Tag Archive: Gadgets


Tado away 520x245 Tado's smart central heating system is available in the UK now, but get an engineer to install it

Tado, the smart thermostat that can automatically moderate the temparature of your home, is now available to buy in the UK.

With the Internet of Things, smart cities and connected everything, central heating is one of the areas just waiting to be dragged into the next generation – and Tado’s not alone, with rivals in the form of other companies like Honeywell and Nest, it’s going to be a hotly contested space.

Tado’s solution

Unlike a normal thermostat, Tado’s system is controllable from a smartphone (iOS or Android) thanks to a little box you plug into your router.

This connection allows the app to send data to and from your phone, and is what allows it do to things like switch off your heating automatically as you leave the house, or use GPS to sense when you are approximately 20 minutes from home and then switch it on again, so that your house is nice and warm when you get there.

It’s a pretty appealing prospect, particularly with winter drawing in.

Tado 730x470 Tado's smart central heating system is available in the UK now, but get an engineer to install it

The system itself is relatively simple, once installed, and the idea is that with most of its functionality automated, you really shouldn’t have to set things manually at all – that’s not to say you can’t though, of course.

It really does promise to be properly smart too. Tado knows that houses heat up and cool down at different speeds and will learn over time what works best for your home. It also knows that some days will be unseasonably warm or cold by checking weather reports automatically online, and then makes adjustments to your heating schedule for the day.

Similarly, that GPS feature that senses when you’re approaching home and switches the heating on can also learn that perhaps you only work around the corner so are within range of your house all day. In this scenario, rather than keep the heating on all day in anticipation of your arrival home, it keeps it at a lower temperature, ready to heat up quickly when you do actually start to return.

The app also supports more than one user too, so the whole family can get in on the Tado action.

In theory

While this is all great in theory, those features depend on one key thing: getting it installed, a feat I never achieved.

When I attended the UK Tado launch in London a few weeks ago, the product was being pitched as primarily self-installable. The exact words bandied about were “if you can change a lightbulb, you can install this” and “if you can put together Ikea furniture ,you can do this”. I can do both of those things, but following Tado’s instructions nearly got me into hot water – pun intended.

Because each system needs to be tailored to your heating system – the type of boiler and thermostat, plus potential external controllers – each comes with its own self-installation workflow. Unfortunately, while the section to remove the mains-wired thermostat was correct, the section on connecting it to the boiler wasn’t, meaning, if I had I followed it, I would have incorrectly connected the Live, Earth and Neutral wires directly into my boiler’s control panel. Fortunately, I did not.

Instead, I let Tado know and they provided me with a new set of instructions, and while less incorrect, they were still incorrect and resulted in no power to my boiler whatsoever. I then rolled back what I had done and decided I no longer wanted to install the Tado myself. I can change a lightbulb, but that has never involved tampering with my mains electricity before.

Again, I let Tado know the situation and as a result of the feedback the company said it will no longer recommend self-installation as the default. Instead, an engineer is now the recommended default installation method and will be provided free of charge for customers that buy the system between now and January 2014. After that, it’s chargeable – currently listed on the site as 89.

This means that from January, it’ll cost 249 for the Tado kit and 89 for installation. Delivery is just under 10, making the total 347.80. There’s also an option to rent the system, at 6.99 per month. The total cost for taking this route for 12 months is 182.68 (including the initial installation and delivery costs) and then 83.88 for each year after that.

Tado cost 520x553 Tado's smart central heating system is available in the UK now, but get an engineer to install it

While not prohibitively expensive, the apparent need for an engineer visit does add quite significantly to the overall price. Renters might also want to bear in mind that your landlord or management agency is unlikely to be too pleased with you having changed the controls for the central heating, so you’ll probably want to have it removed before you leave – meaning another engineer visit or braving it on your own.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that there’s a good chance it might not be compatible with the system in your next house too, if you’re renting your home.

For home owners or people with no imminent house move in sight, these kind of concerns are, of course, less of an issue.

The future of heating?

The kind of experience that Tado is aiming to deliver is undoubtedly the future of central heating, but with a few companies already in the space – or looking to soon enter the UK market – like Honeywell and Nest, whether Tado will be the company to crack it remains to be seen.

For home owners wanting to modernise their central heating and potentially save a little cash too, Tado is one of the options available right now – and with a consistently good design running throughout Tado, whether that’s the UI on the apps, the website or the (incorrect) workflow I attempted to use – it certainly looks like something I’d be interested in using. I just wish I’d managed to have gotten it installed.

Featured Image Credit – Tado

The weakest point of today’s smartphones are, of course, the batteries, the average mobile phone runs on a single charge for about a day, and neither the major manufacturer so far has not found a way to significantly increase the time. On the other hand, not only battery case, the main consumers are the displays.
Designer Fabrice Dube introduced concept of a smartphone Booklet. The device is different from their counterparts in that, instead of the traditional OLED-and LCD-screen display, here used,made over E Ink technology. As stated by the author, the gadget is a kind of hybrid of a smartphone and e-books.

Future technology concept of a modest E-Ink-Smartphone Booklet

The idea can be a success, because Many owners of modern phones with features ready to give them up for devices with long battery life.
The actual possibility of a mobile phone Booklet really modest, there are tools to work with e-mail, documents, application for reading books, and the ability to make voice calls. Previously, the company E-Ink has demonstrated a prototype of this phone, but the device on the market and has not left. Perhaps all is not lost.
Designer: Fabrice Dubuy

Future technology concept of a modest E-Ink-Smartphone Booklet

Future technology concept of a modest E-Ink-Smartphone Booklet

Future technology concept of a modest E-Ink-Smartphone Booklet

Future technology concept of a modest E-Ink-Smartphone Booklet

Future technology concept of a modest E-Ink-Smartphone Booklet

Phones of future
Concept the world’s first reader with a color E-ink screen and backligh
Concept Smartphone Booklet
Nokia Concept Phone Runs on Coke
Device of the future

PetziConnect

Connected gizmos for dogs are having a moment, thanks to the likes of FitBark and other canine activity trackers. But here’s a connected gadget designed for dog owners to interact with their pet, rather than keep tabs on its health. Indeed, overuse of the PetziConnect’s treat dispenser feature may require some kind of health monitoring tech so push the treat button with caution.

Fortunately PetizConnect has other functions, that do not rely on treats to make pet and pet owner happy. Specifically it includes a wireless HD camera and a microphone so that pet owners can remotely summon Fido from his afternoon snooze and then watch as he cocks his head quizzically, wondering why his master’s voice is coming out of a box plugged in the wall.

As well as letting pet owners remotely view and coo at their dogs, and reward interest in a disembodied voice with the occasional tangible treat – dispensed via a button in the Android or iOS app or via a web client – the PetziConnect lets them take photos and record video. Which does, incidentally, beg the question how secure are Petzila’s systems – since once the device is up and running you will have a wireless, Internet-connected eye peeking into your home. Still, it’s designed to be plugged in at dog height so its view of any larger home occupants is probably going to be pretty partial. (Uhh, unless they happen to be rolling around on the floor nearby…)

Petzila was seeking $30,000 via Indiegogo to get the first batch of its connected dog-treating gizmo manufactured but has already passed that goal, with 40 days still left to run on its crowdfunding campaign. PetziConnects – which it says are rugged enough to deal with being mauled by a frenzied Fido hoping to get more treats/liberate its owner from inside the box – are due to ship to backers in December. The current lowest price-tag for crowdbackers wanting to bag a device is $99.

Update: Here’s what a Petzila spokesman had to say on the security point: “PetziConnect is built upon a 128-/256-bit encrypted, proprietary transport layer that blanket secures our three Petzila modules – Portal (mobile or web), Cloud, PetziConnect. In layman’s terms, we built the system bottoms-up to be end-to-end bullet proof secure.”

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At an internal meeting, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer admitted that the company overproduced the Surface RT tablet, leading to its recent $150 per unit price cut. As quoted by The Verge’s Tom Warren, Ballmer plainly explained that the company “built a few more devices than [it] could sell.”

But we already knew that.

In its most recent quarterly earnings release, Microsoft took a $900 million charge relating to the Surface RT tablet line, essentially admitting that the inventory that it has on hand was not worth its previous internal valuation; you can’t cut the market price of a product that you have in a warehouse and not lower its value on your books. The write down cost Microsoft $0.07 per share. It missed expectations for the quarter.

Microsoft has been on a mission to clear Surface RT inventory for some time. As I wrote earlier this year, through a combination of giveaways and discounts, Microsoft was moving to liquidate what appeared to be mountainous superfluous unit volume of its ARM-based Windows tablet hybrid.

At that time, Microsoft released a bland statement, saying that the offers and handouts were in “response” to the “positive reaction” Surface had enjoyed since launch. That felt a bit backwards: If response had been so strong, why give away a single device or discount? Wouldn’t organic demand be sufficient? Well, as it turns out, reaction hasn’t been overly positive, so the entire argument was logically moot.

Ballmer said something else during the meeting that is a non-surprise: Microsoft is not selling as many Windows devices as it would like. We knew that, too. The figures released quarterly that describe the PC market are brutal – and dropping. Even Apple is suffering from declining Mac sales in the face of nearly insurmountable headwinds that it helped to create with its leadership of post-PC product categories.

Next-generation Surface devices are being designed and tested. I suspect that Microsoft learned its lesson regarding production volume: Prove product-market fit first, and then kick the afterburners.

Top Image Credit: BUILDWindows

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fitness bands are a dime a dozen these days. Everyone has one, it seems, from audio manufacturers like Jawbone to upstarts like Fitbit and Basis. Now the EB Sports Group, a company that makes fitness devices under a number of brands including Everlast and Men’s Health. I’ve historically been wary of “no name” bands like this one – bands that are created to cash in on a trend rather than from an effort to create a software/hardware ecosystem, but I’ll give this unit a pass for a few reasons.

The most interesting aspect of the Burn is its 1-year battery life. As a regular Fitbit user, I would kill for a device with a fully readable screen that can last longer than two weeks, let alone 365 days. The device is basically a digital watch and is about the size of the Pebble smart watch. The button on the top right controls the readout – you can tag workouts, see your hourly energy expenditure, and see exercise history. The lower right button activates the sync features which, in turn, activates a low energy Bluetooth transmitter.

There is a central button on the bottom of the watch that doubles as a read-out control and heart rate monitor. You can scroll through calories burned, steps taken, and miles walked. If you press and hold the button, however, the watch measures your heart rate. This, in turn, helps estimate calories burned. It’s a wonky system and you have to press fairly hard with your thumb to get a reading but – and this is important – it works 99% of the time and helps conserve the battery.

The Burn is a product of trade-offs. It is a unique product – a quick visit to Alibaba didn’t turn up any similar, unbadged watches – and I’m pleased with the battery life and simplicity of use. To really get the most out of the device, however, you can sync it with an app called MapMyFitness, a free app (with a $29.99/hear training add-on that comes free with the watch for six months) that tracks your runs. By syncing with the app you can simply add your daily walks to the MapMyFitness database. You essentially get a screen like this:

Obviously this isn’t much better than any similar pedometer product but the heartrate monitor built in puts it on par with more expensive devices, like the Basis, and the lower-priced, $99 Withings Pulse. At $130, however, I’m hard pressed to recommend this over, say, a Fitbit Flex or the Pulse. Because of the odd choice to support only MapMyFitness, a popular but not particularly well-integrated piece of software, and the weird method for actually measuring the heart rate, the watch could end up being more trouble than its worth.

I used this primarily as a pedometer, checking my heartrate rarely during the day. To sit there and press and hold a thumb on the sensor is unfortunately too distracting while, say, taking or a walk or going to the gym. I far preferred the Basis’ always-on sensor or even the Fitbit’s overall passivity.

In terms of styling the Burn looks like any other sports watch with a nice red and black color scheme. The screen is a bit dark and unreadable at acute angles but I always enjoyed being able to read my steps taken with a simple direct glance at the watch, something almost none of the other fitness devices offer.

What’s the bottom line? If you’re a fan of MapMyFitness, this could be a solid addition to your regimen. If you’re a fan of a more developed ecosystem I’d recommend the Basis, Nike+, or Fitbit over this device. It’s a clever, nicely built sport-watch/fitness band but it just doesn’t have the depth of data and support afforded by other devices.

kodak3dinkcartridgesx600

This has to be one of the most uniquely disruptive uses of 3D printing I’ve seen: an ink refill company has successfully 3D-printed a Kodak ink cartridge, refilled it, and printed with it. Using a Makerbot Replicator 2 and some PLA, the company created an exact replica of the Kodak cartridge casing and stuck in an ink bladder of their own devising, thereby creating a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of ink delivery.

To be clear the company, InkFactory, is fooling no one here. The ability to print an outer casing for an inkjet printer cartridge is fairly limited and is useful only if you have a nice supply of bladders or you break your cartridge. This holds doubly true for cartridges with chips and delivery systems built-in. Until we can make high-resolution, soft prints using a 3D printer, there is no real way to make an entire cartridge on a home printer and there is almost no way to replace the cartridges that have proprietary circuitry built in.

That said, the ease with which they replicated the casing and placed their own ink in is heartening. The fact that you can now measure, design, and build a proprietary object should strike fear in the hearts of ink merchants everywhere and there are plenty of people out there who would, in a fairly unscrupulous manner, supply the proper ink bladders to home makers who simply want the nozzle and ink container and will make their own PLA or ABS cartridges.

As a proof of concept it’s great. It’s a perfect storm of righteous indignation – ink refillers stick it to public enemy #1, ink salesmen, by using the tools of mass production. If Marx had a tech blog, he’d be all over this. It’s a cute, if sensational, way to get the word out about ink replacement and I’m sure it will send someone at what’s left of Kodak scrambling to type up a cease and desist letter.


via 3DPrintingIndustry

gadgets-chrome-nexus-iphone4

Does the high-res Nexus 7 beat out the iPad mini? Why has Apple’s average selling price gone down? Is Google’s new Chromecast dongle an Apple TV/Airplay killer?

We discuss all this and more on this week’s TechCrunch Gadgets Podcast. The show features John Biggs, Matt Burns, Jordan Crook, Chris Velazco, Darrell Etherington, and Romain Dillet. Packed house, I know.

So sit back, relax, and listen to us make fun of each other while discussing this week’s developments in gadgetry.

Enjoy!

We invite you to enjoy our weekly podcasts every Friday at 3pm Eastern and noon Pacific.

Click here to download an MP3 of this show.
You can subscribe to the show via RSS.
Subscribe in iTunes

Intro Music by Rick Barr.

IMG_0359

It is a point of pride and, to an extent, shame that I introduced the TC audience to minimal running shoes aka crazy monkey shoes. Since first reviewing odd shoes back in 2009 I’ve tried to keep up with the trends. The latest stop in my exploration? Adidas Springblade.

Why is this on TechCrunch, you ask? Because these are some high-tech shoes, friends, and I suspect some of you out there in the Valley/Alley enjoy a spot of running now and again, in between complaining about things being on TechCrunch and coding.

While the bright, blaze orange upper alone is enough to turn heads, these shoes have plastic springs instead of a sole. These springs add a bit of “lift” each time you step, essentially springing your foot back into the air after each footfall.

I’ve been a minimalist runner since 2009, first using Vibrams and then trying various models from Brooks, Adidas, and most recently Skora. After a fairly complete and debilitating injury during marathon training, my long-distance running days are pretty much shot, but I still try to get at least 10 miles in a week. It’s not much, but hey, I’m not running for Miss Blog USA. I’m also fairly slow.

That said, running with the Springblade has been, if not a revelation, then quite surprising. I’m a bit more tired running in these than in minimalist shoes, which is normal. These are about 12 ounces and those 16 springs on each foot add just a bit of weight. However, I’ve seen my maximum speed increase from 8 minutes per mile to about 7:50 per mile – a measure taken at my peak speed using a Nike+ GPS watch – an improvement that is fairly important for a slowpoke like me. I also felt less pain in my shins and ankles and a distinct difference in the tiredness I felt after my three-mile runs.

Do I think it’s the shoes? Sure. The soles are far springier than I’m used to and I honestly enjoy them over the last pair of full running shoes I bought, the New Balance M1080v2. They also wore me out far faster and I definitely felt a distinct soreness in my calves that I hadn’t experienced in a while. In short, at the very least these shoes changed my stride slightly.

Would I recommend them over minimalist shoes? I’m not sure. Vibrams helped me out of a bout of plantar fasciitis, which has not flared up to this day. I have fought shin splints and other knee issues that I believe are weight related and I know I could use a more solid pair of shoes to perhaps take some of the strain off the ankles and joints. These could do the trick.

These shoes expel energy forward and work best while running on concrete and less well on soft surfaces like sand or trails. I was worried they’d get caught up in the buckling Brooklyn sidewalks but I noticed no issues. Apparently these are extensively tested to ensure the springs don’t break or buckle and, if anything, they look wild.

The shoes are available for pre-order for $180 – quite pricey for their weight – but they are a fascinating improvement to the standard, mushy thick-soled running shoes that I’ve eschewed for a number of years.

I’ve yet to see many experts weigh in on these shoes, and even Runner’s World is still mum about their opinion. I’m under no illusion that these shoes are more than an interesting gimmick that may shave off a few seconds at your fastest pace. But as a sheer feat of technical improvement to the tired running shoe, I applaud Adidas for attempting something so bold. I would expect these to rise to the level of the Nike Free over the next few months as people try them out simply for the novelty of the design. While I’m not exactly sure if I’ll stick to these over the long run, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

blackphone 520x232 Blackphone, the privacy focused Android smartphone, is now available to pre order for $629

Following numerous leaks and revelations about the surveillance capabilities of the NSA and other international security organizations, the Blackphone has arrived promising greater protection for your personal data.

The smartphone, announced last month by encrypted communications firm Silent Circle and Spanish smartphone maker Geeksphone, is now available to pre-order for $629.00. The first handsets are expected to ship in April and even then, you certainly won’t find this in a carrier store.

While we haven’t obtained a full run-down of the specs, what’s shown on the Blackphone site looks promising: a quad-core 2 GHz processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of onboard storage and support for LTE networks. It might not be bleeding edge, but the device should be competitive with the current crop of mid-range and high-end Android smartphones.

blackphone2 Blackphone, the privacy focused Android smartphone, is now available to pre order for $629

Although the device runs Google’s mobile OS, Silent Circle has integrated its own suite of apps, software and tweaks for a solution that it’s called ‘PrivatOS’. Some of these, such as Silent Phone, Silent Text and Silent Contacts, are available on other Android and iOS devices, but the following are exclusive to the new handset: Blackphone Security Center, Blackphone Activation Wizard and Blackphone Remote Wipe.

The result? Searching with this security-focused handset will be anonymous, rather than trackable. All bundled apps will be privacy-enabled and Wi-Fi can be disabled automatically until you reach a trusted or specified network. App permissions can be controlled with greater precision and basic functionality including calls, texts and video chats will be private.

While security and its relationship with technology is a widely debated subject at the moment, it remains to be seen whether people are prepared to give up a recognizeable smartphone brand such as Samsung and in favor of a specialized device such as the Blackphone.

Visit our MWC 2014 page for more coverage

Read Next: Blackphone: A new privacy-focused smartphone from Silent Circle and Geeksphone

Blackphone (Store)

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