Virtual Reality


Gadget Ogling: Smarter Notes, Livelier Virtual Reality, and Bigger In-Flight Movies

Hello, one and all, and welcome to the latest edition of Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that occasionally takes a break from watching ’50s French melodramas to delve into the latest gadget announcements.

Paying the wages of fear this week are a notebook and pen combo that records all your notes, a live-streaming 360-degree camera, a souped-up Nintendo handheld, and an in-flight entertainment system that actually might keep your mind off the fact that you’re hurtling through the air at 500 miles an hour in a tin can.

As always, these are not reviews, and the ratings are indicative only of how much I’d like to try each product.

No Skin Off My Back

We’ve for some time had Moleskine’s Smart Notebooks, which allow you to jot down your thoughts and upload them to Evernote through an app.

The new Smart Writing Set takes that idea and elevates it to a new plane, letting you quickly turn scrawled notes or doodles into digital files you can edit using a computer or any mobile app — no smartphone camera required.

There are a few components at play here: the notebook, a smart pen, and a mobile app. The Pen+ is the key factor — it has a camera that captures your ink scratches as you make them.

The notebook — which Moleskine is calling the “Paper Tablet” — has an invisible grid to help with that capture process. You can save files to Google Drive and Evernote, or export them for use elsewhere. The pen and notebook are US$199, and new Paper Tablets cost $30.

While I write for a living, I’m not the best at taking notes. I probably could be a little more organized — I don’t even use a calendar app with any regularity. I like the notion of centralizing all of my thoughts, ideas and plans, and Evernote seems like a service I should be using much more often. Perhaps this could give me just the kick I need to improve my organization.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Sketched Stick Men

Look Around

As the virtual reality movement heats up with the public release of Oculus Rift, it seems strange that we’re only now really seeing the first 360-degree camera to offer live streaming.

Orah 4i has four fisheye lenses and four image sensors. It combines the images from each in to create a real-time stream. It has four microphones as well, to help you tune into the sounds of the specific area you’re viewing.

There are a couple of caveats, in that you need to have the Orah connected to a dedicated computer that needs to be hooked up to a power source. A battery pack might work, but it would prove cumbersome.

So, you might have trouble streaming on the go if you’re the kind of person who uses a GoPro to capture all your adventures. Also, it’s not quite a live stream you’ll get here, as there’s a 30-second delay.

Still, this is the future. Technology like this can draw us into a live event and make it seem like we’re really there. In fact, it might even be better, if you get to experience all the sights and sounds of a convention or conference almost as it happens, with none of the smells.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Spinning Heads

Game Buoyed

There’s little I love more than classic video games and intriguing hardware mods. Smash those together, and you’ve got a dream combination, in my eyes.

A creator named “Wermy” has modified a Nintendo Game Boy to make it capable of playing just about any NES, SNES or Game Boy title, along with some arcade games. He’s added a 3.5-inch color screen, extra buttons, a USB charger, lithium-ion battery, and even a mini-HDMI output for big-screen gaming. A Raspberry Pi Zero makes the whole thing tick.

Sure, you can run an emulator on an Android phone (making sure you own physical copies of each game as well to keep things above board, of course), but the physical buttons and design of the Game Boy are wonderfully attuned to mobile gaming.

The opportunity to relive my favorite game of all time, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, on a small screen is something I relish.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Donkey Kongs

Big-Screen Travel

This is not quite a gadget, per se, though I felt it compelling enough to include this week. Thales’ Digital Sky is a new spin on an in-flight entertainment system, with a 21.3-inch LCD screen that takes up almost the entirety of the seat back.

digital sky in-flight entertainment display

While videos might not look the best, since the screen is in portrait mode and there’ll be a lot of empty space at the top and bottom, games, magazines, and my favorite thing to do on a seat-back screen — exploring the flight path on a map — should prove more immersive.

The only real problem I can see is if the inconsiderate person in front of you cranks their seat all the way back, seriously altering your viewing angle.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Wide Angles

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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