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.
Before departing on our electric road trip in the Tesla Model S in October, we were kindly lent lots of kit to make the journey easier and more tech-packed.
Of all the tech we used and tested on our trip, one of the most useful was the Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme, a gadget perfectly suited for the journey to Scotland and back.
As the name suggests, this is a Rugged laptop specifically designed to withstand some pretty extreme conditions. It is aimed at people who need to be working out in the field in all kinds of weather conditions. Perfectly suited for the west of Scotland then!
The Latitude 14 Rugged was to be the central hub of our video and blogging management, allowing us to edit video whenever the chance presented itself and manage blogs and social media in a full screen environment. Video was edited using Adobe Premiere Pro CC and uploaded over EE’s 4g network.
As laptops go, this is a seriously luggable device, it’s bulky and heavy to the point that it has an integrated carry handle. The bulk and weight are due to it’s armour added to protect it from fairly substantial drops and providing it will water resistance.
Each of the myriad of i/o ports are rubber-sealed to protect them and it’s touch screen is resistive rather than the market standard ‘capacitive’ touch in order for it be used in wet conditions and dell have even provided an inbuilt stylus to aid use of it in cold conditions where you wouldn’t want to expose your fingers to the elements.
The model we tested was packed with hardware features including a Intel Core i5-6300U Processor (Dual Core, 3M Cache, 2.40 GHz), 8GB 2133MHz DDR4 Memory, 128GB Solid State Drive, Intel Integrated HD Graphics 520, Intel Dual Band Wireless 8260 (802.11ac) with Bluetooth, Dell Wireless Qualcomm Gobi 4G LTE (DW5809E for Win8/Win10), 35.6cm (14.0″) HD (1366×768) Touch Display with Microphone Camera with Privacy Shutter all powered from E5 90W AC Adapter.
The processor, memory and solid state drive all helped to run Windows 10 Professional with ease. I was able to happily edit 4K video footage in Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2018 and upload these files with a EE 4G data Sim card. Everything was taken care of without having to mess around with secondary devices to connect to the internet. In retrospect, we could have employed the Latitude as a virtual studio for our video broadcasting, but time constraints simply didn’t give us the time to set this up.
All in all this was a seriously impressive device, although this is in no way a practical machine for use in an office, but when used for it’s intended purpose in extreme weather conditions and less that welcoming environments, it simply excels with a feature packed all in one solution with water resistance and extreme durability.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that these features come at a premium, the Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme is priced around the £2900 mark.
It is always particularly interesting to test technology that has been developed by leaders in their particular sector, so I was very excited about visiting Orbitsound in London to have a demonstration of their ONE P70W Speakers.
Orbitsound was founded by Ted Fletcher, the inventor of Airsound™ technology. Ted has been working for many years as a musician, audio engineer, electronics designer and studio designer, to give the listener a more realistic, more immersive sound experience. These years of experience in the industry led to the release in 2017 of the Orbitsound ONE P70, the worlds first multi-orientation speaker, meaning regardless of where you stand, it sound remains the same.
The P70W is designed in such as way that it can be shelf or wall-mounted. It has a narrow design (700mm wide x 173mm deep x 77mm high), this allows for comfortably mounting below a flat screen television or on a wall as a ‘party’ speaker. It’s built from wood and steel and can be purchased in matte black, bambo or bone white weighing in a 5.1kg.
Sound is provided by two (front and top) 2″ ‘Orbitsound MK4 drivers’, a Sub-bass low-profile 5.25″ driver and 2X2 Airsound Orbitsound MK4 drivers. By positioning the main speakers both front and top mean that sound production is maintains regardless of how the speaker mounted.
Connectivity is provided by Bluetooth, Optical cable, 3.5mm stereo jack and the Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi feature is the most impressive as it allows streaming of audio from a variety of sources without the loss of quality associated with Bluetooth, effectively allowing for uncompressed playback of music. It also allows for multi-speaker / multi-room playback with perfectly synchronised sound and zero delay. This is achieved by using the Orbitsound Smartphone app (Android and iOS) which supports streaming providers and internet radio stations and allows you to ‘group’ sets of speakers to create one virtual speaker. When I was given a demonstration of this at the Orbitsound offices, 3 separate speakers, both wall and shelf mounted were grouped together using the app. I was then asked to close my eyes to try and decide where I thought the sound was coming from. It was unearthly as it sounded like it was coming out of thin air, very impressive!
The app currently supports TuneIn, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Tidal, Napster, Apple Music (iOS only) and of course your own device stored music. If you are absolutely focused on using other services such as Google Play Music or Amazon, then you can of course stream using Bluetooth. I used the speak in conjunction with my Amazon Dot, as well as my iMac and Xperia XZ Premium, all worked flawlessly.
I was also able to connect the speaker to my Freesat HD box using the supplied optical cable. This worked great, although the Freesat box had a bug with Netflix which meant it would only broadcast Dolby sound. This was a simple configuration on the Freesat box and all was working again.
The speaker comes with very nicely designed remote control and you can also use you own remote control using the speakers ‘learning mode’. I was able to control the speaker using my TV remote within a couple of seconds of setup.
The people at Orbitsound definitely had the environment in mind when they designed the P70W as it is built to power-down components that aren’t used, but power up instantly when required.
Quite a bit of thought has gone into small details on the P70W with the inclusion of reversible LED information display and Orbitsound badge. This might seem small things but they count as you really wouldn’t want to be showing off your new speaker to friends and have the badge upside down. integrated wall mounting and 200mm VESA bosses and bolts are included to allow you to get going straightaway with unnecessary visits to AV stores to buy mounting kits. There is also a protective sleeve for the speaker, to protect it when not in use.
The speaker also comes with a standard power cord, aux cable, quick-start guide and safety and warranty information, all packaged up in a very smart box. The useful inclusion of a carry handle was helpful too, as I carried a demonstration unit to the train station.
The Orbitsound P70W feels like a speaker that can fit many needs, be that as a Sound-bar for your TV, a party speaker for gatherings of people and the facility to extend your listening experience to multiple speakers. The smart design of the speakers means that it they would sit very comfortably in a professional or public environment. The whole family has really enjoy the quality and versatility of the speaker and we’ll be sad to see it go.
At £399, the Orbitsound P70W is great value for buyers looking for a richer smoother sound regardless of their position in the room.
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.
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 (1528)
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!
Trackr has released a brand new personal tracking device to compliment the existing Bravo and Cross Peerless Trackr Pen (reviewed here).
The Trackr Pixel is smaller than a 10 pence piec, making it the smallest Bluetooth tracking devices available. Building on the functionality of the Cross Pen, the Trackr Pixel has longer range, louder speaker and LED light which makes locating it much easier find under car seats and at the bottom of bags.
The Pixel is available in nine bright colours, with a lower price point that the Bravo. It also comes with free keyring and adhesive. This means you can attach it to your keys, wallet, bags, laptop, remote control or even pet collar!
CEO and Co-Founder of TrackR, Chris Herbert said “Our goal is for people to no longer need to remember where all their items are located. Instead, technology should keep track of where our things are for us and our families, TrackR pixel is a step towards that future with its small and light design, built-in LED light, over one year battery life, and expansive Bluetooth range, making it one of the most versatile and easy-to-use tracking devices out there. Plus, it’s backed by the TrackR Crowd Locate network, which helps our customers find more than two million items worldwide each day.”
Once the device is paired with the free TrackR app, you can make your lost item light up and ring by selected in within the app.
As before with TrackR Crowd Locate Network, should you lose an item out of range of your smartphone, the network is activated and enables you to receive anonymous updates of the last-known location of your missing items whenever another TrackR user passes within range of it.
If you own an Amazon Alexa-enabled devices like the Echo, you can also use this to help you find your missing keys or phone. Pressing a button on the TrackR pixel device can also ring a misplaced phone – even if it’s on silent.
TrackR pixel can be bought online for $24.99 at www.thetrackr.com today and is available online now with eight-packs available for $99.99.
With the UK launch of the Nokia 3310, I talk to Mark Murphy at BBC Radio Suffolk about the nostalgia behind one of the most popular mobile phones of the last 20 years.
The original Nokia 3310 is without doubt an iconic mobile handset and in it’s original form which went on to sell 126,000,000 units.
Following the licensing of the ‘Nokia’ phone brand to HMD, four new phones, including three running Android, namely the Nokia 3, Nokia 4 and Nokia 5 are to be launched.
Alongside these modern smartphones see’s the reborn Nokia 3310.
The handset is described as ‘a modern classic reborn’, retaining the durability and insane standby time of the original. Available in four distinctive colours and with a price tag of £49, expect the 3310 to be popular again.
Don’t forget to listen in to the stream to find our more!
Lighter evenings are upon us at last! We can start to look forward to getting out in the fresh air again after hibernating over the winter months. As always when I start thinking of spending more time outside I begin looking for gadgets that I can take with me.
I’ve recently been sent the Edifier MP280 Portable Speaker something that is clearly marketed to outdoor enthusiasts.
I’ve always found Edifier really high quality and the MP280 checks that box, it feels solid and well made with special silicone material and metal. The speakers are wrapping around the cylindrical design and give 360 degree sound along with professional grade DSP chips to give exceptional sound quality.
The MP280 comes with Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity, microSD and Aux sockets. There is the added bonus of a USB out port which means you can use the speaker to charge your phone or other USB device when you are out and about. The speaker can be charged using a standard micro USB socket and when fully charged, the lithium ion battery should give 10 hours of constant playback.
The on/off button is placed on top of the speaker along with the Bluetooth pairing button. When switched on, the speaker plays a pleasant tune to let you know it’s working and to demonstrate it’s lovely sound quality. On the side is the volume controls and also a button used play and pause music which can also be used to display the current battery charge status which when pressed for 2 seconds displays the battery status using 3 green LED’s.
At the bottom of the speaker is the power / status light and just above this is an NFC contact point. If you have an NFC (near field connection) compatible phone you simply tap your phone on this and it sorts out the connection for you.
As a smartphone user, I am constantly faced with battery anxiety, where I might struggle to the end of the day without having to plug my phone into a charger. The MP280 can remove this anxiety by doubling as an emergency recharge station to give your phone a boost and continue to play your music whilst charging it up again.
The speaker will operate up to 10 metres away from your phone using Bluetooth 4.0 technology and the really useful and it also doubles as a hands free device with it’s in built microphone!
If you fancy going for a hike with your friends or family, you can attach the speaker to your backpack using the inbuilt carabiner clip. Again this is feels high quality too.
There are no shortage of portable bluetooth speakers on the market at the moment and the MP280 certainly sits at the top end of this with a well made, high quality product ideal for your camping trips in the coming months.