The Level Up Holiday Gadget Gift Guide (Mania.com)
Date: Thursday, November 22, 2012
This week we have a special edition of Level Up dedicated to a stocking full of gadgets prefect for gifts this holiday shopping season. From cool new items for the home to one wild new RC toy. I’ve got reviews of 7 new items that someone on your shopping list will certainly love.
The Bracketron Stone Battery (Bracketron) $35 - $40
The Bracketron Stone Battery is an emergency charger that comes in two varieties: A micro USB port version that can be used with most cell phones, and a 30 pin version designed for use with Apple iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch. Our review was done using the 30 pin version as we have several Apple products in the house. First off is the design of the Stone Battery. It’s small enough to fit into the palm of your hand and allow you to close your hand so it is perfect for portability. Fits in your pocket, purse, backpack, laptop case, whatever…
The Stone Battery’s main function is to be an emergency charger when you don’t have access to one. First you have to charge up the Stone Battery via the USB port. It takes about three hours or so to fully charge. A small light within the unit blinks when charging and stops when done. Next hook it up to your device. I tested it on both an iPod Touch 4 and iPhone 4. It charged up the iPod fully in about an hour and charged up the iPhone to about 70% in the same length of time. Doing so fully discharged the Stone Battery so we’re talking about a single use item before it needs to be charged again.
But, if you are caught somewhere without a charge it definitely can be a lifesaver and should get you buy until you can charge your device fully. Obviously you have to have the Stone Battery charged up before hand. The specs claim it can hold a charge for up to a year. While I did not test it I did leave it for several days and then used it to charge the iPod with the same results. At $40 for the 30 pin variety and $35 for the micro USB version, the pricing is middle of the road. Love to see a version that has a little more oomph to it and be able to provide several charges. Grade B-
Apogee Jam (Apogee) $99
The Apogee Jam is a guitar input device that can be used on your ipad, iphone, or Mac computer. It is a device the provides easy plug-n-play capability producing surprisingly rich sound. You can connect to the iPad or Phone with the 30 pin connector or to a Mac with USB connector. I’ve seen very few gadgets that are as easy to use as this one. Plug it in, it’s detected, simple instructions, and you’re off! If you’re a Garageband user the input works fantastic allowing you to quickly begin recording. Pair it up with a good pair of speakers and you are all set. I recorded a couple of guitar tracks that sound great in Garageband.
The sound is so deep and rich that you can honestly get by without an amp or external speakers unless you really want to play it loud. The sound level and clarity is far better than on other similarly priced input devices. The on-the-fly gain adjustment works very well, and gives you a readout of the noise level on the device itself. It allows you to easily get to a good spot.There’s little if any delay that you get when using the Apogee Jam although admittedly I am no guitar hero and play pretty basic chords. And at right around $100 you cannot beat the price for what this baby can do.
There’s a few minor cons like the fact that it cannot be charged while using it which flies in the face of most Apple and Apple compatible devices. But overall a very good product. Grade B+
Izon Wi-Fi Video Monitor (Stem Innovation) $129.99
The Stem Innovation Izon Wi-fi video monitor is a neat and relatively inexpensive video monitor perfect for the home or office. This is the second generation of the Izon monitor although its design is about the same as the first model. The unit is a cylindrical device about 3 ¼” tall and 1 ¼” in diameter. It comes on a magnetize swivel base allowing you to place the cam for a secure grip on any metal surface and then allow it to be rotated for flexibility. It also comes with screws and a mounting base allowing you to mount to a ceiling or wall if you choose to go that route.
The unit comes with a USB to mini USB cable allowing you to power it with any USB charger. It also comes with an AC adapter that the USB end plugs into so you can plug into any standard AC outlet. The Izon is designed for use with smartphones, tablets or an iPod Touch. You need just download the app called “Izon App” and you are ready to go. You have to let the camera read a QR code and have to enter your network’s security key and the app will recognize the camera. This is the big change with the 2nd generation unit. Apparently the previous edition had issues with the initial setup but mine setup in a snap with no problem at all. You can now setup the camera where ever you want…the baby’s room, outside of your house for surveillance, whatever, and view the video in real time it on your smart device. You can even setup the camera to alert you when it detects motion or noise and begin recording which is quite cool. The device uses its own web-hosting to allow you to upload up to 25 videos per day that you recorded manually or automatically when the device captures motion or sound.
Video quality is surprisingly good and smooth. Colors are also clear and bright. Audio has a light hiss to it and isn’t as loud as you might like but it’s satisfactory. The only two complaints I have is that despite the Izon’s intent of being of being used as a home surveillance camera it does not provide any sort of night vision capability so unless your house is well lit outside I’m not sure how useful it will be in that capacity. Secondly it would be so much better if this was a rechargeable until. As it is you are limited to the length of the 9’ power cord. Grade B.
Fusion Tournament Controller for the Playstation 3 (Power A) $79.99
The problem I’ve had with a lot of 3rd party game controllers is that they often seem to come with a funky design in terms of the ergonomics for the sake of being different. The Fusion falls into that trap a bit by swapping the locations of the left joystick and the D-pad. However, other than that I love how it fits in my hands. It’s a little bigger than the standard PS3 controller but not so much that it becomes unwieldy.
One of the main attractions of the fusion is that it comes with a braided, 9’ cord which I love. The cored that comes with the PS3 is far too short and admittedly I’m not always great about recharging my controller and have had to scramble in the middle of a game when power ran out. No such worries with the longer cord on the Fusion. And being braided prevents it from becoming twisted or tangled.
The four control buttons and the joysticks are illuminated with LED lighting and you can choose from one of five different colors. The sticks offer extremely precise movement. I used it playing a variety of game types and was impressed with its fluidity and accuracy. Built-in motion sensing capability makes it perfect for use with SIXAXIS compatible games.
The controller comes with optional head rubber grips that can be installed in place of the standard grips that come with it. A screwdriver is included for quick installation. Lastly the controller comes with a durable travel case and cord wrap to take the Fusion on the go. The Fusion is probably my favorite 3rd party controller that I have ever used. Grade A-
Time Command Mini (Stem Innovation) $79.95
The Time Command Mini proves that good things come in small packages combining an alarm clock with iPhone/iPod/iPad docking capabilities with great sound. Outside of acting as a dock for your Apple devices the Time Command Mini produces incredible sound for such a small system. The Sonic IQ acoustic system unleashes powerful and clear sound and you’ll be amazed at the quality, thinking it is coming from a much bigger audio system.
The clock features an LED display with adjustable brightness. The clock lets you program multiple alarms to save and use as desired. You can use the custom alarm tones or wakeup to music from your docked device. You can play music from the library on your device or from internet stations such as Pandora and I Heart Radio. Since the Time Command Mini is app compatible you can program it to display your local weather forecast with a quick touch of a button. The App is free to download from the App Store.
There’s also a cool brightness feature that you can control from your device which lets you program how the device can dim over time, say when getting ready for bed. You can transfer alarms from device to clock when it is docked. Maybe a bit on the pricey side at $80 bucks but overall a very useful and fun device. Grade B
Swann Wireless Doorbell (Swann) $70
Ding Dong! Doorbells have played that familiar chime, or variations seemingly forever. But now you can give your doorbell personality with the Swann wireless MP3 capable doorbell. Now instead of the humdrum chime you can load your favorite songs onto the unit and enjoy a tune when someone comes to your door. The Swann doorbell is easy to setup and use.
The unit comes with the doorbell unit which can be installed outside your home either with a two-sided tape foam pad, or with two screws which come with the unit although you will have to drill your own holes into the notches on back of the unit’s cover. The doorbell button unit is powered by an A23 battery which comes in the package. The speaker unit is powered by 3 AA batteries (not included) and can rest on a table or shelf or be installed on a wall with a couple of screws (again not included). The package also comes with a mini-USB to USB cable that you can plug into your computer.
Once plugged in the Unit shows as a removable hard drive and you can simply drag and drop MP3’s from your computer to the unit and you’re set to go. The unit itself has a selectable switch that changes from standard doorbell “ding dong” to MP3 play. The instructions claim it can hold up to 25 songs although that is likely variable depending on song length. The speaker unit has a four way button. Right skips to the next song, left goes back a song, and up and down increases or decreases the speaker volumue. Push the doorbell and your music starts to play.
The package also comes with a disk featuring editing software. Once you load a song into the editor you can edit the song to start and stop where you want by entering in the beginning and ending times. This is useful if you want to capture a song’s chorus. Just save it and load to the speaker unit.
Now the documentation says the unit works up to 150’ but I had issues at far less than that as it didn’t seem to want to travel through several walls. I had to move my speaker unit a bit closer to the front door. Both the button and speaker units come with a set of dip switches that you can change. I did not test this out to see if it might improve performance or not.
Easy and fun to use, as long as you can get a clear path for the wireless capability, the Swann Doorbell is a nice little perk to have. Grade B+
Illumivor RC Mecha Shark (Skyrocket Toys) $100
Radio controlled cars, radio-controlled helicopters…radio controlled Sharks? Yup Skyrocket toys has put an interesting stamp on the RC toy category with a radio controlled Mecha Shark. With Chrismas coming up this is something that kids will light up for…no pun intended.
Roughly a foot and a half long, the Mecha Shark is a menacing RC toy that is especially cool in the dark. He lights up like a neon version of Jaws, his body, gills, and eyes outlined in glowing lights. As he races across the floor he can move his mouth full of sharp teeth up and down and wag his tail fin back and forth. It also makes this sort of shark growling/gnawing sound effect to add to the fun.
The Mecha-Shark is a good, durable toy. The base is good as are the wheels that let him even travel over carpeted floors. It’s very easy to use even for young kids. It moves well, forward and back and left to right although obviously will move better on a tile floor and you really need a decently large area to move him around. Also make sure the antenna on the controller unit is full extended for best performance. It has a range of up to 100’. The toy requires one 9 volt battery and 6 AA batteries. So if you’re looking for something truly different this holiday season as far as toys go, definitely check out the Illumivor Radio Controlled Mecha-Shark! Grade B+