Today's Best Tech Deals
Picked by Macworld's Editors
Top Deals On Great Products
Picked by Techconnect's Editors
Monoprice Lightning-to-USB cables: Plenty of companies make budget alternatives to Apple’s $19 and $29 Lightning-to-USB cables. But most of the cheap knock-offs aren’t Apple-certified, which means they don’t have the official circuitry inside and they haven’t passed Apple’s testing protocols. (This isn’t just a name-brand-versus-generic debate. As many people have discovered, some third-party cables no longer work under iOS 7 because the new OS is stricter about verifying that connected accessories and cables contain the official circuitry.) Monoprice, true to its reputation, offers a wide variety of options (from 4 inches up to 10 feet long) at budget prices ($12 to $14), but unlike much of the competition, Monoprice’s versions are all MFi-certified.
Scosche StrikeLine Pro Retractable Charge & Sync Cable for Lightning Device: I have a USB charger in my car for keeping my iPhone or iPad juiced up, but I really dislike having cables cluttering the console. The $25 StrikeLine Pro, available in white or black, has a Lightning Connector plug on one end and a USB plug on the other; it extends up to three feet in length, but when you’re not using it, a quick tug collapses the entire cable into a compact spool. In addition to being great for the car, the StrikeLine Pro also makes a nice addition to a travel bag.
Chances are, you’ve already got some good speakers or headphones for listening to your favorite music. Here are a few accessories for that gear, as well as a couple portable speakers that offer interesting features.
Outdoor Tech Buckshot: It’s not tough to find Bluetooth speakers these days. It’s not even difficult to find inexpensive Bluetooth speakers any more. But the $50 Buckshot has a couple things most of its budget competitors don’t: versatility and durability. For starters, its compact design—it’s a small cylinder, 3.5 inches long and 1.5 inches across—makes it easy to toss in a bag. But you don’t have to keep it in that bag: The Buckshot is IPX5 rated, which means it’s both waterproof and dust-proof, and its rubber exterior gives it protection against bumps and drops. It’s also got a microphone and speakerphone functionality; and a nifty, rubber mount lets you quickly attach the Buckshot to (and remove it from) anything with a handlebar, including a bike or a stroller, without having to purchase an expensive mount separately. It doesn’t offer high-end sound, and it obviously won’t play as loud as larger speakers, but it’s tough to beat the Buckshot’s portability, ruggedness, and flexibility.
The Nest Earbud Case: Each year, we see many products that are overly gimmicky, questionably useful, or just plain bad. When I first received the $10 The Nest, I quickly set it aside, thinking it was one of “those” products. But a few months later, I was packing for a trip and wanted to bring my in-ear headphones without getting their earpieces dirty or their cables tangled. I remembered The Nest and decided to give it a try. Much to my surprise, it was pretty great. You flip The Nest open, place your earphone earpieces in the center well, wrap the cable around the built-in spool, and then flip the outer lip closed around the spool. When you’re ready to listen, just grab the headphone plug and give it a gentle tug, and the cables slide neatly out of The Nest, followed by the earpieces. The Nest even fits my custom-earpiece in-ear headphones, which are too bulky for similar products I’ve tested.
Damson Twist: Another product that surprised me, the $70 Twist speaker, available in black, blue, red, or silver, is deceivingly dense: It’s just 3 inches tall and 2.3 inches across, but it weighs nearly 12 ounces thanks to a rugged, aluminum body. Pair this Bluetooth speaker with your phone, tablet, or computer and hold it in your hand while you stream music, and the Twist sounds, well, tinny and weak. But set it down on any flat surface with some resonance—a wood table, a desk, or even a cardboard box—and suddenly the sound opens up, bass fills in, and you’ve got a decent speaker. As with the Buckshot, above, this isn’t great sound (the Twist didn’t make our list of recommended speakers for a reason), but it’s listenable, and with the right surface, the bass is much bigger than you’d normally get from a speaker of this size. In fact, because the Twist is essentially using the surface on which it’s sitting as a speaker radiator, audio is at times quite spacious. The Twist also makes for a cool demo. (My kids loved running around the house with the Twist, seeing what it would sound like on various surfaces.)
Heckler Design Headphone Stand At the other end of the headphone-storage spectrum from The Nest, Heckler’s $25 Headphone Stand is designed to give your full-size headphones a place to rest when your ears are taking a break. Available in black, white, red, grey white, yellow, or (for $20 more) polished stainless steel, the stand is laser cut from solid steel and hand welded, is heavy enough that it won’t move when you lift your headphones off, and can even be bolted to a desk or countertop for permanent (and secure) placement. But my favorite thing about the Headphone Stand is that it’s made from leftover scraps of steel from production of the company’s Windfall stands. The Headphone Stand won’t work with every full-size or on-ear headphone—those with a bulky cable connection at the bottom of one or both earpieces won’t be as stable—but if it works with yours, it’s a nice (and useful) desk accessory.
iLuv iEA15 iPod Remote with 3rd-Party Headphone Adapter for VoiceOver: These days, a healthy proportion of headphones include an inline three-button remote/microphone module for controlling media playback, taking and making phone calls, and using Siri. But if your favorite cans came sans remote, the $10 iEA15 gives them at least the remote-control features—though not an inline microphone. Just insert the plug end into the headphone jack on your iPhone, iPad, iPod, or Mac, and connect your headphones to the 1/8-inch (3.5mm) headphone jack on the other end. The adapter adds about 12 inches of length to your headphone cable in the process.
StarTech MUHSMF1M 1m 3.5mm 4 Position TRRS Headset Extension Cable: Speaking of extra cable length, what if you’ve already got a great set of headphones with an inline three-button remote/microphone module, but the headphone cable is too short for you? There are plenty of inexpensive extension cables for headphones, but most don’t have the proper circuitry for the remote and microphone—they extend the reach of your headphones at the expense of remote/mic features. StarTech’s $8 MUHSMF1M gives you an extra 1m of length while preserving the remote/microphone functions of your headphones. (The cable works only with headphones that use a 3.5mm miniplug, not the larger 1/4-inch plug of some full-size headphones.)
From waterproof bags to luxury-leather charging pads, these products are hard to categorize, but they’re all useful.
Loksak aLoksak: Don’t tell anyone, but I use my iPhone, iPad, and Kindle in a lot of places I shouldn’t: at the beach on vacation, in the kitchen while cooking, even while relaxing in the tub. Between sand, water, and other environmental hazards, it seems like a miracle that all my devices are still working perfectly. But it’s not a miracle—I just take precautions and protect them. Not in a pricey, custom-fit, waterproof and dust-proof iPhone or iPad case, but rather in Loksak’s simple, relatively inexpensive plastic bags. Each reusable aLoksak seals like a Ziplock bag, but unlike a Ziplock, the aLoksak is made of puncture-resistant material and offers a hermetic seal that, together, are waterproof to 60 meters—so the bag shouldn’t have any problems with a splash from the pool, messy hands from cooking, or an accidental drop into the tub. (The material is thin enough that you can still use your device’s touchscreen.) The company sells 15 different sizes, from 5 by 4 inches and 3 by 6 inches ($8 for three) at the small end to 32 by 16 inches ($19 for two) for extra-large devices.
Smarterflo Smarter Stand: Apple’s Smart Covers and Smart Cases for the iPad and iPad mini have a cover that folds up to offer a couple useful stand positions: a low angle for typing and a nearly upright angle for screen viewing. But what if you’d prefer something in between? The $15 Smarter Stand, which started out as a Kickstarter project, is a simple set of clips that bridge the cover’s folds to offer several additional angle options. You can slide the clips to change the cover configuration—they move fairly easily—but they’re tight enough that they won’t fall off while you’re using your iPad. The company includes three clips (two to use and one as a backup), as well as three non-slip pads that you can attach to the Smart Cover or Smart Case for a better grip on your desk or table.
CardNinja Like The Nest, above, I didn’t know what to make of the $20 CardNinja at first. But after trying it, I can see its appeal. This thin, stretchy pouch adheres to the back of your iPhone (or any smooth iPhone case) and provides a place to stash some cash, an ID, and a credit card or two, letting you leave your wallet behind. When empty, the pouch hardly adds any bulk to your phone, but it can fit a lot more stuff than you’d expect—and its stretchy material keeps that stuff from sliding out. The CardNinja is available in black, gray, or purple, and its adhesive is non-permanent, so you can remove the CardNinja if you ever get tired of it.
CalypsoCrystal CalypsoPad: I’ll finish up this list with one final “This is surprisingly useful” product. The $39 CalypsoPad is simply a leather pad on which to place your iPhone while it’s charging on your desk, nightstand, or counter—a safe haven, if you will, that keeps your iPhone and desk apart. But it’s the little touches that make this pad appealing. It’s handcrafted using premium Italian leather, with a bottom covered in a soft material that won’t scratch your desk but also offers a bit of grip to keep the pad in place. It looks great, thanks to attractive, black or tan leather and complementary stitching. And my favorite feature is the leather band, which fastens using embedded magnets, that keeps your charge/sync cable from falling behind your desk or nightstand when your iPhone isn’t connected. It’s undoubtedly a luxury product, but it’s a useful luxury.