Welcome, friends, neighbors and distant strangers to the latest edition of Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, in which your trusty columnist highly recommends a trip to your regional wine producers when not perusing the latest gadget announcements.
In our tasting flight this time around are a pair of earphones that double as earrings (or is that the other way around?); a US$1,000 blockchain-focused, dual-screen phone; a smartphone with nine (yes, nine) cameras; and an airbag for your handset.
As ever, these are not reviews. Nor can you expect to derive any true meaning from the ratings -- they exist solely to indicate how much I am interested in trying each item.
Stylish SoundLet me make this perfectly clear right off the bat: I am compelled to give this item a rating of zero, solely on the basis that my body is not adequately prepared to use this item as intended. That's because my ears are piercing-free. Otherwise, I'd be mighty tempted to try out the Swings Bluetooth Earrings with built-in earphones. It's a practical, clever idea that many who have pierced ears might just take advantage of.
Swings certainly could fix the problem of losing Apple's expensive AirPods to the ether or having to root around in one's pockets or purse to find one's tangled-up headset. The earphones are in the lower part of what look like beaded earrings, and the motion accelerators determine when you have swiveled them to nestle inside your auricle.
You can expect five hours of listening time out of the Swings on a single charge, and you can add up to three hours of listening time with a 15-minute charge from the case. Each earphone has a microphone as well, so you can handle calls and use your favored voice assistant.
Unfortunately, the Swings are not waterproof, so they might not hold up too well if it's raining or if you engage in particularly intense gym workouts.
I am entirely for this device as a pragmatic way for those with pierced ears to keep their earphones nearby. I am almost, sort of, possibly tempted to pay someone to put holes in my earlobes so I can try them, so much so that I am walking back my initial rating proclamation.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Sterile Needles, Please
Strain your ears hard enough to listen through the echoes of distance and time, and you might hear me exude an enormous sigh as I learn of the existence of the Finney smartphone. It is a dual-screen device from Sirin Labs that will cost you a grand and, somehow, received an endorsement from soccer icon Lionel Messi.
The device places a large focus on blockchain technology. There's nothing wrong with a manufacturer using every available tool at its disposal to provide sturdier security, at the very least. Still, you can count me as a blockchain sceptic -- the bug has yet to bite me.
Finney has a built-in cryptocurrency wallet that remains offline for your protection, along with (what Sirin says is) secure access to exchanges and encrypted communications. It runs on Sirin's own fork of Android 8.1 and there's a fingerprint sensor as well. The 2-inch second screen that extends from the device's body is there seemingly to carry out cryptocurrency transactions.
You can buy Finney only with Sirin's own cryptocurrency, even though the price is fixed in dollars -- that seems somewhat of a red flag. I get that Sirin wants people to use its own digital currency, but can't I just pay for the thing with actual dollars? If blockchain is your bag, then by all means check this out. But the way things currently stand, my level of interest is minimal.
Rating: 1 out of 5 Lost Bitcoins
I'll share some observations on another strange smartphone, but this one is more at the conceptual stage. Light has been developing a handset that goes far beyond the two or three cameras we're used to seeing in a smartphone. It has been prototyping a device with as many as nine lenses on the rear.
The lenses are arranged almost in a circle and can capture 64-megapixel shots. Light claims the array offers strong low-light performance and better depth effects than are available elsewhere.
It's a neat idea, and the prototypes suggest that the nine lenses would not seem too obnoxious. We could see a phone with Light's camera technology announced by the end of the year, so we might not have to wait too long to find out just how effective a nonet of cameras really is.
Rating: 4 out of 5 No Escaping My Photos
Cushioning the Blow
For my final entry this time around, here is another phone-related prototype. This one is a concept that seeks to protect your phone.
Philip Frenzel, an engineering student at Aalen University in Germany, created the mobile airbag, which is a case that detects when your device is falling and extends metal prongs at each of the four corners to stop it from getting damaged when it smacks into the ground.
The creator is said to be preparing for a Kickstarter campaign in August. While it is a tool with a lot of practical value (assuming it works as promised), the design leaves something to be desired.
Perhaps that's something that can be refined through crowdfunding. Still, for the most part, I care more about practicalities than design, and having broken an iPhone in the recent past, I am on board with this.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Just Needs Design Tweaks