Useful tech gadgets is how one can describe the following products that we’ve sourced. They have one thing in common in that they help make your work day a little bit better and less stressful. From the bag that has more pockets than months in a year, to the cable that allows you to transfer data to your phone seamlessly, here’s our wish list.
Lindy USB Transfer and KM sharing cable
Picture this. You’ve got a vital document that you’re editing on your laptop, one that you need to send via email to get that million pound sales. Unfortunately, you don’t have internet access on your laptop but you do on your smartphone. Say hello to your savior, Lindy’s USB Transfer and KM sharing cable which is available for £30 direct. What it allows you to do is control two devices using a single keyboard and mouse as well as copy data across two computers, laptops, tablets and even smartphones with different operating systems. I’ve tried to do it on a Windows 8 PC and Windows 7 as well as Windows 8 and Android 2.3 (on an old Sony Ericsson Xperia U).
Note that you can only do keyboard sharing on Apple’s iPad or the iPhone because iOS doesn’t support the cursor mode. It is also compatible with Mac OS (but not Windows Phone) and Android devices must have a USB host port or support USB OTG whereas iOS devices must have a USB connection kit. It is also likely that you will need a converter for mobile devices. The product is essentially a very long USB cable (around 1.8m) with two big USB connectors at each end. These contain the electronics that allow the magic to happen and speaking of magic, plugging the device brings up an application, called USB Magic Switch, one that resides in a flash memory in the cable itself. You can decide whether to disable keyboard and mouse control or clipboard sharing.
Lindy Wireless Micro Keyboard and mouse
In theory, an ultra-portable micro keyboard can be a good idea. For example, you can actually control a presentation from afar. I toyed with the £30 Visopix mini keyboard with touchpad and a laser pointer and found it much to my liking. Lindy has another take on the concept with the stockier micro wireless keyboard which retails for £50.
It has an integrated optical mouse (more of a sensor with a 400dpi resolution), a full 56 key layout with multimedia controls and a built-in RF nano-dongle that fits nicely into the chassis of the keyboard, which is about the size of a pack of 20 cigarettes (110 x 60 x 18mm).
Popping it out switches the keyboard on and pushing it back switches it off. You will however be able to switch off the device even when the dongle is not in the keyboard. Like music, using a keyboard can be an intensely personal experience and in all honesty, I didn’t like that particular product. It felt too plasticky with the chrome frame that proves more of a distraction and having tiny plastic keys only made it worse.
I found myself missing letters while typing, even when within the maximum 10m range. Using the integrated optical mouse proved to be arduous and some of the tasks (for example a right mouse click) were far too unintuitive. On the flip side, you will be able to use that device on popular gaming consoles and the two AAA batteries will last a good three months.
Kensington Triple Trek Ultrabook Optimised Carry Bag
This is our first Ultrabook-optimised accessory and it is surprising that there hasn’t been a glut of these on the market coming from PC accessories manufacturer; in fact, it is the first “carry bag” I’m handling.
It is marketed as a ladies’ case although metrosexual men might also have an affinity for it, given that other than the overtly big handle, there’s little else feminine about it.
Being an Ultrabook-optimised bag means that it won’t accommodate anything bigger than 14in (although we have seen quite a few models with 15.6in displays like the Acer Timeline M3). You should be able to shove an iPad size tablet in it as well, which is just as good because it comes with an integrated tablet stand.
The bag itself is made of a sturdy plastic (probably polyester) canvas material. There are compartments for a tablet, an Ultrabook and a smartphone. They are fleece-lined which ensures that your devices do not get any nasty scratches. Plenty of pockets as well for power cords, presenter, pens, stylus, chargers and more.
There’s even an accessory pocket with a built-in carabineer clip for your keys plus a quick access, hidden storage pocket at the back. Other features include reflective zippers for visibility at night and it is water resistant as well.
Kensington says that the carry handles have been strengthened over the shoulder for added comfort and that the bag comes with a three year warranty (although we’re not sure whether it also covers wear and tear).
Verbatim Paris 17in Backpack roller bag
Many will remember Verbatim as a storage specialist and a provider of countless blank DVDs and CDs when optical disks were all rage. Nowadays though, the company has a much, much bigger product portfolio, one that spans from data storage peripherals to odd products like speakers, batteries, mice, marker pens and even water filters. Verbatim, which has acquired Freecom and is part of a Mitsubishi subsidiary called Chemical Holdings Group, also sells bags and they sent us the Paris 17in Backpack roller bag. It has an SRP of £119 but can be had from eBuyer for a more palatable £75.50).
The bag adopts a conservative black finish with hints of red and a prominent Verbatim logo. It is made of polyester, not the most noble material but one which is resistant to wear and tear, light and waterproof as well. At 2.6Kg, it is not as light as one would have expected but then, bear in mind that it has a capacity of 36 litres and includes a telescopic handle that extends to more than one metre. Oh and it has a dozen zips and many more pockets, which for a bag of this size, is mindboggling, on the verge of making things a tad more confusing.
Paris has a clothing compartment, a business organizer, outside umbrella/bottle holder, a plastic carabineer clip, space for laptops (up to 17in display), two wide, padded, shock absorbing straps that can convert it into a backpack (and can be conveniently hidden when in roller mode), a comfortable bump at the back of the bag that prevents it from constantly rubbing against your lower back and two year warranty. Find out more about the bag here.
Sandberg Solar 2000mAh Powerbank
For intrepid business people that often venture away (perhaps too far away) from a power socket or if you want to do your bit for the environment and cut your carbon footprint, there’s a simple and elegant solution. A solar power charger like the Sandberg Solar Power Bank, a 2,000mAh battery that can be charged either via a USB port or an array of built-in solar cells. It is about the size of a candybar smartphone, measures a mere 113 x 45 x 12mm and weighs 80g. The entire body is rubberized bar the solar panel and feels solid albeit slightly tacky. The device is fairly simple to operate; it has an On-Off button, a USB out port, a mini USB in port (to charge it) and four LED that indicate the battery level.
Each additional light showing up adds 25 per cent to the tally; if the first one turns red, it means that the battery bank is charging using sunlight or ambient light. You can also top it up using the USB port on your computer. Note that you can’t charge it over mains. Sandberg backs it up with a five-year warranty and reckons that it will take about a day for it to charge (which translates into two days at 12-hour sunlight) or up to five hours via USB. So if you’re in a hurry, you might be better off with a USB-only solution rather than a solar powered one. Amazon sells it for just over £36 and you can find more about the Solar PowerBank from Sandberg here.
Sandberg MHL-HDMI converter kit
A smartphone is rapidly growing into something bigger than just a device to make calls. It is versatile, flexible, small and powerful enough to be your full time computer. But it is still constrained by the fact that it has a small display and no physical keyboard. To solve the first obstacle, there’s always the ability to connect your smartphone to a HDMI-enabled display. If the screen is Miracast-compatible, then you can always connect to it wirelessly. Otherwise, you may need to get a micro USB to HDMI MHL adapter.
What it allows you to do is mirror the content of the smartphone’s display on a HDMI display scaled to the native resolution of the display, which is currently limited to full HD and will reach 4K with MHL 3.0. MHL (which stands for mobile high definition link) is an industry standard that’s picking up and is backed by some of the biggest names in the tech industry. Many of the recent mobile phones support it; these include all the recent mainstream/top-of-the-range Samsung smartphones (from the Galaxy S2 onwards), many HTC, LG, Huawei, Sony, ZTE and many of the smaller companies.
Sandberg offers such a converter for around £17. It is tiny and essentially converts signal from a microUSB port from the smartphone into something that can be aired on a HDMI-enabled display. There’s an adaptor for the S3 and the S4 as well; note that you will also need to use the phone’s AC charger which is connected to the micro USB input of the converter. Check out the Sandberg MHL HDMI converter kit here and if you want to buy it, Ebuyer sells it for under £14.
Bibitel SIM Skin
We won’t call it revolutionary but Bibitel’s SIM Skin is one of the more seamless solutions for those looking to slash their international calls, either made locally or abroad. You don’t need to change your mobile phone, number of SIM card, you don’t need to download any special app or dial any access numbers (which means that you can use it with your contact book) and any minutes dialed won’t come out of your plan.
SIM Skin is applied simply by applying an ultra-thin SIM layer on top of your SIM card, regardless of whether it is a nano, a micro or a mini one. That is a process that takes a couple of minutes at most. This is not a VOIP service which means that you don’t use data, which also means that you don’t need to enjoy perfect coverage. What that also implies is that you can use a cheap feature handset rather than a smartphone. You will need to register the card first and possibly top it up online or by buying a top up voucher.
The rates are better than Skype as you don’t have to pay a connection fee. However, they are still more expensive than Rebtel which remains the indisputable leader when it comes to pure voice and text over IP. Calling a landline or a mobile in Mauritius costs 7p on Bibitel and 4.9p on Rebtel. There’s another promising application for Bibitel although that’s currently limited to Bibitel registered users at the moment. You will be able to transfer money via your phone without apparently paying any commissions.
Lindy USB Audio Adapter Pro
Sound capabilities on laptops have improved over the past years but discerning business users might prefer a dedicated option instead. Enter the Lindy USB Audio Adapter Pro, a nifty little gadget that adds SPDIF capabilities to your laptop as well as 7.1 Virtual Surround compatible with Dolby Pro Logic IIx or DTS Neo:6. It connects via USB port and takes over the sound functionality from the onboard solution.
Physically, it looks like a big USB dongle with two sockets (headphone and four buttons (mute microphone, mute headphone as well as two for volume control). It comes with a two year warranty, a special Xear 3D application and costs £20 direct from Lindy.
Installation is as simple as plugging in the device but you will have to download and install the latest applications from Lindy’s website (a CDROM with the required application is provided though). The adaptor also comes with a reasonably long USB extension cable and a converter for the optical audio input that’s unfortunately fairly easy to lose. Lindy also sells a cheaper audio adaptor but I think that it is worth paying an extra tenner for the added capabilities.
Lindy HDMI A to VGA & Audio adaptor
If your laptop is a relatively recent one and you want to connect it to a display device that doesn’t have HDMI port, then you might want to try this new HDMI to VGA and audio adaptor from Lindy. It costs £30 but is likely to save your day during that all-important presentation. It supports resolutions of up to 1,920 x 1,080 and can also transport audio signals as well.
You will need to connect your audio out to the appropriate connector and Lindy didn’t unfortunately provide with a male-male 3.5mm cable for that. It is worth also noting that this HDMI to VGA audio adaptor doesn’t support HDCP protected signals and that the HDMI end is an “A” model (i.e. traditional male). You can use it with laptops, desktops, tablets and smartphones as well with the appropriate converter and in theory, you won’t even need any drivers. Another gadget to be kept in your bag "just in case".
Startech Universal USB 3.0 Laptop Docking Station
If, like me, you use (or intend to use) your laptop a lot on your commute, then you might find this little accessory to be a life saver. This is a Startech branded docking station that offer three external monitor outputs (DVI-D, VGA and HDMI) out of which two can be used concurrently, a Gigabit Ethernet connector, three USB 3.0 ports and a 3.5mm jack. The device carries a SRP of £173 but can be had from Amazon for less than £110. Startech backs it with a two-year warranty as well as free lifetime support. Physically, the docking station looks like a rectangular power brick that, unlike many competitor products, doesn’t stand up (and risk being toppled over when wrangling with wires). It is a mere 178 x 304 x 44mm in size and weighs 289g; it needs however three more items to make it work correctly.
A USB 3.0 cable, a power adaptor and an installation CD, all of which are bundled but somehow make it less attractive. We would have preferred a pull-to-roll USB cable with an embedded power supply and the firmware/application loaded on a flash memory inside the docking station rather than on an optical disk.
Although I understand the appeal of the latter, one must remember that many laptops no longer have an internal drive. Furthermore, the device is not compatible with any mobile operating system or with Mac OS which is a shame. Startech's docking station uses three different chipsets to handle display (the DisplayLink DL-3900), USB connectivity (the Genesys GL3520) and networking (the Realtek RTL8211E) which means that you will need drivers loaded on your PC first before you can actually use the docking station.
Operating it was a doddle although it did require restarting the host computer. I'd like to see more USB 3.0 ports on the docking station. Three is simply not enough given that you can get four extra for a few quids more, oh and if Startech could shove in a card reader, a universal pass-through notebook power supply unit and a Display Port connector, that would be fabulous but probably add a fair premium to the product. Note that you can download the latest display link USB graphics drivers here.
Startech USB 3.0 to Dual port Gigabit Ethernet adaptor NIC
Sysadmins who are out and about will thank Startech for bring a very smart piece of equipment to the market. The USB3200SPT converts a single USB 3.0 port into a dual port Gigabit Ethernet adaptor that also includes a USB 3.0 pass through port. Obviously, using all three at the same time will mean reduced bandwidth available for each port but since USB 3.0 can handle 5Gbps in theory, even a 60 per cent capacity should be enough for most bandwidth-hungry applications.
So who could need such a product? Anyone looking to provide dedicated physical interfaces to virtual machine configuration in a two or multi-homed host system configuration.
In flesh, this accessory is only a little black box with a USB cable protruding. It offers support for “IPv4/IPv6 packet Checksum Offload Engine (COE) and TCP large send offload to reduce the load on your CPU, as well as Jumbo Frames, full-duplex operation with 802.3x flow control, and VLAN tagging for an efficient and full-featured USB network adapter.” Startech sells it for just under £100 but you can collect it for a third less at Amazon.
The adaptor uses two ASIX AX88179 chips for the Ethernet ports and a VIA VL811 one to manage USB connectivity. You won’t need an additional external adaptor, which is a boon and the device is compatible with most major desktop and server OSes.