April 2018 Tech Trends Product Reviews
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April 2018 Tech Trends Product Reviews

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Spring finally arrived but Tech Trends has been closeted indoors testing and reviewing all sorts of cool gadgets and thingamabobs for you lucky readers!

Sphero Mini

The Sphero Mini follows in the line of the original Sphero, Sprk+ and the popular Sphero BB-8. The new Mini takes much of what its previous models so successful and shrinks it down to a smaller – and more economical – package.

Sphero Mini packs tons of fun into a tiny, app-enabled robotic ball. drive, play games, learn to code, and more.

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Review AR Mixed Virtual Reality Augmented aukey crazybaby air skullcandy bluetooth headphones speaker sphero mini zero water filter ergo mouse usb 3 hub dock dell visor

The new Mini takes much of what its previous models so successful and shrinks it down to a smaller - and more economical - package Click To Tweet

Now the size of a snooker ball the Sphero Mini comes in a range of robust-coloured shells which open to reveal its components within (a gyroscope and accelerator). A few fun accessories are also enclosed in the package – including half a dozen colourful mini skittles and some cones so you can layout your own course and steer your Mini through it.

Initially, a little slow to charge -especially if you have children eager to play – the app intel is easy to download and boot up and once launched is quick to get going with a colourful simple interface which is very child-friendly and easy to navigate.

Packed with teeny tiny tech such as a gyroscope, accelerometer, and LED lights and almost an hour of play time, Sphero Mini is the next big thing.

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Review AR Mixed Virtual Reality Augmented aukey crazybaby air skullcandy bluetooth headphones speaker sphero mini zero water filter ergo mouse usb 3 hub dock dell visor

The app intel is easy to download and boot up and once launched is quick to get going with a colourful simple interface which is very child-friendly and easy to navigate Click To Tweet

In the app you can choose between a variety of control methods: standard joystick, tilt control, slingshot and face driving – which although may prove fun for younger players is actually quite a frustrating experience. Apart from the standard tech toy drive modes, there are also a few arcade style games tucked within the app wherein you can use the Sphero as a controller. They’re a fun little distraction but compared to what kids can play on their phones nowadays they won’t amuse them for long.

Drive Mini using different modes with the Sphero Mini app, or just by using your lovely mug. This Ball is also a Video Game controller! Use Mini as a controller to shoot your way through space, race through a tunnel, or to destroy a polygon of bricks.

The app is a great introduction to the basics of programming and with a simple drag and drop approach even younger players can make their own programs or adapt provided templates Click To Tweet

But it’s the Sphero Edu coding app that raises this tech toy above that of your average remote control car. The app is a great introduction to the basics of programming and with a simple drag and drop approach even younger players can make their own programs or adapt provided templates. Once you’ve become familiar with the paths and blocks that represent code you can then write your own JavaScript text programs.

Program the Mini with Javascript. If you’re feeling extra clever, download the Sphero Edu app and program your robot using JavaScript. The SPRK+ robot was built for programming. What’s the difference?

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Review AR Mixed Virtual Reality Augmented aukey crazybaby air skullcandy bluetooth headphones speaker sphero mini zero water filter ergo mouse usb 3 hub dock dell visor

Overall the Sphero Mini is a solid reasonably priced tech toy Click To Tweet

Overall the Sphero Mini is a solid reasonably priced tech toy. In some ways, it suffers from the general failure of many of the interactive educational bots in that you really have to encourage the child to explore its capabilities or they will just become an expensive remote control car and have a very limited replay value. Given proper guidance, however – if you have the patience – they are a great way to encourage a basic grasp of coding.

RRP: $49.00

Review by Ashley Thorpe, Animator & Filmmaker at Carrion Films and Film & Games Correspondent at Tech Trends. Follow him on Twitter @CarrionScreamin

 

Dell Visor Windows MR Headset

The first thing that hit me when I popped on the Dell Visor was its weightless comfort. It is similar in design to the PS4 VR headset and puts the weight of the device on the top of your head but is just a bit easier to get used to wearing and less front-heavy.

The first thing that hit me when I popped on the Dell Visor was its weightless comfort Click To Tweet

After trying some VR headsets that clamp the screen onto the front of your face with straps I have been left in physical pain (especially around the nose and ears) and so have become a connoisseur of VR comfort (or lack thereof) and the Dell design gets top marks.  Read the full review here.

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Review AR Mixed Virtual Reality Augmented Dell visor headset hand controllers microsoftCarlton AR Children’s Books

Carlton Books are at the forefront of early stage, educational AR books and I can’t think of a better use for mobile AR tech. Visually exciting and interactive technology paired with real-world play and learning should draw kids into new subjects and areas of study in a new and exciting way. It is important to note how early stage this technology is but Carlton have thrown themselves behind AR with exciting results.

Carlton Books are at the forefront of early stage, educational AR books and I can’t think of a better use for mobile AR tech Click To Tweet It is important to note how early stage this technology is but Carlton have thrown themselves behind AR with exciting results Click To Tweet

Last year I was very impressed with their more adult-focused Alien: Augmented Reality Survival Manual, it had some very engaging AR content and is still my benchmark for this hybrid publishing format, so I was keen to try out this new series of educational AR books Tech Trends picked up at the 2018 London Book Fair. I was particularly keen to see how easy they made the process of linking the technology, the AR content and the physical books as the interaction between paper and digital needs to be seamless, immersing the reader (or user?) in the content with minimal UI friction.

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Review AR Mixed Virtual Reality Augmented carlton dragons bugs book

First up was iExplore Bugs, off the bat this should be good as who doesn’t love creepy crawlies! The first page had clear instructions showing you how to download the app and use it. The App icon and the printed AR activation symbols were the same, making it really clear how it worked but there was no printed QR code to take you straight to the app in the iOS or Android app stores, why not? I had to open the app store and search for the app, luckily the printed instruction had the correct app name so this was not too hard but it should have been much easier.

Flying the Dragons around the room was serious fun and the quality or the AR was excellent Click To Tweet After activating the AR there was a clear prompt on what to do next, look through the phone's camera and point it at the app symbol on each page to bring the bug to life Click To Tweet

The app is pretty large and took a while to download and install but when opened offered a taste of what was to come with a friendly animated cricket, instructions and links to other apps in the publisher series. After activating the AR there was a clear prompt on what to do next, look through the phone’s camera and point it at the app symbol on each page to bring the bug to life. My Galaxy S8 would not focus the camera inside the app and so detecting the symbol was a bit tricky, everything was permanently out of focus so the camera was not quick to activate the AR. However when it popped up the AR quality was great and the in-app bug controller, information and mini test were well designed and fun to use. The only niggle was the juddery bugs, when they were standing on the page they juddered constantly as the app calculated the ground level. This was a bit distracting but when the bugs took off and flew around the room under my control it improved a lot. This was serious fun and the quality or the AR Dragons was excellent.

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Review AR Mixed Virtual Reality Augmented carlton dragons bugs book

The flying creatures got even better in Dragons Come to Life (so cool) where the Dragons from Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon leap off the page and let you fly them around the room. The book’s instructions and app were just as clear and the AR dragons and little human characters were really very cool. You could also swat up on the Dragon’s special powers and its Top Trumps style, abilities followed by a little knowledge test. Again the S8 camera would not focus in the app so it failed completely to activate some of the dragons, even in very bright light, quite annoying.

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Review AR Mixed Virtual Reality Augmented carlton dragons bugs book

Carlton Books have done a really good job here and the books and apps are fun to use and very reasonably priced considering the background work this AR tech requires Click To Tweet

All in all Carlton Books have done a really good job here and the books and apps are fun to use and very reasonably priced considering the background work this AR tech requires. The books absolutely must have printed QR codes to take you to the right app or Carlton need to issue one app that works across all their books in a series. The friction of looking for the right app to go with the right book is simply unnecessary and easily fixed. The in-app camera failing to focus was a big issue but an app update should fix this and my only other minor niggle is the visuals and text in the books, particularly the covers. They are overselling the concept with too many images and too many mixed up fonts and bold graphics, it all looks too busy and hectic on the page. However, with publishers like Carlton pushing the Print & AR format I can see other publishers getting onboard but for now, none match the quality on show here from Carlton.

RRP: Individual books £9.99 and the Carlton AR range is here.

 

Aukey Wireless Bluetooth Speaker

If asked to sum up Aukey’s products I would have to say ‘best bang for your buck’ is the phrase that comes to mind. They are invariably much better quality than the price suggests, solidly built, practical and reliable. In the case of this 16W, SK-S1 wireless Bluetooth speaker I can also add, attractive.

The SK-S1 is surprisingly solid for its size. When you first pick it up gives off a feeling of quality and confidence, and the sound is very good Click To Tweet

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Review AR Mixed Virtual Reality Augmented aukey bluetooth speaker crazybaby air skullcandy

There are some wacky and expensive looking portable speakers out there but this one just looks smart and modern, blending into my office, kitchen and garden. It is also surprisingly solid for its small size and when you first pick it up gives off a feeling of quality and confidence. The curved metal grills and the brushed steel top ooze a stylish simplicity and the silicone base promises to keep it clinging to any surface. Read the full review here.

 

ZeroWater Filter and TDS Meter

This 12-cup water filter jug from ZeroWater looks much like every other water filter out there but what makes it a more high-tech drinking solution is its patented, 5-stage Ion Exchange Filtration system, which removes virtually all dissolved solids from your water. These solids may include minerals, salts, metals, chemicals and runoff. Mmmm runoff, my favourite non-specific dissolved solid!

It removes virtually all dissolved solids from your water. These solids may include minerals, salts, metals, chemicals and runoff. Mmmm runoff, my favourite non-specific dissolved solid! Click To Tweet

The ZeroWater filter is also the first in its class to benefit from a sealed lid and reservoir, which allows filtered water to be poured while water, which hasn’t yet been, filtered remains in the reservoir. This adds a further 2 cups of capacity to the 10 cups of filtered water in the jug. It also features a very cool one-handed, pull and pour button spout for easy pouring from the fridge or for filling bottles. Four additional stages of water filtration ensure larger particles and other impurities are removed.

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Consultancy Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Reviews Review AR MR Mixed Reality Virtual Augmented Sex IOT zerowater water filter jug Ion Exchange tds meter

Well, I used the laboratory-grade Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) meter provided on our unfiltered tap water and got a reading of 078. I then filled up the jug and measured the filtered water and… dum dum duuuum! Got a reading of 000. So this seems to do a fine job of removing those unpleasant impurities from your water, and that can only be a good thing. Our water normally tastes fine if a little chloriney and after filtering through the ZeroWater tasted very different. It’s difficult to describe the taste but it is not unpleasant and definitely better than straight out of the tap.

I used the laboratory-grade Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) meter provided on our unfiltered tap water and got a reading of 078. I then filled up the jug and measured the filtered water and got a reading of 000 Click To Tweet

  • Certified* to reduce Lead, Chromium, & Mercury
  • Premium 5-Stage Dual-Ion Exchange filtration system
  • Ion-Exchange system that removes virtually all dissolved solids in your water
  • The FDA requires the TDS level in PURIFIED bottled water to reach 000-010ppm. ZeroWater is the only filter in its class to achieve this level.

 

RRP: £39.99

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Consultancy Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Reviews Review AR MR Mixed Reality Virtual Augmented Sex IOT zerowater water filter jug Ion Exchange tds meter

Dell Precision 7720 VR-Ready Mobile Workstation

It was love at first sight when I unpacked the top spec Dell Precision 7720 VR-Ready Mobile Workstation last week. Cupid’s bow twanged and his poison arrow thudded deep into the meat of my heart, I was a gonna. She was over £7k of laptop and I was a drooling geek, palms sweaty at the prospect of an Intel Xeon E3-1535M v6 server processor, Nvidia Quadro P5000 and a Samsung SM961 M.2 SSD. My shaking hands slowly peeled off her cardboard clothes, plugged her straight into the mains and turned myself on 😉 So how was it? Well, it was sweet while it lasted but she soon left me and drove away with the same cheeky UPS driver! Read the full review here.

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Review AR Mixed Virtual Reality Augmented dell precision 7720 mobile workstation intel i7 nvidia quadro

Aukey Powered USB 3.0 Hub

Like Apple, PC motherboard makers seem to be on a crusade to limit external connections. I suspect this might be due to the variety of new superspeed connections users expect every board to have pushing out the more practical and proven connections such as USB 3. I have never had the need for an expansion card or hub like this one from Aukey before but with only six USB 3 ports on my PC (four on the rear and two on the front) and a wealth of USB dongles and devices I was struggling. Sure I tried a few small two or three port extenders that did the job but a mains powered, six-port hub like this provided a much-needed connectivity boost.

I have never had the need for an expansion card or hub like this one from Aukey before but with only six USB 3 ports on my PC and a wealth of USB dongles and devices I was struggling Click To Tweet

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Review AR Mixed Virtual Reality Augmented aukey crazybaby air skullcandy bluetooth headphones speaker sphero mini zero water filter ergo mouse usb 3 hub dock dell visor

The hub adds six SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports to your laptop or desktop computer, plus Aukey threw in one Smart Quick-Charging Aipower port and a Gigabit Ethernet port capable of accessing superfast network speeds of up to 1000Mbps. With the palm-size and lightweight design the CB-H17 Powered USB hub retains high-speed access to all of your devices without overloading your pocket or desktop. With USB data transfer rates of up to 5Gbps, you’ll be able to sync files and interact with your Mac or PC more efficiently than ever.

This hub adds six SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports to your computer, plus one Smart Quick-Charging Aipower port and a Gigabit Ethernet port capable of accessing superfast network speeds Click To Tweet

Alice Bonasio VR Consultancy MR Tom Atkinson Tech Trends Review AR Mixed Virtual Reality Augmented aukey crazybaby air skullcandy bluetooth headphones speaker sphero mini zero water filter ergo mouse usb 3 hub dock dell visor

This is a very robust little hub from Aukey and is a worthy addition to your home computer, you won't know how you survived without one Click To Tweet

Powered by a 12V/3A mains adapter you can use your all external USB hard drives and even charge your smartphone or tablet when your computer is turned off (except for the iOS system), that could come in pretty handy! This is a very robust little hub and is a worthy addition to your home computer, you won’t know how you survived without one.

  • Compact and slim design effectively saves your desk space and expands your connectivity
  • One 2.4A output smart charging port provides full-speed and sufficient powers to charge all Apple and Android Smartphone, tablets and other USB charged devices
  • The Ethernet port supports 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet. Support WinXP/ 7/ 8/ 10, Linux, Mac OS
  • Package Contents: AUKEY CB-H17 Powered USB Hub, 3.3ft USB Cable, 12V/3A Power Adapter, User Manual, 24 Month Warranty Card

RRP: £19.99 reduced from £24.99 on Amazon UK

 

Tom Atkinson is a Digital Producer & Photographer at R3Digital and Reviews & Dept. Editor at Tech Trends. Connect on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @R3Digital

 

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