Tuesday 25 July 2017

TRE Talk Radio Europe 'gadget guru' tech for July 2017

Here's a short summary of the technology from my July 2017 'gadget guru' chat on TRE Talk Radio Europe:

Apple HomePod smart loudspeaker

This is a smart loudspeaker, which puts it in competition with the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Much like these, it connects to your home broadband and has built-in microphones, so you can control it by talking.

And you probably won't be surprised to hear that HomePod is designed to work closely with Apple iTunes; or, more specifically, with the Apple Music subscription service.

The device is just under seven inches tall, plugs into the mains and connects to your WiFi. Inside there's a little array of speakers to cover the high frequencies and a woofer for the low frequencies. It's also got six microphones, which helps it pick up your voice from any direction and also helps it adjust the music depending on where it is in the room.

What does it actually do? You can tell it to play music by artist, by genre, by album or by song. You can then tell it what you like and it'll learn your preferences. Because these are stored online, your preferences will also be available across all your Apple devices. And you can ask or specific questions about songs: who's singing, who's on bass guitar, that kind of thing.

Plus, because it's all powered by Apple's virtual assistant Siri, you can get news and weather updates, you can send messages and can even control some ‘smart home’ appliances. The magic words are "Hey, Siri" - without that, it won't do a thing.

Setting it all up doesn't require much more than plugging the speaker into the mains and holding your iPhone next to it.

HomePod will be available for $349 (US) in December; it’ll also launch then in the UK and Australia, although official pricing hasn't been confirmed yet.

Master Lock Bluetooth key box

Having a key box is a whole lot safer than leaving a spare key under the stone by the back door. They're great for keeping a spare key in case you lock yourself out, leaving a key for family or friends if you're not around - and, of course, very popular for holiday homes and rented property.

This one offers a Bluetooth connection as well; that's the wireless technology better known for connecting the hands-free headset on your phone. So - you fit the box to the wall. You put your spare key inside. And then you've got a couple of choices. There's a ten-digit keypad on the front, so it looks much like a conventional key box with a combination lock. But you can use your phone to set people up with their own code, which they can either enter on the keypad or they can download the Master Lock app onto their phone and do it from there. You can even set codes to expire, so - for example - your plumber can have access but only if they turn up in the morning.

The whole thing runs from a battery that lasts for around two years. It’ll warn you if the battery is running low; if you let the battery run out, you can touch a 9 volt battery on the bottom of the box to ‘jump-start’ it.

UK pricing is £109.

Minipresso portable espresso machine

You're out camping, you've gone for a drive, you're on a hike - or perhaps you're at work. Anyway, it's coffee time and you'd love an espresso. But carrying an espresso machine around with you just isn't practical. Until now.

The Minipresso NS is a cylinder that's 17.5 centimetres long. It doesn't need electricity. It doesn't need compressed gas or compressed air. It doesn't even need a coffee grinder, because it takes Nespresso coffee pods (or, indeed, any other coffee pod that's the same size). It just needs boiling water.

You put your capsule in, you put your boiling water in - it holds up to 70ml - and then you pump it. A little pump arm pops out the side of the cylinder; it's the same sort of pressure as pumping a bicycle tyre. There's even a cup that unscrews from the end of the device, so you don't need anything else.

The company makes another version that uses conventional ground coffee if you prefer. Either way it'll cost you around £50.

InkCase i7 Plus

If you were one of the first people to start using the Amazon Kindle eBook reader - or if you still have one of the simpler devices with a monochrome electronic ink screen - you'll know how amazingly long the battery life is, especially when you compare it with a tablet or a phone.

Now along comes a Kickstarter project that aims to give iPhone users the best of both worlds.

It's a case for your iPhone 7 plus. (There's also a version for the regular iPhone 7 but I'm going to talk about the Plus version because it's a little bit more sophisticated.)

The Oaxis InkCase i7 Plus adds an e-ink screen – a second screen to your iPhone. It’s got its own built-in rechargeable battery and lets you read eBooks, check your to-do list, read the news and even display photos. Talking of pictures, because it’s on the back of your phone with the main camera, there’s a selfie assistance feature so you can take better photos of yourself.

What’s also noteworthy is that it's not stupidly big: it just adds 4½mm to the back of your iPhone 7 Plus and only weighs 80g.

It won’t work with every app on your phone – neither would you want it to – but it will show your to-do lists, your calendar, your fitness data, news stories and a clock if you want, as well as supporting the .epub and .txt eBook formats.

If all goes according to plan, regular shipments will start in September. Pricing will be $69 for the regular size and $159 for the plus size but there are discounts on those figures for the next few days while the Kickstarter campaign is still running.