Welcome to Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that delves into the latest gadget announcements in search of the pearls that make the consumer technology market such a delight.
This time our deep sea trap has caught an IKEA Bluetooth speaker, a ZTE concept phone, a printer that creates images on your beer, and an Alexa-infused light switch.
As ever, I have not tried any of these items nor have I seen them outside of a computer screen, so these are not reviews. And the ratings? Well, dear reader, they serve only to let you know how much I’d like to try each item.
Not quite content with furnishing every other aspect of our homes, IKEA has continued its push into smart home territory with its first Bluetooth speaker. The Eneby (pictured above) comes in two sizes: 8 x 8 and 12 x 12 inches.
You can use it as a portable speaker with up to 10 hours of battery life with the optional US$20 battery, and there’s a handle for added portability. There are design options too, with black or gray fabric covering black or white plastic casing. It has a 3.5mm aux input as well.
Having just moved into a new apartment and spent a considerable amount of time cursing while locking together IKEA furniture (with more, I’m horrified to consider, yet to come), the prospect of having yet more of my apartment’s space taken up with the company’s items seems a little much right now.
For those who have yet to experience or embrace Bluetooth speakers, it could prove a good entry-level choice, but you might find better quality options for the $49 the smaller speaker costs, let alone the $89 for the 12 x 12 model.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Some Assembly Requireds
Tip of the Iceberg
There are a few reasons I opted not to get an iPhone X when it was time for a new phone in the fall. Among them was the groove that cut into the screen’s real estate, giving the display an odd facade.
It seems slightly hypocritical, then, that even though a new concept phone developed by ZTE has notches on both the top and bottom of the display, as well as transparent corners, I think it looks great. Maybe it’s the symmetry that makes it click more for me.
As is the norm these days, the ZTE Iceberg is slated to have dual cameras and a rear fingerprint sensor. There’s a smart connector port too.
Those clear glass corners are a touch extraneous, but they’ll help the phone stand out, assuming it ever comes to market. It’s good to see phone makers pushing the boundaries a little with their designs, at the very least.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Cold as Ices
Images on IPAs
Show me someone who absolutely needs beer-foam art, and I’ll show you a misguided person (“liar” seems a little strong). That said, the Beer Ripples printer is certainly fun.
Taking its cue from machines that print images onto coffee, Beer Ripples can imprint any image onto a pint, using malt-based ink.
It’s not really intended for home use. The machine costs $3,000 with a $1,500 annual subscription that provides enough of the ink to print around 6,000 images.
Still, just imagine the sweet, sweet feeling of being at a bar with a friend whose team has just lost. It’s your turn to buy a round, and there, right on top of your pal’s delicious beer, is a horrible reminder of that devastating loss. The opportunities to mock your nearest and dearest with this thing seem endless.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Hops-Based Pranks
In the automated assistant race, there’s little question that Alexa is becoming more widespread than its rivals. Amazon’s willingness to allow developers to integrate it into all manner of devices has helped. Along with speakers, TVs, thermostats and lamps, you now can issue voice commands to Alexa through… erm… a light switch.
Ecobee’s Switch+ can turn off the light through Ecobee’s app or through motion detection, as well as through Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri.
There’s an ambient light detection feature too, which means the light will flick on whenever it’s dark enough.
It has an integrated smart speaker and microphones too, so Switch+ can respond to voice commands, answer questions, play music, read you the headlines, or engage in myriad other Alexa skills.
In terms of integrating Alexa seamlessly into one’s home so as to make it practically unnoticeable, it’s a neat idea. Unforgivably, though, it does not include the option to dim the light to which it is connected, unless you have smart bulbs that have such a feature. That’s an egregious oversight.
As someone with a smart bulb system already in place, it seems a little unnecessary to have in my home just on that basis.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Bright Sparks