New Product Reviews
In case you missed last year’s blog post about CES, we’ll catch you up quickly. International CES is the Consumer Electronics Show, the year’s biggest trade exhibition of the up and coming gadgets and appliances. But if you’re looking for a sneak peek at the next iPhone, Android upgrade, or other big publicity item, don’t get your hopes up. Major companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft have withdrawn from participation in recent years. They can afford to reveal their products at fancy openings with exclusive attention. Instead, CES is filled with smaller companies in all kinds of niches ranging from educational software to medical diagnostic tools to plain old dishwashers.
For many companies, this is the big chance to network and see what other people in your industry are up to. Although the event is held in Las Vegas, it draws businesses from all over the country and some from abroad. The show takes up 1.9 million square feet of floor space and has more than 2,700 exhibitors, plus plenty more on waiting lists. This year, they’re divided into “TechZones” based on the fields the different products are used in: Including kids products, environmental tech, fitness and medicine. There is even one section for start-ups called “Eureka Park” and many of the companies exhibiting there don’t even have products to show off yet.
By including even the newest promising startup companies, the organizers of CES are hoping that they will be able to continue their expansion. Not only will these companies get a lot of sought-after attention, but they guarantee that there will be exciting things ready for International CES 2014, 2015 and onward.
Some exhibitors from past years aren’t so thrilled with the expansion that International CES is aiming for. They say that because the trade show is so all encompassing, they’re not getting the relevant foot traffic at their booths that they used to. While the growth seems great, it may not be so helpful for an individual company, especially one whose niche is fairly isolated. As the show gets more and more divided by different fields, you’re not as likely to be seen by anyone who is not looking for you directly.
However, for the average consumer the wide breadth of industries and products on exhibit are pretty darn impressive. Not that the average consumer is invited of course, this is an industry event. But there are plenty of tech journalists who will report back to us on their favorite new gadgets that were on display. And so check back here at Consumer-Rankings.com in the next week or two. This is only the first in a series of post where we’ll be filling you in on what our favorites were to read about and what we’re really looking forward to getting our hands on.
The big tech news last week was the long-awaited opening of sales of the iPhone 5. You heard right: nobody has one in hand yet but the beginning of preorders has set off a flurry of discussions about the pros and cons of the new device and what its release means for the state of the universe.
The release was so strongly anticipated that unless you put in your order within the first hour after orders opened, you’ve probably missed the chance to get your phone on the day the model is launched.
Even more impressive, is the claim that the release of the iPhone 5 will have a bigger effect on the state of the U.S. economy that stimulus package, QE3, which was recently announced by the Federal Reserve. The government body has said that they’re willing to buy up to $40 billion worth of bonds and securities a month. But according to a report from JP Morgan, the sales of iPhone 5 will increase the United State’s GDP by 0.3% in one year. That is a colossal amount for one single product.
Since nobody at Apple was kind enough to send us a preview model, we’ve had to rely on other analysts to give us hints as to the important things to look out for. Here’s the list we came up with:
-Screen is nicer to look at and easier to hold
-Ear buds are much improved
-New custom core processor
-Great camera specs
-Improved, more helpful, Siri
-New dock connector incompatible with old apple accessories
-Incapable of simultaneous calls and data activity with some carriers
-No NFC (Near Field Communications)
Whether or not these improvements are enough to make you want to upgrade is a personal decision, of course. The online tech world seems to think the iPhone 4s was pretty good anyway, so even though some of the innovations are pretty cool, we’re divided on whether an upgrade is worth it.
The most embarrassing thing I ever had to admit to spilling on my laptop keyboard was instant soup. The laptop seemed to work fine for a few months, but the technician who came to fix it when it finally did stop working gave me uncomfortable disapproving and disappointed glances as he explained that the sodium and chemicals had started eating into parts of the motherboard. I could hear my mother’s voice in my head at the time telling me to “now imagine what it’s doing to your body!”
While Logitech’s new washable keyboard wouldn’t actually have solved my laptop problem, it could prevent many of the different variations of the situation. The keyboard can be submerged in water, washed with soap and has a drain in the back for easy drying. Not only would I have been able to drain the soup out instead of just hoping it magically disappeared, I could even have rinsed through all the salt and chemical residue.
How easy a purchase will be to clean is something most of us only usually think about when we’re buying white carpets and clothing or maybe considering self-cleaning ovens. How clean our gadgets stay is rarely a consideration. But there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. Keyboards in particular get dirty easily since they have sticky, greasy fingers on them all day with a lot of nooks and crannies to catch dirt and food particles.
When you’re choosing tech, or in fact anything else, is cleanliness something you consider? Considering the growing concern about protecting kids and adults for atmospheric toxins, I would think that we would have seen a lot of things all-of-sudden being produced in easily washable versions. And yet, this Logitech keyboard seems to be a first. For all you savvy consumers and techies out there: keep an eye for a possible trend!
My sister’s favorite comfort food when she was little was mashed potatoes. In fact, it was all she would eat for a while. Our mom used to make them for her loaded up with sour cream and protein supplements in the hope that she would actually get some calories and nutrition, despite eating nothing but mashed potatoes. This same sister recently sent me an article that had been circling the social networks about a machine in certain 7-11 convenience stores that uses mashed potato flakes to dispense mashed potatoes with gravy like soft serve ice cream. Although they’re popular abroad, particularly in Singapore, they’re pretty rare in the US.
I’m willing to work on the premise that this is an acceptable food item because at least mashed potato powder is something I’m familiar and comfortable with. But I think that once these mashed potatoes are coming out of a machine, their value as comfort-food may be lost. The warm creaminess may not keep its comforting qualities for long once it’s being eaten on-the-go. And who’s going to run down to the local convenience store for a tiny open paper cup when they’re upset and just want to curl up on the couch and watch TV?
In theory, it’s the same food but the presentation seems to make a big difference to me. Similarly, I feel less guilty about eating ice-cream if it’s out at an ice-cream parlor rather than in my house. That way I can feel like I’m indulging for the sake of an outing or a special occasion rather than bringing a guilty pleasure into my daily routine.
The question is though: How much of this is related to food? As consumers, it’s sometimes hard to differentiate between our purchase and its presentation. And then there are times when what we pay for IS the presentation, as in the case of gift baskets or restaurants with ambiance. In those cases, which are usually to celebrate special occasions, we’re prepared and make the decision accordingly. In your day to day purchasing however, how much does the presentation and delivery count?
Road-trips may take on a whole new meaning in the next few years. Rather than fighting to stay awake to keep the driver alert until the next motel, you may be able to just curl up in the backseat and let the car drive itself.
Google, as well as some automobile companies such as Audi and BMW, are working to develop the technology for self-driving and self-parking cars. Using sensors, radars, cameras and GPS, these cars would do everything that a human driver could do behind the wheel, including pass slow moving cars, stop at 4-way stop signs and regulate its own speed. There are even plans to allow cars to better communicate with each other, which would help to prevent traffic jams. My favorite part of all this is that it would save us from the effects of rubbernecking.
Of course, there are still plenty of kinks to work out. The cars would rely heavily on GPS, which can be tampered with by hackers. There is also a concern that although the autonomous vehicles are meant to share the roads with human-driven cars, they may be too polite to compete. For example, these cars could easily get caught at stop-signs, which often just rely on people being considerate and reading each other’s “body language.” Human beings often bend the rules and it will be no small task to teach computers how to deal with that.
The legal challenges are just as complex. It is unclear who would be held responsible for traffic accidents and damages and how the police would enforce traffic laws. However, driver-less vehicles are already legal in Nevada and legislation has been proposed in Florida and Hawaii as well.
I have no doubt that once these are commonplace, none of us will think twice about entrusting our safety to vehicles on auto-pilot. But how long will it take for us to get used to the idea? I for one, am looking forward to it.
I have decided what I want for my birthday. This is on the assumption that everyone out there has taken my advice and finished their holiday gift shopping by now.
Forget smartphones, I want a smartwatch. I’mWatch, an Italian company, is now producing touchscreen watches with an Android operating system. They are still in a preorder stage and will not begin shipping until January 30th.
While they can’t do everything that a smartphone can do, they come pretty close. They have a Bluetooth connection and speakerphone and you can make phone calls, send text messages, read email and check facebook, twitter and weather forecasts. For an extra cost you can get i’music, and then you can download, organize and listen to music from your watch. It even tells time.
The watches are all of a similar design, and yet there’s a world of difference between the 249€ neon pink plastic face with the matching band, and the 11999€ white gold with diamonds. However, since I’m clearly dreaming here, I would choose the yellow gold face with the black band for 9999€. By far the most sophisticated in appearance, I expect that it will make me look very much like a female James Bond. Although I fear the impression may be closer to Inspector Gadget.
Considering how many things phones are used for these days, I see the appeal of a smartwatch. For years now I’ve been checking my email continuously as soon as I’m near a computer, sometimes barely noticing that I’m doing it, the same way that I automatically look at my watch to check the time, even if I don’t have any reason for knowing it. And I don’t even have a smartphone. Those with are constantly pulling it out and putting it away, as every email, text message, facebook post and tweet pops up on the screen.
A smartwatch would allow us to keep that awareness of our communications without interrupting whatever we’re doing at the time. This could save email-addicts from rudeness as a quick glance at their wrist would be all that was needed, instead of interrupting a conversation to pull out a mobile device. Of course, it could work the opposite way and increase the rudeness of looking at your watch while in a boring conversation or a lengthy speech.
If I can safely judge from last year’s birthday presents, I shouldn’t expect to be getting one of these watches. So if you do get one, please fill us all in on the experience. I would especially like to know if you can pull off James Bond.
Have you ever seen a cell phone number you didn’t recognize and wonder who’s behind? Or perhaps you know who the number belongs to, but you want to find out a just a little more about who they are? Well, Robert Scott, a Los Angeles-based private investigator set out to help people answer those questions with SpyDialer.com. This website lets users legally eavesdrop on the outbound voicemail message of any U.S. based cell phone number.
While this might sound like creepy service that may end up being used by stalkers, it actually does have some very legitimate applications. Imagine someone repeatedly calls your cell phone and hangs up as you answer the call. Or maybe you have suspicions that someone that repeatedly sends text message to your one of your children may be out to harm them. On one hand you really want to find out who it is that’s behind that number on your caller ID. On the other hand, you really don’t feel like talking to them. SpyDialer.com lets you type in their phone number and hear the first 10 seconds of that number’s outbound voicemail message, typically enough for you to know who the phone user is.
There are other ways to retrieve information about people using their phone numbers, but they can cost as much as $10 per phone number. Mr. Scott is offering this service for free on limited basis. Users requiring additional features and up to 100 look-ups per year, can pay a nominal $9.95 per year. Not a bad deal if this is the type of service you would use even a few times each month.
Spy Dialer also allows users to access their services via an app for Android with an iPhone version on the way. This may sound like a creepy product, but something gives me the feeling that as the apps gain popularity, more and more people will become comfortable with the idea of using these types of services.
Not to be outdone by either of its major competitors, Microsoft has recently unveiled its version of a motion controlled video game system. Xbox Kinect was released on November 4th of this year and is being marketed under the slogan, “You are the controller,” due to its complete lack of buttons and dependence on body motion and voice controls. At $150 (separate) or $300 (with a 4G Xbox 360) you might be interested to know what exactly you’re getting before you’re willing to open your wallet.
What Comes In the Box?
The product is on par visually with the new Xbox 360, from the packaging to the glossy appearance of the unit itself. The sensor sits on a sturdy motorized stand, which tilts vertically for calibration. Three cameras line the front: RGB in the middle sandwiched between two depth sensors. Four microphones allow the system to not only recognize what is being said but locate the source of sound as well. Included with the sensor are a few user pamphlets, a USB extension cable, and an AC adapter for using Kinect with older Xbox 360 models.
How Well It All Works
Both the motion and voice controls require initial calibration that can be a little time consuming and might make you feel a little silly. For starters, Kinect recommends a distance of six to eight feet between the player and the sensor during gameplay. The recommendation is more of a requirement and the setup might be difficult to accomplish in apartments or smaller living rooms, especially because coffee tables, couches or ottomans cannot be between you and the sensor. After establishing the proper setup, Kinect will walk you through a series of hand and body motions as well as a few steps for voice calibration (this is the silly part—many of the body motion steps seem like some sort of disjointed robot line dance). Full calibration is only required the first time the system is used and is worth enduring. The voice calibration, for example, enables the system to differentiate between your vocal chords and the ambient elements of your particular gaming environment. Motion detection isn’t perfect (and lighting conditions play a factor) but is certainly functional and won’t give you too many problems.
What You Can Do With It
The calibration and setup phase wouldn’t be worth the hassle if Kinect didn’t offer some pretty impressive entertainment features.
The Nintendo Wii introduced motion controlled gaming to consumers on a large scale and the Kinect is now a veritable contender in this regard. Microsoft offers a wide variety of titles including: sports, action/adventure, racing, dance (from the Karaoke Revolution and Rock Band family) and a fitness program that is actually supposed to get you in shape. Regardless of the game you choose, you can be sure Kinect will have you moving around and having a good time.
The VGA camera and multi-array mic allows for video chat right from your living room. Sound quality is excellent and it is nice to not have to wear a headset. Occasional problems might arise with motion recognition if you are sitting down and lighting is poor. Generally, however, this feature is user friendly and a relative no-brainer.
Shortly before the release of Kinect in November, Microsoft announced functionality with ESPN, Netflix, and Zune Music. Kinect allows you to navigate these programs by voice command or motion detection. Menu navigation for these programs is simple and fairly intuitive, allowing you to enjoy music, movies and sports with the wave of your hand or by the sound of your voice.
Diane Johnson primarily writes about online education, online classes, and anything else that interests her. She enjoys traveling, reading, and sports.
If you look around on any bus, at any restaurant, and, I’m guessing, in many bathroom stalls, you’ll find people obsessively checking their email, the sports scores or the stock market, all on their smart phones. You’ll find struggling college students strangely connected to their Blackberries, iPhones and Androids, most of which cost as much as the school’s food plan for an entire semester. By some estimations, 1 in 2 Americans will have a smart phone by the end of 2011. But if you haven’t yet jumped on the smart phone bandwagon yet, you’re not alone – I haven’t either, and for good reason. Actually, for a few good reasons. Beware – the thoughts below may be a bit controversial, but I welcome you to read them and to let me know what you think!
- Money, money, money. When I consider that so many people pay hundreds of dollars for trendy, blitzed out phones, accessories, downloads and apps, I just don’t get it. I mean, phones break all the time, and an expensive phone can fall into a puddle just as easily as a cheap (or free) phone can. Why take that chance and then have to live with the pain of having a broken, expensive toy? And this says nothing of the additional monthly expense for a Blackberry data plan that can cost hundreds of dollars a year.
- Solitude. As a writer, I sit in front of my computer at least ten hours a day. And I sleep for at least six hours a day. Of the remaining 8 hours, I’m probably spending time with my children, commuting or speaking to my husband or other friends or exercising. And while I often wish I could be surfing the internet instead of doing homework with my kids, I am comfortable knowing that they have my full attention. If you’re in a different profession that requires you to be away from your desk, chances are good that you wouldn’t be able to be online most of the time anyway. Wouldn’t it be funny if a teacher just stopped the class to check her phone for important messages?
- Health. Sadly, I know too many people who have health problems stemming from overuse of their smart phone. From vision problems to early-onset arthritis stemming from overuse of a tiny QWERTY board, I have seen cases of creepy health problems that have been directly attributed to those tiny cellular wonders. While these cases may not be standard yet, I’m curious to see how many more cases will sprout up in the future – and I’ll be glad that I’m not one of them.
- Stress. Long gone are the days when letters went unanswered for days, when email responses had a respectable grace period. In today’s world, many companies expect instant answers from anyone that has a smart phone. There’s no such thing as being ‘unavailable’ because smart phones allow you to remain connected at all times. When you tell someone that you don’t have a smart phone, they might think you’re a dinosaur, but you’ll be able to reduce the stress that comes with always being available. For this reason alone, not having a smart phone is priceless.
Sometimes when I’m lost, stuck in traffic or unsure whether a price in the grocery store is truly the lowest, I wish I had a smart phone so that I could check my email or do a quick price comparison. But then I remember that I got to enjoy my daughter’s dance recital without interruption and that even if I pay a few bucks more for my groceries, I’m still saving money on the expense of a smart phone, and I know that I’ve made the right decision. Is it possible that I’ll succumb to the peer pressure one day and get a smart phone? Sure it is. But until then, I stand proud and strong with millions of others who haven’t yet forfeited their freedom in exchange for the status that comes with having a smart phone.
If you’re like me, you may think that getting internet on your cell phone is the greatest thing since sliced bread – or at the very least, the greatest thing since the invention of Slurpees. But I may have just stumbled upon something that makes mobile internet even better; after testing out dozens of cell phone apps and useless services (not to mention malfunctioning software), I came across fring, a cell phone VOIP service that has can dramatically change the way you use your cell phone.
Fring is a cell phone application that allows you to communicate on all of your social networks directly from your cell phone. There are many applications that let you access twitter, facebook and the like. But what I love about fring is that it allows you to use Skype, Google Talk, Gchat, MSN Messenger, ICQ and AIM (among other services). What this means is that you can speak with people without using your cell phone minutes. Instead of making a direct-dial phone call, you can login to this cell phone VOIP service and use Skype to carry on a conversation, FOR FREE. You can also chat with people without having to sling text messages back and forth (which can detract from your monthly allotment).
Fring may not be as helpful to you if you make a lot of calls to people who aren’t using one of your social networking tools. But since I am a professional Skyper and a social Gchatter, I can stay in touch with people constantly without having to use up my precious minutes. Right now, I still connect to most of my contacts as they sit at their desks…but I suspect that as more and more people download fring’s free cell phone application, we’ll be able to stay in contact from anywhere, which will further reduce the amount of minutes I need to use…which will hopefully mean that I can downgrade my cell phone plan and save some money. I can even use video chat from fring!
Fring works on thousands of devices across multiple platforms including iPhone/iPod touch, Google Android, Windows Mobile, J2ME & Linux devices and operates on any 3G, GPRS, EDGE and Wifi mobile internet connections. It is easy to use and has a comprehensive support platform in case you encounter any problems (which I haven’t yet). Fring may be a relatively new company, but they are clearly pros at discovering he needs of the modern-day consumer.