Welcome to the latest installment of Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, a weekly look at just-announced personal tech items. There’s plenty on the menu this time around: Samsung’s latest smartphone and tablet salvo; two pieces of smart, on-the-go tech; some curved home entertainment options; and wearable devices from an unlikely source.
As ever, these are not reviews, and the assigned ratings aren’t a tacit opinion on each product’s quality — instead they reflect my interest in using them.
Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Note Edge
Less than a week before Apple unveils its latest smartphone, Samsung raised the red curtain on its latest flagship mobile products.
The Galaxy Note 4 (pictured above), aside from having the least surprising name in the world, is the type of refresh you might expect: It’s faster, smoother, cleaner, sturdier, and around 20 other positive adjectives.
The Edge, while it has almost identical specs to the Note 4, has one key difference — part of the screen bends around the, well, Edge.
It’s an intriguing form that throws up all kinds of possibilities. Right now, you might use it to check notifications, the weather or the time.
It mixes up the smartphone market in a fresh way, and in a world where one can buy an Android phone for a few dollars, Samsung has pulled off a clever trick in making its premium offering truly original.
I’ll confess: I’ve been an iPhone owner for five years. There’s been little I’ve seen from the Android side to make me want to switch, and my investment in the Apple mobile ecosystem is such that I’m less and less likely to move.
Still, these are fine-looking products and I’m tempted at least to put the Edge to a proper test.
Rating: 4 Out of 5 Human-Robot Hybrids
The Humble Digitsole
The wearable tech market’s focus on smartwatches is nearing its plateau, with the heavily rumored iWatch seemingly about to make its debut.
It’s heartening, then, that some companies are eschewing the health-and-fitness sector forged by others in favor of fresh wearable tech ideas.
The Digitsole is not a product you’re likely to flash at a party to impress your friends — not when it lives inside your shoe.
The smart insole, which is raising funding and interest through Kickstarter, connects to your iOS or Android smartphone, through which you can set the temperature up to a maximum of 40 C/104 F. What a fantastic idea.
Naturally, there’s fitness-tracking too, with distance walked and calorie burn recorded.
There’s a vibration-blocking heel and shock-absorbing sole, which could make those trots around town more comfortable.
The prospect of keeping one’s toes warm in the dead of winter simply by tapping a smartphone screen is overwhelmingly enticing. I’ve few concerns, and I am absolutely tempted to back the project.
Rating: 5 Out of 5 Warm Toes
Elgato Smart Power
Racing through meetings with calendar alerts to keep your day on schedule is a huge benefit of living in the smartphone age, but when the battery life runs out, that breezy day becomes a shambles.
Portable smartphone chargers have been on the block for some time, though it’s easy to forget them at home.
Elgato is trying to solve such mind slips by tapping into your phone’s calendar and reminding you to take along its Smart Power charger when you have a busy day ahead.
It has a few bells and whistles — like a locator alarm you can trigger if you happen to misplace it in your office — that are plenty enough to elevate it above competitors’ offerings.
It’s an intelligent approach to a device in a crowded sector, and one I’d be happy to add to my daily gizmo arsenal.
Rating: 5 Out of 5 Low-Battery Alerts
Curved Displays and Soundbar
Curved screens are out of many consumers’ price ranges as things stand — especially if they’re of 4K resolution or bedecked in 460 Swarovski crystals like a special edition OLED TV that LG is displaying:
Yet the format is creeping into our homes, particularly when it comes to monitors.
Dell’s 34-Inch UltraSharp Curved Display has an aspect ratio of 21:9. That curvature will give game players an advantage over rivals, according to the company, since their eyes will have to work less to see all of the screen.
All the better to sneak-attack strangers’ avatars in Call of Duty while screaming obscenities into a microphone.
It’s an intriguing concept, though I’m more antsy to have a curved television.
For small screen aficionados with money to spare, a soundbar that fits the contours of their prized television could fit the bill, so Samsung’s TV-Matching Curved Soundbar may be worth a look.
Rating: 3 Out of 5 Smooth Bends
Epson Pulsense and Runsense
Keen to follow the path blazed by so many, many others, Epson is splashing into the wearable tech sector with a smartwatch and activity monitoring band.
In truth, they appear entirely unremarkable compared to other smartwatches and fitness bands.
We can probably be thankful Epson is opting for LED and LCD displays on these gadgets instead of E-Ink formats. If the latter option were priced anything like Epson’s printer chargers, we’d be looking at a smartwatch costing upwards of four figures.
Rating 0 Out of 5 Fresh Ideas