Hello, and welcome to the latest installment of Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that sifts tirelessly through the silt of the latest gadget announcements to find those nuggets of gold.
In our pan this week are a 360-degree camera from Facebook, the latest Kindle, a robot phone and a smart fitness kit.
As ever, these are not reviews. The ratings indicate only how much I’d like to try each item with my grubby hands.
At its F8 developer conference, Facebook announced it was opening up its live streaming API to allow anyone using practically any camera capable of streaming live video to do so over its network. Aligned with that, the company also unveiled its latest push into hardware — an open source 360-degree camera.
Bearing 17 cameras and Web-based software to render footage in 360-degrees, Facebook Surround 360 (pictured above) is more of a design than a commercial product. It would cost around US$30,000 to build one as is, Facebook said. The idea is to allow creators to iterate on the design to create their own cameras.
What’s different here is that the system has 14 cameras around the sides, along with a sole fish-eye lens on top and two on the bottom. That helps it show the system’s complete surroundings while omitting the stand on which the camera is placed. It can capture video in up to 8K resolution and is compatible with virtual-reality headsets and the Facebook app.
Facebook has some skin in the game, even if it’s not building and selling these cameras. The more 360-degree content it can grasp for its Oculus headsets, the better, I’m sure the thinking is here. However, there’s still a long way to go before high-quality 360-cameras are affordable enough for everyday use. They’re likely to remain a Hollywood and corporate domain, for now, but it sure would be fun to strap one of them onto the top of a drone and fly it around.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Virtual Walled Gardens
Amazon’s new top-end Kindle, the Oasis, promises a lighter, thinner display with an ergonomic design. The extended bezel on one side is also home to two physical buttons for turning pages. A nice touch is an accelerometer that lets left-handed readers flip the device to use it with their dominant hand.
It’s a pretty reader, certainly, but I’m not seeing the big selling point that would compel me to fork over $290 for this.
I love my Paperwhite and see only one reason for switching to the Oasis: holding the Paperwhite in one hand and trying to turn pages requires a little dexterity with my digits that physical buttons could allay. For now, I’ll stick with what I have, though. Thanks anyway, Amazon.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Solid Grips
Regular readers may note my instant affection toward cutesy, anthropomorphized robots designed to help around the home. So I’m of course in the tank for RoboHon, Sharp’s smartphone in the body of a robot.
It has a projector that can display photos and video at 720p resolution, and it has LTE connectivity. More importantly, it can walk and dance for you. The screen is only 2 inches, which I’m OK with, thanks to the projector and the focus on voice control. However, the voice recognition feature requires a monthly subscription.
It’s far pricier than just about any other smartphone, starting at around $1,800, but to my mind, it’d be money well spent. That thing is just so terribly adorable.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Walk and Talks
Move It is a smart, portable home gym comprised of four pieces of equipment: a jump rope, an ab wheel, a resistance band, and a pair of pushup stands.
A set of smart handles that connect to the piece of equipment you’re using at any given time can pair with the mobile app using Bluetooth.
While the system will offer feedback on your workout and track your activity, what’s truly compelling here is the attempt to build Move It into a community. Members can connect and, say, challenge each other to see who can do the most pushups in a minute. There’s also training programs that can give you motivational messages in real-time.
It’s only recently that I’ve taken to working out with any frequency, and going to the gym still makes me a little anxious. To have a compact home gym that takes care of cardio and strength training sounds like a dream. Can’t wait to get my hands on this.