All posts in “Hardware”

Nomad’s new wireless charging hub is a traveler’s best friend


If you spend any meaningful amount of time in hotels, you’ll know that many of them are still living in the age of the 30-pin adapter, even though most of us have already moved on to Lightning, wireless charging and USB-C. So it’s essential to pack charging equipment to handle any need that might arise — and usually that means a lot of dongles. Nomad’s new wireless USB hub really cuts down on clutter, and makes it easy to charge what you need to charge, when you need to charge it.

The hub looks a bit like a sleek bag burger designed by someone who makes luxury car interiors for a living. It sounds like a weird description, but it’s not a bad thing — the black puck is basically at home in any decor, so it’s a good bedside companion for home as well as away. On top, the hub has a wireless charging pad with a 7.5W max output (the max supported input the iPhone X, iPhone 8 and 8 Plus can accept).

Inside, however, there’s plenty more in the way of charging options, including one USB-C port capable of 3A output, a high-speed 2.4A USB-A port for charging up an iPad or the like and two 1A USB outputs for stuff like AirPods. Each has its own LED indicator (which are faint enough that they won’t disturb even the most sensitive sleeper), and there’s built-in cable management to keep obvious desktop clutter to a minimum.

A single 1.2 meter power cable is included and connects to the wall plug to give the hub its combined 30W max output, and rubberized footing gives it a stable stickiness on almost any surface. There’s a matte rubber ring on top, too, which is great for the iPhone X and 8, which can slide gradually off even other non-stick surfaces, even if they’re seemingly lying perfectly flat.

In terms of how it works in practice, I used the Nomad Wireless Charging Hub all throughout my recent trip to Las Vegas for the annual CES gigantic crazy consumer tech shitshow and it performed very, very well — in fact, after a colleague took off with my only Lightning cable, it was the only way I could reliably make sure my iPhone was topped up for the next grueling day of slogging through gadget booths.

You can definitely get sleeker, smaller wireless chargers, but at $80, Nomad’s option is only really twice as expensive as a lot of the good options out there, and yet it also packs a lot of additional charging versatility for when you need it. If you’re looking for an all-in-one travel charging companion, this is definitely a top choice.

Lawmakers said to be behind Huawei’s continued U.S. carrier woes


The latest entry in Huawei’s ongoing struggles to come to the U.S. proved to be one of the more unexpected and engaging CES storylines last week. But there are still plenty of layers of this onion left to peel back. This morning, Reuters is confirming speculation that AT&T’s last-minute decision to pull out of a deal with the Chinese phone maker comes as U.S. lawmakers applied pressure on the carrier.

According to the outlet’s sources, AT&T’s hand was forced when members of Congress lobbied against its plan to offer Huawei handsets through its carrier subsidy program. Lawmakers are reportedly going even further, pushing the country’s second largest carrier to cut more ties with the company.

On the docket are a plan to hash out 5G network standards and a deal with Cricket, a prepaid wireless provider that was absorbed into AT&T back in 2013. The aforementioned lawmakers have also reportedly warned that ties to Huawei and state-owned telecom company China Mobile could jeopardize potential contracts with the government.

The report is certainly in line with a 2012  House Intelligence Committee report, which flagged both Huawei and ZTE as potential security risks, stating, “Private-sector entities in the United States are strongly encouraged to consider the long-term security risks associated with doing business with either ZTE or Huawei for equipment or service.”

On Friday, Texas Republican U.S. Rep. Michael Conaway introduced a bill seeking to prohibit the U.S. government from working with any carriers using either Huawei or ZTE handsets. That arrived a few days after Richard Yu seemingly went off script at a CES keynote to excoriate U.S. carriers for refusing to work with Huawei, stating, “it’s a big loss for consumers, because they don’t have the best choice for devices.”

Huawei clearly had big plans for a U.S. push this year, including a huge ad campaign featuring Wonder Woman actress, Gal Gadot. Without the support of a carrier, such an aggressive push will be something of a nonstarter in a country where most phone purchases are still made through service providers.

The best gadgets we saw at CES 2018

Another CES is in the books. The country’s biggest consumer electronics show featured some 3,900 exhibitors spread out over 2.75 million square feet, making it the largest floor in the show’s history, according to the CTA.

Our bodies and brains are exhausted from all the new gadgets, but before we cast off the show for good, let’s take a look at some of the best things we saw at this year’s event. We’ve asked our staff to handpick an item or two that really stood out in the halls of the Sands and the flickering lights of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Here are a few of our favorites.

The secret to avoiding CES cynicism is never really going

I’ve been going to CES for almost ten years now, and it amazes me that really, nothing has changed that whole time. The same people are saying the same things on the same stages, selling the same people the same junk with slightly higher price tags. But this year I had a great time and found some amazing companies — because I avoided at all costs actually stepping foot on the show floor.

The math is simple: when a company gets big enough to get itself a big booth showing off its products, it is almost always at that point that it ceases to be a source of real innovation — or at least the kind of innovation I think is worth tracking down and writing about at CES. They don’t do anything truly cool, nor anything truly dumb.

And I’m not punishing them for their success. I’ve seen some of these companies grow up from nothing to a flashy booth staffed by dozens, and that’s great. But they exist on a different plane now: they seed their news with sites ahead of time, they have private press conferences, they’re working in suites to set up sweetheart manufacturing deals. They’re part of the machine now. Congratulations!

(The most eloquent summary of this side of the show came from a cab driver. After he asked about the latest advances to the TV ecosystem, we explained — something about OLED versus Micro-LED and refresh rates and other things that make almost no difference. “And is it cheaper or more expensive?” he asked with a straight face — then he cracked a grin and laughed uproariously. He knew the score, and with a single question reduced the whole industry to a pack of charlatans, which is exactly right. That was probably my favorite moment of the entire week.)

It’s for this reason that I spent my entire time at CES roaming the hot, shabby wilds that are “Eureka Park.”

A small portion of the Eureka Park map.

Technically it is part of the show, but it’s also like hell. Hundreds of booths perhaps six feet wide and deep are crammed in, CEOs displaying their wares like butchers or street merchants. It’s hot and humid (even in the cold, usually dry Las Vegas January), there’s barely room to move along the inadequate aisles, and if anyone sees you’re media they make a sort of flying pitch at you to pique your interest au volant.

Normally I’d hate this kind of thing, but of course I’d do anything for our glorious parent companies. And actually, this is where pretty much everything cool is.

Sure, you can find crazy gadgets and knockoffs in the innumerable Chinese manufacturers, and the likes of LG have things like roll-up OLED screens, but these are no more than novelties, both for the companies themselves and those viewing them. The companies at Eureka Park are generally startups with one product or service that they’ve put all their money and time behind; they really care about this stuff.

That earnestness is endearing and makes for a good story — though not necessarily a good idea. I passed by hundreds of booths full of things no one needs and I suspect no one wants, services doomed to languish in obscurity, or devices surfing on a trend that won’t last out the year. (Just how many smartwatches do they think we need?)

Every once in a while, though, you hit the trifecta: a smart piece of technology being created for a worthwhile purpose by people who actually care about both. I dare you to find anything like that in any of the main halls.

This year I found a few examples of this. The first one I visited was LifeDoor, a device that closes a door it’s attached to when it hears a smoke alarm go off. Here’s something that could save lives (really), is simply yet purposefully designed, and created by a few people (including firefighters) who saw a chance to make something that helped others.

Another gadget I found seemed too good to be true, so much so that I requested third party documentation that it works. It was Lishtot’s TestDrop, a device smaller than a keyfob that instantly and reliably tells you if water is drinkable without even touching it. Wouldn’t you be skeptical? This company didn’t really even have its own booth; it was listed under the “Israel Export Institute.” An affordable device that could save thousands of lives, and it has less room dedicated to it than Samsung’s cheapest TV!

Cherry’s new low-profile switches may help bring mechanical keyboards to more laptops


You may not think much about the switches that sit underneath the keycaps of your keyboard, but there’s a large contingent of enthusiasts who really, really care. And for those users, Cherry’s various MX-branded switches are somewhat of a standard. Because they include a number of mechanical parts, though, you won’t see a lot of laptop-like thin mechanical keyboards or mechanical keyboards on more than a handful of laptops.

The trend, however, is clearly going toward slim keyboards — and that’s not lost on Cherry. So at CES this week, the company is introducing a completely new line of keyboard switches that may just be small enough to bring mechanical keyboards to more laptops (or at least more niche gaming laptops) and thinner keyboards. These new switches are low-profile versions of the Cherry MX RGB switch, a switch that features colored LEDs and which is especially popular with gamers. The company tells me that, if successful, it’ll launch thinner versions of its other MX switches, too.

As Cherry engineers told me, the company saw a lot of interest in a lower-profile switch. The new one still allows for 3 millimeters of travel, and with a 1 millimeter thin keycap on top of that, you could build a seriously thin mechanical keyboard with these. On thing Cherry definitely didn’t want to change, though, was the “Cherry feeling” that many enthusiasts can detect with a single press. At the same time, though, the company also wanted to make sure that it could build a few innovations into these new switches. Among other things, this includes improved spill and dust protection.

Cherry says that the switches are rated for at least 50 million key presses (though Cherry told me that it will likely hold up for much longer) and are 35 percent shallower than the standard MX switches. For gamers, the 3.2 millimeter of travel (compared to 4 millimeters in the standard switches) — and the shorter bounce time that comes with that — should also allow them to hit those keys just a little bit faster.

Cherry is currently ramping up production for the switches, which are all manufactured in Germany. We’ll likely see the first keyboards with them hit the market within the next few months.