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From the CES Mailbag – April 2008
by Robert Sanborn

Noise Cancelling Headphones 

As you know, I just love these. I started several years ago with a Targus model that was huge, bulky, seemed to cover half my head, but did the trick. Since then, I have been downsizing them and have found something that might just really do the trick.  From Audio-technica, www.audio-technica.com comes their QuietPoint, active noise-cancelling headphones that are in-ear units. The model I got was the ATH-ANC3, and it is a slick looking package. It comes with three different sizes for the ear’s rubber tips so you can have one that fits you best. It uses a single AAA battery though they recommend that you not use rechargeable batteries but according to the notes, you should get around 50 hours of use out of the single battery. Each ear piece is labeled R or L for proper placement and the first thing you notice about them is the odd shape of the plug as it is shaped for each ear. The second thing I noticed is you nearly need a magnifier to tell which is left and which is right, the print is that small and unfortunately, the same color as the unit. The battery compartment has a unique hinge to keep the cover for getting lost but it did feel a bit flimsy when I inserted the battery. On the back of the battery and control unit which is small enough is a clip to attach the unit to your clothing to keep it from bouncing around. Pretty clever.   

So, how does it work, isn’t that the real test of these? They fit into my ears very well with the standard medium rubber tips and just having them in the ear reduced the noise around me quite a bit as they do fit very well.  Turn the switch on and my office is as quiet as I have ever seen it unless of course the computers were turned off.  There is even a “monitor” button on the control unit that allows you to briefly turn off the active noise cancelling feature while you talk to someone and works as long as you hold down the button, release it and the unit comes back on. If you have connected it to an mp3 player and are listening to a song, the monitor also kills the audio from the player to hear what is going on.  

Sitting between my two wind tunnel computers is a joy to realize that I don’t have to put up with that constant noise that I have. The user’s guide that comes with it is simple and straightforward even if in tiny type. It says you should get about 50 hours out of a single battery but the travel case that comes with it can easily hold a spare battery or two if you are traveling for several days and will need to use it constantly. The components look to be of very high quality even using gold tips on the plugs. It comes with spare rubber tips in the other sizes, an airline twin plug adapter, and a short audio extension cable.  

Next test for me was on a trip and it did a great job. You don’t realize how loud jet engines can be. Things I liked about traveling with it besides the nice firm compact case is that you can easily stuff the entire headset into your shirt pocket when you need to put them away. The box tells you that you will get up to 85% noise reduction with this unit and as I said before, it really does a great job in my office. Air travel is the real acid test for noise cancelling units and it passed that test with flying colors. I like the small firm protective carrying case and so the entire package just takes up about 6.5 x 3.5 x 1.5 inches in size and weighs nearly nothing. The headphones are about $110 at Amazon.com. 

More from The CES Mailbag. 

Charging your portable electronics is getting easier all the time. Companies like Lenmar, www.lenmar.com, are providing charging units for all sorts of electronics including notebook computers with their PPU1619 Power unit.  It won a CES Innovation award and it will increase your battery run time up to 3 hours. It uses your existing power supply to charge itself and not only will it charge your notebook, it will also charge other portable devices as well. About $169.  

This next item is truly cool but more than likely, way out of our price range. They call it the worlds first Office Photography Machine from Ortery Technologies, www.ortery.com.  If you want that 360 degree rendering photo of your product (keep it small), this box will do it for you.  What happens is the machine is actually a 28x28x28 inch lightbox with an automated camera positioning system and a built in 3D turntable and a Canon digital camera that can automatically create the 3D images. It will take up to 72 pictures in a 360 degree rotation and at 9 unique angles from 0 to 90 degrees.  

Something new with phones hit the mainstream when Apple showed off its new iPhone last year but the things that looks like it is making momentum is the sweeping technology that the iPhone uses. Another very good example is from Neonode, www.neonode.com that uses what they call a zForce Optical Touch screen to use sweeping motions of your finger to use the phone. Like most phones, it will do nearly everything from playing music, taking pictures, and actually accepting telephone calls but if you log into their web site, play the intro demo to take a close look on how it actually works. 

Ever since I saw the Soundolier speakers last year, I like looking at what is new and what actually might look good in my office. Edifier, a Chinese company, www.edifier-international.com (but skip going to the web site as I couldn’t figure out how to stop the annoying music) has a new lifestyle audio line, the E3350 which has a pyramid shaped woofer (they call the opera house look) and obelisk shaped speakers is pretty cool.  

If you are familiar with the LoJack system of auto theft protection, you may not know that you can now get the same protection for your computer. www.logackforlaptops.com is the Computrace LoJack service that installs hidden software on your computer so that if you call with a theft, the laptop will phone home as soon as it is connected to the internet allowing law enforcement to track its location and to recover the units.  For $50 a year or a 4 year contract at $120. 

Another new technology making the rounds this year is Geotagging. What this does is to put GPS tags onto your digital images so that you can track where you took the picture. Pretty cool. One that I saw from ATP, www.atpinc.com, is their PhotoFinder. Small unit you carry with you, you turn it on to locate itself via the GPS satellites, then fix your digital cameras clock on the clock on the unit.  Then take your pictures while the Photo Finder is still activated.  You then insert your memory card in the Photo Finder card slot and it will synchronize the GPS data to all the pictures on your card. Not yet out. 

So, now what do I do with that you ask? Once you get your Geotags into your digital camera images, you can track them and map them on the new DeLorme Topo USA 7.0 maps. www.delorme.com. Overlay the map with your digital images and track your cross country journeys with photos and exact locations of those photos.  The Topo USA Software is around $100.  Got to get me one of these.  

Jawbone Noise Cancelling Cell Phone Headset 

Jawbone conjures all sorts of things in your mind but it is actually a Bluetooth headset for your cell phone. You too can be a functional dork with an ear piece out of your head but this one actually works very well. Jawbone, www.jawbone.com, from Aliph, is yet another Bluetooth headset that has noise cancelling technology built in to it and when I used one at the CES show, I was able to make and receive phone calls very well with this unit despite being in a very noisy hall.   

As you know, I have been looking at all sorts of the standard noise cancelling headphones to kill the noise of jet engines for traveling and Jawbone has really enabled the technology for cell phone telephone use and this is the one to get for business. Not an inexpensive package at $119 but it does include 4 separate sized earbuds and earloops to maximize the chance you will find one that fits you very well. It took some experimentation with the 8 different pieces but I found a pair that worked quite well with me. The only downside for me is that I wear eyeglasses and using any kind of headset doesn’t work that well but as I mentioned, I did manage to make it work in the halls at CES and as anyone knows, that is a really noisy place. One of the earlier years I went there with my friends, we all got the Motorola Talkabouts and we had to give up on those, didn’t hear it go off, couldn’t hear people talking to us, and of course, if you were in the wrong place, you couldn’t hear yourself think. Next year, tried cell phones and still had the same problems. Set the phone on vibrate and in some halls, the deep thumping of bass even made the vibration mode useless. The other headsets I tried in later years were just slightly better.  

So, when we got the Jawbone’s, I was beginning to wonder if it was even worth the trouble of setting it up but I was really impressed with the quality and clarity of the sound and it was worth the trouble and that makes it a keeper. I won’t wear it every day but when I know I will be needing the phone in very noisy conditions, it will be great to have and use. You will need to charge the unit before using it and the Bluetooth connection actually worked very well. At CES, it would loose its connection quite often and I suspect it was because we were crammed in with thousands of other people probably many using Bluetooth headsets but it would pick it back up quickly and I did not miss any calls because of it.  You don’t need to shout to make yourself heard with it, the voice clarity was better than I have ever heard before on this phone so if you are looking for a new Bluetooth headset, get this one. Found it on Shopzilla.com for less than $100. 

Home Networking 

Something that I have been excited about has been the home office file server. It is a box that sits on your home network that is actually a mini Network Attached Storage device that big companies use to keep their files backed up and secure. This is something that I think any home business should look into because it does such a better job of backing up your critical data files and in some cases like the Intel Home Servers, will also back up complete computers on a daily basis. I use an Intel box and it has proved itself several times when an important file gets corrupted for some reason.  In my case, I use Quicken to handle my personal books and while I make a Quicken backup every once in a while, I discovered that one day, Quicken crashed and when it did, it took out the current back up file as well. Go into the Server and tell it to give me yesterday’s file and it worked like a charm.  

Microsoft has also created their own Windows Home Server system but it seems a little more restrictive than I would like. You have to load a CD on each computer that you want it to back up and there is a 10 user limit to it.  The good news is that it handles incremental backups as well as image backups and you can access it remotely across the internet.  

Another product from Microsoft worth taking a look at is its new Live One Care security service. It tracks security, backups, and performance of the computers connected to the home network but has a limit of three machines.  What I like about it was the ability to keep track of the status of all three computers from a single location and you can centralize the backup and restore of any of those machines.  With it you can easily secure your wireless router and even automate printer sharing. Problems are that it will not track any other anti virus or spyware program and cannot do more than three computers unless you go into volume licensing.  The automated backup looks only for application files that Microsoft recommends so if you happen to have a really odd program, it will probably not back those up. 

Robert Sanborn is a technology analyst for PC Lifeline. You can reach him through the net at robert@pcll.com




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