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Consumer Tech Summer Buying and Gift Guide

Consumer Tech Summer Buying and Gift Guide

By Richard M. Sherwin, Bob Plunkett, Jennifer Auspitz, Ted Mayo, Amy Eller, Richard Macias and Susan Davis

(With special contributions from Gary M. Kaye and Tech50+ www.tech50plus.com

DFA’S Biggest summer Buying Guide

A lot of our readers, listeners and viewers have been complaining about the quality of knockoff accessories. The knockoffs stop working after a few weeks (if they ever work at all), the cable or wires or plastic seems to be cheaper than they expected and/or, they wound up seeing the same thing, but a name brand, in a retail store for only a few dollars more.

We’ve heard stories tell about going to Amazon or EBay or Walmart and to save $5 on a USB cable or maybe even $10 on an IPhone or Android phone case produced in China or Taiwan. So you say, well the branded product is produced there too, this thingamajig must be just as good and reliable as the famous brand. But, it usually isn’t.

Or someone we know who should have known better, purchased a backup battery charger that usually costs $49 for $18 on an auction site and it lasted two hours.

DFA’s advice:  stick to the brand name or read the reviews on the site you are purchasing from. For this father’s day, graduate gift guide or summer fun fling if you think that you see a great buy, but it’s not a brand name, make sure it has believable reviews and that it’s returnable.

Now for some great summer or anytime buys.

Health and Lifestyle Products for all

Healing electronic therapy for your whole body

Last year we reviewed the Omron Blue Tooth Blood Pressure device, which the entire staff uses now. The hot company just got hotter with the Omron’s Electrotherapy unit. These are small and simple, yet powerful replicas of what you’ll find at physical therapy. They deliver pre-set gentle pulses for relieving a wide variety of muscle and joint pains without the use of drugs.

The Omron Max Power Relief offers two times more power than their competitors yet is easy to personalize and customize. It is perfect for multiple adult family members, who may experience pain in the lower back or recurring knee and shoulder pain.

Here’s what you need to know about the Max Power Relief:

  • FDA Cleared: Available without a prescription; uses trans cutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) technology for home use.
  • Nine Pre-Set Modes offer more tailored pain therapy with six pain modes including Shoulder, Lower Back, Arm, Foot, Leg and Joint
  • Three massage-like modes including Rub, Tap and Knead
  • 15 Power Levels of Intensity
  • LCD Screen: Simple, large controls make for easy operation.
  • Enhances Circulation: Triggers endorphin production while also enhancing circulation.
  • Small & Portable: Easy to carry on car trips or plane rides when you might need it most.
  • Timer: Automatic 15 minute shut off.
  • Carrying pouch included.

Sports Watch – While many kids have been using their smartphones to tell time, there are those who are willing to wear a timepiece on their wrist.  The Casio 3425 is a solar powered sports watch that comes in men’s and women’s sizes and styles.   The Tough Solar watch can take your grad from track to field, walk to jog, run to sprint. With 100M water resistance, dual countdown timers for interval training, 100-hour stopwatch and 5 daily alarms, this is a great workout companion. Black resin watch with earth green accents and neutral dial. Price is $50.

Fitness Tracker/Running WatchGarmin Forerunner 15 – This GPS Running Watch comes in styles for both men and women.  It has a heart rate monitor.  It tracks distance, pace, and heart rate.  Activity tracking counts steps and calories and reminds your grad when it’s time to move, It’s compatible with foot pod for recording distance indoors.  The rechargeable battery will last for up to 8 hours with GPS on, or 5 weeks in watch/activity tracking mode.  Price $140.

Packing Cubes –– If you are going to be spending a lot of time on the road, this is a great way to get organized, with a variety of packing solutions that will hold just about anything from gadgets to underwear, shirts to toiletries.  Some come with compression to help get more clothes into a smaller space, a particularly good idea for backpacks or airplane carry-ons.  The Specter collection features lightweight material with strong zippers that take up very little space on their own, but make it easy to get your hands on what you need when living out of a suitcase. There are a variety of pack-its ranging in price from about $10.00 to complete sets for about $45.

Space Saving Multi Featured Printer from Epson

A while ago we told you about the issues we had with Brother’s tech support and a couple of you praised Epson’s tech support after there was a minor issue with its ink cartridges. Now all we have is praise for Epson’s new Model HP 420. If you are stuck for space, this compact, wireless all-in-one produces impressive printing. It has very easy setup and navigation — large, hi-res 2.5″ color LCD and touch  panel to easily print, copy and scan. Its  space-saving design also includes a  wireless solution — easily print from iPad®, iPhone®, tablets and smartphones1; includes Wi-Fi Direct®2 for network-free printing.

It features affordable individual ink cartridges — replace only the color you need. Scan and share — includes bonus software to automatically scan to Facebook® and cloud3 . You can easily adjust and print photos — built-in memory card slot4 for PC-free photo printing; includes tools for red-eye removal, photo restoration and more. Perfect for home printing — includes lined paper and calendar templates. Reload paper less often — 100-sheet paper capacity Truly touchable photos and documents — instant-dry ink for smudge, fade and water resistant prints. Priced around $75.

Electric Razor – You might want to encourage your grad to look clean shaven as he heads for those job interviews. And for Dad, too, we recommend the Panasonic Arc 3 wet/dry razor.

Features include:

  • 3-blade cutting system for a quick, smooth shave
  • Slide-up 45° trimmer, five-setting comb attachment included
  • Stainless steel foils follow facial contours for closeness and comfort
  • Pivoting head glides effortlessly over face, chin, jawline and neck
  • 10,000 rpm motor for power and performance
  • Use dry or in the shower with wet/dry convenience
  • Washable—cleans in seconds under running water
  • Automatic Clean and Charge Station included
  • Price $100.

Power Up – Never worry about a dead battery, smartphone or computer ever again! The mPower Mini Jump is a powerful, versatile jumpstarter/multi-purpose charger for everyone. About the size of a smartphone, it’s powerful enough to jumpstart everything from your automobile to your recreational toys like ATVs, snowmobiles, motorcycles, jet skis. It’s versatile enough to charge all your electronic devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops. And it’s inexpensive enough for virtually any family. Now everyone can enjoy the safety and peace of mind that comes with knowing you’ll never be stuck with a dead battery, dead phone or dead computer ever again. mPower also comes in other variations including the mPower Jump, Jump Plus, and Truck Jump.

Product features: Supports fast charging with low self-discharge cycle Multiple safety protection Built-in flashlight Technical Specifications Input: 12V 1A, 5V 2A Output: 5V 2A Start Current: 150A Peak Current: 300A Size: 5.47″ x 2.95″ x .59″ Weight: .44 lbs. Operating Temperature: -20 ° C-60 ° C/-4 ° F-140 ° F Battery Capacity: 22.2 Wh Full Charging Time: Approx 2 hours. Priced around $80. Company also sells home and car wall and auto adapters for $15 a very convenient accessory.MPH_jumpit_mini

Media Streaming Device – Amazon FireTV stick – If your grad is on the move and doesn’t want to be tied to a cable TV box, and doesn’t mind the perpetual Amazon retail pitch, the Fire TV Stick connects to a TV HDMI port. It’s an easy way to enjoy over 200,000 TV episodes and movies on Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, HBO and Showtime and ESPN GO, and Hulu Plus, plus games, music, and more.  Fire TV Stick comes with a dedicated remote and remote app with controls to easily search, watch, and play games. It allows the user to mirror a smartphone or tablet to a TV.  Price is $39. Of course, many consumers have purchased the even lower priced Google Chromecast and best-selling Roku, that don’t tie you to one retail experience.

Accessories you can trust

A few weeks ago we touted some of Logitech’s audio video tablet accessories, then we took an equally famous and reliable brand’s products into the lab and this is what we discovered.

Kensington’s products, who some of us have been using successfully for over 30 years, still makes a terrific and very reliable group of audio video and computer accessories. Our analysis: Kensington’s accessories were made better than the knockoffs, priced only a few dollars more (some were actually less priced than the rip-offs) and come with a good warrantee and online or even live support.

All the following Kensington products are priced below $100 and all out performed the knockoff clone by a lot.:5200 or 10400 USB Mobile Chargers (10400-K38219WW; SRP $49.99; 5200-K38220WW; SRP $39.99) – These mobile chargers feature a 10,400 mAh battery and a 2.1 AMP output (very fast, very reliable) that has enough reserve power to fully charge an iPhone® 6 Plus or a Galaxy S®6 two times. With PowerWhiz™ Technology, (none of the knockoffs had this) the charger automatically detects your device and provides the fastest charge possible. The 4-LED display lets you know how much power is left in the charger. The power bank can be used with a wide variety of devices, including all Apple® products, most Android™ smartphones and tablets, and many other USB-charged devices.

KP400 Switchable Keyboard (K72322US; SRP $59.99) – When it comes to typing on a variety of devices, having a keyboard that can alternate between wired and Bluetooth connectivity can be your new best friend. No matter what Blue Tooth your PC or Tablet or phone has, it is still not 100% reliable…so having a detachable wired connect for those important moments is critical for most people.

The Kensington KP400 Switchable Keyboard lets you work with a laptop, a tablet, or even a smartphone. The keyboard is full-sized and includes a numeric keypad, providing a professional typing experience. The keyboard can be powered using either a detachable wired connection through a USB port on your laptop, or with batteries when it’s in Bluetooth mode. Installation is simple and easy so you can start typing in no time at all.

KeyFolio Thin X3™ for iPad Air® 2 (iPad Air 2-K97389US; SRP $99.99; iPad Air-K97269US; SRP $89.99) — The iPad Air 2 is light and thin, which means you’re probably looking for a thin, lightweight keyboard case that’s loaded with features to go along with it. Kensington has your answer with the KeyFolio Thin X3 for iPad Air 2. The X3 features the breakthrough innovation PowerLift™, which allows you to tap into the keyboard’s internal 1650 mAh battery and charge your phone using its USB cable. A sleek, form-fitting, hard-shell exterior surrounds the tablet in protection while maintaining its thin profile. Open the KeyFolio Thin X3 and find an integrated Bluetooth® keyboard that include a row of dedicated shortcut keys, allowing you to be more productive using fewer keystrokes. The unique QuickFold™ design allows you to hide the keyboard beneath the iPad Air 2 so you can quickly and easily transition from typing mode to viewing mode. The KeySense™ Power Channel automatically turns the keyboard on and off when it’s engaged or disengaged from the magnetic stand, helping conserve battery life.

Pro Fit® Wired Windows® 8 Mouse (K72323WW; SRP $29.99) — With Windows 8, users have a huge array of options when it comes to getting the most out of their operating system, combining touchscreen and keyboard like no other. And for those of you having issues with Blue Tooth mice, this is a can’t miss replacement.  The Pro Fit Wired Windows 8 Mouse features a multi-function gesture button that lets you perform six specific actions that typically are accomplished with a finger swipe. The mouse has a high-definition 1800 DPI sensor that optically tracks your hand movements for precision control. With two buttons and a scroll wheel, the comfortable, mobile design of the mouse is great for either right-handers or left-handers and offers Plug & Play installation so you can get up and running quickly.

PresentAir Pro™ Bluetooth® 4.0 LE Presenter (K72448US; SRP $59.99) — Featuring the latest in wireless technology, the PresentAir Pro Bluetooth 4.0 LE Presenter has everything you need to present with confidence and so much more. With USB ports at a premium on today’s ultra-thin devices, the PresentAir Pro uses Bluetooth 4.0 LE technology to pair with your device. The PresentAir Pro buttons offer three modes – Presenter, Media, and Custom – so you can select the button functions that work best for you. Download the free PresenterWorks™ app and discover all the options the Custom mode has to offer. The sleek design fits right in your pocket or you can place it into a pen/stylus holder. The presenter also works as a touch-activated stylus, and the red laser can call attention to any part of your presentation. The included carrying case provides convenient storage that protects the PresentAir Pro from scratches.

Mobile Communication Alternatives

For years now DFA has been using the TextNow App which out performs most service provider texting Apps in ease of use, typing accuracy and pricing. Now the hot new company has expanded its reach into hardware and mobile calling too.

TextNow Wireless uses a hybrid model of WiFi and traditional phone service to offer premium quality mobile service at affordable prices. Customers receive all of the benefits of a traditional mobile carrier without the contracts, high costs or hidden fees. Plans begin at $18.99/month including unlimited voice, text and 2G data services with no contracts.

Our intrepid NYC chief had this to say: The Text Now App is kind of great 🙂 With TEXTNOW you can text and receive messages and phone calls from your devices as well as your lap and desktops, communicating over the Internet. This comes in handy if you happen to be in a meeting and want to communicate with your colleague across the table or if the meeting is going on way too long and you would rather be messaging with your significant other, checking your hair colorist’s availability or your Amazon account.

Easy to download and use. It gets this technophobe’s seal of approval for ease of use.

  • Coverage TextNow piggybacks on Sprint’s network for a wireless connection in the absence of WiFi, so you can use a TextNow-powered phone wherever Sprint has coverage.
  • Smart technology Seamlessly switches between WiFi and traditional carrier network to maximize savings while ensuring quality coverage.
  • Handsets Devices range from entry-level handsets such as the Moto G at just $13.99 to new additions such as the Moto X and Nexus 5.
  • One number, multiple devices The cloud-based mobile phone service allows users to make calls from their own number on phone, tablet and desktop.
  • Advanced features – Visual voicemail, web calling and more at no extra cost.
  • The TextNow Wireless challenge Try it out for free from your existing wireless carrier via the TextNow mobile app. You can even keep your number.
  • TextNow app. The TextNow app turns any WiFi connected device into a phone, enabling users to send and receive calls and texts within the U.S. and Canada, free of charge. Customers receive a dedicated TextNow phone number, and because the service is cloud-based, users can use that number on their phones, tablets or the web. With more than 58M downloads, the app is available for users on iOS, Android and Windows devices. You can find download links here: https://www.textnow.com/downloads.

 

Some excellent gifts for dad, graduates and yourself

If you can wait until end of June, we’ve test ridden the new Acer Aspire Switch 10 E, their new 2-in-1 Windows notebook (Model number SW3-013). The great working, great looking device easily switches between four modes for touch, typing, viewing and sharing to allow maximum versatility for work and play. It has a new textured case available in six different stylish colors. Additionally, it provides up to 12 hours of battery life for all-day fun and productivity.

The Acer Switch 10 E features a second-generation Acer Snap Hinge 2 with a guiding plane that easily and securely connects the display to the keyboard portion of the device. The magnetic hinge design enables latch-free docking and smooth transitions between modes. A low center of gravity combined with a keyboard dock that can be elevated up to 5 degrees, enables easier and more comfortable typing. The Acer Snap Hinge 2 connects the display to the keyboard from either direction for convenient two-sided viewing. The tablet connects firmly to the keyboard, yet it can easily be released by lifting it from the dock. The magnetic force is capable of holding 6.2 pounds in weight, so expect to give it a firm tug to separate the two parts.  The two portions of the device will stay firmly connected even if it’s open when moved.

For those of you new to this hybrid style of design, the 2-in-1 Acer Aspire Switch 10 E is a notebook and tablet combined in one flexible device with four modes:

  • Notebook mode–as a fully functional notebook PC with spacious keyboard and Precision Touchpad for comfortable typing and productivity for work and studies.
  • Tablet mode–as a tablet for browsing the Internet, viewing movies, playing games, enjoying apps, updating social media and more
  • Display mode–switch the screen to show content, such as a presentation file in meetings or sharing photos with friends.
  • Tent mode–for confined spaces while travelling such as an airplane cabin or on a side coffee table. It’s also the ideal mode for watching movies.
  • The entry level unit comes with 2GB DDR3L RAM and 32GB storage priced at $279.99. The step up comes with 2GB DDR3L RAM and 64GB storage priced at $329.99.

 

Navigation Device –  Your newly minted grad may not know where he or she is headed, but with the Garmin Nuvi 58LMT at least they won’t get lost getting there.  It comes with free preloaded detailed maps of the U.S. and Canada with free lifetime map updates and traffic avoidance.

Other features include:

  • Easy-to-use dedicated GPS navigator with 5.0-inch dual-orientation display
  • Garmin Real Directions™ guide like a friend using landmarks and traffic lights
  • Find new and popular restaurants, shops and more with Foursquare®
  • Direct Access simplifies navigating to select complex destinations, like malls and airports
  • Price is $180

Notebook Computer – Your new grad is going to need a computer to get ready for a real world job, or killing time between resume edits.  The new Asus UX305 uses the new low power Intel M processor that doesn’t’ need a fan.  So Asus can keep this premium laptop down to less than a half inch thick and weighing in at not quite 2 2/3  lbs. It’s also one good looking machine, crafted from a single block of aluminum with the Asus spun metal finish on the lid.  It has a full HD display, comes with 8GB of memory and a 256 GB solid state hard drive.  We’ve seen it priced from $705.

Laptop Bag – To carry that laptop in stylish comfort Kensington makes a really sleek laptop backpack, the Kensington LM150. It has padded pockets that will hold a 15” laptop and a 10” tablet.   Other pockets store gear and accessories. A specially designed pass-thru at the top of the backpack allows you to listen to music while keeping the player inside the bag. There are quick access front and side pockets, a hidden pocket to help secure valuables out of sight, and ergonomic back cushion and shoulder straps.  We’ve seen it priced from $54.

All-In-One Desktop Computer –  Lenovo C40 – The new Lenovo C40 is a 21.5” touchscreen all-in-one that doesn’t take up much desk space, but comes packed with a host of features designed for a great music and video experience.   It includes a DVD reader/writer, an HDMI port, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 3 USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet connection, and an SD card reader.  We’ve seen it priced anywhere from roughly $400 to $550 depending on options.

SmartphoneAsus Zenfone 2 –  There’s a good chance that up until now you’ve kept your kids on your family mobile plan.  If it’s time to cut the cord, here’s a suggestion.  The new Zenfone 2 is a full featured smartphone that you can get without a contract.  That means junior can get a plan with whatever combination of voice and data services fit it best.  The Zenfone 2 has a really sharp screen, and a camera that will give many point and shoot cameras a run for the money.  It comes in two configurations, one with 16GB of storage for $199  or 64GB for $299.

Computer ToolsNewTech Portable Computer Took Kit – If you are into do-it-yourself tech, this is a great toolkit for upgrading or repairing computers, tablet, smartphones and other electronics.  The rugged, zippered, woven-nylon outer casing keeps tools assembled in a small, convenient package and the padded interior ensures tools remain right where they were left.  Included in the kit are all the tools necessary to open the majority of laptop computers and small electronics. The screwdrivers feature hardened, magnetic screwdriver blades. The toolkit includes a pair of non-marring, nylon pry tools.  Price is just under $20.

Hi Tech Camping StoveBiolite Stove – If your grad is into the great outdoors, this camping stove is a great combination of hi-tech and green technology.  For starters, instead of using cans of propane or other fossil fuel, it uses what nature has to offer:  wood chips, dried leaves, twigs, etc.  The included fan system forces air into the burning chamber much as a bellows helps keep a fire going.  So it can boil water or cook a meal.  As a side benefit, it generates electricity that will charge just about any USB powered device.  So you can charge up a cell phone or camera while enjoying grilled burgers or franks. Price for the stove alone is just under $130.  Price for a bundle including pot and grill is just under $225.

Crash Detection and Help System –  SplitSecnd crash monitoring system – If you worry about driving alone, this device will buy you both some peace of mind.  This small device plugs into the car’s 12 volt outlet.  In the event it detects an impact, it alerts a monitoring station that will check with the driver and send help if needed.  It has a cellular module and GPS so it can automatically call for help and send to their location.  The device itself is $99 and requires a monthly fee.  There are a variety of packages beginning at about $100 for the year.

Wireless Landline/cell phone system –  Clarity Cell Phone at Home – This is an innovative system that will let  anyone use a cell phone at home just like a landline.  The BT914 uses Bluetooth to pair with a cell phone.  Then you can make or receive calls with the unit anywhere around the house.  The base unit comes with a built-in digital answering machine.  You can add as many as four handsets to the mix as well.  The handsets have big buttons and can boost sound volume by 40db.  Price for the base station is about $120.  Price for each additional handset is just under $50.

Emergency Alert DeviceV.ALRT Button – With most emergency alert systems, you start paying monthly fees after you buy the device.  That’s not the case with the V.ALRT.  It pairs with an app on any smartphone so if anything goes wrong you can push the button and an emergency notification is sent to as many as three people.  The device sends your location so anyone getting the message knows where to send help.  The V.ALRT comes with falls detection, something missing from some other systems. The button can be worn on the wrist, clipped to clothing, or on a pendant.  Price is just under $60 and there are no ongoing fees.

Smartphone with physical keyboardBlackberry Classic – Many older smartphone users who know how to touch type are frustrated by virtual keyboards.  If you are one of them, you might like the Blackberry Classic with its forty key physical keyboard, ideal if primary use is sending text messages and emails.  It has a 3.5” touchscreen and an optical trackpad.  It can use Blackberry’s apps or a selection of Android apps from Amazon.com. Price from AT&T is $50/ month with a two-year contract, and $440 without a contract.

Network Monitoring Camera – If your older relatives are is living alone and you are worried, here’s a relatively easy way to keep an eye on them.  The D-Link Day/Night Network Camera provides sound and motion alerts.  It has the ability to pan and tilt to give you a better view.  It connects to  a home network.  It offers you the ability to check in, with low light and no light capabilities.  It works with a smartphone app, so there are no additional fees.  We’ve seen it priced from about $100 to $120.

Tablet Computer – Apple iPad Air2 – While over priced and under featured, the iPad is still very easy to use if you can spend the extra bucks for the Apple label.  It has a host of accessibility features.  And Apple certainly has the most apps for health, travel, entertainment, and just about anything else that will make a consumer happy.  It’s a great way to stay connected with the family through video chats, photos, and social networking.  It’s available in a variety of configurations depending on memory and whether you want to be connected by Wi-Fi or Broadband.  Prices begin at $499 for a Wi-Fi only version with 16GB of memory and go up to a cellular connected tablet with 128GB for $829.

Non-Prescription Hearing Assist – If A consumer has been having issues hearing but doesn’t want to commit to the huge sums involved in a prescription hearing aid, the MDHearingAid Fit may be a reasonable alternative.  It slips unobtrusively into the ear, with nothing behind the ear or in the ear canal. It uses digital technology to amplify speech while reducing ambient noise.  It amplifies soft sounds while dampening loud noises by using Wide Dynamic Sound Compression.  And it eliminates those annoying whistling sounds with an Advanced Feedback Cancellation algorithm.  Price is $550.

Television Sound Base – If you spend a lot of time in front of your television, here’s a way to improve the listening part of the experience.  Cambridge Audio, which has a long standing reputation for making great speakers, has the TV2 Compact Base with Bluetooth.  The Base features a large subwoofer that delivers a thumping bass.  It’s a compact unit, but will support up to a 47” television set.   It connects using standard RCA cords, an optical connector, or Bluetooth. Price is $299.

Classic Retro Clock Radio – Some folks just like to have an analog clock sitting on their nightstands.  If you are  one of them you will like the Tivoli brand of radio.  The design continues the heritage of KLH and Tivoli founder Henry Kloss, who designed the classic KLH table radios of the 1960’s. The Model Three BT combines analog AM/FM tuning with Bluetooth connectivity in a rich wood cabinet.  And of course, the sound is rich and wonderful. Price is $349.

FootMate® System, with Rejuvenating Gel™ – Enough electronics! Our panel of experts had a lot of fun testing Gordon Brushes’ latest creation, The FootMate® System, with Rejuvenating Gel™. We received a tester so we can’t review packaging here but the thing sure is simple to figure out. Throw on shower floor, stand on it and let the shower and the gel massage your tender tootsies. There are warnings all over the place telling you to be careful and have something to hold onto as the yogic portion of the experience may be challenging. Hey, you get a little balance workout and clean feet, nothing wrong with that!

The Rejuvenating Gel™ is a natural antiseptic, cleanser, and conditioner specially formulated for feet with Aloe and Tea Tree oil, a great idea if you have athlete’s foot or toenail fungus. The unit with a bottle of gel is 59.95 and extra gel is $14.95 a bottle.