A look at new power banks from OmniCharge and Fuse Chicken

When you’ve been doing this job long enough, you start to develop strange interests (though some might compellingly argue that strange interests are a prerequisite). Lately for me it’s been power banks. Quite possibly the least sexy product in all of consumer electronics outside of the ever-ubiquitous dongle.

I don’t know what to tell you. Blame the fact that I’m traveling every other week for this job. There are also all of the liveblogs from years’ past that got cut off in the last few minutes as my poor ancient MacBook put itself to sleep during those last precious battery percentages. Low batteries give me anxiety. I’m the guy who’s the first to notice when your phone’s screenshot is below 10 percent.

So the power bank has become constant accessory in my life, both home and on the road. Until last year, I used to carry a massive one that was just north of 20,000mAh. The peace of mind to back pain ration seemed sensible enough, but I learned the hard way that, not only do Chinese airports have a limit on battery size, they chuck yours in the trash without a second thought if you go over. It’s a quick way to lose $150.

The good news, however, is that between USB-C, wireless charging and the magic of crowdfunding, it seems we might be living through the golden age of the power bank. I know, right? What a time to be alive.

Point is, there are a lot of choices out there. Anker and Amazon’s house brand RAVPower both offer some good options on a budget. There’s also mainstay Mophie for those who don’t mind paying a bit of a premium for design.

Fuse Chicken was actually a brand that was new to me when they hit me up to try out their latest product. It’s a name I definitely would have remembered — because, honestly, it’s pretty terrible. Memorable, but terrible. Maybe that’s why the company went with such a mundane name for what’s a really interesting charger.

My dad ones told me that he gave my sister and I boring first names because we had such an unusual surname. I have no idea if this is true, but it’s an interesting story and could well apply here.

The Universal is a good example of making the most of out a form factor. It manages to jam a lot of features in without creating a Frankenstein’s Monster worthy of the name Fuse Chicken. On its face, the product looks like a black and white version of Amazon’s default power bricks. It serves that purpose, of course, coupled with a trio of swappable international wall adapters (bonus points for travelers).

But the brick also sports a 6,700mAh battery inside, so you can continue charging gadgets while unplugged. That’s ideal for a phone — you can keep a laptop alive for a bit as well, but you’re going to burn through that pretty quickly. There’s also a wireless charging pad up top, so you can power up another phone or, say, a new set of AirPods at the same time. The side of the device features a small display showing off how much juice is left.

It’s great having a bank that’s also a plug, though like Apple’s brick, it’s much too massive to plug into many vertical outlets. I learned this lesson the hard way on a recent coast to coast flight. Thankfully, though, it’s compatible with Apple’s extension cable.

OmniCharge, meanwhile, is a company I’ve been following since their earliest Kickstarter days. Matter of fact, the aforementioned power bank that’s currently sitting in a Chinese garbage dump is one of their products. R.I.P. noble battery pack.

The Omni Mobile 12,800 mAh is a much more basic product that the company’s earliest offerings. There’s no display for power information here — instead you have to rely on four lights to let you know how much juice is left.

As with most of the company’s products, I do quite like the design language. It’s subtle and unobtrusive and fits nicely inside a backpack. It’s definitely too big for carrying around in a pocket, however. Thanks the wonders of USB it will charge a laptop, as well, though once again, you’re going to run through that 12,800 mAh pretty quickly, if you do.

The Fuse Chicken and OmniCharge run $85 and $99, respectively. They’ve both served me well as travel companions these last few weeks. Here’s to long flights and avoiding life’s landfill.

Our 9 favorite startups from Y Combinator W19 Demo Day 2

Heathcare kiosks, a home-cooked food marketplace, and a way for startups to earn interest on their funding topped our list of high-potential companies from Y Combinator’s Winter 2019 Demo Day 2. 88 startups launched on stage at the lauded accelerator, though some of the best skipped the stage as they’d already raised tons of money.

Be sure to check out our write-ups of all 85 startups from day 1 plus our top picks, as well as the full set from day 2. But now, after asking investors and conferring with the TechCrunch team, here are our 9 favorites from day 2.

Shef 

Two months ago, California passed the first law in the country legalizing the sale of home cooked food. Shef creates a marketplace where home chefs can find nearby customers. Shef’s meals cost around $6.50 compared to $20 per meal for traditional food delivery, and the startup takes a 22 percent cut of every transaction. It’s been growing 50 percent week over week thanks to deals with large property management companies that offer the marketplace as a perk to their residents. Shef wants to be the Airbnb of home cooked food.

Why we picked Shef: Deregulation creates gold rush opportunities and Shef was quick to seize this one, getting started just days after the law passed. Food delivery is a massive megatrend but high costs make it unaffordable or a luxury for many. If a parent is already cooking meals for their whole family, it takes minimal effort to produce a few extra portions to sell to the neighbors at accessible rates.

Handle

This startup automates the collection process of unpaid construction invoices. Construction companies are often forced to pay for their own jobs when customers are late on payments. According to Handle, there are $104 billion in unpaid construction invoices every year. Handle launched six weeks ago and is currently collecting $22,800 in monthly revenue. The founders previously launched an Andreessen Horowitz-backed company called Tenfold.

Why we picked Handle: Construction might seem like an unsexy vertical, but it’s massive and rife with inefficiencies this startup tackles. Handle helps contractors demand payments, instantly file liens that ensure they’re compensated for work or materials, or exchange unpaid invoices for cash. Even modest fees could add up quickly given how much money moves through the industry. And there are surely secondary business models to explore using all the data Handle collects on the construction market.

Blueberry Medical

This pediatric telemedicine company provides medical care instantly to families. Blueberry provides constant contact, the ability to talk to a pediatrician 24/7 and at-home testing kits for a total of $15 per month. They’ve just completed a paid consumer pilot and say they were able to resolve 84 percent of issues without in-person care. They’ve partnered with insurance providers to reduce ER visits.

Why we picked Blueberry: Questionable emergency room visits are a nightmare for parents, a huge source of unnecessary costs, and a drain on resources for needy patients. Parents already spend so much time and money trying to keep their kids safe that this is a no-brainer subscription. And the urgent and emotional pull of pediatrics is a smart wedge into telemedicine for all demographics.

rct studio

Led by a team of YC alums behind Raven, an AI startup acquired by Baidu in 2017, rct studio is a creative studio for immersive and interactive film. The platform provides a real time “text to render “engine (so the text “A man sits on a sofa” would generate 3D imagery of a man sitting on a sofa) that supports mainstream 3D engines like Unity and Unreal, as well as a creative tool for film professionals to craft immersive and open-ended entertainment experiences called Morpheus Engine.

Why we picked rct studio: Netflix’s Bandersnatch was just the start of mainstream interactive film. With strong technology, an innovative application, and proven talent, rct could become a critical tool for creating this kind of media. And even if the tech falls short of producing polished media, it could be used for storyboards and mockups.

Interprime

Provides “Apple level” treasury services to startups. Startups are raising a lot of money with no way to manage it, says Interprime. They want to help these businesses by managing these big investments by helping them earn interest on their funding while retaining liquidity. They take a .25 percent advisory fee for all the investment they oversee. So far, they have $10 million in investment capital they are servicing.

Why we picked Interprime: The explosion of early stage startup funding evidenced by Y Combinator itself has created new banking opportunities. Silicon Valley Bank is ripe for competition and Interprime’s focus on startups could unlock new financial services. With Interprime’s YC affiliation, it has access to tons of potential customers.

 

Nabis

Nabis is tackling the cannabis shipping and logistics business, working with suppliers to ship out goods to retailers reliably. It’s illegal for FedEx to ship weed so Nabis has swooped in and is helping ship and connect while taking cuts of the proceeds, a price the suppliers are willing to pay due to their 98 percent on-time shipping record.

Why we picked Nabis: Quirky regulation creates efficiency gaps in the marijuana business where incumbents can’t participate since they’re not allowed to handle the flower. As more states legalize and cannabis finds its way into more products, moving goods from farm to processor to retailer could spawn a big market for Nabis with a legal moat. It’s already working with many top marijuana brands, and could sell them additional services around business intelligence and distribution.

WeatherCheck

This startup measures weather damage for insurance companies. WeatherCheck has secured $4.7 million in annual bookings in the five months since it launched to help insurance carriers reduce their overall claims expense. To use the service, insurers upload data about their properties. WeatherCheck then monitors the weather and sends notifications to insurance companies, if, for example, a property has been damaged by hail.

Why we picked WeatherCheck: Extreme weather is only getting worse due to climate change. With 10.7 million US properties impacted by hail damage in 2017, WeatherCheck has found a smart initial market from which to expand. It’s easy to imagine the startup working on flood, earthquake, tornado, and wildfire claims too. Insurance is a fierce market, and old-school providers could get a leg up with WeatherCheck’s tech.

 

Upsolve

Upsolve wants to help low-income individuals file for bankruptcy more easily. The non-profit service gets referral fees from pointing non low-income families to bankruptcy lawyers and is able to offer the service for free. The company says that medical bills, layoffs and predatory loans can leave low-income families in dire situations and that in the last 6 months, their non-profit has alleviated customers from $24 million in debt.

Why we picked Upsolve: Financial hardship is rampant. With the potential for another recession and automation threatening jobs, many families could be at risk for bankruptcy. But the process is so stigmatized that some people avoid it at all costs. Upsolve could democratize access to this financial strategy while inserting itself into a lucrative transaction type.

Pulse Active Stations Network

This startup makes health kiosks for India, meant to be installed in train stations. Co-founder Joginder Tanikella says that there are 600,000 preventable deaths in India as many in the region don’t get regular doctor checkups. “But everyone takes trains,” he says. Their in-station kiosk measures 21 health parameters. The company made $28,000 in revenue last month. Charging $1 per test, Tanikella says each machine pays for itself within 3 months. In the future, the kiosks will allow them to sell insurance and refer users to doctors.

Why we picked Pulse: Telemedicine can’t do everything, but plenty of people around the world can’t make it in to a full-fledged doctor’s office. Pulse creates a mid-point where hardware sensors can measure body fat, blood pressure, pulse, and bone strength to improve accuracy for diagnosing diabetes, osteoarthritis, cardiac problems, and more. Pulse’s companion app could spark additional revenue streams, and there’s clearly a much bigger market for this than just India.

Honorable Mentions

-Allo, a marketplace where parents can exchange babysitting and errand-running

-Shiok, a lab-grown shrimp substitute

-WithFriends, a subscription platform for small retail businesses

More Y Combinator coverage from TechCrunch:

Additional reporting by Kate Clark, Lucas Matney, and Greg Kumparak

August’s View wireless doorbell arrives this month for $230

The August View didn’t launch at CES as anticipated (the smart home maker had some slightly underwhelming brand announcements instead), but earlier leaks did seem to get just about everything else spot on about the doorbell camera.

The new wireless model features a bit of a sleek, minimalistic redesign, coupled with a 1440 sensor, for higher resolution shots. The tech mostly builds atop August’s existing doorbell cameras, bringing motion alerts when it spots someone and on-demand streaming when it’s time to just check in on what’s going on.

The video is zoomable for a better look, while subscription plans let users go back in time up to 15 or 30 days, depending on how much they’re able to pony up.

Naturally, the system is compatible with the rest of the company’s ecosystem — and could actually prove a decent option for users in apartments or other places where hardwiring a doorbell camera isn’t really an option.

It will arrive March 28, priced at $230 — not particularly cheap as far as these things go, but probably your best choice if you’ve already opted into August’s hardware/app ecosystem. The newly redesigned hardware comes with a choice of eight faceplates of four materials s (satin nickel, oil-rubbed bronze, satin brass, midnight gray) and four colors (black, red, blue and white).

Oppo announces 5G and 10x lossless zoom handsets

Saturday afternoon is a rough time for a press conference — particularly with the official kickoff of Mobile World Congress still a few days away. That said, there are certain advantages to being an early bird. Chief among them is the ability to claim firsts — namely having the first 5G handset of the show.

That might not mean a lot in the grand scheme of things, but in a week that’s expected to be dominated by 5G announcements, it’s a way to stand out from the crowd. Of course, like the rest of the promised 5G handsets we’ve heard about so far — with the noble exception of Samsung’s — details are still pretty scarce

What we do know is that the handset — along with so many others set to be announced this week — will be powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855. Fitting, given that we can almost certainly expect some 5G news out of the chipmaker this week. Oppo also says the device will be on display on the show floor this week — actually firing it up and experiencing those next generation speeds in person, however, is a different thing entirely.

Another bit of news out of the event is the promise of 10x lossless zoom (16mm-160mm) for the company’s next flagship. If its works as advertised that’s a nice little distinguisher from the competition — though 10x zoom likely isn’t a day to day feature for most smartphone users. That device is due out at some point in Q2. 

Eight Sleep unveils The Pod, a bed that’s smarter about temperature

Smart mattress company Eight Sleep is announcing its newest product today, The Pod. Co-founder and CEO Matteo Franceschetti described it, succinctly, as “Nest for your bed.”

Eight has been focused on bed temperature for a while, first by offering a smart mattress cover and then a smart mattress that allows owners to adjust the surface temperature and even set different temperatures for different sides of the bed. But The Pod goes even further, with a smart temperature mode that will change bed temperature throughout the night to improve your sleep.

“Our vision is to use technology to personalize the environment while you’re unconscious and asleep,” Franceschetti said. “The biggest factor in the environment in temperature. The reason is … your body temperature changes during the night. If you sleep in an environment with a flat and stable temperature, you’re clearly going to feel hot or cold.”

When it comes to adjusting temperature for better sleep, Franceschetti argued that The Pod will be more effective than a smart thermometer, because it reacts to your behavior and is in direct contact with your body.

So The Pod will cool down so that you can fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly. It can also use artificial intelligence and biofeedback sensors to determine the best temperature for you (anywhere from 55 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit) throughout the night, and adjust accordingly.

The Pod

And there’s a “thermal alarm,” which will cool the bed in the minutes before you wake up — hopefully, you’ll be ready to wake up when your regular alarm goes off, or you can avoid the alarm in the first place.

The Pod is powered by The Hub, a device attached to the bed that essentially functions as its computer, connecting to WiFi and also storing the water tank that’s used for changing the temperature.

“The most impressive new technologies for improving sleep and enabling sleep research are the instrumented beds being developed by Eight Sleep,” said Craig Heller, a biology professor at Stanford University and a member of the startup’s scientific advisory board, in a statement. “Their goal of modifying thermal environment using in-home data is a huge opportunity to advance sleep science.”

The Pod does offer other features besides temperature adjustment. Like previous Eight Sleep products, it also allows you to track your sleep and vitals over time, then offers sleep coaching tips. It also connects to other smart home products like Amazon Alexa and Philips Hue light bulbs. And the mattress is supposed to be pretty good too, with four layers of adaptive foam.

The Pod is currently available for preorder today, with pricing starting at $1,995 for a full bed and $2,195 for a queen. Eight Sleep says it will start shipping in April.

Tim Cook-backed shower startup Nebia shows off a warmer, water-saving shower head

I’m not in the habit of getting naked during meetings at startup offices, but this time it felt appropriate.

Nebia, a shower startup that has attracted investments from the likes of Apple CEO Tim Cook and former Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s foundation is back with some new cash (though it won’t divulge how much) and a new generation of its thoughtfully designed shower heads that aim to dramatically reduce the amount of water people use while cleaning up.

After a lengthy chat with Nebia CEO Philip Winter, who discussed all of the nuances of the Nebia’s second-gen “Spa Shower” for which they just launched a crowdfunding campaign today, he asked whether I’d like to try it out. With a couple hours of empty space in my calendar, I said “Why not?” and wandered over to the startup office’s shower showroom.

Shower thoughts

This was probably the most analytical thinking I’ve done in the shower about the process of showering itself.

The shower head in my bathroom at home is pretty standard and basically concentrates the water into a couple dozen streams organized in a circle that are firing at an even pace. It’s nothing fancy, and I couldn’t tell you the brand, but I can say that I spend at least 20-30 minutes in there everyday without exception.

Nebia’s shower is wildly more complicated — as a $499 shower should be — but it’s the combination of different techniques that leads to a shower that feels full and refreshing but is using significantly less water than you’re used to. The customer for this is probably placing a healthier premium on the fact that it’s great for the environment rather than that it’s a spa-type experience; the shower head uses 65 percent less water than your average shower head, the company says.

The Nebia shower is all a very strange feat of engineering and involves the water being “atomized” as they called it, with water droplets being significantly smaller when it exits some nozzles, leading to an enveloping mist, and larger and warmer jets being shot out of the shower head’s center. The big improvement in this generation is that the water is about 29 percent warmer.

How does the shower head even control warmth? Isn’t all the water coming from the same heater? As Winter explained to me, things are a lot more complicated when it comes to how Nebia handles thermodynamics. Smaller water droplets means increased surface area exposed to the room temperature, which means greatly sped up heat dissipation. In practice, this means that the distance the water can travel from the shower head before getting chilly is a much shorter journey than your current shower. To adjust that, Nebia fires the water droplets three times quicker and maintains some larger droplet streams to maintain the heat for longer.

Nebia does a bit of cheating by also having a second shower head firing from the hip. The wand adds to the water being used but still keeps the system using about half of the amount of water that the average shower head uses.

Thankfully, there was also room for a side-by-side comparison as I was able to try out both the gen-1 and gen-2 Spa Shower in the same bathroom. The shower experience didn’t feel wildly distinct, but the difference in water heat when cranked to full blast was notable; my own temperature sensing isn’t quite finely tuned enough to confirm the 29 percent figure, but that doesn’t seem off.

Ultimately, it was the best shower I’ve had in a startup’s office to date, but it was also a shower that didn’t feel as though I was resting my head under a light trickle of cold water like other low-flow showers. It’s a real product, though at this point it’s also a decidedly premium product, even with the $100 crowdfunding discount of the $499 retail price. Beyond the warmer water, the new shower’s easy-install system is now compatible with about 95 percent of American homes, the company says. There’s also a new matte black color option and a little matching shower shelf you can add to keep that high-design look.

The company, which launched out of Y Combinator, has attracted some top investors who seem to be intrigued by the water-saving impact. The company says they’ve already shipped more than 16,000 shower heads and that more than 100 million gallons of water have been saved.

This Series A investment was led by Moen, the faucet and shower head maker that also announced a partnership with the startup. The latest round also boasts follow-on investment from Tim Cook and The Schmidt Family Foundation, as well as some new investors like Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, Starwood Hotels co-founder Barry Sternlicht, Fitbit co-founder James Park and Stanford StartX.

The crowdfunding campaign kicked off today and has already blown past $300,000 in pre-orders (they’ve already sold most of the $349 early-bird deals); the company hopes to ship the first 2.0 shower heads in June.

Tim Cook-backed shower startup Nebia shows off a warmer, water-saving shower head

I’m not in the habit of getting naked during meetings at startup offices, but this time it felt appropriate.

Nebia, a shower startup that has attracted investments from the likes of Apple CEO Tim Cook and former Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s foundation is back with some new cash (though it won’t divulge how much) and a new generation of its thoughtfully designed shower heads that aim to dramatically reduce the amount of water people use while cleaning up.

After a lengthy chat with Nebia CEO Philip Winter, who discussed all of the nuances of the Nebia’s second-gen “Spa Shower” for which they just launched a crowdfunding campaign today, he asked whether I’d like to try it out. With a couple hours of empty space in my calendar, I said “Why not?” and wandered over to the startup office’s shower showroom.

Shower thoughts

This was probably the most analytical thinking I’ve done in the shower about the process of showering itself.

The shower head in my bathroom at home is pretty standard and basically concentrates the water into a couple dozen streams organized in a circle that are firing at an even pace. It’s nothing fancy, and I couldn’t tell you the brand, but I can say that I spend at least 20-30 minutes in there everyday without exception.

Nebia’s shower is wildly more complicated — as a $499 shower should be — but it’s the combination of different techniques that leads to a shower that feels full and refreshing but is using significantly less water than you’re used to. The customer for this is probably placing a healthier premium on the fact that it’s great for the environment rather than that it’s a spa-type experience; the shower head uses 65 percent less water than your average shower head, the company says.

The Nebia shower is all a very strange feat of engineering and involves the water being “atomized” as they called it, with water droplets being significantly smaller when it exits some nozzles, leading to an enveloping mist, and larger and warmer jets being shot out of the shower head’s center. The big improvement in this generation is that the water is about 29 percent warmer.

How does the shower head even control warmth? Isn’t all the water coming from the same heater? As Winter explained to me, things are a lot more complicated when it comes to how Nebia handles thermodynamics. Smaller water droplets means increased surface area exposed to the room temperature, which means greatly sped up heat dissipation. In practice, this means that the distance the water can travel from the shower head before getting chilly is a much shorter journey than your current shower. To adjust that, Nebia fires the water droplets three times quicker and maintains some larger droplet streams to maintain the heat for longer.

Nebia does a bit of cheating by also having a second shower head firing from the hip. The wand adds to the water being used but still keeps the system using about half of the amount of water that the average shower head uses.

Thankfully, there was also room for a side-by-side comparison as I was able to try out both the gen-1 and gen-2 Spa Shower in the same bathroom. The shower experience didn’t feel wildly distinct, but the difference in water heat when cranked to full blast was notable; my own temperature sensing isn’t quite finely tuned enough to confirm the 29 percent figure, but that doesn’t seem off.

Ultimately, it was the best shower I’ve had in a startup’s office to date, but it was also a shower that didn’t feel as though I was resting my head under a light trickle of cold water like other low-flow showers. It’s a real product, though at this point it’s also a decidedly premium product, even with the $100 crowdfunding discount of the $499 retail price. Beyond the warmer water, the new shower’s easy-install system is now compatible with about 95 percent of American homes, the company says. There’s also a new matte black color option and a little matching shower shelf you can add to keep that high-design look.

The company, which launched out of Y Combinator, has attracted some top investors who seem to be intrigued by the water-saving impact. The company says they’ve already shipped more than 16,000 shower heads and that more than 100 million gallons of water have been saved.

This Series A investment was led by Moen, the faucet and shower head maker that also announced a partnership with the startup. The latest round also boasts follow-on investment from Tim Cook and The Schmidt Family Foundation, as well as some new investors like Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, Starwood Hotels co-founder Barry Sternlicht, Fitbit co-founder James Park and Stanford StartX.

The crowdfunding campaign kicked off today and has already blown past $300,000 in pre-orders (they’ve already sold most of the $349 early-bird deals); the company hopes to ship the first 2.0 shower heads in June.

This light-powered 3D printer materializes objects all at once

3D printing has changed the way people approach hardware design, but most printers share a basic limitation: they essentially build objects layer by layer, generally from the bottom up. This new system from UC Berkeley, however, builds them all at once, more or less, by projecting a video through a jar of light-sensitive resin.

The device, which its creators call the replicator (but shouldn’t, because that’s a MakerBot trademark), is mechanically quite simple. It’s hard to explain it better than Berkeley’s Hayden Taylor, who led the research:

Basically, you’ve got an off-the-shelf video projector, which I literally brought in from home, and then you plug it into a laptop and use it to project a series of computed images, while a motor turns a cylinder that has a 3D-printing resin in it.

Obviously there are a lot of subtleties to it — how you formulate the resin, and, above all, how you compute the images that are going to be projected, but the barrier to creating a very simple version of this tool is not that high.

Using light to print isn’t new — many devices out there use lasers or other forms of emitted light to cause material to harden in desired patterns. But they still do things one thin layer at a time. Researchers did demonstrate a “holographic” printing method a bit like this using intersecting beams of light, but it’s much more complex. (In fact, Berkeley worked with Lawrence Livermore on this project.)

In Taylor’s device, the object to be recreated is scanned first in such a way that it can be divided into slices, a bit like a CT scanner — which is in fact the technology that sparked the team’s imagination in the first place.

By projecting light into the resin as it revolves, the material for the entire object is resolved more or less at once, or at least over a series of brief revolutions rather than hundreds or thousands of individual drawing movements.

This has a number of benefits besides speed. Objects come out smooth — if a bit crude in this prototype stage — and they can have features and cavities that other 3D printers struggle to create. The resin can even cure around an existing object, as they demonstrate by manifesting a handle around a screwdriver shaft.

Naturally, different materials and colors can be swapped in, and the uncured resin is totally reusable. It’ll be some time before it can be used at scale or at the level of precision traditional printers now achieve, but the advantages are compelling enough that it will almost certainly be pursued in parallel with other techniques.

The paper describing the new technique was published this week in the journal Science.

Anker’s PowerPort Atom is my permanent new travel companion

I had to 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 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. 

Samsung’s Space Monitor is practical and minimal

Samsung always has a huge presence at CES, but it isn’t the giant TVs and flashy next-generation gadgets that have my attention this year; it’s this simple, flexible monitor that looks like it would be right at home in any workspace. It’s called the Space Monitor, presumably because it gives you space, not because it’s meant for use in space. I don’t see why you couldn’t, though.

What the Space Monitor does is very simple: it clamps to your desk and sits straight up from the edge — up against the wall if there is one — and takes up about as little space as it’s possible for a display to.

When you want to bring something closer, or lower, or just need to adjust the angle or whatever, the neck of the monitor lets you bring it down all the way to the level of your desk and tilt it up or down as well (though not side to side). Cables go up through the stand so you won’t see them at all.

Combined with very thin bezels on the sides (there’s a thicker, but still very reasonable one on the bottom) this makes for quite a minimal presence, and it could allow someone (like me) to shrink their workspace in some dimension or other. I like my Dell Ultrasharps, but if I was putting together a new desk situation, I’d probably look very hard at these Samsungs.

Sure, you could do a wall mount, but this is much easier and you don’t have to fiddle around with tools or load calculations. Just clamp it on there.

There are two models, a 27-inch QHD (2560×1440) model and a 32-inch 4K one (3840×2160); the latter costs $500, so the former will probably be a bit less. They use VA panels, which hopefully will be about as good as IPS, though of course not quite so good as OLED (though for that tech you’d have to add another zero to the price).

Only downside: 60 Hz maximum refresh rate. That’s a possible dealbreaker for some. But the specs also list a 4 ms response time, without explaining further. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood, but I asked Samsung to explain the discrepancy. The specs for the 27-inch display could also differ.

It feels nice to have a reason to visit the actual CES main halls this year. And of course, for the maximalists out there, I’ll also be sure to check out the mammoth new ultrawide: