What’s Lap, Dog?

E. Fylladitakis writing for Anandtech has this excellent review of the Corsair Lapdog. It is either the best or worst possible name for a product that connotates this:
an actual dog that might fit on your lap if it deigns you worthy

…but is actually this keyboard and mouse ergonomic nightmare for playing FPS games on a couch the right way:

the corsair lapdog will let anyone put it on its lap

Although it looks cool, it is actually going to cost you upwards of $200. $120 for the Lapdog, and a bunch more for the mouse and keyboard since only two Corsair keyboard models are going to fit. Though you could probably get away with not using a Corsair mouse.

Today in Payphone News

The aforementioned payphone

jwz’s payphone runs Linux now:

One of the props that I picked up to decorate DNA Lounge at the first Cyberdelia was an old payphone. It wasn’t hooked up for the first party, but just in time for the second party, it now runs Linux.

When I was trying to decide what I wanted the phone to do, “making phone calls” was obviously the least useful thing. Nobody needs that: that’s why payphones are extinct in the wild. It’s also why we no longer have Internet kiosks.

So instead, when you pick up this phone, it “rings” and connects you to a “voicemail” system. Press 1 to listen to our schedule of upcoming events (the same message you hear when you call us at 415-626-1409); press 2 to listen to your saved messages; press 3 to record a message.

Here is the sordid tale of how I made a payphone run Linux. I’m not so great at hardware hacks, and it shows. My bumbling exists for your amusement.

Will Smith Departing Tested

Will Smith (one half of the awesome duo behind Tested.com, not the actor):

About six years ago, I pitched my idea for Tested to the folks at Whiskey Media. My pitch was simple, let’s make a technology site that’s about having fun with technology instead of showing people how snarky and cool we could be.

I never could have predicted the way that one conversation would change my life. Since Norm and I launched Tested in 2010, I’ve been privileged to go places and see things that I never thought I’d see in person. I stood on top of a nuclear reactor (while it was running!), I was the kitchen assistant to a couple of world-classchefs who were developing recipes for astronauts, I helped test different ways to waterproof cameras, I hosted a bunch of 24-hour charity showsI tested talk time on six phones simultaneously, I 3D printed LOTS of goofy stuff, I learned to race quadcopters, I made a bunch of goofy faces, I saw the future of robotics, I helped turn a San Diego bar into the carbon freezing chamber from Empire Strikes Back, and I had the opportunity to work with and learn directly from Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman on a daily basis.

Put another way, I’ve spent the last five and a half years meeting thousands of amazing people and helping to tell their stories every day. The places I’ve been and things I’ve seen are nothing compared to the amazing makers, scientists, nerds, students, and entrepreneurs I’ve gotten to meet while making the 2512 videos (as of 9/10/2015) that we’ve posted on Tested since 2010.

But, now it’s time for me to step away from Tested and take on a new challenge.

I wasn’t happy with some of the changes to Tested after the site was taken over by Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, especially the logo, but it probably wouldn’t have been there without their intervention.

Will and Norm were an incredible team who always had a charming demeanor and the best attitude towards technology. Even when they were not happy with a product I worked on they gave it their best and seemed sympathetic to it instead of cynical.

Logitech k400r Wireless Touch Keyboard Review

K700r

Lets get this out of the way up front, wireless keyboards with built-in pointing devices are almost universally awful. I say “almost’ but what I mean is, I’ve never found a combo wireless keyboard/trackpad that is any good but they must exist somewhere, right? Maybe the Logitech k400r will be one of those good few combo devices. There’s no need to read any further. Abandon your hope, this is not that unicorn device.

You might see the k400 and k400r mixed-up online, as far as I can tell the only difference between the two is that the k400r has a different Windows key and you might end up with either when you order one online or buy it in a store.

These combo keyboard and trackpad devices can fail in one way with either the pointing device or keyboard being awful or they can fail in both ways at the same time and have both an awful keyboard and an awful pointing device that combine to become some sort of awfulness Voltron.

How do the keyboard portions fail? Weird layouts that fight your muscle-memory for where to go to type a key combination or even a single key. On this Logitech k400r keyboard the arrow keys are smashed together with the / and right-shift keys so close that you’ll find even the simplest of two-handed typing maneuvers painful. This too-close layout is repeated throughout the keyboard. Of course the keys are also mushy as heck. How far and with how much force do you have to depress any of the keys on the k400r before they will trigger? I can tell you with all certainty that I have no idea and end up just pressing the keys as hard as I possibly can to type out a sentence.

This is bad. Keys should have some responsiveness either through a noise in the mechanism or a mechanical feeling that assures you that a switch has been triggered to let you know when your finger and the key have travelled far enough down to trigger the appropriate reaction from your computer. A slightly larger layout would enable a more natural typing process and fewer missed keystrokes where you hit the wrong key accidentally. Try entering in a slightly complex password with this keyboard, I double-dog-dare you that you’ll get it wrong at least twice.

Next we move on from the awful keyboard to the pointing device. What’s this, it’s a trackpad like on my Macbook Pro. This could be promising!

How do bad trackpads portions of these devices fail? By default this k400r trackpad enables tap-to-click, the bane of many trackpad users. As far as I can tell, the software (only available on Windows) doesn’t offer any option to disable tap-to-click. The only way I’ve found to disable it on any operating system is a secret hardware key combination of striking the blue function key and the left-trackpad pointing-device button at the same time. Of course this is only a temporary solution and it will need to be repeated every time the keyboard is switched off and back on again or when the wireless receiver is paired with a device again.

This is the sentence where I tell you that of course the k400r uses a proprietary Logitech wireless RF receiver that works only with other Logitech devices instead of the bluetooth standard that has proved itself perfectly fine for gaming devices like the Playstation 3 and 4 with great power saving capabilities and excellent responsiveness. The receiver works fine and doesn’t stick very far out of a USB port on your laptop or desktop but it would be so much better if it used bluetooth which is a standard beyond one company.

The trackpad’s gestures are just as terrible as the tap-to-click and scrolling with two-fingers as has become standard to anyone acquainted with the excellent trackpads on Apple equipment will suffer mercilessly as lord Logitech laughs at their pitiful attempts at doing what they want with this monster. Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn’t do at all what you were expecting. Instead of a scroll you get a jumping page that lands somewhere you didn’t expect.

The tracking speed of the trackpad is just as abysmal and undesirably jumpy.

Your mouse cursor is here, now it’s over there, didn’t expect that did you?” The Lord of Logitech chuckles to himself as he observes you trying to urge the cursor along.

The best thing that I can say about the Logitech k400r wireless keyboard/trackpad combo is that is possible to get used to it for minutes at a time before wanting to chuck it out of the nearest window, and you could use it for many minutes because the battery life is excellent. Recently I’ve started trying to use it with my laptop because that’s raised up a bit off my desk and it isn’t very ergonomic to type on a raised laptop and mouse from a seated position.

Instead, I find myself hooking the receiver up to my laptop only to reach over the k400r and type on my laptop’s keyboard and use my laptop’s trackpad when the k400r inevitably starts proving how awful it is to type on and to use as a pointing device.

You might argue that the k400r is supposed to be used with a computer hooked up to the TV, so it must be good at that. You would be wrong. Entering a password, trying to scroll, playing a game, these tasks are essential for using a computer and it just can’t be trusted at those. Yes the wireless range of the device does seem long. I can wander quite far away and it continues to function, but that isn’t enough, these things have to handle the essentials and be good at them for that range to be useful.

The next best thing about the k400r is that Amazon has it for only $20, which is an appropriately low price to pay to demonstrate how the enjoyment of a cheap product will be eroded by the long-term punishment of using such a device.

What do we say to the lord of Logitech when he presents us with the k400r?

Not today.

1 out of 5 Commodore 64 SID chips

Valve’s VR Headset Announcement

HTC and Valve announced the HTC Vive today, a headset similar to the Oculus Rift. The differences are in the head tracking, a slight increase to resolution compared to the Oculus Rift DK2, and a custom game controller.

Similar to the VR room demo Valve had at Steam Dev Days, the HTC Vive will have tracking for your location relative to the physical room you’re in. The VR room demo used something similar to QR codes printed out on the walls to do this, the HTC Vive uses SteamVR base stations. The SteamVR demo at dev days was super impressive when I got to try it, and kind of ruined the experience of trying the Oculus Rift. Nothing on the Rift could match the feeling of scale I got from the SteamVR demo. It must be even more impressive on this new hardware.

Developer kit ships this spring, user version late in the year. Between this, Oculus, Nvidia announcing something soon, and Sony’s headset, some standard API will need to emerge to support all of them and I bet that’s what Valve will focus on fixing.

Pebble Time

I love watches and although previously I didn’t think the features were compelling enough for an iOS user, the only smartwatch I would have gotten was the Pebble.  Their first device, the Pebble Watch, struck me as fun and playful. Their follow-up, the Pebble Steel, looked kind of terrible with a huge logo on the face.

With perfect timing before the Apple Watch launch, Pebble have started a bizarre crowdfunding campaign for the next iteration, the Pebble Time which has an enhanced interface that is also coming to the original Pebble watches as well as a color e-paper screen which is exclusive to this new model.

I called this campaign bizarre because this product looks finished and without the need for community feedback during development or funding because this is an established business with millions of investor funds, it doesn’t seem kosher for Pebble to return to crowdfunding as if they were a new company establishing a new product.

One other odd thing about this campaign. In the video Pebble have this message:

Works with iPhone, Samsung, and Android

Has Samsung divorced themselves so far from Android in the way they market their devices?

Nobody is as good at smart watches as Pebble is right now, but with Apple’s March 9th announcement coming up it will be interesting to see if the Pebble Time crowdfunding backers keep their money in the project. It’s their option to back out any time before the March 27th Kickstarter deadline. The Apple Watch has a higher price tag, but the Pebble Time’s unique interface style and longer battery life is very compelling. If I were using an Android device as my primary phone, I’d get a Pebble in a second.

Slickwraps Vivid Purple Glow Wrap for iPhone 5 Review

SW-AIP5-GLOWPURPLE-4
Photo Credit: Slickwraps

Obviously, the Slickwraps Vivid Purple Glow Wrap for iPhone 5 isn’t a case. It’s basically just a series of stickers you apply to your iPhone to make it look different. Any protection the stickers might offer is coincidental.

It looks pretty neat, right?

Application is fairly straightforward, everything you need is provided including a screen protector. The only other thing you need is some fairly steady hands.

And it does look good, when your surroundings are dark enough.

When the lights are on it looks a little like a storm-trooper on my Black iPhone with the white stickers.

However, within a few days or a week it’ll start to fall apart.

Here’s what mine looks like after less than a month:

Slickwraps iPhone
Photo Credit: TimeDoctor Dot Org

After less than a week the top piece fell off.

After two weeks the discoloration had gotten pretty bad around the earpiece.

Slickwraps iphone earpiece
Photo Credit: TimeDoctor Dot Org

Finally, the bottom piece has started to disengage from the lower-left hand side of the phone. Once this happens, it gets pocket fuzz covering up the adhesive and is pretty much unfixable.

Slickwraps iphone bottom
Photo Credit: TimeDoctor Dot Org

Do you want your phone to look like this? The glow effect still pretty nifty looking in the dark, but it’s rarely dark enough to trigger the effect unless you’re sleeping. In which case, who cares?

The best part of doing this review was when I took the Slickwrap off my iPhone 5 and it still looked great despite having had stickers all over it for the better part of a month. They’re not using low-quality stuff here, as is evident in the adhesive leaving no residue on the device. The problem instead is that this is the best level of quality you can get until material science makes some kind of ridiculous breakthrough that allows us to stick devices into a cheap home 3D printer and then they come out glowing in the daylight.

I’m throwing this Slickwrap in the trash, because that is what you do with a sticker once you remove it.

0 out of 5 Oil Slicks