Saturday 22 November 2014

Watch out for gadgets with specs appeal

Wearable tech has moved on from the cabbies' Bluetooth headset

Adrian Weckler, Technology Editor

Published 08/09/2013 | 05:00

Samsung Galaxy Gear
Google Glass: Hyped beyond belief, no one sees a practical use yet. Price: not yet announced Rating: [none yet]
Nike + iPod: The original health-tracking gadget. Price: €30 Rating: ***
Fitbit One: Fitness and sleep tracker is a hit. Price: €100 Rating: ****

Last Wednesday, Samsung finally launched its much-hyped smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear. The gadget itself enters the world of 'wearable technology'. This is a category tipped by some to be the 'next big thing' and by others as a faddish distraction.

To date, wearable technology has had a tough time of it. For years, the standard-bearer was the Bluetooth headset. This small plastic device sat on top of your ear and connected wirelessly to your phone. The sales pitch was that you could talk without holding the phone to your ear. Eventually, most of us realised that although they are practical, they made us look very foolish as we walked down the street talking into thin air. (Today, only taxi drivers use them.)

So is there really scope for wearable technology devices? Or are high-end headphones (see last week's reviews on Independent.ie) the only piece of hi-tech gear we're comfortable wearing? Here are four bits of wearable technology currently in the offing.

Samsung Galaxy Gear

It's the gadget everyone is talking about. But will anyone buy it? Samsung's new watch, which is designed to be wirelessly connected to your phone at all times, has a 1.6-inch colour screen, a microphone and a speaker. Make no mistake about it: this is Dick Tracy stuff, not some mere accessorising adornment. It doesn't have its own Sim card (perhaps future models might) and relies on your smartphone's nearby presence. But you can make or take calls on it (the phone supports Samsung's relatively usable voice control). You can also dictate messages.

The Galaxy Gear also has a 2-megapixel camera. Alas, it is only set to work with high-end android smartphones and it needs to be charged every night. Whether our friends will accept us constantly checking our watches in company is also a challenge.

Price: €250-€300

Rating: ****

Google Glass

Although it's not due to be sold over the counter until January (expect a price of around €300), Google's glasses-cum-camera-cum-PC are still the most anticipated – and most hyped – gadget of 2013. The device packs a 5-megapixel camera, microphone, PC processor, Ram memory, touchpad, wifi and 16GB of storage into a pair of glasses.

The idea is that you can have an in-lens display of certain information as you walk around or go about your normal business.

This includes doing Google searches, getting traffic or weather information and other typical web activity. Its camera is also intended to to take photos and video, while its Bluetooth lets you connect it to your phone. So far, its 'beta' release (there are several thousand in use already) is mainly a hit with middle-aged men.

Price: not yet announced

Rating: [none yet]

Fitbit One

In an era when literally every step we take may be counted for the purposes of 'exercise', Fitbit is one of the gadgets that has proven to be a hit. Although it comes in varying shapes and sizes, the 'One' model is the most popular.

It is designed to do two things: track your movement and measure your sleep. It does the former by means of an accelerometer, which can also assess altitude (meaning it knows how many floors you've ascended).

It does the latter thanks to an accompanying rubber wrist strap. This is worn when you go to bed: it assesses how long you actually sleep according to how little you thrash about. As a gadget, this is very focused: you'll either love it or cast it aside after a day's trial.

Price: €100

Rating: ****

Nike + iPod Sport Kit

One problem with wearable tech is that it's darn expensive. This little gizmo costs a lot less than most gadgets, though you may find yourself springing for expensive runners as a result.

The basic idea behind Nike + iPod is a pedometer that keeps track of how much you're walking or running and synchronise the information with an Apple device (most iPhones and iPods). It does this via a wireless receiver. The reason it's called Nike + iPod is that Nike launched a pair of runners with a groove to fit the small device. But you can actually attach it to any pair of runners or shoes. Arguably, the system has been surpassed by the plethora of tracking gadgets out there (in particular the Fitbit). But this is a a decent low-cost option.

Price: €30

Rating: ***

Sunday Independent

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