June 25, 2019
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Anker’s PowerPort Atom is my permanent new travel companion

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I had fight a couple of coworkers for this thing. It’s a strange thing to fight over, I realize, but we are strange people with a strange job. And more importantly, I won. I’m plugged into the PowerPort Atom as I write this. It’s keeping my 13-inch MacBook Pro alive via the plane power outlet tightly squeezed behind my legs.

I travel a lot, and I try to travel light. Determining what goes into and what stays out of my carryon feels a bit like stocking delivery rockets for the International Space Station sometimes. But I feel pretty confident in saying that this tiny little plug just scored a permanent spot. Well, until the PowerPort Quark comes along, I guess.

One of the beauties of Apple’s switch to Thunderbolt 3/USB-C is the modularity of it all. I’m sure Apple will tell you to stick to official and officially licensed products, but the ability to mix and match these things has given us some solid options, and Anker’s right there to reap the benefit.  The products the company makes are rarely flash or sexy, but they’re often genuinely useful in a way few accessory manufacturers can claim.

As someone who has owned a lot of Apple Chargers over the years, it’s pretty remarkable what Anker has done here. I’d recently switched to Google’s PixelBook charger for travel, but that has nothing on this. Hell, the Atom is smaller than some phone chargers I’ve used over the year.

It’s small and white,  with a single USB-C port. It’s not quite as slim as, say, a standard iPhone charger, so it can get a bit tight with alongside some larger chargers (RavPower’s dual-USB charger, for instance), but it frees up a lot of space. And in scenarios like the plane I’m typing this from, you’re a lot less likely to accidentally knock it out with your leg, leaving you fumbling blindly to plug it back in.

It’s not a perfect thing, of course. It can get quite hot to the touch when charging something large. And don’t even think about charging up, say, your 15-inch Pro. With certain outlets in certain scenarios, the charging process could be downright sluggish. I can’t remember ever seeing “Estimated Charging Time: 10 hours” before.

For the most part, I’d recommend the Atom for those instances when you want to maintain a charge, rather than filling the battery up quickly. I full expect to continue to bring the full-size charger along with me for when I get back to the hotel and need to fill it back up for the night. 

In a  an ideal world, Anker would have somehow squeezed in an additional USB-C or full-size USB port to charge two devices at once, but that kind of request is probably flying too close to the sun here.  And hell, at $30, one is still an excellent deal. 

The Anker Roav Bolt lets drivers plug Google Assistant into their car

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Google Assistant is following Amazon Alexa into vehicles. One of the first products to offer the capability is from Anker — just like as one of the first in-vehicle Alexa products.

Called the Roav Bolt, the device plugs into a 12-volt power port and lets the driver access Google Assistant through the “OK Google” command. Once connected to the in-vehicle system through Bluetooth or a 3.5mm cable, the product will let drivers play audio, enable navigation, read text, make calls and more.

The Roav Bolt also has two USB ports for recharging devices.

I tried the Roav Viva a year ago and found the system clunky to configure and a pain to use. Also, at the time, Alexa lacked features that made it compelling to use in a vehicle and the third-party device lacked some functionality, like support for Spotify. This time around with Google Assistant, it’s likely the Roav Bolt offers enough features to make it more worthwhile for more people. This seems like an easy way to get the power of Google into a car.

The Roav Bolt will be available for purchase in February for $49.99.

Anker announces a new speaker, projector and tiny wall charger

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Master of all things gadget accessory, Anker announced a handful of new products at an event tonight in Manhattan. The biggest/smallest of the bunch is the PowerPort Atom, a compact wall charger designed to free up spaces around an outlet.

The $30 device sports a USB-C port and is smaller than most standard smartphone chargers. Still, the company says it should pack enough wattage to charge a Nintendo Switch, or even a MacBook. With a 27w output, though, that will likely take a while. No launch date has been set for that one.

The Model Series, meanwhile, is the decidedly staid name for the company’s new bluetooth speaker series. The first entry in the line is the donut-shaped Model Zero+, which features Dolby Audio, Google Assistant functionality and Google Assistant built in. The Model Zero, meanwhile, has fewer features but double the battery life. They’ll run $200 and $250 when they arrive late next month.

The last of the bunch is a sequel to Anker’s Nebula Capsule Mini Projector. The second version sports 1280 x 720 resolution, supports Google Assistant and auto-focuses in about one second. This one’s actually launching as a Kickstarter campaign tomorrow. Early bird pricing starts at $349.

Google Assistant coming soon to more speakers, appliances and other devices

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Google is hoping to catch up with Alexa’s reach by putting its Assistant on a wide range of third-party hardware. At IFA, Google announced that it’s going to be putting the Assistant on partner speakers, appliances, connected cameras, and much more.

That’s likely to be good for both the voice-powered assistant market, as well as for Google’s ability to use its service to collect useful data which it can then use to work on its advertising and marketing products. The more places Assistant appears, the more likely it is that people will engage with the voice companion, and that’s not territory Google wants to cede to someone like Amazon.

Some of the devices getting Google Assistant coming to IFA include the Anker Zolo Mojo, a small cylinder speaker that’s sort of like a third-party Google Home, which will go on sale in late October. Two other smart speakers powered by Assistant, including the Panasonic GA10 and the TicHome Mini, are also on their way.

Google is also now making it possible to use Assistant to check on the state of your laundry or dishes, using an integration with LG’s line of home appliances, which also includes voice commands for LG’s Roomba competitor.

This is definitely turning into an integration arms race for voice-powered assistant providers. Amazon and Google have strong motivation because of their data-focused business, but it’ll be interesting to see how Apple plays the game once its HomePod debuts with Siri support – I have a hard time imagining the iPhone-maker will put Siri on third-party hardware.

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