The Gadgets Page

February 8, 2010

CES 2010: Motorola’s REAL Grass

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

CES 2010 Motorola boothI have NO IDEA what Motorola exhibited at CES this year. Seriously. I don’t know what iPhone knockoff they were showing to the amazement of others. When we walked into the Motorola booth, I noticed only ONE thing. Their booth display had large expanses of REAL grass.

To me, it was an amazing feat for them to have live plants in their booths, just for atmosphere. I reached down and let my fingers indulge in the soft and cool of it. I called out to the other Gadgets Page writers to come look at the grass, but they looked at me like I was insane. They urged me to come along.

CES 2010 Motorola Booth real grass

I expected every person walking by it to reach down and touch it like I did. I filmed a minute of convention goers walking past the grass displays.

For every one person who reached down and enjoyed the touch of the plants, there were ten who didn’t even notice. We live in a world of wonders and we walk right past them on the way to the next Motorola cell phone.

If you would like to see what Motorola exhibited at CES this year, Engadget didn’t get distracted by the grass either.

February 1, 2010

CES 2010: Cyber Clean

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

Cyber CleanYou know it’s a slow year at CES when a company like Cyber Clean can afford a booth on the main floor. Despite the cheesiness of their presentation, it looked like a really cool product.

Cyber Clean is a gooey compound very much like my childhood toy, Slime, except the texture is thicker and less runny. You press it onto your keyboard, cell phone or other difficult to clean gadget and it picks up debris, food and dust. They were demonstrating it with some sand-like material on an older Apple keyboard.

At the show, they were showing this commercial on huge screens to attract your attention.

I prefer this commercial, however, because it makes Cyber Clean look like a tiny little superhero!

They gave us a free sample of Cyber Clean to try out at home. I keep my electronics very clean, so I couldn’t think of a way to test it, but I remembered the old iMac in Kristen’s room. I decided to try it out on her keyboard. Here is what it looked like before I used Cyber Clean.

iMac keyboard before Cyber Clean

I really crammed the goo into the keyboard. I figured it’s an old computer and it doesn’t matter if it gets a little gummed up. All the Cyber Clean came out, however, so I didn’t need to worry about hurting the keyboard. If you look closely, you can see a little dirt that came off the keyboard.

Cyber Clean pulls up dirt off the iMac keyboard: Click to see full size

In this picture, it’s easier to see how much hair, dirt and even feathers (Where’d the heck those come from?!) it picked up off the keyboard.

The Cyber Clean picks up hair, dirt and feathers

In the end, it didn’t really do all that much. The keyboard was still a little dusty after I thoroughly squished it into all the crevices. I could have done just as well with a paper towel dampened by Windex. Here’s how the keyboard looked after the cleaning.

iMac keyboard after cleaning with Cyber Clean

Cyber Clean High Tech Cleaning Compound- Single Pack at Amazon.comIt DOES smell good, which is something I didn’t expect, and when I opened the package, I felt like a little kid playing with Slime all over again. It really had that nostalgic feel to it. I wasn’t impressed with its cleaning abilities enough to forgo my usual paper towel and Windex techniques, but if you have to clean a lot of keyboards, Cyber Clean might be a way to make your day a little brighter.

You can buy Cyber Clean at Amazon:

I liked the idea of Cyber Clean and it did a pretty good job of cleaning up Kristen’s keyboard, but I think I’ll stick with a paper towel and Windex.

January 27, 2010

Why e-book Readers are Doomed

Filed under: eBook Readers and Peripherals,Misc. Gadgets,PDAs and Phones — Michael Moncur @ 10:00 am

E-book readers, like Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader, had a huge amount of sales this last Christmas season—in fact, our smackdown between the two recently became our most popular post, and the Kindle was Amazon’s best-selling single item. We saw about 20 new entrants into this market at CES. Nonetheless, I think the current generation of e-book readers won’t be flying off the shelves by next Christmas.

Yes, the Apple iPad is probably one reason. But I think e-book readers have been flawed from the beginning. Here’s why.

They use black-and-white e-ink displays.

The Sony Reader was the first popular gadget to make use of e-ink technology, an alternative to LCD displays that looks more like paper, has longer battery life, and doesn’t require a backlight. This was seen as innovative, and copied by the Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s new Nook. But I think it’s time we started wondering why anyone would buy a device with a black-and-white display in 2010.

The phone in your pocket probably has a nice color LCD display that can display perfectly readable text. The Amazon Kindle app certainly looks great on my iPhone. Why buy a book reader that’s stuck in Gutenberg-era black-and-white? Paper books have had colorful illustrations since about 1890. Why can’t electronic books?

E-ink advocates talk about better contrast and better battery life, but I like the contrast on the iPhone screen better than the grey-on-light-grey displays of the e-book readers. And only the most devoted of readers will stare at a Kindle’s screen long enough to notice the supposed benefits to the eyes, or to take advantage of the long battery life. Most of us don’t read for more than 1-2 hours at a time.

And don’t say “but you can read in bright sunlight!”. Who the heck does that? People who enjoy sunlight have better things to do than read, and nerds like me who read for hours on end rarely see sunlight.

They aren’t good Web browsers.

While I still read books regularly, I do far more reading on the Web. Why would I want a reading device that can’t also read Web pages? The Kindle has a very limited Web browser on a black-and-white screen, and the Sony Reader has none at all. Neither one has Wi-fi access.

This is the 21st century. The Web should be as readable as a book, and when an e-book mentions a URL I should be able to click on it and see that page.

They can’t show video.

You can watch videos on a Sony PSP, on a phone, or even on a watch. Why on earth would a device that gives me access to books not also include video? Or even audio? Or even color pictures?

I’m as much of a literary elitist as anyone. I enjoy reading Shakespeare and Dickens, and I certainly don’t want books to be replaced with video. I don’t even want the cheesy “bonus video content” that e-novels of the future will undoubtedly be bundled with. But think about non-fiction books—what if a computer book could include a video to show you how to use software? What if a book on how to play the guitar could include audio examples? Old-fashioned paper books already have this feature, thanks to the high-tech approach of sticking a CD inside the front cover. Why can’t 21st century e-books do the same thing?

And anyway, it’s a device with a screen. Let me watch a TV show when I’m done reading my book.

Maybe they’re not really doomed yet.

There’s one reason I think people will still be buying Kindles and Readers next Christmas. Someone (probably Apple) will introduce a device that does all of the things I’m asking for. But given the current cost of things like 10″ color LCD screens, that device will be expensive. Maybe the Kindle, Reader, and Nook will survive for a few years as low-cost alternatives for people who don’t want to spend $900 on a “real” e-book reader.

I hope I’m right about that. I really want an e-book reader myself, but I don’t want the limited, monochrome, low-cost alternative. I want the real thing, and I’m willing to pay for it.

January 12, 2010

CES 2010: Inada Massage Chairs

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

It had been a long day and the thought of a massage sounded so relaxing. At CES Unveiled I walked past the Inada Massage Chairs table. They had two chairs lying prone. There was a bit of a line to try one out, but I thought it might be fun to try it myself.

I walked up to the guy in the chair nearest to me.

CES 2010: Inada Massage Chair

“You don’t look very relaxed,” I said to him jokingly.

“I’m not,” he replied.

I decided I didn’t need to give them a try after all.

December 28, 2009

DDR Dance Pad Purse from Liz Revision

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

The wonderful Liz Revision made this purse out of an old and broken Dance Dance Revolution Dance Pad.

DDR Dance Pad Purse

She used a pattern to create the purse and even included a lining. Excellent work, Liz!

Via: Dance Dance Revolution Pad Turned into a Purse | CraziestGadgets.com

December 17, 2009

Talking Clock

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets,Retro Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

Last weekend, I went to visit my mom. In the bathroom, I saw a clock that has been part of the house since the Eighties and it looked it.

Talking Clock

We bought this clock for Carol when her eyes started failing. When you press the button on the top, the clock announces the time. Here is a video of it in action.

I’ve seen this clock in my parents’ house for two decades, but something about the retro Max Headroom style made it jump out at me. It suddenly looked out of place in their house. All the Eighties stuff that used to be in their house has slowly gone away, leaving this last vestige. The talking clock was spared because of its functionality. We should all be so lucky.

December 14, 2009

Kid-Eating Escalator

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

This photo from Nicole Lee brought back such a vivid memory for me:

Trouble by Nicole Lee from Flickr

In her words:

Let’s see. Shut-down escalator? Check. Random kid-size shoe? Check. No kid in sight? Check.

Yep, kid-eating escalator.

This EXACT thing happened to my friend, Kirstie Salamanikas, at the top of the escalator in the Mervyn’s store at Valley Fair Mall back in the Eighties. Kirstie was lucky enough to give her shoe a big yank and get it out of the escalator, but the bite it took out of the sole left an indelible mark in my mind.

To this day, I’m scared of escalators, jumping over that dangerous seam where the escalator can grab hold of your shoe and keep crunching it as the stairs move under your feet.

Mike tries to tell me that escalator technology has advanced since then and it’s impossible for someone to get their shoe caught, but now I know he’s WRONG!

December 4, 2009

Review: Line 6 M13

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets — Michael Moncur @ 2:45 am

Line 6 m13

When you hear electric guitar music, only part of what you hear comes from the guitar. The rest is effects, such as distortion, echoes, reverb, and chorus. While guitarists traditionally use a stack of single-purpose effects pedals to create their unique sound, digital multi-effects have recently become a more convenient alternative. The Line 6 M13 is one of the most sophisticated multi-effect units, with over 80 digital simulations of pedal effects from the traditional to the bizarre.

How it Works

I’ve used lots of multi-effect devices, and I’m pleased to report that the M13 has the best user interface I’ve seen. In fact, since it’s meant to replace a group of guitar pedals, it’s designed so that you can use many of the functions with your foot.

The M13′s main interface is divided into four columns and three rows, representing twelve effects pedals. You can use four effects—one in each column—simultaneously. The signal from the guitar normally proceeds through the four effects from left to right.

In each column, you can select one of the three rows with the corresponding footswitch. The selected row’s switch will light up. Pressing the same switch twice bypasses the effect for that column. Once you’ve selected a row, the LCD display and knobs at the top of the column let you configure the effect. Pushing the first switch selects the category of effect, while turning it chooses a specific effect. The remaining knobs control the effect’s parameters—for example, the amount of distortion or the number of repeats.

Each group of 12 effects is called a scene, and you can have a total of 12 scenes (more with the firmware update, see below.) While this all sounds complex, it only takes a few minutes tinkering with the M13 to understand how to use it.

The Sounds

The M13′s different effects are divided into five broad categories. Each has its own color; the LCD backlights for each column and the footswitches change color to correspond with the effect type, which means you can tell at a glance which effects are currently enabled. The following categories of effects are included:

  • Distortion (yellow) – effects that create the familar distorted and fuzzy guitar tones used in most rock music.
  • Modulation (blue) – effects that change the quality of the sound—for example, tremolo and vibrato effects to vary volume and pitch, and spacy effects like chorus and flanger.
  • Filter (violet) – effects that filter the sound, creating synthesizer-like effects.
  • Delay (green) – effects that repeat a sound, creating rhythm or depth.
  • Reverb (red) – effects that add “air” or simulate the sound of a room or hall.

All of the effects sound great. Many of them are digital simulations of well-known guitar effects—for example, the Ibanez Tube Screamer used on many blues records or the Fuzz Face used by Jimi Hendrix. While I’m not enough of an expert on guitar tones to judge how realistic these simulations are, they all sound like the real thing to my ears.

The Looper

Along with all of these effects, the M13 includes a sophisticated looper—an effect that can record and repeat a musical phrase. You can record up to 28 seconds of audio, which will then repeat, and if you’re quick on your feet you can make this sound quite musical. You can then overdub more guitar (or other) parts to create a layered sound. All of this can be operated with 8 of the footswitches normally used to select effects, and features like an Undo button add to the usefulness.

The looper is like a separate device in itself—in fact, it’s basically the Line 6 DL4, previously available separately. You can use it in combination with the M13′s effects to create sophisticated layers of sound – here’s one example from Youtube.

Firmware Update

Recently, Line 6 introduced the M9. It’s a smaller version of the M13. While it can only do three effects at a time and lacks much of the user interface, it has the same effects as the M13, some improved, and 20 more effects. It can also store 48 scenes instead of 12, and has some additional looper features.

This sort of thing happens all of the time in the consumer electronics industry—a new device arrives and leaves those who bought the older, more expensive version feeling a bit cheated. But not so with the M13. Coinciding with the release of the M9, Line 6 released a free firmware update for the M13 that gives it all of the new sounds and features of the new unit.

Since this firmware update just came out, an M13 you buy today may not have the latest update. See Line 6′s site for information on performing the update. It took me about 5 minutes and everything worked fine.

Alternatives

At about $500, the M13 is an amazing deal, but there are other choices:

  • If you’re a devout traditionalist and only need a couple of effects, you might want to get exactly the same pedal effects your guitar heroes use. Most are still available and will undoubtedly sound a bit better than a digital simulation.
  • The M13 only replaces guitar pedals—it doesn’t include an amplifier or an emulation of one. If you don’t have a good amp, you might consider an amp with built-in effects (such as the Line 6 Spider Valve series or the Peavey Vypyr series.) There is also Line 6′s line of POD effects, which combine some of the same effects as the M13 with simulations of a variety of different amplifiers.
  • Some people prefer software to hardware. Software like Native Instruments Guitar Rig or Line 6 Pod Farm can do many of the same effects within a computer.
  • The aforementioned Line 6 M9 is a more compact version of the M13. It lacks some of the effects routing options, the effects share a single LCD screen, and it is limited to 3 effects at a time, but it’s otherwise identical to the M13. If you need to save $100 or if space is at a premium it might be a better choice.

Conclusion

As a beginning guitarist, I was bewildered by the variety of effects pedals out there. I wanted to have the option to play with different sounds, but didn’t want to invest thousands of dollars in pedals and surround myself with patchcords. The Line 6 M13 gives me all of the sounds I wanted and more, plus a looper that is great for practicing. For $500, you won’t find anything better, and if we’re lucky, Line 6 will keep updating the firmware to make the M13 even better.

November 2, 2009

Powermat Wireless Charging System

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets,PDAs and Phones,Reviews — Matthew Strebe @ 9:26 am

PowermatAbout two weeks ago, I got notice that the Powermat system was available for purchase. I went to Powermat.com, read up on it, added one mat and two iPhone cradles to my cart, and then hovered over the buy button for about five minutes. At $180, my highly impulsive gadget-buying urge was tempered, and I didn’t buy it. A week later, Powermat sent me an evaluation kit at no charge for review.

So I plugged in the charging pad, put my iPhone in the charging case, and set it on the pad. The pad chimed its acceptance, a charge LED went on, and the iPhone indicated that it was charging. Having seen Powermat’s viral video, I said (out loud, much to the chagrin of my wife) “It’s f—ing charging!”

After using it for two days, I really like it but I’m still glad I didn’t pay for it. Despite how much I love the idea of it and the clever design, my recommendation is to wait until the price is down by half overall and until they have clip-on adapters or cases for at least three devices you own and use daily.

Clever design aesthetics permeate the entire system. The portable mat is a tri-fold device that comes with a magnetically closing case. There are buttons on the mat to control sound volume and LED brightness. The universal charger is small and comes with a magnetically coupled case that holds four of the seven tips included with it. The power adapter is designed to let you coil the extra cable around the adapter and clip it in, so your charging station looks tidy. Even the boxes that the system comes in exhibit excellent design.

PowermatThe only missed opportunities I noticed were the lack of a booster battery on the iPhone charge case, which would have sold me on the whole solution when I first looked at it, and the fact that the wireless charge receiver on the iPhone case protrudes about two millimeters from the case, which is annoying to my wife to the point that she’d prefer to use the upright iPod charger. I don’t mind it. In my opinion, the portable pad is a better value than the standard mat because it’s portable and I think it looks better.

The mat contains coils that create a magnetic field. When you place a device that has a compatible coil on it, it induces a current in the device and that current is used to charge the device. Powermat adds some clever engineering to detect when devices are present to shut down when power is not needed, thus saving that 20% of power that would be lost to inefficiency when no device is present.

Unfortunately, you can’t just throw your iPhone on the pad randomly. You have feel around for the (strong) magnetic field and wait for the charge sound or your device might not couple correctly. iPhones are finicky about charge power unfortunately, and about 1/3rd of the time my phone fails to charge even when the mat thinks it should be. Removing and replacing the phone usually fixes it. I have figured out that placing the iPhone quickly with a slight circular wave helps find the right spot to couple better than placing the device straight down on the pad, and now that I’ve gotten good at it, the phone couples about 90% of the time. That’s 10% of the time less often than dropping it on my iPhone upright dock.

But you don’t want to spend $180 on a wireless charger to wind up with a system that is slightly harder to use than dropping your iPhone in a dock. Now, for devices less finicky than the iPhone, such as the Nintendo DSi (Powermat Charging Case for the DSi) and most current Blackberry models (except the Storm) it works a lot better. Its included charger adapter for other devices is light enough that the magnetic field pulls it to the right spot and it works every time.

The Powermat comes with an array of plug-in adapters for other devices. But avoiding the use of plugs is the point of the Powermat, so without a clip-on adapter that stays with the device, there’s little reason to use the Powermat over any other universal wired adapter. If you think of the Powermat as a tidy universal adapter charging station system with the ability to become a wireless charging system for a few of your devices, you’ll be really happy with it. Its plug-in universal adapter can charge nearly all of the devices I use on a weekly basis, including my Mophie Juicepack Air and my stereo Bluetooth headset. Only my Sony cameras and camcorders are left without a solution.

The Powermat is exciting technology. When the initial adopters have paid back the company’s investors and the Powermat company is comfortable reducing the price to be competitive with wired universal chargers, and the number of natively supported devices is in the teens, it’ll be a compelling purchase. Until then, it’s an interesting vision of the future that’s still firmly in the future for most consumers.

October 14, 2009

More Power To You!

Filed under: Cars & Transportation,Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

I love this advertisement from America’s Independent Electric Companies.

More Power To You

It reads:

More Power To You! America’s independent light and power companies build your new electric living

Tomorrow’s higher standard of living will put electricity to work for you in ways still unheard of!

The time isn’t too far off, the experts say, when you’ll wash your dishes without soap or water – ultrasonic waves will do the job.

Still hasn’t happened yet. I’ve seen lots of gadgets that SAY they do this, but none of them have been made readily available.

Your beds will be made at the touch of a button.

Yours do that? Mine sure doesn’t.

The kids’ homework will be made interesting and even exciting when they are able to dial a library book, a lecture, or a classroom demonstration right into your home – with sound. (Some of this is happening already)

Thank you, Internet! You HAVE fulfilled the dreams of the 1950′s!

To enjoy all this, you’ll want a lot more electric power, and the independent electric companies of America are already building new plants and facilities to provide it. Right now these companies are building at the rate of $5,000,000,000 a year, and planning to double the nation’s supply of electricity in less than 10 years.

America has always had the best electric power service in the world. The electric companies are resolved to keep it that way.

Can I just take a moment to THANK the electric companies of yesteryear?! They stepped up the production of plants to meet our needs so well that we feel that electricity is a RIGHT. Whenever we get a huge snowstorm here in Utah, the weight of the snow can snap a line. When the people of Utah are out of power for more than a few hours, they SUE electric companies. Outages and brownouts are rare because these folks had the foresight to build.

Mind you, I wish they had built more windmills and less coal burning plants, but it’s not really fair for me to expect them to foresee the energy crisis as well as the need for it.

Advert via: vintage_ads: “They’re working on it!”

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