Welcome to Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that would hold discussions on nuclear relations with North Korea were it not for all those new gadget announcements that sap up all our time instead.
In our secret silo his time around are the latest Samsung flagship smartphones; a phone that goes an entirely different direction from being your complete portal into the world; and a water dispenser that, incredibly, is connected to the Internet. Yes, we’re as shocked as you are that companies want to hook up their devices to the information superhighway.
As always, these are not reviews, as no matter how much we’d like to quench our thirst, we have yet to try any of these items. Neither are the ratings indicators of quality — they merely point at how much I’d like to play around with each gizmo.
Oh, look, it’s a new flagship smartphone duo from Samsung. Shockingly enough, they’re called the “Galaxy S9” and “Galaxy S9+” (pictured above). They have a similar appearance to the previous year’s models, but there are also a few differences, such as a new camera and stereo speakers.
There’s a 960-frames-per-second slow motion mode, and there’s the option to add music to clips or turn them into GIFs. An adjustable aperture accounts for how much light there is in the field of view and can be adjusted accordingly for sharper photos.
And, just as you can do with the iPhone X’s Animoji, you can create emoji that look just like you, which I’m sure will be a massive selling point for [checks notes] someone, somewhere. Not I.
Beyond fingerprint recognition, the S9 can identify its owner through iris or facial recognition to unlock the device. I find the prospect of each unnerving and awkward, and likely would stick to pressing my thumb down on the correct spot.
The S9 has a significant advantage over a lot of the competition by retaining a 3.5mm headphone jack. While it’s not enough for me to consider a switch, I sorely miss that in my iPhone 8.
Of course there’s a string of other incremental upgrades from the previous phone. It’s well designed! I’m sure the screen displays images with incredible clarity! It… doesn’t excite me. It’s a smartphone, and I’m sure it’s an excellent one. But its distinguishing features seem more like baby steps than a giant bound forward.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Emojis That Look Like Me
At a time when engineers and executives who have worked on social networks are decrying the effects they’re having on us and our minds, I’d wager many people are looking for a phone that has essential functions and removes the temptations to refresh feeds or plow through emails.
The original Light Phone had one function: calls. The successor, Light Phone 2, plans to go a little beyond that with alarms and messaging, while Light, the company behind the device, is considering adding features like maps with turn-by-turn directions, calculator, weather, music, and hailing a ride home with Uber. It definitely will not include email, news or social media functions.
Crucially, it will provide its services through a black and white matte E-Ink screen in a largely text-based format. The proposed design is minimalized and sleek, and since the screen cannot possibly display pictures or video, you won’t get sucked into an Instagram feed for hours.
I like the idea a lot, more so than having a device simply capable of calls. It offers necessary connectivity, and I truly hope those other features being considered are included to make Light Phone 2 functional beyond the bare minimum. It’s being offered at US$250 in its crowdfunding campaign, with a likely retail price of $400, which seems fair in the current market.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Fewer Distractions
Is There Water?
Here’s a nifty water pod system that seeks to bring an end to bottled water, no matter which type you prefer. The rOcean device can filter, carbonate and flavor water to your preference, and the company behind it encourages re-use of its pods to reduce waste. Since the carbonation happens in the device itself, you can dispense the water into the container of your choice.
Flavor refill pouches ($15 each) can flavor up to 50 liters of water each. And just like the carbon dioxide cartridges, you can order more automatically when you’re running low.
Naturally, there’s voice control through Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as controls on the device and an app. The rOcean bottles have RFID tags, so family members can use their own bottles, and the system can be programmed to dispense water automatically based on each person’s preferences.
One possible problem point here is the need to hook up rOcean to a home water supply. That could prove difficult for those of us who aren’t particularly mechanically minded, but once it’s done, that’s it for good, hopefully.
There’s very little to dislike here. I can see myself quite happily having one of these and using it regularly. That is, as long as I can set it to dispense a drop at the exact right temperature to open up the flavor of my whiskey.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Picture-Perfect Refreshments