TWIG: Hawk Eye spy-copter, Lastolite Ezybox and the Powerstrap

The Week in Gadgets.

We take a brief look at something for everyone this week with kids’ spy toys, dog gadgets and photo equipment.

Fans of the Parrot AR Drone quadricopter and of not spending £300 might like to check out the Hawk Eye – an indoor video camera helicopter. Whilst lacking in the AR Drone’s iPhone enhanced augmented reality “omg are you controlling that with your iPhone?!?!” factor the £59.99 helicopter can record 5 minutes of colour video at 320×240 or many more photos at 640*480. Even better, instead of replaceable batteries, the Hawk Eye charges through your computer. It also provides free access to an easy to use online video-editing platform aimed at kids but open to anyone really into taking low res aerial images for fun. The Hawk Eye will be available in late November and is clearly aiming to work its way under some Christmas trees.

Hawk-Eye

If you are really into playing with spy stuff then head on over to spynethq.com which has a range of inexpensive spy toys for children that are more fun than anything you would find in GCHQ. There is the SpyNet Video watch (£49.99), which features on board video, audio and photo recording capabilities, a Flex Neck Snake Cam (£24.99), a Voice Recording Spy Pen (£19.99) a Voice Changer (£9.99) and most intriguingly some Rear View Spy Glasses that give you eyes in the back of your head (£7.99). For some adult spy toys, take a look at Naomi’s review of the Y-Cam.

If you prefer Golden retrievers to Goldeneye then you might be interested in the DOG-e-walk – an ultra sonic gizmo that stops dogs from pulling on the leash, but somehow incorporates anti interference technology (a Non Irritation System) that stops it from annoying passing canines. Interested? Check out the Company of Animals website for more info.

If however you prefer Leica to Laika, Lastolite have released a new Ezybox Speed-Lite a 22 cm x 22 cm mini softbox that can pop straight onto a flashgun and provides an inner and outer diffusion layer. Tiny, collapsible and lightweight it can be yours for £49.00.

Of course the one thing that unites nearly all gadgets is batteries and Orca Trading have a neat gadget that should help with power on the move. The Powerstrap is a wearable rechargeable battery pack that contains 6 LiOn battery cells which is about 1500 mAH of power. It comes with 10 adaptors for a variety of devices (check) and save you in a pinch – or power a short street party. I’m not sure why you’d want to wear it rather than just have it in your bag, but that aside, additional battery power on the go is always welcome. Yours for £39.99.

Current cost power monitor: Making you green with Envi

At first I was sceptical – how could a manufactured piece of plastic that plugs into my electricity supply actually reduce my carbon footprint? Once I plugged in the Current Cost Envi electricity monitor, however, my mature scepticism mutated into a boyish excitement. In an effort to reduce my energy usage, I had entered into a competition with myself.

While reducing my energy consumption may be a challenge, setting up the Current Cost Envi certainly wasn’t. It’s a simple two-step procedure: connect the white monitoring device to a plug socket, then clamp the black box around your electricity metre’s input cable. The monitoring device will then display how many watts you are using.

Current-Cost

If you don’t know anything about your electric metre, don’t worry. Just clamp the black box around everything until the monitor starts showing numbers.

The idea behind the system is that by actually seeing your electricity usage, you’ll be better suited to judge how much you are using. If you’ve left something on, the increased wattage will clearly show you.

The device also displays more than just your current usage. It calculates your cost per month, which can be changed depending on your tariff as well as displaying the time and the room temperature. It also displays your total electricity consumption for the day, over the last seven days, over the last 30 days and a breakdown of your night, day and evening usage.

For those who are extremely interested in monitoring their electricity habits, the device also has an Ethernet port for plugging into your computer. You’ll need to purchase the USB-to-Ethernet cable separately, however.

When you do hook it up to your PC, you can connect it to Google’s Power Meter software and view your past electricity usage from wherever you are in the world.

Unfortunately, the device seemed to have some serious problems in connecting with my Windows 7 computer. It is said to be Windows 7 compatible, but it had comm port issues on my system. It will be a shame if this happens to other people, however, because the ability to see whether your electricity usage is going up or down over time is key to the importance of the monitor.

Even without Google Power, the monitor encourages good habits – and dispels useless ones. For instance, leaving three 60W light bulbs on doubles my typical household electricity usage. Meanwhile, turning off the switch that shows the cooker is turned on will save precisely one watt.

Energy-saving aside, the device itself has a very basic build quality. Obviously, the white finish wasn’t going to be bone china, coated with ivory and dipped in platinum. But it is a lot more plastic than is pleasant.

The problem is that, aesthetically, you’d rather hide it under the sink then proudly display it on the mantelpiece – even if you wanted to parade your green credentials. And by hiding the device, you’d be negating the point of it. It’s about time the energy-saving market looked hotter than the planet it was trying to cool.

Aside from these niggles, the current cost of the Current Cost (£39.95) is a very low for this technology. And a visible authority on what is wasting electricity can only be a good thing for reducing your energy consumption. It also offers tangibility to electricity – the knowledge of how much electricity everything uses.

Perhaps more than anything, however, the beauty of the device lies in the feeling of self-worth that it allows. Every time something switches off and the number of watts-used drops, my face is galvanised into a smile.

Who’s who in wireless power?

In recent years, we’ve managed to cut just about every cable from our gadgets –  bluetooth used the airwaves to liberate our keyboards and mice, WiFi brought us high-spreed data at home and 3G covered everywhere else. Even the information sent from a computer to its monitor can now be transferred wirelessly.

So what prevents us from living as a cable-less nomad, strolling through life, untethered by a mass of knotted cables (usually found under a desk, covered in dust)? You probably know all-too-well: the power cord.

However, like Alexander the Great cutting through the Gordian Knot, four companies believe they can slice through the burden that ties us to our plug sockets and become the king of wireless power: eCoupled, Powermat, Wild Charge and PowerBeam.

The first player, eCoupled, comes from Fulton Innovation, who have partnered with major companies including Texas Instruments, Motorola, Nokia, RIM, Energizer and Duracel to form Qi – a wireless power consortium consisting of 27 members.

Their device, which consist of an external charging pad and a battery pack which fits inside gadgets, were shown to power anything from a mobile phone, to a laptop computer, to a power drill – all at 70% efficiency.

While the size of the instruments they can power is impressive, there is no doubt that green enthusiasts will be complaining about that lower efficiency percentage, and those 27 members are missing some major names such as Apple, who appear to have shown no interest in the technology at all.

This lack of commitment by some big players leaves hope for eCoupled’s most similar rival, Powermat. The device uses the same kind of technology to Fulton’s product, which consists of a coil of wire in a charging pad and another in the device, through which electricity is transmitted via a magnetic field – a process called ‘near field induction’. Fulton provide an explanation of the technology here. Unfortunately, the two companies products are entirely and frustratingly incompatible.

However, unlike Fulton, Powermat has already launched retail versions of its product and is beginning a big marketing push, creating its own Powermat-compatible battery packs for popular mobile phones.

Wild Charge are attempting to solve the problem in a slightly lower-tech way than the previous two, by still using physical contact. Small sleeves with metal contacts are fitted over devices, such as mobile phones and home-entertainment console controllers, which are then placed on a pad with similar contacts, and the power flows through.

The final, and probably most exciting offering, comes from PowerBeam, who intend to beam electricity through a laser to power picture frames and wireless speakers.  Cool? Yes. Terrifying? Slightly.

While it is always difficult to predict a winner from new, emerging technologies, usually the guy with the strongest friends wins. My advice? Invest in eCoupled, just as most of the big-boys seem to have.