Welcome to another blistering installment of Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that dares to impart opinion on wondrous and abysmal new gizmos cooked up in research labs.
Among the items on our whiteboard of slapdash ideas this time are a DSLR for the stars, a smartphone-powered car racing game system, and speakers thinner than the paper you might print this on if we were still in the 1990s.
Be advised: These are not reviews and the ratings exist only to serve my ego in squeezing in a few more easy gags. (They also reflect my interest in actually using each product.)
Shooting The Stars
There's a new Nikon camera that actually won't work for parents eager to flash their cash at a kid's birthday party with an expensive DSLR when a camera phone would work just fine.
The D810A (pictured above) has an infrared filter that might (read: probably will) result in distorted colors when used for everyday purposes. So you might not want to use it for that cute shot of a butterfly nestling on a poppy.
However, for nebulas in bloom, this camera apparently comes alive.
I can't say for certain that I personally would use this for snapping the sky. As much as I find space fascinating and would be interested in taking up astronomy, I don't have the patience for it.
It's painful to admit a selfie stick would be of more use to me than Nikon's latest camera, but alas, so it is.
Rating 3 out of 5 Black Holes
A Dongle For Health
A smartphone dongle could save millions of lives by testing for HIV without mammoth, expensive hospital equipment.
The dongle, which doesn't seem to have a formal name, performs blood tests without the need for its own battery.
It seems to me that these would be most effective in developing countries where access to quality healthcare may be extremely challenging.
Beyond healthcare professionals using their own testing equipment, however, I fear it might be difficult for the poorest people to use this test if they don't have access to a device with a headphone jack -- the only power source the test needs.
That said, it's a remarkable idea. Finding ways of adapting existing, widespread technology to help save lives is a noble, commendable cause.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Not Really for Mes, but Thanks for Creating It
Back on Track
Though I used to watch Top Gear, I have an extreme aversion to cars. I'm just not interested. When it comes to toy cars I can race around my living room, however, you can bet I'm all about that.
Anki's latest version of its car racing game, Anki Overdrive, has a customizable track, thanks to the flexible pieces, and wait for it... it jump ramps. With an iOS control system, it beats the pants off the basic racing set I had as a kid.
I'm eager to find out what kind of bizarre track configurations I can come up with to keep my friends on their toes. This system has just raced into my heart.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Micro Machines
Portable Power to Burn
Regular readers might be aware I'm a fan of portable power packs. They're just so helpful when you're away from home and find your smartphone's battery percentage is fast dwindling. A solar-powered pack caught my interest this week, but sadly not for the reasons I want.
The KaliPAK is more a heavy-duty device for professionals who might need to be out in the wild (think geographers, disaster recovery teams, and those living in remote regions). It's great that there's a crowdfunding project like this to help power up the lives of those without access to the electrical grid.
However, the pack seems designed to be worn as a backpack. It looks alarmingly ugly, and I'm not afraid to admit I'm shallow enough to give this a pass because of the aesthetics. It looks like a Samsonite suitcase -- the kind of thing an overprotective parent might lumber their child with on their first day at school. It's ghastly.
Or maybe I just haven't had quite enough coffee as I write this. Try to improve the world all you like, KaliPAK. I might still be a judgemental monster about it.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Keep It in a Paper Bags
Speaking of paper, another new crowdfunding project wants to make incredibly thin speakers.
The PVDF Piezo Film Technology is seemingly thinner than paper and could potentially be wrapped into all manner of products.
It could be interesting, for instance, to cover laptop screens with the material to pull out larger speakers and cut down on weight and bulk.
It's hard to believe the sound quality is impressive from this membrane -- but the concept is interesting enough that I'm keen to hear it in action.