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Gadget Ogling: Gaming Revivals, Clever Cameras, and Smartphones for All

By Kris Holt
Feb 22, 2016 3:36 PM PT
retro-computers-sinclair-zx-vega

Hello, friends, and welcome to another edition of Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, your guide through the mists of the gadget announcement universe to the clearing where the best stand out a little more clearly.

On the other side of the haze this week are a handheld retro gaming system, a home monitoring camera with style, a 3D printer for action figures, and what may be the least expensive smartphone yet.

As ever, these are not reviews -- they're first-look observations about each item. The ratings denote only how much I'd like to test each with my own two hands.

Across the Spectrum

Sir Clive Sinclair helped popularize video games as a viable home entertainment option with the ZX Spectrum. After reviving the brand a little over a year ago with the introduction of the Vega microcontroller, which plugs into televisions, Sinclair and Retro Computers now have launched a handheld version, the Vega+.

The Vega+ design is aligned with other current handheld consoles, with a directional pad on the left and a quartet of action buttons on the right. Three secondary action buttons are positioned below them. It's not quite the same as using a keyboard to play, but seven action buttons might make up a touch for the lack of full QWERTY flexibility.

I've been playing games as long as I can remember. The Spectrum was a little before my time -- I was aligned more with the Commodore 64 and the Super Nintendo. So, having the opportunity to play hundreds of games I missed out on without having to resort to downloading pirated versions absolutely interests me.

It can connect to a TV for big-screen gaming, and it has 1,000 licensed games preloaded, with an SD card slot for gamers to add their own favorites.

That it's a handheld system is even better. What better to do on the beach this summer than play 30-year-old games?

Rating: 5 out of 5 Retro Returns

Home Senses

Sense is a home-monitoring camera that can take complete charge of the connected devices in your home. It can recognize multiple faces and carry out custom actions for each person, and it can alert you when it thinks a stranger is in your home.

It's not as noticeable as most other home cameras, meaning intruders will have no idea you're watching them. It even has night vision so you can see what's happening in the dark.

Sense looks elegant, and it's intelligent about how it controls your devices. It not only will adjust the lighting, thermostat, television and music playing, but also detect when you've dropped something, and send out your robot vacuum cleaner to take care of the mess.

It includes voice recognition, so you might ask it to change the current playlist. Sense also has an open source platform, so you might like to create an app that carries out completely custom actions, such as switching on the lights, television, and radiators when it recognizes you within a certain time frame -- e.g., when you're returning home. You may not wish for all that when you've just awakened.

We're getting closer to finding a way of unifying all the disparate operating systems and protocols of connected devices in the home. Sense looks like a strong option for controlling our products with a single device that offers both simplicity and power.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Watch Me Nows

Figure It Out

A 3D printer is taking the idea of Mattel's ThingMaker -- which lets children make their own rubbery toys in an oven -- to a new level. Also called "ThingMaker," this printer lets kids young and old create their very own action figures and other toys.

Would-be designers can use an app to create the figures of their dreams, with a ball-and-socket system making it easy to swap components in and out. Colors are customizable as well, and Mattel plans to make available components related to its major brands such as Barbie and Hot Wheels.

Mattel ThingMaker 3D Printer and ThingMaker Design App Eco-System

The ThingMaker's door stays locked while it's printing, and the print head retracts when it's finished, so as to avoid burns.

I'm excited for this, and not only because I've always wanted to make my own action figures. It should help the adults of the future gain a stronger understanding of design and technology, opening their minds to creative career paths they might not have considered otherwise.

ThingMaker looks like it has a shot at finally catapulting 3D printing into the mainstream. A lot of people need a better entry point to the world of making, and ThingMaker's strong interface, ease of use, and clear purpose could give it a fighting chance at achieving success beyond toy making.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Half-Human Half-Dinosaurs

Cheap Connections

With a similar design to the iPhone 4, there's nothing terribly innovative about the Android-powered Freedom 251. The clue's in the name, though, as the device costs 251 rupees. That's around US$3.70.

With 8 GB of storage, 1 GB of RAM, a quad-core processor, 3G connectivity, a 4-inch screen, and front and back cameras, the specifications are hardly terrible.

I wonder exactly how its maker is able to meet that price point, if at all.

Still, the possibility that it could deliver smartphones rather than feature phones into the hands of a larger number of extremely low-income people is a welcome prospect.

I'd like to try one to see if functions decently. If so, it might prove a useful, very low-cost backup device.

Rating: 4 out of 5 How Low Can You Gos


Kris Holt is a writer and editor based in Montreal. He has written for the Daily Dot, The Daily Beast, and PolicyMic, among others. He's Scottish, so would prefer if no one used the word "soccer" in his company. You can connect with Kris on Google+.


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