Thursday 12 December 2019

Tech review: Adrian Weckler on the latest and coolest gadgets

Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator
Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator
Vuzix iWear Wireless Video Headphones
Ehang Model 184 passenger drone  
Samsung Tab Pro 12
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Our technology editor reviews the Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator, Vuzix iWear Wireless Video Headphones, Ehang Model 184 passenger drone and the Samsung Tab Pro 12.

Practical help makes for cool calling card

Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator

Price: €1,500

Rating: 4 stars

For almost a decade, we've had 'internet fridges' launched into the market. But each one has turned out to be a disappointment, with limited functionality. After all, who really needs a web-connected cooling box? Many people might see some use for Samsung's newly unveiled model, the Family Hub Refrigerator. Instead of connection to the internet being its calling card, practical help is the pitch here.

Having given it a short go, its most useful feature is its cameras.

It has three of these placed inside the fridge. Anytime you open and close the fridge door, it automatically takes a photo that's accessible via your phone. In other words, you will now have a definite answer when you're at the shops and invariably ask the question "do I have milk?"

The fridge's other main selling point is its 21-inch, web-connected HD screen on the front of the machine.

This can be used to do several things. Samsung has set up a grocery-ordering system that lets you pay via credit card from the fridge. You can also look up recipes. And you can even stream video to it via a 'mirroring' process from a Samsung TV. This is probably aimed at Americans, who watch background TV more than we do. Nevertheless, it will interest some.

Samsung calls all this part of the 'internet of things'.

Others say it's a sign of the rise of the 'connected home'. But whatever you call it, this is arguably the first practical 'internet fridge' model we've ever seen. It, or something like it, has a fighting chance of making it into your home soon.

As for the price, Samsung has yet to name the figure. But given the tech involved, don't expect anything less than €1,500 here.

Plug in for virtual onboard experience

Vuzix iWear Wireless Video Headphones  

Price: €450

Rating: 3 stars

Speaking of drones, we're starting to see a range of interesting accessories for the flying machines.

One such device is Vuzix's iWear Wireless Video Headphones. This is a virtual reality headset, with headphones, that can plug into almost any kind of video stream.

However, while the manufacturers primarily had movies and other video content in mind, a lot of the interest so far appears to be coming from drone operators.

Plug this into your drone camera stream and you can fly it as if you're onboard.

Technically, the device isn't especially remarkable. When I tried it on, I didn't notice any superior virtual reality immersion than rivals such as Samsung's Gear VR. But even if you don't have a drone, this will work as a somewhat competent VR-lite device.

Propelling us into a new age of digitally controlled travel

Ehang Model 184 passenger drone  

Price: from €75,000   

Rating: n/a

You want futuristic? They don't come more Jetsons-esque than Ehang's Model 184 passenger drone.

This is no concept vehicle: it is a fully completed product that flies and is ready to start commercial marketing in the next few months.

Its purpose is simple: take people from point A to point B by air instead of on land.

But aside from its battery-powered nature, where it most differs from a helicopter is in its operation.

There are no flight controls inside this thing. Instead, it acts like a fully autonomous drone, flown by remote control or by pre-programmed GPS route instruction. To operate it, you just point out (on a digital map) where you want to go and it takes you there.

This is one of the most interesting facets to the machine, because it means that it is designed for almost anyone to fly and operate it. At present, to fly a drone commercially, you are required to complete a drone pilot's training.

But this bears no comparison to the capability levels required for an actual pilot's licence. So aviation authorities are in for a challenging time classifying and regulating this one. I haven't actually had a ride in it, but I did get to sit in it and was given a demonstration of what it promises to do.

Like smaller drones, the (eight) propellers are to the side of the vehicle instead of above it.

It has a 20-minute battery flight time, enough to get you around 35km (based on a top speed of 100km per hour).

For many people, that would be enough to get you to work and back. It could also connect people who need to traverse channels of water (such as close islands) or even be of interest to emergency services in cities.

Ehang says it's going on sale later this year and that it's completely ready to fly. However, there is no retail price as of yet. Don't expect to see much change for €100,000 when a price is unveiled, though.

And it's hard to see regulators such as the Irish Aviation Authority getting around to giving a drone like this a clean bill of health anytime in the imminent future. If and when it does happen, though, we may be propelled into a new age.

Imitation sincerest form of flattery

Samsung Tab Pro 12 

Price: from €600  

Rating: 4 stars

Microsoft should probably be feeling chuffed. When Samsung copies your gear, it's actually a compliment. There is little other way of interpreting the electronics giant's latest tablet - the 12-inch TabPro. It is very, very resonant of Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 and 4 devices.

Where it differs is that it is thinner than the Surface Pro, while its Amoled screen is extremely bright. It's designed on Windows and has a specially designed keyboard that magnetically snaps on and off and can tilt to almost any angle.

It uses an Intel Core M processor which, although great on battery life, isn't as powerful as the Surface Pro range's i3, i5 and i7 variants.

But Samsung's biggest pitch for this machine is probably in its pricing. In the US, the 32GB version sells for $650 (without the keyboard), which is considerably cheaper than the Surface Pro 4. Expect a similar price in Ireland.

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