Archive for March, 2010

ChargePod V1 (or how to be a hero)

March 12th, 2010 No comments

When the folks at CallPod asked me to review Keeper, they also asked if I could review the ChargePod.  This product has been out for a while (at least a year I believe) and I was not quite sure what I could add to the reviews that are already out there.  But I figured I’d take a stab at it, just because I like to be respectful of companies that send products my way.  I’m still too new at this to be inured to all the swag that comes from being a mighty tech blogger.  One day perhaps!


So for those of you who don’t know what the ChargePod is, it is a very simple device.  Basically, think of it as a starfish with charging ports for arms.  Up to six different devices can be connected and charged using a variety of dongles.  And by variety, I mean variety – over 3,000 different devices can be charged using the ChargePod’s stable of available connectors.  The device comes with three different connectors – one Apple Dock connector, one mini-USB connector, and one micro-USB connector.  It also comes with a coupon for a free connector and another for 20% off your first order, so all in all, you can set yourself up pretty well for not a lot of money.  Each dongle is about $10.


From a review perspective, it’s very simple.  The product does what it’s supposed to.  I plug in the power to the ChargePod and plug in my device and the device charges.  Cool.  A product that works as described.  It’s mindlessly simple.  My fiancee and I use it to charge her RAZR, her iTouch, my iPhone – I’m planning to get connectors for my son’s PSP, DSi, a generic USB connector so I can plug my headphone recharger into it….(umm, you folks at CallPod weren’t expecting this unit back anytime soon were you?).  We like the device, needless to say.  And the great thing is that it removes the tangle of wires that connect to my USB hub.  With ChargePod, I realized that 90% of the reason I have a USB hub is so I can re-charge something.  The ChargePod removes the need to keep my hub around.  The only cord I have in there now is for my iPhone so I can sync, and my headphone charger cause I don’t have the USB connector for the ChargePod yet.


The only “complaint” I have (cause no review can be perfect) is that you need a fairly decent amount of surface area to plug everything in.  To give you a sense of perspective, that sheet of paper is roughly 10″x14″.  It’s more elegant than a tangle of wires, but I’d love to wall mount this thing and somehow create a little electronics mandala to help remove some of the horizontal space requirements.  But it’s a minor quibble.  I’m looking forward to the V2 ChargePod, which will allow you to charge a laptop as well as other devices, plus plug in USB drives and the like.  It’s basically a portable universal laptop adaptor on steroids.

So why do I say that the ChargePod allows you to be a hero?  Well, I was in an all-day meeting last week at an off-site with limited Internet connectivity (which you had to pay for).  Almost everyone in that meeting was checking Blackberries every 10 minutes if not more frequently.  And because of that, their little addictions needed to be charged.  I personally was using my iPhone to access the corporate webmail presence, so I’m certainly not innocent.  But the thing I noticed was that everyone was swapping out a single charger between the various Blackberries.  And I thought to myself, if I got like five more mini-USB connectors and brought the ChargePod to my next all day offsite, people would love me.  LOVE me.  Hmm…$32 to buy the affections of a bunch of VPs and Directors…?  Might be worth it…

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tXtBlocker Service

March 8th, 2010 No comments

So I’ve been a little busy at work and the Q-man has been busy with work and school, so we’ve been ignoring the blog for a while.  I’m hoping that this will change in March but won’t be able to tell for sure, since I start teaching a new class at my gym.  Busy busy busy!

Before I got so busy I had a chance to chat with an awesome new company.  tXtBlocker sent us a press release during the CES leadup, and I found them interesting enough to arrange a call with their media relations guy.  I came away quite impressed with their potential.

txtblocker screen_SafeZone

tXtBlocker provides a service that prevents cell phones from being used under user-specified conditions.  I say service because it’s not software that is installed on the cell phone itself; rather, compatible cell phones are registered on tXtBlocker’s servers and associated with an account.  This allows the account holder to identify and set up rules around when that cell phone can be used for calls and texts.

As an example, consider the very simple rule “no texting while driving”.  By using the tXtBlocker service, the phone is automatically prevented from being used for texting when the service registers that the phone is travelling faster than a pre-set speed.  It is transparent to the user in the sense that the phone just doesn’t text when the condition is met.  At CES, the company was selling this as a service to parents of teens, who are among the most prolific of violators of this particular rule.  However, the flexibility of the service is useful to companies as well.  We discussed many use cases, including:

  • preventing calls/texts from a user-defined radius (ie, a school, a church, etc).
  • preventing calls/texts before or after a certain time (ie, during school)
  • tracking the location of a phone
  • preventing texting while driving
  • theft deterrence and tracking

Driving Preferences screen

Safe Zone mapEmergency calls to 911 are always available, regardless of whether or not a rule is in effect.  And rules can be added/suspended via account access – they don’t need to have physical access to the phone for rules to be implemented.  So if your phone is stolen, you can log in, prevent it from being used for calls or texts, and track where the phone is.  How awesome is that?  If need be, the phone owner can request that the block be removed temporarily.

In my opinion, the true utility is for corporations.  How many companies give their employees cell phones or Blackberries and only have soft guidelines about using them in inappropriate situations?  I’m honestly not sure why an enterprising lawyer hasn’t sued a major corporation because an employee was texting or replying to email while driving.  Yes, there’s some employee responsibility here but in today’s job climate, it’s very believable that an employee feels the need to always be available and to take unreasonable risks if they think it will help them keep their job.  By activating corporate phones on tXtBlocker, every employee’s phone can be set to prevent use when the phone is traveling over 15mph.  Simple, transparent, and safe.  The theft deterrence and tracking capabilities are a close second in terms of corporate benefits as well – a nice big sticker on the back saying that the phone can be tracked and retrieved will go a long way to removing it as a potential hijack.

Right now, the service is primarily compatible with Blackberries, plus a few other phone models.  But tXtBlocker indicated that by the end of 2010, they expect that their service will be compatible with the vast majority of GPS-enabled phones.  The big exception, of course, is the iPhone because of its walled architecture.  And since Apple sells a competing service (at least in the retrieval area), I don’t know how willing Apple would be to let tXtBlocker gain sufficient access to the background OS processes to make their service work.  I figure we just need a few high profile cases where people cause accidents while typing on an iPhone to raise the visibility of the issue enough that Apple starts looking for a way to do this (or at least allow tXtBlocker to do it for them).

The service has an annual fee with discounts for each phone registered to an account.  I know the last thing people want is another fee in these economic times, but as a parent of a future teen driver, I know I will be seriously considering this service.  The cost is not all that high when you consider what it might be preventing.

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