COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | PHIL BAKER

Summer gadget roundup: Docks, drives and clips

Here's a collection of some recently released products that I've been trying out, including a simple cable clip to a three-in-one docking station that turns a netbook into a fully functioning PC.

Aegis NetDock

A new three-in-one USB Docking Station from Apricorn, of Poway, combines a multitude of features into a lightweight module with the footprint of a stapler. The Aegis NetDock looks like an external hard drive, but it's much more. Built into the shiny red unit are 500GB of storage, a dual layer DVD burner and a four-port USB Hub. Two of the ports are always on, making it useful for charging other devices such as a cell phone. It connects to any computer, PC or Mac, through its USB port. It's ideal for a netbook or any notebook with limited storage or no built-in DVD burner. ($189, apricorn.com)

Seagate GoFlex Hard Drives

Seagate is one of the world's leading suppliers of hard drives to computer manufacturers, and has created its own line of retail products based around its technology. Its GoFlex storage system consists of an ultra-portable drive (500GB or 1 Terabyte), plus snap-on modules that make it easy to change the interface personality, allowing the drive to go from USB 2.0 to the new USB 3.0 or FireWire, depending on the computer it's being used with. (USB 3.0 is starting to appear on new computers and provides about 10 times the speed of USB 2.0).

The drive comes with software to provide automatic, continuous backups for Windows PC computers. It can also be configured to be used with the Mac's Time Machine software, which is built into every Mac. A 500GB drive costs about $90. (seagate.com)

BlueAnt in-car speakerphone

The new BlueAnt S4, the latest offering from this Australian company, allows you to make and receive calls in your car using only your voice. The sleek unit, about the size of a smartphone, clips to the visor with magnets and is charged through the included USB auto adapter.

To use the S4, just say "BlueAnt speak to me" and the S4 will listen for your voice commands. To make a call, say "phone commands" and the S4 will activate your phone's voice dialing feature, if it is so equipped. Once you download your names from your phone into the S4 as part of the setup, the S4 will read out the caller's name or number and ask you if you want to take the call. Just speak "Answer" or "Ignore."

If you don't have enough driving distractions already, the S4 integrates with the Vingo SafeReader so that you can listen to your incoming text messages being read aloud. It uses Bluetooth A2DP streaming audio, so you can listen to music or podcasts over the speaker and hear turn-by-turn direction information from a GPS application on your phone.

While the speaker is large and has good fidelity, some of those I spoke with complained that my voice sounded hollow, as if I were in a cave, a characteristic of most auto speakerphones. ($99, myblueant.com)

Blue Lounge cable clips

The company well known for its cleverly designed chargers and cord management products has come out with inexpensive clips to reduce the tangle of wires. CableClip coils your cables and comes in three sizes -- small, medium and large -- for $10 a package of six, four or two. (bluelounge.com)

The first iPhone 4 cases

The new iPhone 4 will generate a horde of new accessories from scores of manufacturers. First on the scene are two excellent cases that provide minimalist solutions. The leather Sena Ultraslim pouch at $30 (senacases.com) and the WaterField Suede Jacket at $16 (sfbags.com) are each well made and don't add any bulk. I've used each of these designs on other phones, and they work well for protecting the phone's surfaces. I've used the WaterField with its extra pocket to hold a headset or earphones. All of WaterField's products are made in San Francisco.

Pogoplug

Cloud computing, a term you'll be hearing a lot more this year, refers to services that are accessed over the Internet, such as photo-sharing, Webmail, Web-based storage, Google applications and even financial information. The data and services can generally be accessed from any computer or smartphone.

The Pogoplug is an accessory that enables you to backup digital files and access them via a Web browser or smartphone, just as if they were in the cloud. But instead of the files residing on the Web, the content is stored on your own hard drive. It can be used with a drive such as the Seagate noted above. Its advantage is that you don't pay monthly service charges for using Web storage (which can amount to $100 per year) and your files are where you can "see" them. It worked. ($100, pogoplug.com)

Kensington Wall Ultra Compact Notebook Power Adapter is a new compact notebook 90-watt power adapter (K38066US) that's almost half the weight (7 oz.) and one-third lighter than the standard issue "bricks" that come with most notebooks. It also has a built-in USB port to charge other devices and uses 30 percent less energy than conventional chargers. It comes with a variety of power tips to work with all of the major PC brands, except Apple. ($99, kensington.com)

Lastly, the Numi Key is one of those products that you never knew you needed, and probably don't. It's for those tired of carrying all those loyalty and shopper cards that are used when making a purchase (so the store can track what you buy in exchange for a discount). It's about the size of a key fob, and stores your cards' numbers electronically. To use, select the name of the store on its tiny display and push a button. It sends a pulsating red light beam to the store's laser scanner, simulating a real card. You need to have all of your cards and a PC (not Mac) to set it up. ($35, myloyaltycards.com)


Baker is the author of "From Concept to Consumer," holds 30 patents and is an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Phil can be heard on KOGO AM the first Sunday of each month. Send comments to phil.baker@sddt.com. Phil's blog is blog.philipgbaker.com.

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