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

Dec 202010

Most parents planning a summer driving holiday with their pre-schooler or early primary kid will have contemplated (or become dependant on) the ubiquitous back-of-car-seat DVD player. Nothing like a bit of mindless entertainment to keep the kids quiet on a long journey.

Unfortunately, more and more research is demonstrating that too much mindless TV is bad for the young brain. At the same time, many of the best and brightest of our educational psychologists are being lured by the grubby dollar to work for educational software companies.

It’s a win-win if you’re prepared to invest some of your hard-earned in the devices produced by said companies in developing the genius of your offspring. Combine that with the drive to your summer holiday destination and you’re in Christmas nirvana!

The Leapster Explorer is the latest must-have gizmo from the clever folk at LeapPad. Not only is it completely incompatible with all earlier leap-gadgets that have gone before it, (clever move, LeapPad folk, though annoying to those who have invested heavily in the predecessors) but it is also fabulously addictive for the average 4-9 year old – and, bonus, probably good (or at least, not too bad) for the developing brain.

The Explorer comes in pink or green, has a touchscreen display and high-res graphics. (Yep – you spotted it – it’s a junior iPhone, without the phone.)  There are educational activities (disguised as games but by this age kids won’t be fooled), music (exceptionally annoying) and even mini-videos.

There are kid-baiting tie-ins with eBooks and other content starring key Disney and Nickelodeon characters that can be downloaded, from Leapfrog’s Amazon wannabe site – at a price and via a wannabe iTunes-like voucher.

(Though I’m a little uncomfortable about grooming my kids to a life of paid downloadable content, I suspect this bit will be a huge hit.)

The add-on camera and video is a thoughtful addition. From the age of four, kids will learn to be content creators with their very own tools.  (Ah, let us hope they use these early talents for good and not evil!)

There’s web-enabled progress tracking, personalised content – what’s not to like? It’s a little pricey, but filled with clever surprises. The LeapPeople suggest siblings can share, clearly this is a recipe for disaster, but if the budget it tight – good luck with that!

Bottom line: Wire your kids up before they can read


How much : $ 140 for the Leapster, $30 for the camera, additional games $25

PS :  Miss Four found one in her Christmas stocking and has so far taken almost a hundred photos and a good hour of video. Snippets of these offerings so far are quite good – I may have a YouTube hero in the making!!

Aug 122010

Always wanted to busk – but your instrument of choice is the piano? Would love to join the musicians around the campfire – but don’t want to set the baby grand alight?

Here’s the solution!  Piano Hands comprises a pair of neoprene rubber gloves that feature a rather fetching piano-key-themed design reminiscent of some particularly sad neckties.  Move over,  jazz hands –  piano hands are here.

Each glove finger (but I think not the thumbs?) contains a sensor which triggers a sound each time the finger is tapped on a surface.

And you can go up (or down) an octave by judiciously tapping the heel of your hand on said surface.

The gloves are attached (via a pair of thin black wires) to a small white controller with speakers; the controller and gloves can then be recharged via a USB connection. (I’m not sure if the USB connection serves any other purpose, it doesn’t seem to.)

Ten demo songs are included (oh dear) and the piano hands play eight different instrument sounds; while piano and organ are predictably among the options, more surprising are the trumpet, violin, mandolin, guitar, drums and – music box?!

And in these days of preset music, of course the piano hands are supplied with –count ‘em- thirty different rhythms and adjustable tempo control.

Bottom line: Give us a song, you’ve got the piano hands (but are we all in the mood for that melody?)

Where:  www.iwantoneofthose.com

How much : ₤ 50 (about Au $120)

Piano Hands

Piano Hands

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

Dec 202009

As any parent of a pre-schooler knows, young children are very, very cunning; they are born with an innate ability to sense the slightest moment of adult weakness; then their inbuilt instincts kick in, allowing them to take maximum advantage.

It’s very easy to make a major childrearing mistake in a matter of seconds. One day, in a moment of desperation, you hand your mobile phone over to your beloved offspring to keep them quiet at a critical moment – and, to put it bluntly, dear reader – you’re stuffed.

No matter how many Dora or Wiggles plastic substitutes you now try and fob off on your child, they’ve tried the real thing – and few substitutes will suffice.

Some parents have, in desperation, bought a Nintendo DS, just to regain control over their phone. But that’s just being a bad parent, because they’re not really educational. (Though when your child is naughty, you can confiscate it and play with it yourself!)

But now – yay – there is an Educational Alternative – you can be a Good Parent, and still have your own phone.

The clever clogs at Leapfrog have come up with a series of gadgets (beyond toys, really!)  that are all about education. They all feature an animated dog called ‘Scout,’ complete with BBC accent.

The Scribble & Write is my favourite of the bunch of toys (which include a mobile phone, called the Text and Learn, which has simulated text messaging!)

A cross between an etch-a-sketch and a kiddy-friendly chunky plastic PDA, the writing tablet part of the gadget lights up a series of dots for a series of shapes and then for each letter of the alphabet. Kids trace over the lit-up dots to form shapes and then upper- and lowercase letters.

Combining high-tech speech and animation with low-tech writing tablet is inspired, and really encourages active learning.  This cynical reviewer is a total convert!

It’s great for the car. My preschooler loves it – and at just three, she’s getting quite reasonable with pen control and letter recognition.  (Plus I’ve got my mobile back!)

Bottom line: Great little pre-schooler gadget that’s fun and educational
Where:  www.leapfrog.com.au.
How much : Au $ 43

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 232009

Paper Water Bottle

Wherever you go these days, the horrendously overpriced single-use disposable plastic water bottle has become quite the trendy accessory, with an estimated 22 billion of them ending up in landfill each year.

The global bottled water market is expected to be worth US$ 86 billion in 2011. Most  bottled water is now supplied in plastic PET bottles, made from petrochemicals.

The first PET bottles (polyethylene terephthalate) appeared in 1975, ironically at the height of the OPEC world oil crisis.

Within a decade, the recyclable glass bottle was a rarity. Greenpeace estimates that 10 percent of the world’s plastic now ends up in the ocean, much of it in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an oceanic desert twice the size of Texas that supports very little life and is filled with exceptionally high concentrations of suspended plastic debris.

The disposable plastic water bottle has quickly become one of the world’s great environmental threats.

Not only do we waste hundreds of millions of dollars on something that is freely available to most of Australia’s population, but in Australia alone, a year’s supply of bottled water costs the planet over 300,000 barrels of oil a year.

That’s how much of one of the world’s most precious resources it takes to package, ship and refrigerate a product that is already piped to every single suburban premises for next to nothing, according to Sunday Age calculations.

This is why the 360 Paper Bottle is so astoundingly cool. It’s the first totally recyclable paper container,  made from renewable bamboo stock with micro-PLA film.

Developed by a US branding agency, it’s still in early product distribution stage. Let’s hope it catches on.

Bottom line: An alternative to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
How much : Still in concept stage

May 222009

The disposable razor varies in size from one blade to to six these days, the size of your razor depending on how much you’ve been sucked in by the sales departments at Gillette and Schick who are involved in an ongoing and pointless quest for world domination of the disposable razor market.

uvrazorsanitizerDo you get a closer shave with six blades than two? Dude, who cares! Grow a beard!

In fact, growing a beard may be the safest option – who knew that the humble razor could be so deadly? Apparently even the single blade numbers harbor huge quantities of Germs and Bacteria (these are indeed different things, according to the experts at gift retailer Brookstone.com.)

Yep, the good ole’ razor is most unsafe and might give you anything from minor skin bumps and irritations through to Staph. (I shudder to think what could happen if you nicked yourself with an Unclean Razor.)

But fear not, oh clean-shaven one, there is a solution. Shake your wallet out to the tune of around $30 US and you too can be the proud owner of The Razor Sanitiser, which promises to eliminate 99.9% of “germs and bacteria” in just minutes, thanks to its long-life germicidal UV bulbs.

Razor Sanitizer will suit the travelling shaver too, with its portable cordless AA-battery powered design. Until it arrives, though, I guess you could try leaving your razor on the windowsill in the sun for a bit of UV-disinfecting.

Yep, you can’t go past UV light for fast, easy, effective razor cleaning. It says so on the box.

Bottom line: Zap razor germs with hi-tech UV light (from batteries, not the sun)
Where: www.brookstone.com
How much : US $30

May 122009

There’s nothing that says winter in Australia more than the wonderful sheepskin-lined footwear fondly known as the Ugg Boot.

heatableUggDespite rumours that crass mag-fodder celebs (like the trashy Paris Hilton) have adopted our National Boot, the ugg-boot remains so practical and – let’s face it – downright ugly, that it has mostly avoided all fashion trends apart from the perpetual ‘Bogan Oz’ look.

Wikipedia calls them a ‘casual unisex boot’ and claims that sheepskin boots have featured throughout history with sixties Aussie surfer culture the latest in a string of ancient cultures to adopt the ugg.

Some ugg fanciers reckon that the ‘ugg’ title originates from the well-known feature of those uggs worn for more than one or two winters – usually, they will develop a pungent odour that quickly overpowers all other scents and those nearby may be heard to utter ‘Ugh!’ as the smell reaches them.

Whatever, there’s not been much ugg improvement since the earliest days of uggdom, apart from minor changes like mini-ugg boots to fit baby feet, short ugg-slippers for the indoor types, and pink-dyed ugg boots for chicks.

But now, gadget retailer Latest Buy is offering a heatable ugg boot. Whether you’re so wimpy that you can’t be satisfied with the snuggly warmth of bare sheepskin or you live in one of this nation’s most chilly regions, if ugg is not enough, this gadget might just do the trick.

The heatable ugg boot is not, actually, a real ugg, made as it is from polar fleece dyed a blinding pink. (Nothing natural there, though I did wonder at first whether it might involve polar-bear fur.)

The high-tech component is the nifty inclusion of a hidden cache of wheat grains and lavender which, when heated in a microwave for two minutes, produce a toasty warm sensation which will last for hours. And no more stinky feet!

Go wild – but remember, only the original sheepskin boots will truly bring out your inner Bogan.

Bottom line: Warm your feet in these microwaveable slippers
Where: www.latestbuy.com.au/heatable-ugg-boots.html
How much : Au $ 35

Jul 152008

If you’re a born luddite – or just a little on the tight-fisted side – and you’ve been lost any time in the last year, then you’ll be sick of being asked “When are you getting a GPS for the car?”
Or perhaps you’re sick of your other half constantly banging on about the dulcet tones of the ever-patient, wise and understanding Jane, who talks him through the directions to some place he’s probably been to dozens of times already.

For anyone, whatever the reason, who has resisted the exhortations of friends, family and colleagues to fork out hundreds of dollars for an irritatingly calmly-speaking electronic street directory, here’s the ultimate gadget.

The distributors promise that the Sat-Nag is a “joke that just keeps on giving.”

The Sat-Nag doesn’t perform any useful directional function, has no on-board map and doesn’t connect to anything at all.

The holographic screen glued to the front of the plastic gadget points to roads named Whiny Lane, Backseat Drive and Earache Avenue.

And press the button on the front and the random-nag generator will deliver a fabulous gem that can only have been written by someone who has been married a long, long time.

The rather well-spoken and ever-so patronising woman’s voice issuing from the Sat-Nag has a host of driving direction one-liners like: “I know you’re a man, but it’s been 35 minutes now, so can you please admit you’re lost and ask someone the way.”

Other gems include “In 100 metres turn left. No right, err, no left. Sorry, I never can tell my left from my right,” or even “In 50 meters I’m going to put on my most annoying voice and say ‘Is your short cut really faster when we get stuck in traffic like this, well, is it darling?”

You can only buy it online from the UK, so order now for the perfect Christmas gag gift.

Where: www.iwantoneofthose.com/gadgets-gizmos/sat-nag
How much : About Au $16.50 plus freight