GADGET DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES

Gadget Ogling: Logged Jogs, Manual Music, Smart Weapons and Skinny Phones

Welcome to another installment of Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, a weekly look at the treats and horrors revealed as manufacturers pull back their curtains.

Behind door number one is a selection of updated activity trackers from one of the oldest dogs in the yard, with the other shiny prizes including a music controller, a smart accessory for police firearms (bear with me, it’s really interesting), and the planet’s thinnest smartphone.

As ever, the ratings reflect only my interest in using each item, and are not reflective of their quality.

Fitbit Bands

Nary a week goes by without some upstart announcing a new or updated fitness tracker. This time, however, it’s the turn of one of the companies with the longest tenure in the field, Fitbit. It introduced three new bands, pictured above.

Perhaps sensing the burgeoning threat of do-it-all smartwatches, the Surge has an LCD touchscreen that displays the time, the user’s heart rate and number of steps taken. It also displays such phone basics as caller ID, text messages and music controls. Crucially, it has its own GPS, meaning joggers can track their routes and other stats without the need to take a smartphone along for the trip.

The Charge bands are a touch simpler, with an OLED screen showing the time, steps taken and caller ID. The HR has all of those functions, along with a continuous heartrate monitor.

It’s an odd spot for Fitbit to be in, since its devices are essentially useless to anyone who doesn’t mind carting a new iPhone 6 around. For everyone else, there’s an Apple smartwatch on the horizon and plenty of others on the market. That said, I suspect I’d be far more likely to wear a Fitbit than an Apple Watch.

They look fine, but not terribly exciting. That’ll be a problem for Fitbit in the months ahead.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Burned Calories

Lo-Fi SES

As a video game enthusiast and appreciator of chiptune bands like Anamanaguchi, this is right up my alley.

The bright sparks at Assorted Wires have turned a video game controller into a music controller called “Lo-Fi SES.” The concept is not especially novel, since controllers are how chiptune artists often control their samples, but this project is taking it to the masses.

That’s tremendous news, since an entire generation of young people have grown up playing video games, and might be more attuned to a controller in their hands than a guitar or piano — and that, smartly, is exactly how Assorted Wires is pitching this.

The controller itself has a charmingly retro decal, along with cartridges that enable users to expand their symphonies. I love this dearly, and eagerly await to see how a new generation of musicians use it to create art.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Looped Bleeps

Yardarm Firearm Tracker

Here’s something a touch different: Yardarm has introduced an accessory for police officers’ firearms that tracks when they draw and fire their weapons, and notifies dispatchers.

After a number of tragic cases in which civilians have lost their lives due to police gunfire, it’s imperative that we (and regulators) know as much as possible whenever officers discharge their weapons.

Further, if officers are in firefights and can’t radio for backup, dispatchers will know there’s a heated situation and quickly send in backup.

As someone who has zero interest in entering law enforcement, I have no enthusiasm for actually using this personally. That, however, does not preclude me from wanting it to become prolific, very quickly. For a police officer operating in modern society, it is absolutely essential.

Rating: 0 out of 5 Bullet Casings

Oppo R5

The most mainstream smartphones, in general, are getting ever larger screen sizes. The Oppo 5, while still lugging around a 5.2-inch screen, is just 4.85 millimeters thick (that’s a shade under a fifth of an inch) and weighs only 155 grams (5.4 ounces). How is this even possible?

It’s no lightweight in the brain department either, with an octo-core processor.

However, it fails to measure up elsewhere, with only 16 GB storage (no expansion slot) and no headphone jack. A clip that connects to the phone via Bluetooth serves as headphone controller and camera trigger.

Meanwhile, the camera casing juts out a little on the back, so it’s cheating a little with that thinness claim (and it’s also a touch ugly).

We can’t be too far away from a landscape in which high-powered phones are a piece of glass or film, disappearing into the background when not in active use. come to think of it, that might not be a bad theft deterrent. You can’t steal what you can’t see. For now, this’ll fit pockets quite nicely.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Flat Pockets

Kris Holt is a writer and editor based in Montreal. He has written for the Daily Dot, The Daily Beast, and PolicyMic, among others. He's Scottish, so would prefer if no one used the word "soccer" in his company. You can connect with Kris on Google+.

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