Skip to content

Archive for

15
Aug

Postage stamp-sized device can disinfect water in minutes


In many parts of the world, people have to boil water or leave it for long periods under the sun to make sure it’s clean enough to drink. Problem is, the former consumes fuel they can use for cooking or heating, while the latter takes too much time. A tiny device that’s developed by Stanford University and SLAC National Laboratory could change that. While it’s only half the size of a postage stamp, it can harness the the power of the sun to kill 99.99 percent of germs in as fast as 20 minutes. You simply have to drop it into the container of water you want to cleanse and leave it outside for a bit.

The device, which looks like a tiny rectangle of black glass, can cleanse water faster because it taps into the visible part of the solar spectrum that contains 50 percent of the sun’s energy. When you leave bottles out in the sun, you’re depending on UV rays that only contain four percent of the sun’s energy to annihilate germs. In the team’s tests, it managed to destroy most of the germs in 25mL of water with a bacterial concentration of 1,000,000 per mL within 20 minutes. That’s under a light source that only had visible light without UV, which means the process could be even faster under actual sunlight.

Stanford’s creation has a layer of molybdenum disulfide, commonly used as a dry industrial lubricant, that’s a few atoms thick. When that layer is hit by sunlight, many of its electrons fly out. Both those electrons and the holes they leave behind make chemical reactions possible. It also has a layer of copper that acts as a catalyst to trigger the reaction needed to produce hydrogen peroxide — the disinfectant that does the actual work.

The researchers warn that while it could make lives easier, it’s not capable of removing chemical pollutants. They also have to conduct more tests, because thus far, it’s only been proven to kill three types of bacteria. To ensure people can actually use it in real life situations, the scientists still need to prove that it can clean overly contaminated water with a bigger variation of microorganisms.

Source: SLAC

Advertisements
15
Aug

Grover is like Rent the Runway, but for gadget lovers


Add one more monthly expense to my budget. Just kidding, I don’t have a budget. (I’m not very fiscally responsible.) But whether you’re financially cavalier or a careful spender, Grover’s recent arrival in the US is good news. The company lets you rent consumer electronics at an affordable monthly fee (compared to full retail prices, at least) 30 percent of what you pay going toward your purchase of the device, should you eventually choose to buy it. I tried out the service (only available in NYC for now) and, much to my surprise, am having a hard time not handing my entire wallet over.

Grover is not the first to offer device rental. Notable competitors include Lumoid, which allows shorter durations and has a smaller selection, and the now-defunct YBuy. The latter let people get products sent to them for $25 a month, and subscribers had to return the devices after each month or choose to buy them. But YBuy appears to have disappeared since its successful 2012 funding; its website doesn’t exist anymore, and there doesn’t appear to be news as to why it closed. Former YBuy CEO Stephen Svajian did not respond to a request for comment.

As a gadget reviewer, I’m blessed to get to spend time with a ton of cool devices at work. So I thought Grover wouldn’t appeal to me. I could see it tempting my tech-savvy friends, who often ask me about my experience with the latest phone or hot new camera, but I believed I wouldn’t be moved.

How wrong I was. The site has 13 categories including cameras, MacBooks, phones, gaming and drones, each of which contains dozens of devices for loan. They weren’t outdated either, and you’ll typically find the latest in laptops, smartphones and wearables as soon as they hit the market. As of this writing, the phone selection includes Samsung’s Galaxy S7, S7 Edge and S7 Active, Apple’s iPhone 6s and iPhone SE, as well as Google’s Nexus 6P. Some categories weren’t as well-stocked, such as the virtual reality section, which only included the Gear VR (sorry, HTC Vive or Oculus fans). The drone category, meanwhile, lacks the DJI Phantom 4 (you can get the Phantom 3, though). Even so, within 10 minutes I had close to 20 tabs open.

I’ve never tried Rent the Runway or Bag Borrow or Steal, which let you rent luxury clothes, bags and accessories, but I imagine the appeal is largely the same. After getting over the initial apprehension of using a second-hand product, I grew more and more excited as I scoured the site. I first looked at categories where I knew I’d want something (like camera gear to improve the look of a production I’m working on). But, as I explored other areas, I realized there was so much I didn’t know I needed.

I had to exercise much more restraint when shopping on Grover than I would have on say Best Buy or Amazon, because everything fit into my imaginary budget. (Full disclosure: Grover picked up the tab for the month.) A voice in the back of my head kept saying, “It’s just for a month. If you don’t like it, you can just give it back.” Some devices, such as the Apple Pencil or the Netatmo Weather Station, were cheap enough ($10 a month) that I almost threw reason out the window to try them out.

Sometimes, logic kicked in and I realized that paying $3 a month for a Wistiki tracker was extravagant when I could own a Tile tracker for just $25. But mostly, Grover’s prices were reasonable, with devices costing between $3 and $200 a month. I finally picked a gold MacBook, a pair of red Parrot Zik 3 headphones, a Sony HXR-MC2500 video camera and a Godox Witstro AR400 ring flash for a grand total of $294.60.

Minutes after I placed my order, I received a confirmation email (complete with celebratory GIF at the top) with a summary of my items and a note that my products would arrive in two to five days.

The confirmation email from Grover. That GIF was a nice touch.

The next day, I got an alert that one of my items (the flash) would take longer than five days to ship and that the other three would arrive Friday. That’s a quick turnaround, considering I had placed the order two days prior, but it might be because the service is still so new in the US. Wait times could possibly go up to the full five days depending on Grover’s popularity and inventory. I was also given the option to ditch the flash altogether or wait for it to arrive the week after.

Friday arrived and a large brown box containing all three items landed in my office. Opening up the box felt just like unwrapping Christmas gifts because boxes for the MacBook and the headphones came wrapped in red paper held together with a Grover sticker.

I was surprised by the quality of the packaging. Everything felt like it had been shipped to me directly from the manufacturer; the boxes were pristine, and the devices still had their protective plastic covers on. But since Grover is in its first month in the US, its inventory is still brand-fresh. I was lucky enough to receive new stuff.

Over time, however, outgoing products will have been through several renters, so you may not experience the same brand-new wrapping I did. I asked Grover CEO Michael Casseu if the boxes would be the same for all consumers. “Of course, we would still use shrink wrap and ensure the packaging experience is always at its best,” he said. “If the original package is returned to us a bit banged up, we’ll just use custom Grover packaging everywhere to ensure it is the best quality and the best experience for consumers.”

This is how the Parrot Zik 3 headphones arrived.

As I started playing with my new toys, I had to deal with a unique conundrum. Unlike clothes or purses, many devices can retain your personal information and pass it along to the next user. Even though Grover recommends you wipe each machine before returning it and also resets each incoming gadget itself, there are still ways for malicious users to get info off a rental device. That knowledge made me far less comfortable with accessing credit card and other sensitive data on the MacBook I got.

If you’re like me, there’s a real chance you might damage the gadgets during your period of ownership. According to the terms and conditions, you’re liable for 100 percent of damage you cause. But Casseu told me the company will waive 50 percent “of unintentional damage,” and that this isn’t detailed in the terms and conditions “simply to not look like we’re offering insurance to avoid any misuse.”

That’s problematic. Since terms and conditions are a legally binding document that you have to accept and enter into before checking out, I wouldn’t expect Grover to hold up its end of the 50 percent waiver deal. The company may need to reword its terms to encompass this in the future. But in the meantime, go into it fully aware that you’ll be responsible for any damage.

Those prickly legal issues aside, I appreciated being able to temporarily own more than a $1,000 worth of gear. Plus, I’m starting to grow really fond of this MacBook and might actually extend the rental myself or buy the damn thing.

Still, as much as I love gadgets, without Grover I wouldn’t feel like I was missing out. The service will mostly appeal to people like Engadget Senior Mobile Editor Chris Velazco, who is constantly threatening to buy everything, only to later be disappointed by or bored with his new toys. The rental format not only lets people like Chris save some money and buy without the commitment of ownership, but also reduces waste, since they can return the products once they tire of the devices. Indeed, Chris has already signed up for the service and is expecting two devices to arrive. I feel bad for whoever gets the products after him; his technophilia is actually very disturbing.

This is how Senior Mobile Editor Chris Velazco handles new toys.

Ultimately, Grover provides an accessible, commitment-free gateway into the usually expensive world of tech that most aficionados will find appealing. But it has its issues, like the murky wording around its breakage policy.

It’s what Grover says is coming that I’m most excited about. Casseu told me that before Christmas rolls around, the company may launch a pricing plan that could let you rent any three gadgets for $100 a month. That would bring Grover closer to the “Netflix or Spotify for gadgets” format that the company touts itself as, and would further differentiate it from Lumoid or Rent A Center.

For now, I struggle with two things. One, does Grover actually save me money by letting me get devices for cheaper, or does it make me spend more by making me fall in love with what I rented? I honestly cannot decide. And, finally, should I buy this MacBook or nah?

15
Aug

Audi cars will start talking to city traffic systems this fall


If you’ve ever been stuck at a red light that seems to last an eternity, you’ll be happy to know that Audi announced that it’s going to start work with municipalities to tell its cars when a light is about to turn green. The automaker says this is the first step in a Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) partnership with cities that will be launching this fall.

The Audis won’t be talking to the traffic lights directly, instead the vehicles will use their built-in LTE connection to get information from a participating city’s central traffic control system. Using that data and GPS, the cars will be able to show on the dashboard when an upcoming signal will turn green.

The system does not use the upcoming DSRC V2V (vehicle to vehicle)/ V2I (Vehicle to Infrastructure) standard. Instead it uses partner Traffic Technology Services to establish a data relationship with the municipalities. As a vehicle enters a “zone” it requests a one-time unique token to establish communication with the infrastructure to request the stop light phase.

As for DSRC, Audi product and technology communications senior specialist, Justin Goduto said it’s not quite ready for widespread deployment yet. Audi wants to move forward now. “For the time being using this methodology gives us true integration to the infrastructure,” Goduto said.

The technology needed to get all that green light information is available in 2017 Audi Q7, A4 and A4 Allroad vehicles built after June 1, 2016. Drivers will also need to subscribe to Audi Connect Prime. As for the cities, the automaker isn’t ready to announce where the V2I infrastructure will roll out first. But it hopes the system will be working in five to seven metropolitan areas by the end of the year.

15
Aug

The best tech for honor students


Look, not everyone is cut out for late nights of drinking and playing DJ for groups of frat kids. Some would prefer to campout in the library until the wee hours of the morning studying and pouring over notes and lectures. Of course, the days of pen, paper and microfiche are pretty much over at this point. You need powerful, digital tools like an Evernote subscription to help organize all your notes from class. And there’s nothing like a solid voice recorder to document all those early morning classes before you’re fully caffeinated. Of course you’ll also need the basics, like a backpack and a laptop. But, you might also want to invest in a portable energy light to help keep you awake and fight off bouts of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) when you’re spending 90 percent of your day indoors. Check out the gallery below for all our best bookworm picks and make sure to check out our full Back-to-School Guide right here.

Source: Engadget’s 2016 Back-to-School Guide

15
Aug

How a robot wrote for Engadget


John McCarthy, the late computer scientist who first coined the term Artificial Intelligence, famously said “as soon as it works, no one calls it AI any more.” What was once cutting-edge AI is now considered standard behavior for computers. As I write this article, my computer is continuously performing millions of tasks, caching files, managing RAM and balancing CPU loads. The algorithms behind many of these operations would have been considered “AI” years ago. Now it’s just software.

Last year, I looked into how well neural networks — programs that behave like a scaled-down version of your brain’s neurons — can write. My plan was to create a bot that could write articles for Engadget. As I discovered, we’re not yet at the point where such applications can think and write like humans, but they can do a reasonable job of writing readable sentences. As I noted at the time, some companies are using less “advanced” methods to produce content automatically. One such company is Automated Insights, whose tools are used by a number of companies to auto-generate reports, and also by the Associated Press to write articles about sports and finance.

I’ve been using one of Automated Insights products, Wordsmith, trying again to make a computer write like Engadget. It’s easy to argue that Wordsmith isn’t “AI.” It doesn’t use machine learning and neural networks, but it does work. And thanks to that fact, I’ve been much more successful in my mission to automate the art of the tech blog.

Wordsmith

At its core Wordsmith is a bit like Mail Merge: It all starts with data. That means you’re limited to writing about quantitative, number-driven topics. I plugged in a simple chart containing some key data on smartphones released this year, with the view to having the app write an article about the latest big tech announcement, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7. I wanted to create a Blogbot that could compare its specs to the rest of the smartphone market.

While training the neural network to write, I had to feed it around a million words published on Engadget. Wordsmith doesn’t require this sort of input, but it can’t create articles from nothing. Instead, you write a basic template article, and then start adding variables. So I started with a simple opener:

Company​ has just ​announced​ the ​Product, its latest ​flagship​. How does the new model ​stack up against its rivals? It’s time to ​check the spec sheets​.

They were the perfect first words for Blogbot: It would be difficult to write a more tech-bloggy paragraph. Rather than being specific with company and product names, I instead left them blank, and linked the data from my spreadsheet. It’s these data points that allow you to create a template that can be used again.

With the basic data linked, it was time to build in some variation. The simplest way to do this is using the included synonym tool to add more words and phrases that can be swapped in at random. Replacing certain sections of an article won’t create the level of variety needed for publication, though. You can also highlight entire paragraphs and play around with the ordering and phrasing. After a little tweaking, I ended up with this:

Wordsmith would now create a paragraph from one of three basic structures, each of which have at least four phrases that will be picked from a further list of synonyms. With a small amount of work, the system was able to pick from around 50,000 different options.

I applied the same principles to the rest of the template, and was left with a surprisingly functional, if a little dull, article. Here’s a randomized output:

Now that the ​dust has settled​ on ​Samsung​’s ​Galaxy Note 7​ ​announcement​, how does it ​fare against its rivals​? ​​It’s time to run the numbers.

Many will be interested in the Galaxy Note 7 just because of its “S Pen” stylus, but that’s not where the story ends. Elsewhere, the Galaxy Note 7 has a Snapdragon 820 processor paired with 4GB of RAM, which is just what you’d expect from a premium device in 2016. Its 5.7-inch display is larger than the rest of the pack while its 1440 x 2560 resolution is what you’d expect from a flagship. The Galaxy Note 7 has 64GB of internal storage and an expandable microSD slot. The rear-facing camera is a 12-megapixel unit, which is lower resolution than most sensors in this price range, but Samsung claims it takes great pictures anyway thanks to its larger pixels and fast autofocus.

Rest assured we’ll have a full review of the Galaxy Note 7 before long, but here’s a table of numbers to tide you over for now:

By the time I got to this point, I’d added complexities to the template. The middle paragraph not only pulls all of its data automatically from a spreadsheet, but it also makes comparative statements. For screen size, anything two percent away from the average will get one of several phrases that basically say if it’s “larger” or “smaller” than other phones. If Samsung cheaped out on a 1080p display, Wordsmith would highlight that using slightly negative phrasing. In the example above, it’s also pulled out that the camera sensor is a lower resolution than competing handsets, and given Samsung’s explanation for that.

All of the “training” I gave Blogbot amounts to simple conditional “If-then” programming, but you can go surprisingly deep with those basic principles. It wasn’t really necessary for this project, but instead of randomizing the paragraphs, you could make the structure selection conditional too. This proves useful in financial articles: If a company has fallen short of expectations, a writer will pull out that fact first and explain why. Here’s an example, published by the Associated Press.

Gotcha

conditional.jpg

Synonyms inside synonyms inside synonyms.

After almost five years writing for tech publications, I am both very adept and very tired of writing product posts. When I started out, I quickly trained my brain to pull together a non-descript opener, some paragraphs with facts and figures, and a functional closing sentence with something like a release date and a price. With that knowledge, it was very simple to put together Blogbot, which now writes at an acceptable standard. To mark the start of AI Week, I actually published the excerpt above under the not-particularly-good pseudonym Toby Golby (read it backwards without the “y”s) together with the chart containing the data that helped Worsmith write. It’s not a good article, but it’s definitely an article. And aside from the headline and formatting, it’s all Wordsmith.

Here’s the problem, though: Those sort of articles aren’t what I, or any writer at any publication, hope to write. Yes, we still want to give readers the facts and figures that they care about, but we also want to provide context on why they matter, and the bigger picture in general. Just as I’d mastered the art of the basic product post, my editors had pointed out that it wasn’t good enough. And it never has been. Back when it was a simple tech blog, Engadget alumni like Ryan Block, Joshua Topolsky and Tim Stevens always strived to deliver analysis and opinion with the news. Today, the same is true: If you’re reading about a new phone, you’ll also get background on where the company’s at right now, the phone’s position in the market, and whether this is what it needs to succeed.

With more data Wordsmith could be a better blogger, but that would require more maintenance.

In its current state, Blogbot can’t do that. To achieve context I’d need to write out small facts about each company we cover, perhaps mark them as positive or negative, and even then it would be tough to guarantee that the news of the day doesn’t negate the content of those canned phrases. So yes, with more data, there’s a chance it could be a better blogger, but the amount of maintenance it requires would make the exercise pointless.

Automated Insights is a long way off from being able to actually automate the kind of insight I’d need to be able to set Blogbot off to write for Engadget its own. Right now, though, it’s working on numerous feature improvements that will reduce the amount of time it takes to get a workable template up and running. The first is a simple tool that’ll automatically suggest synonyms for words. Another feature already heavily into development will use machine learning to scan sentences and rearrange them to increase variance. Training a computer to grasp the meaning of a sentence and then rearrange the words without breaking it is no mean feat.

This imposing blank page is the first thing you see when starting a template.

There are even loftier long-term goals. Perhaps the most ambitious also involves machine learning reading the data and automatically generating templates. “The synonym stuff is coming soon, the other stuff is harder,” James Kotecki, Head of Communications at Automated Insights, told me.

Building these new AI elements into Wordsmith comes with “the classic computer science problems you’d expect,” Kotecki continued. Making a computer understand that numbers increasing in data charts isn’t always positive — that figure could represent debt — is tough. “It’s going to be a multiyear thing, as all machine learning things are. Just as we haven’t perfected automatic driving or computer vision or even natural language processing, it’ll take some time for this field of computer science to keep developing.”

What next?

Like most writers, I’d rather be interviewing people (and messing around with AI) than hammering out news articles. But while Engadget has expanded beyond the confines of the “tech blog,” gadget news is still a big part of our DNA. I want to continue to push Wordsmith, and other automated writing tools, to see if such applications can become useful enough to be a permanent member of the news team.

What’s super interesting about Wordsmith, versus the pure machine learning route, is it’s very much working now. It’s capable of reading a financial statement and writing an article of it, or generating a thousand property and car advertisements almost instantly. But Wordsmith, as it is, isn’t quite ready for my usecase. Sure, I published an article it wrote, and nothing exploded, but having it handle the myriad topics we cover every day would be impossible. As more features are added, though, it’ll only become more viable.

Wordsmith, as it is, isn’t quite ready for my usecase

Adding in the more “modern” AI elements that make use of machine learning piece by piece appears to be working well in other fields. While Google is going all out on a building a self-driving car, Tesla is slowly rolling out the pieces to customers when they’re ready, and other manufacturers like Nissan are doing the same thing.

Really the missing piece of the puzzle for me right now is recognition, rather than creation. I trust Wordsmith, with enough programming and testing, to do the actual writing. It’s capable of linking with other applications directly, so what I need is a tool that could read and understand a press release, and input the relevant data into a spreadsheet for Wordsmith to pull from. That’s tough: Samsung’s press releases are worded differently than Apple’s, and Google’s too. Some will omit certain specifications, and Wordsmith would need to be flexible enough to understand what’s missing and write around it. If we can get there — and I don’t think we’re that far off — then computers can start writing for Engadget.

15
Aug

Audiophiles in Japan are installing their own electricity poles


Audiophiles are known for doing some pretty extreme things in their quest for ‘purer’ sound, such as buying headphones that cost as much as a good car or getting ridiculously overdone cables with little to no practical benefit. However, the Wall Street Journal notes that some Japanese listeners are taking things one step further. When Takeo Morita worried that “tainted” power would affect the quality of his tunes, he installed a roughly $10,000 utility pole with his own transformer to get more electricity straight from the grid. And he’s not alone — there’s a whole magazine dedicated just to selling audio-related power equipment, including poles.

It’s not completely unreasonable to worry about electricity. Sufficiently terrible electromagnetic interference could produce audible glitches. However, there’s a difference between that and interpreting any variance in electrical performance as hurting audio quality. Just as with the most expensive speakers or an over-the-top link cable, it’s doubtful that you’ll actually witness a tangible improvement. As researcher Tsutomi Nakano says, it’s more about the “power of imagination.” These listeners want to reassure themselves that they’re getting the best sound possible, even if that means installing a permanent eyesore in front of their house.

Via: UberGizmo, Gizmodo

Source: Wall Street Journal

15
Aug

New Mockup Shows What the Rumored ‘Space Black’ iPhone 7 Plus Might Look Like


A new set of iPhone 7 images have emerged online, this time showing a mockup of the larger-screened, 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus in Space Black (via TechTastic). Earlier in the year, a sketchy rumor hinted that Apple might be introducing a “Deep Blue” color option in the 2016 iPhone lineup, but more recent reports have clarified that “Deep Blue” will ultimately be a darker version of the current Space Gray, now depicted in today’s pictures.

Although the Space Black images fall largely in line with recent mockups and image leaks for the iPhone 7, there are a few inconsistencies. The dual-lens camera bump on the iPhone appears slightly less raised than previous depictions of the back of the iPhone 7, and the mockup designates the model as an “S” edition, which has been lacking from any previous reports and remains an unlikely moniker given the name schemes of the current generation iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus.

The pictures also include a Smart Connector on the back of the iPhone 7 Plus, which, at best, has been an inconsistent rumor leading up to the launch of the new iPhone next month. More recently, mockups and image leaks have leaned more towards Apple’s decision to not include the Smart Connector in the iPhone 7. The feature could also be specific to the 5.5-inch iPhone Plus, or a third “Pro” model.

iPhone 7 Plus space black 1
Elsewhere, the Space Black variant keeps up with rumors of what the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus will look like: no 3.5 mm headphone jack, two speakers (one likely to be cosmetic), and rearranged antenna bands on the back. Apple might be preparing an all-new, flush Home Button on the next-generation iPhone devices as well. But, like most image leaks, it’s hard to be certain in the new pictures whether the Home Button is a new, pressure-sensitive option or just the traditional physical switch.

iPhone 7 Plus space black 3
The new pictures follow a collection of high-resolution photos of a Gold mockup of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus that were posted last week. Apple is expected to reveal the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus on September 7, with pre-orders beginning on September 9 and a potential launch one week later on September 16.

Related Roundup: iPhone 7
Discuss this article in our forums

MacRumors-All?d=6W8y8wAjSf4 MacRumors-All?d=qj6IDK7rITs

15
Aug

Apple Seeds Sixth Beta of tvOS 10 to Developers


Apple today provided developers with the sixth beta of tvOS 10, the next-generation operating system designed to run on the fourth-generation Apple TV. tvOS 10 beta 6 comes one week after the release of tvOS beta 5 and two months after the operating system was first shown off at Apple’s 2016 Worldwide Developers Conference

tvOS betas are harder to install than beta updates for iOS and OS X. Installing the tvOS beta requires the Apple TV to be connected to a computer with a USB-C to USB-A cable, with the software downloaded and installed via iTunes or Apple Configurator. Once a beta profile has been installed on the device through iTunes, new beta updates will be available over the air.

tvOS 10 builds on features initially introduced with tvOS last October, bringing expanded Siri capabilities like topic-based search, Live Tune-In for automatically accessing live channels, and options for managing HomeKit accessories.

Single-Sign On allows users to sign in and authenticate cable credentials just once instead of requiring authentication in all cable-supported apps, games are now able to require controllers, and there are new features for Photos and Music.

Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos.
A dark mode offers a better visual experience for darker rooms, universal apps are automatically downloaded, and there’s a new Apple TV remote for iOS devices that mirrors the Siri Remote.

Over the beta testing period, Apple has been making slight tweaks and updates to the tvOS 10 operating system, but many of the changes are under-the-hood and not readily apparent to testers. Any outward-facing changes discovered in the sixth beta will be noted below.

For a full overview of all of the new features in tvOS 10, make sure to check out our tvOS 10 roundup.

Related Roundups: Apple TV, tvOS 10
Buyer’s Guide: Apple TV (Neutral)
Discuss this article in our forums

MacRumors-All?d=6W8y8wAjSf4 MacRumors-All?d=qj6IDK7rITs

15
Aug

Spigen U100 Universal Kickstand review


spigen-universal-kickstand-review-hero-0

We check out Spigen’s new universal kickstand for your phone!

Spigen is great at pretty much all things to do with phone accessories. Their cases fit exceptionally well, their style ring is one of the most oddly convenient accessories ever, and now they’ve got their U100 Universal Kickstand to try and add to that legacy. But does it live up to Spigen’s reputation?

This kickstand does exactly what it’s supposed to do: it stands your phone up on an angle for hands-free viewing and gaming. Whether it’s well-made or works well is a bit of a different story.

Let’s break things down in terms of:

  • Aesthetic
  • Design
  • Functionality
  • Final verdict

Aesthetic

spigen-universal-kickstand-01.jpg?itok=u

No one wants to admit they’re shallow, but come on: the first thing you notice is how a phone accessory looks. Lucky for all of us, the Spigen U100 Universal Kickstand is a pretty slick little product.

It’s a sleek and good-looking, minimalist accessory.

If you have a phone with a metallic back, it looks particularly sexy, thanks to its silver metal composition and compact design. It basically looks like a slightly larger tie clip with the Spigen logo etched into it.

The closer your phone is to the color of the kickstand, the more it blends in and actually just looks like it’s built-in. However, if you use it with a slightly curved phone, like the HTC 10 (like I did), then you’ll notice it a lot more from the sides.

All in all, it’s a sleek and good-looking minimalist accessory that doesn’t scream “cheap” and won’t detract from your phone’s good looks.

Design

spigen-universal-kickstand-03.jpg?itok=n

I’ll start this section off by saying that this kickstand is meant exclusively for phones with mostly flat backs. It works with the HTC 10, but I mainly use a Moto X Pure Edition and the kickstand won’t stick at all, both because of the phone’s curvature and its textured back (depending on the customization).

The way the U100 works is via what Spigen calls “one-touch technology” and “semi-automatic spring tension”. Really, it’s essentially a spring-loaded leg that is held in place by a magnet and deployed when you slide your nail under the indentation at the bottom of the stand. If you have short nails, you may have a hard time unlatching the leg.

That being said, the magnet really holds the leg in place nicely; repeatedly shaking my phone, trying to loosen it, did not dislodge it.

When not in use, the kickstand is about 5mm thick, which, depending on where you place it, may make things feel a bit strange when regularly using your phone or taking a call. I situated mine just under the camera lens as Spigen recommends, and gripping it during a call has never felt comfortable.

Be gentle: The stand is thin strip of metal that can withstand almost no pressure.

The adhesive is made by 3M and sticks fairly well, although not as well as the adhesives Spigen was using for their first run of Style Rings (the ring broke before the adhesive let go!). Our recommendation is to make sure you place the kickstand exactly where you want it – constantly replacing it diminishes the stickiness. And if you have it almost in place and try to slide it into better placement, it’ll just move back to where it was; 3M’s adhesive is quite elastic.

spigen-universal-kickstand-02.jpg?itok=n

Regarding the metal composition of the kickstand, I’m a little put off. It doesn’t look cheap; it doesn’t feel cheap, but somehow it is flimsy.

I assume you won’t be trying to bend it to test its limits, but when I tried to bend the stand leg on its own, it did so to a point and then just snapped, and it was not difficult to do. When I tested how much pressure I could place on the stand, the leg just snapped right off before I applied as much force as I had planned – the holes that the pins on the leg sit in make for an incredibly thin strip of metal that can withstand almost no pressure.

All in all, the kickstand is fairly well-made, but never pick your phone up by the stand leg or apply too much downward pressure or it will likely snap off in your hand. Also, don’t sit on it. Just don’t. Trust me.

Functionality

spigen-universal-kickstand-05.jpg?itok=R

As I said at the beginning of this review, the U100 Universal Kickstand does exactly what it’s meant to. So long as you place it properly on your phone, it will prop it up and you will be able to watch videos hands-free.

It’s also rather convenient, since that “one-touch technology” claim is pretty true, however obvious it may be. The magnet is secure, but not so strong that you have to pry the leg away with a crowbar.

The U100 Universal Kickstand does exactly what it’s meant to.

I tried the U100 in both orientations on the back of my HTC 10; I placed it horizontally and vertically and both ways work just fine, though placing it vertically makes your phone easier to knock over.

When placed horizontally, it looks like your phone is being held up with a small popsicle stick and it really looks like it should be tipping all over the place, but it’s actually perfectly stable when the kickstand’s in use and might even work in the car on a portable lap desk.

The “semi-automatic spring tension” is quite handy, since once you pop the leg off, it springs into action and that’s it — you’re ready to go. Basically, everything about the kickstand works like it should and like you want it to. What more can you really ask for?

Final verdict

spigen-universal-kickstand-04.jpg?itok=v

Despite some design flaws, the Spigen Universal U100 Kickstand is very handy. If you can get used to the way it feels on the back of your phone, it’s a convenient, minimalist way to watch YouTube and be able to eat dinner at the same time.

It looks great and works just like it should, so if you’re looking for an accessory in this vein, you have no reason not to pick this one up … as long as your phone has a flat back.

See at Amazon

15
Aug

Score an unlocked BlackBerry Priv for just $299 right now!


Right now you can grab an unlocked AT&T version of the BlackBerry Priv for just $299 at eBay. We’ve seen a number of sales for this phone, but this one drops it right down to the same price as the recently-announced BlackBerry DTEK50, but with higher specs. If physical keyboards are a must-have for you, or you are looking for a good backup phone at a cheap price, you won’t want to miss out on this deal.

Priv-Droid-Loading.jpg?itok=rv8Ymwph

The listing says there are a limited number of these available, so if you are interested you’ll want to act quickly. Would you rather the BlackBerry Priv or the DTEK50 at this price point? Let us know which you will be purchasing in the comments.

See at eBay

%d bloggers like this: