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Keeping abreast of technology

by
01 May 2013, at 12:00am

ADAM BERNSTEIN reviews a number of recent introductions to the marketplace which are designed to make life a little safer, easier, cheaper – and one to wait a bit longer for

EVERY so often it is worth having a look round at some of the new gizmos to have come onto the market to see how they might improve our lives – whether business or private. Here are some that have attracted my attention in recent months that could prove useful.

Thumb-size video camera

SINCE the dawn of time man has been fascinated by images. Cavemen had drawings, Da Vinci his art, Fox Talbot invented the precursor to the photographic process and latterly Philippe Kahn linked the first camera to a phone.

As the statistics report, the UK now has more CCTV than anywhere else in the world, we have cameras 24/7 in the form of smartphones, and now you can buy a tiny thumbsized video camera. Called the Veho MUVI, it costs around £35 from Amazon and can be used where portability (or stealth) is key.

Measuring just 55mm high and 22mm in the other dimensions it features a 2-megapixel video camera that records images and sound. It comes with a 2GB microSD card that stores movies in AVI format that can be imported into your computer. The in-built battery is good enough, – so Veho claims, for 90 minutes of continuous use.

It’s ideal for cyclists who worry about being knocked off their bike. It doesn’t come with the mounts needed for your helmet or handlebars or if you want it made water-resistant. However, they can be bought in packs, each with a relatively low cost of around £15 from Amazon.

So with the MUVI you’ll be able to watch action replays of your best accidents from your hospital bed or alternatively you can spy on…

Waterproof phone

Ever wanted a new mobile phone and thought that “accidentally” dropping the old device in the loo would be an insurance-paid route to something shiny and new? Well with Sony’s new Xperia Z you’d better think of another plan.

Announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, gadget freak heaven, the Xperia Z is a 7.9mm thick Android-based device that on paper seems to kick the iPhone 5 into the long grass.

Not only can it survive being dropped into water to a depth of three feet for up to 30 minutes, it comes with a 13-megapixel camera (8 on the iPhone 5), 4G connectivity, a 5-inch HD 1080p screen and a music app that offers access to some 18 million tracks.

It also has a built in app that automatically closes down unused non-essential applications. Sony claims that this will extend battery life by a factor of four so that you can talk for 11 hours.

The reviews so far indicate that it’s very quick (thanks to a quad core processor) and 2GB of built in RAM, the screen is lovely and because it’s virtually edge-to-edge hasn’t made the device overly large.

Expert opinion suggests that Sony has plucked the best from every division within the company and it has a premium price – around £500 SIM-free.

So what excuse will you use to get hold of the Z?

Controlling the temperature

Our Oxfordshire village is not on the gas main. The next villages along are but we’re not, as villagers didn’t want to pay the gas board to connect to the

mains supply. So we are on heating oil and this means that I’m a thermostat twitcher; heating oil is frighteningly expensive and I cannot fix my prices.

I’m really looking forward to a US device, the Nest Learning Thermostat, coming over here at some point soon to save my bacon.

Nest was created by two former Apple staffers and in essence will, over a week or two, learn how you use and set your thermostat. From there it will control the heating according to your schedule and temperature habits.

It’s wi-fi enabled and will connect with a smartphone, allowing users to over-ride its learnt settings. It will also detect when people are at home and make suitable changes.

Typically “Apple”, considering the pedigree of its creators, it looks very pretty; it will glow orange when heating and blue when cooling and, of course, has great big digits detailing the temperature.

However, don’t import one from the US, wait for a UK version to come out (soon) as the products will be quite distinct. Firstly, US air conditioning systems use a different voltage to the UK and, secondly, most Brits don’t have air conditioning, we use radiators and fires and this will necessitate some changes to the product.

The US price is $250, but the makers reckon that that will be saved over time. No doubt it will cost UK buyers £250.

Is 4G worth it?

GPRS, 3G and now 4G. It seems that we’re destined to push the boundaries of mobile data communications to the limits. But with EE (formerly Orange and T-Mobile) being the first UK network to roll out a superfast 4G network, the question needs to be asked – is it worth it?

At present I reckon the answer is “no”.

The premise behind 4G is that it theoretically offers download speeds of up to 40MB but, of course, that depends on ideal conditions. It’s presently only available in 11 UK cities and as the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones found, while it can be very quick it also has plenty of gaps and slow speeds.

The other networks will follow EE with their own 4G networks, but at present, EE seems to be milking its position. For an entry-level £36 a month two-year contract you’ll only get a paltry 500MB of data download. Compare that to receiving 1GB on Orange’s 3G network for the same price, albeit at speeds up to 7.2MB.

You also need to consider that while 3G drains a battery quickly, 4G will drain a battery even faster. Also, because the 4G specification varies around the world, not all 4G phones work on all networks. The iPhone 5 is a good example. It will offer 4G on EE, but not on the other UK networks.

The advice? Wait for the other networks to launch 4G and for more handsets with better batteries and overall 4G connectivity.

Kit for travel

With our addiction to technology comes a desire to take our tech wherever we wander. But this desire creates its own problems.

The first of these: how to recharge a mobile, tablet or other portable device. My solution was to order, via a friend, a Satechi 10000 MaH Portable Energy Station. It costs $59.99 and only seems to come from the US, but it’s worth it.

It features a huge 10,000 MaH battery (compare that to the iPhone’s 1,434 MaH battery) and a range of adaptors to fit virtually every mobile gadget ever invented. It will also recharge two devices at once. Considering its “power”, it’s quite small – it’s the size of a pack of panatela cigars.

Next on the list of problems to solve is that of audio playback. Sure, you can listen to music with headphones, but portable speakers are quite useful too. So consider the Nokia MD-50W (£94 from Amazon). It claims to have 360-degree audio, Bluetooth connectivity and a 24-hour battery life.

Watching the weight

The last problem to be tackled here is the issue of baggage weight. Clearly it’s important to know what the weight allowances are for the airline you’re flying with so a decent set of travel scales is a necessity.

According to reviews by users, the Duronic LS1019 is a product to consider. It will weigh a bag of up to 50kg (but will also weigh in pounds and stones) and at £8 it will cost a lot less than an excess baggage charge at the airport.