If you find yourself camping in the woods with all of your gadgets, consider a portable power station to keep everything charged.
I've been testing the PS500N, $490 from iForway.com. It could power a 60-inch TV for three hours if you want to lug it along to the woods. The PS500N is about the size of a breadbox, weighs 13 pounds, and uses no gasoline.
The user manual calls it a "Portable Solar Generator," but there's nothing solar about it, unless you add a portable solar panel, which iForway sells for $190. (A solar panel could be useful for topping up.) With just the power station, you could charge a phone 45 times, a camera 75 times, a tablet 12 times, and a laptop eight times, the company says. If you drain it completely, it takes six hours to charge with a wall plug.
The fun part is the speaker. I connected my phone to the unit via Bluetooth, and played the "Nutcracker Suite" on Spotify. The sound quality is excellent. Next I tried the lights on it. They're really powerful, whether flashing an SOS signal, providing a strobe, or flooding your camping or party site with light. The PS500N has two wall outlets, a headphone jack and three USB ports, including one for USB-C-type devices.
To compare other power units, check out the "PC World" article titled "Portable Power Stations, Perfect for Camping." They range in price from $115 to $300 but don't have the power or the features of the PS500N. It has a 462 watt-hour lithium-ion battery pack compared with 150 watt-hours for the $115 Aiper portable power station.
For emergency use when the power goes out at home, consider the $30 solar charger from Hiluckey. It can charge smartphones, tablets and computers and includes a flashlight. But if you want to light up a big area, get something like the $26 Suboos Camping Lantern. It's rechargeable, weather-resistant and has a power bank you can use to charge your phone. If the power goes out and the lantern itself is drained, it will continue to glow using alkaline batteries.
BETTER THAN BLACK FRIDAY?
Amazon Warehouse gives you deals on stuff other people have returned.
Amazon Warehouse is in the pull-down category menu on Amazon.com. I saw an Instant Pot 7-in-1 electric pressure cooker for $55 instead of $79. These things get constant publicity, but I haven't found a good use for one.
When I bought my Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet, I had two choices: the $200 version without ads, or $150 with ads. I bought the ad-supported version. So did a reader, but the ads drove him nuts. I kinda like them.
If the ads bug you, you can pay $15 to switch to the ad-free version. Here's how: In a Google search, type "Amazon manage content and devices." Click the first link that comes up. Click the "Devices" tab at the top of the page, then click on the Fire. Under "Special Offers," choose "Remove." Alternatively, a new ad-free Fire HD 10 is now $165 instead of $200.
I have yet to have a Zoom meeting interrupted by a so-called "Zoom bomber." But anything's possible. The worst of the bombers push porn, heave insults and threaten participants. But now Zoom will tell you if your meeting link is vulnerable. If you get their message, just reschedule a new meeting at the same time with a different link.
Speaking of Zoom news, recently I was on a friend's low-cost Chromebook during a Zoom meeting when the rest of the group said my sound was breaking up. I got an onscreen notice that the computer's central processing unit (CPU) was overtaxed. No wonder. Zoom does a lot in the background, such as suppressing noise and showing you live videos of all the participants. So if you get a message in Windows that your CPU is overtaxed, check the Task Manager by right-clicking the start button. Click "More Details" to see what's running in the background and end unnecessary processes. On a Mac, look at the Activity Monitor. On a Chromebook, hold down the Shift button and press the Escape key to see the task manager. Or do what I did: Switch to a more powerful computer.
NEW FROM GOOGLE
There's a new version of Google Pay, which you can opt into in the app on your phone. The new version lets you wave your phone instead of using a credit card, though not all stores accept it. With the new version, I can see my spending history at any store I've been to recently. The new Google Pay also lets me send money to friends. Some people won't want Google to get so much information about them, such as what stores you go to. But unlike Venmo, it doesn't sell your data to third-party marketers.
In other Google news, I tried out the new Family Bell. If you have a Google Home device, now called Google Nest, you can set up a school bell to ring for recess, class times and other events using the Google Home app. Tap the app on your phone, then the microphone and say "Assistant Settings." Scroll down until you see "Family Bell." Tap "Add a bell" and type in an announcement such as "Time to brush teeth."
Joy Schwabach can be reached by email at [email protected]