REVIEWED ON: 05 February 2016

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Baby Shusher

Soothes fussy babies with rhythmic "shush" sound

My wife and I purchased our first house this past fall and had our first baby. Accordingly, there have been many small technology/tool purchases in recent months to address new concerns/problems/etc.

Here’s a recent purchase that meets my criteria for a great tool:

– Simple
– Focused
– Easy to use
– Effective
– Looks cool

Allows me to outsource a shushing sound. It’s tough to shush for 30 minutes straight!

It works well and has a robust design.

02/5/16 -- Adam Rupp

REVIEWED ON: 04 February 2016

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Dremel MiniMite 4.8-Volt Cordless Two-Speed Rotary Tool

Small rotary tool ideal for delicate tasks and finer work

When my battery-powered Dremel rotary tool gave up the ghost after 10 good years, I bought a new one. This time, I got the Dremel MiniMite. It’s smaller and lighter than the one I had, and instead of an analog speed control dial, it has a 2-speed switch (6,500 and 13,000 rpm). It’s not as heavy duty as my old one, but it works perfectly well for my purposes (mainly, accidentally gouging stuff, sanding the skin off my thumbtip, and burning my fingers when I remove an accessory before it cools down). All my old accessories work with it, except for the battery pack.

02/4/16 -- Mark Frauenfelder

REVIEWED ON: 03 February 2016

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Skross Pro Plus USB World Adapter

Charge two usb devices at the same time with six different country plugs

As a fairly regular traveller, I’ve been looking for a “do it all” travel adapter and I believe I’ve found one in the form of the succinctly named Skross Pro Plus USB World Adapter. It’s a world wide travel adapter with six plugs that and work in 150 different countries. It’s also a two port USB hub. Despite the reviews to the contrary on Amazon, it will work perfectly well with two prong sockets.

The way that the unit contains the different plug adapters is very clever. Each plug adapter slides out using a slider on the front of the unit and is locked in place. A button on the side releases the lock and you can then slide the plug adapter back in.

I’ve used the Skross Pro Plus in a number of different countries for around 4 months now and it works a treat. Some may describe it as a little bit bulky, however it really doesn’t take up a great deal of room in your suitcase/backpack given the flexibility of the unit.

02/3/16 -- Alastair Moore

REVIEWED ON: 02 February 2016

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Tripmate Wireless Routers

Streams videos, photos, and music to connected TVs, media players, and smartphones

I have been using these for about 18 months now. I got the original Tripmate Router to solve two problems:

  1. Work around hotels only giving me free WiFi to one device and charging for the rest – this allows me to connect the Hootoo in travel-router mode and connect all my other devices to IT. I get Internet for all my devices and hotel only sees one device connecting.
  2. The HooToo also allows me to use files from USB flash drive I plug into the HooToo. In effect, I get external storage expansion for my Phones and tablets, enough to store as much music and movies as I want, and
    still only pay for 16GB phones. The cost of the Hootoo plus a 64GB USB flash drive is still cheaper than buying a larger capacity units (in my case, iPhone, iPad, Nexus 5, and Nexus 7 – all bought at minimum storage level). The company provides free apps for both iOS and Android to access the files on the flash drive. As a side-effect/bonus, you can easily share files between units, and it’s possible to have two tablets accessing different files on the HooToo at the same time (e.g., Two kids each seeing a different movie on a car trip from a single Disk-on-key plugged into one of these – no Internet connectivity necessary)

All 3 models have the same travel-router and external storage functionality, and share the same software and manual (The manual is surprisingly well-written in English, not Google-translated from Chinese). The differences are:

  • The Nano model ($17) is VERY small and light, but needs a USB connection (from a computer or a phone-charger) to give it power
  • The Wireless Travel Router model ($40) has a built-in 10400mAh battery. You can use it without being connected to any power source (e.g. on a plane, in a car). It can also be used to charge a phone using a USB cable.
  • The Elite version ($40) can be plugged directly into a 110V power socket, and can itself serve as charger for your Phone/Tablet.

So choose the one you want based on whether you need the self-contained battery/backup battery or use-as-a-charger functionality.

As a final note – The company’s customer-service seems exceptional. They contacted me after each purchase to see if I was happy with the unit, and responded to my comments and suggestions.

Full disclosure: I bought the Tripmate on amazon, and after giving it a good review the company gave me the “nano” version for free to evaluate (a $25 value). I have subsequently bought two of the “elite” version to give as gifts. I have no connections to the company otherwise – just use and like the items.

02/2/16 -- Michael Orr

REVIEWED ON: 01 February 2016

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Stud Thud Magnetic Stud Finder

Dual magnets create a "thud" when passed over a screw or nail

The Stud Thud is a magnetic “stud finder” which is very strongly attracted to the steel nails or screws that are used to secure sheet rock or wood lath to the wall studs. Finding a vertical line of nails in a wall give a pretty good approximation as to where the stud is. In a sheetrock wall, the attraction is so strong, the Stud Thud holds fast to the wall and hangs there right in place while you either mark the location or drive in a nail. Several other devices will indicate where such nails are in sheetrock. Where this device really excels is in finding nails in plaster walls and even behind ceramic tile–although finding these requires a little more finesse. You have to watch the pair of steel washers in the base of the Stud Thud and look for movement as the device is slid over a nail buried much deeper in the wall. Having some idea about the construction techniques used in your house helps.

I have used a number of other stud locators — including several electronic devices. In my opinion, the Stud Thud is easiest to use and gives the most reliable information. As is the case when mounting any safety device or item of high value, it pays to mark the studs you find with the Stud Thud and then probe the area slightly to the left and right with a small diameter nail — to make certain you will be securing your important item directly into the center of a wall stud.

The Stud Thud is small, portable, inexpensive and bound to become the tool that you will always wonder how you did without.

02/1/16 -- Gene Halpern

REVIEWED ON: 29 January 2016

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The Ringer Cast Iron Cleaner

Stainless steel chainmail cleans cast iron

I bought The Ringer the same day I bought a cast iron waffle maker. Amazon listed it as a purchase that was Frequently Bought with the waffle iron, and I figured, why not?

I’d previously purchased the Bamboo Wok Brush Cool Tool and had been pretty impressed with the results. That said, I still found caked on scrambled eggs were a problem requiring some elbow grease, and I was eager to find a solution.

The Ringer fit the bill. A small net of interlocking steel rings, the Ringer works as well as steel wool, but doesn’t scratch or mar the cast iron cure. It’s a bit pricey, but I expect I’ll only have to buy one ever, and if you use cast iron cookware every day, it’s well worth it.

01/29/16 -- John O'Brien

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What's in My Bag? 21 December 2015

Announcements: 01/12/16

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Cool Tools is seeking a freelance editor/writer to write and curate tips

One of the most useful categories of Cool Tools is the tip. A tip is a handy method, or a useful technique for using tools, or a practical way to use things not ordinarily thought of as tools. We have not published as many tips per year as we once did, but we’d like to change that. There are a number of fully operational sites, such as Lifehacker, that publish tip-like information on a regular basis. Cool Tool Tips are different in several ways.

  1. They are always brief and succinct, no more than a paragraph. You should be able to transmit the tip to a friend during a conversation.
  2. They are generally about ways to improve creating rather than enhancing consuming.
  3. They often entail a tool.
  4. They are specific and can be illustrated with an image.
  5. Ideally they are ingenious, clever, non-obvious, or just cool.

To this end Cool Tools is seeking a part time editor/writer to help us develop a regular stream of cool toolish tips. It’s a freelance contracted position, and can be done remotely, but will entail a regular number of hours per week. Required skills are a good nose for what is useful, writing succinctly, soliciting tips from others, extracting tips from longer essays, and finding tips elsewhere on the web. A visual sensibility is also a must.

If you are a candidate for this role, use this form to submit a demonstration of your grasp of the task. Use it to send us links to 4 tips you found elsewhere, and 1 tip you wrote yourself. We’ll sort candidates by the degree of their clarity, usefulness, originality, and ease of working.

About Cool Tools

Cool Tools is a web site which recommends the best/cheapest tools available. Tools are defined broadly as anything that can be useful. This includes hand tools, machines, books, software, gadgets, websites, maps, and even ideas. All reviews are positive raves written by real users. We don’t bother with negative reviews because our intent is to only offer the best.

One new tool is posted each weekday. Cool Tools does NOT sell anything. The site provides prices and convenient sources for readers to purchase items.

When Amazon.com is listed as a source (which it often is because of its prices and convenience) Cool Tools receives a fractional fee from Amazon if items are purchased at Amazon on that visit. Cool Tools also earns revenue from Google ads, although we have no foreknowledge nor much control of which ads will appear.

We recently posted a short history of Cool Tools which included current stats as of April 2008. This explains both the genesis of this site, and the tools we use to operate it.

kevin

Kevin Kelly started Cool Tools in 2000 as an email list, then as a blog since 2003. He edited all reviews through 2006. He writes the occasional review, oversees the design and editorial direction of this site, and made a book version of Cool Tools. If you have a question about the website in general his email is kk {at} kk.org.

mark

Mark Frauenfelder edits Cool Tools and develops editorial projects for Cool Tools Lab, LLC. If you’d like to submit a review, email him at editor {at} cool-tools.org (or use the Submit a Tool form).

claudia

Claudia Lamar runs the Cool Tool website, posting items daily, maintaining software, measuring analytics, managing ads, and in general keeping the site alive. If you have a concern about the operation or status of this site contact her email is cl {at} kk.org.