Computer Accessories Archive

Logitech improves on the XBox Adaptive Controller with a cost-effective control package

Articles

Logitech G Adaptive Gaming Kit press picture courtesy of Logitech International

Logitech G Adaptive Gaming Kit has what you need for the XBox Adaptive Controller

Logitech’s $100 kit for the Xbox Adaptive Controller makes accessible gaming cheaper | CNet

Microsoft went all in on accessible design. This is what happened afterwards | FastCompany

Previous HomeNetworking01.info coverage on the XBox Adaptive Controller

Microsoft runs a Super Bowl ad about inclusive gaming

From the horse’s mouth

Logitech

Adaptive Gaming Kit (Product Page, Press Release, Blog Post)

My Comments

Recently, Microsoft launched the XBox Adaptive Controller as an accessible games-console controller for people who face motion and dexterity-related disabilities. They even promoted it in a TV commercial ran during this year’s Super Bowl football match, which would have been considered to go against the grain for the usual sporting and video-game audiences.

This has been part of Microsoft’s step towards inclusionary gaming and I had written in the article about that controller not just to focus towards providing video gaming for disabled people. But I also called out the therapeautic value that some games can have for elderly people as well as disabled people with Microsoft offering a lower barrier to entry for independent game developers to create games that underscore that concept.

It has actually been underscored in a recent CNET video article about the XBox Adaptive Controller being used to help a US war veteran who lost some of his motion and dexterity in a motorcycle accident.

Click or tap here to play the video

But Logitech have taken this a step further by offering an accessory kit with all the necessary controls for US$99. This kit, known as the Adaptive Gaming Kit, makes it more affordable for these people so you can have an accessible gaming setup to suit your particular needs without having to choose and buy the necessary accessories. Here, it is important especially if a person’s needs will change over time and you don’t want to have to buy newer accessories to suit that need.

The package comes with rigid and flexible mats with Velcro anchor points for the various buttons and other controls. The flexible mats can even allow the controls to be anchored around a chair’s arms or other surfaces while the whole kit can allow for the equipment to be set up and packed up with minimal effort. The controls all have their own Velcro anchor points and screw holes for anchoring to other surfaces.

Logitech used their own intellectual capital in designing the kit while working with Microsoft to evolve the product. Here, they implemented their own mechanical-switch technology that is part of their high-end keyboards including their low-profile switches used in their low-profile keyboard range. The large buttons have stabilisers built in to them so you can press them from anywhere on the button’s surface. This leads to them not reinventing the wheel when it comes to the product’s design or manufacture because of the use of common technology.

What I have liked about Logitech’s Adaptive Gaming Kit is that the idea of accessible gaming comes at a price point that represents value for money. This is compared to various assistive-technology solutions which tend to require the user to pay a king’s ransom to acquire the necessary equipment. It has often led towards the government or charitable sector not getting their money’s worth out of their disabled-person support programs due to the high cost of the necessary technology.

Welcome to the new age of making assistive technology become more mainstream, not just for disabled users but for the realities associated with the ageing population such as ageing Baby Boomers and people living longer.

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Product Review–Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar

Introduction

When Creative Labs launched the Stage Air desktop soundbar, they were positioning it as a single-piece soundbar to exist on your desktop under your computer monitor. This is in the same vein as those soundbars or TV speaker bases that are connected to larger TV sets to improve their sound. This unit isn’t just a desktop soundbar but able to work as a portable Bluetooth speaker thanks to it having its own battery power.

I then organised to review one of these desktop soundbars to find out how they perform as a desktop computer speaker system or portable Bluetooth speaker and am now reviewing one of these units.

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar speaker

Price

The Unit Itself

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$79.95

Form Factor

Single Piece soundbar

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Analogue Inputs 1 x 3.5mm stereo line input
Digital Inputs Bluetooth 4.2 A2DP wireless connection
Network
Bluetooth A2DP with AVRCP

Speakers

Output Power 5W per channel Stereo
Speaker Layout 2 speakers in one cabinet 2 x full-range speakers
Enclosure Audio Qualities Use of one passive radiator

The unit itself

Setup and Connection

Creative Labs Stage Air connection Options: 3.5mm stereo line-in jack, USB Micro-B charging port, USB Type-A port for MP3 playback from USB Mass-Storage Devices

Connection Options: 3.5mm stereo line-in jack, USB Micro-B charging port, USB Type-A port for MP3 playback from USB Mass-Storage Devices

The Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar sits just under my monitor properly and would be able to fit under most of the monitors or all-in-one computers easily. The connections are in a recessed space on the back of the speaker with a 3.5mm stereo jack for your computer, a USB Micro-B power connection and a USB Type-A connection for use with a memory key full of MP3 audio files.

The controls are located on the right-had-side of the speaker with the power / source button located on the right near you. Here, you press this button until the lamp on the front turns green to use the line input connection for your computer sound.

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar controls on right side - Power, Up, Down, Bluetooth pairing

Controls on right side – Power, Up, Down, Bluetooth pairing

To use it as a Bluetooth speaker, you would press this source button until the lamp turns blue. If no device is paired to this unit, the light will flash and the speaker will announce an invitation to put your Bluetooth host device in to pairing mode to complete the setup.

To have the speaker work with a new Bluetooth device. you would need to hold down the  Bluetooth-icon button to start the pairing process. This may be a procedure you need to do whenever you want to have it work with a new Bluetooth device and there is no knowledge of whether the Creative Stage Air soundbar can work in a multipoint fashion supporting multiple Bluetooth devices.

Useability

It is easy to tell which input source you are using by the colour of the front light – blue for Bluetooth and green for line-in. As well, the voice prompts for the Bluetooth setup process make it easy for new users to enrol a new device with the Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar.

Initially adjusting the volume may be confusing with the + button located towards you and the – button located away from you where you may be used to setups that have buttons in the reverse order. But you can still feel the controls to identify which ones they are when adjusting the volume from the speaker.

Network Performance

While I was using the Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar with my smartphone as a Bluetooth speaker, I noticed that it didn’t take long to pair up with the smartphone. As well, there wasn’t any jitter in the sound while I was playing music using the Bluetooth connection.

Sound Quality

What really shows up with a speaker system is its sound quality including whether it is too bassy or too brittle in the sound.

Firstly, I had run some audio content from my smartphone and from the computer with it coming across with a tonal quality that has a rich bass sound and a treble sound that is bright enough. It can cope with bass-heavy electronic dance music and yield the appropriate amount of “punch” in that music.

I have played some video content through my desktop PC and have found that the Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar does treat the audio mix properly. This is to assess how a speaker or headphone setup can handle speech, sound effects and music with it affecting its prowess for viewing video content, playing games, engaging in videocalls or similar activities.

The speech comes across clearly with male voices having a deep rich sound. The sound effects come across with some authenticity, something I had noticed while watching an episode Julie Zemiro’s Home Delivery on ABC iView with the sound of the car engine whenever they went anywhere. It is while the music in the video content contains the right balance of clarity and depth. I also watched an episode of a police drama and found that some effects like the gunshots had that bit of punch in them, something that would be of importance when playing a lot of first-person shooter games.

Achieving the right amount of bass response for a small area is facilitated using a passive radiator which is like a speaker driver but not driven by the amplifier circuitry. This was used in some “ghetto-blaster” designs to increase the bass response in a power-efficient manner and is commonly used on many Bluetooth speakers for the same purpose.

As part of testing speaker setups, I take the volume setting up to as high as it will go before I notice any clipping or distortion in the sound. This is to identify how powerful the amplifier circuitry really is and I could take it up all the way without it distorting.

The sound output would really be loud enough for close-up listening at your computer desk or to fill a small area while there is still a rich tone.

Other issues

The unit can run on its own battery for what would be expected for a portable Bluetooth speaker but if you are using it regularly with a computer, I would have it work with a USB power supply.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One design improvement I would like to see is the implementation of USB Audio as an audio pathway for this device. This is rather than just using the USB Micro-B port for providing power to the speaker. It would then mean that one cable can be used to provide sound and power from the host computer to the speaker rather than using another connection method like Bluetooth or line-level analogue for that purpose.

Similarly, Creative Labs could move towards using USB-C for power and audio connections especially where more computers are being equipped with this connection. It can also lead to them evolving the Stage Air desktop soundbar towards an elementary USB hub function especially where laptops and small-form desktop computers are being equipped with fewer USB connections.

Other alternative connections that can be looked at include the use of an HDMI or DisplayPort input and output connection so that the speaker can be connected between a host computer and a monitor that uses one of these connections and you want to use the “display audio” function that is part of the host’s graphics infrastructure.

The side controls could be made easier to identify by touch so you can know which one is which quickly without looking at them. This could be through raised O, + and – symbols for the power / source and volume buttons or through other means. It is because most of us may he simply used to using the speaker’s volume controls to quickly raise and lower the volume of our computers.

If Creative wants to support playback of file-based audio content from a USB Mass Storage device, they could have the Stage Air also work with other file codecs, especially FLAC and AAC. This is more so as these codecs, especially the FLAC codec, gain traction as higher-quality alternatives to the MP3 audio codec.

As well, if the Stage Air desktop soundbar is to live under that monitor or all-in-one’s screen most of its working life, I would recommend the use of a headphone jack or Bluetooth headphone support. This would avoid the need to swap out the speaker cable for your headphones when you want to connect them to your computer.

Conclusion

I would position the Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar as something that can serve as a portable Bluetooth speaker or as a single-piece alternative to a modest two-piece desktop computer speaker setup. It can also include improving your DAB+ or Internet radio’s sound output, something you may want to do with a small unit that has a headphone connection on it.

But you may find that its sound output is more so for use in the office or at home where you aren’t placing value on a heavy bass response.  The idea that the Stage Air is battery powered may come into its own when you are travelling and want something powerful enough to fill a small room like your average hotel room with music from your laptop, smartphone or a portable audio device. This is while it doesn’t take up much room in your luggage.

On the other hand, if you place value on stronger bass response, most of the three-piece desktop computer speaker setups with a dedicated active subwoofer may answer your needs.

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Google to make USB Power Delivery mandatory for newer USB-C Android devices

Article

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

Newer Android smartphones and tablets with USB-C ports will need to be compliant with USB Power Delivery

Google now requires Digital Wellbeing and USB-C PD charging standard for new Android phones | The Verge

Google will require ALL Android devices with USB-C to support USB-PD | AusDroid

Google requires new Android devices with Type-C ports to not break USB-PD compatibility | XDA Developers

What Is USB-PD And Why Is Google Enforcing It? | Gizmodo

USB Power Delivery explained | Android Authority

My Comments

A feature that is asked for with smartphones and tablets is to support fast battery charging as well as the ability to operate the mobile device on external power while it charges.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook - USB-C power

… to have the same kind of USB-C power-supply connectivity as this Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook

Typically this was satisfied by USB battery chargers working up to 5V 2.4A and feeding the device from a USB Type-A socket to a USB Micro-B, USB-C or Apple Lightning (MFi) port. As well, chipset manufacturers like Qualcomm introduced proprietary fast-charge solutions that different phone manufacturers implemented. These required the use of chargers that had the corresponding chipset circuitry and often they were offered by the phone’s manufacturer as a supplied or “official” accessory.

But Google are now requiring that Android devices that have a USB-C connection are to fully support USB Power Delivery. This was initially a recommended feature but from September 2019 it will be a mandatory feature for new Android smartphones to gain full software support like Google Play Services and the Google Play Store.

USB Power Delivery is already implemented as the power source for laptops like recent iterations of the Dell XPS 13 or Apple MacBook Air or as a power-source option for USB-C-equipped laptops like the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible laptop. This is augmented with the availability of power-supply devices working to this standard such as battery packs or USB-C monitors.

Here, Google wants to implement the USB-PD standard for the Android platform for a number of reasons. Here USB-PD implements a standard voltage-and-current ladder to supply power to the device according to what the power-supply device can offer and what the device can take. Therefore an Android device manufacturer can design a device to take the right power level to, perhaps, facilitate fast-charging or high-performance operation while connected to a USB-PD power source.

As well, the standard is a known common standard that is managed by USB Implementers Forum rather than a device or chipset vendor for the benefit of the industry. This puts less pressure on power-supply vendors to cater to different proprietary fast-charging requirements.

This standard will also accelerate the availability of USB-PD-compliant power-supply designs for every sort of application and at price points that appeal to everyone. It can also encourage innovation when it comes to power-supply design whether this is for one or more devices or to work from an internal battery, 100-250V AC mains power or 12-24V DC vehicle/marine/aircraft power.

Householders won’t even have to worry about the number of USB chargers available that will charge their mobile device quickly. As well, the environment will benefit because of the reduced number of useable chargers going to landfill but the reality with these chargers is that they are still kept available as “spare” or “convenience” chargers until they fail to function.

USB Power Delivery can also allow for a mobile device to be a power source for a peripheral like a portable hard disk or a USB digital noise-cancelling headset. This may require the mobile device to be equipped with two USB-C sockets if it is to be of use with people who need to be able to run their devices from external power.

Personally, I could see this happening that someone will engineer a cost-effective way to have a USB-PD-compliant power supply to simply be a general-purpose power supply. This will end up with this technology being used simply to power all sorts of lighting, novelties and other devices, like what is happening with the current USB specification.

Google’s approach with mandating the use of USB Power Delivery for all Android mobile devices equipped with USB-C connectors will keep up Android’s fame as the mobile platform built on common open standards.

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WindowsCentral has identified a handful of portable external graphics modules for your Thunderbolt 3 laptop

Article

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module press picture courtesy of Sonnet Systems

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck integrated-chipset external graphics module – the way to go for ultraportables

Best Portable eGPUs in 2019 | WindowsCentral

From the horse’s mouth

Akitio

Node Pro (Product Page)

Gigabyte

Aorus Gaming Box (Product Page)

PowerColor

PowerColor Mini (Product Page)

Sonnet

Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Puck (Product Page)

My Comments

More of the Thunderbolt-3 external graphics modules are appearing on the scene but most of these units are primarily heavy units with plenty of connectivity on them. This is good if you wish to have this external graphics module as part of your main workspace / gaming space rather than something you will be likely to take with you as you travel with that Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook or MacBook Pro.

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation clamshell Ultrabook

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation clamshell Ultrabook – an example of an ultraportable computer that can benefit from one of the portable external graphics modules

Windows Central have called out a selection of these units that are particularly portable in design to allow for ease of transport. This will appeal to gamers and the like who have access to a large-screen TV in another room that they can plug video peripherals in to such as university students living in campus accommodation or a sharehouse. It can also appeal to those of us who want to use the laptop’s screen with a dedicated graphics processor such as to edit and render video footage they have captured or play a game with best video performance.

Most of the portable external graphics modules will be embedded with a particular graphics chipset and a known amount of display memory. In most cases this will be a high-end mobile GPU which may be considered low-spec by desktop (gaming-rig) standards. There will also be reduced connectivity options especially with the smaller units but they will have enough power output to power most Thunderbolt-3-equipped Ultrabooks.

An exception that the article called out was the Akitio Node Pro which is a “card cage” that is similar in size to one of the new low-profile desktop computers. This unit also has a handle and a Thunderbolt-3 downstream connection for other peripherals based on this standard. It would need an active DisplayPort-HDMI adaptor or a display card equipped with at least one HDMI port to connect to the typical large-screen TV set.

Most of the very small units or units positioned at the cheap end of the market would excel at 1080p (Full HD) graphics work. This would be realistic for most flatscreen TVs that are in use as secondary TVs or to use the laptop’s own screen if you stick the the advice to specify Full HD (1080p) as a way to conserve battery power on your laptop.

The exception in this roundup of portable external graphics modules was the AORUS Gaming Box which is kitted out with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 graphics chipset. This would be consided a high-performance unit.

Here, these portable external graphics modules are being identified as being something of use where you are likely to take them between locations but don’t mind compromising when it comes to functionality or capability.

It can also appeal to first-time buyers who don’t want to spend much on their first external graphics module to put a bit of “pep” in to their suitably-equipped laptop’s or all-in-one’s graphics performance. Then if you are thinking of using a better external graphics module, perhaps a “card-cage” variety that can work with high-performance “gaming-rig” or “desktop-workstation” cards, you can then keep one of these external graphics modules as something to use on the road for example.

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Major improvements expected to come to Bluetooth audio

Article

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar press picture courtesy of Creative Corporation

The Bluetooth connectivity that the Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar benefits from will be improved in an evolutionary way

The future of Bluetooth audio: Major changes coming later this year | Android Authority

My Comments

One of Bluetooth’s killer applications, especially for smartphones and tablets, is a wireless link between a headset, speaker or sound system to reproduce audio content held on the host computing device.

At the moment, the high-end for this use case is being fought strongly by some very determined companies. Firstly, Bose, Sony and Bang & Olufsen are competing with each other for the best active-noise-cancelling over-the-ear Bluetooth headset that you can use while travelling. This is while Apple and Sony are vying for top place when it comes to the “true-wireless” in-ear Bluetooth headset. It is showing that the Bluetooth wireless-audio feature is infact part of a desirable feature set for headphones intended to be used with smartphones, tablets or laptops.

Let’s not forget that recently-built cars and recently-made aftermarket car-stereo head units are equipped with Bluetooth for communications and multimedia audio content. This is part of assuring drivers can concentrate on the road while they are driving.

JBL E45BT Bluetooth wireless headset

.. just like headsets like this JBL one

But this technology is to evolve over the second half of 2019 with products based on the improved technology expected to appear realistically by mid 2020. Like with Bluetooth Low Energy and similar technologies, the host and accessory devices will be dual-mode devices that support current-generation and next-generation Bluetooth Audio. This will lead to backward compatibility and “best-case” operation for both classes of device.

There is an expectation that they will be offered at a price premium for early adopters but the provision of a single chipset for both modes could lead towards more affordable devices. A question that can easily be raised is whether the improvements offered by next-generation Bluetooth audio can be provided to current-generation Bluetooth hosts or accessory devices through a software upgrade especially where a software-defined architecture is in place.

What will it offer?

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

… like with the upcoming generation of smartphones

The first major feature to be offered by next-generation Bluetooth audio technology is a Bluetooth-designed high-quality audio codec to repackage the audio content for transmission between the host and accessory.

This is intended to replace the need for a smartphone or headset to implement third-party audio codecs like aptX or LDAC if the goal is to assure sound quality that is CD-grade or better. It means that the device designers don’t need to end up licensing these codecs from third parties which will lead to higher-quality products at affordable prices along with removing the balkanisation associated with implementing the different codecs at source and endpoint.

A question that will be raised is what will be the maximum audio quality standard available to the new codec – whether this will be CD-quality sound working up to 16-bit 48kHz sampling rate or master-quality sound working up to 24-bit 192kHz sampling rate. Similarly, could these technologies be implemented in communications audio especially where wide-bandwidth FM-grade audio is being added to voice and video communications technologies for better voice quality and intelligibility thanks to wider bandwidth being available for this purpose.

Another key improvement that will be expected is reduced latency to a point where it isn’t noticeable. This will appeal to the gaming headset market where latency is important because sound effects within games are very important as audio cues for what is happening in a game. It may also be of benefit if you are making or taking videocalls and use your Bluetooth headset to converse with the caller. Here, it will open up the market for Bluetooth-based wireless gaming headsets.

It will also open up Bluetooth audio towards the “many-endpoint” sound-reproduction applications where multiple endpoints like headsets or speakers receive the same audio stream from the same audio source. In these use cases, you can’t have any endpoint receiving the program material reproducing the material later than others receiving the same material.

A key application that will come about is to implement Bluetooth in a multiple-channel speaker setup including a surround-sound setup. This will be a very critical application due to the requirement to reproduce each channel of the audio content stream concurrently and in phase.

It will also legitimise Bluetooth as an alternative wireless link to Wi-Fi wireless networks for multiroom audio setups. As well, the support for “many-endpoint” sound-reproduction will appeal to headsets and hearing-aid applications where there is the desire to send content to many of these devices using a high-quality wireless digital approach rather than RF or induction-loop setups that may be limited in sound quality (in the case of induction-loop setups) or device compatibility (in the case of RF setups). There could even be the ability to support multiple audio-content channels in this setup such as supporting alternative languages or audio description. In some cases, it may open up a use case where transport announcements heard in an airport or rail station can “punch through” over music, video or game sound-effects heard over a Bluetooth headset in a similar way to European car radios can be set up to allow traffic bulletins to override other audio sources.

A question that can be raised with the “many-endpoint” approach that this next-generation Bluetooth-audio technology is to support is whether this can support different connection topologies. This includes “daisy-chaining” speakers so that they are paired to each other for, perhaps a multi-channel setup; using a “hub-and-spoke” approach with multiple headsets or speakers connected to the same source endpoint; or a combination of both topologies including exploiting mesh abilities being introduced to Bluetooth.

Conclusion

From next year, as the newer generations of smartphones, laptops, headsets and other Bluetooth-audio-capable equipment are released, there will be a gradual improvement in the quality and utility of these devices’ audio functions.

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Creative Labs introduces a desktop soundbar speaker as part of an entry-level soundbar range

Articles – From the horse’s mouth

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar press picture courtesy of Creative Corporation

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar

Creative Labs

Stage Air desktop soundbar (Product Page)

Stage soundbar (Product Page)

Press Release

My Comments

Creative Labs recently launched a small desktop soundbar that is being positioned as a viable single-piece alternative to the traditional computer speakers setup. If you did want a right-sized single-piece speaker setup for your computer, you would have used a small Bluetooth speaker or a boombox with a line input.

Here, it is being pitched towards desktop computer users who either are using an all-in-one desktop computer; or a traditional “three-piece” computer setup with the monitor, system unit and keyboard.

Creative Labs Stage soundbar press picture courtesy of Creative Corporation

Creative Labs Stage entry-level soundbar

This capitalises on Creative Labs pedigree in relationship to computer audio – who remembers themselves or a computer enthusiast they know installing a Sound Blaster sound card made by this firm in their computer through the years? It also includes their merger with Cambridge Soundworks who designed different “personal” speaker products advertised in American magazines through the 1990s.

This soundbar, known as the Stage Air, is a stereo device with a full-range speaker driver per channel along with a passive radiator to provide improved bass response. That speaker-arrangement technique had been used with some boomboxes made during the 1980s and 1990s as a way of improving their bass response in a power-efficient manner for portable applications. It is rated by Creative for 5 watts RMS per channel with a 20 watt peak output.

The Stage Air soundbar can fit underneath your computer monitor or all-in-one computer and connects to the host computer using a line-level connection with a 3.5mm stereo jack. But it has Bluetooth connectivity and a battery that can run for six hours on a charge allowing it to be a Bluetooth speaker for your laptop, tablet or smartphone. There is also the ability to connect a USB memory key to the Stage Air soundbar to have it play MP3 audio files held on that memory key.

There are controls on the speaker to regulate the volume so you don’t have to fuss around with your operating system’s sound icon to quickly adjust the sound. When it serves as your desktop speaker, you can have it normally powered by a USB power source like your computer or a USB charger.

From all of the material that I have read about this product, it is being pitched as something that can fill a small office or similar space with sound, something that would be akin to typical desktop computer speakers or a small boombox.

It is being offered as the junior brother to the Stage soundbar which has more power output and can fill a larger area with sound. Some press material even described this soundbar as being better than most low-priced entry-level soundbars. This unit uses a midrange speaker for each stereo channel and works alongside an external narrow-profile subwoofer for the bass.

This uses an infra-red remote control so you can select different frequency-response curves to adjust how it sounds. This has the Bluetooth and line-in connectivity but also has an optical input and HDMI-ARC TV connection, but it could also have an HDMI input so you can connect a video peripheral to it incase you displaced one that was connected to your TV’s ARC-enabled HDMI socket.

What I see of these products is that Creative Labs are filling in gaps for high-quality single-piece soundbar speakers that can answer your needs whether as something for your desktop or laptop computer or as an entry-level soundbar setup for your Smart TV.

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USB-C PD battery packs–are they worth it for your laptop?

Article

Dell XPS 13 8th Generation Ultrabook at QT Melbourne rooftop bar

This Dell XPS 13 can be charged from a USB-C Power Delivery battery pack for long-haul use

The 10 Best Laptops You Can Charge With a Power Bank | MakeUseOf

List of USB-C Power Delivery chargable laptops | Wikipedia

My Comments

The USB-C connection and USB Power Delivery specification bas brought forward the idea of using a USB external battery pack a.k.a a USB powerbank for charging your laptop computer. This is in addition to using these battery packs for charging your smartphones or tablets.

For example, you could be using these battery packs to “stretch out” your laptop’s run-time while you are away from power, something you may be doing while playing a Civilization game on one of the new many-hour long-haul flights for example. Or you could simply charge up a laptop that has a battery that is depleted. It may also be of use where a battery inside the computer is nearing its end-of-life and is not likely to hold enough charge to permit use away from power.

Here, you have to look towards a USB-C PD-compliant battery pack which can put up at least 30 watts. For air travel, the battery pack would have to have the ideal battery capacity of 2600mAh because of air-transport limitations on lithium-ion batteries larger than 2700mAh for this class.

Features worth looking for include some USB-A connections for mobile phones and tablets along with another USB-C Power-Delivery-compliant connection. Having the two USB-C connections can allow you to charge the battery pack up while you are charging your laptop or running it from AC power – no need to carry extra chargers and travel adaptors with you.

This is mostly relevant to 13” laptops, 2-in-1s and similar devices. You may be able to get some more run-time out of larger-screen devices and other USB-C Power-Delivery devices if you don’t really expect to fully top up the battery in your computer.

The Dell XPS 13 in its clamshell and 2-in-1 forms as reviewed and covered extensively on this site can be charged from these battery packs. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon or Yoga variants can do this job as can the HP Spectre X2 detachable and the ASUS Zenbook 3. For gaming-grade performance, you can power the Razer Blade from one of these USB-C battery packs.

Mac users can rejoice with all of the USB-C-equipped Apple MacBook family able to he charged or powered from these external battery packs. Chrome OS users also can know that the Google Pixelbook and the Asus Chromebook Flip C302 can work from these same power sources.

The Wikipedia article will list more laptops that can work from a USB-C Power Delivery battery pack and there is a strong likelihood that newer iterations of the abovementioned computers will run from USB-C Power Delivery in this manner.

You may be able to work around the battery-power limit regarding these batteries if you take two or more USB-C PD battery packs that is within the limits but it is best to confirm these limits with your national government’s air-safety Website.

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Laptop screen protectors and privacy screens–are they worth their salt?

Article

Dell XPS 13 8th Generation Ultrabook at QT Melbourne rooftop bar

A screen protector or privacy screen can be a valuable cost-effective accessory for that laptop

Do laptop screen protectors affect touchscreen sensitivity? | Windows Central

My Comment

An accessory that you could get for your own laptop computer or give to someone who owns one is a screen protector or privacy screen. These accessories are considered very affordable and you would be safe to give one as a gift for any occasion. It is not hard to come by these accessories, typically found in accessory departments of computer, consumer-electronics, office-supply or similar stores or available online through the likes of Amazon.

The screen protectors, typically made of plastic or tempered glass, protect the screen from scratches or dust. The plastic option is an economy option but it itself can be scratched and is not always likely to cover the whole of your screen as well as itself becoming a “dust magnet”. The glass option costs extra but is more damage resistant and will cover your screen fully. That is more important especially for tablets and 2-in-1s due to you interacting with the screen more frequently.

Privacy screens are a screen protector that uses a fresnel-lens approach thanks to polarisation to limit the viewing angle to directly in front of the screen. This is to prevent others who are sitting beside you from viewing what’s on your screen, but if a person is directly behind you, they can see what you are doing. It is good if you are using your computer to work on confidential material in a high-traffic area regularly like making use of that “second office” cafe or bar, or using it to do your work on public transport or while flying.

Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 Intel 8th Generation CPU at QT Melbourne hotel - presentation mode

This is more so with these 2-in-1 convertible laptops

You may expect to have reduced sensitivity from touchscreens or active-pen setups due to the extra material but this may be a slight effect. In some cases, a screen protector that has a textured surface may provide a better inking surface than using a glossy screen alone or a smooth-surfaced protector. This is more so if it has a paper-style texture.

When choosing a screen protector or privacy screen, pay attention to ease of installation and removal. This is important if you find that it doesn’t fit your computer properly or suit your needs or the screen becomes too dull as you use it. In some cases, you may find that particular screen protectors may fit a particular model of laptop rather than working for a particular generic screen size.

Something else you may may have to pay attention to is whether the screen protector does impact your computer’s screen brightness for comfortable use over its lifespan. This is more so if you have to increase the screen brightness which can have an impact on battery runtime. Let’s not forget how the automatic brightness functionality on some screens may be affected by the use of the screen protector and you may have to raise the brightness slightly.

Considering these points can allow you to choose the best value screen protector or privacy screen for your laptop or tablet so you can gain long-term use out of these accessories.

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USB-C Audio modes–something worth understanding for this new connector

Articles

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

There needs to be some work to make USB-C a worthwhile replacement for the 3.5mm audio jack on a smartphone

What you need to know about USB-C audio | Android Authority

My Comments

At the moment, the USB-C audio application case isn’t being implemented consistently across all mobile devices that rely solely on that connection form.

There are two operating modes – a “passive” accessory mode which creates inbound and outbound analogue audio paths as if it is a 3.5mm audio jack, and an “active” mode which uses USB Audio device classes and outboard digital-analogue audio circuitry to create the sound to be heard via the accessory.

Passive setups

The former passive setup is primarily exploited by USB-C jack adaptors and basic headset implementations, especially “earbud-style” headsets. Here, the host device which is typically the smartphone or tablet would use an onboard audio chipset to convert the sound between an analogue and digital representation.

If there is some form of remote control, a basic implementation may be in the form of a single button that starts and stops media or answers and ends calls. On the other hand, if the USB Human Interface Device specifications are implemented properly in mobile operating systems, it may allow for a device to support advanced multifunction remote control.

At the moment, it may be a case of trial-and-error to find out if a USB-C Audio passive-mode headset or adaptor will work across USB-C-equipped regular computers. So for, to my knowledge, recent iterations of the Apple MacBook lineup of laptops that use this connection will provide some support for this setup.

Active setups

The latter active setup would be targeted at premium or audiophile applications such as highly-strung USB digital-analogue adaptors, noise-cancelling headsets or headsets with highly-strung digital-analogue circuitry. In some cases, this setup may also support accessory devices that implement multiple-microphone arrays.

It may also apply to wired setups involving home or car audio equipment. In this case, one would be thinking of this kind of equipment providing digital-analogue interface, power to the host device and remote-control / accessory-display abilities.

Here, they have to fully implement the USB Audio Device Class 3 peripheral class as expected in the “textbook”. As well, iOS and Android need to provide a native class driver for this device class and implement its code as expected for a mobile device which will do communications and / or multimedia. This would mean that microphones have to be used as an audio endpoint for communications purposes including regular telephony as well as for multimedia purposes. It may be a non-issue with regular computers running the Windows or MacOS desktop operating systems where it is easier for the operating system or application software to “purpose” an audio endpoint.

USB Audio Device Class 3 provides inherent support for audio-processing so accessory manufacturers don’t need to reinvent the wheel by creating their own software to implement any sort of sound processing. As well, Android and iOS need to support the inclusion of audio-processing logic in the inbound or outbound audio-signal paths in a purpose-specific manner.

Power and connectivity

There will be power and connectivity issues raised for both implementations of the USB-C Audio application. Active devices will need to draw power from the host unless they have their own battery. But with proper implementation of USB-C Power Delivery, it could allow a USB-C Audio accessory with a very high capacity battery to provide power to the host smartphone.

The passive setup wouldn’t work properly with USB-C hubs or devices that have this function unless it is assured that the hub will assure a proper clean electrical connection between the host and the accessory.

Remote control and accessory display

Another issue yet to be raised is implementation of USB Human-Interface-Device Classes and Usage Tables when it comes to using a USB-C accessory as a control surface for the host. The key issue here is whether there is proper operating-system support especially in the mobile operating systems. In the same context, there will be a market requirement for the accessory device to be able to view host-device-held lists like call lists, message lists and track lists.

The functions considered relevant to this usage case would be sound volume and transport control (play / pause / next track / previous track / etc) for multimedia; and caller volume, microphone mute and call control for communications. Accessory-based display would also need to be factored in with USB-C audio adaptors and in-line remote-control modules which implement an LCD or OLED display.

There may be use cases where multiple remote control devices are used in the same setup, typically to offer complementary functionality. Examples of this may include a USB headset with elementary remote-control for volume and a single-button control for multimedia “start-stop” or call “answer-end” functionality; along with a display-equipped inline remote control which allows for track navigation or advanced call-control.

Broadcast-radio reception

There will also be an issue regarding use of the USB-C cable as an aerial (antenna) for broadcast-radio reception whether the tuner is built in to the smartphone or the accessory. It is because of a long-standing design factor for Walkman-type radios with separate headphones where the headphone cord served as the radio’s aerial. Similarly single-piece headphone-based personal radios implemented the headband as their aerial.

It also extends to the ability for mobile operating systems to control broadcast-radio tuners integrated within smartphones or accessories to the fullest extent possible. This would include preset-station management, “follow-this-station” operation for stations appearing at other broadcast locations, graphical identifiers amongst other things.

Conclusion

If the smartphone and audio-accessory industry wants us to think of using the USB-C connector as the point to connect all peripherals, they need iOS and Android to have full native USB Audio Device Class 3 support including support for advanced-audio modes. As well, the operating systems need to have USB Human Interface Device class support for remote-control and accessory display abilities. Similarly, there would have to be proper support for broadcast-radio operation with USB-C-based mobile-device setups.

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Product Review–Brother P-Touch PT-P710BT Bluetooth Label Printer

I am reviewing the Brother P-Touch PT-P710BT portable Bluetooth label printer which is designed to work alongside your smartphone or tablet as a label-printing solution. This is simply through the device talking with your smartphone or tablet via a Bluetooth link.

It can work with your regular computer like a laptop if you are using Brother’s labelling software and a Bluetooth connection, which would really come in handy for those of us who use a laptop computer.

Brother PT-P710BT portable Bluetooth label printer with smartphone

The label printer itself

I would describe the Brother PT-P701BT printer’s size as being compact – slightly larger than four cakes of soap stacked face-to-face. Here, it would be something that you could hold in the palm of your hand.

The label printer uses the TZ family of label tapes that are kept in special cassettes. This same family of label tapes is infact used across a large number of their label writers or Wi-Fi label printers in Brother’s stable. This can be of benefit when it comes to ordering supplies for these machines.

Setup

Bluetooth PT-P710BT Bluetooth label printer

The labels come out of this side

It runs on its own replaceable rechargeable battery. Here, this battery is charged by you connecting this printer to a USB charger using a Micro-USB cable like you would with most open-frame smartphones or Bluetooth accessories. Or you could use this same cable to connect the printer to a Windows or MacOS regular computer so you can use Brother’s P-Touch Editor software to create labels.

The setup process to make it work with your Bluetooth-equipped computer or mobile device is that you have to hold down the power button to make the printer discoverable. Then you use the host device’s operating system to find the printer as a new Bluetooth device, similar to what you would do with a Bluetooth headset. It didn’t take long for me to pair this device up with my Android smartphone.

Brother PT-P710BT portable Bluetooth label printer with TZE label tape in place

Brother PT-P710BT portable Bluetooth label printer with TZE label tape in place

When I use this printer with my Windows 10 computer, I found it easier to set the Brother PT-P710BT printer to work as a USB label printer rather than with Bluetooth. It would be achieved by connecting the printer to the host computer using a USB Type-A to USB Type-microB cable or USB Type-C to USB Type-microB cable depending on the connection the host computer has. This is because there wasn’t the software support to allow a proper Bluetooth connection between the host computer and the printer.

Use

I used this label printer to label the fuel tank of a small engine to remind its user of whether to use petrol or 2-stroke mix with this engine. Here, I used the iPrint&Label app on my Samsung Android smartphone and it didn’t take long to turn out that label although I would like to see that app have a quick opportunity to “clear the canvas” on any new setup. The resulting label then came out sharp and clear.

Limitations

Brother could take advantage of various enhanced Bluetooth-peripheral setup experiences such as NFC-based “tap-and-go” pairing for Android phones for Bluetooth label printers and similar peripherals. They could also support the Bluetooth “fast pairing” setup experience being put forward by Apple, Google and Microsoft including, where applicable, the ability to lead users to install the extra software needed to get the most out of the device. This would also include the ability for this printer to work properly with a MacOS or Windows regular computer that is connected to it by Bluetooth, something that would be valued by those of us who use highly-portable computers like laptops.

As well, I would like to have the ability for the Brother P-Touch PT-P710BT label printer be able to operate while connected to the USB power source rather than use that source just for battery charging even if the battery is being charged or at full capacity. This could allow for battery energy conservation while you are at home or in a vehicle, or cater towards using a USB power bank with more battery capacity for longer field projects. Such a state could be indicated with the battery charging LED glowing green while the unit is switched on and connected to a USB source to indicate operation from external power and glowing yellow to indicate that the battery is charging.

To avoid confusion, I would personally like to see the Power LED glow steady while the printer is on and connected to a host device whether by Bluetooth or USB. Then have it glow yellow to indicate that it is discoverable by a Bluetooth host and flash during the pairing-up phase. Having a light that flashes regularly on a device can be seen to be an indication of a fault or warning condition rather than normal operation.

Conclusion – Is it a tool or a toy?

I would position the Brother PT-P710BT Bluetooth label printer as a basic label printer for those of us who use highly-portable computing equipment especially smartphones and always want to use it while “on the go”. Here, I value the ability to provide wireless connectivity without the need to worry about Wi-Fi network issues. It may not work well for team-based work where multiple-host-device connectivity is essential such as for work teams.

It is easy to see this labeller as a toy but for most of us who want to use our “many-function” smartphones to the hilt, it could be seen as a highly-portable tool. This is more so if we are wanting something that is highly compact and ready to go.

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