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Tech Lab Plus

Helping your iPhone keep an eye on you

Swivl robotic smartphone holder by Satarii Inc.

$179 at swivl.com.

Product scheduled to ship by end of March.

Ever wish your iPhone could keep an eye on you? For instance, when you’re hanging out with friends and want a video record of the occasion? You could prop the phone against a stack of books, with the camera running. But what if somebody moves?

Some sharp California engineers have solved the problem, with a robotic phone holder that tilts and swivels to keep you and your buddies in the picture. Swivl is a battery-powered remote-controlled robot that works with a variety of camera-equipped smartphones, including Android phones and small hand-held video cameras like Cisco’s Flip. The robot comes with a small remote control unit that constantly transmits its location to the Swivl device. As the person holding the remote moves, the Swivl keeps the camera aimed at him.

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For better sound quality, Swivl has built a microphone into the little remote. Alas, it works only for iPhone users, who can download an app that captures the microphone’s audio stream and lets you start and stop the camera remotely.

Swivl is too costly for once-in-a-while shooters. But it’s a clever accessory for video buffs who can’t sit still.

Serve digital payment system from American Express Co.

Free signup at serve.com

With children in college, there’s no escape from those occasional emergency phone calls asking for extra money. I’ve got an account at WesternUnion.com for just such crises. But nobody wants to pay Western Union’s steep money transfer fees, so don’t. Instead, use Serve, an online service from American Express that lets you transfer cash via e-mail, at no charge.

My daughter and I signed up for the service at serve.com. In exchange, we each received a Serve card, which works in any standard ATM machine and can be used to make purchases at any retailer that accepts American Express cards. I linked my Serve card to my checking account and can instantly move chunks of money from one to the other, on a desktop computer, or through apps for the iPhone, Android, or Windows smartphone.

Since my daughter is a Serve member, I can e-mail her some money at any time. Once she responds to the message, the cash is instantly transferred from my Serve account to hers. She gets one free ATM withdrawal per month; additional withdrawals cost $2 each. Or she can use the card to buy textbooks, junk food, and the like, and pay no fee at all. Scraping up extra cash for the kids is never fun, but Serve’s instant free cash transfers help to ease the pain.

HP Wireless Audio Solution by Hewlett-Packard Co.

$87.28 at Amazon.com.

Speaker wire could be headed the way of picture-tube TVs, as companies roll out wireless speakers that draw music right out of the air. Some of them connect to a home Wi-Fi network, while others have embraced a new wireless audio system called Kleer that beams high-quality audio directly from source to speaker.

Hewlett-Packard Co. is betting big on Kleer by building it into some laptops. But it’s not of much use unless you already have Kleer-compatible speakers. And what if you don’t want to buy a new computer?

HP’s answer is this little kit, which adds Kleer capability to any PC and any speaker. Just plug the USB transmitter dongle into your computer and install the driver software. Then plug the receiver box into a power outlet and connect the speakers. It works with analog or digital speaker interfaces and supports headphones.

The system has a range of about 100 feet and delivers excellent sound quality. I’m in no hurry to unwire my living room speakers, but HP Wireless Audio is an attractive option for those who are.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.

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