I’ve been following this story for a couple of days with a very confused look on my face. When I first heard of it, I was almost convinced that it was a mistake. When I realized it wasn’t, I was certain that there was some kind of misunderstanding that would be worked out between the involved parties over the "next few days," and everything would get worked out.
Seems like I’m wrong; and that really just ticks me off.
I consider Scott Jordan to be a close, personal friend. He’s a small business owner (plus!), he’s an entrepreneur (plus!), his products are awesome and his business is really starting to take off (plus-PLUS!!). I really love to see small businesses like that succeed as its people like Scott that make America not only great, but make it work. Without people like Scott, and business like ScotteVest, the country and its economy would be in a WORLD of hurt.
I also LOVE gadgets and anything to do with them. To say that I love gadget enabled clothing is an understatement. In truth, its stuff like this that curls my toes. I see the new products he has planned and I have a difficult time keeping the drool off of my computer keyboard.
So, what’s the issue? Very simple:
$768M dollars in baggage fees.
Its something that EVERYONE wants in their home…in every home across America… heck, in every home across the world. The biggest problem with getting broadband in your home is not necessarily availability (though that is an issue), but piping the signal though your home.
I’ve been a portable computer advocate for YEARS. In fact, until my most recent job, every computer that I’ve used for work AND personal use over the last 12 years has been a laptop. Personally, aside from a cost perspective and justification, I don’t know why corporations continue to buy desktop computers. Laptop/portable computers tend to make a workforce more productive, and more efficient.
When I got my MacBook Pro in 2006, the one big problem that I thought I saw with it was the lack of a docking station for it. While its nice that its pretty much a desktop replacement in and of itself, using it in a desktop setting, with a desktop keyboard and mouse is problematic… you have to constantly plug and unplug peripherals from the computer’s expansion ports. Doing that over and over again can really stink, especially when you have audio and video involved as well.
Ener the USBVGA Dock from StarTech… Is it the solution that I’ve been looking for? Let’s take a quick look and see…
|The StarTech USBVGA Dock|
As you can see from my setup, below, my MBP sits in the center of my desk. I’ve got a 4 port KVM that allows me to pop between my desktop, my old freelancing laptop, and my MBP.
If I want to use my MBP at my desk, with my KVM-A (which includes audio, but minus the "M" for my 19" LCD and the A for audio because there’s no easy way to connect the monitor) or the speakers without a ton of cables hanging off this thing), I have to attach my LAN connection, and a USB connection for my KVM. If I want to use my desktop speakers, I have to disconnect them from the KVM-A and connect them directly to the MBP.
I have to do this
I use my MBP at my desk, if I want to use my mouse, full size keyboard, monitor, and speakers. Plugging in and out all of the cables each time I use and am finished using my MBP is a real pain in the butt. Honestly, I put the full blame on Apple for this. They purposefully designed ALL of their laptop computers without a convenient way of connecting and disconnecting any desktop peripherals to and from them.
After a while, plugging and chugging all of the cables got really bothersome…AND as much as I wanted to use all my desktop peripherals, including a 320GB USB drive I use for Time Machine, I stopped doing it. After a little while longer, I really began missing those peripherals, too.
Thankfully, the folks at StarTech solved my problems…at least on the Windows side of my MBP; but more on that in a bit…
|The Dock behind my MBP (pay no attention to the HTC BlueAngel next to it. The Great Oz has spoken!)||The back end of the Dock. It comes with 4 USB 2.0 ports. Audio ports are on the right side.|
The dock is about 2/3 the width of my 15.4" MBP, and about as thick. The fact that this thing does everything that any other port replicator does, but pushes it all through USB is amazing; and I love the audio-video thing… totally awesome!
The Dock, in and of itself, isn’t all that compelling. There really isn’t anything to the hardware, in and of itself, that will compel you to pick it up. The goodies all come in the form of the drivers. This is where the Dock really shines. It supports the following features:
- Audio (including playback and record)
- Video (up to 1600x1200x32; up to 1280x1024x32 on my MBP) on both a primary and extended monitor
- LAN (10/100)
- 4 Port, USB 2.0 Hub
Pushing all of this via USB 2.0 is pretty cool. I have no idea what the divers actually have to do in order to get all of this to run through 1 USB 2.0 port, but its pretty cool. There are however, a few limitations. If you’re running Vista Ultimate, like me, and you use Windows DreamScene, and you try to push video to an extended monitor, it won’t work.
|If you’re running Vista Ultimate AND DreamScene, it won’t work with the Video driver enabled.|
Installing the drivers is pretty easy. Just drop the CD in the drive, and you’re pretty much set. The PC’s screen may flash a bit during the install, but don’t let that worry you. You’ll be good to go after its done and you bounce the box. After that, its pretty much just a matter of attaching your peripheral’s cables to the Dock and then plugging the Dock’s USB dongle into your computer.
You can see the Dock driver’s icons in the screen’s below.
|The Dock’s app icon is the UVD icon in the upper left corner of my System Tray.|
I’m hooked… I really like this dock, and for the price, it’s not bad at all. However, there are a couple of problems that you need to be aware of. The dock functions as intended under Windows XP and Vista. All of my connections stay in the Dock, and I just plug in one USB connector into the left side USB port on my MBP. After that, I’m in business.
However, according to StarTech, there aren’t any Mac drivers available for this thing yet. You won’t have any trouble getting it to function as a 4 port USB 2.0 hub under Leopard or Tiger, but don’t think that the LAN, audio or video connections will work…they won’t. You’re going to have to pull the LAN cable out of the Dock and plug it into your Mac directly. Audio and video are non-functional until StarTech gets the Mac Drivers out.
I’ve had the dock for about 2 months now, and I must say I’m very happy with it. Windows is my default OS of choice, even on my MBP; however, I am very unhappy with the fact that StarTech still doesn’t have a Mac driver of ANY capacity available for the USBVGA Dock.
At the very least, I would have expected them to release a LAN driver for use with the dock. That way, I wouldn’t have to move my network cable, and I could at least use the Dock with my keyboard, mouse and network connection. I could "limp" along with my MBP’s speakers and screen.
Purchasing: The StarTech USBVGA Dock lists for $129.99; and can be purchased directly from their site.
What I liked: The whole sha-bang on the Windows side. It was pretty awesome.
What Needs Improvement: The Mac experience…not so much. The device works as a USB hub, but at $130 its a bit expensive for just that.
When I bought my MacBook Pro back in 2006, I was all over needing a case for it. I tried regular notebook cases, and those didn’t work for me. I tried a backpack case, and that seemed to work ok, but I couldn’t help but feel that my baby was still a bit on the naked side. When Judie offered me the opportunity to review the Spire Edge 15 Laptop sleeve, I jumped at the chance. The last thing I wanted was another ding on my MBP (see the last picture, after the break)
The sleeve is made of durable 1680D Ballistic nylon, and to an extent, it’s somewhat water resistant (though I wouldn’t go dunking it in a bathtub to test it. However, raindrops will initially run off of it without penetrating the sleeve, giving you a moment or two to get your laptop and the Sleeve in a full case or backpack before things really get damp. Complete specs for the sleeve can be found below:
- Available in 3 sizes, perfect for Macs and widescreen PCs.
- Exterior: tough 1680D Ballistic nylon
- Interior: smooth, padded 210D nylon
- Unique triangular flap for easy access
- Available in all-black or gray/black
The front flap is held in place with Velcro. The sleeve is nicely padded, providing your laptop with protection as well as a stylish look
The Best thing about this sleeve is that it fits in my backpack, in the laptop "spot" with the MBP inside. My baby gets extra protection from the elements, as well as any additional bumps and bruises along the way to the office.
Since I started carrying my MBP in the Spire Edge 15, it hasn’t gotten any other dings or damage. This is an awesome, affordable accessory that is one of the biggest no-brainers I’ve every bumped into. If you have an expensive laptop, or even one you really need to care for, then you owe it to yourself to give the Edge a try. The price is right, and you can’t beat the protection it provides.
Price: The Spire Edge is $20 USD, and can be purchased here.
What I liked: Sturdy, durable, (somewhat) water resistant
What needs Improvement: It might be nice if the Edge came in a couple different color or material choices; but its awesome as is.
They’re cool. They’re clean. They are ready to protect your UMPC from dings and dents; and they are 100% Vaja and completely awesome.
If you have a UMPC, and want a case to carry it with (in style), then you might want to check out the new UMPC cases that Vaja announced today. In standard Vaja style, you can customize your case via VajaChoice. There are color options for both the outside of the case as well as the stripe and interior. The case is $140USD; but man, does it look awesome or what??
The screen shot below, shows you the one option that is currently available. You need to make sure that your device will fit the case. The case measures 9.05", by 5.7" by 1.10" (WxHxD).
I am a huge fan of converged devices. If any gadget or doo-dad can serve more than one purpose, I am ALL over it. PDA phones are a great example. Love them to death… I also really like the new SEV Fleece 4.0. Its just freakin’ awesome! Honestly, its a long way from the Sport TEC 2.5 that I got back in 2004. I didn’t like that jacket at all. it didn’t breathe well, was very thin, and was very uncomfortable to wear in humid or rainy weather…thing kept sticking to your skin. But again, the new SEV Fleece 4.0…bucu cool and worth every penny.
Anyway, when its too warm to wear the SEV Fleece 4.0, I like to carry my stuff around in what is popularly called a fanny pack (or a bum bag in the UK). I have yet to find one that really fits my most essential gear. Let’s see how the Urban tool Hip Holster holds up to scrutiny.
I have a billfold that I carry as a wallet. Its got my credit/ID/information cards, cash, checkbook, and a couple of other items in it. Its pretty big. I also carry a PDA phone (Samsung Blackjack I at the moment), and a large key ring that has keys and keyless entry system fobs for both my cars.
I used, or tried to use this bag for a couple of days. For me, it was a horrible failure… My billfold doesn’t have a snowball’s chance of fitting in ANY of the available pockets. Its just too wide. The material is stretchy enough that its thickness wasn’t a problem, but I just couldn’t get it in even the biggest pocket. The cell phone pocket is really meant for your standard candy bar style cell phone and not some of the PDA phones that I have. I was able to get my wife’s StarTrek (Cingular 3125) in it, but even that was a stretch.
There are a few items that I really must have with me at all times while I am out and about:
The HipHolster had a really hard time holding my phone and wallet/billfold. It handled my large keys ok, but they tended to hang off the retractable fob that it has all the way down to my knees. Yes, I could have taken just the cash and credit/debit cards I wanted, but I don’t like separating my wallet contents from my wallet. I can lose things easily if I’m not careful…
The holster tie for your leg was also a big disappointment. When Urban Tool said "holster" they weren’t kidding. The bag reminds me of a gun holster from the Wild West, especially with the tie that it uses to secure it to your leg. A completely detached piece of elastic can be used to tie the bag to your right leg. The tie never held things well, loosened often for me, and when I did make it tight, made my leg fall asleep. I honestly don’t think the design works if you carry anything of weight. If you do, the bag tends to flop all over the place and get in the way.
The bag also makes poor use of available space. It comes with a secret pocket that could very easily hold a lot more than it does. A couple other pieces of liner, and a well placed zipper, and this could have been a really awesome bag. Oh well…
Long story short, this bag was a huge disappointment for me. I was really hoping that I would be something that worked well for my stuff and would allow me to carry what I needed during the warmer months; but it just wasn’t the case. The bag hung awkwardly, wouldn’t hold the stuff I wanted it to hold, and the tie made my leg fall asleep. I also think its a bit on the pricey side for what it does. At $50 bucks, its a bit much for a nylon, stretchy fanny pack.
MSRP: The Urban Tool Hip Holster can be purchased here for $49.95. Shipping and handling is $10
What I liked: Unique design, lots of pockets
What needs improvement: The pockets are too small and the bag doesn’t make use of all available space to allow users to hold larger items (like my billfold and PDA phones). The bag is also a bit pricey for what it does and for what it is made of.
I do a lot of talking with my mobile phone when I’m in the car. In fact, its where I do the bulk of my talking. I learned a long time ago, through no fault (or accident) of my own, that if I was going to talk on the phone, I need to have my hands at 10 and 2; and my attention on driving and not on the screen of my gadget reading mail or fumbling to answer or make a call. To that effect, when I got one of my first Pocket PC Phones, the Samsung i700, I purchased the HFK that Samsung made for it. When you do most of your networking in your vehicle, this can be difficult at best. This is the number one reason why people like me need to have some kind of a hands free way of making and taking calls while driving. Wired headsets don’t cut it. Wires get tangled and in the way. Recently, I’ve been using the Tekkeon ET6000 Bluetooth Hands Free Car Kit. Is it the device that will make me put my trusted BT headset aside? Let’s take a quick look and find out.
The Contents of the package…
In the Package
Take a look at the above and tell me what you see missing… Right. An AC adapter. The only way to charge this puppy is in your car with the included car charger, which I found inherently problematic coming out of the box. The battery needed charging. The only way I could charge it was to put it in the car and run the engine, wasting some very expensive gasoline (gas is running anywhere between $3.04-$3.57 a gallon here in the areas of Chicago I romp in); or to wait and charge it the next time I was in the car. Big bummer…and not a lot of fun.
The biggest and best thing about this device is that it allows you to make and take calls without messing with your device. You can initiate a call right from the ET6000 just by pressing its green call button. If you have MS Voice Command installed, or some other voice recognition software, pressing the green call button once should initialize the software, and allow you to quickly make a call. Your success rate is entirely environmentally dependent. In other words, if your car cabin is filled with road noise, or if you have the radio going, you aren’t going to have a lot of success in getting VC to work. I know I didn’t. My Treo 750 has MS Voice Command 1.5 built into its ROM, and I never had a great deal of success getting it and the Tekkeon to dial a call while the car was moving. Instead, things worked better after the car was stopped, and the road noise was greatly reduced. While this wasn’t a huge deal with my 750 (due in no small part to the way a Treo interacts with your Contacts, allowing you to place calls by typing a number or a name), it did mean that I would not be able to use one of the device’s main features…somewhat of a disappointment.
The device itself is oval shaped and made of plastic. It comes with a vehicle charger and a visor mount so that you can hang the device from your visor, giving you easy access to its one line, monochrome display and its buttons. This particular setup will work for most, but I had a great deal of trouble with it. The ET6000’s display is a one line, green backlit, monochrome display. When you’re in your car and driving, and using the ET6000, the screen momentarily lights up when you turn the device on. It also lights up whenever you push a button. The timing on the back light is NOT user configurable, and it goes out way too quickly for me and my crappy eyesight to register what is being displayed on the screen. Furthermore, the distance between me and the screen while the device sits on my visor falls right in the middle of the distance of my near/farsightedness so that I find myself either constantly moving my visor up and down, back and forth or tilting my head up and down trying to read the display with and without my bifocals. The back light also goes out very quickly, and I’ve found that the display is very difficult to read, even in full daylight without the back light on. This is truly a pain. If the device had another mounting option, say something that could be mounted to a spot on my dashboard, or to an air vent, I might try those (though mounting something to an air vent wouldn’t work due to background noise that flowing air would create). It might also make the device easier to use, as I wouldn’t have to look up, and then through, over, under or around my glasses to see the display.
A stock shot showing the ET6000 on a desk next to, of all things, a MacBook Pro!
Pairing the Device with your Phone
Pairing the device with your phone wasn’t too much trouble; and the bulk of the operation is really taken care of by your phone. Again, while no surprise, I did find that the device and my phone frequently forgot who the other was. The only way to repair the relationship was to delete the partnership and start over again. Doing that more than once got to be a bit tiresome, especially since I’ve only had the ET6000 for a few months, AND I’ve had to do it about 4 times on each of the 2-3 devices that I’ve tried to use with it. So, it ain’t me, or the mobile device I’m trying to use. Its the ET6000. I’m not certain what would cause this, either.
To pair your device with the ET6000, follow these simple stes:
- Press the green call button on the ET6000 to turn it on
- Press and hold the green call button on the ET6000 until the words, "Ready to Pair" appear on the LCD screen
- On your device, turn BT on, and make certain that it is set to "Discoverable," "Visible." It needs to see and be seen by other devices.
- Run through the device discovery and pairing process on your device. You shouldn’t need a passcode for the ET6000. I didn’t have to use any. You will also need to indicate that the ET6000 is your hands free device.
After the pairing process completes, and you get a success message from your device, the ET6000 should automatically connect. When you want to initiate a connection in the future, turn BT on on both devices, and then press the green Call button on the ET6000.
Using the Device to Make and Take Calls
You’re supposed to be able to initiate calls from the ET6000; but I never tried. Honestly, with the Treo 750, iPAQ 6945 that I had used it with on the PPC Phone Edition side (they have MS Voice Command installed on them) and the Blackjack on the Smartphone side, I really didn’t see the need to really even try it. I always initiated the call on the device side, and it seemed to work very well. The calls were clear, even in the semi-noisy cab of my CR-V. However, they could have been a bit louder. I found myself wanting to bump up the volume just a bit more in almost every call.
Side view of the ET6000 in my Honda CR-V.
Front view of the ET6000 on my car visor. My garage door opener is sitting to its left…
The Tekkeon ET6000 Bluetooth Hands Free Kit is a decent accessory for the price. It would be better if Tekkeon offered additional mounting options for the device so I can place it somewhere else other than my visor. The microphone could also be a little better at noise reduction and picking up my voice. I often found myself shouting at my visor while driving down the road, so the person I was talking to could hear me clearly. When the car was stopped, everything was fine; but road noise played a big factor in the overall usability of the device; and that’s something that I can’t easily change…at least not without buying a new car.
The biggest problem I had over all, was the fact that the only way to charge the device is in the car with the car charger. A desktop charger would have made this so much easier… and a much better product.
For the cost, this isn’t bad at all. I’m actually pleased with the device at this price point; but just a bit more, could have greatly improved the overall experience and the TOC, and made this a real home run.
The Tekkeon ET6000 is available from QVC.
What I Like: Works with any and every Bluetooth phone, Easy to use. Reasonably priced giving competitor products in this space.
What Needs Improvement: Call volume. Longer backlight time. Additional, mounting options. A desktop AC charger needs to be included with the kit.