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Gadget Ogling: Comfy Earbuds, Barking Bots, and USB Killers

Welcome to Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that somehow stopped reading Internet rumors about the new Star Wars movie long enough to pore over the latest gadget announcements.

In our rebel base this week are moldable earbuds, a robot dog, a permanent USB security lock, and a battery to turn a regular smoke alarm into a smart one.

These are as close to formal reviews as we are to finding out who the next president is (i.e., not at all, because the election cycle is neverending). The ratings indicate only how much I’d like to try each.

Perfect Fit

If you’re a human being who listens to music using earbuds, chances are you’ve run into some issues along the way in keeping the infernal things nestled into your ear canal. Manufacturers have tried to find solutions, such as offering different-sized rubber molds, but we’re still hewing to a few-sizes-fit-all model.

Enter Revols, a company that might have the answer. Fully recognizing that we all have a unique ears, Revols has equipped its earbuds with gel-filled ends. When you place them in your ears and tap a button on the accompanying app, they will mold to the shape of your ears and stay that way.

The molding process only takes a minute, and the earbuds can deliver playback for eight hours before requiring a recharge.

That would prove meaningless without strong sound quality. Apparently it’s there, with Onkyo taking care of the acoustics. They’re noise-canceling as well, with a granular control to let you hear as much or as little of the outside world as you wish.

Many custom-fit earbuds can cost four-figures, but these will retail at around US$300, and you can shave off $100 if you pledge to the crowdfunding campaign.

I’ve always used low-end earphones, mainly because I always lose them. More than a couple have fallen into the abyss of a street grate because they just didn’t sit in my ears properly. So you can bet I’m excited for these, and not only because I won’t have to share my earphones with anyone ever again.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Snug Buds

Cute CHiP

WowWee’s robot dog CHiP makes it into the column this week primarily on the back of its cuteness. The mechanical mutt can track where you are, thanks to a Bluetooth-powered wristband.

You can play fetch with it and control it with an iPad app. If you’re happy with what CHiP’s doing, you can press a thumbs-up button on the wristband to virtually pet it. And CHiP apparently will wait by the door for you to get home. That’s just too cute.

robot dog

It doesn’t seem there’s much more to it at this point — it’s unfinished, according to WowWee — but I’m even more eager to get my hands on this than the earbuds above. I like dogs, and I’ve entertained the idea of getting one. However, after experiencing many tragedies with household birds and fish as a child, I worry that I would not prove responsible enough to care for it properly. That might be a confidence issue, admittedly.

So, CHiP seems a great in-between. Even better, there’s no need to take my new best friend for walkies in winter.

Rating: 5 out of 5 I Won’t Call It Fidos

Permanent Solution

Even though most computer attacks take place over the Internet, one company is trying to secure your computer by taking your USB port out of commission permanently.

USB Killer will fry any port into which you plug it, meaning no one will ever steal your data through your computer’s USB slot. Never mind that someone can still infect your system with malware or tear out your hard drive. That there’s a risk of damaging other components of your computer is seemingly a lack of concern to USB Killer’s creator.

This is, on the surface, completely absurd. Loking at it a little deeper, though, I can see some practical uses. I read a piece some time ago about a game developer who disabled his laptop’s ports and soldered the hard drive so the only way to play his game was through that specific computer.

So, USB Killer could enable some niche art projects. It also might help spies who use computers that never connect to the Internet to protect their data.

It may not prove pointless after all, but there’s no chance I’ll ever use it. Except maybe as an extremely mean-spirited prank on a friend.

Rating: 1 out of 5 Burned Bridges

Home to Roost

One of the more enticing aspects of the connected home is security and safety. Keeping an eye on one’s home while away is a concern for many, but not everyone can afford a connected thermostat.

Roost is a battery you can use to connect your smoke alarm without breaking the bank. It links to your WiFi network through an app on your smartphone, and once it’s set up, the $35 device should connect your smoke alarm to the Internet for five years. It offers helpful notifications when you need to change it.

You can use Roost to monitor your alarm triggering when you’re out. Even more enticingly for a moderately successful cook such as myself, there’s a snooze function to quiet those piercing yelps when a pie’s had a little too much time in the oven.

It’s a clever idea, and if it saves even one family from disaster, the development of Roost is worth it. I’m tempted to pick one up — even if only to shut up my alarm up when I burn the toast for the third time in a week.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Alarm Bells

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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