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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

New Trent Easypak NT70T External Battery Review

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.

XBox One: The Next XBox Game Console

XBox One Game Console

XBox One Game Console

Microsoft unveiled the next-generation console in the XBox One at a live event that was broadcast on not only Xbox.com but also Spike TV. Many details were left out – which we’ll find out at next month’s E3 gaming conference. These are the details we do know.

XBox One with Kinect

The console is sold as one unit. XBox One looks to be the size of a VCR-DVD combo machine. XBox One will have HDMI In/Out support (so you can connect your cable box to the XBox One ), 2 USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet connection and S/PDIF support. XBox One will come with a 8-core CPU, Blu-Ray drive, and 8 GB of RAM.

The Kinect also looks bigger than its previous version. Sporting a 1080p camera and USB 3.0 support, the Kinect can stream data to the console faster. Kinect also has a wider field of view and it’s motion capture abilities have been improved. Basically it can tell if you hand is facing palm side up or down and can turn with it.

XBox One Controller

At first look, the controller seems to be the same – but that is not true. The new controller has an integrated battery compartment, uses impulse force-feedback triggers and is all controlled using Wifi signals. The battery compartment is integrated, so no double-As are needed.

xbox one controller

Games and More Coming with XBox One

Legendary director Steven Spielberg has signed on to produce a “Halo” Live action TV series. This is XBox Entertainment Studios direction in applying the game model to producing original video programming. Movies, sitcoms and live events will be streamed from XBox One.

In addition, we learned about Call of Duty: Ghosts. The next installment of the franchise video game from Activision adds a revamped multiplayer experience. The new visual engine lets gamers get closer to objects such as guns and other items they pick up.

Finally, the NFL worked out a deal with XBox to give sports fans and fantasy football fans an added bonus. During the game, fantasy football stats will update in real-time so you can call your buddies via Skype to “rub it in their faces”.

No Price Set for XBox One

Unfortunately, the only thing Microsoft didn’t divulge was the price.

New Trent iCarrier IMP120D External Battery Review

The fast processors and large screens of modern day smartphones draw power like it’s going out of fashion. A battery that would have lasted several weeks in the Nokia 6210 now struggles to get through a day of calls, email and web surfing. And that’s before starting to play Ingress.

Desktop chargers have their place but sometimes it’s not possible to get back to a power outlet to plug in. External battery packs and chargers fill this space and on review here is the New Trent iCarrier IMP120D external battery and charger. With a 12,000 mAh battery, it’s roughly 6 times the capacity of a smartphone battery and 3 times the size of a 7″ tablet’s. Physically, it’s around 9 x 9.5 x 2.5 cm and there’s bit of weight to it at 280g / 10 oz but it fits comfortably in the hand, especially with the soft curved edges of the iCarrier.

New Trent IMP120D

As the pictures show, it’s not unattractive for a battery pack and gets away from the standard rectangular brick. The black plastic enclosure has a blue central band with just four features – an on-off button, a power input socket and two USB ports. The on-off button lights up when charging  and a short press of the button briefly shows the iCarrier’s charge level using three blue LEDs for low, medium and high.

New Trent IMP120D - front

Two USB sockets obviously allow two devices to be charged at once. One socket is rated at 1 A and the other at 2.1 A, which practically means that you can charge a phone and a tablet at the same time. In the box along with the iCarrier, there’s an AC wall charger, a USB to microUSB charging cable, a charging cable for Samsung devices and a soft carry pouch. Contrary to the “i” moniker, the iCarrier will charge anything that will charge from USB, not just Apple devices.

Unlike some other devices, it’s possible to charge both the iCarrier at the same time as it charges other devices, which means that when travelling, only the iCarrier’s charger needed to get everything charged up overnight – the battery pack plus two other devices. The iCarrier does take a good few hours to get itself charged up, which given the larger than average battery isn’t to be unexpected. There are some other handy features too. For example, the iCarrier automatically shuts off once attached devices are fully charged.

In use, the iCarrier can be simply used as a backup battery pack to recharge phones or other devices when their internal batteries get low. More usefully, the iCarrier can be used to extend the life of portable equipment such as personal wireless routers. My MiFi can run for a couple of hours on its own battery, but connect it up to the iCarrier and I can get a whole day of use out of the hotspot without any trouble at all.

Overall, the iCarrier is a very handy gadget, essential for any heavy smartphone user or frequent traveller. It’s competitively priced at around $70 in the USA or £40 in the UK. Recommended.

Disclosure – The iCarrier IMP120D was a personal purchase.

MVB Disko USB File Transfer

MVB DiskoThe Disko from MVB solves that irritating problem when you have a USB memory stick, your friend has a USB memory stick, you want to share some files, but there’s no laptop or PC to make the transfer. Andy finds a solution to this problem and gets a demo of the Disko from Daniel.

Plug a USB memory stick into the Disko and you can browse the stick’s filesystem to find the files that you want to pass on. Once found, copy the files into the Disko’s internal memory and then swap the memory sticks before copying the files back out of the internal memory to the next memory stick.

The Disko also has a built-in mp3 player and FM tuner, making it a pretty handy gadget.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News for the Tech Podcast Network.

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