Review: Torso (bendable cable stand)
File this absolutely under 'cool gadgets that you don't need but really, really want' - the Kickstarter-funded Torso has now hit production and I've been reviewing it in the context of AAWP and Windows Phones, almost all of which have their microUSB jack centrally mounted on their bottom face - happily, for the Torso's vision, as you'll see. Summary? It's a terrific little smartphone accessory, with only one main caveat.
Is it a solid data/charge cable? A portable tripod? A stand for watching media? A headphone cable tidy? In fact, the Torso is all of these, rather innovatively using both modern USB wiring and grippy, bendable 'legs' to provide something which really can do all the jobs just listed.
Ignore the 'Android' bit on the packaging below - the accessory works just as well with Windows Phones. In fact, it works better, since microUSB jack positioning in the Android world can be a bit hit and miss, while all modern Windows Phones have their microUSB jacks bottom and centre, making them perfect for use with the Torso.
The idea, you see, at least for the core use case, is that the microUSB port is used as a mounting port (and, engineers, don't worry, I'll come to the obvious caveat below). For example, bend the two ancillary legs forwards and out (the metal used internally is very strong and has a good 'memory'), the central USB port backwards, and you have a pretty good deskstand, perhaps keeping your smartphone screen clear of desk clutter.
Admittedly, you can't put much pressure on the screen directly, so this is more of a display solution than an all-day working arrangement, but it's still cool. If you wanted to tap out a message (or similar), you can just pick the arrangement up, use the phone as usual and then pop it back down again.
The makers of the Torso also claim that the arrangement lets the gadget act as a camera phone tripod too - though, obviously, only in portrait mode. Still, with a self-timer set and not minding the aspect ratio, the Torso does in fact fulfil this need well, especially for phones without a perfectly flat bottom surface (or a flat surface to rest on). Which is pretty cool.
As you'll have gathered, the USB connections are all fully wired too. I tested it with several Lumias as a (short) data cable, with complete success. Nothing unique here, of course, the world is full of short travel microUSB cables. But think laterally again - what about charging? Which of us, in an emergency, hasn't stuck our precious smartphone dangling on the end of a cable from a wall socket at a friend or relative's house? The (rigidly) bendable qualities of the Torso mean that you can do this, at socket level:
Here using a kitchen counter back socket. Which, at least, will keep the smartphone from being kicked at floor level by kids in the hallway (a scenario which - literally - killed one of my previous devices!)
Returning to static uses, I've always been a fan of small landscape stands, letting me watch media while eating (for example) - my favourite is this keyring gadget. The Torso offers a couple of different ways to bend its legs into a practical landscape stand - here's what I used, happily (demoed with a Lumia 630, by the way):
Around the back, it's the same arrangement as for the desk stand, but with the thinner legs bent round further and the main USB port bent right back, to the angle required:
Finally, the makers of the Torso throw out that the device makes a pretty good headphone tidy too, coiling the main cable around and using the legs and cavities to 'hold' the earbuds and 3.5mm jack:
Although most of the static uses above are ruled out if your headphones are in place, the vital data/charge functions are still available, interestingly. In fact, the more I played with the Torso, the more impressed I was with the compactness of the design and possibilities. Imagine, on a trip, the coiled set-up in your travel bag. That's music, sync/charging, camera tripod and various desk stands catered for, all in one!
The caveat mentioned above is durability, of course. Not of the Torso, which looks like it'll last a lifetime, but of the microUSB port you're plugging it into. There are two issues - firstly the sheer repeated strain of insertion every time you turn the Torso into a charging or portrait desk stand, along with the weight of the smartphone pressing down at various angles, depending on how you've got it configured. The makers claim that the strains of insertion and mounting are no more than those from plugging in a traditional data or charging cable, though of course time will tell.
The second issue is one that the makers try to head off at the pass - with the slogan on the box top: "Bend it. Then Connect it!" You see, it's tempting to plug the Torso in and then to experiment with bending the legs, to suit a particular use case. Or perhaps to bend it roughly into shape, insert it, and then bend a bit more to 'fine tune' the shape. In each case, the lateral strain on the microUSB port on the smartphone will be much higher, especially if you give into temptation and use the body of the smartphone as a 'handle' onto the microUSB end of the Torso. And, as many of us have found out over the years, strain on a port ultimately ends up with broken solder joints and a potentially costly repair.
The technique then is to bend, insert, and then, if more bending is needed, to remove, bend again and then re-insert. Got it? Phew!
It all adds up to quite a bit of creative bending on a regular basis, plus care is needed, but the potential rewards are high enough, when travelling, to make the Torso something of a glowing recommendation. When at your regular desk or at home, there's less of a need and I'd argue that standard (more bulky) stands and chargers will offer less long term wear and tear to your phone.
For my next trip though, the Torso is already packed!
Reviewed by Steve Litchfield at