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Earphones for every ear and wallet

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As earphone technology and manufacture improves, the ranges and variations keep expanding, from high-end to budget devices. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK highlights four very different options.

The choice of earphones available nowadays is as bewildering as that for smartphones, but the same rule applies: look for options that suit your budget, your needs and your preferred look and feel. No one option is best, or even best value for money, as it depends entirely on the user’s preferences, needs and circumstances.

Earphones are used in a variety of settings, from highly active exercising to deeply passive music enjoyment. However, increasingly, they also have to cross the boundaries between activities. While there is no one-size-fits-all earphone, the four devices selected here are versatile enough to ensure they won’t gather much dust in a drawer somewhere:

Jabra Elite Sport earbuds

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The most pricey of this batch is also the most function-rich. The Jabra Elite Sport is a set of in-ear wireless buds that link to a smartphone via an iPhone or Android app.

It is designed specifically for runners, with four features that set it apart:

• Three-hour active-use battery, and a small, chargeable carry case for another two recharges.

• Sweat-proof, with a three-year warranty against “failure due to the effects of perspiration.

• External microphone that can be switched on to pick up ambient noise, so that the user isn’t oblivious to traffic, for example.

• In-ear heart rate monitor and analyser.

• In-ear audio coaching.

The last is the possibly the most valuable. Specialised coaching is increasingly available via fitness bands, but rarely in an earbud package. The Sport Life companion app includes coaching, planning workouts and testing fitness levels, making it the ideal device for getting new year’s fitness resolutions on the road.

If those aren’t good enough, it is compatible with most independent fitness apps, like Strava, Runtastic and Endomondo.

Of course, excellent sound quality is a given, and it comes with an astonishing array of wingtips for a wide range of sizes. This will probably allay fears of the buds being dislodged and even getting lost. If not, there is always its wired cousin, the Jabra Sport Pulse.

  • The Elite Sports are available for R3 499 from Circuit City here.

Jabra Sport Pulse

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The Jabra Sport Pulse is not exactly the wired version of the Elite Sport, as it has a link connecting the two earpieces, but that is where the wired connecting stops: it still uses Bluetooth to connect to a smartphone. It’s also intended for fitness and running enthusiasts, but with slightly lower tech and at a somewhat lower cost.

Its most compelling features are:

• In-ear heart rate monitoring

• Sport button with voice prompts

• VO2 Max tracking, meaning it measures “maximal volume of oxygen” that the body delivers to the working muscles, and is one of the best measures of physical fitness.

•  Sweat-proof, with the same three-year warranty against “failure due to the effects of perspiration”.

• Five hours talk time.

The earphones are charged via a concealed Micro USB charging port in the one earbud, which then also charges the other bud. It also comes with a set of foam ear tips and has built-in active noise cancellation.

It’s a great option for listening to music while having a serious work-out.

  • The Jabra Pulse is available for R2 499 from Circuit City here.

House of Marley – Smile Jamaica

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Without a doubt, the coolest brand in sound equipment, House of Marley is best known for making its products from sustainable materials, and for donating a portion of the proceeds to 1Love (www.1love.org), the Marley family’s charitable foundation.

It makes beatboxes, headphones and in-ear headsets, among other audio merchandise, typically with the signature reggae colours and designs associated with Bob Marley. The earphones are the most affordable of its products, and make a great festive season gift.

The Smile Jamaica in-ear set offers the following key features:

• High-quality fabric cable.

• In-line remote with microphone and button to take or end calls, as well as pause, play and skip tracks.

• Enhanced bass.

• Great build quality for a low-cost device.

The package only includes one extra silicon ear tip, and may not be comfortable for non-average ears. For the price, though, it is as comfortable as an earphone is going to get.

There is one feature, however, that truly sets apart the Smile Jamaica earphones

they use wood in the earpieces, and it’s a wood that brings the device close to home: sapele, a sustainable African wood. The wood is combined with an aluminium cap, the better to connect to the earbud.

In short, it is economical, tough, looks good, serves a cause, and is “mindfully” made. What’s not to love?

  • Smile Jamaica earphones are available from Accessory Lab for only R279-R299 here.

Meizu EP52 Sports magnetic neckband Bluetooth earphones

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High-end Bluetooth earphones tend to be excessively expensive in South Africa, running to three to five thousand rands. As a result, the final choice in this selection is an import, via the Chinese site that is fast becoming a go-to site for South African gadget buyers, Gearbest.

The highlight of the product is the unboxing: a minimalist cover sleeve is pulled off to expose an elegant red box, which folds open to reveal a beautifully presented headset, charger holder and box of eartips to match various size requirements. Certainly, the unboxing does not add to the quality of the earphones themselves, but provides a quality experience that is then carried over to the device.

The main features of the earphones are:

• Waterproof.

• Six-hour battery life.

• Three-button remote on the arm, with microphone, to control volume and answer calls.

• Magnetic earpieces that clip together when the set is worn round the neck while not in use.

• Machined aluminium ends.

• Four extra wingtips and four eartips.

• Lightweight

The sound quality is superior to that of any earphones that come with smartphones, including Samsung or Apple variants, and includes noise cancellation.

The red cables combine with black neck rest to provide a deeply aesthetically pleasing look, making for one of the best looking earphones around for both sport and leisure.

When shopping on Gearbest, look out for discount codes or vouchers that can reduce the cost of a device by up to a third.

  • The Meizu EP52 is available from Gearbest at $89.99, excluding shipping is available here.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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Pizoelectrics: Healthcare’s new gymnasts of gadgetry

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Healthcare electronics is rapidly deploying for wellness, electroceuticals, and intrusive medical procedures, among other, powered by new technologies. Much of it is trending to diagnostics and treatment on the move, and removing the need for the patient to perform procedures on time. 

Instruments become wearables, including electronic skin patches and implants. The IDTechEx Research report, “Piezoelectric Harvesting and Sensing for Healthcare 2019-2029”, notes that sensors should preferably be self-powered, non-poisonous even on disposal, and many need to be biocompatible and even biodegradable. 

We need to detect biology, vibration, force, acceleration, stress and linear movement and do imaging. Devices must reject bacteria and be useful in wearables and Internet of Things nodes. Preferably we must move to one device performing multiple tasks. 

So is there a gymnast material category that has that awesome versatility? 

Piezoelectrics has a good claim. It measures all those parameters. That even includes biosensors where the piezo senses the swelling of a biomolecule recognizing a target analyte. The most important form of self-powered (one material, two functions) piezo sensing is ultrasound imaging, a market growing at 5.1% yearly. 

The IDTechEx Research report looks at what comes next, based on global travel and interviewing by its PhD level analysts in 2018 with continuous updates.  

Click here to read how Piezo has been reinvented.

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