It's no secret that the modern office is becoming increasingly populated with gadgets and tools aimed at improving connectivity, efficiency and productivity. But how can you spot the products that will give you that extra boost?
We've rounded up some of these clever extras, from an ultra-secure USB drives, through a tiny docking station, to one of the weirdest gadgets ever to land on TechRadar Pro, courtesy of a Kickstarter campaign.
A well-built hotspot in a very crowded market
The Skyroam Solis is a palm sized, SIM-free Wi-Fi hotspot that is easy to set-up and use. There are no contracts involved, with four pay-as-you-go plans available and up to five devices can connect to a single Skyroam at once.
This means that your cost per GB remains the same wherever you go, (with a 1GB package costing $9, with options going up to 20GB ($180)) but that you don’t get any discounts for taking bigger packages. The device uses its own patented virtual SIM technology to connect to WiFi and has over 300 partnerships with network carriers around the world.
It’s especially useful outside of Europe as it saves you from having to use unsafe and unreliable public WiFi connections and running the risk of incurring huge data bills. We tested the service outside of London and got 7Mbps upload and surprisingly, 17Mbps download speeds. In comparison, our smartphone - on Three - hit 12Mbps download speeds and 2.3Mbps upload - hardly 4G speeds but good enough for most tasks.
The Solis itself resembles an orange puck and contains two batteries totalling 6Ah that can power it for up to 16 hours, as well as charging other devices thanks to a clever adaptor. Getting it up and running was easy although we would recommend you do it at home (or where you have connectivity) to avoid any data roaming shocks.
The free Skyroam app has a “smart button’” option that allows you to send an emergency SMS or an email with your current location to your friends, keep track of your location on Google sheets, tweet current location, get daily news & weather reports, locate lost gadgets and use Amazon Alexa to activate a Skyroam plan
Although there is a rental option available for $8.99 per day (it can be found at all major American airports), you can buy it outright from $150. An upgraded option is the Solis X, which boosts the number of devices you can connect (from five to 10) while adding a remote camera, smart assistant, a speaker, Bluetooth connectivity and a microphone for $30 extra.
A versatile charging station with plenty of juice
An affordable charger that can power all your devices at once and more, either wired or wirelessly, the ZeroLemon can deliver up to 135W of power through four USB physical ports - 87W Type-C, 20W Type-C, two 15W Type-A - and two wireless contact points (10W Qi charger, 3W Apple Watch charger).
A 87W charging point means that it can fully charge a 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro laptop in two hours and doesn’t require an external power supply unit.
Engineers have included temperature control management, overvoltage, overcurrent, overcharge and short circuit protection. All the ports are located at the front and other than a power button and a charge voltage indicator, the unit remains blissfully clutter-free, with plenty of holes to allow air to circulate.
The device is also surprisingly compact at 140 x 100 x 33mm, bearing in mind that it includes the power supply unit which competitors often leave out. You only need to choose to attach a power cable and off you go.
We would have loved to see a few more Type-A connectors and perhaps data capabilities, at least on one port, although this may have pushed up its price - which currently stands at a mere $59 if you back it on Kickstarter.
As always remember that all Kickstarter projects comes with a degree of risk and challenge and that you are backing rather than buying something. That said, given that we have a working product inhouse, the chances of this particular campaign not working out should be greatly reduced.
A must-have for travellers and Mac users alike
Travel docks have become more popular as laptop manufacturers continue to reduce the number of ports on their devices. There’s a lot of competition from established players (like HP or Lenovo) and new challengers (like Pluggable or Anker), but then there is this new entry from Other World Computing (AKA OWC).
The company has introduced a new “high performance workflow solution” travel dock (OWCTCDK5P2SG) which is one of the smallest we’ve seen recently, and one that comes with the all important Power Delivery pass-through feature.
This allows up to 100W of power to be delivered to a laptop or anything else that has a Type-C plug, and is an upgrade to the existing tradel dock from OWC that can only do 60W.
There’s a single Type-C connector, two USB 3.1 ports, an SD card reader and a HDMI 2.0 port. At 80 x 80 x 23mm, it is small enough to be carried in your back jeans pocket and includes a captive 15cm cable which has a groove to allow you to pull it out (and put it back) easily.
Now, you should in theory be able to connect your phone to a monitor for example although we couldn’t get it done on our Google Pixel 2XL.
Other than the two year warranty and the deliberately subdued design, the travel dock carries a price tag of $54.99 (from Macsales) and is available in space gray only. The cheaper, smaller 60W version retails for $43.88 and comes in gold, rose gold and silver as well.
A unique product that comes some impressive features
It may not be as compact as some of the competition, but the Alogic USB-C dock plus packs a big bunch with an affordable price tag. The ULDPLS-SGR, to give it its official name, retails for only $70 at Amazon and yet packs some features we haven’t found anywhere else (at least not on a travel dock).
Built from aluminum and ABS plastic, the docking station is portable enough to be shoved in your shirt’s pocket. It comes with a two year warranty and has built in technology to shield it from surrounding magnetic interference.
The Alogic USB-C dock uses the latest Power Delivery (PD 3.0) specifications to provide up to 100W of power to compatible devices which is impressive enough compared to some of its competitors. But there’s more; two card readers (although you can’t use both simultaneously), two graphics ports (HDMI and DisplayPort) which can be used at the same time albeit at a reduced full HD resolution. There’s also a Gigabit Ethernet port and two USB Type-A inputs plus a Type-C connector.
On the downside, the cable management could be better with a dedicated storage slot. We’d also love more USB Type-C connectors but other than that the dock itself is pretty much as mature as it gets. Note that a cheaper and simpler version exists, one which eschews the LAN and display port, offering a near 50 percent discount.
An absolute monster of a battery pack
Imagine this; you are preparing to go on a weekend trip with a lot of gear that require an AC outlet. The problem is that there’s no power ports where you’re going. What’s the solution? A generator would be too big and probably too expensive - but aA battery pack like the Omars AC power bank might be the answer.
With a staggering 40.2Ah capacity, it is one of the biggest power banks we’ve seen to date, one that can power virtually every single laptop on the planet (including this Eurocom workstation).
On sale for as little as $119.95, it is actually within the limit set by the TSA for batteries on flights. External batteries can have a maximum capacity of 160Whr. The Omars AC Power Bank stands at 146Whr; note that you cannot check it in, you will have to bring it in your hand luggage.
It is about the size of a chunky bedside book and weighs just under 500g. As expected, it is jam-packed with technology to prevent it from breaking down: under voltage and over voltage protection, short circuit protection, over-current protection, AC out short circuit protection, AC out over-current protection and over temperature protection.
The electronics and a dozen of LG-built 18650 batteries are encased in a solidly built chassis and has two USB Type-A ports (sadly no Type-C)and a 2-pin power outlet (US version) or a 3-pin one (UK version), the latter of which can deliver up to 90W of usable power. Note that the device doesn’t come with any USB cables and none of the USB ports are fast-charging ones.
The real Babelfish has finally landed
When Time Kettle approached us for a hands-on with the WT2 Plus, we didn’t have much faith in it despite it raking in more than $275,000 on Kickstarter. Billed as the first AI-powered, single-app earphone translator and capable of translating 36 languages and 84 accents in near real time (complete with written translation), it sounded (pun intended) too good to be true, especially for $239.
You get a pair of earphones (one per person) that come in an AirPod-like charger box that splits into two, with each half magnetically attached to one another. You will need the accompanying app (available on iOS as well) and internet connectivity to get it working and you get two pairs of extra ear buds and a microUSB cable for charging the case.
The earphones are relatively comfortable to wear; just bear in mind that the one with the dash on top of the indicator is for your guest. Three translation modes are available: simul mode which is essentially a normal conversation between two people speaking different languages. Touch Mode, which is akin to a walkie-talkie mode and a more traditional app based translation, great for situations where you don’t want to use the app. Note that you can't copy the translated text into another app. A shame as the WT2 Plus doesn't also integrate into any other environment.
During our brief test, the WT2 Plus performed admirably well, both in app and using the earphones. Ideally you will have a good internet connection and not a lot of background noise. Keep the phrases short as well where possible to minimize mistakes and there is a slight delay as one would expect.
However, these are minimal and, thanks to WT2 Plus’s built in adaptive noise cancellation technology, you can make full use of non verbal forms of communications (hands, facial expression and body language). We liked the fact that it integrates auto voice detection and pick up for seamless conversation.
Time Kettle says that the earphones will last five hours on a single charge with the charging case extending that to 15 hours.
The app allows you to access historical conversations and you can’t choose voice pairs and most are females for the in-app translation. We don’t know how support will be in the long run but the WT2 Plus received a firmware update during our brief testing period.
There’s no need to pass your smartphone (or translation device) back and forth (risky when the person is a complete stranger) or to ask the other person to download an app. All you need to do is put on the earpiece and speak normally. You can buy the WT2 Plus directly from Amazon. Bear in mind that you are responsible for any taxes (import duty and VAT).
Active noise cancellation with Qi-charging but watch out the price tag
Logitech’s new wireless headphones, Zone Wireless, is aimed squarely at the office end user with a pull out microphone boom, active noise cancellation and the ability to move seamlessly between a smartphone and a computer.
At 181g, it is light enough to be carried around; Logitech provides with a soft plastic pouch; we’d have preferred something a bit sturdier given its premium price (£200). Other accessories include a USB-A dongle, a long (1.3m) charging USB cable. You cannot switch to wired connectivity should the battery run flat.
Speaking of battery life, Logitech promises up to 14 hours of talk time with active noise cancellation (ANC) on and 15 without. Listening time varies between 14 hours (ANC on) and 16 hours (ANC off). We didn’t reach those numbers. With ANC on, we topped eight hours at 70% charge (or under 11 hours 30 minutes).
Logitech also claims up to 30m wireless range (line of sight); that number depends partly on the receiving unit as well so your mileage will vary.
Controls on this premium on-ear wireless headset are kept to a strict minimum: all the controls are located on its right hand side. A white status LED shows when the Zone Wireless is connected or connecting to a device. It provides with a simple interface to adjust volume, play and pause music, start and end calls, activate/mute the microphone, plus button controls for power, active noise cancellation, and wireless Bluetooth pairing.
The headset also supports wireless Qi charging (or via a microUSB port) and comes with a handy mobile companion app (Logitech Tune) that allows you to control headset functions like mute, ANC and EQ presets as well as the side tone, which lets you hear your own voice during a conversation.
The Zone Wireless is more expensive than most of the competition but there’s a good reason; it comes with a two-year warranty and its built quality is better than cheaper models: silicone-padded headband and soft leatherette will improve your comfort over long sessions and allow your skin to breath and reduce sweating in hot environment.
ANC worked reasonably well and the audio performance of the set was subjectively good with plenty of details in the mid-frequencies but lacking when it comes to lower ones.
Not a surprise there given the nature of the product. Call quality is equally good thanks to a dual MEMS microphone array in a proper microphone boom that also uses a proprietary algorithm to filter out ambient background noise during conversations.
A pin-sharp yet bulk display that could be a great addition to your office
Having a great display is becoming increasingly important in many home offices, especially as more of us move to a multi-screen environment. Dell's newest 32-inch 4K monitor, the Dell U3219Q. offers a bright and vibrant Ultra HD display that is perfect not just for video or gaming, but for workplace applications such as video-conferencing and data modelling.
The unit is fairly bulky once unpacked, but when set up can be adjusted to fit a number of different space allowances, and thanks to an moveable height option, should mean it's not a strain on the eyes or neck.
The U3219Q features an incredibly useful collection of connectivity options, sporting not just HDMI, USB and DP ports, but USB-C as well, meaning it'll easily slip alongside your existing laptop or PC. The unit even ships with a USB-C and HDMI cable, meaning set-up is quick and easy - just what you need to smarten up your office.