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    The Best iPhone 6 Case (So Far)

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    After surveying almost 1,000 Wirecutter readers and testing 60 iPhone 6 cases over a period of about 30 hours (so far), our current pick for the best all-around case is the NGP from Incipio. The NGP has protected several generations of iPhones (and many other devices) and has a reputation for providing solid protection and a good fit. It’s slim enough to not detract from the iPhone 6’s svelte dimensions, while still offering comprehensive protection for the handset’s body, including its buttons. Openings along the bottom allow for compatibility with a wide range of accessories.

    Update: We’ve added two cases as also-great picks: STM’s Harbour, and Apple’s leather case.

    How we decided

    Truth is, there are plenty of good iPhone cases out there. A bad case is actually a pretty rare thing. But in looking for a few cases that work for most people, we sought out a case that can adequately protect your phone without adding too much bulk or unnecessary embellishments while doing so. Apple sets forth very specific guidelines for case developers. The main thesis: “A well-designed case will securely house an Apple device while not interfering with the device’s operation.” It goes into much deeper specifics.

    A respectable degree of shock absorption is important, as is a tight fit. The case should cover as much of the iPhone’s body as possible, including a raised lip around the glass display to keep it from laying flat on a surface. The best cases offer button protection with great tactility, mimicking or in some instances even enhancing what you’d feel with a bare iPhone. Based on these criteria, plastic shells are automatically out of the picture.

    The Best USB 3.0 Hubs Today

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    The HooToo HT-UH010 seven-port hub ($40) is our favorite USB 3.0 hub because it’s compact, reliable, and has well-placed ports aplenty. But its main strength is its usability and design—we looked at many other hubs that were larger, had fewer ports, and weren’t as easy to use. We determined the HooToo is the best hub for most people after 100 hours of research, testing, and consulting with electrical engineers to learn about how power flows through USB hubs and where things commonly go wrong.

    How we decided

    A USB 3.0 hub is for people who have a computer with at least one USB 3.0 port and either want more of them or want them in a more accessible place. Most hubs have one or two charge ports, but a USB hub is not the same as a dedicated USB charging station.

    To find the best for most people, we surveyed hundreds of readers, interviewed engineers, and did our own research to find out what makes a USB hub great. We found that the best USB hub must have USB 3.0 ports and dedicated power. It needs to be reliable, well-designed, light, and compact. A decent warranty and LED indicators for each port are also useful. Most people want a hub with five to seven ports, but there was enough demand for four- and 10-port hubs that we decided to find a recommendation for each.

    Our Pick

    The HooToo HT-UH010 is the best USB hub because it has a great, usable design that most of the competition lacked. It has seven USB 3.0 data ports, a 1-amp charge port for smartphones, and a 2.1-amp charge port for high-power devices like iPads. The upward-facing ports reduce desk clutter, and the HooToo is sturdy and reliable for simultaneous USB 3.0 file transfers and device charging. It also has LED indicators for each data port, lengthy cords for easy setup, and an 18-month warranty.

    The vertically stacked ports mean you won’t have trouble plugging in bulkier USB devices next to one another. And, because the ports are located on top of the hub rather than arranged around the sides, devices stick up instead of fanning out and taking up valuable desk space. Much of the competition had side-facing ports that were too close together or made USB devices take up way more space on our desk. The HooToo hub is compact, and—bonus—it’s aesthetically inoffensive.

    In Brief: Amazon Announces Echo, a $200 Connected Speaker

    Amazon just announced a $200 Bluetooth speaker that also doubles as a connected voice assistant, like Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana. The Echo is primarily a cylindrical wireless speaker with Bluetooth support, but also Wi-Fi to tap into streaming radio or Amazon's own Prime Music services. Its novel feature is voice control, answering to the keyword "Alexa"--three syllables help distinguish it from the word "Echo". The device has seven microphones, which Amazon claims will be able to recognize voice commands from anywhere in the room, without yelling. With those commands, you can ask for weather reports, news, as well as control music playback. I think this is a really cool idea for a connected home accessory, though it doesn't tap into existing smart home technologies--yet. Echo is currently only available by invitation only, but Amazon Prime subscribers who get into the program can buy it for $100. Amazon's promo video introducing the Echo is below, and I'm looking forward to testing this.

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    In Brief: Microsoft Announces $200 Fitness Tracking Band

    Microsoft's answer to Apple's watch isn't a watch at all. It's a $200 fitness tracker dubbed the Microsoft Band, and was announced today as part of Microsoft's new cloud-based Health Platform. The band, which looks more like a Nike Fuelband or Jawbone Up than watch, has a thin rectangular display with Microsoft-style tiles that show information like step counts, notifications, and the time. 10 sensors on it track heart rate, calorie burn, and sleep quality--it's something Microsoft wants users to wear all day. It'll work with Android and iOS devices, but Windows Phone users will get access to Cortana integration for voice queries. Microsoft strongly emphasized that this is not a smartwatch, so it's not going to buzz constantly like the Pebble of Android Wear watches. The Microsoft Band is available now, and Microsoft Health will soon have an SDK and support for cross-platform applications.

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    Tested In-Depth: SmartThings Home Automation

    Will's been testing the SmartThings system since its successful Kickstarter campaign, and shares his experience setting up home automation for his family. SmartThings lets you set a house up to be contextually aware of a variety of events, with no reoccurring fees. We discuss what aspects of home automation may make sense for most people, and how home control works via the app.

    Show and Tell: Bluetooth Hands-Free Car Adapter

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares his current solution for playing back music and making calls from his phone in his car. While his car has an auxiliary audio jack, he prefers using this Kinivo hands-free receiver as an intermediary. Its decent audio, built-in micrphone, and music playback controls are why it's Will's pick for an aftermarket car Bluetooth solution. What do you use to listen to music from your smartphone while driving?

    Show and Tell: Ultimate Ears Boom Speakers

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will tests Logitech's Ultimate Ears Boom, a step up from the mini Bluetooth speaker we reviewed last year. The larger speaker is durable and meant to be used on the road, like for camping trips. Its 15-hour battery can last a weeklong road trip, but it's also great for backyard use.

    Show and Tell: Astro A38 Bluetooth Headset

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares a new bluetooth headset that he's been testing: Astro Gaming's A38. While the company is known for its gaming headphones, these wireless headsets are made to be worn outside the home, with good active noise-cancellation. Here's what Will thinks about them after some use.

    The Best $300 Over-Ear Headphones Today

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    If I was looking to buy over-ear headphones for $300 or less, I’d get the PSB M4U 1, our recommendation for the second year running. After researching dozens of new headphones and testing 17, the PSBs remain the best for most people because they sound just as great playing acoustic concert guitar as thumping hip-hop.

    How We Decided

    We spent 20 hours researching the new headphones released since last fall. Anything on the new list that had good reviews or was too new to have any reviews yet, we brought in to be tested by our panel of four experts with decades of audio reviewing experience.

    The idea behind our panel is this: listen to all of these headphones back-to-back to get a sense of sound, build quality, comfort, and features as compared to each other. (To our knowledge this is the first time any publication has directly compared some of these products in the same test session.) Because these are headphones of a higher price range, we tested using an iPhone, Android phone, and iPod, in addition to the Sony PHA-2 Hi-Res DAC and the Dared HPA-55L headphone amp to see if there were varying results in sound quality.

    Apple Announces Its Watch Collection, Launching 2015

    Here it is. Apple's watch. And it's decidedly a watch, not a curved band or "wrist wearable" as we and some other people had predicted. Here's what you should know about it.

    The Apple watch is a touchscreen device worn on your wrist, running a special version of the iOS interface. The big deal here is the user interface--users will interact with it via touchscreen, voice, a dedicated button, and a crown dial on the right side. This digital crown dial is used to zoom in and out of applications as well as scroll and navigate. On the bottom of the watch are four optical sensors for monitoring the wearer's heartbeat, as well as an inductive charger for wireless charging. Activity monitoring is a big part of the Apple Watch, and an Activity app monitors different types of motion like workouts or sitting down at the office. Feedback is provided via a small speaker and haptic feedback provided over what Apple calls a "Taptic Engine." The color screen displays digital clockfaces like Android Wear watches, and you can tap into Apple services like Siri and the new Apple Pay. Developers will be able to adapt their apps and create Watch-specific apps with Apple's WatchKit SDK and APIs.

    The Apple Watch connects to iPhones--starting with the iPhone 5C--via Bluetooth 4.0, but also has Wi-Fi connectivity. As for when you'll be able to buy one, Apple has only said that its Watch will come out in 2015, with a starting price of $350. Apple Watch comes in two sizes--38mm and 42mm--as well as several different finishes and strap options. What are your thoughts about this new smart watch? We'll be talking about it in-depth on this week's podcast, which we're recording tomorrow.

    This Is The Best Wi-Fi Router

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter. Read the original full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    If your laptop, smartphone, or tablet uses the latest wireless-AC networking technology and you’re shopping for a new router, you should get the Netgear R6250. The benefits of wireless-ac are great: super-fast performance that can be stronger at longer distances than wireless-n routers. More than 100 hours of combined testing and research led us to the $150 R6250, which boasts the best combination of speed, price, and features of any router in its price range, and unlike more expensive and newer routers, has technology your most modern gear can actually take advantage of.

    How we decided on the R6250

    Our pick supports two data streams for wireless-n and three for wireless-ac. Our research indicates that two-stream wireless-N and -AC technology are the most common connection types for laptops, tablets, and smartphones, while three-stream wireless-ac is what you'll find on new top-of-the-line laptops like the latest MacBook Pro.

    How did we pick this price point? Basically, a $200 router can be faster than our main pick, but only if your devices can take advantage of it—most things we own today can’t. On the other hand, paying less than $100 for a wireless-ac router means sacrificing speed and/or range, and you might also lose a number of useful features, like media streaming, parental controls, and remote access.

    Our router finalists for speed and features, based on a lot of research and interviewing with the best wireless gear testers, were the Netgear R6250 ($150), Asus RT-AC56U ($112), Asus RT-AC66U ($170), and TP-Link Archer C7 ($99). We tested them by running performance benchmarks at four different testing stations inside a 2,700 square-foot, one-story house.

    In Brief: USB "Condom" Protects Devices from "Juice Jacking"

    Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing shares this crowdfunded USB dongle that acts as a protective barrier between your USB device and a potentially malicious charging station. The $10 USBCondom was funded on CrowdSupply earlier this year, and is now shipping and taking pre-orders for the next production run. It works by blocking the data pins on a USB connection, only allowing power to pass through to your device. As Doctorow points out, you can also buy a USB cable that does the same thing for $9.

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    Show and Tell: Favorite Exercise Armband

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will reviews the Tuneband, his favorite athletic armband to use with his iPhone while jogging. It's secure enough so that it doesn't flap around when you're in motion, but also keeps your phone at a good position where it doesn't get in the way of your arm movements.

    The Best Exercise Headphones

    This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter. Read the original full article below at TheWirecutter.com

    If I were looking for a pair of headphones to use in my workout, I’d want the Relays by Sol Republic. They are hands down the most comfortable headphones to wear while being active. They sound good, stay put without chafing or tugging, are light and resistant to sweat, and have a lifetime of free tips (because you know those lil’ buggers love to get lost in a gym bag).

    I base this conclusion after extensively testing 38 models. Our tests involved a professional listening panel, three stress tests, and real workout tests. After all that, I’m confident the Sol Republic are the best fit for your fitness routine.

    Who’s this for / should I upgrade?

    Exercise headphones are for people who want to run, hike, bike, or hit the gym while listening to music, podcasts, or other media. That means they should be able to withstand a variety of stressors like sweat, rain, strain from dropping media players, and abuse from being thrown in a bag. The headphones should also sound decent, feel good, stay put, and stay out of the way when you’re being active.

    In Brief: USB Promoter Group Finalizes Design of Next USB Connector

    Arstechnica reports that the USB Promoter Group and the USB Implementers Forum have completed the design and spec for the next-generation of microUSB connector. Dubbed the Type-C, the plug will be similar in size to the current MicroUSB 2.0 connector, but will support the USB 3.1 spec with speeds up to 10GBps and power delivery up to 100W. The design is also reversible, much like Apple's Lightning plug, and is designed to be upgradable and scale with future USB spec changes. The USB Promoter Group promises that adapters for existing Type-B plugs will be readily available. And there's no word of changes to the venerable "standard" A plug--the end on desktops and laptops--which is really the one that needs to support reversibility.

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    The Best Handheld Vacuum

    This post was done in partnership with The Sweethome. Read the original full article at TheSweethome.com

    For small spills and tight spots that a regular vacuum can’t reach, we recommend using the Black & Decker BDH2020FLFH 20 V MAX Flex Vac ($130). Its powerful 20-volt lithium-ion battery delivers about 16 minutes of strong, steady suction, which means better cleaning for longer than most of the competition can muster. Equally important, its 4-foot flexible hose reaches where other hand vacuums (including our previous pick) can’t, like under car seats. And it even accepts clip-on attachments like a regular vacuum would. It’s the most versatile portable vacuum out there.

    We spent a total of 56 hours researching and 20 hours testing hand vacuums over the past few years. Of the roughly 40 models we’ve found, this new Flex Vac has proven to be the best bet for most people.

    Who needs a portable vacuum?

    A portable vacuum excels as a smaller, lighter, nimbler sidekick to a plug-in upright or canister vacuum. It cleans spots that a big vac doesn’t easily reach: countertops or the floor of a car, for example. And since there’s no cord to unravel, it’s super easy to grab off the charging dock for 10 seconds to suck up a few dust bunnies or grains of spilled cereal. However, if you think you can replace a floor vacuum with one of these, you will be sorely disappointed. They’re simply not designed for that kind of heavy lifting.

    (That being said, some new battery-powered vacuums are designed as all-purpose cleaners, meant to pull double-duty as an all-house upright and a hand vacuum. This guide does not cover these types of vacuums.)

    Testing: Android Wear Battery Life

    Since we shot our video review of the LG G Watch, I've spent more time testing the watch and Android Wear. It's now my primary watch, replacing both the Timex Weekender I had been wearing since December and the Pebble Steel (a loaner unit since returned back to Pebble). The biggest problem I had with the LG G Watch was battery life--with default notification settings and brightness set to 30%, I couldn't get the watch to last a full day of use. Granted, that's because I'm a pretty heavy email user and am constantly managing (checking, archiving, replying to) email through the watch, but that's one of the reasons I liked it over the Pebble in the first place. Having the watch switch off on me before my phone battery died sucked, and I didn't want to carry the proprietary charger around.

    The battery life is largely attributed to the LCD use. By default, LG's watch LCD is on all the time. It switches between a dark display that only shows the time to a brighter one when you lift your wrist up or tap the screen, but in both states, the LCD is active and the backlight is on. There is, however, a setting on the watch that turns the active LCD off when its in the dormant state, meaning that you can't casually check the time unless you tap the screen or trigger the wake state. In this mode, the battery life is significantly improved, lasting even over two days without going back to the charging dock. I ran several test scenarios: an extended session with minimal watch use, and one with heavy use. Under minimal use (only using the watch for time and notifications), the LG G Watch lasted two and a half days before powering off. In the heavy use scenario (constantly checking email and using navigation for daily commutes), the watch still lasted to the end of the second day.

    This extra full day of use--which still falls short of the Pebble's battery life--made a big difference in my day-to-day appreciation of the watch. This sounds really silly to say about a watch, but I was no longer worrying whether I would be able to check the time during my drive home. That's just the unfortunate state of this first generation of smart watches. Having to tap the watch to activate the screen is a reasonable trade-off, though it makes me hope for some kind of LCD/E-Paper hybrid in future models that can display the time in a low-power state. I really don't need a fancy full-color display running at 30Hz to see what time it is.

    And then there's that Apple wearable that we're expecting, which may or may not even be a watch.

    Show and Tell: Laptop Screen Privacy Filter

    For today's Show and Tell, Will shares his method for preventing unwanted eyes from seeing what's on his laptop screen. He uses a 3M privacy filter attachment on top of his MacBook Air, which restricts the viewing angle to just the person using the laptop. Where would you use this kind of technology?

    Testing: Traveling Abroad without a Laptop

    I just got back from a two-week trip to France to see my wife's extended family. This is only my fourth time leaving the country and I've been working on paring down my travel gear to the essentials. The only thing worse than not having what you need is having a bunch of stuff you don't. This year I tried to travel as light as possible. I knew I should spend most of my time visiting family, not staring at a screen, but I also knew that two weeks without doing any sort of writing would drive me nuts.

    Even trying to bring the bare minimum, I brought a bunch of stuff I didn't end up using. One Bag Travel people would laugh at me. But I did manage to travel without a laptop for the first time. If you can manage, I highly recommend it. You'll save a lot of weight and volume and most of the things you use a laptop for can now be done with a smartphone or tablet.

    Before getting into the specific gear I brought (and what I'd leave behind next year), let's talk about what I consider to be the travel essentials: power and data.

    In Brief: Be Mindful of USB Security Risks

    At next week's Black Hat security conference, researchers Karsten Nohl and Jakob Lell plan on presenting a demo of malicious software that shows just how fundamentally at-risk the USB protocol is for unprotected computers. Their software, called BadUSB, lives in the firmware of a USB key, not the flash memory. The researchers say that reprogrammed firmware used as malicious code can't be detected by current anti-virus software. And the scariest part may be that the BadUSB firmware can be installed on any USB device, not just memory sticks.

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