Gadgets :: September 19, 2018

by Gregg Ellman
(@greggellman)

Adaptive Sound Technologies’ LectroFan EVO is designed to be a dream come true for poor sleepers.

I’ve always had to fall asleep with a TV, radio or some sound playing in the bedroom.  Using a nighttime sound gadget like the LectroFan EVO has solved the problem. I’m not trying to play a sleep doctor, but I know what works for me and using a sound machine does the trick.

The desktop speaker has 22 unique digital sounds to neutralize unwanted noises; fan sounds, 10 white noises and two ocean surf sounds.

The hexagon-shaped speaker (4.4-by-2.2-by-4.4-inches) has a timer (30, 60, 90 or 120 minutes) and volume controls to adjust in 1dB increments from 10x quieter-10x louder than fan machines, according to the company’s website.

On the other side of my bed, I’m told my snoring is still heard but it’s drowned out and way less intrusive. I was also interested to read before testing the unit that it helps reduce startling noises, which diminishes pet anxiety. I have an older dog, and while she won’t discuss with me if the sleeping is better, she didn’t wake up during a recent rain storm, which very often she did in the past.

If you don’t want the sounds broadcast out loud, there’s an audio jack to connect other sound sources (not included) such as headphones or a pillow speaker.

The LectroFan is also good for office use, helping you focus on work tasks and keeping conversations easier to concentrate on with the elimination of background noises.

An AC adapter, USB source and travel case are included.

www.soundofsleep.com $59.95

Skylum software has introduced Photolemur 3.0 software to help consumers easily enhance images.

The software uses Artificial Intelligence with a simple drag and drop application to make adjustments almost instantly. This includes auto face enhancement, skin retouching, teeth whitening, skin and hair smoothing, sharpening, lens correction and exposure adjustments. There are 14 different AI technologies incorporated into the software, which makes the images instantly ready for social media.

The software analyzes the image and enhances each photo accordingly.

You can adjust up to 200 images simultaneously, which could help consumers who took more than 1.2 trillion photos in the U.S. alone last year, according to InfoTrends.

Photolemur 3.0 is available for Windows and Mac system for $99 with no annual subscription fees.

https://skylum.com

TravelPirates is a new app designed for those who are traveling the world and want to see it on a budget.

To make it unique, TravelPirates uses a combination of smart travel search technology and the human touch, resulting in low prices for destinations many consider unreachable on a fixed budget. This includes luxurious tropical getaways, trendy experiences, quick domestic city trips and even affordable private islands.

The free app is available for Android and iOS users and in a sleek user friendly interface, provides a feed of the latest and greatest travel deals. Everything is in real time,  created by the company’s team of internationally renowned deal hunters. This way you won’t be looking at anything expired while trying to plan a vacation for a month ahead.

Users can customize the deals based on their preferences, with filters to sort your destinations, departure locations and travel period. You can also get push notifications when a match becomes available.

In the booking section, you’ll see hotel and flight comparisons and a vacation booking engine, which allows users to secure deeply-discounted rates when booking a hotel bundled with a flight.

www.travelpirates.com 

Gadgets :: September 12, 2018

by Gregg Ellman
(@greggellman)

Surviving the cold at football games and other events will be a lot more comfortable and luxurious with the new Hot Seat from Pro Design.

The Kickstart campaign just started for what Pro Design calls the world’s first heated stadium chair. With USB-powered ThermaGridz technology, your bottom will stay cozy warm with the heat, which will penetrate deep into you.

According to Pro Design, ThermaGridz, uses low-voltage USB-powered heating, in  a grid pattern of single core wire wrapped around glass fiber and coated in silicone, which produces Far Infrared Ray heat.

With your portable USB battery (not included), you’ll stay warm for 1.2 hours with a 2500mAh battery or up to  7.25 hours with a 15,000mAh battery.

There are three temperature controls (high 115F, medium 110F and low 100F) and 600D fabric covers the chair to avoid any hot spots,

SoftTushion foam is built into the seat’s armrests and adjustable back for long-term weather with comfort even without the heat.  The welded steel-frame chair is 16 inches wide, but you can drop down the armrests for a larger 20.5-inch wide seat. An adjustable back is 16-inches and you get 16-inches of depth in the seat.

Other features include hidden pockets, which unfold from the armrests for items including smartphones or keys. There’s a larger 15-by-4-inch pocket on the back.

One of the hidden zipper pocket on the front of the left armrest also acts as a cup holder and the bottom of the chair is anti-slip and waterproof. After the game, it folds flat and has adjustable backpack straps.

Pricing starts on the campaign with early bird specials of $79.99, which go fast.

http://popdesignproducts.com, www.kickstarter.com 

Roccat’s new Vulcan keyboard is ideal for gaming, daily use or just looking flat out cool. 

Often I’ve had discussions with friends or coworkers who think a keyboard is a keyboard until I let them try a different one. The same is the case with the Vulcan: try it and you’ll see.

While the looks are amazing, the performance is key and it works as well as it looks. I’m open to admit I’m not a gamer, never have been and never will be. With the amount of computer work I do, I’m able to give any keyboard a workout and the Vulcan shined.

For gaming, I let a friend give it a few hours of use and his reported to me that the comfort and response time of the Vulcan is outstanding and the customization was crazy good. He also mentioned that he’s not giving me the Vulcan back. 

The Vulcan has dedicated media keys, which I know gamers will love, along with Roccat’s in-house-developed Titan Switches. These were specifically designed for gamers craving a key stroke that was swift and precise while still being tactile, with an instant response and comfort.

When you first see the futuristic looking keyboard, you notice how cool it looks. It’s built with a Roccat’s Aimo RGB lighting system with long-life LEDs producing beautiful lighting of every one of the keyboard’s dust resistant low profile switches (keys), which are also spill proof. 

The transparent keys along with an aluminum backing produce the effect, which you can customize on a per-key basis in 16.8 million colors.

Three versions are available, the Vulcan 80 ($129.99) with black anodized aluminum, single blue illumination and two media keys. The Vulcan 100 ($149.99) has gray anodized aluminum, RGB AIMO illumination and professional grade media controls and the Vulcan 120 ($159.99) with grey anodized aluminum plating, RGB AIMO lighting, professional grade controls and a magnetic detachable wrist rest.

www.roccat.org

Gadgets :: September 5, 2018

by Gregg Ellman
(@greggellman)

Whether you’re cutting the cord of cable or satellite TV subscriptions to save money or you just need local channels during a weather emergency, I have a simple and easy solution with the Winegard FlatWave Amped indoor amplified HDTV antenna.

I’m being honest when I say it took less than five minutes from the time I opened the antenna box to having my local channels on my screen.

The antenna is just 12-by-13-by-.6-inches and is attached to your TV antenna port with the included 18.5-foot coax cable, which has a USB power supply built in.

The quick setup included attaching the antenna to a window with adhesive tape, connecting the coax cable to my TV and plugging the USB cable into a port on my TV. You can also connect to an AC power supply with the included 110-volt adapter.

Once everything is attached, put your TV remote in scan mode for a search of the local channels. The scan only takes a minute or so but do some experimenting with the placement of the antenna. I tried three different places and then scanned, with each one having somewhat different results. Just do the placement and scan until you have the channels you want or are critical to you in an emergency.

Once your signal is set, you’ll receive local channels’ content 4k Ultra HD and Dolby Digital Surround Sound within an amplified 50-mile range. 

The flat antenna (imagine a small stack of letter-sized paper) has an ultra-low noise digital amplifier embedded directly in the antenna element, resulting in an unprecedented 100 percent signal boost that increases range and eliminates pixilation and dropout, according to Winegard.

After testing the antenna on a TV, on which I still had seldom-used cable TV installed, i began thinking if I need to make a switch.

www.Winegard.com $59.99

Trulia is a new site for homebuyers, which not only shows the homes for sale, but also extensive information about the area you might be looking to move to. The site’s goal site is to help consumers discover a place where they will love to live.

Included are  original photography, drone footage, information on local safety, commutes, and parent reviews of nearby schools. Trulia already has enhanced photography and drone footage from more than 300 neighborhoods in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Austin and Chicago with more than 1,100 more neighborhoods expected to be introduced this year

Trulia content gives potential residents a feel for daily life including what they call “Inside the Neighborhood” stories of what life is like there. The site includes features with input from local residents of your search, with feedback on dog-friendly areas and parking.

With all the information, Trulia gives you an informative feel for what it might be like to live in the neighborhood of the homes you’re looking at.  They put all the information consumers would search for on multiple sites in one place.

www.trulia.com

BlackBerry, yes that same BlackBerry, is alive and well with this week’s launch by TCL communications of the new, hot and slick looking BlackBerry Key2LE smartphone.

I haven’t tried one, but as a former BlackBerry user for many years, the press release has me intrigued.

The touchscreen smartphone is available in three color variants – Slate, Champagne and Atomic with a redesigned chassis for a more modern look and feel with a full-HD display. 

Android operating system is inside, including support for Google Assistant and other Google applications. Speed Key is a new feature, giving you a customized shortcut experience. This gives you 52 customizable shortcuts, allowing each to be programed to instantly bring up the contacts and apps you use most. 

Other features include lightweight polycarbonate frame and a newly designed soft textured back that provides better in-hand grip to prevent drops. There’s a dual rear camera (13MP/5MP) and a front camera (8MP) with an LCD flash and many modes such as portrait, selfie and face beauty.

Next month, models with 32GB of storage will be on sale in the US for $399 or with 64GB for $449. Each model has expandable storage MicroSD support. The rechargeable battery is expected to last up to 22 hours.

https://blackberrymobile.com  

Game Night: High Impact and High ISO Sports Photography by Jeff Swinger

Game Night: High Impact and High ISO Sports Photography by Jeff Swinger

When I was a young athlete, there was nothing more exciting than playing under the lights. It was not the norm to have lighted fields or stadiums, so it was truly a special occasion and a real rush when those lights kicked on. It really felt like the focus was on us under those giant spots. The sound of the announcer echoed from the press box on top of the stands, and you could hear the fans more than you could see them due to the shadows.

Even after all these years, there is still something special about Friday night lights. So many things that come to mind: the strains of the marching band, cheerleaders preparing, the smell of hotdogs on the grill. It’s funny how so many sounds and smells trigger my visual memory. It can be so rewarding to shoot under the lights despite the challenges that come with it.

Night Sports = Low Light Levels

Little did I know that years later, the glow of those bright lights wasn’t so bright after all. It wasn’t until my first assignment shooting Friday night football that I realized it was really dark. When I put my camera up to my eye and metered the situation, I found I was stumped. I didn’t have the fastest of lenses and the luxury of using an ISO of 10,000 like with modern digital cameras. I was lucky to have anywhere from 800 ISO to 3200 ISO. I tried many combinations of film speeds and pushing the ISO on a roll of film to a higher ISO. You could essentially fool the camera and film by using different chemicals and temperatures in the darkroom. This allowed us to have a little extra latitude in raising ISOs. There also were many times where I used on-camera flash to light my subjects. I did this for a long time and tried several different systems to get the flash as far from my lens as possible, such as flash brackets generally used by wedding photographers. But using long lenses and on-camera flash always created red eye in my photos. Even in black and white, the eyes glow and look totally unnatural. So between pushing film in the darkroom and using strobes, I was able to shoot football under the lights, although it was not ideal.

Camera technology has really grown by leaps and bounds since the days of film, darkrooms and chemicals. Now we can shoot under the lights with just about any camera Canon makes. We don’t even need the super-fast long 2.8mm lenses to do it. With the advancements in sensors, we can shoot under the light in most stadiums and arenas with most kit lenses and cameras.

The beauty of shooting youth or high school sports is the ease of access. Once access is secured and you’re able to hit the sidelines to take pictures, keep a few things in mind:

• Safety is always the first thing I preach. It’s incredibly important to be aware of your surroundings.

• Now that you are really close to the action, you won’t need as long a lens as you do on a college or professional field. There are no extra lines painted on the field or security making sure you are way back. Essentially you can police yourself and just stay off the field of play.

Positioning yourself

One of the best tips I can give for shooting in most high school stadiums is to shoot from the sidelines. Not just any sideline, though. I always check out the light and make sure I’m on the side of the field with the most light. Each side might have the same amount of light poles and structures, with the same amount of lights, but sometimes the light poles are pushed farther back on one side than the other. I also make sure I’m on the side that has fewer burned out lights. So many times I’ve wanted to be on the opposite side of the field, but I generally lean towards having the better light at my back. As a rule of thumb, the side of the field with the press box is generally lit better than the other (or visitor) side. I also don’t shoot from the end zone or end lines very often in small stadiums because there are usually no lights at the ends of the field. Sometimes I’ll actually go up high during pre-game and look at how the light hits the field. This allows me to get a general overview of how the light hits the grass or turf and an idea of where the light falls off around the field. Once we have assessed the light, it’s time to set up the camera for exposure.

The advantage to shooting in fixed lighting situations is that you can set your camera on Manual exposure and ISO, and you won’t really need to change it very much. Manual is always the most predictable setting. Unlike auto settings that move around to accommodate the changing lighting conditions or compositions, Manual doesn’t change unless you change it. The beauty of digital cameras with handy LCD screens on the back is that you can take a picture and check your exposure easily. First I set my shutter speed so I can stop the action. I will set it at a minimum of 1/1000th sec, and then I set my aperture to the widest setting on my lens. Most kit lenses have a variable aperture. This means the aperture changes as you zoom the lens. The brightest point on your lens is at the widest focal length setting. As you zoom to a higher magnification, the aperture gets smaller. Set your aperture to the brightest setting at the long side of your magnification. This will give you the largest opening of your lens at its longest magnification. Canon also makes other lenses that have a constant aperture that don’t change as you zoom. Let’s say we are set at 1/1000th sec at f/5.6, now we need to find an ISO that finishes our exposure. This is a different way of thinking now with DSLRs because they are so good at high ISO. I used to pick my film speed (ISO) first and then work around that.

If this all sounds too complicated, don’t sweat it. We can work around this with no problem. All Canon cameras have an automatic setting to make life on the sidelines easier. The basics still apply where you need to be able to stop the action. You can set the camera on Tv mode (time value) where you set shutter speed and the camera sets the rest. In this setting you can also set the ISO yourself or use the Auto ISO setting. There are lots of options depending on your ability. For those of you who want to make great pictures without having to think about it, I recommend cameras that have an automatic Sports Mode setting, like Canon’s Rebel series. With this setting you can spin the dial or go into the menu and put it on the setting that shows a person in a running position. This setting gives you all of the things I’ve talked about, except the camera is choosing the shutter speed, aperture and ISO for you. This sounds just like a P mode (program) except the camera is making the choices based on stopping action as opposed to giving you a general average setting. The beauty of Sports Mode for novice photographers is that it also chooses your focus points as well as sets the camera for the continuous AI Servo AF you need to follow the action. And it automatically sets the camera’s Drive to Continuous — hold the shutter button fully down, and it fires continuously. Canon has a very sophisticated focusing system that keeps you from missing a shot. For sports you need the focus to follow a moving subject. Once activated, the focusing system engages on the moving subject and follows the subject as you take pictures.

This same AF feature is available when shooting manually, too. It’s called AI Servo AF, and you cannot shoot sports without your AF Operation being in that continuous AF mode. One way I demonstrate to students on how AI Servo AF works is to first put the camera on One Shot focus in the menu. I have them point the camera at a stationary subject about 30 feet away while depressing the shutter button halfway to engage focus. Without lifting their finger, have the subject walk towards the camera slowly. The subject will quickly be out of focus as they walk. I then have the subject change direction, generally moving away from the camera. They will not be in focus until they make it back to the original spot. This is because One Shot focus locks focus on your subject as you depress the shutter button and will not refocus until you lift your finger up and push it down again. Next, in the camera menu change the focus to AI Servo AF and try this exercise again. You will notice that when the subject is stationary the camera will focus perfectly the same as before, but as the subject moves towards you or away from you the camera will continually focus as long as you keep the button depressed. This is generally a lightbulb moment for students who have issues getting moving subjects in focus. For me as a young photographer, this was the biggest advancement in camera technology and what separated Canon from all the rest when it came to autofocus. Following focus manually was very difficult as you had to truly rely on your eyes and the ability to turn your lens the right direction as your subject moved. Once Canon EOS hit the market, I quickly realized it was impossible for me to manually focus faster than my camera.

In the old days of film, you had to advance film with your thumb one frame at a time or attach an optional power winder or motor drive. Now that we don’t use film, all cameras advance automatically. I keep my cameras set to High Speed Continuous mode, where the camera fires as I hold my finger on the shutter button. Although shooting sports is about timing, it’s great to have that continuous mode to be able to shoot sequences ensuring you won’t miss the action.

Anticipation is another key word in shooting sports. Think ahead to where the action might go and put yourself in position to get the shot you’re looking for. It’s not ideal to use a short zoom lens for sports action, but it’s not impossible. You might have to chase the action a little more than when using longer lenses. Long lenses allow you to be a bit farther away and wait for the action. With short lenses you still want to fill your frame with the action, so you have to be closer. When shooting with zoom lenses, I recommend not zooming at the same time you are pushing the shutter button. That movement in zooming will decrease sharpness in images, and as tempting as it is to follow the action and zoom, it’s important to pick a focal length.

When I started shooting there weren’t a ton of options for zoom lenses. The only zoom I had was a manual focus 70-210mm. Now the options are abundant in many variations of focal length. If you are starting from scratch, I recommend buying a camera kit that comes with at least a wide-angle zoom, and picking up a longer zoom for shooting sports. Some kits actually come with two lenses and the nice thing about this is the longer lens picks up where the short lens stops. This gives you a lot of continuous focal length. For many amateur-level sports, Canon’s 75-300mm (or, the faster-focusing 70-300mm USM lens) is a great lens to get started with for shooting sports. It’s lightweight and has a lot of focal length for the price. It’s as much magnification as you will need for shooting most outdoor, amateur sporting events. Canon does have higher-end options that are brighter with large apertures, but don’t get caught up in having the most expensive gear. It’s really important to match your gear to your experience, mastering what you have before going bigger.

Finally, don’t be afraid to shoot under the lights — experience all the excitement and challenges. You’ll find not only is it not as scary as you might think but also very rewarding. Expand your photographic experience to more than bright sunlight and daytime shooting. Practice in all lighting situations and understand what your camera is doing. Practice zooming and following moving subjects as well as learning to anticipate the action. Look for the light, master your exposure, don’t be afraid to use high ISOs, be safe on the sidelines and most importantly, have a great time making pictures.

Original Article Link: Canon Digital Learning Center

*Published with permission.

Gadgets :: August 29, 2018

by Gregg Ellman
(@greggellman)

We finally had rain. I say this for two reasons; first and most importantly, I live in Texas and we need the rain. The second is I got a chance to  try the UnbelievaBrella reverse umbrella.

For the most part it looks like an umbrella and works like an umbrella, but the fun in innovative starts when the rain stops.  The UnbelievaBrella is built with reverse technology, allowing you to walk in the house right after the storm and not have the umbrella drip all over the house. 

The technology reverses the umbrella when you close it. Instead of what happens when you  close a standard umbrella – push the inside up and all the  water drips down on you – with the UnbelieveaBrella you pull the inside down, causing the umbrella to act as a funnel holding all the water.

When it’s in a place you can dry it, flip it over to have the water drip out of the funnel side.

It;s well made with a easy to hold rubber coated C-shaped handle with steel and fiberglass construction. 

When opened, you get 48-inches of coverage and when the sun is out, it folds into 36.5-inches for easy car or closet storage. The outer canopy is black when opened and the inner comes in choices of six colors: black, charcoal, lime green, ocean, pink and red.

https://shedrain.com $20

The Soundcast VG1 Bluetooth speaker is ready to blast your sound pool side or in a dorm room of any size.

The portable has been out a little while, sorry, it got buried in my closet, but definitely worth the wait.

You’ll get really strong and clear sound from the speaker (6.8-by-2.3-by-2.9-inches, 1 pound), which is weather resistant (not water proof), dust, drop and shockproof. Inside is what the company calls a unique down-firing weighted bass radiator, along with premium 2-inch aluminum drivers with powerful neodymium magnets.

What it means to you is the speaker sounds great, is party ready and can withstand the elements of various degrees of the weather.

If you want to plug your music in, there’s a 3.5 mm aux port. A speakerphone will keep your call handsfree for everyone to hear and Siri is accessible. 

A pair of VG1 is better than two, so if you want a great stereo sound, get a second and they sync with dedicated right and left playback with Bluetooth True Wireless Stereo.

Inside is a long lasting rechargeable battery for up to 15 hours of playback, the included lanyard attaches directly to the speaker and on-board controls are there for volume, play and pause.

www.gosoundcast.com $134.86

Aside from your powered portable gadgets, the most important gadget to get is portable power.

With the smaller-than-pocket sized (2.75-by-.75-by-1.37-inches) Ventev powercell 2600, the  small price tag just north of $20.

You’ll get a full charge for most smartphones from the 2600mAh portable battery’s single USB port.

A microUSB cable is included for charging the battery and an LED indicator light shows the battery level.

https://mobileaccessories.ventev.com $23.92

Gadgets :: August 23, 2018

by Gregg Ellman
(@greggellman)

It seems like just yesterday students were trading books for flip flops for the summer. With the season just about gone, back to school is upon us so here is a few tech suggestions for most any student.

Satechi’s  aluminum Bluetooth slim wireless keyboard works interchangeably between smartphones, tablets, desktop computers and laptops.  With assigning Bluetooth 3.0 pairing keys, you can connect up to four devices. And don’t worry, it’s more than simple to setup, just press and hold a Bluetooth pairing key to assign each Bluetooth device. On top of how easy and versatile the keyboard is, it has a modern look with what the company calls diamond-cut chamfered edges along with a Mac looking brushed aluminum finish. 

www.satechi.net $74.99, available in silver or space gray

According to the Phonesoap website, your cell phone has 18x more bacteria than a public restroom. Cleaning the screen is nice but doesn’t do a whole lot, especially long-term. Phonesoap is the answer for sanitizing your smartphone, while simultaneously charging its battery. There’s no scrubbing necessary, just place your smartphone in the Phonesoap case and the UV-C light sanitizer neutralizes the bacteria covering your phone in just 10 minutes. This type of cleaning gets the screen, sides and the back of your phone along with microorganisms hiding in the crevices and corners, which are near impossible to clean with a cloth.

www.phonesoap.com  $59.95 

Moshi’s modern looking Hexa backpack is lightweight (23 ounces) and has an endless amount of storage. They designed it with single-panel construction, a weather-resistant exterior and an easy-to-clean lining. A spacious, 20-liter interior, including a padded laptop area for models up to 15-inches. A front zip pocket has a handy anti-theft snap enclosure. It also has an RFID Shield Pocket, which protects devices storing personal data or credit cards from digital snoops. A padded Airmesh backside and shoulder straps allow for breathability and comfort. Available in color choices of midnight black, forest green and khaki brown.

www.moshi.com $119.95

The Kingston DataTraveler Bolt Duo is one of those gadgets you don’t think you need, but once you have it you’ll wonder how you lived without it. The Bolt, essentially a flash drive but with an Apple Lighting connection, will give you extended/external storage for videos, music or photos. The setup is simple; download the free Bolt app and from there you can back even up your device or just access its data. Measuring only  2.5 x 0.78 x 0.43-inches, the Bolt won’t take up much physical space but the included key ring accessory comes in handy so you know where it is. The DataTraveler Bolt Duo also features an app security to set up a password or touch ID.

www.kingstongo.com 128GB $82.99, 64GB $56.99, 32GB $45.54

The Ventev wireless chargestand outputs 15W of power and is built with 

Qi and Fast Wireless Charging technology for wireless enabled smartphones. There are eight possible positions, including portrait and landscape, that you can place your smartphone on the desktop stand for charging. The Ventev site has a chart listing the optimal positions to get the fastest charge, depending on where you position the charging puck on the adjustable and well made aluminum stand. The charging puck can also be removed for using on a flat surface. A 6-foot UL-certified power supply is included to get power to the charger.

https://mobileaccessories.ventev.com $48.52

Mission Workshop’s new Spec Laptop Sleeve is available in two sizes. The small model accommodates most laptops up to 13-inches and the large holds most laptops up to 15-inches. Both are fully padded and designed to be used on its own or with any of Mission Workshops Rucksacks or Cargo Packs. There’s a flap on top, which can be left open for easy in-and-out use or close it for keeping the contents secure.  The Spec is available in choices of burly and light HT500 fabric (black and gray) or 500D Cordura (black camo).

https://missionworkshop.com large $65, small $60

Gadgets :: August 15, 2018

by Gregg Ellman
(@greggellman)

The BoxLock is designed to prevent theft of delivery packages left by the front door. In addition to the anti-theft aspect, packages are protected from bad weather, which has victimized me. Nothing like having a box socked in a thunderstorm, etc.

The BoxLock smart padlock solves both these problems.  According to BoxLock, this is the first of its kind, an internet-connected security padlock that is attached to a delivery storage box or anything of your choice. After a simple setup, you’ll see how well it works to protect your deliveries. 

Like many of you, when I open new gadgets the instructions often never get read, but with the smart lock, you’ll have to follow the included instructions. The setup isn’t complicated but to ensure it works, you’ll have to set up a BoxLock account with a secure password within the accompanying app (iOS and Android).

Once your account is active follow the instructions to get the BoxLock setup, which includes getting it linked with your Wi-Fi.

You’ll must have an online account with whoever deliverers your package, which can include Amazon and major delivery services such as FedEx, UPS and the USPS. The BoxLock instructions tell you exactly what settings you’ll need to set up, which is all straightforward and only has to be done once, during the setup process.

After the setup, as a BoxLock company representative pointed out, you’ll be ready to fight off porch pirates since the receptacle with the BoxLock remains locked until a package is delivered.

My biggest question, which I’m sure anyone has, is how does the system work as far as verification, and opening and closing the lock when a package arrives.

When  drivers get to your house for the delivery, they scan the package for their system (they all use handheld mobile scanners) and then scan the label with the BoxLock. Once the label is approved by the lock, it opens allowing the driver to leave the package securely inside. 

You’ll then get a push notification of the delivery.

As far as the receptacles to use, that’s really up to you, how much space you have and what you want it to look like. My father-in-law would have built me the most fashionable, stylish box imaginable, made of wood.

BoxLock sent me a Step2 ($99.99) deluxe package delivery box (25-by-15-by-11-inches) with my test lock and they were a perfect pair.  It features a water-resistant design, hinged lid, and a lock latch, which can be used with the smart lock or any traditional padlock. This is just one of several choices in a line of certified BoxLock storage containers available.

Whatever receptacle you use, think about mounting it to your porch or patio. If you don’t want it that permanent, how about dropping a 50 pound bag of sand in the bottom? That will certainly add a really inexpensive additional layer to the security.

The BoxLock (8.46-by-4.25-by-3.54-inches) has a weather resistant case, a push to scan button on top which activates a bottom side barcode scanner. Inside is a chargeable battery, good for 30 to 60 days.

I’ve always felt like if someone’s going to try and steal something, I’m going to do my best to not make it easy for them. This system adds a sold layer of protection, which is even better than having a neighbor look out for your upcoming delivery. Common sense alone tells me this is a better system to keep packages secure from those lurking for a free front porch score vs just sitting there waiting to disappear.

Late last week I asked one of my local delivery drivers what they thought of home delivery security systems such as this and instantly I got two thumbs up and a smile.

Certainly an unofficial endorsement but in my mind, enough said.

www.getboxlock.com $129.00 

Gadgets :: August 8, 2018

by Gregg Ellman
(@greggellman)

A water bottle is certainly nothing new, nor is a Bluetooth speaker. But combine the two, just as iHome parent company SDI Technologies did with the new Aquio,  and you have a cool, innovative product.

The device is well made on both ends. A 16 ounce water bottle is double-walled stainless-steel, designed to keep your beverage hot for 14 hours or cold for 24 hours. 

A 5-watt speaker on the bottom is covered by a black grill with premium woven fabric. Inside is a USB rechargeable battery, good for about 6 hours of playtime.

The speaker screws off easily so you can hand wash the bottle. It’s sized cup holder friendly and has a carry loop on the air tight cap for attaching it to a backpack or wherever you want.

And if you feel like talking to your bottle, go right ahead. It has digital echo cancellation to use it as speakerphone for handsfree calls along with audio caller ID. This ensures you’ll know who you’re talking to on the other end of your bottle conversation.

The Aquio is iP67 rated, which makes it water and sand proof.

Aquio said it the first time ever a premium-quality BPA-free water bottle has been designed with a removable high-quality iHome music system in a recent press release and I think they hit a home run with this one.

aquiobottles.com $69.99, available in color choice of seafoam, merlot, midnight and blush

Wireless means wireless when you combine a wireless charging Qi-enabled smartphone with myCharge’s new UnPlugged series of wireless, pocket-sized chargers.

The charger is truly cable-free for charging anywhere, anytime for devices needing a power boost. Just put the charger against your smartphone and the charging begins. You can talk on the phone, use any app or just have the two sitting paired on a countertop while charging.

There’s also a pair of standard USB ports on the bottom for connecting cables to charge non-wireless charging devices. The USB ports and with the wireless charging will all work simultaneously for charging up to three devices. 

The new power banks are available in four sizes  of mAh power: 10,000 ($69.99), 8,000 ($59.99) , 5,000 ($49.99) and 3,000 ($29.99).

Among the features built into the UnPlugged batteries is smart-sense technology to ensure complete device compatibility, hyper-charge for ultra-fast charging, rapid-recharge and pass-through charging so you can charge up the UnPlugged battery while devices are connected for charging.

With the varying amount of power, each charger is good for a different amount of charges, with the 10k model at the top for up to 5 times your existing battery. Obviously charging times and the amount of portable power can vary depending on the size of the device(s) battery being charged.

The battery’s exterior has a white soft touch finish, which is kind of unusual and helps it stay fingerprint- and scratch-free. A small power button turns it on and off and charges itself through the microUSB port.

The 10k model measures 2.8-by-0.8-by-5.8-inches with a weight of just 0.4 pounds.

https://mycharge.com 

TwelveSouth has released AirSnap, a full-grain leather case tailor made for Apple AirPods.

The stylish case (2.9-by-2.1-by-.98-inches) is made to protect the true wireless earbuds and has a swiveling carabiner style metal clip to attach it your belt or backpack for keeping them secure and easy accessible.  A metal snap closes the case and there’s a cutout in the bottom so they can be charged while in the AirSnap.

www.twelvesouth.com $29.99 available in choices of black, deep teal and chocolate 

Gadgets :: August 1, 2018

by Gregg Ellman
(@greggellman)

Wireless earbuds are totally awesome except when, all too often, you turn them on and the battery is dead and they’re temporarily useless.

To the rescue comes the IFrogz Cocoon earbud charging case.

It’s shaped and sized similar to a hockey puck and built with a 580 mAh rechargeable battery, good for about five earbud charges.

The hard-shelled case is perfect to store earbuds while charging or just while not being used. This keeps your earbuds dust-, dirt- and damage-free. A quick-latch silicone band easily opens and closes the compartment. 

Along with the earbuds, there is room for a few more cables, keys, spare charge or other small items. Inside is a charging port for the included microUSB case.

A battery indicator is built into the case so you’ll know when the case needs a charge itself.

www.Zagg.com $29.99, available in color combinations of gray/navy and gray/red

Zagg has a few new keyboard solutions for increased tablet productivity with the launch of the Normad Book and Messenger Folio keyboards.

The Nomad Book ($99.99) is a universal solution that can be customized to fit a variety of today’s tablets. It’s built with two detachable bumpers, allowing the keyboard to fit most tablets sized 10.5-inches or smaller. This includes the Apple 10.5-inch iPad Pro, Apple 9.7-inch iPad Pro, Apple 9.7-inch iPad (2017-18 models), Apple iPad Air 2, Apple iPad Air, Samsung Galaxy Tab S3, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, according to Zagg.

It also has multi-device pairing for connecting and using the keyboard simultaneously with a tablet and another device.

The Normad Book can be changed to different modes, adjusting the screen angle for optimal viewing. A reverse kickstand is included and a rechargeable battery can last up to two years between charges.

The Zagg Messenger Folio ($59.99) is a lightweight keyboard case for the Apple 10.5-inch iPad Pro. It transforms the iPad Pro into a practical workstation. It also features a built-in holder for an Apple Pencil, for easy access and safe storage.

A magnetic closure keeps your iPad security closed when not in use and Inside is a rechargeable battery for Bluetooth connections, which will last up to three months.

www.Zagg.com 

The new Mission Workshop Transit Arkiv weatherproof laptop briefcase is ideal for both daily and long-term travel use.

What caught my attention was the weatherproofing and its wax-coated exterior canvas (500HT nylon), an interior made with 140/70d nylon with TPU coating and YKK water resistant coated nylon zippers. 

Always keep in mind that weatherproof does not mean waterproof, meaning you’ll be fine if you get caught in a rainstorm but I wouldn’t consider taking a swim with the Arkiv in tow.

Inside is a fully padded laptop compartment (fits a 15-inch Macbook Pro), internal file organizer, mesh zip pocket, end cap water bottle pocket, and quick-access external zippered pocket for a smartphone, other small electronic accessories, wallet or keys.

Other features include a luggage pass through, removable shoulder strap with quick adjust hardware, waist-stabilization straps, bike rack attachment straps, inside pockets and zipper mesh pockets

The new case can be combined with Mission Workshop’s Radian, R2, R6, And R8 packs to create complete travel storage systems.

https://missionworkshop.com $255, available in black, gray, black camo, brown waxed canvas, olive waxed canvas

Gadgets :: July 25, 2018

by Gregg Ellman
(@greggellman)

The Omni 20 is 20,400 mAh of portable power. And while it’s not pocket-sized, it easily stores in a computer bag or backpack. 

On the box, it’s promoted as perfect to power anything anywhere, including laptops, cameras, tablets, phones, speakers and more. I have all those devices and I knew it would work perfect for all of them.

But a real test would be during this summer’s Dallas heatwave, with weekly highs approaching 110 degrees. I chose to do my testing away from my office and kitchen, but not too far away. Just a few dozen steps into my yard and I was powered poolside.

Along came my blender and some frozen beverages, which are perfect poolside or on location in a pack.  The Omni 20 powered my Kitchen Aid blender perfectly for several rounds of frozen margaritas.

Remember, the power pack is not waterproof and I’ll assume neither is my blender. So please use with caution along with being responsible when consuming adult beverages.

Built into the Omni 20 is a pair of standard USB ports, a standard wall socket AC and a DC out port. You also have pass-through charging, so when you’re charging the Omni 20 itself, you can recharge your devices at the same time.

With over 20,400 mAh of power inside, cell phones can be charged up to nine times and smaller digital cameras up to eight. Charging times and frequency will depend on the devices needing the power.

The Li-ion battery measures 5-by-4.8-by-1.1-inches and weighs 1.4-pounds and has a lifecycle of 500 charges.

Turning it on is as easy as hitting a power button and an Oled screen has displays and setting controls, including auto shutoff, battery remaining capacity, battery temperature, charge time remaining and other options.

https://www.omnicharge.co $249.99

It just so happens I was listening to satellite radio with new Beem United fitness BeActiv E300 wireless earbuds while I was using my above mentioned review using my blender outside. And I know, yes my job is horrible some days.

The neckband headset is built with Bluetooth 4.1 and has a nice 6-hour battery life, which only takes 1.5-hours to charge. 

Magnetic tips are built into the earbuds to connect them so they stay in place when not in use (I love that feature). I’ve turned into a fan of neckband headphones for daily use, travel and active lifestyle for bike rides as well as yard work.

As for the sound, inside is 10.66 mm dynamic speaker drivers, which produce clear and a nice amount of bass. The BeActiv E300 sound can be enhanced with it’s internal 5-band fully configurable EQ presets, which increased the bass greatly for those who want that experience.

The ergonomic ear tips attach to the lightweight flex-form neckband and wear with comfort so you won’t even know they are on, if not for the sound. Inline controls and a built in microphone are there for controlling iOS and Android devices.

They price friendly headset is available bright color choices of metallic blue, camo and cool white. Four sets of sized ear tips are includes along with a carrying case.

http://beemunited.com $99