Tech products for use at home while isolating

Here are several technology products suited for these unusual times while isolating at home, spending more time with our devices, and looking for new things to do.

Phone, iPad and Notebook Stands

With all of the zoom and FaceTime calls, perhaps you want to look your best and position the camera on your device so others are not seeing your knees or looking up your nostrils. I needed something to prop up my notebook, iPad and phone when making video calls.  A visit to Amazon turned up scores of solutions. I ended up with these two gadgets that work well. They’re each machined out of aluminum, nicely finished, and very inexpensive.

The Nulaxy A4 Cell Phone Stand is a foldable, adjustable phone easel.  It works with all phones and allows you to position the phone at just the right angle. When I’m working out with my trainer remotely over FaceTime, this allows me to position the phone so she can monitor my routines.  $12.99 to $14.99

As an aside, I’ve noticed how prices for the same item seem to change frequently on Amazon, apparently done automatically based on algorithms with adjustments made based on competitive offerings. I bought the cell phone stand for $13 several weeks ago and now it’s $15. Still a good deal, but look around for nearly identical items that might be a few dollars less.

This clever PTuna laptop and tablet stand starts out in a slim compact form – slightly longer than a pencil – that expands into a sturdy stand to prop your laptop up to a 35-degree angle, raising the camera by 6-inches, perfect for your zoom calls.  It too is constructed of high quality aluminum alloy that’s nicely finished with no sharp corners or edges. It has silicone pads to protect the notebook and desk or table from scratches. I picked this one because it was the lowest price among a half dozen near identical offerings. 

Active Words

While stuck at home, there’s no better time than to learn some new software. I did that with a new email product, Superhuman, reviewed last week, spending time reorganizing my email and changing how I dealt with the barrage.

I’ve also been spending time with my less-used Windows PC, updating to the latest Windows OS, and trying out ActiveWords 4.0, a unique product only available on Windows.  It’s so good, I can understand why some of its users say they’ve moved to a PC from a Mac just for this product.

Active Words is one of those products that nearly all its users rave about. But because it’s from a tiny company without much of an advertising budget, it has more of a cult following and depends on word of mouth. It’s one of the most useful add-ons for a PC ever made. It quickly installs and works in the background, no matter what you’re doing. Using a few keystrokes, it performs actions that would normally require much more effort, and saves a huge amount of time. You can quickly open specific programs, go to a specific website, or get to a specific folder. You can auto-correct text, insert specific phrases or even write a complete canned email with a couple of keystrokes. There are also dozens of free add-ins designed for specific occupations and special software platforms. It’s just $30 with a 90-day free trial, and you can use it on four devices.  It reminds me a bit of Superhuman in that it empowers special keystrokes with specific actions that save a lot of time. Well worth the money and certainly worth the short time it takes to master.

UAG Urban Armor Gear Cases

I’ve been spending more time with my phone and laptop at home, carrying them from room to room and onto the backyard deck, guarding them with my life, because, after all, they’re our lifeline to the world these days. I want them protected from the knocks, bumps, and drops. Among all the cases I’ve tried for my iPhone X, I keep returning to the UAG Monarch case. It’s the best combination of strength, lightness and solid feel in the hand. It’s made of several layers of material: a polycarbonate shear plate, a carbon fiber inlay, a TPU bumper frame and screws holding the intricate assembly all together. It’s survived multiple drops because of its rugged construction, especially its reinforced protection on the corners, where the phone is most vulnerable. UAG makes models for most phone models in a variety of styles. I’ve always found their products to be very well designed. sturdy and made with premium materials. About $60.

For my laptop I’m using their 13″ sleeve that zips open, letting me keep my new MacBook Pro computer protected even while in use. It’s rugged, flexible and provides solid protection. It’s easy to grasp unlike the slippery notebook on its own.  It meets standard military drop tests, but I haven’t had to test that claim yet. Also about $60.


Roku Streaming Stick

Now that I’ve shedded my cable TV service and am streaming TV shows and other entertainment, I’ve come to realize that most everyone should try streaming, even those that have chosen to retain their cable TV. It’s inexpensive and provides access to a huge array of entertainment services.  And because none of the services require long term commitments, you can binge watch a few series or movies one month using one service and another the next month.  The Roku device is a one time purchase with no monthly costs. If you have a smart TV more than a few years old, you’ll find services that go well beyond what’s built into your set, such as Apple TV and the Disney Channel. (In fact we recently watched The Daily Show on Apple TV and Hamilton on Disney, both highly recommended.)

Think of your TV without cable as just a huge dumb computer display. The Roku plugs into one of the TV inputs and turns it into a smart TV with everything you need for watching streaming video. It has the software and WiFi that allows you to connect to all of the entertainment services.

While there’s a whole line of Roku products that are quite confusing, I recommend the Streaming Stick model that normally costs $50, but is now on sale for $40 and comes with its own remote control.

But like most everything, there are a few caveats. Roku has positioned itself as being content neutral and offering us all available services, but is showing signs of shifting their model. They still have not come to agreement with AT&T to offer the new HBO Now channel and may start competing with the streaming services by offering their own content. For now they still offer the best way to access most of the streaming channels.


These times are unique for many of us. No need to rush through anything, considering we have the time to indulge, study, read or just entertain ourselves. It’s a time to do things we might never have tried before. It might be learning a new skill such as trying out new software, learning to cook, or repairing a broken toilet. I’ve done all of these these while under self-isolation, and am now much more skilled thann when I began this shutdown in March. Thank goodness for small things.

by Phil Baker