November 14, 2012

Cool Tools

From a housekeeping robot to a cute wireless boombox, here is the scoop on some of the latest tech gadgets and games.


Universal Internet Thermostat

Hunter Fan’s new Universal Internet Thermostat is a quick and relatively effortless way to make your home smarter, your heating bill smaller and your iPhone handier. It’s a $100 Wi-Fi device to replace your existing thermostat, a process that’s about as quick as swapping out a SIM card. The unit needs power to operate, obviously, but will run for a year off four AA batteries if there’s no household common wire (“C-wire”) already present.

The Universal Internet Thermostat then taps in to your home Wi-Fi and is thereafter accessed through an app for iPhones and iPads or any mobile or desktop web browser. This globe-spanning, private access lets you set and/or monitor your home’s temperature from anywhere; keep the temp low if you’re unexpectedly working late, or set things to toasty warm if you’re coming home early. It also operates the AC if your home is so equipped.

Cost for this wireless access is $10 per year or $50 for life, but, like a drug dealer, Hunter Fan offers the first three months free.


Not exactly ready for the Jetsons, today’s automated vacuums are more about daily maintenance than robust robotic housework. The latest entry into the mechanized menial chore fray is the $300 AiBOT RC530A from Agama.

This battery powered, sensory laden little sucker is pretty darn effective at keeping up with daily dirt, dust bunnies and pet hair as it cruises across any given surface like it knows what it’s doing. It can be set to troll along the perimeter of a room – an entire floor if you have that “open concept living” thing going on – or run in spiral, random or zig-zag patterns. It avoids table and furniture legs as well as stairs, stopping then steering around or away from such obstacles while missing very little surface cleaning.

Agama also offers a less expensive model, the $200 AiBOT RC330A, but the RC530A is worth the extra cost as it can be programmed to run on a schedule and has the smarts to return to its charging station on its own when the battery runs low.

Sure, it’s no Rosie, but it is effective at its menial best and perpetually fun to watch – more fun if you have pets, because it’ll drive them bonkers.

Nintendo Wii U

As the only new game console out this year, Nintendo is poised to dominate another holiday shopping season with the Wii U. Available in two models, your best bet is the $350 “deluxe” version with 32GB, a free game and a few bonus accessories. The system boasts many modern niceties, like high definition gaming, Wi-Fi connectivity, and “Nintendo TVii” for streaming or otherwise playing multimedia from personal, public and subscribed sources.

As with the original Wii and its wildly successful, candy bar-like controller, the Wii U introduces a new interface paradigm, this time with a wireless GamePad that incorporates conventional buttons and thumbsticks wrapped around a 15-centimetre, touch-sensitive widescreen LCD display. The GamePad is also motion sensitive and comes with cameras front and back. Wii U games will thus utilize both this semi-private screen for one user and your HDTV as the primary display for all. This duality is expected to unleash a great deal of gaming innovation while remaining true to Nintendo’s reputation for safe, family-friendly fun.

The Wii U also accommodates the original Wii’s controllers and will be compatible with original Wii titles.

TS2220 Multitouch Monitor

While it’s true the tech world is rapidly moving towards tablets and touchscreens as the new mainstay, you don’t have to ditch your desktop PC just yet. In fact,

ViewSonic’s new $330 TD2220 monitor combines the best of both worlds, turning your dauntless, multipurpose Windows PC into a modern touchy-feely device.

The TD2220 is a 22-inch LCD monitor with 1920×1080 resolution (or “Full HD 1080p” in layman’s terms), integrated speakers, DVI and VGA inputs and VESA mounts, which means it will sit on a stand like you’d expect, but can also be wall-mounted. But the coolest feature of the TD2220 is its dual point optical touch technology allowing for tap and swipe, pinch and zoom.

ViewSonic markets the TD2220 for commercial use, as in kiosks, storefronts and information desks, but it’s a great and surprisingly affordable home solution as well. Images are sharp and crisp (a whopping 20,000,000:1 contrast ratio helps), games and video don’t blur (too much), and built in stereo speakers are adequate.

Turtle Shell Wireless Boombox

If you’re into funky-looking auditory paraphernalia, the $150 Turtle Shell Wireless Boombox is certainly that. It’s also a wireless Bluethooth speaker system for blaring out tunes in stereo from your smart phone or MP3 player and doubles as a portable speakerphone while it’s at it.

Small enough to palm in one hand and powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion good for about eight hours of non-stop rock or talk, the Turtle Shell is ready-made for toting from the kitchen to the treadmill to the patio. It’s mostly outdoors-proof, too.

Just know that calling the Turtle Shell a “Boombox” is pure hyperbole, because it’s somewhat lacking in bottom-end and it certainly doesn’t “boom.” That said, sound quality is surprisingly rich at conversational volumes.

Shaun Conlin is editor-in-chief of Evergeek Media Inc.,


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