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.

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Weekly output: iPhone SIM locks, VLC, Sonic.net (2x), big-screen phones, saving energy,

Remember when I wrote a few weeks ago that I’d been working on some longer features? The results of that effort surfaced this week, adding up to 6,620 words published under my byline and making me look far more productive than I was.

I also gave a talk about e-book DRM Tuesday, one of Lisa Schaefer’s ongoing “Future of Books” meetups around the D.C. area, but there doesn’t seem to be a transcript or recording of that.

2/26/2012: How to unlock your iPhone 4S for world travel, USA Today

This was going to be my contribution to the paper’s site two weeks ago, but Verizon needed more time to get its story straight. To answer the “why didn’t you just tell people to jailbreak their iPhones” question: USAT is a general-interest publication, and I don’t know of any jailbreak that works on the iPhone 4S with the current 5.1 version of iOS–your odds seem iffy even on the 5.01 release. This column also endorses using the open-source VLC to play DVDs purchased overseas…which, I admit, may not exactly be a general-interest topic.

2/26/2012: Gigabit Internet for $70: the unlikely success of California’s Sonic.net, Ars Technica

One typo aside, I enjoyed the hell out of reporting this story. Knocking on doors to talk to strangers, multiple rounds of interviews with sources, writing dozens of column inches’ worth of copy, having some material left over in my notes afterwards–this felt more like traditional newspaper journalism than anything I did at the Post in my last few years there. It was also a treat to write for a site that I’ve cited and appreciated for such a long time. (Trivia: I quoted Ars Technica founder Ken Fisher in a July 28, 2000 column for the Post about the joys of upgrading one’s computer.)

I then went on to write a few hundred words more responding to comments about the site on Ars and in Reddit’s thread about the piece.

2/29/2012: Big Screens Are For TVs, Not Phones, CEA Digital Dialogue

If you think oversized smartphones like the Galaxy Note I took to task last week are an aberration, prepare to be surprised. Manufacturers are gearing up to ship a lot more phones with screens 4.5 inches or larger, as I found out after consulting a DisplaySearch analyst. (That conversation also yielded a useful tip about extending battery life on devices with OLED screens, which you may soon see in my USA Today column.) For those curious about the measuring implement in the photo I took: It’s an old printer’s ruler, which puts the Note’s screen at 32 picas.

2/29/2012: Surfing at a Billion Bits Per Second, Discovery News

I used some of those leftover notes from the Ars piece for this shorter post for Discovery about the experience of using that connection, based on my own tests in late December and subsequent e-mails with some of subscribers. As I was writing this, I posted the photos I took back then to Flickr so I could link to one in the story. When foxnews.com showed up as a referrer in my stats there a day later, I discovered that Fox (with which Discovery has a content-sharing arrangement) had reposted the piece.

2/29/2012: Gamification: Green tech makes energy use a game—and we all win, Ars Technica

When I first pitched Ars on the idea of doing a feature on Sonic, I didn’t know they were already preparing to ask me if I’d be interested in writing a feature on the topic of how better data and game mechanics might help us save energy. This was a lot of fun to put together as well… I guess I’d forgotten about the rewards of long-form journalism. I’m glad that I now have the time to do these things.