THE YEAR 2013 might not have seen many noteworthy breakthroughs or innovations in terms of smartphones or tablets, with the year failing to deliver anything but updated models and refreshed designs. But that doesn’t mean the year didn’t bring its fair share of quirky, less conventional gadgets and unusual devices worthy of a mention.
From Bluetooth-enabled smartpens to app-controlled light bulbs, here are some of our favourites, in no particular order.
The Livescribe 3 Smartpen is indisputably one of the coolest gadgets to come out of 2013, boasting some unique and innovative features that mean note-takers will never have to miss an important quote again.
The third iteration was launched in Autumn, touting some major changes. The smartpen, which is known for its ability to take a note of whatever its user is scribbling and copy it on the fly, does this now using Bluetooth Smart LE technology, transporting everything that is written on specialLivescribe dot paper to an iOS device via a Livescribe+ app.
Livescribe 3 is available in two versions, one for £129.99, which includes the smartpen along with a 50-sheet starter notebook, as well as a microUSB charging cable and a black tungsten-carbide medium-tip ink cartridge. Priced at £169.99, the Livescribe Smartpen 3 Pro Edition includes a leather Smartpen portfolio with a 100-sheet hardbound journal, a one-year subscription to Evernote Premium, a charging cable and an additional ink cartridge.
Controlled by mobile devices via a WiFi bridge that hooks up to an internet router, the LED lightbulbs allow users to control the colour of lighting in environments for different moods via an app on iOS or Android mobile devices.
This year, Philips added additional lighting options to the smartphone-controlled system and a feature dubbed “Friends of Hue”. The additions areLivingcolours Bloom lights and Livingcolours Lightstrips, which are different variations and shapes of bulbs that are controlled by the Hue app to deliver different, more dynamic lighting systems in the home.
The interesting thing about the lightbulbs is that Philips has left the software development kit (SDK) open for developers so the lighting can be controlled in future apps, opening up the technology for a host of possible innovations.
Gmax 3D printer
3D printers are by no means a new invention – early versions can be traced back to the 1980s. But it’s not every day you meet someone who has built a 3D printer to then design and print their own much larger 3D printer, which is then used to print even more 3D printers that are then shipped off as flat-pack build-it-yourself additive manufacturing devices capable of a larger-than-average build volume of 41x41x23cm.
Seen here first at The INQUIRER when we met with the printer’s designer Gordon LaPlante, who showed us the Gmax during its prototype phase earlier this year, in his living room design studio in Brooklyn, the flat-pack 3D printer kit is now available to buy on the Kickstarter crowdfunding website from $1,095.
LaPlante insists the Gmax is very easy to assemble, as buyers need only to “slide in and screw” the pieces together. It might not be available in your local Maplin store just yet, but it’s definitely one of our favourite and most innovative gadgets of 2013.
Whoever said good things come in small packages has never been more spot on as far as Intel’s Next Unit of Computing (NUC) is concerned. It’s one of our top gadgets of 2013 chiefly because we’re still flabbergasted by the sheer amount of computing power available in such a tiny box.
The NUC itself is by no means brand new, but what this year brought us was the addition of Intel’s fourth-generation Haswell processor in the same compact form factor, making the NUC just as tiny and versatile but with more power and even lower energy consumption. There are also two SO-DIMM slots for support of up to a massive 16GB of DDR3 memory.
Intel’s Haswell-powered NUC is available now from around £250, depending on configuration.
Check fitness training gadget
We can’t say health and fitness gadgets usually gain much attention here atThe INQUIRER. But when we heard about the Check training gadget earlier this year, we made an exception.
What’s good about FAM Sports’ Check gadget is that it is the first portable device to use electromyography technology, a technique for recording the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles. Based on the phenomena of peripheral muscle reflex caused by electric stimulation, Check uses a sensor system that hooks up to a disposable electrode that is placed on your forearm. The electrode sticks to the wrist and is attached to the main device, which also has a sensor that sits on the tip of your thumb.
Check communicates over Bluetooth LE to an iOS or Android device and when you hit the “new assessment” icon in the app it will send a low-voltage current through your body in order to stimulate the nerve-muscle connection and tell you if your body is ready for a day of training or not.
Check is aimed at fitness fanatics and professional athletes and is available from FAM Sports’ online store for £225, along with various bundles of disposable and non-disposable electrodes, which are sold separately.
Orbitsound SB60 Airsound Base
Not only an innovative product but an innovation in technology, too, theOrbitsound SB60 Airsound Base is an all-in-one subwoofer and soundbar system built on the company’s patented “Airsound” technology.
Updating the M series of wireless soundbars launched in February, Orbitsound’s SB60Airsound Base is what the firm calls “a one-box TV sound solution with an integrated subwoofer without the need for additional speakers”.
The Airsound Base is powered by the firm’s Airsound technology, which was known as “spatial sound” in its previous lineup of products. It takes advantage of “sum and difference” audio signals, as opposed to left and right channels, to create what Orbitsound terms a more solid image.
We had the chance to test the SB60 for several weeks and can confirm it’s one of the best sounding in its class, all squeezed into one neat package that fits snuggly under most TV sets. It’s available now for £299.
Sometimes it only takes the simplest of devices to have the biggest effect on your life, and before long it’s hard to see what you did without them. This is certainly the case with Griffin’s Powerdock 5, which we can’t imagine living without now we’ve become accustomed to using it every day.
Measuring around the same as a single iPad laid flat, the Powerdock 5 is a multi-charge point for all your i-devices, giving you a place to store and charge five gadgets at one time, from a single power source. As long as there’s a USB cable to charge it, the Powerdock will handle it. It’s the perfect charging solution for small offices or work groups, or a family full ofAndroid, Windows or iOS device users.
Elgato Smart Key
Another one of life annoyances: even in a modern age of 3D printers and wearable devices, remembering where you put your keys can sometimes prove a challenge. It’s a good job that this year Elgato devised a gadget for this predicament, then, isn’t it.
The Smart Key is essentially a Bluetooth-enabled fob that, unlike rival devices, uses Bluetooth Smart technology in conjunction with recent software upgrades in iOS 7, to promise a reliable, consistent and versatile gadget-finder.
Working alongside an iOS app that acts as a command centre, the fob can be attached to anything you like – not just keys, as the name suggests. It can be synced via the app under a name corresponding to whatever it is attached to: “handbag”, “suitcase”, “keys”, etc. If you leave something behind, the app will notify you accordingly, seeing that you never leave your valuable possessions behind again.
The Smart Key fob is available now for £40.
Adobe Project Mighty and Napoleon
Adobe announced in September that it would take a serious step into hardware for the first time, and bring the internet-connected stylus experiment Project Mighty to production, along with a accompanying digital ruler called Project Napoleon.
The digital drawingtools deserve a place in our top gadgets roundup for 2013 because once we got our hands on them, we knew instantly they were one of a kind.
With a three-sided twist for better ergonomicsduring use, the stylus has a notification LED built into the end that emits a range of colours to signify information such as battery status and data transfer. The stylus is encircled with sensors so it can be charged in a USB charging dock.
They might not have become a purchasable reality yet, but the drawing tools – which are aimed at those in the design industry who are looking for tablet and smartphone accessories – offer an enhanced alternative to pencil and paper drawing.
2013 marked the first year that Google Glass became a tangible product; from mere prototype hype and mock videos in 2012, to something we could test out and use, albeit in an environment controlled by Google. But that didn’t mean we weren’t eager to get our mitts on the highly anticipated spectacles when we were invited to try them out back in summer.
From our demo, it was clear that Glass is more about the tech concepts it introduces, as opposed to a concrete device planned to make it big with consumers. Google isn’t promoting Glass as the next big thing in technology, but more as a proof of concept that it wants to receive feedback on and improve upon and just see where it goes.
Lightweight and futuristic looking, the eyewear is perhaps more an indicator of the kind of technology we are likely to see in years to come, and in that respect, we applaud Google for trying something new and giving people the chance to try an alternative to a smartphone. We think it’d be impossible to argue that it’s not a one-of-a-kind device, whether it becomes available to buy or not.
Korean hardware firm LG is perhaps best known for its substantial line-up of smart TVs, monitors and smartphones. But that all changed earlier this year when the company unveiled a rather unusual device, claiming to be the smallest and lightest mobile photo printer on the market.
Working with any smartphone or tablet, the LG Pocket Photo printerproduces roughly business card-sized colour prints via ZINK inkless printing technology, which LG says eliminates the need for expensive ink cartridges.
When we reviewed the nifty gadget, we found it extremely fun to use, working with a smartphone app that allows you to add filters and photo effects before printing out and covering everything you own with them.
The LG Pocket Photo printer is available now for £130.
Love it or hate it, Leap Motion was the first to give those who don’t already own gesture-controlled devices the option of such a technology. Its Leap Motion Controllerturns any PC with a USB port into a 3D motion-activated computer for just £70.
The device allows people to control their computers with hand and finger movements, claiming to sense gestures made by your hands “the way you move them naturally”. Working withMac computers and PCs, the 3in device is powered by USB and downloadable software.
It also tracks all 10 fingers up to 1/100th of a millimetre with zero visible latency, leaving your hands free to move in eight cubic feet of interactive, 3D space. It’s a neat and unique little gadget, which also comes with Airspace, the Leap Motion app store that is said to contain more than 75 applications such as paint programs and games built by developers and designed specifically forLeap Motion technology. A welcome addition to the year’s line-up of quirky and unique gadgets. µ