Gadgets of the month: Chromecast, Xiaomi and future photography, bikes and Lego

31 Jul 2014

Google Chromecast

We take a look back at some of the biggest gadget news this month and look ahead at what’s to come.

This month…

Chromecast comes to Ireland

A lot of excitement in the gadget world this month came from the official release of Google’s Chromecast in Ireland. This came just in time for the launch of Google Play Movies here, too, and Silicon Republic was quick out of the traps to review this handy dongle and all it has to offer.

Other recent releases getting a full examination from the team this month were the Sony Xperia Z2 smartphone and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S tablet in both its 8.4-inch and 10.5-inch form factors.

Xiaomi: the next big name in tech

Learn the name Xiaomi (it’s pronounced ‘shiao-me’), as it’s likely to figure heavily in any tech fan’s future. Tipped as one of the fastest-growing tech companies in the world, this Chinese electronics manufacturer certainly made its mark this month.

For starters, it sold a record 50,000 units of its MiPad tablet computer in less than four minutes online, and then followed this up with the unveiling of its flagship Mi 4 smartphone, which it positions as a competitor to devices yet to come from Apple and Samsung, though significantly cheaper.

And, speaking of Xiaomi’s cheaper alternatives, it also revealed a sub-€10 wearable fitness tracker, the Mi Band.

Xiaomi Mi Band

No wonder analysts are expecting emerging Chinese smartphone players to chip away at Apple and Samsung’s market share. Meanwhile, anticipation is building around what’s to come next from the world’s two biggest smartphone vendors.

We’ve at least another month to go before the next reveals come from Samsung and Apple, with the Galaxy Alpha tipped to be announced in early September ahead of the rumoured iPhone 6, for which Apple is said to have ordered 80m 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch units to be manufactured by year-end.

Coming soon…

Lytro’s light-field photography revolution continues

Coming in August, Lytro’s new Illum camera continues the photography revolution this company has started. Lytro’s first cameras were released in 2012 and even made it onto our Gadgets of the Year list for their innovation alone.

With Lytro cameras, users can capture an entire light field and refocus the shot after it has been taken. Have a go below and click to change the focus of this image shot using the Illum to see how it works.

At US$1,499 for an as-yet unproven device, the new Illum will attract only professional early adopters for now but, if this technology catches on in the commercial market, Lytro could change the face of digital photography as we know it.

The future of urban biking is in your hands

The Bike Design Project is a competition seeking public votes to determine the Ultimate Urban Utility Bike, with the winning model set to go into production with the project’s partner, Fuji Bikes, for delivery in 2015.

The selected five designs come from cities around the US, each of them applying modern technology to the classic two-wheeler.

Chicago’s security-conscious Blackline has a location tracker that connects to a smartphone app; New York City’s Merge comes equipped with a USB charging port; Portland’s 3D-printed Solid integrates haptic handlebar feedback; San Francisco’s adaptable Evo brings the plug-and-play concept to biking; while Seattle’s electrically assisted Denny features turn signals and handlebars that double as a lock so that you don’t have to take one along. Which one gets your vote?

The Bike Design Project - Blackline

Blackline, a submission for The Bike Design Project

Lego Ideas worth building

Lego Ideas has brought some truly great Lego sets to market – including Ghostbusters and, coming in August, a set of female scientist Minifigures – all thanks to fans voting for what they would like to build from the famous plastic bricks.

Lego Microscope by Carl Merriam

This fully functional Lego-made microscope by brick artist Carl Merriam is one Lego Ideas project that caught our eye this month.

Merriam’s microscope design uses a Lego magnifying glass and a LED Power Functions Light to achieve up to 10x magnification, while two Lego swords hold the slides in place. It even has knobs to adjust the stage and for coarse and fine focus.

Lego Wall-E by Angus MacLane

Merriam’s project needs 10,000 votes to be considered for an official set, a requirement already reached by Wall-E animator Angus MacLane’s brick-by-brick version of the titular cartoon robot.

MacLane’s Lego Wall-E will enter the review phase in September, when it will be tested and evaluated by a team of designers and product managers to ensure it’s fit for release.

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.