Archives For Accessories

The Kill A Watt is a green-geek favorite, but it’s also one of the few gadgets over the years to make it off the stumbling block in home energy management. Despite general support for greener living, the consumer market for energy management tools hasn’t taken off. High costs and difficulties in accessing utility data have been two of the gating factors, and perhaps a lack of cool gadgets has contributed as well. However, several things suggest that the environment (pun intended) may be about to change.

The success of smartphones and the app paradigm means it’s easy to give consumers a taste of home energy management without requiring a big financial commitment. A company called Qreative Medias just launched a Home Energy Performance app for the iPhone and iPad that’s designed to help you rate your home’s energy efficiency and decide where to make improvements. It calculates a score for your home based on the Energy Performance Certificate program out of the UK. Or for those of us Stateside, provides a rating between A and G. The Qreative app is far from the only app available too. Visible Energy and Control4 have introduced their own offerings for energy-conscious consumers that include actual monitoring of your energy usage.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has thrown its weight behind a web-based energy management tool called Hohm. It existed only as software when Microsoft first launched Hohm, but last month the company teamed up with Blue Line Innovations to pair the software with (relatively) low-cost hardware. Now you can buy a Hohm-compatible PowerCost Monitor and Wi-Fi kit for $249. And, Microsoft has opened up the software to other third-party developers as well, with the expectation that other Hohm-compatible gadgets will be available soon.

Google is another big name is this emerging market. The search-engine giant introduced its free PowerMeter software in 2009 for use with smart meters deployed by your utility company. Of course, if your power company didn’t use smart meters, the Google solution was a non-starter, at least until Google paired it with the TED 5000 gadget from Energy Inc. Now, like with the Microsoft offering, you can buy cheap’ish energy management hardware ($200-$300 for the TED 5000), and access your usage data online.

Between smartphone and iPad apps, and big players like Microsoft and Google getting into the game with user-friendly solutions, the energy management market may finally be ready for mainstream America. Or at least for the techie population.

I am a big fan of the Eye-Fi card, and have had my 2GB SD version (i.e. photos, no video) for two and a half years. However, I rarely if ever used the old Eye-Fi Manager software, and over the last few months I’ve been without Eye-Fi wireless transfers altogether thanks to a PC migration, and general laziness on my part. Then last week I got a notice from the company that they’re discontinuing the old Eye-Fi Manager, and replacing it with new Eye-Fi Center software. The shift finally prompted me to set up Eye-Fi on the new computer and give the updated management portal a try.

The Eye-Fi Center has a clean, simple interface showing thumbnails of recently uploaded photos at the top, a list of connected devices along with a calendar to the left, a photo tray for sharing pics at the bottom, and a big preview screen taking up most of the display. There’s also a settings menu available with tabs for network selection, photo storage options, notifications, geotagging, and photo transfer preferences.

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As Kindle 3 details trickled out last night, what most interested me was not the refreshed e-reader, but Amazon’s new Kindle cover with integrated light.

The “Kindle Lighted Leather Cover” is similar in appearance to previous Amazon covers, but obviously the retractable LED lighting sets it apart. Unlike every other light accessory currently on the market, that either unbalances the unit with regular batteries or requires the additional expense of those watch-type batteries when the juice runs out, Amazon’s light draws power directly from the Kindle itself – across the gold plated hinge points. Clever!

The new $60 cover is available in 7 colors and can be pre-ordered now. It’s expected to arrive August 27th, along with the refreshed 6″ Kindle hardware.

I doubt we’ll ever see a single, universal cable or connector to power each and every single mobile gadget… However, given the various devices that pass through my home and auto, it appears like we’ve settled on a solid trio of options.

Of course, there’s the iEcosystem’s dock connector. Yeah, it’s mostly proprietary. But given the vast number of iPods, iPhones, and iPads in circulation, it’s essentially the standard for many. Mini USB seems to be broadly deployed as well. Although, it’s clearly losing ground to the slimmer Micro USB connector. In fact, that revelation is what inspired this post. Just about every non-iDevice I’ve come across in recent months sports Micro USB. See my Blackberry Tour, Droid X (loaner), and Kindle above, for example.

Even though the industry hasn’t settled on a single, common connection, the majority of cables fortunately terminate with a standard USB connector for charging and/or syncing purposes. Making the nearly flush Belkin USB auto charger below a handy universal adapter. I picked up a pair last fall for our vehicles, and they’ve served us (and our gadgets) well. The ultimate home solution is probably a small, powered USB hub and some short cables from Monoprice. Unless, there’s an attractive charging station that already meets this need. Bueller?

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Earlier this month when Netgear announced new ReadyNAS products ($900 – $1350) that incorporate TiVo functionality, I reached out to the companies for more info. And, without having seen the feature in action, it sounds pretty much like what we’d expect… Sort of a TiVo Desktop port allowing you to offload shows to the NAS for storage and to later retrieve them from a network folder found within the TiVo UI.

Netgear also informed me they’re the first TiVo-compatible DVR network storage solution to alleviate local capacity concerns, so I asked TiVo about HP’s earlier TiVo MediaSmart implementation (recently updated, thanks Alex). Apparently, HP’s solution ($550 – $700) is also legit but the company didn’t go through the evaluation process that would allow them to be labeled “TiVo Compatible.” Whatev?

Both Netgear and HP solutions are nice additions if you happen to be in the market for a NAS, but I’m not sure TiVo integration is compelling enough to sell the device on its own. Then again, as a digital cable subscriber treated like a content thief by Cox Communications, I can’t offload anything but recordings of local network programming (and one premium they missed). Making me a less than ideal candidate.

Here at ZNF, we’re very selective in the product samples we choose to receive. Yet, every now and then, gadgets just magically appear – with no indication who sent an item… or how to return it.

As is the case with the Yamaha PSG-01S SoundGadget ($220) pictured above. I’m sure it’s a fine USB-powered PC Skype speakerphone (4 mics, 2 speakers), but it’s not something I’d use. And frankly, reviewing a speakerphone doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun… even though the Sound Gadget does double duty as a computer stereo speaker array.

But, as a public service, here are some related links should you want to learn more:

With that out of the way, if you like what you see, entering the Yamaha PSG-01S SoundGadget giveaway is as easy as it gets, simply leave a comment. (US residents in the lower 48 only, please.) We’ll choose the winner at random in a few days.

Click to enlarge:

Prettying Up the iPad

Mari Silbey —  July 9, 2010 — 1 Comment

As some fabulous soul on Twitter pointed out, this may very well be the best iPad decal ever. (Discovered and blogged over at The Next Web) But if your tastes don’t trend toward children’s literature, you might swing by Skinit for a look at other options. I didn’t have the best luck with Skinit for my Asus netbook, but I grant that part of my experience had to do with not applying the decal in the right direction the first time. (Odd design to fit an oddly curved computer) Dave had better luck, and Skinit’s got some nice graphics tricked out specifically for the latest Apple machine.