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    Tech Lab Plus

    Nimble robot overcomes pet hair

    Roomba 780 robotic vacuum cleaner by iRobot Corp.

    $599.99 at

    My home could use a spring cleaning as much as the next fellow’s; probably more. But my big problem is clutter - books and digital gadgets everywhere. So to test the latest vacuum-cleaning robot from iRobot, I handed one off to Globe reporter Erin Ailworth, proud owner of both a cat and a dog, each unable to keep their hairs to themselves.

    So was the Roomba 780 up to the challenge of sweeping out Erin’s pad? “I was pretty impressed,’’ she said. “I didn’t have to do anything except watch it suck up a bunch of hair.’’

    The Roomba comes with a charging station and a couple of “lighthouse’’ devices that you can set up in areas you want the robot to avoid. Erin let the machine pretty much run wild. “It found every room in my house,’’ she said, continuing to sweep up for about an hour before the battery faded. When that happened, the 780 automatically found its way back to its battery charging station and powered up for another bout of cleaning.


    The new Roomba is a heavy-duty affair, with sweeper brushes that look as robust as anything you’d find on a standard Hoover or Dyson. It’s also quite noisy, Erin reported. But it did a fine job of tidying up behind her pets. As for me, I’m holding out for a version that will return past-due library books. And pay the fines.

    LifeProofcase for Apple iPhone

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    $79.99 at

    This tough-looking and costly case promises to be waterproof, dirt-proof, snow-proof, and shockproof. Three out of four isn’t bad.

    My iPhone 4S is far too beautiful and costly to sacrifice on the altar of journalism. No way was I going to immerse it in water just to test the LifeProof case. Then I realized that I could simply seal up the empty case, dunk it, and check for leaks.

    Sure enough, I found a tiny bit of seepage in one corner of the case - probably not enough to harm the phone, but more than I liked to see. Then again, I may not have closed the case properly. The video guide on the LifeProof website warns that this must be done just right to get a watertight seal. If you’re nervous about your ability to follow instructions, this may not be the case for you.


    Still, the case kept out quite enough water to protect the iPhone from a casual splashing. It’s certainly adequate to fend off rain or snow and rugged enough to preserve the phone if you drop it. And the phone works inside the case. You can even make calls on it.

    Overall, it’s a pretty good case for hiking the Appalachian Trail, but not quite the thing for swimming the English Channel.

    C120pico projector by Acer Inc.

    $229.99 at

    A portable video projector is just the thing for sharing your home videos with the family, or a PowerPoint presentation with the team at work. And here’s a projector that makes the process a little easier and a whole lot lighter.

    Your typical projector is the size of an old-school phone directory and weighs even more. The Acer C120 is smaller than a paperback book and weighs a pound. Yet it projects a bright, clear image that is more than adequate for use in small rooms. Setup and operation are painless; the projector plugs into a computer’s USB port. It takes a few seconds to install a bit of software - oddly, I had to repeat the process each time I used the projector - but from then on, everything worked without a hitch. Projectors never produce images as bright as a good monitor, so some videos were a little too dark. But overall performance was good enough for casual video viewing or displaying slides to a small group.

    Pico projectors have been around for quite awhile, but I rarely encounter them in the real world. Acer’s C120 might help change that. It’s an attractive alternative to standard projectors, at a reasonable price.

    Hiawatha Bray can be reached at