All posts in “Technology”

Anker’s Nebula Capsule portable projector is a pocket powerhouse

Anker is a device maker that’s rapidly become a go-to brand for affordable, quality accessories include cables, chargers and backup batteries. More recently, it’s started to branch out into additional areas, including projectors through its Nebula brand. The Nebula Capsule is the latest product from that line, a super portable projector with an Android-based OS, a built-in battery and the ability to double as a Bluetooth speaker.

The Nebula Capsule is the smaller sibling to the Nebula Mars portable cinema projector, which is actually far less portable than the newer Capsule. The Mars is more of a home theater projector that you’re also technically able to take with you if you want, whereas the Capsule is roughly the size of a can of Coke, and easy to stash in even smaller bags, or, if you’re not worries bout some bulging, even in a jacket pocket.

Anker initially launched the Capsule on Indiegogo, but now it’s made its way to Amazon where it retails for $349. The projector can extend an image up to 100 inches in diameter, with 100 ANSI lumens of brightness, and it can mange four hours of video playback on its built-in power source. There’s a 360-degree speaker integrated into the base, and it comes with built-in Wi-Fi and Android 7.1, with its own app store to run popular apps like Netflix, Plex, Hulu and Amazon Prime.

The device has micro USB OTG input, and can read from USB drives formatted in FAT32, plus a full-sized HDMI for attaching basically anything. Its native 854×480 resolution isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s hardly important when you’re catching up on a show on the road or playing Switch in your backyard on a stretched out bed sheet. And the trade-off, in terms of portability and versatility, its worth it.

On top of the device, there are arrows that help you adjust volume, and there’s a button to turn it on, as well as a mode switch so you can use it as a Bluetooth speaker I you want. Focus adjustment is handled via a wheel mounted into the side, and this is a bit tricky because it involves a little hunting to get it just right, but the minimal interface options, but again, it’s a practical way of doing it and works given the form factor of the device.

In the box, you also get a remote control, which works via IR (there’s a receiver built into the back of the device). Here, it’d be nicer to have some kid of RF-based remote instead, but the IR version works well enough, and there’s a companion mobile app for both controlling the projector and for mirroring your content. You can’t mirror content-protected media, which is a bit of a pain, but the fact that the Capsule supports streaming media from built-in apps mostly makes up for this.

The speaker is surprisingly powerful, and can fill a small room easily. It’s not going to compete with 5.1 audio systems, or with something like the HomePod, but it’s plenty good enough that watching a show or movie on the Capsule is pleasant, and never falls down on the back of bad sound. Plus, I almost always pack a dedicated Bluetooth speaker on my trips away, anyway – the Capsule doubles as one, and takes up as little or even less space than most, with equivalent sound quality. Acting just as a Bluetooth speaker, the capsule’s battery life extends out to 30 hours.

Considered as a two-for-one combo that includes a great travel projector and a terrific portable Bluetooth speaker, the Anker Nebula Capsule is a hard bargain to pass up.

Nest’s video doorbell is now shipping

Back in September of last year, Nest announced its first smart doorbell. When it would actually ship, however, was left sort of up in the air; all the company said at the time was to expect it sometime in Q1 of 2018.

Turns out, that means today. The Nest doorbell — or the Nest Hello, as it’s known — is now shipping for $229.

Nest also mentioned a few other bits of news:

  • The front door lock/touchpad they built in partnership with Yale, also announced back in September of last year, is now shipping
  • They’re now making external, wireless, battery-powered temperature sensors for the Nest Thermostat (previously, the thermostat only really cared about the temperature of whichever room it was in). You can add up to six sensors. One sensor will cost $39, or a three pack goes for $99. The sensor (pictured at the bottom of this post) is a simple white puck, just a bit over an inch wide.

Not unlike the now Amazon-owned Ring, the Hello’s primary purpose is to let you know when someone rings the doorbell, and to let you see and communicate with them by way of the built-in camera/microphone/speaker rig. Out of the box, sans subscriptions, Nest will store the video of who rang your doorbell for 3 hours; if you want to access it beyond that, you’ll need a monthly Nest Aware subscription.

In most cases, hooking up the Hello should be a matter of popping out your old doorbell and wiring up the new one; it pulls its power from the same wiring setup that most doorbells use, and it should play friendly with any in-door chimes you probably already have in place.

Its got a 3-megapixel camera (with infrared night vision) for 1600×1200 video at 30 frames per second, a 160º field of view, and 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi. Unlike some competitors, it doesn’t have a battery — so you’ll need that aforementioned power line.

With that said, it’s got a few tricks I haven’t seen with others in the space, like a “Quiet time” mode for when you (or, say, your baby) are sleeping. It’ll still buzz your phone, but in-door chimes won’t go ringin’ away. Pre-recorded messages, meanwhile, let you communicate with delivery people and anyone else who might be hanging around your porch during those times when shouting “PLEASE LEAVE THE PACKAGE ON THE PORCH I’LL GRAB IT SHORTLY” might feel a bit weird.

We should have one to check out before too long, so expect a review as soon as we’ve put it through the paces.

Sierra Leone just ran the first blockchain-based election

The citizens of Sierra Leone went to the polls on March 7 but this time something was different: the country recorded votes at 70% of the polling to the blockchain using a technology that is the first of its kind in actual practice.

The tech, created by Leonardo Gammar of Agora, anonymously stored votes in an immutable ledger, thereby offering instant access to the election results.

“Anonymized votes/ballots are being recorded on Agora’s blockchain, which will be publicly available for any interested party to review, count and validate,” said Gammar. “This is the first time a government election is using blockchain technology.”

“Sierra Leone wishes to create an environment of trust with the voters in a contentious election, especially looking at how the election will be publicly viewed post-election. By using blockchain as a means to immutably record ballots and results, the country hopes to create legitimacy around the election and reduce fall-out from opposition parties,” he said.

Why is this interesting? While this is little more than a proof of concept – it is not a complete voting record but instead captured a seemingly acceptable plurality of votes – it’s fascinating to see the technology be implemented in Sierra Leone, a country of about 7.4 million people. The goal ultimately is to reduce voting costs by cutting out paper ballots as well as reducing corruption in the voting process.

Gammar, for his part, sees the value of a decentralizes system.

“We’re the only company in the world that has built a fully-functional blockchain voting platform. Other electronic voting machines are ‘block boxes’ that have been increasingly shown to be vulnerable to security attacks. For that reason, many US states and foreign nations have been moving back to paper,” he said. “If you believe that most countries will use some form of digital voting 50 years from now, then blockchain is the only technology that has been created which can provide an end-to-end verifiable and fully-transparent voting solution for this future.”

One election in one country isn’t a movement – yet. However, Gammar and his team plan on expanding their product to other African countries and, eventually, to the rest of the world.

As for the election it is still unclear who won and there will be a run-off election on March 27. The winner will succeed President Ernest Bai Koroma who has run the country for a full decade.

Samsung turns to Harman to further SmartThings development

Harman and Samsung have entered into a strategic association that will have Harman taking up the SmartThings’ standard and carrying it forward against other Internet of Things products. Announced today, Samsung SmartThings R&D team and HARMAN Connected Services (HCS), a division of HARMAN International, will collaborate on the platform with HCS developing and supporting the SmartThings applications and device development.

Samsung purchased early Internet of Things darling SmartThings in 2014 for around $200 million. Since then Samsung has slowly expanded the product line and worked the services into several Samsung product. Yet from an outside vantage point, SmartThings has been treading water.

Harman, also a Samsung company, will take on key SmartThings development tasks including with developing and deploying the SmartThings app, work third party sensors into the SmartThings ecosystem, develop SmartThings Cloud and develop the SmartThings roadmap.

SmartThings launched as one of the early companies that offered a complete, turnkey Internet of Things ecosystem. The company raised a $3 million seed round in 2012 and demoed its wears at CES 2013 by retrofitting a rented house in Vegas. Samsung purchased the company in 2014 when the IoT wars were heating up. Since then, SmartThings has largely been left behind as Alexa and Google Home have grown in popularity. It will now be up to Harman to make SmartThings live up to its early promises.