Smartphones, Cell Phones and Other Stuff [2010 Cool Yule Tools]

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Juice Pack Boost and Reserve, by MophieThe latest “extra juice” packs for your iPod or iPhone from Mophie are the Boost and Reserve. The batteries connect to your iPhone via the universal connection port, and will recharge your device relatively quickly (depending on whether you use the device while it’s recharging). As anyone with an iPhone can tell you, it’s tough to go the entire day without draining the battery, especially if you’re in a 3G area that utilizes a lot of battery power (New York City, for example).

The Reserve features a 1000 mAh external battery, while the Boost has a 1500 mAh battery. Both include a carabiner clip that you can attach to your notebook bag (it’s probably a bit heavy for putting on your keychain, but you could do that if you wanted), and have an LED flashlight that can help you locate your keys in the dark.

Other mophie juice packs act like protective cases for your iPhone/iPod while they recharge, I like the simplicity of just connecting the pack on the bottom and getting the recharge (similar to Kensington battery packs). Both devices come with a USB charging cable to recharge themselves later. Unfortunately, when the juice packs are recharging, you can’t do a passthrough charge (recharge the juice pack while also recharging the iPhone).

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $40 for the Reserve; $60 for the Boost.Company Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw~~

Fueltank Uno, by CallpodCallpod’s Chargepod system provided gadget owners with a single device that could recharge multiple gadgets, eliminating the need for users to carry along multiple power cords and adapters. The company has continued this theme with the Fueltank Uno (the company also makes the Fueltank Duo, which has two recharging ports). The Uno is a portable lithium-ion battery that can hold about four times the battery power of a regular mobile device (the Duo is twice the capacity of the Uno). Once the battery is charged up, you insert a Chargepod adapter (if you already have those cables, they work, or you can purchase additional ones that support your specific device), and then recharging occurs. A button on the Fueltank lets you know how much charging power is left in the tank, and an AC adapter can recharge the Fueltank.

With more than 3,000 devices supported, this portable battery (it weighs only 4 oz.) is useful if you’re looking to recharge, say, an iPhone, a BlackBerry, a mobile phone, and a digital camera. If you only need to recharge one device (like an iPhone), then other options are a bit more elegant. Then again, the base package gives you two adapters, plus a voucher for a third free adapter, so you might not need additional adapters (especially with lots of devices supporting USB charging.)

Cool Yule rating: 3.5 starsPrice: $50Company Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

Charge and Sync Dock, by KensingtonThis simple device connects via USB port, and provides your iPhone or iPod with a recharging station, but it can also synchronize with iTunes if you want. There’s no external power supply, all the power for recharging and synchronization comes from the USB port/cable.

The biggest reason for charging your iPod or iPhone in a dock versus charging it with a synch cable is that when you position your iPhone upright in the portrait position, you can use use it for things like FaceTime, or even play some of your music through the device’s speakers.

Speaking of speakers, that’s the one thing I would have preferred on the dock, but then it would have required some additional bulk and possibly an extra power adapter. For pure synchronization and power recharge, this is a nice little device that can fit easily onto your desktop.

Cool Yule rating: 3 starsPrice: $30Company Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

MoGo Talk for iPhone 4, by ID8-MobileThis could have also gone in the travel gear category, where we reviewed a bunch of Bluetooth hands-free headsets, but we put it here because it’s an accessory as well, with the iPhone 4 case. The MogoTalk XD for iPhone 4 merges the case with the Bluetooth headset, solving one of the biggest problems that mobile users have these days – losing their headset when they’re done with it.

The Bluetooth headset for the MogoTalk XD fits into a little cradle inside the case, and then the case can fit over the iPhone 4, providing you with a protective cover for the iPhone, but you’ll also always know where the headset is after you’re done with it. It’s a neat idea.

The case combines a hard shell for impact protection, but also has some molded rubber grips as well on the side. The headset includes noise reduction features, works with iPhone voice control, and is compatible with Bluetooth version 2.1. The unit comes with a charging cable to recharge the headset, unfortunately you can’t recharge the iPhone and the headset at the same time.

The biggest problem I had with the device is the earbuds – they just don’t fit comfortably and securely in the ear. The company provides a bunch of earbud tips and styles, but I couldn’t find one that fit me the right way that kept the headset in place without having the unit fall out. The quick start guide didn’t offer any real help in trying to figure out the best way to find the best fit. In the end, I just kind of jammed it into my ear to create a tight fit in order to use the headset. Also, the lack of A2DP support that would let me listen to music when not using the headset was also disappointing. For the same price, I could get another Bluetooth headset with A2DP functionality, a more comfortable fit, and then spend a little bit more on an iPhone case. There’s a good idea here, it’s just not completely there with the other Bluetooth headset folks.

Cool Yule rating: 2.5 starsPrice: $100Company Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw~~

Zaggsparq portable battery backup and charger, by ZaggThis device can serve two purposes: plugged into a standard power outlet, the Zaggsparq can recharge two USB-enabled devices (including iPhones and iPods). The device also has a battery in it, so unplugged it can carry four complete recharges for smartphones and other devices. The device is pretty portable (although the battery pack is big itself), for the most part you should be able to put this in a laptop bag for extra battery life for your devices.The top USB port is optimized for iPhone, iPad and iPods; the bottom port uses the standard USB specification and will charge devices that don’t utilize the optimized USB charging spec, Zagg says.

Cool Yule rating: 3 starsPrice: $100Company Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

Sunlinq Portable USB Plus Solar Charger, by Global Solar EnergyThe tech community has been talking about convenient (meaning small and lightweight) solar battery chargers for some time, and the technology has finally caught up with our desires: enter the Sunlinq line of portable solar battery chargers.

The 25-Watt model we tested has a USB connector and puts out 5 volts (this unit at 800 mA; there are other models available), meaning it should provide plenty of current for most USB-rechargeable devices. A big plus, this product is very compact and could fit in most computer bags without too much trouble. And it weighs only a little over six ounces.I have a feeling, though, that this product will appeal mostly to those who spend their time hiking, camping, and otherwise away from civilization without spare batteries or a generator. This unit folds up but is fairly flexible, so just tossing it into the bottom of a computer bag probably won’t be a good idea. But if you treat it with a reasonable amount of care and respect, it should work just fine.

That being said, though, there is a small matter of economics. Carrying a spare battery is less expensive, unless, of course, you or your gift recipient have a lot of different batteries to worry about. And while bright sunlight generates the most output and yields the shortest recharge times, one can’t always count on that. But for the hiker, camper, RVer, etc., this remarkably affordable solar recharger might be the perfect holiday gift.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: About $90Company Web siteReviewed by C. J. Mathias

iPhone 4 ID Credit Card Case, by case-mateCase-mate's credit card case fits around the sides and back of the iPhone 4, effectively shielding the back of the phone from damage when dropped. (The back of the iPhone, like its front, is made of glass.) The case comes in seven colors, and allows direct access to the smartphone's buttons and connector port on the bottom. Made of a smooth plastic, the credit card case doesn't add much weight or visual bulk to the phone, unlike some other cases. What's unique about this one is that it has a slot in the back that can hold two credit cards or several business cards.

The plastic has a finish that feels "grippy" and it protected my iPhone several times when I fumbled for it and dropped it. Note: it won't protect the front glass on the phone if it happens to land face down. Although I've never been much of a phone case user, I've used the case-mate cover for a couple of months and really like it.

If, like me, you don't like the idea of carrying your credit cards with your iPhone (because of the horror of losing your iPhone AND credit cards), you might be interested in case-mate's Barely There case, which doesn't have the slot and sells for $24.99.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $34.99Company Web siteReviewed by Ken Mingis~~

Moshi Moshi 03 Bluetooth Wireless Handset and Base, by Native UnionThis device is certainly one of the more unique gift ideas we’ve run across. The Moshi Moshi 03 is a base station with an old-style telephone handset (microphone and earphone). The base station connects via Bluetooth wireless to your cell phone, giving you the benefits of a hands-free headset, but done in a way that lets you talk like you would on a regular landline phone, but without the tangly cord.

It’s easy to pair a cell phone to the Moshi Moshi, and you can also choose from some ringtones from the handset if you want (although why bother, since you have ringtones on the phone). Other phone features are supported like automatic connection when you answer a call, volume control, and mute. The unit also comes with a rubber mat to place your cell phone on close to the base station, and different power adapters for outlets in other countries.

The idea behind the Moshi handsets (other models are offered too) is that if you are making a lot of calls with your cell phone at home, the Moshi Moshi handset gives you a more comfortable handset to talk with. Plus, you can recharge your cell phone and then use the handset to talk at the same time and still be hands-free.

It’s a cute idea, but really for people who are making lots of calls with their cell phones and want the feel or convenience of a regular handset earphone/microphone. Talking with the Moshi Moshi handset is a lot more comfortable than holding the cell phone up to your ear, and after a while even in-ear Bluetooth headsets get uncomfortable. It would work well in an office as well, since the sleek black finish makes it a nice conversation starter as well.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $130Company Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

Kensington Pocket Battery for Smart PhonesKensington makes quality products, as I have learned after years of testing their products.  In an age where phone makers are more concerned with graphic performance than battery life, it’s a good idea to have some extra juice within arm reach.  Especially when traveling.

Enter Kensington’s Pocket Battery for Smart Phones.  Weighing four ounces, and measuring not much larger than a credit card – but a fair bit thicker - it’s equipped with short charging connectors for devices using mini- and micro-USB. You charge it with a standard USB cable, which plugs into a computer or power outlet (with appropriate connection).  The charging cables are tugged smartly into the sides of the device, and pull out when in use.  It’s one single unit, so there aren’t any pieces to lose or pop off.

It provides about three and a half hours of additional charge, which isn’t a ton – but let’s face it – three and a half hours should be long enough for you to find a power outlet to charge your phone.  And if it’s not, you’re pretty thankful to have those three and a half hours at all.

If there are any drawbacks, it’s not compatible with iPod/iPhone/iPad/iBook/iMac devices, because unlike every other manufacturer in the world, Apple insists on using a proprietary charging device (Editor’s Note: But Kensington makes i-specific rechargers).  So unless you have an adapter – no doubt possessing the requisite ‘i’ moniker – it won’t work with anything made by Apple (Apple computers will charge it, however).

All in all, I feel pretty good about the Pocket Charger.  Highly recommended for road warriors, and a great gift for dad for Christmas.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: About $25Company Web siteReviewed by Dan Hunt

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This story, "Smartphones, Cell Phones and Other Stuff [2010 Cool Yule Tools]" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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