Gadling Gear Review: Props Power Case For iPad

Props Power Case for iPad
Digital Treasures

One of the best features of the iPad has always been its outstanding battery life. Depending on how you use the device, it is not uncommon to get 8-10 hours of use between charges. That is generally plenty for typical day-to-day use, but when traveling that may not even be enough to get you to your destination. Considering how difficult it can be to find an unused power outlet in an airport, having a different source of juice is always a nice option. External battery packs are a viable alternative, but they can also be bulky and cumbersome. Digital Treasures, a company that specializes in accessories for tablets and smartphones, believes they’ve come up with the perfect compromise. They’ve integrated a secondary battery for charging an iPad directly into a protective case, providing a product that addresses two issues at the same time.

The Props Power Case is available in both an 8000 mAh and 12,000 mAh version. I tested the higher capacity case and found that it worked as advertised, offering an easy and convenient way to extend the life your tablet’s battery. The large, flat power cell is integrated directly into the case and must be charged via USB ahead of time. That can actually take a surprisingly long time depending on whether you plug the included charging cable into your laptop or a wall outlet. Digital Treasures doesn’t ship the case with an AC adapter, however, so if you want to charge from an outlet you’ll need to provide your own USB adapter. A charge indicator on the side of the battery lights up in blue, keeping you well informed of just how close to capacity the Power Case has at any given time.Having to charge two devices (the iPad and the case) can be a bit cumbersome when traveling, but if battery life is a concern, the system works quite well. Digital Treasures says that the case can more than double the battery life of an iPad 2 and extend the life of the iPad with Retina Display by 70 percent. In real world use, I found it fell a bit short of that number, but not by much. A fully charged Props Power Case gave my iPad 3 an extra 6.5 hours of power, which is a considerable extension, to say the least. All of that extra power doesn’t just have to go to the iPad, however, as the battery is also more than capable of charging a smartphone or any other USB device. That adds a nice level of versatility for when you’re on the go.

Of course, adding a battery to your protective case doesn’t come without a few compromises. I found the Props Power Case to be rather bulky, especially since my iPad usually only sports an Apple Smart Cover. The battery also adds extra weight that is a bit off-putting at first too. If battery life is your primary concern, however, you’ll probably find these compromises are well worth it – after all, we are talking about considerably longer usage time. But if you’re an iPad owner who is quite happy with the performance of the device right out of the box, the case is likely to feel like a massive step backwards in terms of portability.

Props Power CoverTo make matters worse, when the charging cable is plugged into both the battery and the iPad, the system gets even more convoluted. The addition of the cable sticking out of the side of both devices just adds to the feeling of bulk. While this is obviously necessary to take advantage of the extended battery life, there was a point where I began to wonder just how my lovely thin and light tablet became so unwieldy.

The overall quality of the case is actually quite impressive. Digital Treasures has put together a solid product that is both attractive and functional. The Power Case is made of very durable faux-leather, which is extremely resistant to the wear and tear that comes with travel. It also does a fine job of protecting the iPad contained within. While testing the case, I never once felt like my device was ever in danger while ensconced in this protective layer, and after using it for several weeks, the case still looks like it just came out of the box. It may be bulky and heavy, but the Props Power Case does deliver on its promise of providing both extra battery power while also keeping your iPad safe from harm.

In another nice touch, Digital Treasures designed the front cover of the case to fold back, converting its form factor into an easel. This comes in handy when watching movies, reading a book or even playing a game. The easel form factor is particularly useful while on a plane, although I found it to be rather stable even when sitting on your lap at the airport. Plenty of other cases offer this same functionality of course, but with the weight of the battery serving as an anchor of sorts, the Power Case wasn’t quite so apt to shift about.

As mentioned above, Digital Treasures offers this case in both an 8000 mAh and 12,000 mAh version. The lower capacity model will save you a little cash ($89.95 vs $119.95) but for the most part it doesn’t affect the case itself in any really noticeable ways. If you’ve been looking for a way to extend the life of the battery on your iPad even further, then this is definitely solid option to choose. The case will indeed allow you to work longer, watch more movies, read more books and listen to more music. In doing so though, you’ll also be giving up some of the portability that comes along with a thin and light tablet, as the Props Power Case negates those characteristics completely. For some of us, the trade-off is well worth it, but I suspect for most the loss of portability could be a major factor.

Gadling Gear Lust: Field Candy Tents

Our battered Coleman tent has been through years of service and cost something like $80 at an end-of-season sale at the local Target. It’s a workhorse and held up on gravel and snow and kept the campers inside it dry in pelting rain, letting in nothing more than a little damp on the corners and collecting a little condensation on the liner. But for all its practicality, there is one thing it is not: pretty. It is an olive green and tan little dome that looks like every other olive green and tan or red and tan or blue and tan little dome lined up on the grass in the tent meadow at any campground.

Enter the Field Candy tent. I can’t speak to the efficacy of these gorgeous little temporary shelters, but I also can’t decide which one I want the most. The one with the cow on it? The one that looks like a battered old suitcase? Yeah. That one. No, wait. I like the one that looks like a slice of watermelon because to see that when you pull up in your Subaru full of camping gear would crack you right up.

Field Candy

The Field Candy tent has all the stuff you’d expect from a decent camping tent – shock corded poles, a waterproof fly, and the easy clip up assembly. As a camper in wet climates, I’m suspicious of the cotton inner tent because it seems like something that would take a while to dry should it get wet. It’s got the bucket style ground sheet – you have to have that! – and a bunch of other features that look well thought out. This is no $80 clearance Coleman, some of them are over $700, so I’d expect performance as well as style.

But on the surface, it’s all about appearances. I want one. Maybe the one that looks like a circus tent. Or, no. The sandwich. Yeah, that one. No. Wait…

Gadling Gear Review: Nyne NB-230 Portable Bluetooth Speaker

Nyne N-230 Bluetooth Speaker
Nyne N-230

Over the past couple of years, the number of choices for consumers looking to buy a portable Bluetooth speaker has exploded. It wasn’t all that long ago that our options were limited to just a few underpowered speakers that provided low-quality wireless audio, but now there are literally dozens of these speakers on the market making it much more of a challenge to decide which one to buy. It has also made it more of a challenge for the companies who manufacturer these devices to stand out in the crowd, forcing them to try something a little different. That seems to be the approach that Nyne took with their NB-230 speaker system, delivering a product that will remind you more of an old-school boombox rather than the smaller speakers that typically come from their competitors.

The first thing you’re likely to notice about the NB-230 is its size. Most other portable Bluetooth speakers are designed to be small enough that you can toss them in a backpack and take them along with you just about everywhere, but as mentioned above, this speaker is more like a streamlined boombox for the 21st century. While it is small and light enough to take with you on a day trip, this isn’t likely to be the kind of speaker that you’ll want to carry with you on a trip to the far side of the globe. It is simply too large and oddly shaped to want to put into your luggage, although it is great for a day at the beach or family picnic in the park.

Unlike most other portable Bluetooth speakers that I’ve used, the NB-230 doesn’t include a rechargeable battery. Smaller speakers can be powered for hours on their own built-in batteries, but this device is too large for that to be an efficient option. Instead, you’ll need to use six C batteries to keep the speaker operating while away from a power outlet. (When is the last time you actually had to use C cells for anything? Probably the last boombox that you owned more than a decade ago.) Nyne says that those batteries will keep the NB-230 charged for up to four hours, and that is about what I achieved while testing the unit. That means that using this speaker away from home could get costly and that battery life is about half that found on smaller models from the competition.What the NB-230 lacks in portability it more than makes up for in sound quality, however. Because of its size, this speaker can out class most of its competitors in terms of volume without even breaking a sweat. But the two high-quality, 3-inch speakers that Nyne integrated into this device also do an excellent job of replicating a full range of sound. The mid- and high-range elements of your music will shine through distinctly on the NB-230, coming through with surprising clarity. Bass lovers will be more than satisfied with this device as well, as this speaker can deliver a thump that will remind you of your old boombox. I put the NB-230 through its paces using a variety of classic rock, pop, classical music and even podcasts and in all cases it performed admirably.

Nyne NB-230 Bluetooth SpeakerConnecting an iPad, iPhone or other Bluetooth enabled device to the NB-230 couldn’t be simpler. Holding down a dedicated Bluetooth button on the speaker places it in pairing mode and then you simply select it as an alternate audio source from whatever gadget you want to play music from. After a few seconds, the two devices will connect and all audio will begin playing directly from the NB-230’s speakers. Having wireless audio available at all times has gotten to be kind of second nature these days, but it really is nice to have the ability to send your favorite music to a powerful, high-quality audio system from across the room without ever having to get out of your easy chair. For those devices that don’t have Bluetooth functionality built in, the NB-230 also has an audio jack that allows you to plug a device in directly. While it is nice to have this option for use in a pinch, it does diminish the fun of having a wireless speaker system to a degree.

I was also impressed with how well the NB-230 performed as a speakerphone. This is a common feature on other Bluetooth speakers as well, but the size of Nyne’s offering aids it once again in this category as the large speakers enhanced the experience nicely. When paired with a smartphone, incoming calls can actually be picked up directly from the NB-230 itself and a built-in mic makes two-way communication a seamless affair. It performed so well, in fact, that most people I talked to using this speaker couldn’t tell I wasn’t on my phone directly. It even works great in conference calls situations, as the NB-230 can be placed at the center of a table, facilitating a conversation with numerous people in one room.

In terms of design, the NB-230 has nice clean lines that make it a natural fit for just about any environment. It looks just as good in an office as it does your living room or bedroom. It has a sleek, classic look about it that is modern without seeming too trendy. If you purchase one of these speakers, you can rest assured that it’ll still look as contemporary in five years as it does today. That isn’t always an easy thing to pull off on any electronic device.

If you’re looking for a portable Bluetooth speaker to take with you when you travel, the Nyne NB-230 probably isn’t the best option for that situation. Its larger size makes it tough to lug along on any trip that involves getting on an airplane. On the other hand, if you want an excellent wireless audio system for around home, and occasional use elsewhere, this is a fantastic option. It has excellent sound quality across the entire audio spectrum and it can pump out the tunes with plenty of volume. On top of that, it serves as an excellent speakerphone, which comes in surprisingly handy in a number of situations.

The Nyne NB-230 carries a price tag of $129.95, which makes it very competitive with similar devices from other manufacturers, most of which don’t deliver the level of sound quality that you’ll find here.

Gadling Gear Review: ContourROAM 2 Action Camera

The ContourROAM 2 action camOne of the fastest growing segments of the consumer electronics market over the past couple of years has been in the action camera category. These small, super-durable video cameras are used to capture footage of everything from family vacations to the latest crazy extreme sport. The leader in this burgeoning market is clearly GoPro, a company whose name has become synonymous with the term “action camera.” But there are alternatives for the aspiring filmmaker who is looking for a high quality, fully featured cam that won’t break the bank.

One such alternative is the ContourROAM 2 from Contour. This unique and rugged camera has all the tech specs you would expect out of any action cam all wrapped up in a lightweight metal body that is designed to absorb all the punishment you can throw at it. The ROAM 2 features a 5 mega-pixel sensor for capturing solid, if not outstanding, still photos and it even includes a time-lapse mode to snap shots at a variety of predetermined intervals. But you don’t buy this type of camera to take still photos, as shooting video is where it truly excels. Contour has given the ROAM 2 the ability to capture video in full 1080p at 30 fps or 720p at 60 fps. A third, intermediate mode, shoots video in a resolution of 1280 x 960 at 30 fps as well, giving users a happy middle ground in terms of image quality and file size.

The ContourROAM 2 is far more than just a collection of video resolutions, however. The camera also features a custom glass lens that shoots in a wide 170° angle and can rotate up to 270° to catch just the right shot, even while mounted on a helmet, bike or other stationary point. The camera uses MicroSD cards to record the captured footage and Contour includes a 4 GB card in the box. That’s enough storage to get you up and running, but you’ll definitely want to invest in higher capacity cards when you get serious about using this device. The ROAM 2 supports memory cards up to 32 GB in size, which is enough to hold about five hours of footage when shot at the camera’s highest resolution.

The ROAM 2 is so simple to use that it is pretty much the epitome of “point and shoot.” A single switch on the top of the camera powers the device on and toggles it into video recording mode. The device is quick to start up and it rarely misses any of the shots you’re trying to capture, which is especially helpful when you’re taking part in fast paced activities or when faced with the opportunity to record an event that is fleeting. I was continually impressed with how quickly this camera was to power up and begin capturing what ever it was I was pointing it at.

Unlike most traditional consumer video cameras, action cams don’t always come with an LCD screen to help you see what it is you’re actually shooting. Because these cameras are often mounted on a mountain bike or snowboard helmet, such a screen is not all that useful to begin with. Contour has come up with a clever solution to help us shoot just the right scenes, however, as the ROAM 2 has a built-in laser that comes in handy for making sure our shots are level and that we’re actually aiming the camera in the right direction. It doesn’t completely replace a viewfinder but it is an effective approach none the less – particularly when the camera is actually mounted on something and not actually in our hands. Contour’s upscale model, the Contour+ 2 also ships without a built-in screen but it gives users the option to connect to a smartphone via an app, which then can serve as a remote display screen. This alleviates the issue of not having a screen in a very innovative way.

ContourROAM 2 action cameraWhile simplicity is one of the ROAM 2’s greatest strengths it also presents some challenges too. For instance, since it doesn’t have a built in screen of any type, users don’t have quick and easy access to configuration menus either. Instead, the camera must be attached to a computer to update various mode settings. That can be problematic when heading out into the field, as you’ll either have to lug a laptop along with you or keep the camera configuration the same the entire time you’re using it. Considering the fact that there are so few settings to choose from, this may not seem like a big deal, but if you decide to switch down from a resolution of 1080p to 720p to save memory card storage space, you’ll first need to connect the camera to a computer. Again, the more expensive Contour+ 2 gets around this issue by allowing the user to adjust settings via the mobile app.

The ROAM 2 ships with two different mounts that can allow the user to attach the camera to a variety of surfaces. The profile mount is perfect for attaching the camera to the side of a helmet for capturing footage while rock climbing, snowboarding, mountain biking or just about any other activity. Alternatively, the rotating flat surface mount serves as a do-it-all option for just about any other type of surface. Both of these mounts feel a bit flimsy but manage to get the job done surprisingly well. Contour also offers a wide variety of other options for just about every users needs, including specialized mounts for your handlebars, the dash of your car, a headband and many more. Each of those mounts allows you to capture high-quality footage from a relatively stable platform, often from unique perspectives.

I was impressed with how solid and durable the Roam 2 feels in your hands. Contour has built this cam to stand up to a lot of punishment, which is necessary for any action cam to actually try to compete in this increasingly crowded market space. This camera is even waterproof up to a depth of 1 meter, which may not sound like a lot, but it does provide good piece of mind in wet environments and allows the user to capture some underwater shots without the need for an extra case. That is provided they don’t go particularly deep on their aquatic adventures. If you’re a scuba diver however, you’ll certainly want to invest in a decent case if you want to use your ROAM 2 in deeper water.

Of course, all of these features and functionality doesn’t amount to much if the camera doesn’t shoot good video footage. Fortunately, the ROAM 2 delivers in that department as well, capturing crisp, clean images that look great at every level of resolution. For a sample of what this camera is capable of, check out the video below.

Audio is a bit more of a mixed bag. The internal mic does an adequate job of capturing voices and other ambient noises, but add a little wind to the mix and things start to get a lot more muddled. Once again, the more expensive Contour+ 2 can alleviate the issue to a degree as it includes the ability to attach an external mic. That improves sound quality greatly and it would have been a nice addition on the ROAM 2 as well.

For amateur filmmakers, the ContourROAM 2 video camera is an excellent entry-level product. It delivers great visuals and performs well in all kinds of difficult conditions. On top of that, it is built to withstand just about any kind of punishment that you can dole out. Its rechargeable battery is good for about 3.5 hours of shooting time, which is excellent for this type of camera, and all of the extras that are included in the box (memory card, two mounts, etc.) make it a bargain at $199.99. It is even available in four different colors for those who want to add a little character to their device. In contrast, the Contour+ 2 that I mentioned several times in this article costs twice as much, but does offer a lot more functionality and comes with built-in GPS capabilities, a waterproof case and even the ability to live-stream directly to the Internet. That camera is aimed at the more advanced user, but packs great value as well.

Either way, I think you’ll be impressed with what Contour has brought to the table here. They may not have the same name recognition of someone like GoPro, but their cameras are fantastic alternatives and do some things that even the competition can’t. If you’re looking for a quality action camera to capture your own adventures, it is extremely tough to beat the ROAM 2 – especially at the same price point.

[Photo Credits: Contour]

Gadling Gear Review: Goal Zero Sherpa 50 Solar Charging Kit

Goal Zero Sherpa 50 solar charing kitLet’s face it; in the modern era of travel most of us rarely hit the road without a slew of gadgets in tow. Smartphones, tablets, digital cameras and a host of other devices have all made travel simpler and more enjoyable than ever before. But keeping the batteries on all of those items fully charged can be a real challenge, especially when traveling through remote locations. Fortunately, there have been some excellent advances in solar charging, which have made gathering energy from the sun a more viable way to power our devices while on the go. The most impressive of those options that I’ve seen so far is the new Sherpa 50 charging kit from Goal Zero, a system that is so powerful that it can even charge your laptop.

At the heart of this kit is Goal Zero’s excellent Nomad 13 solar panel, so named for its ability to generate up to 13 watts of power, and the Sherpa 50 Recharger pack. The two work in tandem to provide an excellent on-the-go charging system for just about any device you could possibly carry with you on your travels. Both are durable, compact and lightweight, so they won’t take up too much room in your pack either. Together they tip the scales at just 2.7 pounds, which isn’t much when you consider how useful this kit can be.

The Nomad 13 solar panel folds open to collect as much of the sun’s rays as possible and can either directly charge a device from its built-in USB port or store energy in the Sherpa 50’s internal battery, which is capable of holding up to 50 watt hours. Charging times depend greatly on the amount of available sunlight but one of the strengths of the panel is that it is capable of drawing power even on overcast days. In bright sunlight the Nomad 13 can fully charge the Sherpa 50 in as little as five hours, but in the real world, however, it only operates that quickly under the most optimal of conditions. It is more realistic to expect a seven to eight hour charge time under normal circumstances, and on cloudy days it could take as much as 12 hours or more. The Sherpa 50 can also be charged in as little as three hours via a wall outlet, which is convenient for having it ready to go before you ever leave home.Once its internal battery is charged, the Sherpa 50 becomes a portable generator that provides plenty of power for all of your gadgets. It features multiple built-in ports for plugging in all manner of devices, including both a USB port and two 12V ports similar to what you find in a car. Goal Zero also offers an AC inverter for the Sherpa 50 that actually adds a standard wall outlet to the mix. The inverter was included in the test unit I was provided, although it is an additional $50 add-on if you purchase the Sherpa 50 as an individual component and not as part of a kit. It is well worth the extra cost, however, as it greatly extends the usefulness of the battery pack. With the inverter included with the Sherpa 50 you can quite literally charge or operate just about anything powered by electricity.

A fully charged Sherpa 50 is capable of recharging most smartphones seven to eight times and a tablet such as an iPad twice. It will even fully recharge a laptop via the AC inverter or a special 12V adapter one time before needing to be topped off by the sun once again. When plugged into the inverter, my MacBook Air charged quickly and efficiently and the Sherpa 50 still had a little juice left in the tank when it was done. I found that to be pretty impressive, as it meant I could still power up a couple of other devices before needing to recharge the Sherpa itself.

Goal Zero Sherpa 50 battery packGoal Zero has created an efficient, easy to use solar charging kit that a lot of people are going to really like. Backpackers, campers, mountaineers, sailors and other outdoor adventurers will definitely want to add the Sherpa 50 kit to their mandatory gear list before heading out to explore the world. The system is perfect for keeping satellite phones, GPS devices, rechargeable headlamps, camera equipment and other items running even when you are hundreds of miles from the closest power source. And if you want to shed a little weight, both the Nomad 13 and the Sherpa 50 are perfectly capable of providing useful services on their own, although the battery pack could become dead weight without a way to keep it charged.

As much as I like this kit there are a few improvements I wouldn’t mind seeing being made to future iterations. For instance, I was annoyed that the Sherpa 50 only had one USB port built in, as there are a lot of items that I carry with me that charge via USB and it would have been nice to charge two of them at a time. I got around this limitation by adding a USB 12V adapter to the mix, but that was just another small item that I needed to keep track of while on the road. Additionally, the USB port that is built into the Nomad 13 solar panel only puts out 1 amp of power, which is fine for many devices but isn’t enough for an iPad or even an iPhone 5. It would be nice if you could simply plug those devices directly into the solar panel itself, but they just won’t charge directly, even if the Nomad is in bright sunlight. The problem isn’t with the panel but the low powered USB port, so hopefully future models will be able to correct this issue.

The other element of the kit that I would like to see improved is more design related. While its weight is only 2.7 pounds, that can still be a significant amount to add to your pack when you’re wanting to travel light. Hopefully future versions of the Sherpa 50 kit can find ways to reduce the weight further, while still managing to keep performance high. This is less of a criticism than it is wishful thinking though, as it wasn’t all that long ago that we would have thought it impossible to have this kind of solar charging option in such a compact package.

As someone who has really come to appreciate having good travel gadgets with rechargeable batteries, I find the Sherpa 50 to be an amazing product. It works well, is simple to set up and it delivers on Goal Zero’s promise of free energy from the sun. I liked this kit so much, in fact, that when I had to return the review unit after I was finished testing it I immediately went shopping for one for myself. I don’t want to get caught without one the next time I head out on a big adventure, as I think it is going to make life much easier.

[Photo Credits: Goal Zero]