A national survey of 1,520 adults conducted March 7-April 4, 2016, finds that Facebook continues to be America’s most popular social networking platform.
When most people think of drones they usually imagine a big, scary, four-armed miniature helicopter. However, in 2016 drone makers have introduced smaller and more portable quad-copters like the GoPro Karma and Yuneec Breeze.
Now DJI is introducing its smallest, smartest and most approachable drone yet, the Mavic Pro. With the ability to fold up into a water bottle-sized package and a starting price of $749 (about £575, AU$980), this tiny drone comes priced right and all the smart features of DJI’s other models – plus a few new ones to boot.
Measuring 3.27 x 7.8 x 3.27 inches (83 x 198 x 83mm; W x D x H) when folded up, the Mavic Pro looks down right adorable and it has nearly the same size as a water bottle. DJI has also come up with a new ultralight and aerodynamic airframe that weighs only 743g.
Compared to DJI’s past drones, it’s teeny at half the size and weight of the company’s flagship Phantom 4. The Mavic Pro is the first DJI drone small enough to be thrown into a backpack or purse rather than a special hard pack specifically designed for it.
This is all thanks to a new folding design in which the two front arms swing back while the rear limbs flip down and towards the quadcopter’s main body. Despite rotors being attached to articulating elements, the Mavic Pro feels solid and it takes a fair bit of force to position everything but not enough to stop you from getting it setup in a minute.
Your drone for everything
With most devices, going smaller usually means cutting features but that couldn’t be more wrong with the Mavic Pro. It still comes equipped with all the features on DJI’s larger drones including front and bottom-mounted sensors, built-in obstacle avoidance, subject tracking, self-piloted return landings and geofencing to help keep it out of restricted air zones.
If anything, users lose a tiny bit of speed by going with this smaller drone. The Mavic Pro can achieve a maximum speed of 40mph (65kph) in sport mode – a special setting for drone racing, if you want to cut your teeth at the burgeoning sport – while the Phantom 4 can hit a 45mph (72kph) top speed.
DJI’s newest drone is also designed to fly steadily even in the face of 24mph (39kph) winds. As for range, you’ll be able to stay connected to the quadcopter up to 4.3 miles (7km) away and a single charge gives you up to 27 minutes of flight time.
Unlike the GoPro Karma, the Mavic Pro comes with a camera, but you can’t take it off for non-airborne adventures due to a non-removeable gimbal. That said, the camera can record 4K video at 30fps or 1080p footage at 96fps – the latter of which it can also live stream to Facebook, YouTube and Periscope at a slower 30fps rate.
Alternatively, users could snap 12MP image stills in Adobe’s DNG RAW format. Users will also be able to take two-second long exposures, while DJI is confident its new three-axis gimbal will produce sharp results, we’ll have to put this to the test in the wild with our full review. On top of stabilizing recordings, they gimbal is also designed to turn the camera 90-degrees for portraits and capturing tall architecture.
In terms of optics, the camera can capture a 78.8-degree field of view and focus as closely as 19-inches (19cm).
Screens up, hands down
Ultimately, the greatest barrier to entry with drones has been intimidating controls and DJI is trying to change that with a simpler and just as pocketable solution.
The optional remote control is also made with a similar folding design in which the wo top-mounted antennas flip up while the rear, meanwhile, the bottom half of the controller splits to reveal a smartphone clamp.
While there’s a screen built into the controller, it only displays telemetry data such as altitude, orientation, speed and distance. To actually see though the drone’s eye, you’ll need to connect a mobile phone and thankfully the picture looks clears.
Alternatively, the drone maker also introduced a new DJI Googles headset that displays an 85-degree view from the drone on a 1080p display. We got a few seconds to try on the headset and we were amazed with the clarity and lag-free quality of the picture.
It’s an immersive experience to be sure, but one most users likely won’t need unless they’re racing the drone in the aforementioned sports mode.
Overall the controls feel good, especially with a set of premium metal joysticks rather than the plastic nubs we’ve seen on other drone controllers. Though there are a numerous set of buttons, we weren’t intimated as everything was clearly marked including controls for taking photos and return landings.
And if that’s still too much for you, DJI has beefed up the mobile controls on smartphones. Going app-only with the Mavic Pro allows users to simply tap on a location for the drone to fly to or users could tell the drone to fly forward while it avoids obstacles on its own.
The Mavic Pro is also the first DJI drone you can control with gestures alone. It’s a surprisingly robust mode that allows you to wave your hands to get the drone’s attention. From there you could make a Y with your arms to have the quadcopter focus on you and mimicking a photo frame with your fingers will tell it to take an aerial selfie.
Beyond these neat commands, you can also orchestrate the drone’s flight with your hands. Gesture in a direction and the drone will follow suit. Likewise, if you have the drone focus on you, it will also follow you as you move – from a generous distance that is.
On paper, the Mavic Pro seems like DJI’s most accessible drone yet. It’s priced right and compared to the GoPro Karma, it’s also more affordable with an included camera no less. Between the improved smartphone app and gesture controls, DJI has made drone that’s much easier to control for the less technically minded.
Mavic Pro should appeal to those who have been watching drone footage by the wayside and are itching to make their own. DJI has finally done away with two of the biggest turn offs of drones by making something that’s far more portable and easier to control.
The GoPro Karma is the action camera company’s long-awaited entry into the burgeoning drone category, and it looks like good things come to those video-capturing adrenaline junkies who wait.
The Karma is a well-priced drone that provides stabilized video while hovering as high as 3280ft (1,000m) and soaring at a maximum speed of 35mph (15m/s). Its 3-axis camera gimbal keeps everything steady.
We didn’t crash the Karma and its GoPro Hero 5 Black ‘co-pilot’ in our first three hours of flying it at the launch event in Lake Tahoe on the California/Nevada border. And yes, we did put it to the ultimate test – in high wind at the top of a mountain.
In fact, new and experienced pilots we saw aced the inaugural flight. This is helped by the fact that GoPro Karma comes with a gamepad-style clamshell controller. It’s familiar, with intuitive buttons.
With its integrated 5-inch screen, the controller is unlike that for the DJI Phantom 4 drone – you don’t need an iPad to get the GoPro Karma drone in the air and see real-time video from up above.
Karma folds up and fits into an included backpack, and that portability fits right into GoPro’s outdoorsy, go-anywhere ethos. Its newest mantra involves video stabilization, so it’s a bonus that there’s a way to take the drone’s gimbal, remove it and slide it into a grip for handheld video stabilization.
GoPro claims this is way more than a drone – and it’s right. But it’s also shaping up to be a drone done right. Let’s see where it has the most potential, despite its better-late-than-never status.
Price and release date
Reliable drones aren’t cheap, but GoPro Karma comes in at a surprisingly reasonable price considering everything that’s including in the package.
It costs $799 (£719, AU$1195) for the drone, Grip handheld mount, display-integrated controller and a backpack case. A battery, charger, six propellers and required mounts are also here.
Don’t have a newer GoPro Hero camera yet? There are bundles designed just for you. GoPro throws in a Hero5 Black into the drone package for $1099, or a Hero5 Session for $999. UK and Australian pricing is coming soon.
The official GoPro Karma drone release date is October 23 in the US, with other markets to follow into January 2017. The Black camera bundle is available right away, while the Session is slated for January.
The other, likely worthwhile (we’re talking from experience here) expense is “GoPro Care.” It costs $149 for a two-year warranty on the drone or $199 for the drone and Hero5 Black. Replacement parts are included and damaged drones have you paying just a $199 deductible.
The Karma drone is different because it’s incredibly portable. You can fold it up and stash it in a normal-sized backpack. Compactness isn’t common among premium drones like this.
The four propeller arms on top fold inward and the landing gear on the bottom fold upward toward the drone body. You can take the propellers off, just in case you need a smidgen of extra space.
It measures 12 in (303mm) x 16.2 in (411mm) x 4.6 in (117mm) at full wingspan, and 14.4in (365mm) x Width: 8.8in (224mm) x 3.5in (90mm) folded up. It can get small for its 35.5oz (1006g) weight.
The Karma stabilizer and harness are seated up front in the drone cockpit and have a range of motion of 90 degrees, up and down. Rotating the drone is how to move the camera left and right.
The stabilizer can be removed and snapped into the Karma Grip for smooth, handheld video. It’s a separate wand-shaped device with its own battery life, but it does come with the drone.
The entire drone has black-and-white color scheme, with matte black landing gear legs that are really just two brackets to take on the impact of the ground first.
Below each propeller arm are lights, two green ones in the front, and two red ones in the back. This is to indicate the front and back of the drone, as it can get confusing when starring up at the California sun.
Flight performance and controller
Taking off with the Karma drone was a smooth experience, and that’s in large part due to the clamshell controller and its 5-inch touchscreen.
Pitch and yaw joysticks make this as easy as a video game, and center buttons for landing and taking off can automate everything for drone novices. Shoulder-mounted triggers are dedicated to the camera.
Even on a windy mountaintop, we were able to keep the drone in the air and the on-screen video stable. The connection remained steady, which is a major problem for almost all drones we’ve tested.
The Karma Controller lacks an external antenna, which goes with GoPro’s whole compactness theme, and yet it stayed connected the entire time.
The only issue you have is that the 720p display has 900 nits. That’s bright enough for most conditions, but extremely sunny days, like we experienced, made it more difficult in direction sunlight.
We’ll have to keep testing it to see if the so-far steady connectivity remains consistent. So far, our aerial footage looks as if it wasn’t a windy day thanks to the 3-axis camera gimbal.
Popping out the camera’s stabilizer and inserting it into the included Karma Grip lets you take the camera gimbal on a handheld adventure.
GoPro is basically taking a different product than drone-making rival DJI sells separately and adding it to the Karma bundle with increasing to the cost of the drone package.
Locking the camera in one direction means it’ll stay trained on that direction without shake, even as you walk and turn about. Pressing the unlock button and twisting the Grip about still gives you a smooth rotation.
The GoPro Karma battery life is supposed to give you a 20-minute flight before it runs out of juice and wanted to return to home. Charging it takes about an hour, according to the company.
Of course, multiple batteries can be swapped in and out of the drone, and the case has space for a bunch of them, plus the controller and drone. The Karma Grip fastens to the side.
There are other batteries to be concerned about. The controller is rated for four hours of use and charges back up in 2 and a half hours. The Grip lasts 1 hour and 45 minutes and charges in two hours.
GoPro Karma is shaping up to be the ultimate drone for on-the-go video thanks to its compact size and it’s proven ability to provide consistent video stabilization from as high as 3280ft (1000m).
It’s priced right considering it comes bundled with a touchscreen controller and handheld stabilizer. The controller makes flying fun and painless and doesn’t drain out iPad battery.
There’s still several dozen more flight tests we’d like to do with the Karma drone, in a variety of different scenic environments. That has to wait for October 23. Check back for an updated review then.
FanVision is, in some ways, difficult to explain. We’ve struggled to boil it down to a single sentence, primarily because its value is best realized when you take advantage of everything it offers. As simply as possible, FanVision is a handheld screen and radio network, which allows patrons attending a live sporting event to dive far deeper into what’s happening in real-time than those who are left to use their own two eyes. For analytics geeks, there’s simply no event companion more enthralling.
We recently had a chance to put FanVision to the test at a pair of NASCAR events. The two venues couldn’t be more dissimilar – the first race was a road course in Sonoma, Calif., while the second was a three-quarter mile thriller in Richmond, Va. As of now, FanVision’s only major consumer touch point is in motorsport (NASCAR, NHRA, IndyCar), despite once being available at NFL stadiums and F1 races. We’ll touch a bit on that later on in the review, but we wanted to start by painting a picture of how the system actually works.
How it works
- Charge it up before race day
- Make sure you have a subscription for the event you’re attending
- Power it on, and the connection to the FanVision network is automatic
At each sporting event where FanVision is supported – NASCAR races, in our case – the company erects a wireless network that each of its handhelds connect to. If you have a FanVision display and a subscription (also referred to as an activation) to the event you’re at, you’re golden.
It’s vital to charge your FanVision fully ahead of an event. While the battery is good for around six hours, even with the display glaring the entire time, you don’t want it to peter out mid-race. Once you’re at the venue, you just boot the unit up, wait around 30 seconds for it to automatically connect to the FanVision network, and start diving in.
It’s surprisingly simple to dive into. We’re always wary when it comes to products that a) have to connect to a wireless network where tens of thousands of people are gathered and b) claim to “just work.” Much to our amazement, the FanVision unit connected immediately and maintained a faultless signal throughout both races that we attended.
- You’re giving access to real-time audio streams of your favorite athletes
- On screen, there’s loads of data to analyze and enjoy in real time
- You have access to information that others don’t, and that just feels so, so satisfying
So, it’s easy to use. Awesome. But, what does it actually do? In a nutshell, it massively enhances the live event experience, and somehow, manages to not get in the way of actually savoring the event itself. We’ve all seen the guy or gal totally missing the moment due to being buried in a screen (typically a smartphone, but occasionally a Tamagotchi), but FanVision isn’t that.
It probably helps to get a bit of background on how motorsport is conventionally enjoyed. You see, these vehicles emit decibel levels that’ll darn near deafen you if you sit in the stands for hours without ear protection. So, most folks bring their own earplugs, which do a wonderful job of ensuring that you can still hear your neighbors yelling at you when you’re 70. Regrettably, they also do a lovely job of removing you from the excitement, giving your mind plenty of time to ponder how few Pokemon you’ve managed to catch in the past week.
FanVision reckons that if you’re going to wear ear protection, you might as well pump something extra into your ear canal at a safe decibel level. Hardcore race fans know that they can bring their own scanners to the track in order to hear the banter that occurs between driver and pit crew, but FanVision takes that to an entirely different level.
When booting the unit up, you’re given the opportunity to select up to three favorite drivers. Then, inside the Scanners pane, you can easily toggle between in-race communications from those drivers and the main race commentary that covers the entire field. Crucially, FanVision can automatically pipe in the main race commentary by default, and then cut to your driver’s scanner whenever they (or their pit crew) begin conversing.
So, as you’re sitting in the stands ogling the action, you’re getting an earful of commentary and/or insider information directly from the driver you’re pulling for. The experience is as close to getting inside of the car as you’re going to get, and quite frankly, it’s enrapturing.
In the two races we attended, we had Team Penske earmarked as favorites: Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Considering that both of these drivers are – shall we say, dominant – they proved to be quite exciting to watch. Phase 1 is the rush of hearing insider chatter between driver and pit crew, where they discuss topics like steering adjustments, plans for their next pit stop, timings of drivers that are in front of and behind them, and if they’re clear on the top or bottom lane to complete a pass.
For statistics and analytics nerds, there’s really nothing better. You’re getting a live, unfiltered, real-time listen at the brain of a professional athlete as he or she corresponds with the engineers responsible for giving them an edge on the track.
Phase 2 is the on-screen goodness. We spent most of time on the video feed at the Sonoma road course, but in Richmond – where you can see every turn from practically every seat in the grandstands – we kept it locked on the leaderboard. Here, your favorite drivers are fixed up top, with the rest of the grid listed below in order of position. Last lap time, total pit stops, and time behind the driver ahead of them is all listed out. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of data, giving math junkies plenty to chew on as they extrapolate how many laps it’ll take a driver to pass another if they continue catching up at their given pace.
FanVision is an incredible addition at round tracks like Richmond International Raceway, but it’s simply vital at road courses like Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International. With road courses, no one seat is given a view of the entire race. So, oddly, there are moments when a pack of cars zoom by, and then a number of awkward seconds that roll by before you see them come around again to your vantage point. Here, FanVision shines brightest. The video functionality pipes live footage from all corners to your screen, enabling you to never lose sight of the grid – even after they’ve left your actual purview.
Acquiring a FanVision unit
- You can rent ($50/race) or buy ($300) a FanVision display
- Renters can rent and return right at the venue
- You can use your own earphones or headsets if you’d rather
FanVision sells its controller for $300, which includes a subscription to every race in the NASCAR season. You’ll have to pony up a bit more if you’re after a sound-reducing, speaker-infused headset, but the good news there is that it’s not proprietary. Unlike Apple’s iPhone 7 (ahem), the FanVision display has a standard 3.5mm headphone port. You can pick up your own headset on Amazon or elsewhere, and a headphone splitter works wonders if you’re attending a race with a friend and want them to share in the excitement.
If you’re more of an occasional fan, FanVision rents its display and a single headset for $50 per race weekend, which gets you access to ever NASCAR-affiliated event over a three-day span. If you want to double up and get a second headset, tack on $15. If you plan on attending a half-dozen events over the course of a season, you’re better off buying the hardware.
At the venue, FanVision has unmissable trailers established on various sides. We noticed around four or five per event, with six or so registers per trailer. Most patrons waited less than five minutes to be served, and those who had pre-ordered a rental online ahead of the event were in and out in just seconds. For what it’s worth, we’d strongly recommend pre-ordering if you’re certain you’re going to an event; you’ll save $10 or so, and everything’s waiting for you upon arrival.
After the race, you simply return your rental gear in the bag that it was given to you in. While we expected long return lines, that process took around three minutes. Despite huge crowds, FanVision’s event staff seemed to be a well-oiled machine, taking the hassle out of renting and returning in the same day.
For the Richmond race, we procured a FanVision unit ahead of time, which was even better. No stopping at a trailer before or after – just show up at the race, turn it on, and enjoy.
Enhancing the experience
Before we dive in too deep here, it’s worth reiterating just how seamless the FanVision experience is. The connection is immediate and solid, and the battery is seriously impressive. We still had around 20 percent remaining after a 4.5-hour overtime race in Richmond. The audio feed is delayed, at most, half a second, which is close enough to real-time that it’s imperceptible in practice. The video feed doesn’t stutter not one iota.
What’s most remarkable is just how well the entire streaming process works; it contrasts starkly with our iPhone 6S Plus sitting just beside it, which can’t even get an Instagram post through due to network saturation that occurs so frequently at huge events.
We were able to compare the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in Richmond from 2015 (where we didn’t have FanVision) to the exact same race in 2016 (where we did have FanVision). The difference is significant, to the point where we wouldn’t recommend splurging on a NASCAR weekend without also budgeting for FanVision. Feeling the earth rumble as 40 high-powered motorcars scream by at breakneck speeds is never not going to be awesome, but the wealth of additive data – from driver-to-crew audio to mounds of real-time lap data – instantly spoils you.
Rather than wondering how fast a given driver is catching up to another driver, a glance at FanVision provides the answer. It’s important to point out the operative word there: glance. FanVision is perhaps the most glanceable piece of glanceable technology we’ve ever used, and therein lies the charm. You aren’t expected or required to keep your face buried in the screen as the event unfolds in front of you. The designers realized from the jump that FanVision would only be enjoyable if it could provide vital information and answer race-related questions at a glance, and that’s exactly what it accomplishes.
Couple that with the face that the obvious alternative – trying to find this data via your smartphone – only really works if you’re using Sprint, and it becomes even more alluring. (For those unfamiliar with NASCAR events, Sprint is the lead sponsor. Mysteriously, Sprint also seems to be the only carrier with a functional network at NASCAR events. We’ll get Scooby-Doo on the case post-haste.)
Second screen questions
In our estimation, the value proposition of FanVision is undeniable at a NASCAR event. Yeah, it roughly doubles the cost of attending for a single person (as it’s typically possible to nab a seat for around $50), but we’d say that the enjoyment and immersion is roughly doubled as well.
You need to be a fan to really enjoy the real-time audio and data, of course, but that’s why “fan” is right there in the name. If you’re just attending a live sporting event in order to fill a void in your Saturday or Sunday night, it’s a toss up. We could totally see FanVision pulling you even closer to a sport that you didn’t know you were into, but there’s also a certain amount of understanding required to appreciate the sheer quantity of information that’s at your fingertips.
But, if FanVision is so great, why isn’t it supported at NFL and F1 any longer? And why haven’t we heard anything about expanding into arenas beyond motorsport? It feels like the idea compassion for MLB, for example, which tends to inject a lot of lulls between action events.
Part of the challenge is the proliferation of the smartphone. It’s easy to argue that patrons of sporting events already have the hardware in their pocket to do the things that FanVision does. If you show up with an iPhone in hand, what’s the benefit of bringing yet another piece of proprietary hardware? As of now, we can see only two: better battery life, and easier access to a high-speed, flicker-free network stream of information.
There’s no question that sporting leagues the world over are spending a lot of resources to enhance the fan experience. Ticket prices are skyrocketing, and marketing departments are pushing dedicated apps, hashtags, etc. to bring fans closer to the teams they favor. It remains to be seen if there’s room in an increasingly mobile world for dedicated hardware.
Perhaps FanVision can pivot into an apps and services company that works on the phone you’re already bringing into an arena, but solving the network infrastructure problem won’t be an easy one. Conventional cellular networks struggle mightily in crowds, and even the beefiest of enterprise routers have a tough time handling petabytes of data from tens of thousands of devices crammed within a single stadium.
In the here and now, however, FanVision is a no-brainer if you’re a fan of motorsport. Strange as may sound, it’s impressive enough to justify lugging yet another gadget into a venue. Just be sure to do yourself a favor and tune into Team Penkse – those guys are good.
Sphero BB-8 Review
BB-8, the lovable spherical droid from Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, stole our hearts the moment we saw him on stage at the Star Wars Celebration in 2015. He had the chutzpah of R2-D2 but came in a more portable, technologically impressive package.
OK, he’s a rolling sphere – but still – it’s hard not to love him all the same.
We wanted one. And we were willing to risk a lifetime of lawsuits in order to get one – even if that meant sneaking onto the set of the next Star Wars film to get one of our own.
Thankfully, Sphero (formerly known as Orbotix), a startup electronics firm that shot to fame off the back of its first remote-controlled robot toy that goes by the same name, created a miniature BB-8 version of their toy. And it was love all over again.
It could react to its environment through a number of emotion-packed bleeps and bloops, display short visual messages from R2-D2 and C-3P0 or simply be let loose to explore its surroundings on its own volition.
We thought we had it all, but this month Sphero showed up with a new version of BB-8, one that could be controlled via a wearable that it called the Force Band.
The Band will hit stores on September 30 and will retail for $79.99 / €89.99 / £69.99 / AU$139.99. Or, if you want the new battle-worn BB-8 and the Band in one package deal, the Band can be purchased with the toy for $199.99 / €219.99 / £179.99 / AU$349.99.
Strap on the Force Band and you can control BB-8 through hand gestures – push the air to send him rocketing forward, twist your wrist to turn his head or pull him back by raising your arm to your chest Darth Vader-style.
To go along with the release of the Band and special edition battle-worn BB-8, Sphero is also updating the BB-8 app on iOS and Android to enable all sorts of new experiences that will excite wizened Jedi Knights and novice Padawans alike.
May the force be with you, always
At some point we’ll need to talk technical specs – how to get the BB-8 Sphero up and rolling around, what the app is like and how much this little novelty is going to set you back – but first let’s talk about how magical it is to actually use your hand to control an object from the Star Wars universe.
Now, there have been any number of children’s toys in the past that have allowed you some semblance of control, but few of them live up to the joy you’ll experience while using BB-8 and hearing Obi-Wan’s voice as he explains your menu options.
Movement, as I explained earlier, is all processed by the gyroscope and accelerometer inside the Band itself, which can be worn on either wrist. The Band understands four commands – move away from you, move towards you, rotate and stop all together. Four is a bit limited, sure, but it’s enough to get the job done.
Now all of this comes with a caveat: mastering the Force Band isn’t easy. A few months back, Sphero released a short clip of a Hayden Christensen look alike playing with the toy, making it seem like controlling the droid is as intuitive as letting the force flow through you. Unfortunately, it’s a bit harder than that. It took about two hours for me to really get the hang out it, and even now I doubt I could guide it through Beggar’s Canyon without running into a Womp Rat or two. (That’s a Star Wars reference, not a legitimate claim, by the way.)
The problem, I think, lies with the gyroscope and accelerometer – they seem just tuned enough to get the job done but aren’t anywhere near as accurate as they could be.
Still, despite a steep learning curve and a few mishaps while guiding BB-8 around the room, using the Force Band is a fun gimmick that re-invigorated my force-attuned heart.
The app awakens
The app opens with a familiar Star Wars theme tune while it pairs to the droid via Bluetooth and though the initial setup takes a little longer than expected – the app actually loads BB-8’s orientation data from the droid itself – the connection was stable.
Once downloaded and paired with your device there is a menu screen with four old options – Drive, Message, Patrol and Settings – and a few new ones that work exclusively with the Band like Force Training, Force Awareness and Combat Training.
Drive is borrowed from the standard Sphero app and requires you to hold your phone in landscape mode while you control BB-8’s movement with your left hand – it’s not as fun to use as the Force Band, but it’s a heck of a lot more practical.
On the other hand, if you feel like having BB-8 zip around the house but aren’t in the mood to actually control the droid yourself, the Patrol feature gives BB-8 a mind of it’s own.
The other modes – Force Training, Force Awareness and Combat Training – use the Force Band and will be available when the wearable launches later this month.
Battery life and letting the Wookie win
So how long can you expect to spend with BB-8 before it needs to top off on its rebel base? (It actually comes with a Star Wars-themed charging dock, which is pretty neat.)
Three hours of charging will give you a full hour of play-time, but even in its cradle BB-8 will be beeping, squeaking and bobbing its head around as though it’s eager to get out and roll around, making it one of the neatest – if one of the most expensive – items on your desk.
The sound effects BB-8 makes are just one of the many details that Sphero got so right about the little droid. The side decals are artfully crafted and the mannerisms that BB-8 makes while just trolling around the house are nearly identical to the ones you’ve seen in movie theaters.
It’s attention to details – the muppets that appear from time to time in the sand of Tatooine; the holographic monsters in the game of Holochess (it’s actually called Dejarick, by the way); and entrancing, otherworldly cantina music – that made the film so memorable, so it’s nice to see that same level of attention given to Sphero’s BB-8.
The holographic AR messaging, automatic robotic mode and the cute mannerisms of BB-8 made our first impression of this little droid an overwhelmingly good one, and now the addition of the Force Band has only made us fall more deeply in love with the little guy.
Of course, we wish the battery life was just a hair longer and the learning curve a bit less steep, but for the sticker price we’re blown away with the natural evolution (and perfect product tie-in) that Sphero has created for itself.
The new battle-worn edition of the Sphero BB-8 will be available globally later this month alongside the new Force Band, which is also compatible with original Sphero, Ollie and SPRK+ robots, for $199.99 / €219.99 / £179.99 / AU$349.99.
Additional reporting by Joel Burgess and Marc Chacksfield
Introduction and Design
Primarily known for products that suck – calm down, we’re talking about vacuums – Dyson has also proven adept at machines that blow, too (hey now, what did we say earlier?), having refined its jet technology on its Airblade hand dryers and Hot + Cool fans.
Now, the airflow innovator has opened itself up to a completely different market, engineering and creating what it claims is one of the most technologically-advanced beauty products ever, with its new Dyson Supersonic hair dryer.
While it’s undeniably one of the most impressive hair dryers we’ve ever seen, the Dyson Supersonic doesn’t come cheap – the high-end device comes with a high-end price, and is only available in Australia on the Dyson website, and at Myer and David Jones stores for AU$699.
So the real question is whether or not the added technological fanciness afforded by the Supersonic justifies its hefty price tag.
Though hair dryers have been around since the late 19th century, consumer models haven’t really changed much since then. In fact, it’s been over 60 years since the last significant evolution in hair dryer design, and that involved putting the motor inside the casing.
In typical handheld hair dryers, a bulky motor sits in the head of the device. This makes them awkwardly top heavy, and the motors themselves have a tendency to be loud, often overheating and burning out.
To remedy this, Dyson spent roughly AU$67 million in research and development on a new kind of dryer, using dozens of prototypes to dry 1,625kms of natural hair tresses over several years until it settled on the Supersonic design it has today.
So what’s different about it? For starters, Dyson’s engineers have come up with a much smaller and more efficient digital motor, which has the ability to propel 13 litres of air per second. Not only that, it’s moved the motor from the head of the device into the handle, which is why you can see straight down its barrel right through to the other side, much like Dyson’s aforementioned fans.
That’s not to say there isn’t anything fancy going on in the Supersonic’s head; it’s got a microprocessor that monitors temperatures 20 times a second, making sure it never overheats and burns out. Ordinary hair dryers will keep rising in temperature, which is why they give off a burning smell the longer you use them. Thanks to the Supersonic’s microprocessor, the device will actually prevent itself from going over a certain temperature (around 120 degrees Celsius), so you’ll never have to worry about your hair experiencing heat damage.
One of the Supersonic’s neatest and most convenient design elements is also its simplest – magnetised attachments and nozzles. It’s the kind of smart inclusion which makes it difficult to go back to lesser hair dryers, as it allows you to instantly snap on a diffuser, styling concentrator or smoothing nozzle (all included) without worrying about it falling off.
Inside the box, you’ll also find a non-slip mat and a little rope hanger, so that you can hang the Supersonic from a hook in your preparation area.
Performance and Verdict
The most immediately noticeable aspect of the device’s performance (and probably the main reason it received the Supersonic name) is that it’s fairly quiet. It’s not absolutely silent or anything – you’ll still hear the powerful whooshing of air – but compared to any other hair dryer, the sound it gives off is much quieter and infinitely less irritating.
Aside from a power switch and a button to instantly turn the Supersonic’s airflow cool, there are two main buttons used to control the device. The first, which has a little picture of a fan on it, scrolls through three different airflow speeds, while the button to its right, which has a red dot on it, allows you to cycle between three heat settings.
The power level on each of these settings is indicated by three LED lights (white lights for power, red lights for heat) right above each button, making it easy to keep track of how powerful and how hot you’ve set the device.
In terms of drying speed, the Supersonic is on par with most devices of its kind, taking around 3-6 minutes to turn wet hair dry, depending on the thickness and length of your hair. Though it doesn’t get as (irresponsibly) hot as cheaper competing dryers, its sheer blowing power makes sure to get you well-coiffed quickly.
It’s important to note that the Dyson Supersonic is a corded product, so while it might’ve been extra impressive to have a cordless model in the same vein as the company’s excellent cordless vacuums, it would also come with significant drawbacks.
The unit would need to be bulkier and heavier to accommodate an in-built battery, and short battery life and long recharge times would make that proposition hardly worth investing in. Most people will be using the Dyson Supersonic in front of mirror anyway, so being tied to the wall is really no big deal.
Though it’s only got one real function (and one that’s hard to get wrong, at that), we can’t help but overstate just how well it performs that singular task.
The Dyson Supersonic is a pleasure to use, with its perfectly-weighted build, attractive design, easy-to-use settings and quiet-yet-powerful airflow, you really do feel like you’re using a high-end, luxury product.
Admittedly, the Supersonic is incredibly expensive for a hair dryer, costing 2-3 times as much as a professional grade hair dryer from a well-renowned brand like ghd, which are priced at roughly AU$250/£145.
With that said, Dyson execs have suggested that the Supersonic is so well-built, that it should last at least ten years – a much longer lifespan than most other hair dryers. The actual warranty on the device is only two years, however, so that’s not a guarantee set in stone.
Quite frankly, the device’s exorbitant price is its only real drawback. It’s likely going to be out of most people’s price range. However, if you have disposable income and want the best hair dryer you can possibly get, or if you’re a professional hair-stylist, you should look no further than the Dyson Supersonic. It really is the Porsche of hair dryers.
It’s hard to deny Dyson’s position at the forefront of cutting-edge vacuum technology, with most other vacuum makers regularly playing catchup in an arena that’s been dominated for years by the trendsetting company.
It’s easy to be instantly impressed by Dyson’s manoeuvrable and endlessly convenient stick vacuums, with their impressive suction, lightweight builds and attractive designs – all without the hassle of cables getting in the way. However, cordless vacuums do have their caveats.
Getting 20 minutes of vacuum time from a two-hour charge can suck even more than the device itself, and there are times when you require a more powerful and heavy-duty vacuum solution.
In these situations, Dyson’s new Cinetic Big Ball vacuum is a terrific alternative, offering the quality cleaning experience and reliability that corded vacuums are known for, without many of the usual hang-ups that make people want to go cordless in the first place.
One of the biggest frustrations that comes with using a corded vacuum is that it tends to constantly fall over or tumble as you drag it along behind you.
Granted, on the late-night infomercial scale of annoying first world problems, a ‘vacuum cleaner that constantly tips over’ sits just above the ‘milk carton that explodes in your face when you try to open it’ predicament – it’s nowhere near as big a problem as some would have you believe, though we’d gladly live without it.
To combat this problem, Dyson has developed a ball-shaped vacuum that automatically picks itself back up whenever it falls down. It’s sort of like the vacuum equivalent of the band Chumbawamba; the main difference being that even the Cinetic Big Ball can’t hope to achieve that level of immense suckage.
A clever design, the Big Ball’s spherical array is weighted at its base, creating a low centre of gravity which forces the vacuum back into the upright position whenever it falls over. You can even walk up and kick the Big Ball down, and, short of physically restraining it, it will always roll back into the right position. It’s got a decent cord length, too, allowing you to venture 10.75 metres from your power plug.
Though Dyson vacuums are easier to handle than most, there’s always room for improvement. Typically, vacuum handles are quite rigid, sacrificing manoeuvrability for sturdiness. However, Dyson has given the Cinetic Big Ball an articulated handle that allows for 360° movement, providing a much more comfortable and precise vacuuming experience.
As we’ve come to expect from Dyson vacuums, the Cinetic Big Ball comes with a number of quick release tools for all kinds of vacuuming situations. The entry-level model ($699 / £399.98) comes with a Combination tool for narrow areas, a Musclehead floor tool, and a smaller Stair tool, which lets you vacuum across the length of each step without overhang. If you’re willing to go as high as $999 (£449.99) for the Cinetic Big Ball Animal Pro (great for people suffering from animal fur-related allergies), you’ll also receive a Reach Under tool, a Carbon Fibre Soft Dusting brush, a Swivel Hard Floor tool and a Tangle-Free Turbine tool.
All of this is great, but the real showstopper here is the inclusion of a new Hygienic Dirt Ejector system, which is the kind of welcome addition that makes it hard to go back to the bin-emptying methods of Dyson’s previous vacuums.
On earlier models, collected dirt would constantly find its way into the vacuum’s hard-to-reach crevices, forcing you to either shove your hand into an extremely tight spot, or use a utensil (like a butter knife) to scoop out the built up waste. The Hygienic Dirt Ejector makes this problem a thing of the past, providing a new silicone collar along the inside of the unit which scrapes down from the very top of the bin, making sure that no compressed junk is left behind.
Speaking of its bin, the Cinetic Big Ball also sports a removable barrel that’s 33 percent bigger than Dyson’s previous models.
As was mentioned earlier, the Dyson Cinetic Big Ball is the heavy-duty vacuum to use when a cordless stick vacuum won’t cut it. Packing a whopping 250AW of suction power, the Cinetic Big Ball is easily Dyson’s most powerful consumer vacuum – compare that to the cordless Dyson V6’s 28AW of suction power (100AW on Boost mode).
Its Cinetic Cyclone technology, in which a series of cones is used to spin air and separate microscopic dust particles (like dead skin cells, dust mites and other allergens) from the rest of your accumulated waste, is more efficient than ever before.
Normally, this kind of particle pickup would require the filter to be cleaned regularly, however, the Cinetic Big Ball’s particle separation is so fine and microscopic, that there is literally no need to ever clean or replace its filter. This means that the vacuum requires no maintenance whatsoever.
Though it has a lot of grunt under its theoretical hood, its design is what makes the Cinetic Big Ball perform so well. Its round shape prevents it from snagging on the corners of furniture, and you already know what happens when it topples over. Its swivel handle also performs admirably, taking the pressure away from your wrist and forearm so that you can focus on precision control. It’s also got a longer wand than previous models, extendable to 1,250cm, allowing you to access hard-to-reach places.
Admittedly, there were moments where blockage would occur in the back of the vaccum’s head. While the Tangle-Free Turbine tool performed just like its name would imply, the tube behind the brush would occasionally need to be manually unblocked so that vacuuming could continue.
It’s hard to fault Dyson’s Cinetic Big Ball. Its round design and self-pickup functionality takes much of the frustration out of vacuuming, and its articulated handle allows for vacuum control that’s easy on the wrists and forearms.
It’s got a great deal more suction power than Dyson’s cordless vacuums, making it the perfect vacuum for heavy-duty cleaning situations. We also love the fact that its filter never needs to be cleaned or replaced.
Though its vacuum head occasionally needs to be unblocked, and it still needs to be tied to a wall or extension socket to function, the Cinetic Big Ball is just about the best vacuum in its class.