Here are several few tech products for today’s times while confined to staying home, spend more time with our devices, and looking for new things to do.

Active Words

While stuck at home, there’s no better time than to learn some new software. I with a new email product, Superhuman, reviewed last week, and spent time cleaning up my email and changing how I dealt with the barrage. I’ve also been spending time with my less-used Windows PC, updating to the latest Windows OS, and trying out ActiveWords 4.0, a unique product only available on Windows.  It’s so good, I can understand why some of its users say they’ve moved to a PC from a Mac just for this product.

Active Words is one of those products that nearly all its users rave about. But because it’s from a tiny company without much of an advertising budget, it has more of a cult following and depends on word of mouth. It’s one of the most useful add-ons for a PC ever made. It quickly installs and works in the background, no matter what you’re doing. Using a few keystrokes, it performs actions that would normally require much more effort, and saves a huge amount of time. You can quickly open specific programs, go to a specific website, or get to a specific folder. You can auto-correct text, insert specific phrases or even write a complete canned email with a couple of keystrokes. There are also dozens of free add-ins designed for specific occupations and special software platforms. It’s just $30 with a 90-day free trial, and you can use it on four devices.  It reminds me a bit of Superhuman in that it empowers special keystrokes with specific actions that save a lot of time. Well worth the money and certainly worth the short time it takes to master.

 

Phone, iPad and Notebook Stands

With all of the zoom and FaceTime calls, perhaps you want to look your best and position the cameras so others are not seeing your knees or looking up your nostrils. I know I needed something to prop up my notebook, iPad and phone when making video calls.  A visit to Amazon turned up scores of solutions. I ended up with these two gadgets that work well. They’re each machined out of aluminum, nicely finished, and very inexpensive.

The Nulaxy A4 Cell Phone Stand is a foldable, adjustable phone easel.  It works with all phones and allows you to position the phone at just the right angle. When I’m working out with my trainer remotely this allows me to position the phone so she can monitor my routines.  $12.99 to $14.99

As an aside, I’ve noticed how prices for the same item seem to change frequently on Amazon, apparently done automatically based on algorithms and adjusted based on competitive offerings. I bought this item for $13 several weeks ago and now it’s $15. Still a good deal.

This clever PTuna laptop and tablet stand starts out in a slim compact form – slightly longer than a pencil – that expands into a sturdy stand to prop up your laptop up to a 35-degree angle, raising the camera by 6-inches to a level perfect for your zoom calls.  It’s constructed of high quality aluminum alloy that’s nicely finished with no sharp corners or edges, with silicone pads to hold the notebook, and silicone feet to keep it from moving. I picked this one because it was the lowest price among a half dozen near identical offerings.

 

UAG Ultra Armor Gear Cases

I’ve been spending more time with my phone and laptop at home, carrying them from room to room and onto the backyard deck. I want cases that protect them in case of drops. Among all the cases I’ve tried for my iPhone X, I keep returning to the UAG Monarch case. It’s the best combination of strength, lightness and solid feel in the hand. It’s made of several layers of material: a polycarbonate shear plate, a carbon fiber inlay, a TPU bumper frame and screws holding the intricate assembly all together. It’s survived multiple drops because of its rugged construction. UAG makes models for most phone models in a variety of styles. I’ve always found their products to be very well designed. sturdy and made with premium materials. About $60.

For my laptop I’m using their 13″ sleeve that zips open, letting me keep my new MacBook Pro computer protected even while using. It’s rugged, flexible and provides solid protection. It’s easy to grasp unlike the slippery notebook on its own.  And best of it it meets standard military drop test standards. Also about $60.

 

Roku Streaming Stick

Now that I’ve shedded my cable TV service and am streaming TV shows and other entertainment, I’ve come to realize that most everyone should try it, even those that have chosen to retain cable TV. It’s inexpensive and provides access to a huge array of entertainment services.  And because none of the services require long term commitments, you can binge watch a few series or movies one month using one service and another the next month.  The Roku device is a one time purchase with no monthly costs. If you have a smart TV more than a few years old, you’ll find services that go well beyond what’s built into your set, such as Apple TV and the Disney Channel.

Think of your TV as just a huge computer display. The Roku plugs into one of the TV inputs and turns it into a computer for video entertainment. It has the software and Internet connection that allows you to reach out over the Internet to access all of these entertainment services. There’s a range of Roku products that are quite confusing. But go for the Streaming Stick model that normally costs $50, but is now on sale for $40, including its own remote control.

–/–

These times are unique for many of us. No need to rush through anything, considering we have the time to indulge, study, read or just entertain ourselves. It’s a time to do things we might never have tried before. It might be learning a new skill such as trying out new software, smoking meat, or repairing a broken toilet. I’ve done all of these these while under self-isolation, and am now much more skilled at than when I began this shutdown. Thank goodness for small things.