Spring brought a fresh crop of geeky gadgets for Tech Trends to test and review so sit back and bask in their glory!
Google Home Mini
For those looking to get involved in the whole digital assistant, smart speaker thing the Google Home Mini is probably the most cost-effective first step. With no screen and a small speaker, it is limited but should give you a taste of the future. This cute little gadget came in our Google I/O goodie bag and we couldn’t wait to get it home from Mountain View to put it through its paces. Powered via a USB mini cable the Mini is small and unobtrusive, a bit like a canvas paperweight. Setup and operation is done via the Google Home app on your mobile device and was pretty simple once the home Wi-Fi was connected.
I had a bit of trouble linking it to my work G Suite account but after some fiddling, Googling and shouting it was set up. This is early-stage technology but sadly the most obvious (at least to me) functions are not yet working so I couldn’t check my Google calendar or Gmails, baffling, surely this is the first step!!!
Anyway, the first test that sprang to mind was Patron Tequila’s Google Home cocktail helper from my recent blog Raising a Glass to Technology where I explored how drinks brands offered product-enhancing smart tech to customers. I visited the Patron page and followed the instructions but…No joy. I contacted Google Home support via chat and they couldn’t help. I worked out that I needed to add a third party ‘action’ to my Google Home app to enable the Patron cocktail service but couldn’t for the life of me get it to work so gave up.
Frustrated and thirsty, I remembered I had recently reviewed and installed smart lights by Wiz around the house, so visited the Google Home Learn page and clicked on Light Control, Learn More and Bingo! Quickly got my Mini connected to my Wiz Smart Lights through the app and YEEEEES I can now turn on and off the lights around my house using the Mini.
With this working, I felt I had got a taste of the future but, only a taste. I then managed to play a few specific tracks from Google Play Music and the handy touch features on the Mini worked well for starting & stopping tracks + adjusting the volume. The speaker is small an doesn’t sound great but it’s fine for a bit of background music or radio. The most useful feature of the Mini, however, is the physical ‘Mic Mute’ switch on the back so you can turn it off like Princess Leia turned off C-3PO in Empire!
The functions available now are pretty basic and if you want to do more than just search for answers with Google you will probably be a bit disappointed in what the Mini has to offer. However, this new tech is cheap to get on board with and will improve very quickly if we all invest a bit of time in it. I think it really is the future but there is a long way to go.
Retails at: £49 in the UK
Adonit INK Fine Point Stylus for Windows
Let’s be honest, Windows branded accessories can be a little expensive, not as insultingly so as Apple’s side products but painful nevertheless. The Windows Surface Pen costs £99.99 and as mine is on its last legs I was happy to try out the Adonit Ink Stylus which is a more reasonable £35.25.
The Ink works with many Microsoft, Asus, HP, and Dell Tablets & 2-in-1 devices but be sure to check their site here for the full list of compatible devices. It worked perfectly with my Surface Book and only the tip felt a bit odd but after using a different pen for a year any change will take a bit of getting used to.
The Ink feels great in the hand with comfortable, low profile buttons and a handy clip. I haven’t charged it yet but it claims 80 hours of battery life and is easily rechargeable via micro USB. It’s a good looking and cheap replacement and I have no complaints at all!
Retails at: $44.99 in the US or £35.25 on Amazon UK
AUKEY KM-W9 2.4GHz Wireless Ergonomic Mouse
I wouldn’t say this Aukey Wireless Ergonomic Mouse is an RSI reducing mouse but it is definitely more comfortable to use than a standard one. Its large size and ergonomic shape make it really nice to use and it is also grippy meaning you don’t have to squeeze too hard. It is also attractive, with optional flashing LEDs (this is all the rage in the PC market) but there is a switch on the base to limit this.
On the base, there is also a cunning little slot that holds the USB dongle thingy so you can carry the mouse around with you and not worry about losing the USB. It runs on standard AA batteries and has six buttons, should you need them! All around this is a nice product and as usual for Aukey it is competitively priced.
- Latest-Generation Ergonomic Mouse: Ergonomic design provides greater comfort for your hand, relieving soreness and reducing strain. It’s also a high-precision six-button mouse that’s great for work, casual computer use, and even gaming
- Optimum 30° Angle & Large Palm Rest: Shaped to encourage a more natural hand, wrist, and elbow alignment than traditional mice, it may prevent or relieve the pain of repetitive stress injuries
- Multifunctional Mouse: Features a wide range of DPI levels (3 Polling Rate, 125HZ, 250HZ, 500HZ, set according to computer configuration), to suit graphic design, spreadsheet work, daily web browsing, or gaming. 5 programmable buttons (excludes left button) for customizable use. Automatically enters sleep mode if not used for 8 minutes to conserve battery (press any button to wake)
- Premium Surface: Streamlined design with comfortable, non-slip, anti-sweat finish for lasting comfort and performance
- Package Contents: AUKEY KM-W9 2.4GHz Wireless Mouse, USB Wireless Receiver, User Manual, 45-Day Money Back Guarantee and 24-Month Product Replacement Warranty Card
Number of Buttons: 6
Sensor Type: Optical Sensor
DPI: 800 / 1200 / 1600 / 2400 / 3200 / 4800
Polling Rate: 125Hz / 250Hz / 500Hz (customizable on Windows systems only)
Battery Type: 1 AA battery (not included)
Frequency Band: 2.4GHz
Power/Light Switch: Yes
System Requirements: Windows XP/Vista/7/8/10, Linux, Mac OS X 10.0 or later, Chrome OS
Dimensions: 121 x 86 x 54mm / 4.76″ x 3.39″ x 2.13″
Weight: 105g / 3.7oz (excluding battery)
Retails at: £22.99 on Amazon UK
Foobot Air Quality Monitor
Living with three dogs and an open fire it is not hard for me to believe that the air in my house is dirtier than the air outside, it is certainly smellier! So I was keen to try out the Foobot air quality monitor and test my home air quality. The Foobot is a sleek looking device that connects via Wi-Fi to an Android or iOS app and after a six-day monitoring period will send out notifications to the app about the quality of your air. The device itself also indicates the air quality by shining blue LEDs when everything is dandy and orange ones when you need to open a window.
It supports IFTTT and Nest connections, plus Lux/Geo and Ecobee thermostats or Stringify, and/or Artick Cloud devices and can, in theory, perform functions such as controlling your air conditioner to circulate air if it will improve the situation. How many of us live in houses full of such expensive connected devices? Very few. So if you live in a regular home with a simple boiler the only real function of the Foobot is to let you know when you should crack a window and let some outside air in, it does nothing to clean the air only tell you when it is not fresh.
With this limited functionality in mind, I don’t think the Foobot would have been much use to me even if it had worked, which it didn’t. after six tries to connect the app to the device via my Wi-Fi and the direct connection I gave up and put it back in its box and on a high shelf with all the other uninspired tech products I have accumulated. For the price The Foobot is little more than expensive techy entertainment and solves no real problem unless you are super rich and have a connected home, therefore it feels a bit of a waste of money and I can’t recommend it.
Retailing at a reduced price of $199 via the official site in the US and £179 on Amazon in the UK, with £75 off
Sennheiser CX Sport Bluetooth Headphones
Arriving too late to be included in this month’s Bluetooth Headphone roundup these Sennheiser CX Sports offer a six-hour battery life, which can be quick-charged via USB in just ten minutes to offer a further hour of playback, and fully charged in 1.5hrs. You can see below they come with a groovy looking “ear-fin” that keeps them in place while you strain and wobble around the track. They also have a clip so if they do slip from your sweaty ears you won’t lose them.
They deliver a clear, detailed sound with a satisfying bass response. Multi-connection capability lets you pair the CX SPORT with up to two devices simultaneously, but not sure why you would do that? Bluetooth 4.2, Qualcomm® apt-X™ and apt-X™ Low Latency compatibility ensure that you can experience the freedom of cable-free listening with uncompromised true Hi-Fi sound.
The CX Sports have a simple three-button remote that helps you manage your music and calls, as well as convenient voice prompts to further enhance ease of use. For the money they are a good purchase and they do sound pretty good, only lacking a bit of solidity and bombast but full of detail and fun. Eye of the Tiger anyone?
Retailing at: £119 in the UK
Tom Atkinson is a Digital Producer & Photographer at R3Digital and Reviews & Dept. Editor at Tech Trends. Connect on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @R3Digital
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