Wool Felt Cases Give Your Gadgets a Plush Life [Stuff We Like]

Your phone, iPod, and other gadgets are cold pieces of futuristic tech, but you've got a soft spot for them. Give them, and your pockets, a different feel with Byrd & Belle's wool felt cases, which combine plush linings with modern style.

Byrd & Belle is run by an architecture employee in downtown Minneapolis who found herself sidelined by the economy. Her shop delivers gray wool felt cases for iPods, iPhones, laptops, and generic pocket-sized gadgets. There's a unified look to her designs, with brown or black leather straps for each item, though custom orders seem to be accepted. And the straps on the iPod and iPhone cases are functional, tucking your wrapped-around earbuds into place and keeping your device from sliding out of the pocket.

So many gadgets are machined in such a way as to leave the impression that no human ever had a hand in making them, and the cases are made to match—shiny, polished, round-edged things meant to either let the device's looks come through, or hide the device in a similar-minded pocket of future-shock materials. Byrd & Belle's cases are the antithesis, looking stylish, sleek, and unique, while offering a softer touch and warmer looks than the standard black accessory.

Want to try your hand at your own custom felt cases? Rosa previously showed us how to print and fold your own customizable iPhone case that can be modified for any smartphone design. Design*Sponge has a felt glasses case tutorial that can easily be adapted for other objects, and, well, the list goes on if you Google for "Felt" and "DIY case."

Byrd & Belle's cases start at a reasonable $8 and range up to $82. Given that it's an Etsy crafter just catching up after a holiday hiatus—and, well, given this post—your order may have to hold a while before shipping.




Look for a Good App Before Buying a New Device [Saving Money]

We live in an era of multi-functional devices. Our phones aren't just phones—they're internet-connected computers, GPS devices, cameras, and more. So before you go buying new gear to fill a need, take blogger Fred Wilson's advice: Look for an app.

Wilson explains how he attempted to find a better solution for entering text into and controlling his home theater PCs, having been dissatisfied with his current setup. His first instinct was to buy some new gear—specifically an Apple Wireless Keyboard and a Gyration Air Mouse, both of which set him back around $160 total. What he got was more frustration. Then he went with a friend Andy's advice, who suggested a $2 iPhone/iPod touch app:

So in frustration, I pulled out the iPod touch we use as a Sonos and Boxee remote in our family room and downloaded the Mobile Air Mouse app from the iTunes store for $1.99. You have to download free "server software" for the device from the Mobile Air Mouse website as well.

Guess what? Andrew was right. It works very well. And you get a trackpad and a keyboard (iPhone style keyboard) all for $1.99.

The Apple keyboard was roughly $80 and the Gyration Air Mouse was about the same. $160 down the drain. The $2 solution was better.

As Wilson is quick to point out, you would need an iPhone or iPod touch on hand—and those do cost good money—but assuming you already have a multifunctional device, Wilson had one takeaway: "Bottom line for me: apps beat devices. Lesson learned. Relatively cheaply."

Have you had similar experiences? What apps have you used that've taken the place of buying new gear? Let's hear about it in the comments.




Desktop Computers Edge Out Laptops Among Lifehacker Readers [What You Said]

On Tuesday we asked you which you used more regularly as your main computer—a desktop or laptop. Nearly 18,000 responses later, the results are in: And here we thought the desktop was dead!

It was a close race, but desktop users outranked laptops 51% to 49%. The main reasons desktop and laptop users applied when discussing their gear of choice: Desktops are generally higher powered for the price, better for gaming, and offer more customization; laptops are convenient, portable, and good enough for most computing uses.




Gadget and Gear Deals of the Day [Dealhacker]

We've got discounted laptops, HDTVs, all-in-one printers, and some free MP3s for the not-unless-it's-free Dealhacker fans out there.


Computer Gear!

Home Entertainment Gear!

Portable Gear!

Free Stuff!

Thanks Dealzon, TechDealDigger, Slickdeals, Fatwallet, TechBargains, CheapStingyBargains, CheapCollegeGamers, and GamerHotline!




Laptop or Desktop: What’s Your Main Computer? [Reader Poll]

Unless you need a serious workhorse PC, modern laptops have plenty of power for most computer users; it's why laptop use has grown so much in recent years. Still, according to the New York Times, desktop's aren't dead just yet.

Why?

For one, PC makers have spent the last couple of years trying to perfect the art of cramming as much technical wizardry into a laptop as possible. They can now take those skills to the desktop and make machines that remain relatively tiny, but that pack unprecedented power.

And, with that extra space to play with, computer makers can throw in all of the latest and greatest components, giving people a system that looks really nice and performs like no PC they've ever had.

Still, the portability of laptops is a considerable factor when a consumer goes looking for a new computer. So, while we understand that the NYT article is discussing a larger corporate trend, it got us wondering about your own personal use:

I realize I left netbooks out of this poll; if your answer would have been netbook, a vote for laptop would make sense. Share more specifics on your choice—like what factors went into it (price, performance, etc.)—in the comments.




Vacuum-Seal Your Electronics for Temporary Protection [Clever Uses]

Nobody wants to be without their gadgets, but who wants to risk losing them to water damage? You can follow the lead of one iPhone-loving-chef and vacuum seal your gear for temporary protection.

Over at the culinary blog Behind The Knife they tend to focus on using non-kitchen items to make kitchen life easier and more interesting, but recently they stumbled upon a clever way to repurpose a kitchen product for life outside the kitchen. Chef Chip Sheen loved his iPhone and hated the idea that he might do it in with all the hustle and bustle of kitchen life. His solution? Use the vacuum packer in the kitchen to seal his phone into a waterproof pouch:

You certainly don't need a commercial-grade behemoth like the one featured in the video. Any small vacuum sealer would do. It's a temporary solution, however, because you can't plug in a charging or sync cable, and it's best suited for objects that don't need to be opened—I'd have a hard time giving up the slideout keyboard on my phone—but it offers a high level of protection from spills and dunks and gives you total access to the front panel of the device.

Have a clever way to keep your electronics safe in the face of inclement weather—and kitchen!—conditions? Let's hear about it in the comments.




The News You Can Use from the Nexus One Event [Cellphones]

Google has just rolled out a new phone, the Nexus One, but unless you're looking for a new T-Mobile contract, you may be wondering what the real news is. Here's what's new, useful, and likely coming to other Android phones.

Thanks to Gizmodo live blog for the non-official Google pics seen here.

Buy a phone through Google

Google helping to design a phone isn't entirely new—they did that with the G1, the myTouch, and the Droid. What Google is doing different with the Nexus One is offering their own web phone store, through which you can buy the Nexus One. Right now, you can buy it as an "unlocked" phone, with no cellular carrier commitment, for $530, or with a T-Mobile two-year commitment for $180. It uses Google Checkout, tied to your Google account, and in the spring, you'll also be able to buy a Nexus One on Verizon's network, or through Vodafone in the UK.

The idea of buying a phone directly from the software provider, with or without a contract, is fairly new in the U.S., and has the potential to change the power balance between phone makers and wireless providers—especially if Google starts moving into the market with advertising-subsidized models.

Universal voice input

If this upgrade makes its way to existing Android phones, it's actually the headline news for humans—especially humans with cars. Demonstrators showed the Nexus One composing an email using voice-to-text recognition, and the accuracy was notable—exactly what was said showed up in the body text. An HTC rep said the Nexus One, and any phone running Android 2.1, could fill in pretty much any text field with a voice command, which would mean sending an SMS just by speaking, or updating Twitter while walking around with headphones on.

Navigate to anywhere, from anywhere

Need turn-by-turn directions to your local flower shop without knowing where that is, what the store's named, and without having to type? The new Android has you covered, at least as shown in the demonstration. We've found Google's Navigation app to be a near-total GPS replacement, as long as you're driving around where there's data coverage, or you don't change your route in the hinterlands. Being able to launch and direct it from the home screen, without having to enter into the Maps app, is a pretty neat trick.

Smarter weather and news

Rather than just show you what the current temperature is, and the most recent headlines, Google's new weather and news widget gets all, as one Twitter user put it, so Google-y. You can track your current location's humidity history over time, and scan ahead with a finger swipe to see what's coming. You can keep up to date on the most current headline, but also swipe left and right to check out headlines in different categories. That in itself isn't all that amazing, but the widget shows off the smartphone—excuse us, "superphone"—potential. With a device that's constantly hooked up to the web and search powers, you can do more than just see what's happening. You can look ahead, browse backwards incrementally, and customize the stream of news and feeds that arrive at your fingers.


What was the most interesting part of the Nexus One hoopla to you, whether or not you're actually getting a phone? Tell us what you thought in the comments.


Testimonial: Rice Resurrects Even the Most Soaked of Gadgets [Tip Testers]

Nobody wants to lose their favorite new electronic gadget to a dunk in the drink. One Lifehacker reader saved his phone after an astounding 30 minute soak by sending it to the dry-rice spa.

Two years ago we shared a handy trick for saving your gadgets after an unfortunate run-in with water—using rice to soak up the moisture. Lifehacker reader Dietrich recently put that tip to use with impressive results:

For the last 2 days it has been a monsoon in my city. Today, during a rushed last minute shopping spree, I dropped my phone in a puddle. I didn't realize I had dropped it until I got back to my car 30 minutes later.

I remembered articles on Lifehacker about what to do so I immediately popped the battery out and dried the phone. When I got home I put my Palm Pre in a bag of rice for 10 hours. Adding insult to injury, I forgot to take the phone battery out of my pocket and put it through the washing machine. 10 hours later I'm typing this on my Pre. Good job Palm on making an excellent phone.

Revival after 30 minutes is a really impressive feat. Our own Lisa Hoover saved her son's phone from a water-logged fate after it took a dunk in a swimming pool by using a container of rice, but it definitely wasn't at the bottom of the pool for a half hour. Check out the original article for the how-to on using rice to dry out your electronics and if you've used the trick yourself, successful or not, let's hear about it in the comments.




Four short links: 24 December 2009

  1. Jonathan Zittrain on "Minds for Sale" -- video of a presentation he gave at the Computer History Museum about crowdsourcing. In the words of one attendee, Zittrain focuses on the potential alienation and opportunities for abuse that can arise with the growth of distributed online production. He also contemplates the thin line that separates exploitation from volunteering in the context of online communities and collaboration. Video embedded below.
  2. Anatomy of a Bad Search Result -- Physicists tell us that the 2nd law of Thermodynamics predicts that eventually everything in the universe will be the same temperature, the way a hot bath in a cold room ends up being a lukewarm bath in a lukewarm room. The web is entering its own heat death as SEO scum build fake sites with stolen content from elsewhere on the web. If this continues, we won't be able to find good content for all the bullshit. The key is to have enough dishwaster-related text to look like it’s a blog about dishwashers, while also having enough text diversity to avoid being detected by Google as duplicative or automatically generated content. So who created this fake blog? It could have been Consumersearch, or a “black hat” SEO consultant, or someone in an affiliate program that Consumersearch doesn’t even know. I’m not trying to imply that Consumersearch did anything wrong. The problem is systematic. When you have a multibillion dollar economy built around keywords and links, the ultimate “products” optimize for just that: keywords and links. The incentive to create quality content diminishes.
  3. Magplus -- gorgeous prototyping for how magazines might work on new handheld devices.
  4. Glasgow's Joking Computer -- The Glasgow Science Centre in Scotland is exhibiting a computer that makes up jokes using its database of simple language rules and a large vocabulary. It's doing better than most 8 year old children. In fact, if we were perfectly honest, most adults can't pun to save themselves. Q: What do you call a shout with a window? A: A computer scream. (via Physorg News)

What’s Better: More Screens or Larger Screens? [Reader Poll]

Continuing our conversation from yesterday about screen resolution, weblog WePC believes multiple monitors are better than single, larger monitors when you're expanding your screen real estate, which, naturally, got us wondering: When you're feeling constrained by your monitor, what's your preferred upgrade?

Photo by totalAldo.

We've done both single monitor and multi-monitor upgrades around Lifehacker HQ, and most of the editors around here are using multiple monitors on a daily basis. Still, there are a lot of factors that go into which decision you make. Most often getting a second, smaller monitor is going to be a lot cheaper than buying a new primary monitor that's significantly larger. On the other hand, you need a desk that can accommodate multiple monitors if that's the route you're planning to take. All things considered, which upgrade do you prefer:

Let's hear more about your preference in the comments.




What’s Your Screen Resolution? [Reader Poll]

Google released a tool today—called Browser Size—designed to show web developers what parts of a site users can see without scrolling. It's not exclusively tied to screen resolution (you don't have to maximize your browser), but it got us wondering.

(Click the image above for a closer look.)

We want a better idea of what kind of screen resolution our readers are rocking on their gear. If you're not sure how to figure it out, Windows users can just fire up your Display Properties from the Control Panel and find the Settings tab; Mac users, launch the Displays preference pane from System Preferences. Then let us know:

I did my best to come up with as many common resolutions as possible based on the results of a screen resolution survey posted on Wikipedia, so hopefully we don't have too many of you in the Other category. As we said, your screen resolution doesn't necessarily reflect your browser window's resolution (unless you're always browsing maximized, and even then you won't take up the whole height or width of the screen unless you put your browser in fullscreen mode), but we're still curious. So give it a look and give us more details on your setup in the comments.

In the meantime, web developers may be interested in checking out Browser Size for a better idea of what segment of their userbase may not be able to see important parts of their sites.




Wristband Charger Recharges Your Gadgets Without Missing a Beat [Stuff We Like]

You don't have time tether yourself to a wall while your cellphone, PSP, DS, or other gadget charges. Next time your portable gadget starts running low on juice, strap on gadget manufacturer Brando's clever wristband battery recharger and keep on keepin' on.

The wristband charger itself charges up via USB, and can use it to charge virtually any USB device. (It comes with connectors for a few speciailized gadgets.) And yeah, you may look a little silly with this Chewbacca-esque package around your wrist, but it won't slow you down. Seems like a snazzy stocking stuffer for the gadget lover in your life.

The USB wristband battery will set you back $35 from Brando.




Gadget and Gear Deals of the Day: Black Friday Edition [Dealhacker]

What's the most dealtastic day of the whole year? Black Friday, of course. Come on in for some deep-dish regular deals and some fantastic Black Friday Deals.

Twice a week we round up the best deals we can find to share with you. This Thursday is the eve of Black Friday one of the biggest shopping days of the year and also the best day to find outrageous deals. For today's Dealhacker post we've rounded our regular variety of deals for those of you that don't want to fight the crazy crowds—many of the online deals are good all weekend or until supplies run out.

For the true Black Friday deal hunters among you, braced for pounding the mean streets tomorrow and drinking coffee out of a thermos at 3AM outside a Best Buy, we defer you to the absolutely massive Black Friday list our sister site Gizmodo has put together. There you'll find all the in-store deals and door busters. Make sure to read the Lifehacker Guide to Making the Most of Black Friday to prepare yourself.


Computer Gear!

Not Computer Gear!

Free Stuff!

Thanks Dealzon, Slickdeals, Fatwallet, TechDealDigger, TechBargains, CheapStingyBargains, CheapCollegeGamers, and GamerHotline!




Repair or Replace Chart Helps You Determine What to Do with Broken Gear [Saving Money]

When your electronics break, do you consider a repair, or do you immediately start scouting for a replacement? Consumer Reports' simple Repair or Replace chart is designed to help you in your decision making process.

(Click the image above for a closer look.)

Covering digital cameras, televisions, and computers, the chart is based on readers' experience with products that broke outside their warranty and how much repairs cost. Using that info, the chart indicates when it makes sense to repair, when it makes sense to replace, and when one option is probably just as good as the other. The dark grey areas in CR's chart above indicate when a repair might be worth your time and money, while the light green cells indicate that you'd be better off buying new. If your gear falls into the dark green area between the grey and light green, it's up to you to make a judgment call.

No one wants to spend hard earned money on repairing something that'll either be outdated in a year or can be replaced for roughly the same price. Newer, faster, and shinier products are always tempting—especially going into the holiday season, when there's always a plethora of sale prices to sway your decision. Do you agree with how Consumer Reports outlines the repair-or-replace process? Sound off in the comments.




Hanging Lego Recharger Holds Your Keys, Charges Your Gadgets [DIY]

We're suckers for any project that involves Legos, and the DIY gurus at weblog Make play to our weaknesses with this saucy Lego recharger and key holder.

All you'll need is the appropriate Lego bricks (naturally), some screws, your devices' chargers, and a few common tools. The guide actually takes the process a little further than we would, cutting the ends of each device charger and fastening them to a Lego brick that, when connected to the base brick, completes the circuit and starts charging. (The process requires some wire stripping and soldering.) If we were to tackle this one, we'd probably skip all the messy cutting and soldering and just drape the plugs through the bricks rather than make dedicated Lego charger dongles out of them. Still, whichever route you take, the geeky end result is pretty nice.

If you want to get really serious about your Lego design, check out previously mentioned Lego Digital Designer to prototype and then buy the necessary parts.




DIY Interactive Multitouch Display [DIY]

Touch screens are all the rage right now, so it's no surprise that there's a large DIY movement to accompany their popularity. Instructables user Turkey Tek details how to construct your own DIY multitouch display.

Turkey Tek has used a LCD projector and a few inexpensive components (readily available at your local hardware store) to create a 30+ inch multitouch display. Here's the basic principle behind the creation:

An acrylic panel is edge lit with infrared leds. When your finger comes in contact with the acrylic, it scatters infrared light out the back where it is visible via infrared camera. As long as nothing is touching the acrylic, very little of the light escapes, instead just reflecting around inside. Image processing takes care of detecting tips of fingers and relaying their location to application software. Since the camera "reads" the whole display in parallel, it is easy to detect multiple fingertips at once, even those belonging to multiple users.

It looks like construction time for this piece is somewhere around the 20-hour mark, barring any major mishaps—though most of it looks to be time spend sanding and soldering. Hit up Instructables for the list of materials and full step by step tutorial. When you're done the device can mostly be used with some cool open-source demos (you can see some in the video above), so it's not the most practical undertaking just yet, but if you're in the mood for some seriously cool tinkering, it's a great project.




DIY Secret Knock Detector Grants You Entrance with the Right Cadence [DIY]

DIYer Steve Hoefer has been hard at work making every 6 year old's dream come true: A device that unlocks your door whenever someone seeking entrance taps out the secret knock.

His device, which fits easily over the inside of your doorknob and lock, counts the time between successive knocks and can be reprogrammed to whatever knock-pattern you see fit. If the wrong series of knocks is tapped out, the device simply ignores it and waits for the appropriate pattern to allow entrance.

Hit up Steve Hoefer's weblog Grathio for the full tutorial, or just stick to opening your doors by keyfob instead. Physical keys are so 2008.




DIY 9V Battery-Powered USB Charger [DIY]

Sure you could go buy a USB charger off the shelf, but what fun would that be? Try making one yourself with a little help from a 9V battery and a few extra components.

This simple hack on a standard 9V battery is an easy one to undertake. It's pretty straight forward, and all it requires is a quick solder to finish things up. It will give you power on the go and a sense of accomplishment for the day upon completing it. Hit up tech weblog anythingbutipod for the simple diagram to make your own.

The battery-powered USB charger isn't an altogether new idea. We'd be remiss not to point out previously mentioned Minty Boost, the classic Altoids-tin-cum-battery-powered charger.




Know When (and When Not) to Buy an Extended Warranty [Saving Money]

As a rule, extended warranties are rarely worth the extra cash. Tech site CNET goes in depth on why you don't want to shell out for the extended warranty, then discusses when it may actually be worth it.

Photo by andrew_cosand.

On the "just forget it" side of things, CNET had this to say:

[T]he majority of gadgets won't ever need to be repaired—though retailers and device makers don't usually share statistics about how often they break, Consumer Reports has done studies and found that 3- to 4-year-old gadgets don't need repair all that often. Laptops need service about 43 percent of the time after 3 or 4 years, desktops 31 percent, while camcorders and digital cameras very rarely, about 13 percent and 10 percent of the time, respectively. Three to four years is also a really long time when it comes to technology now. And as the cost of laptops and desktops, for example, continue to decline, sometimes the cost of replacing the device isn't that much more than getting it repaired.

Even with big-ticket purchases, like your new flat panel HDTV, the post recommends skipping the price of an extended warranty, arguing that these are now tried-and-tested technologies where breakdowns are actually pretty rare.

So when should you actually buy an extended warranty? If you worry a lot and don't feel like you can get peace of mind without it, grab the extended warranty. Likewise, if you absolutely cannot go an extra minute without the gadget in question should it break down, it may be worth it. (Though you may also want to consider making an extended warranty fund.)

Hit up the full post for all the details in the should-I-or-shouldn't-I decision-making process (it's a pretty good read), then let us know whether or not you take the extended warranty train or stick to the standard warranty bus in the comments. (This editor never goes for the extended warranty.)