Monthly Archive for August, 2008

One-minute review: The Kangaroom Bamboo Laptop Stand and Charging Station

You know there’s trouble ahead when a review starts with “I wanted to love this product.” I did want to love the The Kangaroom Bamboo Laptop Stand and Charging Station, but, overall, I don’t.

The love list: It’s bamboo, and beautiful to the touch. It’s reasonably wide, with room enough for my 13″ MacBook and Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000 (sort of), though it’s not exactly the best fit for my “Dave” Laptop Table by Ikea. The stand elevates my MacBook up a few extra inches, which provides less stress on my neck from angling my head downward all day. End of lovefest.

The don’t love list: The two so-called “docks” for gadgets are just recessed pockets with holes in the bottoms for cables and are not big enough accommodate my re-tooled iPhone Bluetooth Headset charging dock. That there are two of them means there’s less space on the right for my mouse hand. The company’s suggestion to hide a power strip underneath the stand and is fair enough, but because there’s no base to the stand the power strip and cables are left hanging when you lift the stand up. Worse, no base means you can’t comfortable rest the stand in your lap while sitting on the sofa.

As it stands the Kangaroom Bamboo Laptop Stand is definitely attractive at first glance, but unfortunately its usefulness bottoms out the moment you lift it off the table.

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Scissor Sisters: Brother sewing machines go high-tech with touch screen and PC connection

brothersew.jpgBrother unveiled the C-Combo line of high-tech sewing and embroidery machines that come tricked out with a LCD touch screens and PC connectivity.

The company says it got its inspiration for the new-tech needlers by shows like “Project Runway,” and cites a study by the Home Sewing Association that the art of sewing has increased by 5-million people since 2000. Oh, Brother.

 

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One-minute review: Apple iPhone Bluetooth Headset sounds better second time around

In my quest to find the perfect Bluetooth headset I recently tried the Jawbone 2 but was less than satisfied with the results. Remembering the things I liked about Apple’s iPhone Bluetooth Headset that I owned (and promptly lost), I decided to buy another one. What I like most is how integrated the headset is – both the hardware and the user experience. Unfortunately the welcome price drop from $129 to $99 means Apple also dropped the bundled dual-purpose charging dock that accomodated both the iPhone and the headset. I still own my original dual dock, however the new 3G’s thicker base prevents it from fitting into the dock (though I managed to “fix” my old dual dock with a little chisel handiwork).

The Apple iPhone Bluetooth Headset still comes with the handy Travel Cable, which has a small recepticle for plugging in the magnetized headset contacts to charge both the iPhone and headset at the same time.

Like the original the headset automatically pairs with the iPhone the first time you connect them together, and the headset’s battery level appears in both locked mode and in the upper right status bar beside the battery meter. A very nice touch.

As with the original there’s no ear loop, so it’s one-size-fits-all or nothing if the headset won’t stay in your ear. It fits fine in mine, and this time around I’ll be sure to always cover the rubber ring around the earpiece to protect it from deteriorating the way my original headset did after just a few weeks of use.

And like the original there’s still only one button for turning the headset on and off and handling calls.

But unlike the original there’s one very important improvement that makes it possible for me to see past the headset’s weaknesses: It sounds great.

The louder, clearer sounds probably owes itself more to the iPhone 3G’s improved audio quality than the headset itself, but whatever the reason, I’m pleased with the improvement over my first one.

All told, I’ll take the all-in-one charging solution, tiny form-factor and ear loop-less design over any of the other headsets I’ve recently tried. Now if only the iPhone 3G’s battery life lasted longer would I’d actually care whether the iPhone Bluetooth Headset really offers the estimated 5.5 hoursof talk time Apple says it does.

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iPhone apps hit $30-million; Jobs confirms Apples power to hit “kill switch”

The Wall Street Journal today reports sales of iPhone and iPod touch apps via Apple’s iTunes Music Store hit $30-million last month, and wiley Chairman and CEO Steve Jobs publically acknowledge his company does in fact have to power to hit a “kill switch” to zap on users’ devices applications the company deems dangerous. I wrote about antivirus and antispyware protection for portable devices for Salon two weeks ago, on how protection for smartphones has been around for some time and recently Intego announced a half-assed means of protecting iPhones and iPod touches (not quite), but the kill switch definitely rates as the biggest Big Brother means of active eradication ever. Here on the home screen one minute, gone the next?

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iPhone 2.01 visual voicemail headset problem still can’t hear you now; Jawbone 2 retry sounds no better in spite of “experimental” buds

Two things to do with wireless audio. First, a number of iPhone users reported 2.0 devices paired with Bluetooth headsets worked fine on calls but they were unable to listen to visual voicemail messages via the headset, forcing them to dial in to their voicemail and listen to it the old fashioned way. My iPhone 3G had this problem with one headset, while it worked fine with a second headset – the Aliph Jawbone 2, which I reviewed for Salon’s Machinist column (giving it low marks for its underperforming noise-cancellation feature). Users are reporting the visual voicemail problem isn’t fixed with the iPhone 2.01 update; I’m unable to test because I don’t have a second headset handy.

As for the Jawbone 2, Aliph sent a second Jawbone 2 to try in case the first was defective, and also tossed in two “experimental” gel earbuds to try to see if they did a better job of keeping their Jawbone more firmly planted against mine. With the standard earbuds the NoiseAssassin was as ineffective as before while talking and walking my dog along lightly busy street traffic under low sea-breeze conditions. The test bud has an extended flange of sorts that makes plugging the headset into the ear awkward because of the loop, and though the extra-push it provided pressed the Jawbone 2 more firmly against my face, the sound quality was barely better, and the lightly yet still more forceful feel grew uncomfortable after 20 minutes of yapping. My only explanation: Maybe I need to work my jaw eating more junk food so my cheeks fill out to make the Jawbone 2′s job easier.

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One-minute review: Invisible Shield for iPhone 3G – third time’s a charm

Last year I wrote about the Invisible Shield screen protector for my original iPhone. As many point out the iPhone, iPod touch and new iPhone 3G’s hardened glass surface is scratch resistant.

But it’s not smear resistant, and that’s the real reason I dig the Invisible Shield. So I was thrilled when the company sent me the updated version, which fixes something that irked me about the first one: The open circle around the Home button.

The new one closes the circle for a nicer finish – and also introduces two new flaps at the top and bottom of the shield that totally buzz-killed my first and second attempts to achieve the kind of perfect fit I attained with the original.

The flaps overlap the top and bottom metal edges, with little spurs on either side to allow for the device’s curvature. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the top or bottom flaps to completely seal, and blister/bubbles appeared in both tries.

Frankly I don’t see the point of the flaps in the first place, and when another set arrived I trimmed off the flaps and spurs with a sharp chef’s knife, which allowed me to achieve a nearly perfect fit.

I say nearly because I didn’t quite trim enough from the top flap and some of it extended beyond the glass. I trimmed most of it off without removing the shield, and I’m happy with the final result.

As mentioned in my original review, the Invisible Shield gives the screen a “watery”-like finish that I personally prefer to pure glass, and the fact that I don’t see smears will have me recommend it – though I also recommend you trim those pesky flaps and spurs so you achieve a perfect fit the first time around.

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eReader 1.1 update for iPhone widens your virtual bookshelf


In my post for Salon’s Machinist column I wrote that eReader for the iPhone (and iPod touch) is a dream-come-true for me.

I’m pleased to see that FictionWise is sticking to its words to offer frequent updates and improvements to the program.

The first update offers the following enhancements:

eReader for iPhone and iPod touch version 1.1 includes the following new features:

  • The ability to download eReader PDB files from web sites other than eReader.com and Fictionwise.com, as well as personal content in eReader PDB format. For details see the Personal Content FAQ.
  • New options to: lock screen orientation, tap instead of swipe to turn pages, choose white text on black background, turn off page animation, and turn off full justification of text.
  • Ability to sort the on-device bookshelf by author, title, or download date.
  • Better error messages and several bug fixes.
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One-minute review: Griffin PowerDock 2 – brainless powerplay

This will take less than a minute. The Griffin PowerDock 2 allows you to charge two iPod or iPhone devices at the same time. That’s the good news – if that’s all you want. The bad news is there’s no USB connection. Deal-breaker for me because I want to charge and sync my iPhone 3G and iPod nano at the same time. End of story.

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Linux-based cellphones promise better personal security

A few days ago I wrote a post for Salon about programs to protect smartphones from viruses and malware, this story about Linux-based cellphones in today’s New York Times takes the conversation in a new and interesting direction. To wit:

Regarding security, the new phones will be able to identify their owners. If, by chance, a stranger uses the phone and requests downloads at odds with the owner’s profile, Mr. Gillis said the phone’s security feature will kick in and shut it down. Profile information would also make it easier for a consumer to find points of similar interest when they are traveling in, say, Barcelona or Kyoto.

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Ten iPhone 3G impressions: Good, bad and ugly features, faults and bugs

Ten off-the-cuff comments about the iPhone 3G after three weeks of day to day use, in order of brain-dump relevance:

1. Applications: The single most important improvement over the original, opening up the already amazing device to all manner of multiple-personality possibilities. My personal favorite is eReader, and others include PayPal and eBay and NY Times, while Facebook and iScopes represent two dedicated apps that are still better served by accessing mobile editions with Safari. Facebook app’s mobile pic upload is cool, yet status updates don’t appear, and iScopes requires a tap of the back button to select next horoscope category, whereas the Safari mobile edition has a Next button. But make no mistake – the iPhone 3G’s killer app is apps.

2. Speed bumps: The jump to 3G is a good thing. Browsing websites and auto-checking mail are now matter-of-fact processes, though the hit on battery life is evident with heavy usage.

3. Speed slowdowns: Overall the 3G feels slower than the original when switching applications or doing things like accessing contacts and checking SMS text messages. I’m guessing the ability to run multiple apps while running with Push turned on are causing the slowdown, though turning off Push didn’t seem to make much difference, so I’m interested to hear what others think.

4. GPS: Sweet and surprisingly accurate in my experience. No turn-by-turn navigation yet, but I expect it’s coming sooner than later. Ditto for a 3G version of Nike+, which I use on the nano, and am so looking forward to using with the 3G.

5. Cut and Paste: It’s still missing, and it’s still my number 1 wish-list item. While the new notepad app MagicPad demonstrates cut and paste is doable, I can’t understand why Apple is taking so long to bring such a basic feature found on every other smartphone in the world.

6. Notes: Still no sync with desktop app like Stickies or Outlook, which sucks.

7. Bluetooth: Problem accessing voicemail with certain headsets; one of mine worked as a headset but not when listening to voicemail, the other worked fine. Obviously a bug that will likely be addressed in update.

8. Sound: Louder and clearer speaker and speakerphone than the original, which is a very good thing, though strange bugs like no user interface sounds at times, which come back only after I connect and disconnect Bluetooth headset.

9. Contacts: Finally, the ability to do what every other cellphone has been able to do since creation: search contacts.

10. USB connector: Sucks that the new 3G doesn’t stand in my original iPhone dock, though the new shape and all-around fit, finish and feel in the hand are definitely more appealing than the first iPhone.

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