Perfect Your Swing With Babolat Play

Babolat PlayTo improve at any skill or game, it’s often practice, practice, practice but today’s technology can help point out the areas to work on. Babolat‘s rackets are world famous and used by some of the top tennis professionals and for tennis fans, Babolat have developed a connected tennis racket based on their AeroPro Drive to help them hone their game. Eva shows Todd the new racket, Babolat Play.

The Babolat Play racket looks like an ordinary racket on the outside but with sensors integrated into the handle, players now have access to a pile of information – power level, impact position on the racket head, type and number of strokes (forehand, backhand, serve, overhead smash), top spin or back spin, all provided through a smartphone app for both Apple and Android. The racket can be taken on court for six hours between charges and over 150 hours of performance information can be recorded between downloads, which can be either via USB or Bluetooth.

The Babolat Play racket will be on sale in March for $349.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Kelvin Wireless Wine Thermometer at CES

Kelvin LogoWatching the video for the Kelvin Duo wireless wine thermometer put me in mind for a glass, so as I write this, I’ve a tasty little Sicilian red to hand. But how do I know that I’m getting the best from the wine? Let the wine breathe – check. Wide glass – check. Temperature….hmm, not so sure about that…and that’s where the Kelvin thermometer comes to the rescue.

The Kelvin Duo consists of a thermometer band that goes round the bottle, transmitting the temperature to a receiver which in turn shows the temp on a small screen. The screen’s backlight is colour-coded to red, green and blue for too warm, just right and too cold.  The Kelvin is straightforward to use: first choose your wine, second select the category of wine from a choice of ten (four for white, three for red, two for sparkling and one for rosé), next put the band on the bottle and the bottle in the fridge. Finally, wait for the receiver screen to get into the green (or just flick into the blue) then pour and enjoy!

The Kelvin Duo is already on sale in the UK for £39.99 and will be coming to the US in the coming months with a price somewhere around $70-$80.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Liquid Image Ego LS at CES Unveiled

Liquid Image LogoLiquid Image weren’t a company with which I was familiar but having looked at their website, they have an impressive range of action cameras, with some interesting models where the camera is integrated into a scuba mask or ski goggles. At CES Unveiled, Todd interviews Melanie about Liquid Image’s new streaming wireless camera.

The Ego LS is hand-sized wearable and mountable camera not unlike others on the market but its key feature is that it can stream video over the Verizon 4G LTE network including XLTE allowing for fast live streaming. In addition to 4G LTE, the wireless features include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Low Frequency RF, which keeps the camera in standby mode for over a day without draining the battery. This makes the camera very flexible with a range of wireless coverage options and the Ego can simply record to memory if there’s no wireless at all. Neat.

The Ego LS model 800 is expected to retail at $399 and will be available in Q1 2015 for the US, with availability in other territories including Europe, Russia, Japan and Canada in Q2 and Q3.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Ion Audio Gets The Party Going at CES 2015

Ion Sound Experience

The great thing about Ion Audio is that they concentrate on fun audio products: seriously, who else puts a speaker in plant pot? At CES, Ion has continued in the tradition of fun with two products for two very different environments. Todd listens in with Wendy Fortin, Ion Product Manager.

First up is the Block Party Live, a 50W PA speaker on luggage wheels complete with light show. No really, there’s a light dome on top that projects coloured lights. Music can be streamed via Bluetooth and there’s an Apple and Android app to control the lights. Available now for $199.

Coming inside, the Sound Shine are wireless stereo speakers with built-in LED lighting. Screwed into a standard lamp holder the two speakers can either work as independent mono speakers or can be paired up for stereo sound. As with the Block Party, music is streamed via Bluetooth and both the music and light output can be controlled via an app for both Android and Apple devices. Available in Q1, $69 buys a single lamp and $129 gets a pair.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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TrackR Bravo Goes to CES

Trackr LogoIndigogo darling TrackR is at CES 2015 to show off the latest incarnation of its mini trackers, the TrackR bravo. If you aren’t familiar with TrackR products, they’re small, coin-sized devices which easily attach to valuable items that you want to track, from keys to laptops and pets. And if you do misplace something precious, the TrackR app for both iOS and Android, can locate any lost item in seconds by ringing your missing item or point the way using TrackR’s Distance Indicator. If it’s really lost, you can use Crowd GPS to track it down.

Trackr Bravo

The latest version, the TrackR bravo, raised over $1 000 000 in funding at Indigogo and is in the closing stages of development with full production expected in February 2015. It’s only 3.5 mm thick and 31 mm across, making it easy to attach and there are accessories such as a pet collar attachment and a waterproof housing. The TrackR bravo can be pre-ordered for $29.

TrackR received a batch of the latest development samples just in time for the CES and they’ll be at the Sands Expo Booth #74335. Pop round and see the TrackR bravo in person.

Griffin’s PowerMate Bluetooth is Now Available

PowerMate BluetoothGriffin Technology has announced that its highly anticipated PowerMate Bluetooth is now available. The PowerMate Bluetooth is a wireless controller with a sleek look. It can replicate key commands and system events in virtually any application.

The new PowerMate Bluetooth has the recognizable blue glowing base (as did the PowerMate that was first introduced in 2001). PowerMate Bluetooth uses Bluetooth LE (Low Energy/ 4.0) to connect with any compatible Mac computer within a 30-foot range. It eliminates the need for wires.

A newly redesigned PowerMate Manager application makes it quick and easy to program (both for beginners and advanced users). Users can add custom commands to any Mac application with a simple twist or click. PowerMate can also be used as a volume knob and is configured to work with iTunes and other audio applications right out of the box.

What can you do with PowerMate Bluetooth? You can shuttle through music and movies, scroll through long documents and spreadsheets, and use it to pan and zoom in creative applications. It can be used to spin and edit in DJ and music applications. You can program the LED in the base of the PowerMate Bluetooth to indicate system or inbox status. PowerMate Bluetooth can be used to resize and reconfigure tools and brushes in illustration and photo programs.

PowerMate Bluetooth is now available for $59.99. The original PowerMate is still available for $45.00.

Fitbit Flex Review

Fitbit LogoOver the past year, I’ve noticed more and more people wearing activity tracking devices and here in Northern Ireland I tend to see Fitbits rather than anything else.  Fitbit has been advertising on TV lately too with “It’s All Fit” and I’m sure that there will be a good number of Zips, Flexes and Charges under the Christmas tree come 25th December. I’ve worn a Zip for nearly two years as part of my efforts to keep my weight down and on review today I have the next model up, the Fitbit Flex. Let’s take a look.

FItbit Flex Package

The Fitbit Flex comes in a neat transparent package that shows off the coloured wristband and opening the packaging reveals the fitness tracker itself, large and small wrist bands, a USB sync dongle and a USB charging dock.

Fitbit Flex Contents

The fitness tracker itself is the small black rectangular unit and it’s slipped inside a small pocket in the wristband to be worn both during the day and asleep at night. The wristbands are made of a soft plastic and are available in ten different colours with additional coloured bands on sale from Fitbit’s online store. The large size fitted me well and the smaller one will suit women and children. It’s not obvious in the pictures, but the Flex uses a push-through buckle to keep the band on. It’s a little tricky to get clicked in sometimes, but it keeps the wristband on and in the two weeks of testing I’ve not had any problems with the Flex falling off accidentally. The Flex is supposed to be water resistant to 10m (30ft) and while I didn’t go that deep, it did survive 1000m of surface swimming.

The tracker has a set of LEDs which show through the transparent plastic window on the wrist band. The user interface is simple with five round LEDs used to communicate with the owner and at a basic level, each dot represents a fifth of the way towards the daily target. For example, if the target is 10,000 steps, one LED is worth 2,000 steps. The picture below shows the tracker has measured 6,000 steps, give or take. Normally none of the lights are on but tap on the band at the tracker and the lights come on.

Fitbit Flex

The Flex has an internal rechargeable battery which lasts about 5 days between charges. To charge the Flex up, the tracker unit is taken out of the wristband and placed in the USB charging cradle which in turn is plugged into any available USB port. Charging is relatively quick, typically taking less than an hour.

Getting the activity data off the Flex is easy too, with syncing available between the Flex and both PCs and smartphones. Fitbit is agnostic with clients available for Windows, Macs, Android and iOS, though check compatibility to be sure as the phone or tablet has to support the Low Energy (LE) version of Bluetooth. Syncing with a desktop or laptop is a case of downloading and installing the app, sticking the USB dongle in and getting going. The dongle and Flex are pre-paired so there’s nothing to worry about there. Sync to a phone is similar – download the app from the relevant store and run it. The app will automatically search for the Flex and connect up. A Fitbit login is needed from fitbit.com and signing up for that is free. There’s a full lifestyle portal online which gives access to fitness stats from any web browser.

Personally I used my Flex almost exclusively with my Android phone (Nexus 4) and tablet (Nexus 9). The app shows daily activity, sleep patterns and can record exercise, weight, food and water if the information is added in conscientiously.

Flex Summary  Flex Summar

Different views of the data can be shown – on the left below is a weekly view. Contrary to indications, I didn’t spend Saturday lounging in front of the TV, but forgot to put the Flex on! The Flex can also track sleep patterns, though it can’t automatically detect sleep and needs the wearer to indicate the approximate time of going to bed and getting up.

Weekly Flex Summary  Flex Sleep Tracking

The Flex unit can vibrate too and vibration is used to give feedback to the wearer on attaining goals. It can be used as an alarm as well and although I wasn’t really keen on wearing the Flex in bed, the wake-up alarm worked well for me, prodding me to stir when I’d turned my other alarm off. I don’t normally wear a watch in bed so I did find wearing the Flex at night a little odd but that’s very much a personal feeling.

In the two weeks I used the Flex, I didn’t come across any other problems bar one time that the unit needed reset. I’m not sure what happened: I think I might have tried to sync with the Flex from both phone and the tablet at the same time but resetting the Flex was simple using the normal paperclip-in-reset-hole and no activity data was lost.

I came to this review as a Fitbit Zip wearer and to start with, I did think that the Flex was a little bit of a backward step as I couldn’t see the number of paces that I’d taken – the Zip shows this information on a small LCD screen.  However, over the course of the trial, I’ve got used to it and if I really want to know, I can do a quick sync with my phone to get the data. The Flex is much better than the Zip when it comes to wearing during activity and doesn’t get accidentally pulled off or left in the locker on trousers. The water resistance of the Flex is a bonus too. One downside is that the Flex doesn’t tell the time, so it can’t replace a wristwatch. For many people this isn’t an issue as they don’t wear a watch but for those who do, the Fitbit Charge is perhaps the answer.

The Fitbit Flex is priced at £79.99 RRP but can be found a little cheaper on-line.

Thanks to Fitbit for providing the Flex for review.

SuperNova – A Bluetooth Speaker and LED Light Show

ThinkGeek SuperNovaThinkGeek, my favorite place to shop when I’m on a quest to obtain the perfect gift for the geeks in my life, has launched something new and interesting. The SuperNova Light Cube LED Bluetooth Speaker comes from their GeekLabs Division. It could definitely put a little extra fun into your celebrations.

The SuperNova Light Cube LED Bluetooth Speaker combines a powerful Bluetooth speaker with a brilliant LED light show. It features a total of 36 different patterns. There is a high-fidelity Bluetooth speaker in the base of the SuperNova. Music can be played wirelessly via a Bluetooth-enabled device or through the standard audio port.

On top of the speaker sits the most visually dynamic part of the SuperNova. It is a cube with an array of LED lights and prisms. Each light prism simultaneously transmits, refracts, and projects the LED light below it. People can chose from among the 36 patterns and select the one that they feel best fits the mood.

It is also possible to have SuperNova’s LED prism array going without also having music playing. This allows people to enjoy some peace and quiet and still have the sensory experience of the multi-colored, changing, LED show. The SuperNova is available now at ThinkGeek for $99.99.

Archos Smart Home Review

Archos LogoThese days it’s either i-this or smart-that with new gadgets measuring and changing our personal environment. From Fitbit to Philips Hue, the internet of things is steadily growing and into this increasingly connected world, French firm Archos have stepped in. Their Smart Home tablet wirelessly connects sensors to a central hub that monitors and initiates actions based on conditions. Archos kindly lent me a Smart Home to raise the IQ of my house. Let’s take a look.

Archos Smart Home Box

In the box there’s the Smart Home tablet, plus six connected objects; two mini-cams, two movement tags and two weather tags. The tablet itself looks much like a digital photo frame but it’s actually a small 7″ device running Android 4.2.

Archos Smart Home Front View

Archos Smart Home Rear View

In the looks department, the Smart Home tablet fits the bill with styling that wouldn’t look out of place in a living room. It is all plastic, including the screen which seems to be acrylic rather than glass, but perhaps will better withstand being knocked. Some thought has been given to the design as the screen’s viewing angle appears to be have been adjusted slightly so that screen looks good when someone looks down at it, rather than straight on. There’s only about 2.5 GB of free memory on-board but there is a microSD card slot to boost the Smart Home’s capacity. Performance-wise, it’s no speed demon with a 1.2 GHz ARM processor, but as most of the time the Smart Home just sits there receiving data, it’s a not a big deal. A camera and a thermometer are built into the tablet too and these can be used to take pictures and measure the temperatureas well as the connected objects.

The connected objects are shown below with the mini-cam, weather tag and movement tag from left to right. All have sticky pads which allow adhesion to flat surfaces round the house. The mini-cam ball is held in the foot by magnets and it means the ball can oriented in almost any direction. The weather tag measures temperature and humidity, and the movement tag can measure both motion and door opening / closing.

Archos Smart Home Sensors

Getting setup is easy and straightforward. Running the Archos Smart Home software initially asks for the different rooms where devices are located.

Smart Home Rooms

Once the rooms are setup, the connected objects can be added into the relevant room. The objects use Bluetooth rather than Zigbee and pairing is simply a case of holding down a button on the connected object for 5 seconds. It worked flawlessly. The pairing screen shows all the objects available, not only the ones in the box.

Accessories

Once all setup, the Smart Home tablet presents a view with the room and all the objects in the room.

Hall

In the Hall, I had two mini-cams, a weather tag and a movement tag. Tapping on any device in the app then gives more data or information – here’s the weather tag showing data over the past week for both temperature and humidity.

Temperature and Humidity

Great but how do we get from monitoring the weather to doing something smart? Archos have the answer by building simple “if this, do that” programs. For example, if temperature falls below two degrees Celsius, email to me “It might be slippy.” Or more usefully, if the door opens, take a picture and send an email – like this.

Program

Sure enough, when the front door is opened, I get an email (my personal email is address is obscured by the black box).

Mail

 

The mini-cam also takes a picture (or a short video) but they won’t show a live feed, presumably because Bluetooth can’t transfer the data very quickly. You’ll notice one of the slight problems….the Smart Home doesn’t really take pictures fast enough as in many of the photos the person who opened the door has already moved out of shot. These are all real life photos, nothing was staged. A mini-cam positioned further down the hall generally did better at getting people entering the property.

Minicam Pictures

Out of the box, there’s a fairly limited range of actions such as send email, turn on plug and so on, but Smart Home can use the Tasker app to do more. Tasker supports a wide range of actions, including starting other apps, which makes it quite a powerful solution. However, even this simple email-me-on-the-front-door-opening is useful when wanting to know if someone has arrived home safely (or a thief has broken into your house!)

Other nifty features are that the Smart Home can be accessed from other tablets or smartphones. After a straightforward authorisation process, the system can be viewed from other devices both inside and outside the house. Here’s what it looks like on my smartphone.

Smartphone View

Overall, the Smart Home worked well, mostly sitting on the table doing its job. I did find that I mostly used my ordinary tablet (a Nexus 7)  to work with the Smart Home rather than picking up the unit itself. I set the Smart Home tablet up as a digital photo frame using the standard Android Daydream screensaver to fit into the room.

There were a couple of problems, the first being the range and penetration of Bluetooth. I live in a modest house with brick walls which meant that the weather tag at the rear of the property couldn’t be picked up if the Smart Home tablet was in the front room. Secondly, battery life – the mini-cams seemed get through a set of batteries in about a fortnight and each one took three CR2450 button cells. The movement and weather tags weren’t quite so bad – perhaps a month and only one battery. As an aside there’s no way of muting the low battery warnings that appear in orange on the screen. A connected object could be disconnected but that deleted the historical date at the same time.

Bizarrely, the other problem was how I felt about spying on my family, which is not anything to do with the Archos Smart Home, so I’ll save that for another post. I can see the Smart Home working for families with children that come home when the parents are still at work and the email notifications would give any parent a measure of comfort that their son or daughter is home safe.

The Smart Home costs GB£199 from Archos’ online store. Other additional connected objects are “coming soon”, including an HD weatherproof camera and a siren tag. In summary, the Smart Home is a well integrated system that has room for expansion with more types of connected objects but watch out for the limitations of Bluetooth range and battery life.

Thanks to Archos for the loan of the Smart Home.

 

Payleven Mobile Payments at The Gadget Show

Payleven Chip and PINOne of the common problems facing start-ups and small businesses are the costs associated with taking credit card payments. The transaction costs can be high for small turnovers and point-of-sale machines are expensive with a monthly rental fee. To counter this problem, Payleven offers a low-cost mobile payment solution for European businesses using a Chip’n’PIN card reader that uses Bluetooth to communicate with both Apple, Android and Amazon smartphones and tablets. The Chip’n’PIN unit costs only GB£60 (ex-VAT) with a transaction charge of 2.75%. Payleven have partnered with GoTab to offer a complete solution for around £250 including a tablet and the card reader.

The approach is similar to US-based Square, but as Chip’n’PIN is only beginning to be required across the pond, Square’s reader unit is a simpler card-swipe device that plugs straight into the smartphone. Having a full Chip’n’PIN card reader in Europe is a necessity but the independent unit makes the transaction look much more professional anyway.

Simon from Payleven tells me about their solution and takes me through some of the features.