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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MyIDKey brings secure passwords to USB storage

One of the companies that GNC had the pleasure of meeting at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month was MyIDKey, who introduced a new biometric USB stick (thumb drive), meaning you will be using your fingerprint to unlock the device. The new drive is a bit small, but it does pack some powerful data protection, more so than we have seen in the past from such products.

While only storing 2 GB, it is mainly used for user name and password storage, meaning that the file size should be good enough for even the most demanding power user. The drive also has a tiny microphone and LCD screen, making it easy to search for a service for easier access.

This USB drive is a great alternative to web apps like LastPass. It is expected to ship in the second quarter of 2013 and retail for $99. There is also a 16 GB version for $199. Head over to MyIDKey to pre-order one.

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Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

ChargeDR claims it can boost USB charging time

If you have ever charged a device like a smartphone or tablet from a computer USB port then you have quickly realized how much longer it takes versus a wall outlet. There is a substantial power output difference between the two. Now a company has unveiled a new dongle at the Consumer Electronics Show that it claims will help fix this problem.

ChargeDR from Digital Innovations claims that it is designed because computers have less than half the power for charging smartphones and less than a quarter for tablets.

ChargeDr USB Charge Booster

Until this can be tested by users it remains a steep claim, especially since the company loves to talk watts, but to my understanding amps are just as important. In other words, there may be a bit of snake oil in this claim.

The product is currently listed as “coming soon” on the web site and no price is given. GNC will attempt to get one for independent testing of the claims.

UPDATE: I have spoken with Digital Innovations and will be receiving a ChargeDR for testing and review.

WiebeTech UltraDock v5 Review

Over the years I have owned a number of devices that allowed me to connect a bare drive to a computer. I have box full of these types of devices as they where always one off solutions. This past week I have had been reviewing the WiebeTech UltraDock v5.

This dock is incredible! I can connect to bare 3.5 & 2.5 Sata Drives, 3.5 IDE drives, 2.5 Notebook drives, 3.5 & 2.5 Sata, 1.8 Toshiba Drives, 1.8 Zif Drives, USB Drives and the best part is I can connect it to my PC or Mac via Serial ATA, Firewire 400/800, USB 2.0 or 3.0 . But this dock is what I would call “smart” it has a LCD display that gives you details about the drive you are connected to, capacity, error, warning messages and other relevant drive info.

The LCD screen was invaluable to me as I had a box of drives of various types and I was able to connect to drives that I had failed to be able to do so in the past with other docks. This allowed me to clean up some drives that I had not been able to do so in the past.

Wiebetech has stated the the v5 version of the dock is substantially improved over the v4 version. They say that it has an upgraded chipset and faster host connections (USB 3.0, eSATA, and FireWire 800), and is 24% faster than its predecessor with benchmark speeds of up 211.9 MB/s

A cool feature is that if you have drives with a Host Protected Areas (HPA’s) or Device Configuration Overlays (DCO) you can now create, modify or remove the areas. Programmers may want to modify or upload their very own builds.

This dock is priced at $249.00 but I found the price to be justified as they have developed this into a docking solution that works both on the Mac and Windows operating systems. The LCD screen in my opinion is one of the best features. Being the dock is compact and versatile in being able to connect to nearly every format it is worth every penny. Do not forget the speed factor with data transfer clocking in at 211 Mbps this bad boy screams.