Sunday, January 11, 2015

10 gadgets to make your old tech smarter

Who can afford to keep up with the relentless pace of new technology? Change is constant. No matter how cutting edge you feel, that device you just bought will be obsolete soon. But we don’t have to throw out the old to welcome the new. There are always gadgets ready to bridge the gap for us and deliver shiny new smart features to our rapidly aging devices, like how Chromecast
brought “Smart” to older TVs.

There were a lot of devices on show at CES 2015 designed to breathe new life into dated tech. So before you drop a fortune on the latest and greatest, or pull the trigger on an expensive new system installation, why not see if you can squeeze another few months or years out of what you have with one of these gizmos?
Invoxia Triby

You can drag any old fridge into the 21st century with this gadget. It’s the ultimate fridge magnet. The Triby combines a wireless speaker, with a doodle pad, and it’s capable of direct calls. It hooks up to your smartphone via an Android or iOS app. There are two buttons for direct calls to phones with the app installed, perfect for kids to call their parents.

It also sports a 2.9-inch E Ink display for doodles or notes sent from your smartphone. It employs Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so you can stream music from your phone, or use it as a hands-free speaker for calls, and you can access Internet radio on it directly. It’s supposed to last a month between charges, though that will depend on how often you hang out round the fridge and use it.

The Invoxia Triby goes on sale for $200 this summer.
Sony SmartEyeglass Attach

By offering a module that clips onto any pair of glasses Sony neatly sidesteps the fashion issue and caters for glasses wearers interested in smart eyewear. It’s a single lens display module that adds a tiny color OLED display with a 640 x 400 pixel resolution, and a camera to your glasses.

It’s being pitched as a sports device to begin with. As an example it might help with navigation for runners or tell a golfer what the distance to the next hole is, though it sadly lacks built-in GPS. In fact it has to be tethered to your smartphone via Bluetooth. It is waterproof and it weighs about 40g, but it’s still a prototype right now so there’s no release or pricing information.
LoopPay phone cases and covers

Mobile payments have been on the verge of take-off for a few years now, but there are lots of competing services out there and not every retailer has upgraded their point of sale system to accommodate them. LoopPay is a smart solution that works with legacy terminals, the kind you use plastic with every day, by allowing you to emulate a card swipe with your phone. That means it works at nearly 90 percent of merchant locations today.

You don’t need to worry about a new smartphone that supports the system because LoopPay is partnering with case maker Trident, and XPAL Power, which will manufacture replacement back covers starting with the Galaxy S5. The idea is that you can digitize all your existing credit cards and pay with your phone instead. The LoopPay case for the iPhone 6 lands in February and it costs $60. More cases and covers will follow throughout the year.
Cycliq bike cams

The Fly6 and Fly12 are a pair of bicycle cameras and lights. The Fly6 clips onto the back of any bike and emits 30 lumens of light while recording up to six hours of 720p video. The Fly12 is more powerful, clipping to the front of any bike and offering a 200 lumen (pretty bright) light and up to five hours of 1080p video from a single charge. Both the video recorders automatically loop to keep recording.

They hook up to your smartphone via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and they can be used in combination with the Strava app to track things like distance and elevation. In the event of a crash they automatically save recent footage. Unfortunately they aren’t cheap: for $250 you can buy the Fly6 now and we fully expect the Fly12 will be even more expensive.
Parrot RNB6

The average American keeps their car for more than 10 years. In tech terms a decade is a very long time, but you’re not going to snag a new car just to update that woeful infotainment system. Enter Parrot with a superbly practical solution. The RNB6 has a 7-inch touchscreen and it can plug into your existing car features, from on-board diagnostics to parking assistance to basic navigation.

Even better, it’s platform agnostic, so it works with Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay for hands-free calls, voice activated apps, navigation, and driving assistance. It also has a wide-angle 1080p dash cam and an audio amplifier built-in. The price and release date are sadly still a mystery, but you can bet it will be cheaper than a new car.
Connected Cycle Pedal

Here’s another route to making your bicycle smart. The Connected Cycle is a pedal that can be fitted to any bike. It automatically records your speed, route, elevation, and the calories you burn every time you go out cycling. It can also be used to find your bike if it ever goes missing. You can access the bike location and your statistics using the Connected Cycle app.

The clever part is that it doesn’t need to sync directly with any other device and it recharges itself as you cycle. There are GPS and GPRS sensors inside and it connects to the Internet directly. It will come with some sort of cellular service included in the price, but we don’t know what that price will be or when it will be available.
Sengled Snap security bulb

If you’ve never come across the concept of a smart bulb before then hold on to your hats. There were a lot of different smart bulbs on show at CES this year. Sengled already offers bulbs to extend your Wi-Fi ($50) and play music ($170), but the new Snap bulb is a security solution all-in-one with a camera, speakers, a microphone, and motion sensors. It also includes a long lasting LED bulb.

You can stream video from the bulb direct to your smartphone and talk to people on the porch. There’s a facial recognition feature, presumably so it can distinguish between a human guest and next door’s cat. You can also program geofencing alerts to stop your kids from escaping. Upgrade your humble light bulb and get a complete security system without the installation pain.
Lenovo Vibe Xtension Selfie Flash

You’re probably not about to buy a new smartphone because your current model lacks a front-facing flash for selfies, but if that is a problem for you, Lenovo is ready to solve it. The Vibe Xtension selfie flash plugs into your headphone jack and can swivel to provide continuous light (not a flash) for great photographs even in dark places.

It’s not just for selfies either. You can also swivel it around to provide more light for your main camera. Toward summer time, Lenovo will sell the selfie flash on its website for $30.
Kidde RemoteLync

If you’ve wistfully eyed the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector, but you’re turned off by the hassle of fitting it, you may be interested in this doodad. Plug it into any outlet and it will monitor your existing detectors and notify you via an Android or iOS app when one of them goes off. It can be configured to notify a group of people or even call 911 for you.

It’s set for a spring release and it will cost $100. That’s the same price as the Nest Protect, but you’ll only need one of these and no messy installation is required.
Oort smart socket

If you want to remotely turn on/off any device in your home using your smartphone, this Smart Socket could be the answer. It plugs into any outlet and works via Bluetooth. It allows you to set a schedule for up to a week. It also measures how much power the connected appliance or device drinks, and can even inform you if there’s an overload.

It costs $50 for a Smart Socket. You can gain more insight and control from outside the home if you combine it with the SmartHub, but it costs $180. It lets you trigger actions and works with Oort’s other products, including the SmartFinder ($30), which helps locate anything it’s attached to, and the SmartLED bulb ($40).

If you like the sound of this and you have an iPhone, check out iDevices’ Switch. It’s a similar plug device that you can remote control it using Siri. It doesn’t require a hub to work remotely because it has Wi-Fi built-in, and it will cost $50 when it launches sometime this spring.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of other retro-fit devices out there ready to bring smart features to our everyday tech, and it looks like 2015 will be a banner year for upgrades and add-ons.

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