Thursday 27 April 2017

So?

Iain Sinclair, talking about conversational sentences that begin with 'so':
"...it’s a signifier, a warning bleep letting the recipient know that nothing that follows has any billable consequence."

Tuesday 4 April 2017

TRE Talk Radio Europe: April 2017 'gadget guru'

Here's a list of the technology I talked about in my April 2017 'gadget guru' chat on TRE Talk Radio Europe:

Samsung Galaxy S8

This is the new flagship phone from Samsung. (You could say there are actually two flagship phones: the S8 and the S8+, which is pretty much the same as the regular S8 but with a bigger screen).

So what do we have here? Well, the S8 has a bigger screen than the previous S7 but is actually a smaller device. That’s a clever trick. The bezel – the edge round the screen – has pretty much been shrunk to nothing. This means the screen has become a slightly different shape than some other phones and it also means there’s no physical button to press for getting back to the home screen – you need a virtual button on the screen instead. Rather cleverly, it’s pressure-sensitive and there’s a little vibration module hidden behind the new virtual button, so you can still feel feedback even though there’s no click.

The S8 has a 5.8-inch screen and the S8+ has a 6.2-inch screen. They’re capable of supporting high dynamic range (HDR) video playback, which offers clearer pictures

The other big deal here is Samsung’s virtual assistant, which they’re calling Bixby. This is their equivalent of Apple Siri, Google Now and Microsoft Cortana. You push a button on the side of the phone – a real button – and you can control some of the built-in apps with your voice. At the moment it’s more about helping you use your phone rather than giving you answers to difficult questions.

Talking of control, there’s now an iris scanner, which means you can use your eye as a security alternative to fingerprints.

There are other improvements, of course, but they’re more incremental: improved cameras, although still 12 megapixels on the back, plus a more powerful processor. And rather cleverly, there’s an optional dock to connect it to a bigger screen and a keyboard, which can turn it into an Android-powered computer, if you want that kind of thing.

Pricing from £689.00 for the 64GB S8; £779 for the S8+.

New Apple iPad

For balance, I thought I ought to give the new Apple iPad a mention. Up until now, we’ve had the iPad Mini and then three levels of larger iPad: there’s the basic iPad, the iPad Air, which was thinner and a bit cleverer, and then the iPad Pro, for people who want a tablet with loads of power – more like a regular computer.

The new iPad is a successor to the iPad Air 2 – but it’s not called the iPad Air 3. It’s just called the iPad; those two lower levels have effectively become the same thing.

It comes with Apple's A9 processor, which is the same as the one in the iPhone 6s. That’s an update to the A8X processor in the iPad Air 2, although it’s still got the same 9.7-inch display as the Air 2 – what Apple calls a ‘retina display’ of 2048 x 1536 pixels – and the same cameras: 8 megapixels on the back, 1.2 on the front. It’s also got the fingerprint-sensing Touch ID button, which is good for security and can also be used for payments.

This is all about Apple making its product range easier to understand – and it’s also an acknowledgement that producing lightweight tablets is pretty much a given thing now, not a special feature. Having said that, the new iPad is slightly thicker and heavier than the tablet it replaces (but what’s 32g and 1.4mm between friends?)

UK pricing starts at £339 for the 32GB WiFi only version, which is £40 cheaper than the iPad Air 2 was selling for. If you want to upgrade your old iPad, this is well worth thinking about. If you’ve already got an iPad Air 2, don’t bother.

Ikea smart lighting

I’ve talked about smart lighting before – but when one of Europe’s biggest furnishing companies gets into it, you know it’s going mainstream.

One of the reasons smart lighting is becoming increasingly popular is because it’s easy to install. In some cases, it’s as simple as changing your bulb and downloading an app to your phone.

So – what does smart mean? For Ikea it can be remote control or it can be something as basic as dimming your lights (so do make sure you know exactly what you’re buying). Their smart lighting brand is called TRÅDFRI, which is Swedish for wire-free.

A good starting point is what’s being called a gateway kit. It costs £69 and includes two white LED bulbs, so they’re relatively low power. You also get a separate remote control and a gateway box that connects with an Ethernet cable to your internet router. You then download a special app that lets you control the lights from your phone and set up your own presets of warm or cool light. (You can’t change the colour to any great extent but you can change how warm the light looks.)

There’s also a motion sensor kit, which switches the lights on when you walk into a dark room and keeps them on for a pre-programmed time. The sensor itself is wireless and costs £25. Extra bulbs cost from £9 each, depending on the fitting you need.

At the moment the Tr√•dfri app just lets you choose different types of light but later this year we’re told you'll be able to use it to schedule timers and turn your lights off remotely as well.

The only major downside is that Ikea’s products aren’t compatible with a lot of the other home automation stuff out there, so although the price is appealing, you won’t be able to tell Alexa or Google Home to turn on the light.

Atari Pong coffee table

In the early days of video games, they were available like fruit machines in pubs – and some were built into pub tables.

This piece of technology promises to let you play Atari PONG in your coffee table… but not quite as you might expect.

Atari Pong was one of the first-ever video games, in black-and-white, where a little white ball would bounce around the screen and you did your best to make sure it didn’t bounce off your side of the screen by controlling a bat that moved from side to side. Meanwhile, your opponent would be moving their bat to try and knock the little ball into your side of the screen.

At this point you may be expecting me to talk about screen sizes and processor power. I won’t be doing that because this is an analogue version of a digital game. It actually uses physical controls to hit a physical block. The entire game has been recreated by using magnets, springs and little motors. Of course, there are electronics in there – you get sounds and lights, much like the original, and you can see your score – but the gameplay is physical.

It’s got all the charm of the original but with the sophistication of a 21st century pinball machine. They’ve even given it a digital clock, USB ports to recharge your phone and the option of Bluetooth music streaming.

The whole thing is being funded via Kickstarter. (As ever with crowd funding, caveat emptor – read the terms and conditions.) Delivery is promised by the end of the year if all goes according to plan.