Nick & Choose 28: Gadgets

Published Oct. 6, 2010

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Inspector Gadget
Technophobia? There’s an app for that.

I was at the gdgt tech expo and feeling out of touch. Powerline network kits? Dual USB GPS car chargers? These aren’t the gadgets of my youth. I worked at a Brookstone. A waffle iron/alarm clock that plays humpback mating calls, that’s a gadget. A FreeAgent GoFlex TV? That’s just a… well, it sort of, um… OK, I really have no idea.

The very first booth I visited hammered home my Luddite status. “So, what do you guys do?” I asked the representative from Springpad.

“I’ll show you. Do you have an iPhone or a Droid?”
“I have none of those things.”
And then we shared an awkward silence.

There was only one person in attendance who appeared to understand my unease. A man with no companion, looking a bit lost, and a bit ridiculous in a white, skintight, electroluminescent costume.

“Hey, Tron Guy. What are you doing here?”
“I’m just here for Lenovo.”
“What do they have you doing?”
“Just standing around, bein’ Tron Guy.”

Not on my watch, friend. Averting my eyes from his unfortunate spandex bulge, I put Tron Guy to work explaining one of the featured products. Seems Lenovo developed a kind of one-handed keyboard remote to make surfing the Web on your TV easier. Sadly, I don’t have the Web on my TV. In fact, I realized, I’ve never actually seen one of Tron Guy’s YouTube videos. I’ve never even seen Tron. That’s when my shame spiral really started to spin.

I don’t have the Internet on my phone. I don’t even have wireless! I have no DVR. My non-HD TV is longer than it is wide and weighs more than my oven. What can I do? Teach me, Tron Guy! “What’s the name of this device?”

“I don’t know.”

Well, if a man dressed as a computer program can’t be relied on for technological expertise, that certainly levels the playing field. With renewed confidence, I wandered over to the Kodak booth to speak with a nervous young man about the PlaySport video camera he had submerged in a fishbowl. I guess being waterproof at 10 feet is impressive, but why would I choose the PlaySport over the PlayTouch, with its on-screen editing and better Web connectivity? “If you go scuba diving—well, shallow scuba diving,” he replied.

Shockingly, it appeared I was the most tech-savvy person in attendance. So, as a man who still listens to cassette tapes, I present the gdgt Best in Show.

3. Scvngr, based in Cambridge, is a free, location-based app like Foursquare and Gowalla. The difference? Rather than simply “checking in” at a participating location, Scvngr presents you with challenges. Board the Fung Wah Bus, snap a picture of yourself making it to New York without catching on fire, earn a discount on your next trip. I have my suspicions about these apps, as my friends who use them don’t seem to derive any real enjoyment, but Scvngr has two things in its favor. One, it just received $4 million from Google Ventures, so you might as well get used to seeing it. And two, its 21-year-old CEO dropped out of Princeton and, according to The New York Times, now works 96 hours a week. Here’s a kid who’s torching his youth to help others have fun. I hope the inevitable truckload of cash offers some comfort.

2. “They come from the planet blõôh located in the galaxy 4210,” said the guy from Mimobot. Finally! Something I can understand. Based in Allston, Mimobot makes flash drives designed to look like characters from Hello Kitty, Star Wars and more. The flash drives come with an amusing backstory, but they don’t really do anything besides store data. Is it silly? Yes. Do I want a $40 C-3PO? Yup.

1. Another free app, the Woburn-based HeyWire allows you to text or chat with anyone around the world at no cost. With streamlined connectivity, you can be reached simultaneously by phone, Facebook, IM, smoke signal, whatever. “So I can never hide?” I asked the rep. “You’re not the first person to say that,” he confessed.

At what price, privacy? About $120 sounds right, which is what my abacus tells me I’d save if I cut texting from my phone plan. With an extra $120, maybe I could upgrade to a smartphone and actually use these programs. Or I could go to Brookstone and buy three RC helicopters and an electronic bottle opener. When it comes to gadgets, I’m a purist.

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