Wednesday, 13 March 2019

March 2019 'gadget guru' technology for TRE Talk Radio Europe

Here's a brief reminder of the tech I chatted about in my TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' conversation this afternoon:

Samsung Galaxy Fold

Once upon a time, mobile phones that folded in half, with the display on the top part and the keypad on the bottom. Today, folding phones are back on the scene - but we’re now talking about a folding display.

So let’s start with the Samsung Galaxy Fold. This is a slightly chunky affair compared with conventional devices: from the side it looks a bit like two phones stacked on top of each other.

On the outside there’s a 4.6-inch display, which is the sort of sensible size you found on a smartphone a few years ago. But the phone unfolds, with a tablet-sized high-resolution 7.3-inch display inside.

Samsung has gone overboard with the cameras; there’s a selfie camera on one part of the outside and then three on the other: a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens, a 16-megapixel ultra wide-angle lens and a 12-megapixel telephoto lens, which is the same kind of set-up as the new S10 flagship phone. There are also two more cameras available if you need to take pictures when the device is unfolded.

Inside it runs the Android operating system, offering 12GB of RAM, 512GB of storage and 4,380mAh of battery power with the option of wireless charging. There’s even a choice of a 5G model if you want to be future-proof.

The Samsung Galaxy Fold is due to be available from the end of next month with a starting price of US$1,980, which is just over £1500 (€1750).


Huawei Mate X

Let’s move on to the second folding phone - and, surprisingly for the mobile phone industry, it’s a very different device.

The Huawei Mate X doesn’t have a big screen on the inside. Instead, it’s on the outside. So, when the phone’s folded, you get two screens to choose from, one just over 6½ inches from corner to corner and one just under.

Open it up and they become an 8-inch display which, like the Samsung, is better than 2K resolution.

Because there’s effectively only one screen, the Huawei phone is a few millimetres thinner than the Samsung. The other big difference is that Huawei’s phone has an edge containing the cameras, which means the same camera can either be used for selfies or for taking conventional photos, depending on how you’re holding it. You'll find three built-in cameras: a 40-megapixel wide-angle lens, a 16-megapixel ultra wide-angle lens and an 8-megapixel telephoto lens.

Like the Samsung, this also runs Android and can support 5G: it has slightly less RAM but still 512GB of storage, there’s a memory card slot and a slightly bigger battery but no wireless charging. Availability is expected in the summer at a price of around €2,299 (just under £2,000).

Slide smart curtain system

The creators of Slide call it “the world’s first retrofit smart curtain system”.

What does that mean? Well, at a basic level it offers a remote control - but it also connects your curtains to the internet, which means you can program them from your phone.

So instead of an alarm clock- or perhaps at the same time as the alarm on your phone – your curtains can open automatically in the morning. If you’re going on holiday, you can program your curtains to open and close, giving the impression someone’s at home. And you can control them via Google Home or Amazon Alexa.

There’s a little box that attaches to one end of your curtain track - assuming it's horizontal - and pulley that goes on the other end. The control box has a wire that attaches to the edge of the curtains and runs through the pulley. Apparently it should only take a few minutes to fit, it’s all hidden behind the curtain and works with curtain tracks that are up to six metres long.

Slide runs off mains power and connects to your internet via WiFi, with an app on your phone for programming. There’s also an optional remote control you can buy – and none of this stops you from drawing the curtains by hand.

Slide can currently be found on crowd-funding site Indiegogo, where you can pre-order two Slide devices at a discount for $449; that’s around £350/€400 plus shipping, with delivery expected in May.

Teplo connected teapot

Here’s another crowd-funded project: an internet-connected tea pot. Why would you want one? Well, you can ask the teapot to brew tea based on your emotional state. For example, if it senses you’re tired, it can brew your tea at a higher temperature so you get more caffeine out of it. Or if you’re stressed, it’ll produce a more calming cup of tea.

This is a nice-looking piece of kit; not unlike a cross between a water filter, a kettle and a coffee percolator. It stands about eight inches tall, connects to your internet by WiFi and runs off the mains: sadly it’s currently only available for the 110v supply used in the United States and Japan.

You add cold water to the kettle part, you put tea leaves in the tea infuser, you select the type of tea from the Teplo app on your phone at this point - and if you’re after a really personalised brew, you put your finger on the Teplo sensor.

Teplo then adjusts its tea brewing based on your heart rate and body temperature along with the room temperature, noise level and humidity level. It heats the water, swirls the tea leaves in the water for the right time and then takes the leaves out so the tea doesn’t spoil.

You’ll find Teplo on Kickstarter: it’s expected to be available from April next year if everything goes according to plan, with a price of $299 at the moment (around £225 / €265 plus shipping).

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' tech for February 2019

Here's a summary of the technology I talked about in my TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' chat this afternoon:

Meizu Zero mobile phone

Chinese manufacturer Meizu has taken a recent design trend to its logical conclusion – or perhaps to its extreme. This is a phone with no sockets and no buttons, hence 'Zero'.

The phone looks like a single piece of shiny ceramic with a 6-inch display embedded in it. There’s no obvious way in except for tiny holes that are needed for the microphone – so, as you might expect, it’s protected against water and dust.

Under the screen is a fingerprint sensor for security. The screen also acts as the loudspeaker or earpiece – and there’s fast wireless charging. You press the side of the phone to adjust the volume but there aren’t any physical buttons there; there’s not even a SIM card slot because it uses an electronic eSIM.

The whole thing runs a custom version of the Android operating system and it is available to order for around a thousand pounds via crowd-funding site indiegogo.com

Moto G7 Plus mobile phone

Motorola is one of the longest-established names in mobile phones. It’s currently owned by Lenovo, the computer company, and it’s built a reputation for making straightforward no-nonsense smartphones.

Ahead of Mobile World Congress it’s announced four new models: the Moto G7 family, which consists of the G7, the G7 Play, the G7 Power and the G7 Plus.

The Moto G7 Plus is at the top of this particular range, although the lower-spec 'Power' has a better battery. Choose the Plus and you'll get an Android smartphone with a 6.2-inch full HD screen, toughened Gorilla Glass, an enhanced 16 megapixel camera on the back with optical image stabilization and a 12-megapixel camera on the front. The stereo speakers have been tuned by Dolby, it’ll recharge incredibly quickly and it’s resistant to being splashed by water.

It’s not some world-record holding top-spec smartphone with a four-figure price ticket: it’s £269 (just over €300) without a contract, which seems like a very good deal to me.

CleanseBot

Cleansebot is, according to the manufacturers, the world’s first bacteria-killing robot. Picture the scene: you turn up at your hotel, the bed’s freshly made… but you really don’t know whether they pay as much care with their laundry as you do. Never mind, you whip the Cleansebot out of your suitcase and put it to work, killing any bacteria that might be lurking below the blankets.

Cleansebot is a circular disc, looking a bit like a fire alarm, but it contains similar technology to a robot vacuum cleaner. So you switch it on, put it on your bed and it drives around for half an hour, shining ultraviolet light to kill bacteria. The light shines underneath it and also comes out the top if the robot drives under the covers. There are 18 sensors built in to make sure it doesn’t get stuck or fall off the bed.


The device runs from rechargeable batteries that’ll give it up to 3 hours of use; each automated cleaning run is either 30 or 60 minutes depending on your preference, so there’s plenty of power.

At the moment the manufacturers are taking orders via crowd-funding site Indiegogo for a special offer price of $99 USD, which is around £77 plus shipping. Delivery is expected in April.

Squegg

Squegg is an egg-shaped squeeze ball, hence the name. It’s the kind of thing you might have on your desk to help you relieve stress. Or perhaps you might want one to help strengthen your grip for sport or for physiotherapy.

What’s missing from a regular squeeze ball is technology. Squegg adds it. On the outside it’s a silicone ball but it contains a rechargeable battery, a Bluetooth transmitter and some sensors to measure your grip. As a result, it can talk to an app on your phone and track your progress. It’ll also play grip-related games with you and will even let you challenge your friends – a bit like arm-wrestling without having to be in the same room.

It’ll run for around 80 hours before it needs recharging – and if you don’t use it, standby time is over five months. US pricing is $39.99 plus shipping (around £36 / €41).

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' technology for January 2019

Here's a quick reminder of the tech I talked about in my TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' conversation this afternoon:

LG 'rollable' TV

This was one of the stars of CES 2019, the big electronics show in Las Vegas. Officially called the LG Signature OLED TV R (or the OLED65R9PUA, if you prefer), this has been described as the world’s first rollable OLED TV. The magic is in the OLED (organic LED) screen, which is designed to roll up. All the technology sits in a long box on the floor from which the screen unrolls upwards, as though you were charming a snake.

The LG rollable TV is likely to go on sale in the second half of this year; pricing hasn’t been confirmed.

Sony Bluetooth turntable

The Sony PS-LX310BT turntable is a record player; the kind of thing that would be immediately recognisable to anyone who’s lived through the 1960s, the 70s and the 80s. There’s an automatic tone arm that will find the start of the record for you and picks itself up at the end, there’s an aluminium platter that your records sit on and there’s a dust cover that also provides a bit of extra weight to improve the sound quality.

This turntable plugs into your HiFi system if you have one – but what’s rather neat is that it’ll also connect via Bluetooth to compatible equipment, which means it’ll work wirelessly with your Bluetooth loudspeaker, with your Bluetooth headphones and with the Bluetooth soundbar that sits under your TV. Sony isn’t the first company to do this – but because it’s one of the big names in audio, it’s worth paying attention.

The PS-LX310BT will be available from April this year, it’s likely to sell for around £200 in the UK.

Lovot robot

The Lovot – from ‘love’ and ‘robot’ – has been created by a Japanese company called Groove X. It’s a kind of electronic pet, which makes it a successor to the Tamagotchi and the Sony Aibo.

Lovot looks like a cross between a penguin and a teddy bear. It trundles around the floor, following you and waving its little arms like it wants to be picked up... because that’s exactly what it does want. Lovot has been programmed to behave like a little creature that needs affection. Give it a cuddle and it’ll probably fall asleep, leaving you feeling like a proud parent.

It’s expected to go on sale in around a year’s time; expect to pay somewhere around €5,000 for a pair that'll interact with each other.

Foldimate

Foldimate had a fully working prototype of their laundry-folding machine at CES this year, although exactly what happens inside is a bit of a mystery. The company says a typical washing-machine load of 25 items will take about five minutes in total to fold.

You feed each item in at the top - shirts, t-shirts, blouses, trousers, towels, pillowcases - and a little robot arm will pull them inside. The machine then automatically adjusts the folding method based on the item type, its size and your preferences, which means it can fit the folding to suit your shelf or drawer size. Each item is then dispensed in a neat pile at the bottom.

The company hopes to be producing the real thing by the end of this year for $980, which works out at around €850.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

December 2018 'gadget guru' technology for TRE Talk Radio Europe

Here's a quick reminder of the technology I talked about in today's TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' conversation with Dave Hodgson:

1. Meater wireless thermometer

Christmas is on the way and, if you’re a meat-eater, there’s a good chance you’ll be cooking a turkey or maybe even a goose for dinner. One of the challenges of roasting anything big is making sure the inside is cooked. What you need is a cooking thermometer – but how about a wireless cooking thermometer that connects to your phone or your tablet?

Meater looks like a regular stainless steel meat thermometer but without a display, It connects via Bluetooth to your phone, which means it has a range of up to 10 metres from your oven, although there’s a boosted version called Meater Plus that’ll work up to 50m away.

First, you install the special Meater app on your phone. Next, you charge up your thermometer and then you link it to your phone. The charger doesn’t plug into the mains; it uses a regular AAA battery that should work for up to 100 charges.

Stick the thermometer into the meat, open up the app and choose the type of meat you're cooking (or, indeed, whether you're cooking poultry or fish). You then select the cut of meat and the associated temperature, so if you like your lamb 'pink'.

The Meater app then gives you an estimated cooking time (and, perhaps obviously, will alert you when the meat is cooked). You can also check progress from the sofa – or the other side of the kitchen. In fact, if you use one of Amazon's Alexa smart home devices, you can link the two together and ask Alexa how your roast dinner is coming along.

Pricing for the regular version is £79 / €89 and for Meater Plus is £99 / €109.

2. PlayStation Classic games console

Here’s a bit of nostalgia. It’s 24 years since Sony launched its original PlayStation games console in Japan. For Christmas this year, Sony is bringing back the PlayStation Classic, with 20 games from the 1990s built in. Except this new PlayStation will be almost half the size of the original.

What you get is the console (it looks like a shrunken version of the original but doesn’t need any software disks), two controllers (again, scaled-down replicas of the originals) and an HDMI cable to plug it into your television. All that’s missing is a USB power adaptor, which seems a bit mean but I’m sure you’ve got one kicking around from an old phone.


And then you’ll be able to play classics like Final Fantasy VII, Tekken 3, Ridge Racer Type 4, Grand Theft Auto and so on. These aren’t updated versions of the original games: they ARE the original games.

PlayStation Classic launched this week in Japan, the US and Europe, with an anticipated UK price of £89.99 and a European price of €99.99.

3. Big Mouth Billy Bass

About 20 years ago, one of the best gifts you could give the person who had almost everything was Big Mouth Billy Bass. He looked like a stuffed fish mounted on a wooden plaque but could sing 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' and, rather disturbingly, would also turn to face you.

Well, Billy Bass is back. The company that made him – Gemmy Industries – has updated Billy with a Bluetooth connection and compatibility with the Amazon Alexa digital assistant.

This means is you can now use him to play all types of music, not just his theme song. But better than that, Billy can now answer any questions you ask Alexa. If you have an Alexa device, you can connect it wirelessly to Billy Bass and Alexa’s voice will come out of him. Billy’s little fishy mouth even moves when Alexa talks. Alexa, what’s the weather? Alexa, what’s the temperature of my turkey?

At the moment 'new Billy' only seem to be available in the USA: I’ve seen him on Amazon for $39.99 plus shipping.

4. Monopoly Fortnite edition

Fortnite is a video game launched last year by a company called Epic Games. In the game, you and 99 other people are dropped onto a cartoonish island. Your aim is pretty simple: survive until the end of the game.

But I’m not here to talk about the online game. What I'd like to introduce is the real-world antidote to Fortnite. It's made by Hasbro, the company behind much-loved board game Monopoly, where you throw dice, move around a board, buy houses and try to make more money than anyone else.

Now they’ve invented the Fortnite Edition of Monopoly. Instead of moving round the streets of London, you move around the Fortnite island. Instead of earning money, you collect Health Points. You build walls, not hotels, and every time you pass Go you unleash the Storm, which can take health Points from your opponents. Ultimately, the person left with Health Points at the end of the game is the winner. If you’re a Monopoly fan and you want to get the rest of your video-playing family into it, this could be just what you’re looking for.

It’s suitable for two to seven players, age 13 and up. Pricing is around £25 (€28).

Thursday, 15 November 2018

How Lewes bonfire was transformed by the Pope

In September 1850, Pope Pius IX appointed an Archbishop of Westminster and twelve other bishops. This recreated a structure for the Roman Catholic church that hadn’t existed in England for almost three hundred years.

The announcement was seen as hostile by many people around the country. Anthony Wohl, former Professor of History at Vassar College, notes that “several Catholic churches had their windows broken, and ‘No Popery’ processions were held throughout England”.

Lewes Bonfire 2013Effigies of the Pope and Cardinal Wiseman (the new Catholic Archbishop) were burned in Lewes outside the White Hart. In an opinion piece about bonfire celebrations, The Sussex Advertiser of 12th November 1850 (quoted by Brian Pugh in Bonfire Night in Lewes) said “since Dr Wiseman’s insolent usurpation the celebration of this anniversary has partaken to a much greater extent than formerly of an anti-Romanist character; and the substitution of the Cardinal for the almost forgotten Guy Fawkes seems inevitable.”

It’s around this time that ‘bonfire bishops’ started to make an appearance, writes Brigid Chapman, in Night of the Fires. “Soon they were preaching patriotism as well as Protestantism, and getting lots of column inches in their local newspapers as a result.”

Jeremy Goring, in Burn Holy Fire, points out that a Sussex Express article about the 1850 Lewes bonfire celebrations mentions a memorial tar barrel “ignited in sight of the spot where the papists were wont to light the faggot and burn to death their unyielding Protestant brethren”. He says this is the first time the paper had mentioned the martyrs of 1555 in connection with the town’s annual bonfire night.

However, he questions the timing of this interest in the Sussex martyrs. “Contrary to what the Sussex Express reporter maintained”, writes Jeremy Goring, “the strength of anti-Romanist feeling in Lewes probably had less to do with the past cruelties of Catholics than with the present activities of Anglicans.” He goes on to say “It is significant that the protests against the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy, culminating in a great bonfire in Lewes High Street, first took place at the very time when Frederick Teed, rector of nearby St Michael’s, was introducing what many regarded as reprehensibly ‘popish’ practices.”

This hostility towards Anglicans demonstrating any affection for 'high church' or Roman Catholic rituals was particularly obvious in the 1857 'Lewes Riots', which centred on the funeral of Emily Scobell. Emily was the daughter of the Rev John Scobell, rector of All Saints and Southover churches. Although her father's views were evangelical, she'd left home to join an organisation at the opposite end of the ecclesiastical spectrum: the Society of St Margaret, a Sussex-based religious group that worked to nurse the sick. This group had been set up by John Mason Neale, an Anglican clergyman who was often seen as pro-Catholic. Miss Scobell, who died after catching scarlet fever from a patient, had wanted to be buried alongside her mother at All Saints church. Her body was brought to Lewes by the Rev Neale and a group of eight sisters of the Society of St Margaret, who were met at Lewes railway station by a crowd shouting 'No Popery', according to Brian Pugh in Bonfire Night in Lewes.

After the funeral service, the Rev Neale wanted to enter the family vault in which Emily and her mother were buried. At this point the crowd became increasingly angry. "The nuns' habits were torn and Neale lost his cassock", notes Lewes History Group. Fortunately all nine left Lewes safely that evening, but not before half the group had been besieged in the King's Head pub for almost an hour.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, an effigy of John Mason Neale was paraded through Lewes during the following year's Bonfire processions.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' tech for November 2018

Here's the technology I talked about in my November 2018 TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' conversation:

Palm smartphone

Remember Palm organisers? Well, the Palm name is back – and this time it’s on a tiny smartphone that saves you from taking your regular smartphone out of your pocket or bag. It weighs 62½ grams, it’s 50mm wide by 97mm tall and it’s 7.4mm thick. On the front is a 3.3-inch touchscreen and inside is a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor running the Android operating system. The front and back are made from Gorilla Glass 3 and the phone is rated for IP68 water and dust protection. It even finds room for a 12 megapixel camera on the back and an 8 megapixel camera on the front.

What’s the point? Well, I suppose it’s a bit like having a smartwatch on your wrist – except this is potentially smarter but not quite so convenient. This 'companion phone' connects to your regular mobile number, so you can leave your big expensive phone at home and just take the little one.

There are two bits of bad news for Palm fans. Firstly, there’s not really any connection with the old company except the name. And the new Palm phone is currently only available from the Verizon network in the United States. So even if you spend $349.99 to get hold of one, you’ll need another phone on a Verizon contract to make it work.

Facebook Portal video screen

Facebook Portal is a smart display screen that offers hands-free video calling. There’s a choice of two devices: one has a 10.1-inch screen and one has a 15.6-inch screen (the bigger one is called the Portal+; it’s better quality and can also be adjusted more, but other than that they’re pretty similar). Both have Amazon's Alexa voice-controlled personal assistant service built in. They also have Facebook Messenger and a 12-megapixel camera, which means you can chat via video, with facial recognition enabling it to automatically zoom in on your face as you move about. So if your friends have got Facebook Messenger on their smartphone or their tablet, you can ask your Facebook Portal to call them. And because it runs on Amazon Alexa, you can also ask for sports results, weather forecasts, listen to music, do your shopping or control smart home devices. It can even be a picture frame when you’re not using it.

At the moment both devices are only available for pre-order in the United States, with the regular Portal costing $199.

Google Home Hub

Facebook has its Portal, Amazon has its Echo Show, now Google has its Home Hub. This is another voice and touch controlled information centre for your house. However, unlike the Portal, there’s no camera – so you might feel happier about having it in the bedroom.

Google already has voice-controlled assistants but this adds a 7-inch screen, so you can ask it for maps, for videos, for photos, for music, for recipes, you can look at your calendar, and so on. Plus it’ll connect with compatible smart home devices to dim your lights, adjust the thermostat or watch security cameras.

Google’s Home Hub is currently only available in the UK (£139), the USA and Australia.

iBubble underwater drone

This is described as “the world’s first intelligent autonomous and fully wireless underwater drone”. It’s from a French company called Notilo Plus, which specialises in underwater exploration, and essentially it’s a remote-control submarine that can drive itself.

You fit your camera inside, strap on your special wristband and the iBubble will follow you underwater for up to an hour and down to 60 metres - almost 200 feet - without bumping into things. You can tell it to follow you, to go ahead of you, to film from the side, to circle around you, to come to you or to stay still. It can also be connected to an optional cable and directly controlled from the surface using an app on your phone or tablet.

The retail price of the iBubble is $4,099 (around €3,600), excluding VAT and the cost of a camera. It’s designed to work with newer models of GoPro and other action cameras that use the same type of mount.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Rocket FM Lewes: 'Talking Culture' 29th October 2018

The music on my Rocket FM Lewes 'Talking Culture' show this afternoon included:

Pentatonix: Can't Sleep Love
Harriet: Afterglow
Rufus Wainwright: Across The Universe
Johnny Cash: Hurt
Mary Gauthier: I Drink
Ward Thomas: Guilty Flowers
Show of Hands: Walk With Me
Ellie Goulding: How Long Will I Love You
Justin Hayward: The Best Is Yet To Come
Norrie Paramor and the BBC Midland Radio Orchestra: Thank You For The Music