Review: The Cricut Explore Is Not Just for Scrapbookers

Cricut Explore Screenshot 1
Screenshot by Jackie Reeve. All images and screenshots in this post by Jackie Reeve.

Man, I fought the label of “scrapbooker.” It just called up so many images of die-cut paper embellishments, instantly-dated family photos set on thematic paper, and ladies in mom jeans sitting around a kitchen table with mountains of shaped hole punches around them.

I was so wrong.

I didn’t realize right away when I was becoming a scrapbooker. Sure, my husband raised his eyebrows when I started amassing shelves full of decorative papers (“I need these for my school bulletin boards!”). And I was in denial when the craft store shelves of hole punches and scalloped scissors called out to me.

It wasn’t until I bought my first Cricut, the original model hot off the presses, that I finally had to admit what I was. A lover of paper crafts. A collector of scrapbook supplies. A die-cut addict. I may have told people that I needed these supplies for my teaching job, but I knew the truth. When I was pregnant and planning my daughter’s baby book (Project Life for the win!), stocking up on Cricut cartridges with coupons, I could hide it no longer.

I. Am. A. Scrapbooker.

So when the chance came to try out the new Cricut Explore, I jumped on it. And I will state here emphatically and for the record that the Cricut Explore is amazing.

It’s also not just for scrapbookers.

I used one of the prefab projects to make thank you cards for my daughter’s birthday party.

Cricut Explore thank yous
Cricut Explore thank yous

The Explore has space for a blade and a marker, side by side, so you can have the machine write something and/or cut something without swapping out the blade for a marker. Just remember to put the cap back on the marker for storage.

New blades specifically for the Explore will be available July 1st. Any blades will work in the machine, and the deep-cut blades in particular have not been changed for this new model.

Explore cutting
Explore cutting

The most impressive new feature of the Cricut Explore is the Cricut Design Space software. Since retiring the Cricut Design Studio software last year, there hasn’t really been a way to customize and design Cricut projects using up-to-date cartridges and images. Access to Cricut Design Space is free and included with the purchase of the Cricut Explore, and it’s a web space rather than a download or disc install to your computer (thank goodness).

All Cricut images are available digitally now, and with a slight learning curve (and some tutorials), you can use the software to layout images, select colors and materials, and send those images straight to your Cricut Explore for cutting.

Design Space screenshot
Cricut Design Space

The Design Space still doesn’t allow you to draw and create digital images directly, but you can upload any image (within certain file formats), clean it up in Cricut Design Space, and cut it out. The GeekMom logo in the image at the top? This is what it looked like when I translated to the Cricut Design Space.

GeekMom logo Cricut

I could have fiddled around more with the dual colors in the logo, maybe cutting one side out and using the letters with negative space for the other side. But for the sake of a single, usable cutout, I decided that this got the message across. And then I put it on my iPad mini.

GeekMom iPad decal
GeekMom iPad decal

The Explore can cut images up to 12″ by 24″. The mat that comes with the machine is 12″ x 12″ (there are always those extras to buy, right?). But it is incredibly cool to think so much bigger than the 6″ x 12″ cutting size of the original Cricut (or the Cricut Mini). I know the cutting size was updated with later models, but if you’re anything like me you don’t spring for every upgrade. I have been cutting tiny all these years, and now it’s like I’m a new person.

The cutting process has also been streamlined. Rather than figuring out how to set your Cricut blade based on the material you’re using, the Explore has an easy dial with preset materials (paper, vinyl, cardstock, fabric, etc.).

You no longer need to use the clunky, expensive cartridges, either. In fact, with cartridge linking you can plug in your cartridges, sync them with your Cricut Design Space library, and then forget them. You’ll have access to those images digitally, forever. 

You can also choose to subscribe to the entire image library (25,000 images) for $9.99 a month, or you can buy single images for $.99. This is amazing to me, because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought an entire cartridge for one or two images that I really needed (okay fine, wanted).

Cricut Explore cutting
Cricut Explore cutting

It’s a small detail, but I loved that the vinyl setting knew to cut my silver vinyl (one of a handful of materials that comes in the box to try out) without cutting through the backing paper for the vinyl. So you peel the entire sheet of vinyl off of the cutting mat, and then you can peel the cutout off of the backing paper (same with t-shirt transfers and any other adhesive material).

Explore vinyl cutout
Explore vinyl cutout

I’ve destroyed so many delicate cutouts by scraping them off of the cutting mat, that I did a happy dance when I realized how this worked. I decorated my iPad mini.

Explore iPad mini decals
Explore iPad mini decals

And I decided that the Cricut Explore itself needed a little something extra.

Explore decal
Explore decal

I will be ordering other colors of vinyl (my silver laptop looks so bare now) and playing around with all of the customizable goodies. There are so many project possibilities that I haven’t even used it for scrapbooking yet.

This is definitely a luxury item for crafters. The machine is pricey at $300, but it packs a big, crafty punch.

GeekMom received a Cricut Explore for review purposes. 

Explore Space With LittleBits

Image from

This week littleBits announced the results of their partnership with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center when they announced the latest in their line of product kits. The littleBits Space Kit for Earth and space science explorers contains powerful electronic modules, coupled with projects and activities designed by NASA scientists and engineers.

“With the days old discovery of earth-like planet Kepler-186f, SpaceX’s successful docking at the International Space Station, recent evidence of the Big Bang, and the introduction of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new Cosmos documentary, space is more than ever at the center of the cultural conversation,” said Ayah Bdeir, littleBits founder and CEO. “Yet our relationship to space remains distant. With the littleBits Space Kit, we aim to bring space closer to home by putting the building blocks to invent, learn and explore directly into the hands of educators, students, NASA enthusiasts and builders of all ages.”

Founded in 2011, Ayah Bdeir created littleBits with one sole mission, to turn everyone into an inventor by putting the power of electronics in the hands of everyone. LittleBits breaks down complicated electronics into powerful modules to make it easier to “play” with the electronic components without worrying about soldering or wiring. The Space Kit added an additional three modules to the littleBits product line, an IR LED, number counter, and a remote trigger.

I’ll admit when I opened the box I was surprised that these 12 tiny pieces could create the advertised rovers, satellites, and radar dishes that were described in the five lesson plans and ten hands on projects.  Boy, was I pleasantly surprised!

Having studied electronics in college, I am very familiar with the amount of work that goes into planning a circuit and time that it takes to create a working project.  However, within minutes of opening the box I was able to light LEDs, play MP3s, and play with waveforms.  The Space Kit lessons are specifically designed to teach scientific principles such as electromagnetic, kinetic, & potential energy. As a STEM educator, I thought the ease of use was unparalleled. Each module is completely contained and modules connect via metal magnets that act as connectors between circuits. I had a friend’s ten-year-old daughter come over and she was able to follow the carefully designed lesson plans and blissfully play with the set as you can see in the video below, playing with sound wave forms.  She loved it!

As impressed as I am with this kit, learning that it retails for $189 really surprised me. The only thing that stopped me from buying this, and every other littleBits kit, is that high price point. For less than the price of a single littleBits Space Kit you can buy a massive educational kit from a comparable modular circuits company with more than 80 pieces and close to 175 written lessons.

Image by Helene McLaughlin

For more information and to purchase the littleBits Space Kit visit:

Microsoft: OneDrive, OneNote, Snazzy New Hardware, and More

Image: Microsoft
Image: Microsoft

Microsoft has made a couple of changes in recent months. One, they’ve changed the name of SkyDrive to OneDrive. Not a big deal, and the new name makes about as much sense as the last one. Two—and this one is very exciting to me—they’ve made OneNote free. Entirely free. Not just the app for your phone, but the stand-alone, desktop application. And it’s available for Mac, too.


I’ve been an Evernote lover for many years, but I always ended up using it as a disorganized receptacle for information. Finding what I needed took longer than just re-searching Google. I always wanted to try OneNote, but often had such outdated Office applications that I was worried I would trap my information in an obsolete application.

I’m very pleased that this is no longer a concern, and I’ve started making myself at home in OneNote. I’m organizing homeschooling for next year (and beyond—my daughter starts high school grades in another year!), our wedding plans, household concerns, writing projects, and more. I find that the way OneNote is organized fits really well with the way I think. The layout and the colors make organizing a breeze. For the type of people who love to browse the aisles of their local office supply store, OneNote is a fun tool.

Image: Dell
Image: Dell

Dell XPS 15

On to some really great new-ish Windows 8.1 hardware. I’ve gotten to evaluate a Dell XPS 15, which is the first true laptop on which I’ve ever gotten a chance to make myself at home. I’ve had netbooks and a light duty notebook, but mostly I’m a desktop computer kind of gal. The XPS has a lovely rubbery matte texture to the typing surface, and there is just enough key travel for typing comfort. The typeface on the keys is a bit unusual and took some getting used to. It reminds me of vintage space age stuff—not quite OMNI Magazine, but close. The machine is a large size, but not too heavy. The Corning glass screen is crystal clear.

The Dell doesn’t have an optical drive, but it does everything else that one would need in a computer. I’ve put it through its paces, and it handles everything beautifully, except when I try to play Guild Wars 2 on it for more than a half hour. That kind of use taxes the processor a bit too much, and the cooling system can’t quite keep up. Otherwise I heartily recommend the Dell XPS 15 as a great Windows 8.1 machine. If you don’t need a built-in optical drive or a gaming-capable processor, it could even be your only machine. Here are a few basic specs of the machine I have:

  • Touch screen with Corning Gorilla Glass NBT
  • Machined aluminum and carbon fiber
  • 15.6″ full HD display (1920×1080)
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Starts at 4.44 lbs
  • Intel Core i5 processor

For the different specification options for the Dell XPS 15, I recommend you visit the Dell website.

Image: Microsoft
Image: Microsoft

Windows 8.1

From my personal experience with Windows operating systems over the last 24 years (since Windows 3.0), it’s had its ups (e.g., XP) and its downs (e.g., Vista, which I was fortunate enough to avoid). But I’ve been extremely happy overall with Windows 8 and 8.1. I still don’t like how it handles searching—it’s always extremely hard to find what I’m looking for—but everything else works like a dream.

Windows 8+ has also had one notable effect on me: I now treat every screen like a touch screen. My tablets (see my earlier GeekMom post about the Windows 8.1 tablet) and Windows 8.1 laptop have touch screens, so when I’m helping my daughter with something on her old Mac, I keep reaching for her screen to scroll. Obviously, that doesn’t work.

I’m sure society is going in the direction of mostly touch screens because they are so darn useful. Touch screens aren’t quite as useful with a desktop machine, but when multiple people are crowding around something, or if there is no keyboard (like on a tablet), it just makes sense.

Note: As part of the Windows Champions program, I have been loaned Windows 8.1 devices for the purpose of these reviews. The views expressed in these reviews are my honest opinions about the hardware and software involved.

Color Cables: Glow-in-the-Dark, Device-Charging Convenience

Color Cables are bright, effective, and glow in the dark! Image: Patricia Vollmer.
Color Cables are bright, effective, and glow in the dark! Image: Patricia Vollmer.

Are you sick of the same, plain, black and white mobile device charging cables? Those kind that get tangled and wadded up in your bag? Or the connector/cable junction gets all frayed and ratty? Well, lament no more! Check out Color Cables for a great alternative to those standard, boring cables.

I had the chance to review Color Cables, a brand new charging and sync cable startup that’s currently at the tail end of an IndieGoGo campaign. I think our faithful GeekMom readers would agree with me when I say that a glow-in-the-dark charging cable option is a really cool idea, and considering it doesn’t cost any differently than standard quality cables, what’s there to lose?

The company was gracious enough to send me three Color Cables: an orange 6-foot Apple Lightning cable, a pink 3-foot MicroUSB cable (compatible with Blackberry, Kindle, Samsung, and Windows Phone devices), and a blue 3-foot Apple 30-pin cable.

What Comes in the Box

  • One Color Cable in your choice of color
  • A coupon for 25 percent off your next purchase


The cable works just like the factory cable that came with your device, except it's bright and cheerful! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Waflles, anyone? The cable works just like the factory cable that came with your device, except it’s bright and cheerful! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

I’m not going to waste your time talking about how to use a charging cable. You simply plug it in, right? The Color Cables are only USB at the power end. If you want to connect to an AC power outlet, you need to dig out that plug from your Samsung or Apple box. Otherwise, feel free to plug it into your computer or USB outlet for the same use.

I used the Lightning cable with my new iPhone 5s, the MicroUSB cable with my Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and my sons’ Kindle Fires, and the Apple 30-pin cable with my iPad 2.

These cables are flat. I can’t say with certainty what benefits there are to flat cables in terms of its ability to charge, but I do know that it’s much more difficult to inadvertently tie the cable in knots.

This close up will show you the translucent glow-in-the-dark plastic coating. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
This close-up will show you the translucent glow-in-the-dark plastic coating. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Charging speeds seem to be comparable to the devices’ factory cables, and in the past month, I’ve not had any problems with the charge starting up as soon as plug in the cables.

Glow in the Dark Feature

These cables are covered in a glow-in-the-dark plastic coating. This gives the cables more durability.

I wasn’t able to photograph the cable glowing in my dark half-bathroom, but trust me when I say that the glowing cables are indeed pretty bright, so long as they’ve been exposed to enough light to “charge” them. The instructions on the box suggest at least 30 minutes in direct sunlight for best results.

While the glow-in-the-dark feature is novel, don’t expect enough light to emanate from it to help you find the charging port on your device if you’re trying to charge your eReader after a late night of reading. Frankly, I don’t need the glow-in-the-dark feature, but I do appreciate the reinforcement it provides to the cable.


This past month of using exclusively Color Cables, I’ve been quite happy. While I don’t necessarily need the glow-in-the-dark feature, it does help make the cables more durable.

You can buy the 30-pin Apple and MicroUSB Color Cables through their website, starting at $14.99. However, if you take part in the IndieGoGo campaign, for as little as a $9 contribution, you can have your own Color Cable shipped later this month, including the Apple Lightning cable. Keep up with the company on Facebook or Twitter for product updates.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Text and Make Phone Calls for Free With Scratch Wireless

Image: Scratch Wireless
Image: Scratch Wireless

My kids are 9 and 12 and don’t really need cell phones yet, especially since they aren’t doing anything like walking home from school alone (we homeschool). But my daughter ended up with one a couple of years ago when we were left with an extra phone number after we cut our landline. She mostly uses it to text. My son has felt a little left out recently, being the only person in the family without their own phone, but there isn’t any room in the budget for another monthly bill. Problem, meet solution.

Scratch Wireless offers an Android phone that has free texting anywhere, and free voice and data when you’re on WiFi. I got the chance to review one recently. Scratch sent me a Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE to try out on their Scratch Wireless system. It’s got a slide cover to access the very nice, backlit QWERTY keyboard, a touch screen, dual cameras, and plenty of other goodies. It has everything you would expect from an Android smartphone, but with no contracts, no ads, and no monthly fees at all. None.

Scratch Wireless new_logo

The Important Bits

You can try the phone risk-free for 30 days. You get free unlimited texting, over both WiFi and cell networks. You get unlimited free voice and data over WiFi networks, with the option to buy voice or data access passes.

And that’s it. Simple? Yes.

So What’s It Like?

It’s very easy to set up the phone, so you can start using it right away. No waiting for activation. They will give you a phone number or you can keep your old number, if you prefer. The number that came assigned to mine appears to be based in Cambridge, Massachusetts (617 area code), so it’s pretty location independent. (I live in Arizona.) The idea that your phone exchange, not to mention area code, no longer matters still dazzles me. Gone are the days of changing your phone number when you move to a new house across town. But I digress.

Using an Android phone is very unintuitive to me, being used to iOS, but it only took a few days to get used to. The company also offers plenty of help and once I signed up for an account, I got an email with links to more help including videos about how to send texts and such.

The quality of phone calls is okay. There is a distinct delay between when the person says something and when it comes across the phone, longer than for cell-to-cell calls. But it isn’t long enough to be a problem. It wasn’t anything like when I used to talk on a landline to my dad when he was working on the other side of the planet. Also, the person on the Scratch phone talking to a cell phone hears a pretty consistently clear sound, but the person on the cell phone talking to the Scratch phone on WiFi hears gaps in the sound sometimes, which knock off parts of words. I’ve never been pleased with cell reception anyway, so this is just another small inconvenience.

You do need to sign into your Google account to access a lot of the features, such as downloading apps through Google Play, etc., but that is standard with an Android. It just allows Google to permeate more of your life than Apple does on my iOS phone, which doesn’t please me.

When you hook the Scratch phone up to your computer, the phone installs a Motorola interface on your computer to move things like movies and music around, though you can also treat it like a digital camera to move photos from the DCIM folder.

Image: Scratch Wireless
Image: Scratch Wireless

What If You Need to Make Calls from Anywhere?

If you need to connect to a cell network to make calls or use data, you can buy a pass for as little as $1.99 for a 24-hour pass (choose data or voice). This is good for up to 25MB of data or up to 30 minutes of cellular calling. Alternately, you could spend $14.99 for a month-long pass. This covers 200MB for the data pass and 250 minutes for the voice pass. I wish Scratch had an all-in-one pass that included both voice and data, but maybe they will in the future. Regardless, there is no contract, no obligation, and you can buy the passes whenever you want.

Who Is It For?

Obviously, without a pass, phone calls don’t work when not in WiFi areas, so gauge your needs accordingly. But for many folks, a Scratch Wireless phone could be their only phone. And for others, it’s a great second phone or one to give your younger kids. You still end up with more connectivity than an old landline would give you. Also, you’re in WiFi areas more often than you may think. Scratch Wireless made a helpful infographic to show you just how often you could be making free calls with their phone.

Other than the unique access restrictions, a Scratch phone works just like any other Android smartphone. And it costs only $269. That’s a pretty good deal if you don’t need constant voice or data when on the go or if you prefer to have a one-time expense than a constant monthly charge.

If these particular restrictions are compatible with your phone needs, Scratch Wireless is a really good option for you. I am extremely happy with how it fills our family needs.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Product Review: id America TouchTone Bluetooth Speaker

Image: id America.

Hey—who remembers “Touch Tone” phone service? No, this Bluetooth speaker is not related to the phone service.

For those who might not remember, once upon a time you had to pay your telephone company extra to quickly dial a phone number. This was a function of signal technology evolving, reminiscent of paying extra for 4G cell phone service. That capability was called “Touch Tone” service. Today most of us in the first world don’t really need to worry about Touch Tone service or its alternative, “pulse dialing.” Therefore, electronics accessory retailer id America is able to take advantage of using the term for a completely different kind of product: a compact wireless Bluetooth speaker.

The id America TouchTone Bluetooth wireless speaker is a great value for the price. At a MSRP of only $79.99, it provides capable sound anywhere you want without draining your bank account. Unlike the other Bluetooth speakers I have reviewed, the TouchTone talks to you! In other words, it will say “Bluetooth Pairing”, “Bluetooth Paired”, and “Line In” as you choose your mode.

Read on for my thoughts on the TouchTone.

What Comes in the Box

  • TouchTone speaker, 5″W x 3.5″L x 2.5″H
  • 12″ MicroUSB charging/power cable
  • 12″ 3.5mm line-in auxiliary cable for hard-wired device connection
  • Faux suede carrying bag
  • Instruction booklet

Setup, Use, and Special Features

If you’ve used other Bluetooth speakers, pairing is very easy. There’s a press-button power switch on the back that will put the speaker immediately into Bluetooth pairing mode as soon as its turned on. Hold down the power button till you hear “Bluetooth Pairing.” Go through your device to pair the speaker (look for the “TOUCHTONE” in your device’s Bluetooth settings). No PIN was required for any of the devices I attempted to connect.

As mentioned above, perhaps because there are no visible indications on the speaker itself, when you hit the “Mode” button on the top of the speaker, a voice will indicate which mode you’re in: Bluetooth Pairing, Bluetooth Paired, or Line In. This is definitely unique, I’ve not heard of a Bluetooth speaker that speaks to me that way.

The speaker has controls right on top, and they’re conveniently illuminated when the speaker is powered up. While the “mode”, “forward”, “backward”, and “play/pause/answer the phone” buttons are obvious, the volume is not. Rotate your finger around the circle on top clockwise to turn up the volume, counterclockwise to turn down the volume. The controls are flush with the top surface of the speaker. In fact, I was able to control the volume by merely floating my finger a couple millimeters from the surface.

If you don’t want to use the Bluetooth feature, you can use the 12″ audio cable and hit the “Mode” button to change the device to a “Line In” mode. This also allows you to use non-Bluetooth devices (such as older iPods) with the speaker.

You can also use the TouchTone as a telephone speaker. The play/pause button also functions as a telephone answer/hang up button. Even while music is playing, you can take care of telephone conversations seamlessly. I had no problems with this feature.

The speaker has up to 4 hours of playback time on a single charge. This time will vary depending on volume and whether you are using Bluetooth versus cabled devices. The JBL speakers I had reviewed in the past had greater playback time (albeit for a higher price). This is unfortunate. Also unfortunate is that there’s no way to know when the battery is low. You will hear loud tones within a few minutes of the battery giving out altogether.

Like other Bluetooth devices I have tested, you can expect the standard 33 ft. Bluetooth range with a line of sight between the device and the speaker. This distance will be reduced when separated by a wall or other solid body.

On a completely different note, this speaker comes in a very presentable box. While I have my opinions on the amounts of packaging these products are coming with these days, I have to admit it’s gift-worthy packaging, especially for the price.

Areas of Concern

This speaker gets quite loud. We turned it up all the way with some Black Keys and it is definitely powerful. A good speaker for the beach or picnic, which it will certainly overcome the other background noises in the area. However, we found that the sound quality is very “treble-y” at such loud volumes. The cymbals and clapping in Pherrell Williams’ “Happy” will come through loud and clear. You can make some adjustments with your device (in my case, with the iPhone Music settings), but those are only minor adjustments. “Howlin’ for You” sounded almost as if there was a kazoo in there somewhere, the treble was so pronounced.

The MicroUSB and male-to-male auxiliary cables are each only 12″ long. While I can see that the company is marketing itself on its lightweight, compact features, I found 12″ rather short. Thankfully, the required cables are readily available at longer lengths. If you have an Android, Kindle, or Blackberry device, you can use any MicroUSB charging cable. Similarly, you can find longer auxiliary cables just about anywhere.

Finally, as I’d mentioned before, the battery life is the shortest of all the Bluetooth speakers I have reviewed. Four hours might be enough for a trip to the beach or a picnic, but it won’t be enough for a group of Air Force folks getting together for an evening, I can tell you that. Be prepared to plug it in for the evening.


The id America TouchTone Bluetooth speaker is a fantastic value for the money, with an MSRP of $79.99. It’s a loud, powerful speaker that will serve your needs at a picnic or party (so long as it’s less than 4 hours if you aren’t near a charging source). Also, this is clearly meant for more casual uses; the sound quality get a little wonky at the highest volumes. Even though the included cables are on the short side, the company was smart enough to use MicroUSB connections, which are universally available.

The speaker is available in a rainbow of colors through the id America website, as well as at

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Giveaway: Logitech PowerShell Controller + Battery

Image courtesy of Logitech, used with permission.

Everyone needs a portable cell phone charger. How many of our cell phones have died before we were able to get to a charger? It’s the worst.

And most of us in the GeekMom community would never say “no” to a case that turns our iPhone into a console-style game controller. I have personally been cursed with thumbs that refuse to play nicely with my iPhone, so playing games on it is…tricky.

So here comes Logitech, reading all the things in our hearts and minds. They created the PowerShell Controller + Battery, which lets you play games on your phone with real controller buttons while charging your phone battery at the same time.

Mind. Blown.

The list of iOS 7 games that are compatible with the PowerShell is extensive. LEGO The Lord of the Rings? Scribblenauts Remix and PAC-MAN? Plus the battery will just about double the life of your iPhone’s battery while you’re playing. The PowerShell is compatible with the iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, and iPod Touch (fifth generation), but it is not compatible with the iPhone 5c.

And Logitech is giving away one PowerShell Controller + Battery to a GeekMom reader. To enter our giveaway just login to the Rafflecopter widget below with your Facebook account or email address (use a valid email so we can let you know if you win). You can then like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for up to two entries! If you already like/follow us it will still enter you in the giveaway. A winner will be chosen at random at the end of the contest (March 7th, midnight ET). Their name will be posted right in the Rafflecopter widget in this post, so you can check back to see who won.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: JBL Synchros S700 Headphones Tested with Beastie Boys


Over the past couple months, I’ve had the chance to check out the top of JBL’s newest line of headphones: the Synchros series. With Synchros, JBL is promising a set of high-quality headphones featuring their JBL PureBass sound quality, with the higher-end models featuring JBL’s new patent-pending LiveStage signal processing capability.

I received the JBL Synchros S700 headphones at the end of last year. Family members and I have been using them throughout the house to test its comfort, sound quality, and rechargeability. I was able to compare these headphones with other full-sized over-the-ear headphones, such as the Able Planet Clear Harmony model I had reviewed in 2012, as well as Beats by Dr. Dre Solo headphones. We are very pleased with these headphones, although the price tag (MSRP $349.99) might be off-putting for many. However, if you are a fan of bass in your music, this is the investment for you.

The Synchros S700 sets itself apart from the other Synchros models in that it’s rechargeable. The headphones have a built-in Li-ion battery that will provide the LiveStage signal processing for up to 28 hours of continuous listening. Read on for my impressions of the S700.

What Comes in the Box 

  • Synchros S700 headphones with built-in Li-ion battery
  • Faux-suede clamshell zippered carrying case with velvet interior
  • USB charging cable
  • Universal headphone cable with multi-function controls
  • iOS-specific headphone cable with multi-function controls

The Power Button: What Does it Do?
They’re headphones, so things are pretty straightforward. Put them on and enjoy! Unlike the Beats Solo headphones I used for comparison, you can listen with these headphones without hitting the power switch.

The power button—to turn on the LiveStage signal processing—on these headphones is quietly embedded on the left ear cup. Just depress the round panel with the letters “JBL” until you hear the long solid beep.

The little white light will illuminate when the headphones are powered on. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
The little white light will illuminate when the headphones are powered on. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

The sound capabilities on these headphones probably won’t make much of a different to a lay-user. But I broke out some of my more serious GeekMom-Headphone-Test music to see what’s so special about this particular pair.

My music of choice for this is Beastie Boys. The album is called The Mix Up. The song of choice is titled “Electric Worm.” It’s full of bass. Without the power on, the low pedal tones are sitting in the background…as if it were an afterthought. But when you depress that “JBL” button, the difference is profound! This is not noise-cancelling going on; this is an explosion of bass that will transform the way you listen to your bass-y music.

I did a side-by-side test with this song on the S700s, the Clear Harmony, and the Beats Solo headphones. While everything else about the sound quality between the three was comparable, the S700s will “pull” the bass out significantly better. In fact, this CNET reviewer claims that the S700’s bass is superior to that of the Beats Pro headphones, that company’s highest-end model.

Save the Battery Life. Really.
Unfortunately, most of what I use headphones for does not involve such bass. Therefore, if you’re using these headphones to watch Downton Abbey on without bothering your husband who’s watching Archer in the same room, the LiveStage capability isn’t really going to make a difference.

Speaking of batteries, I have had these headphones in my possession for 2.5 months and still haven’t had the batteries run out on me. I’m sure I’ve had them on for more than 28 hours (the advertised battery lifetime), but I probably only remembered to turn on the power to the headphones about half the time.

If you do hear the low-battery warning beeps, it’s easy to plug the headphones into your nearest USB port for easy charging. I was able to get charging to occur both on my laptop and with a USB-to-A/C adapter. I can’t speak for how long it takes to reach full charge on the headphones, because I haven’t run out of battery yet to take that measurement.

It's in the details. Easy-to-maneuver hinges, aircraft aluminum trim makes these more professional-level. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
It’s in the details. Easy-to-maneuver hinges and aircraft aluminum trim makes these more professional-level. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

No Skimping on Luxury
The fine details to these headphones set it apart from other over-the-ear headphones with comparable sound quality. The super-soft real leather ear cups have made these headphones a pleasure to wear for long periods of time. The lightweight aluminum headpiece and trim makes for a sleek, modern design that seems classier than Beats plastic molding on each of their models, except the “Pro.”

The aluminum headpiece has a cushion on the underside for comfort. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
The aircraft aluminum headpiece has a cushion on the underside for comfort. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Cable Troubles
The S700 comes with two headphone cables: One for iOS devices and the other for “all others.” Both cables worked perfectly well for their purposes. We tested them on the following devices: iPhone, iPad, iPod shuffle, MacBook Pro computer, Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0, and a Dell Zino PC computer. I did the main audio quality testing with my MacBook Pro.

I had numerous concerns with the cable. For starters, it’s shorter than other headphone cables I’ve experienced for higher-priced headphones. At only 50 inches, it’s over a foot shorter than the Able Planet Clear Harmony cable.

Both cables have multi-function buttons on it that allow you to control your music, but on the S700, the controls are rather high-up on the cable, in approximately the same location as on Apple earbuds. Therefore, you can’t see which buttons you’re pressing. You will need to learn by touch which are which.

Finally, as is the case with all high-performance headphones with completely-removable cables, you need to be sure to firmly plug in the cable at both ends. On the S700, this isn’t as obvious as one might think. This caused me some issue last month, when I was excitedly beginning an episode of Sherlock on and didn’t realize one end wasn’t seated all the way. I had the background music, but no dialogue.

Going Soft on the Case
I was very surprised that such expensive, high-quality headphones had a soft-sided case. I do know that comparable models of over-the-ear headphones (Beats Pro, Bose QuietComfort 15) include more rigid cases. I think JBL should rethink this product’s case.

These are very high-end headphones, meant for the true audiophile, sound engineer, and DJ. If you look at the Beats by Dr. Dre “Pro” model, you’ll see similar audio capabilities, design features, and pricing. The sound quality on the Synchros S700 is very good and even with my “layman’s” ears, I could tell the bass qualities are top notch.

However, if you’re like me, listening to music most often when working out or binge watching Doctor Who and Walking Dead episodes in the same room as her sons playing with Lego bricks…well, it probably won’t make a difference.

If you know someone who has discriminating tastes in their audio equipment, the Synchros S700 headphones would make a great gift. If you think you or your loved one doesn’t need such capability, JBL’s full Synchros line includes numerous models of headphones and earbuds to fit every budget and useage choice.

JBL Synchros S700 headphones retail for $349.99 and can be found online at or other electronics retailers, such as Amazon. You can also check out the entire Synchros line here.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Introducing Logitech’s Global Fan Collection

Global Fan Collection_Top View_USA
Global Fan Collection USA mouse, photo courtesy of Logitech. Used with permission.

The Winter Olympics are getting started this weekend in Sochi, and coinciding with the international games the Logitech M317 wireless mouse is getting a makeover.

Logitech announced today that the 14 different designs in the Global Fan Collection are all inspired by flags from around the world.

Global Fan Collection_Angle View_Argentina
Global Fan Collection Argentina mouse. Copyright Logitech, used with permission.

So if you’re really fanatical about showing your national pride everywhere possible, here’s another way to do it. I’m kind of digging Argentina.

These are also some very solid mice. They have Logitech Advanced Optical Tracking for extra precision, and a powerful 2.4 GHz wireless connection. The extended battery life also means you can go up to a year without a battery change.

Global Fan Collection_Top View_Brazil
Global Fan Collection Brazil mouse. Photo courtesy of Logitech, used with permission.

Why not add some patriotic flair to your computer setup? The mice are available for $29.99 on Logitech’s website.

Tablet Computing Has Come a Long Way (Now With Windows 8.1!)

The Lenovo Miix 2 8-inch. Image: Lenovo
The Lenovo Miix 2 8-inch. Image: Lenovo

Tablet computing has come a long way. I remember when the iPad first came out, and everyone was excited about how it would transform how we interact with our devices. For the most part, they were right. I have an iPad 2, and while it’s no longer modern in computing terms, it’s definitely serviceable. Still, it’s just a tablet. I use it as a stand-alone device. It’s definitely no laptop replacement, even on a temporary basis. It doesn’t interact well with my desktop machine. These days, I mostly use it for watching movies and television, and having the kids do educational apps.

I recently had the opportunity to review a new kind of tablet, one that pretty much operates like a desktop computer. But it fits (sort of) in the palm of my hand.

I knew that the Lenovo Miix 2 8-inch would be an interesting Windows 8.1 tablet. What I didn’t know was that its desktop mode ran just like my desktop computer’s. Minus the mouse, it was a little hard to navigate before I changed the settings to make the buttons bigger, but being a touch screen, it is able to make the most of the Windows 8.1 functionality, making it more intuitive and natural than the same OS on a desktop machine.

I have Windows 8.1 on my desktop machine as well, and like it very much. Even though Windows 8 felt a little odd at first, I quickly got used to it, and embraced the Start screen model. But as nice as it is on my desktop, it’s a dream on my new tablet. It feels completely natural, and integrated with all of the tasks.

I use the Start screen apps much more on my tablet than I do on my desktop, since they don’t feel quite as “extra” there. I am also able to use the tablet for the same tasks that I perform on my desktop, using all of the same programs and accessing them as I am used to. While it’s still not a laptop replacement, it has almost all of the functionality of one, and could definitely be all you need to take with you on a short trip.

Even though I’m a long-time iPad & iPhone user, this non-iOS tablet won me over extremely quickly. I was a tad bit skeptical at first, but I had no need to be. Using Windows on a tablet is very smooth, and it’s a seamless transition from the desktop to the tablet, especially with cloud computing. All of the terminology that is used on the tablet refers to it as a “computer,” just as if you were setting up a more powerful machine. And the OS doesn’t feel cut off at the knees, like mobile OSes can.

Windows can run on pretty much anything these days. Image: Microsoft
Windows can run on pretty much anything these days. Image: Microsoft

The built-in keyboard, which you can bring up or stow as needed, is very usable. The keypad portion took some getting used to, but I think I will like it more than the iPad keyboard in time. You can also change the size of the keyboard to accommodate your needs.

Unlike with iOS, you can install Flash on the tablet, and fully use every website that uses it. Installing Flash was easy; it worked just like it does on my computer.

Windows 8.1 feels right at home, like it was meant to be used on a tablet. I’ve used it on a desktop machine without a touch screen, and on a laptop a touch screen. Both are great, useful experiences, but it just feels more natural on a tablet. It is also easier to organize your start screen. The OS still isn’t as intuitive as I’d like; there is still a learning curve. But once you get the hang of it, it’s really responsive.

What’s my assessment?

Using Windows 8.1 on a tablet really is the best of both worlds. It takes advantage of the tablet’s ease of use, and the start screen with all of its apps. But it can also buckle down and work like a regular PC when you want it to. (A Bluetooth keyboard would complete the set.) I am extremely pleased with its functionality and performance. I get full use out of the OS, using the Start screen apps. And because this smaller-than-my-iPad tablet fits in more places, I’m much more likely to use it.

For someone who doesn’t have to have an iPad or iPad Mini (you just can’t talk people out of those—I know that as well as anyone), a Windows 8.1 tablet is a fantastic idea, and the Lenovo Miix 2 8-inch is a great option. At approximately half the price of a comparable iPad Mini, it’s easy to use this along with your regular computer. Rather than feeling like a different device, it feels like an extension of your tethered Windows 8.1 desktop machine, or even your laptop.

And while I have no personal experience with other specific Windows 8.1 tablets, there are many out there with good reviews and reputations. But Lenovo is a solid name in computing, so it’s a good buy.

Pros: If you’re already familiar with Windows 8 or 8.1, there’s no significant learning curve. Plus, you can change the settings so the buttons are easier to tap without having to have baby-sized fingers.

Cons: This Lenovo does take a while to charge, compared with my iDevices. And, even sleeping, its power drains quickly compared to my iDevices. I’ve found no cons to Windows 8.1 so far.

Windows 8.1 is a free upgrade from Windows 8. For me, there aren’t a lot of noticeable differences between the two, but it will give you a Start button back. If you’re buying from scratch, Windows 8.1 costs about $100 or so, depending on the version.

The Lenovo Miix 2 8-inch tablet comes in two models, the 32 GB and the 64 GB. They retail for $299 and $339, respectively, but can be found for less on Amazon.

Note: As part of the Windows Champions program, I have been loaned a Windows 8 device for the purpose of these reviews. The views expressed in these reviews are my honest opinions about the hardware and software involved.

Review: Is nüüd Safe for Your iPad mini?

nuud case for iPad mini from LifeProof. (photo LifeProof)
nuud case for iPad mini from LifeProof. (photo LifeProof)

I’ve never dropped a cellphone or laptop into the toilet, but I have spilled drinks so close to my beloved gadgets that I stopped breathing.

So while I’m not planning to drop my iPad mini into a body of water, offers to protect my tech from my coffee habit have the irresistible sound of protecting me from myself. The LifeProof nüüd case for the iPad mini (retail price $120) suggests that it will keep my mini safe from a life filled with liquids, dirt, snow, and falls. I used it for several months and tested the watertightness. I was not disappointed in its protective claims. Those of you in the Northeast and Midwest may be particularly interested in the claims of snow protection.

The nüüd case is unique in that it offers protection against water while simultaneously offering direct touch access to the iPad’s actual screen. This is achieved by a tight, waterproof gasket that runs around the screen edge–it truly stopped water leakage in my tests. I much preferred touching the screen rather than transferring touch through some intermediary material.

What’s in the Box

– back cover (clear, so iPad’s design shows through)

– front cover (just a frame holding the waterproof gasket)

– shoulder strap, not adjustable

– screen cleaning cloth

– plastic water testing test unit (substitute for iPad mini)

– owner’s manual

– 1-page quick start

– Limited warranty statement (for nüüd only, not for your mini)

Not in the Box, Available Separately for Additional Cost

– Screen cover/stand

– Warranty for non-LifeProof items (for example, your iPad)

– Extra-rugged bumper and float jacket

Features and Experiences

I like to always have a lightweight, low-profile case on my iPad to protect it from drops and scratches. I used the nüüd case on my iPad mini, 24×7, for several months, and I applied it and removed it several times. It comforted me knowing that any liquid demon had to sneak past the nüüd’s gasket. The protection from drops and dust was also welcome (no snow or ice here).

LifeProof says that watertightness is tested at the factory for nüüd cases. The contents of the nüüd box include a testing unit (a plastic unit the size and shape of a mini) so each of us can test our own case on an iPad-like unit. I applied the case to the test unit, closed the ports for the audio and charging, and submerged the case into the bottom of a bucket, weighted down with a coffee cup for the suggested 30 minutes.

I tested like this twice, removing the case and re-applying it in-between. In each case, there were just tiny beads of water at the edge of the gasket and no visible leakage at the ports. Of course, this doesn’t test what happens at greater depths with greater pressures, more agitation, or bumping and fumbling, like dropping over the side of a boat.

LifeProof’s specs say the case protects to a depth of 6.6 feet for up to 60 minutes, and there are stories online of iPads surviving short immersions or splashes. In spite of the waterproof case, I kept mine as dry as possible.

The case adds slightly to the weight (4.64 ounces) and increases the measurements to 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.63 inches.

No one wants their mini to have a bigger footprint but I especially liked the easier grasp that I got with the nüüd– instead of the smooth, slippery glass at the margin of the iPad, I now had a small plastic lip that ensured a good grip. That raised lip also made touching the screen at the very edge difficult because my finger or stylus would bump against the edge of the case. At the same time, that elevated lip protected the screen when lying face down.

There are rubber flaps that work well for sealing and accessing the ports for the audio and charger. The case meant there was extra depth for the connector for my favorite earbuds, which have a bend where the pin meets the cable. An adapter solved the problem, and most connectors have no bend at all.

Rubber buttons on the nüüd transfer presses for volume control, on/off, and orientation. These are not as responsive as the iPad’s own buttons and my sense of touch did not let me mindlessly work controls with the oddly shaped rubber buttons as I do with the iPad native buttons, but they do work.

The sound was good when the case was on, and the camera is covered by an optical glass lens that preserved high fidelity for my snapshots.

Removing the case is a bit of a struggle, requiring a large coin as a twisting lever and quite a bit of torque, but my case worked after being removed and re-applied. The case actually survived removal even though I feared I was breaking it.

In addition to the water protection, LifeProof offers three other “proofs” in the nüüd case: protection against dust/dirt, drops, and snow/ice. The specifications suggest drops of 4 feet are survivable; I dropped mine a couple times from hand-held height on carpeted and hard floors and the case and the iPad survived unscathed.

The LifeProof nüüd case for iPad mini is available in black or white. A separate cover/stand is available, which I was unable to test, but would recommend on principle since otherwise your screen is exposed to the cruel world and the inside of all my tote bags. You also can purchase a float jacket that pops over the edges of the nüüd, like bumper pads, to help it float or survive harsher drops.


The nüüd iPad mini case passed the watertightness test and protected my mini from falls. It was lightweight and made the mini easier to grasp and protected the screen from face-down contacts. I believe it will also offer protection from snow and dust but I did not test for those conditions. I found the edges of the case somewhat awkward when I was touching, tapping, dragging or pinching at the margins of the screen and could not be comfortable with the unprotected screen. Overall, the case was useful as long as the screen wasn’t threatened and I didn’t need to carry a keyboard.

The nüüd iPad mini case is available from LifeProof and other vendors.

Doxie Flip: Scan Your Story

Doxie Flip \ Image Doxie
Doxie Flip \ Image Doxie

I’ve been wanting to digitize my many boxes of 4×6 photos, but sitting at a desk all day scanning is not my idea of fun. When I saw the Doxie Flip, a cordless scanner the size of a book, I saw freedom from hours of sitting at my computer.

Why is it called the Doxie Flip? Because the top of the scanner comes off so as to allow the user to flip it over and scan whatever–including pages of books, notes, objects, and anything else that can fit on the 4×6 flat bed glass. My son and I got creative and tried scanning our hands and faces in a dark room. The results were both funny and creepy.

There are several aspects of the Doxie Flip that I think make it unique.

  • Cordless: There are no wires or connection to a computer required to scan your images. If you would like to convert your images to PDF, you will need to put the SD card in the computer and run the Doxie software.
  • Speed: Doxie Flip scans an image in roughly seven-seconds at 300 dpi (it can scan up to 600 dpi).
  • Economics: For $149.00, the Doxie Flip comes with everything you need, including a 4GB SD card and SD card adapter for your computer.
  • Size: The Doxie Flip is the size of a standard book and weighs in at just over 1lb. This makes it the perfect size to slip into the diaper bag or backpack for on-the-go scanning.

Some people might see an issue with the size of the scanning bed and its lack of being able to digitize 5×7 or larger photos, but the trade off is a smaller device that you can carry pretty much anywhere. To me, that’s worth not being able to scan 5×7 or 8×10 photos (besides, you don’t want to put your desktop scanner completely out of work, do you?).

At the end of the day, I’m very happy with my Doxie Flip and the many things I can scan with it. As a mother and avid film photographer, I couldn’t be happier with both the cost and the freedom the Doxie Flip gives me in getting my photos digitized and organized.

Doxie Flip is $149.00 and is available through Doxie’s website and on Amazon with free two day shipping for Prime members.

Disclaimer: GeekMom received a review sample. 

Getting to Know Romo The iPhone Robot

Romo is a personal robot that uses an iPhone or iPod touch as its brain. Image: Romotive.

The robot revolution is upon us. Whether you want an R2-D2, Dalek,or a Bender is up to your own discretion. However, Romo is an easy, family-friendly way to introduce some of the wee ones to the wonderful world of robots.

Romo is a smartphone-controlled personal robot, which can be found at Brookstone and Amazon. He can’t clean the floors or make fries. Romo is more like a family pet, with none of the mess. He’s also a nifty learning experience, both for the robot and its user.

On the surface, Romo seems a lot like your basic smartphone-based toy. However, as you play with Romo, he’s actually learning. In other words, while it may seem like you’re just playing a few simple games, you’re actually programming. This is called the “training” phase. Romo also has telepresense features. This means you can talk to family members through Romo, whether you’re on the other side of the house or the other side of the world.

Romo. Image: Romotive.

The actual Romo product is just the robot’s base. No batteries are necessary, as it charges up via an included USB cable. However, to make magic with Romo, you’ll have to supply an iPhone or iPod touch. Currently, there are two versions of the Romo: one is compatible with the fourth-gen iPod touch, the iPhone 4 and 4s, while the other works with the fifth-gen iPod touch and the iPhone 5/5C/5S. For testing purposes, I used my trusty iPhone 4.

If you don’t want Romo to suck up all of your iPhone’s battery life, you’ll want to charge it via the aforementioned USB cable. As the base charges, a light will flash on the front. It can take about six hours to get Romo fully charged. Once it’s ready to roam, that light will turn solid and you can expect about 2.5 hours of playtime. While you’re waiting for the device to power up, download and install the free Romo app via the iTunes App Store.

Once everything is ready, secure your iPhone into Romo’s docking station and launch the app. After a little introductory “movie,” you’ll be asked to help Romo train for “his time here on Earth.” This is where the playing/programming comes in, as well as where Romo will start to adapt to all of your surroundings.

Parent company Romotive has said that one of the goals with Romo is to help get kids excited about computer science and software development. Well, mission accomplished. As Romo learned and unlocked features, my 7-year-old son fell in love even more with the little guy he named “Rover.”

At present, Romo has about 12 different “missions,” which can unlock new abilities. These missions vary from getting Romo to react to being picked up to getting the robot to chase a ball. There are options for sound, motion, and even “expressions.” Although the number of missions seems low, each one can take time—which my son certainly didn’t seem to mind one bit!

Of course, Romo isn’t all fun, games, and wacky faces. He can also be used as a security device, which is pretty darn cool. If you’re willing to leave your iDevice docked in Romo while away, you can view your home using the iPhone’s camera. Of course, this does require another iOS device or a computer for the viewing. However, you can also use that second device to control Romo remotely. So not only can you see whether or not the dog is sitting on the couch, you can actually follow Fido around the house to make sure he isn’t eating any shoes or Lego bricks.

Romo is designed to get kids interested in computer programming, software, and robots. Image: Romotive.

As mentioned, you’re going to need two devices to use those features, which may not be doable for a lot of families. And if you think you finally have a use for that old iPhone, think again. See, Romo is sort of fussy about who he plays with. That’s a nice way of me saying that he’s not going to work with your next smartphone, unless you like getting the same old operating system. There’s an iPhone 4/4s Romo and one for the iPhone 5 and the two don’t play nicely with each other. If you want to keep Romo in your rotation, you can expect to spend $149.99 for the upgrade.

It’s also important to note that the telepresence doesn’t work with the iPhone 4. This kept me from checking out those features during my review. It’s something I didn’t notice in the fine print before I agreed to take Romo into my home, so it may be something you’ll miss.

That slight difference could definitely sway your decision. See, Romo is sort of expensive. For $150, I want something to clean my floors. Well, at the very least, I want it to work with my next iPhone. However, Romotive is working on fixes, upgrades, and additional features for the New Year.

When you factor in the security features, Romo is absolutely worth the money. A basic Dropcam video camera has the same MSRP and doesn’t move around the house or teach the kids about the basics of robots and programming. If you’re still clinging to the iPhone 4, the price tag may be a bit more difficult to accept. Still, there’s no arguing with the fact that Romo was insanely popular in this house. My son always lit up at the mere mention of hanging out with “Rover” for the day. His reactions were even better than the ones we programmed into our Romo.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Product Review: Wii Fit U and Wii Fit Meter

Image: Nintendo

My family’s first experience with the Nintendo consoles turned out to be a lot of fun. We tested the Wii U, Wii Fit U, and Wii Fit Meter. We loved the included games, and I ended up liking the Wii Fit Meter much more than I thought I would. One concern below, but overall: Yup! it’s a go.

From Wii Newbies…

We weren’t a Nintendo family. Not a single Nintendo platform in the house. We played our (numerous) games on other platforms.

So when I set out to review the Wii Fit U and Wii Fit Meter, I knew, going in, that Wii had a different philosophy, and was prepared for a bumpy transition.

Instead, we all found it pretty easy to figure out, especially the younger testers. The Wii U comes with a step-by-step setup guide that is clear and helpful, and the platform has a sleek profile. It also comes with new GamePad that allows for play and simultaneous TV watching, as well as a few other features I’ll discuss below. There was, in our case, a lengthy software update, but once we got through that, registering for the Wii U shop gave us a lot of download options*—and I’m excited about all the new games listed for 2014. I’m not the only one. Various members of the family are looking forward to playing a lot of Wii games together, from SuperMario World 3D to Legend of Zelda, Wind Walker (recently reviewed by GeekMom Cathe Post).

*NOTE: There’s a limited-time software trial: If you are interested in the Wii Fit U and already have a Wii U and a balance board, Nintendo is offering a free software trial through January 31, 2014. Best part? If you get and register a Wii Fit U Meter by that time, they say you can keep the Wii Fit U software “forever, at no additional charge.”

… To Wii U Converts

Image: Nintendo

More to the point, the multiplayer options of Wii Fit U mean that I can work out with my daughter—though actually, she calls it playing games, and so do I.

But these are games that get us both up and moving, and we’re having a lot of fun doing that together. It also means that I can get a workout even when the weather is horrible outside, or there’s no school or childcare. And I don’t have to join a gym for the winter. I’m looking forward to playing during the holidays, so I won’t have to do so much fitness catch-up once New Years Day rolls around and reminds me of Resolutions Past.

… Possibly More Than Converts

The whole Wii U setup has my imagination working overtime. I want Nintendo to partner with Dark Horse Comics for a River Tam fight workout, with Marvel for a Superhero challenge, and with Nickelodeon for an Avatar: The Last Airbender balance and motion practice. Seriously—Waterbending? Earthbending? TOTALLY perfect for this system. Nintendo- please get on this? I want to fight like River Tam. And to waterbend. Your system is perfect for that. Hook me up!

Highlights of  Wii Fit U

The Controllers – Balance Pad & Tablet:

What was most impressive for me was the interactivity of the balance pad, the tablet, and the Wii U—specifically all the different ways that Nintendo programmers have figured out how to game the balance pad and the controller. I love it. Luge? Fantastic. Yoga, so perfect. The way the balance pad works with step aerobics and Zumba? Really outstanding. So, Wii U? I’m sold. We’ve unlocked advanced features on a number of games so far, after only a few days, you’ve lured me in with your exergaming. A few things will need to change in our house, for instance, because we didn’t have a Wii before, we realized that we need a Wiimote to do some of the boxing and dance games, but those are coming.

Fit Meter:

photo1.jpgI expected to be annoyed with the Fit Meter—in part because it’s a puck roughly the size of an Oreo, and my friends have been showing off their sleek Fitbit wristbands, and in part because I didn’t want to have something clipped to me all the time. But you know what? The Fit Meter did exactly what it was supposed to do. Counted my steps. There were lots of them! The meter’s size wasn’t a problem. And the Fit Meter is much cheaper than a Fitbit wristband.

Syncing the Fit Meter and the Wii Fit U tablet and software is a little complicated. Because both the meter and the tablet transfer data by infrared signal, you must aim the head of the Fit Meter at a very small area at the top of the Wii U controller tablet. This is a little awkward the first few times (also counter-intuitive, as I was expecting to be able to just “dock” the puck to the base of the tablet, or have it sync in proximity). But it is doable, with practice.

The Games:

Our entire test group loves the games that came with the Wii Fit U download. If you have Wii Fit software already, Nintendo says there are nineteen new games in this version, including luge and climbing, plus a new dance mode.

The core building exercises are great—from luge to ski-jump—as are the obstacle courses and hula hooping. And it’s all exercise that gets counts on the Fit Meter.

My family in particular thinks the winter sports mentioned above are great fun. And I totally felt the effects of the core workout the next day.

Image: Nintendo

Then there’s the bit I was most excited about when I first saw the box: Wii U’s Yoga. This is a great video yoga trainer, both for basic moves, broken out into individual practices, and for longer sessions. One of the best parts, for me, is that the balance pad constantly tracks your center of gravity and visually helps you auto-adjust to perfect your balance. More than that, an option to “mirror” and self-assess lets the Wii yoga practitioner place an image of themselves on the screen next to the yoga instructor.  I am finding that tool very helpful for perfecting posture. The mirroring is done using the Wii U tablet’s built-in camera. Mirroring is an option, not a requirement—excellent flexibility on Nintendo’s part.

To sum up: just an all-around great application of software and hardware.

Looking Forward & One Hurdle

I can see where the Wii Fit U tools—the great gameware, the intuitive controls, the low-profile platform—could be amazing for anyone looking to work out at home, either in between tasks, or as a way to start a fitness routine in private. And especially for those looking to recover balance and strength after illness or injury. Back when the Wii first came out, years ago, this was some of the best buzz I heard about it. But I think there’s one item that’s holding Wii U back from becoming the go-to video fitness software of choice for lots of diverse audiences. And it’s a problem that’s been around since 2008.

That’s the in-game fitness assessment.

This is the only major hangup I have with an otherwise great platform-software-interface package. Unfortunately it impacts the usefulness of the Wii for the above groups. It’s not a deal-breaker for my test group, this time, because we’ve figured out a few ways to hack the assessment (below), but it is problematic.

In order to play any of the Wii Fit U games, you must take a fitness assessment. There’s no way to opt out of it. Even if your kid has a friend over who just wants to try a luge run with their own avatar. Fitness Assessment required. That’s problem one.

Problem two is that the algorithm that drives the fitness test is BMI-based. This results in some strange calculations if your weight/height ratio is off due to any number of things, including—amusingly—fitness indicators like muscle mass. Several family members and friends who are in reasonably good shape—including two runners with 5Ks under their belts, a weightlifter, and a weekend basketball player—were told that they fell outside BMI norms. Worse, when they were informed of this, their avatars immediately changed shape onscreen. This kind of body-shaming was not OK with me, and my test group questioned it too.

I know that Wii had some issues with the BMI ratings in the past, and it looks like this part has not changed. For someone who is dipping a toe in the workout waters, or who is getting back into it after an illness or injury, this kind of automated feedback could be discouraging, at the very least. In addition, the proposed optimum weight level for several of my test group members was much lower than what they were comfortable with as an optimum weight for their age and health. I can only hope that Wii uses their software upgrades to make the fitness tests—or at least the assessment responses—optional in the future, at the very minimum.

In addition, accuracy of the balance assessment varies. I fail the balance portion of the fitness assessment regularly, then go on to rack up “perfect posture, perfect balance” points in advanced Yoga. Who knows why.

Since the fitness tests are mandatory, not optional, some friends have helpfully provided suggestions for how to hack this most unfortunate portion of an otherwise great setup.

  • “You can avoid the judgmental bits by telling it you’re 8 feet tall when you make a profile.” (Jess, NYC – who got the trick from a Molly Wood podcast, circa 2008)

  • “You can make your clothing weigh 7lbs.” (R, DC)

  • “Don’t take weight recommendations from a computer. Talk to your doctor about what a healthy fitness level looks like for you.” (Andrea, NYC)

  • “BMI is used as a surrogate for whole-body fitness in many places (USAF, for example). I don’t agree with it. It’s a good first-look indicator, but then that means you should delve deeper and see if the heavier-than-you-like weight is fat or muscle.” (Patricia, CO)

  • “Skip the balance tests. There’s no reason to stick around with the assessor for longer than you have to.” (T – LA)

  • “Hack the scale by placing the balance board on thick carpet.” (Natalie, DE)

So, Overall Recommendation?

Image: Nintendo

An enormous thumbs up from our family and friends for the new Wii U and Wii Fit U. An additional thumbs up for the Wii Fit Meter.  One request that the fitness assessment become, at the very least, optional.

And, oh yes, an ongoing plea for a River Tam Fight Workout. The last one would be supergreat.

Buying Information

Wii U (box set with Legend of Zelda, Wind Walker), other options and prices available: around $300-350

Wii balance board: price varies

Wii Fit U Meter: around $19.99

Rating: E (Everyone) – Mild Cartoon Violence

Developer: Nintendo

*Reminder: If you are interested in the Wii Fit U and already have a Wii U and a balance board, Nintendo is offering a free software trial through January 31, 2014. Best part? If you get and register a Wii Fit U Meter by that time, you can keep the Wii Fit software forever, at no additional charge.

Nintendo plans to offer a Fitness Bundle, coming January 14. More information here.

GeekMom received items for review purposes.

Product Review: QAK Thump Case Pack Bluetooth Headphones

The QAK Thump headphones are lightweight, sweatproof, and easy to use. Image: QAK.
The QAK Thump headphones are lightweight, sweatproof, and easy to use. Image: QAK.

I was pleased to receive a nice surprise in the mail in early November: a box containing a pair of Colorado-flag running socks…and a QAK Thump Case Pack. The company—named QAK to mean Quality in Accessories are Key—is right up the road from me in Boulder, Colorado, and they apparently embraced my living in Colorado as an opportunity to speak out about these headphones.

For those who have been following my adventures in headphones, it might be worth noting that of all the headphones I’ve reviewed in the past couple years, my favorite pair has been the Jaybird Freedom Bluetooth headphones that I had reviewed in summer 2012. I travel with them, run with them while my tunes play on my iPhone, and they’ve given me a lot of great times in the past year and a half.

Recently one of the Jaybird’s over-the-ear pieces got lost and, while I can still use them, running with them has become more difficult.

Then along came the QAK Thump headphones. Read on for more about these athlete-proof headphones.

What Comes in the Package

While you can purchase components of this system separately, you can save $10 by purchasing the case pack:

  • QAK Thump Blu headphones, blue in color (other colors are available)
  • Rigid zippered carrying case
  • USB charging cable
  • “Pair and Wear” instruction card
  • Quick Start Guide (which to me looks like more comprehensive instructions)

Ease of Use

It’s simple: Follow the instructions and you’re on your way! The Thump Blu comes pre-charged so I got a full 6-7 hours of use before needing its first charge. I’m still only on my second charge. So far I’ve used these headphones for a couple of 5K runs and listening to music and Netflix on my laptop. Make sure your device to be paired with the headphones is in “Discoverable” mode, and then turn on the headphones, holding down the power button (which doubles as a phone switch) until the lights on the back of the headphones are alternating blinking blue and red. Continue the pairing per the instructions on your device.

After the connection is made, these headphones work similarly to any other. On my iPhone, volume control is relinquished to the headphones, but on my MacBook Pro, I could control volume both with the laptop and with the headphones.

The instruction sheet that’s included will guide users through the button operations: volume, playing/pausing, fast forwarding, and phone operations. All buttons worked as advertised.

Charging the headphones is very easy—simply plug them into any USB port with the included cable. The headphones’ charging port is near the LED lights behind a rubber cover.

Fit and Comfort

The earbuds are larger than many other in-ear headphones I’ve used. Others in my household who tried these headphones also noticed this. I don’t mind this, especially when pounding the pavement on my runs, but I can imagine others might have a hard time with the “tight” fit it might present in your ears.

Users have the option to wear the headphones “over the ear” or “under the ear.” I tried them in both configurations for longer periods of time and I very much prefer the “over the ear” configuration (such that the word “THUMPBLU” is facing upward). I always felt like the headphones were going to fall off my head in the “under the ear” setup. I prefer letting the headphones rest on the tops of my ears.

These headphones are lightweight enough to not give me any problems when I was out running. However, I had issues when sitting on my couch using them with my laptop: If I leaned my head back against the back of my couch, the headphones would press forward and be less comfortable. For me this was a problem that other headphones hadn’t ever given me.

QAK claims in several areas that these headphones are sweat resistant. Sweat resistant…not sweatproof. Nor are they waterproof. Don’t wear them in the rain, or in the pool, or while kayaking.


The QAK Thump Blu will make a great gift this holiday season for your favorite athlete or friend who craves a lightweight wireless headphones solution.

The Thump Blu comes in six colors and retails for $79.99 by itself with a charging cable, or $99.99 for the Case Pack that includes the rigid carrying case and charging cable. Buy the Thump Blu through QAK’s website, or through other electronics retailers such as Amazon.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Canon Makes a Facebook App!

Image from Canon's North Pole PIXMA app.
Image from Canon’s North Pole PIXMA app.

Canon, maker of high quality camera and photo gear for decades, brings us a new app for the holiday season, North Pole PIXMA. This Facebook app allows you to connect with Santa, sending him your wish list, or just a note, drawing, or photo. Canon has created this app to introduce people to their PIXMA printers which have Cloud Technology.

From Canon’s press release:

The Canon North Pole PIXMA app will provide a unique and interactive experience allowing parents to help their children to write, draw or use pre-selected images to create their holiday wish. Once the wish has been customized, it is sent through the cloud to Santa’s workshop, where users will be shown a video of Santa receiving their wish printed on a Canon PIXMA printer. Bringing smiles to children and parents alike, the video features a cast of iconic holiday characters, including North Pole workshop elves, the Abominable Snowman, Mrs. Claus and Santa.

Through the app, you basically send cards to Santa, who has recently upgraded his printer to a Canon PIXMA. It’s obviously a commercial for Canon’s new printers, but it’s a really cute theme, and could be a fun thing to do with your kids — even the ones who don’t believe in Santa anymore.

To send wishes to Santa through the PIXMA holiday app, just create the digital card with your kids, adding text, drawings, and/or images. Then send the wish to Santa through the app and watch Santa print it out at the North Pole. It also emails you a link to the video so you can watch it again and again. The video integrates the actual message you submit, working it into the storyline. It’s excessively cute, and your kids will likely want to do it more than once.

Give the Canon North Pole PIXMA Facebook app a try. No printer is required for the app, since it’s an all-online experience. It’s only available through December 24th, so get those wishes in to Santa on the double!

But back to the ink-jet PIXMA printers, here are some cool things about them:

  • They have auto-power on, so you don’t need to be wherever your printer is to print.
  • You can print over AirPrint, through Mobile Device Printing, or on PIXMA Cloud Link, and is Google Cloud Print Ready.
  • You can print through social media.
  • They are affordable, compact, and attractive, and even come in different colors.

Prices for the printers vary depending on model, but they have several to choose from.

Happy Holidays!

GeekMom 2013 Holiday Gift Guide: Gadgets

It’s no secret: geeks tend to go for gadgets. So, for the gadget-geek on your list, why not consider one of these gadgets or gadget accessories?

GoPro HERO3 Image
GoPro HERO3. Image:

GoPro Hero 3 HD In the market for a high quality family video camera that is shock proof, waterproof and has very user friendly software that allows you to actually edit your movies quickly and easily? Check out the post for the new GoPro Hero 3 camera. These cameras are truly not just for the super athletes anymore. Their features work well for family/kid situations too, including many fun ways to mount the camera, an option you don’t get with most video cameras. The price isn’t too far off from what a great quality camera would cost — one without all these extra features. $329.99

Windows 8: Image: Microsoft
Windows 8. Image: Microsoft

Windows 8 Not quite a gadget, Windows 8 is the most recent version of the Windows operating system. Though avoided by some people for a variety of reasons, Windows 8 is a really useful and interesting operating system, trying to straddle the advantages of Windows 7 and tablet OSes. Windows 8.1 even brings back the Start button for those missed it with 8.0. Price varies

IoSafe Image
IoSafe. Image:

ioSafe external hard drives If you need to make sure your data is safe, not just safe from disk failure but also from potential house fires or floods, then ioSafe is the external hard drive company for you. They have hard drives you can bolt to the floor, rugged portable drives, and even NAS systems so you can have your own personal cloud. If you’re looking for any external storage whatsoever, ioSafe is a solid choice. Price varies

Epson WorkForce Image
Epson WorkForce. Image:

Epson WF-3540 printer This Epson ink jet all-in-one printer does pretty much everything. It prints two-sided, scans, faxes, copies, goes to sleep when you’re not using it, and has fantastic quality output. Also, it is AirPrint compatible, so you can print directly from your iPhone or iPad. $139.99

iDeaPLAY image used with permission
iDeaPLAY. Image: used with permission

iDeaPLAY Are you looking for a tablet for your toddler or preschooler that can keep up with your needs too? Try the iDeaPLAY tablet. Great for kids, adults, grandparents, or anyone. If you are on the fence, read our full review. $129

Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 Image
Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0. Image:

Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 The most streamlined of Samsung’s popular line of Android OS tablets, the Note 8.0 is a direct competitor to the Kindle Fire and iPad Mini. If you appreciate the power of Android with the clever features only Samsung can bring, you’ll want to take advantage of the price and size of the Note 8.0. And we can’t forget Samsung’s unique S-Pen which makes for easy writing on the screen. $399.99

Tree of Life Embossed Brown Leather Smart Phone Wallet Image
Tree of Life Embossed Brown Leather Smart Phone  Wallet. Image:

Tree of Life Smart Phone Wallet Individually bench-crafted from quality leather and deeply embossed with the Tree of Life design, consider this for your favorite smart phone junkie. The interior pocket holds your smartphone, plus three credit card slots (each of which fits two cards), and an additional pocket for cash. Completely tanned and hand-tooled in the USA by Modern Artisans. Measures 6.5″ x 3.6″ when closed. $37.99

Griffin JL Survivor Batman Cell Phone Case for iPhone 55S Image
Griffin JL Survivor Batman Cell Phone Case for iPhone 55S.  Image:

Griffin Survivor Justice League iPhone Cases Protect your iPhone with the best, and by the best I mean Griffin Survivor’s Justice League cases. I’ve used Griggin Survivor cases on my past two iPhones and they are a great deal for the protection they offer. Currently available for the iPhone 5 and 5s in Batman and Superman. $39.99

GripCase for iPad and iPad Mini Image
GripCase for iPad and iPad Mini. Image:

GripCase for iPad and iPad Mini Brian Norfolk, the creator of the Gripcase, came up with this design as he was constantly worrying about his two-year-old son using the iPad he received one Christmas. If your young children routinely use your iPad—or your young children have iPads of their own—this case is a reasonably-priced, lightweight investment in longer life for your device. I recommend it. The Gripcase is available for 2nd through 4th Generation iPads as well as the iPad Mini. Each size comes in five bright colors. GripCase for iPad Mini: $34.99; iPad Gen 2, 3, 4: $39.99

KaZoo MyPhones. Image
KaZoo MyPhones. Image:

KaZoo MyPhones Headphones by Griffin The bright colors and adorable animal themes make MyPhones fun for kids. The volume-limiting sound and reasonable price will make it fun for the parents to buy for the kids. The over-the-ear design, along with the 85-decibel output limit makes it safer for young ears. The cushioned earpieces are well-adhered to the headphones, unlike other headphones we’ve reviewed where the soft earpieces can fall off and are difficult for the kids to re-attach. I recommend the Griffin KaZoo MyPhones for any family with young children who need to play with their devices quietly and parents who are concerned about safe headphone listening practices. They are available in frog and penguin shapes. $19.99

The Techy Screenster Plush Microfiber Cleaning Character. Image
The Techy Screenster Plush Microfiber Cleaning Character. Image:

Screensters by Toddy Gear Screensters are miniature doll screen cleaners and make the perfect stocking stuffer! Portable in size (5″ tall) and easy to hang off of backpacks and doorknobs, the Screenster is ideal for kids. It’s slim, simple design, numerous caricatures to choose from, and convenient top loop for hanging it on a bag makes this a fun accessory for kids’ tablets: iPads, Kindles, Kobos, Nooks, or Galaxy among others. $9.99

Joos Solar Orange Portable Solar Charger. Image
Joos Solar Orange Portable Solar Charger. Image:

Joos Orange Solar Charger The JOOS Orange is the most rugged, fastest, and most versatile solar charger I’ve ever seen. If you are looking for items for your emergency preparedness kit, I highly recommend this. This is also a perfect gift for your favorite fan of the great outdoors. The charger comes with reflective mirrors that can give it a “boost” for faster charging on the sunniest days. $149

Digital Treasures Props Power & Keyboard Case for iPad. Image
Digital Treasures Props Power & Keyboard Case for iPad. Image:

Digital Treasures Props iPad Case and Bluetooth Keyboard The Props case has both a Bluetooth keyboard as well as a high capacity 8000mAh battery that powers the keyboard and can also power the iPad. Once you discern the differences in the keyboard from the iPad, this is an easy-to-use product that’s perfect for your favorite heavy-duty iPad user. $109.99

Anemometer. Image
Anemometer. Image:

Vaavud Anemometer for iPhone and Samsung Galaxy This is a small spinning wind meter that conveniently plugs into your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. Download the free app that connects to the anemometer to report real-time and average wind speeds. Great for those who rely on winds for their hobbies, such as windsurfers, skydivers, and RC aviators. $49.99

ibattz Refuel. Imge
ibattz Refuel. Image:

ibattz Mojo Refuel Armor  The ibattz Mojo is a tough case with a removable battery to keep you charged on the go. Tested by GeekMom Dakster, the case successully charged her phone 1.5 times before having to recharge the ibattz battery. Replacement batteries are easy and pretty inexpensive to come by, so if you drain your phone more than once a day, pick up an extra battery on amazon and keep it handy. Compatible with the iPhone 4, 4S, 5, and 5S. $120

Scosche IPDBAT2. Image
Scosche IPDBAT2. Image:

Scosche: goBAT II This small portable battery is light on the wallet and the bag. With two USB ports (one 5v 1Amp and one 5v 2.1Amp), this is a great little portable battery. GeekMom Dakster has personally tested it out on her Kindle, iPad, and iPhone devices and loved how quick the Scosche charged her gear compared to plugging it into a regular outlet. $59.99

myCharge Hub 6000. Image
myCharge Hub 6000. Image:

MyCharge Hub 6000 Portable Battery The MyCharge Hub 6000 portable battery can charge up to three devices at once, including tablets and ereaders with three built in connectors. It has a fold-out prongs that let you plug it right into an outlet for recharging and an LED readout to let you know just how much juice it has left before it needs a recharge. $99

Ballistic Case for iPhone 5. Image
Ballistic Case for iPhone 5. Image:

Ballistic Hydra iPhone Case Ballistic Hydra iPhone Case is great for anyone with a knack for getting their iPhone in water. Compared to its competitor, LifeProof, the Ballistic Hydra iPhone Case comes with a clip ($30 extra with LifeProof) and is submergable to 7.7ft for maximum of 30 minutes (LifeProof is only rated to up to 6ft). For the price, you can’t beat the protection. $79.99

Harry_Potter_MacBook_Decal - Photo courtesy of MacStickrs (with permission)
Harry Potter MacBook Decal. Image: MacStickrs (with permission)

Harry Potter MacBook Decal Finally those of us obsessed with Macs and Harry Potter can show off our fandoms. This decal from MacStickrs is a perfect stocking stuffer.

earHero. Image
earHero. Image:

earHero Headphones The first open-ear headphones, these are great for anyone who wants to hear the world around them and their music. In our opinion, they are perfect for joggers and bicyclists who want to enjoy their music without fear of not hearing someone or something creeping up on them. Since they are practically invisible, they’re also great for anyone who wants to listen to their music at work or school without getting caught off-guard by the boss (or teacher). $149.99

Mythro earbuds by Moshi Audio. Image: Amazon
Mythro earbuds by Moshi Audio. Image:

Moshi Mytho Earbuds These are the only earbuds I have ever had that fit in my small ears. Previously reviewed on GeekMom, these little earbuds with an equally geeky name would make a great stocking-stuffer. $30

KidzSafe headphones and earbuds. Image
KidzSafe headphones and earbuds. Image:

KidzSafe headphones and earbuds Give kids their own headphones that keep the volume at a safe level. These headphones and earbuds won’t allow kids to listen to their audio at anything higher than 85 decibels, so you know they aren’t damaging their hearing. Plus they come in fun, customizeable colors, and come with a useful carrying bag. They also fit adult-sized heads, so consider more than just the kids on your shopping list when you look at this product. $19.95 to $29.95

Logitech UE MINI BOOM Wireless Bluetooth Speaker. Image
Logitech UE Mini Boom Wireless Bluetooth Speaker. Image:

Logitech UE Mini Boom Wireless Bluetooth Speaker These amazingly small, crystal clear speakers are a slight upgrade from the excellent UE Mobile Boombox Bluetooth Speaker. With the MINI BOOM, two speakers can be linked to provide real stereo sound. These are so handy for travel, out in the backyard, or even in a nursery. And they come in three colors. $99.99

JBL Charge Bluetooth Speaker. Image
JBL Charge Bluetooth Speaker. Image:

JBL Charge Bluetooth Speaker Are you looking for a mid-quality, affordable Bluetooth speaker for the office, the beach, the park, or an impromptu party? Then the JBL Charge will be perfect. The size of a soda can, the Charge has a 50′ Bluetooth range (on level ground) and as a bonus, has a 6000mAh Li-ion battery for high-speed device charging. It’s small size makes this a great stocking stuffer! $149.95

Ion Makes Quality, Varied Audio Products

Ion Audio's DuoDeck. Image: Ion Audio
Ion Audio’s Duo Deck. Image: Ion Audio

Sometimes you want or need an unusual audio product that doesn’t cost a fortune but does a very specific task. I’ve been able to evaluate a couple of products like those from Ion Audio. The company makes audio and other kinds of products such as speakers, record and cassette tape digital converters, job-site sound systems, plant pot speakers, musical instruments, slide and negative scanners, and more.

The DuoDeck

I was most intrigued by the affordable digital audio hardware that converts records and cassettes to digital files. I have a slew of records from my childhood, and a couple of cassette tapes, including some of my sister and me recording ourselves being silly (who doesn’t have something like that from their childhood?) that I would really like to keep for posterity.

For converting these audio sources, I used the Duo Deck, which converts both records and cassette tapes into .wav files. The required EZ Vinyl/Tape Converter software is included on a CD with the product, but is also downloadable from the Ion website. The Duo Deck will convert either 33 or 45 albums, and cassette tapes. It has its own speaker, so don’t worry about having your own hi-fi. Additionally, you can plug in your own speakers or headphones. It is powered by connecting to your computer via USB, by 4 AA batteries that you install yourself, or by plugging into the USB converter to use with a wall outlet.

Converting the audio feels a little bit like the old habit of recording songs off the radio, since you click “Record” in the software, and then hit play (or lower the arm) on the Duo Deck. And then, unlike with CDs, you just have to wait until the thing finishes playing. If you have your computer speakers on, there is a slight delay in what you hear out of them compared with the Duo Deck’s speakers. I recommend turning off your computer speakers while you’re enjoying the playback.

Once the music has played, you click Next on the software, and enter the artist, album, and track titles. You can also choose where to save the files. Once they are saved, you can record something else, open the saved location, or quit the program.


I started with digitizing some childhood records. My attempts to record The Muppet Movie Soundtrack were mostly successful. The first side had five tracks, and it separated them correctly. The second side had six tracks, but the software only divided them into four. The last two tracks got lumped in with number four, so I’ll have to go back and separate them manually. Generally, though, the program works well. It just depends on there being long enough quiet bits between the tracks, and sometimes the silence isn’t long enough.

Digitizing records, though, means you are recording one particular playing of the record. So watch out for the skips! How many of our old albums have skips on them? All of them? Yeah, pretty much. And you’re recording those, too. So make sure the records are as clean as possible before starting.

I’ve digitized quite a bit of my record collection, everything from Barry Manilow to New Order to Rory’s copy of Alice’s Restaurant. I’m so glad to have some of these recordings because some of them just aren’t available on CD. I’ve also digitized 1970s era Sesame Street records, among others, that definitely aren’t available any longer.


If you move from albums to tapes, don’t forget to switch the machine to Tape mode, and don’t forget to rewind your tape before you begin. The digitizing works the same here as for records, except tapes are longer, so they require less babysitting. And don’t worry if your tape has more than 10 tracks. The software gives you a second (or third, or fourth) page to type in more track names.

I was especially excited to try the tape digitizing. My sister and I made the aforementioned audio tapes when I was a little kid (<cough>32 years ago<cough>), where we pretended to have a radio station. We played all kinds of songs, and talked in between. So between the likes of Styx and Queen, we have little-kid-us talking about random stuff and being extraordinarily silly. Definitely the kind of thing to keep for posterity. I’ve had them so long that I’m relieved to have them digitized.

Being able to digitize tapes in addition to records has been much more fun and enlightening than I thought it would be. It’s allowed me to save all the music on my mixtapes, the playlists of the pre-iTunes era. Some of that music I’d totally forgotten about, even if I still have the corresponding CDs.


How do the digital files sound? The files sound as good as the original media sounds. So if it’s an old recording, the .wav file will contain all the squeaks, crackles, or skips that the original contains. If the original recording is mint, or new-ish, the .wav file will sound quite good. But even my 20+ year old records sound pretty good, if occasionally slightly warped. Generally, it just gives an accurate capture of your original recording.

Pro tip: Don’t bump the device while records are playing, and remember those lessons from when you were a kid: If you jump too hard too close to the device, the record will skip. Our Barry Manilow records were never the same.

The Duo Deck ($79.99) is a perfect and affordable solution to all of your digitizing needs. Even when you’re done digitizing your ancient media, it still serves as a very functional portable turntable and cassette deck. And it might just have you digging through record collections at garage sales and antique stores.

The Clipster. Image: Ion Audio
The Clipster. Image: Ion Audio

The Clipster

Next, I evaluated a portable Bluetooth speaker called the Clipster. It is rechargeable with the included USB cable, and you can attach it, carabiner style, to a bag, belt loop, or anything that will fit the clip. The Quick Start Guide tells you everything that you need to know to get it booming out tunes (or audiobooks or podcasts) from your iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Android device, or other device.

Once you pair the Clipster with your device, you shouldn’t have to pair it again. It just plays the audio when it is turned on and close enough to the device. It has a range of up to 30 feet but the maximum connection range is best achieved with a device that has Bluetooth 4.0. I tested this with my iPhone by standing in different places in my house, which is filled with walls. I found that it easily kept the connection while I was 30+ feet away, even through walls. It only started getting choppy when I walked downstairs, where the connection had to go through the floor.

On the Clipster itself, you can control the volume and play/pause the audio. There is an LED that changes depending on what the device is doing. It is solid red for charging, blinking red for when it needs to be recharged, blinking blue for Bluetooth pairing, and solid blue when connected to a Bluetooth device.

The Clipster was super simple to pair with my iPhone. I followed the instructions in the guide, and could even pair it while it was still plugged in for charging. You can even use it while it’s charging. The battery charges up pretty fast, and lasts up to 10 hours on a charge. If you receive a call on your phone while it’s playing music through the Clipster, the music will stop and your phone will ring as usual. The music will continue when your phone call is concluded.

How Does it Sound?

The sound from the Clipster’s speaker sounds great. The music filled the room and didn’t have that slight vibrating sound that you tend to get with the iPhone speaker. The music could be turned up pretty loud, and it sounded really clear. Even when the speaker was pointed away from me, it was just as clear.

Available in a rainbow of colors, the Clipster ($29.95) is an affordable solution to a durable, portable speaker that you can hook just about anywhere. It’s a good value and is versatile in its use. It’s a great solution for playing music from my iPhone or iPad, which, with their cases, don’t easily plug into the stands of a lot of counter top speakers. If your device’s built-in speakers aren’t enough for your needs, but you don’t want a big, stationary speaker, the Clipster can serve your needs.

GeekMom received the loan of these products for review purposes.

Your Android Phone Has Geeky Answers To These 22 Requests

Android screenshot by Ruth Suehle

If you haven’t played with the voice commands on your Android phone yet, you’re missing out on a) looking like a total nerd (so what?) and b) some really fun answers.

Drag up your Google Now interface. You can start voice control with, “OK, Google…” per the phone’s instructions, but a “Listen, Google,” or a, “Hey, Google,” will do as well. If you haven’t gone full Google fangirl, you can go with, “OK, computer.” But to turn the nerdtasticness up to 11, say, “OK, JARVIS,” and pretend you’re a lady Tony Stark in control of the digital world. (To be fair, you can say just about anything that even vaguely resembles “OK, Google,” and it will pick it up.)

Of course, now you have to issue a command or two to JARVIS/computer/Google Now. Here are a few you can try that will get it to talk back to you. Note that not all of these always work depending on your handset, Android version, and particular accent. They also may result in different answers if you try them a second time. Try them all, and enjoy the geeky fun!

  • Beam me up, Scotty!
  • Make me a sandwich!
  • sudo make me a sandwich (This one is particularly difficult to pronounce such that Google hears “sudo.” Try saying it like “pseudo.”)
  • up up down down left right left right
  • Who are you?
  • When am I?
  • When does the narwhal bacon?
  • What is your favorite color?
  • Bacon number [insert actor name]
  • What’s the best smartphone?
  • What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?
  • What is the nature of the universe?
  • How can entropy be reversed?
  • What is recursion?
  • What is the loneliest number?
  • Who’s on first?
  • What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
  • Do a barrel roll.
  • Tilt.
  • How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

And if you change your phone’s language in Android settings to “English (United Kingdom),” you can try, “Tea. Earl Grey, hot.” Unfortunately it won’t actually make a cup for you.

Finally, you can sing “Magic Dance” from Labyrinth with your phone. You start, then continue to tap voice control and say each line back:

You: You remind me of the babe.
Google: What babe?
You: The babe with the power.
Google: What power?
You: The power of voodoo.
Google: Who do?
You: You do!
Google: Do what?
You: You remind me of the babe!

And now you’re stuck in a loop talking to your phone. Congratulations!

The New Nintendo Consoles: Worth Buying?

The new Wii Mini which will be released on November 19th. Image via Nintendo

Nintendo is doing a very interesting thing with their two newest game consoles, the Wii Mini, out November 19, and the 2DS, already available. Basically, this pair seems to be going backward technologically, with both the Wii Mini and the 2DS lacking the bells and whistles of the Wii U and the 3DS, respectively.

However, a second glance reveals some definite upsides to the new devices.

At first glance, the Wii Mini ($99.99) seems to have little to recommend it.

The big missing element missing is a wireless internet connection, which takes away the video streaming and on-line game play. No Netflix viewing through this device. The Mini can’t play GameCube games on it either, unlike the original Wii. (The next step up, the Wii U, doesn’t play them either.)

So, the Wii Mini is like the regular Wii but players are basically locked into  just the console games, though players can still customize their avatars.

However, the Mini comes with the popular MarioKart game and the Wii Remote Plus controller and attached Nunchuk. If bought separately, MarioKart is $39.99 retail, the controller is anywhere from $35 to $45, and the Nunchuk costs between $7 to $15, for a total of around $87, give or take a dollar here or there depending on whether you buy these items used.

So for $13 more than you’d pay for a game and a new Remote Plus, Nintendo’s most advance remote, you also get a game console. That’s a pretty good deal, and so I’d recommend the Wii Mini for anyone just starting with Nintendo consoles and on a tight budget, or for anyone who wants to add a second console in the house. Or even for parents wanting to restrict their kids access to the internet. The gameplay itself is the same quality as the Wii, and it’s nicely portable too.

Then there’s the 2DS, released October 12, which steps back from the technical innovation of the 3DS and its three-dimensional gameplay. In many ways, the 2DS design is positively retro, harkening back in style to the old Gameboy Color devices.

2DS console from Nintendo. Image via Nintendo

On the negative side:

  • It’s heavier than the other Nintendo portable consoles.
  • 3DS games will play on it but without the fancy three-dimensional effects.
  • It’s larger than any console we’ve owned, about a hand-span wide.
  • It’s not foldable, so a cover is necessary to protect the screen.

However, my twins both really loved using the 2DS. Here’s why:

  • The controls are easier to reach because everything is closer together than on the 3DS.
  • They liked the additional weight, claiming it felt more solid and comfortable in their hands.
  • They felt their games were easier in 2D mode rather than on the 3DS, because their fingers could more easily reach the controls and respond faster. My son in particular liked playing MarioKart on this because he had much better results than his previous attempts on the 2DS.

The 2DS is priced $129.99, while the 3DS starts at $169.99 and the 3DS XL version with a larger screen is $199.99.

Bottom line for the 2DS: I’d recommend it for younger children with smaller hands who are just getting started with Nintendo games.

Overall, Nintendo has devices that will cover many different gaming needs and fit the restrictions of most budgets. The real question, however, is whether today’s generation has been lured away from gaming consoles to games on smartphones and tablets. So far, my children have shown a huge fondness for the Nintendo consoles, and my youngest daughter is hooked on the new Pokemon Y game.  But they started on the gaming-dedicated consoles in a time before tablets and advanced smartphones. I wonder what the generation coming up behind them will prefer.

Gotta Share ‘Em All: The Fun of eBay Collections, Comic Book Style

A snapshot of some of our eBay Collection!
A snapshot of some of our eBay Collection! Image: eBay

My eBay Collections were curated as part of a sponsored collaboration with eBay.

Batgirl, Wonder Woman, Supergirl
Girl Hero Purse Adjustable Strap Bag, part of the Accessorize With Wonder Woman collection. Image: eBay

You might have noticed eBay’s Collections feature popping up recently. Here at GeekMom, we were able to start our collections a little early, and we’re really excited to share some of our favorites with you. It’s a great way to organize your all the things you love on eBay and share it with your friends and family. Best yet, all our picks have a geeky slant. Y’know, with our readers in mind, too.

Wonder Woman was a natural first choice, as I’ve already cosplayed as Wonder Woman, and I have a Wonder Woman hoodie that draws compliments everywhere I go. This collection includes purses, earrings, that Wonder Woman hoodie, other jewelry, your very own tiara, bracelet and lasso set, a Wonder Woman throw, and even a poster. Basically, if I’d been let free with my purse, my house would look a little bit like an ode to Wonder Woman.

I took a different strategy with All Things Batman. Because with Batman, there’s so very much. First, I made sure to include a few Batman shirts, including the one in this post, and my favorite Batman story, Batman: Year One. I also wanted to recognize the other members of the Bat-Family: Batgirl, Robin, and Nightwing. You’ll find Nightwing and Robin t-shirts along with a classic Batman hoodie, as well as something for the toddler-size Robin, and even a necklace.

Always Be Batman t-shirt from
The Always Be Batman t-shirt from the All Things Batman collection. Image: eBay

But if Wonder Woman and Batman aren’t among your favorites, there’s also the Wear Your Favorite Superhero Collection, where I picked out shirts featuring other heroes. Of course, Superman and Supergirl are included, and a few joint Girl Power-style shirts, but also some Justice League with logos about dating superheroes, and even Dream from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.

You get the idea. You can check out all our collections here, and stay tuned for some thoughts from Jenny.

My eBay Collections were curated as part of a sponsored collaboration with eBay.

Product Review: The Vaavud Smartphone Anemometer

Genius! The Vavuud anemometer and accompanying app does a great job giving you instant winds before your favorite wind-sensitive activities. Photo: Dave Vollmer.
Genius! The Vavuud anemometer and accompanying app does a great job giving you instant winds before your favorite wind-sensitive activities. Here I am measuring out a window in Georgetown, Colorado. Photo: Dave Vollmer.

I got a chance to review the Vaavud anemometer with my iPhone last month. This handy little device fits in your pocket and makes it easy to see just how strongly the winds are blowing using your smart device.

The Danish-made Vaavud came to market through a successful Kickstarter campaign earlier this year. They went above and beyond their funding goal and the devices became available to the masses in August.

If you take part in hobbies that are sensitive to wind speeds, such as wind surfing, model rocketry, R/C airplanes, sailing, or hang gliding, this device is for you. It doesn’t require any power and there are no electronic components to it to break down.

What Comes in the Box

The Vavuud includes the anemometer, a neoprene carrying bag, a Samsung adapter, and an instruction sheet. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
The Vaavud includes the anemometer, a neoprene carrying bag, a Samsung adapter, and an instruction sheet. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
  • The Vaavud anemometer cups
  • Neoprene carrying case
  • Adapter pieces to use with Samsung Galaxy devices
  • Instruction card

How to Use

Using the Vaavud is easy. Simply download the Vaavud app from the iTunes App Store or Google Play, plug in the anemometer cups to your device’s headphone jack (I used an iPhone 4S), and take some measurements. The Vaavud app is extremely simple: a single screen will display multiple pieces of information at once. If you touch the letters units of measure on the screen it will toggle through knots, miles per hour, Beaufort scale units, kilometers per hour, and meters per second (great for physics experiments).

We tested the Vaavud with a Lifeproof case, and as promised by the company, the Vaavud worked perfectly well without having to remove the device from the case.

There is no way to archive the wind data, so keep in mind that this is an instantaneous measurement. The company promises on the iTunes store site that a history function is forthcoming.

The app also has a map link, which is pretty nifty if you want to see where else in the world there are Vaavuds in use.

The Vaavud app provides a lot of information at once: the average wind speed, the instantaneous wind speed, the maximum wind speed, and a time lapse graph of the wind speed. All of these measurements are calculated from when you “start” your wind measurements. Screen capture: Patricia Vollmer.

How Does it Work?

It turns out that the Vaavud has NO digital components to transfer data to the smart device. Then how on earth does it work?


Really? Magnets?

Yes, the Vaavud is specifically designed for smart devices with magnetometers. Four small magnets at the base of the anemometer cups correspond with the smart device, which in turn translate the magnetic data into wind speed with an algorithm.

If you are using the Vaavud with the Samsung Galaxy S2, there is a conversion kit that you use with the anemometer base. This switches the four-magnet base with a two-magnet base to work better with the Galaxy S2’s magnetometer. Follow the instructions at to switch out the parts.

An Interesting Discovery

If the Vaavud has no electronic parts, does it even have to sit in the headphone jack?

The answer is no.

All the Vaavud needs to do is be spinning within about 6″ of the device while the Vaavud app is running. The magnetometer will detect the signal just the same.

That being said, the anemometer works best when vertical. Plugging it into the phone’s headphone jack is an easy way to ensure the proper orientation.


I did some cursory comparisons with my permanently-installed Davis Vantage Pro 2 and Acu-Rite weather stations. While I was unable to save the measurements, I will report that the Vaavud measurements were always within 5% of the permanently-installed weather stations.

I feel this is an accurate product.

Where to Buy a Vaavud

Vaavud anemometers retail for $50.00 (U.S.) are now available through the company’s website, as well as other retailers such as Amazon. The company only assures that it works with iOS devices and Samsung Galaxy phones right now, however, it has been known to work with other Android devices that have been built since 2012, so long as it has Android version 2.3.3.

This will make a great holiday gift for your favorite outdoor hobbyist.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

New Tablet For Children: iDeaPLAY Review

iDeaPLAY image used with permission
iDeaPLAY image used with permission

After reviewing the Meep! kids’ tablet last year, I started wondering if having a secure and safe-to-use tablet designed for a child would ever have the functionality and speed of other mainstream tablets. Enter the iDeaPLAY.

It is a new tablet for kids; it runs the Android OS and comes with a free trial of the Famigo service. The Famigo service provides the parental security needed to keep kids safe who may be using the tablet without supervision. Since Famigo is just a service, the tablet can also be used by adults as a standard tablet without having to give themselves permission to purchase items via the internet, use possibly non-G-rated services such as YouTube or Skype, and other functions.

Device Responsiveness: The responsiveness of the device rivals that of other mainstream Android devices. Over a month of testing the device, it hasn’t crashed a single time. The device was used an average of an hour a day. The speed of the device and the storage I’m sure also played a part in the device running smoothly for as long as it did.

App choices: All downloads have been successful and quick. Being able to search in the Famigo app store and Amazon is a huge plus for us since we also have Kindles. As with any device, some apps are not compatible with the iDeaPlay. The available selection from the stores outweighs the few that don’t work.

Specs for the iDeaPLAY.
Specs for the iDeaPLAY.

Specs: This device is fast and with an SD card can hold up to 32GB of stuff. Add to this 1GB RAM, water resistance, and flash support. Everything else is just gravy.

Famigo app service: Famigo, as a free app, has been available in the Google and iTunes store for awhile now. With the iDeaPLAY, Famigo is actually a service that is a free trial for seven days, and then is a paid service for $8 a month (and a one-time $5 start-up fee). The service includes, through the Famigo interface, content from Jim Henson, DreamWorks, Dr. Seuss, The Wiggles, and apps including Doodle Jump, Shrek Forever After, and Ice Rage.

For $8 a month, 15 or more apps are delivered directly to the tablet, along with kid-friendly videos and access to a kid-safe web browser and a kid-safe YouTube channel. Exclusive items for subscribers using the iDeaPLAY will also be available through Famigo in the future (it reminds me of the service Amazon started offering with their more recent Kindle generations). From the kids who tested the device, there were mixed opinions about the apps available through the Famigo service. The dividing line seemed to be age. Kids over the age of 7 seemed to really want the freedom to do whatever they wanted on the device, and not just play educational apps and watch G-rated educational videos. All of the kids who tested the device, about two-dozen in all, liked that the Famigo service didn’t slow down the speed of the device.

My experience using the Famigo service with my 4-year-old was that I liked the lock feature that prevented him from making purchases for in-app products, I could limit his play time, etc. But, I can use a free app (such as Famigo, Kidspace, or KidsCare for $1) and purchase apps individually. We don’t pick up 15 free apps a month, let alone buy that many even when my kids do spend a good amount of their allotted screen time on tablet devices.

If you need a steady stream of new apps and videos every month for your little kids, then $8 is a really good deal when you figure apps range from $1-$5 a piece in the app stores.

MVP plays with the camera on the iDeaPLAY. image: MVP
MVP plays with the camera on the iDeaPLAY. Image: MVP

Camera: There is a camera button on the taskbar of the screen. It makes it very easy to take a picture or screen shot (sometimes too easy). The camera isn’t as good as the phone cameras available on the market now, but it is better than other tablet cameras I have seen. For a kid’s tablet, it works well enough if it’s in a well-lit area.

Battery Life: The standby time of the iDeaPLAY, even when completely powered off, is only a few hours. The life of the battery when the device is in use is also about four hours (which is accurately indicated in the specs for the product). After a couple of weeks, we started just keeping it plugged in when it wasn’t being used.

The Verdict: With the exception of the battery life while on standby, I have no complaints about this device. It is sturdy, responsive, and holds a reasonable amount of stuff. It is a high quality product. I can’t wait to see this device do well in the upcoming holiday season. Plus, it is COPPA compliant which is nice when worrying about little kids playing without a lot of adult supervision. Heck, I have a sneaking suspicion that my son will ask for one of these for Christmas since he likes it better than the Kindle now. Though the Famigo offers a large range of apps, younger kids will appreciate the selection more than older kids.

The iDeaPLAY retails for $129 and can be found in retailers and Amazon.

GeekMom was lent a test sample for the purposes of this review.


Kick Your Halloween Up A Notch With A Projector And Decor DVDs

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2000. Photos by Epson.

I’ve got all sorts of reasons to own a projector–Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman… or on a more weekly basis, Stephen Amell. Both movies and TV are just more fun when they’re bigger. We and the kids love using it to take the movies to the back yard during the summer, but we hadn’t thought much until now about using it outdoors during the colder months.

Particularly where we live in North Carolina, it’s still often reasonably warm come Halloween, perfect for a neighborhood horror-movie-and-hot-chocolate viewing by twilight. But even if you’re in a colder area, AtmosFearFX has a line of DVDs that add some moving spookiness to your Halloween decorations. (And isn’t amusing/scaring neighborhood kids half the fun of October?) They’re DVDs designed to loop when you use a projector to show them on a wall or in a window. The window version is more appealingly accomplished if you have a screen with a rear-projection capable projector. I’m trying it out this season with the
Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2000.

We’ve experimented with several projectors for our backyard (and indoor!) theaters over the last few years, and this one comes out well ahead on the first detail we notice–how bright the picture is. At 1800 lumens, it’s not the brightest on the market, or even in Epson’s lineup, but even in daylight in a room that’s not fully blackened, it performs quite well. This bodes well for getting a movie started outside before it’s quite all the way dark (an appealing option if your little ones are still pretty little). There’s also an extent to which I think of this like speakers and headphones–enthusiasts will debate the details of a bit more this or that and what you really should have, but for the casual user (you out there who just want to watch a movie without having to do a lot of math about the perfect values), it’s more than sufficient. It projects at 1080p up to 300″. That’s a lot of Stephen Amell. Ahem.

If you’re new to projectors outside of slide presentations at the office, there are as many options for screens as there are projectors…perhaps more! The most inexpensive, particularly for indoor use, is to go to the local home improvement store and get a white roll-up window shade, preferably the type intended to be used for blocking out all light. It helps to add some weight to the bottom to keep out wrinkles and ripples, but it’s by far the cheapest way to install a retractable screen in your house when there’s not a massive chunk of wall available in the right place. For outdoors, you can either build your own, again from assorted home improvement supplies (we’ve even done it with a painter’s tarp), or there are quite a few pop-up screen available in a wide price range.

The PowerLite 2000 is the first projector we’ve had with a 3D option. The 3D glasses are an additional $99, and we haven’t tried them out, but it’s an interesting option to have. I can’t see myself purchasing a 3D television, but at movie projection size, I feel more inclined to look harder at the increasing number of movies offered in 3D.

Epson2 Photo by Epson

Input options include HDMI (2), RCA, VGA, and USB, making it well-suited to just about any device you want to hook up, from your DVD player to your Playstation, and MHL devices like the Roku Streaming Stick or Bravia Smart Stick. It’s compact, with a footprint barely larger than a sheet of paper and 4.25″ high, and a weight of 6.4 pounds, making it easier to carry down the street to the neighborhood gathering. As aforementioned, it has both front and rear projection capabilities from a distance of up to 19.7′.

I’m looking forward to extending our projector fun into the Halloween decor this week, and then coming up with new ideas for how to use it with the outdoor Christmas decorations. And if you’re in the neighborhood, we’ll be using it to watch Halloween movies in the cul-de-sac on Thursday, so come on down! Though given the likelihood that that’s terribly inconvenient for most of our readers, I recommend that those of you who live somewhere it’s still reasonably warm stage your own neighborhood projector parties before the cold weather moves in. If you need suggestions, try this list of 100 great Halloween movies. Bonus points if you scare the kids so much, they drop the candy bags, leaving it all for you!

GeekMom received this item for review.

3 Ways Post-it Brand and Evernote Can Simplify Your Work Life

Image: Post-it
Image: Post-it

I am not a stay-at-home mom. SAHMs out there, I salute you. But when the rubber meets the road, I love being at work. I adore my kids, but I know that I’m happiest when I’m both mom and a happy employee.

That said, I love my job. I was truly lucky this last year to find myself at a most amazing company, with the best coworkers I could ever imagine. Being in the work environment again after taking a year off with my daughter has been an awesome experience, but it definitely took some adjusting.

I work at a large company. Over four thousand employees. I have tons of meetings. Sometimes I joke that I need meetings to organize my meetings. While I absolutely love the fast-paced environment, there are days where I just feel like my (lack of) organizational skills are going to get me into some big trouble.

But thankfully, Evernote exists. And with the new partnership between Evernote and Post-it Brand, my life just got a whole lot easier. In the short time I’ve been using the new functionality—since I came back from Evernote 2013—I’ve come up with some solutions that you can use in your work life for optimal organization techniques.

Oh such pretty colors! Image: Post-it
Oh such pretty colors! Image: Post-it

Visualize your thought process with color. Post-it Notes are known worldwide for their bright, eye-catching colors. It’s a method that pretty much cries out for use. I’m pretty dedicated to using my iPad at work, anyway, and during the day I’m constantly hit with a barrage of requests. Quite often, I get an idea for one project in the middle of another. The result? Chaos. But if I write down ideas for our Community Relations team on an Electric Blue Post-it Note and snap a pic, then I can go back and see it easily in Evernote—and I can see at a glance where it belongs! For someone super visually motivated, this makes me look a whole lot more together than I often feel.

Save your creative sanity. In addition to being a social media specialist, I’m also a writer. And I’ve found that if I don’t feed my creative side, my work side suffers. The trouble is keeping track of inspiration during the day. So, I dedicate green to the creative process. And into Evernote go those Limeade Post-it Notes, in their own special folder, for later retrieval. That way that next possible plot point or song lyric doesn’t get lost. It just gets filed away for later use.

Be awesome in front of your coworkers. You know what stinks about white boards? Transcribing them is annoying. You know what’s awesome about Post-it Notes? They come in bigger sizes called Post-it Big Pads! So brainstorming with your favorite team just took on a whole new searchable meaning. You can snap pics of Post-it Big Pads from the brainstorm you had last Tuesday, and not only do you keep it for posterity, you can search it and share it. Now who’s the rock star?

Learn more about Post-it Brand and Evernote by visiting your local office supply store or by visiting , Post-it Brand on Twitter (@postitproducts), or Facebook (

Logitech UE MINI BOOM Giveaway

Photo courtesy of Finn Partners, used with permission.
Photo courtesy of Finn Partners, used with permission.

Speakers are serious business at my house, and bluetooth speakers have especially consumed my husband for the past couple of years. We have a Logitech UE Mobile Boombox that has been on several vacations with us, providing white noise for our sleeping toddler or a soundtrack for something we’re watching on an iPad. It’s insanely small and the sound is phenomenal.

So I’m pretty excited for Logitech’s upgrade to the Mobile Boombox, the UE MINI BOOM. It still promises the great sound that we love in the original Mobile Boombox, but now you can pair 2 Mini Booms together using a free app (for iOS™ and Android™) to get a more classic stereo sound. It also comes in several colors, and I am always a sucker for gadgets in bright colors.

To celebrate today’s launch, Logitech is giving away one UE MINI BOOM (retail $99.99) to a lucky GeekMom reader!

To enter our giveaway just login to the Rafflecopter widget below with your Facebook account or email address (use a valid email so we can let you know if you win). You can then like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for up to two entries! If you already like/follow us it will still enter you in the giveaway. A winner will be chosen at random at the end of the contest and their name will be posted right in the Rafflecopter widget so you can check back to see who won.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What to Expect With the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 Part 1: The Freebies

The Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2. Image provided by Microsoft. Used with permission
The Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2. Image provided by Microsoft


I spent the weekend in New York City, as a guest of Microsoft, to help them launch their second generation of Surface tablets: the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2. Aside from watching the launch event on September 23, with press and fellow special guests, I also talked to the press about why I love the Surface Pro, especially from the point of view of a gamer and tech enthusiast.

There are many things which excite me about the next generation of tablets, due for release on October 22, 2013, in 22 markets around the world. Additional markets will be announced in the coming months.

There will be two models of the Surface 2 (formally known as Surface RT), and four models of the Surface Pro 2. The Surface RT will also remain available at the new discounted price.

As for the things which excite me, some of these things are the new accessories. Some of these things have to do with hardware upgrades. While others have to do with software and other add-ons. Over the next few weeks, I’ll tell you about some of my first impressions and take a little bit of a closer look at what you can look forward to with the second generation Surface tablets.

But first, let me tell you about a couple freebies that will come with the next generation of tablets. These freebies will be very beneficial to users.

One of the freebies comes exclusively with the Surface 2. Unlike its predecessor that only came with Microsoft Office Home & Student 2013 RT, the Surface 2 will come preloaded with Microsoft Office 2013 RT, including Outlook 2013. This upgraded preloaded software will be beneficial to both students and professionals.

The next freebie that has me pretty excited has to do with Skype. This freebie will be available when you purchase either the Surface 2 or the Surface Pro 2. I use Skype a lot. I spent a fair amount of money to be able to make international calls to landlines when interviewing people who live overseas for my radio show. The first part of the Skype freebie is unlimited international calling to landlines for one year. The second part of the Skype freebie is one year of free unlimited Skype WiFi.

The last freebie will also be available when you purchase either the Surface 2 or the Surface Pro 2. With your purchase, you’ll receive a whopping 200 GB of SkyDrive cloud storage, free, for two years! That is a lot of storage, and will be a huge benefit for people who live in the cloud. Even for someone like me who has to make use of a lot of external storage, I can see the benefit of 200 GB in the cloud, outside of the built-in benefit of automatic backup and syncing of system settings, across all devices.

These three benefits are pretty simple, but will have a sizeable impact on many users. But they are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I’ll talk more about what to expect as we get closer to the release date.

The price for the Surface 2 will start at $449.00. The price of the Surface Pro 2 will start at $899.00.

Starting September 24, 2013, at 8 am ET, you can pre-order the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 online at the Microsoft Store in the U.S. and Canada, and at select retailers in North American and around the world. Quantities are limited and no deposit is required, so you may want to hurry.

Product Review: SunTactics sCharger-5 USB Solar Charger

Image credit:
Image credit:

I was given the opportunity to review the SunTactics sCharger 5 USB solar charger. It’s by far the most lightweight portable device charger I have ever seen, which makes it ideal for backpacking and when you have to travel via air with just a carry-on bag. Read on for my impressions.

What Comes in the Box

  • sCharger-5
  • Nylon case with Velcro closure
  • Quick start guide
  • Instruction pamphlet

Note that you need to supply your own USB charging cable.


I received the sCharger-5 back in June just in time for my LONG drive between Florida and Colorado, but didn’t get a chance to truly review it until I was moved into my house and had plenty of sun available on my back porch at 6800′ elevation. I intended to try out this charger with both my iPhone and iPad.

As I said, this is a very lightweight charger, weighing in at only 8.3 oz. I love this feature! I also love that the sCharger is made in America.

Being lightweight comes at a cost. The charger is a bi-fold setup with the solar panels folding inward for storage. While the panels themselves seem substantial enough, the clear laminate hinge holding them together appears weaker than I would prefer.

There’s a blue box towards the top with the USB female connector.

I figured I could put the charger in my dashboard and fly down the interstate while charging my iPhone. If I had consulted the instructions *before* I took this trip, I would have read that the company does not recommend attempting to use the sCharger-5 through a windshield due to the UV filtering. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Um…no? If I had consulted the instructions *before* I took this trip, I would have read that the company does not recommend attempting to use the sCharger-5 through a windshield due to the UV filtering. However, customers have commented on Amazon that this is indeed possible for the smallest of devices, such as an iPod Nano. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

This didn’t work. My iPhone would beep upon plugging it in, but it didn’t remain charging for more than a minute or so. The iPad didn’t even last that long.

So my review would have to wait until I was settled into our new house.

Fast forward three weeks and I was ready to roll. Because the instructions clearly stated that the charger needed to be in direct sunlight, and I didn’t want to take chances with windows again, I had a great setup:

My answer to making sure the sCharger is in direct sunlight without baking my devices in the July sun. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
My answer to making sure the sCharger was in direct sunlight without baking my devices in the July sun. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

First I tested the sCharger-5 on my iPhone. With full Colorado sun, this was easy. The best I was able to accomplish was about 40% charge per hour and that was by turning off my GPS and all apps. When I left everything running, I averaged 30% charge per hour. While this isn’t as fast as my iPhone wall charger, it’s a great charging rate just the same.

Next, I tried one of my son’s Kindle Fires. In this case, I didn’t specifically turn off any of the apps, but I was able to achieve around 7% per hour this way. If you were to charge it with no apps running, it should charge faster.

The challenge was with my iPad. The first time I attempted to charge my iPad, I hadn’t made any modifications. With all the apps running, and no modifications to my settings, I could not charge it.  On the contrary, the iPad drained while it was plugged in, even in full Colorado sun. The documentation makes it clear that the sCharger-5 is meant for smaller devices:

Although the sCharger-5 is at its best with smaller USB devices like the iPhone, we have been able to charge the iPad1 and 2 at charge rates from 10%-12% per hour. For absolute best results, charge on a clear cool day when the sun is high in the sky. Like any solar panel, output power lowers as temperature rises. So charge times may vary.


– Aim the sCharger-5 in the sun’s general direction.
– Lower your screen brightness to 1/3 and turn auto brightness off.
– Press top button to put iPad into sleep mode.
– Set background image to a dark image (most important tip).
– Keep iPad in shade on hot days.

You will substantially increase charge efficiency when using these tips. The sCharger-5 is meant for smaller devices but will do just fine for the iPad. Our sCharger-12 is best for charging an iPad as it is a higher power unit.

I didn’t have a full sun day again for about a week, but when I did, I used the above tips and the iPad successfully charged at 10% per hour.

Frankly, I think that’s a lot of effort to get a charge. Therefore, for larger tablets, I recommend the sCharger-5 for emergencies only.

This charger is quite sensitive to the amount of insolation it receives. If it’s cloudy, expect a slower charge. Likewise when the sun is low in the sky, such as early in the morning or near twilight. Expect the fastest charging between 10am and 2pm local time, with no clouds in the sky.


In summary, the sCharger-5 is ideal for smaller devices, with the capability existing to charge larger tablets in emergencies. It’s incredibly lightweight, making it ideal for backpacking and athletics. If you’re interested in a more convenient tablet charger, I recommend the sCharger-12, which is Suntactics’ larger charger. Not only does it claim to easily charge tablets, but it also has two USB ports for charging two devices simultaneously.

I only tested the charger with the fullest possible sun. In the future I’d like to try strapping it to the back of my daypack for my next mountain hike.

The Suntactics sCharger-5 retails for $169.99 and is available through the company’s website, or through online retailers such as Amazon.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

On Babies, Glasses of Water, and the Peril of iPhone Ownership

Håkan Dahlström – CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

Post sponsored by Protect Your Bubble; opinions and stories my own.

When my son was two years old, he was fascinated with every device in the house. But none took his fascination as much as my cell phone. Any chance he got, he tried to grab at it, talk at it, throw it, spin it, crash it. I’m not sure what it was about it (especially considering how little I talked on it) but it was a magnetic connection.

Then one day: the inevitable. I was working from home, typing away and trying to get some client work done, when he swooped in and, in one quick motion, dropped my phone directly into the full glass of water beside me. It was one of those slow-motion responses. It took a few heartbeats for me to even realize what had happened, and when I went to retrieve the phone I knew that I wouldn’t get there fast enough. In my head, all I could see was water seeping into every little circuit and wire.

I did what everyone does in such a situation. I trolled the internet and tried some of the remedies I’d heard: stick it in rice, let it air-dry. And while it briefly did work, eventually it just died. And I had to, out of contract, pony up for another phone.

Thankfully, these days, I have options. I also have a more expensive phone–and that new iPhone is indeed looking appealing. My son is now seven, and my daughter isn’t quite two–but she’s already absolutely besotted with my iPhone 5. She reaches her little fingers toward it whenever she can, and more often than not I find it streaked with little fingerprints (or, slightly larger one, when the boy finds it unwarranted).

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 9.50.30 PM
Bubble and Squeak from Protect Your Bubble

And even more thankfully, there exists something that costs less than two Starbucks lattes a month and, to the relief of many, ensures that your phone doesn’t end up costing you top dollar. Our sponsor, Protect Your Bubble, is insurance for your tech. Which, considering how much it’s used in most geek households, totally makes sense. Their iPhone coverage is cheaper than many carriers‘ (starting at $7.99/month) and it covers accidental damage, loss and theft (which most carriers don’t even bother with) and provides fast replacement. That’s a pretty sweet deal, especially if your tech has anywhere near the focus it does in my house. It’s nice to worry less, especially when there’s so much else to be anxious about.

To learn more about our sponsor Protect Your Bubble, and their offerings, you can visit their website or follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

Product Review: Digital Treasures Props Power & Keyboard Case for the iPad

The Digital Treasures Power and Keyboard Case roll several iPad accessories into one. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
What do you mean, it isn’t a laptop? The Digital Treasures Power and Keyboard Case rolls several iPad accessories into one. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

I’m pleased to review the Props Power and Keyboard iPad case. Of the numerous cases I’ve tried out, this one is by far the most substantial. Not only is it a quality leather case, but it also includes a Bluetooth keyboard, and underneath the keyboard is a battery pack that can be used to charge the connected iPad or even other devices. There are some limitations to some of the features so read on and see if this is the right iPad accessory for you.

In fact, I am typing this entire review for you on my iPad, using this Bluetooth keyboard.

What Comes in the Box


This is a well-made case. The iPad can slip into the case using a flap—a technique that’s common in many tablet cases. The case has a leather exterior with red stitching and lightweight rubberized interior. The case does a good job allowing users to maintain a grip. The case has notches cut into the front for the home button and FaceTime camera. A hole is cut into the back side of the case for the camera.

The Bluetooth keyboard easily connects with the iPad; the instruction pamphlet has the PIN required to make the link. As I’ll explain in the following section, I’ve yet to have the iPad and keyboard automatically discover each other. That being said, it’s very easy for the two to connect, even when done manually. The connection buttons are easily accessible. The company claims that one can get up to 3,000 hours of Bluetooth keyboard time if you don’t use the battery for any other purposes. I have not worked 3,000 hours to tell you whether this is true, but I did not have to recharge the pack once for the first two weeks, when all I did was use the keyboard.

The case offers the ability to have the iPad sit like a laptop screen in front of the keyboard is well done, which is pretty standard in the case market. The rubber interior surface makes it easy to maintain that propped-up configuration without slipping. The angle for the configuration is on the steep side, I had to slouch to see the screen properly while I’m sitting on a bar stool.

The keyboard is a full-service QWERTY configuration, complete with cursor arrow buttons and a “Function” key capability. You even have the standard MacBook brightness and iTunes keys along the top row. The keys are smaller, meaning if you’re used to touch-typing on a full sized keyboard, you will have to slow down some to get used to the smaller setup.

I really like this keyboard, since my regular computer happens to be a MacBook. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
I really like this keyboard, since my regular computer happens to be a MacBook. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

The battery is 8000 mAh, a greater capacity than the Solar Joos Orange I had reviewed back in April. When you plug in the keyboard via the USB cable, it will charge the battery pack. This same battery pack powers the keyboard. Use the MicroUSB-to-female USB connector with your tablet’s USB cable to use the battery pack.

The control panel will show you the charge remaining on the top row, and controls the Bluetooth features on the bottom row. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
The control panel will show you the charge remaining on the top row, and controls the Bluetooth features on the bottom row. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

I was pleased to see that you can use the battery pack to charge your devices at the same time as using the Bluetooth keyboard. I was worried that might not have worked.

The short cable -- more of a dongle, really -- came with the case. Use it with your device's USB charging cable to use the battery as a charger. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
The short cable—more of a dongle, really—came with the case. Use it with your device’s USB charging cable to use the battery as a charger. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Need for Improvement

  • You know how many iPad cases have magnets that will put your iPad to sleep when you close the cover? This cover has that feature as well, except there are some functionality issues with it. Perhaps the magnets on this case are too powerful? Flipping the cover behind the iPad—such as for reading—will lock the iPad. There is a leather flap that flips out for your wrists while typing. That flap, when tucked in while the protective leather flap for the keyboard keeps it from locking.
  • Magnetic flap to secure case when closed. What to do with the flap when you’re using the iPad? I’m not sure!
This flap just sorta sits there in the way when you're trying to type with the keyboard. I've slipped it in behind the iPad, but I'm not sure that was what the manufacturer had in mind. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
This flap just sits there in the way when you’re trying to type with the keyboard. I’ve slipped it in behind the iPad, but I’m not sure that was what the manufacturer had in mind. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
  • There is a screen-lock key in upper right corner where ordinarily there’s a “Backspace” key. Look at the closeup photo of the keyboard above and you will see it. It’s very close to the backspace key and before I got accustomed to the smaller keyboard, I was locking the screen constantly. I used the backspace key a lot.
  • Heavy. I’m not sure if you can really improve on this, since the battery pack is one of the features of this product. Be prepared for your iPad to gain a lot of weight. The PROPS case with my iPad 2 weighs 43.2 ounces, compared to the 38-ounce 11″ MacBook Air.
  • Users need to understand that this is not a quick-charge product. Recharging the battery pack from A/C power took about 2 hours, and I measured about 10% per hour charge when the battery pack was charging my iPad. However, the battery drained only about 10% per hour, which is some of the best capacity I’ve ever experienced for a mobile device charger.
  • On/Off key for Bluetooth keyboard is a small slider switch. On the review case I received, the slider switch seemed loose, and it’s difficult to look at the switch and see whether it’s in the “on” or “off” position. See the picture of the controls above.
  • Bluetooth discovery. For other Bluetooth products that I use with my iPad, when I turn on the product, the iPad will automatically detect it. With this case, it seemed intermittent. I’m not sure why. I have to take a minute to go into the settings and “Connect” the “Props Power and Keyboard Case”.


This is a case worth investing in if you (a) use your iPad for a lot of typing and/or (b) you are a high-use iPad user who often struggles with low battery before getting it on a charger. Understand its limitations in functionality and I think this is still worth owning.

The Props Power & Keyboard Case is available for the iPad 2, 3, and 4, as well as for the iPad Mini and some Android devices. The model I reviewed retails for $109.99, but can be found at retailers such as Amazon for as little as $90.50.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.