Feb 232011

Unveiled in 2001, the ever-so-geeky-but-cool Segway was meant to revolutionise urban transport. With around 80,000 Segways in operation worldwide, compared to around 600 million passenger vehicles, the revolution has been a bit of a fizzer so far.

Most Segway riders are private individuals, despite various police departments in the US using Segways in crowded city environments, and the Chinese military doing Segway patrols of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

The Segway is an odd bikey-scootery-type electric vehicle. While there are some basic electronic controls, the main mode of operation involves standing on its small platform and leaning, to change your direction and speed.

There’s just two wheels on the Segway; this alone may prompt any readers as perennially unbalanced as myself to immediately strike the Segway off their Christmas list.

However, Segway fans insist that, after just a small training session, the vehicle is safe even for the unco-ordinated who stumble amongst us, because of its clever use of gyroscopes that make hundreds of tiny engine adjustments to ensure smooth travel.

Safety is a controversial topic for Segway aficionados; George Bush famously fell off a Segway in 2003; and in an ironic – and tragic – twist, UK multi-millionaire James Heseldon accidentally drove his off-road Segway over a cliff to his death just months after he had purchased the financially-troubled company.  Low battery levels have been blamed for earlier accidents, with new models said to have overcome this problem.

And, as with motorbikes, the safety of the Segway is likely to be somewhat dependant on the approach of the operator.

Segway tours are a hit with travelers from San Francisco to Sydney and Segway lovers swear that the two-wheeler (which has a top speed of 20 km/h) is an ideal transporter across short urban distances.

As we guzzle the last drops of the planet’s fossil fuel, the vehicle of the future will clearly need to run on anything but oil; perhaps the time for Segway’s world domination is near?

Before joining the exclusive Segway revolution though, Australian Segway-hopefuls will need to check the Segway road-approved status, which varies from state to state.

Bottom line: The latest geek-cool transport – tested by George Bush
How much : Range from Au $8,000 to $9000 plus accessories

Jan 312011

The iPad is a thing of sleek and shining beauty, straight out of the box. But like all other i-things before it, removal from its pretty white designer box followed exposure to the harsh light of day can take the shine off any iPad rather quickly.

Bred to be mobile, the iPad brings lightweight wireless entrée to the web, and (appropriately stocked) a constant fix of digital entertainment delight. It’s a unisex gadget with addictive appeal.

(I’m not sure how long it will take until we tire of this new precious, but so far, like many i-lords past, it is holding up pretty well in the no-buyer-remorse stakes.)

Here’s the rub: most iPad carriers and cases are as glossy and elegant as the iPad itself. They are not designed to withstand the sticky fingers of a peanut-butter encrusted four year old, the ham-fisted grabbiness of two teenage boys arguing over whose turn it is to play air hockey, or the handbag-bashing run for the train of the stressed-out Mum commuter.

Fortunately, the Melbourne-based Swann family design gurus Tim, Sophie and Amie (who now preside over the international Cygnett i-case empire) have come up with a solution.

I suspect they may have been influenced by the popular chocolate bar Aero (“It’s the bubbles of nothing that make it really something!”)  Whatever, they have come up with a superb case for the garden-variety Family iPad.

It’s roomy (you can fit a sleek silicon case inside as well) and easy to use – simply unzip the case and slide out the iPad.

The Aerosphere has a soft inner layer resembling a favourite furry toy,  easily unhooked stretchy elastic fasteners and a foamy protective outer cover. It’s very lightweight and best of all, very cheap. I love it.

Bottom line: An iPad case for the rest of us

Where:  www.cygnett.com

How much : Au $ 40

Feb 022010

There’s something kind of joyous about the idea of a gadget named after a gorilla.

Provided, of course, that you view gorillas as comical, banana-peel-throwing, cartoony character kinds of animals – if you were deeply traumatised by Planet of the Apes as a young child, you’re probably not going to be all that enthusiastic about this latest offering from Joby.

The same company that introduced the world to the Gorillapod – a flexible tripod that took the action photography accessory world (yes, there is such a world, I’ve been there ) by storm.

The Gorillatorch is really just a Gorillapod attached to a torch; with magnetic feet complete with rubberised footpads and magnificently twistable legs, it can be set up in all sorts of unstable situations.

It’s a bit of a king among torches, with lots of thoughtful features like a switch that allows you to control the amount of energy used – on the economy setting, the 3 x AA batteries will apparently last up to 80 hours.

Water resistant, of course, the strong polycarbonate lens covers a very bright LED lamp. It weighs 185 grams with batteries; and is pretty much useless without batteries, so there’s no point telling you how much the thing weighs on its own.

Lots of handy outdoors-in-the-dark-type uses are suggested, all of them somewhat on the blokey side – home repair, auto repair and night-time barbequeing among them.

But I think the most significant value in owning your own Gorilla Torch is that the hands-free ability of this little number means that there will rarely be a situation where you will ever have to wear one of those dorky-looking headlamps again.

Bottom line: The ultimate torch for those who hate dorky headlamps
How much : Around $50 via www.maxwell.com.au

Jan 162010

There’s so much pressure these days to update, renew, improve. The concept of built -in obsolescence may have originated in whitegoods – but it’s gadgets that have the shortest life-cycle of any consumer item these days.

Well-heeled teens replace their ‘old’ 3G mobile smartphones with a brand-new model every year because phone fashions move so fast.

Even the landline (should you be low-tech enough to own one still) is victim to fashion, with the latest offerings pumping out enough hertz between station and cordless handset that you can take the thing to the shops and still receive calls – who needs a mobile?

So here I am, the jaded reviewer, hunting down the latest and greatest in cellphones and thinking if these phones get any thinner they’ll need vitamin supplements when – lo and behold – a low-tech and yet awfully yummy phone fashion solution rears its yellow head.

The folk at Cellfoam have come up with the Banana Phone. It’s not a phone – it’s a phone holder. But, as many have discovered, this is a phone holder with loads of appeal.

Yes, it is yellow and shaped like a banana. Any flip phone or candy-bar style phone that is no more than 12.7cm long and 4.5 cm wide can be stuffed into this phone holder, though sadly the wider iPhones and Blackberries aren’t a good fit.

With the Banana Phone song by Egyptian Canadian children’s entertainer Raffi now an all-time sensation on YouTube, the Banana Phone Cover is the perfect foil for those wielding a less-than-trendy so-last-year mobile phone.

And should you purchase a banana phone holder, there’s no prizes for guessing the appropriate accompanying ringtone.

Bottom line: Day-Oh! Daybreak comes and I wanna phone home
How much : US $ 10

Jan 102010

Only in America. You’ve got your spouse a new iPhone, the kids all have a mobile phone, including the toddler’s specially designed emergency phone for the under-fives, your parents each have one – you’ve got everyone covered except the family dog.

Until now. (I’m sure I am not the only gadget reviewer who predicted this would happen.)

A company called Petsmobility, based in Scottsdale Arizona, has come up with a device called the PetsCELL – the first-ever voice-enabled, waterproof (read dog-slobber-proof), GPS-enabled mobile phone, specially developed for animals. (Mostly dogs, but hey, if you want to put one on your lizard, whose gonna stop you?)

Rover gets his own number, and the dorky-looking mobile phone is attached to his collar. Owners can program a special ‘restricted zone’ into the company’s website; satellite tracking will then text you whenever Rover leaves the zone, and you can dial him up and say ‘Bad dog!’ without leaving the comfort of your desk.

Does your Red Setter run off whenever his leash is removed? No problem, you’ll be able to track him down once you’ve programmed his details into your own GPS phone.

Since dogs are not all that great at dialling, the phone is voice-activated and operates more like a two-way radio.  Though unless you speak fluent Dog, I suspect there’s not a lot the two-way technology can do to make it less of a one-way conversation.

Future models may well come up with a revolutionary translation program that will convert Woofs into English. (Or not.)

Till then, if you’re that much of a dog-person that you want to call him when you’re not there – well, we (almost) have the technology. (I can hear Alexander Graham Bell rolling in his grave from here!)

Though the device was slated for release in 2008, it’s not yet available – but you can put your name on the list to be advised when it’s ready to buy.

Bottom line: Now you can get on the dog-and-bone to man’s best friend
Where:  www.petsmobility.com/products
How much : Unknown

Dec 162009

Someone who has lived with schizophrenia for many years told me recently that mobile phones are the best-ever technology for people living with mental illness.

These days, he can walk down the middle of the street anywhere having a full-pelt argument with his ‘voices,’ and as long as he’s got a mobile phone next to his ear, everyone thinks he’s as normal as the next guy.

Well, life for my schizophrenic friend is getting better all the time; wearable bluetooth headsets have meant more and more people are pacing the streets, ranting into thin air, without a visible phone anywhere near them.

And now, in a great new development – the ORB (Orbital Ring Bluetooth Headset) is about to bring Bluetooth headset technology to the design-conscious masses.

The ORB is, indeed, one ring to rule them all. You wear it as a ring, you know, on your finger – and some ring models include an LED screen displaying caller-ID and calendar reminders.

When you want to make or take a call, you simply take the ring off your finger, give it a cunning twist and – voila! You have a Bluetooth earpiece.

The wonders of ‘bone conducting technology’ mean you put the ring around the outside of your ear, avoiding any gross-out earwax issues.

(Though I do admit to mild concerns about attaching a mini-microwave to my bones because of a little earwax squeamishness.)

Whether you’re genuinely mad, permanently hooked up to your cellphone, or you just think gadgets like these are ‘mad’ (as my teens would say) – this is one nifty little ring that will have loads of appeal for young, old and in-between. (Are you listening, Santa?)

Bottom line: Bluetooth headset converts to funky LED ring
Wherewww.hybratech.com – to be released early in 2010
How much : US $129 without display, US $175 with display

Dec 022009

Before waxing lyrical on the joys of this particular gadget, I’d better start by outing myself as a recovering arachnophobic.

Actually, the word ‘recovering’ right there is possibly a bit of an exaggeration. Let me tell you, spiders and me just do not work together. NOT a fan.

So, for some sick reason, I get to be the one who is sent to review this Gravity Defying Gizmo in the form of an infra-red remote controlled spider which can climb walls and ceilings, just like a real one.

The rather creepy spider has an inbuilt fan system that creates enough suction to defy gravity while its tracks keep it moving along the walls. Or if you prefer (hey, I prefer, alright?!) you can flick a switch that turns the fan off, so the spider stays on the floor.

This – thing – requires six, count ‘em, AA batteries and measures a completely over-the-top 13 x 11 x 3.3 cm, which is seriously way too big for any spider-shaped object.

Still, not quite big enough to rival the world’s largest spider, the Goliath Birdeating spider which lives in the Amazon and has been known to grow to 30cm and live for 14 years, though I do need to point out that no birdeating spider living in my suburb would get the opportunity to grow anywhere near that big or live for .. well, live.

If you’re into remote control and you’re into spiders, this could be an absolute beauty. I would imagine there are many arachnophiles who would be hugely appreciative should they find it under their Christmas tree.

But should a Gravity Defying Spider of this size appear unannounced under the tree of an arachnophobic, recovering or not, I fear it risks total annihilation with a large blunt object.

Bottom line: Not happy, Tim
How much : £29.99

Oct 012009

I’ve never really seen the appeal of robots – I’ve got enough kids and pets to look after, without having to manage the time of some electronic bubble-headed booby as well.

The RoboMop


But I am now a convert. This little robot is the best gadget I have seen in years. Come Christmas, this blog post will be printed out and stuck not-so-subtly to the fridge with a large post-it saying, “Mum’s Chrissie Present!”

Get this: the RoboMop will run across your floor, and clean a 60 square metre surface with 98% accuracy in one hour. And – it sells for thirty quid – that’s about Au $70.

RoboMop is the ultimate robot. Just 8.5 centimetres tall, it will scoot under chairs, beds,  tables etc, happily cleaning away.

Just plug in the Robomop and fit the special electrostatic cleaning pad on the base. When it’s fully charged, set the timer, set the Robomop down – and off it scoots.

Sadly, the Robomop won’t work on carpet, but all low flat hard flooring – tiles, laminate, floorboards etc) is fair game.

There’s now a new model, the Black Robomop, which has a soft base to make corner cleaning easier and has a more powerful motor – and costs £45 (around Au$105)

Robomop comes with five cleaning pads, but an extra 24 pads can be bought for six quid (about Au $14).

This fabulous little device is patented – it was invented by Norwegian Torbjørn Aasen, who was fed up with cleaning his floor. Give the man a Nobel Prize in something, anything.  What a great idea.

RRP: Au $70

Sep 272009

Easy-bloom Plant Sensor

I love gardening but unfortunately, gardening doesn’t love me. Any plants left in my sole care generally have very short and unhealthy lives. It’s not because I dislike them or neglect them or have any ill-intent; I’m just a bad plant mother.

However, to make up for this defect, I’ve very sensibly married a man with some kind of instinctive plant-ESP. He plants, prunes, re-pot, fertilises, waters and harvests without inflicting mass-planticide, so I’m blessed with a lovely garden way beyond my just desserts. (I get to do weeding and pest control – I’m good at the death stuff.)

Matthew Glenn is an American technology product developer suffering from a similar plant-disability to mine, who realised that millions of unintentional plant-murders like us desperately need help – and came up with just the gadget.

The EasyBloom Plant Sensor is a white plastic gadget resembling an electric toothbrush body topped with green plastic flower petals. Switching it into either ‘recommend’ or ‘monitor’ mode, you plant the sensor into a particular garden location where you’d like to grow a plant (or next to a plant you’re currently killing) and leave it there for 24 hours to gather information on things like temperature, light, humidity and soil moisture.

Then you plug the sensor into your computer (do I really need to tell you to wipe the dirt off first?)
Some computer magic happens, somehow all the environmental information is applied to algorithms gathered from botanists (what?!) and the Plant Sense software will either recommend plants that will suit the location – or diagnose what’s wrong with your ailing plant and tell you how to fix it.

There’s even a web-based app that keeps track of all the plants in your garden. (Do they publish lists of mass-plant-murderers, I wonder?)  Unfortunately, at this stage, the gadget only works within the USA; but hopefully the makers will aim for world garden domination soon.

Bottom line: Turn your brown thumb green
Where: www.easybloom.com
How much : US $ 60

Sep 222009

Despite our over-the-top consumption of fizzy drink, double caramel macchiato soy lattes and alcopops, it seems that plain old H2O still plays a fairly important part in the average human diet.

Until recently, however, water had fallen from grace in our consumption-driven society; possibly because marketing-types were focused on water-with-added-value, not imagining that people who lived in a society rich enough to have clean drinking water literally on tap would be silly enough to part with good money to buy it.

Well, we live in a society that is indeed astoundingly, unbelievably silly, to the tune of about $ 400 million spent on bottled water in Australia alone (and more on the evils of the disposable plastic bottle in tomorrow’s post.)

Meanwhile – we have the Swiggy. These reusable plastic water bottles attach to each wrist and hold up to 5.5 ounces (that’s around 160 mL) of water, although there’s no reason they couldn’t hold an equal quantity of vodka, gin or both.

The Swiggie was invented by a Texan woman who collapsed from dehydration while running on a hot day.

Clearly running on a hot day in Texas without water is somewhat foolish; however despite its silly name and that loud yelling video that launches the instant you click on the website, there’s something kind of cool about Swiggies.

In fact, for extra cool, the Swiggies people suggest you can even pop your swiggies in the freezer before you go out jogging. (Though that sounds like a bad idea to me; wouldn’t they become really heavy and uncomfortable and freeze your wrists?)

Bottom line: Break the drought and accessorise with water
Where:  www.swiggies.com
How much : US $ 12.95 for a set of two,  plus postage