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
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.
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 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).