Tuesday 7 February 2017

TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' chat from February 2017

Here's the technology I talked about in this month's 'gadget guru' chat on TRE Talk Radio Europe:

Nintendo Switch game console

This is due to go on sale next month, with the UK price expected to be £279.99 [around €325].

It’s being called a hybrid console because you can use it at home, plugged into a docking station that connects to your TV, or you can take it out the house like a tablet computer. The 'brains' of the console has rechargeable batteries and a six-inch touch-sensitive screen: imagine a small, fat iPad and you won’t go far wrong

The Nintendo Switch comes with two 'Joy-Con' controllers – part joystick, part controller – that can either be used separately or clipped to the console. So when you’re out and on your own, you clip them to the side of the device and the whole thing is like a giant controller with a screen inside. If you're out and want to play games with someone else, you can have one controller each – depending on the game you’re playing, of course. And when you’re at home and the Nintendo Switch is in its docking console, you can slide the controllers into a separate gamepad accessory that makes them easier to hold and use.

You get the console, the TV dock, two Joy-Con controllers, safety straps to stop you from accidentally throwing the controllers at your TV, the grip that connects both Joy-Con controllers together, the mains adapter and a cable for your TV all in the box. If you want a premium game, you’ll need to buy that separately.

Games can either be bought on cartridges or downloaded online, with over 80 already in the works – although there won’t be that many available when the console launches.

Braven Flye Sport Glo earphones

Cordless earphones have been around for a while. First of all you could get them for your HiFi at home but they needed a special transmitter. Next, along came Bluetooth technology, which let you connect to your phone or your tablet – but most of these still have some kind of cable attaching the left earphone to the right earphone.

Then last year Apple announced what it called AirPods, which are separate wireless earphones for the left and the right ear. Although it wasn’t the first company to do this, it’s certainly made this kind of thing more popular.

Which brings us to Braven, an American company that until now was best known for making Bluetooth loudspeakers. They’re getting into Bluetooth earphones – and one of their designs, the Flyte Sport Glo – is completely cord-free, like the Air Pods.

So you’ve got these earphones that hook onto each ear, with batteries that’ll last for around 4 hours before they need recharging. They come with a storage case that contains its own rechargeable battery, so you don’t need to search for a mains socket when you’re out. That case will fully recharge them five times. And, as with other earphones, there’s a built-in microphone so you can make and receive calls.

So what’s so clever about them? Well, first of all there’s a smartphone app that lets you adjust the sound: equalisation, boosting the bass and so on. They’re waterproof, which is what you want if you’re going jogging in the rain. And there’s a bright red laser light in the ear hook, which you can either have on constantly or flashing – it's designed to keep you safer if you’re outside when it’s getting dark. That, very literally, makes these earphones hard to miss.

Pricing is $249.99 [approximately £200 / €230]; they’re expected to be available this summer.

LOVE turntable

Despite what a lot of people expected, CDs didn’t kill off vinyl records. Not only are many album covers still seen as works of art, there’s a lot to be said for the sound quality you can get from vinyl – as long as you’re using the right kind of turntable and stylus.

I can’t promise that this gadget will please audiophiles but it’ll certainly intrigue them. The LOVE Turntable is being called an ‘Intelligent Record Player’ and also ‘the first high-end, smartphone controlled record player that you can use with or without its app’.

In simple terms, the LOVE turntable plays vinyl records. It’s got a traditional stylus but also connects to Bluetooth and WiFi and can be controlled by a smartphone app. You can connect it to Bluetooth loudspeakers or plug it into your home stereo system with a cable.

But it’s the design of the LOVE turntable that set it apart. There’s a base that’s 7-inches across and a separate arm that sits on top. The arm is 10-inches long and 3½ inches wide, with rounded edges. This contains the stylus and all the technology. Instead of the turntable tuning the record, the base stays still and the arm part moves anticlockwise round the record.

The physical design comes from Yves Behar, who’s been involved with all sorts of things, from fitness trackers to company logos. And the technical specifications look pretty good, too.

It automatically detects the size of your vinyl disc; you then use your phone to play records, to skip or repeat tracks, to change the volume, and even select the right speed. If you prefer, there are some controls on the arm itself.

Inside is a rechargeable battery that will last for 15 album sides before it needs charging.

This is a project on Kickstarter, so the usual terms and conditions apply. The retail price is expected to be $599 but early backers can get one for $319 plus $25 postage – that’s around €320 / £275. Delivery is expected in October.

Volta magnetic charging cable

This is another Kickstarter project - and it's another 'world first', according to the creators. It is, in fact, claiming to be the world's strongest cross-device magnetic cable.

Magnetic connections started to be used for chargers a few years ago. There are two main advantages. Firstly, because the magnet on the device attracts the magnet on the cable, you don’t need to look at what you’re doing. You can connect the charger in the dark or when the socket on the device is at the back and you can’t see it. And then, if you trip over the cable or accidentally pull it, the connection is more likely to simply disconnect rather than pulling your iPad off the table and crashing it on the floor – or breaking the charging plug.

With Volta, you put a little magnetic connector into the socket on your phone: there's one for the microUSB socket used on Android devices and another for the lightning connector on iPhones. You then replace your regular charging cable with the Volta cable.

It’s got gold-plated connections and copper wires, so you should get a good connection. It uses N52-grade Neodymium magnets, which are particularly strong. And it’s covered in three layers of military grade PVC, helping make it 15 times stronger than standard cables, according to the creators.

Retail price for a cable and two connector tips is expected to be 54 Australian dollars plus postage, which works out to around £40 / €45, although there are savings for early backers. Delivery is expected in April.

Friday 3 February 2017

The shame that attaches

"I recall the times in fall 2011, during the occupation of Philadelphia’s City Hall, when I’d do something frivolous, like browse in a bookstore, and be overcome by the shame that attaches to any private activity undertaken in a moment of public upheaval."
Nikil Savil, writing in n+1 magazine, issue 26

Wednesday 1 February 2017

Copy deadline

It's 1877. Newspaper reporter Archibald Forbes needs to write a report about the Russo-Turkish war but hasn't slept for the previous three days:
"I told the waiter to bring me a pint of dry champagne, unopened. I took the cork out, put the neck of the bottle into my mouth, drank it with all the fizz, sat up and wrote the four columns you read next morning in the Daily News."
From Famous War Correspondents by F Lauriston Bullard; quoted in The First Casualty by Phillip Knightley.