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
How much : Au $ 43

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 – 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