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Macworld gems: Glowdeck smartphone dock

updated 01:36 am EDT, Fri April 11, 2014

Charming, surprising, intriguing finds coming to market soon

Now that we've had time to recover from the fury of meeting so many vendors at this year's Macworld, MacNN and Electronista have had a little time to reflect on some of the products and services we saw there. Many have yet to come to market -- a running joke was the number of projects crowdfunded last summer that will be arriving in stores soon -- some have won awards, and some are just little gems we were delighted, intrigued and wowed by. First up in this ongoing series is a successful Kickstarter startup, Glowdeck.

If Glowdeck has a flaw, its that it might be trying to do too much. The creators describe it as a wireless charger, Bluetooth speaker, LED light system and Wi-Fi enabled notifications platform -- but what one sees is a cigar-box sized wooden (or black acrylic) box that looks vaguely like a futuristic-meets-retro digital clock radio. The Brooklyn-based creator, Justin Kaufman of The Power Sound & Light Company, describes it simply as "a companion for your smartphone." We call it a fascinating multi-purpose dock.

Lay your phone on top of the device, and it starts charging -- either because it has Qi-standard wireless charging already on board, or because a small Qi-charging adapter is being used (the Google Nexus, HTC Droid DNA and many Nokia Lumia models have this feature integrated; the iPhone 4 and up and Galaxy SIII or Note 2 and up need an in-case adapter) -- or users can connect through the available USB port to charge the phone if desired. Once connected, the front-facing LED screen can act as a front end for notifications, activate the phone's voice assistant, and play music. LED lights underneath it can be used to pulse with the tunes or as a notification system itself (lighting up when a call, email, message or important notification arrives).

The device, which comes in a choice of wood-grain finishes or black acrylic (we were fondest of the walnut and black models, personally), blew past its original $30,000 Kickstarter goal and is now up above $105,000 with 19 days still to go. Already, the company has promised that early backers will receive an included Qi-charging adapter for 30-pin, Lightning or USB if they need it as a reward for the successful fundraising.

In addition, Kaufman says it the first Qi-based charger that actually knows a users' phone's exact charge level, and thus does not overcharge the device, which could shorten its battery life. The unit also has a pair of 5W full-range speakers (101 dB SNR, 0.03 percent THD+N, 67 dB minimum PSRR) and a noise-cancelling microphone, allowing users to activate voice assistants, take and make calls and enjoy music or other audio. It also has a wireless range of up to 100 feet.

Using the mobile app to control Streams OS
Using the mobile app to control Streams OS

Glowdeck also has a web notification platform called Streams, that lets users pick out subjects, sites, alerts, social message posts -- anything that can be a notification -- through an iOS or Android (or browser-based) app, and then the Glowdeck will post them on its LED screen or flash lighting as desired for notifications. The lighting, which can be set as desired (including "do not disturb" modes) gives the effect of the box "floating" when in use. The entire case can be pressed as a button (front, right or left) to activate the notifications system or speakerphone, music or engage the phone's voice assistant.

The device is expected to be shipped to backers in August, and available for retail shortly afterwards. Currently, the unit can be pre-ordered to help further fund the project. Backers at a minimum $85 can request a copy of the actual hardware board used in the Glowdeck, which has been open-sourced for "maker" type projects. Backers of at least $190 and higher will get an early production unit well ahead of its retail arrival, which is said to be priced significantly higher.

The Glowdeck looks good as a bedside unit, or on a desk or countertop -- wherever the user spends most of their time at home. With the versatility of this smartphone docking station and its use of both advanced technologies (like Qi-charging and Bluetooth 4.0) and whimsical fun features (the "float" effect of the lights, which can rock along with the music, not to mention the entire top as a "snooze" bar) make it easy to see why it was so quickly funded. Those interested can still get in on the ground floor, make suggestions for feature additions and even get the board and make a custom version if so inclined.

by MacNN Staff



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