Archive for June, 2014

You can have a conversation with your iPhone, your car can give you directions to the nearest sushi joint, and your fridge can send tweets — so why is your bike still stuck in the dark ages? In this world of smart everything, where everyone is racing to get every gadget, appliance, and vehicle connected and communicating, the Vanhawks Valour is the first totally smart bicycle.

I took this new-age bike for an actual test-ride — hopping on, pushing off, rolling over, around, under and through — to find out first-hand where rubber meets the road with this crafty new commuter-cycle concept. The bike’s 20-year-old co-creator Ali Zahid also guided me to the future of biking. In its debut on Kickstarter, the Valour raked in nearly $700,000, (as of last check) well past its original goal of just $100,000. So what makes it so special?

For starters, it’s absolutely loaded with sensors and smart bits that should make your ride more enjoyable and heck of a lot safer. It provides turn-by-turn directions via built-in LED lightup turn signals on the handlebars, blind spot detection so you don’t get squished by a rampaging pizza truck, and it pairs with your smartphone to tell you how far you’ve ridden and how many calories you’ve scorched.

And don’t worry about it running out of juice. There’s no motor or external charging to speak of. Simply ride it at least an hour a week and the crafty cycle converts your pedaling into all the power it needs. Talk about green energy!

Even without all the cool “smart” stuff, it’s a sturdy, smooth, easy handling mid-range carbon fiber bike, the kind a commuter could make an investment in. The cycle — which is available in either a fixed gear or internal gear hub setup — will actually get even smarter over time, learning to warn you of potholes and suggesting route changes to make your commute as smooth as possible.

The Valour and its app will feed information to a connected network, sharing what it learns with other riders and vice versa. If a Valour rider experiences a particularly treacherous trip down a particular route, your bike could tell you to avoid it, choosing a safer and slicker path to your destination. It’s a ridiculously awesome idea that takes crowdsourced data to a whole new level.

The network can even help you hunt down your bike if it’s stolen. If you flag your bike as stolen in the app, other Valour bikes will automatically keep a look out for your ride. If another Valour rider happens to cross paths with your stolen bike, the network will immediately notify you of its location, giving you a fighting chance at reclaiming your property. It’s like “Find My iPhone” for your bike.

For carbon fiber, the frame weighs nearly 16 pounds, which is actually pretty heavy when you’re talking about fancy bikes. My Cervelo road bike, for instance, weighs a whole lot less, but costs a great deal more ($4,500 versus $1,000). The Valour’s added weight comes from the frame being one continuous mold, versus being several parts glued together. Zahid said being one mold keeps the costs down and is a better skeleton for the internal sensors.

The road for smart connected bikes is wide open, and the Valour is approaching its debut rapidly. It’s expected to hit the streets this October and retail for around $1,000 depending on your taste in gears. Ride on!

Posted in Great Gadgets, TechNow

This is expected to the one of the busiest summer travel seasons ever. An estimated eight in ten vacationers kicked off summer with a road trip Memorial Day weekend. With a whole lot of traveling ahead, there are countless opportunities to use tech to make your life a little bit better.

Here’s a stack of family summer travel tech tools and tips to help you get the most out of your next vacation:

1. Don’t get caught roaming

If you’re going cross-country or even doing a bit of globetrotting, you could find yourself racking up hundreds of dollars in smartphone roaming charges. You used to have to worry about roaming for your cellular calls, but in the age of smartphones it’s all about data roaming. This can be even worse, especially if you have a Facebook or Twitter addiction.

To avoid sticker shock, seek out a carrier that doesn’t pile on roaming charges. When it comes to national carriers, T-Mobile‘s looking like your best bet right now. The company’s Simple Choice plan includes international roaming for no extra charge, covering over 120 countries. Text and data are included for no additional fee, with calls in all corners of the globe coming in at 20 cents per minute — but, let’s be honest, if you can text or email for extra charge, how often will you really be calling?

The best part is T-Mobile doesn’t require a contract, so if you have a big trip coming up, you can start a plan to supplement your other, pricier carrier’s plan while you’re out exploring the world and save a few bucks along the way.

You can also use an app such as Rebtel or Ringo to help keep roaming costs down, or buy a SIM card from the country you’re traveling to through a service like Telestial.

2. Back up battery!

Your summer travel plans are hopefully full of sandy beaches, cool drinks, nightly campfires, and lots and lots of relaxing. Your phone, on the other hand, will still be working 24/7 to keep you connected, and its battery never takes a vacation, so make sure it has the extra juice it needs to do its job by equipping a Mophie battery pack case.

Unlike some backup batteries, Mophie’s packs don’t add a whole bunch of bulk to your sleek phone, and while it makes your gadget a little bit bigger than it is when naked, it won’t feel like a brick. Mophie makes battery backup cases for just about every iPhone model, along with Samsung’s Galaxy phones, with prices starting at $79.95.

There’s also the Juno Jumpr, which we showed off in the video portion of this story. It’s a handheld high-capacity battery pack that powers up your phone or tablet, and can even jump start a dead car battery. It comes with its own small jumper cables and everything, so you can just toss it in your glovebox and always have backup power when you need it. The Juno Jumpr is priced at $89.99.

3. Tech on the beach

Tech and water don’t mix, but there’s all kinds of new gadgets that you don’t have to worry about keeping dry. Sony’s newest Xperia smartphones and tablets play well with water, which means you can take them for a swim or even shoot video underwater. Sony’s high-tech handsets vary in price depending on model and your carrier.

If you want some tunes to accompany the sound of waves rolling in, Scosche’s boomBottle is perfectly at home both on dry land or wading in the surf. You wouldn’t want to take it diving, but its weatherproof design means that rain or splashes from out-of-control pool parties are just fine. These beats will cost you $129.99.

Simply want to envelope your smartphone in an ultra-protective case? With a $79.99LifeProof Fre case you can drop your phone into 10 feet of water and leave it there overnight. Pull it out the next morning, and it’ll work perfectly, as if it had never gone out for that midnight swim. If you’re worried about dropping your phone into the ocean depths or leaving it on the bottom of a lake, simply add on the LifeJacket. Yes, LifeProof has created an external flotation device for smartphones, starting at $39.99.

SnowLizard also has you covered. Literally. SLXtreme iPhone cases are extremely durable, waterproof, and even include a built-in solar charger that will let you take advantage of the bright summer sun. Starting at $129.99.

4. Backseat bickering

An upset baby can seriously ruin a car trip, and nothing makes little ones more whiny than being totally miserable in a too-hot car seat that pulls, pinches, grabs, and just generally makes them crazy. Evenflo’s new Platinum series seats are designed to keep baby happy for as long as humanly possible. They feature heat distribution technology that keeps the tiny passenger at an optimal temperature, which means less crying and more miles with smiles. These soothing seats start at $149.99.

By the way, in the video for this story, I did something really stupid with this car seat. I put the baby in backward. The doll we were using is small, and I buckled it into the seat facing forward. The seat should have been turned the other way for an “infant.” Doh!

Keeping older children entertained is an entirely different story, as they’re not usually content to simply stare out the window. The new PlayStation Vita is perfect for this (if Mom and Dad don’t steal it …). It’s slimmer, lighter, thinner, and more comfortable to hold than the original Vita to better give kids a real gaming experience within the palm of their hand. There are a ton of great bundles, like getting the new Vita withBorderlands 2, and you can even download full games directly to the system, which means boredom goes bye-bye. Systems start at $199.

If your kids aren’t gamers, snag Griffin’s CinemaSeat, snap in your iPad, and let them watch hit movies for as long as they want. It’s easy to install and includes pockets to store important bits like headphones and charging cables. It’ll cost you $39.99

5. Keeps tabs on everything, and everyone

Hitting the sky with all your valuables in a suitcase can be scary, but Trakdot’sluggage tracking system can put your mind at ease. Not only will it send you a text message or email to let you know that your bags safely made it to the same destination as you, but it can even spot your gear anywhere in the world, if it happens to take an unexpected detour. For $49.99, it’s affordable assurance.

Misplaced luggage is one thing, but losing track of your kids in a hectic airport or tourist trap can be downright terrifying. FiLIP is a wrist-worn smart locator that functions as both a phone and a personal guardian to keep tabs on your children. The gadget can make two-way calls to and from five pre-programmed numbers, and will keep your family in touch at all times. The FiLIP itself is $199, with unlimited voice and location data for just $10 per month through AT&T.

Whether you’re planning on spending a quiet weekend at the campground, a wild week on the beach, or even an intercontinental trip to see the sights, these tech tools will make your trip less stressful, more organized, and of course, a ton of fun. What travel gadget is a must-pack for you? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.

Posted in Great Gadgets, TechNow, Uncategorized