Review: $90 Kanex SimpleDock is a beautiful USB 3/Gigabit Ethernet Mac dock, without expensive Thunderbolt

kanex-simpledock

We’ve reviewed a fair bit of Thunderbolt docks for Mac here and one thing remains constant: The starting prices range well over $200 (Belkin’s a deal at $150) and that’s before you buy an expensive $30 Thunderbolt cable. The question is: Do you really need Thunderbolt to have a quality/usable dock for your MacBook? Can you get almost all of what you need just from USB 3?

Kanex sent me their $90 USB 3 SimpleDock a few months ago and I’ve put it through its paces ever since.  The first thing you’ll notice out of the box is that it is made extremely well, looks very ‘Apple’ and is substantial in weight. It doesn’t move when you plug in devices because of that weight and a rubberized bottom. On top, all you’ll see is a space that coincidentally fits an iPhone perfectly with a charger cable hole through the bottom. Around back, you’ll find 3 USB 3 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port as well as a 10W high powered ‘Charge-only’ port.

simpledock_top_wired

So you are getting 3 products in one here: An iOS device quick charger, a USB3->Gigabit Ethernet adapter and 3 port USB 3 hub. The question is: Is the SimpleDock worth the $90?

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Review: Bose Soundlink III portable Bluetooth speaker — is bigger best?

Bose-SoundlinkIII

I was a huge gushing fan of the Bose Soundlink Mini when I reviewed it this summer, calling it the “Best Sounding portable Bluetooth speaker ever”. For $199 you’d get bookshelf type of power and clarity with 6 hour battery in a portable package that you could throw in a coat pocket, bag, or purse.

This week, Bose started shipping a bigger version, the $299 Soundlink 3 which is officially the successor to the Soundlink 2 but it grabs a lot more technology, features and appearance from the very successful Mini.  The big bro ‘III’ boasts an impressive 14-hour battery, 6 Bluetooth device memory, and doubles the Mini with four drivers and two passive radiators. In the process it doubles in size to a 3-pound package that isn’t nearly as portable as the Mini at 5 inches high, 10 inches wide, and 2 inches deep.

But does that $100 and double size give you appreciably better sound?

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Review: Anker IQ 40W 5-port smart USB adapter is the last power source you’ll ever need

As our families grow, so do our device charging needs. Where we just used to need 2 USB ports to charge our iPhones, we now have iPads, cameras, Bluetooth speakers, portable flashlight/batteries and even a few Android devices laying around that constantly need to be chargers. Our excellent 2-port ZaggSparq just couldn’t handle all of the stuff anymore. Time to step up to something more substantial.

Anker-reviewsWe’d heard great things about the new Anker IQ 40W 5V / 8A 5-Port Family-Size USB power supply. In fact, at Amazon where it can be nabbed on sale for $26, it gets almost exclusive 4 and 5 star ratings.

Anker hooked me up with a unit to test out at CES and I’ve relied on it since to keep our house full of devices charged. What’s particularly impressive about this one is that it has 40W of power to distribute through the 5 USB ports (a 25W one is a few bucks less). Anker’s new IQ does one better by recognizing high power requirements in devices like iPads, other tablets and even HPs new Chromebook and giving those devices the full 2-3 Amps of power they need to get charged quickly. Anker explains it thusly:

Not all USB ports are equal. Where past USB ports were hard-wired to exclusively charge iOS OR Android, we’re introducing Smart Port technology to create a truly universal charger. Dynamically adjusting to any device’s unique maximum charging speed, the Smart Port takes the brainwork out of compatibility.Just plug in and it’ll do the rest.

Were the reviews right? Was this the end to my USB charging woes?

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Mini review: Elgato Thunderbolt Drive+ (512GB external SSD)

I should say at the outset that this is not cheap. Very not cheap. What you’re looking at is $890’s worth of external drive in the 512GB version I have here, or $500 for the 256GB model.

This is not a drive aimed at a consumer wanting a bit of external storage for their movies, but rather a high-performance drive aimed at audiovisual professionals who need an external drive that delivers the kind of speeds in a mobile environment that they are used to from their office setup …  Read more

Opinion: Is Thunderbolt doomed to be the new Firewire, or can the new Mac Pro save it?

thunderbolt

I’m a huge fan of Thunderbolt. A single wire carrying both DisplayPort and high-speed PCIe data is an incredibly elegant approach to minimising cable clutter even if you don’t need the blistering speed, especially when you can use an Apple Thunderbolt Display as a hub for your USB devices.

I also admire clever tech. The reason you can daisy-chain up to six separate devices is because Thunderbolt automatically multiplexes and de-multiplexes the signals as needed. Thunderbolt 2 takes this approach one step further, combining two 10Gbit/s channels into a single 20Gbit/s connection, with the the Thunderbolt controller again doing all the work. It’s impressive stuff.

A fast, clever technology developed by Intel and enthusiastically marketed by Apple ought to stand a fighting chance at mass-market adoption. Sadly, there’s so far not much sign of this happening. It’s all looking rather reminiscent of Firewire …  Read more

Durable/wearable Bluetooth speakers: The Boombot Rex and the Divoom Bean

We’ve had a lot of experience reviewing the best portable Bluetooth speakers on the market but what haven’t yet covered speakers so small, you can actually wear them, put them on your bike, or listen to them in the shower. We have two for you today.

The first of these is the $30 Divoom Bean, a small, durable little Bluetooth speaker that looks a little like a ‘smurf lock’ and is the size of a large egg with a carabiner attached (blue above).  It weighs almost nothing and it charges via a micro-USB port on the bottom. It only has 2 buttons on it, a power button and ‘phone’ button. You’ll need to change volume from your phone or other A2DP Bluetooth device and this device seems to automatically switch off after a few minutes of inactivity. It also functions as a speakerphone.

How did it fare in our tests? Read more

Former Broadcom GM Mobile Platforms says we’ll see 802.11ac on PCs and access points later this year

Giving a talk at Gerson Lehrman Group’s G+ community, the former EVP & FM of Mobile Platforms at Broadcom Scott Bibaud offered the above explanation about the benefits 802.11ac would bring to all devices. We have discussed Gigabit Wi-Fi before, but we did not really get a handle on when the new Wi-Fi standard would be hitting technology we now use. Apple is usually an early adopter of such technologies, but it is not likely—as you can hear above— that Apple’s next round of products will include this feature. Just think Airports and Macs at the end of this year, and iPad 4 /iPhone 6.

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9to5Toys: Portable USB/SD storage options under $1/GB

From 9to5Toys.com:

A quick roundup of storage options from 9to5Toys at Amazon this weekend:

SDHC Cards:
16GB
Amazon Class 4: $14.38; Transcend Micro Class 4 w/adapter: $12.98 (pictured)
32GB Sandisk Class 6: $29.95  Transcend Class 10: $32.95

USB Sticks:
8GB Kingston:  $6.95
16GB Kingston: $13.99, Sandisk $14.72 Transcend: $13.99
32GB Sandisk: $28.99
64GB Lexar: $61.10

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OWC puts together Mac Mini Stack Max: USB 3.0, 4TB 3.5 inch drive, eSATA and more

We love this add-on to the Mac Mini that turns it into more of a pro-device (and a cube!).  The business up front is a DVD-R drive (not sure about BluRay) and an SDXC card reader that complements the one on the back of the mini. On the rear, you get a high power USB source for quick-charging an iPad as well as a few USB 3.0 ports that require separate drivers.  Also on the back is an eSATA port for fast external peripheral support as well as two Firewire 800 ports. Inside, there is room for up to a 4TB 3.5 inch hard drive which you can order with the Mini Stack Max or you can bring your own.

This is interesting because it is moving the Mini more toward a pro-like setup.

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OWC has not put a price on the Mac Mini Stack Max but expects them to be available in March. Read more

Last minute gift reviews for Apple lovers

As we close out the year and approach Christmas, here is a quick review of some stellar items we have reviewed over the past few months.

Audyssey Lower East Side Speakers.  Truth be told, we were interested in the Airplay-enabled Lower East Side Audio Dock Air that seems to have been struck by production delays.  In the meantime, we are in love with the standalone LES powered speakers (right).  Very simple I/Os and almost perfect desktop-level sound makes these incredibly good for the small room or workspace.  Sure, they will fill up a medium sized room, but you will find much larger/expensive setups for that.  $199 Amazon. Bonus: If you want Airplay functionality, throw in a $95 Apple TV and an Optical cable.

Doxie Go Wireless scanner: The magic is putting an Eye-Fi card in the SD card slot that allows automatic Evernote/flickr Cloud synchronizing.  I use this at the front of my house without a computer where mail comes in.  Important stuff is run through the scanner and sent to the Cloud before it hits recycling.  Standalone Cloud scanners are the future.  It also does traditional Desktop scanning via USB. ($150-200 at Amazon.)

Atari Arcade. This little plastic iPad “dock” (does not work with iPhone 4) adds a joystick to the 100 Atari applications for $15 app (at present no other games support this – but more are planned). The quality is good and the gaming is certainly nostalgic.  It was fun to teach my kid the games I played when I was his age (which is probably why this thing is such a hit).  It would have been much better with a pass thru charger and landscape options.  Still, fun. ($59.99 Amazon) iCade is a more expensive option.

iHelicopter.net sent us a review unit after we showed their latest preview of their missile-shooting iHelocopter. After a few weeks of playing with this iOS device controlled (through an earphone dongle) helicopter, I can say it works as expected.  I have only used it inside but it has survived a lot of hard “landings” as well as direct hits on the ceiling and walls. The reason this one is so notable is that it shoots missiles through a spring-loaded system.  Yes, this works and with the gyroscope going, it is easy to hit your target.  ($69 shipped free globally.)

Logitech Tablet speaker.  Initially we were down on this little gadget because, let us face it, it is not a “looker”.  However, after playing with our review unit for a number of weeks, it has come in handy on a number of occasions and it produces impressive sound considering its size and portability. It clips to your iPad, is charged via USB and plugs into the headphone jack. The rechargeable batteries last for 8 hours. (Amazon – as low as $22)

Western Digital TV Live. Sure Apple TV does 90% of what this thing does, but if you want stuff like Hulu Plus, Spotify, Facebook or compatibility with DLNA and non- iOS compatible videos, this little $90 1080P TV works great. It also has a full sized USB port for hooking directly into USB Sticks, wireless keyboards, and hard drives.  ($89.99 – Amazon.) Also, consider Roku devices that start at $45.

Review: Powerbag by ful is a device-charging backpack that looks too good for a geek

Over the past month, I’ve been carrying around a Powerbag backpack from ful.  The idea is pretty straight-forward.  They put a 3000 mA battery inside a backpack complete with adapters for just about any device you’d ever want to charge.  On heavy usage days, I have a mobile charge with me at all times. Instead of taking out all of my devices when I get home, I just plug in the bag.

Read on for the full review…

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