Tuesday, September 19, 2017

iClever adapter spreads Bluetooth love

Gizmo Editor Review

It should come as no surprise to readers of this space that my life is loaded with Bluetooth devices. I love untethered audio, whether it’s music, a TV show or my favorite podcasts.

But all those Bluetooth connections swirling around me are one-way conversations. In most cases it’s my mobile phone talking to a wireless speaker or headphones.

When I heard about the Bluetooth Transmitter and Receiver Adapter from iClever, two features prompted me to request a sample to review. First, as the name states, this device can talk in two directions as it functions as either a transmitter or receiver. And second, it can bring the joys of wireless sound to a non-Bluetooth device such as the ancient portable stereo that I like to use in the back yard or my beloved Bose noise-cancelling headphones.

The iClever gadget looks like an oversized guitar pick. That’s a good thing when you want to slip it into a pocket, but not so great when you need to figure out which of its several buttons and switches to press for a perform a particular task.

It’s powered by a rechargeable internal battery which can be refueled with an ordinary mini-USB cable and charger plug. And the large power button is easy to find on the front of the unit, just above the company logo.

Like any Bluetooth device, the adapter has to be paired with whatever Bluetooth sibling you want it to talk to. There’s a tiny switch to move if you want it be in transmit or receive mode. Set the switch, then power up the adapter, find and press the Pairing button, get a little LED light flashing in the proper color and it makes nice with whatever nearby device is in pairing mode. No computer, app or code-entering is required.

The adapter uses Bluetooth 4.1 technology, so that smoothes the way for connecting to a variety of wireless devices. It also supports aptX Low Latency, which should make it idea for use with a TV. I’ve tried cheap Bluetooth transmitters that don’t have that feature with my TV and the poorly-synced dialog drove me crazy.

I tested the iClever adapter with a pair of powered speakers from an old computer and got high-quality sound for music transmitted from my mobile phone. It also worked just fine when I flipped the Rx/Tx switch and connected the adapter to my computer to get audio delivered to a pair of Bluetooth headphones.

Along the way, I encountered a couple of minor annoyances. The first is a pairing issue. Once I had paired my wireless headphones with the adapter, I had to go through the pairing steps again to reconnect the my phone to the headphones.

My other complaint is with the instructions that come with the adapter. Not so much then instructions themselves, but the fact that they are printed in teeny-tiny letters on pages no larger than a business card. I needed a magnifying glass to read the text. I don’t know if iClever is trying to save money or save the rain forest, but it made installation more difficult that it needed to be.

Those issues aside, the iClever adapter did exactly what it says it would do - spread Bluetooth love and bring new life to old electronics. And I’m a fan of that kind of recycling.

The iClever adapter, officially called the Bluetooth Transmitter and Receiver 2-in-1 Hands-free Adapter - sells for about $30 on Amazon.

Monday, September 18, 2017

New app locks shared photos

Gizmo Editor Review

Almost every week we hear about some Hollywood starlet having her private photos hacked and distributed. But online privacy is not something only celebrities need to be concerned about. Do you want to explain those bachelorette party photos to your grandmother?

There are plenty of online services that let you share photos with groups of friends, family members or business associates. But they typically don’t provide a high level of security. That’s the niche that is targeted by a new iOS social media app called SecureTribe.

The app’s name is a pretty good summary of what it does. It lets users join and create photo albums for different groups or tribes. And it uses encryption technology to keep photos secure. Only members of the designated tribe have the decryption key required to view photos in their group’s album.

I created a personal account on SecureTribe using a pre-release version of the app provided by the developers. The security features start immediately with the setup process. Once I entered a username and password, the app generated a QR code that users will need if they forget their password.

Unlike most other services, you can’t simply click a “Forgot password” link to get a new one. The app prompts you to store the code in a safe place and it delivers this stern warning:

“Without this there is NO WAY anyone (including SecureTribe staff) can help you gain access to your account.”

For additional protection, SecureTribe requires your password every time you launch the app. It doesn’t store the password in a keychain or password vault.

Once my account was in place, I could begin creating my personal tribes, joining other tribes and sharing my photos. Pressing the + symbol on your My Tribes page lets you give a new tribe a name, choose an image for cover art, enter a description, and start adding images.

Photos and videos can be captured live using the device’s camera, or selected from the user’s camera roll or iCloud drive. Each tribe has its own option menu to enable mature content, allow members to upload or download files.

How do you add members to your tribe? That’s handled from the main menu in an option called Create Invite Graphics. I assume it’s labelled that way because the process generates an image containing a QR code. You can send the invitation through email or messaging. You can even post it on Twitter or Facebook, just be sure you’ve selected the correct tribe.

I created a tribe to share photos of my grandchildren and sent invitations to several family members. The app would be a good way for parents to share photos from youth activities such as a sports team or dance group while maintaining control of the images. And SecureTribe suggests using the app at an event. For example, a musician or artist could display the scannable QR code invitation to give attendees at a performance access to songs, images, stories or other special content.

The basic version of SecureTribe is available for free in the iTunes App Store. A Premium version includes support for additional features such as custom graphics for invitations, high-resolution images, and time or user limits on subscriptions to tribe content.

The app was launched today in the iTunes App Store. To see it in action, check out my video below and for more details, visit the SecureTribe website and follow the discussion @SecureTribe on Twitter.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

LED light blends power and portability

As someone who often drives after dark, I’ve been looking for years for powerful and convenient flashlight. I get a stream of pitches for LED flashlights that promise to light up the night, and I’ve tried a few of them, but I’ve always been disappointed.

But that was before I found the Infray LED Flashlight.

Why do I like this light? It was immediately appealing because of it’s size. It’ not much bigger than a Sharpie marking pen and it slips easily into my pocket or into the console container I use to store pends and other tube-shaped objects.

Next, it throws out a surprisingly strewn beam of white light. Infray says that’s because it uses a CREE XP-E2 R4 LED, fueled by two AAA batteries, that generates up to 220 lumens. The size of the beam can be adjusted by by turning the tip of the shaft.

And, the price — $12.99 at Amazon — is far less than I would expect to pay for a powerful LED flashlight in a penlight format.

I also like the said feel of its waterproof case, but I wish it had a rubberized coating for those time when I need both hands free and find that the only place to put a flashlight of this size a shape is between clenched teeth.

Monday, September 11, 2017

MAXPAD is an interactive whiteboard

In school the teacher had the chalkboard and when I was in the corporate world, the manager or director had the whiteboard. Whoever held the chalk or the dry marker ran the show. Instead of collaboration, we got one-way communication.

The MAXPAD is a new invention that has the ability to make meetings and presentations more interactive and more inclusive. The device merges a wall-mounted whiteboard presentation panel with a full-powered Windows computer.

The MAXPAD can display hand-drawn sketches, text or formulas, but it does it digitally using the system’s infrared sensing technology. And the computer can stream content from other sources, including iOS and Android devices. If someone in the group has video or image to share, they can stream from their phone or tablet directly to the whiteboard.

The system can also live stream a video call and return live video using MAXPAD’s built-in HD camera and microphone.

The MAXPAD is available in four sizes with screen ranging from 70 to 165 inches diagonally.

For more detail, check out the MAXPAD website.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The dual-use delimma

Does it count as innovation if someone combines two products into one? I’m not so sure.

One year at the CES trade show, a company displayed a child’s potty that had a stand for an iPad. Another year at CES, I encountered a gym bad that had a battery-powered speaker built into a side panel. Clever, I guess, but not very practical.

Then there was the device released a few years ago that merged wireless speakers with a mousepad.

It was not exactly a hit. A story in Cnet called it “utterly useless” and a gadget blog warned potential customers that “You really don’t want crappy speakers at your fingertips.”

But there is at least one combo gadget concept that deserves some serious attention. It’s the modem-router combo.

We typically by modems and routers as two separate products. The modem connects a single computer to the Internet through the phone or cable system. If you want WiFi — and who doesn’t? —you also need a router.

And not just any router, it has to be one that works with your brand of modem and you better be prepared to do some configuring and tweaking.

In the past few years, cable companies and other Internet providers have begun offering modems that come with a router built into the same package. That reduces set up issues and they often cost less than buying two separate products.

Cable and IP services typically offer modem-router combos for a monthly rental fee but you can also find dual-use devices for sale and buying one outright often saves money.

And tat’s my idea of innovation.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Android race game puts you in the driver's seat

Browsing around Amazon the other day, I came across a full-sized race car simulator for PC and PS3 driving games. It looked like a pretty sweet deal, but only if you had $3,099 to blow.

I think I can be entertained just as well playing In Car Racing on my Android phone. Sure, it doesn’t have a steering wheel or a gas pedal, but it does deliver a straight-ahead windshield view, which is not very common among handheld racing  games.

The latest version of the game lets you steer by tilting your phone or tablet to the left or right. And you just have to touch the screen to accelerate or hit the brakes.

The game includes a variety of 3D locations including busy city streets, bucolic countrysides and curvy mountain roads. Each location presents a variety of challenges from weaving through congested traffic to overpowering a sports car hogging your lane.

The game delivers coin rewards to drivers who outmaneuver their competition, avoid crashes and perform high-speed stunts.

Other features include dashboard maps, steering wheel mods, night racing and the ability to adjust the rear-view mirror.

And here’s the part that I really like: In Car Racing is a free download in the Google Play Store. I already feel $3,099 richer.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Windows app checks global time, weather and exchange rates

When I was planning our last trip to Europe a few years ago, I spent a lot of time on my computer jumping from one website to another.

I remember getting weather reports for Paris, London and other cities, checking the exchange rates in various countries and trying to calculate the time difference in different areas.

I also remember wondering why someone hadn’t wrapped all those elements into a single application?

Now someone has. It’s called mayago WET and it combines a currency converter, weather forecast and world time clock in one stand-alone desktop app for Windows.

The desktop display can show any number of locations selected from a list of more than 1,500.  The weather feature offers the predicted temperature range, in Fahrenheit or Celsius, along with the current exchange rate and local time.

Users also have the option to view a 5-day forecast, see the historical exchange rates for the past 6 months, and compare local time between any pair of cities.

The display can be customized to give it a personalized look and feel and it will support multiple users on the same computer.

The software is available as a free download at the mayago website. You can add additional features by upgrading to the Pro version.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Service offers CRM from the cloud

Over the past few months, we’ve had several service calls at our home. Those folks used to carry a notebook or clipboard with forms for one of us to sign when their work was done. Now they pull out a mobile phone or tablet.

I’m seeing companies of all sizes using software like CRM Runner, a cloud-based customer management tool that was built specifically for service providers such as plumbers, electricians and installers.

CRM Runner is an affordable platform that offers the same features as most of the expensive platforms. Because it’s based in the cloud, it can work with any device, including computers, tablets or mobile phones.

The program supports full communication between a company’s administration and its field operations. It has a scheduling module that tracks where and when the field operations are scheduled and an SMS module that will notify customers when service techs will arrive and advises the field staff when there is a change of plans.

Other features include sales lead management, customized estimates, inventory management, and supplier tracking. It will also manage contractors and store their certificates and licenses.

CRM Runner costs $15 per month. You can get more information about the service and sign up for a free 15-day trial at the CRM Runner website.

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