At Home with Tech

Figure out which consumer tech you need, the right gear to buy and how to use your new gadgets.

Tag: Anker

Which Portable Projector for your Backyard Movie Night?

If you’re thinking of inviting friends over during this summer of COVID-19, staying outside is a good idea. Setting up a backyard movie night is one easy way to maximize the visit. But choosing the right projector can be difficult. Here’s what I bought…

I expect we’re probably into this for the long haul. So, I’ve made the decision to partially release myself from seclusion (to my wife’s great joy). I know that some have seemingly forgotten about COVID-19, but I’m not in that group… believe me.

In fact, I’m still having all of our groceries delivered from FreshDirect and Peapod. The fact that I no longer feel like I’m playing the lottery to find an open delivery slot is a good indication that more people are shopping for themselves again. I should mention that we live in Connecticut, which is currently not a hot spot. And that’s certainly good news. And maybe reason enough for me to take advantage of the relative calm and take care of some business… like getting a haircut! Who knows what the future will bring.

The Limits of Social Distancing
I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been particularly conservative about navigating in our new COVID-19 world. But you really can’t entirely isolate your family for an entire summer and prevent all outside social interactions beyond Zoom chatting.

And it’s not even just the summer we’re talking about… it could be another year… or two!

People need some social connection!

Expanding your Safe Circle
So we are now ‘interacting’ with a few other families we know who are also ‘being careful.’ We’re trying to follow social distancing rules, but of course it’s imperfect when there are fifth graders in the equation.

Yes, it’s increasing the risk, but I have to develop a long-term plan that’s reasonable. Sheltering at home for two weeks is easy. Four months is hard. How about asking your family to continue on for some unspecified future?!

Turn Your Backyard into an Outdoor Movie Theater
As we thought about the Lesters’ ‘reopening plan,’ we considered how we would handle playdates. Clearly, those interactions should be outside.

We brainstormed about what they might look like, and we came upon one quaint option of hosting outdoor family movie nights in our backyard.

That’s a perfect idea, right?!

And, of course, it’s the newest challenge for Mr. At Home with Tech…

Looking for a Needle in a Haystack (Again)
As I Googled through what seems like a complicated and vastly oversaturated market of portable projectors that range from $90-$2,000 (really), I immediately felt overwhelmed.

First off, you’ve got to decide exactly what you’re looking for. This tech category can have a variety of names:

  • Pocket projectors
  • Portable projectors
  • Pico projectors
  • Mini projectors
  • Battery-powered projectors

They mostly refer to the same general product line. So, I tried to focus on several key needs:

  • Battery power
    (No extension cords stretched across my backyard, please)
  • An image of at least 720P HD
    (Come on… I’ve got standards!)
  • Bright enough to do its job at dusk
  • Sufficient onboard sound so I wouldn’t also want to use a separate speaker
    (Less clutter)

Everything I found in the sub $200 price bracket didn’t really seem cut out for the job.

My spending cap was $500. Anything more felt too expensive for just a fun outdoor activity. Sure, it would certainly be a big help during this ‘Summer of COVID,’ but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

Facing the True Cost
The biggest challenge I created for myself was the need for battery power. That requirement really limited my choices.

And my options dwindled even further as I looked for bright enough projection chops to handle a twilight screening as well as a strong enough battery to make it through an entire movie.

And then the killer: My $500 price point.

The truth is, you’ve got to spend more (sometimes a lot more) to get a bright-enough projector that gives you any flavor of HD, runs long enough on its battery and projects decent sound.

Hello, Nebula Mars II Pro
It’s ironic that with so many supposed choices, only one projector came close to meeting my requirements:

Nebula Mars II Pro
by Anker
$549 on Amazon

It’s effectively an all-in-one solution to launch our movie-night series:

  • 720P Video
  • 3-hour battery
  • 500 lumens (which isn’t the brightest, but is at the top this category)
  • Dual 10-watt speakers (a huge differentiator)
  • Horizontal and vertical keystoning (important to get a squared image)
  • Some cool streaming options through its Android 7.1 OS
  • Can also hard connect through USB and HDMI

And it didn’t hurt that both Wirecutter and Rolling Stone called out the Nebula Mars II Pro as a top pick.

Plus, I already have solid brand loyalty to Anker.

Budget Friendly Choices have Limits
There are more powerful options to consider if you’ve got a bigger budget, but I kept my research focused on more affordable choices. I found a couple contenders, but they couldn’t match the Mars II Pro’s specs:

The price is right, but this AAXA not as bright as the Nebula and the sound output is weak.

  • Viewsonic M1+
    $299.99 on Amazon
    854×480 (WVGA)
    300 lumens
    6 hour battery
    3W (x2) speakers

Good price and great battery, but it’s not true HD and this Viewsonic is even dimmer than he AAXA. The speakers are better than some, but the M1+ still can’t compete with the Mars II Pro.

The Right Tool for the Job
So, I’m going with the Nebula! Yes, it broke my budget cap, but it’s also worth it to have confidence in your choice.

Click.

I could have spent less, but then I’d be setting myself up for disappointment with gear that’s not powerful enough to handle an outdoor environment.

Dealing with the Great Outdoors
When designing a backyard movie-night experience, you should always remember that you’re not trying to create a ‘home-theater’ equivalent. Otherwise, you’ll need to spend a whole lot more.

And your event is inevitably going to be rough around the edges. (I’m only planning on using a white sheet hung from my backyard fence.)

And who knows if our guests will quickly lose interest in our outdoor movie in favor of chasing fireflies? Maybe a swarm of mosquitos will tank the whole screening.

There can be any number of variables that may prevent this investment from finding true success. But, if you’re going to go for it, don’t skimp too much on the oomph of your visual and audio projection.

Open for Business?
I’m excited to have my Nebula Mars II Pro for our Lester backyard movie nights.
Come on over… But don’t get too close.

For me, this is real progress during this Summer of COVID.

Seven Packing Tips for Successful Winter Business Travel

Some business trips are more challenging than others. And cold weather never helps. So packing smart can make all the difference…

Some business trips are more challenging than others. And cold weather never helps. So packing smart can make all the difference…

I recently had something of an adventure at my job, and it involved enduring more than a little bit of extreme cold. I flew to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to support our communications team on the ground.

It was an amazing week for me. Not only for being a part of the WEF experience and being immersed in the theme of responsive and responsible leadership, but also because it took me out of my comfort zone… in more ways than one.

Going Back to my Roots
My contribution called for some hands-on video skills that I hadn’t practiced in some time and then employing them with tight deadlines in the frigid outdoors.

And as the week progressed, my successful experience reminded me there are many ways to bring your best self to any challenge…

Grace Through Adversity
Life will test you. On any day… a moment can unexpectedly knock you off balance. So how should you handle the curve balls?

First off, how you approach them always makes a huge difference. But there are also certain precautions you can take to help prepare for the unexpected.

Here’s my list of packing tips to help you succeed during a challenging winter business trip.

#1
Bring a Travel Plug Bar
First off… I didn’t…

What I failed to realize when I was packing my type ‘J’ power plug adapters for Swiss outlets is these adapters are really bulky. So I wasn’t able to get more than one to fit next to other existing plugs in the wall outlet.

So if you’ve got multiple devices to power in one location, you’re going to need some help with a portable multi plug bar.

Here’s one good option:

#2
Pack Portable Power
So halfway into my trip, I ran into some additional electrical difficulty. I plugged in my iPhone charger next to the bed and tripped a circuit breaker. The power remained out in my room for the remainder of the trip.

Typically, I charge up my iPhone every night and also use it as my alarm clock for the morning.

So that would have been a problem without my wakeup alarm if I had to change my iPhone elsewhere overnight. Fortunately, I brought along some portable power via my trusty Anker Astro battery power bank.

I charged up the Astro during the day at another location and then used it at night to keep my iPhone up and running.

Thank you, Anker!

#3
Don’t Forget a Small Flashlight
See dark bedroom story above…

#4
Have a Good Compact Camera at the Ready
Sure, a smartphone can handle many photographic needs these days, and my iPhone is always there for me and easily accessible in my right pant pocket. But sometimes, you’re going to need a camera with a few more tricks up its sleeve.
Case in point…

Towards the end of my trip, I was called upon to take a team picture. An earlier attempt by a colleague using her smartphone in the dimly-lit space could not generate a usable photo. The question rang out from the group… Did I have a camera with me that could get the job done?

In fact, I did.

Remember my new Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX10?
Bam!

The Lumix’s powerful 1” sensor and ample flash got the job done big time.

#5
Dress Like You’re Going on a Winter Hike
Simply put… Davos, Switzerland is wicked cold in January.
(I began my days at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit.)

And I knew that I was going to be spending a whole lot of time outdoors. So what are you supposed to do when the dress code skews semi formal?

The trick is to use the cutting-edge fiber technologies built into today’s outdoor-sports clothing. Sure, this kind of clothing isn’t cheap, but it’s really thin… and you can wear one or two base layers under a dress shirt and tie.
(As well as a base layer under your pants.)

So in preparation for the extreme environment, I did a little shopping at REI and Eastern Mountain Sports.

#6
Losing Stuff will Happen
But try not to lose the important items.

I dropped a glove more than once, and each time someone ran up and returned it to me. That’s great karma.
(Though I did pack an extra pair of gloves)

#7
Believe You Can
Speaking of karma… this list can’t only be about the tangible objects or tech that you bring with you. As I mentioned above, it’s also about what you bring from within…

In my view, it’s usually better to take a chance and risk failing instead of playing it safe and never trying to stretch yourself.

Now don’t get me wrong… you’ve got to be as prepared as you can be.

And never forget to bring the confidence that you can figure it out… no matter what.

All right, then…

Start packing!

Cheap Portable Power to Feed Your Smartphone

goes for your tech… and your smartphone. If you can keep it going all day, that takes it a long way to “happy.” Can the Anker Astro E1 power stick do the job in a pinch? Let’s find out!

Happy Vs. Not Happy. That’s much of what life boils down to, right? And so it goes for your tech… and your smartphone. If you can keep it going all day, that takes it a long way to “happy.” Can the Anker Astro E1 power stick do the job in a pinch? Let’s find out!

My 83-year-old father likes to keep up… technologically speaking. Every time we have dinner together, he pays attention to each piece of tech I’m carrying. And then he invariably decides he wants to get it for himself.

One day as we were having tea after dinner, I checked my email and realized I needed a little more juice for my iPhone. So I pulled out a tiny battery-driven ‘Innergie’ charger out of my briefcase.
(I don’t use a Mophie Juice Pack battery case for my iPhone 6 Plus only due to size considerations. The Plus is bulky enough in my pants pocket!)

“What’s that?” my dad asked.

“Oh, this? It’s just a rechargeable battery to help out my iPhone.”

“Do I need one of those?”

“I don’t know. Do you?”

Power Sticks are a Must
Well, you can imagine how the conversation went from there. Before I knew it. I was on the hook for helping him figure out which portable charger to get.
No big deal…

These little power sticks are everywhere. Like little sticks of gum. I figured it shouldn’t be too difficult to quickly choose one for my dad.

And in fact, I’ve been somewhat consumed in recent years by how to generate my own power, especially if I’m off the grid…

So where’s the harm spending a little more time on this mini obsession…?
(But not too much time)

Anker Astro E1
So it wasn’t a big deal to simply go to Amazon, type in ‘portable smartphone charger’ and see what quickly rose to the top.

It was the Anker Astro E1.
(self described as ‘The Candybar-Shaped Powerpack’)

19.99 at Amazon
That’s so cheap!
It’s highly reviewed- 4.7 stars.
And it comes in multiple colors- black/blue/white.

The E1’s capacity is 5200 mAh
(Which can charge an iPhone one to two times)

The truth is there are plenty of other choices, and I’ve always liked my own Innergie ‘battery bank,’ power stick but I must admit I didn’t do much more competing research.
(Okay… None.)

The Anker seemed just fine for what it was.

Click.

Powering Up Takes Time
But when I opened up the box, the Astro E1 seemed more than just fine…
I was pleasantly surprised by its sleek black design, its practical, spongy carrying bag, and an enigmatic little card at the bottom of the box.
(More on this in a moment)

My father will love the Astro E1… if he ever ends up using it!

A word of minor caution:

  • A 1-amp iPhone charger is supposed to take 5 hours to charge the Astro E1.
    That said, I spent more than 6 hours charging mine before I packed it in to go to bed. So think of it as needing an overnight charge…
    (Anker of course sells its own charger, which does the job much faster.)
  • Don’t forget you’ll need buy/provide a separate USB cable to connect the Anker.
    (The Astro E1 doesn’t come with one.)

Happy/Not Happy?
Remember that little card in the bottom of the Anker box?

There was a “Happy?” on the front with a little icon for the sun.
And “Not Happy?” on the back with a rain cloud.

Hmmm. What was this?
I was simultaneously confused and invigorated.

What was I supposed to do with this card?

I quickly imagined I could have hundreds of these little cards and carry them with me as I moved about my life, placing them in choice locations to reflect my experience.

After attending a two-hour meeting that was scheduled for only one, I would get up and leave a card behind, positioned appropriately to display my sentiment.

“Barrett, you forgot this ca….. Oh. Oooh.”

Or when I leave a movie theater after watching a great flick… I would deposit one on my seat with the right side up.
(That’s far more polite than leaving behind an explosion of popcorn, right?)

I wasn’t immediately sure what Anker had in mind with the Happy/Not Happy card, but I liked it!

Then I realized the card actually opened up…
And inside it invited me to share my happiness online or how to reach customer service should I have a frown on my face.

Of course.
(Now I felt I needed a ‘Silly/Embarrassed’ card.)

Survey Says…
All right, then.

So they say money can’t buy you happiness.
But sixteen bucks for the Astro E1?

“Happy.”

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