For those of you who have been kind enough to view our humble blog after a brief plugin-induced outage: a heartfelt “thank you” for returning.
Almost a month ago, I purchased a Sony Core i7 laptop on Sony’s website. The deal offered via the site was better than I could get in-store with any local stores (it helped that I had just paid off the Sony 3D video camera). I don’t think I will be doing much of a review of the computer itself; rather I will relate some of my experiences that will be probably just as revealing as an out-and-out review.
Up to this point I have relied on third-party products to work directly with my Microsoft Office documents. This past week, Microsoft made one small step toward more direct support on iOS devices: Office Mobile for Office365 Subscribers. While this app itself is free, You must have a subscription to Microsoft’s Office 365 service for this to be of use.
On my iPhone 5, can open, view and do basic edits and manipulation of the basic file formats.
This product, strangely but not surprisingly, does not (yet) support the iPad or Android devices.
Reviewed by: Timothy Barnett-Queen, PhD
Want to be able to do group presentations and teach classes from your iPad and not worry about your battery running low? Does the thought of maximum flexibility and mobility (i.e., being able to sit or stand at your podium/desk or walk around the room) excite you? If so, then the Launchpad’s LaunchPort may be for you.
Recently I attended CES. I’m a part-time device reviewer for technotraveler.com and a full time university professor. During my 3 day visit to Las Vegas, of all the exciting new products I found, this one caught my attention. For years I have taught higher education classes of all sizes using the latest computer and Internet-based technologies but have done so primarily immobilized at my electronic podium in front of the classroom. Using a university supplied desktop computer, my own laptop or lately an iPad, connected to a VGA LCD projector, even if I am lucky enough to have a remote control, I was still pretty much confined to the podium, especially if I was switching between applications (say for instance, jumping from Powerpoint to Video to Internet browser).
The LaunchPort System is a sophisticated solution to the group presentation mobility problem (among others). First, the Base Station ($199) is a beautiful, sturdy (weighs 3.6lbs) and compact (4.5”x5.0”x5.9’) piece of equipment consisting of a brushed aluminum stand that looks much like the metal Apple uses for its iMac stand (a Wall mount is also available but is not reviewed here). It is shaped as a 45-degree platform made to sit firmly on a table, stand or desk (its packaging is sturdy enough to be used for storage if necessary). Tucked inside the Base Station is an induction and charging node which provides connection to the Sleeve (in which your iPad is inserted). The Base Station can be locked to the presentation stand (lock is an accessory) so it can remain in a public place without being removed. The current Sleeve ($149) fits the iPad 3 only but I am assured by the manufacturer (and web-site) that soon a sleeve will be available for the iPad 4 and iPad mini.
There is a strong magnet in the Base Station which holds the Sleeve (with iPad in it) firmly to the Station. When connected by supplied DC power adapter, the transducer in the Base Station charges the battery of your iPad any time the Sleeve and Base Station are joined. However, when it’s time to move around the room, grabbing the sleeved iPad is simple and easy. When you return, just place the Sleeve near the center magnet on the Base Station and it grabs it from you and immediately begins charging. All this without the need for the 30-pin cable (or lightning cable on forthcoming Sleeves).
The connection to your LCD projector requires a couple of accessories. You will need the Apple TV ($99) and a $59 HDMI to VGA Adapter (such as the Kanex ATV Pro or Belkin’s adapter) if you use, like most classroom instructors, a VGA LCD projector. The iPad in the Sleeve can then be streamed to Apple TV using AirPlay. I tested this set up in my classrooms for about 2 months. The rooms I primarily teach in can seat up to 50 participants. Regardless of my location, the AirPlay connection between my iPad and Apple TV was maintained. I then was able to switch between applications with a touch of the screen. I teach multiple sections of my classes, back to back which means I’m using my iPad for 3-4 hours without a break. I do not have to worry about the device losing power since each time I return to the instructor podium I simply re-connect the Sleeve to the Base Station and battery charging begins immediately.
If you go to the Launchport website you will see that the company markets primarily to commercial, residential and medical facilities. Elementary classrooms are also highlighted, but primarily so teachers can stay in touch with students, if each student has a Launchport system and iPad. My vision of the use of this system, while currently and unfortunately requiring some additional technology (i.e., Apple TV and HDMI-VGA converter), solves a long standing problem higher education instructors have had to contend with when using multiple technologies in the classroom. Compared to replacing an out of date desktop computer/monitor in the classroom and/or a VGA LCD projector, the cost of the Launchport System with these 2 accessories is far less expensive and much more flexible. I will be watching to see if Launchport picks up on this idea and includes connectivity technology in future versions of its LaunchPort system. I certainly hope they do, but regardless, I will continue to use the system “as is” in my classrooms.
Our technotraveler.com rating: 9.5 out of 10.
This is a combination stand and speaker. Or it is a clip-able speaker. In either case, it is the Sound Cylinder™ Bluetooth® Portable Speaker System.
This would be considered the “front view” with the “D” logo on the left channel side of the unit (the perforations around the logo, on this left side are for the woofer output, I believe). The speaker is probably not meant for bouncing about but seems to be sturdy overall. The provided information indicates that the unit is a “rugged aluminum/magnesium alloy construction. The rubberized clamp definitely feels sturdy.
In my car (I have a carpeted dashboard cover in my Honda Accord), I found that this position/view – using the Sound Cylinder™ as a non-attached wireless speaker – was useful as an alternative to my sound system, which doesn’t have a regular working BT receiver (the Kanex AirBlue didn’t work out over time…). The rubberized clamp limited its moving about on my dashboard but it was far from secure.
This view shows the “back side” of the Sound Cylinder. The right channel audio is on this side, with the power/pairing button. In most of the left-right channel audio tests I accessed on the web, the mix seemed to be well-balanced. Playing various web-based right-left channel tests, as well as playing the intros of Shania Twain’s “I’m Gonna Getcha Good” and of Madonna’s “Vogue”, helped demonstrate the audio separation for us.
While there may be many who favor other units for audio quality, I find that the Sound Cylinder™ produces a great sound. There is robust sound output that more than exceeds what I have can produce from the built-in speakers from any of my current devices. If I max out the volume, some of the higher notes, we observed, were a bit on the tinny side. The bass came from the “Side Firing High Excursion ” woofer at the “D” logo end of the unit. The bass sound produced isn’t overpowering but one of the team thought it needed more depth on some of the hip-hop and R&B tracks we tried out.
Pairing is straight-forward: power the unit on, make sure your device is in “Discover” mode and wait for the “Definitive Cyl. Stereo” to show up in your collection of Bluetooth® devices.
In the time that I was completing the basic testing the speaker I didn’t once have to recharge it. I estimated that I put at least 8.5 hours on the speaker for the initial charge so I think that gets me fairly close to the advertised 10-hour battery life.
I have extended the magnesium alloy stand in this view. This stand, while matching the overall look of the Sound Cylinder™, looks more lightweight than the rest of the construction of the unit. I’m going to be more gentle when extending and then putting away the stand.
Note that the included Micro-USB and 3.5 mm audio adapter cable have right-angled plugs. The positioning of the jacks requires this. When the unit is in the “typing position” with an tablet inserted into the clip, these cables allow the unit to lie flat. If you lose these and have to use other cables while the unit is in use (sometimes you don’t need to do wireless), the setup will likely be tilted. Keep track of these cables!
The weakest part of the package is the accessory microfiber carry bag; while functional, it doesn’t seem to bear the stylish sleekness of the Sound Cylinder™ itself or the cylindrical container in which it was shipped. It doesn’t really offer any protection for the unit other than protecting against scratching.
While I could certainly use the iPad-and-Sound-Cylinder in the typing position, I found that I had to be more directly above the iPad as the angle was as steep as when I am using my folded SmartCover or another case in a similar position.
Video of basic setup and use (the BT pairing was completed off-camera):
You can see the original “cylinder” packaging in the background between the Sound Cylinder™ and me.
Using the Sound Cylinder out on the patio:
In addition to these uses, you can clamp the Sound Cylinder™ on the top of a laptop display. I was concerned about the weight of the unit when applied to my 2008 MacBook but it was fine during my tests. Again, the unit provided richer and louder output that the comparatively meager built-in speakers on my laptop. The advertised range of 10 meters was confirmed time and time again, as moved the speaker around my office and home and then the transmitting device (iPhone, iPad 3).
The wired signal is continuous as expected. A press release provided by Definitive Technology alerted me to the possibility of some audio issues with iOS 6.0, 6.0.1 and 6.0.2 devices. This was indeed the case. Audio dropouts, some skipping and the delay of some audio some effects were some of the concerns that I experienced. No problems with Mac OS X 10.8.2 and Bluetooth® playback.
I do not wish to compare the Sound Cylinder to its competition so I won’t. Having said that, I feel that the Sound Cylinder is at the upper end of its price point and represents decent performance for what it does do. The sound was strong and warm for most of the music and audio tests we sent its way. The stand and clip make this a unique offering among similar devices in its price range and I found that this made it even more useful than I had originally imagined.
Definitive Technology has been known for its more traditional offerings and the Sound Cylinder™ Bluetooth® Portable Speaker System is a worthy entry into the mobile sound output arena.
I am giving the Sound Cylinder a 9 out of 10.
I actually encountered a version of this product at the 2012 CES. So, when I attended the 2013 CES, I stopped by the Bosign Stockholm display to say hello to Harald Hynell, the Tabletpillow’s co-designer. This time around, the product was available for review.
From Bosign Stockholm’s site:
Surf comfortably on your iPad or tablet PC with Bosign’s Tabletpillow. Whether you sit, lie or stand, Tabletpillow’s well-thought-out design and function makes your surfing easier and more fun.
Tabletpillow Hitech 2, with two extra inner pockets serve as a protective sleeve for your tablet/iPad and provide ideal storage for memory sticks, chargers, pens and notes. Size of inner pocket: H 242 x W 186 x D 9,5 mm (9,5×7,32×0,38 inches).
It fits all iPad models from iPad 1-3.
Tabletpillow’s shapeable pillow works on all surfaces, hard and soft. You can adjust Tabletpillow so that it always has the best possible angle, no matter what position you are in. If you want to use both hands for typing, Tabletpillow keeps your iPad or tablet PC in the right position without you having to hold it. If you watch a movie, you can put your hands behind your head and just enjoy; the tablet stays in a perfect watching angle on your lap.
Tabletpillow can hold the tablet in either a horizontal or vertical position. Your iPad rests securely in the pillow pocket and the silicone pattern on both sides of the pillow makes it stay in place on smooth, soft and rough surfaces.
The cover is durable, water-repellent and of course easy to wash (hand wash cold).
Despite what the back of the packaging indicates, I’m fairly sure that I got the Hitech model.
The Tabletpillow Hitech 2 has a simple but effective design for leisurely use of your tablet (tested with iPad 3 and Galaxy Tab 2 10.1). You can use each side of the pillow for a particular display orientation. The version I tested has two pockets for storing your device and/or some accessories. The other model comes equipped with one pocket and features a more plant-like design in the non-slip black silicone.
The color is a surprisingly pleasant lime green and black (also available in turquoise/black, black/black, dark chocolate/black as well as wine red/black). The black part of the color is the anti-slip silicone in a digital design.
What it calls the “pillow pocket” is a small lip or flap of the cover that cradles the tablet when in position. Except for the most fidgety movements, the tablet stayed in position in the pillow pocket while I used the Tabletpillow.
The removable inner container with the beads contained the right amount of “stuffing” to truly stabilize the unit while on my lap in either position. Compared to another product that I had previewed at an earlier CES, this is a product that did exactly what it was advertised to do. One other significant benefit of the Bosign product is that the cover is hand-washable.
Video showing me putting the Tabletpillow Hitech 2 through its paces:
- The Tabletpillow HiTech 2 is a leisure-time tablet holder that is worthy of your consideration.
- The placement of a device is in the “typing” or the “viewing” positions is straightforward. A simple solution to using your advanced portable technology.
- Having the pockets merely adds even more versatility and value to an already elegantly functional product.
- A tech-related product that did not require any assistance or consultation to make sure it was being used or configured properly: it’s a good thing.
While a number of Bosign products are sold at The Container Store, I could not find this sold domestically in the U.S. yet. You can order directly from Bosign’s site; read the particulars carefully. The Tabletpillow sells for 23.96 euros (this is without the VAT) plus shipping. Even with the extra cost of international shipping outside of the Eurozone, the Tabletpillow Hitech 2 is a way better value that the so-called competition.
So, 10 out of 10. I’m not really this generous: this product earned this score.
As promised a new theme has been installed. It doesn’t have the final refinements in place but we expect to have things fully activated by the time of the posting of our next full review. You may see yet another look but we are narrowing our selection of final theme contenders.
The theme we have been using up to this point has received no significant attention from its creator. To ensure that the experience is consistent within the offerings of a theme, we are changing and upgrading our current look to another. Please bear with us during this construction. We should be firmly in place by late March 5th (Tuesday evening), U.S. Pacific Time.
In November 2012 – just weeks before the Consumer Electronics Show – a CES 2013 Design and Engineering Honoree award was given to BlueWi for their product: the Nighthawk Bluetooth Microphone Combo System. This product goes takes the now-ubiqitous Bluetooth earpiece or headset to the next level. Courtesy of Julie Oien, BlueWi’s Business Development Manager, we had the privilege to test and review this product. This modular, multi-location, audio package really has a number of possibilities that a mere headset can only dream of addressing. To say we were impressed would be an understatement.
The features, as stated on BlueWi’s website:
- Longer talk time
- Greater clarity.
- More comfort and safety.
- From on-person to hands-free.
- Control MP3 Bluetooth devices.
- Free recording app for smartphones.
What was in our starter package:
- A removable earbud
- The multifunction, clip-on, microphone unit
- An external speaker attachment
- USB cable
- Wall charger unit
- Instructional pamphlet
Available for separate download directly from the BlueWi website is a free recording app.
The reason I stated “starter package” is that the Nighthawk system can also be combined with some additional pieces that really make this a great package for extended hands-free talking for those who are doing customer service, law enforcement and other mobile/conversational tasks.
At the center of the Nighthawk experience (I’ll refer to the unit by this name, from this point on, to make references shorter) is the multifunction wireless microphone unit. It appears to be the most substantial, multi-faceted part of the system package. The form factor feels sturdy and finished; no rough or sharp edges.
- There is a combination power/pairing button at what is the bottom of the unit. When you are playing music, you can use it as a “play/pause” button. You press this same button to accept and hang-up on telephone calls. Pairing was simple and straightforward (I always read my instructions anyway); worked as expected the first time.
- Two buttons on the front of the unit serve as volume controls when held; they serve as “advance/reverse track” buttons when tapped.
- There is a USB power connector on the right side. According to the instructions, it takes up to three hours to fully charge the unit. The instructions specify a 150-hour standby time and 12+ hours of talk time.
- On the top of the unit are the embedded microphone and the 3.5 mm port. You can plug in the provided earplug, the provided external speaker attachment (which looks like a large black vitamin with a 3.5 mm plug) or any other output device that has a 3.5 mm plug.
- For future applications is a “PTT” (push-to-talk) button on the left side of the unit.
- On the back of the microphone unit is a clip that swivels. This was most important so that I could click the microphone to the air vents in my Honda Accord.
Here is a video with a basic demonstration of the microphone in use with the external speaker attachment and with the AUX-in in my car:
The provided earbud is decent for a start but most users who will be also listening to music or audiobooks in addition to speaking will have more substantial listening accessories. One reason to be thankful for the earbud is the length of cable, or rather, the lack of length. The cable is only 14″ long and so (for clipping on to a shirt collar or pocket) there was just enough length to provide a comfortable looseness between the microphone unit and my ear.
Using the unit during a 35-minute exercise walk provided a useful test of the connectivity. I connected my Sony over-the-ear headphones while I listened to an audiobook and walked. I didn’t enjoy having the extra cabling of the Sony headset, so I really appreciated the relative shortness of the cable on the provided earbud.
There was a bit of interference when I got started with the walk. As the walk proceeded, I could easily adjust and manipulate my iPhone 5 wirelessly (it was in the pocket of my sweats), as described in the instructional pamphlet. The sound passed through was quite good and was almost as crisp and clear as the direct wired connection using Apple’s provided earphones.
The provided external speaker attachment caused a bit of feedback at the other end of a call when I had the microphone unit at full volume. Lowering the volume reduced the amount of feedback received at the other end of the call but then I couldn’t hear the speaker as well over the road noise (a Honda issue more than a Nighthawk issue). Connecting an extension cable significantly reduces the feedback but then I have the added worry about where and how to elegantly secure the speaker unit when moving about.
There are two benefits that truly make the Nighthawk something special. In addition to be able to easily transition the sound use from in-car to indoors to exercise, there is the BlueWi app which, when paired with your smartphone, turns the Nighthawk into a wireless lavalier microphone.
Setup screens for/of BlueWi app for iOS:
Here, I have left the car with NPR playing. The installed BlueWi app is running while I record my video, so the audio from the radio (that the Nighthawk is picking up with the embedded microphone) is my soundtrack. I walk away from my parked car and the sound is cleanly recorded until I return the car and conclude the recording.
Another real-world example of the Nighthawk in use is this law enforcement demonstration, provided on the BlueWi site:
The sturdy form factor, the 12-hour talk time/150 hour standby time and the transitional usage of an audio product would be useful “as is”. But a convenient app for mobile recording of audio for your smartphone video (or audio only) enhances this product and adds up to a 10 out of 10. Clear documentation and detailed instructions (provided with the unit as well as on the BlueWi website) make use clear and set-up a breeze. A truly versatile product for those of us on-the-go!