Tuesday 13 December 2016

My 'Gadget Guru' list for TRE Talk Radio Europe December 2016

Here's the technology we discussed in my TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' conversation today:

Leica Sofort instant camera

I’m old enough to remember when instant cameras were cool the first time round and Polaroid ruled the roost. These days, we can print our own photos at home, so there’s less novelty in having an instant camera, but they haven’t gone away completely. Fuji is one of the big names these days – and now Leica is after a share of the market.

The camera itself is quite a square, retro-looking design. There’s a choice of three colours: orange, white and what they call mint (pale green). It’s just under five inches wide and four inches high. It’s got the trademark Leica red dot on the front, has a built-in flash and there’s a viewfinder window rather than an electronic viewfinder. It’s also got a little mirror on the front for selfies.

However, don’t think this is entirely mechanical. There’s a little LED display on the back telling you how many photos remain in your film and letting you see the camera settings. It’s all powered by a rechargeable battery.

You can choose a special sports setting for movement, or another for portraits, there’s a timer you can use and you have three choices for setting the focus: Macro, Standard and Landscape. You can also override the automatic settings if you want to change the brightness of the picture, for example, or turn the flash off. You can buy Leica’s own film or use Fuji film instead. Developing each picture takes around 1-2 minutes.

The Leica Sofort has the equivalent of a 34mm lens (towards the wide-angle end of things but actually made by Leica themselves, so I understand), it has an f/12.7 aperture, which will help keep stuff in focus, and it offers of between 1/8th of a second to 1/400th of a second.

Pricing is £229 (around €265), which is a lot more than a similar Fuji camera, but this is as much an emotional purchase as a practical one.

Hypnolight LED lights

Twinkly lights aren’t just for Christmas but it’s very much the time of year when these things are especially popular. Hypnolight is effectively a 12 foot long string of lights (that’s over 3½ metres) with 50 separate LEDs.

What colours are they, you may ask? Pretty much any colour you want. That’s the clever thing. Each of the LEDs can shine red, green and blue – and you can mix these together. It means you get 16 million colours with 33 different patterns of making them light up.

You can also slow down the speed of the pattern or can have all the LEDs the same colour for mood lighting. They’re mains powered but are waterproof, so as long as you’re careful you can use them outside.

And as though all that wasn’t enough, you can synchronise up to four sets together for an even bigger display.

The price is £49.99, which includes the controller and the power unit.

Paulig Muki coffee-powered smart mug

This is a reusable coffee cup for takeaway coffee and, as the name suggests, it’s come from a coffee company in Finland. Paulig is the coffee supplier and 'Muki' means 'mug'.

What’s so smart? It’s got an electronic ink screen. That’s a bit like a Kindle or other eBook readers. It’s a monochrome display that only really needs power when it changes.

You buy your mug then download a free application to your phone. When you’ve done that, you can send pictures and messages to your mug. In fact, here’s the lovely thing, you can send messages to someone else’s mug if they’ve given you its unique code. So friends, family, couples, you can communicate over a distance.

The mug links to the user’s own phone via a wireless Bluetooth connection – and the power comes from the heat of the drink. As long as you’re drinking coffee (or tea), the thermal energy provides enough electricity to update the screen. That picture then stays on, even if the cup runs out of energy, until it gets updated with the next one. Each hot drink gives you enough power for around five updates, which is pretty impressive.

Paulig Muki is €59 plus postage and is available in three different colours.

Oneadaptr Flip power bank

At Christmas, you’re probably using your phone quite a bit; for photos, for Twitter, for Facebook, for messages, maybe even for talking to people.

What you need is a spare battery. So, if you’re like me, you may well carry a little power pack with you to recharge your phone. That’s all very well until the power pack needs recharging as well.

That’s where the Oneadaptr FLIP Power steps in. It combines a UK three-pin plug with a power bank. You can plug it into the mains to charge up, check the LED display to make sure it’s full, then it’s got two USB sockets for charging phones and tablets.

Fair enough – but what about carrying it around? Here’s the neat bit. The plug folds away, so the pins won’t damage anything. So you get a mains charger and a powerbank in a slim package that’ll fit in your bag. Now, the power bank is just 2000 milliamp hours, which won’t completely recharge every phone, but combined with the mains part I reckon that’s pretty neat. Price is £34.99.

And if you think just having a folding charger sounds cool, take a look at a rival product called Mu. They make a folding UK charger that’s much smaller and also a folding international charger that can be used in the UK, Europe, the USA, China and Australia. It’s the kind of design that’s so clever, it makes you smile.

Thursday 17 November 2016

The Kodak Ektra smartphone

The first piece of technology in my November 2016 'gadget guru' conversation with Dave Hodgson on TRE Talk Radio Europe was the Kodak Ektra smartphone:

This was announced at the end of last month and is due to go on sale next month. It’s been described as a 'hybrid' because some of the controls give the same type of functionality as if you were using a Digital SLR camera. Also suggesting a 'proper' camera is the Ektra name: this was first used by Kodak back in 1941, so there’s a lot of history there... and a fair weight of expectation, too.

If you just look at the basic spec, it’s pretty impressive: on the back is a 21 megapixel camera with an f2 lens, on the front is a 13 megapixel camera for high-quality selfies, there's optical image stabilisation (which helps if you’re not very good at holding the camera rock steady), 4K video capture (which is pretty much professional standard) and Phase Detection Auto Focus. That last one, also known as PDAF, is starting to turn up on high-spec smartphones. It’s been standard on Digital SLRs for a while; it doesn’t need to use the contrast between your subject and the background to focus – and because it doesn’t need to work this out, it’s faster and is also better in low-light or on moving subjects.

The new Ektra has its own built-in camera app with a Scene Selection Dial that lets you quickly choose settings, rather like a regular camera – so instead of leaving it in automatic mode you can choose preset settings for sports, close-ups, panoramas, low light... that kind of thing. And there’s a manual mode that lets you adjust exposure, the ISO rating, focus, white balance and shutter speed. Plus, almost inevitably, there’s a dedicated shutter button. And as well as all this built-in camera stuff, there’s also built in photo editing. It’ll even produce videos in the style of an old Super 8 movie camera.

Everything runs on the Android operating system via a 2.3GHz processor with 32GB of expandable memory. SIM-free pricing in the UK is expected to be £449.


Monday 31 October 2016

Talking Culture: 31st October 2016

The guests on my Monday 31st October Rocket FM Lewes 'Talking Culture' radio show were all writers: Emily Elgar, Beth Miller, Umi Sinha and Catherine Smith.

Music playlist:

The Beatles: Paperback Writer
The Puppini Sisters: Wuthering Heights
Pam Tillis: Mi Vida Loca
Cliff Richard: Please Don't Fall In Love
Brian Wilson: South American
Dean Friedman: Ariel
Talitha Rise: Invisible Fishing
Clifford T Ward: Wherewithal
Katrina Leskanich: They Don't Know
Agnetha Faltskog: When You Really Loved Somebody
Herb Alpert: Casino Royale

Monday 24 October 2016

Talking Culture: 24th October 2016

The guests on my Monday 24th October Rocket FM Lewes 'Talking Culture' radio show included Tim Rowland from Lewes Theatre Youth Group as well as Jo Beth Young and Martyn Barker from locally-based band Talitha Rise.

Music playlist: 

Paul Simon: Kodachrome
Paula Cole: I Don't Want To Wait
Ashley Tisdale & Lucas Grabeel: What I've Been Looking For
Neil Sedaka: Next Door To An Angel
Britannia High Cast: Start of Something
Eurythmics: Who's That Girl?
Frank Stallone: Beyond The Sea
Talitha Rise: Deadwood
Nellie McKay: David
Talitha Rise: Magpies

Wednesday 19 October 2016

Rocket FM Lewes: Talking Culture

Here are a few edited highlights from my Rocket FM Lewes 'Talking Culture' radio show on Monday 17th October 2016, with artists Susie Monnington and Keith Pettit.

Monday 17 October 2016

Talking Culture: 17th October 2016

My Rocket FM Lewes 'Talking Culture' radio show on Monday 17th October 2016 included Chris Stones from Glyndebourne's Education Department and pianist/vocal coach Carol Kelly in the first hour, followed by artists Susie Monnington and Keith Pettit in the second part of the programme.

Music playlist: 

Anthony Newley: Strawberry Fair 
Lenka: We Will Not Grow Old 
P J Proby: Somewhere 
Nanci Griffith: You Made This Love A Teardrop 
Eels: Losing Streak 
Cheryl Bentyne: Tea For Two 
Neil Diamond: Delirious Love 
Ellie Greenwich: River Deep, Mountain High 
Tony Christie: Louise 
Fun: Why Am I The One 
Gilbert O'Sullivan: Get Down

Monday 10 October 2016

TRE Talk Radio Europe gadgets for October 2016

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

Blue Raspberry USB microphone

Blue has previously produced other microphones called the Snowball and the Yeti, so don’t try to read anything too much into the 'Raspberry' name. The difference between this and them is that this is designed to be portable.

For example; you want to record something using your laptop or your phone. Maybe a podcast, maybe yourself playing a musical instrument, maybe your mates in a band. Either you use the built-in microphone, which is generally okay but not outstanding, or you plug one in.

This is the plug-in solution. I’ve been sent one of these to play with and I’ve grown very fond of it. To start with, it looks like a serious piece of kit: it’s got a built-in desktop stand, something of a retro appearance and it actually feels good because a lot of it is constructed from metal.

The Raspberry plugs into the USB connection on a laptop, with a cable that's supplied. If you’re using an iPhone or an iPad, it also comes with an Apple Lightning cable that lets you plug straight in. If, like me, you have an Android phone, you’ll probably need a little USB OTG adaptor – mine cost me 99p off eBay.

What’s really clever is that the microphone also has a headphone socket, so – just like the professionals – you can plug headphones in and hear what you sound like when you’re recording. There’s a control on one side for headphone volume and one on the other side for microphone level. A little LED shines green when everything’s okay but goes yellow or red if the recording is too loud.

One of the other neat features is hidden inside: the Blue Raspberry has what the makers are calling an Internal Acoustic Diffuser. They reckon this resembles the way that recording studios and concert halls are treated, so your recording is all about the voice or the music and not about echoing rooms. There’s insulation built into the stand as well, to reduce the risk of vibrations messing up your recording.

If you like figures, it’s up to 24-bit 48KHz audio, which means it’s decent quality, and has a frequency response of between 20Hz and 20kHz. Depending on how you adjust it, the mic is about 130mm high when it's on a desk and weighs 272 grams. It’s all powered from your phone, tablet or computer – so no need for extra batteries – and works with a whole range of audio and video recording apps.

Expect UK pricing to be around £170 when it goes on sale next month, both on the Maplin website and on Amazon.co.uk.

Google Pixel

Google has announced a new phone. In fact, as seems to be the way these days, they’ve announced two phones – both pretty much the same except for the screen size.

So we’ve got the Google Pixel and the Google Pixel XL. These are especially notable because they’re Google’s own phones. Although we’ve had Google-branded phones before, those were made in partnership with other big brands like Samsung and LG.

The standard Pixel has a five-inch screen and the XL has a 5½-inch screen: both very high quality. And both have a 12 megapixel camera, which will produce decent photos and can also record high-definition 4K video. They also come with fast charging – this is becoming pretty standard for high-spec phones – which means you don’t need to wait for hours if you need to top up your battery, and there’s a fingerprint sensor for added security.

A big deal here is a built-in feature called Google Assistant. If you’ve been using an Android phone, you’ll be familiar with Google Now, which lets you ask spoken or typed questions. This takes things a step further; it’s more like a conversation. If you ask it what’s on at the cinema, it will give you an answer – but if you then say something like “what’s suitable for children?”, it doesn’t start all over again but instead tells you which local films are good for families. It can also read what’s on your display, so if you get a text message, you can say something like ‘remind me about this tomorrow’, and it will.

The Pixel phones should be in the shops from the end of next week. Pricing is from £599, although I imagine most people will be choosing some kind of subsidised contract deal.

Amazon Echo

Something else Google announced was a little loudspeaker called Google Home, which is voice-controlled and connected to the same intelligence as those phones – so you can ask questions, check your diary, play music, that sort of thing – and also control your house thermostat or your lighting if you’ve got the right kind of switches.

But that’s not yet got a UK release date. What does have a UK release is Amazon’s equivalent, called Echo.

This is something I first talked about a couple of years ago, when it was just available in the United States. It’s a voice-controlled loudspeaker that can answer questions, control other internet-connected devices, play music and help you with your Amazon shopping.

The Echo speaker will cost £149.99, there’s also a baby version called Echo Dot for £49.99. The main difference is that the full-size version has loudspeakers for playing music and better microphones for hearing you. The Dot is really designed to be connected to your stereo or a separate loudspeaker.

Both of them connect to a voice-controlled service called Alexa. If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like Siri on an iPhone or Cortana on a Microsoft phone, you’re not far wrong.

So you’ll say something like “Alexa, play me some Bruce Springsteen” – and if there’s some Bruce Springsteen in your online music collection, it’ll do just that. Or you can ask it what the weather is, or to set an alarm, or what’s happening in the news, or how to cook comething, or to buy something from Amazon. And it’ll link to your smart phone – your online thermostat and light switches – if you’ve got that kind of thing.

The regular Echo is already on sale via Amazon UK, the Echo Dot goes on sale next week.

GoPro Karma

I’ve talked about drones before – remote-controlled aircraft with built-in cameras – but the technology has recently taken another step forward.

GoPro, a company best known for its tiny action cameras, has announced its own drone. It’s called the GoPro Karma – and it folds up for travel. This means it can fit in a backpack when you’re not using it; in fact, it comes with its own backpack just to prove the point. The drone itself weighs a fraction over a kilogram. So if you’re hiking or mountain biking, for example, you don’t need to hold on to the drone while you’re trekking cross-country.

When it’s time to fly, you get the drone out of your backpack, extend its folding arms and feet, then switch it on.

Folded, it’s 36cm long and 22cm wide – but unfolded it’s 41cm wide. Propeller length is 10 inches. The Karma drone has a maximum speed of 35mph and can be controlled up to 1000 metres away from you. Flight time is about 20 minutes until the batteries need recharging, which will take around an hour.

It comes with a controller that has a 5-inch touchscreen and an automatic routine for takeoff and landing if you need it. You can also set pre-programmed courses, so it’ll fly between two points or fly around the subject.

It can use a number of different cameras from the GoPro range; they fit into a special mount that keeps the pictures stable when you’re flying around. You can even take the self-adjusting mount [gimbal] off and use it in a hand-held grip for other stuff – say, shooting video when you’re running around. The basic price is $799 (UK pricing seems to be around £720), which doesn’t include a GoPro camera. If you want to buy one with a GoPro camera, the package will cost in the region of £1000 – that’s the drone, the controller, the stabilising mount, the grip, the camera and the backpack. Karma should be available by the end of the month.

Wednesday 14 September 2016

TRE gadgets for September 2016

In this month's 'gadget guru' conversation on TRE Talk Radio Europe I talked about Apple's new products...

Earlier this month, Apple announced two new iPhones: the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus. Essentially one is a bigger version of the other. Apple launched them with the phrase “The Best, Most Advanced iPhone Ever”… but then they would say that, wouldn’t they?

iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus
So what’s changed? Well, there’s a better camera. There’s a 12-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization, which means you don’t need to hold it rock-steady to get a decent photo. There’s a larger aperture – ƒ/1.8 – which means more light can get in, so that’s a good thing for night-time photos. It’s also a better lens, so you can potentially get more detail. What’s particularly interesting is that the larger iPhone 7 Plus has two cameras – not just the 12-megapixel wide angle camera but a separate 12-megapixel camera with an optical zoom.

The iPhone 7 is water and dust resistant to an IP67 rating and it’s now got built-in stereo speakers. There’s a new processor inside: Apple is calling it the A10 Fusion and, from a customer’s point of view, it’s not just more powerful but also helps the battery to last longer. And almost inevitably, there’s an update to the operating system – we’re now on iOS 10.

As usual, you get a pair of earphones in the box… but here’s where the iPhone 7 is a little controversial. Apple’s EarPods use the special Apple Lightning connector. That’s the same connector you use for charging. There’s no conventional 3.5mm headphone jack, although you are given a headphone jack adapter, so you can still use your old headphones and accessories. And if ou want to avoid wires altogether, Apple has announced new wireless headphones called AirPods.

The starting price: a 32GB version of the iPhone 7 costs £599 in the UK – and at the other end of the scale, the iPhone 7 Plus with 256GB of storage is £919.

But that’s not all. Apple also announced the Apple Watch Series 2: bad news for anyone who bought the original Apple Watch, because this new model is more practical and more clever. It’s now water resistant to 50 metres, so you can actually swim with it – and there’s built-in GPS for runners and cyclists. This means it can track your route without you needing to take your phone with you. In simple terms, you can use the new Apple Watch a lot more without having your phone in your pocket.

And yes, it’s got a brighter display and yes, it’s got a new chip and yes, there’s a new type of case and yes, there’s a new version of the Apple Watch operating system – which is watchOS 3, if you really care. Anyway, there are two different case sizes, 38mm and 42mm. Pricing is from £369 and, like the new iPhones, they’re available from Friday 16th September.

Monday 22 August 2016

Gadgets from my TRE Talk Radio Europe August 2016 conversation

My August 2016 gadget conversation with Dave Hodgson for Talk Radio Europe included the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, the Xbox One S, the Andromium Superbook and this - the AMPware dynamo-powered iPhone case.

This is being called the world’s first dynamo-powered iPhone case.

The basic premise of a dynamo is effectively the opposite of an electric motor: you turn it and it generates electricity. AMPware have taken a dynamo and squashed it into an iPhone case – and I mean squashed, because although it’s obviously bulkier than a conventional case it’s not stupidly big.

There’s a handle that flips out: ten minutes of winding the handle will give you something in the region of two hours of mobile phone use. Perfect if you’re camping, perfect if you can’t keep your hands off your iPhone. And because it’s a chunky case, it gives your phone a fair amount of protection as well.

I’ll be honest about the size: it adds a couple of centimetres to the depth of your phone, so it'll spoil the line of your suit and it’s no good for tight jeans... but is fine if you’re wearing combat trousers or keep your phone in your bag. It weighs around 4 ounces, which means it’s not much less than an iPhone. But this isn’t about being slim – it’s about staying connected.

If you want to stay connected with the AMPWare Power Generating iPhone Case you’ll need either an Apple iPhone 6 and 6S – that’s all it works with at the moment – and something in the region of £69.99 [around €80].

Sunday 10 July 2016

It turns out that helping is the main thing

"It turns out that helping is the main thing. If you feel that you have a use, if you think your writing furthers life or truth in some way, then you keep writing. But if that feeling stops, you have to find something else to do. Or die, I guess. Or mow the lawn, or go somewhere and do something, like visit a historic house, or clean up a room, or teach people something that you think is worth knowing."

From 'The Anthologist' by Nicholson Baker.

Tuesday 31 May 2016

My TRE Talk Radio Europe gadgets for May 2016

Here's the technology that I've been talking about in my role as TRE Talk Radio Europe's 'gadget guru' this afternoon:

Wherecom S3 smartwatch

Smartwatches are starting to become pretty standard technology: generally they connect with your mobile phone and let you check messages, look at directions, monitor your session at the gym… that kind of thing. Some of them even have their own mobile connection, so you can make calls from them without needing to have your phone with you.

This one – the Wherecom S3 – is designed for older people. In fact, you could even say it’s designed for the children of older people.

At first glance it’s pretty much as you might expect: this looks like a chunky digital watch with a 1½-inch colour display.

As well as being able to make calls and send messages, it includes an SOS button that the wearer can press if they’re in trouble. This then automatically contacts their chosen person (or people) and sends them a message via a special Wherecom app with your location, so they know the wearer needs help and they know where to find them. It can use the mobile network or WiFi to send that message, whichever is available, and works out where the wearer is by a combination of GPS, mobile network signals and WiFi hotspots. As well as this, there’s an alarm reminder for people who take regular medication and a pedometer.

It all runs on a version of the Android operating system and has a rechargeable battery that lasts for up to two days on a single charge,

Pricing without a connection is expected to be 149 Euros from September; it’s also likely to be offered as a package by European retailers.

Dyson Supersonic hair dryer

Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld was in some newspapers at the weekend because he’s been promised one of these for his cat.

That very much makes the point that the Dyson Supersonic hairdryer is quieter than conventional machines and – perhaps more importantly to most people – it’s also less damaging to hair.

This is from James Dyson, who’s previously produced vacuum cleaners, hand dryers and fans – so perhaps it’s no surprise that he’s started making hairdryers. In fact, the company says it’s invested £50 million in developing the product.

That, perhaps, is one of the reasons this is so expensive: it’s priced at £299 (around €400).

So what do you get for your money?

Well, there’s an air pump in the handle, which is the same basic theory as the Dyson desk fans. Apparently the motor is eight times faster than some other dryers, but it’s quieter because it’s surrounded by acoustic silencers. Instead of a pointed nozzle, the air is propelled out of something that looks more like a tube – and that means the back of the dryer won’t get clogged up with fluff.

As well as all those advantages, it’s designed to eliminate one particular hair-related problem: having your hair next to the dryer slows down the airflow… and that means your hair overheats, with the water in your hair expanding, damaging the fibres and making it look dull. The Dyson is regulated with four precision temperature settings and three speed settings.

You can order it online now; it should be available in the UK from the end of June.

ROAM-e flying selfie camera

That description pretty much sums up this device, which means it’s either an inspired piece of technology or the kind of thing that precedes the four horsemen of the apocalypse, depending on your perspective. I can’t help but notice that the manufacturers aren’t using the word ‘drone’, which has negative connotations to some people. Mind you, so does the word ‘selfie’.

Today isn’t the first time I’ve talked about this kind of thing – last year there was the launch of a flying camera called Lily – but the ROAM-e camera is different, not least because the company behind it has signed a deal with one of the big consumer electronics distributors in the United States. It’s going on sale in June and, depending on how things go, could be one of the big Christmas presents of this year.

So… it looks around the same size as a 660ml bottle of water, but it’s white and has two sets of rotor blades on top, like a helicopter. These blades fold down, so you can put it in a bag and carry it around.

It runs from a rechargeable battery that will keep it flying for 20 minutes and can recharge in just two hours.

In simple terms, you can show it your face and then it remembers who you are and follows you around. It can take 5 megapixel photos, 360-degree panoramic pictures and can even stream live video.

As well as staying relatively close to you for selfies – there’s something like a five-metre range – you can also use it as a conventional drone up to 25 metres away.

The ROAM-e flying selfie camera is currently available online for $499 Australian dollars (approximately £250), with delivery due 12 weeks after ordering.

Omnio Stroller

Gadgets don’t all need to be about microtechnology. This is about making life easier for the parents and grandparents of young children.

The Omnio Stroller is what some people would call a ‘stroller’ and I’d call a ‘pushchair’. It’s designed for toddlers but can be carried like a backpack when you’re not using it.

This has actually been quite a while in the making: it won ‘British Invention of the Year’ at the Gadget Show in 2015 and is due to be available from autumn this year. Right now you can preorder it from crowd-funding site born.com.

So – it weighs 7.2kg, that’s 16lbs, it’s rainproof, it’s sunproof and there’s room for a bit of shopping. It’s got a padded seat, a padded safety harness and an adjustable handle. If you look closely at the design you’ll see it’s got rollers instead of tyres on the front, which means you can push it forwards like a conventional buggy but you can also easily move it sideways.

When your toddler is walking, the Omnio stroller folds down small enough to meet most airline cabin baggage standards – there’s even a bag to put it in – and it’ll suit children from 6 months upwards until they weigh 48lbs (22kg; over 3 stone). Rather neatly, the padded safety harness transforms into the shoulder harness when you’re wearing it. But don’t think it’s only for airlines or hiking across the hills – something that folds down this much is also great for the boot of a small car.

Pricing at the moment is £273.72, which is 25% off the proposed retail price.

Tuesday 26 April 2016

My 'gadget guru' list for TRE Talk Radio Europe in April 2016

Here's the new technology that I've been talking about on the radio today:

Amazon Kindle Oasis

A couple of weeks ago Amazon announced a new eBook reader called the Kindle Oasis, which it’s calling the “thinnest and lightest Kindle ever”.

It’s actually around eight years since Amazon introduced Kindle – and since then Kindle has pretty much become a standard for reading electronic books.

We’ve already got the basic Kindle, the Kindle Paperwhite (which has a backlit display) and the Kindle Voyage, which is slim and light.

Now comes the Oasis, which is even slimmer and lighter. It’s also asymmetrical – one edge is wider than the other – which makes it easier to hold because the centre of gravity is moved towards the palm of your hand. You can turn pages either by touching the screen or by pressing buttons on the edge.


As well as that, it’s got a brighter screen and a longer battery life that previous devices. It's helped by a clever leather cover included in the price; that cover has a built-in battery, which works alongside the Kindle’s own battery.

The Kindle Oasis goes on sale tomorrow: priced from £269.99 in the UK and €289.99 in Spain.

Codeybot

People sometimes talk about technology being 'all-singing' and 'all-dancing': this little robot really is. It moves, it plays music and it shoots lasers – which is something Justin Timberlake never did.

It’s from a company called MakeBlock, a Chinese company that’s been making DIY robot kits for a few years now.

So… Codeybot is a wedge shape with wheels on one side. It either runs around with the pointed end at the front or can balance on its wheels with its pointed end in the air. It’s 163mm tall (or long) and is powered by a rechargeable battery that’ll keep it going for two or three hours.

What does it do?


Well, quite a bit – but you need to learn how to program it, which is the point. The manufacturer reckons it’ll encourage youngsters to learn coding skills.

Codeybot has an LED display, which you can put messages on. You can teach it how to travel on a certain route – or you can just make it dance on the spot – and it’s got loudspeakers as well, which can either play music or your own messages. You can remote-control it using WiFi. And there’s an optional laser for robot battles if your friend’s got one.

You program it using Codeybot’s own language. This language is based on a system called Blockly, which is supported by Google, so you're learning something that’s got more applications than just playing with a toy. It can either be programmed on an app for iPads or via Android devices, and there’s a basic voice programming mode as well.

Delivery is expected in August if all goes according to plan; current pricing is 129 US Dollars plus another $20 if you want the laser.

Lifepack backpack

Lifepack is a gadget for your other gadgets

At first glance it’s just a decent-sized backpack with a waterproof cover: 46cm tall (18 inches) and 15cm (6 inches) deep.

But it's got an assortment of clever features. None of them are unique… but putting them all together is a particularly good idea.

To start with, inside there are plenty of compartments and pockets to keep things separate – perhaps if you’re going away for a weekend but still need to do some work.

There are two pockets hidden in the straps and another two pockets hidden in the back.

There’s a built-in cable lock, so you can fasten it to something without worrying that a thief might try to run off with it – and the zippers are all designed to be lockable as well. Incidentally, the cable lock can also be used as a bottle opener.

As well as all this, it’s got some built-in technology. On the top is a solar-powered charger that can be used to recharge your phone or your tablet – and on the other side from the solar panels is a Bluetooth loudspeaker for music or even hands-free phone calls.

Right now it’s on Kickstarter: assuming all goes well, it’ll be available from October. The regular price is expected to be $249 but you can get it for $100 less if you’re prepared to invest now.

Nike HyperAdapt self-lacing shoes

Nike HyperAdapt 1.0 is - to quote the company - “the first performance vehicle for Nike’s latest platform breakthrough: adaptive lacing.”

In the film Back to the Future part II, our hero Marty McFly wore a pair of trainers that laced themselves when he stepped in to them. Now, just over 25 years later, Nike is actually making them. This isn’t a promotional gimmick but an actual working training shoe. They’re expected to go on sale around Christmastime this year, although pricing hasn’t been confirmed.

When you put your foot in the shoe, sensors at the bottom react to your weight and the positioning of your foot. A rechargeable battery then powers tiny pulleys on the top of the shoe that tighten the laces. It doesn’t actually tie them like a traditional lace, instead it tightens the loop that’s already there. If the fit isn’t quite right, you can push a button on the side of the shoe to adjust it. Better still, the shoe will learn from your adjustments so it’ll get better at working things out each time you wear them.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

TRE Talk Radio Europe gadgets for March 2016

The gadgets I chose this month for TRE Talk Radio Europe's The Daily all claim to be world exclusives in their way:

New Apple iPhone SE

Yesterday evening Apple announced a new iPad and a new iPhone.

The new iPad is the 9.7-inch iPad Pro – which effectively brings the original size of iPad up to top spec. Six years ago it all started with the 9.7-inch iPad, then came the smaller iPad mini, then came the iPad Air, which was thinner, and then we had the iPad Pro, which was bigger and with better specifications. Now there’s a smarter version in the original size – better display, powerful processor, clip-on keyboard – yours for £499 in the UK (or €679 in Spain).

But it’s the iPhone SE that’s really caught my eye. Apple is calling this “the most powerful phone with a four-inch display” – and that’s the interesting part, because phone screens have generally been getting bigger and bigger. Last September, Apple launched the iPhone 6S with a 4.7-inch display, while the iPhone 6S Plus has a 5½-inch display. In its way, this new handset is turning the clock back to 2013, which is the last time Apple announced a phone this small.

In fact, you could describe it as an updated version of the iPhone 5S, which it’s pretty much replacing. But although it’s the smallest in Apple’s current range of phones, it’s more like an iPhone 6S under the cover. There’s a fingerprint scanner for security, the company’s new 12 megapixel camera, HD video recording and NFC technology for mobile payments – all inside an aluminium body. If you compare it with the iPhone 5S, which was launched around three years ago, you could easily argue it’s more than twice as powerful.

It’ll be available in the shops from 31st March, with the 16GB version costing £359 in the UK or €489 in Spain.

LM Cable

This is being described as “the world's first iOS and Android common connector”. In simple terms, it’s a cable that can connect either an iPhone or an Android phone to your computer – or can be used to charge either an iPhone or an Android phone.

It’s being offered via Kickstarter with prices from 25 Australian dollars including shipping (around £13). Bear in mind that Kickstarter isn't a conventional shop; there are more risks involved if you back a project.

In its way the cable is very simple. On one end is a conventional USB plug. On the other is a 2-in-1 connector that can work on microUSB and Apple Lightning devices. One side of the 2-in-1 connector is for Apple devices; the other for microUSB devices, like Android phones and tablets. It’s just a question of putting the plug into your phone the right way round.

It’s a very neat trick and means if you’re the kind of person who carries a charging cable with you, then you only need one cable... even if you have a mixture of Apple and Android devices. However, if you want to charge more than one device at once, you’ll still need two cables.

LM Cable, the business behind it, say it’ll support fast data transfer and 2.4-amp fast charging. It’s a metre long, it comes with a little loop that wraps round it to keep it tidy and it’s made with tin-plated copper wires, which means it should be tougher than some other cables.

The Kickstarter campaign has about a week to run. They were after 5000 Australian dollars before they went ahead; the last time I checked, they weren’t far off a quarter of a million dollars in pledges.

Twistear

These promise yet another exclusive: they are being called “the world's first tangle-free high performance headsets with a flexible dual self-winding system”.

If you use a hands-free headset on your mobile phone, the wires can often get tangled. Not just tangled with themselves but you can get them caught on your coat buttons, caught on your belt, caught on your bicycle handlebars, caught on a door handle as you walk past – and it’s the same problem whether you’re talking hands-free or listening to music. Worse still is when your phone rings and you try to plug your headset in but it’s turned into a nest of wires.

That’s where twistear.com enters the scene. They’ve put a retractable mechanism in the middle. Now, there are already other companies out there doing this kind of thing, but Twistear claims to be unique.

To start with, you can set the length of the cables of the Twistear headsets independently. What that means is you can pull or retract the plug part and the headphones part separately. That’s particularly useful because there’s a clip on the winder in the middle of the cable, so you can put it on your belt or your pocket.

The earphones are high-quality, which is important if you like your music, and they’ll clip together when they’re not being used. Plus there’s a microphone on the cable for hands-free calls. If you’re interested in the specifications, the frequency response for the earphones is between 20Hz and 20KHz.

Twistear has been in development for three years, they’re due to start shipping in August and they’re also currently being offered via Kickstarter. Pricing is from $24 including shipping (£17; €21). It’s not quite reached its funding goal but seems to be on course at the moment.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

TRE Talk Radio Europe gadgets for February 2016


This week it’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which is THE big mobile phone trade show for Europe, if not the world. Samsung has announced two new flagship smartphones - the Galaxy S7 and the S7 edge, both of which have evolved from the previous models - while LG's new G5 smartphone is taking a new direction with its optional plug-in modules.

But the first device I chose to look at isn’t from one of those big names.

Cat S60 smartphone with thermal camera

It’s from CAT, the company best known for making construction equipment – massive tractors and bulldozers, that kind of thing – although they’ve lent their name to mobile phones for the past few years. As you might expect, they produce phones that are tough enough to survive being dropped or caught in the rain.

You won't be surprised to hear there’s a camera built into the phone – we’ve had those for around 15 years – but alongside the conventional 13 megapixel camera is a thermal camera as well.

The camera part is from a company called FLIR, who specialise in this kind of thing. It means people will be able to use this smart phone for things like detecting heat loss around windows and doors, working out where insulation is failing, seeing if electrical equipment is getting too hot and – everyone’s favourite – seeing people or animals in complete darkness.

Heat can be detected from up to 100 feet away and displayed as contrasting colours on screen.

As expected, it’s also pretty tough: waterproof to depths of up to 5 metres for one hour – that pretty much makes it an underwater camera, if you want – and it can withstand being dropped onto concrete from up to 1.8 metres.

Other specifications include a 4.7-inch HD screen and 4G data connectivity. It runs Android and is expected to go on sale later this year for around £500 / €649 SIM-free.

Sound Blaster Roar Pro Bluetooth Speaker

My next gadget is a Bluetooth loudspeaker: technology I’ve talked about before. You can send music from your phone to a Bluetooth loudspeaker without using a wire – and because the loudspeaker is bigger than the one in your phone, the music sounds better.

Creative Labs, who produce the Sound Blaster range of products, have now taken this a step further.

They’ve produced the Creative Sound Blaster Roar Pro, which is the successor to their regular Sound Blaster Roar product.

It’s not a single Bluetooth speaker – it’s actually a loudspeaker system in a box, with five speaker drivers, including a subwoofer, a pair of high-frequency drivers and two speakers that fire sound out of the side. Inside is an amplifier for the low and mid-range sounds, another for higher frequencies. As you’d expect, you can adjust the tone as well.

It’ll fill a room with sound – whether that’s an office or a classroom. All this in a box that weighs just over a kilogram and is 8 inches long: the same sort of size as a big, black book. It runs off a rechargeable battery that’ll keep it going for up to ten hours and can even recharge your phone.

The clever part is the optional wireless microphone you can get, which turns this from a Bluetooth speaker into a public address system.

So – you buy your Creative iRoar Mic and instead of having to lug around a heavy amplifier, a microphone and miles of cable that someone will trip over, you just take this little box and your iRoar microphone. This can be held, hung round your neck or clipped to your jacket. It’s three inches long and just over an inch wide.

Despite being wireless, it’s very low latency – which means there’s not a long delay between you talking and the words coming out the speaker. And there are volume controls on the mic, so you don’t need to run back to the main box.

As well as all this, there’s a built-in microphone on the unit itself, so you can connect your phone by Bluetooth and turn it into a very loud speakerphone.

Sound Blaster Roar Pro is priced at £169.99 and the Creative iRoar Mic is £64.99 (around €300 total).

Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+ portable games console

Back in the days before flat-screen televisions, producing a pocket-sized TV was a bit of a challenge. However, in 1966, a chap called Clive Sinclair managed to do exactly that. He went on to produce the world’s first pocket calculator in 1972 and then moved into home computers, with the ZX80 (pretty much the first computer that cost under £100), the ZX81 and then the ZX Spectrum, which became the UK's best-selling home computer of all time.

He then went on to produce the C5 electric vehicle, which didn’t do so well, and a range of bicycles too – but although he’s not stopped working, he’s not been in the headlines so much.

Last year, he produced the ZX Vega, which was a tiny games console combined with a controller that plugged into your TV, so you could play around a thousand games on this single device.

His latest product does what he’s very good at: taking his previous idea and making it better. This is the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+, which is described as the world’s only hand-held LCD games console that can also connect to your TV - and has a thousand licensed games inside. So this one’s got an LCD screen and rechargeable batteries as well. You can use it when you’re out, you can use it around the house, and you can plug it into your TV.

The concept design is by Rick Dickinson, who designed all of Clive Sinclair’s ZX computers, while its hardware and operating system have been developed under the leadership of Chris Smith, who’s a former ZX Spectrum games developer and also wrote a technical manual for the Spectrum.

Not only does it have a thousand games built in, it can also run every Spectrum game that exists – that’s something like 14,000 of them. If you weren’t around in the 1980s, you might not appreciate quite how popular these little computers were: most people couldn’t justify the price of a proper computer but you could afford a Spectrum. Around 5 million of them were sold.

This is currently being offered on crowd-funding site Indiegogo for £100, with production and shipping due before the autumn this year.

Zoom Arq

Zoom is a Japanese company that I’ve known about for a number of years because they produce recording equipment: little multi-track recorders, the kind of thing that’s really useful if you’re in a band or you make podcasts, because some of the combinations of features you don’t really get anywhere else.

And then last month they announced this thing. It looks a bit like a fat Frisbee and is called the Zoom Arq – or, to name it correctly, the ZOOM ARQ Aero RhythmTrak.

It's a drum machine, a sequencer, a synthesizer, a looper and a MIDI controller.

Arq comes in two parts: there’s a base station with a wireless connection to what they call the ‘ring controller’.

In the base station are hundreds of drum and instrument sounds, and various ways to connect it either to a computer or to an amplifier. On the ring controller are pressure-sensitive pads for playing drum sounds or musical notes. You can also program or sequence these. It senses movement so, if you want, you can incorporate that in your performance, too.

In a nutshell, it’s a musical instrument that you can program, it’s also a drum machine… and because it’s wireless, you can even dance around the stage when you’re using it.

So, for example, you can create really complicated drum parts by programming it – or you can play it live. You can write music on it. You can play music on it. You can record sounds, change them and then play them back in a repeating pattern. And you can control other musical instruments. All this can be done in a recording studio, into a computer or live on stage.

Availability expected in stores May 2016; I'm expecting pricing to be around £425 (€550).

Sunday 7 February 2016

Scam Victims Compensation Sanction

This was flagged as spam email when I received it. Surely it's post-modern art?
This is to bring to your notice that the US Department of the Treasury in affiliation with the Office of Foreign Assets Control ("OFAC") has been authorized in their Sanction Programs to compensate 1,000 scam victims who has being a victim of internet scam.The US Department of the Treasury has decided to pay you $250,000.00 USD(Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand United States Dollars) each in order to restore the global economy to the enviable standard of respectability.
Your particulars was mentioned by one of the syndicates who was arrested as one of the victims of their operations.You are hereby warned not to communicate or duplicate this message to him or her for any reason whatsoever as the US SECRET SERVICE is already on trace of the other criminals,these information should remain confidential till they are all apprehended,other victims who have not been contacted can submit their application as well for scrutiny and possible consideration.
You will be contacting Richard Berner directly by replying to this email for the release of your $250,000.00 USD compensation fund,he's the director of the Office of Financial Research (OFR).You are also advised to provide him with the under listed information for verification:
1)Full Names 2)Home Address 3)Nationality: 4)Age 5)Sex 6)Occupation 7)Phone Number.
Best Regards,
Jacob J. Lew
Secretary of the Treasury

Thursday 21 January 2016

TRE Talk Radio Europe gadgets for January 2016

My 'gadget guru' conversation on TRE Talk Radio Europe this month included a few products that had been showcased at CES, the consumer electronics show held in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago:

As well as providing a good idea of the trends we’ll be seeing in technology, CES also offers an opportunity for manufacturers to grab the headlines with some particularly audacious products. One such company was Ehang, based in China, which has scaled-up the concept of a regular remote-control drone and has made one big enough to carry a person.

Ehang 184 passenger drone

These days, what most people describe as a drone is a remote-control aircraft between 30cm and a metre across, with three or four sets of battery-powered rotor blades that spin horizontally to keep the device in the air. They often have a camera attached and some can be controlled from your mobile phone or tablet.

The Ehang 184 follows a similar principle. It has an aluminium frame with four pairs of propellers, it runs from rechargeable batteries and can carry a person weighing up to 100kg (around 16 stone).

Flight time is around 20 minutes, with the batteries taking two hours to charge. It’s not meant to reach the heights of an aircraft – it’s designed to fly by to 500 metres off the ground, although it can go higher – and has a top speed of 63mph.

During the flight the pilot/passenger sits inside an air-conditioned cockpit that looks a bit like a helicopter. They program the route into a tablet, then tell it when they're ready to take off and when they want to land. After landing, the propellers can be folded upwards so the whole thing fits in a car parking space.

Pricing is expected to be something like £175,000 when it goes on sale this year, according to the company. Of course, the big question is where you’ll legally be allowed to use it – there are already plenty of regulations about smaller drones, never mind one that’s holding a person.

LG HOM-BOT Turbo+ vacuum cleaner

This was also on show at CES: it's being described as the industry's first robotic vacuum cleaner equipped with augmented reality technology.

We’ve had robot vacuum cleaners for a few years now. Generally speaking, they look like a fat Frisbee, they run off rechargeable batteries and drive themselves around your floor; avoiding furniture, going under the sofa and remembering where they’ve been.

LG has been making these for a while... and now they’ve added augmented reality technology (a feature called 'HomeJoy') to their new cleaner, which is the HOM-BOT Turbo+. This lets you use a special app on your phone to tell the vacuum cleaner about parts of the room that need extra cleaning. You take a photo of the room using the camera of your phone and then tap on the appropriate part of the image. When you’ve done that, your HOM-BOT Turbo+ heads over there and begins cleaning. You can also steer it there yourself, using your phone as the controls, depending on your preference.

Like some other robot vacuum cleaners, this LG machine has camera sensors that record the surrounding area to track where it has already cleaned. It also has a camera on the front that you can watch on your smartphone. One of the things you can do remotely is control the vacuum and clean your home from wherever you are – but, perhaps more importantly, you can also use it as a security camera. It can even send you photos when it detects movement in the house.

Availability and price haven’t been confirmed yet but I’d expect it to be upwards of £500 when it goes on sale.

Withings Thermo WiFi-connected thermometer

Withings makes a lot of health-related technology, from watches that monitor your running to bathroom scales that keep an eye on your weight.

They’ve now come up with the Withings Thermo, which they describe as a WiFi-connected temporal artery thermometer. It looks like a slightly flattened cylinder; nothing like a conventional thermometer.

Apparently the temporal artery at the side of head is a particularly good place to measure body temperature. The challenge is doing it accurately.

So the Withings Thermo has 16 infrared sensors to detect heat. When you hold it against your head and press the 'on' button, those sensors take 4,000 measurements in 2 seconds – and it also works out how it’s being affected by the ambient temperature in the room.

It then sends the temperature readings via WiFi or Bluetooth to your smartphone where they can be seen on a special application. This means it’s much easier to keep track of someone’s temperature if they’re ill: you can see if it’s going up or down every time you check, without needing to write it down each time.

There’s also a display on the device in either Celsius or Fahrenheit; it’ll glow green for normal temperature levels and either orange or red if the person's temperature is higher than it should be.

It runs off two AAA-size batteries and should go in sale in the new few weeks for around $99.95 (around £70).

SoundBrake

Away from CES, this is a project that’s on Kickstarter. It’s a tiny little device called SoundBrake – and it’s designed to alert you to outside sounds when you’re wearing headphones.

So, for example, you could be on a train, listening to music through your headphones and you might miss an important announcement. Or you’re wearing headphones in the office and someone calls to you but you don’t hear them. Or you’re at home wearing headphones and you don't notice a knock on the door.

That’s where SoundBrake does its job. It’s a little box that’s about an inch-and-a-half square, with a standard 3.5mm headphone plug on one side. In it is a microphone, some clever electronics and rechargeable battery that’ll last for up to 100 hours.

This tiny box works with almost any audio player to alert you to outside sounds. So you plug it into your music player, your phone or your computer, and then you plug your headphones into it.

You then set a volume alert level that’s higher than the current average background noise level. So if you’re in an office with air conditioning, you can make sure it’ll only respond to noises that are louder than the air conditioning. There’s a button to set the level automatically and there are a couple of buttons to fine-tune the level up or down.

When there’s a loud noise, SoundBrake temporarily turns off your audio to let you know that something’s up.

Pricing is $49 (£35); availability is due in April.