Sunday, January 21, 2018

$10 and a Day

It’s become second nature to me, when experiencing a minor inconvenience, to turn to to find a solution for it.  In some cases, there isn’t one, and in others, what appears to be a good solution just plain isn’t.  But more often than not, there is an excellent solution only a day away.

Case in point: the Bcase Magnetic Cable Clamps Desktop Cable Clips Organizer.  I know, not the catchiest of names, but the Organizer (I’ll just call it that from now on) is an elegant, thoughtfully designed, hassle-free and inexpensive cable organization system.

We all have various devices that need to be charged, and until wireless charging (or, more accurately, inductive charging) becomes pervasive and we charge our devices just by placing them on our desk or nightstand, we need to plug them into cables.  And when our devices are not being charged, the cables are just dangling there, looking ugly and at risk of sliding back and falling off the table, to our dismay when we need to plug our device back in. So we’ve devised creative ways of keeping the cables in place.  Mine was coaster-based:

Enter the Organizer.  The system consists of two parts, an adhesive metal strip that you stick on any surface, and a circular, magnetic piece that clips around your cables:

This is the end result:

The kits I ordered each include the strip, two “regular” clips designed for thinner cables and one able to handle thicker cables, helpfully labeled “BIG.”  The regular clips fit around most of my cables, but the BIG clips came in handy for a couple of my USB-C cables, which are significantly thicker than their Lightning or micro-USB counterparts.  Both size clips can be magnetically attached to the strip, as shown above, and they can also be attached to their own adhesive circular metallic base, one of which is also included in the kit:

The strips and circular base can be adhered to any surface; the desk or nightstand itself, the wall behind it, etc., so your cables can be totally hidden from view, yet easily accessible when needed.  The clips easily unhinge and snap back into place, so installing them on cables is literally a snap, as is removing them.

Organizing charger cables is certainly a first world problem, and, relatively speaking, quite insignificant.  Yet every time I reach for one of my cables to plug in a device, or unplug a device and place the cable back on its strip, I’m reminded of how small things, seemingly insignificant things, can bring great joy.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Pixel Buds

The Google Pixel Buds are utterly frustrating.

They sound better than any in-ear headphones, wired or wireless, I have ever used.  Their rich and satisfying sound makes their competitors (Apple’s AirPods, JLabs’ Epic2 et al.) sound downright  tinny by comparison.  The microphone works shockingly well; I’ve had telephone conversations using the Pixel Buds, and the people at the other end have never even realized I was on Bluetooth.  And the Pixel Buds are comfortable enough to use all day.

But what sets the Pixel Buds apart is their “Googleyness.” The Google Assistant is just a tap away, similar to Siri on the AirPods, but much more capable.  Using that amazing microphone, through the Assistant you can instantly access your calendar, your music, navigation, the weather; all of Google, really.  It will read you your messages (SMS, email, WhatsApp, etc.) if you so desire.  And, when used with a Pixel phone, the Google Assistant is capable of instant translation, which works exactly as demonstrated at last year’s Google I/O conference.  Truly mind boggling.

So, why is this extraordinary product frustrating?  Because it does all of the foregoing, extremely difficult things, exceedingly well, yet totally falls down on some of the basic stuff.

The right earbud is the headset’s control center.  You tap it once to play/pause the audio (or video), or to answer or end a phone call.  Tap and hold brings up the Google Assistant.  Double tap to listen to your notifications.  A forward swipe increases the volume, and a backward swipe decreases it.  And it all works perfectly, as long as the earbuds are in your ears.  The right earbud’s surface is so sensitive that taking the earbuds off and hanging them around your neck will almost certainly result in inadvertent gestures just by virtue of the right earbud dangling around and slightly touching your chest.  So your podcast will begin playing, and of course you won’t know it because the earbuds are not in your ears.  In fact, just removing the earbuds from your ears without setting off the control requires significant dexterity.

The Pixel Buds come with a storage case that doubles as a charger (à la AirPods).  However, unlike the AirPods, to properly place the Pixel Buds inside their finicky case is challenging in itself, and to do so without activating the control is almost impossible.  This is so much the case that I often find myself throwing up my hands and turning Bluetooth off on my phone while I fastidiously put the Pixel Buds back in their case.

The Pixel Buds are like a restaurant that serves delicious, exotic cuisine, but requires you to traverse a field of sharp-edged rocks in your bare feet to get there, and to get back out.  

You love the food, but is it worth the pain?