Toybox: the tech you need to make lockdown more bearable
Lockdown has taken an emotional toll on us and for those having to revert to working from home mode, quite possibly a physical toll as well - particularly for Aucklanders who will hopefully emerge from Level 4 restrictions next week.
I'm not talking about the weight gain due to being cooped up at home, though that is a serious factor - experts say we averaged a 5kg weight gain last year as a result of lockdown inertia - and over-consumption. Some have also suffered from shoulder and back problems as a result of not having access to their ergonomic office tech set-up.
Others have realised the limitations of the BYOD (bring your own device) movement with grainy video conference images, patchy audio and a clutter of cobbled-together devices and peripherals taking up space. There may well be more lockdowns, so now is the time to give some thought to your home office set-up with hopes of a better remote working experience in mind. Here are a few gadgets I've been test-driving that may ease the working from home blues.
Satechi Eco Leather Deskmate
Over the last 18 months, I've managed to wear the veneer off the surface of my desk by running my mouse around without a mouse pad beneath it and scuffing my watch strap against the wood. There are even will wear marks showing where I've shifted the keyboard around. Yes, I should have put something down to protect the desk. At least I can cover it with the Satechi Deskmate, a stylish-looking Polyurethane leather desk mat that's suitable for wooden and lacquered surfaces.
Its dimensions are 58.5 x 31 cm giving you plenty of space to put your mouse and keyboard on it. The Deskmate has a quality finish to it that's pleasant to the touch. Importantly, it works perfectly as a mouse pad and is waterproof and cleanable with a damp cloth and soap. It comes in brown or blue. A good way to spruce up a bland work surface and protect it at the same time.
Logitech MX Bundle
Nothing is as likely to speed the onset of repetitive strain injury as using an ill-fitting or poor quality keyboard and mouse. The Logitech MX bundle restore's order with a full-sized keyboard, ergonomic mouse and a pad for your palms to rest on.
The keyboard is sturdy and well-laid out, with 10 days of battery life or up to 5 months if you turn off the backlighting. There's a nice bounce to the keys as well. The MX Master 3 mouse is designed for comfort, minimising how much you need to move your mouse hand. It is lightweight so easy to drive around. The metal scroll wheel is highly responsive and there are buttons to easily let you navigate web pages. Unlike with my iMac mouse, you can use the MX Master while you are charging it with a USB-C cable, a small but important feature when my iMac tells me I have 2% battery remaining!
After nearly two years of Zoom meetings, I'm glad to see there's growing acceptance for staying in "video off" mode. No one wants to see you in your pyjamas anyway. But they want to hear you properly, in which case your laptop speaker may not cut it. The Thormax Pulse is a USB-C microphone on a little tripod that offers great audio quality for conference calls, as well as a more professional sound for podcasters and musicians. You get studio-grade recording - 96khz 24 Bit. It has active noise cancelling to cut out background noise, a headphone jack to monitor your audio and a circular LED light around it you know what mode you are in.
Logitech Zone Wireless Plus
The crucial requirement for a wireless headset is decent battery life. Logitech's Zone Wireless Plus offer 14 hours of talk time, which is impressive. A five-minute charge via the USB cable will give you an extra hour. These are noise-cancelling headphones with a lightweight build and comfortable, spongy earpieces. The microphone has a useful little mute button on it to avoid conference call mishaps. Easy pairing via Bluetooth gets you connected quickly and you can walk around 30 metres away from your computer and stay in touch. The audio playback for music is pretty decent too, which is what you would expect for the price, which is certainly up there. The Zone Wireless Plus will suit an office worker spending a lot of time in conference calls and wanting a decent wires-free experience.
Satechi Trio Wireless Charging Pad
Sick of the tangle of charging cables on your desk or bedside table? If your smartphone, earbuds and smartwatch support wireless charging, a charging pad will let help you tidy up. They used to be a bit hit and miss, failing to charge unless you positioned your gadgets perfectly on them. But the Trio is incredibly easy to use. It's custom-built for Apple devices with three bays - for phone, Airpods and Apple Watch. Other devices that support Qi wireless charging will power up via the pad too. The wireless earbud case will have to fit into the divot designed to house the Airpods.
Three LEDs light up to show you the devices are charging. Huawei earbuds and the Samsung Galaxy Fold smartphone instantly started charging for me. I was able to remove the power block by my bedside as I now only need two plugs - one for the lamp and one for the Trio. Wireless charging is finally worth the effort.
Satechi Vertical Laptop Stand
If you are working on a laptop but using a separate keyboard and screen for greater comfort you may as well close the laptop and put it aside. Easier said than done if you have a small desk. The Satechi laptop stand is metal, adjustable and lets you store your computer vertically, freeing up desk space. You simply adjust the width of the stand's clamp to suit your laptop. It's pricey for what it is, but a godsend for those who want a minimalist look and need to free up some space.
Logitech C920 Webcam
The built-in web camera on the iMac I bought in February is, I have to admit, pretty good. But judging by the washed out and grainy video I see as I peer into other people's homes and offices during Zoom and Teams meetings, not everyone is facing as good a camera. The good news has been for a long time that you can bypass your built-in webcam in favour of a third-party model better suited to the task.
Logitech's C920 Webcam is a best-seller thanks to doing the basics well and at an affordable price. It streams and records full high-definition (HD) video at 1080p and up to 30 frames per second. A wide-angle lens gives you a 78-degree field of view gives you plenty of room to stay in shot and capture a tasteful slice of your carefully arranged bookshelf behind you. A great feature is the auto-focus, which does a good job of keeping the shot in focus as you move around. An advantage over the iMac camera is that the C920 deals better with background lighting, such as harsh sunlight coming through the window. The background is less likely to blow out in a white haze. The audio is on par with the iMac's microphone - if you want deep, rich audio while minimising background noise, considering pairing the C920 with an external microphone like the Thormax above.
A flat piece of plastic over the camera makes for easy cleaning and a blue LED surround lights up to tell you that the camera is live. Logitech's free Logi Capture software is also worth downloading and checking out if you are interested in recording video messages for people, video tutorials or presentations. It has a number of tools for recording video via your webcam, adding titles and split screens and touching everything up to make you look super professional
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