Maybe it’s back-to-school gear.
Maybe you’re seeking tech help for a late-summer outdoor excursion.
Maybe you’re one of the proud few who wrap up holiday shopping before football season — or you’re sick of being jealous of those people while scrambling in mid-December.
Regardless, now’s the perfect time to check out these 10 personal-tech offerings. Some boast military connections, some offer military discounts, some are recommended from troops and family members with substantial subject-matter expertise. Regardless, they’re worth a look before your next gadget run:
ONE CLEVER CASE
Gear: Lifeproof FRE phone case.
Why: If you’re tethered to your smartphone, best to ensure it can survive most anything — even the end of the world.
Daniel Gomez, an Army veteran, and his wife, Johanna, are the two-person band behind “RED,” an interactive experience/show in New York City where audience members role-play and problem-solve their way through a story of post-apocalyptic survival. When he’s not designing the show, Gomez is doing everything else that comes with being his own boss.
“As a small-business owner, I literally have to fish my phone out of my pocket every five minutes, while I’m multitasking,” said Gomez, who designed immersive training scenarios for special operators while in uniform. “I’m not the most coordinated individual, so I must have dropped the thing at least 100 times this past year.”
The waterproof case can survive a two-meter drop, per the Lifeproof website, and doesn’t add much bulk — the iPhone 7 variant weighs 1.23 ounces. It’ll also stand up to a family-style beating.
“The kids throw it randomly around the room, drool on it, and cover it with spaghetti sauce,” said Gomez, whose show offers a military discount. “This thing should have been a goner a long time ago.”
Price: Varies by model. $89.99 for the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S8, less for some older or smaller phones.
EVERYBODY SAY ‘CHEESE’
Why: Trying to get the whole family in front of a camera to send a message or talk online with a deployed spouse? This rig is “perfect for including yourself in all the pictures and videos you capture, without hassle from the kiddos trying to take away your phone,” said Maria Cordova — mom of two, Navy brat, wife of an Army officer and author of “The ABCs of the Army” children’s book.
The adapter fits any smartphone up to 3.3 inches wide. On the go? It’ll also attach to a selfie stick. The tripod weighs 3 pounds, can handle most digital cameras and comes with a carrying case.
It’s “great for FaceTime with less interruption and hang-ups,” said Cordova, who’s online at www.mariacordova.com. “We all have been there — your kiddo accidentally presses the ‘end’ button, and you’re hoping your service member will call back, for the fifth time. Distance your phone from the subject.”
Price: $23.49 (tripod); $7.89 (clip).
VR ON SALE
Gear: Oculus Rift and Touch controllers bundle.
Why: With competition heating up from Sony and HTC, the company that once was synonymous with virtual reality has gutted the price on its signature Rift device. You’ll also get two Touch controllers, all for hundreds less than what the Rift was going for earlier this year.
Check your PC to ensure it can handle the processing requirements.
Price: $399.99 for a limited time — what Oculus calls the “Summer of Rift.”
NOT YOUR REGULAR ROOMBA
Gear: Roomba 690 vacuum.
Why: One of the newest additions to the iRobot line is also the best-selling no-human-necessary vacuum on Amazon.com, likely for three reasons: Favorable customer reviews, a price that’s below other Roomba offerings (but above discount models) and new connectivity features that let users start their robo-maid via app or an Amazon Alexa-enabled device.
UP-ARMORED CAMO CHARGER
Gear: Poseidon portable charger.
Why: First, the practical — Dark Energy’s signature charger weighs 0.7 pounds and boasts a 10,000 milliampere-hour battery that’ll top off your cellphone up to a half-dozen times. Dark Energy says it can survive underwater for up to 45 minutes and has undergone “extreme drop testing.” It’s a good solution for a tech-filled outdoor adventure; it even has a built-in flashlight.
Second, the less-practical — the Realtree camo pattern with orange border makes for a unique look, it comes with a paracord charging cable, and not every charger can say it’s survived a shotgun blast from 30 feet away:
Price: $99 for the base model. Other options include an all-black version. Enter discount code DEMILITARY20 at the website for 20 percent off if you’re a service member or veteran.
HOLD THAT PHONE
Gear: Jelly Grip car vent mount.
Why: Don’t fumble for your phone while driving, even to check your map app — it’s dangerous and possibly illegal. Instead, Square Jellyfish offers this mount that’ll attach phones up to 3 5/8 inches wide to your car vent. The phone stays in reach, the dashboard isn’t marred by a suction cup, and the driver isn’t rummaging around the center console before every intersection.
Check your car before you buy — the mount won’t work with curved or circular vents. Square Jellyfish, owned by Navy vet Jim Chun, offers other gripper solutions, including small tripods.
PITCH IN FOR OTHERS
Gear: A donation to the USO earmarked for tech that’ll help deployed troops.
Why: The USO offers more than 700 computers for service members to reach out to their loved ones, along with kiosks that allow for Skype, FaceTime and other communication methods. It also provided 686,000 Wi-Fi sessions last year alone, along with millions of minutes’ worth of free phone calls and prepaid phone cards.
Price: $75, going to maintaining the USO’s technology rooms worldwide. Learn more here.
ATTACK THE CAC
Gear: A Common Access Card reader.
Why: When Michael Danberry started MilitaryCAC.com in 2007, “there was no real location that a service member could go” to troubleshoot any issues with their personal card reader, he said. A decade later, and despite Danberry’s retirement as an Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 in 2015, his site’s still the go-to for CAC reader help — uniformed tech support often points troops in his direction.
When the reader first became necessary to accomplish many online tasks, users “all had the illusion that they’d get a CAC reader, plug it in, and it’d magically work,” said Danberry, who’s now part of the Army Enterprise Service Desk.
The reality: More than 100 pages of information that Danberry’s put online, addressing common problems, offering step-by-step solutions, even providing guidance on making your mobile-device reader work.
Danberry doesn’t recommend a particular model, but there are dozens of devices listed on his website, and he said he owns at least one version of all of them — he’s outlined what works, what doesn’t, and where you can buy the gear.
Price: Bare-bones models are online for less than $10. High-end models, including some that serve as wearable lanyards or are no bigger than the CAC itself, are more than triple that amount.
Bonus: For more mil-tech solutions, hit www.milcac.us/tweaks for guidance on accessing multiple Defense Department platforms, updated regularly by Danberry.
TRACK YOUR TECH
Gear: Little Snitch network monitor.
Why: “When I research technical details online, I dig for facts that would be beneficial in a post-apocalyptic world,” said Kc Wayland, an Army veteran who writes sci-fi/horror and whose “We’re Alive” podcasts recently topped 60 million downloads. “This leads to all kinds of exploration of unique websites, many of which can pose a danger to my computer.”
Wayland relies on Little Snitch software to keep tabs on every packet of information that tries to leave or enter his computer — the user has a chance to stop spyware, malware and other bad news before it digs in. It also tracks which apps try to access the internet and allows users to block them, an advantage for those in limited-connectivity locations or facing data restrictions.
“Traveling from one Wi-Fi hub to another, from city to city, my laptop is protected from any possible backdoors,” said Wayland, who’s online here.
The Snitch is for Mac users only, but a similar program called NetLimiter will track your Windows transmissions.
Price: $45 for Little Snitch(free trial available). $29.95 for NetLimiter.
GAMERS, GET READY
Gear: A new gaming headset.
Why: Whatever kind of gamer you are, there’s a good chance something in your wheelhouse is about to hit stores. “Madden” football fans will have a new edition in late August, about the same time some PlayStation 4 users will have access to the beta version of “Call of Duty: WWII.”
So it’s a good time to get a new headset — take the gear on some warm-up laps with some older games before bringing the heat (and the trash talk) on the newer versions.
Some suggestions: Astro Gaming’s A50 wireless headset, a PC Mag editor’s choice, comes with its own base and Command Center software suite. And glasses-wearing gamers, take note: In addition to its memory-foam ear pads and high-end speaker and microphone, Turtle Beach’s Elite Pro series comes with the ProSpecs Glasses Relief System, what the company claims is “patented, pressure-relieving technology” to keep you, your lenses and your headset in the game.
Price: The A50 goes for about $300, while the Elite Pro tops out around $200.