Fran Molloy

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


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?)


How much : ₤ 50 (about Au $120)

Piano Hands

Piano Hands

Jun 122010

I have mixed feelings about my GPS and recently changed the voice from Jane to John after a particularly testy exchange when Jane directed me into an industrial wasteland instead of a pub then kept insisting I perform a U-turn when possible.

The heated exchanges I have with Jane, however, pale in comparison to those exchanged with my latest project, the sixteen year old daughter who is learning to drive. Don’t you wish you were sixteen and knew everything too? This issue won’t go away – not in my house anyway; for every child you own / lease, there’s 120 hours of parent-teen bonding time to be faced before a P-plate can be issued.

This is where the LASER Navig8r i50 with “unique driver profiles” may come in handy. Instead of Miss 16 getting shirty with me when I remind her to keep under 80km an hour at all times, she can take it up with Jane. Good luck with that one.

The Driver Profiles means you can set up unique limits and logs. Set the profile to Learner, for example, and good old Jane will monitor the learner drivers’ speed against the signposted limit, maintain a driving log, display real time data on driving hours accumulated and percentage of driving time speeding. You can even print out a driving log report for presentation to your state roads authority. (Though I’m not sure if they will care, it’s nice to know you can.)

Also useful to track driving behaviour and speeds for P-platers borrowing the family car, and for truck drivers and business people who need to maintain a log book of driving hours and distances. You can enter the current speedometer and reason for trip at the start of each journey and the GPS will calculate time and kilometres and allow you to print reports.

This little beauty also has a SpeedAlert that tells you current speed limits, a large 5-inch LCD touchscreen with anti-glare and Bluetooth.

Bottom line: GPS with extra monitoring


How much : Au $199

May 242010

As technology has changed the composition of paid work, we’ve come to a stage where around 70 percent of Australian workers now sit down on the job.

And it seems this is causing serious national health problems as more and more research reveals that spending upwards of eight hours a day perched on one’s buttocks is terribly bad for one’s health.

In fact, even if you religiously engage in jogging, aerobics, pilates, gym stuff or other noble physical pursuits, the mere act of regularly sitting still for prolonged periods raises your risk of death from cardiovascular disease by a whopping 18 percent, according to a 2010 Australian study published in the Journal of the American Heart Foundation.

Enter the Treadmill Desk. This rather enormous contraption was designed with help from the Mayo Clinic’s Dr James Levine. Walking slowly (at around two kilometres an hour or so) on a treadmill while working at the attached desk burns an extra one hundred calories or so an hour. It also stops muscle wastage and other side-effects of sedentary labour. And if you walked at this rate for eight hours a day, five days a week, you could lose about 25 kg of weight in one year without making any other changes.

The “fully integrated electric height-adjustable worksurface” moves between 62 and 132 cm in height and includes a built-in palm rest, digital readout and runs very quietly.

The mere thought of wrestling this contraption into the standard grey cubicle is highly amusing. And just imagine the look on your co-workers faces when you yawn and stretch at the water-cooler and say, “Ah well, back to the treadmill!”

Treadmill deskers should also spare a thought for the person on the other end of the phone and wind the speed down a bit before dialling – nothing worse than a phone call that start with lots of heavy breathing.

Bottom line: Work out while you work


How much : US $ 4199

Apr 302010

No gadget column worth its salt can go by without a hat-tip to the iPad, and since all the panty-liner jokes have already been done to death on Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed and, we can now concentrate on the serious tech side of Steve Job’s latest gadget, nicknamed the print-killer. Among other things.

What the iPod did to music, the iPad will do to newspapers, ask any futurist. (After you’ve asked them how you get to be a futurist, of course – that’s the most important first question to put to any futurist you happen to meet.)<div xmlns:cc="" about=""><a rel="cc:attributionURL" href=

Just as the iPhone generated dozens of breathless iPhone-stalking websites and blogs, so the iPad spawned a whole gaggle of specialty blogs within hours of its release.

Time to whisper: – it’s ok if you don’t know what it is yet. Me neither. I don’t have one. Nor will I be one of those idiots lining up overnight at the Apple store waiting for the first batch to arrive on our shores. (Not when I have a relative who works on the docks, anyway..  ahem.)

So, I’ve made a few phonecalls (disguising my voice of course) – and now I have the answers to the questions that you lot were too cool to ask anyone.

Q.  What is the iPad?
A.  It’s a portable screen you put stuff on that you can read.

Q.  Why all the fuss then?
A.  I’m not totally sure really. It also plays movies and games and stuff and it’s bigger than an iPhone but smaller than a laptop. It’s about A4 size, so you can look at photos and actually see them, unlike on a mobile phone.

The iPad runs iPhone apps, including that one where you pretend to pour beer and the one that tells you what song is playing. Oh, and it plays music. It has a touch screen, which is very 2010. And it has that all-important Apple logo.

And because it doesn’t have a phone and it isn’t a computer and it’s much much bigger than an iPod, you’ll still need all of those things.

Yep, I think once again Apple have managed to create an absolutely crucial gadget that no-one knew they needed – and now, even though it remains tantalisingly unavailable, we already think we cannot do without. Go Jobsy, you marketing genii, you!

Bottom line: Oh, just go and get one, everyone else is.
How much :  From US $499 to US $829 depending on gigabytes and 3G-ness

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

Jan 302010

All those years writing parenting articles and raising four, count-em (hang on, where’s the little one?!), four children have taught me an important lesson: there are just two kinds of kids, clingers and bolters.

I had four bolters. At one stage there, I had three children under the age of three who would each attempt a nine-minute mile towards three different compass points whenever I looked like I was thinking of standing still for a second.

If you’ve got one of those clingy kids, a permanent whining attachment to one or both of your legs – you can stop whining yourself, you really don’t know how lucky you are!

For the rest of us, for any parent who has run panic-stricken towards every unfenced water feature in a large park when their toddler has disappeared, for all those parents who were on first-name terms with the local police from when their kid could stagger – have I got a gadget for you!

It’s overpriced, it’s over there (the USA, where else!), it’s over-the-top – but as a bolter-parent, I have a sneaking fondness for it.

The Amber Alert GPS 2G is a small (child tracking device that allows you to keep track of your child via GPS. It’s quite small – less than 5 x 5 x 2cm.

It’s got fancy-schmancy website access with voice monitoring, info on the speed of travel, and instant location feedback with street address, latitude and longitude.

You can program ‘safe zone’ boundaries (like child’s room, or every room but his brother’s room, or the house and yard – you get the picture) and then, parents get an alert (email, SMS, whatever) when the device leaves the boundaries.

And herein lies a problem – unless your child remains attached to the device, all you’ll get is info about the device remaining stuffed in the bottom of the sock drawer for many hours.  The makers suggest attaching to a wrist, ankle or boot. I suggest superglue to shin.

The device is US-focused but claims to work in any of 120 countries, provided there is a GPS signal and cell phone reception.

Bottom line: A leash is cheaper …
How much : US $ 379 plus US $10 per month subscription

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