All posts in “Gadgets”

Nomad’s new wireless charging hub is a traveler’s best friend

If you spend any meaningful amount of time in hotels, you’ll know that many of them are still living in the age of the 30-pin adapter, even though most of us have already moved on to Lightning, wireless charging and USB-C. So it’s essential to pack charging equipment to handle any need that might arise — and usually that means a lot of dongles. Nomad’s new wireless USB hub really cuts down on clutter, and makes it easy to charge what you need to charge, when you need to charge it.

The hub looks a bit like a sleek bag burger designed by someone who makes luxury car interiors for a living. It sounds like a weird description, but it’s not a bad thing — the black puck is basically at home in any decor, so it’s a good bedside companion for home as well as away. On top, the hub has a wireless charging pad with a 7.5W max output (the max supported input the iPhone X, iPhone 8 and 8 Plus can accept).

Inside, however, there’s plenty more in the way of charging options, including one USB-C port capable of 3A output, a high-speed 2.4A USB-A port for charging up an iPad or the like and two 1A USB outputs for stuff like AirPods. Each has its own LED indicator (which are faint enough that they won’t disturb even the most sensitive sleeper), and there’s built-in cable management to keep obvious desktop clutter to a minimum.

A single 1.2 meter power cable is included and connects to the wall plug to give the hub its combined 30W max output, and rubberized footing gives it a stable stickiness on almost any surface. There’s a matte rubber ring on top, too, which is great for the iPhone X and 8, which can slide gradually off even other non-stick surfaces, even if they’re seemingly lying perfectly flat.

In terms of how it works in practice, I used the Nomad Wireless Charging Hub all throughout my recent trip to Las Vegas for the annual CES gigantic crazy consumer tech shitshow and it performed very, very well — in fact, after a colleague took off with my only Lightning cable, it was the only way I could reliably make sure my iPhone was topped up for the next grueling day of slogging through gadget booths.

You can definitely get sleeker, smaller wireless chargers, but at $80, Nomad’s option is only really twice as expensive as a lot of the good options out there, and yet it also packs a lot of additional charging versatility for when you need it. If you’re looking for an all-in-one travel charging companion, this is definitely a top choice.

Nintendo’s bringing DIY robots and more to the Switch using cardboard

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Nintendo’s big new surprise interactive experience for the Switch is now official, and it’s basically a maker kit for the portable console which uses cardboard component pieces to allow people to build a range of different creations and play with them using the console to power games that interact with the DIY components.

NintendoLabo is like a next-level Lego, with kits that let you do things like build working pianos that interact directly with Switch software, and even make your own robots. Nintendo shows off an interactive fishing game with a real, built-it-yourself cardboard fishing rod you can use to catch stuff in-game, and a rolling bot you can remote control with the Switch’s touchscreen, as just a couple fo examples.

It actually looks super fun, and there’s a a variety kit and a robot kit coming out on April 20, 2018, with pricing starting at $69.99, which seems like a deal for the level of interactivity and creativity that’s available with these things. The Labo kits include all the cardboard pieces you need to build the projects they contain, as well as the Switch software necessary to run the interactive digital elements.

Nintendo is also selling Labo customization kits for $10 that will ship at the same time, and provide stencils, stickers and tape that allow you to customize the creations so that your cardboard robot backpack looks different from everyone else’s cardboard robot backpack.

Kudos to Nintendo for once again ignoring the well-trod ground of putting more silicon and tech behind their gaming console ambitions, and instead striking out into the unknown of the weird and wacky. This looks like a real good time, and one that won’t necessarily result in a huge new source of waste plastic after people move on to the next thing.

This small robotic stingray could be the future of biological bots

What do you get when you smush a bunch off live heart cells, specialized biomaterials, and electrodes into a tiny, stingray-shaped package? If you said “lunch” than you’re wrong. Instead, you get the first example of bioinspired robotic systems that can imitate nature using both electrical and organic components.

The resulting project – a 10mm long robot that can swim in water – is “composed of live heart cells, two distinct types of specialized biomaterials for structural support, and flexible electrodes.” Created by Ali Khademhosseini at UCLA Bioengineering, the little robot is the first of its kind to contain both biomaterial and electronics.

“The development of such bioinspired systems could enable future robotics that contain both biological tissues and electronic systems,” said Khademhosseini. “This advancement could be used for medical therapies such as personalized tissue patches to strengthen cardiac muscle tissue for heart attack patients.”

Obviously this little fellow isn’t doing much right now but with a few more moves and some better technology, you can imagine tiny robotic stingrays visiting you at Sea World and/or swimming through your bloodstream.

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The self-contained Fusion electric guitar lets you truly rock out

As a hard-core rocker and roller I find that my gear has to be ready to rock and/or roll at a moment’s notice. There is no telling when I’ll have to lay out a face-melter during jury duty or blast out some Stairway while giving plasma at the local blood bank, and I often note to friends that I enjoy rocking and rolling all night and part of every day. Are you in the same rocking boat? Then let’s take a look at the Fusion Guitar.

An Indiegogo darling, this crowdfunded guitar is now shipping and costs $999 in maple and rosewood. The guitar itself has the fretboard of a full-sized electric but a squat hollow body that is full of batteries, a 20-watt amp, and speakers which gives it a sort of lumpen shape. It’s surprisingly dense – it weighs eight pounds but most of the weight is in the body – and it runs for six hours on a charge.

Like the Yamaha Transacoustic I played a few years ago the trick is that the Fusion contains an amp and speakers, allowing you to turn up the tunes and even run the audio through an iPhone to add audio modeling and record your hot licks. The guitar is compatible with iPhone 7, 7 Plus, 6, 6 Plus, 5/SE and iPhone Touch Gen 5 and an iPhone X shield is coming soon. It has three lines out including a P.A. out, a standard 1/4-inch jack for amps, and a 3.5mm jack for headphones. A small speaker on the top of the guitar acts as a sort of built-in monitor.

$999 gets you the guitar, a strap, and a case along with a set of compatible plates. There is no Android compatibility.

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I am not a great guitarist but I am a gear head, a sad state of affairs which puts me at a loss when reviewing these in depth. The folks at Guitar World created a far more detailed video of the thing but let me offer a few points for the amateur guitarist. This is a solid learning guitar simply because you can run learning apps front and center and plug the thing into headphones to hear the results. It’s also a very fun tool for looping and noodling, allowing you to record and replay various licks and, with the help of tools like Garage Band, record sketches of songs on the fly. I did enjoy my time with the Fusion and found it to be a clever take on the traditional all-in-one guitar. I could definitely see this as a busker’s friend, allowing a guitarist to fill a little more space without the cost or inconvenience of carrying a full amp, and if you’re fast and good enough you could do some real damage with loops and other digital tricks.

If I had any complaint it’s that the built-in iPhone dock, while clever, didn’t quite work as well as I’d like. While you can see below that various iPhone apps can make your Fusion experience quite unique I didn’t find the entire system to be very intuitive. I mostly enjoyed the amplification and a bit of distortion from the hum bucking pickups and internal amp and ignored a the apps.

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I’ve found that guitarists either love or hate gadgets like the Fusion. The familiar, analog sound of a Stratocaster paired with a good amp is always welcome in a music studio but a clever amped guitar like this one is a far harder sell. Like other wacky guitars of the past – the Fusion reminds me a lot of the Vox Guitar Organ – playing these are an acquired taste and require a real investment on the part of the player. At $1,000 the Fusion is far too expensive to be a first guitar – you can get a beginner’s Telecaster for $200 – and too weird to be a daily driver. If you very specifically need a guitar that can be heard in a crowded hall without outside amplification or if you’re a gadget fiend, the Fusion is for you. Otherwise, a digital Line 6 amp or Roland Go:Mixer and some kind of six-string are all you need to recreate this guitar for less cash but I doubt you’ll get the same self-contained satisfaction that this weird Frankenguitar has to offer.

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HTC U11 EYEs has a big battery and a dual front camera

After U11 and U11+, HTC has a new phone in its flagship line, the U11 EYEs. 

This one, however, is more of a mid-ranger with a focus on selfie photography. With a 12-megapixel UltraPixel 3 camera on the back and dual 5-megapixel cameras on the front, it should be a great companion for anyone who takes lots of photos. 

The dual front cameras allow for portrait mode-style selfies with a bokeh effect that can be adjusted after the photo is captured. The camera on the back comes with electronic and optical image stabilization and UltraSpeed autofocus. 

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Just like the HTC U11+, the HTC U11 EYEs also has a 3,930mAh battery, a similar glossy design and IP67 certified water and dust resistance. HTC’s Edge Sense tech, which lets you launch certain features by squeezing your phone, is also on board. 

The rest of the specs, however, are weaker than those of the flagship. The HTC U11 EYEs is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 652 with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. Its LCD screen sports a lower, 2,160×1,080 pixel resolution, and the speaker is mono instead of stereo. And forget about connecting your old wired headphones to it; there’s no headphone jack on this one. 

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On the software side, the HTC U11 EYEs is running on Android 7.1 and HTC Sense UI. 

The HTC U11 EYEs will go on sale in China for roughly $465; there’s no word on availability in the western markets. 

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