Orbotix announce Sphero 2B at CES 2014

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Whilst wondering around this year’s packed CES Unveiled, it was hard not to notice/trip-over the new Sphero 2B from the folks at Orbotix. The 2B is the latest addition to the company’s portfolio of connected, app-controlled, toys. Taking on a new tubular form factor compared with the original Sphero, the 2B comes with interchangeable parts, such as different ‘tyres’ and hubcaps. “Sphero has been ‘round for a couple years now and we wanted to take the fun experience of driving Sphero, redesign it, flip it around, speed it up, and give fans something completely new,” says cofounder Adam Wilson.

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The Sphero 2B, which is made of polycarbonate, will be available in either black or white and can reach speeds of up to 14 ft/s. Users control the 2B via the iOS or Android app over Bluetooth LE which provides a range of around 30m. The device will be available worldwide in Autumn 2014. You can reserve yourself one, as well as find out more info, by going to GoSphero.com/2B

Parrot unveil the MiniDrone at CES 2014

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Hovering gracefully in the air and undeterred by the throngs of journalists, the new MiniDrone from the folks at Parrot certainly stood out at the various evening shows at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The MiniDrone works on the principle that it can “fly and roll from floor to ceiling” which is achieved thanks to the ability to attach two ultra-light wheels.

To control the drone, you simply connect to it using low energy Bluetooth Smart and then use the company’s app. The MiniDrone contains multiple sensors as well as “autopilot capabilities’ which make it incredibly easy to fly as well as very stable.

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The MiniDrone’s specs are also still be finalising but at the time of writing we’re told that the device weighs 80 grams and the battery should last for around 7 minutes. According to this article on Mashable the drone contains a “500 MHz processor and a gigabyte of RAM”. Details of pricing and availability are difficult to come by at the moment, with the company themselves simply stating “TBA”.

iGrill2: the Bluetooth ‘smart meat thermometer’

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CES is upon us and device manufacturers are falling over themselves, eager to present the latest greatest in tech. But whilst we like to look at larger and larger television screens and faster computers, we really get excited when companies jam electronics in places no one had thought to put them before. Last year on of our favourite finds was the HAPIfork and this year we’re already excited by the prospect of precision grilling with the iGrill2 Bluetooth Smart Meat Thermometer and iLP Bluetooth Smart Liquid Propane Monitor.

If you caught our Top 5 BBQ gadgets article you’ll know we love a high-tech cook out (especially if you have a Grillbot to do all the cleaning at the end). The iGrill 2 is a new and improved product – at the forefront of connected grilling.

With a new design is so rugged it practically has stubble, the iGrill2 hooks up via Smart Bluetooth to the iDevices Connected App and allows you to monitor the temperature of your food from up to 150 feet away. Powered by just 2 AA batteries you can get up to 150 hours of battery life as well so that’s probably a key metric over at iDevices. You can track the temperature of up to four different probes at the same time so if you’re cooking up cornucopia of carcasses you can easily keep track of everything. The magnetic backing allows for easy mounting on your grill with an optional magnetic disc if you went the non-ferrous route on your outdoor cooking options.

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Furthermore, if like Hank from King of the Hill you cook with “propane and propane accessories”, the iLP should ensure you never get caught short at the grill. Deploying ultra-sonic sensors, which is only one step down from laser beams in futuristic sounding technology, the iLP monitors the level of propane left in your tank and the app will let you know the nearest place to get a refill – hopefully Strickland Propane.

Currently the iDevices app is our for iOS but an Android app should be on its way by the time BBQ weather hits us.

Priced at $99.99, the iGrill2 will be available through iDevices. iLP pricing is currently a closely guarded secret, to be made know some time in later this year.

Chord Electronics’ Hugo – A nifty portable DAC device with little CES Coverage

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When we think of a product named Hugo, the luxury German fashion brand Hugo Boss springs to mind. Chord Electronics, British manufacturers of high-performance hi-fi products, has introduced a new Hugo onto the consumer market. Playfully named because you can take it anywhere ‘you go’, the Hugo takes claim as being “the world’s most advanced and first truly reference-class portable DAC/headphone amp.”

We have to note that competing against the One Wheel – a cross between a skateboard and a unicycle – and the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro, a huge 12.2” tablet which is said to be Samsung’s answer to the Surface 2 and the iPad Air, Hugo has had relatively little exposure as the top techno innovations on display at this year’s CES. Its comparative inconspicuousness in the gadget-obsessed press doesn’t mean to say that Hugo hasn’t got  its own innovations and niche to step into.

Seasoned audiophiles will understand the importance of the digital to analogue converter (DAC), a device that translates digitally stored information from a mobile device into analogue signals, thus upping the volume and improving the quality of the sound.

So in the vast world of audio and the DAC market, what’s so special (if anything) about Hugo and how have its capabilities been initially assessed?

What’s good about Hugo is that it can be used as both a portable headphone DAC and as a reference-level source component in a static system. What’s more, Hugo offers five digital inputs, including A2DP aptX Bluetooth, as well as 384kHz PCM and DSD 128 playback for contemporary high-resolution Digital eXtreme Definition music files. In layman terms, Hugo will pump out meticulously clear tunes, no matter where you are.

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As mentioned earlier, Hugo didn’t receive that much attention in the post-CES 2014 reports and consequently trying to locate feedback about Chord Electronics’ new venture proved a little difficult though by no means impossible. StuffTV, one of the lesser-known gadget and video review sites, was one source to catch on to the unique merits of Hugo.

With a boldly dramatic headline that Hugo, the world’s first portable hi-res audio DC, will “quadruple the prove of your phone’, StuffTV talks about how the device’s lightweight, compact and portable DAC contrasts to other DACs and headphone amps, which “tend to be a little on the bulky side.”

The audio tech review site What Hi Fi was also quick to review Hugo, reiterating Chord Electronics’ claims that Hugo offer “studio-master-tape sound quality, advanced connectivity and uncompromising file playback capability.”

If you are heavily into listening to crystal-clear tunes whilst on the go, Hugo certainly seems to tick all the right boxes. This nifty little device, which is encased in aircraft-grade aluminium, is not cheap.

Samsung Gear Fit Review: A Beautiful Wristable Gone to Waste

Samsung’s Gear Fit had every chance to be by far the best activity tracker you could own. It isn’t. Not by a long shot. And there’s nothing sadder than unrealized potential.

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What Is It?

It’s a stunning fitness tracker slash smartwatch wristable. It counts steps, tracks sleep, displays notifications from your phone, and even takes your pulse. It only works with Samsung devices.

 

Why Does It Matter?

Yes, you’re basically not allowed to be a tech company if you don’t make a wearable device these days. But the Gear Fit is by far the best-looking entrant in an increasingly crowded field. It also promises the best of both fitness tracking and smartwatch worlds. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Design

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It’s lovely to ogle. Front and center, the Gear Fit features a 1.84-inch, curved, full-color AMOLED touch display. It’s got the same inky dark blacks and those vibrant colors we love in devices like the Galaxy S5. It’s encircled by a shiny chrome bezel, a familiar Samsung note. There’s a single button that you use to wake up the screen, go back to the home screen, or turn the Gear Fit off. Simple!

The band itself is your standard hard rubber affair, available in six different colors. It’s nicely contoured, and one of the most comfortable wrist-worn trackers I’ve used. It has a simple poke-two-pegs-through-two-holes clasp system (reminiscent of Fitbit) and surprisingly I never had an issue with it popping off. It’s a really sleek, low-profile device. It’s unobtrusive, but if someone does notice it, it’ll get compliments instead of groans.

On the underside of the device is a sensor that lets the Fit read your heart rate, much like a pulse oximeter. It also has an IP67 rating which means it can handle being submerged in three feet of water for up to 30 minutes. In other words, you can shower with it or wear it in the rain, but you probably don’t want to swim with it (or no diving, at the very least). It uses Bluetooth 4.0 LE to communicate with Samsung Android phones.

Electronic Monocle Uses Biofeedback to Track Your Favorite Websites

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The internet is a fire hydrant of content. Keeping track of the pages you enjoy is a pain. A team of UK design students has a conceptual solution: Amoeba, an electronic monocle that files away the pages you find most interesting, as measured by your biofeedback response. It’s the emotion-tracking Google Glass you always wanted!

Designed by Sanya Rai, Carine Collé and Florian Puech, students at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College, London, Amoeba packs three different types of sensors to monitor your emotional state. Heat sensors near your mouth measure how fast you’re breathing, a camera pointed at your eye watches your pupil size, and a skin sensor monitors for increased perspiration.

By correlating your physiological response with the digital content you’re consuming, Amoeba can figure out which sites and pages you find most interesting. Or breathtaking, or perspiration-inducing, or, I suppose, pupil-dilating.

“We envision that you would wear the Amoeba device before you start your web-based research,” Sanya Rai explains on her website. “As you go through different webpages, the device senses your bio-data and quantifies your interest. When you are done, you can then go to the Amoeba app and select the keyword you were looking at.

“The app will show you a time-based summary of all links visited, layering them based on how interesting you found the content,” Sanya explains. “You also have the option of seeing the route you took to arrive at a certain page, thus enabling better reflection and self awareness.” In small tests, the team says a prototype of the device was able to correctly identify the article a subject found most or least interesting nine times out of 10.

The device as designed looks a little on the spacey side, but then again I’m sitting here with 38 tabs open, some of which I haven’t actually looked at since before I filed my taxes. Maybe a monocle isn’t such a bad look.

GoPro Hero4 4K video recording hinted by SoC maker

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GoPro will soon be revealing its next compact video camera, the GoPro Hero4, and has already been the subject of leaks and rumors. This latest round contains quite a few pieces of information coming from system-on-chip manufacturer Ambarella, the very same one that provides the chips for GoPro’s other cameras.

The A9 is Ambarella’s latest entry into the camera SoC market and boasts quite a few high-end features. Given the past relationship between the manufacturer and GoPro, and given how chip makers usually market their wares that are soon to be placed inside upcoming premium devices, the chances are quite high that this will be the same SoC that will drive the GoPro Hero4.

The top highlights of this chip is, naturally, video recording, which supports a wide range of resolutions and frame rates. At the very top you have that much coveted 4K Ultra HD video, recorded at 30 fps, using the H.264 video codec. A step down lower is 1080p Full HD at a considerably faster 120 fps. And last but by no means least, the chip is also capable of supporting videos at 720p HD but this time running at a fast 240 fps, commonly used for shooting high-speed videos or for slow-mo effects.

The spec sheet for the chip also lists other advanced imaging features, such as both multi-exposure HDR as well as WDR (wide dynamic range) tone mapping. The chip is noted to use EIS or Electronic Image Stabiliztion, a stabilization technology that is cheaper and lighter than OIS, but can sometimes also be less accurate. Going closer to the metal, we see a 1 GHz dual-core Cortex-A9 powering the chip, with NEON and FPU (Floating Point Unit) extensions for faster processing and acceleration. And, of course, like any modern digital camera chip, the Ambarella A9 can handle WiFi connections for sharing with social media or for remote control using mobile devices.

Although the Ambarella A9 is a very capable SoC, it is quite possible for GoPro to disable different features depending on the model or variant of the Hero4. GoPro is expected to unveil this upcoming video camera sometime around summer this year, which will start in just a few months.

Smart locks – threatening keys into extinction?

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It’s true, keys are so last year. ITProPortal says it and so do we. The savvy way to lock your home and remain secure is with a smart lock. With a couple of taps on your smartphone or the click of a fob you can enter your home without they worry of losing your keys. This sophisticated locking device caused quite a stir at this year’s CES in the form of the Goji Smart Lock.

In fact CNET couldn’t wait until January to unpick the Goji Smart Lock and wrote a review about it in October last year. Referring to the lock as “a bit of a hybrid”, CNET seemed fairly impressed by a lock which enables you to see someone knocking at your door on your smartphone via a built-in camera, proximity sensor and a digital key fob. You can even send someone a digital key that works via the app but only at certain dates and times. This means you can program someone to gain access into your home on a certain date and time – Clever stuff that’s for sure.

But apart from the Goji Smart Locks what other super-intelligent locks are there available, which are threatening keys into extinction?

 

Kwikset Kevo

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Engadget gave the Kwikset Kevo a not brilliant score of 77 on the ‘Engadget Global Score’. To look at, “the Kwikset Kevo doesn’t look much different to a normal deadbolt,” writes Engagdet. Although don’t be fooled as when you touch this device, the lock will light up and give you visual feedback as to whether the door has been unlocked or not.

Mashable seems a tad more enthusiastic about the Kwikset Kevo referring to the device as an “exciting look at the latest in smartphone-powered home security devices.” Similar to the Goji Smart Lock you can lock and unlock the Kwikset Kevo by a couple of taps on your smartphone. Also similar to the Goji you can send someone ‘eKeys’ via the Kevo to whomever you want to give access into your home.

 

Lockitron
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The Lockitron is another smart lock that has enjoyed a fair bit of attention in the tech press in recent months. Gizmodo was quick to give these 21st century keys a run for their money and paid a fair slice of the attention to Lockitron. Compared to Kevo, writes Gizmodo, “Lockitron connects to both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Connecting to both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, with Lockitron you can remotely lock and unlock your door over Wi-Fi or send a notification when the knock sensor has been triggered. “That extra layer of connectivity” writes Gizmodo, “comes with a smidge of added security.”

 

August Smart Lock

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Engadget certainly seems impressed by the era of smart locks we’re moving into, so much so that they wrote a feature in October 2013 about how purchasing of the August Smart Lock would be delayed until the first quarter of 2014. In an earlier feature about the August, Engadget referred to as the “beautiful, Yves Behar-designed $199 smart lock” as having standard features as similar smart lock systems. Being able to lock and unlock your door with your phone, is the stand-out feature that runs through all of the smart locks. Similar to the others, the August Smart Lock enables you to grant access to other remotely, using “relatively fine-grained controls.”

We have to admit, these rapidly gaining prominence security devices would come in super handy on those occasions when you need to be in two places at once – to let the dog walker in for example, or to give the electrician access to your house when you’re at work.

Best ‘smart’ health and fitness gadgets

The LG Lifeband Touch

lg-lifebandIf you ‘conveniently’ have difficulty remembering when it’s time to exercise or justifiably find it hard to drag yourself into the sub-zero conditions to go for a run, the LG Lifeband Touch could be just what you need.

At face value, the Lifeband Touch seems like just another of a myriad of gadgets that record distance, tell you how many calories you have (or haven’t) burned. We have to admit that where this fitness gadget stands out is that it features a touchscreen which shows phone calls and message alerts as well as exercise data. What’s more, it can also control your music as you jog. So impressed were TechRadar by the Lifeband Touch that they awarded it the Best CES Fitness Tech Award.

 

Spree Headband

spree-bandThe BBC was keen to put the Las Vegas fitness tech to the test. BBC reporter Mark Ward joined and handful of other eager tech journalists in a 10km race down the Strip in give some of the most anticipated exercise prototypes a run for their money.

Ward was quick to mention the Spree Headband. Produced by Spree Sports the BBC informs the headband gathers data about heart rate (nothing new), core body temperature, and other physiological indicators through sensors touching the forehead. With the BBC refusing to elaborate any further I felt compelled to visit Spree Sport’s website to learn more.

The Spree sends fitness data to its own iOS smartphone app via Bluetooth. The app also informs users fitness goals and when you’re “in the zone.” A fitness headband with accompanying app – definitely sound like something that will take off in California.

 

Tinke

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Tinke was one of CNET’s favourites at this year’s CES, at least if writing a full write-up on one gadget if anything to go by. This sensor device has been available for IOS four a couple of years but it’s the sensor for Android which is new. The device allows users to keep constant track of their respiratory rate, heart rate, blood oxygen and heart rate variability. Again there doesn’t seem to be anything entirely innovative about Tinke but what is new is the Android version connects wirelessly via Bluetooth.

 

Razer Nabu Smart Band

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LG may have come up with a band with an OLED touchscreen but Razer have gone one step further by giving their fitness band two OLED screens. This multi-capable health and fitness band tracks the hours someone has slept, stairs climbed and, similar to the Spree Headband, shows calls and messages to your smartphone. But why would a device this small need two touchscreens Tech Talk Curry’s sensibly asks? For privacy issues, apparently, one screen informing you that you’ve received a message and the other one revealing the who the message is from. Novel, yes. A little OTT perhaps, after all whose going to be bothered spying on each other’s messages during a ten mile run? Find out more at razerzone.com/nabu

 

Wellograph

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Electronista map the merits of the Wellograph, particularly its aesthetic virtues. We have to admit that unlike the majority of fitness devices, which look unmistakably like fitness devices, the Wellograph looks cunningly like a conventional and even slightly stylish watch. Offering the usual activity-tracking functions, with the added bonus of recording data in graph format – could prove an efficient way to analyse vital fitness information. Find out more at Wellograph.com

Koubachi Wi-Fi Plant Sensor

As the icy fingers of winter begin to relax their grip and the daffodils poke their heads up only to get battered down by the gales, it’s inevitable that we begin to turn our thoughts towards the garden. Depending on your attitude to gardening this might be an occasion for joy or for dread. Fortunately whether you’re a green fingered wizard or a do-as-little-as-possible-to-keep-it-tidy type, there are a whole host of new gadgets around to help make things easier and encourage you to release your inner Titchmarsh.

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If you’re a gardening novice, or you’ve moved to a new house and are not sure what kind of plants you’ll be able to grow, it’s all too easy to make the wrong choices or not give plants the attention they need to thrive. Fortunately technology has the answer in the form of the Koubachi Wi-Fi Plant Sensor.

Simply place the unit outside next to your plants and it will collect information on sunlight, temperature and moisture levels. After it’s had some time to do its job you can analyse the data on your PC or with a smartphone app to determine the exact needs of your plant. It can even send an alert to your phone when your plants need attention.

It will work equally well in the garden or a window box and there’s an indoor version if you’re struggling to keep your houseplants healthy. Your data is stored securely in the cloud so you can move the sensor around and build up a profile of different locations in your garden. Sold through Amazon, the Apple Store and elsewhere, the Koubachi isn’t cheap at £99.95 for the outdoor version, but it could save you a fortune in replacement plants.