GADGET DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES

Gadget Ogling: A Microsoft Marvel, an Eensy Keyboard and an Ingenious Desk

Welcome to Gadget Ogling, the column that looks at new gadget announcements — beyond the outright bananas Windows 10 gizmos Microsoft is cooking up — and offers insightful first impression opinions of them.

Ahead, for your perusal, are looks at Microsoft’s holographic headset and giant next-level Surface, a pocket-sized keyboard, and a smart desk.

As always, don’t take the rating scores to heart. They only relate to how interested I am in trying out each — these are not reviews.

Holographic Headset

Microsoft had a major surprise up its sleeve for those awaiting details about the Windows 10 launch this week. It gave us our first glimpse at its holographic headset, HoloLens.

Billed as a new way to interact with technology and the world around us at once, it overlays holograms onto what wearers see in front of them. They might, for instance, play a version of Minecraft that’s constructed across a kitchen table and chairs, or have a Skype conversation with a screen seemingly hovering in front of them as they stroll across the floor. It is blisteringly impressive.

HoloLens seems at once fantastical and feasible in the current landscape. That someone can look at what I’m seeing from an ocean away through a tablet, doodle on the screen, and then let me see it as a hologram is enormously exciting.

It’s a shame it looks like a motorcycle visor, since that will limit how many people will use it outside of their homes and offices, but at least it’s far less obnoxious than Google Glass (sidebar: farewell, Glass, we hardly knew ye). This also seems a long way off from hitting the market, so a lot will likely change between now and its release, which could make it much better or painfully worse.

I’ll be especially eager to try it out once Xbox One starts using the technology in games. But to let me explore the surface of Mars from the comfort of my couch and watch Netflix on a giant virtual screen hovering inches from my eyes? I’m all in, Microsoft.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Holographic Elvises

Giant Surface

Alongside HoloLens and Windows 10, Microsoft debuted its enormous Surface Hub, which aims to make meetings and conference calls better. It’s essentially an interactive, Windows-powered whiteboard.

It’d be neat to sketch on the screen while walking through a PowerPoint presentation with colleagues, and screen sharing with remote conference call attendees seems to work well.

It would be more than a little obtuse to have one of these at home, though I’d quite like having this monstrosity on my wall just for a spell. It would sure beat leaving notes for myself on my blackboard. And it plays Netflix, right?

Rating: 3 out of 5 Wide Eyes

A Keyboard for Your Pocket

One thing we can certainly use more of is ideas on how to rethink the keyboard for an increasingly mobile society. Not many people want to lug around bulky laptops when they just want to head to a coffee shop to deal with a long string of emails. Tablets are usually their preferred option, but typing on a screen for a long time is awful, and many tablet keyboards aren’t much better.

So here’s the TextBlade from WayTools. It’s about the size of a stick of gum and expands to a odd-looking keyboard. It’s intended for touch typers (a skill I have never picked up, admittedly) and has multitouch keys.

It looks far more comfortable than spending an extended period typing away on a screen. While it looks like there’ll be a bit of a learning curve, these seem far more likely to take off than those silly lasers that project keyboards onto a desk.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Spelling Errrs

Desk With Brains

A smart desk is something no one really needs, but by golly is it intriguing.

Having a touchscreen console in the Stir Kinetic Desk M1 alone grabs my attention, if only because I want to see what kind of havoc I could cause by playing with it while a colleague is working away.

A mode that automatically shifts the desk up and down during the day to get you moving a bit more is called “Whisperbreath,” which sounds deceivingly innocent, like something George R. R. Martin would call a ferocious beast in his next Game of Thrones tome.

Yet it’s something I might actually use — I like the idea of having a standing desk at a base level, and counting calories burned while standing, through the desk’s Fitbit integration, could show its tangible benefits.

Let’s face it, though, a desk that raises and lowers itself with the use of motors instead of manual adjustments inherently contradicts the notion of making you a bit fitter during the workday.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Sore Feet

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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