24 October 2016

Anker PowerCore+ 10050: Great balance of power and size

Confession time: I’m a portable charger hoarder. I’ve been compulsively collecting them for years, and have drawers full of the ones I bought, used for a few weeks, and then replaced with something better. Different sizes and features work better for different scenarios, so lately I’ve been carrying an Anker PowerCore 5000 for a bit of ultra-portable juice while on the go or the massive Anker PowerCore+ 26800 while away from extended periods away from The Grid. Of course, the smaller one really only provides enough power for a single extra charger, while the larger is just simply too big to put in a pocket for a quick outing.

Enter the Anker PowerCore+ 10050. To me, this is the Goldilocks of Anker’s portable chargers - packing enough power to recharge my Nexus 6P a couple of times in a surprisingly compact form factor. Like its big brother, the PowerCore+ 10050 features a sturdy aluminum shell finished in a smooth matte black. This model is roughly the same size as my wallet packed with a bunch of unused rewards and loyalty cards, and the curved sides and rounded edges make it easy and snag-free to tuck into a large pocket or bag.

Many other portable chargers leave you guessing at how much of a charge remains (“three lights, so that’s somewhere between 66.67% and 100%?”), but the round button on the side of the PowerCore+ features a ring of ten tiny white LEDs. Just tap the button and the ring will illuminate to indicate the current capacity in 10% increments. The ring also animates while the PowerCore+ is charging in order to quickly convey the status.

24 September 2016

Anker PowerCore+ 26800: Power to get through the week

As I sit down on Friday evening to type up a quick review, my Nexus 6P lets me know its battery level has dipped below 10%. Any other day, I’d be frustrated - but today, I’m immensely pleased. You see, I haven’t plugged my phone into a wall charger, car charger, or even random USB port since Sunday morning.

No, I didn’t install some magical new battery-extending application, manually enable Airplane Mode, or even activate Android’s built-in Battery Saver. Instead, I powered my phone solely off of Anker’s high-capacity PowerCore+ 26800 for five full work days and nights. Nexus devices aren’t exactly known for their stamina, and I use my phone heavily - so trust me when I say getting a week of use without a wall charger is quite a feat.

Of course, all of that juice does come with a price - or, more accurately, two. First, the PowerCore+ 26800 is a well-designed, pleasantly contoured, surprisingly slim brick. It’s big, and it’s heavy. This isn’t a power pack you’ll be likely to slip into your pants pocket for on-the-go Pokemon GO power (unless you’re still wearing JNCO’s, I suppose). And while the included PowerPort+ 1 wall charger uses Quick Charge 3.0 technology to rapidly charge up the battery pack, “rapidly” becomes a very relative term when talking about powering a 26,800mAh behemoth. I know Anker advertises a 6.5-hour charge time, but my experience suggests planning on closer to 8 or 9 hours. Neither of these points are really problems with the unit, they’re just the nature of such a beast and should be kept in mind and planned for.

31 August 2016

Anker Dashboard and Windshield Phone Mount: Secure Mobile Device Mount

It took me the better part of a year (and no small number of purchases) to test and land on the best phone mount to use in my car, and I eventually settled on a generic adjustable mount which fits securely in my CD tray. It’s a pretty good setup for my car (Subaru BRZ), which has a shallowly-sloped windshield far away from my driving position. It’s not a great solution for other cars, though, so I always struggle to come up with a good mount to use when in my wife’s car or a rental while on vacation.

So I was excited to be offered the opportunity to try out the Anker Dashboard and Windshield Car Mount. The mount arrived just before I embarked on a cross-country roadtrip, so I got to put it through an excellent real-world test.

Like all Anker products, the mount arrived in friendly easy-to-open packaging. Included within were the expandable phone holder, sturdy adjustable arm with suction cup base, brief welcome guide, and Anker product feedback card.

Assembling the mount is a breeze. The two pieces are attached by a ball-and-socket joint, so simply unscrew the large plastic nut from the socket on the back of the phone holder, slide it over the protruding ball on the end of the adjustable arm, and screw the nut back down. The joint allows the phone holder to swivel in any direction to accommodate any phone orientation you desire, but the proximity to the squared-off end of the arm prevents the holder from tilting more than ~30° or so in any one direction. As a result, only about 60° of the arm’s impressive 260° rotation range is actually useful if you intend to have your phone’s display roughly perpendicular to the ground. I didn’t encounter any mounting problems due to this limitation, but you may run into trouble if you attempt a more extreme mounting angle.

05 August 2016

Anker PowerCore 5000: Potent Portable Power Pack in your Pocket

So I got a bit carried away with the alliteration in that title, but it's all true!

Like all Anker products, this one arrived in an easy-to-open box without a lot of excess packaging to get in the way. Inside the box, I found the PowerCore 5000 itself, a short (~2ft) micro-USB charging cable, a high-quality mesh carrying pouch, a minimal illustrated user's guide, and the usual "Happy?" product feedback card. I've used many Anker products and can honestly say that they do want their customers to be happy with their products, and they stand by that with a no-hassle 18-month warranty on every single item.

The PowerCore 5000 is a plastic cylinder about the same diameter as a soda bottle cap and a little taller than a soda can. The matt black finish of the cylinder wall looks great in an understated way and - probably more importantly - is easy and comfortable to hold onto. There’s a round power button on the side, as well as three white LEDs used to indicate the current battery level of the charger. Each end is glossy plastic slightly recessed, with the micro-USB input and USB-A output ports on one end and all the obligatory labels and information printed on the other. (On a related note, I love that even an inexpensive product like this features an individual serial number. That’s encouraging to see, and makes me much more comfortable with the company honoring their advertised warranty.) The internal battery causes most of the PowerCore’s weight to be at the label end, which means it becomes quite stable when stood on end for charging.

26 May 2016

Anker Bluetooth Selfie Stick: A Great Mobile Photography Accessory - Not Just for Selfies!

First up, a quick confession: I'm not a member of the target demographic for a selfie stick. I'm thirty, male, and not prone to self-portraiture ("selfies"). Having other people point cameras at my face makes me uncomfortable enough as it is, so I'm not in any hurry to further that trauma. That said, I do have a lot of fun with mobile photography, and am always looking for new techniques to try.

Enter the Anker Bluetooth Selfie Stick. I figured I could use it as a poor man's monopod to stabilize low-light shots and also to provide a bit of extra reach for unusual perspectives.

In traditional Anker fashion, the selfie stick arrives in a friendly blue-and-white box. There's no excess packaging material to dig through, and no horrible plastic blister packs to struggle with and ultimately cut yourself on (thanks Anker!). Inside I found the selfie stick itself, a short micro-USB charging cable, a welcome guide, and a product feedback card.

28 April 2016

Anker 250ml Essential Oil Diffuser: Soothing Vapors and Soothing Colors

Anker, the trusted brand for cables, chargers, and portable battery packs, has lately been trying to move into the rest of your home. They recently launched a cordless vacuum, a robot vacuum, and now, this: a 250ml oil diffuser.

In typical Anker fashion, the unit arrives in a friendly and uncluttered blue-and-white box. (No plastic packa
ging to fight with, yay!) Inside you find the diffuser itself, an accessories box including the power adapter (with 3-4 foot cord) and filling jug, an illustrated Welcome Guide, and the usual Anker "Happy? / Not Happy?" feedback card. The diffuser consists of three parts: the base/reservoir, lid, and the dome-shaped cover. The sides of the reservoir are marked with measurements in mL, as is the small filling jug, ensuring that you don't overfill it.

26 February 2016

Anker PowerLine USB-C to USB 2.0: A Safe, Well-Built USB A-to-C Cable

Last month, I had the opportunity to try out Anker's PowerLine+ Micro-USB cable, and I was very impressed by its quality, design, and thoughtful carrying pouch. It wasn't much good, however, for working with my USB-C-equipped Nexus 6P.

I was thrilled, then, when Anker offered me the opportunity to try out one of their USB A-to-C cables. (Yes, I was provided this cable for free in exchange for my fair and honest review. No, I didn't let that affect my impression of the product.) Anker does not yet sell a braided PowerLinePlus USB-C cable, but the Anker PowerLine USB-C to USB 2.0 Cable does incorporate many of the same design features like Kevlar fiber reinforcement.

13 February 2016

KuGi Tempered Glass Screen Protector for Huawei Watch

I received this KuGi Tempered Glass screen protector as a Christmas present, and quickly rushed to replace the tacky Skinomi film I had installed a few days prior. That film protector left a noticeable gap around the edge of the screen that looked silly but, even worse, felt silly when swiping my finger in from the edge of the screen.

This tempered glass protector is so much better. Installation was a breeze. It took maybe three minutes to install - and that's including the time to remove the plastic protector, clean the screen with the included cloth, peel the backing off the new glass protector, and gently lower it into place. The sloped edges of the Huawei Watch's bezel made it easy to center on the display.

If you're being really picky, you can see that there is a very very very slight gap around the edge of the protector once installed. I seriously didn't notice it at all until I started reading other reviews pointing it out - so I'm sorry that you can't un-see it now! In real-world use, though, it's hardly an issue. The glass sits pretty close to flush against the slope of the watch's bezel, so finger-swipes across that edge feel pretty much like they always did - no more awkward bump! And, being glass, it feels very much like the surface of the sapphire display. It even seems to do a better job of discouraging fingerprints than the bare display alone!

Now, I don't really know that the Huawei Watch really needs a protector - the sapphire display should be pretty difficult to scratch on its own. The screen also sits recessed a bit below the bezel, further shielding it from any dangers. If you feel the need to protect your screen, though, do yourself a favor and get this one

Skinomi® TechSkin for Huawei Watch

What can I say? I'm a sucker for carbon fiber - or, in this case, things which look like carbon fiber. So when I saw that Skinomi offered a carbon fiber-looking skin for my Huawei Watch I knew I had to try it out.  

The kit includes 8 precision-cut textured film pieces that mimic the look and feel of carbon fiber as well as a round screen protector film. The carbon fiber films pieces go on dry, but a liquid solution is provided for applying the clear film to the screen.

+ Installation was easy - much easier than the skins I've applied to phones in the past. A little bit of heat from a hair dryer helps make sure the skin adhered to the curved surfaces of the watch.

+ I love having this skin on the back of the watch - no more sticking to my arm! The slight texture feels great. These two pieces are cut to perfectly fit around both the glass window for the heart rate sensor and the charging pins. Honestly, covering up the back of the watch alone makes this worth installing in my opinion.

+ I think it looks pretty sharp, too - particularly on a black watch. If your Huawei Watch is of the polished stainless or rose gold variety, the gaps between the film pieces will probably look rather silly.

03 February 2016

YESOO Milanese Loop Mesh Band for Huawei Watch

When Huawei first started to show off their fantastic Android Wear smartwatch, they did so with a dizzying variety of finish and band combinations. I liked many of these different configurations, but one stood out to me as the one to have: the black stainless watch with black stainless mesh band. 

Of course, when the Huawei Watch finally went on sale months later, that particular combination was nowhere to be found. A few months after that, Huawei started listing bands for sale on their online store - but again, the black mesh was absent. (They do, however, now offer a shiny stainless mesh band - for $129.)

Now I like my black Huawei Watch with black links just fine. I think it's a great-looking combo, and the link band is really well made. I do find, however, that the band frequently feels either too loose or too tight no matter how many links I remove or add back in. There's not a happy medium for my wrist, and that is exacerbated as my arm may swell slightly throughout the day. And I still sometimes get my arm hair (or what’s left of it) pinched and pulled between the links. It’s a great-looking band, but not really a particularly comfortable band. 

I experimented first with a mesh band I found on eBay. I had some issues with getting the right pins to fit the Huawei Watch's 18mm lugs, but I was relatively pleased with the band once I got that sorted. It was easy to adjust for an appropriate fit throughout the day, but having to slide the thick mesh through the clasp made it a real chore to don and doff the watch. The buckle mechanism also added a little bit of thickness to the underside of the band which sometimes caused a little bit of discomfort. Oh, also I somehow managed to break the band into pieces while attempting to swap in the correct pins. While the China-based seller helpfully offered an exchange if I would return the broken band, I wasn't sure it would actually be worth the cost of return shipping. I swapped back to the stock steel links and kept looking.

I recently stumbled across this post from +W Ram showing off his new magnetic clasp Milanese Loop mesh band, and I knew I had to have one. YESOO offers three versions of their Loop band for the Huawei Watch: BlackSilver, and Rose Gold. I ordered the Black one (to match my watch) for $23.99 with free shipping, and it was delivered about a week later - much quicker than the original delivery estimate.

29 January 2016

Plantronics BackBeat Fits: Great headphones for at work or working out

I spent several days researching different Bluetooth headphones from Jaybird, Motorola, and others before finally deciding to take a chance on these Plantronics BackBeat Fits. I was trying to match various requirements and desires, but ultimately the deciding feature I wanted was a design that wouldn't isolate me from the world around me. I was seeking a set of headphones to wear at work, and I needed to be sure that I could stay aware of things going on nearby (desk phone ringing, boss talking to me, etc) while listening to my music. That strict requirement readily eliminated a lot of potential contenders.

After having these BackBeat Fits for a few months I am so glad I picked them. They sound good (not audiophile quality, but work perfectly well for casual listening while at work), fit comfortably without a lot of finicky adjustment, and the earpiece design makes it easy to hear when a coworker is asking for my opinion or my desk phone starts ringing. They actually sound a LOT better than I anticipated, and I was actually able to carry on a conversation with my wife while listening to tunes with the buds seated in both ears (at a reasonable volume of course). The controls are a bit funky (long-press the volume-up button to turn the level down) but work just fine once I got used to them.

27 January 2016

Anker Lumos A1: Flexible desk lamp, comfortable light, twitchy controls

The Anker Lumos A1 LED Desk Lamp ships fully assembled (well, minus the power cord) but folded flat. Once extracted from the friendly packaging the lamp can be positioned to place its illumination exactly where you need it. In addition to the 90- and 180-degree joints at the top of bottom of the vertical arm, the horizontal arm up top also rotates side-to-side 180 degrees and 270 degrees longitudinally to let you case light directly up or to either side. The build is lightweight without feeling cheap, and I love being able to fold it flat for transport or storage.

The small AC adapter "wall wart" was just a teeny bit too wide to fit between two existing plugs on my power strip, but it fit comfortably once relocated to either end. The usual round DC adapter fit snugly into the receptacle on the lamp's base; I was quite pleased to see that it won't come unplugged accidentally.

25 January 2016

Anker PowerLine+ Micro USB: I never thought I could be impressed by a USB cable...

But Anker has made a believer out of me.

This PowerLine+ cable ships not in a cheap plastic pouch or a frustrating blister pack, but in a friendly, easy-to-open box. The cable is then tucked inside a high-quality carrying pouch, which feels like a heavy felt material, stays shut thanks to a magnetic closure, and includes a handy hook-and-loop strap stitched to the fabric for securing the cable. I initially scoffed at the pouch, wondering what sort of pretentious cable needed to be transported in such luxury, but I soon realized just how convenient this pouch could be. It obviously makes a great way for transporting the cable without getting tangled with other inferior cables, but you can also use the cable while secured in the pouch by simply pulling either end to the desired length. That makes it easy to use when you don't need the full six-foot length. The carrying pouch is definitely an unexpected bonus, and I'm really quite glad for its inclusion.

24 January 2016

Martian Notifier: The Watch that Wants to be Smart

Everybody, it seems, wants to be in the wearables game - but there's not a lot of agreement on what the rules of that game actually are. You've got companies like Pebble that opt for e-paper LCDs and big friendly buttons, brands like Apple that want a square touchscreen that goes black after a few seconds, platforms like Android Wear that want you to "Be Together, Not The Same" with a variety of shapes, form factors, and features to choose from, and things like the Rufus Cuff that offer brilliant opportunities to cosplay as Leela from Futurama.

The Martian Notifier is the entry-level offering from a company that seems to think all of those options are just a little bit too smart. Instead, they offer a "genuine timepiece with smart features, rather than a miniature phone on your wrist". In other words, it's a classic analog watch with a small monochrome OLED display to show a single line of text.

Martian will sell the Notifier to you for $130 from their website but you don't have to look too hard to find it for around forty bucks. I saw it offered from Android Area for $36 and figured it was worth trying out for that price. The large price variation makes it a bit difficult to evaluate this watch fairly. There are few smartwatches worth considering in the sub-$50 range, but $130 puts it competing with Pebbles ($100 for the Classic, $150 for Time) and a lot of older Android Wear devices. For reference, my smartwatch background includes both the original Pebble and the Huawei Watch (my thoughts on how they compare), but I've also owned many "dumb" watches from Seiko, Luminox, Marathon, Casio, and others. I was hoping that the Martian Notifier would wind up somewhere in between.