Don’t Get Stopped at the Gate: Keep Some Power in Your Pocket

Lepow Moonstone External Battery

Lepow Moonstone External Batteries

There are many ways to miss a flight, but a dead cell phone shouldn’t be one of them.

Unfortunately, new TSA security regulations for some foreign airports require that cell phones and other electronic devices be turned on while going through security. Devices that cannot power on won’t be allowed on flights. This rule doesn’t currently affect domestic U.S. flights; just some incoming international flights from certain destinations.

Innovative Technology Justin Slim Power Bank

Innovative Technology Justin Slim Power Bank

One way to avoid such hassles is to travel with an external battery–one that connects with your phone or tablet via a standard USB cable. As long as you keep these portable power banks charged, you’ll always be able to give your device enough juice to power up and get through security. The good news is that many power banks are slim, stylish and inexpensive.

When shopping, keep an eye on a battery’s milliampere-hour (mAh) rating, which gives you an idea of which devices it can charge and how long it can keep them going. For example, Innvovative Technology estimates that its Justin-brand 2,000 mAh power banks provide enough power to add nine hours of talk and web surfing time to a smartphone and its 6,000 mAh units will increase smartphone time an extra 27 hours or add five hours of web, audio and video time to a tablet. For the sake of comparison, note that the internal battery of an Apple iPhone 5s is rated at 1,560 mAh.

Powerocks Magicstick

Powerocks Magicstick

Innovative Technology’s Justin Slim Power Bank barely makes an impression in a jacket pocket but has enough room inside for a 2,000 mAh battery. Four LEDs let you know how much of a charge it has left.

Moonstone power banks from Lepow (photo at top) are encased in smooth, polished plastic and come in an assortment of colors and power capacities. Moonstones comes in 3,000 mAh, 6,000 mAh and 9,000 mAh versions and provide two USB ports: one standard and one higher-powered, fast charge port. Thus you could charge a smartphone on one port and a tablet on the other. Moonstones are roughly three inches square but vary in thickness.

Also colorful and stylish are the Magicstick power banks from Powerocks USA. The purse-size small cylinders house a 2,800 mAh battery and come in a choice of eight colors.

Champ Bodyguard Battery Rechargeable Power Bank

The Champ Bodyguard Power Bank includes a personal alarm and a flashlight.

The Champ Bodyguard Battery Rechargeable Power Bank adds a flashlight and a personal alarm siren to its capabilities as a 2,200 mAh lithium ion portable battery.

Some coffee shops and restaurants, like the ones in New York’s Madison Square Garden and a few Starbucks locations in Boston, now offer wireless charging hotspots built into some of their tables. Place a compatible smartphone or battery on the right spot and the device will charge up without wires.

Duracell Powermat GoPower Overnighter

Duracell Powermat GoPower Overnighter

The Duracell Powermat GoPower Overnighter charges smartphones and tablets with a standard USB cable, but the unit itself can be charged via an AC adapter or computer USB port or wirelessly by placing it on a Duracell or compatible wireless hotspot or charging station. The 4,400 mAh battery has a single USB port and comes precharged for immediate use.

PS72

Rayovac 2-Hour Power Pack

Rayovac’s inexpensive 2-Hour Power Pack doesn’t even need a USB cable. The small unit has a built-in micro USB port and plugs directly into your smartphone. Instead of a built in rechargeable battery, it uses a removable Rayovac CR123a battery, which you may be able to find at an airport electronics stores should your unit run down at the wrong time. A similar version with a connector for the iPhone 4S and earlier iPhones is also available.

Like the Lepow Moonstone, the Anker 2nd Gen Astro series chargers can charge two devices at the same time via two USB ports. Anker’s PowerIQ technology in the 2nd Gen Astro (6,000 mAh), Astro2 (9,000 mAh) and Astro3 (12,000 mAh) identifies the device connected to each intelligent USB port and adjusts the charging current accordingly.

Anker Astro

Anker 2nd Gen Astro

The Anker 2nd Gen Astro series units lack buttons: To wake them up you simply shake them. A circular power readout lets you know how much of a charge is left inside.

Of course none of the above power banks will do you much good at the airport security gate or anywhere else unless you remember to charge them regularly. So power up and happy travels.

 Text © Copyright 2014, Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features

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Motorola Moto X: Fun, Friendly & Fast Enough

Motorola Moto X

Motorola Moto X

Motorola’s Moto X smartphone is an admirable balance of style and usability. It doesn’t try to outdo Samsung, Apple and others in the race to squeeze in as many high-tech features as possible but instead aims to please with its hand-shaped curves, cool voice-activated features and touch-friendly camera.

The Moto X succeeds as a sophisticated mainstream smartphone but is no speed demon. Its user-friendliness and simplicity are apparent from the start: Instead of a cluttered home screen, the Moto X offers pretty much a plain vanilla Android home screen that allows the new owner do the customizing. And that’s not surprising since Motorola Mobility is now a division of Google, the maker of Android software.

To start the camera, you pick up the phone and twist your wrist twice–that’s it; the Moto X immediately switches to camera mode. To take a photo you can touch any part of the screen–there’s no need to hunt for a shutter button. The Moto X’s 10-megapixel camera uses Motorola’s ClearPixel technology, which allows each sensor to gather 75 percent more light, thus making it possible to get clear photos even in low-light situations. according to Motorola.

The Moto X can be customized with numerous color combinations for its keys and shell (including an all wood case available later this year) by ordering the unit via the Moto X website, which only offers AT&T units at the moment. Since the Moto X is manufactured in Fort Worth, Texas instead of somewhere overseas, online buyers can expect to see their new phones–already initialized with their Google accounts–in four days or less, according to Motorola.

Motorola's Moto X can be ordered in a variety of color combinations.

Motorola’s Moto X can be ordered in a variety of color combinations.

“We think this represents a very interesting future,” said Rick Osterloh, senior vice president for product development at Motorola during a press event in New York. He said the Moto X is aimed at “the mainstream user,” not the feature-frenzied geek.

Rear of Motorola Moto X.

Rear of Motorola Moto X.

The Moto X uses what computing power it has fairly efficiently. It runs Android version 4.2.2 and has a dual-core 1.7GHz Snapdragon processor. Other top-shelf smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 have quad-core processors, but they also have more sensors and higher-resolution screens, making the additional processor muscle necessary.

Moto X Active Display

The low-power Active Display mode on Motorola’s Moto X.

The Moto X is built with what’s called the Motorola X8 computing system. It’s a set of eight processor cores assigned to different tasks. Why is this important? By using different cores for different tasks, the entire processor doesn’t have to be awake all the time–each core wakes up as it’s needed. This design extends the life of the Moto X’s 2200 mAH battery to a full day of average use, according to Motorola.

Two of the processor cores are used for basic application processing (this is what makes the Moto X a “dual-core” smartphone) and four are used for graphics processing, thus speeding up video and photo functions. The other two cores take care of voice commands and sensors like the accelerometer and the ambient light sensor and help the Moto X detect how fast you’re moving and what you’re doing with the phone.

When tested with voice commands, the Moto X worked very well and was able to verbally answer questions about the time, the weather, directions, baseball scores and many other queries. The quality of the speech detection is aided by the phone’s three microphones, which work together to cancel stray noises and enhance voices.

A useful Active Display shows notifications in a simple, low-power mode, thus letting you know if you have incoming e-mail, text messages or other items even when the phone is in standby mode.

The Moto X lists for $199 (16GB of user memory) or $249 (32GB) with a two-year plan and is sold by AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and US Cellular and major retailers.

Do you have a Moto X? How do you like it so far? Comment or vote:

Text and photos Copyright 2013, Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features

3M Streaming Projector Powered by Roku: Potent Palm-Size Entertainment Center

3M Streaming Projector powered by Roku.

Internet video in your living room without the TV or the Internet box? That’s what 3M and Roku announced Friday as the companies introduced the 3M Streaming Projector Powered by Roku, a tiny, but potent portable projector which wirelessly streams Internet video content at projection sizes up to 120 inches. The battery-powered unit pulls in content from Roku’s 600-plus channels without the need for a TV or one of Roku’s standalone devices.

Mark Colin, vice president and general manager of the 3M Mobile Interactive Solutions Division, shows off the 3M Streaming Projector powered by Roku.

The $299 3M Streaming Projector powered by Roku comes with a removable Roku Streaming Stick, a USB-flash-drive-size device with a built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking adapter, Roku software and an MHL (mobile high-definition link) port. The Roku Streaming Stick allows the projector to access content from online services such as Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus and Netflix.

“It’s everything you expect from a Roku platform,” said Chas Smith, Roku’s senior vice president and general manager of its platform OEM business. “The big thing about Roku is the simplicity.”

The one-pound unit has a rechargeable lithium ion battery that provides up to two hours and 45 minutes of video playback, thus making it possible to show videos wherever you can find a Wi-Fi connection–even outdoors.

The device comes with a small infrared remote control, but for about $20 you can purchase the Roku Game Remote, an enhanced Wi-Fi remote with an accelerometer, which allows you to play interactive games such as Angry Birds on the big screen. By utilizing a Wi-Fi Direct connection, the unit can also stream images and videos from compatible cell phone and other mobile devices. Of course you can use the 3M Streaming Projector powered by Roku as a standard projector and connect it to a laptop or other device via an HDMI cable.

At a resolution of 800 by 480 pixels and with a 60-lumen brightness rating, the image from the unit, although clear and sharp, doesn’t compare to that of much more expensive plasma or LCD HDTVs. The unit’s performance is best in low-light situations such as a darkened basement as opposed to a brightly sunlit room. The unit has an internal speaker, but a headphone jack is included for external speakers.

Mark Colin of 3M (left) and Roku’s Chas Smith explain the features of the 3M Streaming Projector powered by Roku at New York press conference.

The 3M Streaming Projector powered by Roku is now available for pre-order exclusively from Amazon. The first units will be delivered to customers on or about Oct. 22.

Text and photos Copyright 2012
Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features

Motorola Sharpens Droid RAZR Lineup with RAZR HD, RAZR MAXX HD and RAZR M

Motorola Droid RAZR HD

Motorola tried to snatch the smartphone headlines from Apple and Samsung Wednesday by introducing three robust additions to its Android lineup: The muscle-bound Droid RAZR HD and Droid RAZR MAXX HD and the affordable, but still power-packed Droid RAZR M.

The Droid RAZR M, which has a 4.3-inch display, is available now for $100 when purchased with a two-year service plan. No specific dates or prices were announced for the Droid RAZR HD and Droid RAZR MAXX HD, which have 4.7-inch screens. All come with 1.5 GHz dual-core processors, 1 GB of RAM and front- and rear-facing HD-video-capable cameras. [Update: The Droid RAZR HD is now available for $200 and the Droid RAZR MAXX HD is $300, in both cases when purchased with a two-year service plan.]

“I’m here to tell you that the new Motorola starts today,” said Dennis Woodside, CEO of Motorola Mobility, now a part of Google. “In many ways, Google and Motorola have only just begun.”

Motorola Mobility CEO Dennis Woodside talks to the press as the image of Martin Cooper, who led the Motorola team which invented the mobile phone in 1973, looms behind him. Cooper was in attendance at the New York press event.

Motorola’s three new RAZR models offer 4G data speeds via the LTE network from Verizon Wireless, long-lasting batteries and are the first to ship with Google’s Chrome for Android Web browser, which has a handful of finger-friendly features.

For example, to switch between tabs on Chrome you simply swipe your finger from one side of the screen to the other. A swipe to the side also gets rid of a tab while you’re looking at a group of them. Users also have the option of synchronizing bookmarks with Chrome browsers on other devices. Unlike the standard Android Web browser, Chrome has no limits on the number of tabs you can have open at once.

According to Motorola, the Super AMOLED displays on the Droid RAZR HD and Droid RAZR MAXX HD have 78 per cent more pixels than the original DROID RAZR, resulting in a sharper, smoother-looking display. The key difference is that the Droid RAZR HD, available in black or white, comes with a lithium-ion battery which provides 24 hours of battery life while the thicker RAZR MAXX HD (black only) has a larger battery which promises 32 hours of phone use per charge.

Droid RAZR M

The Droid RAZR M, which is available in black or white, has a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen and a narrow bezel, which allows it to offer the same size screen as phones with larger bodies, including the original Droid RAZR. Its 2,000 mAH battery provides 20 hours of battery life, according to Motorola. The new RAZR phones also offer power-management controls that can further enhance battery life.

Like its larger siblings, the Droid RAZR M has an 8-megapixel camera on the back but has a lower-resolution, 0.3-megapixel front-facing camera while the other two new RAZR models have 1.3-megapixel front cameras.

During a demonstration at Wednesday’s press event a Droid RAZR HD unit provided remarkably sharp and smooth HD video playback even with bright ambient light. As expected, the new RAZR models are thin. The RAZR M comes in just under a third of an inch, the RAZR HD is just over a third of an inch thick and the RAZR MAXX HD is slightly fatter at 0.37 inches thick.

Woodside noted that not only will all of  the new RAZR phones be upgraded from Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) to Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) later this year, but added that all Motorola smartphones capable of handling the new software will get it as well. Owners of Motorola smartphones that can’t be upgraded to Jelly Bean can get a $100 credit toward a new phone, he said.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt at the Motorola RAZR product launch in New York.

“They really shouldn’t be called smartphones, they should be called mobile computers,” said Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who led off the press event.

How will the new RAZR entries compete with the Samung Galaxy S3, the current and future Apple iPhone and recent entries from Nokia, LG, HTC and others? The holiday shopping season will provide the answer soon enough.

Text, video and images © Copyright 2012

Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features

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A Night at the Museum: Timeless Cool Tech at MoMA

Never underestimate the geek value of a night at the museum, specifically New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

On a recent Friday afternoon (admission is free 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays) I found myself on the third floor where MoMA houses a surprisingly eclectic and entertaining collection of old and new technology in its Architecture and Design areas.

While the Bell-47D1 helicopter in the lobby and the collection of vintage vacuum tubes were expected, the displays also include products you may have used or may be in your home right now.

The FPR2 Human Powered Radio and Freeplay Human Powered Torch from Freeplay Energy Ltd. would have come in handy during any of New York’s three major blackouts. Both units can be charged with elbow grease or via built-in solar panels. The London-based company still makes hand-crank-powered devices but they’re smaller and sleeker than these translucent 1998-vintage consumer products.

The IBM ThinkPad 701 notebook, which debuted in 1995, is a classic example of cool technology which went white hot and ice cold almost overnight. How do you fit a full-size keyboard into a compact laptop? Create a split keyboard which expands when you open the unit’s lid and collapses when you close it.

The butterfly keyboard, officially called the TrackWrite, allowed the unit’s 9.7-inch-wide case to accommodate a keyboard that could fold out to 11.5 inches wide. As laptops grew larger and more affordable, the need for such keyboard magic disappeared and the ThinkPad 701 ended up as the only ThinkPad made with the nifty folding keyboard.

Long before frills such as wireless mice, studio-quality audio or (gasp!) electronic displays came to personal computing, Olivetti’s Logos 80 Programmable Calculator provided a reasonable calculating option for those graduating from slide rules or four-function pocket calculators.

It’s not surprising when art makes its way from a museum for temporary display in the New York’s subway system, but it’s rare when things go the other way. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the folks who run New York’s subways, is experimenting with the Help Point Intercom, a highly visible customer assistance and emergency communicator.

Many stations have customer communication boxes, but they’re yellow and much smaller and sometimes hard to find. The Help Points are much larger, always illuminated and are uniquely coded so subway personnel can tell which unit was used to call in an emergency and where to send assistance.

In a pilot program, some units have been installed at the 23rd St. and Brooklyn Bridge stations on the Lexington Ave. line. Apparently the sleek, but functional design earned the Help Point a spot in MoMA even before it merited widespread adoption in the subway system.

The moral of this story: Cool design is timeless. Only time will tell if the electric toothbrush you used this morning will make it to MoMA’s third floor next year.

Text and video Copyright 2012 Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features

BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0: RIM’s Last Shot?

PlayBook OS 2.0 download in progress

BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 is finally here. At long last PlayBook owners have a reason to crow about their units–instead of quietly sliding them away each time someone nearby pulls out an iPad.
But OS 2.0 is late–possibly too late to save the PlayBook.

From the moment it debuted last April, the BlackBerry PlayBook has been a heartbreaking disappointment. While its hardware and sleek design have garnered kudos for the seven-inch tablet, it unfortunately debuted without essentials like e-mail or contact-management software or a calendar. It also had an app store with a selection which made the worst of the Android Market seem like the Works of William Shakespeare.

At that time Research In Motion promised that a new PlayBook OS with e-mail, contact and calendar clients and an Android emulator that would allow the PlayBook to run popular Android apps would be ready by last June. Then it was October. We’ve been waiting ever since. Now it’s here.

Today BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0, with all of the above trimmings, finally becomes available as a free over-the-air download. And it’s about darn time.

If you were lucky enough to preview PlayBook OS 2.0 at the 2012 International CES in Las Vegas in January, you already know that this upgrade is a must download. The new OS is a head-and-shoulders improvement to the original quirky, limited-use operating system.

BlackBerry booth at 2012 CES

The new PlayBook e-mail, contact and calendar clients shown at CES are things of beauty. They have easy-to-use interfaces and smooth integration with social media services. The versions shown at CES looked like finished products even then–not just prototypes.

In terms of productivity, the new software offers a high level of cross-app integration, thus eliminating steps in doing basic tasks like setting up a meeting and inviting attendees. PlayBook OS 2.0 will also be more manageable than the previous version and will allow users to create their own folders.

One area where the PlayBook has always outdone other tablets like the iPad is in its still camera and video capabilities. For example, the video below was shot at the 2011 New York International Auto Show with the PlayBook’s five-megapixel rear-facing camera.

This video was shot at 720p resolution, which is not even the best the PlayBook can do: It also supports recording at 1080p and 480p.

The BlackBerry PlayBook also has a three-megapixel front-facing camera, which, combined with its microphone and stereo speakers, would make it a terrific videoconferencing solution–if it could only run Skype in addition to the little-known tablet videoconferencing apps in BlackBerry App World. But that may change soon.

As far as PlayBook-compatible Android apps are concerned, don’t expect to get access to the Android Market. Android apps need a little tweaking as well as approval from RIM before they will work on the PlayBook.

These PlayBook-approved Android apps will show up in BlackBerry App World along with those designed specifically for the QNX-based PlayBook OS. Thus, installing an Android app on the PlayBook will be no different from the process currently used. Right now only a handful of the most popular mobile apps are available as native apps for the PlayBook. This short list includes Facebook, Groupon, Evernote, Kobo and YouTube.

As of today, suggested pricing for the BlackBerry PlayBook is significantly reduced from the original levels, which ranged from $499 to $699. A PlayBook with 16GB of internal storage now retails for $199, the 32GB version is $249 and a 64GB unit is $299.

BlackBerry PlayBook tablet running PlayBook OS 1.0

If you’ll be upgrading a PlayBook as soon as OS 2.0 is available, keep in mind that an OS update is a serious upgrade. Before you start, back up important data elsewhere, make sure your unit is charged, keep it plugged in to an AC adapter during the upgrade process and make sure you have a reliable data connection. Once you start, follow the instructions to the letter. An aborted OS upgrade could chew up your data and turn your PlayBook into an expensive paperweight.

So how did your unit survive the OS 2.0 upgrade? Let’s hear about it.

Text and videos Copyright 2012, Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features

Swype for Windows 7 Debuts in New HP Slate 2 Tablet PC

The Swype technology that makes it possible to type without lifting your finger from your Android smartphone or tablet screen has cracked the Windows barrier and is included in the new Windows 7 powered HP Slate 2 Tablet PC.

A small, but significant logo sits at the bottom of the screen on the new Windows-powered HP Slate 2 Tablet PC announced today: Swype. Yes, the same Swype utility that lets you type by sliding your finger across your Android smartphone or tablet screen without lifting it has come to Windows 7.

The 1.5-pound Windows 7-powered HP Slate 2 Tablet PC (starts at $699) has an 8.9-inch capacitive multitouch display which supports both pen and finger input, a 1.5 GHz Intel Atom Z670 CPU and a preinstalled copy of Swype, which up until now had only been seen on Android, Windows Mobile and Symbian devices.

HP Slate 2 Tablet PC with optional HP Slate Bluetooth Keyboard and Case

The unit is meant for business and will not be marketed as a consumer device, said Kyle Thornton, category manager for HP Emerging Products at a recent HP press preview in New York. It’s meant for retail and other business uses where full access to Windows applications is needed. It has an SD Card slot for storage in addition to an internal solid state drive and a 3-megapixel digital camera on the rear and a front-facing VGA webcam.

According to HP, the battery should last up to six hours on a charge and the unit offers a number of built-in security features, including a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip. A dock adds two USB 2.0 ports and a single HDMI port to the unit.

Business-friendly options include the HP Retail Mobile Point of Sale Case, which has a magnetic stripe reader and barcode scanner and the $79 HP Slate Bluetooth Keyboard and Case (above), which folds out to support the slate as if it were a notebook and closes up to protect both the keyboard and the HP Slate 2 Tablet PC.

Note that while Swype comes preinstalled on many Android devices, it can also be added to Android devices that didn’t ship with it. Swype Beta is available for download at no charge but does not work on all Android devices, especially those with older versions of Android or have relatively low-resolution displays. (Don’t install Swype Beta on a unit which came with Swype. It won’t work.) Swype is not available as an separate installable Windows application for other Windows tablets.

The HP Slate 2 Tablet PC will ship later this month and will be available from the HP website.

Text and photos Copyright 2011 Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features
Video courtesy of HP