Gadget Weeks: Last but not least
Review of SmartFinder item tracker, bluesmart suitcase and Samsung Gear VR virtual reality set
It never hurts getting to know more gadgets available on the market. The last batch of gadgets to be reviewed in the frame of Gadget Weeks happens to include some of the most interesting ones.
So, without further ado, here we go:
The SmartFinder is a small tracking device, which uses Bluetooth 4.0 (LowEnergy) to connect with a mobile phone device. It acts as a beacon, sending packets to the mobile app, which can infer the distance from the SmartFinder based on the attenuation of the transmitted signal. This enables SmartFinder to help the user to locate misplaced items like a key chain or a wallet, by using an array of useful features: First, by displaying an estimation of distance from the mobile phone, which the user can consult in order to get into the immediate vicinity of the item. Once close enough, the user can then use the app to make SmartFinder emit a sound, assisting detection of particularly well-hidden items. If the item happens to be too far away to establish a connection with the app, by leveraging the mobile phone’s GPS, the app can still display the last known location of the item (that is, the location before the connection broke) on a map.
Of course, prevention is better than remedy and the SmartFinder app can assist in not losing your items in the first place by issuing a separation alarm (push notification on app) every time it gets separated from the beacon. It also works vice versa: The beacon helps you not to forget your mobile phone by starting to beep whenever it gets out of range, while pressing its single button plays a sound on the mobile phone.
In practice, things are a bit less ideal, as the Bluetooth connection between the beacon and the mobile app sometimes breaks even when the former is within range, issuing false alarms. Over time, this may lead to ignoring alarms altogether, which somehow defeats the purpose of such a tracking device. The distance displayed by the app refreshes slowly, meaning that users have to move very slowly in order to get an idea of whether they are approaching the misplaced item, and as the displayed estimate of distance does not linearly change with actual distance (which would have been much more intuitive) or even temporally varies when the distance stays constant, relying on this feature to locate a lost item might get tricky. The emitted sounds (both on the beacon as well as on the mobile device) are practically to weak to have a substantial impact.
Despite these flaws, one can certainly imagine situations where the SmartFinder could be a real life-saver. Its clean and intuitive app interface, coupled with the virtually instantaneous installation process, makes it particularly easy to use. Using the same app, one may group together and have an overview of other devices by OORT, like the SmartLED light bulb. Even better, if the OORT SmartHub is available (sold separately for about CHF 200), the SmartFinder can be used as a presence sensor and trigger actions used for automation, interacting with all connected devices (such as relays or power sockets) by the same manufacturer. Given its low price tag (about CHF 30), you might want to consider it as the next thing to put on your key chain.
The smart carry-on suitcase by the name of bluesmart was one of the most eagerly anticipated gadgets of 2015. Considering its array of useful features, tailored to the needs of the modern traveler, as well as it’s striking appearance, it’s not hard to imagine why.
bluesmart uses Bluetooth 4.0 (LowEnergy) to connect to a mobile application, giving you control of 4 basic functions: activating/deactivating an electronic lock, displaying the current location of the suitcase on a map, measuring the total weight and turning on a flashing LED on the suitcase. issuing a notification in case. Using a beacon technology similar as the one described in the case of SmartFinder above, bluesmart can sense proximity, pushing a notification in case it is getting out of range and automatically locking in case it gets separated. Its integrated GPS module allows tracking of the suitcase even in case of separation (although, at least for Android users, this feature is not available yet and the location displayed is basically the last known location before the Bluetooth connection broke). The suitcase itself has many cleverly placed and designed pockets and compartments, allowing easy access to laptops or other items throughout the travel. Furthermore, its battery doubles as a 10 Ah power bank, enough to recharge your phone up to 6 times.
In order to evaluate bluesmart, I took it with me on a little trip, and I could have hardly picked a more suited destination: the CeBIT 2016 technology exhibition in Hanover, Germany.
I have to admit being a bit nervous before going through the security control at the airport of Zurich, with a hand luggage packed with built-in electronics, batteries and blinking lights. My concerns proved to be well-founded, as it took three members of the airport security staff curiously looking at the xray machine’s screen and examining the suitcase for 5 minutes, before one of them exclaimed “Oh, this is the one with the app we’ve been briefed about”. A short phone call later, I was allowed to continue my journey. Fortunately, I uneventfully dashed through airport security on the way back from Hanover.
bluesmart made my trip much more pleasant and comfortable. Or at least it would have, if it weren’t for the same Bluetooth beacon connection flaws that plague the SmartFinder. Due to the fact that the connection breaks somewhat often, bluesmart harbors what seems to be a deep insecurity and fear of abandonment, pushing a notification saying “Please don’t leave me behind!”, even while you are dragging it right behind you. As heartbreaking as it is, this practically forces the user to quickly disable the separation alarm, as well as the feature of auto-locking upon separation. Another issue to consider is that the weight of the suitcase itself takes up more than half of the 8 kg carry-on luggage weight limit, to which you have to add the weight of the laptop and its charger, should you choose to place them inside the special compartment. This means that the bluesmart is mostly suited for trips lasting not longer than a couple of days. Given the weight of the battery and electronics, the technology used by bluesmart, in my opinion, would have been more fit for a larger, check-in suitcase.
However, what I found was by far the most useful and basically the redeeming feature of bluesmart, was the built-in power bank. Having the ability to recharge mobile devices not only caters for longer entertainment during long waiting hours, but can be undoubtedly critical for modern day travel, as travelers (at least if they are anything like me) tend not to print out boarding passes, booking confirmations etc, but instead either store them digitally in on mobile devices or access them on the cloud. Suffice to say, I might have missed my return flight if it weren’t for the power bank. Thank you, bluesmart! Clingy as you might be, you have stolen my heart 🙂
Samsung Gear VR (Innovator Edition)
Unless you have been living under a rock, you must have taken notice of the fact that virtual reality is all the rage right now. Justifiably so, since the potential applications are limitless: breathtaking, immersive entertainment, virtual meetings / remote conferencing, architectural or mechanical design aid, virtual art museums, realistic simulators for training, to name just a few.
To enter the magical world of virtual reality, however, you must be prepared to spend a small fortune on the VR platforms (including the enabling hardware) under development right now, like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or the Sony Playstation VR. Or, in case you happen to be a proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy S6/S6 edge, S7/S7 edge or Note5, you can just get the Samsung Gear VR. It’s going to set you back about 100 bucks, but trust me, it’s worth it.
I tested a Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition. The concept behind the device’s function is briefly described as follows: One inserts the phone in the respective socket in the headset and the mobile app (based on Oculus’ software) running on it splits the screen in two parts, each one showing an image viewed from a slightly different angle, corresponding to the stereoscopic effect of human vision. Two bi-convex lenses magnify and focus the image on the eye’s retina. The displayed images are refreshed in accordance with the head’s motion, which is captured by means of the accelaremeters and gyroscopes built in the headset.
The user may interact with the displayed items by simply looking at them and tapping on a touch pad on the side, or swiping in two dimensions (up/down, left/right)on the same touch pad to scroll. There is also a handy “back/return” button. If pressed continuously, this button can also allow the user to use the mobile camera in order to see what’s in front of him in the real world and thus prevent him from walking off the edge of a cliff.
One could talk long about the captivating VR experience offered by the wide (96°) field of view, the virtually absent latency and high resolution (owing to the Galaxy S6 edge powering it) and the seamless and precise head-tracking. Ultimately, immersion, meaning the feeling or conviction of really “being there”, cannot be adequately described by words. To provide but a glimpse of “how it looks like”, I am inserting here a captured video of navigating the Gear VR’s main menu, with the disclaimer that the video doesn’t do justice to the actual viewing experience:
Imaginative menus like these allow convenient browsing through the available or downloadable content, while viewing the content itself, for example a movie, can take place within a creative and engaging virtual 3D setting like a cinema hall.
So, should you buy it? To help you make a decision, I have made an intricate flowchart: