Monthly Archives: May 2016

The new one of gadget ogling

Welcome to Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that’s emerging from the shadows of this mind-crushingly terrible election season to pore over the latest gadget announcements.

On our ballot this time around are a microphone that can plug into an iPhone or iPad, a smartphone case with an E-ink display, and a flexible keyboard that houses an entire computer.

As ever, the ratings reflect only how much I’d like to try out each item with my hands, ideally before the world descends into post-election chaos. These are not reviews.

Portable Podcasting

I’ve tried dipping my toes into the world of podcasting with a friend this year. It’s been challenging to find times that work for both of us to get together and record, but for the two (pretty successful, I confess) trial runs we’ve had, I bought a Blue Snowball mic. I’m very pleased with the sound quality, so I’m fairly certain I’d be happy to have Blue’s latest microphone, Raspberry (pictured above).

It’s a gorgeous, portable little thing, which you can connect to a PC or Mac using a USB cable. However, it is also bundled with a Mini USB to Lightning cable to make it easy for you to capture quality audio using an iPhone or iPad.

There’s an included stand with shock-absorber feet, so that should help cut down on unwanted vibrations and rumblings. When taking the mic elsewhere, the stand folds over it for better portability. If you prefer, you can attach Raspberry to a standard tripod or mic stand instead.

The mic also has a headphone jack, headphone volume dial, and a level/gain control that doubles as a mute switch. That can come in especially useful if you need to cough — much better to cut out an unwanted sound during recording instead of in the editing process.

It’s a bit pricey at US$199, though I haven’t seen a better option for recording clear audio when on the go without having to lug around a laptop and bulkier microphone. Maybe I’ll finally be able to start podcasting with my friend again, once I find a time that works for both of us and a quiet spot away from home, unencumbered by noisy neighbors.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Juicy Berries

Dual-Screen Delights

I’ve written previously about YotaPhone, the Android smartphone with an e-ink screen in the rear. It’s a tremendous concept, as I tend to dislike reading at length on my phone’s regular screen.

The InkCase i7 from Oaxis is an attempt to bring such functionality to the iPhone 7 through a case. (The company previously released e-ink cases for earlier iPhone models.)

Features include a 4.3-inch screen, support for EPUB and TXT formats and notification display. It connects to your phone over Bluetooth. You can use it to display images, but you’ll need to make do with monochrome versions of your favorite photos, of course.

New Tech Targets Human Creativity

Microsoft made a slew of announcements at its New York City event Wednesday, focusing on the idea of user as creator.

Among its new offerings:

  • The Surface Studio, an all-in-one desktop computer with a touchscreen that’s 12.5mm thick;
  • The Surface Dial, a new input device that provides haptic feedback;
  • The Surface Book i7;
  • VR headsets for Windows 10 that use the same Windows Holographic platform as its HoloLens;
  • A revamped Paint app with 3D capability; and
  • Creator’s Update, an upcoming Windows 10 refresh providing 3D creation tools, live streaming, and custom Xbox app tournaments.

“Ultimately, technology is just a tool in the hands of humanity,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at the event. It’s “a tool that helps amplify our ingenuity and creativity. New computing medias do not take shape by technology alone.”

The Surface Studio took center stage at the event.

“The Surface Studio is my favorite simply based on looks and the way it’s aimed at graphical productivity,” said Michael Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

“It would be ideal for desktop publishing integrating graphics,” he told TechNewsWorld. “This makes productivity through graphical manipulation practical.”

The Surface Studio’s 4.5K ultra HD touchscreen stood out for Rob Enderle, principal analyst at theEnderle Group.

“All the OEMs buy screens based on price and yield,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Microsoft specified a screen that was matched to what Windows can do, which means this one product will work better with Windows than anything currently in, or coming to, market.”

The only other firm that has done that is Apple, Enderle noted.

Surface Studio Specs

The Surface Studio’s screen delivers 63 percent more pixels than a state-of-the-art 4K TV, said Terry Myerson, EVP of Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group.

It works beautifully with a stylus pen, touch and the new Surface Dial, he noted.

The Surface Studio comes in various configurations built around an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, starting at US$3,000.

“It replaces a high-end digitizer, lets users work vertically or horizontally, is appealing to the eye, and the screen is uniquely accurate,” Enderle said.

The price tag “may be seen as a bargain,” he pointed out, because the “very well-defined group of users and executives” who will want it “will generally buy the best tool, and often have stations costing over $5,000.”

The Surface Studio will be available Dec. 15.

The New Surface Book

The new Surface Book has an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor and comes in several configurations. Battery life is up to 16 hours, and it ranges in price from $1,500 to $2,800.

The new version is an incremental upgrade to the Surface 2-in-1 line that “gives OEMs breathing room to incorporate new tech like Intel’s Kaby Lake processors into their models before Microsoft fully upgrades Surface Pro and Surface Book next year,” said Eric Smith, senior analyst at Strategy Analytics.

VR for the Masses

HP, Dell, Lenovo, ASUS and Acer will ship the first VR headsets capable of mixed reality with the coming Windows 10 Creators Update, Microsoft’s Myerson announced. They will start at $300 and “work with affordable laptops and PCs.”

Reaction from consumers to VR and AR technologies “is fairly positive,” according to Frost’s Jude, and this move “will provide [Microsoft] an entry point for the consumer market, especially for e-gaming.”

Microsoft’s offering “should be far more acceptable in both price and ease of use” than the Oculus and HTC VR systems, which are “expensive and difficult to set up with the needed two cameras,” Enderle observed.

However, the VR dev kit “requires 8 GB or more of RAM,” Strategy Analytics’ Smith pointed out.