Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


Ventev Battery Packs and Chargers

Posted by Andrew at 4:44 PM on January 20, 2014

Ventev LogoVentev offers innovative combined battery packs and chargers for smartphones and tablets. Scott Franklin, Director, chats with Todd and Don about Ventev’s latest mobile accessories at CES.

External battery backs for smart phones and tablet are very common these days, but the benefit of Ventev’s unit is that the charger is integrated into the pack itself; there’s no need for additional external charger. Scott shows off three different packs in the interview;

  1. the powercell 6000+, a 6000 mAh unit ($74.99) that plugs directly into the mains electricity socket. Two USB ports, rated at 1 A and 2.1 A.
  2. the powerdash r900, a cylindrical 900 mAh unit ($39.99) which charges from a car cigarette lighter. One USB port rated at 2.1 A when plugged in and 1 A when running from the battery.
  3. the utilitycharger 2100, a charger only ($39.99) but powers from both from the mains and from a car lighter. Two USB ports rated at 1 A each.

For more information on availability, visit Ventev’s website at www.ventev.com.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Lantronix Prints From Android and Chrome at CES

Posted by Andrew at 8:16 AM on January 7, 2014

Lantronix LogoThere are times when only hard copy will do but anyone who has tried to print from a tablet will know that it’s not always easy. The main ecosystems from Apple and Google have their own printer strategies with AirPrint and Cloud Print respectively but support is spotty at best. Several printer manufacturers have gone so far as to create their own printer app which really is a pretty poor state of affairs.

Into this gap steps Lantronix with their xPrintServer Cloud Print Edition, the first Google-certified Cloud Print server which lets Android and ChromeOS devices print wirelessly to network and USB printers. Sweet.

xPrintServer

The unit is about the size of a smartphone and requires no additional software downloads or printer drivers. It’s simply a case of connecting the device to the network and it automatically finds the printers on the network, making them available to users. The xPrintServer Cloud Print Edition supports any device running Google’s Chrome browser, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, PC or laptop. Apparently there are over 310 million active users of Chrome, so that’s quite a few people who might want to print. Business users of Google Apps are supported too. Details of the printers supported are available from Lantronix’s website.

This new xPrintServer joins the existing Home and Office Editions which provide print services for iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad.

The Cloud Print Edition sells for an MSRP of US$149.95 and will ship at the end of February 2014. Pre-orders are being taken now and potential customers can sign up at lantronix.com for more information and availability. Of course, if you are at CES, you can pop round to their stand for a quick demo.

USB Type-C Standard to Remove Annoying “2-Flip” Rule to Insert USB Plug

Posted by J Powers at 9:11 AM on December 5, 2013

USBYou know the 2-flip USB rule. The USB plug won’t work, so you flip it. It still doesn’t work so you flip it again. Then it plugs right in.

Well that is all going to change.

The USB Implementers Forum announced they are working on a new plug that will work however you plug it in. Other features will include a smaller size plug and the connector design will scale for future USB bus performance. You can read it all on USB Implementers Forum document.

Smaller Type-C connectors will be an advantage to newer and smaller tablets, phones and notebooks. Alex Peleg, Vice President of platform Engineering at Intel stated his excitement over the device. He believes this will become a great all-in-one plug and the “only connector one will need across all devices.”

Current USB 3.0 standards can transfer at speeds of 5 Gbit/s. As compared to Thunderbolt 1, which can do 10 Gbit/s per channel (20 Gbit/s total).

This new connector could show up as early as mid-2014 when the USB 3.1 specification is expected to be completed.

Plantronics Voyager Legend Bluetooth Headset Review

Posted by Andrew at 6:04 PM on November 30, 2013

I’ve been a user of Plantronics’ Bluetooth headsets for many years, starting with the Explorer 320 and more recently the Voyager Pro. I’ve always liked them because I found them a good fit on my ears but they’re trouble-free and easy-to-use with no problems pairing on a wide range of phones. More recently, I’ve taken receipt of a Voyager Legend and, so far, it’s living up to its name.

On review here is the full Voyager Legend UC package which comes with the headset itself, Bluetooth adaptor, desktop charging stand and charging case. This is the complete outfit for those in the office and on the go, aimed at those who use both mobile phones and IP-based communications, such as Microsoft’s Lync or Skype. This is the Microsoft version with an alternative version supporting Avaya, Cisco and IBM services. The Legend can manage two Bluetooth connections simultaneously so calls coming in from both routes can be answered on the headset and speaking from experience, this is very handy.

Plantronics Legend Box

The Voyager Legend UC comes in a plain box but opening it up reveals a wealth of accessories and adaptors, including UK and continental plug adaptors plus various USB connectors and chargers.

Plantronics Legend Inside Box

Here’s the charging case with the USB Bluetooth adaptor and the Voyager Legend itself. The Bluetooth adaptor is half the size of the previous generation that came with the Voyager Pro.

Plantronics Legend Charging Case

As might be guessed from the name, this is a charging case and the case has a built-in rechargeable battery which charges the Legend when it is in the case. In the photo below, you can see the contacts in the case on the right. It’s a clever idea, especially when on extended travel as you don’t need to lug around chargers – the case itself recharges via a micro-USB connection.

Charging Contacts

Of course, the desktop dock provides a convenient place to keep the Legend and charge it at the same time. There’s a magnetic catch to snap the headset in place.

Plantronics Legend Headset and Dock

Plantronics Legend in Dock

In use I find the Legend very comfortable to wear and I almost use it almost exclusively to answer my calls at my desk, whether the call comes through on my mobile or my desk phone. The headset is stylish enough to wear without feeling self-conscious, though I tend to take it off when I’m away from my desk. The Legend has three earpiece sizes in the box to accommodate different ears and can be worn on either the left or the right ear.

The Legend has some great features, such as auto answer, which detects when the headset is lifted from the dock and answers the call automatically. The Legend accepts voice commands, letting you put the headset into pairing mode, answer or decline calls and check battery level with ease. There are hardware controls on the headset for on/off, volume up/down, accept call and a multi-function button which does a couple of different things.

The talk time is rated at 7 hours and I never had any trouble with the battery running down unexpectedly. The charging case extends this even further with two full recharges from the case taking the total call time to 21 hours. Call quality is excellent, with callers sounding clear and natural, and most people don’t realise that I’m on a Bluetooth headset. The Legend also supports A2DP, which is handy if you want to listen to music or podcasts, albeit with one ear.

Plantronics have an Android smartphone app which, amongst other things, can help you track down where you last used the headset via GPS. It’s a neat idea but I found the app didn’t always play nicely with other GPS-using apps as the Plantronics app would turn off the GPS after getting a lock. The other app would than flail around looking for a signal lock. I submitted a bug report to Plantronics so hopefully they’ll get that fixed soon as it’s very irritating when playing Ingress.

There’s no two ways about it, the Plantronics Voyager Legend UC is a brilliant headset which I’m sure will do me for years – it has both the features and the construction to last. It’s definitely a premium product and it doesn’t come cheap: the RRP is over £150 but you can find it online for less than £100 including the carry case. However, it’s worth it if you want to to use a hands-free headset on an extended basis both at the desk and on the go.

The Voyager Legend UC was provided by Plantronics for review.

Mugenizer N11 Qi Charger with Battery Review

Posted by Andrew at 6:14 PM on November 28, 2013

Mugen Power Batteries LogoHere on GNC I’ve reviewed a succession of USB rechargeable battery packs and I’ve tested a couple of Qi chargers for my Nexus 4. Now for the first time I can review both at the same time with the Mugenizer N11 Wireless Charger Power Bank. Fundamentally, it’s Qi charger with a built-in rechargeable 4800 mAh battery. Genius!

Mugen kindly sent me an N11 as soon as it was released and I’ve been using it for about a week or so. First impressions were good as it came in an attractive card box which smoothly slid open.

N11 Box

The box holds the N11, a USB-to-microUSB cable and a power supply, all in matching white.

N11 in Box

The N11 is made from a hard shiny plastic with a rubber ring in the centre to help hold the charging smartphone over the Qi charging spot. There’s a row of charge lights on the top surface and one end has the on/off switch, charging USB port and recharging microUSB port.

N11 End View

If you are wondering how big the N11 is, it’s almost exactly the same size as a Nexus 4. Here’s mine but note the Nexus is sitting back on the charger a little bit.

N11 and Nexus 4

Enough of how it all looked, how well did the N11 work? Frankly, it worked great. Unlike some of the other Qi chargers I’ve tested, it’s easy to spot where the Qi charging coil is. This makes aligning the phone with charger really straightforward and there’s a beep from the N11 to let you know everything is lined up. Here’s a screen shot from Battery+ showing the excellent charging rate.

N11 Charging

The N11 worked equally well with devices that needed a USB cable to charge. The battery is 4800 mAh which means you could recharge most modern smartphones twice from flat. Generally I was able to recharge my Nexus 4 three times from around 20%. The N11 supports charging from the USB port and the Qi charger at the same time, which can be handy. The port is rated at 1 A.

My only criticism of the product is that it was sometimes difficult to pick out the exact charge level on the blue LEDs as the light bled from one to the next. Is it fully charged or 90%? As the power level fell, it was easier to make the level out.

Charging lights aside, this is great product and it’s now my main charging device for my Nexus 4. It’s pricey enough at a nickel under US $70, but the combined Qi charger and battery pack make this essential for anyone who has a Qi-equipped smartphone such as the Nexus 4 / 5 and  some of the Nokia Lumias. You can use the N11 on your desk or on the go. Recommended.

Thanks again to Mugen Power for the review unit.

Practical Meter for USB Charging

Posted by Andrew at 5:09 PM on November 13, 2013

Practical MeterWith the plethora of USB charging power sources and charging rates, it was probably inevitable that someone would develop a meter to measure the power going to a device. The bragging rights go to Utah-based Power Practical and the Practical Meter, a USB in-line power meter. Looking much like a USB dongle, 5 LEDs show the power transfer from 1 W up to 10 W.

Originally a Kickstarter campaign that met its funding back in the July raising nearly $170,000, the Practical Meter has been today recognised as International CES Innovations 2014 Design and Engineering Awards Honoree.  “Just last week we shipped out the 10,000 pre-order units we received during our Kickstarter campaign to have the Practical Meter come to market,” says Matt Ford, CEO of Power Practical. “It’s crazy that a week later we’re being honored by something as prestigious as the CES Innovations awards.

As a pure USB device, it will work with anything that charges via USB such as smartphones, mp3 players or battery packs. Practical Meter is available now for $24.99 online and includes a 3-in-1 fast charge cable with mini-USB, micro-USB and Apple connectors.

Practical Meter Charging

Verbatim Dual USB Power Pack Review

Posted by Andrew at 5:17 PM on September 30, 2013

Verbatim LogoVerbatim will be known to many older geeks for their floppy disks but since the demise of this market, Verbatim have branched out into newer media, products including lighting and water filters, and accessories such as USB power packs. Verbatim have an extensive range of rechargeable packs from 1,200 mAh up to 10,000 mAh and on review here is their Dual USB Power Pack with a 5,200 mAh capacity.

First impressions are good. The Power Pack comes in attractive, easy-to-open packaging that doesn’t need to be attacked with a pair of scissors. Inside is the Power Pack, a short USB to micro-USB cable and instructions. The USB cable is only 10 cm long and can be used for both recharging the Power Pack and charging other devices. Some might quibble about the length of the cable but I think it’s handy and avoids all the disentangling. Besides, I have loads of long cables should I need one.

Power Pack Top View

The body of the unit is about 7 cm wide and 11 cm tall. Depth is 1.7 cm and tips the scales at around 175 g. The top and bottom faces are covered in a soft-touch rubber coating and the middle section seems to be metallic-looking plastic. On the bottom, there are four small nubs for feet and the top surface has four blue LEDs and a small button. Pressing the button for a couple of seconds illuminates the LEDs to show battery charge level.

Verbatim USB Ports

Round the edge are three USB ports, 2x standard and 1x micro-USB. The latter is used for recharging the Power Pack and the former for charging other devices. In common with similar products, one port is rated at 2.1 A (port A) and the other at 1 A (port B). However, unlike some of the Power Pack’s competitors, both USB ports can be used to charge while the device itself is being recharged.

The Power Pack is a 5,200 mAh unit which Verbatim suggests on the packaging will recharge a smartphone 2.5 times. My experience with recharging a Nexus 4 (2,100 mAh internal battery) is that this isn’t too far from the truth. Further, the blue LEDs are good guides to the battery level – consider each LED as 25%, so all four is 100%, three is 75% and so on. Below is the obligatory screen shot from Battery+ showing the charging rate for a Nexus 4, which is pretty much the same as charging from a mains charger.

Nexus 4 Charging

In summary, the Verbatim Dual USB Power Pack is a fine little unit. The soft touch rubber coating gives it a slight softer feel and the recharging-while-charging is a worthwhile feature. My only concern is that I think the Power Pack is a little pricey at an RRP of £41.99 and there are other models out there that offer more capacity for less money (but do watch out for those batteries which can’t charge and be recharged at the same time). As this is a brand new product, no “street price” has emerged but something around £25 would make the Dual USB Power Pack value for money.

Thanks to Verbatim who kindly supplied the Power Pack for review.

Mugenizer N11 Pairs Qi Charger with Battery Pack

Posted by Andrew at 5:39 AM on September 20, 2013

Mugen Power Batteries LogoMugen Power are no strangers to innovation but their latest product is genius. The Mugenizer N11 equips a USB battery pack with Qi wireless charger to provide charging on the go. As a user of both types of device on a regular basis, I think this is an excellent idea. It’s also going to be a big win for people who hotdesk and can’t be bothered with plugging and unplugging chargers each day.

image

As you’ll see from the picture, the unit looks much like any standard USB battery pack, albeit a fairly good looking one, with a charging port and power level indicator. The battery has a capacity of 4800 mAh which will fully recharge the average smartphone about twice. The Qi charging plate is on the top and should work with any Qi-enabled smartphone like the Nexus 4. According to the spec, you should be able to charge from both the Qi plate and the USB port at the same time.

The N11 is priced just under US$60 which includes a $10 early adopter discount and free world-wide shipping. It’s pricey enough and you probably could buy a battery and a charger separately for less, but the sheer convenience of a single unit makes it worthwhile. The N11 will be available in early November and I’ll try to get one for review. More information then.

Buffalo Claim Fastest USB 3 Drive

Posted by Andrew at 4:34 PM on July 22, 2013

Buffalo LogoThe folks over at Buffalo Technology have announced a screamingly fast external drive, the DriveStation DDR. By adding a 1 GB DDR3 cache to a standard SATA drive, they’ve created a USB3 hard drive with SSD transfer rates. Write speeds are doubled from around 170 MB/s to over 400 MB/s, which is pretty nippy in anyone’s book, and read speeds are similarly improved.

DriveStationDDR

 

Obviously, the benefits of the cache aren’t so clear with large data transfers but the greatest use of external hard drives is storing photos or music files and these are typically MBs rather than GBs in size. Consequently, these kinds of files are ideal for the fast data transfer rate of the DriveStation DDR. Think about transferring your latest photos from your camera to the DriveStation DDR – it’s ideal.

Prices are on a par with standard external hard drives with MSRPs of £129 for the 2 TB version and £169 for 3 TB, which isn’t bad. Compatible with all OSes that support USB 3 and there’s no need for any special drivers. The full specs are here.

Geek News Central expects to get a review unit soon, so I’ll be putting the DriveStation DDR through its paces shortly.

New Trent Easypak NT70T External Battery Review

Posted by Andrew at 11:58 AM on June 2, 2013

New Trent LogoIf you like your gadgets black and shiny, then the New Trent Easypak NT70T is going to be the external battery pack of choice. With a polished black top surface and a matte back, it looks great but won’t slip out of your hand either. It’s perfect for travelling too, with built-in connectors, dual USB ports and a substantial 7000 mAh battery.

NT70T

Physically, the Easypak is about 7cm x 12cm x 1.7cm, and is easily mistaken for a slightly fat smartphone. The shiny top surface has single button which when pressed either shows the current charge level of the pack or starts charging any attached devices. Four green LED lights across the top of the surface show the battery level, and they flash while charging. Personally, I would rather the LEDs were blue or white, but that’s just my taste.On one side there are two standard USB ports, but the cool trick is that on two other sides, built-in cables peel out for recharging the NT70T and charging a device via a micro-USB plug. This device charges only via USB which again keeps the weight down when travelling: simply plug the Easypak into your laptop and it charges. A USB extension cable is included in the box.

(Apologies for the less than perfect photo – the autofocus on my camera struggled with the reflections from the top surface.)

NT70T

The two USB ports are rated differently, with one at 2.1A for tablets and the other 1A for smartphones. The micro-USB connector is also rated at 1A and while it might seem that three devices could be charged at once, in practice only two can be charged. In my testing, it seemed that the current draw was the limiting factor but I’m not 100% sure.

USB Ports

Unlike the New Trent iCarrier, the USB ports can’t be used while the Easypak itself is charging, though the micro-USB plug can recharge a smartphone while the Easypak is charging. I note that in the device FAQ, New Trent suggest not to charge while charging, so perhaps best only used in an emergency.

Galaxy Nexus ChargingDevice charging rates are excellent. With both a Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone and a Motorola Xoom 2 tablet connected, the Easypak charged the phone from 18% to 75% in an hour and the tablet went from 27% to 50% in the same hour (as measured by Battery+). That’s no different from plugging either device into their manufacturer supplied chargers, so a good result there.

Overall, the Easypak is almost the perfact battery pack and I would choose it over the New Trent iCarrier, even though the iCarrier has a larger battery capacity and can charge while being charged. The neatness, the clean design, built-in cables and lower cost make the Easypak the overall better solution for me.

Available from the usual online retailers for around less than £30 or a little over $40.

Disclosure – the Easypak NT70T was supplied by New Trent for review.