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Gadget Ogling: Heightened Hearing, Toasty Toes, and Glass Speakers

By Kris Holt
Dec 22, 2016 10:00 AM PT
bose-hearphones

Welcome to another edition of Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that breaks down the latest in gadget announcements to determine if they'd be naughty or nice additions to your stocking.

Hanging on the fireplace this time around are earbuds to improve your hearing, heated insoles, and a small transparent speaker, which is called "Small Transparent Speaker."

As always, these are not reviews, and you should place no stock into my ratings, beyond their denoting how much I'd like to try each item.

Ear Boost

Bose's latest earbuds (pictured above) are designed to help you tune in to the specific sounds you want to hear from the world around you. Hearphones are a sort of blend of noise-cancelling earbuds and hearing aids.

There are several presets in the app, with names like "focused conversation," "gym," "airplane" and "television." You can opt to crank up the volume on all sound from the world around you or turn it down. You can block out noise or amplify it from certain directions.

For instance, you might use it to help you better hear a specific person in a crowded place. Can't hear what your partner is yelling at a festival? You can temporarily turn up the Hearphones, and turn down the crowd and music (though why you'd have Hearphones in your ears at a live music event is a little beyond me).

It's not the first time we've seen earbuds pull off this sound-augmenting trick, but to my knowledge, it's the first time we've seen a pair like this from a manufacturer as well-known as Bose. The "Bose" name should help Hearphones gain more recognition than they otherwise might, normalizing the concept to a degree.

I like the idea, and there are a lot of practical applications for it. The option to stay laser-focused on listening to what my kid might be up to at a crowded playpark seems like it would be welcome in the alternate reality where I have children. My partner also might be less annoyed at my listening to podcasts while we're cleaning up if I can hear her over the top of the chatter.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Surround Sounds

Winter Warmers

I can't think of a better time to start a crowdfunding project for heated insoles than when the temperatures start to plummet and there's a very real chance of cold toes, even while wearing three pairs of socks.

We've seen other connected heated insoles in the past, but the +Winter models have some advantages over the competition. They pair with an app over Bluetooth to set the temperature and monitor battery level, and they can charge wirelessly.

Although I've been vocal about my dislike of wireless charging and its energy inefficiency, I'd absolutely make an exception here. I'd turn the charger on only when actually using it, and if it meant I could charge the insoles without having to remove them from my boots and carefully refit them afterward, I'd forego my principles for once.

There's a little more to them. +Winter's battery life lasts around five hours, and they're water resistant and lightweight. They won't light on fire (thankfully), and they include an accelerometer so they turn on when you start walking. Just about the only thing they don't do, aside from tucking you into bed at night, is track your activity.

I can't imagine any better gift for me this holiday season than +Winter, which makes it even more upsetting that they're not shipping until next December.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Toasty Toes

Full Transparency

As a teenager, my favorite band was Foo Fighters. It probably still is now, if I'm being honest. For one album and tour, singer Dave Grohl primarily used a transparent guitar that I thought was just the coolest thing. Seeing through to the internal wiring and systems of an item can be a gorgeous aesthetic if properly worked, and that's the case with Small Transparent Speaker.

Perhaps the most descriptive, accurate product name we've seen in some time, "Small Transparent Speaker" is a handsome little thing, with the glass enclosure housing dual speakers and only a few wires to connect them to the amplifier. It has a 3.5 mm aux input and Bluetooth connectivity, with WiFi connections to Airplay, Google Cast and Spotify Connect.

It's easy to disassemble, so it's supposedly a cinch to recycle or repair. The speaker will monitor itself for any problems and send you a notification if it needs attention. I hope the sound quality is solid, though the handsome design is the winning selling point here. It would look good on almost any shelf.

Rating: 4 out of 5 See-Through Songs


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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What's most likely to cost a company your customer loyalty?
a major product fail
major unethical corporate behavior
public advocacy of social or political views I oppose
a really bad customer service experience
stagnation -- I'm attracted to innovation
none of the above -- I'll stick through thick and thin