HSC Electronics will be halted early next year

About 8 months ago, I wrote about the closure of Weird Stuff Warehouse in Sunnyvale, California. Well, Halted Electronic Supply/Halted Specialties Company/HSC Electronic Supply will joining Weird Stuff in the history of Silicon Valley in just about 6 weeks.

Halted History

Halted has been in business for 54 years now. The Homebrew Computer Club often visited back in the day (including both Steves). I wasn’t around the Bay Area for most of that time, but got an introduction early in my time here, in the late 90s.

Around the turn of the century, Halted had three locations, with the main one being in Santa Clara on Ryder St, just off Central Expressway and Lawrence Expressway (near the Sunnyvale Frys, the pre-1996 Weird Stuff, St John’s Grill, and Ham Radio Outlet among others). Gradually the remote locations closed, and the Ryder store was left.

Halted was known for components of all sorts, books and magazines for people who made things from those components, antique radios, tools, legacy computer components, and all sorts of other things. It wouldn’t be unusual to find people in the store with ham radio transceivers on, students buying components for an electronics class, people reminiscing about the radios they used to listen to during the war, and random bargain hunters looking for computers and electronics to mess with at home.

They also had a well-known parking lot sale every September, where cases and crates and pallets would come out of the warehouse, hot dogs and donuts would be put out for sale, and you could get some incredible deals on things you’d forgotten you needed. And you could also find them at the Electronics Flea Market sometimes, with a truck full of carts from the store.

The New York Times had a feature on Halted in 2009, revealing and even foretelling the greatest strength and weakness of the business at that point. Continue reading

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Quick Take: When your Plantronics Savi headset starts to give out

[This is the first of a category of “quick take” posts that should be shorter and more frequent than the long, drawn-out, deeply detailed posts I usually procrastinate for weeks on. Let me know what you think of this format as a supplement to the usual volumes.]

I’ve used the Plantronics Savi W740/W745 headset on my work phone and PC for almost three years.

The Savi W740 (currently $234 on Amazon) is a three-connection (PC via USB, Cell phone via Bluetooth, Desk phone via various methods) DECT wireless monaural headset with charging station and pretty good range. I can usually get 100-150 feet though the entire depth of our house into the front yard and almost to the street without dropping the headset connection.

The Savi W745 (pictured above) is a Savi W740 with a battery charging module rather than the headset-only charging module. Oddly it’s about the same price as I write this post, $227 on Amazon, although the prices vary from day to day, or if an accessory like the headset lifter is included. Note that the model W740-M and W745-M are optimized for Microsoft softphones; I don’t use Lync or the like so I didn’t try those.

You can upgrade the W740 to the W745 using the 84601-01 charger, which also comes with an extra battery (currently $35 on Amazon). You can also buy the 84598-01 replacement battery for about $24 on Amazon, or $22 with Subscribe and Save. I replaced mine after two years; your mileage may vary.

The headset unit is the same WH500 unit between the two models.

One thing I really liked about this headset was the “unlimited talk time” when you use a second battery. It takes less than five seconds to change out the battery, and while the headset loses audio, your call doesn’t drop, and can be resumed once the new battery is recognized. With about 4 hours of battery life per battery, you can make it through an entire day of meetings and calls without losing your connection. You might lose your mind, but that’s beyond phone technology to fix.

After using the W745 for almost three years, I started to experience an odd failure in the headset. When I would push the rocker switch “down” to reduce volume, I would get a scratchy sound and the headset connection (not the call) would drop. After about five seconds it would beep and reconnect. Future use of the down switch on the same call would be fine, but on the next call or audio session the first “down” would drop the headset link briefly. This was the case for PC and desk phone connection.

I had an exchange with Plantronics customer support, and while the “try another headset, and then try another base” wasn’t the most efficient troubleshooting, I was able to borrow a headset and found that the problem “went away.”

At this point, I can replace just the headset (with the 83356-01 / WH500 Spare Headset, pictured above right, $120 at Amazon) rather than the entire $200+ assembly.

I do have a couple of used Jabra headsets around that I may give a try to (either a Jabra PRO 9460, $200 on Amazon, or a Jabra PRO 9470, around $240 on Amazon). although I’ll need a new “electronic handset” or EHS cable to let the headset system control the switchhook on the phone. 

Have you had good (or other) experiences with any current multi-connection wireless headsets? Please share them in the comments below.

Disclosure: While my desk phone is manufactured and provided by my employer, and while Plantronics has provided me with two personal headsets at past events (the 5200 in 2017 in a drawing and the 6200 in 2018 as a “trade-up”), the headsets mentioned in this post were purchased by me and paid for out of my own pocket.

 

Weird Stuff Warehouse closed this weekend

I probably should’ve had more of a teaser title, but it’s still a bit of a shock, so you get the bottom line in the title. After 32 years, Weird Stuff Warehouse is closing this Sunday.

Updates at the end. This post has been updated multiple times since publication.

Also see the unfortunate news from Halted here: HSC Electronics will be halted early next year

If this is your first time here, please do take a look around. I’ve written about gear I’ve bought at WeirdStuff, but there’s a lot more here, from system builds and hardware, Psycho Overkill Home Office technology, and then there’s rsts11travel which breaks out my travel and related adventures and discoveries.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-10-14,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

For techies who’ve lived in or heard of Silicon Valley anytime in the last 30 years, you probably already know Weird Stuff Warehouse very well.

Ars Technica wrote about them in 2013. The Six Fifty posted last year. Atlas Obscura got a post just last month apparently. You can see an archive of people’s Weird Stuff posts on Instagram here.

And over three decades after they opened up, serving businesses that wanted to get rid of no-longer-needed stuff as well as individuals who “needed” that stuff, Weird Stuff Warehouse is closing its doors at the end of business on Sunday, April 8, 2018. Continue reading

Check out the travel section – #rsts11travel has more coming this week!

You’re tuned to rsts11, the tech blog from Robert Novak (Est. 2011). If you’d like to turn to the new travel section, visit rsts11travel.com and see what we’re writing about over there.

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Coming in the next week or two will be a two-part mobile power piece as well as a slightly more detailed hotel review from your host’s birthday escape. Unfortunately, no pina coladas, but fortunately, no getting caught in the rain either.

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rsts11 will continue to roll out tech content,including some hardware reviews and homelab / POHO build travelogues, a bit of big data, and some more economy power-networking options.

Thanks for your support!

Another look at mobile workflow – iPad Air keyboard cases

I have a bad habit of buying lots of accessories for an electronic device I’ll have for a year or so, and then they pile up because people don’t want to buy them with the old device. This is usually the case with mobile phones and laptops, but it also comes up with tablets. I have three keyboard cases and at least three regular cases for my iPad 3rd gen, including a Hello Kitty keyboard.

During a particularly nifty Target promo around their Cartwheel app, I got a 15% discount off any electronic device over a two day period. This included iPads, and since my 16GB 3rd gen iPad was full, I got a 64GB Air at nearly 20% off (with redcard discount). Then I went about looking for a case.

I need a case, just in case, you know

An article someone pointed me toward said the Case Crown Omni was the best on the market. I bought it to use while I searched for a keyboard case that would work. I don’t have a lot to say about it except that it was indeed a good case, better than any I found at local retail in a few days of looking.

Among the recommendations that came in was one from Kieran Hannon, the CMO of Belkin (who also own the Linksys brand, in case you’ve been under a WRT54G for the past year).

He unsurprisingly recommended his firm’s “Qode” (pronounced as “Code”) line of keyboard cases, with the top-of-the-range Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case being well rated (albeit a bit pricey at $130). There’s also a Slim Style model (msrp $80) with a kickstand on the iPad holder, and a Thin Type model (msrp $100) that works as a stand when in use and clips over the iPad when not in use.

61gBQETEYkL._SL1500_[1]As an aside, the Belkin product I use the most (up until now, at least) is their swivel power adapter with USB and AC outlets. The SurgePlus model is the current one, with 2.1A charging on USB. I suspect the 3-4 of them I have are old enough to be the 1A versions (time to upgrade!). Great for travel, especially if you’re at an event where they think one power outlet per table is generous.

The Belkin Slim Style

I bought a Slim Style at Target, marked down from $80 to $71 and further discounted 5% via redcard (I think this was after the Cartwheel deal). I used it for a day or so before mentioning on Twitter that it was nice, but the kickstand design wasn’t very lap friendly. This is what you could call the Surface Dilemma, after Microsoft’s almost-there laptop-replacement tablet which hasn’t yet wowed everyone with its lap-friendliness.

71Swm5JrNTL._SL1500_[1]

My assessment of the Slim Style was that, on a desktop (or probably even on a roomier airline tray table), it would be good. The keyboard and its layout felt reasonable, and I felt it protected the iPad well enough that I could just drop it into my laptop bag without fear.

But I returned it, because of the lapability factor, and mentioned this on Twitter.

The @belkincares account asked if they could help, and were very courteous even though they (luckily) couldn’t make my lap resemble a tabletop more. I’ve had a few good exchanges with @belkincares over the past year or so, from stacking cable inquiries around their older KVMs to some arcane questions about the wireless bridge line.

This keyboard case goes to ULTIMATE

About a week later, Belkin had generously provided a Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case for me to try out at no cost.  I plugged it in to charge and then started using it the next morning.

The Belkin Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case

The Belkin Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case in use

The Qode Ultimate has a more contained layout, in that rather than a kickstand, the iPad shell magnetically “sticks” to the keyboard shell. It has three positions, as with the Slim Style, but they’re within the footprint of the keyboard, and thus much more convenient on the lap or on a tray table.

ipad-qode-shellThe keyboard shell is sort of a dark blue “aircraft-grade aluminum alloy” that I didn’t recognize as blue at first. It does pick up fingerprints and the occasional light scratch, but I only notice that when getting the iPad out or putting it away, since this part is on the bottom when in use, and also hidden when you’re using it in “reading mode” (i.e. folded back).

The iPad shell piece is black plastic with a leatherish inset that incorporates the kickstand “hinge.” The Belkin logo is on the “front” (i.e. bottom of the keyboard) and the Belkin name is on the leatherish hinge section and on the front of the keyboard.

The keyboard turns itself off unless the iPad is “connected” to one of the three kickstand positions. So if you flip it back so that the keyboard is behind the screen, it’s automatically powered off. Same with closing it up; the keyboard is off and the battery life is extended.

For some reason, Belkin have swapped two of the keys on their keyboards. I believe the Slim Style and Thin Style place the colon/semicolon key between “L” and “Enter” whereas the Ultimate places the quote key there. In each case the other key is to the right of the space bar.

Kensington to the semicolon’s rescue?

I’m slowly getting used to the keyboard layout. It’s very typeable except when I need a semicolon or a colon. However, I decided that if I was going to write a review, it would be good to make sure that I liked the Belkin keyboard case for reasons other than it being given to me at no cost.

So I picked up a Kensington KeyFolio Exact case, which I found on clearance at Marshall’s for $40. It includes a Google Drive offer (which is apparently processed manually by Kensington, as I haven’t received the code for the offer in the past week), so it was an inexpensive experiment.

The KeyFolio is bulkier, with a detachable bluetooth keyboard, a stylus holder in the hinge, a wider range of color options, and a lower price if you’re going to buy it at retail.

The Kensington Exact and Belkin Qode Ultimate keyboards

The Kensington Exact and Belkin Qode Ultimate keyboards

I found that the keyboard itself was brilliant, managing to fit both the semicolon and the quote key between “L” and Enter by making the keys a little bit smaller. And since the Kensington had a fixed “kickstand” mounting point in the case closer to the hinge, they had room to put separate number and function key rows on the keyboard. The Belkin Slim Style also does this, since it has most of the surface area to spend on keyboard real estate. And I actually found myself using the function keys on the Kensington, which I hadn’t done on the Belkin.

(Above photo is of the actual keyboards, Kensington Keyfolio Exact on the top and Belkin Qode Ultimate on the bottom.)

I used the Kensington for just short of a week, and while I loved the keyboard and almost got used to the stand layout, I found I had to go back to the Belkin Qode Ultimate. Why?

I preferred the Qode Ultimate’s ease of turning off the keyboard, the lightness and grace of the entire case, and its turning off the iPad screen and locking it when I closed the case.

I expect I will hold onto the Kensington in case someone I know needs a super-cheap case for their Air and doesn’t need lapability. I am tempted to try the Thin Style just to see how that style of keyboard feels as a case. But the iPad is back in my Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case, just in time to head off for a company sales meeting out of town next week. And maybe I’ll have to write with fewer semicolons.

Summary:

All keyboards tested charge with standard micro-USB cables (included), and paired very easily with the iPad Air via Bluetooth. Battery times are based on the manufacturer’s website or packaging (YMMV of course). Prices found on 8/22/2014 online.

Belkin Qode Slim Style keyboard case – $34 at Belkin or Amazon.

Good design, great keyboard, excellent value for the cost, but suboptimal for lap work.
2.5 days working time, 60 days standby time

Kensington KeyFolio Exact keyboard case – $29-39 at Amazon, $40 at Marshall’s, includes a 65GB 1 year Google Drive credit (~$15 value)

Great keyboard, kickstand design could use some work, doesn’t seem to lock the screen when closed.
40 days working time, 180 days standby time

Belkin Qode Ultimate keyboard case – $129 at Belkin, around $90 at Amazon.

Slim and sturdy case, very lap-friendly, no dedicated function key row, semicolon key is on the bottom row.
11 days working time, 180 days standby time

The final word:

The Qode Ultimate turns your iPad into a laptop, although it comes at a premium (which I feel is worth it). The Qode Slim Style and Kensington KeyFolio are good keyboards for tabletop use, and come in at a lower price.

Disclosure: Thanks to Kieran Hannon and Belkin for providing the Belkin Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case at no charge to me. Other than a twitter inquiry of “and the verdict?” they did not require or request a review, blog post, or any other consideration.