It’s the last push toward Christmas and you’re looking for that last minute gift for the one person’s gift. On the other hand, you might be reading this after Christmas and are either ready to sally forth into the land of after Christmas sales, hopefully armed with a plethora of gift cards from Uncle Bob and Grandma Sue. Whichever the case here are some stocking stuffers and treats for yourself gift ideas.
Most Lightning and Micro USB cables out on the market these days are utilitarian, black or maybe white rubber/plastic covered cables. Boring and sometimes thin. As we become a more and more digitally connected society I find myself, and I'm sure you do too, in need more and more to stay plugged into the digital world. Charging, connecting, and powering up, I always seem to be one cable short of what I need to accomplish it all. While there are plenty to choose from out there, there is very little difference in them.
Enter Paracable. Paracable adds a little style and strength to normal Lightning and Micro USB cables. First, they are clothed wrapped in a way that gives them the look and feel of military paracord, which gave me a throwback from my military days. Secondly, they are colorful. You will know which cable is yours if you are connected to a community port at the coffee shop. That cloth wrap isn't just for show; it helps make the Paracable tougher. I've been lugging both the Lightning and Micro USB around in my bag for a couple of weeks now and they show no wear. Where others have looked beaten up. They also are rated for 2.0+ amps capacity, meaning they charge your items quicker. Now I don't have any professional meters to verify this, but I did use the Micro USB to charge my PlayStation 4 controller while I played and it did seem to hit full charge sooner. At $23 they might be a little more than many cables on the market, but with the toughness they are built with, the 2.0+ amps capacity, and the fact that the minimum length is five foot, you are getting some solid value for your money.
For more information see the official Paracable website
Dog Bone Locksmart Mini
One of the things that I find fascinating about getting to do these reviews is coming across something that’s a great idea I would have never thought up. In this case, it's the humble padlock leveled up with technology. The Dog Bone Locksmart Mini is a keyless Bluetooth padlock. Yes really. Once it is paired with your phone you have a secure lock that can do more than any other lock you've ever owned.
First off, you can share the electronic access for the lock without getting a new key made. On that note, you don't have to worry about lost keys either. Secondly, you can monitor from your phone, not only who, but when someone has accessed the lock. All this additional access and the Dog Bone Locksmart Mini has a build in, rechargeable battery. Its initial charge is supposed to last up to 2 years before needing a recharge and it will let you know when it needs that recharge. It accomplishes this by turning itself off when not being accessed. It's tough and weather proof with a hardened steel shackle and alloy body covered in rubber. So your outside shed, bike, or whatever you need to lock is secure. The Dog Bone Locksmart Mini is one of the cooler pieces of tech I've seen in a while.
For more information see the Dogbone Locksmart Mini web page
The Bump is an outlet charger and portable battery in one. It comes with your choice of Lighting cable or Micro USB cable. It has a nice small size and fits easily in a pocket. The only problem I have is the prongs for the AC outlet are not the easiest to grip and fold down, but it's manageable. Recently my phone died and I got a replacement, but the replacement has the new USB-C plug. Since the USB-C plug is very new many companies do not support it, I was able to use my own cable with The Bump. I first used it as a wall charger, since the Bump arrived about a half charged. Woke up the next morning to a full charged phone and Bump. Late in the day, my phone alerted me to a low charge, plugged in it into the Bump. By the time I was ready to leave work it the phone was all charged up. Since I sometimes have those “power” days this will go into my workbag and I’ll leave my phone’s actual AC plug at home.
For more information see the official Bump website
Amazfit Arc and Moonbeam
Trying to get fit? Want a pedometer? Want it to be stylish? Amazfit has some choices for you. Now Amazfit was kind enough to send both the Arc and the Moonbeam for review. But because time was short I am going to briefly review the Arc and I have asked a close friend to review the Moonbeam. She was quite thorough. So much so I will link her review here. I will say that the Moonbeam is more for the fashion conscious type of person.
The Arc is no slouch in the fashionable looks itself. While it looks like just a handsome watch it has a few other tricks up its sleeve. It's a pedometer keeping track of your steps throughout the day. It's an activity reminder. If you have been sitting "idle" for an hour you can have it vibrate to remind you to get up and walk around. It's a sleep tracker that not only measures how long you have slept but how well. And it's a heart rate monitor. At a touch of the screen, it let you know what your ticker is ticking at.
For a couple years now I've been using the Fitbit One and it's been decent enough for monitoring my step count. It's wrist sleeve for sleep monitoring never felt comfortable so I stopped using that long ago. But outside of the step count, I haven't used it for much else.
Now the Amazfit Arc does do most of the same things as the Fitbit One. But it does have some things I like better. The battery life is much better. When I first received the Amazfit Arc I made sure it was fully charged and I did the same with my Fitbit One Currently my Fitbit is charging while the Arc is at 51% right now. It feels lighter too. Its band doesn't bother me while I sleep. The Fitbit One does measure the amount stairs I climb, while the Arc doesn't; but the Arc can measure my heart rate while the Fitbit cannot. Plus the Arc has that idle reminder, letting me know it’s time to get up and move around. Simply put, I'm getting more use out of the Amazfit Arc than the Fitbit One. It might be time to retire my Fitbit One. The only complaint I have with the Arc, and this is just a personal taste thing, is the flexible TPU band. I have never really liked them on any watch I've had and I cannot swap it out for something else. Still, the Amazfit Arc does cover everything else I need and at $49.99 it’s pretty affordable.
Fatal1ty FXM200 Gaming Headset
Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel is one of the best-known professional eSports champions. During his career, he won 12 World Championship eSports Titles. Now mostly "retired" Fatal1ty has been licensing his brand for years. Let's see if this headset lives up to its name.
First off it is made by Monster, a name mostly known for its high-quality audio cables. They have long since branched out into other quality audio and home theater products. The FXM200 headset is their entry into gaming hardware.
At a $119.95 price point (though it can be found on sale for $79.95) my first impression? They seem to be cheaply made for that cost. The outer casing is a whole lot of plastic, even if it has a steel core headband. All that plastic translates to a lightweight 8 ounces so it never felt heavy on my head. Along with the lightweight comfort the ear cups have a deep cushion wrapped in leatherette that gave enough to not pinch, especially when I was wearing my glasses. Oddly, unlike most gaming headsets, the ear cups did not pivot to allow you to lay them flat, not a big sticking point, but an interesting choice. I do like the silver/black/maroon-brown color
Another interesting choice is the fact that there is no “Y” connector for use with PCs. Fatal1ty made his name and won his championships on multiple PC games, yet the headset named for him does not include a cable to adapt it for use on a PC. That said the 3.5 mm audio plug works with PlayStation 4, Xbox One and mobile phones just fine.
The audio quality is a tale of two worlds. Game wise it’s on par with some of the other high-end headsets out there. Giving excellent sound for explosions, engine noises, footsteps, and most any other sound effect. On the music side, it was a bit surprising. The bass response wasn't quite there. The headset sounded more like it was tuned for more high-end music than low-end bass heavy beats.
The microphone is removable and provided clear audio to all who heard me when I was using it. It’s on a flexible mount so I could move it where I wanted.
From a gaming aspect, the Fatal1ty FXM200 Gaming Headset is a great headset with excellent sound and it’s lightweight for long gaming sessions. But as an overall headset, they don't quite measure up in the music department. If you are looking strictly for a good gaming/LAN headset, the Fatal1ty FXM200 Gaming Headset might be the 1.
For more information see the official Fatal1ty FXM200 Gaming Headset web page
HyperX Alloy FPS Mechanical Gaming Keyboard
I have to say HyperX has shown quite the restraint since they started expanding into more gaming hardware. A perfect example is their HyperX Alloy FPS Mechanical Gaming Keyboard. Sure they could have gone with something that had lots of flashy lights and twenty billion (or so) extra shortcut keys and a mini monitor that told you when your Red Bull was warm and flat like every other gaming keyboard maker out there, but they didn’t.
HyperX wanted their first keyboard to be simple, reliable, and with just enough flourish to make it memorable. Step one was to use Cherry MX keys. Which is pretty much the industry standard for reliable mechanical gaming keys. On the HyperX Alloy FPS, they are using the Cherry MX Blue that is the more "clacky" style of Cherry MX line so, along with a bit more resistance, they give more tactile feedback in feel and sound. There are no extra keys or programming setups, you have your normal layout. Out of the box, it's ready to go.
For flourish, they kept that simple too. The keys are backlit in red. Using the function key and the arrow keys you do have some choices. Up and down keys can set the brightness or completely shut off the backlighting. When you use the function and left and right keys you can set the backlight mode. You have a choice of six modes: Solid, Breathing, Trigger, Explosion, Wave, and Custom. Solid has all the keys on. Breathing has all of the keys fading on and off like the keyboard is "breathing." Trigger has all the keys off until a key is pressed, then the pressed key is lit briefly and then faded back to off. Explosion has the keys off until a key is pressed. When pressed then an "explosion of light" radiated from that key (an interesting effect to watch as someone types with lights "exploding" all across the keyboard). Wave just has a wave of light move left to right across the keyboard. Lastly is Custom. In this mode, you can program individual keys to stay on while the rest stay off. For example, the default setup has the "1, 2, 3, 4, W, A, S, D," and "left Control" keys lit. Essentially the default game first person shooter (FPS) control layout, but you can change it to whatever you wish.
For more information see the official HyperX Alloy FPS web page
So there you go. I hope this helps you with your last minute shopping or after Christmas splurge. Be sure to come back next week for our top game picks and Game of the Year for 2016.