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My Summer Closet-Cleaning Special: 5 Weird Gadgets Reviewed

David Pogue
Yahoo Tech
June 5, 2014

Here’s how my job works.

I hear about some cool new product. I ask to review it. I test it and write it up. Then I pack it up and send it back to the manufacturer. (No, I don’t get to keep anything.)

Unfortunately, my eyes are bigger than my stomach. Things pile up, especially smaller things that might not merit a full column. And I start feeling guilty.

That’s why, today, I’ve invented Pogue’s Summer Closet-Cleaning Special! It’s my chance to write mini-reviews of all the tech products I’ve been meaning to get around to. It’s my little way of boosting my shelf esteem.

Tamrac Zipshot Tripod, $50
A tripod makes a huge difference to your photography and video, especially in low light. But come on: Who’s really going to lug around a tripod? Tripods are big, heavy, sharp, and ouchy. When you travel, it’s another entire piece of luggage.

Not anymore. This tripod’s lightweight, spindly aluminum legs don’t telescope. Instead, each leg is in four segments, with a strong elastic cord running down the center. The segments fold up into a 15-inch bundle you can toss into a laptop bag.

And then when you need it, you unwrap two tiny bungee cords, shake the thing by the top, and bam — the legs spring out into position and self-assemble. It takes about three seconds and amazes onlookers. (Check out my video, above, to watch it in action.)

The big downside, of course, is that you can’t adjust the height. The Zipshot is 44 inches tall, just shy of four feet, and that’s what you get. And you can’t adjust the legs individually, except by splaying one leg farther out from the others. Still, that works fine.

There’s a nice ball head on the top, so you can adjust your camera’s aim and rotation (to 90 degrees).

The tripod can easily support pocket cameras and mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras, but I wouldn’t put one of those big professional SLRs onto it. (And that goes double for the Mini version, which is $40, 28 inches tall expanded, and 9 inches long when folded.)

Mobile Home, $80
“Mobile Home”? You’d think you were buying a Winnebago.

But no — this is a small plastic remote control for the home button on your iPhone.

You clip it to your car’s visor or center console so that you can operate Siri without having to reach for your phone. You’re using the car’s microphone and speaker to communicate with your iPhone, so it requires a car with a Bluetooth sound system.

It works remarkably well. You hold down the gadget’s one button until you hear the Siri double-beep. Then you can say all the usual things: “Call Mom.” “What time is it in Barcelona?” “How tall was Abraham Lincoln?” “Tell me a joke.”

The argument for the Mobile Home is safety. If your phone stays in your pocket, you’re not tempted to grapple with it, unlock it, or look at it while you’re driving. And, hey — it lets you use Siri in whatever car you own. You don’t have to buy a car with CarPlay, or iOS in the Car, or whatever Apple is calling its car tech these days.

The counterarguments are these: (1) $80 is a lot for a button, (2) even talking to Siri hands-free and eyes-free is a distraction while driving, and (3) in iOS 8, coming this fall, you’ll be able to operate Siri without touching anything. The phone will always be listening, as on the Moto X phone. You’ll be able to say, “Hey, Siri” to get its attention. At that point, you might not need the Mobile Home at all.

CME Xkey Mobile Musical Keyboard, $100
This one’s for you, MIDI musicians. It’s a lovely, aluminum-bodied, three-octave keyboard controller, with full-size piano keys, for use with your laptop. (A keyboard controller is one that doesn’t produce any sound on its own. It’s intended to plug into a computer and trigger sounds in music software like Finale, GarageBand, Logic, and so on.)

Most people wouldn’t use a portable keyboard like this for performing; it’s really intended for inputting music into a music program. One reason it’s not right for the stage: While the Xkey is, technically, velocity sensitive (plays louder when you hit the key harder), in practice, it’s hard to get much more variety than fully loud or fully soft.

But what’s really great is that this keyboard needs no power cord, and you don’t have to install any kind of drivers or software. You just plug it into the USB jack of your Mac or PC, and you’re off and playing.

Favi Entertainment Audio+ speaker, $50-$80
There are enough Bluetooth wireless speaker models for every man, woman, and child on earth. Don’t get me wrong; they’re awesome. Terrific sound, playing from your phone from across the room or the yard. Portable. Battery powered. Cool-looking. Definitely awesome.

There’s a catch, however: Those Bluetooth wireless speakers use Bluetooth. And that means some setup. And that means trying to find instructions.

This speaker uses a different technology. The company calls it “Set to Connect,” but as far as I can tell, it just means setting your phone’s speaker against a microphone.

That’s right: You set the phone down a certain way, and the speaker amplifies the signal coming out of the phone’s speaker, making it louder.

There are three models: for iPhone ($50), Android phone ($50), or tablets ($80). The tablet one works surprisingly well; the sound gets boosted enough to fill the room, with acceptable sound quality.

The phone one, not so much. The sound is garbled and awful.

Interesting idea. And if you have people coming and going through your house all the time — that is, you’re in a situation where frequent Bluetooth pairing would become burdensome — I guess the Favi approach could work.

But otherwise you’ll get better sound, looks, and construction quality by buying a regular Bluetooth speaker and spending the two minutes to get it set up.

Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet, $500
When Sony announced that its new 10-inch Android tablet was waterproof, I raised one eyebrow. “That’s cool,” I said. Waterproof is great, but I figured that you’d pay a price in bulkiness. I figured you’d know on sight that this was a specially beefed-up tablet.

Holy cow, was I wrong. This tablet isn’t bulkier than other Android tablets — it’s thinner and lighter. I mean, it’s ridiculously thin (a quarter-inch) and absurdly light (15 ounces). It’s thinner and lighter than the iPad Air. It’s so thin, it almost changes what the product is. You feel like you’re handling a clipboard or something.

The screen is beautiful (though very reflective); the speed is top-notch. Battery life isn’t as good as other tablets, though (that’s a downside of a tablet without much space inside). And photos from the built-in camera are a little washed out.

Truth is, most people who want a tablet still buy an iPad; the Android tablets seem to fall like leaves in October, and not many people buy them. But “think different” tablets like this Sony might change the game a bit. Waterproof and clipboardy? That should make you raise both eyebrows.

SeV Travel Boxers, $20
Interesting. For 20 bucks, you get a pair of underwear with three notable features. First, they’re made of stretchy quick-drying nylon-ish material. Not nearly as comfortable as cotton undies, but then again, you kind of forget all about it once you’ve put them on.

Second, there are two pockets: right thigh and left back. They’re ideal for phones, passports, cash, and other stuff that you want to keep out of pickpockets’ reach in crowded locales.

And, third, they come in a clear plastic Ziplock bag — which just happens to be the exact size for toiletries passing through the TSA checkpoints at the airport. Cute. Real cute.

The company, SCOTTeVEST, says that in a pinch, you can actually wear them externally, as shorts or a bathing suit; I agree.

Backpackers, Scouts, and world travelers: Are you listening?

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So there you have it, sports fans: five quirky and fascinating tech gadgets that have been cluttering the Pogue Technology Closet for weeks. Back they go to their companies.

Now I’m ready to overcommit to a whole new set of products.

You can email David Pogue here.