Saving stuff: Your VHS tapes, your data, your car battery, your wrists

Latest roundup of some cool gadgets that help you in one way or another

cool tools 2016
At a Glance
  • VIDBOX Video Conversion Suite 2.0

    $79.99 MSRP $99.99
    View
    on Amazon
  • MEEM Memory Cable for Apple iPhone

    View
    on Amazon
  • nonda ZUS Smart Car Charger with Car Finder App

    $29.99 MSRP $29.99
    View
    on Amazon
  • Prestige International Ambidextrous Bluetooth Mouse (B3-2051)

    View
    on Amazon
  • ZUS Kevlar Cable

    View
    on Nonda

Every so often, I find myself with a collection of gadgets that are seemingly unrelated, until I can come up with an overarching theme worthy enough to include them all in the same roundup. Sometimes it’s the “I gotta clean up my desk” theme, sometimes it’s “the vendors are bothering me about where that writeup is.”

In this case, it’s a little bit of both, but with a very thinly veiled theme - saving stuff. The following gadgets all aim to save something when you use it. It even works as a “Keith has been saving this stuff in his office until he finally figured out a theme to tie them all together” approach.

Explain more, Keith!

 

Vidbox Conversion Suite Vidbox

 

Vidbox: Saving your old VHS recordings

Recent news about a Japanese manufacturer no longer making VCRs is the death-knell for this storage format, one of the best ways to record video in the 1980s and 1990s (long before DVDs, Blu-Ray and streaming Internet video).

While you’ve likely moved on from VHS tapes and VCRs (unless you’re my neighbor, who still records TV shows this way), you may still have a few boxes of tapes collecting dust in your closet. It may be time to digitize the videos, especially if you have home video footage on them that you want to preserve.

Enter Vidbox, which offered us the chance to test its latest product, the Vidbox Video Conversion Suite. The analog-to-digital video system comes with software for Mac and Windows (it gives you the product keys on a disc, but you can also download it from the Vidbox website). More important is the small hardware box, which does the conversion from the VCR to your computer. It also comes with RCA composite cables (the ones with red, yellow and white cables), but it also supports systems that have S-video output. If you want to do S-video conversion, you have to provide your own cable.

In addition to VCRs, you can convert video from a set-top box (old DVR shows), camcorder or a DVD player, as long as they have the composite outputs. In theory, you could do this with an old video game console (the Nintendo Wii and earlier systems use this format) if you wanted to do some old video game system capture.

Once you have the system connected and software installed, a wizard runs you through the steps to do the conversion. The system digitizes in real-time, so if you’re saving that two-hour wedding video be prepared to have a 2-hour digital file when it’s done.

On my Mac, the system created a 640x480-resolution (480p) QuickTime movie (.MOV) file. You can then take that video and do some additional video editing on other software or upload and share via social media (if you own the copyright, of course).

Everything worked as advertised, and it was pretty easy to setup and get running. The hardest part was getting the VCR out of storage, dusting it off and figuring out which VHS footage I wanted to save.

Grade: 4.5 stars (out of five)

Meem Mirror cable iOS Lightning MEEM

Meem Mirror cable - Saving your phone data

At first glance, this looks like another Lightning or Android-based USB cable aimed at recharging your smartphone or tablet. And it does that quite nicely, thank you very much.

But right below the cable is a wider, thicker area that includes an embedded memory flash drive (in this case, 32GB of memory). When you download the Meem Mirror app (get it? MEEM is like a mirror of the word ‘ME’, at least when you reverse the second E) and connect the cable to the phone/tablet, it starts doing an automatic backup of data - photos, videos, contacts, calendar, etc.

This device takes the ‘remember’ part out of the ‘I have to remember to back up my phone’s data’ equation - the act of recharging does this for you.

While the initial backup can take some time (on my 32GB iPhone it took about 2 hours to do the backup), subsequent ones don’t take as long. The app itself tries to stay as simple as possible (although it’s trying too hard to be cute) - swipes or taps on certain areas of the interface give you information or let you change settings. For example, tapping on the left side (the ‘phone’ side) brings up a list of items to back up (contacts, calendars, photos or videos). Tapping on the mirror image of the interface (the ‘right’ side) lets you adjust settings for the backup operation. Once the first backup is done, tapping on the middle area of the display brings up the “Memory Tube”, which tells you how much space is left on the storage part of the cable. Dragging your finger from the left (phone) side to the right performs a manual backup, while dragging from the right (the storage side) to the left performs a restore operation.

Grade: 4 stars (out of five)

 

ZUS Cable kevlar Nonda

 

ZUS Kevlar Cable: Saving Tangled Wire Syndrome

OK, this one is a bit of a stretch in terms of our theme, but if you’re sick and tired of tangled charging cables (or the fraying that sometimes occurs at the edge), then check out this cable. It’s made with Kevlar - Kevlar! - as well as nylon, PVC, aramid fiber - I don’t know what that is, but I’ll bet it’s tough. And, at $20, it will save your wallet as well.

Feel free to splurge and buy the ZUS Car Charger as well (previously written about in this space); the cable and the charger work well together, as the side-loading USB cable on the ZUS cable fits with the side-appearing port of the car charger. In addition, the app that comes with the Car Charger (the one that uses GPS to mark your location when you park your car) also now has the ability to monitor your car’s battery life and performance and save your car from not starting. Simply awesome.

Grade: 5 stars

 

Penclic Bluetooth Mouse Prestige International

 

Penclic B3 Mouse: Save your wrists

This oddly shaped gadget looks like a plastic tablet stylus, attached with a swivel ball on top of a tiny mouse. The goal of the Penclic is to have a mouse that creates a different hand position for your hand and wrist when you need to navigate your computer, so that you don’t end up with a strained wrist, sore elbow or other repetitive stress injury.

The device is powered by a AAA rechargeable battery (it can be recharged via USB cable), connected to your computer via Bluetooth. A DPI switch on the bottom of the mouse part adjusts the sensitivity, so you can go either fast or slow on your screen when mousing. On the pen itself are two buttons for left-click and right-click purposes, as well as a rubber scroll wheel on the pen for scrolling.

Using the Penclic will take some concentration and physical adjustments on your part. For example, the “left click” button is on the right side of the mouse. This is done so your index finger can still use it when you’re “left clicking”. The right-click option is now operated by your thumb, rather than your middle finger.

These positions are used if you’re right-handed - if you’re a lefty, then you can rate the scroll wheel to change this to the opposite side. In theory, you can also rotate so the left click button appears on the left side, but then your thumb would have to do the left-click action, which could be even more off your habits than before.

Either way, your comfort in knowing what finger to use, and the comfort associated with it, will need to change. This can be frustrating at first, but not as frustrating as dealing with RSI pain, if you’re one of those people affected by it. Even in those cases, other options, such as gel pads, using proper seating, not mousing as much) might be more helpful than completely changing your mousing style with this pen.

Grade: 3 stars

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At a Glance
  • VIDBOX Video Conversion Suite 2.0

    $79.99 MSRP $99.99
    View
    on Amazon
  • MEEM Memory Cable for Apple iPhone

    View
    on Amazon
  • nonda ZUS Smart Car Charger with Car Finder App

    $29.99 MSRP $29.99
    View
    on Amazon
  • Prestige International Ambidextrous Bluetooth Mouse (B3-2051)

    View
    on Amazon
  • ZUS Kevlar Cable

    View
    on Nonda
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