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Gadget Ogling: Digital Doodles, Magnetic Lighting, and Alexa Everywhere

By Kris Holt
May 4, 2016 5:00 AM PT

Welcome to Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that's taken off just enough time from listening to and dissecting Beyoncé's Lemonade to explore the latest in gadget announcements.

In our pitcher this week are an elegant pen for recording your doodles, a spin on the smart light switch, and a new home for Amazon's Alexa personal assistant.

As always, the ratings denote only how much I'd like to check out each item in meatspace -- these are not reviews.

Sketching Pretty

This column very recently highlighted the latest physical note-capturing system from Evernote. Orée's Stylograph (pictured above) does something very similar, although much more stylishly.

The Stylograph pen, which is made of copper, can transmit your scrawls and doodles to an iOS or Android device. It houses an accelerometer and a camera on the tip to capture what you're noting.

You can get two days of use from an hour's charge, and if you're away from your smartphone or tablet as you're sketching or writing, you can store the data and transfer it later. You can export your handiwork to PDF so you can mold it further digitally.

There are some limitations, in that you must use stone mineral paper with almost-invisible markings, which is available only in A5 size. Additional paper costs US$25 per 190 pages.

The Stylograph retails at $300, which is $100 more than Evernote's Smart Writing Set sells for, but you can refill it with standard D1 ballpoint capsules. Also, the paper blocks are $5 cheaper than Evernote's.

It doesn't seem to me that the Stylograph is a tool anyone needs to survive, but it sure is pretty and, dare I say it, more than a touch classier than furiously typing out notes on a smartphone in class or at a meeting. That is, if you care about keeping up appearances. For a reporter, it'd sure beat scribbling in shorthand using a cheap gel pen.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Artisanal Flairs

Smart Switches for Newbies

Confession time: I'm not the handiest person in the world. A couple of years back, I bought a dimmer switch for my living room, but my wiring didn't match that given in the diagram in the directions, so I gave up. Such electrical inadequacies have left me longing for a smart switch that doesn't need so much work, and Switchmate might be the answer.

It fixes magnetically to the screw of your existing light switch and you seemingly can start using it immediately through the accompanying app. You don't even need a wireless home network, as it operates over Bluetooth. You can set timers for lights to turn on or have them illuminate automatically as you get home.

Switchmate costs $40, which is good value, especially since it means I'll never again have to pretend I can forge a career as an electrician. It's a simple solution to building a smart lighting system, and if it can help people take greater control over their homes, there's not much to dislike about it.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Souped-Up Switches

Friendly Fridge

Amazon's Alexa personal assistant is sprouting wings and spreading to third-party devices. First up is Invoxia's Triby, which, unlike Amazon's Echo range, has a screen, albeit an e-ink one.

You can use Triby as a connected home hub, to play music with Spotify or another streaming service, and to access information from the Web using voice commands. It has a magnetic frame, so it can stick to your fridge, which is perfect if you need to remind yourself to buy milk with a quick command to Alexa.

You can use an app to send visual messages to the screen, and you can make free Internet calls to Triby, which has a speakerphone function. That could come in especially handy in Triby's intended kitchen home, since someone always, always calls when you're preparing a meal or washing up.

At $200, Triby is more expensive than an Echo device, but it's far less intrusive into your home space since it's relatively small and stays out of the way on the refrigerator. It's something I'd absolutely find useful when cooking or baking and in sudden need of a quick metric-imperial conversion. It sure beats using a flour-covered hand to activate Siri.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Kitchen Queries

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+.

Which Big Tech CEO that testified at the Congressional Antitrust Hearing on July 29 is the most trustworthy?
Jeff Bezos of Amazon
Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook
Sundar Pichai of Google
Tim Cook of Apple
All of them are equally trustworthy to some extent.
None of them are trustworthy whatsoever.
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