The SmartAlert Night Light from Leeo is a new class of connected products that includes the Nest thermostat and Dropcam camera. These are devices located in your home that communicate to the cloud and to your phone through its app.

In its present incarnation, Leeo is designed to monitor your home for alarms that might sound while you are away and unaware that they’ve gone off. When that occurs, Leeo detects it through its frequency-sensitive built-in microphone and sends an alert to your phone using the Leeo app (iOS only).

It’s designed particularly for identifying smoke, fire and carbon monoxide detectors, and burglar alarms. Leeo is able, according to the company, to hear alarms up to 75 feet away. You are also able to check your home’s temperature and humidity with the app while you’re away.

Leeo is disguised as a night light that plugs into a North American 2-prong wall plug. Light from special LEDs radiates from its conically-shaped rear surface with a soft, diffuse ring of most any color you chose. The microphone is on the front surface to monitor for sound.

Setup is simple: Plug it in and pair it to your phone using Bluetooth the first time used. This allows you to connect it to your Wi-Fi home network, after which Bluetooth is no longer used.

Leeo, as well as the Nest and Dropcam, fall into the category dubbed by the consumer electronics industry as the Internet of Things, or IoT, a catchall for products that connect to the cloud, usually with Wi-Fi.

With the ease today of building products with sensors of all kind, wireless modules, and so much more, we can expect to see a plethora of products with different combinations of functions, some that even seem to be incongruent.

That was how I first viewed Leeo: An expensive nightlight with some features that had questionable value. Sure, I’d like to know when a fire alarm goes off in my home when I am far away, but what if it’s a false alarm? I guess I could keep checking the temperature!

But in conversation with its co-founder and CEO, Adam Gettings, my opinion changed. He explained Leeo is actually part of a well-thought-through strategic vision of home automation and home management. When thinking in that context, the idea could be brilliant.

Gettings — who was previously co-founder and chief robot designer of RoboteX, a provider of tactical robots for first responder teams — thinks of Leeo as an entry point into our homes. We all can use night lights; they are simple to install and rarely removed. It was the perfect paradigm for the beginning of a home-monitoring system that could be customized from the cloud.

New capabilities would be enabled through downloads into Leeo, such as being able to use Leeo to accept commands from around the home, to monitor for intruders, doorbells and more advanced intrusion alarm systems. It could even receive Siri-like spoken commands from us or turn on lights when we enter a room.

Part of what makes this possible is that Leeo is designed with a robust microprocessor that’s capable of handling a lot of capabilities inside that innocuous nightlight.

For now, you’ll need to value it as one of the most advanced (and expensive) nightlights with the ability to detect alarms.

Leeo requires a Wi-Fi connection, iPhone 4S or later and its free app.

Cloud-connected audio devices may just be the next big thing. Amazon is previewing a cylindrical device with a microphone and speaker called the Echo that sits on the counter or next to your bed that responds to your voice. You can ask it for information such as news, music or weather, set an alarm for 8 a.m., or ask any question, much like Siri.

My guess is it can used to simply request a purchase from Amazon. $199/$149 for Prime members. By invitation only. Sign up at



Who would have thought that one of the best email programs for your iPhone and Android phone would come from Microsoft?

I’ve been trying Outlook for iOS on an iPhone 6, iPhone 6+ and iPad mini for about a month, and rarely do I now use anything else. Outlook for Android is available on Android phones and tablets, but is still in beta, and I did not test it.

The program is free and does a terrific job of managing your email and calendar in a single app, much the way Outlook works on computers. It’s almost as if the developers looked at the weaknesses of other email programs and found ways to make this stand apart with clever new capabilities.

The product is the result of Microsoft’s purchase of Accompli, a popular iOS email program.

Compared to Mail, the standard email app on iOS devices, the presentation of email on Outlook is clearer and easier to read, and displays more content on each page, due to the font, layout and use of white space.

Outlook has one feature that I found particularly useful. It does an uncanny job of separating your email into two groups: those that are more important (Focused) and are generally from individuals, and those that are mass mailings, ads, newsletters, confirmations, etc. (Other). You can easily switch between Focused and Other with a single click.

I’ve found this feature alone to make managing my email much easier, as it removes the distraction of useful and less useful email being intermingled and raised to the same level of importance.

If it makes a mistake (for example, group emails from an organization you want to hear from), you can permanently change the emails from this group into the Focused group. Another feature of Outlook is its ability to view just the email attachments of recent email, making it easy to locate a specific document.

Swiping your email, either left or right, will perform your choice of two of these options, i Archive, Delete, Schedule, Move, Mark as Read/Unread, and Flag. I prefer Delete and Schedule, the latter removing the email and bringing it back at a future time and date of your choice.

With Outlook, you can include multiple email accounts in your single Outlook inbox or view them by their specific account, something Gmail still doesn’t do.

For example, I use the account for two Gmail accounts and my iOS cloud account. Outlook can sync mail, contacts, calendar and files from Office 365, Exchange Online, Exchange Server, (including Hotmail, Live and MSN), Gmail, iCloud and Yahoo! Mail.

You can also add attachments from Dropbox, OneDrive, Box and Google Drive, but not Apple iCloud’s drive.

The Outlook calendar is not quite as good as iCal, but comes close, and unlike iCal, it’s part of the same app. It allows views by the day, agenda and a three-day view when rotated to landscape mode. There’s a slide-down month view useful for navigation.

The integration makes it easy to switch back and forth between mail and calendar modes, and allows you to attach available meeting times while writing an email to let others, a feature called Send Availability.

At the bottom of the page are tabs for Mail, Calendar, Files, People and Settings.

The People tab provides a list of recent contacts that lets you view emails received and appointments with that contact. It’s useful, but not a substitute for the iOS Contacts app.

I reviewed Inbox from Google several months back and liked it a lot as well. It offered similar swiping features and the ability to separate the attachments to view as a list. But its big limitation was that it worked only with Gmail and not with Apple’s iCloud mail.

Most email programs that come on phones are generally good enough, but nothing exceptional. Apple, in particular, has failed to make significant improvements over the past five years; it’s less glamorous to improve products than to work on new ones.

But Microsoft has shown just how much better an email program can be, and I recommend you try it, especially because it’s free.


The idea of wirelessly charging our phones has been a promise for more than a decade. In concept, you just place your phone on a flat surface or pad and the phone automatically charges. No cables to plug in.

While it sounds great, it has failed to catch on and has cost companies millions of dollars in losses. Most notably, Powermat Technologies, an Israeli company founded in 2006, introduced a series of mats, cases and dongles (which attach to electronic devices). In spite of tens of millions of dollars spent on advertising and distribution, the product never caught on. The company’s president was fired, lawsuits for massively missed projections were filed and inventory was written off.

What users discovered was that, contrary to the claims, the products really were not wireless. They still required that the mats where you placed your phones be wired to a charger, and your phone needed some sort of a case or wire dongle connected to the charging port. In addition, they took longer to charge and wasted energy.

I’ve been trying out a new product called Fuel Ion from Patriot Memory ( that takes a slightly different approach to wireless charging. It’s available for a variety of phones — the iPhone 5, iPhone 6, Galaxy S4, Galaxy S5 and Note 3. I’m using it with an iPhone 6. Because of the way it charges, it’s faster and more efficient that the Powermat, similar in speed to using a cable.

You need to use the company’s phone case ($50), with different models available for each phone. The phone is inserted into the case, and a connector in the case plugs into the phone’s charging port at the bottom, resulting in a case that’s a half-inch longer than normal.

The second component is a 4-inch-diameter white plastic pad ($30) — it looks like a coaster — on which you place your phone. Hidden magnets position the phone, causing tiny contacts on the back of the case to align with contacts on the pad. Of course, the pad needs to plug into a charger.

An additional accessory, a stand-alone battery ($50) can also be charged by dropping it onto the pad. Fuel Ion also offers a stand ($50) that works much like the pad.

So what is the benefit of all of this? Like Powermat, it eliminates the need to plug a charger cord directly into your phone each time you want to charge it. You can just drop your phone into place. Each of the products seems to be well made, attractive and works as intended. But it just seems a lot of cost for its minor benefits. You could also plug your iPhone into a phone-charging dock from Apple or Twelve South.

A better approach would be for phone makers to build the charging technology into their phones to avoid the need for a special case. A number of Android phones are now doing just that, either building it in or using special replacement back covers containing the charging circuitry. These companies offer a pad, stand or pedestal where you place your phone to be charged.

For widespread adoption, the industry would need to settle on a single standard. There are now several, all incompatible with each other. The Powermat uses inductive charging, in which electricity is passed from the pad to the phone by magnetic fields; the Fuel Ion uses conductive charging, in which the electricity is passed using physical contacts. The industry seems to be settling on a standard called Qi, electromagnetic charging, which is different from each of these.

One of the best implementations was developed by Palm for its ill-fated Palm Pre phone. It used induction built into the phone’s optional back cover that charged whenever the phone rested on a small cylindrical stand. It worked well, but few seemed to care and it was not enough to prevent the phone’s demise.

The promise is that once a standard emerges and becomes widely used you’ll be able to charge your phone in stores, restaurants, your car, and many other places.

For now, Starbucks is building Powermat charging mats into tables in their stores and will sell you a $10 plug-in ring-like device for your phone that electronically mates with the mat.

IKEA is looking to build charging mats into some of its furniture, and some automotive companies have talked about including a mat in their cars. Dell has announced that it will add wireless charging to some notebooks.

I still can’t help but think that much of this activity is technology searching for a solution that has limited value. But the lure of wireless charging has not stopped companies from trying again and again.


With spring arriving — at least in California — and the Travel Goods Show in Las Vegas just concluding, attention is turning to travel. Here are some products I’ve been trying out.

Bolt Briefcase: The new Bolt Briefcase from Waterfield Designs is a refreshing change from the staid black bags so many of us carry. My wife said it’s the best looking of all my bags, and on recent flights, two passengers asked me where I got it.

It’s particularly well designed for carrying the all of the essentials but not much more. It has one padded pocket perfectly sized to fit a MacBook, along with an assortment of pockets to organize the rest of what we carry. There are two front outside pockets with magnetic closures for a phone or pens and business cards, two interior pockets for keys, chargers and cables, and a large 4-inch-wide central interior section for holding a compact camera, headphones, music player, iPad, file folders and books.

The Bolt has a clever water-resistant zipper and a carrying strap with shoulder pad. What makes it so stylish is its rugged waxed canvas fabric and chocolate leather trim and handles. It looks like it should stand up to years of use. It’s also available in other choices of leather, as well as black ballistic nylon for those more conservative. It comes in three sizes for 13-inch, 15-inch and 17-inch notebooks, and slips over the handle of a rolling suitcase. $249 to $279, made in San Francisco. (

CC Skywave Traveler’s Radio: The CC Skywave has just been introduced as the ultimate travel radio. It was developed under the direction of C. Crane of Fortuna, known for making radios that can receive stations hundreds of miles away.

This new model, measuring, 4.75-by-3-by- 1.1 inches, provides excellent AM reception as well as shortwave (2.3-26.1 MHz), weather, aircraft traffic and FM bands. It will turn on to warn you of emergency weather conditions and has an illuminated clock, timer and alarm to use as a bedside clock radio. Stations can be tuned using its scan function or their frequencies can be entered directly with buttons, and you can enter 400 stations into storage for quick retrieval.

The internal speaker provides good sound and it can also be used with headphones. The radio is battery and AC operated and will work from 60 to 70 hours on two AA batteries. In my testing, the radio pulled in stations from San Francisco at night, and the aircraft band provided access to some air traffic control. Some countries, however, don’t allow the use of aircraft scanner radios. $90 at

Cabeau Memory Foam Evolution Pillow: Air travel is getting less comfortable, particularly in coach. So I’ve been trying out travel pillows over the past year, including inflatables, and others filled with small beads, foam rubber and everything in between, hoping to find a little more comfort.

Most of those I tried were not worth the inconvenience of carrying something so bulky. But one pillow stood out; it was also one of the most expensive, but worth it.

That’s the Cabeau Memory Foam Evolution Pillow that costs $40. It’s made of high-quality memory foam similar to what’s used in expensive mattresses. It felt softer and more pliable than the other pillows, yet was firm enough to provide good support. The foam takes a temporary set under pressure and heat to mold around your head.

The pillow is shaped with a thin wall behind the neck to avoid pushing the head forward, and has extra side support for resting your head. The plush velour fabric cover felt luxurious compared to many of the others, and can be removed for washing.

It has a pocket in the pillow to hold a phone or music player and a carrying strap for hanging it on your suitcase or securing it around your neck. With a little effort, the pillow can be compressed and rolled up to about a quarter of its size and slipped into a supplied case. For $40, it just might make your trip a little more comfortable. Available at

TGT Compact Wallet: If you carry lots of credit cards and a few bills, and want to avoid the bulk of an ordinary wallet, look at the TGT wallet. It’s the smallest wallet I’ve ever come across, short of a rubber band. It will hold a stack of credit cards plus several folded bills in a neat tiny package. It’s constructed of soft Italian leather and a special U.S.-made elasticized fabric that seems to stretch enough to hold a dozen cards, yet still lets you easily expand the stack to retrieve a particular card. The wallet is manufactured in Brooklyn.

I’ve been using it for a few weeks, carrying about six bills, folded in quarters, tucked into its leather pocket, and ten cards stacked together, held by the elastic fabric. While the design seems simple, it took the inventor a couple of years to engineer it, so it all works. First introduced in 2012 on Kickstarter, he raised over $300,000, more than any other wallet. It comes in several color combinations and costs from $34 to $46. (


Visa just announced a new technology it will be using to reduce credit card fraud when we make purchases. It’s called geolocation, developed by Finsphere of Belleview, Wash.

Visa is the first to offer this service, which allows its banking partners to know where you are when your credit card is used.

How does it work? When you install your credit card company’s app on your phone, it will ask for permission to allow your location to be checked when you make a credit card charge. When your credit card is used, the app compares your phone’s location with the merchant’s location to check if they match.

If there isn’t a match — in the case of the card being used for an Internet or phone charge, or by an unauthorized user — it will revert to conventional methods for verifying whether the charge is legitimate.

This technology also makes it more convenient for us, the cardholder. It eliminates the need to contact our credit card companies when we’re traveling outside the country, and reduces the need to remember passwords or PINs or having to call the credit card company when our card is declined.

According to Mastercard, four out of five international transactions denied are actually false positives.

Many of us have experienced the results of these thefts, the most common being unauthorized charges on our cards. Fortunately, our liability is limited to $50, but not so with the banks, which are estimated to be losing $5.5 billion this year worldwide.

In fact, just this past week, Chase canceled my Southwest Airlines credit card after it detected a $9.95 charge for the music service Spotify made from New York. Chase representatives told me they thought it was a test charge from a professional credit card ring, and they detected the transaction using algorithms that the company developed.

Finsphere’s business is based on using mobile devices to reduce the risk of fraud while making fraud detection transparent to the consumer. Finsphere performs the actual verification for Visa and its other customers, comparing where the credit card transaction took place with the location of the phone in just a fraction of a second.

The 11-year-old company holds many patents on the technology and expects it to be adopted beyond credit card transactions, including applications relating to access security and the cloud.

For example, the technology can be used to verify an ATM transaction or when an employee uses his badge to access a secure area.

Geolocation verification can eliminate the need for using passwords on a computer by comparing the location of the phone with the IP address of your browser.

Unlike unwanted tracking for marketing purposes, this technology provides a real benefit to all and requires you to opt in. As a result, it’s not expected to face objections from privacy advocates.

In a survey taken by the market research company Penn Schoen Berland, 74 percent of the public said the concept of this technology is appealing, 84 percent said they would be likely to use it and 65 percent said their confidence in the transaction’s security would increase.

Of course, it requires us to keep our phone with us for it to work, so it would not be the only form of verification a bank would use.

While other technology is also being developed to prevent credit card fraud at the point of the transaction — such as biometric identification using thumbprint readers, eye and face scanners and voice detection — they are much more complex, take more time to use and require huge costs to upgrade point-of-purchase terminals.

Mastercard is working on its own verification using geolocation with another company, Syniverse, and AT&T says it’s working on its own service.

Eventually, I would expect this technology to be used for all financial and security transactions without requiring us to opt in. Few of us now object to being tracked because, while it can be abused, it makes things much more convenient for us.

When Google or Yelp knows where you are, their searches are more relevant and you don’t need to enter in an address. Maps and navigation apps, of course, must track your location; Uber and its competitor Lyft need to know where you are when you request a ride.

So in spite of many of us once objecting to being tracked, it’s become much more acceptable, in spite of a loss of some confidentiality. And now tracking to reduce the risk of financial fraud is one of the best reasons of all for doing it.