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AppDate: Santa has a bag full of apps

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In his latest AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Santa’s Bag, WolframAlpha, Kaspersky Virus Scanner for Mac, WeChat Mobile Wallet, the Mziiki African music streaming service, Opera’s new Mini browser, My Ford Mobile, Office Lens and Android Pocket.

Santa’s bag

The festive season is upon us and that means shops are going to be packed with people looking for gifts for their friends and family. The Santa’s bag app makes shopping a little more bearable as it lets users set budgets, plan gift ideas, create wish lists, track progress and create to-do lists. If only it could go out and make all the purchases for you too!

Platform: Android and iOS
Expect to pay: A free version is available, with the full version costing R40.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

WolframAlpha

Ever wondered what the tides in Honolulu are like at this time of year? Or what the derivative of cos X is? Well, you could Google these questions, but you would have to sift through dozens of near-hits before you find the correct answer. With WolframAlpha, these answers are fewer clicks away. The app is designed for engineers, mechanics and even rocket scientists. It works so well that Siri uses many of its algorithms to provide answers to some of the questions an iPhone user asks. The app specialises in a range of academic categories, from maths to chemistry to astronomy.

Platform: iOS
Expect to pay: R40
Stockists: Visit the Apple Play Store.

Kaspersky Virus Scanner for Mac

The Kaspersky Virus Scanner for Mac quickly scans Mac OS X devices for malware and viruses. It is simple to install and, once on a computer, runs in the background without bothering the user – except for when a threat is found. Flash disks and portable hard drives are scanned as and when they are plugged into a USB port. New virus signatures are automatically updated when they become available.

Platform: An Apple desktop or notebook running OS X or later
Expect to pay: A free download is available but with limited functionality. The full version costs around R70.
Stockists: Visit the Apple App Store

WeChat Mobile Wallet

The WeChat Mobile Wallet, which was recently launched in partnership with Standard Bank, lets users load money from their bank accounts onto their phones. They can then use this money to pay for purchases at participating retailers using the SnapScan feature. The service also allows money transfer to other WeChat users. At the time of launch, users could buy airtime and pay for prepaid electricity, but other offerings will be made available in the near future.

Platform: Any mobile operating system that supports WeChat
Expect to pay: A free service, but loading cash costs R9,95, regardless of the amount being loaded to the wallet.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

Mziiki African music streaming service

The Mziiki music streaming app allows users to stream over 625 000 African songs. Like many other music streaming services, users can save the songs to their devices for offline listening. The app also offers the ability to create playlists and can set songs as the phone’s ringtone. The app’s user interface is well laid out, with album art easily viewable for a quick song selection. One of the best features offered by Mziiki is that song downloads are free, with the user only paying for the data used while streaming a song.

Platform: Android and iOS
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

New Opera Mini browser

The latest version of the Opera Mini browser now supports video compression, meaning users spend less on data when streaming videos from YouTube channels and the like. Other additions include installable web applications, allowing users to launch applications directly from the browser homepage. Opera has also improved the download feature, as it now alerts users when downloads are complete. There is an option to open new web pages without leaving the current one.

Platform: Android, iOS, Windows Phone 8 and above, BlackBerry OS 10 and above
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

My Ford Mobile

The MyFord Mobile application allows users to access their car’s vital stats through an Android Wear or Apple smartwatch. The app only works with Ford’s electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles, and users can access the range and charge status for the car’s battery, the vehicle’s mileage summary, and the car’s location. Users can also remotely lock and unlock the car and set its temperature.

Platform: Android and Apple smartwatches
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

Office Lens

Office Lens is like having a scanner in your pocket as it trims, enhances and makes readable pictures of whiteboards and docs. It is then able to save them to OneNote where they can be used as PDFs, Word and PowerPoint documents. The app includes OCR so that written notes can be converted to characters and the text copied and imbedded straight into documents.

Platform: Windows Phone 8 and above.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the Microsoft Windows Store.

Android Pocket

Even though Internet access is available throughout most of South Africa, there are still many dead-spots or places with very poor Internet access. Android Pocket lets users browse and then save pages to their devices, making them available offline. News stories, videos and blog posts can also be saved and can be synchronised across a range of devices.

Platform: Android
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the Google Play Store.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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CES: Most useless gadgets of all

Choosing the best of show is a popular pastime, but the worst gadgets of CES also deserve their moment of infamy, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s fairly easy to choose the best new gadgets launched at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week. Most lists – and there are many – highlight the LG roll-up TV, the Samsung modular TV, the Royole foldable phone, the impossible burger, and the walking car.

But what about the voice assisted bed, the smart baby dining table, the self-driving suitcase and the robot that does nothing? In their current renditions, they sum up what is not only bad about technology, but how technology for its own sake quickly leads us down the rabbit hole of waste and futility.

The following pick of the worst of CES may well be a thinly veneered attempt at mockery, but it is also intended as a caution against getting caught up in hype and justification of pointless technology.

1. DUX voice-assisted bed

The single most useless product launched at CES this year must surely be a bed with Alexa voice control built in. No, not to control the bed itself, but to manage the smart home features with which Alexa and other smart speakers are associated. Or that any smartphone with Siri or Google Assistant could handle. Swedish luxury bedmaker DUX thinks it’s a good idea to manage smart lights, TV, security and air conditioning through the bed itself. Just don’t say Alexa’s “wake word” in your sleep.

2. Smart Baby Dining Table 

Ironically, the runner-up comes from a brand that also makes smart beds: China’s 37 Degree Smart Home. Self-described as “the world’s first smart furniture brand that is transforming technology into furniture”, it outdid itself with a Smart Baby Dining Table. This isa baby feeding table with a removable dining chair that contains a weight detector and adjustable camera, to make children’s weight and temperature visible to parents via the brand’s app. Score one for hands-off parenting.

Click here to read about smart diapers, self-driving suitcases, laundry folders, and bad robot companions.

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CES: Tech means no more “lost in translation”

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Talking to strangers in foreign countries just got a lot easier with recent advancements in translation technology. Last week, major companies and small startups alike showed the CES technology expo in Las Vegas how well their translation worked at live translation.

Most existing translation apps, like Bixby and Siri Translate, are still in their infancy with live speech translation, which brings about the need for dedicated solutions like these technologies:

Babel’s AIcorrect pocket translator

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The AIcorrect Translator, developed by Beijing-based Babel Technology, attracted attention as the linguistic king of the show. As an advanced application of AI technology in consumer technology, the pocket translator deals with problems in cross-linguistic communication. 

It supports real-time mutual translation in multiple situations between Chinese/English and 30 other languages, including Japanese, Korean, Thai, French, Russian and Spanish. A significant differentiator is that major languages like English being further divided into accents. The translation quality reaches as high as 96%.

It has a touch screen, where transcription and audio translation are shown at the same time. Lei Guan, CEO of Babel Technology, said: “As a Chinese pathfinder in the field of AI, we designed the device in hoping that hundreds of millions of people can have access to it and carry out cross-linguistic communication all barrier-free.” 

Click here to read about the Pilot, Travis, Pocketalk, Google and Zoi translators.

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