives, and MP3 players.

One interesting byproduct in this dramatic growth in storage capacity is that the SDHC format already has hit its limit of 32 GB after just a couple of years on the market. But there's still some time to adjust as these new sizes become more popular. In addition, just as the new SDHC format required changes to devices to support the higher capacity, some current devices still may require driver upgrades to handle the new 16 and 32 GB sizes.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

    Find Kingston SDHC cards and
    SanDisk microSDHC cards on

December 2, 2008

Season for Storage: Kingston 64 GB USB Drives

As USB drives grew from megabytes to a couple of gigabytes in size, they became more than a handy data transfer medium -- they became serious storage for carrying around large collections of materials and doing backups.

But now that we're seeing 32 GB SD memory cards (see previous post), USB drives are expanding further, and at ridiculously low prices.

The Kingston DataTraveler 150 USB drive is now shipping with 32 GB for $117, and with a gignormous 64 GB for $177 -- conveniently in holiday red coloring.

Again, shop around for the best pricing -- as I write this, Amazon sellers have the DT150 32 GB for $84, and 64 GB for $126.

So now there's no excuse for not backing up your stuff!

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

    Find Kingston DataTraveler 150 USB drive on

December 20, 2008

Daniel Schreiber of SanDisk on the slotMusic Format

Buying music on CDs (physical media, for heaven sakes!) is so 90's -- everybody knows that digital music is the future, right? But contrary to the hype, CDs are far from dead. Like other research companies, Forrester Research projects that the sales of digital music downloads will eventually overtake CD sales -- but not until 2012.

But speaking at the CDSA Media Market Intelligence Summit (see previous post), Daniel Schreiber of SanDisk offered an alternative future for music delivery. In his view, the decline of the CD was not because people do not want music in physical formats, but instead was the result of the demise of the CD player -- Those shiny optical discs were so sexy when they were introduced, but now are just too big for today's lifestyles. CDs no longer fit in our world of hand-held devices, cell phones and PDAs.

But there is a physical storage format that does fit in these devices -- the tiny microSD memory card (about the size of a pinky finger nail), explicitly designed for use in mobile devices, and easily accessed on PCs with a SD card adapter. And some 80% of music-enabled mobile phones already sport a microSD slot. Hmmm ...

So SanDisk, in partnership with the four major music labels, has introduced the new slotMusic format (see previous post) -- music "albums" sold on standard microSD cards.

A typical slotMusic card release contains some 12 songs, and sells for around $14.99, much like a CD. Even better, the music is stored in standard MP3 format, without any copy protection, so you're free to copy it to other devices. And the cards are standard 1 GB microSD flash memory (about the size of a pinky finger nail), so they can be freely used to store any other data.

Schreiber said that 30 to 40 titles have been released in slotMusic format (more than the first year of CD), available from SanDisk (plus a Sansa slotMusic MP3 player), and from Best Buy and Wal-Mart. Schreiber pointed to new releases from Rihanna and Tim McGraw that already have seen 6% to 10% of sales on slotMusic.

Schreiber concluded by stressing the continued power of flash memory, which has has seen the pricing reduced 10,000X in the 18 years it has been available. In the late 90s, flash memory replaced chemical film in digital cameras, and more recently USB drives have replaced the floppy disk in computers. And we are now starting to see the Solid State Drive (SSD) doing the same to hard disks, especially in notebooks.

Schreiber echoed the Einstein quote, "The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest," looking forward to further compounding of the potential of flash memory. For example, through adding intelligence to the memory, not only for applications like built-in security and DRM, but even including a Web server to provide networked access to storage within a phone and network.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on the Sansa slotMusic player and other music and video players

See full article -- SanDisk slotMusic - A New Music Format

More from Schreiber on Consumers and Physical Media ...

Continue reading "Daniel Schreiber of SanDisk on the slotMusic Format" »

December 21, 2008

SanDisk Sansa slotMusic Player and Cards

I've discussed the new SanDisk slotMusic card format for selling music "albums" on microSD cards (see previous posts), and now I've had a chance to try it out.

The slotMusic card format is designed for easy access -- it's just have standard MP3 files stored on standard memory cards with no copy protection.

The cards are readily playable in billions of mobile phones with microSD slots, the files can be copied to other devices, and the card can be used for other data storage.

Some 30 to 40 titles have been released in slotMusic format, and are available for around $14.99, from SanDisk, and from Best Buy and Wal-Mart.

For example, the slotMusic version of the Robert Thicke album, Someting Else, has a Music folder with the 12 MP3 tracks, plus bonus material: an Extras folder with a few photos of Thicke and a Video folder with three music clips and an interview. And all that uses 530 MB, so almost half the capacity of the card is still available.

(The photos are a mix of low and high res, JPEG and TIF, and the videos are each in three formats: 3GP for phones, MP4 for PC playback, and AVI for the Sansa Fuze.)

The slotMusic titles are packaged in a CD-sized case with a slide-out plastic insert. The case has front and back album cover art and information, with a small booklet inside the back. The plastic insert has a perforated tab to rip open easily -- but then has no provision for closing it back up to store your music. SanDisk says this is a known issue, and the product should have a way to store the card conveniently in the CD case packaging.

The plastic insert contains the slotMusic card with the music, a small plastic storage case, and a mini USB adapter. The storage case has the front cover album art to identify it, which is important because the card itself does not identify its contents -- It just has the slotMusic and microSD logos, not the album or artist information.

To play the music, slip the slotMusic card into your mobile phone or other portable device, or onto your PC (using the included USB adapter).

If you want a separate playback device, there's also the new SanDisk Sansa slotMusic Player -- designed to be simple and inexpensive ($19.99), since it just plays microSD cards -- there's no internal memory and no display.

The player has simple controls -- play/stop, forward/reverse, and volume up/down. The slot in the player is on one end, and is spring-loaded, so the card inserts firmly and is recessed in the player body.

There's also no PC / USB interface for transferring files (that's what the microSD card is for) -- or for recharging an internal battery. Instead, the player uses a removable AAA battery, so it's significantly huskier than the iPod shuffle and other minimalist players.

For big music fans, SanDisk offers bundles with a slotMusic album and associated slotMusic Player for $34.99 -- with the player customized with the album art.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on the Sansa slotMusic player and other music and video players

See full article -- SanDisk slotMusic - A New Music Format

January 10, 2009

Innovelis BudFits - No More Ear Wedgies with iPod Earbuds

Sometimes it's just simple things that make sense, like the Innovelis BudFits -- over-the-ear adapters for Apple iPod and iPhone earbuds, available in several colors for around $9.

Yes, the Apple earbuds work fine for casual listening. But, like other in-ear earphones, you need to insert them firmly into the ear so they stay seated, especially when you're moving around. But that pressure and friction in your ear can be wearing after a while, . And, even with a tight fit, in-ear earbuds can slip out when you are doing physical activities like running or cycling.

The BudFits stop the ear wedgies for iPod earbuds. They are made from soft, flexible plastic -- just snap them onto the iPod earbuds, and slip the earpiece over the ear -- the earbud then can be nestled gently in the outer ear, instead of being inserted deeper into the ear canal. As a bonus, the cord wraps in a channel up and around the back of the ear, so it's more out of the way.

The result is a comfortable fit that still works when you're on the go. Easy!

The BudFits are designed specifically to fit Apple iPod (or iPhone) earbuds. The base is sized to snap around the post at the base of the Apple design (with the light gray band). They could therefore work with other earphones with a similarly sized design.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for information on headphones and earphones.

    Find the Innovelis BudFits on

December 26, 2008

Energizer Power & Play Chargers for Game Controllers

Having fun with your new gaming systems? Those wireless controllers are fun, but can eat up batteries, especially for enthusiastic gamers.

So you may want to use rechargeable batteries, with a charging station to store your controllers like the Energizer Power & Play Charging Systems, created though a licensing agreement with Performance Designed Products (PDP).

- The Energizer Power & Play Charging System for Nintendo Wii ($39.99 list) charges two remotes, and includes two rechargeable battery packs, and two battery covers.

- The Energizer Power & Play Charging System for Microsoft Xbox 360 ($29.99 list) is a tiered charging cradle that charges up to two Xbox 360 controllers simultaneously in 2 1/2 hours. (Rechargeable batteries not included.)

- The Energizer Power & Play Charging System for Sony PS3 ($29.99 list) then charges up to four PlayStation 3 controllers simultaneously in 2 1/2 hours -- two on the main unit, and 2 more using USB cables (sold separately).

See more in my Portable Power Accessories Gallery

Find the Energizer Power & Play Chargers for
    Wii, Xbox 360, and PS3 on

December 29, 2008

Monster Outlets to Go 3 USB Power Strip

Why is it that even today's business hotels -- with road warrior amenities like a combo alarm clock / iPod dock, and executive desk with zillion-button speaker phone and Ethernet cable -- still don't provide enough power outlets? After a long trip, there's nothing like the joy of crawling under the desk and curtains and bed to trace the wiring and find available outlets (last time by rewiring the coffee pot).

So it's smart to pack an extension cord and multi-outlet power strip, so you can recharge your phone, power your notebook, and still have outlets to spare for a PDA, camera, or other gear.

The Monster Outlets to Go line of power strips is particularly handy for travel. They're light and compact, with flat right-angle plugs and widely-spaced outlets to accommodate bulky power adapters. And the unit's cord wraps around and plugs neatly into itself.

These are available with 3, 4, and 6 outlets for $14.95, $19.95, and $29.95 (list), in white, silver and black.

The new Monster Outlets to Go 3 USB has 3 AC outlets -- plus a USB port to recharge compatible devices such as cell phones, media players, and cameras, for $29.99.

See more in my Portable Power Accessories Gallery and Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery

Find the Monster Outlets to Go 3, Outlets to Go 4,
and Outlets to Go 6 on

January 13, 2009

Memory Cards Reach to the Terabytes

This holiday season saw ridiculously low pricing for memory cards and USB drives, with 16 GB SDHC cards now around $32, and even 32 GB cards coming into range.

So now casual photographers can just keep on shooting, storing more and more photos for weeks and months, without having to worry about off-loading the memory. But digital photos continue to take up more storage, with higher-res cameras (10+ megapixels) and uncompressed formats (RAW). And video camcorders that shoot in HD resolution gobble up even more capacity.

However, the rush to higher capacity has hit a wall (see previous post) -- as the SDHC format, which was designed to boost the SD format to High Capacity, hits its design limit at 32 GB.

Time for a new format, just announced at CES -- SDXC (SD eXtended Capacity) raises capacity up to 2 terabytes, and transfer speed up to perhaps 104 MB/s this year, with a road map to 300 MB/s.

That's a lot of data -- a 2 TB card can store some 100 HD movies, 480 hours of HD video, or 136,000 fine-grade photos. That should hold us for a while longer...

The SDXC specification is due to be completed this quarter, and we could start to see products taking advantage of the format around the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Sony has worked with SanDisk to also bump up the capacity of its Memory Stick card format.

The new "Memory Stick Format for Extended / Expanded High Capacity" format (tentative name) will also support up to 2 TB, with expanded versions for Memory Stick PRO / PRO-HG and Memory Stick Micro / HG. The data rates will remain the same: up to 20 MB/s , or 60 MB/s for HG data rate.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

    Find Kingston SDHC cards on

January 16, 2009

SanDisk slotRadio - 1000 Songs on a Card

The new SanDisk slotMusic card format delivers music "albums" on microSD cards, ready to play on billions of mobile phones with microSD slots, and also free of copy protection so they can be transferred to PCs and other devices (see previous posts).

The slotMusic format is a nice way of delivering no-fuss digital music, but putting only one album with 10 or so songs on a microSD card is a huge waste of space in an era of multi-gigabyte cards. And carrying around music on the tiny cards and swapping them on the go could be something of a pain.

Instead, the SanDisk slotRadio card format, announced at CES in January 2009, fills a card with a thousand songs, professionally selected and pre-organized into genres and themes. The idea is to present a lean-back "radio-like" experience -- you just select the type of music that you're interested in hearing, and the playlist is ready to go.

SanDisk is releasing the SanDisk Sansa slotRadio Player in early 2009 to play this new format for $99.99, including a 1,000-song card. The slotRadio mix card will have around 10 genres (rock, contemporary, country), so you can choose the style of music to fit your mood and then just enjoy. Additional cards will be available for $39.99, with all 1,000 songs selected for a specific genre or theme.

Unfortunately, unlike the slotMusic format, the slotRadio cards will be copy protected (with SanDisk TrustedFlash). The format initially will only be playable in the Sansa slotRadio Player and the Sansa Fuse player, and not on the the older View and Clip models.

SanDisk also is working with mobile phone vendors to support the slotRadio format in new models -- both the DRM and the slotRadio interface to access the music.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on the Sansa slotMusic and slotRadio players, and other music and video players

See full article -- SanDisk slotMusic - A New Music Format

January 18, 2009

AcoustiBuds - iPod Earbud Adapters

How comfortable are your earphones? The Apple iPod (and iPhone) earbuds are designed to hook just inside the ear. Other earphones use a design with a soft earpiece that fits into the ear canal.

You may find one design to be more comfortable, but the snug fit of the in-ear design does have a couple advantages: it helps block outside noise for better sound, and it's more secure when you're moving around, such as out jogging. (For another option, see my previous post on the Innovelis BudFits over-the-ear adapters.)

Or you can use AcoustiBuds to convert iPod (and similar) earbuds to an in-ear design.

These earbud adapters slip over your existing earphones, and have rows of soft fins to hold securely in your ears. Install them by folding back the elastic end and then rolling them over the earbuds.

The AcoustiBuds are soft and flexible, and angled down for a comfortable (and secure) fit. They seat snugly in the ear, and provide better sound by enhancing your music and isolating it from outside sounds.

The AcoustiBuds are available in white or black for $19.99 ($12.99 street), and come with two sizes, with 5 or 6 fins. Besides iPods and iPhones, they also fit a variety of music players and earphones including Microsoft Zune, SanDisk Sansa, Samsung, and Creative. They also received a CES '09 Innovations Award.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for information on headphones and earphones.

    Find the AcoustiBuds on

January 23, 2009

Victorinox Swiss Army Knife USB Drives

The Victorinox Swiss Army Knife people have had a fun time over the past few years extending from their core product of steel multi-tools into, believe or not, the digital world.

The full line of Swiss Army pocket multi-tools, shown at CES, includes LED flashlights, SwissFlash tools with USB drives, retractable pen, and LED light or laser pointer. And, coming soon, the Presentation Pro line has an integrated Bluetooth remote control for running your notebook. (Sorry -- the pocket knife with MP3 player is no longer available.)

Of course, carrying your USB drive as part of a pocket knife is not going to be a good idea when you are flying, so the flash drive can swing out and be removed, and the knife can go with your checked luggage.

Alternatively, the SwissFlash Flight models dispense with those dangerous metal mini-tools and just have the USB drive within the red Swiss Army case. The PR people swear that the airport staff are used to these, and bringing what looks like a knife though the screening will be fine. Personally, I didn't try it...

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

    Find the Victorinox Swiss Army SwissFlash and
    SwissFlash Flight on

January 26, 2009

Joby Zivio Boom Wireless Headset

Joby -- the people behind the clever Gorillapod line of flexible tripods (see previous post) have come up with another inventive design.

The Joby Zivio Boom Wireless Headset features a telescoping boom that extends the microphone much closer to your mouth.

The boom also can be bent to fit better to your face. The result is less background noise, and less need for you to talk loudly to be heard -- plus a visible signal to others that you're talking on the phone.

In my testing at CES when walking near traffic along Las Vegas Boulevard, the conversation came through clearly, except when a very loud bus went by, and I was able to talk quietly and privately along the street, in the casinos, and on the exhibit floor. There was some background static audible in quiet environments.

The Zivio also is designed to help you customize the fit. The ear bud pivots on a ball-and-socket joint so it can nestle at a better angle into your ear, and you can choose between multiple sizes of both mushroom earpieces (to fit snug in your ear canal), or scoop gels (that hook into the ear). The Zivo is light enough to stay in your ear with just the earpiece, but the Zivio also includes optional ear loops which attach magnetically to the back of the unit.

I found the Zivo worked well with just the mushroom earpieces, although you do need to wedge them in to hold securely, and they can loosen up and need to be adjusted as you move around and sweat. The ear loops may work better and be more comfortable for extended wear.

The headset recharges with a standard (micro) USB connector, and is speced to run for 10 hours talk time, and 200 hours on standby. The product ships with a handy dual USB adapter (so you can charge two devices at a time from a wall outlet), and helpfully includes both a short (5 1/2 inch) and longer (5 foot) USB cable.

The Zivio Boom is available for $129, in black and now in a light blue.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for information on headphones and earphones.

    Find the Joby Zivio Boom on

January 29, 2009

OtterBox Cases for iPod, iPhone, BlackBerry, etc.

More and more of our lives have converged into our electronic devices -- MP3 players and smartphones, iPod and iPhone, BlackBerry and Palm. Yet these now-indispensible devices are rather fragile, just glass and plastic that is one drop away from disaster. And even if our gadgets survive the inevitable small accidents, they still will become beat up from the normal wear of daily use.

You can protect your devices with a layer of protective plastic (see previous post on the ZAGG invisibleSHIELD Protective Film), or try any number of different and fancy case designs. Or you can defend them from bumps, shock, and drops with protective cases from OtterBox, makers of the OtterBox 1000 and 2000 crushproof and waterproof drybox cases for storing cellphones and other small valuables (around $11 to $17).

The OtterBox Defender series includes cases for different models of the iPod, iPhone, Blackberry, Palm, and other smartphone devices. These include clear polycarbonate screens over the display and camera (and ambient light sensor), a high-impact polycarbonate shell, and a silicone skin to absorb bumps and shocks. You still can access the controls through the case, while acoustic vents protect the mic and speaker.

These OtterBox cases range from around $12.95 for the iPod nano to $49.95 for the iPod touch.

See my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more on protecting your devices.

Find the OtterBox 1000 and OtterBox Defender on

February 4, 2009

Solar Chargers - Solio and HYmini

Solar power can be a nice solution for keeping small portable devices tanked up when on the go. But instead of trying to trickle charge your devices directly from a solar panel, a better solution is to combine the solar panel with a battery. You then can leave the solar charger to power up from the available sunlight during the day, and then come back later to recharge your portable devices from the battery. (If needed, you also can charge the battery direct from wall power.)

For example. the Solio Hybrid Solar Chargers.(see previous post) come in two designs: the Solio Classic, which unfolds three panels like a flower and is rated at 6 watts, to recharge a mobile phone up to two times ($99), and the rugged and weatherproof Solio Hybrid 1000 (shown here), with a carabiner-clip handle (3.6 watts, $79).
There's also a new higher-power Solio Magnesium Edition, designed like the Classic, but withiGo compatible Adapter tips (9 watts, $169).

Then there's the HYmini Universal Charger/Adapter, an interesting alternative that combines a battery with a fan turbine to change with wind power ($49).
You also can connect up to 4 miniSOLAR panels to charge from the sun ($24 each), or use the miniHANDCRANK generator ($9). The HYmini Deluxe bundle includes the charger and a panel ($74).

However, the HYmini products are not designed for rugged use -- the charger is somewhat moisture-proof but not water resistant, and the solar panel is packaged in recycled cardboard paper, so needs to be kept dry and clean. The fan provides supplemental power, not a full charge, and while it is designed to charge at speeds from 9 to 30 mph, the blade will break off if you push it harder.

As a result, think of the HYmini products offer a fun way to experiment with renewable power for activities like riding a bike to work (in good weather), with a solar boost when you get to your office, but not for serious camping.

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for more on solar and other power options.

Find the Solio Classic Charger and HYmini Charger

February 5, 2009

Wireless Power: Powermat and WildCharge

How many different power adapters do you have for your portable devices? How many do you need to pack for a trip? There's been some movement to using standard (mini) USB connectors for power, but too many of our devices still have custom connectors and require dedicated power adapters. So even if you have a good external power charger or battery (see previous post), you still need to collect the right connector tips to hook up your different devices.

Thus the attraction of wireless power. Just plunk your mobile phone -- or music player, or even laptop -- down on a power pad and it will charge up. No need for all those power adaptors and cords, and no need to worry about having the right connector tips.

This year promises to see several such wireless power systems coming to market. These companies hope to become a ubiquitous standard, built into many devices, with power pads not only in your home and office (maybe as part of a counter top or a desk), but also available in public areas. And until this technology is licensed into portable devices, these companies also will offer adapter skins for popular devices.

The WildCharge wire-free power system uses conduction, with direct physical contact between the charging pad and the device (through small metallic nubs).

As a result, the pads can work with multiple devices, placed in any orientation, with high efficiency and lower cost. There's no associated electro magnetic or other radiation, so the pads are safe for hard drives and credit cards.

The current WildCharger charging pad is 8 x 6 inches and delivers up to 15 Watts. Adapters are currently available for the Motorola RAZR and BlackBerry Curve & Perl. The pad is $49, adapters are $34, and the pad bundled with an adapter is $79.

The Powermat wireless charging system uses magnetic induction, a shared magnetic field between the pad and the device.

This approach can charge at the same rate as a device's own charger, can simultaneous charge 3 to 6 devices, and handle both low and high capacity devices (cell phones to laptops).

As you place the device into the magnetic field on the pad, you can feel it snap into place on one of the fixed charging locations.

The Powermat approach actually implements a data protocol between the mat and receiver, which can authenticate the connection and manage the power flow. In the future, it also can be used to wirelessly transmit data, for example to sync the device. The first products are schedule to be available at retail in the fall, priced around $100 for the mat.

The Palm Touchstone charging dock accessory for the Palm Pre (see previous post) also uses a magnetic connection to hold the phone on the charging stand.

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for more on wireless and other power options.

February 7, 2009

New Fit Earbuds for the Aliph Jawbone

The Aliph New Jawbone Bluetooth headset continues to set the standard in noise reduction with its adaptive "Noise Shield" technology (see previous post).

However, the trick to the Jawbone design is the Voice Activity Sensor -- a small nub on that back that needs to touch your face to sense when you are speaking, the help separate your voice from the background noise.

As a result, fit is very important with the Jawbone -- It needs to be kept angled diagonally toward your mouth, and snug on your cheek. So you can't just hang the Jawbone loosely on its earloop, instead you need to find an earbud that fits snugly in your ear opening.

To help get a good fit, the Jawbone comes with a selection of earbuds in different sizes, and two styles of earloops, with soft leather coating and slim earloops use with for eyewear. (See the Jawbone site for instructions and videos on getting a good fit.)

But it's your ears, and different people are comfortable with different kinds of fit for their daily ear wear. So Aliph has introduced the New Fit Earbuds, designed to hold the Jawbone snugly without needing to be inserted inside your ear, and to also allow you to wear the Jawbone without an earloop.

The New Fit earbuds have a double loop, with a soft center section that does not insert deeply into your ear, and an integrated loop that hooks in the folds of your outer ear, and acts like a spring to help orient the headset, gently pushing it towards the cheek.

The new earbuds have been in beta for a few months, and are now available from the Jawbone site for free (in a set with 3 sizes) -- with a $2.99 shipping and handling charge.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

    Find the Aliph New Jawbone headset on

February 8, 2009

SanDisk Sansa Media Players: Clip, Fuze, View

Over the past year, SanDisk has simplified its Sansa line of flash-memory media players to three products, while adding the new slotMusic / slotRadio concept and products (see Sansa store). The result is three models with clean designs that are easy to pick up and use.

- The Sansa Clip is a small music-only player with a simple blue display, now available with 1, 2, 4, and 8 GB of storage, for $34 to $99.

- The Sansa View is the upscale video player with a larger 2.4" portrait screen -- Rotate it to the side for a landscape view of photos and videos. It's available with 8, 16, and 32 GB, for $149 to $249.

- And the Sansa Fuze is the just-right video player with a 1.9" screen, now available with 2, 4, and 8 GB, for $69 to $99 (originally $79 to $129). SanDisk also says that the Fuze will support the new slotRadio format.

All also include an FM radio tuner, and a microphone for voice recording, plus the Fuze and View have a microSD/microSDHC card slot to add additional storage.

And the Sansa players are easy to access from a PC -- You can just drag and drop files in the supported formats, use Windows Media Player to sync, or download the Sansa Media Converter software. The Fuze and View do use a custom Sansa connector instead of USB.

The Sansas have a clean design for the controls and interface, with the power/lock button on the size, a rocker main control pad below the display, and only one other button, Home to the main menu. Click the control pad left/right for back/forward, up and down for play/pause and options, and press the center button to select.

The Fuze and View have an additional helpful control feature -- the rocker area of the control pad rotates as a thumbwheel, for quick menu navigation and volume adjustment. (Unlike the iPod, the thumbwheel does actually spin, and the circular frame around the control lights up in blue when it is in use.)

The result is very nice to use, with smooth response to the controls and nice interface touches and animations. For example, on the main menu, the menu items float by in pseudo-perspective while you spin the thumbwheel. Nice.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more information on portable players.

Find the Sansa Clip, Sansa Fuze and Sansa View on

February 10, 2009

The Amazon Kindle as a Mobile Convergence Device

I write a lot about portable media players -- "MP3 players" for music and now video -- and how they are converging with mobile phones and smartphones, combining media and communications and Internet access and organizer features.

But there's another kind of portable media that's discounted in this shopping list -- plain old text. And between e-mail and the Web browser on our PDA phones, we're actually doing a lot of reading on our devices, even though that's not the focus of their design.

Meanwhile, Amazon and Sony have been working on a different category of device, e-book readers that are also on the convergence track, with better displays, audio playback, photos, and wireless connectivity.

The 3rd generation Sony Reader Digital Book, PRS-700, announced October 2008, has a 6 inch touch-screen display, is 0.4 inches thin (5 1/9 x 6 7/9 x 13/32 in.), and weighs 10 ounces, for $399 (see and press release). It can display eBooks, personal documents (Word, PDF) and music (MP3 and AAC). And it takes memory stick cards for additional storage.

The Amazon Kindle 2, just announced and due out this month for $249, includes broadband wireless though Sprint at no extra monthly charge. You no longer have to download and sync books though a PC, instead you can purchase and download directly to your device, with delivery in one minute for instant gratification. Even better, you can explore and preview books by downloading the first chapters for free.

The new version 2 device is about half as thin as the previous version, at just over 1/3 of an inch (8 x 5.3 x 0.36 in.), and weighs 10.2 ounces. It adds more storage, to hold over 1,500 books (but not memory card expansion), and runs for up to 4 days with wireless on, or up to 2 weeks with wireless off.

The 6 inch display (not touch screen) is 600 x 800, 167 ppi, and is upgraded from 4 to 16 levels of gray for clearer text, plus crisper images. You can download some 230,000 books directly from Amazon, as well as U.S. and international newspapers, magazines, and blogs. The Kindle 2 even adds a new "experimental" Text-to-Speech option to read books and other material out load.

But this is not just an e-reader. You can sync Audible recorded books via a PC, transfer and convert personal documents via an online service (Word, PDF), play MP3 music, and display image files.

And with the broadband wireless connection, the Kindle also has a web browser, albeit best used for simple, text-centric Web sites.

So the e-book reader is becoming a convergence device too. As a media player, the monochrome screen is obviously not suitable for fast-motion video. But with better e-mail support this could be an interesting competitor to netbooks (see previous post), although the increased data bandwidth would demand some kind of monthly service cost. Heck, just add a microphone and it could be a phone too!

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on portable players.

Find the Amazon Kindle 2 on

February 17, 2009

Audio Bone - Bone Conduction Earphones

Today's earphones are all about isolating you from the outside world so you can enjoy your music. They nest in your ear canal to block the sound, and some even have active noise cancellation technology.

But sometimes it's important to hear what's going on in the real world outside your mind -- for example when you are crossing streets while you are out walking or jogging or biking and don't want to get run over by a truck. And wearing a tube stuck in your ear all day can be uncomfortable, so it might be nice to have an earphone that is more comfortable for extended wear.

In the past, I've looked at the Mad Catz AirDrives outer-ear earphones that hook over your ear and hang the speaker outside your ear. But the sound does leak, so could bother people sitting nearby. And the Innovelis BudFits over-the-ear adapters make wearing iPod earbuds more comfortable as they rest gently in your ear.

And now there's another approach -- Audio Bone Bone Conduction Earphones that transmit the sound through your bones directly to the inner ear. These are on a band that sits loosely behind your head, with ends that loop over your ear and rest on your face in front of your ears.

The original Audio Bone 1.0 is waterproof (for cleaning, but not necessarily for swimming with your iPod unless you get an OtterBox case). It's available for around $179 in orange, black, blue, and white. There's also an Audio Bone Special Edition in "fashion colors" for $219, and the foldable Audio Bone Adjustable is $219, but is speced with lower quality sound. These come with a 30 day unconditional money back guarantee

The major issue with bone conduction technology is the need to ramp up the volume level, especially with iPods -- At low volume levels, you may hear nothing at all. There is some sound leakage when you crank up the volume, but it's not obnoxious.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for more information on headphones and earphones.

    Find the Audio Bone Earphones on

February 23, 2009

ezGear ezSpace UFO Surge Protector

Tired of cramming oversized power adaptor "bricks" into multi-outlet strips?

The ezGear ezSpace UFO is an elegant solution -- with sloped sides to handle 6 power adapters, and with room to get your fingers in to plug and unplug devices as needed.

It's also a surge protector, and has a power/reset switch nested underneath to protect from accidental power downs.

The ezSpace UFO (pictured) is $29.99 with surge protector (1050 Joules) and the power foot cable from the top.

The ezSpace UFO Green ($24.99 / $17.99 special) has a light switch on the top and the cord on a deeper base.

Plus a ezSpace Wall Mount UFO will be available soon.

See more in my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery

Find the ezSpace UFO on

March 2, 2009

Creative ZEN Mosaic Media Player

The Creative ZEN line of media players is an interesting counterpoint to Apple's minimalist iPod line. Creative offers a smorgasbord of more features -- like FM radio, voice recording, speakers to share the clips with friends -- in a much wider choice of different shapes and sizes.

The Creative ZEN Mosaic packs all this and more into a small and light player (around 3 x 1 1/2 x 1/2 inches, and 0.1 pounds). It's available with 2 to 16 GB for around $59 to $149, in black, silver, and pink. (Though there is no slot for expansion memory cards.)

The "mosaic" name comes from the fun pattern below the display, where the buttons are part of the jumble of grayish squares. The one white square is the center select button, but the four directional buttons do not have the same color, and the only identification is a subtle icon embedded in the surface.

As a result, while the menu interface is clean and straightforward, controlling the Mosaic can be frustrating for first-time and casual users -- the play/pause button is particularly non-obvious.

To load your media, the Mosaic is relatively easy to sync with under Windows -- you can drag and drop files directly (if they are in supported formats like MP3 and JPG), or sync with Windows Media Player. Creative also offers the Creative Centrale software to organize your media collection and ZENcast Organizer to manage video and audio podcast channels. (The Mosaic has limited video format support, so video clips do need to be converted.)

The Mosaic also uses a stand mini-USB interface to connect to a PC and to recharge, which should mean that you don't need to carry special cables. But, frustratingly, it does not charge from a USB hub or from USB power adapters -- which means that if you want to use it on a trip, and are not bringing along a computer, you will need to buy and carry the special Creative ZEN charger.

See full article: Creative ZEN Media Players: Mosaic and X-Fi

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on MP3 and media players.

    Find the Creative ZEN Mosaic on

March 3, 2009

Creative ZEN X-Fi -- with Wireless LAN

The Creative ZEN X-Fi is a step up from the ZEN Mosaic (see previous post) -- with a larger 2.5" color display, 320 x 240 pixels in landscape orientation. Yet it's still fits comfortably in a shirt pocket at 3.3 x 2.2 x 0.5 inches and 2.4 ounces.

The X-Fi name extends Creative's audio brand with X-Fi Xtreme Fidelity Audio technology to restore the quality of compressed music, plus X-Fi Expand, for a "natural listening experience over headphones that simulates the sound from stereo speakers." The product also includes Creative's EP-830 earphones.

The ZEN X-Fi also adds broader native support for video formats (MJPEG, WMV, MPEG-4/ DivX), and includes a SD/SDHC card slot for additional memory.

The ZEN X-Fi with Wireless LAN model adds Wi-Fi networking (IEEE 802.11 b/g, with WEP/WPA security).

But this is not general wireless support, like for web browsing or Internet radio and video. Instead, the ZEN X-Fi with Wireless supports three specific features:

- Chat with instant messaging using Yahoo! Messenger or Windows Live! Messenger, complete with a personal avatar with customized facial features.

- Stream or download your own media wirelessly over your home network from a PC running the Creative Centrale Media Server.

- Stream content over the Internet from the Creative MediaBox server.

However, the Creative server does have some 19 categories, from Comedy and Business, to Health & Fitness and Travel & Vacation, to Music and Radio. But each category seems to only have a handful of options, with some of the more recognizable being Discovery Channel, CNET News, and WGBH Classical. But it's basically a sampler of some content, not a deep selection like you might be used to from iTunes podcasts or Internet radio stations.

The design of the controls on the ZEN X-Fi is even more obscure than the Mosaic, which takes some time to learn. It has a unmarked 3 x 3 grid of buttons, plus another pair of buttons above and below with subtle markings (Back, Options, Shortcut, Play/Pause).

The middle 3 x 3 grid of identical buttons serves as the control panel, with the center for select, and the middle buttons on each side for left/right and up/down. The left corner buttons then jump to the beginning or end of a menu list, and the right corner buttons jump forward or back one page in a list. The 3 x 3 pad is more useful in entering text for chatting, so you can move diagonally around a virtual phone keypad, pressing multiple times to select a letter as for text messages on a mobile phone.

But if you're interested in a fun media player with an attractive combination of features, then do check out the ZEN Mosaic and ZEN X-Fi.

The ZEN X-Fi is available with 8 GB for $149
The ZEN X-Fi with Wireless LAN is available with 16 GB for $199, and 32 GB for $279

See full article: Creative ZEN Media Players: Mosaic and X-Fi

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on MP3 and media players.

    Find the Creative ZEN Mosaic on

March 7, 2009

The New Radio: Slacker G2 Player

Radio used to be about broadcast, and tuning in to one of your favorite local stations so you could choose the kind of music that you wanted to enjoy, depending on your mood -- maybe pulsing hard rock or calming easy listening or stirring classical. But with the growth of national networks and carefully designed playlists for each genre, radio has come to mean listening to pre-programmed streaming music, with some mechanism to choose channels.

Yes, you still can tune to broadcast AM and FM radio in your local area, but you can also listen in your car to Sirius XM satellite radio, or can access stations from all over the world over Internet radio, or choose one of 40+ music channels playing different genres on your cable TV. These are all radio, with a growing choice of styles and genres.

And you don't even need a radio device -- you can use your computer to listen to Internet radio, or your media player to listen to FM radio, or really mix the models with a device like the Logitech Squeezebox Boom (see previous post), which is a stand-alone radio-like device that plays Internet radio stations (but not AM/FM). And Sirius XM offers portable satellite radio players like the Stiletto 2 that also can play over Wi-Fi, and can store and replay recent programming.

And you don't even need traditional broadcasters and radio stations. Internet music services like Slacker and Pandora start with over 100 programmed stations, drilling down into specific genres and sub-styles (see previous post). They then add over 10,000 artist stations, playing music from an artist and others in similar styles. And you can customize your own channels, based on your personal likes and dislikes.

This is still radio, and has been licensed by the music labels on that basis -- as a stream of songs that you can't store and replay, except that it's fully custom, and you can pause it, and you can even skip songs. These services play over the Internet to computers, to devices like the Logitech Squeezebox Boom, and to Blackberry and iPhone smartphones.

But once radio becomes a stream of music, independent from the source and the playback device, it does not even need to be streaming live -- you could also store it locally and play through it later. This is the idea behind the Slacker G2 -- a portable media player that can download and replay your favorite Slacker playlists.

The G2 comes in two versions, with 4 GB of storage for $199 (25 stations / 2500 songs), and 8 for GB $249 (40 stations / 4000 songs) -- with no removable memory card. You select up to some 25 (or 40) genre, artist, and/or custom stations, and it stores some 100 songs per station for you to listen to later. You can update the playlist by syncing with your computer over USB, or the G2 can refresh directly over Wi-Fi.

I found the Wi-Fi refresh to be very demanding. The G2 first refused to update over Wi-Fi when the battery was half full. Then it complained about a weak signal at the Princeton Public Library, but then completed the refresh in about 25 minutes (of 10 channels plus a firmware update). The G2 can continue playing as it's updating.

Like the Web-based player, the G2 can display artist bios and album reviews. And you can store up to 1 GB of your own music files in standard formats (MP3, WMA & AAC). However, for playback of your Slacker channels, the G2 has stronger requirements to maintain a radio-like experience -- you must play the songs in order, you can't skip backwards, and you can only skip forward a handful of times.

The G2 player itself fits comfortably in the palm. It adds a few unconventional keys for a media player, with heart and circle/slash buttons at the top to rate the music (Favorite and Ban buttons). And it uses a scroll wheel to access the menus and select items (by pressing the wheel).

The result is a radio-like experience in a portable player. With the Slacker G2, you get the advantages of radio -- no-hassle selections of your favorite genres / artists, drawn from a huge catalog of music, and with no need to acquire, organize, and manage your own personal collection. And you get the disadvantages -- especially the lack of control over what specific tracks you listen to. But you also can enjoy listening to a changing selection of your kind of music, any time, any where.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on music and media players.

    Find the Slacker G2 on

March 9, 2009

Monster Turbine Earphones -- First Bass

The Monster Turbine Earphones, introduced earlier this year, are designed as "high-performance in-ear headphones," featuring "specially engineered drivers that deliver impeccable audiophile-quality sound." And priced at $149, they had better deliver, since they cost half again as much as some other quite good earphones that are closer to $100.

The Turbines certainly have a great presentation with very nice packaging, framing the earphones and a compact protective case in a soft inner liner. And they look great, with black chrome all-metal housings with a touch of blue and red stripes (for the left and right ears, respectively).

Monster touts these as having full dynamic range even from low-power MP3 players, with clean response for low, medium, and high frequencies -- from low-end bass, to mid-range vocals and instruments, to high-end percussive sounds.

But the big detail you immediately notice with the Turbines is the bass -- it's much stronger and fuller than you're probably used to being able to hear with typical earphones.

Partially as a result, the stereo field also feels wider with the Turbines -- the sound seems to fill a bigger space. If you compare the Turbines with another earphone by putting one in each ear the sound feels off-balance -- the other earphones feel harsher, especially without the full low end.

You may not need this kind of performance if you're using your MP3 player on the subway, but for more attentive listening the difference in the Turbines, especially the fuller bass, can be startling.

The Monster Turbine Earphones include multiple sizes and shapes of ear tips to seal out noise and a tangle-resistant cable.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for information on headphones and earphones.

    Find the Monster Turbine Earphones on

March 11, 2009

Apple 3rd Gen iPod Shuffle Loses Control

I'm running out of metaphors here, to describe the ever-shrinking size of tiny MP3 players.

The original Apple iPod shuffle from 2005 was the exemplar of the "pack of gun" form factor (3.3 x 0.98 x 0.33 in., 0.78 oz.).

It shipped with a whopping 512 MB of storage for $99, and 1 GB for $149 -- to hold 120 or 240 songs.

Then came the second generation iPod shuffle in 2006 with the "book of matches" design that was just large enough to fit the control pad on the side.

And Apple started describing the size not only in inches and ounces (1.62 x 1.07 x 0.41 in. including clip, and 0.55 oz.) -- but also in volume (half a cubic inch)! This design was updated in February 2008 to offer 1 GB for $49, and a new 2 GB for $69 (to hold 500 songs).

But the idea of a music player without any display hits the wall at multiple hundreds of songs -- Yes, it's fun to randomly shuffle though a large collection of music, but sometimes you're in the mood to enjoy or share a particular song, or artist, or album, or even genre, and skipping one by one though 500 songs just does not cut it.

So today Apple announced its solution with the third generation iPod shuffle -- re-double the capacity (4 GB for $79), chop the size in half, and get rid of the controls!

Now the metaphor is "smaller than AA battery" -- or, more like the size of 2 AAA batteries (1.8 x 0.7 x 0.3 in. including clip, and 0.38 oz.), with a volume of a quarter of a cubic inch. Yeesh!

Since the device is now too small for a control pad, the controls have been moved to a remote on the right earbud cord. But there's still the problem of dealing with the now 1000 songs you can store in the 4 GB of memory. The answer is a new "VoiceOver" feature that you can enable from the remote, which will talk to announce the songs (with the artist name and title). And just to be extra cool, the song information is spoken in 11 languages, chosen automatically based on the song information.

But how can you select from 1000 songs? VoiceOver also enables multiple playlists on the shuffle, so you can organize your music as you want, and then choose the playlist you want to hear by having the shuffle speak their names.

This still takes some planning and organization to create the playlists in iTunes, since you can't use default groupings like artist, album, or genre. But it's a clever approach to keeping the teeny tiny music player concept viable.

And voice announcements could be good idea for other contexts, such as listening to music from your mobile phone on a wireless headset.

For Apple's summary of the iPod line, see

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on the iPod line --
and a iPod Pricing History (the original iPod Mini from 2004 has 4 GB for $249)

    Find the Apple iPod shuffle (gen 3) on

March 18, 2009

LaCie USB Keys

USB flash drives have become ubiquitous, as you can now carry along multiple gigabytes of your digital data. But having all that data in a small package becomes a problem, as it's too easy to lose, and the pain of the loss increases as the drive holds more of your personal data.

There have been a whole variety of design approaches to packaging USB drives, from tiny slivers of plastic to deliberately bigger and heavier cases, or as fashion accessories to wear as a necklace or a bracelet.

But LaCie has just introduced a new approach -- a USB key designed as, well, a key -- and rugged enough to just carry along on your keychain. There are three different models in this new line, each with keyed-up names:

- The LaCie itsaKey (middle) looks like a car key, with a tough nickel surface. It's available with 4 GB for $14.99, or 8 GB for $23.99.

- The LaCie iamaKey (top) is thinner but still a solid metal design, with a gold USB connector with protective edges, water and scratch resistant. It's available with 4 GB for $17.99, or 8 GB for $27.99. Both feature fast transfer rates: read up to 30 MB/s, and write up to 10 MB/s.

- The LaCie PassKey (bottom) is a microSD USB reader and drive. Just insert a microSD/SDHC card from underneath the head to use it as a USB drive. It's $9.99.

Or if you're not the key ring type, you can carry your data along with your loose change with the LaCie CurrenKey USB drive. It has a metal dice-cast construction, just twist to reveal the USB connector. It's available with 4 GB in bronze for $19.99, 8 GB in silver for $29.99.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for details and comparisons on flash memory cards, USB drives, and hard disk storage.

    Find the LaCie CurrenKey on

April 5, 2009

Verbatim Store 'n’ Go Micro USB Drive - 8 GB in Half a SD Card

Just when you thought USB drives couldn't get any smaller, new technology comes to the rescue with the Verbatim Store 'n’ Go Micro USB Drives, which offer up to 8 GB of storage in literally half the size of a SD memory card -- or the length and width of two microSD cards (1.22" long, 0.5" wide, 0.08" thick, 0.05 ounce). These drives are only a tiny bit thicker than a SD card as well. Yeesh!

The new development here is System in Package (SIP) technology, which integrates all the electronic components into a single sealed unit. The resulting drive is resistant to everyday handling, dust, moisture and static discharges, so you don't give up ruggedness for the small size.

The Store 'n’ Go Micro is also Enhanced for Windows ReadyBoost, and includes V-Safe 100 security software for Windows to create a password-protected private zone on the drive.

The Verbatim Store 'n’ Go Micro USB Drive is available with 2 GB for around $19 (in orange), 4 GB for $22 (green), and 8 GB for $32 (purple).

But how do you use a device that literally half the width of a USB port? Just insert the drive with the contacts facing the USB logo, or to the center of the connector. Or just try to shove it in -- you'll notice that it does not fit right if you have it backwards.

And while the Store 'n’ Go Micro is not quite as small and easy to lose as a microSD card (the bright colors help too), you still may want to use the included lanyard to attach it to your key ring or cell phone. The idea is that it's rugged enough to just carry along -- the plastic case is solid, and does not flex or threaten to break.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on memory cards and USB drives.

Find the Verbatim Store 'n’ Go Micro USB Drive on

April 16, 2009

Upgrade to a Solid-State Drive

As I was preparing my recent presentation on The Flash Storage Revolution (see previous post), there were a couple interesting business announcements that point the way to developing trends in personal storage -- from the very tangible and always-there flash memory to the much more ephemeral but wide open vistas of the network cloud.

The first news was from Western Digital, a clear leader in magnetic storage, with hard disk drive systems from portable consumer peripherals to high-performance PCs to enterprise servers. Last month, Western Digital announced the acquisition of SiliconSystems, a leading supplier of solid-state drives for the embedded systems market, for $65 million in cash.

Clearly, Western Digital is recognizing the importance of Solid-State Drives (SDD) as a challenger to hard disk drives (HDD), saying in the announcement that the acquisition will help "address emerging opportunities in WD's existing markets" -- and across the product line, to "significantly accelerate WD's solid-state drive development programs for the netbook, client and enterprise markets."

The key advantages of SSD are its ruggedness (no spinning or even moving parts), and the performance -- computers boot up and launch applications visibly quicker, 2 to 5 times faster then HDD. (See Joel on Software for a testimonial on huge differences from rejuvenating old systems.)

SSD also is more shock and heat resistant, lighter and permits more compact designs (1/2 the weight), uses less power (1/2 the power in a PC, and 1/8 the power in Samsung camcorders), runs cooler and quieter (for longer battery life), and is more reliable (up to 6X longer mean time to failure).

SSD already is an option for some new notebooks, albeit still at a price premium, but companies like Intel, Samsung, and SanDisk are working hard to bring SSD prices down even faster and further. SSD is also a cost-effective option for upgrading older systems. Instead of replacing an older laptop, you can swap in a SDD drive to make the system feel young again, with a clearly visible performance boost for disk-intensive operations.

Companies like SanDisk and Imation now offer both consumer and enterprise lines of SSD replacement drives, in both 2.5-inch and 3.5- inch form factors. The Imation SSD Upgrade Kits (shown here) bundle the SSD drive with a power cable, USB-to-SATA or SATA connector cable, and Acronis True Image HD software for migrating from your existing hard drive -- including the data, applications, and operating system.

See the SanDisk Drive Your Laptop site for more information on SSD

See my article on The Flash Storage Revolution for more on flash, SSD, and its use also in new netbook computers.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

April 19, 2009

Storage in the Cloud

The second theme from recent business announcements that suggest future directions for personal storage (see previous post) extends consumer storage from local disks to the network cloud.

Both of the netbooks that I looked at for my recent presentation on The Flash Storage Revolution (see previous post), are speced with "hybrid" storage -- combining both the built-in disk drive plus an additional allocation of online storage.

For example, the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE comes with a 160 GB hard disk drive (HDD), plus 10 GB of online Eee storage, which is free for the first 18 months.

And the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 ships with a relatively small 8 to 32 GB solid state drive (SSD), plus 2 GB of free online storage from You then can upgrade to 25 GB for $100 a year, with relaxed limitations on uploads, folders, and transfer speed.

Meanwhile, LaCie also has reached to the clouds with its recent acquisition of Caleido AG, the creators of the Wuala social online storage service. You store and backup files in the cloud, and then access and share them from anywhere over the Web. LaCie sees this as morphing the company from a pure hardware manufacturer to a solution provider with a combined solution for storage -- Local storage on devices for fast access, plus secured remote storage on the cloud, for easy sharing and data versatility.

Wuala really is a diffuse cloud -- It encrypts your shared files, splits them into fragments, and then stores them redundantly on servers and in its grid network. There's a desktop client for Windows, Mac, and Linux to drag-and-drop files to upload in the background, with fast download though parallel peer-to-peer connections.

Wuala starts with 1 GB of online storage, and can expand in two ways. You can trade your own idle disk space to become part of the cloud (i.e., 50 GB on your computer for 50 GB online), or buy additional storage (10 GB for $25 a year, 100 GB for $100, of 1 TB for $1000).

Online storage does solve a lot of problems for backup and sharing -- your files flow gently into the cloud where they can be easily accessed (with proper permission). Of course, there is an element of trust involved -- you're relying that the software is working correctly, the files are encrypted and protected safely, and the company managing the big farm of servers in the sky is not only reliable, but will still be around later when you really need those files.

Then Wuala's P2P storage mechanism adds another set of issues, both from the additional complexity of chopping up your files, and from the totally ad-hoc nature of where your files may happen to be stored. It's one thing to look for public files in the wilds of a P2P network, and another to store your own stuff out there, hoping that the redundancy algorithm can accommodate changes over time as consumer's computers with slices of your files go offline.

Still, anything that can get people backing up their files is a good start!

See my article on The Flash Storage Revolution for more on storage applications and developments.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on netbooks.

Find the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE
and Dell Inspiron Mini 9 on

May 14, 2009

LaCie Design: Hubs and Flat Cables

I've used LaCie external hard drives and storage devices for many years, based on functionality, performance, and a flair for design (see previous posts).

That same emphasis on design comes though in LaCie's line of interesting and fun accessories.

For example, the LaCie USB / FireWire Hubs have a distinctive design with polycarbonate round shape, glossy white finish, a variety of flexible cables for sharing connections and/or charging your portable devices.

The USB & FireWire Hub even includes a USB fan and light ($79 USB 2.0, $89 USB & FireWire).

And the LaCie Flat Cables are easy to coil up and carry without tangling, with bright colors -- and even come with 24 adhesive labels preprinted for common uses.

The line includes seven different interfaces: eSata (yellow, $12.99), FireWire 400/800 (orange, $12.99), and USB A/B/Mini (blue, $9.99), each around four feet.

See my Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more electronics accessories and PC peripherals.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for LaCie flash and hard disk storage products

Find the LaCie Hub and LaCie Flat Cables on

May 16, 2009

LaCie Data/Share: Dual USB Card Reader / Storage Drive

The march of progress in portable storage is creating interesting new problems -- Our growing collections of fingernail-sized memory cards with multi-gigabyte capacity challenge us to find convenient ways to access and carry all that digital data.

LaCie continues to bring interesting features and design to its new products (see previous post), such as the LaCie itsaKey / imaKey USB drives in the form of rugged metal keys for easy carrying (see previous post).

And now there's the LaCie Data/Share: a dual USB card reader / and USB storage drive for SD and microSD cards, for $9.90.

The Data/Share has two sides, two USB drives that nest together for carrying. The larger red side has a slot for a SD card, and the smaller white side has a slot for a microSD card. (The product also includes a microSD to SD card converter so you can use the smaller cards in both sides.)

You can use the Data/Share as a USB card reader -- just insert the card and plug in to your computer's USB port (the Data/Share has push/push connectors to fit cards securely and pop out easily). Or leave in the cards to use the Data/Share as a pair of USB storage drive -- perhaps one side with your private data, and the other with data to share.

The Data/Share is made of hard plastic with rounded edges, and is not so small as to be easily lost (2.76 x 1.38 x 0.51 inches). It supports higher-capacity SDHC and microSDHC cards.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for LaCie flash and hard disk storage products

Find the LaCie iamaKey and LaCie itsaKey on

May 18, 2009

LaCie USB (and FireWire) Speakers

My final example of LaCie's fun designs for accessories (see previous posts) are the LaCie Bus Powered USB Speakers, recently reduced to $29.99.

These are stylish speakers for PC or Mac that conveniently plug in to your computer's USB port and just work. They're plug and play, with no additional drivers needed. And they're powered over the USB connection, so no additional AC adapter or batteries are required.

The LaCie Speakers each roughly the scale of a softball (5.3 x 3.9 x 3.5 inches) and pack up nicely in the included carrying case, with storage under each speaker to wrap up the cables. They also include an audio input cable for use with a portable device like an iPod, and have a power connector to use an external AC adapter instead of USB power (bundled for $49.99).

The LaCie USB Speakers are 1 W per channel (loud enough for a desktop, but not a concert hall), with 16-bit / 48 kHz processing. LaCie also offers FireWire speakers in the same design for $79.99, with 4 W per channel and 24-bit / 96 kHz processing.

These are a simple and easy and classy way to listen to videos and music and games on your desktop or laptop computer, without extra cables and power bricks.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for more on portable speakers

Find the LaCie USB Speakers on

May 20, 2009

Verizon Wireless - HP Mini 1151NR Netbook

Netbook computers are coming along fast as a viable alternative to traditional notebooks -- significantly smaller, lighter, and less expensive (around 2 to 3 pounds, $300 to $500). Yes, they're underpowered and have less capacity, but they work fine for keeping in touch with e-mail and Web browsing, and for basic office tasks. (Photo: Verizon / HP Mini compared to a traditional notebook)

Plus, with both Wi-Fi and mobile cellular broadband service, netbooks can provide the convenience of that connectivity almost anywhere, so you can access larger stores of your documents and your media files in the Internet cloud.

But netbooks are not just competing with notebooks, they're also an alternative to smartphones / PDA phones that also provide Internet connectivity and personal data access on the go. Smartphones are easier to carry along in your pocket and are great for quickly checking e-mail or a website, but a netbook offers a larger screen and keyboard for more extended work (see previous post: Netbook or Notebook).

So just as the cellular carriers offer discounted pricing for mobile phones and smartphones in the U.S., as long as you sign up for an extended service plan, they are starting to do the same for netbook devices.

This week, for example, Verizon Wireless announced that it is selling the HP Mini 1151NR netbook like its other phones -- It's available for $199.99, after a $50 mail-in rebate and a new two-year activation on a mobile broadband plan.

The HP Mini 1151NR has a 10.1" display, is 10.3 x 6.6 x 1 inch and 2.4 pounds. It has an integrated webcam, and uses the Intel Atom N270 processor, with 1 GB memory and 80 GB hard drive. It runs Windows XP Home Edition and comes with desktop software including Microsoft Works and Outlook Express. (A similarly equipped HP Mini 1000 prices out to around $439.)

But the other detail is the monthly data service plan -- Verizon offers two plans, for "moderate" and "heavy" users, each with a basic monthly allowance of megabytes of data transferred, and then an additional per-megabyte charge for usage beyond the allowance. (You can also add international coverage.)

- Moderate plan - $39.99 / mo. for 250 MB allowance [~16 cents/MB], 10 cents/MB addl.
- Heavy plan - $59.99 / mo. for 5 GB (5,120 MB) [~1.2 cents/MB], 5 cents/MB addl.

But who has any idea how many megabytes they are using when accessing e-mail and attachments, or browsing Web pages with photos, much less audio or video? Verizon lists some approximate data usage examples, including: typical web page lookup at 300 kb, low resolution digital photo at 500 KB, and PowerPoint presentation (20 pages text & light graphics) at 3 MB.

So on the order of 1000 Web pages, 500 low-res photos, or 100 PowerPoint presentations over a month would blow through the "moderate" plan. And downloading podcasts at 10's of megabytes and YouTube videos at 1/3 to 2/3 MB per second (see Jan Ozer in PC Mag) will add up even faster.

As a result, looking for Wi-Fi hotspots is still important even when you have mobile broadband service, at least for doing large transfers and enjoying entertainment sites like YouTube and Hulu.

The Verizon high-speed network service (EV-DO Rev A) also is slower than typical Wi-Fi service, running at DSL-like typical rates of 600 Kbps to 1.4 Mbps for downloads and 500 to 800 Kbps for uploads.

Even so, it's great to be able to set up a netbook almost anywhere and be instantly online, doing your e-mail and checking in on the Web.

See my Portable Communications Gallery for information on netbooks and smartphones.

    Find the Verizon Wireless - HP Mini 1151NR on

May 21, 2009

Dell Inspiron Mini Netbooks Under $300

Dell has updated its line of Inspiron Mini Netbooks, driving the starting price of the new Inspiron Mini 10v ("v" is for value) under $300.

- The Dell Inspiron Mini 9 with 8.9 inch display starts at 2.28 pounds and $249.

- The Dell Inspiron Mini 10, with 10.1 inch widescreen display, starts at 2.86 pounds and $349.

- And the Dell Inspiron Mini 12, with 12.1 inch display, starts at 2.72 pounds and $399.

The new Dell Inspiron Mini 10v also has a 10-inch display, but starts at 2.5 pounds and $299. [Photo courtesy of Dell Inc.]

It's cost-reduced with a slower Intel Atom processor and different video accelerator, no wireless mobile cellular broadband option, and a VGA port instead of HDMI. It's available with 1 GB of memory and 120 or 160 GB hard drive or 8 GB (Ubuntu) or 16 GB solid state drive (XP and Ubuntu).

The Mini 10 also now can add an internal Digital TV Receiver (ATSC) for $20.

As with the Verizon HP Mini offer (see previous post), in January Dell and AT&T offered the Dell Mini 9 bundled with a two-year AT&T LaptopConnect agreement for $99 (regularly $449, after $350 mail-in rebate). Expect to see more of these in the future.

Again, these netbooks can feel a bit sluggish compared to high-end laptops, especially when you are multi-tasking, but on the other hand you can do real computing and Internet connectivity (including watching Internet videos on Hulu) with a device as small as 9 x 6 x 1+ inches and under 3 pounds.

See my Portable Communications Gallery for more detail on Dell and other netbooks.

    Find the Dell Inspiron Mini 9 on

June 26, 2009

SanDisk Extreme SDHC Card -- 32 GB Capacity, 30 MB/sec. Speed

SanDisk has just announced its latest 32 GB Extreme series SD Card, due in August with 32 GB capacity -- and running at up to 30 MB/sec. read and write data rates.

Capacity is easy to get a handle on -- more bytes of storage gives more room for bigger photos, music, and high-definition video. But what's all this about speed and performance?

SD cards are marked with several types of information (besides the manufacturer), including the "SDHC" logo (SD card, High Capacity format), the storage capacity (i.e., 32 GB), and the speed "Class" -- the circle "C" with a number (i.e., 2, 4, 6, or 10).

The Class rating specifies the guaranteed data transfer rate, in megabytes per second. This is the baseline or minimum guaranteed performance of the card, so you can be sure it matches the recording rate requirements of your particular device. For example, AVCHD (H.264) format recording on an HD video camcorder requires a maximum of 24 Mbps (bits/sec), which corresponds to 3 M Bytes per second -- which means a Class 4 device (at 4 MB/sec.) provides all the performance required for the device, and a higher-performance class 6 card would provide no additional benefit, at least for recording.

So as SanDisk announces that it is stepping up its top-of-the-line Extreme cards from Class 6 to the new Class 10 (for a minimum of 10 MB/sec. recording rate), what's this about also promoting a 30 MB/sec. maximum speed?

What SanDisk, for one, would like you to understand that there's more to using memory cards than just recording photos or videos. When you upload all those HD videos to a computer, for example, or sync your media library of photos, music, and movies, a higher maximum speed gives headroom for a quicker transfer time.

And, interestingly, shooting photos can require higher data rates than HD video. Digital images now have higher resolution than HD video, and also are moving to less-compressed formats like RAW, so individual images are growing larger in size. And cameras aren't just for shooting one photo at a time, they support rapid burst modes to record continuous sequences of photos in fractions of a second.

In addition, the lines between different categories of devices are blurring -- today's digital cameras also shoot HD video, and today's HD camcorders also shoot high-quality high-res stills. So a camera's minimum Class rating may be set by its video recording mode, while a camcorder's read/write performance may be stressed by its photo burst recording mode.

So when shopping for a memory card, remember that while the Class defines the minimum baseline required data rate for a specific product, additional headroom in terms of the maximum speed rating can add visible performance benefits including longer burst recording.

See my full article: Flash Memory: Technology Summary for more on memory card formats and features

See previous posts: 32 GB SD Cards and Future Terabyte Memory Cards

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

Find the SanDisk Ultra II and Extreme III SDHC cards on

June 29, 2009

SanDisk ImageMate USB Reader/Writers - Sleek, Small, and Fast

Once you've finished shooting photos (and/or video) to your flash memory camera (or camcorder), you'd like to quickly upload them to your computer to view, edit, and share. This is where memory cards with higher maximum read/write speeds can shine (see previous post), as long as your card reader also has the performance headroom.

Since SanDisk is so interested in high-speed memory cards, it makes sense to also have introduced the SanDisk ImageMate USB Reader/Writers that are small, sleek, and, of course, fast. Both are glossy black, with a detachable metal tripod stand, held on securely with two indents and magnetic attraction.

The smaller SanDisk ImageMate Multi-Card USB Reader/Writer is only some 2 1/4 x 1 1/2 x 3/8 inches. The trick to making it so small is that it has only one card slot, which can handle the basic variants of all four main memory card formats (SD / MMC, Memory Stick, and xD) -- though not the micro sizes or Compact Flash. It's rated to support up to 30 MB/sec. read and 27 MB/sec. write speeds with a SanDisk Extreme III 30 MB/Sec. SDHC card. Zoom!

The sibling SanDisk ImageMate All-In-One USB Reader/Writer is about twice as long, to fit the more traditional four card slots (for microSD, SD/MMC, Memory Stick / Duo, and CF variants). And it's rated to support up to 34 MB/sec. with a SanDisk Extreme IV 45 MB/sec. CompactFlash card.

These ImageMates also have a Transfer button on the top to launch a selected favorite application or website (using a downloadable application).

They're fast, sleek and small, to take up less space, particularly mounted vertically on the stand. The smaller SanDisk ImageMate Multi-Card is around $22 ($16 street), and the ImageMate All-In-One is $33 ($28 street).

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

Find the SanDisk ImageMate Multi-Card USB Reader/Writer
and ImageMate All-In-One Reader/Writer on

July 1, 2009

SanDisk Ultra Backup USB Drive

SanDisk continues to develop interesting ideas in USB "thumb" drives, building on the U3 smart technology that lets you run a variety of Windows software applications directly from a flash drive. The idea with U3 is that you can not only carry your files and data with you on a flash drive, but bring along your favorite applications as well, so you can plug in to any computer and continue on with your work.

The SanDisk Ultra Backup USB Drive (see press release) is a USB drive that comes preloaded with backup software, plus a Backup button on the drive to launch the application and start saving your files, with no other fuss or software installation required.

The Ultra Backup Drive also protects your data with password-protected access control and AES hardware-based encryption.

The drive has a slide-out USB connector (so there's no cap to lose), with the Backup button above the connector.

The SanDisk Ultra Backup USB Drive is available with 8 to 64 GB of storage, priced from around $39 to $179 (street).

Also check out the SanDisk Extreme Contour (see previous post) for a more rugged design (metallic body) and faster performance (read 25 MB/sec., write 18 MB/sec.).

See more in my Portable Storage Gallery, under Flash USB Pocket Drives.

Find the SanDisk Ultra Backup USB Drive
and SanDisk Cruzer Contour on

July 5, 2009

SanDisk Video HD Memory Cards for Flash Camcorders

Looking for memory cards for your flash-based camcorder? SanDisk has a helpful answer with the SanDisk Video HD SD/SDHC memory card product line -- explicitly rated by hours of video recording time, not just gigabytes of capacity.

In the days of analog tape, you could determine capacity by using a two-hour or longer tape, or setting the camera to a (super-)long-play mode for 4 or 6 hours. But with digital cameras, you need to think in terms of numbers like 4 or 8 or 16 GB of storage capacity.

So the SanDisk Video HD memory cards are presented in a similar way -- The largest number on the front of the package is the recording time, not the storage capacity. For example, the packaging features a 4 hour recording time for the 16 GB card. Of course, this does require an asterisk -- the 4 hours is a typical recording time for HD video at standard quality. The information on the back then lists example recording times for both HD and SD video: 2 hours for high-quality HD (AVCHD, 1920x1080), and 3 hours and 40 minutes for high-quality standard-def video (MPEG-2, 720x480).

Continuing the videotape theme, the Video HD cards also include a jewel case (plastic holder) and set of labels (for the case, not the cards).

In terms of performance, the Video HD memory cards are around the middle of the SanDisk "good-better-best" product lines for flash memory cards (see previous post). The Standard cards have a Class 2 (2 MB/sec.) minimum baseline performance, the Ultra II cards are Class 4 (4 MB/sec.) baseline plus a maximum read/write data rate of up to 15 MB/sec., and the Extreme III cards are Class 6 (soon stepping up to 10), with max read/write speeds up to 30 MB/sec.

The Video HD cards are Class 4, like the Ultra II line, but are unrated in terms of the max performance. They're typically priced around the same as the Ultra II, but, as usual, look around for discounts or special deals -- for example the 16 GB cards list for around $97 but have street prices around $41 -- and for even more storage, the 32 GB Ultra II is currently available at around $91.

See my full article: Flash Memory: Technology Summary for more on memory card formats and features

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

Find the SanDisk Video HD and Ultra II SDHC cards on

July 8, 2009

Mini to Micro: Kingston Memory Cards and USB Readers

Mini to micro -- It's not just skirts that shrink, it's also our now-indispensible electronic gadgets, continually being reduced in size so they can be with us wherever we go. But how small can this go? Displays and controls and keyboards can get so tiny that they are really no longer readily usable, at least for some of us.

One clear example of shrinking to the edge of usability is the microSD card format -- gigabytes crammed into tiny plastic slices, some 5/8 x 7/16 of an inch, literally the size of a fingernail.

The small size fits well for adding storage to portable devices like cell phones, for more photos and music and video on the go, now cramming in up to 16 GB for under $90.

But the tiny cards also are tricky to handle and so easy to lose. So microSD cards are often sold in sets, with adapter cards and USB readers. The SD and miniSD adapters allow you to access the cards with devices that have the larger SD or microSD slots. And the USB reader lets you access the card on a computer with a USB slot.

But now even the USB card readers are getting amazingly miniaturized. The previous Kingston microSD USB reader was basically the metal USB connector -- just one inch long -- with a slot for the microSD card.

But now there's a new form factor for tiny USB connectors, as in the Verbatim Tuff-'N'-Tiny / Store 'n’ Go Micro USB Drive, which dispenses with the metal frame of the USB connector and just retains the internal connector, so it's actually half the thickness of a USB connector slot.

The updated Kingston microSD Mobility Kit has a similar design -- with the microSD card, mini/SD adapters, plus a USB card reader that is itself about a third of the size of a standard SD card, and still half the thickness of a USB connector slot.-- It's about an inch long, with the USB connectors on one side and a tiny slot for the microSD card on the other. No wonder it comes with an attached lanyard to help you try to keep track of it!

So as you downsize your storage, you can get a microSD card by itself, or bundled with a USB reader, adapters, or a full Mobility Kit with both.

See my full article: Flash Memory: Technology Summary for more on memory card formats and features

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on memory cards and USB drives.

Find the Kingston microSDHC USB reader and
Verbatim Store 'n’ Go Micro USB Drive on

July 13, 2009

Belkin Micra Cases for iPod nano

You love your iPod nano -- the style, the size, and especially the vibrant colors. You'd like to protect it from dirt and scratches, but don't like the idea of bulking it up with a traditional case and covering the beautiful design.

So check out the Belkin Micra nano cases. These are based on a clear, thin, and tough polycarbonate protective sleeve that snaps over the back of the nano, plus a separate plastic overlay to protect the screen. The front of the iPod therefore is not covered, so you have complete access to the controls and connectors.

Of course, these cases aren't totally clear -- they have subtle graphical details to enhance your nano -- instead of covering it up. The Belkin Micro cases for the nano are available in four styles, each for $19.99:

- Micra Glam is clear with a subtle pattern of sparkles that twinkle when you move the case in the light.

- Micra Dusk has a smoky charcoal tint that darkens the nano's color, for example shifting the purple nano into an eggplant tone.

- Micra Flow has gentle curves, representing a sound wave to suggest motion.

- Micra Chex has a diagonal checkerboard pattern with translucent white squares.

So you can protect your iPod nano while keeping the compact size and beauty, and even add a fun subtle accent.

See my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more fun devices, organized by company.

July 16, 2009

Altec Lansing Orbit-MP3 Portable Speakers - Share Your Music -

You can carry your entire music collection on your iPod, or even on your mobile phone, and that's great when you want to put on earphones and enjoy by yourself. But what about letting other listen so you can share your passions?

Yes, some media players like the Samsung P3 have integrated speakers and wireless Bluetooth to let others listen to your songs, but Apple does not believe in such things for the iPod. And while your mobile phone does have small speaker for hands-free calling, it's not great for savoring music.

But you can turn your portable device into an entertainment system with a portable speaker like the Altec Lansing Orbit-MP3 -- compact and portable enough to carry along easily, but big enough to provide good sound, and priced at $39.95.

The Orbit designed to lie flat to provide a 360-degree sound field. It plugs into your iPod, iPhone, MP3 player, or laptop with the integrated 8-inch cord (standard 3.5 mm connector -- there's also an orbitM model that includes a 2.5 mm adapter for use with mobile phones). And it plays up to 24 hours on 3 AAA batteries.

The Orbit is certainly easy to carry, at around 3 1/2 inches in diameter and 2 inches high. The cord wraps up inside the base, and the product includes a protective case and carry strap. The Orbit design was updated for this year, and now has a power button and battery level indicator light so you don't run down the batteries when not in use (see previous post).

There's no volume control -- just crank up the sound on your player. The Orbit plays loud enough to be heard across a room, but still lets you have a conversation. The sound is clean (though obviously not stereo), although at max volume on an iPod nano the speaker did break up at some of the louder parts of Amadeus.

The Orbit design was updated for this year, and is not particularly sexy looking (arguably less so than the previous model), but has a simple shape that's designed to be rugged and functional. But now you can jazz it up with graphics from Skinit for around $12 -- choose from a variety of designs (licensed logos, art, and photos), or upload your own. The design is printed on glossy 3M Scotchprint graphics, which you peel off and wrap around the outside of the Orbit (in two strips, for the base and the top). The Skinit prints look good, are durable, and don't leave a residue after removal (which also means they are relatively easy to put it on since you can adjust the positioning).

The Orbit-MP3 is a solid portable speaker that you can throw in your bag to share your music with a larger group, or even to listen without earphones from your laptop or in a hotel room.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for more on portable speakers and earphones.

    Find the Altec Lansing Orbit Speakers on

July 28, 2009

Loud Enough Volume Limiting Earphones for Kids from Ultimate Ears

(with Brian Dixon)

Crank it up! We like our music loud -- and when we use earphones out in public we need to turn it up even louder to drown out all the outside sound.

But continuous exposure to loud sound can damage your hearing -- especially for children who may not be concerned with these kinds of issues. (If you pipe the noise of a rock concert (over 100 dB) into your ears, the recommended maximum exposure time is under 15 minutes -- see Ultimate Ears FAQ).

One answer is to use sound-isolating earphones, with a tight fit in the ear to reduce the outside noise so you can lower the volume from your music player. An even better answer for children and people with sensitive hearing is earphones like the Loud Enough Volume Limiting Earphones for Kids from Ultimate Ears, with built-in volume protection to reduce the maximum volume of the music source.

Compared to the Apple iPod ear buds, these can reduce the maximum sound level by 12dB, perceived as approximately 50% the loudness. And compared to other noise isolating headsets, they reduce the maximum sound level by 20dB, heard as about 25% of the loudness.

However, these are not "kiddie" looking earphones. Yes, they come in vibrant colors (Plum purple, Mint green, Blueberry), but they also have a clean, compact design, and are lightweight and rugged, with an included pocket-size hard case. Oddly, however, they do not have markings for the left and right ears.

But Loud Enough earphones still are designed for children, 6 and over, with three sizes of comfortable silicone ear tips (extra small, small, medium) that provide noise isolation to reduce the temptation to crank the volume up to hear clearly.

And you don't have to compromise on the sound quality -- the Loud Enoughs draw on the Ultimate Ears experience in professional and custom earphones for musicians and serious audiophiles (see previous post), with better than average sound, certainly better then standard iPod ear buds.

At $39.99, the Loud Enough earphones are not dirt cheap. Instead you get a nice design, good sound, comfortable fit, sound isolation, plus the additional bonus of protecting your children's hearing ...

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for details on earphones and headphones.

    Find the Loud Enough Earphones on

July 30, 2009

Ultimate Ears 700 Noise Isolating Pro Earphones

(with Brian Dixon)

Ultimate Ears designs custom in-ear monitor earphones for professional musicians with wildly different styles -- and claims to be used by 75% of the world's professional touring artists for live performance (see the gallery of Ear Art designs).

And, especially after it was acquired by Logitech a year ago, Ultimate Ears has expanded its line of premium earphones and headsets for the broader consumer market. OK, these are not for mass-market consumers, but more designed to meet the needs of audiophiles and fans looking for a great sound experience.

Ultimate Ears has four lines of earphones:
- MetroFi for listening on the go at around $50 to $90
- SuperFi for serious music lovers (some with two speakers per ear) at $130 to $250
- TripleFi for a custom personal monitor experience with three drivers at around $400
- Custom pro designs for $400 up to $1150

The TripleFi earphones are particularly amazing (see previous post), providing a clear and intense listening experience that is close to good headphones or even studio monitors. But the TripleFi's are around $400, and are really for short bursts of intense, focused listening.

The SuperFi line still provides pro-quality sound for serious music lovers, but at around half the price. The new Ultimate Ears 700 Noise Isolating Earphones are $229, with dual drivers to separate frequencies into two high-fidelity channels per ear. They are particularly compact, cramming all that technology into a micro size that fits flush within the ear.

They include three sizes of tapered silicone ear cushions, plus a set of Comply foam ear cushions, a soft memory foam that that molds to the shape of your ear canal. These provide isolation of up to 26 dB from outside noise and retention of the music, so you can turn down the volume.

The UE 700s also include some nice additional features, with a subtle red ring to mark the right earpiece, a cable slider keep the earpieces together when storing the 46 inch cord, and a sound level attenuator adapter for unfamiliar or unstable sound sources (like an airplane feed).

In our testing, the Ultimate Ears 700s were light and comfortable, with a crisp, clear, spacious sound. There was more treble sound, but without being thin or tinny. The bottom line is that you get what you pay for -- natural sound that can satisfy professional musicians.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for details on earphones and headphones.

    Find the Ultimate Ears 700 Earphones on

August 3, 2009

Altec Lansing BackBeat Pro Reference Earphones

(with Brian Dixon)

Altec Lansing has a long history in advanced audio and, as a division of Plantronics, has expanded its consumer electronics line to include home audio and home theatre, computer speakers, docking audio for portable devices, and a broad line of earphones, including with mics and Bluetooth.

Altec Lansing also is transitioning its earphone line from the Muzx name to the Backbeat brand, now available with your choice of four levels of performance, all for under $100:

- Classic - $29, Basics for everyday listening, with noise isolation
- Plus - $49, Enhanced bass, neodymium speaker, balanced high & mids
- Plus Mobile - $59, with mic
- Titanium - $79 - For "discerning music enthusiasts," titanium-enhanced micro-speakers
- Pro - $99, Reference earphones, balanced armature speakers, superior noise isolation

We tried out the Altec Lansing BackBeat Pro earphones, which are positioned as designed to satisfy the demands of studio engineers and professional musicians by providing high-definition audio in a small package, with superior noise isolation and exceptional comfort.

They feature balanced armature micro-speakers, with up to 16 dB noise isolation and a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz.

These Backbeat earphones include three sizes of neoprene ear tips (S, M, L) for your comfort fit. The Pro & Titanium add a fourth set of dual flange tips for extra noise reduction (with a double flange design). They also include a soft carry case.

The BackBeat Pro earphones live up to the promise. They light and comfortable, with a 46" cord. The base was particularly explosive, and the sound was clean and punchy, with the kick drums coming through clearly. These are quite good earphones for $99, and even better for a street price of around $60.

See the Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for more on earphones and headphones.

    Find the Altec Lansing BackBeat Pro Earphones on

August 18, 2009

Verbatim TUFF-CLIP Rugged USB Drive

USB drives allow you to carry lots of data in a ridiculously small package, and at a wonderfully small price -- up to 8 GB for under $30. But the real value is in all that data -- personal or business, that would be inconvenient or painful to lose.

Verbatim continues to bring out interesting options for USB drives to carry securely. The Verbatim Tuff-'N'-Tiny (previously Store 'n’ Go Micro) drives are ridiculously tiny -- half the size of a SD memory card. But they are built as a sealed, rugged package, which makes them easy to carry, either tucked away or attached with a lanyard to your keys (see previous post).

Now there's the Verbatim TUFF-CLIP USB Drive, a larger design with an integrated carabineer clip that you can attach to a bag or a belt.

These have rugged ABS plastic enclosure, with a retractable slider to protect the USB connector. Yet they are very light, at under 2 ounces.

The Verbatim TUFF-CLIP USB Drive is available in turquoise with 4 GB for $29 (around $16 street), 8 GB in black for $49 ($25 street).

Both these products include Windows security software that allow you to set up a password-protected private zone on the drive, plus a public zone for open sharing of non-sensitive content.

So take your pick -- the amazingly small and light Tuff-'N'-Tiny to stash away, or the more substantial TUFF-CLIP that's easier to handle, and to keep track of, hanging on its clip.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on memory cards and USB drives.

Find the Verbatim TUFF-CLIP and Tuff-'N'-Tiny USB Drives on

September 14, 2009

Apple Sees the Light: iPod nano Gets Camera, Speakers, Mic, FM Radio ... and Pedometer!

The power of the Apple iPod brand starts with the lust-inducing designs -- slim, sleek, smooth -- and simple. The iPod line has avoided the feature check-list competition of other players, as Apple has continued to reject even useful features like voice recording and FM radio, requiring consumers to turn to third-party add-ons.

But over the years, Apple has begrudgingly accepted that consumers like these additional functions, adding features including a color display, photo and then video playback, and built-in games and other extras. Beyond these new options, Apple added further complexity to the interface with innovations like the Cover Flow view and Genius automated playlist creation. Similarly, the simple iTunes music organizer has extended far beyond audio to manage and sync photos and videos, as well as calendar and contacts.

Even so, the iPod designs were still sleek and pure, with display and click wheel, and minimal other buttons or controls -- and a smooth back unmarred by the ugliness of a removable battery. But the purist white / silver / gray colors have been falling to consumer enjoyment of brighter vibrant shades.

And then came Apple's annual September iPod line update last week (see post from last year), in which Apple saw the light of consumer demand and has just piled on the features for the iPod nano.

The announcements started with lower prices for more capacity, including a lower-end iPod shuffle at $59 for 2 GB of storage (in addition to 4 GB for $79 -- see previous post), an updated iPod classic bumped up from 120 to 160 GB for the same $249, and an updated iPod touch with 8 GB dropped from $229 to $199, 32 GB from $399 to $299, and a new 64 GB for $399.

Between the four iPods, different capacities, and color options, Apple now has more than 30 models!

But the big change is the new iPod nano, now in its fifth generation. It starts with a larger display (2 to 2.2 inches) in the same sleek and light package, and still in the same capacities -- 8 GB for $149, and 16 GB lowered from $199 to $179.

Then come the new features, starting by matching now-common ideas -- FM radio reception, a microphone for voice recording, and a speaker for listening without headphones. But in Apple's implementation, the FM radio not only displays station and song information, but also has Live Pause to hold or rewind playback 15 minutes, and iTunes Tagging to remember songs to review and buy in iTunes.

But the big news is the video camera, so your portable player becomes a pocket camcorder that shoots full standard-definition video (but still not photos). And Apple has added 15 real-time effects, including sepia, film grain, thermal, motion blur, and twirl, so you don't need to do any editing before you share clips to online sites. Unfortunately, the camera lens is located on the lower back of the player (on the other side from the click wheel), which requires careful hand positioning when shooting videos.

Not content with common features, Apple also added a pedometer to the nano, with an accelerometer to track your steps for analysis of calories burned. You can wear it in your pocket or on an armband, or integrate with the Nike+ shoes (previously used with the iPod touch).

Finally, Apple has added VoiceOver from the iPod shuffle, to speak the song title and artist when you press the center button. And with the new iTunes 9 it expands the Genius feature to automatically find interesting music, with Genius Playlists for similar songs and Genius Mixes from the iTunes library.

The iPod nano still looks slim and sleek in vibrant colors, but as the features have piled on it can no longer can really be called simple. For example, the iPod nano User Guide (PDF) is 103 pages, with 15 pages on the basics, including a table of 43 common actions with the controls.

But you can ignore all that -- the new iPod nano is as sexy as ever, with a polished anodized aluminum surface, a bigger screen, plus the obvious benefits of the built-in camera, mic, and speakers. Heck, with that kind of motivation, you can learn to use plenty of new features

For Apple's comparison of the iPod line and specs, see

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on the iPod line -- and a iPod Product and Pricing History.

    Find the Apple iPod nano (gen 5) on

September 16, 2009

SanDisk Extreme Pro CompactFlash Cards - Shoot up to 64 GB at 90 MB/sec.

Today's high-def camcorders and higher-res digital cameras require not only greater storage, especially for shooting in less-compressed RAW formats, but also faster performance, especially for burst-mode shooting of sequential images in fractions of a second.

So even consumers can see the need for memory cards like the recently-announced SanDisk Extreme Secure Digital (SD) Cards, with up to 32 GB of storage and running at up to 30 MB/sec. read/write data rates (see previous post).

But professionals shooting with DSLRs need even more, with 20-plus megapixel cameras capturing in RAW plus JPEG formats, and continuous burst modes shooting five or more images per second. Plus, pros need even more rugged and durable equipment to work in difficult environments and under extreme conditions.

Which explains the contained popularity of the CompactFlash (CF) Memory Card format (see Wikipedia). Yes, CF seems old-fashioned and clunky because it's so much bigger then the SD format (a whole inch and a half wide!), but that extra size allows for a tougher metallic case (not just plastic), and more headroom in the circuitry, offering not only higher capacity and faster performance, but also increased reliability.

For example, SanDisk has just refreshed its line of CompactFlash cards, featuring the SanDisk Extreme Pro CF Cards -- doubling the performance up to 90 MB/sec., and with capacities up to 64 GB.

The new Extreme and Extreme Pro cards replace the Extreme III and IV lines:
- SanDisk Extreme CF - 60 MB/s read/write (400x) - 8, 16, 32 GB
- SanDisk Extreme Pro CF - 90 MB/s read/ write (600x) - 16, 32, 64 GB

These cards are not just memory, they include processor and firmware, with the new SanDisk Power Core Controller, an advanced memory controller that enhances performance with a dual-lane architecture, and increases reliability with a 42-bit ECC engine to maintain data integrity and extended card endurance through optimized wear leveling.

And the CF format allows for impressive durability, with shock protection to withstand accidental drops of up to nine feet, a RTV Silicone coating for protection against moisture and humidity, and operation over extended temperatures from -13 F (-25 C) to 185 F (85 C).

So the SD card format is great for consumer cameras and camcorders, but the legacy CF format is still going strong to meet the demands of extreme shooting with DSLRs.

See my full article: Flash Memory: Technology Summary for more on memory card formats and features

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

Find the SanDisk Extreme III SDHC cards on

September 29, 2009

See Your Storage - Verbatim InSight Portable Hard Drive

If you're looking for a great holiday gift for students or travelers -- or actually anyone with a computer, then check out this season's crop of portable hard drives.

Products like the new Verbatim InSight Portable USB Hard Drive are literally (coat) pocket-sized, around 6 x 3 1/2 x 2/3 inches and under 6 ounces, and are powered through the USB connection, with no separate adapters or plugs required. But the break-through this season is in the pricing -- 500 GB (half a terabyte!) for under $150. Yeesh -- only two years ago, $150 would have gotten you more like 160 GB.

So these portable hard drives make a lot of sense for people on the go with laptops, especially students and exteded travelers. You can bring along lots of data (like music and photo collections) without clogging up your laptop's internal drive. You have a stash of spare disk space when needed, especially for copying photos and videos that you've been shooting. And, you have a place to back up your system, you know, just in case. As a result, these products typically backup software, so you can back up your laptop on the road, or even use them to easily back up your desktop system, like you know you should.

And we're talking hundreds of gigabytes of data here -- likely more than came with your last desktop system. That's a lot of data to go missing if your drive is lost or stolen. So these drives typically include security software (or hardware) to protect the contents though password encryption.

The Verbatim InSight drive, for example, includes Nero BackItUp Essentials, for automatic / scheduled backups, and encryption with a password. It's a 2.5 inch drive, with 5400 rpm spindle speed, and 8 MB of cache memory, for USB 2.0 transfer rates up to 480 MB/sec. (See press release.)

The distinguishing feature of the InSight drive, however, is the Always On Display, a small LCD that displays the drive name and available free space -- even when the drive is powered off. You can change the displayed name by renaming the drive icon in Windows Explorer or the volume label in Mac OS. The name and available storage are then updated each time you connect or safely remove the drive.

So now you can keep track of which drive is which, and which has enough free space to use for your next project.

Verbatim InSight drive is available with 320 GB for $119 (more like $99 street), and 500 GB for $149 ($116 street).

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on portable drives, memory cards, and USB flash storage.

Find the Verbatim InSight Portable Drive on

October 8, 2009

Protecting Your iPod nano - Griffin iClear Cases

Apple's iPod designs are beautiful objects, particularly the iPod nano -- so clean and slim and graceful, and in happy vivid colors. It's almost a shame to actually use your nano, and risk getting it roughed up or scratched from banging around in your bag or pocket.

So you want to protect your precious object, but it would be a crime to enclose it in a standard case, which would cover up the attractive coloring that you selected, or bulk up the svelte design with padding.

One possible answer is to wrap your device with an adhesive protective film like ZAGG invisibleSHIELD to protect it from scratches (see previous post). Or you can protect the back from scarring with a snap-on cover like the Belkin Micra Cases (see previous post). This kind of transparent polycarbonate case also can be decorated with fun designs or patterns that play off the nano's original colors.

The new iPod nano generation 5 introduces another issue for cases and covers -- even though the player looks to be the same size (albeit with a larger screen), the new built-in camera adds a lens to the formerly pristine back of the device (see previous post).

So Griffin Technology has responded by expanding its iClear line of cases with new designs for the new iPod nano. These cases are a clear polycarbonate hard shell, with two pieces that snap together over the back and the front of your device. It has cut-outs to provide access to the click wheel and the camera lens, and the top and bottom ends are open for the hold switch, headphone jack, and dock connector. The result is durable protection for your player, including the screen, without too much additional bulk.

- The iClear cases are available for iPod models including classic, touch, and nano; the iPhone; plus Zune, Sansa, and BlackBerry. The nano gen 5 case is $19.99, or $29.99 with removable clip and armband.

- The iClear Shade for $24.99 overlays the original color of your nano with an ombre shaded finish, with a graduated tint that fades from clear to dark grey.

- The iClear Sketch for $24.99 adds a variety of decorative translucent designs, from patterns like Plaid, Tartan, Camo, and Baroque, to images like Pipeline (waves), Summit (mountains -- shown here), Landmark (N.Y. City), and 8-bit (space invaders).

See my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more fun options, organized by company.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on the iPod line.

    Find the Griffin iClear cases on

October 9, 2009

Altec Lansing Orbit USB-Powered Portable Speaker

Are you a laptop person, or a smartphone kind of person? Can you keep connected well enough on the small screen, or do you tend to lug a laptop around with you for the full experience? The laptop gives you immediate access to all your files, and media, always ready for giving business presentations, or for just listening to your favorite music in your hotel room.

But while a laptop display works well for sharing the visuals for your work or for enjoying your media, a laptop's built-in speakers just won't do justice to the audio, whether in a meeting or in a hotel.

Instead, you can pack portable sound like the new Altec Lansing Orbit USB Speaker, available for $49. It connects via USB, so it's plug-and-play, and are powered through the same cable -- with no separate batteries or power cord required.

The Orbit USB is easy to pack, at around 3 3/8" by 2 1/8 inches, and under 6 ounces. And it's easy to carry, with a straightforward design of aluminum and composite, and a neoprene carrying case. The 16-inch cord wraps up to store in the base.

The speaker is designed to sit flat, with a 360-degree sound field, but also has a retractable stand to tilt up and aim the sound. The digital sound is clean, and loud enough for a room, without being ear-shattering.

There's also the Altec Lansing Orbit-MP3 Speaker with an analog connector, for $39 (see previous post). The analog jack means you can use it with a variety of other devices, including the iPod, iPhone, MP3 players, and laptops. But without the USB cable to provide power, it does require separate batteries.

You also can decorate your Orbit speaker with graphics from Skinit for around $12. These are glossy 3M Scotchprint graphics which peel and attach, but also can be removed without leaving a residue.

The Orbit speakers are mono, obviously. You can step up to stereo with a pair of LaCie USB or FireWire Speakers, USB for $29 and FireWire for $79 (see previous post). These are larger, at around 5.3 x 3.9 x 3.5 inches each, but can pack up to travel for events or can plug in quickly when you're back at your desk.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for more on portable speakers and earphones.

Find the Altec Lansing Orbit USB Speakers
and Orbit-MP3 Speakers on

October 13, 2009

Noise-Reduction Bluetooth Headsets: Aliph Jawbone Prime

While some technologies may be over-hyped, the introduction of noise-reduction technology in Bluetooth headsets is the real deal. These headsets can work amazingly well with mobile phones, especially in noisy environments like on city streets or even when standing near noisy machinery.

These headsets use digital signal processing to extract your voice from the surrounding noise, without distorting the voice unnaturally. Newer products add dual microphones and physical windscreens, especially to deal with wind noise. They can enhance the incoming voice as well, automatically adjusting the volume to compensate for outside noise.

Since its introduction at the end of 2006, the Aliph Jawbone has been the exemplar for noise-reduction headsets (see previous post). Its unique design bulges out with a small nub that rests against the cheek to sense your voice when speaking. The original Jawbone was a bit bulky, and required using an earloop hung around the ear to keep it pressed against the face.

The "New" Jawbone, introduced in mid-2008, cut the headset size in half, but still had the problem of swinging away from the face (see previous post). Aliph then introduced a New Fit earbud design with an air-filled base plus an integrated loop to catch in the folds of your outer ear, allowing the Jawbone to be worn comfortably without an earloop, if desired, without requiring jamming it in the ear canal to hold tight (see previous post).

The new Jawbone Prime is the latest generation in the line, with even better noise elimination, especially in reducing the effect of wind noise (see demo videos). Aliph claims an order of magnitude improvement in the noisiest environments, up to 6 to 9dB improvement. The idea is to combine the best signal from the two microphones (high frequencies) and the voice sensor (low frequencies).

Interestingly, however, the Prime no longer requires that the voice sensor touch the face -- Aliph claims the processing is as good as or better than other noise cancelling headsets even without the sensor, and that the sensor then provides an additional turbo-burst of clarity.

The basic design of the Jawbone Prime is close to the "New" Jawbone, still curved to follow the face, with a bulge for the voice sensor. It also continues another Jawbone design trademark -- the absence of visible controls. The buttons are hidden under the surface of the back face and side of the unit, which does require some training time to get used to (with up to triple-tap commands). The Prime has added a slight tactile crease to help your fingers locate the buttons.

The Prime continues the Jawbone's position as a top noise-reduction headset. The voice quality was very good, after totally eliminating background noise like fans and running water. And it held up well whether or not the sensor was touching the face. (The Jawbone has an option to turn the noise-reduction feature on and off, so you can hear the background environment for comparison.) The outgoing voice can get choppy as the surrounding noise ramps up. The incoming voice was strong, but a bit muffled against the background noise.

One issue for travelers is that the Jawbone uses a custom connector for the charger, instead of the standard micro-USB connector used by other products, so you'll need to bring along the special Jawbone charging cable.

The Jawbone Prime is priced at $129, or around $100 street price. It's available in classic matte black, satin brown, or platinum, or in a new line of EARCANDY colors with vivid hues -- red, yellow, green, purple.

As a side note, expect to see more use of color for personal style and self-expression in consumer products. Aliph says that this reflects fashion trends "in which bright colors are made approachable and wearable, resonating with women and younger users who care about products that fit into their lifestyle." The colors provide "great skin-tone complements and contrast," so the result "reinforces the basic notion that anything that the consumer wears makes a statement, and it should be designed as such..."

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

    Find the Aliph Jawbone Prime headset on

Noise-Reduction Bluetooth Headsets 2: Plantronics Voyager PRO

Compared to the Aliph Jawbone (see previous post) and other in-ear Bluetooth headsets, the Plantronics Voyager PRO is a very different beast. It's an over-ear design, with the electronics in a pod that rests behind the ear, and a boom microphone. Instead of a tiny unit that uses the earpiece to keep the unit in place, the Voyager PRO hangs on the ear, with the earpiece nestling gently in the outside of the ear canal.

The behind-the-ear pod is actually larger than some other headsets, but has room for the power button, distinct volume controls, and a standard micro-USB charging connector. There's also a call control button at the base of the boom. The boom extends some 2 1/2 inches to get the dual microphones closer to your voice. It also has both stainless steel and acoustic fabric windscreens as barriers to wind noise.

Plantronics then packs the pod with its next-generation AudioIQ active digital signal processing technology to remove ambient noise and wind while still maintaining the natural sound of your speaking voice. The inbound audio quality also is improved with an adaptive 20-band equalizer and automatic sound level adjustment based on the environment noise.

The result is very impressive noise reduction. Both the incoming and outgoing voices were quite clear, even in noisy environment, with a little hiss. This is especially tricky, since the earpiece is not particularly secure in the ear, and therefore does not provide much passive noise reduction.

So the Voyager PRO may seem an ungainly design -- not very sexy or sleek or colorful (at 17.5 grams, compared to 10 for the Jawbone Prime). Even so, Plantronics reports that its predecessor, the Voyager 510, has continued to be very popular. And while it's obviously not the best choice for jogging or action sports, the over-ear design and strong noise reduction can be very comfortable for extended use in more stable environments, like around the office or when driving.

The Plantronics Voyager PRO is available for around $99, or $84 street.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

    Find the Plantronics Voyager PRO headset on

October 16, 2009

Noise-Reduction Bluetooth Headsets 3: Plantronics Discovery 975

The Plantronics Discovery 975 Bluetooth headset is another interesting design approach from Plantronics, albeit not quite as different as the Voyager PRO (see previous post). The idea is to pack the electronics in a square-ish base unit, with the microphones in a 1 3/4-inch boom that gets closer to your voice, all with an understated and gently rounded design. This update to the Discovery 925 (see previous post) has less of a "designer" / jewel tone look, and is intended to be a more subtle or timeless design.

Beyond the looks, the clever element of the Discovery 975 is the included charging carrying case. This is a small padded case that includes a rechargeable battery, so you can dock the headset to recharge, tripling the headset talk time when on the road.

You can charge the headset and case separately through a standard micro-USB connection, or charge them together when docked. The case has been upgraded from the Discovery 925 to include a handy eject button, plus a LCD status display showing the battery levels of the headset and case and the Bluetooth connection status. It also provides longer and faster charging.

The Discovery 975 uses the Plantronics AudioIQ technology to remove background noise while maintaining the voice quality. It protects against wind noise with grooved vents and acoustic fabric on the boom, plus electronic filters in microphone circuitry. The result was very good in my testing, but not quite as clean and natural sounding as the Voyager PRO. It also provides handy voice prompts for muting, low battery, and lost connections.

The headset uses silicon gel eartips with a small flange plus a stabilizer loop that fits in the folds of the outer ear. This is designed to fit comfortably and securely, and be easy to insert and remove.

The Plantronics Discovery 975 is priced at $129, on the high side of its competitors, but it delivers a simple, functional design plus the clever charging case.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

    Find the Plantronics Discovery 975 headset on

October 19, 2009

Bluetooth Headsets 4: Jabra BT530

Compared to some other sexy designs, the Jabra BT530 is a wonderfully straightforward headset, especially good for occasional use. It has dedicated single-use buttons, instead of requiring memorized multi-tap sequences. There's actually a separate power slide switch on the bottom, individual volume up and down controls that cover the entire back of the faceplate, plus the small answer/end button on the side.

The design is also compact -- shorter and thinner than the Jawbone Prime (see previous post), for example. It's also designed with lots of wearing options -- eight ear gels in two styles and three sizes, plus two sizes of optional earloops to hold over your ear for active wear. The ear gels have a flange to help hook inside the opening of your ear canal, and come with and without an additional open rung loop to stabilize the unit in the folds of your outer ear when you wear it without the earloop.

The BT530 includes Jabra's Noise Blackout technology with dual mics for background noise elimination with natural voice quality, plus intelligent volume control to adjust the level of received audio, and Audio Shock Protection to guard against sudden noise surges. The result is good, but a bit below the Jawbone and Voyager PRO, with a more choppy outgoing voice with background noise, and somewhat muffled incoming voice.

The Jabra BT530 is priced significantly less than these other headsets at $79, with even lower street prices. It's a nice design, particularly for occasional use, with clear and obvious controls to make it easy to set up, use, and then put away.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

    Find the Jabra BT530 headset on

October 20, 2009

Noise-Reduction Bluetooth Headsets: Wrap-up

The bottom line from our mini-series on Bluetooth headsets is that noise-reduction technology is the real deal, pulling your outgoing voice from the surrounding ambient noise without significant distortion. The technology has improved, typically with dual microphones, dampening of wind noise, and also boosting the incoming voice as well.

But as these four models show, your choice is not just about noise reduction. Looks are at least somewhat important, and these have very different designs for different kinds of users, and different types of uses. And comfort is a big issue, especially for long-term wear. Today's headsets have moved away from rooting the earpiece in your ear canal, and typically avoid the need for over-ear earloops except for particularly active use. Instead, they add a hollow loop to the earpiece, so the loop can nest into the ear's folds to stabilize the earpiece just inside the ear.

The result is a wide array of options to fit your style and comfort:

- The Plantronics Voyager PRO has an almost-retro utilitarian over-ear design with a boom mic and behind-the-ear pod. It has great voice quality and is good for long-term comfort resting on the ear, albeit not for active use.

It's priced at around $99, or around $84 street price. (See the Plantronics Voyager PRO on Amazon)

- The Aliph Jawbone Prime has a snazzy design with vivid colors. It's particularly good for heavy users on the go who can mind-meld with its "invisible" button interface (and don't mind the custom charging cable).

It's priced at $129, or around $100 street price. (See the Aliph Jawbone Prime on Amazon)

- The Plantronics Discovery 975 has an understated design with blocky base and small boom extension. It's good for extended use, since it comes with a small charging / carrying case that can recharge the headset for triple the talk time.

It's priced at around $129 with the case. (See the Plantronics Discovery 975 on Amazon)

- The Jabra BT530 has a compact and functional design, with dedicated single-use buttons. It's particularly helpful for occasional use, since it's so straightforward to turn on and use, albeit with somewhat less effective noise reduction.

It's priced under the others at $79, with lower street prices. (See the Jabra BT530 headset on Amazon)

That's four clearly differentiated options for your listening and speaking pleasure.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

November 10, 2009

Energizer Energi To Go - Rechargeable Power Packs for Cell Phones to Laptops

Why is it so hard to build portable electronic devices that use a standard power / data plug? After all the "U" in USB stands for Universal, and lots of products do fine with it -- Bluetooth headsets with micro USB, mobile phones and media players and cameras / camcorders with mini USB, and laptops with USB connectors.

But no such luck when you head out on a trip, and you find yourself packing multiple power supplies with special connectors for devices like a Nokia phone, Apple iPod player, Sony camcorder, and Dell laptop. Yeesh!

One alternative is to carry one power supply with a system of interchangeable tips for powering your various devices. Even better, you can carry a separate rechargeable battery like the Energizer Energi To Go XP line of Rechargeable Power Packs which supports both USB and swappable tips, so you can recharge on the go to extend your time on the road.

These are portable lithium polymer rechargeable batteries, typically with USB ports and power ports at different voltages. They include adapter cables to connect interchangeable tips, for devices from cell phones and smartphones, to digital cameras and camcorders, to netbooks and laptops (see the Tip finder).

The Energi To Go XP line is developed in partnership with XPAL Power, and includes a Free Tips for Life program: register online to get two free tips per year to fit new devices, for the life of your product.

The line includes the credit-card sized 1.3 oz. XP 1000 with tips for cell phones, Apple iPods, and other MP3 players Bluetooth headsets though mini/micro USB ($19), and the 2.5 oz. XP 2000 charges smartphones, plus gaming devices and even digital cameras ($39). [The model number is the mAh capacity.]

For larger digital cameras, the 5.4 oz. XP 4001 charges two devices at once ($59), and the 4.9 oz. XP 4000 adds tips for camcorders to charge up to 6 hours, plus a EZ-Charger clip that charges internal batteries ($79).

And for portable computing, the 7.9 oz XP 8000 also charges netbooks for to 3 hours ($99), and the 17.5 oz XP 18000 charges laptops up to 6 hours ($179).

So if you're going to be on the road, and want some auxiliary power for your devices, the Energizer Energi To Go line can give you the boost you need.

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for more on portable batteries and power options.

Find the Energizer Energi To Go Power Packs on Amazon:
XP 1000 Cell Phone - 2000 Smartphone - 4001 2 Devices - 4000 Camera - 8000 Netbook - 18000 Laptop

November 11, 2009

Miccus ChargeBlock for iPod / iPhone

Miccus makes wireless audio products for consumers, including the BlueBridge line of Bluetooth connectivity devices. But this post is about the simple and sleek Miccus ChargeBlock compact charger for Apple's iPods and iPhones that don't believe in removable batteries.

This is a nice, simple, functional device -- basically a rechargeable battery with the iPod 30-pin dock connector attached. It's less than 2 1/2 inches wide and around 1 1/2 ounces, so just plug in your iPod or iPhone to boost it up for up to 11 hours of audio, 3 hours of video, or 3.5 hours of talk time.

It has a mini-USB connector on the back to recharge with the included USB cable, LED lights for charging status, and a snap on cap to protect the connector when you carry it in your bag.

The Miccus ChargeBlock is priced at $39.99. It's a nice clean design to provide a useful function to keep your iPod / iPhone going longer.

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for more on portable batteries and power options.

    Find the Miccus ChargeBlock on

November 15, 2009

Sound Off With Sony's 1,000 Ringtones for the iPhone

If you want to customize your iPhone -- or other mobile phone -- with distinctive ringtones, then Sony Creative Software has a disc for you -- the Sony 1,000 Ringtones DVD. That's enough clips to assign a different sound to each of the callers in your contact list!

Priced at $19.94, and containing literally 1,000 sound clips, the disc includes 300 musical themes, 600 "Hollywood" style sound effects, and another 100 spoken words and phrases. It also includes a tutorial video(in both Mac .MOV and Windows .WMV formats), showing how to sync and install ringtones on the iPhone, plus demo versions of the Sony digital media applications.

The Musical ringtones are named for the spirit they evoke, with funk, dance, classical, space, and other styles.

The Sound Effects also cover a broad range, from aliens and lasers, bells and alarms, animals and insects, instruments and tools, plus classic effects like "Air Blowing On Plastic Wrap" and an always-appreciated Flatulence collection.

And the Vocals range from fun to goofy, from "Answer Me!" to "It's Your Mother" to "Yo Yo Yo Yo Yo Yo Yo!"

The ringtones on the disc are ready to use, without any additional downloads or editing or copy protection issues. The clips are provided in two formats: plain .MP3 for previewing on your computer or playing on many devices, and the iTunes .M4R ringtone format, ready to sync to the iPhone.

To install a ringtone, double-click the .M4R file to add it to your iTunes Library in the Ringtones category. Then check the Sync settings for your device under Ringtones to choose to sync the clip to your device. Finally, sync iTunes with your device, and then select the ringtone on your iPhone, under Settings, Sounds, Ringtone.

(You also can create custom ringtones in iTunes as .M4R files, although only from songs purchased from the iTunes Store. Choose Store, Create Ringtone, and then select the portion of the song you want to use as a ringtone.)

Be the first in your group to answer to the unique sound of "Plastic Baseball Inside Glass Fish Bowl Drop and Rolling" ...

See the Sony Press Release

November 19, 2009

Duracell Power Reserve Chargers For Portable USB Power

The Duracell Power Reserve line of portable chargers are rechargeable Lithium Ion batteries packaged in several sizes to provide additional power on the road for portable devices, from cell phones to media players to even some digital cameras.

These don't try to provide adapter tips for all your various devices (see previous post on Energizer Energi To Go). Instead they feature USB and/or mini USB ports for compatibility with the growing number of USB-powered devices, and are recharged through USB (from a computer or USB wall charger). For other devices, you can use the USB adapter / cable that came with the device to connect to a custom interface.

The Duracell Pocket Charger ($19) is a 500 mAh pocket-sized, supplemental charger for cell phones, providing up to 60 percent more talk time. It has a swinging miniUSB charging arm.

The Duracell Instant Charger ($29) is a small (~ 3 1/2 x 1 1/2) 1500 mAh charger with a USB port, plus miniUSB (and cable) for charging, and a power switch. It provides up to 180 minutes of backup power for cell phones and the iPhone, and 45 to 50 hours for iPods like the nano and classic.

The Duracell Powerhouse Charger ($49) is a 2000 mAh device that can charge two devices at once, with a USB port and miniUSB arm, and power switch. It provides reserve power for cell phones, PDAs or MP3 players, and even many digital cameras.

These allow you to bring along backup power when you're on the road, in a small, light, and convenient package.

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for more on portable batteries and power options.

Find the Duracell Power Reserve Chargers on
Pocket Charger - Instant Charger - Powerhouse Charger

November 24, 2009

Dexim iPhone / iPod Accessories for Power and Video

Apple's iPod and iPhone lines are great products, but we always want to do more with them, which has lead to a proliferation of third-product accessories, from docks to cases to chargers to external audio/video connectors.

Dexim has introduced some clever accessories for powering and sharing your iPhone/iPod.

The new Dexim P-Flip is a foldable, portable, rechargeable dual-purpose power dock and battery, available for $54. The P-Flip closes up for storage to pocket-sized, and then flips open as a desktop stand for your iPhone 3G/3Gs or iPod touch.

It serves as a cordless charger, or you can connect the included miniUSB cable to recharge and sync the iPhone/iPod. The three LEDs display the charge status of the device and the battery, which extends talk time up to 8 hours, video/game play to 15 hours, and music to 60 hours.

You also can download the free PFlip Clock app from the Apple iPhone Store.

When driving, the Dexim Car Charger for iPhone/iPod includes both a cable with an Apple connector for charging your iPhone/iPod, and a USB port protected by a rotating cover, for $15.

Dexim also offers other versions of car chargers with USB port, dual USB, iPod connector, and/or cell phone tips.

And to share your photos and videos on TV, the Dexim AV Adapters for iPhone/iPod include a small A/V adapter that plugs in to the Apple connector, with connectors on the bottom for two included cables: an A/V output cable (with various connectors for the different products) and a USB cable (for data synchronization and charging).

The Dexim (Composite) AV Adapter has a composite video cable with stereo audio (video + L&R audio), for $39.

The Dexim Premium (Component) AV Adapter has a full component A/V out cable (R,G,B video + L&R audio), for $49.

See my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more on portable and computer accessories.

    Find the Dexim P-Flip and Car Charger on

November 28, 2009

Wireless Recharging: Powermat and Duracell MyGrid

The downside of all our portable gadgets is all the different power adapters and cables that we need to keep them charged. The problem does get easier when your devices use standard USB ports (see previous post).

Yet if everything else is going wireless, why not power? We're not talking here about pulling energy out of the air, or beaming voltage around -- The idea is that someday you can just sit your device down on a table, and have it recharge without the muss and fuss of wires and connectors.

Sound good? We're not quite there yet, but there are a couple companies showing the way. The first products have a charging pad that you plug in the conventional way, plus compatible sleeve adapters that you attach to your portable devices. They also include universal adapters to place on the pad, with wired micro USB interfaces for charging other devices.

The Powermat line uses magnetic induction technology, so your device snaps into the proper alignment on the mat.

The Powermat Home & Office Mat and foldable Portable Mat are each $99. To adapt your devices to use the mat, the iPhone / touch dock and receivers are $39, and BlackBerry battery doors and Nintendo DSi / DS Lite backs are $29.

The Duracell MyGrid line (which uses the Wildcharge technology) is based on conduction, so the adapters have small metal dimples that make direct contact with the very thin tablet, but can be placed in any orientation.

The MyGrid Pad is $49, and adapter Skins are $34 for iPhone, iPod Touch, BlackBerry, and Motorola RAZR V3.

These technologies typically charge at the same rate as the device's own charger. And no, they don't spark if you put metal on them, or fry you if you touch them...

However, these products do use incompatible technologies, of course, so there will be a shake-out period in the market as the companies push to get their technology built in directly to portable devices. But someday we can hope that we can just put down our devices to recharge, on surfaces from conference room tables to kitchen counters.

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for more on portable batteries and power options.

Find the PowerMat Home & Office Mat
and Duracell MyGrid Pad on

November 29, 2009

OrigAudio Folding Recycled Paper Speakers

Small portable speakers make music much more fun, whether to listen better to your laptop, or to share the sound from your iPod or phone without requiring earphones. But even small speakers take up space on the go, especially if you want two of them for stereo sound (see previous post on the Altec Lansing Orbit and LaCie USB Speakers).

The new OrigAudio Fold and Play Recycled Speakers take a significantly different approach -- the speaker elements are mounted in a paper box!

Yes, the OrigAudio speakers are made from recycled paper, and come folded flat into a 6 1/4 x 6 1/4 x 1 3/4 inch display box. You can then unfold them to assemble into 3 1/8 inch cubes -- just fold in the ends and fit the tab A's into slot B's.

The pair of stereo speakers are wired together only about a foot apart, with a close to 4 foot cord to a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, which you can plug into almost any audio device, desktop or portable.

The OrigAudios are made of heavy-duty recycled paper, and are currently available in several fun designs, including CityScape, Lake, Surf Break, and Flowers. Or the Canvas design provides a neutral background to decorate with your own artwork.

The speakers are self-powered, so no batteries or external power is needed. As a result they are not particularly loud, so they're a better match for personal listening and small groups than blasting at a party.

The OrigAudio speakers are a fun idea, for travel or for decorating your workspace. And they are only $16, available directly from OrigAudio. And there's more to look forward to -- OrigAudio also offers custom designs for larger orders, with different materials and a second triangular design.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for more on portable speakers and earphones

December 2, 2009

Projector in Your Pocket - 3M MPro120

Portable media players are great for personal use, but aren't so helpful for sharing the fun -- with small screens and at best tiny speakers. And even laptops are not great for viewing by more than a few people.

What you need, then, is your own pocket-size projector like the second-generation 3M MPro120 Pocket Projector. This does indeed fit in your pocket at 4.7 x 2.4 x 1 inches, and 5.6 ounces. It's now available for around $299.

The MPro120 throws an image up to 3 1/2 feet, or from 8 to 50 inches diagonal. With brightness settings for 10 to 12 lumens it's not going to overpower sunlight, but it's bright enough to see in a lit room. It uses an LCOS imager with LED light source, rated for 20,000 hours (so there's no lamp replacement).

The unit displays at VGA resolution (640 x 480), and includes a built-in speaker. You can hook up to a laptop (with the included VGA cable plus audio) or to analog video (with the included component A/V cable; component cables are available separately). And you can display from iPods (also including the touch and iPhone) with a adapter separate cable from Dexim (see previous post).

The similar line of DLP-based Optima Pico Projectors now includes the PK-102, with 4 GB of internal memory to store photos and videos at around $249. It's speced to throw an image up to 8 1/2 feet (5 feet diagonal), with a display resolution of 480 x 320.

But who needs a separate projector? The Nikon COOLPIX S1000pj 12 MP digital camera includes built-in projector at $29. It throws a VGA-resolution image of up to 40 inches a distance of up to 6 1/2 feet, at up to 10 lumens.

See my HDTV Gallery for more on portable projectors

Find the 3M MPro120 Pocket Projector
and Optima PK-102 Pico Projector on

December 12, 2009

Archos 5 Internet Tablet with Android

What's all this about Android? Well, Android is Google's version of the software for portable Internet devices, as first shown on the T-Mobile G1 smartphone a year ago (see previous post), and then updated to Android 2.0 with the recent release of the Verizon Wireless Droid from Motorola (see previous post).

The Android system, not surprisingly for Google, is focused on web browsing and connectivity, and especially integration with the Google online "cloud" services including Gmail and Google Contacts and Calendar.

Plus, Android is an open system, designed to be used on a wide variety of hardware designs from many different vendors -- which means more options for consumers. In addition, the code is open source, and therefore very open for third-party developers to create new applications.

This is an obvious contrast to the tightly managed Apple iPhone platform (much like the contrast between open PCs vs. closed Macs -- although you similarly can argue that Apple's control results in a much more tightly integrated user experience -- see Roughly Drafted, for example).

In particular, while smartphones are great as do-everything devices (text and e-mail and web and media and camera and navigation and, oh yes, phone), a 3 1/2 inch screen is not the optimal size for extended working or reading or viewing. There's been a missing range of display sizes in the market, between the 3 to 4 inches on smartphones and game systems, and 13 inches or more on notebooks. So we now see e-book readers with 6 to 9 inch screens, and netbooks shrinking to around 8 to 10 inches.

So, for example, you can leverage the converged and connected smartphone platform by first removing the phone part of a smartphone, and keeping the connectivity (though Wi-Fi) and the apps -- as in the Apple iPod touch. But then take another step to enlarge the screen a bit, to more like 5 inches, and you get a much improved viewing experience in a device that is still pocketable -- like the recently released Archos 5 Internet Tablet.

This is an Android platform (version 1.5, not yet to the apparently speedier 2.0), with a 4.8 inch touch screen, and Wi-Fi connectivity, designed for web access and media playback. The Archos 5 Internet Tablet (not to be confused with the different Archos 5 product, described as an "Internet Media Tablet") also includes GPS, FM radio, speaker, and microphone. It's available in versions with ether flash memory or hard disk storage -- flash with 32 GB for $379, and hard disk with 160 GB for $399, up to 500 GB for $499.

The interface is very familiar if you've used another Android device like the Droid, although the dedicated Home, Back, and Menu buttons on the Droid are replaced by soft buttons in a banner across the top of the screen. But bigger screen means, for example, that you can see, and read, the full width of the main Google News page (the full Classic version, not the Mobile version, with two columns of news plus the menu sidebar). The text is admittedly small, but just large enough to tap on links with your finger. Or zoom in for a more readable text size, and more of the page is still visible on the screen -- this works particularly well when you rotate the screen to portrait orientation to read a long column of text.

The Archos 5 IT comes with a built-in Browser and Contacts apps -- but interestingly, not the dedicated Google applications found on the Droid (though Archos points out that you can access Gmail though the Email app and the Google cloud services through the Browser).

And, like other Android devices, the Archos Tablet does not have anything like the Apple iTunes integration for managing and syncing media files, or the Windows Mobile / Windows Phone support for reading Office documents, much less editing and syncing them. To transfer media, you can drag and drop files over the USB connection, or sync with tools like Windows Media Player. And to work with Office documents, you can turn to the third-party apps that are being developed for Android (Archos suggests ThinkFree Mobile to work with Office documents).

However, ARCHOS provides its own version of the Google Market for applications -- the AppsLib. The issue here, not surprisingly, is that application developers need to update their software to work with the higher-resolution screen -- and the larger screen size. Archos reports that there already are some 500 apps that are fully compatible with the Archos 5 IT.

So the Archos 5 Internet Tablet is an early example of a middle range of web communications devices, that take advantage of the widespread availability of Wi-Fi without adding another monthly cellular data plan, and add a larger screen for more intensive work, but not so large to be clumsy to bring along. And it leverages the common Android platform as it is rapidly expanding to more devices. It will be interesting to see if other companies, like Apple, also see opportunity here, and how consumers respond to this in-between range of portable display sizes.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery and Mobile Communications Gallery for details and related products

Find the Archos 5 Internet Media Tablet 32 GB and 250 GB on

December 21, 2009

Sound ID 400 Bluetooth Headset with Remote Microphone

If you don't have a Bluetooth wireless headset for your cell phone, or have not checked out the new products lately, they are definitely worth a look. The noise reduction technology has improved, so you can have intelligible conversations even in difficult environments. And the design has improved to be less obtrusive and more comfortable, doing away with ear loops hanging over your ear in favor of earpieces with an integrated loop that nestles in the folds of your outer ear.

I've recently covered new products from perennial Bluetooth manufacturers Aliph / Jawbone, Jabra, and Plantronics (see previous post). And it's also fun to see innovative product and design ideas from other companies.

For example, Sound ID has been expanding its line of Bluetooth headsets. The new Sound ID 400 Headset adds more custom features, and integrates with the separate Sound ID Remote Microphone to provide a remote audio feed.

The design of the Sound ID 400 Headset is very clean -- slim and light (under (0.28 ounces).

The back body has two small buttons, at the end (for power and call functions), and on the side (for volume and advanced modes). It includes three sizes of earpieces with loops, plus an optional ear hook.

The separate Sound ID Remote Microphone is the same size and shape, but designed as a clip-on device to boost the sound during a conversation, or from a sound source across the room. The Bluetooth connection works up to 30 feet line of sight, or less though ceilings and walls.

The Remote Mic is designed to work with the Sound ID 400, and pairs automatically using Bluetooth. The Sound ID 400 headset supports two Bluetooth-enabled devices, so you can listen using the Remote Microphone and then pick up an incoming call on your phone.

For noise reduction, the Sound ID 400 headset has NoiseNavigation technology using multiple microphones to remove background and wind noise while enhancing speech intelligibility at both ends of the conversation, along with automatic volume control. Then it adds PersonalSound modes to customize the enhancement -- normal, moderate, strong, or turned off (so you can see how well it is working).

Between calls, if the earpiece is blocking the outside sound too much, there's a new Environmental Mode that passes through the outside sound (you can clearly hear it operating from the background hiss and amplified sounds).

Both devices charge using a standard microUSB connector. The Headset provides up to 7 hours of talk time, or 8 days on standby. The Remote Microphone provides up to 10 hours of talk time.

The Sound ID 400 Bluetooth Headset is now available for $129, and the Sound ID Remote Microphone is $79.

See the summary of Bluetooth headsets in my Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2009 article.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

December 22, 2009

novero TheFirstOne Bluetooth Headset

In comparison to the low-profile design of the Sound ID 400 (see previous post), the novero TheFirstOne Bluetooth headset is designed as a "premium earpiece," with a "stylish sleek shape and white facade, brushed with subtle silver accents."

And TheFirstOne comes with a really complete set of accessories in the box. On the desktop, there's a microUSB charging cable and AC USB wall charger, plus the plastic holder in the top of the package converts into a Desk stand. For the car, there's a DC USB Car cigarette charger and a Car holder / cradle with USB connector to attach to your dashboard. Plus, to help you to carry around the headset when not in use, the product includes both a Neck cord / necklace and a Wearable clip, each with slots that secure the earpiece post.

TheFirstOne's design is a little shorter and chubbier than the Sound ID, with a fixed earpost and selection of narrow earpieces with and without loops. The outside face has a large multi-function button, and the side has a volume control with up and down adjustments. The LED lights provide extensive feedback though different colors and blinking patterns.

The technology includes noise cancellation with dual microphones. The headset has a talk time up to 4.5 hours, and stand-by over 100 hours.

To get you started, the inside of the packaging has illustrations showing basic use of the headset and accessories. However, there's no printed manual -- the User Guide is supplied on a mini CD, or you can download it online (PDF).

novero was formed through a buyout from Nokia, with a business in automotive wireless systems. TheFirstOne is novero’s first consumer product, priced at $149. Other novero products in development include TheTrustyOne Bluetooth car kit, TheTrulyOne Bluetooth car display kit, and TheTalkieOne Bluetooth speakerphone

See the summary of Bluetooth headsets in my Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2009 article.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

Find the novero TheFirstOne Bluetooth Headset on

December 23, 2009

BlueAnt Q1 Voice Controlled Bluetooth Headset

Another company that has been developing interesting Bluetooth headsets and speakerphones is BlueAnt Wireless, which is based in Australia (a blue ant is a somewhat unique and unusual flower wasp that is native to Australia -- see Wikipedia).

The BlueAnt Q1 Bluetooth headset is voice controlled -- It provides voice prompts instead of beeps for feedback -- and responds to over 20 spoken commands. When you receive a call, the Q1 reads the number to you, and then asks for your command to "Answer" or "Ignore" the call.

At other times, tap the BlueAnt button on the face of the headphone to prompt for a command, and then speak to redial, speed dial, check the connection, or check the battery (both for the headset and the phone battery levels).

You also can change settings like the LED light or voice recognition sensitivity level, turn off the headset, and even reset it by voice command (after a confirmation prompt).

The headphone has a slim profile, with the round BlueAnt button for commands and a side volume up/down button. It recharges using the supplied USB cable (although not a microUSB or miniUSB connector), and has a talk time up to 4 hours, and standby up to 100 hours.

The Q1's noise and wind reduction uses dual microphones and internal wind shields, with two voice isolation modes so you can turn on Maximum processing in particularly noisy environments. The Bluetooth support pairs with up to eight devices, and the Q1 provides true multipoint technology -- you can not only connect to two phones at a time, but you can maintain two live calls on the different lines, and switch back and forth between them.

And like several other BlueAnt headsets, the Q1 supports firmware updates over USB from a PC. The latest update adds Bluetooth A2DP audio streaming, for listening to music from your phone, as well as podcasts or turn-by-turn directions from a phone's GPS application.

The BlueAnt Q1 Bluetooth headset is list priced at $129, and is available online for around $79.

See the summary of Bluetooth headsets in my Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2009 article.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

Find the BlueAnt Q1 Bluetooth Headset on

December 24, 2009

Newton MoGo Talk - Thin Bluetooth Headsets

To wrap up this mini-series on different approaches in Bluetooth headsets, here's the Newton MoGo Talk, a headset the folds amazingly flat for storage, along the same lines as the Mogo Mouse designs (see previous post).

The trick with this headset design is a flat body, and an earpiece boom that folds down to lay completely flat, to only 5 mm thick.

The MoGo Talk comes in several versions, depending on your devices and how it's designed to be tucked away.

- MoGo Talk for VOIP & Skype ($99) snaps into a small Express Card 34 charging adapter, to store and charge in your notebook's Express Card 34 or Express Card 54 slot.

(There's also a Mogo X54 Charging Cable available for $19 to charge directly from a USB port.)

- MoGo Talk for iPhone ($129) is designed into a protective case for the phone, with a storage and charging cradle for the headset.

- MoGo Talk for BlackBerry Curve / Javelin ($129) is coming in 2010, designed to be integrated into the back of the BlackBerry.

The product includes flat eartips that squeeze open in your ears and then compress flat for the Express Card adapter, plus rounded eartips that provide more audio isolation and a fuller sound profile.

The MoGoTalk has a balanced armature driver, and includes noise blocking technology to remove noise, echo, and wind interference. It has automatic volume control that responds to the level of outside noise -- you can otherwise adjust the volume on your phone. It can be paired with up to 5 Bluetooth devices, and offers up to 4 hours of talk time, or 1 week of standby.

See the summary of Bluetooth headsets in my Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2009 article.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

December 26, 2009

Handheld Gaming as Convergence Devices - Nintendo DS

Apple iPod or Microsoft Zune? iPhone or BlackBerry -- or Windows Phone or Google Android? The portable device market seems to be framed in terms of titanic corporate battles, and emotional allegiances to our favorite products.

But while media players have evolved into wireless web devices, and smartphones are adding downloadable applications for fun and gaming, there is another class of devices that is converging from a different direction -- portable game systems like the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP lines that have extended from gaming to portable media players with wireless access.

These systems have built-in Wi-Fi and support some wireless access, albeit using game controls, but are obviously more focused on wireless gaming with others. Though the real value in wireless for these companies is to expand their portable devices from a product to subscription services, linking with the associated Sony and Nintendo online stores for buying media and games (see previous post).

And these are mass market products -- as of the beginning of this year, Sony had sold over 50 million PSP handhelds, and Nintendo had sold over 95 million DS models. Aided by new models and price cuts in these difficult economic times, U.S. sales data from the NPD Group show that the Nintendo DS was the top selling gaming system line in November, with the Nintendo Wii console second, outselling the Sony PSP, and the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 and PS2 lines (see below).

Nintendo reports that the DS and Wii products account for more than half of all video game systems sold in the U.S. through November in 2009.

The dual-screen Nintendo DSi, introduced in April, features two 3.2 inch screens plus two lowish-res 0.3 MP cameras (to shoot in towards you and out).

It's slightly thinner and longer than the previous DS models at 5.4 x 2.9 x 0.74 inches, and is available for around $169.

The new Sony PSPgo, introduced in October, has a 3.8 inch display that slides to access the familiar PSP gaming controls.

It removes the UMD optical drive in favor of flash memory storage, and so is a couple inches shorter and thinner than the previous PSP designs (4.8 x 2.6 x 0.6 inches, 5.6 ounces), and is available for around $239.

These systems are not just for hardcore gamers any more. As the Wii has demonstrated in the living room, there's a big place for "casual" games and fun activities in gaming systems.

For example, Rhythm Heaven from Nintendo has more than 50 rhythm-based music games -- you just tap, flick, and slide along with the catchy soundtrack.

And Scribblenauts from Warner Bros. (shown here) is a side scrolling game in which you explore and collect points -- and just type words to conjure up any of over 30,000 objects to help you, from ladders to wings to black holes.

In playing with these games to demo at my holiday gadget talks, however, I was surprised they still seem stuck on traditional structured game play with levels and points and penalties, and don't have simple, fun, non-goal-oriented, "casual" / demo modes.

It would be nice to set up the system, for example, so people could just wander around in Scribblenauts doing silly / fun stuff without worrying about the goal and limited resources, or sample the range of fun activities in Rhythm Heaven.

In particular, Rhythm Heaven traps you in training mode and doesn't let you out until you have proven yourself worthy, which does not make for a good first-brush experience when I'm handing around the DS so people can get a quick sense of its possibilities.

In any case, handheld game systems are for more than just the kids, and an interesting alternative or companion to wireless media players and smartphones -- especially for long trips where you can enjoy all the different kinds of entertainment, including commercial game titles and dedicated gaming controls.

See more on game systems in my Portable Media Player Gallery

Find the Nintendo DSi and Sony PSPgo on
Find Rhythm Heaven and Scribblenauts on

Continue reading "Handheld Gaming as Convergence Devices - Nintendo DS" »

January 18, 2010

New Unlimited Voice and Data Plans from AT&T and Verizon Wireless

AT&T and Verizon Wireless have announced new pricing plans for unlimited voice and data service. After all, we want mobile access to email and Web, and the carriers are happy to encourage more use of their networks for such data services.

Consumers are moving up from plain old cell phones to multimedia phones with cameras and picture messaging and some (sometimes painful) Web and email access, and then further on up to smartphones for a more satisfying online experience, albeit on a 3- to 4-inch screen.

The idea is to provide plans with bundles of minutes of talk time and megabytes of data for limited use, as well as unlimited plans for the new world of constant connectivity. (AT&T has rollover for unused minutes if not on an unlimited plan.) There are also family sharing plans for bundling service for a group of two or more phones, and friends and family options for specifying a list of favorite callers.

AT&T offers separate plans for different classes of phones, plus Texting as a separate add-on, $20 for unlimited, and $30 for Family Talk.

The AT&T plan for what it calls Feature Phones offers unlimited talk for $69.99 per month, and Family Talk (two lines) for $119.99.

For Smartphones (including the iPhone), AT&T offers unlimited voice and data for $99.99, and Family Talk for $179.99. The texting add-on is the same.

In comparison, Verizon Wireless offers unlimited voice plans with and without texting, and data plans for each type of phone.

The Verizon Unlimited Talk plan is $69.99 per month, and Unlimited Talk and Text plan (text, picture and video messages to anyone) is $89.99. The unlimited Family Share plan for voice (for two lines) is $119.99, and $149.99 with text.

The basic data plan for what Verizon calls Simple Feature Phones is pay per use at $1.99 per megabyte. The next tier, also for 3G Multimedia Phones is $9.99 a month for 25 MB, and 20 cents/MB additional. And the unlimited tier, for 3G Smartphones is $29.99. (Verizon has discontinued the $19.99 data package.)

The result:

- The two companies have matched pricing for unlimited voice plans, starting at $69[.99] for unlimited talk, and $89 for unlimited voice and text.

- For smartphones like the iPhone, AT&T then adds up to $119 for unlimited voice, text, and data, or $199 for the first two lines with Family Talk.

- For smartphones like the BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Android, Verizon now adds up to $109 for unlimited voice, text, and data, or $179 for the first two lines with Family Share.

So -- If you're an existing customer for either company with a smartphone like the iPhone or Blackberry, it's time to re-price your service plan.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for details on the smartphone market and products.

January 20, 2010

New Display Technology for E-book Readers

While the obvious excitement at CES was around big screens with 3D TV, and small screens with smartphones (see previous post), there also was lots of action with new E-book readers in the middle range of screen sizes -- handheld but bigger than your pocket.

There's a place in the market for these slightly larger (but still thin) devices. They're optimized for reading, but also are adding other features including general document storage (particularly with external SD cards), media playback (music and photos, although not video on E-ink displays), and Internet browsing (at least simpler static sites). The new designs experiment with new display technologies, including dual screens (E-ink and LCD -- see previous post).

- The Amazon Kindle is available in 6" and 9.7" versions, and in global editions with wireless coverage in 100 countries, at $259 and $489 respectively (see previous post). Amazon reports that over the holidays the Kindle was "the most wished for, most gifted, and #1 bestselling item across the millions of products sold on" (Of course, most other products are sold at many other outlets as well.)

- The Sony Reader Daily Edition adds 3G wireless coverage to the Sony line. It has a 7.1" display, plus touchscreen navigation, and should be shipping this month for $399. You can download content from the Sony Reader Store and Google Books, and store on external SD or Memory Stick cards.

- The Barnes & Noble Nook (shown here) combines a 6" E-ink touchscreen display with a small 3.5" color touchscreen LCD strip at the bottom for control and navigation. You can download books from B&N through the included AT&T 3G wireless, or using Wi-Fi (free in B&N stores). It's $259, with an expected ship date in mid February.

- The Audiovox / RCA Lexi eReader (PDF) has 6" display, and is designed to sync via PC or Mac (not wireless). It's due in May for $229.

- The Plastic Logic QUE is a bigger 10.5" reader targeted to business professionals. You can download common formats over wireless, or convert and sync office documents on the desktop. Two versions are due in April: QUE WiFi with 4 GB for $649 and QUE 3G (& WiFi) with 8 GB for $799.

- The Samsung E6 6" and E101 10" E-book readers feature an electromagnetic resonance (EMR) stylus pen to handwrite and annotate directly on the display, without triggering changes by accidentally brushing the screen. The two sizes are due early this year for $399 and $699 respectively.

- The Spring Design Alex E-reader (shown here) is based on the Google Android platform and features dual screens -- a 6" E-ink display for printed pages and text, plus a 3.5" color touchscreen below for general use, including full Web browsing and video playback, plus downloaded Android apps. It's due in February for $359.

- The Skiff Reader has an 11.5" display using a different technology -- LG's rugged and flexible metal-foil e-paper. It uses the new Skiff Service that specializes in newspaper and magazine content, but also includes also books and blogs -- since a key backer is Hearst Corporation. It will be available for purchase later this year from Sprint.

Finally, instead of dual-screen devices, we can anticipate the best of both worlds with a new dual-mode display technology from Pixel Qi. The single display switches between grayscale reflective for E-Reader uses, and color LCD with backlight for color graphics and fast video playback. The company has developed a first 10.1" screen, designed for use in mini-laptops, multitouch tablets, and E-book readers.

See my Media Players Gallery for more on E-Book Readers.

Find the Amazon Kindle DX on

January 24, 2010

Phubby - The Wrist Cubby

According to the Federal Reserve, small businesses have created 64 percent of America's new jobs in the past 15 years and employ about half of the nation's private-sector work force.

But it's the ingenuity and persistence of these individuals that's really fun to see in action. For example, South Mill Design, a small company based near Princeton, N.J., has developed a wrist pouch called Phubby -- the phone cubby.

What's fun about the Phubby Sport product is seeing the thought and effort put into working the design to address the needs of today's users, especially using devices like the iPhone with larger touch screens -- but also for iPods and other portable devices.

Yes, today's phones and smartphones are typically small and thin, so they can fit reasonably on your wrist. But you don't want a wrist wrap to be bulky or in the way, so the Phubby is only 4 1/2 inches long, and comes in three wrist sizes (cleverly measured compared to wrapping a dollar bill around your wrist).

And for active use, like jogging or even surfing, you don't want a heavy material, so the Phubby is made from a thin Lycra / Spandex mesh fabric that breathes and can handle getting wet..

Plus, you may have other things to carry like keys, money, or credit cards, so the Phubby has two pockets, so you can carry your phone on the inside of your wrist and other stuff on the outside. Other uses for the second pocket include photographers carrying spare memory cards for their cameras.

But how can you answer the phone if it's in a wrist pouch? First, set it on vibrate, since you will have no trouble sensing it against your wrist. Then, the mesh fabric used for the Phubby actually allows you to check the call even while the phone is still tucked away -- you can see who's calling through the material, and even operate the touchscreen. Then answer the call on a Bluetooth headset, or pull out the phone. (The mesh is not transparent, however, so you can't really read entire screens though it, though you can see enough to answer calls.)

So can the phone be tucked away securely on your wrist, yet also still be easy to remove quickly? Yes, both pockets have flaps to help secure the contents, plus the phone pocket has a Velcro clasp. Then to remove the phone quickly, the Phubby label cleverly doubles as a pull-tab, so you can pop the Velcro and peel down the side to access the phone.

The Phubby is a clever design, especially as active wear, but also useful for people like hospital patients who want to keep a phone and other small items easily accessible. It's available for $12.95 in a variety of colors and patterns. There's also a Hip Cubby design for $34.95.

See my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more on these and related products.

    Find the Phubby phone cubby on

January 29, 2010

The Apple iPad as a Quick-start Netbook

Well, the news is out -- the Apple iPad tablet has been revealed. There's a lot of instant reaction, but you'll have to wait some 3 months to actually buy the Wi-Fi version, and another month after that for the Wi-Fi + 3G version with AT&T cellular Internet data service.

As usual, the keynote presentation by Steve Jobs was masterly, and the introductory video carries on the theme of "Our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price." Yeesh!

It's A Big iPod touch

The iPad a beautiful device that seems to be quite smooth and responsive, with a 9.7 inch 1024 x 768 multi-touch display (vs. 3.5 inch 480 x 320 for the iPhone), though there is a rather wide bezel around the display.

The size is a bit smaller than a pad of paper, at 7 1/2 x 9 1/2 x 1/2 inches, and 1 1/2 pounds. That's about the thickness of the iPhone, although a bit thicker then the iPod touch (at 1/3 inch).

The iPad is based on the iPhone software platform, and not a notebook platform like Mac OS. Jobs described it as "much more intimate than a laptop," so, for example, you still swipe the screen to unlock it.

And the iPad runs all the 140,000-some existing iPhone apps, in a small window at the center of the screen or pixel-doubled to fill the display. Apple also says you can sync your existing iPhone apps to the iPad, so you don’t have to buy them again.

It Runs Full-Screen Apps

Meanwhile, Apple has released developer tools to rework applications for the larger screen, and the iPad comes with 12 updated and new Apple apps that take advantage of the larger surface to view and interact with the multi-touch display. For example, the apps now use drop-down menus and pop-up context menus that don't really work on smaller displays. The resulting apps look more like laptop applications, from iPod music and Video browser / players, to Mail and Calendar and Contacts, to iTunes and App Stores -- plus the new iBookstore.

And Apple has developed versions of its iWork suite for the iPad - the Pages word processor, Numbers spreadsheet, and Keynote presentations, each for $9.99.

For text input, the iPad displays an almost-full-screen keyboard, although you'll need to work on finding a comfortable position to type comfortably with both hands, for example while resting the tablet in your lap.

The iPad line starts with a 16 GB model with Wi-Fi for $500. Add another $100 to double the memory, to 32 GB for $600, and then 64 GB for $700. The W-Fi + 3G models are then another $130 more, 16 GB for $630, 32 GB for $730, and the top of the line 64 GB with 3G for $830. AT&T 3G service will be $14.99 a month for 250 MB, or unlimited for $29.99 -- with no contract required.

It's Not a Netbook

Following the bigger iPod touch theme, the iPad is missing the same features that were stripped out of the iPhone to differentiate the touch, including the phone, camera, and GPS (except there's assisted GPS with the 3G model).

So the real question for the iPad is whether it's the right device to compete with all those $200 netbooks that flew off the shelves over the holidays (even stacked as impulse items in our local grocery stores).

Jobs was clear about his position -- "Netbooks aren’t better at anything -- They’re just like cheap laptops." And yes, what netbooks are better at is being cheap and highly portable.

But netbooks also give you a lot of options that the iPad does not, including a removable battery for long trips, and a memory card slot and USB connector to back up and exchange your work with others. And they have video connectors to display directly from your device, though VGA and even HDMI for HD video. With the iPad, these will require separate adapters for the Apple dock connector.

The iPad also appears to not have any new support for multitasking, which is interesting as Apple runs TV commercials promoting the iPhone's ability to run other apps as you talk on the phone. But you apparently still can't have apps running in the background checking for new information as you work or move around, and then notify you when needed. Yes, netbooks running Windows are slower than full-featured laptops as you switch between programs and run computer-intensive processing in the background, but at least you do have the option to work this way.

So the iPad is perhaps more comparable to the "quick-start" modes in some netbooks with products like Phoenix HyperSpace that lets you "use your PC like a smartphone." These are typically based on a slimmed down Linux OS that starts up instantly into a reduced environment for performing a wide range of common operations including playing media, editing documents, checking email, Web browsing (and playing videos), and even Internet phone.

When you limit the capabilities like this, netbooks can run quite well. Then you can switch to full Windows as needed for specific tasks, and accept the limitations of the underpowered platform if you choose to multi-task between more intensive processing.

It's A Merchandizing Channel

So it seems that the iPad is not a "netbook killer," at least for those who need the ability for a netbook to step up to heavier work. But the iPad certainly should be interesting to those who were looking at netbooks for only doing more basic viewing, editing, and browsing.

Plus, the familiarity of the iPhone interface and depth of the Apple's merchandising (iTunes, App, and now iBook store) are much more compelling than a generic netbook with a fast-start interface.

Perhaps the real bottom line of the iPod presentation was that Apple has seen over 12 billion downloads from its now three stores, and has assembled files of 125 million accounts with credit cards that can purchase from the stores. That's an amazingly powerful channel, and strong lock-in to its growing family of platforms.

See my Apple iPod / iPhone Gallery for details on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod products and product line history.

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February 4, 2010

Preview iPhone Apps from the Web

Apple has updated the App Store within iTunes to allow you to share information about an app through a standard Web browser. This certainly makes it easier for reviewers and even enthusiasts to pass along pointers to interesting apps (see previous post).

When viewing information about a specific app within iTunes, just click on the menu under the application's icon in the top left corner of the screen, and select Copy Link. Then you can e-mail the link, or paste the URL directly into a browser, to view the app information directly over the web -- without needing to run iTunes.

For example, I can now link directly to the Photoshop Mobile app (see previous post).

The app's web page shows the same description, screen shots, and reviews that you see within iTunes itself -- and links back to iTunes to download the app. Unfortunately, you still can't search for apps directly from the web, and while you can link to see related applications, other information like the developer link redirects back to iTunes.

This is an extension of the iTunes Preview feature that Apple apparently introduced last fall, which adds the Copy Link option in the menu for music and videos in the Buy Now menu under the product image.

See, for example, A Colbert Christmas.

It's also time to upgrade iTunes, as Apple has released iTunes 9.0.3, with "a number of important bug fixes."

See my Smartphone Apps Gallery for more on apps and app stores.

February 6, 2010

iPhone / Android Apps vs. Websites - The Weather Channel

Is there really a need for all these smartphone apps for current information, like news, sports, finance, and weather? After all these are plenty of websites that will provide this kind of info, and even let you configure customized listings. Yet there are entire categories in the iPhone App Store and Android Market dedicated to each of these!

Well, actually, while web browsers are great for, well, browsing though a variety of sites, a dedicated app can provide a much better experience on a smartphone -- with the information formatted to fit the screen without clumsy zooming or scrolling, and one-tap access to further information though finger-sized controls and tabs. Plus, you can store and customize your personal information more conveniently.

No wonder, than that you'll find news apps for the AP and the BBC, and sports apps like CBS Sports and specific sports like the NBA. And for your finances you can download a general financial news tool, as well as dedicated apps from your bank to manage your accounts, like Bank of America. (These are available in both the App Store and Android Market.)

Even an apparently straightforward app like The Weather Channel (see iTunes preview) can provide an impressive range of useful features, albeit not all the same across all the supported platforms (it's free for the iPhone, Android, Palm, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and BREW & Java).

Besides local forecasts and conditions (customized to your list of locations), the Weather app also displays a map view with animated radar / satellite and other customized overlays. Or you can watch local, national and international video forecasts, as on TV.

On the Android platform, The Weather Channel takes advantage of several additional useful features. You can configure small widgets to display on the main home screen, showing current weather summaries for selected locations. (With Android, can configure the home screens with your preferred layout of favorite app shortcuts and widgets -- see Verizon Droid article.)

Even better, the app can run in the background on Android, checking for weather alerts, and then warn you of impending issues using the Notifications area across the top of the screen (the red circle with the exclamation mark). Just pull down and tap to launch the app and display the text of the alert from the National Weather Service.

As a result, the weather alerts can be treated in a standard way, like other notifications like alarms or incoming text messages -- and without interrupting your work in progress, so you can then review and choose how to respond to them when you're ready.

See my Smartphone Apps Gallery for more on apps and app stores.

February 7, 2010

Google Maps Updated on Android - with Multi-Touch

Google Maps for Mobile has been updated on Android phones to version 3.4 (see Google blog post), with several interesting features:

- Personalized suggestions - Suggests places that you've previously searched for on other Google services (remembered though your Google Account)

- Synchronized starring - Add a star icon next to place names that you can tap to mark, and these starred places then will be automatically synchronized between desktop and mobile maps (again though your Google Account)

- Night mode in Navigation - Automatically enabled when night falls at your location

Oh, and one other feature, not mentioned in the blog post -- Google Maps on Android now supports multi-touch "pinch to zoom" -- like it does on the iPhone. (The zoom +/- overlays also still appear, so you can continue to just tap them directly, or double-tap to zoom in -- -- see Verizon Droid article.)

Yes, Android already does support multi-touch on phones like the Verizon / Motorola Droid, but for some reason this feature was not enabled in applications even in the Android 2.0 release -- although some individual third-party apps like the Dolphin Browser do use it.

It seems the omission is changing.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

See my Smartphone Apps Gallery for more on apps and app stores.

Find the Verizon Droid from Motorola on

February 8, 2010

Lower Prices for Microsoft Zune HD

Microsoft has lowered the price for its Zune HD media players (see previous post).

The Zune HD 16 GB model has dropped to $199 (was $219), and the 32 GB model to $269 (was $289) on the Microsoft site -- with street prices more like $189 and $249, respectively.

These compare to the Apple iPod touch at 8 GB for $199, 32 GB for $299, and 64 GB for $399.

The Zune HD features a bright 3.3 in. OLED display with multi-touch navigation (pinching), and quite useful Web browsing over Wi-Fi, with extras including digital HD Radio and playback of HD videos using a dock adapter (see previous post).

You also can order the Zune a variety of colors, and customize the case with laser-engraved art and personal text though the Zune Originals online store

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on media players

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February 11, 2010

Google Translate on Android - Cloud Processing

The Google Android platform is focused on smartphones as cloud devices, integrating with online services like Gmail and Google Contacts and Calendar.

But it also integrates with the cloud at a deeper level, with Google back-end services like voice input (speech recognition), voice output (text to speech), and translation. As a result, Android developers can build on these services to integrate these kinds of rather sophisticated features into their own applications. And the integration can be deeper -- in the latest Android for the new Google Nexus One phone, all text input fields now accept voice input.

Since smartphones are strongly connected devices with wireless broadband services, they are no longer constrained by whatever performance and functionality might be reasonable to expect from handheld processors and storage.

For example, the free Google Translate app for Android brings the full functionality of the Google Translate online service into your hand, with over 50 languages currently supported.

And, of course, it supports voice input (to speak the phrase to be translated -- in English only, for now). And it provides text to speech output for the translated text in the target language. It also remembers the recent history of your phrases, and you can star specific items for later recall (even if the phone is offline).

As another example, Talk To Me, another free app for Android, provides several convenience options around this same set of services.

To help communicate with others, Talk To Me has a simple mode for quick voice translations from English to common languages -- just speak, and then listen to the translation (which is also displayed as text so it's easy to show). The app also has options to slow down the speech rate and pitch to help make it more intelligible.

Even simpler, you can create a Widget on the Android desktop for instant translations. And you can send the translated text in E-mail or as a text message.

Not bad for what are basically simple dialog boxes to select the languages and listen to the translation -- with the heavy lifting done in the cloud. In this way, handheld apps are breaking free of the apparent limitations of the small platform, and are going to get a lot more sophisticated.

See my Verizon Droid article for more on the Android interface

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

See my Smartphone Apps Gallery for more on apps and app stores.

Find the Verizon Droid from Motorola on

February 13, 2010

LaCie USB Keys Add Online Storage - Local vs. Cloud

The LaCie line of USB drives designed as metal keys has expanded further with the new WhizKey (triangular) and CooKey (rounded), available with up to 32 GB of storage for $99. These join the previous imaKey and itsaKey designs (see previous post) -- packaging portable storage in a rugged, flat, and thin design that is easy to carry on a key ring. These are actually half the thickness of a USB port, with a gold SIP connector with protective edges, and water- and scratch-resistant.

In addition to the built-in flash memory, these keys also add 4 GB of online storage for 2 years using the Wuala technology (now owned by LaCie -- see previous post). And new LaCie hard drives include 10 GB of online storage. Wuala encrypts your files, splits them into fragments, and then stores them redundantly on servers and in its grid network of users.

This combination of physical and cloud storage was a developing trend at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (see previous post).

In the home, set-top boxes (like Blu-ray players) are expanding into home media servers that also deliver Internet TV, and external disk drives have become home networked attached storage (NAS) units that are also remotely accessible over the Internet. Meanwhile, cloud services now offer to outsource all your storage away from physical boxes to online for easier access, sharing, and backup.

And on mobile devices, growing local processing power and expanding storage capacity is becoming less important as cloud services bring full-strength online functionality like language translation into your hand (see previous post).

As with these new LaCie USB keys, there's a good argument for combining the best of both -- having physical possession of your data plus online backup for remote backup and sharing.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

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February 17, 2010

iGo Charge Anywhere - Portable USB Charger

More portable devices are using USB chargers and cables, which simplifies the hassle of tracking and packing power adapters when you're on the go. You can get far, for example, with a USB-to-iPod cable for your Apple devices, plus a USB-to-microUSB cable for a wide variety of devices, from Bluetooth headsets to mobile phones and smartphones. You then can charge your devices from the USB port on your laptop, or plug in a USB wall adapter.

Even better, you can use the iGo Charge Anywhere -- a USB wall charger for $49 that also has an integrated battery to charge when you're away from a power outlet. As a bonus, it also has two USB outlets, so you can charge two devices at once, whether plugged in or unplugged on the go.

The Charge Anywhere should work with most of your portable gear, including Bluetooth headsets, mobile phones, media players, portable gaming devices, digital cameras, and GPS devices. It also includes a USB adapter to connect to the wide variety of iGo tips for specific devices.

The Charge Anywhere is well designed, with a folding power plug for compact travel, and a power button to turn on the USB charging ports. And it's relatively small and light, at around 3 1/2 x 2 x 3/4 inches, yet iGo reports that it provides up to three full charges for most mobile devices.

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for more on portable chargers

Find the iGo Charge Anywhere on

March 17, 2010

iGo powerXtender - Portable Battery-Powered Charger

I covered the iGo Charge Anywhere last month (see previous post) -- a convenient and lightweight portable charger with two USB connectors. Plug it in to an outlet to charge up the internal battery, and then bring it along to charge your various devices using their various USB power cables.

But if you're on an extended trip, and may not be able to plug in to a wall outlet for a while to charge up again, then check out the iGo powerXtender. This is a portable charger that uses two standard AA batteries, you can always reload on the go. iGo says it provides up to 10 hours of talk time on phones, 20 hours of play on gaming devices, or 28 hours of listening on media players, with premium batteries.

However, the powerXtender does not have USB outlets. Instead it uses the iGo interchangeable power tips, which can be purchased separately for a huge variety of devices, including mobile phones, smartphones/PDAs, MP3 players, Bluetooth headsets, digital cameras, portable gaming devices, and GPS systems.

The iGo powerXtender is around $15, and includes one free tip that you can order online.

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for more on portable chargers

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March 26, 2010

Griffin Air Curve Passive Acoustic Amplifier for the iPhone

I've been having fun demoing the Tunebug Vibe "SurfaceSound" speaker -- which boosts the sound from your iPod or other portable player by reverberating the sound though flat surfaces (see previous post).

But any such external speaker needs charged up batteries for power to boost the sound -- Or maybe not...

The Griffin Air Curve is a passive acoustic amplifier for the iPhone. It's a clear translucent polycarbonate stand, with a curving waveguide that coils though the base to collect and amplify the sound from the iPhone's speaker -- no power required.

The result is a boost of about 10 decibels, so you can set up your iPhone to work better as a mini sound system or as an alarm clock.

The Air Curve does include a pass-though slot and spacer adapters for the iPhone and iPhone 3G so you can use your Apple dock connector cable to charge and sync in the stand.

Unfortunately, however, it does not work with the iPod touch -- the magic happens with the iPhone because its speaker is on the bottom, along with the microphone and dock connection, while the touch's speaker is higher up in the body.

The Griffin Air Curve is available for around $19.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for more on portable speakers.

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March 30, 2010

Griffin PowerDuo Reserve USB Charger Collection

I've been working the theme of USB-based chargers that help simplify the task of keeping all your devices charged, especially portable chargers for use on the go (see previous posts). You may still need specific USB adapter cables, but at least you don't need to bring custom chargers for each of your devices.

So I should also mention the clever family of Reserve chargers from Griffin Technology, available individually or as the Griffin PowerDuo Reserve bundle.

The PowerDuo Reserve product includes three products for complete charging support. It starts with both an AC wall charger and an auto charger for USB-rechargeable devices, including the iPod, iPhone, and other phones and MP3 players. Plus, the chargers are designed with a removable iPod / iPhone battery pack that you can take along when you're uncabled.

The wall charger/adapter is the PowerBlock Reserve, with a USB port and fold-up prongs.

The USB auto charger is the PowerJolt Reserve, for 12 volt DC cigarette lighter or accessory socket.

Both chargers are relatively small and light, but with a nesting area for the Reserve backup battery pack. The battery snaps into place magnetically, shows charging status with LED lights, and then pops out to charge an iPod or iPhone with the built-in dock connector. It's rated to provide up to 24 hours of music on an iPod nano or 2 hours of talk time on an iPhone.

So you can have your cake, powering your devices at home or in the car, and eat it too on the go, boosting with the portable battery.

The PowerBlock and PowerJolt Reserve with a battery pack are each $39 (street $29), and an additional battery is $19. PowerDuo Reserve with both chargers and one battery pack is $59 (street $45).

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for more on portable chargers

Find the Griffin PowerDuo Reserve, PowerBlock Reserve,
and PowerJolt Reserve on

April 4, 2010

Reading E-books on Your "iPad mini"

It's the weekend for the Apple iPad, and appropriately it looks like Steve Jobs has pulled another beautiful lust-inducing bunny out of his magic hat.

Besides the legions of early adapters lined up outside stores, the iPad could make good sense for casual media consumption in the home, and for anyone from students to retirees who want to keep in touch on the go (see earlier post).

(See, for example, the CNET review for a good overview of the iPad and how you might convince yourself that you need one, and David Pogue's dueling reviews in The New York Times, for the techie or not.)

Apple also has released the iTunes 9.1 update to manage and sync these new devices and media. This adds support for downloading new iPad-only applications and syncing with the iPad, plus iBooks support to organize and sync books from iBooks on the iPad or in the iTunes library. Apple also has extended the Genius Mixes feature so that you can rename, rearrange or remove your automatically-generated mixes.

(Unfortunately, be warned that the iTune 9.1 update has killed syncing for some devices, with an "Unable to load provider data from Sync Services" error. See the Apple Support Discussion thread for possible explanations from Windows DLL conflicts.)

For non-iPad owners, you can torture yourself by downloading iPad apps into iTunes, along with iBooks, but you then can't sync them with other iPod devices.

Apple has set up the E-books so they are actually are only accessible from the iPad -- You need to download the free iBooks app for the App Store (link to iTunes) to browse, preview, and buy the available books on the iPad itself (only available in the U.S. at this time).

(While you can't buy books on a computer, your iBook purchases on the iPad are backed up to your iTunes library when you sync -- see the Apple iBooks FAQ).

However, the iBookstore is not your only option for publications. Apple uses the open ePub standard format for electronic publications (see Wikipedia), so that you can download other free books (without the Apple DRM copy protection), drag and drop them into iTunes (under a new Books tab in the Library), and then sync them down to the iPad.

For example, you can find free public domain books in the ePub format at Project Gutenberg (30,000 books) and from Google Books (over 1 million books -- see the Google blog).

And what about E-books on other Apple devices like the iPhone and iPod touch? Can the touch be transformed into an "iPad mini" for reading? After all, iBooks is just an app that can display books, so what about other apps?

So choose the Books menu within the iTunes App Store to view a large collection of book reader apps and individual books (and collections like Shakespeare), available as downloadable apps, typically for the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and now the iPad at full resolution.

In particular, Lexcycle Stanza is a free electronic book reader app with built-in downloading of over 100,000 books and periodicals, free and paid, from sources including Project Gutenberg and O'Reilly (link to iTunes). Stanza includes bookmarks and other navigation aids, as well as customized page display of page layout for easier reading.

So you may not have an iPad, yet, but you still can turn your iPod touch or iPhone into an "iPad mini" as a portable electronic book reader. In particular, you can find good deals in previous-generation iPod touch units that still can be upgraded to the latest software.

So see what you're missing, see Apple's iPad Guided Tours

See my Apple iPod / iPhone Gallery for details on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod products and product line history.

    Find the Apple iPod touch on

May 14, 2010

ColcaSac Fleece Sleeves for MacBook / iPhone / iPad

Doesn't your MacBook (and iPhone and iPod) deserve to sleep in comfort? Maybe nestled in a fleece-lined sleeve made of natural, sustainable materials including burlap and hemp -- like the ColcaSac naturally protective sleeves for MacBooks and portable devices.

The ColcaSac sleeves are simple and strong, padded with a soft polyester sherpa fleece lining, with a velcro closure, plus a CD-sized external pocket. They are priced at $39.95 with burlap, hemp, or print fabric exteriors, in brown, black, red, and patterns. These are available in a range of sizes for the 13" to 17" MacBook / Pro, MacBook Air, PowerBook, iBook, or other similarly-sized notebooks.

ColcaSac also has iPhone and iPod classic / touch sleeves for $14.95, and iPad and Kindle sleeves for $34.95.

ColcaSac even promotes these sleeves as a theft deterrent, since the natural fabrics aren't usually associated with expensive electronics inside -- although the warm and comfortable designs may be tempting on their own.

See my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more on protecting your devices.

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May 21, 2010

Logitech Clip-on USB Laptop Speakers

Today's laptops and netbooks are loaded for everything -- to use for work and play, from editing office documents to enjoying music and video. And these notebooks work well for personal viewing, to pass the time on an airplane as you listen on earphones.

But the great widescreen displays typically aren't matched by great sound, as manufacturers shoehorn tiny (and tinny) speakers onto their devices. You can boost the audio with external speakers like the Altec Lansing Orbit -- mono speakers bulked up to handle rattling around in your travel bag. These are available in models with a standard audio jack (to also play from portable media players like an iPod), and with a USB interface to plug and play from a laptop (see earlier post).

But for more focused sound from your notebook, the Logitech Laptop Speakers with dual stereo drivers have a clip-on design that positions the sound up and facing you, mounted on the top of the display or monitor. The sound can fill a room nicely, but won't blow out your ears -- I set the system volume down to around 10 percent when sitting right in front of the speakers.

These connect simply to your PC or Mac notebook with a USB cable. There's no hassle -- just plug in and they become the audio output for your music and video -- with no software to install, no extra power cable or batteries -- just plug and play.

The speakers also offer power and volume buttons, and do have a 3.5mm audio input jack for connecting external media players.

The Logitech Laptop Speakers are still relatively small and light for travel (7 x 2 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches, 2 pounds), and come with a protective carrying case for $39.99.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for more on portable speakers and earphones.

Find the Logitech Laptop Speakers on

May 26, 2010

Kensington Wall and Car USB Chargers

Kensington has quietly developed an interesting line of portable batteries and chargers for iPods and other portable devices, including models for travel, car, and international travel.

Many of these models supply power through a standard USB connector, so they can work with the adapter cables that come with many devices. And many include iPod connector cables and/or mini/micro USB cables, so they work with the growing universe of handheld devices that use standard small USB interfaces.

For example, the precisely named Kensington Wall and Car Charger for Mini and Micro USB Devices product includes both a USB wall charger (albeit with only one USB outlet), a USB car charger, and a mini-USB charging cable with a small micro-USB adapter -- all for $29.99.

That should be all that's required to charge many devices with standard USB interfaces, including, say, Android smartphones.

The Kensington USB car charger also is particularly mini. It's not much larger than the lighter socket -- some 2 inches long and less than an inch diameter.

So as more devices use standard USB interfaces for data and charging, you can leave all those custom power adapters at home, and just bring along one USB wall and car charger to power up whatever device, whenever you need it.

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for more on portable chargers

Find the Kensington Wall and Car USB Chargers on

June 10, 2010

The Apple iPhone 4 is a Video Phone

It's June, and time for the next generation Apple iPhone 4. Some of the surprise may be missing this year, but it's fascinating to see how Apple has redefined this product -- originally as an iPod music phone, then as an App phone, and now as a Video phone, complete with an HD video camera with LED light, a second inward-facing camera, plus FaceTime software for video calls and an iMovie app for editing and sharing your movie.

Interestingly, Apple actually is working its users in two directions: first positioning the iPad as a media consumption device for passive viewing (i.e., with no camera), and now re-positioning the iPhone as an active, creative device to shoot and edit and share (albeit on a smaller screen).

This focus on lots of flowing video also goes against AT&T's recent move away from unlimited pricing, so, for example, the video calls will only work over Wi-Fi, and not over the wireless broadband connection (and only communicate with other iPhone 4 devices).

The new iPhone steps up further as an audio / visual device with the "retina" display, featuring four times the pixel resolution of the previous model, from 480 x 320 to 860 x 640 (compared, for example to 800 x 480 on the Verizon / HTC Droid Incredible). At these resolutions (326 pixels per inch) you no longer notice the individual pixels. The new iPhone also adds a second microphone for reducing background noise.

But the iPhone is more than features and functions, as expected from Apple it's also an impressive piece of design -- not just the look and interface, but the industrial design to squeeze more magic into an even smaller form. Apple started by squeezing the thickness by 20 percent, from 0.48 to 0.37 in. (compared to 0.47 in. for the Droid Incredible or 0.33 in. for the iPod touch). The other dimensions and weight remain the same.

The exterior then is enhanced with hardened glass panels on both the front and the back, which are scratch and fingerprint resistant, supported by a stainless steel band around the sides (which also works as the antenna). The device also now includes a three-axis gyroscope for more expressive motion gestures. And still there's room for a larger battery for increased phone talk and video playback time.

Along with the new iPhone, Apple announced a new software update, now called iOS 4, with real multitasking for background apps, folders to organize thousands of apps, a unified e-mail inbox, iBooks app for the iBookstore, and iAds for the joys of mobile advertising, among a hundred some new features.

The new iPhone 4 ships June 24 at the same introductory pricing as its predecessor, $199 for 16 GB flash memory, and $299 for 32 GB. Meanwhile, the previous iPhone 3G S will now be available for only $99 with 8 GB of storage (see last year's post).

As usual, do check out the Steve Jobs keynote introducing the new iPhone as a wonderful example of showmanship.

Apple also has posted an iPhone 4 Design video with plenty of superlatives, and a video showing the FaceTime video calling.

See my Apple iPod / iPhone / iPad Gallery for more details on the iPhone line
Also see my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones

June 18, 2010

Kensington Pocket Booster and 4-Port USB Charger

I'm continuing to appreciate the Kensington line of portable batteries and chargers for iPods and other portable devices (see earlier post).

For example, the Kensington Rechargeable Pocket Booster is a clever option for having an auxiliary power boost on the go. It's a portable battery with a USB outlet, so it works with lots of handheld devices. (It comes with a mini-USB cable and micro-USB adapter, or you can use the cable that comes with your device, i.e., the Apple iPod cable).

Plus -- the Pocket Booster is powered by two rechargeable NiMH AAA batteries, so you can not only recharge it easily (there's a USB connector under the end cap), but you also can swap in additional batteries if needed to keep on charging. And, as a bonus, you even can pull out the batteries in a pinch to use them for other portable devices, such as a Bluetooth mouse.

The Kensington Pocket Booster is small and light (2/3 ounces), and priced at $34 (around $19 street).

Then for charging up your collection of devices, the Kensington 4-Port USB Charger for Mobile Devices has outlets to spare, with four USB power ports, so you can charge up to four mobile devices simultaneously. You can use your existing USB charging cables, or check out the Kensington line of USB Power Tips for various devices.

The Kensington 4-Port USB Charger is priced at $29 (around $19 street).

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for more on portable chargers

Find the Kensington Pocket Booster
and 4-Port USB Charger on

June 24, 2010

Plantronics .Audio 476 DSP - Foldable USB Stereo Headset

Audio headphones used to mean fat padded ear muffs and thick coiled cables. Today's styles can be much more minimalist, complimented by impressive audio processing.

Case in point: the Plantronics .Audio 476 DSP foldable USB stereo headset. This is an over-the-head stereo headset with plug-and-play USB connection. It's lightweight and comfortable, and folds almost completely flat for travel.

But this is much more than a headset for music -- it's designed for today's much broader range of uses, including music, movies, video games, and communications.

For listening, the .Audio 476 features DSP processing, with 24-bit hi-fi stereo sound and acoustically tuned digital equalizer. Plus, it has three-button inline controls, for volume up/down and mic mute.

And for speaking, there's the noise-canceling wideband boom microphone, with 48 kHz sampling rate and 16-bit output. The processing also extends to wideband acoustic echo cancellation for clearer and more natural speaking.

The result is to provide great sound that's convenient to carry and comfortable to wear. The Plantronics .Audio 476 list for $54, and is available at street prices around $35.

See the Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

    Find the Plantronics .Audio 476 Headset on

July 4, 2010

AcousticSheep SleepPhones - Personal Sleep Headphones

Do you sleep best with some background sound from music or radio or TV, but don't want to disturb your bedmate? You can try wearing headphones -- until the first time you roll over on your side. And it's not a good idea to spend all night with earphones / earbuds inserted in your ears.

Instead, try out the AcousticSheep SleepPhones -- a Polartec fleece headband with integrated speakers so you can wear them comfortably all night ("like pajamas for your ears").

The SleepPhones are adjustable, since you can slide the roughly 1 inch speakers within the headband. They're available in three sizes and a variety of calming tones (lavender, gray, black). You even can remove the speakers (though a Velcro seam) for washing.

Other uses include muffling snoring with music or even white noise, setting a personal alarm clock (timed alarm track with programmable music players), or exercise headphones (since they absorb sweat and are washable).

SleepPhones were created in 2007 by Dr. Wei-Shin Lai, a family doctor now at Penn State, who was interested in using binaural beats (see free downloads and references) to help get back to sleep when on call and woken in the middle of the night.

Along with the SleepPhones headband for $49.95 and $54.95, AcousticSheep offers bundles with music, nature sound, and hypnosis CDs for $64.95 and $69.95 (see free track downloads), plus other sleep-inducing materials including lavender soap and sachets with relaxing aromatherapy scent.

The CDs have acoustic binaural beats to induce relaxation and drowsiness (progressively slow over 30 minutes).

It's the acoustic equivalent of counting sheep.

See the Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

    Find the AcousticSheep SleepPhones on

July 17, 2010

Cyber Clean Your Keyboards, and Other Icky Surfaces

Digital bits seem so pure and clean, but our electronic devices can get seriously icky from our sticky fingers -- Have you really looked at your PC keyboard or mobile phone keypad lately?

Enter Cyber Clean -- a sticky lime-green ball of goop that picks up all that crud that's encrusting your devices. It cleans on contact, squeezing into crevices to pick up dirt and dust, but doesn't leave a residue on your fingers, or migrate to other surfaces.

Cyber Clean is not a cleaning solvent; it's a viscous elastic compound that works sort of like you may remember Silly Putty in picking up dirt, except that you can keep on using it -- just fold over the material and the debris is microencapsulated into the material. (The package has a color reference square so you see when your batch has darkened enough from use and has reached its maximum absorption capacity.)

Cyber Clean is described as a Swiss formula that's non-toxic and biodegradable. It's available in home & office and automotive versions, in resealable foil zip bags for around $6, and in larger cups for $8 to $10, so you can deal with other nasty surfaces like telephones, appliances, remote controls, watches and jewelry.

Find the Cyber Clean Zip Bag and Home & Office Cup on

July 28, 2010

Plantronics Explorer 395 Simple Bluetooth Headset

Plantronics has a strong line of Bluetooth headsets, each designed with a clear focus on a particular the type of user.

For example, the Plantronics Voyager PRO is an over-ear design designed for comfortable long-term wear, for on the road or around the office (list $99, street $69, see earlier post).

In comparison, the Plantronics Discovery 975 is a minimalist but even elegant design for occasional use, with a squared base and thin boom mic, plus a protective carrying case that is also a charger to triple the talk time (list $129, street $81, see earlier post).

Then the recent Plantronics Explorer 395 is designed for first-time and casual users. It has simple controls, with a clean design with black and silver accents, plus Plantronics DSP technology for echo cancellation and to reduce wind noise.

To simplify operation, the Explorer 395 has separate buttons for Power on/off (slider along one edge), and Volume level (on the other edge), plus Call answer/end control (on the face), and a clear red/blue LED status light.

For extended use, it provides up to five hours of talk time, and seven days on stand by. It charges easily with a standard microUSB connector, with full charge in two hours.

And for comfort, the Explorer 395 includes a contoured ear tip and swivel earloop for over the ear (but not multiple shapes, materials, and sizes), so you don't have to root it in your ear canal or worry about it falling off while you're on the go.

The result is a nice and straightforward headset that also small and light. It's inexpensive (list $49, street $30), and a good choice for new or occasional users.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

Find the Plantronics Explorer 395, Discovery 975,
and Voyager PRO on

August 3, 2010

Aliph Jawbone ICON -- Simply Better

The Aliph Jawbone line of Bluetooth headsets has been a stand-out since its 2007 U.S. introduction, combining leading noise reduction with aggressive styling.

And the new Jawbone ICON is another significant step forward, not only boosting the noise reduction technology and supporting downloadable apps to customize your experience, but also taking advantage of features found in other headsets to make the ICON simpler and more fun to use.

The Jawbone designs historically have a unique look, bulging out to touch your face with a small nub that acts as a voice activity sensor, allowing the Jawbone to more accurately separate your voice from the background noise.

But the Jawbone's historical focus on style also made it something of an acquired taste, best targeted for connoisseurs who were heavy users of wireless headsets. For example, the controls were "invisible," with the buttons embedded under the outside shield, and so needed to be learned with experience and burnt into your muscle memory. And the Jawbones used a proprietary charging cable that fit with the minimized design, so you needed to bring along an extra charger and cable on trips.

The Jawbone Prime, introduced in mid 2009, began breaking down these idiosyncrasies by incorporating traditional noise reduction technology that no longer required that the touch voice sensor always be pressed securely to the side of your face (see earlier post).

And now the Jawbone ICON further opens the design to a broader range of users by offering simpler controls and a broader range of helpful features. These begin with simpler and clearer controls, now with a dedicated on/off switch and a distinct Talk button to control the call connection. Plus, the ICON uses the standard microUSB connector for easier charging.

As another assist, the ICON provides voice announcements to speak information, including the caller ID phone number and the battery level. It also displays the remaining battery life on the iPhone status bar. And it now supports simultaneous multipoint, so you can switch between two calls from two different phones at same time.

For more fun, the ICON supports MyTALK software updates, downloadable apps to enhance and customize your experience. These include Bluetooth A2DP streaming audio, AudioApps to change the voice and language, and DialApps for a customized easy access button.

Finally, the ICON further steps up the Jawbone NoiseAssassin technology for background noise elimination and wind noise reduction, combining dual microphones and the voice activity sensor to better isolate the best audio. It also has enhanced the inbound audio quality, including adjusting the volume to a consistent level.

The Jawbone ICON is available for $99 (to $80 street), in six designs and a range of colors. The Jawbone Prime also is available for $89 ($60 street). The ICON is a welcome enhancement that makes the traditional Jawbone technology easier to use and more helpful to a broader range of users.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

Find the Aliph Jawbone ICON and Jawbone Prime on

August 8, 2010

Altec Lansing inMotion Compact Speakers

iPod owners have lots of choices for accessories, especially to share their music with portable speakers. You can plug in to the headphone jack to connect an external speaker like the Altec Lansing Orbit-MP3 Portable Speakers (see earlier post). Even better, you can take advantage of the iPod connector to nest your iPod right into the speakers, with no separate cables required.

For example, the Altec Lansing inMotion Compact Speakers have a clean design that combines portability with powerful sound. The general form is roughly rectangular, 9.5 x 4.7 x 1.8 in., with a clever "leather-like" cover that wraps around to protect the face, or folds back as a stand.

Then insert your iPhone or iPod in the center slot, and enjoy the music -- with two 2-inch full-range neodymium drivers for full-spectrum audio and two front-firing ports for powerful bass.

You can control your iPhone or iPod from the power and volume buttons along the top of the speakers. Or plug in another audio source with the auxiliary 3.5mm input jack.

The inMotion Compact runs on AC power or on batteries (4 AA batteries provide up to 24 hours of playback). And it also recharges your iPhone or iPod.

The Altec Lansing inMotion Compact Speakers provide great sound in a relatively portable package that you can feel comfortable packing up for travel. They're available for around $79, or $63 street price.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for more on portable speakers and earphones.

Find the Altec Lansing inMotion Compact Speakers
and Orbit-MP3 Speakers on

August 24, 2010

Sound ID 510 Bluetooth Headset with iPhone App

Bluetooth headsets are getting smarter, and while it may not be obvious why you might want more intelligent devices hanging in your ear, hear me out...

Bluetooth headsets certainly have become more sophisticated with audio processing to work amazingly well in noisy environments. And newer devices like the Aliph Jawbone ICON (see earlier post) add support for features including voice prompts, streaming audio playback (A2DP), and multipoint connections (multiple simultaneous devices).

So Bluetooth headsets are not only getting smart, but they are charged through the same USB cable as your smartphone, which opens the door for upgrading and customizing. The usual method of updating small single-purpose devices is through firmware downloads, but this is a new era of apps, so why not bring apps to your ear? For example, the Jawbone ICON supports a variety of MyTALK apps for customizing the voice and options.

Another approach is to take better advantage of the fact that the smartphone and headset are already communicating over Bluetooth. After all, if you can control your TV from your smartphone with apps like Verizon FiOS Mobile (see earlier post), why not also use your smartphone to provide better access to customizing the headset?

So check out the new Sound ID 510 Bluetooth headset, with its EarPrint iPhone app, available in the iTunes Store. With the app you can customize your listening preferences, check the battery level, and monitor a sound level meter. And you can adjust the sound quality and listening levels even while you are on a call. The Find Me option also starts the headset beeping.

As a side benefit of having the iPhone app to set options, the Sound ID 510 can have simplified controls, with just an on/off switch, one button (for answer / end / redial / voice dial), and the volume control. But there's no volume button or toggle -- Instead, the face of the headset is touch sensitive, so you change the volume just by sliding your finger.

Sound ID also has other interesting ideas for its headsets, like the earlier Sound ID 400 with separate remote microphone, so you can listen to a sound source from a distance (see earlier post).

The Sound ID 510 takes an interesting approach to making a small device more accessible without adding complexity to the device itself. It's now available in black for $129. It includes three sizes of RealComfort earloops, plus an options ear hook. The EarPrint iPhone app is a free download.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

Find the Sound ID 510 Bluetooth Headset on

September 12, 2010

Apple iPods Reimagined: 2010 Edition

It's back to school time for kids, but for the consumer electronics industry it's already time to ramp up for the holiday season. So it's not surprising that Apple has announced its annual September update to the iPod line (see product comparisons). (Yes, Apple is now definitely a CE company and not Apple "Computer" any more.)

This year's event featured another impressive keynote performance by Steve Jobs, extolling the great now iPod line, but not fully explaining the scope of the changes -- it's not just features and functions, but more of a re-imagining and repositioning of what iPods are all about. Yes, the new iPods are smaller and lighter and less expensive and sexier than ever, but they also are significantly re-focused in terms of how you might want to use them.

iPod touch - Focus on Entertainment

In particular, the iPod touch is now the star of the line, having supplanted the nano as the most popular model. The touch is now fully targeted as a gaming and entertainment system -- Jobs called it the number one portable game player in the world, outselling Sony & Nintendo portables combined, with over 50 percent market share in the U.S. and worldwide.

The new touch is thinner and lighter, yet has picked up many features of the recent new iPhone 4, including the high-res Retina display, dual cameras with microphone for FaceTime video calling and HD video recording, three-axis gyroscope for gaming, and more powerful Apple A44 mobile processor. It holds the pricing on all but the low-end model, at 8 GB for $229, 32 GB for $299, and 64 GB for $399.

So the touch is now "the iPhone without the phone" -- almost -- as Jobs carefully did not use that description himself, instead attributing it to others. In particular, the touch still does not have the GPS capability of the iPhone, and so misses out on the exciting and interesting apps developing in location-based tracking and services (see my Smartphone Apps Gallery).

iPod shuffle - Clip and Go

Meanwhile, the tiny clip-on iPod shuffle reaches back to the 2008 model to return the control pad that was eliminated in last year's version (the only controls were on the earbud cord). Trimmed to a smaller size just large enough for the controls, it retains last year's VoiceOver feature to announce song and playlist name, since there's no display for browsing your collection.

But the new version is only available with 2 GB of storage suitable for "hundreds of songs", and no longer with a 4 GB model. The price also drops $10 to $49.

iPod nano - Multi-touch Music

Limiting the shuffle's capcity fits in to the biggest change in the iPod line-up -- repositioning the iPod nano from a media / video player back to a music-focused player, but now with a multi-touch display. The new nano is square, with the display filling the front face -- the controls have been eliminated and replaced by touch-screen gestures.

This is a very different nano, shrunk by half to only about 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches. The interface is iPod-ish, with a home screen and the ability to customize the icons, but the tiny 1.5" screen means that only a few buttons or song names visible on the screen at a time, requiring a lot of touching and swiping to explore a larger collection.

This is therefore a new product, not a derivative of the previous nano line. It's no longer a media player, having lost video playback, camera, microphone, and speaker, although it does retain the FM radio. Instead, the new nano is focused as a multi-touch music player, now even with a clip on the back (like the shuffle). It's now more like the shuffle with a display, and with 8 GB of storage for $149 or 16 GB for $179 for thousands of songs.

iPod classic - Take Everything Everywhere

Meanwhile, although unmentioned in the Jobs keynote, the iPod classic still lives on as the boring older sibling, with heavier hard disk instead of less expensive flash memory, and therefore offering 160 GB for $249, compared to 32 GB for $299 or 64 GB for $399 with the touch. That's enough to hold 40,000 songs or 200 hours of video for those who want their entire collection in their hand.

See my full article, Apple iPods Reimagined: 2010 Version, for more on the new iPods and Apple ecosystem (iOS 4, iTunes 10, Apple TV)

See my Apple iPod / iPhone / iPad Gallery for more details and chronologies on these product lines and associated software and services.

Find the Apple iPod touch, Apple iPod nano,
and iPod shuffle on

September 24, 2010

mophie juice pack iPod / iPhone Chargers

The mophie juice pack line of rechargeable external batteries for the iPod and iPhone is growing. In addition to the juice pack air line of protective cases with built-in battery, there's also two clever battery packs with retractable iPod connector, the juice pack reserve and the juice pack boost.

The mophie juice pack reserve is a small and light 1000mAh handheld charger (3.15 x 1.60 x 0.63 in.) for $39.95, while the juice pack boost packs 1500 mAh in a slightly larger size (3.70 in x 2.03 in x 0.63 in.) for $59.95. Both are powered with a high-output lithium polymer battery rated to charge up to twice as fast as conventional 500mAh batteries.

You charge these through a micro USB port on the side, and then slide out the retractable 30-pin iPod connector to charge your iPod or iPhone. There's no power button to accidentally leave on -- it turns power on only when it is connected.

The juice packs have a handy set of four LEDs to indicate charging status, or you can press the button to have the light up to show the charge level, so you know when it's time to recharge.

And if the juice pack design was not clever enough, holding down the button turns on a built-in LED flashlight.

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for more on portable chargers

Find the mophie juice pack reserve
and juice pack boost on

September 29, 2010

LaCie MosKeyto Low-Profile USB Drive

LaCie is at it again, with new clever designs for USB drives that solve real issues.

If you want to carry a USB drive all the time, for example, then check out the LaCie metal keys, including the WhizKey and CooKey USB drives -- shaped like real keys with built-in USB connectors to make it easy and safe to carry storage on your key ring (see earlier post).

But there's a different problem if you tend to leave your USB drive plugged in to your computer -- it sticks out the side, getting in the way and susceptible to damage. So the LaCie MosKeyto USB key is designed to tuck neatly flush against your laptop, with extending out only some 6mm.

The design is small, but not too tiny, with a protective cap and key ring strap for on the go.

The LaCie MosKeyto USB key is currently available with 4 GB of storage for $17.99, and 8 GB for $27.99.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

Find the LaCie MosKeyto USB drive on

September 30, 2010

LaCie WriteCard USB Drive -- Wallet Stash

LaCie has another interesting design idea for USB drives, in addition to the new LaCie MosKeyto (see previous post).

The issue here is that as USB drives have shrunk from small to infinitesimal, it's just too easy to mislay and lose them -- And heaven forbid if you sneeze! Today's tiny drives are half the size of a SD card -- the width of a USB connector, but only half as thin (so you need to be careful to insert them flush in the correct orientation).

The LaCie WriteCard includes this kind of tiny drive, but in a clever package --a credit card-sized case that you can stash in your wallet, and includes the USB drive, plus a mini pen and notepad.

The WriteCard case is about the thickness of three credit cards, so it really does fit in your wallet. It includes the mini Post-It style notepad with nine pages, which slides in one side along with the USB drive. The pen then fits along the other edge, and is the size of a ballpoint refill.

LaCie describes the result as designed for recording both high- and low-tech data.

The LaCie WriteCard is available with 4 GB of storage for $22.99, 8 GB for $34.99, and 16 GB for $59.99.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

Find the LaCie WriteCard USB drive on

October 2, 2010

Native Union Moshi Moshi Retro Mobile Phone Handset

The classics never go out of style, so Native Union has introduced the Moshi Moshi Retro Mobile Phone Handset -- the 50's telephone style lovingly brought back as a handset for mobile phones.

If you tend to chat on your phone at your desk, but don't want a Bluetooth headset stuck in your ear, then you can have the classic feel of a handset and still be able to check your phone as you talk.

The handset is full size, so fits comfortably in your hand, and is finished with a comfortable soft-touch texture. The handset includes noise reduction technology, and has an answer / hang up button in the middle.

The curled cord ends in a 3.5 mm jack, which you can plug in to the iPhone and Blackberry, or you can use adapters to plug in to other phones (different sets of Adaptor Kits are $15). Or use the USB Adapter ($20) to connect to your computer to make Skype calls -- you'll look great on video calls.

The Native Union Moshi Moshi Retro Handset is available in black or red for $29, or $59 with a weighted base. A new line of Pop Phones is also being introduced in pink, yellow, dark purple, dark blue, and green. Native Union also offers a contemporary Curve Handset in wired and wireless Bluetooth models.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

Find the Native Union Retro Handset on

October 3, 2010

Imation Defender Biometric Flash Drive Super Secure -

There's a huge range of choices in USB flash drives, from tiny to big, playful to rugged. It all depends on what you're doing with them, like swapping files with friends, or saving photos while on a trip.

But if you're using your USB drive to backup and archive important personal files, much less business files, then your priorities change -- you want a drive both to be physically rugged and to secure your data from anyone who might get their hands on it.

The Imation Defender storage line of flash drives, hard drives, and optical media are designed for security, with FIPS 140-2 validation -- The Federal Information Processing Standardization (FIPS) is a U.S. government computer security standard used to accredit cryptographic components.

The Imation Defender F200 Biometric Flash Drive then features strong physical security plus data protection through AES 256-bit encryption, password authentication, and fingerprint biometrics.

The physical design is built around a metal enclosure with an enclosing cap with rubber sealing ring, so the result is tamper-evident, tamper-resistant, waterproof, and dustproof.

The data security is provided through AES 256-bit encryption implemented in hardware, activated when the drive is in use.

The Defender F200 then includes two forms of access control, with password authentication plus fingerprint authentication using a built-in biometric swipe sensor with hardware-based matching.

Especially for business use, you can manage and share the drive through administrative software, including setting up ten users and ten fingerprints, and customizing password policies. There's also enterprise software for centralized management of Defender drives.

The Imation Defender F200 Biometric Flash Drive is available with capacities from 1 to 32 GB, at prices ranging from around $99 to $349.

See my Portable Storage Gallery for details and comparisons on memory cards, USB drives, and hard disk storage.

Find the Imation Defender Biometric Flash Drive on

October 17, 2010

LaCie Rugged USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive

USB has had a great run, living up to its promise as the plug-and-play Universal Serial Bus. But now we demand ever higher data rates, to meet the demands of devices including high-speed data storage, higher-resolution digital cameras, and high-definition video camcorders.

So welcome the new USB 3.0 specification, branded as "SuperSpeed USB," which offers another 10X performance boost from 480 Mbps for USB 2.0 up to 5 Gbps.

The magic with USB 3.0 comes from adding five new wires to the connector, for faster transfer, more efficient communications, and higher power (but also more efficient). Plus, the USB 3.0 redesign permits longer cable lengths, from a typical 2 meters for current USB 2.0 to 3 meters or more with proper shielding.

For a peek at the promise of USB 3.0, I was able to try out the LaCie Rugged USB 3.0 portable hard drive. This is available with a 500 GB disk spinning at 7200 rpm for $135, and delivers up to 110 Mbps -- already some three times faster in practice than USB 2.0 even in this first generation.

The drive has a new SuperSpeed USB Micro-B connector, and comes with a cable to plug in to a standard USB connector, so it's compatible with USB 2.0 systems. You can upgrade your existing systems to SuperSpeed with a PCI Card adapter, such as the LaCie USB 3.0 ExpressCard/34 which adds two SuperSpeed USB ports for $60.

In my testing, even simple file copies in Windows Explorer were around two to three times faster than connecting via the built-in USB 2.0 ports on the same laptop -- for example copying 13 GB in 3 minutes compared to 10, or an effective rate around 60 Mbps. That's getting interesting!

See my full article for Videomaker magazine -- USB 3.0: Same Great Interface, Ten Times Faster

See my Portable Storage Gallery for details and comparisons on flash memory cards, USB drives, and hard disk storage.

Find the LaCie Rugged USB 3.0 Drive on

October 19, 2010

Wireless Gadgets and Trends 2010

I'll be speaking tomorrow, Wed., Oct. 20, to the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce on Wireless Gadgets and Trends 2010: What’s Hot Right Now for Business.

The talk is 7:30 – 9:15 a.m. at Thomas Edison State College, in conjunction with Trenton Small Business Week.

It's the era of the smartphone, not just for always-connected communications and data, but also full-fledged apps. Come explore the new opportunities of this new kind of device that combines the power and display of a portable computer, broadband data access to the almost-infinite resources of the Web, and location-awareness for here and now services.

For a preview of some of this season's devices see my article - Holiday Gadgets 2010: Portable and Wireless

Holiday Gadgets summary ...

Continue reading "Wireless Gadgets and Trends 2010" »

November 23, 2010

iPad iOS 4.2 Software Update Brings iPhone Goodness

Apple has released the iOS 4.2 Software Update, bringing all the goodness of the new iPhone 4 software from earlier this summer to the iPad tablet (and also bringing the same release to the iPhone and iPod touch).

The 100-some new features include multitasking, folders, unified inbox for all your mail, Game Center for Internet gaming, AirPrint, and AirPlay wireless streaming (see the Apple iPad Features pages).

Some highlights:

- Multitasking support allows you to keep working, for example, while files are downloading in iTunes, and non-Apple apps now can continue to work in the background, to play audio, monitor your location, or receive network alerts. As a shortcut, double-click the Home button for quick access to recently used apps, and scroll left for immediate Brightness and Music controls.

- Folders on the Home screen help you better organize your growing collection of apps. To make a folder, hold down on an app to edit the screen (the start wiggling), and then drop one app on top of another.

- AirPrint adds background printing over a local wireless network, but only to AirPrint-enabled printers (see the list of compatible HP products). This works with Apple apps including Safari, Mail, Photos, and iWork, as well as third-party apps with built-in printing. Upgraded versions of Keynote, Pages, and Numbers also are available from the App Store with AirPrint support.

- Similarly, AirPlay provides wirelessly streaming of videos, music, photos over Wi-Fi to the Apple TV, to AirPlay-enabled speakers and receivers, and other speakers through the Apple AirPort Express.

See my Apple iPod / iPhone / iPad Gallery for more on the iOS upgrades and the Apple portable products.

Find the Apple iPad on

December 1, 2010

Holiday Consumer Electronics Wish Lists

The upcoming holiday season is looking a bit merrier, as the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) sees evidence that the economy is picking up after a disastrous couple of years. In its annual CE Holiday Purchase Patterns Study, the CEA reports that U.S. consumers predict that the total household spending for the holidays will be $1,412, up 3 percent from last year (see last year's post).

This is still not back to the golden days of the 2007 household spending of $1,671, but it's definitely an improvement. In addition, the portion of the total holiday gift budget allocated for CE devices has continued to rise, and now is at 31 percent, or $232.

The CEA also provides top 10 lists of specific product categories that are on consumer holiday wish lists. The most dramatic change in this year's wish list is the appearance of the Apple iPad tablet as a new category, displacing netbooks after their appearance just last year.

The iPad is joined by the iPod and iPhone as the only specifically branded products on the list, showing Apple's continued strength in defining entire categories.

These portable devices lead the lists, with laptops, tablets, eReaders, media players, digital cameras, and smartphones. The clear trend here is the continued consumer interest in using separate devices for specific functions, instead of carrying a single converged smartphone that could replace all our different gadgets and functions.

The lists also include more traditional home electronics products, including video game systems, big screen TVs, and desktop computers. Other categories that have fallen out of the top 10 this year include handheld game systems, GPS units, netbooks, and DVD / Blu-ray players, and car audio. But you're still welcome to buy them anyway...

The CEA also produces the International Consumer Electronics Show (aka CES), the huge annual event back in Las Vegas next January 6 - 9 (see summary article from last year).

See my Holiday Gadget Guide articles for 2010:
- Holiday Gadgets 2010: Consumer Electronics Wish Lists
- Holiday Gadgets 2010: Portable and Wireless

And my upcoming Holiday Tech Gifts talks:
- Wed., Dec., 1 - Hopewell Public Library
- Tues., Dec., 7 - Computer Learning Center at Ewing

Also see my Digital Media Galleries for more on trends and sample products in these categories
And my Apple iPod / iPhone / iPad Gallery for more on the Apple portable products.

Find the Apple iPad on

December 3, 2010

Logitech Wireless Speakers for Laptops and iPads

These days, all of our portable devices are also media players, no matter the size -- laptop to tablet (iPad) to handheld (iPhone) -- or whether they are nominally dedicated to other purposes -- from cell phones to eReaders.

While these all are great personal devices when used with earphones, you can enjoy the music better if you hook up higher-quality external speakers. And even better, wireless speakers let you continue to work as you listen without being tethered to the device.

I've been having fun with the Logitech Wireless Speaker Z515, which pairs easily with an iPad or iPhone using Bluetooth (no pass code required).

Just enable the device in the Bluetooth Settings, and then your audio and video applications add a new AirPlay menu next to the playback controls that lets you switch back and forth between listening with the iPhone/iPad internal speakers or streaming through the wireless speakers.

Since Bluetooth setup on laptops can be more problematical, the Logitech Wireless Speakers also include a small USB adapter to stream music from your laptop with a similar lack of fuss using a dedicated 2.4 GHz wireless connection.

The speakers are certainly portable at around 10 x 4 1/2 x 2 inches), but are more substantial than smaller clip-on and wired speakers (see earlier post). They put out a respectable 3 watts with AC power, and fill the room nicely.

However, these are not featherlight, with a 10 hour battery that recharges with the included power supply. The clever and unobtrusive design also has a flip-out stand on the back, with a slot to store the USB wireless adapter.

The Logitech Wireless Speakers are available for $99. I've found that they work great for really hearing music at home, and for demoing iPad sound and music at my talks.

See my Holiday Gadgets 2010: Portable and Wireless article for more on portable devices and accessories

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for more on portable speakers and earphones.

Find the Logitech Wireless Speakers on

December 27, 2010

ZAGG invisibleSHIELD for iPads - Scratch and Fingerprint Protection

I'm a big fan of screen protectors, especially for cell phones that rattle around in my pocket with keys. For example, the ZAGG invisibleSHIELD line (see earlier post) includes screen (and body) protectors from devices ranging from handheld cell phones, PDAs, iPods and other media players -- to portable gaming devices, digital cameras, and GPS devices -- to laptop computers and even watches.

And for the hot gifts of this holiday season (see earlier post), the invisibleSHIELD screen and body protectors are also available for E-book readers including the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook -- plus protection for the hottest gift of the season, the Apple iPad.

The iPad screen is really beautiful, but the reflective surface picks up finger smudges and makes them very visible, which is a bit icky when showing off your new device.

Apple Support recommends cleaning the iPad screen with a soft, slightly damp, lint-free cloth, or with an isopropyl alcohol solution.

And the iPad Important Product Information Guide (PDF) further explains how the screen is coated: "iPad has an oleophobic coating on the screen; simply wipe iPad’s screen with a soft, lint-free cloth to remove oil left by your hands. The ability of this coating to repel oil will diminish over time with normal usage, and rubbing the screen with an abrasive material will further diminish its effect and may scratch your screen."

Instead, you can use a screen protector like the invisibleSHIELD to both protect the display from scratches and to make it easier to clean.

The invisibleSHIELD material itself is scratch and abrasion resistant, and even self-healing. In addition, the film has a subtle texture, which provides a more secure grip.

The result on the iPad is that the screen still looks great and responds as usual to finger presses and movements, but no longer has the glossy look with highly visible finger smudges, so I no longer need to carry around a cloth to to regularly wipe the screen. The invisibleSHIELD also reduces glare for easier viewing in difficult environments.

Of course, the other issue is installation -- How do you precisely align a big sheet of sticky plastic film onto the face of the iPad? It turns out to be pretty straightforward, as shown in the Installation videos (and also see previous post).

The trick is to spray the film, and your fingers, with the included water-based solution, so you can actually slide around the film on the face of the iPad to nudge it into position. There's margin for error in the process, so you can remove and re-spray the film as needed to get the fit right. (And you can remove the sheet later by just peeling it off.) Of course, a second pair of hands is helpful as well for positioning the big sheet and holding the iPad steady.

After the wet installation, you then need to spend some time using the included squeegee to push the excess moisture and bubbles out to the edges. There will be some imperfections left on the face, which will work out as the material settles in and dries.

It turns out that the hardest part of the processes is finding a time that you can survive without your beautiful new iPad for a day or so -- You need to wait 12 to 24 hours after application for the invisibleSHIELD to "set" properly, and allow any remaining solution to fully dry.

invisibleSHIELD is available in over 5,000 designs for different electronic devices. Designs for the iPad are available at $29.99 for the front or back and $39.99 for the full body. A smaller device like the iPhone is priced at $14.99 for front or back protection and $24.99 for the full body. All come with a 45 day money-back guarantee and a lifetime replacement warranty.

For more fun, ZAGGskins combine the invisibleSHIELD material with customized high-quality images and designs. You can use one of the pre-existing designs or upload your own.

Find the ZAGG invisibleSHIELD for iPad
and invisibleSHIELD for iPhone on

January 19, 2011

Etch A Sketch Case for iPad

There were lots of TVs and tablets and even major appliances on display at this year's CES conference (see previous post), but the fastest-growing exhibition area was the iLounge Pavilion, with over 200 companies showing iPad, iPhone, and iPod accessories and other iStuff.

The cases on display showed amazing inventiveness -- some were beautiful, or fun, or downright silly.

For example, there's the Etch A Sketch Case from HeadCase, an officially licensed replica of your favorite childhood drawing pad, available for the iPad ($39) and iPhone / iPod touch ($24).

It's a hard case made from impact resistant ABS plastic in that familiar shiny red. The front and back snap together. You then pry them apart with a coin (dime) using two slots on the side.

The case has slots for all the switches, ports, and buttons on your device. The front is thick enough that you need to press down a bit harder to reach the bottom Home button. The back (in black) has tabs to raise the iPad for typing, and even has hole in center that displays the Apple logo, in case you're not sure what's inside the case.

And no, the two white Etch A Sketch dials on the bottom are just decorative, they do not turn.

For the full Etch A Sketch experience, you also can download the official Etch A Sketch app from Freeze Tag (see the App store - basic free version, plus premium and iPad versions).

It supports multi-touch so you can rotate both knobs at once to draw jagged diagonal-ish lines. And yes, you shake the iPad to erase the screen (just be real careful you don't drop it). Unlike the real thing, you even can save your wonderful drawings.

Find the Etch A Sketch Case for iPad on

January 21, 2011

Macally BookStand - Minimalist iPad Cover and Stand

There were plenty of fun and even wacky iPad cases at CES (see previous post), but there were also companies like Macally that are more focused on creating pleasant and functional designs.

The Macally product line includes accessories for iPad, iPhone, iPod, and notebooks, as well as input devices, including keyboards, mice, game controllers, webcams, and USB hubs.

There are a variety of covers and cases to protect your portable devices, hard and soft, clear, silicon, and chrome, as well as folder-style cases and stands.

My favorite is the Macally BookStand microfiber cover and stand for the iPad, a clean and minimalist design that protects your device without adding bulk. The insides have a soft microfiber finish to shelter your precious.

The iPad snaps into the stiff back at the four corners, leaving all the controls and slots fully available. The front cover then folds over to protect the screen, with a leather slide-in tab to hold it tight. And the cover is jointed (like the Apple case) to fold back to serve as a viewing stand, held in place with the same tab.

The result is clean and simple -- form-fitting protection from incidental contact, as when packed in a bag, with minimal added size or thickness or weight (it actually fits inside the Apple case).

The Macally BookStand Microfiber Cover and Stand for the iPad is available for $29 (street $19), in black, gray, sand, orange, and green.

Find the Macally BookStand for iPad on

January 28, 2011

FreeOneHand iPad Holder & Stand

Continuing on the topic of the wonderful variety of iPad cases from CES (see previous post), meet the FreeOneHand iPad Holder & Stand, a clever approach for using the iPad for extended periods.

Tablets, of course, just are too big and too heavy to hold up in one hand for easy reading like a smartphone. So you end up having to shift your sitting position, or rest them awkwardly on your stomach, or hold them in two hands while trying to brace your arms.

The FreeOneHand changes this completely. It clips onto the four corners of the iPad, with a two-inch pedestal in the back for holding the iPad comfortably with just one hand. For example, you can grip the post securely in your fist, or cup it in your palm in your lap, or hold it between your split fingers.

As a result, you can hold the iPad comfortably for extended use, and, of course, your other hand is free for easier typing, or to reach for your coffee without having to put the iPad down. And the FreeOneHand is very useful for presentations, since again you can hold up and display your device, and even have a hand free for pointing.

The base also works as an iPad stand or easel, in portrait or landscape mode. And the corner grips even extend out from the surface to protect your screen if you put the iPad face down on a table.

The FreeOneHand iPad Holder & Stand is available for around $39, in ebony, ivory, silver, lime green, sky blue, and rose pink.

Find the FreeOneHand iPad Holder on

February 4, 2011

Speck PixelSkin and PixelShield for iPad

For more fun iPad cases (see previous posts), Speck has some original designs for protective cases and bags for popular portable electronic devices, from smartphones to laptops.

To protect your iPad, one smart design is the PixelSkin Case for iPad, a soft-touch textured silicone case with a grid of square "pixels" for a comfortable and secure grip. (Yes, they're really big "pixels," fitting the slogan -- "5 DPI Never Looked So Good!")

The PixelSkin fits snugly around the iPad, wrapping around the front to hold the frame around the screen. It's available for the iPod for $39.95, in black, indigo, and green, and for the iPhone for $29.95, also in an HD version with finer pixelation.

Or to pack up your iPad when travelling, there's the Speck PixelShield Carry Sleeve for iPad. Just slip your iPad in the slot and it's fully enclosed, and ready to go with the integrated handle.

The design has a textured neoprene exterior, with one flexible side for the slot and the other firm reinforced side to protect the screen, plus a soft micro-fleece interior lining. The PixelShield is available for the iPod for $39.95, in black and red.

There's also a zippered PixelSleeve for other tablets and netbooks up to 10 inches, and PixelSleeve Plus for iPad.

Find the Speck PixelSkin and PixelShield on

February 5, 2011

Be A Headcase - Bottle and Can Opener Case

In honor of that big game this weekend, it's time to move on from sensible and fun iPad cases (see previous posts), further out towards fun and crazy, with the Be A Headcase Bottle and Can Opener Case.

No, really -- It's a bottle and can opener in a case for your iPhone or Blackberry, complete with embedded stainless steel bottle opener and tab for opening cans.

This is a hard shell protective case that fits on the back of your iPhone. It has an outer rubberized coating to secure your grip while working with those cold and wet drinks.

The Bottle and Can Opener Case is available in pink, or plain black for more subtle bottle popping, with models for the iPhone 3G and 3GS for $19.99, and the iPhone 4 and BlackBerry (coming soon) for $24.99.

And there's more -- You can download the free Be A HeadCase App for the iPhone that senses when you open a bottle or can and counts your drinks. It also displays a selected picture and plays a song or sound to celebrate -- the provided sound effects include "Funky Monkey" and "Annoying Mother In-Law." Or upload your own favorites to share with others.

Find the Be A Headcase Bottle and Can Opener Case on

February 16, 2011

Stopping the Dropping: iTatch Lanyards with Suction Cup

All these cases and screen protectors (see previous posts) are great for protecting your portable devices from bumps and scratches in your pocket or bag, and can save the day when you accidentally drop your device. But wouldn't it be better to not drop it in the first place?

So here's a simple solution, especially for people who are constantly working with their smartphone or tablet: the iTatch Lanyards -- with a suction cup on the end to hold on tight to your handheld device, even when you don't.

Just slip the lanyard around your neck, and attach the suction cup to secure your iPhone, iPod, iPad, or other smartphone, phone or portable device.

There's the iTatch for iPhones/iPods for $9.95, with a roughly 20-inch lanyard and 1-inch suction cup for smaller handheld devices.

And the iTatch EBook Anchor for $14.95 has a longer lanyard and significantly bigger 3 1/4-inch suction cup for iPads, E-book readers, and larger and heavier tablet-sized devices.

The lanyards have a snap-off anchor near the base so you can remove your device when needed. They're available in blue, red and black with white text, or gray, white, black and green with black text

For more fun, try out the iTatch Puppy Anchor for $14.95 -- You can restrain your (smallish) pup in the kitchen by applying the suction cup to the refrigerator or dishwasher, or on the go by quickly attaching to a store window!

See related article - iPad Cases for 2011

Find the iTatch Lanyards on

February 13, 2011

Multi-Use TabGrip for iPad

The TabGrip for iPad is something different from protective cases (see previous posts). Instead, it's designed as a multi-functional holder and stand to make using the iPad easy and comfortable.

The TabGip is basically four arms of flexible rubberized plastic with grips that snap onto the middle of each side of the iPad.

The grips are textured and rubberized, for a more convenient and more secure hold whether you are using or carrying your tablet.

The outer sides of the grips are also hinged, and swing open to become stands to position the iPad for typing or for display, in portrait or landscape orientation.

The grips and rubberized back also protect the back of your iPad when it's being handled or put down.

The TabGrip is currently available for $39.99, in classic black. It's a clever design for people who use their iPad a lot, in many different positions and orientations -- standing up and sitting down, in motion for gaming or on a table for typing.

See related article - iPad Cases for 2011

Find the TabGrip for iPad on

February 9, 2011

Speck CandyShell Grip / Time To Rock

These days the Apple iPod touch seems the be more like an iPad mini, since you can run all your same apps, and music and videos and photos and even books synced from iTunes, plus connect to the Web and email and more over Wi-Fi. But Apple also likes to promote the touch as "the most popular portable game player in the world."

In thinking about cases for our devices, then, instead of worrying about protection from external elements, maybe we should focus more on protection from our own exuberance.

So Speck (see previous post) has developed a specialized version of its CandyShell case, the Speck CandyShell Grip for iPod touch (4th gen).

This is flexible rubberized case that snaps on the back of your iPod touch. It has a hard shell skeleton frame across the back and around the sides, with a rubberized interior for shock protection.

The rubberized back is ridged for a solid grip, and there's also a small strip on each corner, and bump-outs at the top and bottom of the side edge bezels to help position your thumb for pressing virtual buttons on the touch screen.

The Speck CandyShell Grip is available for $34.95 in black or white.

Apple also reimagined its iPod nano in its 6th generation, as a tiny clip-on music player with a square touch screen (see earlier post).

But instead of clipping it on, you can strap the nano on with the Speck Time To Rock wristband for iPod nano (6th gen), which turns your nano into a music watch. Just pop the nano into the protective frame, complete with rubberized button covers, and strap up.

It also includes a headphone cord management armband to help route the headphone out of the way up your arm.

The new nano is focused on music playback, and the Speck Time To Rock offers a new way to conveniently carry, and access, your music, for $24.95.

See related article - iPad Cases for 2011

Find the Speck CandyShell Grip on

February 20, 2011

Joby GorillaMobile Yogi for iPad

The Joby GorillaMobile Yogi for iPad brings the now-familiar GorillaPod flexible legs (see earlier post) to the iPad, giving you great flexibility in stabilizing and positioning your tablet as you like it.

The Yogi starts with a protective polycarbonate case with rubber bumper edges that snaps on the back of your iPad to protect it from shocks and falls.

The flexible legs can be detached for storage with the quick-release clip, or can be attached on the short or longer sides for portrait or landscape viewing.

Then the fun begins, as you can twist and bend the legs to use your iPad in some rather unexpected positions -- standing or leaning, adjusted for uneven surfaces, or even wrapped around fixtures or hanging down.

The Yogi is good for positing the screen for shared viewing, and for finding a comfortable set-up for extended typing. It's available for $49.94, with white case and black legs.

See related article - iPad Cases for 2011

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for more on the Joby GorillaPod line and other tripods and supports for cameras and other devices

Find the Joby GorillaMobile Yogi on

February 21, 2011

Joby GorillaMobile Ori Transforming Case / Stand

Not content with bringing the GorillaPod idea of flexible and adjustable legs to the iPad with the GorillaMobile Yogi case / stand (see previous post), Jobi has extended this theme to the case itself with the Jobi GorillaMobile Ori protective metal case that transforms into a multi-position stand.

You start by snapping the iPad into the Ori's plastic frame with rubberized protective edges. The back is mounted on hinged cover made of a light silver aluminum / polypropylene composite that fold ups around the iPad as a folio for travel.

And then the fun begins, as the Ori (think "origami") has pop-out tabs and hinges and rotating mounts to adjust into a variety of positions.

  • Tilt the back up slightly and pop down the kickstand tab for a stable typing position
  • Tilt the back up further on the rigid hinge for a variety of hands-off table viewing positions
  • Flip out the cover flap and snap in the tabs for a secure 45 degree angle setup. Rotate the iPad as desired for portrait or landscape viewing
  • Then rotate the back up on the 45 degree base to stand up the iPad for shared viewing.
And you can try other positions, such as turning the base on the side to stand up on a table.

The GorillaMobile Ori offers extreme flexibility in a solid but light protective case for $79.95, with lots of options for setting up your iPad for comfortable use, and for sharing with a group.

See related article - iPad Cases for 2011

See my Digital Cameras Gallery for more on the Joby GorillaPod line and other tripods and supports for cameras and other devices

Find the Joby GorillaMobile Ori on

March 12, 2011

LaCie XtremKey All-Terrain USB Flash Drive

LaCie continues to produce innovative designs for USB thumb drives -- not only designed with fun and interesting looks, but also for practical and useful purposes.

For example, the LaCie MosKeyto is designed in a tiny low-profile package, so it can be inserted flush in a USB port on your computer, to avoid sticking out far enough to be accidentally knocked and damaged (see earlier post).

And the LaCie imaKey and itsaKey (and others) are designed as actual metal keys, which makes them convenient and rugged enough to carry on a key ring (see earlier post).

But for even more physical security for your important files, there's the LaCie XtremKey, designed with a thick metal pipe casing to protect your data from the elements.

The larger end of the tapered cylinder casing unscrews to remove the USB stick, which is sealed with wear-resistant screw threads and rubber O-ring.

The XtremKey is heat-, cold-, water-, pressure- and drop-resistant: drop tested to 16 feet, watertight up to 333 feet, and resistant to temperatures from +200 to -50 degrees C (though I haven't tried running it over with the specified 10-ton truck).

Plus, the XtremKey is designed for speed, with transfer speeds up to 40 MB/s (read) and 30 MB/s (write).

So if you need an All-Terrain USB Flash Drive, the LaCie XtremKey is available with 8 GB of storage for $49, 16 GB for $79, 32 GB for $129, and 64 GB for $229.

The LaCie USB key products also include 4 GB of online storage for 2 years through LaCie's Wuala cloud storage service (see earlier post).

See my Portable Storage Gallery for more on storage formats and devices.

Find the LaCie XtremKey USB drive on

March 8, 2011

Breffo Spiderpodium Multi-Purpose Gadget Grip

The Breffo Spiderpodium lives up to its name as a multi-purpose gadget grip and podium to holster, dock, and display for your compact handheld devices, including smartphones, cell phones, portable media players, and game systems.

Its eight soft-touch rubberized notched legs flex and bend into any position, to grip your device securely and then set it at virtually any angle, in any position, in any location.

You can set up the Spiderpodium to view on a desk or table, hook or hang it in a car, or wrap it on a bike or backpack to go. And it spreads down flat for storage and travel.

The original Spiderpodium for handheld devices has legs that reach approximately 8 inches, and is available for $19.99 in white or black.

There's also a larger SpiderpodiumTablet for the iPad and other tablet devices, for $34.99 in grey or black.

See related article - iPad Cases for 2011 and previous post on the Joby GorillaMobile Yogi.

Find the Breffo Spiderpodium on

March 21, 2011

ZAGGsparq 2.0 Portable USB Charger and Battery

We've come to rely on USB as a universal data interface, especially as more devices use standard USB ports for both data and charging. However, you can be unpleasantly surprised to discover that USB is not a universal power interface. It turns out that more sophisticated devices like the Apple iPad, some smartphones, and Flip camcorders charge fine when connected to a computer, but not with common USB wall or car adapters.

So we'll be seeing more devices like the recently-reintroduced ZAGG ZAGGsparq 2.0 portable USB charger and battery, which includes two USB ports -- a general port for charging Standard USB devices, and an optimized port to charge the iPad, iPhone, and similar devices.

Plus the ZAGGsparq is not just a wall charger, it also contains a battery with enough capacity to deliver four full recharges for the iPhone, or charge iPad from 0 to 60%, and at same rate as iPad wall charger.

The design with battery is a bit chunkier than a plain USB wall adapter, at 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 1 inches and just over 8 1/2 ounces. It has LED status lights to show the charge level, and pivoting power prongs that fold into the unit for travel.

The ZAGGsparq 2.0 is available for $99, to help keep your smartphone or iPad running during a long and busy day away from wall power.

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for more on portable chargers

Find the ZAGGsparq Charger and Battery on

April 2, 2011

Jawbone ERA Bluetooth Headset with HD audio and motion control

The Jawbone ERA Bluetooth headset continues the parallel Jawbone traditions of leading noise reduction technology and more and more accessible designs, as with the previous Jawbone ICON (see earlier post).

On the technology side, the ERA updates the NoiseAssassin noise reduction and auto-adjusts inbound call volume to your environment. And it boasts clearer, stronger "HD audio" sound with a bigger 10mm wideband speaker (25% larger than previous models).

And for ease of use, the ERA has a built-in accelerometer for motion controls -- TapTap to answer calls, or ShakeShake to start pairing mode (a lot easier than some obscure multi-button sequence).

The ERA has a clean, compact design, with the trademark Jawbone budge for the voice activity sensor that rests against your cheek, plus a dedicated power switch and standard microUSB port for charging.

But the key test is noise reduction, and again the Jawbone excels -- Even standing on Broadway in Times Square the voice quality in both directions was impressive, with little leak from background engines and horns and sirens, and with less distorted voice quality.

So this is a top-notch headset, albeit at a step-up price of $129, available in four designs -- Black Diamond, Blue Wave, Grey Hex, and Red Dot.

The ERA also supports the Jawbone MyTALK online platform for updating the headset to personalize settings and download new apps, features, and software updates -- including Caller ID by Name.

There's also the Jawbone THOUGHTS free iPhone app to organize and share voice messages without typing or calling.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

Find the Jawbone ERA on

April 12, 2011

Jawbone Jambox Portable Wireless Speaker

Jawbone has moved beyond its home in Bluetooth headsets (see previous post) to introduce the Jawbone Jambox portable wireless speaker.

The Jambox boasts oomph in a small package for streaming hi-fi audio, with proprietary acoustic drivers and moving-wall passive bass radiator to pump out 85 decibels of sound -- all in a 6-inch package (6 x 2 1/4 x 1 1/2 inches) that weighs 12 ounces.

The Jambox has a subtle design, with wrap-around metal grill and molded rubber top and bottom for secure positioning. The top has low-profile "+" and "-" volume controls, plus a Talk button for start/end call, spoken status, or special features like Voice Dial.

The power switch on the side also serves to start Bluetooth pairing, and as a status light. Or you can connect audio sources directly with a 3.5mm stereo audio input. There's also a microUSB port for charging the battery, which is rated to play approximately ten hours.

The Jambox also supports the Jawbone MyTALK online for downloading new apps, features, and software updates.

So if you have a hankering for better audio when on the go, the Jawbone Jambox provides strong sound in a relatively portable package, and can be yours for $199.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

Find the Jawbone Jambox on

October 7, 2011

Apple iPhone 4S - Seriously Interesting

Ecstasy!! -- It's a new Apple iPhone. Agony! -- It's not the rumored iPhone 5; it's just a "4S". The "S" may stand for a bump in Speed or Software from the iPhone 4 (see earlier post), but it's definitely not for Sexy or Stupendous. Instead, it appears that the iPhone 5 name is being reserved for a future new design and/or step up to 4G wireless speeds (see earlier post).

Apple positions the iPhone 4S as the same thin glass and stainless steel design, but "entirely new" on the inside. That's not quite "insanely great," but the 4S actually is yet another impressive piece of engineering from Apple, cramming significant enhancements into the same, still-sweet design as the iPhone 4:

- The iPhone 4S is now a world phone, working on both AT&T and Verizon networks, as well as overseas -- and adding Sprint as a third option.

- It steps up to the same Apple dual-core A5 processor that's in the iPad, for faster performance (2x) and graphics (7x).

- And Apple has significantly enhanced the camera, from 5 to 8 megapixels, and now supporting HD 1080p video recording.

The new camera is a big deal -- Apple sees the iPhone 4S as a serious replacement for the need to carry a separate digital camera and video camcorder. You can see this in the kind of language used to describe it, which sounds more like cameras than smartphones -- with a five-element lens, enhanced CMOS sensor for 73% more light and 33% faster capture, hybrid IR filter for better color accuracy and uniformity, and an Apple-designed Image Signal Processor (ISP) enabling face detection and 26% better auto white balance.

The new design also makes the camera more responsive, taking 1.1 seconds to shoot the first photo and 0.5 seconds from shot to shot (compared to 2 to 4 seconds for some other smartphones).

Of course, the iPhone 4S comes with the new iOS 5 mobile operating system, with over 200 new features, including Notifications, iMessage, Reminders, Twitter, Newsstand, and PC Free wireless activation/updates. The update also is available free for the iPhone4 and 3GS, iPad and iPad 2, and iPod touch 3rd and 4th gen.

And the iPhone 4S also supports the new iCloud free online cloud services, to wirelessly store and sync media, apps, books, documents, contacts, calendar, and more across your computers and mobile devices. Specific iCloud services include iTunes in the Cloud Photo Stream, Documents in the Cloud, Find My Friends, backup, and iTunes Match to access your entire music collection for $24.99 a year.

But the final big deal that's specific to the new iPhone 4S is the Siri intelligent assistant -- Just hold the Home button and speak commands. Siri does voice recognition, performs sophisticated understanding of free-form commands, and speaks back to confirm and execute your instructions.

You can issue commands like Play a song, Call a name, Tell name a message, Set up a meeting in the calendar, Remind me to note, How do I get somewhere (map), or Email name about a topic. And you can look up information including weather, stocks, time, currency conversion, and general Web searches.

Along with the Siri assistant, Apple also had integrated dictation into the iPhone 4S to work with the built-in apps, describing it as natural language, conversational, contextual, personal.

Like the earlier voice support for text input on the Android, the Apple approach uses cloud services to support the voice processing, so these require an active 3G or Wi-Fi data connection. And, like other Google innovations, Apple has tagged these services as beta.

The bottom line is that while the iPhone 4S name does not have a particularly sexy name, and does not sport an exciting new look, it does pack seriously interesting new capabilities into the familiar iPhone design. It's a world phone, it performs significantly faster, and it has the potential to be all the camera and camcorder that you'll need for most situations.

The Siri assistant and dictation also should be very interesting to work with. Even basic voice recognition on the Android, for example, makes quick Web searches much quicker and easier.

Apple has kept the same pricing for the iPhone 4S -- 16 GB for $199 and 32 GB for $299 -- and matched the iPod touch by adding a new 64 GB model for $399.

At the same time, Apple has followed its pattern of discounting the older models, with the now-decrepit iPhone 4 with 8 GB at $99, and the practically-ancient iPhone 3GS still available now at $0 -- yes, that's free with two year AT&T contract.

"Seriously interesting," indeed!

See my Apple iDevices Gallery for more on the new iPhone and iPods, and a chronology of the Apple iStuff.

October 10, 2011

Apple iPod Domination

The new Apple iPhone 4S was introduced by new CEO Tim Cook at last week's keynote event, which was overshadowed by who and what was not there -- Steve Jobs and an iPhone 5 (see video at Apple's site).

Cook still followed the typical Jobs keynote format, starting by highlighting Apple's progress across the board -- the retail stores and OS X Lion, and then iTunes, the iPhone, iPad, iPods, and iOS and App Store. He then highlighted the new features in iOS 5 (see my summary), and the new iCloud services (see summary).

Then came the new products: the iPods, and the big news on the iPhone 4S and the Siri intelligent assistant (see previous post).

Unlike last year, when the iPod line was significantly re-focused (see earlier post), this year's iPod announcements were rather low key, focusing on price reductions:

The iPod nano was updated a bit, although it's still the same small square with multi-touch screen for playing music and listening to FM radio. (The 16 GB model holds about 4000 songs.)

The new nano adds larger icons on the 1 1/2 inch screen, and more clock face designs (from analog to Mickey Mouse) for wearing as a wrist watch. It also steps up as a fitness device, tracking walking and running, and even providing motivational real-time voice feedback.

The nano price has dropped to $129 for 8 GB, and $149 for 16 GB (was $149 / $179), and it's still available in silver, graphite, blue, green, orange, pink, and (PRODUCT) RED.

The iPod touch was not updated, but also dropped in price, so now it starts just under the $200 level -- or $199 for 8 GB (was $229), and the same $299 for 32 GB, and $399 for 64 GB -- but now available in black and white.

Apple continues to position the touch not so much as a mini-iPad which runs the same apps, or as the world’s most popular music player, but also as the #1 portable game player. [The new iOS 5 update is available for not only the current iPod generation 4 (with cameras), but also the previous gen 3 product (with Wi-Fi).]

Unmentioned in the keynote, the iPod shuffle (with no display) continues to be available with 2 GB for $49, and the boring old iPod classic is still hanging around with 160 GB hard drive for $249 -- in case you need to carry a massive media collection.

Apple's lack of exciting news on iPods demonstrates not only the maturing of the market, but also the lack of serious competition -- although in the keynote, Cook did note that of the 45 million iPods sold in the last 12 months, almost half were first iPod for that customer -- so there's clearly some action still in this market.

Apple's dominance is demonstrated by a nice graphic of Apple U.S. Market Share in the Oct. 7 issue of the New York Times. All the Apple products have shown nice growth over the years (except the iPad dropping from 92% to "only" 76%). But the iPod line has been particularly spectacular, starting at around a 38% share after its introduction in 2005, growing to 50% in 2006, 60% in 2009, and now up to around 76%, with a total 315 million units sold.

This market domination is further assisted by the lock-in from the Apple infrastructure, including the iTunes store for music, videos, and books (with 16 billion downloads since the introduction in 2005), and the App Store (18 billion downloads since 2008).

And now iOS 5 strengthens your electronic connections with PC Free, so you can activate and update your device wirelessly, and with the free iCloud services to store and sync your media, apps, contacts, calendar, and documents all online -- plus iTunes Match to store your entire music collection virtually online, so you can access all your music from any device.

Yes, dedicated music players no longer spark great excitement, especially as their features are integrated into the iPad and iPhone. But they're still useful for dedicated listening, especially for travel and exercise, and still clearly a nice market for Apple.

See my Apple iDevices Gallery for more on the new iPhone and iPods, and a chronology of the Apple iStuff.

Find the Apple iPod touch on

October 15, 2011

Logitech Wireless Boombox

The Apple iPad is a great music player, whether you're relaxing or doing useful work. You can plug in to listen with headphones, but unplugged the iPad speakers are a tad underpowered if you want to really enjoy the sound.

A better answer is wireless speakers like the Logitech Wireless Speaker (see earlier post -- now for $85), which let you continue to listen without being tethered to the device.

Separate powered speakers also let you crank up the sound to better fill a room, so Logitech has cranked out the new Logitech Wireless Boombox speakers with even better sound for $149.

The Wireless Boombox has eight (yes, 8) drivers to separate the sound frequencies: two 30-inch neodymium drivers for full mid range, two 1/2-inch neodymium tweeters for crisp highs, and two 2-inch passive radiators for deep bass.

The result is clear, clean sound even at full volume (which won't blow out your ears).

You then can stream stereo audio wirelessly up to 33 feet over Bluetooth, from a PC, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, or other devices -- so your system can remote control playback on the speaker.

The Wireless Boombox plays for six hours with its removable rechargeable battery, or can run powered using the included AC adapter. It has an auxiliary 3.5 mm input for wired playback and a flip-out stand.

As a Boombox, it is a bit bigger than the Wireless Speaker (approximately 15 x 5 x 2 1/2 inches compared to 10 x 4 1/2 x 2 inches) -- but you'll understand why when you hear the sound from the eight vs. two speakers.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for more on portable speakers and earphones.

Find the Logitech Wireless Boombox
and Logitech Wireless Speakers on

October 18, 2011

Logitech Tablet Speaker for iPad (and More)

The Apple iPad is a great music player, whether you're relaxing or doing useful work. But the iPad speakers are a tad underpowered if you want to really enjoy the sound.

One option is wireless speakers like the Logitech Wireless Boombox (see previous post) that can blast out powerful sound.

But sometime you need something more portable, like the Logitech Tablet Speaker for iPad, priced at $49.

This has a smart rectangular design that clips conveniently on to either side of an iPod (or other tablet) -- landscape or portrait -- where it also can serve as a stand to tip up the tablet.

It connects to your tablet with an old-fashioned audio cable to the headphone jack (there's no Bluetooth wireless). The rechargable battery plays for 8 hours, and charges through USB.

The Tablet Speaker puts out good sound for personal listening through the speakers at each end.

As a bonus, I've also found it to be a nice size for use as a portable speaker for a laptop, at 8 1/2 x 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for more on portable speakers and earphones.

Find the Logitech Tablet Speaker on

October 23, 2011

Native Union Moshi Moshi 04 Bluetooth Phone / Speaker

As with the Logitech Wireless Headset (see previous post), wireless connections let us make things more interesting and more useful -- Start with a corded music headset, and then go wireless to work with multiple mobile phones and portable players. And since the headset talks with mobile phones, it only makes sense to add a microphone to work for phone calls as well.

The Moshi Moshi 04 Bluetooth Phone / Speaker follows this same kind of progression, but in the opposite order -- and with some serious design styling.

First, convert a telephone handset for use with a mobile phone, as with the Moshi Moshi POP / Retro Handsets (see post from last year), providing the comfort and convenience of a traditional hand-held handset for conversations.

Then go wireless, so you can park your mobile phone by the window or wherever you get the best reception, and then use the handset at your chair or desk, up to 30 feet away.

Then the real clever step -- since Bluetooth supports music as well, enhance the headset with speakers at both ends, so it also serves as a stereo speaker. After all, telephone handsets are typically symmetric at each end, so why not take advantage of the design? (And as a bonus, add an audio jack on the back of the handset to play directly from other devices.)

Finally, take advantage of these features by laying the handset down on a charger / base, where it also can serve as a conference / speaker phone, with the two speakers plus an additional secondary microphone with noise reduction for conference calls.

The resulting Moshi Moshi 04 has a sexy design for the handset plus base, with brushed aluminum face and soft-touch surfaces, available for $179 in taupe and copper or black and silver.

But there's one more step -- the Moshi Moshi 04i extends this design by adding a slide-out iPhone dock/charger in the base for $199.

This is a really interesting idea, executed with a clear design style, albeit with some idiosyncrasies -- including the non-obviousness of which end is which for the ear vs. the mouth...

But if you're interested in extending your mobile phone with fun and functional handset designs, do check out the Native Union Moshi Moshi line.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for more on portable speakers and headphones.

Find the Native Union Moshi Moshi 04
and Moshi Moshi 04i on

Some other nits:

Continue reading "Native Union Moshi Moshi 04 Bluetooth Phone / Speaker" »

October 28, 2011

Logitech Joystick for iPad

I cover a lot of high-tech gadgets, but here's a simple little accessory -- that even technically qualifies as wireless -- the Logitech Joystick for iPad (and iPad 2).

This is a clever little device that helps gamers better control the motion of an on-screen joystick or d-pad on the iPad, compared to trying to position your hand and thumb precisely at the corner of the screen.

Instead, this thumb-stick style game controller attaches to the corner of the iPad with two small suction cups. The coiled spring design then provides force feedback as you slide to the sides, and guides you back to the center position.

So for more precision in your game action, check out the Logitech Joystick for iPad, available for $19.99.

See my Portable Accessories Gallery for more on PC and portable accessories.

Find the Logitech Joystick for iPad on

October 31, 2011

Logitech Wireless Touchpad

The future is in touch -- Both Apple and Microsoft see tablets and touch interfaces as the future for their new desktop operating systems. So you'll scroll by grabbing the page and moving it directly, instead of moving the cursor over to a scroll bar and dragging the box in the opposite direction (cue the arguments on which is more natural)...

Yet while Keyboards are still important for a lot of tasks on PCs, a tablet-like interface can be very intuitive if you're doing a lot of browsing and scrolling and clicking.

So if you'd like to try out the touch experience, see the Logitech Wireless Touchpad, a 5-inch pad that supports multi-touch clicking, scrolling, and swiping with different numbers of fingers:

  • Move the cursor, and tap to click with one finger
  • Scroll up or down with two fingers
  • Scroll horizontally with three fingers (or swipe diagonally for page up/down)
  • Switch between applications with a four-finger swipe
However, this kind of multi-touch functionality is not (yet) implemented directly in Windows or in the applications; instead it is provided as a virtual mouse interface. This works best by downloading the Logitech SetPoint control panel software and Scroll App for Windows 7 for smoother scrolling in browsers.

The Touchpad also is wireless, using a low-profile Logitech Unifying USB receiver dongle with a 2.4 GHz wireless connection. It runs on two AA batteries, with a life of up to four months.

So if you're looking for that tactile tablet experience on your desktop, check out the Logitech Wireless Touchpad for around $49.

See my Portable Accessories Gallery for more on PC and portable accessories.

Find the Logitech Wireless Touchpad on

November 4, 2011

Amazon Prime Members Can Now "Borrow" Books for Free on Kindle

Amazon has enhanced its Prime program, now for book readers as well as video enthusiasts -- Prime members now can "borrow" books for free to read on their Kindle devices, as part of the Kindle Owners' Lending Library.

Amazon Prime membership costs $79 a year. The initial attraction for Amazon customers is the free two-day shipping on millions of items (but not all items, and not the Amazon Marketplace), with no minimum order size.

For video fans, Prime instant videos also offers unlimited, commercial-free, instant streaming of over 10,000 movies and TV shows via Amazon Instant Video. Just log in to Amazon and click "Watch now" to begin viewing.

And now Kindle owners can "borrow" one book for free each month from over 5,000 titles, including more than 100 current and former New York Times Bestsellers.

On your Kindle, browse the Kindle Owners' Lending Library under "See all categories" in the Kindle store. Eligible titles display the Prime badge in the search results, and have a Borrow for Free button on the detail pages in the Kindle Store.

You can read a borrowed book on multiple Kindle devices (of any generation) registered to the same account, but it cannot be read on Kindle reading apps. There is no due date -- You can borrow one book per calendar month, and must return the previous book before borrowing the next (follow the prompts when you borrow your next book, or check under Manage Your Kindle).

You can try out Amazon Prime by signing up for a one month free trial.

See my Handheld Devices Gallery for more on the Amazon Kindle line and other E-Book readers.

Find the Amazon Kindle and Amazon Kindle Touch on

December 15, 2011

Speck PixelSkin and CandyShell Cases

Do you cover your portable devices, from smartphones to tablets to portable hard drives? These devices are getting tougher, with more scratch-resistant (and fingerprint-resistant) screens. And Apple has the cool Smart Cover for the iPad that snaps on magnetically to protect the screen.

But there are still good reasons for using a protective case, from soft rubberized covers to provide some help when knocking around in a pocket or bag (and to provide a more secure grip), to hard shells for added security with rougher use.

There are zillions of cases out there, but Speck has a particularly nice variety of smart and playful designs.

The Speck PixelSkin is a soft protective silicon case with a pixilated raised grid design for a good grip (see earlier post). It's joined by the more rigid PixelSkin HD with a higher contrast texture.

The PixelSkin for the iPhone 4 / 4s is $24.95, the PixelSkin HD $29.95 for the iPhone 4 / 4s and the PixelSkin HD Wrap for the iPad 2 is $49.95.

The Speck CandyShell is a hard case with extra protection from rubberized corners and inner rubbery lining (see earlier post).

The CandyShell Wrap for iPad 2 ($54.95) provided hard-shell protection, with a removable cover. The case is co-molded with the hard polycarbonate plastic shell and soft rubber insides. It protects the back and sides, including rubberized covers over the buttons. And it has a flip-out panel on the bottom for use with dock or keyboard.

The front cover stays closed with micro-suction, and folds to serve as a multi-position viewing and typing stand -- or you can remove the cover by sliding it out for intensive use.

For more cases from the last CES show, see iPad Cases for 2011

Find the Speck PixelSkin HD for iPhone and
CandyShell Wrap for iPad on

November 13, 2011

Kensington AbsolutePower Laptop, Phone, and Tablet Charger

The good news for powering your various portable devices is that most smaller devices now use standard microUSB and USB interfaces for power as well as data, from tiny Bluetooth headsets to smartphones and tablets (see earlier post). So you can power them from your computer while you're transferring data, or use USB AC wall adapters. Unfortunately, it's not quite that easy, as not all USB power connections are the same -- so you need to use the appropriate more sophisticated adapters for the iPad and other more complex devices.

The last outpost of custom power connectors is laptops, so any universal charging solution still needs to come with a collection of tips for different manufacturers.

The Kensington AbsolutePower Laptop, Phone, and Tablet Charger is particularly light and flexible, at 4.3 x 2.75 x 0.73 inches and only 8 ounces. The flexibility comes from the included tips to power laptops from ten different manufacturers. You can also switch between 19 and 16 volts, depending on the needs of your devices.

Plus, it includes two built-in USB power ports, one USB and one microUSB, which supply 2.1 Amps to charge tablets and phones, including the iPad & iPhone.

The AbsolutePower unit puts out 100 watts peak, which can support triple charging a (not too demanding) laptop plus two additional USB devices.

This is a surprisingly light universal laptop charger with the bonus simultaneous USB ports, with the right juice for the iPhone and iPad. It's built with a textured scratch-resistant finish, and is available for around $106.

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for more on portable chargers

And see my Holiday Gadgets 2011: Portable and Wireless feature for more on these and other holiday goodies.

Find the Kensington AbsolutePower Charger on

December 3, 2011

Energizer Flameless Candles

LED lighting has really taken over, from bright flashlights (see earlier post) to Christmas string lights. LED provides bright light without heat, uses less energy, and lasts longer.

Or LEDs can be dimmer and flickering, as in the new Energizer Flameless Candle line. These have integrated candle and holder, with 4-inch and 6-inch sizes, in the Glas rounded design and Edge more contemporary square look.

These provide a warm glow with a realistic flickering effect -- a gentle flicker, not anything dramatic -- with no flame, no soot, wax, or smoke.

The Flameless Candles are powered by three AA batteries, and last up to 300 hours, although there's an automatic timeout to turn off after 4 hours. The lights are hidden in the base, so there are no fake wicks or visible bulbs.

The Glas candles are available for around $17 in the 4-inch height, and $18 for the 6-inch.

See my Portable Power Accessories Gallery for more details.

    Find the Energizer Glas Flameless Candle on

November 15, 2011

Holiday Gadgets 2011

It's time for my annual holiday gadgets review, and this year it's all about portable and wireless, smartphones to tablets to e-readers -- especially with the ongoing momentum of the Apple iPad, the impressive continued demand for the new Apple iPhone 4S, and the strong pre-orders for the just-released Amazon Kindle Fire tablet.

For a preview of the holiday shopping season, the Consumer Electronics Association has released its annual Holiday Purchase Patterns study. The CEA sees modest growth in total consumer spending for the holidays ($1478 per household, up 5% from last year), and slightly stronger growth in the percentage going to CE products ($246, or 32% of the holiday total).

It's clear that portability dominates in the CEA study, as the #1 product that adults would like to receive is tablets (14%), followed by notebooks (11%).

Then come TVs (6%) and video game consoles (5%) for the home, followed by other portable devices -- e-readers (5%), MP3 players (3%), and smartphones (2%). That's a clear message on the hot topics for the holidays.

My annual Holiday High Tech Gift Guide 2011 is in this week's U.S.1 Newspaper (or see the full issue in PDF).

Then I'll be doing a series of Holiday Gadgets and Gifts talks in the Princeton area (see talks schedule), starting with the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce this week, and back at the Computer Learning Center at Ewing and the Hopewell Public Library next month.

The content of the talk, with the products that I'll be demoing, is now posted as this year's article -- Holiday Gadgets 2011: Portable and Wireless

(Illustrations: Apple iPhone 4S, Amazon Kindle Fire tablet)

Find the Amazon Kindle Fire on

November 24, 2011

The Amazon Kindle Fire Tablet as an E-Viewer

The Amazon Kindle Fire tablet is an intriguing product -- a 7-inch color touchscreen Android tablet for only $199! (Kindle the fire, get it?)

What Amazon has done is to create what I would call a spectacularly adequate tablet -- It adequately performs general tablet functions like e-mail and web browsing on the paperback-size display, but is clearly focused on delivering (and selling) media and entertainment. The result is a spectacularly great deal at, did I mention, $199.

The Fire is cost-reduced by stripping away all the nice-to-have but ultimately non-critical features, including Bluetooth and 3G wireless, cameras and microphone, GPS and sensors, physical home and volume controls, expansion memory (with only 8 GB of memory built in), and common apps like calendar and chat.

If you think of the Kindle and other e-readers as stripped down tablets focused only on downloading and reading books for people who like to read, you can see the Kindle Fire as a similar device focused tightly on serving as the gateway to consuming a broader range of media -- It's an e-viewer, for people who are interested in viewing.

You can see this focus in the design of the home screen of the Fire. In other tablets, all functions are performed through apps, and all apps are (mostly) equal -- you access video or music or books or e-mail or web or any other app in the same way, by tapping on the icon. And you customize your home screens by re-arranging the icons as you want them.

Instead, on the Fire the media consumption elements are placed front and center, to dominate the home screen and relegate everything else to second rank.

The home screen has a horizontal menu of the key built-in media types across the top -- Newsstand, Books, Music, and Video, plus Docs, Apps, and Web. These are not apps listed on the Apps page, these are hard-coded built-in functions, which link directly to the associated Amazon stores and cloud services.

Everything else (the non-Amazon and non-monetized stuff, from e-mail to photos), is then relegated to access via apps.

The Kindle Fire really is spectacularly adequate, smartly designed to fit its purpose as an e-viewer for Amazon-supplied content, with some nods to more general tablet functions like web and e-mail.

If you want the flexibility of a more general tablet, then you should step up to the Apple iPad, or consider some of the other Android tablets, including the Barnes & Noble NOOK Tablet.

Find the Amazon Kindle Fire on

December 22, 2011

Updating Kindle Fire Complaints

Amazon has released an upgrade to the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, Update 6.2.1, saying it "enhances fluidity and performance, improves touch navigation responsiveness, gives you the option to choose which items display on the carousel, and adds the ability to add a password lock on Wi-Fi access."

There have been a variety of complaints about the Kindle, highlighted in particular by a recent article in the NY Times: As Kindle Fire Faces Critics, Remedies Are Promised (12/11/11) -- note the URL reflects the apparent original title, "amazons-fire-some-say-may-become-the-edsel-of-tablets.html", which is seriously overblown.

The listed complaints include: "there is no external volume control. The off switch [on the bottom] is easy to hit by accident. Web pages take a long time to load. There is no privacy on the device; a spouse or child who picks it up will instantly know everything you have been doing [especially in the home screen Carousel]. The touch screen is frequently hesitant and sometimes downright balky."

On the other hand, the Fire is an impressively adequate tablet for its $199 price (see earlier post) ...

Yes, the Fire was a tad sluggish in responding to touch input, and the new update does make it snappier. David Pogue in the Times applauds the improvements, and lists his remaining key issues.

And, yes, it would be nice to have a whole bunch of additional features at the same price -- including physical volume controls (to shush it when you get a phone call), Bluetooth, GPS, and camera / microphone.

But some of these complaints are a tad silly. For example, if you don't like the power button on the bottom, just flip the Kindle upside down -- the screen flips around to match whatever orientation you choose, and the design is a blank slate with no other buttons or controls that require a particular orientation. (Note, for example, that the iPhone doesn't do this -- the home screen and Settings are locked into portrait mode with the physical button below, and while Mail will flip into landscape orientation it will not flip upside down.)

And the new update addresses the "privacy" complaint by allowing you to remove items in the home screen Carousel display of your most recently used apps (and media and web pages) -- just press and hold, then select Remove so others can't see what you were recently doing.

But note that the home screen is the least of your problems if you're seriously concerned with privacy, since your Fire is tightly linked to your Amazon account (just as your iPad is linked to your Apple account). Looking at your phone or tablet exposes a lot more about your personal purchases and collections of books, music, video, apps, documents, and Web bookmarks -- plus other customized settings in your apps, including stored logins to various sites like Facebook. Loaning a personalized tablet or smartphone is like loaning a laptop -- you're going to expose a lot of personal data, especially with links to on-line accounts and storage.

Another concern about the Fire is that it has limited storage (8 GB, with only around 1 GB for user data). The Fire is instead designed to off-load the need for local storage by accessing content via the on-line cloud.

Others may object to the limited selection of apps, which are officially available only though the Amazon Android store, so many of the Google apps are not available, including Google Maps and syncing with online Gmail, Calendar, and Contacts.

Interestingly, however, there is a work-around for this, described by a PC Mag article on How To Run Almost Any Android App On the Kindle Fire. You can back up Android apps on other devices using apps like Astro File Manager, transfer the resulting APK files by USB to your computer and then to the Fire, and then restore and install them on the Fire with the Easy Installer app. This seems to work with a variety of apps, although not those requiring a Google login. For example, you can run Google Maps on the Android, and even cache files (download map regions for off-line use), but you can't log in to save preferences.

A final perspective on the Fire comes from usability expert Jakob Nielsen's Kindle Fire Usability Findings, which is focused on the importance of updating and optimizing applications for the new 7-inch screen size (compared to smaller 3.5" phones and larger 9.7" full-size tablets). His summary is that "Mobile web sites work best on the 7-inch tablet. Users had great trouble touching the correct items on full sites, where UI elements are too small on the Fire screen."

The bottom line is that the Fire is targeted to casual users interested in keeping in touch with Web and email, and in enjoying media content -- especially for accessing Amazon content across PCs, the Fire, and other portable devices. It's not an iPad, nor is it priced in that category, but it's a tremendously attractive device for its intended use.

Find the Amazon Kindle Fire on

More on Getting the Kindle Fire Update...

Continue reading "Updating Kindle Fire Complaints" »

December 30, 2011

Plantronics Voyager PRO HD Bluetooth Headset

It's inexorable -- computing power is cramming into smaller and smaller devices, as our tools become more and more intelligent and connected. We now expect smartphones to deliver serious computing power and capacity for running rather interesting apps. And now the same kinds of features and even programmability are coming to Bluetooth headsets.

For example, the Plantronics Voyager PRO HD Bluetooth headset has voice prompts, automatically picks up a call when it senses it is put on your ear, and supports the Plantronics MyHeadset apps to update and customize its functions.

The Voyager PRO HD is the latest iteration of this well-established over-the-ear design (see earlier post). It rests comfortably on your ear, so it's particularly good for extended use, whether moving around at the office or in the car.

The new "HD" designation refers to support for high-quality streaming audio -- With a Bluetooth wireless connection to today's smartphones, you may find yourself spending much more time listening to audio playback then you do talking on the phone.

Bluetooth also provides control signals between the headset and the phone, so you can press the buttons to play or mute the music, answer a call, transfer the call between the phone and the headset, and even activate voice dialing (or the Siri intelligent personal assistant on the iPhone 4S). The Voyager also displays a battery meter on the iPhone or Android 3.0+ display.

The addition of voice prompts is also quite helpful -- they are much better than trying to count beeps or track tones in order to check the headset power level / talk time, or to confirm the volume level or Bluetooth connection.

But the coolest intelligence in the Voyager PRO HD is the Smart Sensor technology that senses if the headset is being worn, or has been placed on your ear or taken off the ear. For phone calls, it can answer a call when you put on your ear, and send the voice back to the phone if you take it off. Or when you're playing streaming audio, it can pause the music when taken off, and restart when you put it back on your ear. This is impressive stuff -- it doesn't always work, but it works well enough to be quite useful.

Finally, apps are coming to Bluetooth headsets. Instead of having to load a new ROM to add new features, or tap secret button sequences to change settings, you can simply download new apps to modify the built-in functionality.

The Plantronics MyHeadset apps are available for Andoid, iPhone, and Blackberry. You can change settings including the language, sensors, or streaming audio. And you can download apps including InstantMeeting for one-touch connection to conference calls from your calendar and the Plantronics Vocalyst service for voice-controlled actions and information (something like Apple's Siri).

So the Plantronics Voyager PRO HD is a welcome update to this venerable product. It's available for under $99 for more comfortable use when talking -- and listening.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

And see my Holiday Gadgets 2011: Portable and Wireless feature for more on Bluetooth headsets and other holiday goodies.

Find the Plantronics Voyager PRO HD headset on

January 6, 2012

Jabra SPORT Bluetooth Stereo Headset

Bluetooth is great for voice when talking on your mobile phone with headsets like the Plantronics Voyager PRO HD (see earlier post), and works nicely for wireless peripherals to use a mouse or keyboard with your laptop or tablet.

But more and more Bluetooth is for music. At home you can go wireless with products like the Logitech Wireless Boombox (see post) or Logitech Wireless Headset (see post).

So when you find yourself using your smartphone more as a music player than as a phone, then there's an obvious flaw with using a tiny Bluetooth headset in one ear to listen to two-channel stereo music.

You can plug in wired earphones to enjoy your music when you're travelling or exercising, but they're clumsy to juggle between music and calls.

Instead, check out the Jabra SPORT Bluetooth stereo headset, with a pair of earpieces that fit comfortably behind the ear, especially while you're in motion and sweating.

The two earpieces are connected by a cord that runs behind your head, but the connection to your smartphone (or other media player) is Bluetooth wireless, so you can play music, with volume and skip controls, and switch over to pick up phone calls.

For playing streaming music, the SPORT features bass boost and Virtual Surround Sound audio enhancement. It also includes a built-in FM radio with auto-search, although you'll probably want to set it to one favorite station since skipping manually through stations without any visual feedback can be painful.

And the SPORT is designed for workouts, with U.S. military grade rain, dust and shock protection and a wind-shielded microphone.

It also includes a free download of the Endomondo Sports Tracker app that work with iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry smartphones as a motivational tool for running, updating your speed, distance, and times with GPS tracking.

The Jabra SPORT Bluetooth stereo headset is available for around $99, and the companion non-wireless SPORT-CORDED stereo headset is around $69. No sweat.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

And see my Holiday Gadgets 2011: Portable and Wireless feature for more on Bluetooth headsets and other holiday goodies.

Find the Jabra SPORT headset on

January 21, 2012

Newer Tech NuTouch Gloves to Touch in the Cold

Baby it's cold outside -- But when you're wearing your mittens you can't control your iPhone or even answer a call. Today's touchscreens use capacitive screens, which detect your finger because your body is an electrical conductor.

But mittens and gloves are insulators, so the screen does not respond when you're wearing them. The answer, then, is to weave conductive tread into the fingers of your gloves.

For example, the Newer Tech NuTouch Gloves have conductive fiber woven into all ten fingertips -- and all around the finger, not just for the finger pad.

You then can freely use your touch screen devices in the cold, and tap, swipe, scroll, and type with the tip or side of any finger.

The NuTouch gloves are made from a soft cotton mix (52% cotton), and are relatively thin, so you also can use as liners with heavier gloves.

They're available in a charcoal color for $19.99 ($13 street), sized from small to extra large.

See my article on Portable Accessories 2012 for more on portable audio, portable power, and cases.

Find the Newer Tech NuTouch Gloves on

February 4, 2012

Toddy Gear Smart Cleaning Cloth

Icky-poo! Smudges and smears, fingers and grime on our beautiful touchscreen devices.

What to do? You don't want to just wipe them with your shirtsleeve, or put them in the washer.

There are nice microfiber cloths for cleaning lenses, but the Toddy Gear Smart Cloth line goes a couple steps further.

One side is a more coarse plush microfiber material to attack the grime, and the other is a smooth patterned silk microfiber for the final buffing.

Plus, the Toddy cloths have an antimicrobial coating to protect you and the cloth from the spread of those icky germs and bacteria. They're also machine washable.

These are available in a variety of vibrant designs and patterns, with 5x7" cloths for $9.99, and 9x9 for $14.99.

See my article on Portable Accessories 2012 for more on portable audio, portable power, and cases.

Find the Toddy Gear Smart Cloth on

February 6, 2012

Wrapsol Non-slip Grip Pad for Tablets

The Apple iPad is a wonderful tool -- Just turn it on and off you go.

But sometimes a full-size tablet can be tricky to get comfortable with, when you are leaning it on your legs, or trying to prop it up on a table. You can try various supports or stands, but sometimes the simplest solution also can be the most elegant.

In this case, the simple answer is the new Wrapsol Non-slip Grip Pad, an elongated oval of gripping material that you can attach to the back of your iPad for a more secure hold.

The micro-textured material then holds your tablet in place, so it won't slip on your legs, and stays in place when positioned on slanted surfaces.

The Grip Pad is $14.95 for the iPad and other large tablets (8.25 x 3.75 inches), or you can trim it to fit other devices.

See my article on Portable Accessories 2012 for more on portable audio, portable power, cases, and other goodies.

February 17, 2012

Qmadix 3-in-1 USB Retractable Charging/Sync Cable

The good news is that most of our portable gadgets now use USB connectors for both data connections and charging, which means we don't need to worry about keeping track of device-specific cables and connectors.

But that still leaves us with three connectors to carry around -- microUSB, typically used for small devices including USB headsets and Android phones, miniUSB, typically used for slightly larger devices such as digital cameras and external batteries, and, of course, the Apple dock connector for iPods, iPads, and iPhones.

Or you can use just one cable, the Qmadix 3-in-1 USB Retractable Charging/Sync Cable.

This is a USB cable at one end, with three interlocking connectors at the other: miniUSB, microUSB, and Apple.

The pieces all nest together to bring power out to the Apple connector, or they can unplug and swivel to the side to access the micro or mini USB connectors.

As a bonus, the cable also is retractable for storage, or extend it to the full 2 1/3 feet as needed to charge or sync your device.

So if you find yourself with managing or carrying too many cables, the Qmadix 3-in-1 Cable is a nice answer to simplify the problem. It's available for around $24.

See my Portable Accessories 2012 article for more on portable storage, audio, power, cases, imaging, and other accessories.

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February 24, 2012

Mohzy Loop Fashion USB Cable

You may think of USB cables as functional and not fashion, but the Mohzy Loop USB Cable may change your mind.

The cables are flat and come in a variety of bright colors and patterns. The flat design is easier to carry and store, and doesn't tangle.

The ends are magnetic, so they snap together so you can clip it on a bag or wear it as a wristband. Or you can use the cable to clip papers up on your cubicle or fridge.

The base cable connects USB to microUSB so you can use it with smartphones, Bluetooth headsets, and other devices. Mohzy also includes a microUSB to Apple adapter so you use it with your iPhone, iPod, and iPad devices.

The Mohzy Loop is a clever approach for a easily portable cable. It's available by international order for around $12. Between this and the Qmadix 3-in-1 Cable (see previous post), you can see the broad range of creative ideas even for basic cables.

See my Portable Accessories 2012 article for more on portable storage, audio, power, cases, imaging, and other accessories.

March 14, 2012

Dexim Visible Green Animated Cables and Chargers

Dexim has an impressive collection of accessories for the iPhone, iPod, and iPad, especially with power chargers and adapters/cables (see earlier post).

But the Dexim Visible Green product line goes beyond usefulness and practicality to add some flair.

These literally animate the charging process as the cable glows to indicate the power flowing to your device -- fast during the initial charge, slower as your device reaches capacity, and then stopping at full charge so you know your device is ready for use. How cool is that?

The Visible Green action is available in Charge & Sync Cables for Apple or microSD (around $19), and bundled with Chargers (around $34 to $39).

So power up your devices with a little extra motion and flair.

See my Portable Accessories 2012 article for more on portable storage, audio, power, cases, imaging, and other accessories.

Find the Dexim Visible Green Charger on

March 18, 2012

G-Form Extreme Cases for iPhone / iPad

You know those flexible turtle-shell-like pads that bikers and skateboarders wear to protect their knees and elbows from the ravages of extreme sports? So, if they are good enough to shield your skin and bones, wouldn't they be good for protecting your electric devices?

This is what the G-Form Extreme line of cases has done, extending from body guards to protective sleeves and portfolios for the iPhone and iPad.

The G-Form material is designed to stiffen on impact, and absorb over 90% of the energy when you (or your device) take a hit. Yet it's soft and flexible, so it can flex with your body or conform to your phone or tablet.

To prove the point, G-Form has a collection of ridiculous videos for you to enjoy, including an iPhone surviving a hockey slap-shot, and iPad surviving a hit from a bowling ball, and,if you want a more extreme test, an iPad surviving a 100,000 foot fall from a balloon at edge of the atmosphere.

For sporting, G-Form offers a collection of body pads starting at around $49 up to full shirts and shorts ranging to $99.

And for your electronic gear, there's the iPhone case for $39, and the Extreme back wrap Edge, zippered Sleeve, and folding Portfolio for tablets ranging from the Kindle starting at $34 to the iPad and other 10" tablets up to $89.

These should make you more comfortable when transporting your devices in less gentle conditions, although it's still not a good idea to go around deliberately dropping them.

See my Portable Accessories 2012 article for more on portable storage, audio, power, cases, imaging, and other accessories.

March 21, 2012

iCat Lanyards for iPhone / iPod

If you use your iPhone a lot, you want it to be easily accessible -- like parked in a front pocket instead of buried in your pants pocket or in a bag. But keeping your phone within easy reach also exposes it to the risk of damage from slipping out when you're not looking.

The iCat Lanyards for iPhone and iPod use a clever design that lets you hang your device securely around your neck or wrist or on your belt so it's close at hand.

The simple idea is to take advantage of the standard Apple connector. You already have experience with how some connectors hold very tight and need to be pressed to release, while others are very loose. The iCat products simply clamp extra tight within the metal edges of the connector on your phone or player, so your device can hang securely.

You can choose from a variety of iCat designs with detachable buckles and in a profusion of colors for around $24, including the Wrist It with adjustable slider, the Hang It with carabiner for belt loops, purses or backpacks, and the Neck It nylon rope lanyard.

And if you're still queasy about leaving your iPhone dangling, you can still use these as anchors to more safely secure your phone in a pocket or bag.

Find the iCat Lanyards on

April 9, 2012

TRTLBOT TRTL Stand iPhone Case

We often think of cases for our mobile devices in terms of protection -- from scratches and drops. But you may not be inflicting hostile actions on your device, but instead may be more interested in using it as a communicator and and a viewer, for exploring the web and social media sites, and for enjoying media clips and longer-form movies.

When your focus is experiencing, rather than protecting, a case can serve multiple purposes, especially as a stand for propping up your device so you (and others) can view it hands-off.

This is the simple design idea behind the TRTLBOT TRTL Stand for the iPhone 4 / 4S.

The case snaps on the back of your iPhone, and has a built-in pop-out bottom stand that can hold your device in three positions: portrait (for FaceTime video), landscape (for watching videos), and tripod (vertical for timer photos).

The TRTL Stand is made from recycled plastic bottles, and is available for around $24 in five colors.

TRTLBOT also offers the KidSafe iPhone case which flips around to block the Home button for around $24, and the Minimalist case with pop-out bottom slot for credit cards for $29.

See my Portable Accessories 2012 article for more on portable storage, audio, power, cases, imaging, and other accessories.

Find the TRTLBOT TRTL Stand iPhone Case on

May 7, 2012

Just Mobile Slide Elegant iPad Stand

Just Mobile has a fascinating collection of accessories for portable devices that they view as "design objects." These include stands and chargers and styluses.

The Just Mobile Slide is a beautiful example of this approach -- simple, elegant, and functional.

The Slide is a stand for your iPad, striped to basics. It's made from a single piece of high-grade aluminum, with a cylindrical support at one end, which flows into a flat surface, with a lip at the other end to hold your tablet.

The magic comes from a rubber cylinder stowed in the tubular support, which you pull out and roll down the surface to position your iPad at the desired viewing angle.

The base is only around 5 x 3 1/2 inches, but with the solid metal construction and friction from the rubber cylinder it can hold the iPad firmly, and in both portrait and landscape positions.

The Slide is indeed a crafted design object, and is available for around $34.

See my Portable Accessories 2012 article for more on portable storage, audio, power, cases, imaging, and other accessories.

Find the Just Mobile Slide on

May 11, 2012

Just Mobile AluPen Pro Stylus & Pen

Fingers are great for sliding and flicking and picking, but when you want to do some more extensive or precise work (or really go to town in Draw Something), a stylus can be a real help.

But the stylus needs to be comfortable to hold and manipulate -- not too small or light or slippery.

So Just Mobile has another interesting and elegant design idea to offer (see previous post) -- the Just Mobile AluPen Pro Stylus & Pen.

The AluPen is made from aluminum, with a soft rubber stylus for the iPad and other capacitive touch screens. Its chunky design provides the bulk to hold comfortably and securely, like a solid pen.

The AluPen stylus is available in a range of bright colors for around $18. Or the AluPen Pro is a combination stylus and pen, including a retractable Pelikan ballpoint with twist mechanism for around $36 in silver or black.

After all, you don't always need a stylus when using your iPad, but when you do, doesn't it make sense to use a special tool for the job?

See my Portable Accessories 2012 article for more on portable storage, audio, power, cases, imaging, and other accessories.

Find the Just Mobile AluPen on

May 22, 2012

Yurbuds Ironman Inspire PRO Sport Earphones

Yurbuds makes "Performance Fit Sport Earphones," with product packaging featuring sweaty triathloners. In particular, the bright red Yurbuds Ironman Inspire PRO earphones are definitely not low profile, with a rather bulky and ungainly look featuring a swoop design that twists into your ear.

While at first glance this design might make sense only to help hold the earbuds secure for active use, the Yurbuds turn out to be amazing comfortable for extended wear, and with bright and clear sound. They're made from medical grade silicon that's rugged but flexible, with an extended 4 foot Kevlar cable, and are water-resistant and sweat proof.

Plus they include an in-line microphone and three control buttons, so you can adjust the volume, start and stop music, and switch to hands-free calls.

You insert the Yurbuds with a twisting motion to fit the scoop into the ear canal. It then rests comfortably and fits securely without requiring a tight fit, and still allowing ambient noise in from your surroundings.

The scoop delivers clear sound deeper into your ears, for clearer playback and very clear phone calls, although it's a bit disconcerting to apparently hear the other party speaking so crisply from the center of your head.

The Yurbuds are also great for listening to podcasts, although the clear sound does mean you hear more of the background sounds during less well-produced recordings.

The bottom line is that the Yurbuds Ironman Inspire PRO Earphones are a great fit for sports, and beyond, combining a rugged design and secure fit with great acoustics and surprising comfort. They're available for around $49, along with other related models.

Find the Yurbuds Sport Earphones on

June 4, 2012

NewerTech Power2U AC Wall Outlet with USB Charging Ports

Our gadgets may be wireless and mobile, but after being out and about all day they still need to come home and plug in to a USB cable in order to recharge for their next adventure.

As a result, your home starts to get cluttered with USB power adapters, hanging from the kitchen wall, or an extension cord by the TV, squeezed into a power strip by the computer, or crammed onto the bedroom table.

What's wrong with this picture? We already have perfectly good power outlets in every room of our homes. So why not leverage your existing electrical wiring to add USB power?

This is the head-smacking sensibleness of the NewerTech Power2U AC Wall Outlet, which augments the standard pair of 3-prong AC outlets with two integrated USB ports.

The Power2U outlet charges devices from MP3 players to digital cameras, and from the iPhone and other smartphones up to the iPad and tablets.

It uses standard USB cables, including the one that came with your device, and has a Smart Power design that outputs the charging power level required by the attached device.

The outlets are UL listed, and include spring-loaded safety shutters to cover the USB connector and turn USB power off when the cable is removed.

Again, this is an in-wall AC electrical receptacle, and installs on standard 15 Amp circuits with at least a 16 cubic inch electrical box.

The NewerTech Power2U AC Wall Outlet is available for around $29, and is available in colors to match existing installations (white, light almond, ivory, and black).

Find the NewerTech Power2U Outlet on

June 10, 2012

Just Mobile Gum Plus - Portable Battery for iPhone / iPad

I've written about several mobile accessories from Just Mobile, including the AluPen Pro Stylus and the Slide iPad Stand, both with the trademark "design objects" look and feel of solid metal.

But the Just Mobile line also includes power accessories, including car chargers and the Gum line of portable batteries in rounded solid aluminum cases.

These include the thumb-sized Gum compact charger with 2200 mAh capacity, the Gum Pro with 4400 mAh (around $55), and the bulkier Gum Max for tablets with 10,400 mAh (around $90).

But the newly-updated Gum Plus provides a nice balance of relatively compact size with high capacity suitable for charging iPads and tablets in addition to iPhones and smartphones.

(The stats: It's 3.1 x 2.3 x 0.9 in., with 5.200 mAh capacity (up from 4400) and 2.1A current output. The case has 5 LED lights to display the power level.)

These batteries have two USB connectors -- they charge your devices from a standard USB connector (i.e., using the cable that came with your device), and then recharge the battery through a separate miniUSB connector.

The Gum Plus (new version) is now available for around $74, in silver, black, red, and titanium.

Find the Just Mobile Gum Plus on

July 5, 2012

LOKSAK - Better Resealable Plastic Bags

From Park City, Utah comes another great example of American ingenuity and entrepreneurship -- LOKSAK resealable plastic bags.

Well, duh, you think -- What's new with that?

Interestingly, there is indeed a place for something as apparently prosaic as a better plastic bag.

These are resealable element-proof storage bags with a patented leakproof / airtight seal. The hermetic seal keeps out water, air, dust and humidity -- so the bags are certified waterproof to 60 meters / 200 feet.

The bags are tougher too, made from medical-grade film, and puncture resistant. They're temperature rated from -40F to 140F. You even can pour boiling water into the bag to rehydrate or cook food, although you can't place it into boiling water.

As a result, you can use the LOKSAK bags for better kitchen storage, to keep food fresher, or to hold ice or moist wipes.

Plus they're also great to keep water and dust out -- for hikers or riders, or simply for a family day at the beach where you need to protect wallets and documents.

And, of course, the most interesting usage is to protect our electronic devices, from your phone out in the rain to your tablet with the kids in the kitchen. You can use these as normal through the bag, including working on the touchscreen.

LOKSAK now has four different lines of products:
- The original aLOKSAK resealable bags
- OPSAK odor-proof bags with a a new-generation barrier film
- SHIELDSAK R.F. shielded flexible fabric bags with to block electronic signals
- SPLASHSAK nylon carrying cases for neck, arm, and waist to pack the other bags

The aLOKSAK bags are available in sizes from 3 x 6 to 32 x 16 inches, starting at $7.59 for a three-pack. The TSA 9 x 6 in. three-pack is $9.49.

Find LOKSAK bags on

July 14, 2012

Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation Duo for Smartphones and Tablets

Power is still the weak point of our engagement with portable devices. It's great to be constantly checking e-mail, browsing the web, playing music, and watching streaming video -- but not so great when the baterry runs down before the end of the day.

Plus, today's devices require more power -- Smartphones like the iPhone use more than the smaller iPod media players, and the iPad and other tablets require more amps to recharge (stronger electrical charge), which result in larger external batteries.

To meet this need, and more, Mophie has extended its line of portable batteries with the new Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation Duo, which not only packs power for larger devices (6000 mAh, output up to 2.1 amps), but also features dual USB ports so you can charge two devices simultaneously.

It's best to charge a tablet like the iPad by itself, but you can charge two smartphones like the iPhone at the same time. Use the LED power level indicators to check the battery status as you charge.

The Powerstation Duo also has a microUSB port to recharge the internal battery, from a computer or an iPhone / iPad or compatible wall charger.

All this comes in a relatively small and lightweight package (around 4.3 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. and 1 lb.). The design also is nicely understated, with black soft-touch top and bottom surfaces and a stainless steel outer band.

The Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation Duo is available for around $99. The Juice Pack line also includes more compact models, for tablets and for smartphones, including a rugged version and several designs with built-in Apple connectors.

Find the Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation Duo on

July 22, 2012

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 QuietPoint Headphones Go To 95%

Noise-reduction headphones are now a common sight on airplanes, to reduce the stress from hours of droning noise from the engines and air systems. And noise reduction is not just for flying tubes -- it's also helpful in environments like offices or bookstores that still have irritating ambient noise from rustling people and the heating / cooling systems.

But while you need strong noise reduction for hostile environments, it can be too much for quieter situations. After all, active noise reduction works by canceling out the incoming sound by generating a signal that is its inverse. So you can feel the ear pressure from heavy processing in quieter environments.

Previous generation products like the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC7 QuietPoint Headphones offered active noise reduction up to 85%, with reduction up to 20 dB, which worked well as a balance between handling very strong and quieter background noise (see earlier post).

The new Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 QuietPoint Headphones significantly enhances the the noise reduction to 95%, which might seem to be overkill for environments other than airplanes.

But the new headphones also add the ability to toggle between three levels of cancellation, optimized for travel, work, and study:

  • Mode 1: For airplanes, trains, and buses -- Provides maximum noise cancellation to low frequencies -- 95% at 200 Hz, up to 30 dB
  • Mode 2: For noisy offices or crowded places -- Targets mid-range frequencies -- 95% at 300 Hz, up to 30 dB
  • Mode 3: For quiet environments like libraries -- For a more peaceful environment -- 85% at 200 Hz, up to 20 dB

Plus they also work in passive mode, with noise reduction turned off (i.e., even without the AAA battery installed). For very long trips, the noise reduction will run up to 35 hours with a lithium battery.

The ANC9 headphones include two different detachable cables, one with an inline omnidirectional microphone and controller for answering calls and controlling music. The solid carrying case also includes an airline adapter and stereo adapter.

They are designed with large earcups that surround your entire ear, with memory foam padding on the earcups and the headband. But the headphones still fold flat for travel, and weigh in at about 7.8 oz.

The headphones feature 40mm drivers for high fidelity. The sound is somewhat muted compared to other headphones, especially in passive mode, so you may want to adjust the volume accordingly.

The Audio-Technica ANC9 QuietPoint Headphones are priced at $349, and are available for around $265 (street price).

Find the Audio-Technica ATH-ANC9 Headphones on

July 28, 2012

HMDX Jam Bluetooth Portable Speaker

Wireless speakers are great fun -- They bring your music out from your smartphone (or tablet, or laptop), so you can enjoy and share the fuller sound.

But there's always a trade-off between larger (and more expensive) units for bigger and better sound, and staying small enough to be reasonably portable.

The HMDX Jam portable speaker fits nicely in a sweet spot, providing strong sound in a reasonably small package, about 2 1/2 inches in each dimension. At 9 1/2 ounces, the Jam won't travel in your pocket, but fits nicely in a bag or luggage.

It runs up to 4 hours wireless over Bluetooth, or 12 hours wired though the line in connection, and recharges through a microUSB connector.

Plus it's cute -- The jam theme is carried by the tapered cylindrical design, and by the packaging -- a plastic jam jar with screw-on lid.

And the Jam comes in delicious "flavors" -- apple (green), apricot (orange), blackberry (grey), blueberry (blue), grape (purple), and strawberry (red) -- and even include a whiff of the associated scent in the packaging.

The design is sturdy, with the speaker on top, and bottom weighted with a non-skid base so it sits solidly. The ring above the base includes the USB and audio connectors, battery and Bluetooth indicator lights, and small play/pause and volume buttons. (Play/pause stops and starts payback on your device, but the volume controls adjust the volume locally on the Jam -- relative to the current setting on your device.)

Oddly, the Jam plays irritatingly loud noises for power on (3 tones), and for Bluetooth connect / disconnect (beeps) -- and these apparently cannot be quieted or disabled.

But once it's set up, the Jam sweetly pumps out quite loud and good sound from a relatively portable package. They're available in your favorite flavor for around $40.

Find the HMDX Jam Portable Speaker on

August 3, 2012

House of Marley Jammin' Earphones

The House of Marley makes great-sounding and durable audio equipment, but what really stands out is the focus on earth-friendly designs in the tradition of Bob Marley, with a distinctive look based on natural wood, organic fabrics and recyclable metals.

The Marley line includes on-ear headphones and in-ear earphones for personal audio, home and portable speakers for sharing the music, plus a variety of functional carry bags. The audio products are organized into multiple lines, with the colorful and vibrant Jammin’ collection and the higher-end Freedom collection.

For example, the basic Smile Jamaica earphones are built with sapele and beech wood and recyclable aluminum, and deliver strong sound with an 8-mm driver.

These start at $29.99, and come in a range of bright colors -- yellow, red, pink, and turquoise.

(FYI, sapele is an African wood reminiscent of mahogany that also is used in guitars and other musical instruments. -- see Wikipedia)

In comparison, the higher-end Zion earphones pump up the sound with 9mm moving coil drivers, and come with a three-button Apple remote (for volume) and mic.

The Zion design combines sapele and maple woods. They are available for $99 in understated silver and black.

Both feature a 52" fabric cord that reduces tangles, with a gold-plated connector set at a right angle for a low profile.

Find the House of Marley Smile Jamaica
and Marley Zion earphones on

August 12, 2012

House of Marley Headphones

The line of earphones from The House of Marley shows the Marley emphasis on distinctive and earth-friendly design (see previous post).

Then the Marley headphone line provides a larger canvas for this theme, including lightweight padded headbands made from natural canvas, soft leather ear cushions to isolate outside sounds, plus recyclable aluminum housing accents and stainless steel.

For example, the basic Rebel headphones for $69.99 feature 40mm moving coiled drivers in the metallic earpieces.

The canvas headband has grommets along the outer edges, and comes in dubwise (white), midnight (black), and colorful rasta styles, with catchy designs on the underside and even in the earcups.

And the similar Revolution headphones start at $89.99, or add a three-button Apple controller for $99.99.

These bring strong styles to the headband and earcups, with midnight (black) and especially the revolution (camo) design. The earcups also fold for easier travel.

For other distinctive looks, check out the Exodus model with recycled wood headband ($149.99) and Stir It Up model with beech wood and tanned leather earcups ($199.99).

See also my summer update on gadgets -- Portable Accessories - Mid 2012 -- for more on Portable Video, Audio, Photo, Power, and Cases.

Find the House of Marley Rebel and
Revolution headphones on

August 26, 2012

SOL Republic - Tracks Interchangable Headphones

Headphones have evolved into a very interesting category for this holiday season. The technology is great (see earlier post) -- so the sound more and more becomes a matter of personal preference. But even more, the design options have proliferated (see earlier post) -- offering more variety to fit your personal style.

And some companies are going further, with configurable designs that let you more fully customize your own look.

The new SOL Republic Tracks headphones take this approach up to 11 -- with separate interchangeable headbands, pairs of ear speakers, and cables, available in a variety of colors to mix and match.

You start with the FlexTech headbands, available in an array of colors: red, white, black, purple, grey, blue, orange, and pink. These have a very clean look -- a simple polymer curve with a soft cushion in the top. They're strong enough to hold securely on your ears, but also highly flexible and even bend and twist, so you don't have to worry about damaging them. The headbands are available individually for $29.99.

Then add the Sound Engine ear speakers, which slide onto the ends of the headband so you can adjust them to fit your ears. SOL Republic offers two options for the speakers: the V8 model in black for $69.99, with "deep bass and high clarity," or step up to the V10 model in chrome for $89.99, with "deeper bass, higher vocal clarity, and crisp vocals."

Finally, plug in your choice of ClearTalk cables to match (or compliment) the headband. These are available in the same eight colors for $19.99, including a mic and single-button controller.

Since you probably want all three components together, you can buy a complete Tracks headset with V8 speaker for $99.99, or the Tracks HD with V10 speaker for $129.99. These include a three-button remote.

With the component design, you even can remove the speakers and use them independently as portable speakers.

So pick your color -- or colors -- and speaker styles, and enjoy the music your way.

See also my summer update on gadgets -- Portable Accessories - Mid 2012 -- for more on portable devices and accessories.

Find the SOL Republic Tracks headphones on