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.


I’ll wait to review the new Apple Watch once I get one to try, but here are some first impressions based on its introduction last week.

Needs an iPhone: The watch can be thought of as a remote control for your iPhone. It replicates many of the functions on the phone, but its value greatly diminishes if it’s not connected. While you can see who has texted or emailed you without removing the phone from your pocket or purse, reacting to those events will usually require using the phone.

Alerts are both good and bad: Expect to spend lots of time setting your alerts. While at first you might like being notified when messages and mail arrives, the interruptions will become annoying very quickly — both to yourself and others around you. I expect to see new apps that will try to automate this process.

More distracting than your iPhone: If you’ve been distracted by your phone, the watch will be much worse. A phone can be out of sight, and hence out of mind. But the watch will always be visible. It’s always been considered rude to glance at your watch while talking to others, but now that’s going to become much more common. Driving while checking your watch is equally dangerous as using your phone.

Not a health monitor: Apple has backed away from positioning the watch as a health monitor using a large number of built-in sensors. The company was smart not to go there because collecting all that information doesn’t offer much value, and you can do much of it with an app on your phone.

Instead, Apple has turned the tables and talked about how the information collected on your phone could advance health research. Brilliant marketing by making lemonade out of lemons.

Apple implied that the watch could detect a wide variety of exercise types, including biking and exercises. If this is true, they’d be the first to do that.

A fashion product? Apple is positioning the watch as a fashion statement as much as personal technology. While the cases are attractive, the watch is really the ultimate geek gadget; it’s a wrist computer, not jewelry. And every model from $349 to $17,000 is exactly the same, except for the case material.

The 18-karat gold version, which sells for up to $17,000 contains about $1000 worth of gold. Rarely has anyone been asked to pay so much to buy a version 1.0 of a new electronic product that in two years will be replaced with something new.

No killer app: There is no killer app yet available, something that alone could justify a purchase. For me, the best use might be the ability to screen my calls with a tap of the button, without removing the phone from my pocket.

Should Rolex worry? What will be the impact to the mechanical watch brands such as Rolex, Patek-Philippe, Omega, etc? As someone who’s collected watches and developed a great skill in buying high and selling low, conventional watches will continue to flourish. Based on functionality, the Apple Watch does more, but it lacks the emotion, the history, workmanship and complexities of mechanical watches. But the biggest disadvantage over conventional watches is the need to recharge the Apple Watch each night.

Big margins: The version of the watch that is likely to be the most popular, the stainless steel model with a strap, will likely cost Apple less than $125 but retail for $600, a better margin than iPhones.

Apple distortion field: Apple really goes overboard about touting every detail about their products, even the mundane. Two videos shown at the intro, narrated by Jony Ive, their VP of design, went into excruciating detail to describe why the aluminum and steel they use are each superior to ordinary aluminum and steel — so much that it seemed like a “Saturday Night Live” parody of itself. Still, the watches will scratch, particularly the aluminum version.

Ads on your watch? How long can Apple resist displaying ads on your wrist? It’s a fertile location for all sorts of commercial use. I imagine companies right now are plotting what freebies they can give us in exchange for sending an occasional ad.

In your face: In its latest software upgrade for the iPhone, a new app is installed that cannot be removed: a commercial with videos and an empty app store for the Apple Watch. Apple is taking no chances by informing all of its iPhone users about the product, but it’s bad form.

The verdict: My initial impression is that the Apple Watch is neither as great as some expected, nor as useless as its detractors make it out to be. It’s going to do many things we can’t yet imagine as developers create new apps. But, other than its slightly smaller size, its industrial design, and its user interface, it’s not all that different from the exiting Google and Pebble watches at significantly lower prices.

While the Apple Watch is the best looking and most reasonably-sized of all smart watches, ultimately it will succeed or fail based what it actually can do and how useful it is.

What it is: An electronic watch that wirelessly connects to an iPhone using Bluetooth. (Does not work with Android phones.) It’s available in two sizes (38mm and 42mm), three case materials (aluminum, stainless steel and 18k solid gold), and a choice of straps and bracelets costing $49 to $449. All models work exactly the same. Costs from $349 (aluminum) to well over $10,000. The most popular choice (stainless steel with a leather band) will cost about $600. Preorders begin April 10; on sale April 24.


The vast majority of the public has welcomed the decision by the Federal Communications Commission last month to support net neutrality.

The decision will affect most of us, as well as millions of companies, in a very positive way. Despite some of the opponents’ claims, it is neither a government takeover nor a power-grab by our president.

The opponents — Internet service providers, which include cellular carriers and cable companies — have created many false claims to obscure the facts.

What they wanted was to be able to set up different classes of service, offer faster speeds and more data for an extra fee, and provide slower service to those that don’t or can’t pay for premium service.

The FCC’s 3-2 decision — split along party lines — simply recognizes that access to the Internet is vital to all of us and to the country. Therefore, all of us need to be treated equally.

The decision affects commerce and communication, and is critical to innovation.

Equal access to all must be assured. Its control should not be left in the hands of a few private corporations whose goals are profit and are thus not always aligned with the public good.

The idea of net neutrality is not something new. In fact, Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 describes a regulated “common carrier” such as telephone service that delivers goods to the public with no discrimination, in contrast to a private entity that can choose whom it serves and what rates it charges.

The FCC’s decision is simply classifying the Internet as a “common carrier,” which means the ISPs cannot set their own rules and rates without some oversight.

The Internet has changed the way nearly every business and individual works, and has fostered the creation of companies we never even imagined just a few years ago — from how we get a taxi to how we book a flight, how we shop and how we educate.

It’s used by more than 70 percent of the households in the country.

Today, the United States is well behind other advanced countries for Internet service. Sweden and Korea have speeds 10 times faster and pay much less for the service, partially the result of their governments’ oversight and subsidies.

For a while it looked as though the FCC might choose an approach that would have given more power to the ISPs. These companies claimed that, because of limited capacity, they should be able to charge more to customers that send more data or need higher speeds, much like an individual paying to be allowed to use an HOV lane.

They claimed that without this ability, we would all suffer from a congested Internet, and the financial incentives would not be there to invest in expanding capacity. The answer to that is clearly to build more capacity. If they choose not to do this, there are others willing to jump in, such as Google.

The public wasn’t buying this and saw through the self-interests of the ISPs. In fact, it was the public’s response — 6 million email and phone complaints — that counteracted the ISPs’ lobbying and campaign contributions to members of Congress.

The decision was also affected by the companies that opposed net neutrality: Comcast, Verizon and others in the cable and cellular industry that, for the most part, have treated their customers with disdain.

Their policies have been so shortsighted and adversarial that few people trusted them with the Internet.

For example, Verizon and most cellular carriers have nickeled-and-dimed their customers at every turn. Go over your data allowance one month? Pay a large penalty. Go under? Too bad, you can’t save it for the following month. Travel out of the country? Pay exorbitant fees, providing the carriers with 90 percent margins. Add a new device such as a tablet? Pay a connection fee and a monthly fee to have access to data you are already buying.

Comcast has some of the worst customer ratings for service of any company in America. It’s been well documented how they lie, do everything to prevent a customer from canceling and ridicule their customers.

There’s some poetic justice here in that what these companies wanted so badly was denied, in part because of their own poor treatment of their customers. If they had developed a more trusting relationship over the years, the opposition might have been less vocal and the ruling might have been different.

As one blogger noted, “Companies should have to earn profit by having satisfied customers, hard work and a decent product. Now profit seems to be earned by finding ways to separate customers from their money in the most predatory ways.”

The ISPs reaped what they sowed. And we are all better off for it.


Each year or two there’s one new camera that stands out as special, particularly in the compact-to-pocket-size category. In 2012 it was the Sony RX100 that created a big sensation for packaging a large sensor into a tiny pocketable camera. At $699, it was considerably more expensive than other pocket cameras, but because its image quality set a new standard for pocket cameras, it became a huge success. Now there’s a new camera that’s even better.

I’ve been trying out the new Leica D-Lux 109, very similar to the Panasonic Lumix LX100. While not as small as the Sony, it’s small enough to fit in a coat pocket or small purse. It uses a much larger 13-megapixel sensor and a terrific Leica f/1.7 25mm to 75mm zoom lens, capable of shooting in the dimmest light.

The result is a camera that takes noticeably sharper images than any camera in its class and works in very low light conditions, even candlelight. That’s not only because of the sensor, but also because of the maximum aperture of f/1.7 – 2.8, the largest ever used on a compact camera.

The camera is a partnership between Panasonic, which designed the camera, and Leica, which developed the lens. The difference between each company’s version is mostly cosmetic.

Leica eliminates the built-in handgrip and textured surface of the Lumix for a smoothly finished flat black aluminum body. The Lumix costs $800 and the Leica costs $1,100. The Leica comes with a three-year warranty, instead of one, and a free copy of Lightroom software, worth about two-hundred dollars.

One of the unusual features for a camera this small is its built-in high-resolution electronic viewfinder, which works particularly well in both low-light and in bright sun, where the 3-inch LCD display becomes washed out.

In fact, I found that I much preferred using the viewfinder all the time, because I could hold the camera against my face for steadier shots. I wear glasses and was able to adjust the viewfinder for my vision and had no problem seeing the full view. The viewfinder turns on automatically and turns off the LCD when you put it up to your eye.

Like many people, I have missed the optical viewfinders on compact cameras, and found this electronic viewfinder to be even better.

While most cameras provide great results under normal lighting conditions, the more costly cameras do better under extreme conditions. This camera goes beyond other compact cameras and minimizes the need for flash. You can actually take decent images up to ISO 25,600.

That’s good because one of the compromises with this camera is that there is no built-in flash. Instead, there is an add-on flash about the size of two sugar cubes that slides onto the hot shoe.

The controls are more like those on DSLR cameras than on typical point-and-shoot models. There’s a dial on the top to select shutter speed or set to A for automatic. Similarly, around the lens is a dial with aperture settings adjustable for f-number and an A for automatic. When both dials are at A, the exposure follows an automatic programmed mode.

A second dial on the top to the right of the shutter speed dial is for adjusting exposure compensation, making it simple to override the automatic setting by up to three stops in each direction. One minor complaint is that the dial rotated inadvertently on occasion when it didn’t lock into place.

The camera includes a wealth of other features, such as multiple focus and metering options, customizable buttons, built-in Wi-Fi and shake reduction.

There is a small sliding switch on the top of the lens to set the image’s aspect ratio to 3:2, 16:9, 4:3 and square. Lumix and D-Lux cameras have had this for several generations and it comes in handy for adjusting the aspect ratio based on the scene.

What I found most impressive was the movie mode that allowed shooting up to 30 frames per second and up to 4K resolution. That’s full high definition. I shot several movies at a luau on a recent Hawaiian vacation with illumination provided only by tiki torches, and the results were excellent — very sharp, well illuminated and very smooth motion. The sharpness was helped by being able to hold the camera against my face, using the viewfinder, and thereby avoiding camera unsteadiness.

On the vacation, my wife used the Sony RX100 and I used the Leica D-Lux 109. The images from the latter were generally sharper in general and better exposed in dim lighting. Of course, some of my wife’s images were better because there’s more to good images than just the equipment.

The camera comes with a battery, plug-in battery charger, neck strap, lens cap and tether. I’d recommend the optional lens cap that automatically opens when the lens extends out and closes when the lens withdraws.

Overall, this may just be the perfect travel camera: light enough to carry everywhere, versatile enough to cover a wide range of scenes and lighting conditions, with results that rival much larger cameras.


It’s now been 16 months since I leased my Chevy Volt. I’ve driven just less than 10,000 miles. This is the third report since I acquired a 2014 model in October 2013. Previous reviews were written in January 2014 after 60 days and in June 2014 after eight months.

Why so much coverage? Because the Volt has been considered one of the most innovative and risky undertakings from GM, a normally conservative U.S. company, and it had to endure unfounded criticism from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-San Diego, who claimed the car was unsafe and falsely attributed its tax rebates to the Obama administration. He was proven wrong on both counts.

I thought it was a really well-engineered car that reduced dependence on oil and bode well for rebuilding our domestic manufacturing. I said at the time that when it came time to turn in my BMW X3, I’d consider the Volt and I did. Now I love it like so many other owners.

The Volt continues to meet expectations and live up to its high owner ratings, still among the very best. It’s been trouble free and performs just as it did on Day One. No rattles and no mechanical or electrical trouble of any kind. I’ve taken it back to the dealer just once for its first scheduled service, an oil change, tire rotation and topping off the fluids.

I’ve encountered only one minor problem: the display that shows miles driven on electricity and gas for each trip, sometimes erroneously shows 0.2 miles driven on gas, when I start from a fully charged car. The dealer and GM attribute it to a software glitch and have been unable to fix it; I’ve learned to ignore it. No gas is consumed, according to other readings.

On one other occasion, the Bluetooth lost connection with my phone, and the phone function in the car froze, preventing it from entering the pairing process again. I had to reset the function by turning off the engine and opening the driver’s door for five minutes.

The occasional freezing of the console display that I encountered over the first several months has not reoccurred, likely fixed by a software upgrade I had last year at the dealer’s.

In my update eight months ago, I noted I was averaging 144 miles per gallon. In recent months I’ve made about a half-dozen trips to Los Angeles, so the proportion of the number of miles driven on gasoline has risen significantly, resulting in the overall mileage now being 116 mpg. I’ve bought 88 gallons of gas since I’ve owned the car.

The Volt’s first 40 miles for the 200-mile round trip is battery powered, but 160 miles is gasoline powered at 37 mpg. The saving grace is being able to use the carpool lanes most of the way, which typically shaves a half hour off the more than 2½-hour trip during rush hour. If I put more battery miles on it and have fewer long trips, the number will go up

My range per charge continues to hold steady between 37 and 41 miles all year round. San Diego has been a good location for owning a Volt because we don’t have low temperatures that can reduce the battery’s efficiency.

I’ve never used public charging stations away from home, because I’ve just not encountered them at a time or location when I could leave the car for a long enough time. A one-hour charge would provide about 10 miles of range, and 3½ hours a full charge. I have charged the car while visiting various companies during meetings, using their chargers. I find many private businesses have added chargers for their employees.

On one occasion I parked my car at Wally Park at LAX, while traveling to China. They offered to charge the car while I was away. Surprisingly, they charged $10, which provided a full charge of 40 miles. I found this service overpriced, when $10 of gas provides 100 miles.

While I’ve encountered no issues with the car, I did have to replace my 240-volt wall charger due to a damaged cord in which the strain relief pulled out the nozzle. It was a model that GM had developed and sold through Bosch, a major manufacturer of car chargers.

The one-year warranty had expired several months previously, but with a little persuasion, Bosch was accommodating and replaced the entire charger. I paid $75 for re-installation, which was covered by the American Express Card’s extended warranty benefit.

I continue to be pleased with the Volt and love the fact that there’s never an issue of range anxiety, where I need to be concerned with running out of battery without finding a charger. Ultimately I’d prefer an electric car with a range of several hundred miles when they become more affordable and charging becomes more accessible. Tesla is making great strides on range and the availability of fast chargers, but its cost of more than $80,000 is way out of my range.

One of the other advantages of owning an electric or electric/gas car such as the Volt is that SDG&E provides lower rates for all my electricity. In my case, the rates have dropped by about $100 per month, more than offsetting the cost of electricity for charging the car.

In the next year or two, we can expect to see more and improved electric and electric/gasoline cars, including a newly designed Volt that’s more contemporary looking and has about a 50-mile range. Many of the new cars are also adding a built-in cellular wireless connection. The Volt has OnStar that connects to their service for assistance or emergencies. The service has been excellent; I often ask them to enter a destination into my GPS instead of typing it in.

A 2015 Volt fully equipped with forward-collision alert, rear camera, navigation, leather seats, lane-departure warning, cruise control, back-up camera, keyless entry, etc. costs about $39,000. Federal and state rebates of up to $9,000 are available.

Among all of the cars I’ve owned — including BMWs, Lexuses and Acuras — the Volt continues to be at the top of my list.


I’ve been poring over some of the new products I saw last month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Here’s a selection among those that stand out and add to the use of your cellphone.

Reach79: I’ve been trying out a new phone case from Antenna79 for the iPhone 6 that’s designed to improve cellular performance. The case has a built-in antenna that works with the one in the phone to improve signal strength and transmission speeds. The intent is to reduce dropped calls and improve data speeds. The case in the antenna works passively, meaning there is no electrical connection with the phone.

The case works with the iPhone 6 version for AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, but not Sprint. The case is a matte black, hard-plastic shell that snaps onto the phone. It adds little bulk to the phone and is similar in size to most standard cases.

The gold-colored antenna element is sandwiched in the back of the case with a portion of it visible through a decorative grill on the back.

The name of the product, Reach79, refers to the number for gold in the periodic table. The company, originally called Pong Research, was founded in San Diego and makes cases designed to reduce radiation from the phone. Catterton, a private consumer-focused equity group from Greenwich, Conn., is the company’s major investor.

Reach79 case for iPhone 6. Courtesy photo

The case is designed to work best when the phone is held in your hand or against your head. CEO David Vigil, a 20-year veteran of Qualcomm, says it works best in areas of marginal signal strength.

I tried it using an iPhone 6 with Verizon service in about a half-dozen locations around San Diego. I used the free Ookla app ( to test download and upload speeds with the case on and off, and with the phone up to my ear and in my hand, positioned to view the screen.

I was unable to draw any conclusive conclusions from this test. That’s likely because there are many other variables, including tower congestion, Internet traffic, environmental conditions and lack of repeatability. In fact, when I measured speeds several times in a row, first with the case on and then with the case off, I’d get differences in upload and download speeds that were often larger than the differences with the case on and off.

Anytime you tamper with the radiation patterns of a phone, it’s important that you don’t create new problems. The company has conducted extensive tests and says the phone meets all of the standards of the iPhone alone for the important measurement of SAR, the Specific Absorption Rate of RF energy in the body. In fact, they say it’s likely one of the most tested cases ever.

The company plans to offer optimized models tailored to particular carriers as well as models for other phones and other colors. The product costs $60 for the iPhone 6 and $70 for the iPhone 6 Plus.

Although my tests were inconclusive, this does not necessarily mean that the case does not work as designed. If you experience frequent dropped calls and slow Internet connections, it’s certainly worth a try to see if this helps.

Other cases and mounts: Over the past few months I’ve received a wide variety of sample cases, for the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Among them all, I prefer those with a front cover that protects the display, especially from scratches and damage to the coatings. Displays have coatings designed to reduce glare and smudges.

• The Tech21 Classic Shell with Cover case for iPhone 6 offers a combination of protection, lightness and minimal bulk. Cases from this British company use a patented material as a liner to absorb impact to the phone when dropped.

This new case is much like the hugely popular Frame case that’s been one of the Apple Stores’ best sellers. The difference is that it adds a thin hinged cover to protect the display, adding minimal bulk; calls can be made with the cover closed. $35 for the iPhone 6 and $45 for the iPhone 6 Plus. (

• Another great case is the BookBook for iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. It looks like a vintage leather book that can also be used as a stand. The phone snaps into a plastic case within the book and can be removed and used separately. $60,

• When I’ve tried using my phone as a GPS, I’ve had trouble finding a way to mount it to the car, particularly when traveling and driving a rental car. I didn’t like the designs with a long arms and suction cup that sticks on the window: They’re too large to carry and not legal unless they’re attached to the corner of the windshield.

The best solution I’ve found is the Airframe, a small U-shaped device that’s tiny enough to fit in your pocket. It pushes onto an air-conditioner vent with a rubber nub that works with varying thickness vents oriented both vertically and horizontally. The frame expands to fit all brands of phones with displays of up to 6-inches (including the iPhone 6 Plus). Some phones even fit while in their case. $25, and at Apple Stores.

• For a small, discreet mount that’s more permanent, Nite-Ize introduced at CES a mounting system called Steelie. It consists of a small steel ball that mounts to your dashboard using non-marring adhesive. A small magnetic disc sticks onto the back of your phone or case. The two connect with a firm click and allow a wide range of movement of the phone to position it just right. The disc is thin enough so as not to add much bulk to your phone.

There are several elements that can be added, such as a stand for your desk, a ball mount for your vent and a case with the magnetic disk built in. About $30 from

Are you torn between your old Blackberry and an iPhone? Typo offers a solution, the Typo keyboard and case. The keyboard looks much like a Blackberry thumb keyboard. (The original version looked so much like one that it was sued and had to recall their product). Typo adds ¾ inch to length and provides a very satisfactory type experience, almost as good as a Blackberry, although it doesn’t have all of the special Blackberry function keys and shortcuts, and the balance in the hand is not quite as good.

The Typo is backlit, runs off of a rechargeable battery, and connects to the phone using Bluetooth. It replaces the home button with a substitute key, but it frees up a lot more of the display. To get around the patent, the company modified the shape of their keys. $99 at