It’s the holiday season and we understand that you may well be struggling to complete your shopping list.
If so, let Hot Topics help.
We’ve cast our collective eye over the gadget space to compile a list of 10 gift ideas. They range from sexy VR headsets to boring but tres useful portable hard drives.
And we promise, no scented candles.
Marshall Acton Speaker
There are two ways to justify owning a Marshall amp. The first is by practising guitar every day for a decade, joining a band, ensuring the band has enough talent to generate a following, then being in the right place at the right time to earn worldwide stardom and a place in rock history.
Or you could buy a smartphone.
Yes, the folks at Marshall – home of the iconic guitar speaker – have created the Marshall Acton Speaker especially for mobile devices.
It comes with one 4-inch woofer, two 3/4-inch dome tweeters with a frequency range of 50-20.000Hz. You connect it via a standard 3.5-mm headphone jack or with Bluetooth 4.0. Costs around $300.
20 years after it was first invented, and 15 years after every assumed it was dead, virtual reality is back.
Yep, VR is sexy again thanks largely to Oculus and the phenomenal amount Facebook paid for the tech pioneer. But there’s more to VR than one company. Which brings us to the Zeiss VR One – a headset which VRs what’s on your smartphone.
The key difference here is that, unlike Oculus and other products such as Gear VR and Sony’s Project Morpheus, the VR One doesn’t require hardware.
Instead, you just fit your phone into a slot on the front, strap on and see your phone content in a 100 degree field of view.
With the addition of the VR One Media App, you can watch 2D and 3D YouTube videos and scroll by tapping the sides of the headset.
The VR One will be available for $99 in 2015.
Pencil and paper, your time is up. It’s been a tremendous few thousand years, but we now have a Livescribe Echo thanks.
This smart pen captures your scribbles when you tap a record icon and then, when you connect the pen to your computer, imports your notes as either an image file or PDF. It records sound too.
No, it’s not a new idea. But the LiveScribe is suddenly a lot more accessible. It used to cost $200 but now there’s a 2GB option available for around $100. Yes, pens are cheaper. But less cool.
The company that started the whole extreme sports photography thing is – inevitably – getting in to the drone business. Yes, GoPro is developing its own line of multirotor helicopters equipped with high-definition cameras, which it will sell next year for between $500 and $1,000.
Had to happen. Drones are becoming hugely popular and GoPro cameras are already compatible with several of them.
GoPro sells millions of its wearable cameras every year and clearly it can’t let Chinese electronics companies and camera makers like Sony and Polaroid eat the next course of its lunch.
Experts say the drone industry could be worth $2.2 billion by the end of 2015.
Needless to say, GoPro is in the right place to make an impact. It has a YouTube audience of more than 2 million, for a start.
At the dawn of the digital music era, the pressure was on to compress files. Memory was expensive, and modems were dial-up. Today, 64GB costs next to nothing and wi-fi/4G are commonplace.
We still have those tinny compressed music files, but the irony is most punters don’t care. Teens don’t know any different.
Their parents do, though. And that’s why there’s been a clamour among audiophiles to restore decent sound quality to digital music.
The most high profile action has come from none other than Canadian rocker Neil Young, who developed his own hi-res player, the Pono. The project raised $6m on Kickstarter back in April.
Pono uses a digital music format called FLAC, which stands for free lossless audio codec. It’s a file type designed to be compressed like MP3s, but with minimal or no loss in quality.
By all accounts, the sound is incredible even if the thing itself looks a bit clunky and weirdly triangular. For non-backers, the device can be pre-ordered on the Pono site for US$399, for delivery by March.
Let’s be honest, most phones look (superficially) alike these days. Sleek black rectangles, roughly the same size. So how can you differentiate? Well, Russian phone maker has one intriguing idea: turn the rear side into a screen – and use it to display mono e-ink text. It’s a bit like having a Kindle on the reverse of your phone.
So the Yotaphone 2 looks like any other five inch Android handset, with a slightly curved top and bottom and Gorilla Glass 3 to protect it from scratches. But the real interest kicks in when you turn it round.
The mono display has a resolution of 960 x 540 and can handle 16 shades of grey. Most people will use it for reading and for checking texts, missed calls, calendar etc.
But it’s technically possible to use the rear screen for everything. Think of the battery life! In fact, the display works even with a dead battery. So you can put something important on there and know that it will stay visible whatever happens.
Time will tell if this idea takes off. Clearly, Yotaphone is little known in the west and will have to work hard to create awareness and confidence in its products outside of Russia.
This Kickstarter sensation plugs into one of the most pressing of all first world problems – how to get a decent night’s sleep.
Hush smart earplugs offer you true silence by recording noise and playing the opposite (for ten hours at a time). They also do calming white noise. What’s more, they can be programmed to set an alarm time that only you hear.
Hush raised over $500,000 on a $100,000 goal from KickStarter. They will cost around $115 from May 2015.
For anyone who wants a streaming TV set top box, well the options are bewildering. So why choose Fire TV?
Well, Amazon, of course, makes things a lot easier because it controls so much of the content people watch on these boxes. That means it can subsidise the price and integrate the hardware with the software better.
At time of writing, Amazon’s Fire TV set-top was just $79. Pretty amazing for a small device that offers more than 200,000 movies and TV episodes from services like Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN, Showtime Anywhere, Vimeo and YouTube.com.
Beyond this are music services, such as Spotify, Pandora and I Heart Radio plus hundreds of games.
Amazon Fire TV arrives pre-registered to your Amazon account so you should be able to set up in minutes. Just connect it to the TV, find wi-fi and play.
The fitness band people need new markets to sell their big data to, and who better than cyclists? These guys eat that stuff up. So step forward, Mio Velo. What’s interesting about this wearable is that it has no screen.
Why? Because it reads the ANT+ signals from bike sensors, translates them to Bluetooth and then sends them to the phone. On top of this mechanical data, it also monitors heart rate.
The Mio Velo keeps cost down by connecting to the phone. It costs just $129.
Is a hard drive a toy? No. Only for very boring boys and girls. But the portable storage unit has become a staple of every household – and with every phone user generating tons of HD video, the need for memory goes up and up.
In response, Seagate has just launched a new 8TB hard drive. Yes, 8TB. This ridiculous amount of back-up is probably more than IBM needed ten years ago.
And now, it’s available for you to put unwatched videos of school plays on – for just $260. Insane.
There is a drawback though. The drive is part of Seagate’s new Archive HDD line, which uses Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR) technology to handle more data. That makes it slower than many SSDs (150MB/s verss around 550MB/s).