iFixit Pro Magnetic Project Mat

My family members are prone to dropping their iPhones and cracking the screen. I’ve gotten pretty good at replacing the displays myself, saving a lot of money over the price Apple charges (not to mention not having to wait a week or more for Apple to complete the repair).

As you might imagine, the screws and clips in an iPhone are tiny. If one of drops to the floor, you will never find it again. I bought this iFixit Pro Magnetic Project Mat and it does a great job of keeping all the fasteners in place. It has a dry erase surface to take notes and a square grid pattern so you can organize the components in a way that makes sense.

This weekend I used it while replacing the battery in my daughter’s iPhone 5s (it wouldn’t hold a charge for more than an hour) and it worked beautifully. It has a non slip foam back, which keeps a nice grip on the table. Amazon sells a cheaper magnetic project mat, but I don’t know if it has the same kind of foam backing)

By the way, iFixit has a lot of great videos and PDF guides for repairing many different kinds of electronic gadgets.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

iFixit Pro Magnetic Project Mat

Available from Amazon

Trendnet Powerline Power-to-Wireless Access Point

Our kitchen is a Wifi deadspot. I’ve tried using wireless extenders, but I think my walls have chicken wire in them, turning every room into a Faraday cage. This Trendnet Powerline power-to-wireless access point) is exactly what I was looking for.

Powerline is a sort-of standard for data networking over an existing electrical system. I already had a Powerline adapter (this one) that’s plugged into my router, so I simply plugged the Powerline wireless access point into an AC outlet in the kitchen and configured it up by plugging an Ethernet cable between it and my laptop. In a matter of minutes, our kitchen had Internet that is good enough for streaming HD video.

The Amazon reviews aren’t great for this, but I’ve had no problems with it whatsoever. Here’s a power-to-wirless adapter for the same price and a better Amazon rating (and also includes the Powerline adapter that you connect to your router), but I haven’t tried it.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

TRENDnet Powerline 200 AV Adapter Wireless Access Point, TPL-310AP

Available from Amazon

NuGuard GripStand 3

[UPDATE – ITEM IS CURRENTLY OUT OF STOCK ON AMAZON.] I have tried many cases for my iPad but the NuGuard GripStand 3 is by far my favorite. It is composed of a protective case and a handle that acts as the base. The outside shell consists of a hard plastic with several parts sculpted out to permit access to all the ports and buttons on your iPad as well as a spot to connect your Apple Smart Cover, if you have one. I appreciate the large slots and spaces on the sides of the case to insert any plugs. (Some cases have too tight a fit and plugs like the Apple iPad Camera Connection kit can’t attach properly. This results in the iPad having to be removed from the case before the plug can be used.)

The inside of the shell is a rubberized material that creates a good suction fit to hold the iPad in place. Don’t attach the stand until you have the iPad secured in the case. I found that the insertion process worked better when the large space at the back was open. It probably helped to create the proper suction, allowing the air to be squeezed out from behind the iPad. This also explains the purpose of all those holes on the rubberized interior of the case.

It is advisable to check that the iPad is securely attached. This is my only concern with this case. Most cases wrap around not only the back and sides but also a bit on the front so that the iPad can’t slip out of the case. There is no overlapping front face grip. I can understand why it was built this way. This construction allows the Smart Cover to lie flat over the face. To remove any doubts I had about the suction hold of the case, I have held the iPad upside down over a couch and tried to shake it free. The suction has held every time I tried to get it to fall free. I guess if you are worried about how secure it is, you can periodically test the grip.

The GripStand’s handle can be swiveled 360° and positioned at virtually any angle for viewing and typing needs. It kind of locks in the four main positions (landscape or portrait), which is convenient when using it as a stand. The GripStand is quite stiff when you attempt to change the viewing angle. This means that whatever angle you decide on, the iPad stays right there. So many other cases I have tried were either limited in the angles or tended to slip and change their angle as you touched and tapped away at them. This is why the GripStand is a great aid for using and typing on the iPad.

It is also a highly effective one hand grip so you can use your iPad 2 while standing or walking. I was surprised at how handy this was. It was a lot easier carrying the iPad while holding on to the base and it kept my oily hands away from the screen. The handle can be rotated to use as a hook to hang your iPad 2 on a wall. The handle allows you to carry the iPad 2 like a briefcase.

-- Marcel Dufresne  

NuGuard GripStand 3 & GripBase Bundle

Available from Amazon

Sharkk iPad Mini Keyboard

The Sharkk keyboard for the iPad Mini turns your iPad into a fully functional, highly portable computer. One you can do serious work on in addition to using all the apps you love.

It’s not just a keyboard, it’s clam-shell case that both protects your iPad and still allows you to use it in landscape and portrait modes. Your iPad Mini will double in thickness but the gains in utility more than compensate, in my opinion. I still marvel at the fact that I have such a powerful device in a format the size of a paperback book.

Quick list of just a few apps that become that much more useful with a proper keyboard:

1. Evernote
2. Office for iPad apps
3. Textastic (great code editor with FTP, SFTP, Dropbox, etc. integration)
4. ServerAuditor (terminal emulator)
5. Codea (kick ass Lua dev env for the iPad)
6. Trello (collaborative task organizer, very useful/flexible/powerful)
7. Editorial (text editor with integrated Python interpreter for macros, workflows, etc. Recommended)

Note: It’s not all roses. Sharkk’s quality control leaves something to be desired. I ordered 3 keyboards on Amazon that were all defective in one way or another. One email to Sharkk’s support team and they sent me a working keyboard straight away.

Note: There are two firms selling the same (presumably OEM’ed) keyboard case, Sharkk and CoverBot. Had and loved the CoverBot case with my iPad Mini but when I upgraded to an iPad Mini Retina, Apple’s updated Bluetooth stack broke a number of keyboards, including the CoverBot. The Sharkk one, however, works fine.

-- Paul Clip  

SHARKK Apple iPad Mini 3 Keyboard

Available from Amazon


Millions  suffer in silence as the freakin’ MagSafe magnet in Mac notebooks turns out not to be strong enough, so every time you shift on the couch it falls out. I don’t know if you have this problem, but many of us are very frustrated that the magnet is not as strong enough as it was in the old days.

There was a successful Kickstarter thing called a Snuglet. It’s a shim, it looks like a staple. This tiny  liner for the MagSafe jack, through some miracle of physics, amplifies the magnetic grip of the power plug so that it does not fall out unless you really kick the power cord or trip on it or something, which was the original idea.

-- David Pogue  

[This is from the Cool Tools Show podcast with David Pogue. See all of David's picks here. – Mark Frauenfelder]

$13 for 2 (includes remover)

Available from Amazon

X-Stand Portable Notebook Cooling Stand

I’ve used this laptop stand for six years after discovering it branded and sold by Targus (where it can no longer be found). After losing mine, I found it again branded under “Hercules XStand Portable Notebook Cooling Stand” and “Opteka X-Stand Ergonomic Portable Airflow Cooling Stand.”

The stand is beautifully built, light (all-aluminum structure), and well-designed. It’s for 15″ – 17″ laptops, and easily folds down to something you could slip into a pocket. The stand tilts the keyboard a few degrees, which is nice, but its primary use is to allow plenty of airflow under the computer for cooling; I find it substantially reduces the temperature, which is not only nice for me, it certainly helps lengthen the life of my laptops. It has to be used on a flat surface – not your lap. I use it everywhere.

The stand is far-and-away the smallest and lightest laptop stand I’ve ever seen, and retails online for anywhere from $15 to $23.

-- Barry Schwartz  

X-Stand Portable Notebook Cooling Stand

Available from Amazon

CRC Electronic Contact Cleaner 2000

I first ran into a can of this wonderful stuff when I started my first job, and have found it invaluable since, to the point where I have a can at work, home, and even leave one at my parents’ house.

What this is, is a can of non-flammable, liquid, electronic cleaner that can be pin-point sprayed onto various powered-down electronic contacts which are often unreachable or time-consuming to repair/replace.

Smartphone power button not responding? DSLR knob not switching modes? Static in the line jack? EQ slider no longer smooth? Try some of this spray, and if it’s an electronic contact issue, it might just magically fix it.

Even after you’ve given them ample warning, the look of horror on the faces of your friends and family as you spray a stream of liquid onto their non-waterproof electronics is priceless. Even better is the look of delight when they realize there is no evidence of the liquid, and you’ve fixed their gadget.

Because it evaporates nearly instantaneously, you won’t end up with liquid damage to components or surroundings, is plastic-friendly in that it doesn’t discolor or crack it, and is safe to use liberally.

My personal favorite is the CRC Contact Cleaner 2000, since that’s what I first used, and I also chuckle a little when I use any product with the “futuristic” number “2000” in it.

There are many fine products from competitors such as Permatex, B’Laster, and WD-40, as well, with varying claims of higher cleansing performance. Perhaps in really tough environments, this may be important, but for my typical home/office use, the CRC Contact Cleaner 2000 has worked just fine. Regardless of what cleaner you purchase, make sure you’re purchasing a version that is explicitly listed as non-flammable and compliant with all 50 states on low VOC (volatile organic compounds).

-- Kaz Mori  

CRC Contact 2000 VC Precision Cleaner, 16 oz

Available from Amazon


I’m the CTO of a company that employs a whole group of computer repair technicians. At one time, we would remotely diagnose computer problems by connecting to a user’s network using a VPN, then have the user install VNC, and then tell us their IP address. Sometimes there wasn’t a VPN or we had to go through setting up one for the user on their router. (To make things more problematic, most Telus connections started disallowing VPNs.) Each and every one of those steps was very difficult for the average user.

Now we use Copilot.com. We just ask users to open a Web page, read off the 12-digit number they see, and click a link, which downloads a small program that they can run to create the connection; then the connection will work through any firewall they have.

Using this I can connect to almost any remote PC. It works with users in UAE on a slow IDSN line. It works with users in northern Canada with a cell phone Internet connection. Of course, it works a lot better with high speed internet connections.

Other tools require a user to view an email (which may not be working) or provide information about their PC, which they usually have no idea about. This tool works as long as you can get the user on the phone and looking at the Web site.

The only difficulty? Some users are so illiterate that when you say “go to www.copilot.com” they will instead enter “copilot” into Google. You’d be very surprised how often this happens.

There are other services that do this, however we find this one works on the worst of connections. And of course, the farther away someone is, the worse their connection is, and the more help they need!

I have used Copilot for about 3 years. I pay the monthly subscription fee of $20, but you can also pay $5 to use it for 24 hours, on demand.

-- Perry Doell  

Price plans vary
Free on weekends

Tournez Clamp Mount for iPad

I have used this articulating clamp/arm/iPad mount for nearly a year. I am often bed-bound due to health, and holding my iPad becomes tiring and painful. This arm allows me to surf for hours and maintain my connection to the outside world. It does exactly what it promises. It is elegant, adaptable, and worth every penny of the price.

-- Catherine Williams  

The Joy Factory Tournez C-Clamp Mount

Available from Amazon

Amped ACA1 Wi-Fi USB Adapter

When the PCI Wi-Fi card in my desktop system died last month, I decided to get something that had an external antenna I could move away from the case and closer to the door of my room, since the wireless router was on the other side of the house. When I saw the ACA1 it seemed to fit the bill, with a few extras: It comes with a clip to attach to a laptop LCD monitor, in case I needed a better connection. It supports the dual band 2.4GHz and 5.0Ghz standards. It also supports the new 802.11AC protocol, in addition to the a/b/g/n protocols that have been in use for years.

What I didn’t expect is the flat-out SPEED this adapter delivers. Yes, it’s USB 3.0, but I didn’t expect that to affect my Wi-Fi usage. From day one, it has registered 48.0 MBps, while the PCI card never got over 5.0 MBps. Also, I see SIDs from neighbors which never registered with the older card.

Setup was easy: Run the Setup CD; Connect the USB 3.0 cable (it’s included) plug it into an available USB port; Select your SID and enter your wi-fi security key.

This was the best $90 network upgrade I’ve ever spent, and with the new AC protocol being supported I look forward to many years of happy net-surfing to come.

-- Opher Banarie  

[This may not work for Mac computers. See the Amazon comments. - Mark]

Amped Wireless High Power 500mW Dual Band AC Wi-Fi USB Adapter

Available from Amazon