Gadgets News: Google OnHub router, Project Ara confusion, WalkCar and Sony’s SmartBand 2

24 Aug 2015

A game of squash with the Sony SmartBand 2. Photo via Sony Mobile

This week in gadgets news we look at a Google’s good-looking Wi-Fi router, some confusing tweets from Project Ara, an electric vehicle you can fit in your bag and Sony’s next-generation life-logging wearable.

Over the past seven days, we reviewed the Fitbit Surge fitness-focused smartwatch while Google previewed Android 6.0 (dial M for Marshmallow) with some cool features you can expect to see on two new Nexus smartphones to be revealed in September.

At its 2015 developers’ conference, Intel previewed its sixth-generation Core processors – Skylake – which will be capable of powering three 4K monitors at 60Hz at once.

Meanwhile, whispers of Microsoft’s next big hardware launch have begun, with an event expected this autumn. Will we see new Xbox gaming hardware? A Surface Pro 4? A Microsoft Band 2? A high-end Lumia? Looks like we’ll have to wait until October to know for sure.

Google OnHub: the Wi-Fi router of your dreams

Last week, Google kicked off pre-sales of OnHub, its new Wi-Fi router built to transform our feelings towards these much-maligned pieces of hardware.

If you’re looking for advice on how to improve your home Wi-Fi performance, often the first tip you’ll get is to make sure your router is best positioned for its antennae to deliver your signal unobstructed. Unfortunately, unattractive design and boxy form has seen routers relegated to hidden alcoves, low shelves and even underneath other objects.

OnHub counteracts this common mistake with a sleek design built to be a feature of the living space it occupies, and a cylindrical form that’s unlikely to be used as storage space for other objects. For added style, the outer shell is removable and a variety of colourful covers are expected.

Google OnHub Wi-Fi router

Of course, a good relationship with your router isn’t all about looks and OnHub is also meant to be easy to talk to thanks to Google On, a free app for iOS and Android. Even without the app, the device communicates clearly with a green light to let you know all is well, and orange signalling that troubleshooting is required.

There are 13 antennae inside the US$200 router and OnHub’s software monitors channels and frequencies in order to ensure your connection is always optimised for efficiency. Users can even prioritise connectivity for a particular device, and the app also simplifies another aggravating experience by enabling owners to share the Wi-Fi password by simply sending a text or email to visitors.

The bad news is OnHub is so far only available for customers in the US and Canada.

Project Ara gets tangled up in tweets

Following Google’s reorganisation into Alphabet, Project Ara has sent a string of confusing updates to followers on Twitter.

Project Ara comes from the Advanced Technologies and Projects (ATAP) group (which still comes under the Google banner) and is developing a modular smartphone users can build and adapt as they need and desire, like Lego.

Recently, a tweet from Project Ara revealed that the planned Puerto Rico pilot programme has been ‘re-routed’ and, despite staying tuned, the update that followed only explained that there would be further updates. Then another tweet said this was “not goodbye” to Puerto Rico, hinting that the project will return in future.

More details did eventually follow, and we now know that Project Ara is scouting test-beds in the US with launch now delayed to 2016.

Then, the Project Ara account proceeded to cause more confusion with a so-called joke.

First, the Twitter account implied that the electro-permanent magnets holding the modules together weren’t strong enough to survive a drop test, then rescinded this as a failed attempt at humour.

Trying to save face, @ProjectAra tweeted promises of a signature solution for attaching and detaching modules (that will, presumably, survive the rigours of daily smartphone life), plus better battery life and a better camera.

As far as the baffling mixed messages go, Project Ara blamed not the sunshine, nor the moonlight, but the iterations. (Or perhaps they just need some rest.)

WalkCar: an electric vehicle you can carry in a bag

It seems that electric vehicles, like computers, are getting smaller every year.

WalkCar is an aluminium board on four wheels, measuring about the same size as a laptop. Though lightweight, the board is robust, capable of carrying loads up to 120kg and, with three hours’ charging, can transport this load up to 12km.

WalkCar by Cocoa Motors

Reuters reported that Japanese inventor Kuniaki Sato came up with the idea for WalkCar as an engineering student, going on to set up Tokyo-based Cocoa Motors in 2013 to develop the concept into a working prototype.

Riders need just bend in the direction they want to go – like a Segway, but seriously slimmed down (and less dorky, perhaps?).

Cocoa Motors is working on two versions of WalkCar, one for indoor use and a one for outdoor terrain, but both will weigh no more than 2-3kg.

If you fancy gliding around at up to 10km per hour on a WalkCar, pre-orders will launch in October 2015 via a Kickstarter campaign. It’s expected to cost 100,000 yen (over €700) for shipping in spring 2016.

Sony’s next-gen SmartBand 2

Sony Mobile has announced the follow-up to last year’s SmartBand: the appropriately titled SmartBand 2.

In addition to the life-logging, activity tracking and sleep insights features of the original, the SmartBand 2 now includes an advanced heart-rate sensor, enhancing its fitness capabilities.

Sony SmartBand 2

Users will still be alerted to call, message, email and social notifications via subtle vibrations and colourful LEDs, and can control music playback using the SmartBand 2. It also lets you know if you and your smartphone are separated.

The Core sensor retains the same dimensions so, if you upgrade, your old wristbands and accessories will still fit. However, it doesn’t retain the same battery power as the predecessor and users are now looking at two days of use from a full battery charge.

Sony SmartBand 2

The SmartBand 2 launches in 60 countries worldwide this September for around €119, with black and white silicone rubber bands to start and additional colours to follow.

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.