All posts in “Gadgets”

This ultra-cute tiny PS4 controller is a great option for children and the small-handed

If you like playing console games with the younger generation, you may have come across the issue of their tiny hands being unable to perform certain combos, reach certain buttons easily, and so on. While this makes them satisfying opponents, it might be better if they had a controller more suited to their physiology. Well, good thing there is one!

This cute little controller is made by Hori but officially licensed by Sony. It’s 40 percent smaller than the original, and features “all essential controls.” If you’re curious, that means you lose the headset jack, speaker, vibration motors, motion sensor and light bar (good riddance, I have electrician’s tape over mine).

The touch bar is obviously somewhat reduced — Sony says “certain touch pad inputs can be simulated via the left or right sticks.” (Just having the buttons is enough for Bloodborne, which means enough for me.)

But on the plus side, it’s small, friendly to little hands, and uses a 10-foot cord, so your dang kids won’t take it into their room and lose it in the toybox. Some people in the comments over at Sony are worried the kids are going to strangle themselves with the cord. Really?! We managed to survive Nintendo, Genesis, Super Nintendo, N64, Playstation, and all the rest until wireless became standard a few years ago, right? I’d be more worried about them swallowing a Switch Joy-Con. (Still, keep an eye on the little dears.)

Anyway, at $30 it’s a cheap way to add a second (or third) controller to your PS4 ecosystem, either for kid purposes or for the occasional couch co-op session. They’ll be available sometime soon, but definitely before the holidays.

Garmin’s new Vivosport is an ideal lightweight smart activity tracker

If you’re looking to get pretty much all the benefits of a smartwatch without a watch, and to track your activity and sport performance with tools that are more than up to the task, Garmin’s Vivosport is a strong option, with a price tag that comes in well under that of most dedicated smartwatches. It works well with both Android and iOS devices, has a built-in heart rate tracker and GPS, and provides access to all kinds of preset activity types for a range of workout options.

The Vivosport is the first Garmin wearable I’ve used for any significant length of time, and it proved a capable companion both in a smartwatch capacity, and as an activity tracker. The lightweight band is mostly polymer and silicone, with a specially strengthened glass protecting the transflective touchscreen display. It’s waterproof for wear while swimming, too, and it can last up to a week while operating in smartwatch mode, or eight hours of dedicated GPUS use – figures which were backed up by my tests, and generally resulted in around four or five days of use between charges along with daily run tracking.

Vivosport’s small screen is only 72 x 144 pixels in terms of resolution, but it’s perfectly readable in both bright sunlight and in the dark thanks to backlighting. It’s also touch sensitive, and the UI is designed with maximizing information and readability while minimizing input required in mind. I found it occasionally frustrating to get it to move forward or back, with the input resulting in the wrong action, but mostly interacting with the device on my wrist was easy enough overall.

What I really enjoyed about the Vivosport was that it offered just the right amount of smart features, with a low-profile and comfortable design ideal for all-day use. The Vivosport is the perfect wearable companion for some who isn’t a watch wearer generally, in fact, or for anyone who wants to wear one while also still wearing a traditional wristwatch on their other arm (I fall into this latter category).

The flexible silicone used in the integrated band is also a strength of this device vs. other similar products. It’s stretchy enough that you can get a good, secure fit using the smartly designed clasp (which also has a great catcher for keeping the excess band in control). You can easily find a fit that seems tight enough that you’ll get good readings from the optical heart rate monitor on the Vivosport’s underside, while also not being so tight or inflexible that it feels uncomfortable to wear.

Vivosport also doesn’t really need you to be near your phone to work – it won’t get smart notifications if you aren’t around your device, but it can track runs and other activities independently, and store up to 7 total timed activities or 14 days worth of activity tracking data between syncing. It connects to your device using Bluetooth Smart, and it’s dead simple to set up and activate, too.

Additional features include the ability to provide basic weather info, as well as find my phone features and remote controls for Garmin VIRB action cams just add to the overall value, but you don’t need to really use any of those things to make the most of the Vivosport, which at heart is a great, learning activity monitor that can track sleep, automatically increment your step goal based on your fitness level, and even automatically pause workouts while in progress. I especially enjoyed the Move IQ feature that autodetects activity even if you forget to start one manually, which

In summary, Garmin’s Vivosport is something that offers all the smartwatch features most users need, along with key health and fitness elements that could inspire better habits and improve existing routines for those with active lifestyles. If I could change anything, I’d replace the proprietary charing cable (since it means you’ll have to buy a new one if you lose it), but the Vivosport’s $199.99 asking price is a good bargain for everything you get, from the color touchscreen display to the week-long battery life and connected smartphone features.

The Sonos One offers all that wireless speaker goodness with a side of Alexa

There isn’t much to say about the new Sonos One that hasn’t been said about Sonos already. The company has long been the gold standard in wireless whole-home audio and their speakers, while small, are powerful and more than usable for music, home entertainment, and general merriment. So how do you make a good speaker better? Just add Alexa.

The new Sonos One is a $199 fully wireless speaker controlled via your smartphone or desktop. You can put multiple speakers in multiple rooms, pair them together to create a stereo system or even connect four of them to create a surround-sound living room system. This unit works best as a standalone or stereo pair and is great for smaller rooms like kitchens or bedrooms.

Any speaker of this size is going to be a little muted in terms of depth and range but Sonos has traditionally done a good job of balancing the sound without resorting to cheap tricks like boosting the bass at the expense of the high end or adding sound improving “filters.” Instead the One has a tuning system that uses your smartphone to hear a series of signals inside the perimeter of the room. It then tunes the speaker to that room in particular. The result is nicer bass response and a clarity that wasn’t there before tuning.

There are no buttons on the One so you can’t get tomato sauce or worse stuck in the works when using this speaker outside of the living room. The sparse black or white body is unobtrusive until music starts pouring out of it with a single touch.

I will tend to agree with our cousins at Engadget that the Sonos One is the best-sounding smart speaker you can buy. But I’d amend that to say that this is also the best smart speaker you can buy, hands-down. The ease of setup, the plethora of music sources, and the simplicity of the interface blow everyone else out of the water. I’ve used a few wireless systems thus far and barring a few basic Bluetooth solutions that are good for one room there is nothing that compares to Sonos’ feature-rich experience.

What does Alexa add to the mix? Quite a bit. First, you can turn Alexa on and off with a touch sensitive switch on the top of the unit. This ensures Alexa won’t be listening to you all the time. Then, once you turn her on, you can request that she play Tom Petty, jazz, Taylor Swift, or any other permutation of playlist, artist, or title available on Apple Music, Google Play Music, Soundcloud, or anywhere else. You can also tell Alexa to play different music in different rooms.

Do you need to upgrade all of your speakers to the Sonos One? Not really. The One is on par with the Play:1 in terms of sound quality, and as long as you have an Alexa-capable device in rooms where the Sonos One can’t hear you, you can still send voice commands. The One, then, is a nice addition to the Sonos pantheon but not absolutely necessary.

MysteryVibe’s Stephanie Alys talks about a pleasurable future

The MysteryVibe is a snake-shaped vibrator that took the Internet by storm and is still going strong. This week I talked to the co-founder of the company, Stephanie Alys, about the future of pleasure and sextoys. It’s safe to say that this episode of Technotopia is a little NSFW.

The future, suggests Alys, will feature smart tools that will help with our sex lives and our relationships. The world is going to get a lot weirder, that’s for sure.

Technotopia is a podcast about a better future by John Biggs. You can subscribe in Stitcher or iTunes and download the MP3 here.

CNN gets a first-of-its-kind waiver to fly drones over crowds

CNN has won an interesting waiver regarding its commercial drone operating license with the FAA – an exemption that allows it to fly its Vantage Robotics Snap drone over open-air crowds of people at altitudes of up to 150 feet. This is a new precedent in this kind of waiver: Previous exemptions allowed flight of drones over people in closed set operations (like for filmmaking purposes) and only when tethered, with a max height of 21 feet.

The new waiver granted to CNN, as secured through its legal counsel Hogan Lovells, allows for flight of the Vantage UAV (which is quite small and light) above crowds regardless of population density. It was a big win for the firm and the company because it represents a change in perspective on the issue for the FAA, which previously viewed all requests for exceptions from a “worst-case scenario” point of view.

Now, however, the FAA has accepted CNN’s “reasonableness Approach,” which takes into account not just the potential results of a crashed drone, but also the safe operating history of the company doing the flying, their built-in safety procedures, and the features included on the drone model itself that are designed to mitigate the results of any negative issues.

This could definitely be a boon to news gathering, since a drone’s eye view of protests, demonstrations and other large groups would indeed aid in telling the story, and drone use means not having to locate and fly a helicopter whenever this is desired. Also, helicopters can cause a lot of damage in freefall into crowds, too, which is why the new safety consideration by the FAA makes more sense than the one it replaces.