CES 2016 travel-tech report: Where did the battery anxiety go?

Something bizarre happened at this year’s CES, my 19th in a row: Neither my laptop nor my phone ever got into the red-line zone that leads me to start frantically searching for a power outlet.

My phone is only a few months old and so offers much better battery life than its predecessor, but my laptop is the same old MacBook Air I’ve had since 2012. Maybe I’ve learned something about power discipline; maybe the butt-in-chair time required to write all the stories I owed to various clients ensured sufficient opportunity to keep my devices topped off.

CES 2016 gadgetsI’m going to go with the second explanation.

Also strange: I never needed to break out the travel power strip I always bring to CES.

I did have one lesser power scare: I left my phone’s charger in a restaurant, and it’s not like I can count on random passerby having a USB-C charger. Fortunately, I’m not a complete idiot and had an extra USB-C adapter cable on me, and the restaurant’s staff found the charger and had it waiting at the hostess stand when I stopped by the next evening.

But while the electrons may have been obliging for once, other tech annoyances persisted. OS X’s curiously inept multitasking left my laptop locked up by runaway browser processes more than once (does the phrase “Safari Web Content” make your blood boil too?), while my phone twice showed a no-SIM-present error that I elected to dispel with a reboot.

Bandwidth was mostly fine except for Thursday, when neither my phone nor the two LTE hotspots I’d been testing as part of an update to a Wirecutter guide could get any useful bandwidth in the Sands. I had to camp out on a chair next to a loading dock to get back online.

The Nexus 5X’s camera was a massive upgrade over the Nexus 4 imaging hardware I carried last year, but I still took the bulk of my photos with my aging Canon 330 HS. I’m pretty sure that this is my last CES with this camera–although it still takes better photos overall than my phone, its lack of a built-in panorama mode is annoying, and I’m sick of invoking its photo-plus-video “Hybrid Auto” mode by mistake.

While I’m figuring out what camera will replace this Canon, I also need to think seriously about the software I use on my computer to edit and share pictures taken with a “real” camera. Apple’s Photos is a good image editor, but as an organizer it’s awful. Because its broken sharing feature ignores photo titles and descriptions when uploading images to Flickr–and because you can’t right-click a photo in the app to jump to its Finder folder–I had to export all 74 shots in my CES album to the Finder, then drag and drop them into Flickr from there.

If Apple doesn’t fix this app, I need to use something else. But what? Please share your own suggestions–and no, I’m not going to buy Photoshop for this–in the comments.

 

Things I did not get around to doing in five days of CES

LAS VEGAS–Another CES is in the books for me. I’m departing a day later than most people, and I still did not have time to cross everything off my to-do list. I’m not going to say I missed all these things, but the show still feels a little incomplete without them:

GoPro clusterAttend CES Unveiled: The show’s opening reception is always a total zoo, but it also represents my first chance to say hi to all the tech-nerd friends I haven’t seen in months. Unveiled was never going to happen once my tardy booking of flights (meaning, Oct. 4) left no reasonably priced options that would get me into Vegas in time for the event but not with hours to kill beforehand.

Take a taxi or a shuttle van: With Uber and Lyft finally operating throughout the city and even picking up passengers, I did not have to bother with either McCarran’s horrendous taxi line (with a ripoff $3 credit-card-payment surcharge waiting at the end of the ride) or the long wait for a shuttle van to depart. I did, however, have to learn that there’s a floor 2M between floors 2 and 3 in the T1 parking deck, on which you must meet a ride-hailing service’s vehicle.

See the opening keynote: Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s keynotes have been more substantial than average at CES, but I didn’t finish a few work chores in the Mandalay Bay press room Tuesday to get to the Venetian in time for this year’s presentation. I’ll have to watch it when I get home.

Get to Pepcom’s Digital Experience: This reception is a great way to catch up with a wide variety of smaller exhibitors and get a decent meal, but a Yahoo Tech team dinner had to take priority.

CES security stickerHave my bag searched: This year’s CES was supposed to involve screening of everybody’s bags. But the security-pocalypse we all dreaded never happened. Nobody ever searched my bag on any of the times I entered a CES exhibit, not even when I got a green “Security Approved” sticker placed on it Tuesday morning. I am fine with that; I faced a much bigger risk every time I had to cross six- or 10-lane roads designed with an “Auto über alles” mentality.

Take a show shuttle from the convention center: I only took one of the official show shuttle buses Tuesday morning. The rest of the week, I either walked to the convention center (I found an Airbnb room only 10 minutes’ walk away) or took city buses up and down the Strip.

Ride the monorail: Not staying in a giant hotel on the east side of the Strip made this high-priced but traffic-independent ride irrelevant on most days. I should have taken it Thursday night, though; going from the convention center to the Cosmopolitan by bus took about an hour.

Strip trafficSee VR porn: This is apparently a thing now, and I did not clear time in my schedule–in the interest of science!–to attend the demo my friend Sascha Segan wrote up at PCMag.com.

Test-drive the Chevy Bolt: I had to blow off an appointment to test-drive this compact electric vehicle because I needed to finish writing a couple of stories. Read my Yahoo colleague Daniel Howley’s report to see what I missed.

Gamble: Not staying in a hotel with a casino waiting downstairs severely lowered my odds of getting in any blackjack time. And by the time Friday night’s events were wrapping up, I was too tired anyway. Considering that I had the Terminator for a dealer the last time I gambled here, that may not be the worst thing ever.

Weekly output: Amazon versus Apple TV and Chromecast, enterprises helping startups, ransomware

Two of these three items were basically handed to me over the previous week: Amazon elected to throw its weight around in an unwise manner, and then a reader wrote to me about an awful experience with malware.

10/6/2015: Hey Amazon: What Did Apple TV or Chromecast Ever Do to You?, Yahoo Tech

I really enjoyed writing this rant about Amazon’s foolish, bullying behavior. Should I have been surprised to see Apple and Google haters unite in defending Amazon’s conduct in comments on this post?

Tech.Co startups and enterprises post10/6/2015: How Enterprises are Helping Startups, Tech.Co Celebrate

I moderated a panel about the sometimes-complicated relationship between startups and big-name companies looking to help them and maybe later acquire them. Afterwards, Tech.Co’s Ron Barba wrote up the conversation I had with Google’s Don Dodge, Microsoft’s Steve Seow, PayPal’s Corrado Tomassoni, and American Airlines’ Paul Swartz.

10/11/2015: ‘Ransomware’ a game-over scenario unless you have backups, USA Today

Getting this reader’s testimony about the hijacking of his computer was no fun at all. I quizzed a few security experts about what he could do, and their answers did not provide any hop; I hate telling a reader that he’s screwed.

Weekly output: Google news, Apple vs. Google, EMV credit cards, OS X Photos

LAS VEGAS–I’m here for the last time this year, I think, to moderate a panel at Tech.Co’s Celebrate conference. It only seems fitting that I booked my flights to CES 2016 on the flight into Vegas this afternoon.

9/29/2015: Google’s new phones and tablet, WTOP

Washington’s news radio station quizzed me about Google’s introduction of the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P phones (the former is looking like my next phone), Android 6.0 Marshmallow and Pixel C convertible tablet.

Yahoo Tech Apple-Google copying post9/29/2015: Apple and Google Just Can’t Stop Copying Each Other, Yahoo Tech

I was having a hard time coming with some kind of illustration for this reaction to Google’s news when I remembered staging a similar shot for a Discovery News post (which, of course, I can’t find now) exploring a comparable imitate-and-improve dynamic between Apple and Microsoft.

10/1/2015: Your Old Credit Card’s Now Obsolete. Now What?, Yahoo Tech

I wrote an extra column for Yahoo about the shift to “EMV” credit cards and what it will and won’t do to stop the next account compromise.

10/4/2015: Extensions can make OS X’s Photos app more useful, USA Today

I know that Photos is supposed to replace iPhoto, but I’m still not sure that I’m ready to make that transition.

CTIA ROI: Did I need to go Vegas for this?

LAS VEGAS–My stay here only ran about 38 hours, but even if my itinerary hadn’t gotten upended by flight delays Tuesday I would have only spent 42 hours here. That was by design: I didn’t choose to go to CTIA’s Super Mobility Week until I’d already committed to going to Portland for the XOXO conference.

CTIA logoThat way, I didn’t risk much on the news value of an event that hasn’t exactly padded out Vegas taxi lines he last two years–selling one story should cover my additional travel costs.

But even by those low standards, the show organized by this D.C. trade group underperformed. The floor was a vast expanse of peripheral players hawking cables, cases, chargers or the industrial hardware that keep our phones online, from cell towers to backup generators to drones to inspect cell towers.

Among companies most wireless customers might know well, only Verizon, Samsung, AT&T and Tracfone had a notable presence on the floor. None committed any real news. (A Tracfone staffer said that prepaid carrier didn’t have any publicists around when I stopped by. PR tip: Not helpful!)

The opening keynote Wednesday featured appearances by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler, but neither yielded enough material for a story for my usual outlets. If you missed my tweeting Wednesday morning: Wales is helping to launch the U.S. branch of a U.K. wireless reseller called The People’s Operator that lets you direct some of your spend to charity, and Wheeler said he’s confident that next March’s auction of some broadcast-TV spectrum to wireless carriers will succeed and that the FCC’s net-neutrality rules won’t stop wireless carriers from investing in their networks.

And then I spent the next two hours watching Apple’s event. This is the second year in a row that Apple has elected to introduce a round of new products on the opening day of what’s supposedly the wireless industry’s leading domestic event. The people at CTIA must be so pleased by that.

Many tech journalists were in San Francisco for Apple’s event. Others sat out CTIA because they’d gone to IFA the week before and didn’t want to deal with that much travel.

I’m not writing this to trash-talk CTIA’s efforts, although their decision to stage this show right after the electronics extravaganza in Berlin now looks a huge unforced error. Wireless is one of the most interesting and important parts of the tech business today, and you’d think it needs and could easily support an annual gathering like any other industry’s.

But one that’s marked by an absence of news and exhibitors, which happens only a day or two after a larger event that involves 9.000 miles of travel, and which takes place in a city that’s not quite my favorite place to go, is not something I need on my travel budget again. Sorry, CTIA.

Did I do the whole vacation thing right?

I was on vacation from last Tuesday morning to Wednesday night. Could you tell?

Maybe not. Beyond my output at Yahoo Tech (two posts written in advance, one I did Monday), at USA Today (filed the night before we left). and here (neither of those two posts were done ahead of time), I hardly disappeared from social media. I tweeted 33 times, not counting verbatim retweets, and posted three things on my Facebook page, not counting WordPress.com’s automatic sharing.

Golden Gate and hillsAnd I skimmed through my RSS feed each day and read my work e-mail more or less as it came in, even if I didn’t answer as much as usual. Over those seven days, I sent 33 messages from that account. In the three days since, I’ve sent 32. But wait–I composed 10 or so of those on the plane home but left them in my outbox until Thursday morning. No, I did not even think of setting a witty out-of-office message. Who would believe it?

Finally, the destination of this trip–Sonoma County–meant we arrived at SFO late Tuesday morning. And when I’d be in San Francisco at lunch, how could I not meet my Yahoo editor for lunch? (I let Dan pick up the check.) I couldn’t entirely escape work in the North Bay either. After my wife and I met a friend for lunch in Petaluma, he suggested we walk around the corner to stop by the This Week in Tech studio.

I had my reasons for all of that work-like activity: I had to finish a couple of projects, I didn’t write the Yahoo column before the trip as I’d hoped, I didn’t want to miss an e-mail with a writing or speaking opportunity and actually did get one such invitation, the laptop was on the kitchen table, the phone was right in my pocket, blah blah blah. (My most successful act of unplugging was an overnight trip to Vegas for a friend’s wedding, when I liberated myself by taking only my phone.) But it all falls short of how much I was able to let work go two years ago.

And it’s nowhere near how my friend Alex Howard didn’t check his work e-mail for an entire six days of a vacation. Or how my wife could ignore hers for our entire trip. The key difference: Both of them have full-time jobs. Imagine that–somebody pays them not to work!

I don’t quite have that luxury unless I sell enough stories first. But the flip side of full-time freelancing is that without a boss looking out at my desk, I can take time during the day to do other, offline things–gardening, laundry, baking bread, maybe even bottling a batch of homebrew–instead of trying to look productive in front of a screen.

It’s not a bad trade-off.  But I really should check my work e-mail less often the next time I’m on vacation.

CES 2015 travel-tech report: less battery angst, more about bandwidth

One of my post-CES traditions, besides waiting for the din of slot machines to fade from my head, is critiquing how various gadgets and apps helped me cover the show. See, for instance, my 2012, 2013 and 2014 recaps.

CES 2015 gadgetsThis year, I once again leaned on my 2012 MacBook Air, paired with the Nexus 4 I bought last spring. I took all my notes on each in Evernote, and for once I didn’t have any sync conflicts; maybe the app was happy that I finally signed up for Evernote Premium?

Battery life on both the laptop and the phone has declined a bit as they’ve aged, but I had much less angst over that than I’d feared. Some credit for that goes to my having to step away from the show floor for an hour or so each day to write, which gave me a chance to plug in everything. Some also goes to the compact external phone charger WAMU gave me when I was on the Kojo Nnamdi Show in December. I have no idea who made that device, but it’s a great piece of hardware, including a micro-USB cable long enough to allow you to easily tuck it and a charging phone into a jacket pocket.

I remembered to pack my Belkin travel power strip this time; the two USB ports on the top helped charge devices overnight, while the extra outlets allowed me to not be a jerk when taking the last available wall outlet. See that flat contraption to the right of the power strip? It’s a Charge Card, a USB cable that’s been designed to fold flat and fit in a wallet. I picked up one from the vendor at CES a few years ago and remembered to bring it this time.

My primary source of bandwidth was not hotel or convention WiFi but LTE from the AT&T and Verizon mobile hotspots I’ve been reviewing for a future story. Most of the time, they worked great (their battery life makes them a much better choice than a phone for extended tethering), but the overwhelming amount of WiFi traffic sometimes prevented my Mac from connecting to either.

I shot a decent amount of pictures and video clips on my phone for quick sharing from the show floor, but for anything I wanted to publish I switched to the compact Canon 330 HS model I bought just before last year’s show. I’d picked out that model in particular for its ability to geotag photos using a companion phone app–but I never used that feature during the show. Why? I spent almost all of my time in only a few locations, while that Android app does too much damage to my phone’s battery if left running full-time.

I took a new gadget to the show, the Moto 360 smartwatch I reviewed in September. The experience strengthened my conviction that the idea here is sound–it really does help to have an external, wearable display for the most important notifications coming up on your phone–but the implementation needs work. In particular, charging should neither have to be a nightly routine nor require an ungainly cradle like the 360’s.

The other good reason to bring a smartwatch to a trade show: having its step counter inform you of how many miles you’ve walked. I peaked on Thursday with 25,308 steps.

The other new item I brought doesn’t count as a gadget, owing to its complete lack of electronics: a caliper that I bought after reading too many Apple Watch stories that offered only vague guesses about the device’s thickness. I used that cheap Home Depot purchase to check the thickness of a few smart watches and one absurdly thin HDTV.