Tech toys of summer

During the dog days of summer, it’s always fun to contemplate some new toys. Here are a few that we’ve been enjoying.

All prices are in Canadian dollars unless otherwise specified.

Kensington QuietType Pro Silent Mechanical Keyboard with Meeting Controls

Kensington QuietType Pro mechanical keyboard. Photo: Kensington

The new Kensington QuietType Pro Silent Mechanical Keyboard with Meeting Controls combines the lovely touch of a mechanical keyboard with the relative silence of the membrane variety in a device that just won a Red Dot award for design. The keyboard can connect in one of three ways to up to five active devices: one via a USB cable that also serves as a charging cable, three over Bluetooth, and one wirelessly using a dongle; a switch on the side of the keyboard lets you flip between inputs.

If you’re interested in the technical nitty-gritty, the keyboard combines Kailh Midnight Pro Silent Tactile switches with sound dampening pads, and offers n-key rollover (which means if you press multiple keys at once, they’ll all register, which is important in some games).

The built-in battery, specs say, lasts up to 90 hours on a charge when the backlight is on full, and up to 450 hours with no backlight. I’ve been using my keyboard daily for over a month (mostly sans backlight – it’s not very bright even at its maximum) and it still has plenty of juice, according to the Kensington Konnect app, so those estimates may be conservative.

Through that app, you also can reprogram multiple keys, including the four (mute/unmute, video on/off, call, and end call) that manage conferencing (though currently only for Microsoft Teams and Zoom). You can also swap between the Windows and Mac special keys, either through the app or via a special key sequence.

The keyboard comes with a separate wrist rest that has an adhesive strip to keep it in place on the desk, and a nice cover to protect it when unused.

The device is not cheap – CDW Canada sells it for $279 – but quality mechanical keyboards last for ages, so if it feels right to you, it could be a great investment.

Kanguru Defender LifePlanner

Photo: Kangaru

It looks like a small USB key, but the Kangaru Defender LifePlanner is actually an encrypted store for passwords and personal information that you want to protect and don’t want to entrust to the cloud. The USB drive features FIPS 197 certified, AES 256-Bit hardware encryption, and is fingerprint or password protected. Separately, the LifePlanner application stored on it has its own login. You can also provide special login access for your spouse, children, Power of Attorney, Healthcare Proxy or care-giver.

The drive includes the LifePlanner application that organizes your information in various categories (eg: Contacts, Retirement, Banking, Insurance, or any others you want to set up), onboard anti-virus (three years of updates are included; the service is renewable), a password vault, a file vault for documents, a secure browser, and a series of tools such as a calendar, percentage calculator, and a random password generator. You can export the contents of the LifePlanner to a password-protected PDF.

This is just a brief summary; the best way to get a sense of how the LifePlanner works is to view the videos Kangaru has provided on its website.

The Defender LifePlanner comes in three sizes: 16 GB, 64 GB, and 128 GB, selling for US$99.95, US$169.95, and US$229.95 respectively.

Kensington USB-C Dual 4K Portable Mobile Dock with Qi Charging – 100W Power Pass Through

Photo: Kensington

One maddening thing about today’s skinny computers is the shortage of ports. Some even only have one USB-C port that has to be used for charging as well as connectivity.

The Kensington SD1700P USB-C Dual 4K Portable Mobile Dock with Qi Charging aims to solve that problem. The $199.99 device (currently on sale for $189.99 at CDW Canada) offers two HDMI ports that can handle 4K monitors, an RJ-45 Ethernet port supporting up to gigabit ethernet, a USB-C 3.2 port with 100W power delivery, two USB-A ports, and a Qi wireless charging pad on top, in a package weighing 305g. It works with Windows 10 or later, macOS 11 or later, and iPadOS 13 or later, as well as Samsung Galaxy, Note, and Tab devices.

It works in one of two modes: if you’ve plugged it into your computer and it’s drawing bus power (i.e. the computer is running on battery), there’s a switch that toggles it between Qi charging and docking modes. You can also plug in a USB-C charger (Kensington offers an optional 100 watt travel charger with U.K., EU, and North American plugs included) and power both the laptop and the dock.

Kobo Elipsa 2E

Kobo Elipsa 2E can be a notebook or an ereader; its ComfortLight PRO allows adjustment of brightness and colour temperature. Photo: Kobo

The new Kobo Elipsa 2E ereader is half the device its predecessor was – in a good way. Where last year’s version one Elipsa was half an inch thick, this one is only a quarter inch, and it weighs 200 grams less, making it much more comfortable to hold. Despite this, it’s faster, the screen is still the same generous 10.3 inches, the storage is still 32 GB (which holds a LOT of books), the pen – the Kobo Stylus 2, an update of last year’s model – is included, and battery life is measured in weeks. Functionality is similar too – the device functions as a notebook (with handwriting to text conversion if you like) as well as an ereader with annotation capabilities and an audiobook player; you can store your notebooks in Dropbox today, and soon, Kobo says, in Google Cloud. Annotations can be synced to Notion, Roam, Evernote, and more.

Like all Kobos, you load it up by purchasing ebooks or audiobooks from Kobo or Indigo, or loading compatible ebooks from other sources, as well as by borrowing books directly from the public library via OverDrive (I’ve borrowed hundreds over time; the great thing is, they return themselves when the loan expires). It supports 15 file formats, including PDF and ePub, and you can adjust typefaces and font sizes to accommodate your eyesight.

This model is not waterproof, unlike Kobo’s Sage, Clara 2E, and Libra 2 but, like the Clara 2E, it is made from recycled plastic.

Although the price tag is, on the surface, the same, at $499.99, last year the device was sold in a bundle with its Sleep Cover (which puts the reader into sleep mode when closed), while this year the cover is an extra $90.

TCL 40 XE 5G

Photo: TCL

While people often focus only on flagship phones, there’s a lot to be said for more modestly priced models. The TCL 40 XE 5G, for example, offers a lot of functionality for $320. You get a 6.56 inch HD+ display that’s clear and bright, and has good touch response. Storage of 128GB and memory of 4GB, plus a slot for a MicroSD card of up to 1TB means you won’t quickly run out of room. The 5000 mAh battery can provide a couple of days of power (depending on usage). It’s relatively light – only 195g – and it’s a 5G phone, so it supports the best your carrier can provide.

The 13MP main camera, which is flanked by a 2MP depth camera and a 2MP macro camera, offers 4x zoom. While it’s not the equal of the cameras on flagship phones, it does a decent job, though some colours can be oversaturated. The front camera is an 8MP shooter. Both can record video at 1080p at 30 frames per second.

There’s only a single speaker, so you don’t get stereo sound – but there is a headphone jack, allowing you to easily plug in something external.

The phone does not support wireless charging. It does come with a fast charger in the box – something several other vendors have decided to omit. It does not support eSIM.

Authentication is via PIN, facial recognition, or fingerprint.

The phone may be inexpensive, but it doesn’t feel cheap. It’s sturdy and attractive to look at and feels comfortable in the hand. And battery life is solid – it gets a couple of days out of a charge, with moderate use.

The TCL 40 XE 5G is available from Videotron, SaskTel, Bell, and Virgin Mobile.

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Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner has been interpreting tech for businesses for over 20 years and has worked in the industry as well as writing about it, giving her a unique perspective into the issues companies face. She has both IT credentials and a business degree

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