Having reviewed some of Sphero’s line of robots over the past three years (including the amazing gravity defying BB-8), I was absolutely made up when R2-D2 dropped onto my desk a few weeks back!
For those of us who haven’t been near a movie theatre of television for the last 40 years, R2-D2 is character from the enormously popular STAR WARS movie franchise, appearing in 9 of them (sofar!). The droid (robot) is portrayed as a skilled mechanic, fighter pilot’s assistant and has many hidden skills which have been gradually revealed over the course of the movies.
Sphero have clearly made sure that their version of R2-D2 is as authentic as possible and it is absolutely crammed with technology which mimics the character from the movies. With front and rear LED lights, rotating head, integrated speaker and most amazing of all articulating legs, which mean when Artoo is stationary, his legs are position straight down and he stands upright. As soon as he is commanded to move, the middle leg drops down and moves forward, his side legs then move backwards to form a tripod (as he does in the films).
Artoo is controlled using Sphero’s Droid App (iOS or Android), after scanning for the app, you are presented with a selection screen showing the available droids within Bluetooth range, after selecting R2-D2 from the list he suddenly lights up and chirps. The app screen then shows controls for moving the droid and also for triggering his signature moves.
These moves really make the whole experience authentic as they mimic scenes from the film, such as when the Jawas disabled the droid and caused him to fall on his face in A New Hope. There are simply too many to detail here, but you could recreate pivotal scenes from Star Wars using these moves alone.
Aside from these features, the app also allows for Holographic Simulation and the ability to explore difference places and ship interiors from the Star Wars galaxy. It also supports Droid to Droid experience, where R2-D2 will interact with other Sphero Star Wars droids.
There is a ‘Watch With Me’ feature was one of my favourites, which allows you to select a movie from the Star Wars saga and R2-D2 will react to difference scenes, such as acting scared when Darth Vader appears on the screen and much more.
Charging the droid is done using the included stylised USB cable and will give over 1 hour of full use between charges.
I’m a big fan of Star Wars, so I have to admit I was a bit star-struck when I realised just how good the Sphero R2-D2 really is and at the current price of under £95, it feels like good value for any of fan Star Wars.
It should also be noted, that along with Sphero range of robots and droids, R2-D2 is fully compatible with Sphero-Edu which gives budding young coders the opportunity to learn about programming using their favourite Star Wars character.
Following on from the ongoing Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal, I was invited to be a guest on James Hazell’s show on BBC Radio Suffolk. We talked in depth about how social networks and apps are using our data.
Please listen in by clicking the ‘play’ button above. Don’t forget to Like, Subscribe, Comment and Share.
In the lead up to the East West Road Trip in October I was looking for a smartphone to enable me to document the trip both with photographs and video and was particularly keen to live stream the video where possible.
Initially I was looking to live-stream the trip using a 360° camera, unfortunately this didn’t come off and I was faced with a last-minute race to find an alternative literally 2 days before we were departing!
Fortunately, I was offered the Sony Xperia XZ1 phone with 30gb of data from EE. This solved by data anxiety problems immediately and having used Sony Xperia devices in the past, I was confident they would step up to the plate with image and video quality.
Sony are an extremely well-established tech companies, in fact for many years they were ‘the’ tech company of choice and it’s no secret the mobile phone market is dominated by two other big tech brands, so I was interested to see how the XZ1 would differentiate itself in an ultra-competitive industry.
Out of the box, the Sony XZ1 is a sleek, smooth, black device, with Gorilla Glass 5 front facing glass and deep black aluminium at the back, a departure from the super-sized XZ Premium from earlier in the year which was covered from and rear in glass. With dimensions of 5.83″ x 2.87″ with a thickness of 7.4mm, this is not the most gigantic handset and its smooth edges make it comfortable to hold, although it is very smooth, so hold on tight! Aside from black, the device is also available in Moonlit Blue, Warm Silver and Venus Pink, so plenty of choice.
The phone is preloaded with the Google Android™ O (or Oreo) operating system and Sony have been very sensitive by not trashing the ideals of the OS by avoiding in the addition of their own ‘enhancements’ in the most part.
The phone packs a very bright 5.2″ TRILUMINOS™ display driven by BRAVIA® TV technology given HDR compatible playback X-Reality™ producing 138% of standard display colour spectrum, the companies experience in the display market really comes through. The display is noticeably brighter and colour more natural that other phone displays and playing HDR video from YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime is incredible. X-Reality™ intelligently removes noise and from videos produces exquisite results, it really is impressive. Some people would criticise the use of a Full HD screen HDR screen instead of the perceived standard of UHD and above, but I would beg to differ, having tried both UHD and 4K mobile devices, I see no real benefits, even when using VR Goggles.
The beating heart inside of the device is provided by a Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 835 Processor, positioning the phone in the same bracket at the competition. In addition, storage comes as 4GB of RAM and 64 GB of super-fast UFS internal memory with support for an addition of a up to 256GB micro SDXC. It’s pleasing that support for additional memory has been included with the phone, although it’s quite fiddly adding and removing both Sim card and SD cards with the phone, but on the plus side it’s very accessible. It should be noted that around 9.5GB is used up by preinstalled firmware and applications.
The phone is powered by a 2700 mAh battery, featuring Smart Stamina 3.0 and Qnovo Adaptive Charging which prolongs the life of the battery by ensuring it is charged quickly and safely with the addition of Qualcomm® Quick Charge™ 3.0. I’ve come across battery charge management in the past with electric cars and particularly the Tesla Model S, this too allows for quick charging, but upon reaching around 80% full, charging speed is tapered off to ensure the lifetime of the battery. Sony does a similar job with the Xperia XZ1 by intelligently noting owners charge habits and adjusting the charge rate of the phone if for instance you are sleeping and don’t begin using your phone until 7.15am. It is also possible to use the phone to charge other devices using an Android OTG adapter, but in fairness mobile phone battery is at such a premium that use of it for anything other than for the phone itself is rare.
With normal use the phone easily provides a days use with something left over at the end and this will be using all of the phones features, even some of the cooler ones which I will talk about later. Charging is provided by a Qualcomm® Quick Charge™ 3.0 charger and USB Type C socket.
Moving on the the front and rear cameras, Sony has yet again infused the phone with their high quality optics and sensors. The rear facing 9MP Motion Eye™ camera with 1/ 2.3” Exmor RS™ with 1.22μm pixel pitch. The lens is a 25 mm wide G Lens F2.0. Sony again use their own BIONZ™ for mobile image-processing engine to give superb results. There’s a ton of features such as Predictive Capture (motion / smile), Autofocus burst, x8 Digital Zoom, HDR Photo, 0.6 sec Quick Launch & Capture, Predictive Hybrid Autofocus, Anti-distortion shutter, Triple image sensing technology, SteadyShot™ with Intelligent Active Mode (5-axis stablisation) and 4K recording at 30fps.
However, the ‘pièce de résistance’ is the inclusion of a 960 fps Super slow motion video capture. This is achieved by the inclusion of addition hardware installed directly into the camera sensor in the form of hyper fast dynamic memory which allows for raw footage to be saved directly into the sensor and then drip feed and standard speed back to the standard hardware. Due to the colossal amount of power required to pulling 960 frames per second, the sensor only actually captures .18 of a second at 720hd, stretching it to around 6 seconds of footage.
This is called Motion Eye technology and personally I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops for the future, because it’s really impressive. As expected, you need bags of light to capture at this speed, so it works best outside in daylight, I also noticed light flicker in my office due to the refresh rate of our lights. Normal lighting does not cause his problem though.
The front facing camera is a saner 13MP 1/ 3.06” Exmor RS™ for mobile image sensor with 22mm wide angle lens at F2.0, again Sony includes it’s proprietary SteadyShot™ 5-axis stablization technology.
There is one simply AMAZING feature included with the XZ1 which is the 3D Capture mode. This uses software developed by Sony, utilising both processor and camera to allow you to 3D scan objects, share them and even have them 3D printed. It takes a little practice and Sony actively limit the modes available to give you time to get used to simple scans until you are ready to scan ‘freehand’. My initial results were ok, but I soon became adept in scanning some great objects, from peoples’ faces, heads, food and any other object I could think of. This is a tipping point in this industry, no longer do you need super expensive scanners and solutions, you can now use your Sony Xperia XZ1 (and now XZ Premium) to scan 3d objects. It truly is incredible.
Sony has chosen to stick with traditional Xperia design, this means that the trend of big screens and no bezels isn’t a feature of this phone, instead the phone packs stereo speakers at top and bottom of the phone which in landscape mode gives supreme stereo sound, making use of the Qualcomm® aptX™ HD audio features, the phone can ‘upscale’ lower quality audio to a near uncompressed sound when streaming across Bluetooth. There are a host of other features such as High-Resolution Audio, DSEE HX™, LDAC, Digital Noise Cancelling, Clear Audio+, S-Force Front Surround, Stereo Recording and Sony’s Virtual Phones technology. The speaker volume has also been increased by 50% over previous models.
Gaming wise, the phone is going to be able to handle pretty much everything thrown at it at the moment due to it’s highest end spec, but also included is PS4 integration using Remote Play. this allows you to connect to your own PS4 remotely and play your installed games, you can even pair a PS4 gamepad if that appeals.
The phone retails at £599 off contract, but at the time of writing there are some pretty appealing deals including some nice add-ons, but in the UK you are still looking above £50 per month for two years and more if you want better data allowance.
Although the XZ1 doesn’t pack the 4K display of the XZ Premium, the screen is quite possibly richer, especially in HDR mode, the sound it great and performance very very quick. In a world where it is perceived we only have two choices, Sony have yet again produced a solid handset capable of sitting amongst the best.
I did end up streaming a fair amount using the Sony Xperia XZ1 during and after the trip and found it to be a very capable device and coupled with an effectively limitless amount of data, it worked well.
On a side note, EE’s 4G network is very impressive and we were able to live stream both through Glencoe and arriving at Ardnamurchan, they pretty much had us covered.
A little over a month has passed since we arrived back from the Scotland and as promised, we have donated the remains of our Gadget Road Trip fund to British Red Cross.
This afternoon, I transferred the remaining balance of £42.32 from our Monzo Card to the British Red Cross charity and thus rendered the account empty.
I was personally extremely upset by the Grenfell Tower disaster earlier this year, which I know also affected Paul. The British Red Cross were on the ground there immediately after it happened and provided much need assistance to the poor families that had lost their loved ones, their homes and everything they owned in a matter of minutes. It is because of this, that I wanted to donate to this charity. Since Grenfell, other disasters have continued to affect the people of our planet and the British Red Cross have continued to provide much needed support for these people who have lost absolutely everything they own and still lack the basics of clean water, electricity and food. If you would like to continue to help them, you can also donate via this link
Thank you so much again to the following people and organisations for their kind donations of funds or services!
XSItems Ltd ACPlus Favorite Fried Chicken Free Reign Internet Coderus Gavin Dadd Patrick Lohan Jackie Robinson Ian Brown Olive Porter Sandra Grilli Callum McGilvery.
We wouldn’t have been able to feed ourselves during the trip and have something soft to sleep on. Thank you again.
Thanks also to Hillcroft Park in Ullswater for allowing us to stay at their lodgings for two nights (They will be featuring in the upcoming sitcom ‘Home from Home’ with Johnny Vegas, so keep an eye out!) and Far View Bed & Breakfast in Kilchoan (I won’t forget little Gracie exclaiming “My wellington boots fell over!!” as I took her and her dad on a little test drive).
The Gadget Man - Episode 105 - Gadget Road Trip - On the Sofa with Sarah Lilley at BBC Radio Suffolk[ 34:29 ]Play Now | Play in Popup | Download (1536)
As I continue to ride the wave of euphoria of completing the 1200 mile east to west Gadget Road Trip with my lifelong friend Andy. Today I joined BBC Radio Suffolk’s Sarah Lilley on the Sofa in Ipswich and explained how the challenge came about and how it felt to drive 1200 miles in an Electric Car and why I love Gadgets!
I also talked about how I met Vanessa, how I listen to music and an ill fated trip to Tunisia in 1996.
Listen in to the stream, bookmark the site, we have a LOAD of reviews coming up over the next few weeks, so stay tuned!
The human race has always been fascinated by the stars in the sky. From guiding themselves across the seas, planning the harvests or daydreaming about visiting far away planets, we spend a great deal of our time thinking about the stars and planets.
It is fascinating to think that we have only really begun to understand the Universe in the last 50 years and continue to be humbled by our place its vastness and the influence it still continues to holds on us.
So, when I was contacted by the makers of Cosmic Watch, I was intrigued on how an app was going to give me a much deeper understanding of our solar system and the movement of the planets and celestial bodies.
To start with, Cosmic Watch is a really good looking mobile application, with an incredibly slick, but simple to operate user experience. This is an app that can be any one of many things, from world clock, searching for planetary positions to finding Astrology Star Sign and it’s relation to those constellations at your time of birth.
Any astrophysicist worth his salt will tell you that the study of our Universe is not simply the study of ‘space’, it is also the study of ‘time’, this is conveniently called ‘Space-Time’. It’s called this because everything in our Universe is moving and thus “In physics, spacetime is any mathematical model that combines space and time into a single interwoven continuum.”.
In order to understand and track the stars and planets we need to understand Space-Time in order to be able to find the positions of the planets and stars at any given point in the past and the future.
Cosmic Clock can provide this information using a 3d user experience which places our planet Earth in the centre of everything, not as a step backwards in our understand, but in fact to help us understand our place in the Universe. It does this both effortlessly and beautifully.
Cosmic Clock has three main modes:
World Clock – For time keeping around the globe
Astronomy – For viewing the constellations and planets
Astrology – The study of the position of the stars and their perceived influence on us and our daily lives.
To navigate any of these modes you use buttons on the left hand side of the screen, with additional buttons placed at the base of the screen to control how the information is displayed.
Swiping the screen causes everything to rotate in 3d around the Earth, you can also pinch to zoom in order to see a particular place in detail.
In clock mode, you can actually use your phone or tablet as a desktop clock, just make sure you connect it to a charger first. You also need to switch off ‘sleep’ mode to keep the screen on. This is a fascinating view as it shows the Earth in real time including the approaching sunrise or sunset.
Astronomy mode display the stars and planets with added labels. You can speed up, freeze or reverse time to find out the exact position of celestial bodies as specific times.
Astrology mode shows the plants and stars using their traditional symbols and signs of the zodiac. It’s very detailed if this kind of thing interests you.
Throughout all of these modes, there are a myriad of different settings available to allow you to display the cosmos in pretty much any conceivable fashion and it’s certainly extremely interesting to use.
The app makes use of the internal sensors or your phone and tablet including the compass. This helps you align the display of the app with the actual night sky and makes the experience fascinating as rather than guessing the position of a planet, you can accurately predict when it will be in the sky.
If the stars and planets interest you, Cosmic Watch will provide you with a fascinating insight into the Solar System and wider Universe and it an absolute MUST PURCHASE and at £4.99 it is worth every penny.
You can purchase Cosmic Watch for iOS here or Android here
It was great to be back on BBC Radio Suffolk this morning chatting about technology, today I chatted to James Hazell about ‘Three Useful Apps’
Snapseed – a fantastic little photo editing app that is being used by more than just amateurs as a quick way of fixing photos on the move. Free – (iOS/Android)
How to Tie a Tie – I love this app and make use of it every month. If you want to know how to tie a Windsor Knot or even a Pratt, this is the app to help. Free – (iOS/Android)
RingGo – The premier parking app. Have you even arrived at a car park and not had change. Have you ever had to rush back to your car because the time was running out. Worry no more, it can all be done from RingGo!
Listen in to the stream to hear what I think about these ‘Three Useful Apps’ this week.