Every car can be the Millennium FalconOkay, this is a little hokey, but it’s perfect for the die-hard Star Wars fan. This Plasticolor 003700R01 Star Wars Accordion Sunshade keeps your car cooler, and it makes it look cooler, too! The accordion-fold sunshade is made of plastic, so the colors are more sun-fast than those cardboard sunshades. It’s $21.99 at Amazon. That’s a small price to pay to share your ride with Han, Luke, Chewie, and Obi-Wan.
A charging station that costs more than many electronic gadgets doHmmm. I thought the purpose of a charging station was to make your desk or tabletop look neater. The MultiPot Clear Charging Hub with LED Lamp from nova68 corrals the cords, but it doesn’t exactly hide the tangled mess of cables. This 9.25″ long x 7.5″ tall x 9.25″ wide plastic pot is a lamp with 24 LEDs that direct light both up and down. Inside are electrical outlets for your device chargers; you lay your smaller items on top while they charge. The bottom is raised to allow for the charging hub’s own power cable, and that means you can actually plug a laptop’s adapter into one of the hubs and have the charging plug come out from under the hub. The MultiPot is $320. Think of it as art.
Magellan Roadmate 9250T-LMB GPS reviewThe Magellan Roadmate 9250T-LMB GPS is one of the latest Roadmate dedicated GPS products from Magellan. It’s got a large 7″ touch display, live traffic, spoken road names and landmarks, video inputs for an optional rear view camera (not reviewed), Bluetooth supporting hands-free speakerphone, lifetime map updates, and more. In other words, it’s got more features then you’ll likely need, in order to cover as many bases as possible. I was able to use the 9250T on a multi-day road trip as my sole navigation system, where I used the most important navigation features – more on that after we unbox!
The 9250T includes the battery-powered 7″ GPS unit, a dual jointed window/dash suction mounting bracket that the GPS slides into, a DC power adapter to power it, and a mini-USB cable for charging/syncing the GPS with a desktop Mac or PC. There are also some manuals. As is common these days, you download the desktop sync software and the detailed manual pdf file from the Magellan support website.
The GPS unit is big, thanks to its 7″ touch screen. You can see here it dwarfs my (otherwise large!) Nokia 920 4.5″ display size. The GPS has an internal 720mAh Li-ion battery that can run the GPS for about 30 minutes. This is handy for entering addresses and reviewing routes without needing a power source, but you’ll want the DC power for actual navigation use. Obviously you’ll not be using the 9250T for walking directions, at least not for very long walks! The 9250T has a plastic body, so it weighs in at a light 12oz/340g. That’s light enough that it’s easy to pop off the mounting bracket and toss into a bag when you’ve parked. The GPS is roughly 7.5″ wide, 4.5″ tall, and 3/4″ deep.
The back view- the single speaker is rear mounted, but plenty loud. You can also see the mounting slots – the GPS slides down onto the mounting bracket head and snaps in.
There is an SD card slot on the bottom right side – you can add additional map regions via the SD card slot.
The left bottom side has the AV In port for the optional backup camera, and the USB/power connector. When using the mounting bracket, there is a power connector that slides in to the power port when you slide the GPS into the bracket.
The top right side has a power switch.
The Magellan Interface seems to be fairly consistent across products (and over time!). I’ve not used a dedicated GPS for a number of years yet found the interface to be familiar enough that I was able to find my way around fairly easily. These are actual photographs (in daylight no less) which should give you a good feel for just how bright and clear this display is.
The startup configuration lets you select your language.
Data entry keyboard. The Magellan software continually searches its database of addresses as you enter more and more information, and keys that aren’t possible become grayed out. So once you’ve entered a city, and you start entering a street, it tries to help you by limiting what you can enter to just keys that are possible. I suppose this is helpful, but I never liked it. There is also audible conformation of each key (it says the letters as you press them) which was maddening and really slowed down text entry. Thankfully that’s a setting, and once turned off, text entry was smooth and fast. Honestly you should NOT be entering text on your GPS while driving, so making it “easier’ to do so isn’t really a feature.
Points Of Interest menu. There are 7 million of them. I counted. No, I didn’t. But it knows all the colleges we were looking for in Southern California. And a lot of restaurants.
Yes, there are a million coffee (or Tofu) houses within a mile of my home.
You’re never more than two miles from a Starbucks!
Two pages worth. Most of the defaults are sane, fortunately, so you’ll only dip into these once or twice as you tune the 9250T to your liking.
According to the specifications, the 9250T has a high-sensitivity GPS with a multi-directional patch antenna. This is what it sees inside my house. That’s a lot of birds. If you’ve been using your smart phone GPS, you’ve been getting by with a lot less accuracy.
If you prefer a tall, thin view you can rotate the screen. It’s a setting, not a sensor.
I prefer the landscape view, but the 9250T can go either way.
The Traffic options. We ran with live traffic since we were driving in the LA area quite a bit during the road trip test. The 9250T did a great job of telling us about the bad LA traffic. It heroically tried to find alternate routes, but since it was LA, the alternates were just as snarled.
You are not seeing things – that is suctioned onto the (not smooth) dashboard. I ran it this way for 5 days, and that arm never budged. When I got home, it popped right off when I released the suction. I also tested it on the glass, which worked just as well, but I found the dash mount really kept the field of view clear.
The arm pivots at the suction cup, and pivots/rotates/tilts at the GPS end. There is an elbow joint in the middle. You can contort it any number of ways. Once you have it where you want it, you tighten down all the joints and it is rock solid. The power cord is a generous length – in my car it was long enough to loop over the back of the arm to take up the excess slack.
I had trouble initially getting the 9250T to connect to the desktop application on one PC. After troubleshooting with Magellan, I tried on a second PC and it connected right up. Turns out it works on every PC and Mac I had access to, except that first one. The Desktop application is useful for three things with the 9250T – you can update the device (the firmware) and the maps, and you can sync/enter address books.
Once connected, my review 9250T asked to be updated, which I did.
As I said, the desktop software wasn’t cooperating at first, so I had to manually enter the various stops we planned for the road trip on the 9250T itself. I was able to sync those addresses over to the desktop easy enough though.
You can also get device information, which will look more or less like the image below.
I was able to give the 9250T a real-world test, as it arrived in time to be the primary navigation system for the dreaded College Visit Road Trip with my child. We had the ambitious goal of driving from the Bay area to LA on day 1, Days 2 & 3 would be 7 colleges in the greater LA region (switching hotels overnight). Day 3 ended with a couple hour long drive to San Diego (new hotel), and then day 4 & 5 were three colleges in San Diego. The end of day 5… drive home from San Diego. That was the plan, anyway.
I entered every address (hotels, colleges, any other potential points of interest) into the address book, and put as many of them as would fit, in the expected order of visiting, onto the “One Touch” menu. I updated the one touch menu halfway through the trip, dropping the items we visited and adding the upcoming ones in order.
We’d start each leg of the trip the same way – first pop the GPS onto the arm (which we left in the car all the time – without the GPS) and then after it started up, tap the next destination on the one touch menu. After just a few seconds it would lock in and start offering directions. Once we got where we were going, we’d power it down and pop it off the arm, then stash it out of sight if we were on a visit, or take it into the hotel room. The accuracy of the directions was outstanding, speed of getting GPS lock nearly instantaneous, traffic and speed warnings helpful, and a couple of times POI like food and gas were spot on. As a GPS, it worked out well. We were in blinding LA sun in the day, and had more than a little night driving. Daylight visibility was fantastic. The 9250T flipped into night display automatically, but it was so big and bright I hand to manually dial down the brightness at night.
We had one reroute failure when driving in San Diego that required a quick power cycle to recover from. For some reason the 9250T got lost when we made a pit stop for gas, and sat in the “re-routing” mode for a good 5 minutes while we drove on the highway back to our hotel. I knew the way back, so I gave it plenty of time to recover. After it meditated for five minutes, I had the passenger try selecting one of the one touch destinations. It would not route. I then had the passenger power cycle it to see if it could get a lock or if it had had some kind of catastrophic failure. It restarted, we selected the destination, and it routed right away. Go figure. It only did it that one time, and this was before I updated the firmware, so perhaps I found a bug that was fixed.
Everything was going well, but we had to change plans for day 5. From San Diego, we’d go to UC Irvine (by 2pm) and then make a break to escape from LA by 3pm. Good plan. At 3pm, in the car, the 9250T routes us towards the north and we begin with an ETA of 9pm as expected. Thirty minutes in, we get the traffic warning indicator, and the ETA climbs by 30 minutes. OK, 30 minutes of traffic. No problem. From there, we got traffic warnings (which we kinda were expecting) every few minutes. For fun, we checked the alternate route options, but since we were deep in LA, they were all equally bad. It was nice to look at the route change color (Red – Dead slow. Yellow – pretty slow but rolling – Green GOOD) as we slowly extracted ourselves from LA. The traffic reporting was pretty accurate and timely the whole way out.
I’ve been using phone-based GPS navigation for years, and primarily use Nokia Drive on my 920 as my GPS. The Magellan 9250T was a huge improvement over the phone – the quality of the directions, accuracy, and added features including live traffic, were a huge improvement over those offered by typical phone navigation software. It was also nice to be able to take/make a call without having the navigation system disappear. A fully-featured car (the “test car” had hands-free Bluetooth and a backup camera already) renders several features redundant in the 9250T. However if you travel with it and use it in a rental car, the hands-free Bluetooth capability would be very useful indeed.
Deal of the Day – Pre-order: Samsung Galaxy S4 Active [AT&T]LogicBUY’s Deal for Tuesday is a pre-order for the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active (AT&T) for $199.99. Features:
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iHome iBT4 Bluetooth Boombox reviewAre you shopping for a portable speaker for your favorite Bluetooth enabled device? Take a look at iHome. They have a large variety of speakers, so if you can’t find something there, you probably don’t know what you want. They recently sent me the funky looking iBT4 wireless Bluetooth speaker which I’ve been testing for a couple weeks. Long enough to be able to tell you what I think…
Note: Images can be clicked to view a larger size.
With its retro mini boombox design it might seem like the iBT4 has one foot in the past. On the other hand, it’s available in fresh modern colors like the green you see here. It also comes in purple and grey. The speaker has a soft rubber coating on all parts that makes it easy to pick up and transport. Especially using the large handle.
It’s medium sized at 7.72″ W x 7.76″ H x 5.71″ D and weighs 3.09 lbs. The front has a large speaker grill and inside are Reson8 speaker chambers offering SRS TruBass sound enhancement and digital sound processing that provides extra bass and clarity.
On the back you’ll find a telescoping antenna if you fancy listening to the built in digital FM radio. You can also use the line out and line in jacks to connect to audio devices without Bluetooth capability. A short 3.5mm audio cable is included for easy connection to other devices. There’s also a power port and a reset switch.
The iBT4 is powered by an internal lithium-ion battery that can play music for up to 7 hours on a charge or using the included AC adapter which is also used for recharging the internal battery.
The iBT4 is controlled by the knobs and buttons located on the top. The knobs are big and chunky, making them easy to manipulate. The one on the left turns the speaker on and allows you to switch between the FM radio and Bluetooth modes. The knob on the opposite side controls volume. There’s also a white on black LCD that displays the radio station, volume level and pairing status. The three buttons below the display make it easy to tune radio stations and navigate through the music tracks of your paired audio device. The play/pause/pair button functions as you would expect.
I tested the iBT4 with my Samsung Galaxy S3. It paired very easily and I was happy that the next and prev track buttons actually worked, along with the play/pause button. This speaker sounds good even when turned up to the max volume setting. At the highest setting it does not distort but it’s not insanely loud at that setting (20) either. In a small or medium sized room music sounds very good. In a noisier environment (I took it with me in the car), it doesn’t sound as full and rich. Overall, the sound quality won’t blow you away, but it has a decently thumpy bass and equally decent highs. I enjoyed using it in my medium sized office.
The addition of the FM radio is nice too. The tuned channel will be remembered even when cycling power. However, there are no channel presets, so you can’t easily switch between channels.
The iHome iBT4 has a mid size price, mid sized form factor and a mid sized voice. If you like the style and the price, it’s a good value for your money.
Build an organized home office without permanently modifying the roomIf you live in an apartment where you can’t make permanent changes or in a 60-year-old house with 4″-thick plaster-and-lathe walls that make finding the wall studs impossible like I do, you may have thought a wall organizer unit and desk like the one in the photo was impossible for you. Usually this type of setup requires you to screw the metal uprights into the wall studs, but elfa solves the problems I have with their free-standing line. I was looking at The Container Store‘s online site when I found the elfa shelving catalog. You could design a wall-mounted unit or free-standing unit online, but I decided to let someone at the nearby Container Store location do the dirty work for me.
I knew how I wanted my desk to look, so I took my rough sketch to the Raleigh store, and Anissa helped me fine-tune my ideas. For example, while a 20″-deep shelf works well for the desktop, the shelves above should be only about 12″-deep to allow headroom and light for working at the desk. Anissa handled designing the unit after we had finalized all the details, let me approve the design, and then sent us out for lunch while she pulled all the parts. An hour later, we went back to the store, and someone brought everything out and helped us load up the car. All the shelves, the metal uprights, and the feet for the unit were either in boxes or wrapped in plastic to protect them until they were installed. The hardware and other smaller pieces were stored in a couple of re-usable non-woven bags with the elfa logo.
Construction of the unit took about 15 minutes; it was greatly simplified by the personalized instruction booklet that was printed out just for my design. There are also some instructional videos online; I found the one for installing the stabilization crossbars to be “worth a thousand words.” The only tools required were a mallet to hammer the top supports in and the tiny, included aluminum wrench to adjust the levelers on the feet. Everything else just clicked together by hand, and the hardest part was making sure we put the shelf supports at the same position on each upright. (We just counted positions on each post.) It was a two-person job, not because the parts were all that heavy or because it was difficult, but simply because you needed someone to hold the uprights… well, upright… while the top support was hammered in.
My original unit included only the center section with the drawers and the desk section seen on the right. After we got it installed, my husband started pining for a desk of his own. I simply used the parts list to go online and order the parts I needed to add the left desk section. I could have had them shipped to my house, but I instead had the Raleigh store pull everything for me. It’s a 1.5 hour drive, so everything was ready for me when I got there. It took only a few minutes to add the second desk to the already assembled unit.
After using everything for a few days, I placed another order (that I did have shipped to me) with another set of integrated bookends, a few back stop bars to prevent things from falling off the back of the shelves, and a couple of plastic storage boxes to organize pens, markers, and similar small things in the mesh drawers. I’ve tried every method possible for purchasing elfa products from The Container Store now.
The entire desk unit wasn’t cheap, but I feel it was very reasonably priced. The original two-section unit with one desk and the drawer unit was about $620. I added the second desk unit and an extra 8″-deep shelf for the knee space under my desk for $175. All the back stop bars, bookends, and three plastic storage boxes added another $35 to the cost of the unit. The quality of the components make me think I’ll be using this unit for many, many years to come. The unit looks nice in my mid-century modern-style room, and it certainly cost less than an original George Nelson wall unit would have, assuming I could have even found one for sale.
The only thing I’d change about the unit would be a small tweak to the mesh drawers. You can see in the picture that the drawers don’t hide the contents, and you can see that my “junk” doesn’t lend itself to neat arrangements in the drawers. I wish you could add a wood or metal front to the drawers to disguise the mess inside.
I have added some other organizational items to the shelves, some I already had and some I purchased. You’ll also see I’ve added some decorative items and even some Orb Audio speakers to my upper shelves. The top drawer has an expanding acrylic organizer for pencils and the like, and I used some 3M Command cable guides on backs of the uprights and shelves to keep all the cables and power cords organized. The two desk chairs are the Flat Bungee Office Chair with Arms, also from the Container Store.
I love the look of the elfa desk unit I built, and can’t imagine how it could be better suited for my needs.