The Stars of SkyMall

The products offered in the in-flight shopping catalog SkyMall range from novel to nifty to nonsensical. At PC World we love all things gadget, so we decided to take a few of the more interesting SkyMall products (think Poop-Freeze, Spy Pen Camera, and Feng Shui Compass) for a test drive.

Do These Things Really Work?

You're on a cross-country flight. You left your book at home. The in-flight movie is Ishtar. You're bored with the stuff on your iPod. So in desperation you reach for the SkyMall catalog located in the seat pouch in front of you. We've done this often enough to know that the catalog contains some genuinely interesting-looking products. Many of these come from well-known name brands, and they really work. But SkyMall also sells plenty of nichy, even wacky, products. We selected some of the most intriguing of these, ordered them from SkyMall, and asked our editors to try them out and review them. As you'll see, not all of the products received glowing reviews, but then again that wasn't really the point. Finally, we'd like to thank the nice people at SkyMall for cheerfully providing us with the information and demo products we needed to put this collection of mini-reviews together.

Check out some of these products in action in our video of SkyMall treats, hosted by Senior Associate Editor Mark Sullivan.

Time to Stop Snoring Wristband

The stop-snoring industry is a spooky place full of nasal clips, chin straps, and mouth guards. With the Time to Stop Snoring Wristband, the guys in the lab coats have escalated their war on snoring by bringing electrical shock therapy into the equation. The Wristband, a $50 gizmo that you wear on your wrist while sleeping, is equipped with a tiny microphone that detects snoring and sends a tiny shock to your wrist to “gently nudge” you into a different position.

Does it work? With the help of my wife, who tells me she is surprised the neighbors can’t hear me snore, I set out to find out. Night No.1 using the Wristband gave me a second sleep disorder – insomnia. I spent a good portion of the night staring at the ceiling afraid to fall asleep for fear of electrical shock. Alas, I did fall asleep, and apparently soon began snoring. With the device set to "high" it felt like a small animal was biting me in the night. So I adjusted it to a much lower voltage so that the shock felt only mildly discomforting.

After several nights of nervous coexistence with the Time to Stop Snoring Wristband, I've concluded that it doesn’t stop me from snoring; rather, according to my wife, it just reduces the duration of my snoring periods while I sleep. It also doesn’t stop my wife from nudging me to stop snoring. There's a high creep-out factor to using the Wristband, too: The pitch in SkyMall says that the product will help you “train yourself to stop snoring”--but all it really does is apply an electric shock to a bad behavior. You know, like the way you use a shock collar to train a dog.

--Tom Spring

Electronic Listening Device

Okay, this thing actually works. The Electronic Listening Device is designed to help you listen in on--and even record--faraway conversations. After inserting the 9V battery, I put on the headphones and set off for some long-range surveillance of the Macworld guys, with whom we share office space. Here’s what I (over)heard: “Hey, PCs really do suck.” “Yeah, man. Macs are way better.” See? It really works.

To aim the listening device, you simply look into the viewfinder, depress the trigger, and adjust the mic's sensitivity to dial down background noise and zero in on the conversation you want to eavesdrop on. This worked really well within a radius of about 200 feet. The device also contains a simple recording unit that holds 120 seconds of audio. It took me a while to learn to control the thing, but it worked as advertised. My only serious complaint about the Electronic Listening Device is that it’s made almost entirely of plastic--but then again its maker, SPION, isn't trying to win any big defense contracts with this product. Besides, whadaya want for $69.95?

--Mark Sullivan

Fortune (Feng Shui) Compass

Need help navigating through today's tough times? Perhaps you can find the directional edge you need with the Fortune Compass, which claims to combine the wisdom of ancient Chinese culture with hand-held electronic technology.This little device may be onto something. First I computed my Gua number; then I pushed the device's Fortune button to reach the Eight Directions compass wheel screen. Using it, I quickly discovered that my desk at work is set up completely opposite my Success direction--as always, success isn't just in front of me.

I obtained additional insights when I took the Fortune Compass home. After calculating a Gua number for my husband, I was able to point out to him that he sits in a chair that faces his Loss direction when he plays online poker. On the other hand, I was astonished to learn that the part of the couch where I plop down to watch TV orients me squarely in my Health direction. Hmmm.

If you believe in Feng Shui principles and accept the thesis that Fortune Compass has them in its grasp, this little device, smaller than an iPod, could help you with dozens of decisions every day. With it you can quickly determine where your power seat might be at a business meeting, for instance, or whether to accept the only available booth in a crowded restaurant. But you'll pay for the privilege that such power brings: The lowest-priced Fortune Compass model is $399.

--Anne B. McDonald

Spy Pen

Debonair James Bond wouldn’t be caught dead with a bulky black-and-silver ballpoint tucked in his shirt (or tuxedo) pocket. But I’m no Daniel Craig (or even George Lazenby), so as soon as I got my Spy Pen, I felt like a bona-fide secret agent. And spy I did, secretly recording the sights and sounds of a meeting with my boss, several encounters with coworkers, and even a discussion with my wife (sorry, honey). Impressively, the pen captured long stretches of decent-quality color video with the click of a button--and no one was the wiser. Walking about tended to produce jumpy Blair Witch-style effects, sometimes I ended up with long video shots of a wall or of someone’s shoulder, and the audio ranged from bad to wretched. Still, this $150 pen is a marvel of compact engineering. Plus, you can write with it. Now, that’s hard to beat.

--Steve Fox

Poop Freeze

Love your pup but hate the poop? Yeah--we do, too. So we'd jump at any product that could take the yuck out of our canine waste disposal duties. Poop Freeze purports to do just that by freezing the dookie into a solid lump that won't squish or smear. But in our backyard (I won't say "hands-on") trials, the squish persisted, even when we sprayed the, uh, poop out of the dung and waited the recommended 10 seconds for rigidification to ensue.

We don't know whether it worked any better in the Poop Freeze laboratories' clinical trials because, as you can (or can't) see in the picture above, the photographer discreetly left the target of the spray out of the picture. Nevertheless, this product's poop-centric label and general novelty value were enough to justify its $15 price tag.

--Robert Strohmeyer

Home Theatre Watch

I was a little leery of the $120 Home Theatre Watch after the instruction manual warned on page 2: “This watch have no waterproof; be carefully of water.” The instructions didn't get much more coherent from there, but I was eventually able to make sense of them. The Home Theatre Watch--made by a Chinese company called GForce--is fairly easy to set up and use. The device plays MP3s and FM radio (it comes with a pair of cheap-looking headphones, which sound about as good as they look), and displays JPEG images, but its main function is to play back MP4, MPEG, and WMV videos.

Using Windows Explorer, I successfully moved MP3s and WMV files over to the device, which connects to the PC via a USB cable, and played them back without much trouble. The product appears to be fairly well engineered: The buttons on the sides of the watch make sense and are easy to use; and inside, the various menu pages seem simple and intuitive. The video itself was merely passable, with a pixelated look (the screen is only 128 pixels wide), and the picture wasn’t as bright as I would have liked. Still, there's something oddly fascinating about watching A Bug's Life at life size; and the screen brightness might be good enough for viewing on a dark airplane, if you have nothing else to do and you can't find a SkyMall magazine to browse.

--Mark Sullivan

Table Tote Worktable

At first glance, the $60 Table Tote Worktable has some appeal. I’ve often wished for a flat surface that I could set up anywhere, anytime, so that I could work on documents. Regrettably, the Table Tote didn't deliver in the way I’d hoped.

The good: The self-contained Table Tote measures 13.5 by 10.8 by 1.4 inches, which makes it a fair complement to the size of many laptops. The bad: At 3 pounds, it’s a bit too heavy to qualify as something I’d want to lug through an airport or to meetings--especially if I’m already toting a large laptop. The ugly: The Table Tote's telescoping legs are awkward and can be hard to adjust to equal lengths. It's even harder to adjust the table to a height that’s appropriate to your seat. Verdict: I wouldn't trust my TV dinner to this spindly-legged thing, much less my laptop. (See also Weird and Wonderful Computer Furniture.)

--Melissa J. Perenson

USB Roll Up Drum Kit

The Roll Up USB Drum Kit looked good on paper, but it proved to be a disappointment in practice. The $60 novelty is made of flexible plastic, so you can roll it up and throw it in a desk drawer. I plopped the Roll Up Drum Kit down on my desk, plugged it into my Windows Vista PC, popped in the installation CD, and was ready to rock.

Unfortunately, the drum sounds gravitated toward the low end of lo-fi--kinda cheap and kinda crappy (which I don’t mind)--and they were further marred by a long pause between when I hit the pad and when the sound came out of my speakers. (I probably could have fixed this delayed response in the PC's latency settings, but I decided not to bother). Another disappointment: I couldn't get the drum machine program on the computer to play any drum loops, at which point I gave up. I did roll up the drum pad (possibly its best feature) to protect it from the dust that it is already collecting in my bottom desk drawer.

--Mark Sullivan

Wine Glass Holder Necklace

Absent-minded lushes rejoice: Never again will you have to wander around a dinner party wondering, "Where did I set down my wine glass?" With the handy Wine Glass Holder Necklace, your glass will always be right where you can find it--suspended in front of your chest.

Just clip the glass's stem to the plastic holder and you'll have both hands free to raid passing hors d'oeuvres trays with a vengeance. But be wary of sudden, erratic movements, as the holder puts your glass in dangerous proximity to your shirt, making dry-cleaning bills a common hazard. To avoid fashion faux pas, you should probably wear this accessory only with ensembles that include a fast-drying burgundy shirt and black pants. The Wine Glass Holder Necklace consists of a piece of plastic that fits around the stem of a wine glass, and a nylon lanyard that goes around your neck--and for all that fine material you'll pay only $24.95!

--Robert Strohmeyer


Our report would not be complete without perennial SkyMall favorite Dog-Off! It’s the "ergonomic, attractive and sporty" handheld device that emits a "corrective" ultrasonic burst of sound at your dog when he jumps on the furniture, drags his hind parts on the carpet, humps the legs of your dinner guests, or pees on the kitchen floor. Dog-Off emits an audio frequency that humans can't hear but that to dogs sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard. Dog-Off ($60) also features a very loud “personal alarm” that can easily dissuade a human being from humping your leg.

I know I was supposed to test this thing out, but I didn't have the heart to subject an innocent dog to the Dog-Off's ultrasonic blast. I can, however, attest to the ear-splitting shriek of the "personal alarm."

--Mark Sullivan

Want to see some of these amazing products in action? Check out our video of SkyMall treats, hosted by Senior Associate Editor Mark Sullivan.

For more technology weirdness, don't miss our slideshow, The World's Weirdest Keyboards, and our video, Weird Tech at CES: R2-D2, Digitized Vinyl and More!

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