five options between $40 and $200


The battery still lasts a full year, according to Tile, but now you can simply open it up and replace it yourself. And all of the above is also true of the bigger, $60 Tile Pro, except the Pro has a range of 90 metres.

PowerUp Dart

The new Dart is PowerUp’s latest attempt to bring to life something I’m sure we’ve all dreamed about: paper aeroplanes that you can actually pilot. This is a motor, propeller and Bluetooth antenna that you clip to a paper aeroplane and pair with your phone, which ideally lets you fly it around like a drone.

Any aerospace enthusiast that needs a reminder of how complex physics can be will love the Dart.

Any aerospace enthusiast that needs a reminder of how complex physics can be will love the Dart.

Of course in practice it isn’t as simple as that. The pack contains templates to cut our your plane from paper (the thicker the better), and it even has little wire landing gear in case you’re really optimistic. Even on a clear, still day you’ll likely have launch problems that require some trimming, but once the plane is up you really can steer it and buzz it around using your phone.

Disasters are virtually assured here, but as always with paper planes that’s part of the fun. The unit itself is very hardy and comes with a spare propeller for when you inevitably trash one, so as long as you don’t put it on the roof or into a river you can try again. Local prices fall between $50 and $80.

Sphero Mini

It might not have all the coding smarts of the fully-fledged Sphero Bolt, but the Mini is an awesome remote-controlled toy that packs in most of the fun at a significantly smaller price tag. Looking more or less like a table tennis ball, this $78 educational robot connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth and lets you interact with it using a range of apps.

The pint-sized Sphero Mini is an affordable way to introduce kids to programming.

The pint-sized Sphero Mini is an affordable way to introduce kids to programming.

Most immediately fun is the Play app, where you can drive the ball around the house with a virtual joystick or the tilt of your device. There are also games you can play where the ball will interact with what’s happening on-screen using its rotors and light. It’s actually surprisingly enjoyable to just drive around, with kids and cats alike especially excited by it. It lasts around 40 minutes on a charge.

If you’re feeling up to it, the Edu app can teach you how to code specific actions for the ball. Beginners can code visually by drawing lines, while more advanced users can code with Scratch. Established coders can also dive in and type Javascript code directly. All the data from the Mini’s various sensors are visible here too, which is great for understanding how more complex machines like phones work.

Elgato Stream Deck Mini

This one won’t be for everyone, but if there’s someone in your life who’s an aspiring YouTube personality, Twitch star or otherwise into online video production, you could do a lot worse than the Stream Deck Mini.

The Stream Deck Mini is a tiny, easy to use production studio.

The Stream Deck Mini is a tiny, easy to use production studio.

This $159 panel is essentially a production studio shrunk down to just six customisable buttons. The idea is you plug it into your computer, and have it sitting in front of you so you can trigger important actions — like launching a livestream, accessing the chat, opening apps, posting pre-composed messages or virtually anything else — with a single touch so you don’t need to have separate windows open or fiddle around unnecessarily when you’re on camera or mic. More professional users could even add graphics like supers or lower thirds to their streams in real time, meaning they can do the work alone that usually requires a producer.

The unit itself is also very nice, with little LCD screens behind each key so they display exactly what you’ve programmed them to do. You can even make each one a folder, so that tapping it brings up a whole new array of actions.

JBL Bar Studio

There are a lot of fancy soundbars out there that run into the thousands of dollars but, if you’re watching a flatscreen TV and just using the built-in speakers, you can get a huge boost in sound quality with just a good $200 bar.

Great two channel sound for $200 is a pretty good deal.

Great two channel sound for $200 is a pretty good deal.

The JBL Bar Studio is one of the nicer ones I’ve used at this price, with an excellent balance between sound, slim and attractive design and cost. Bass is the number one thing missing from built-in TV speakers and, although the Studio can’t stand up to a full sub-woofer, it does back a punch. The two tweeters make for clear, detailed sound as well, even if it doesn’t go incredibly loud.

Features are minimal, but it has everything you need. You can play music through it via Bluetooth, USB or a 3.5mm cable connection, and it connects to your TV with either HDMI or optical. It’s also programmable so you should be able to use it with your TV’s remote control.

Tim is the editor of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald technology sections.

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