Metropolis reviewed the Parrot AR.Drone 1.0 last year. While we were tremendously excited to be zipping a crazy Terminator-style drone around with a mere flick of the iPhone, we found it rather difficult to control and eventually smashed it against one too many walls.

Now, Parrot have addressed a lot of the teething problems of the prototype with the AR.Drone 2.0. As before, you control it with Freeflight—their free app from the app store—and connect to the drone’s Wi-Fi from your device. But the controls have been simplified massively. The new version adds a setting called “absolute control,” where the machine moves according to the direction in which you move your phone—which is much more intuitive. (“Relative control” is still available though for those with piloting pedigree.) There are also some slick moves like the forward and backward loops, and left and right barrel rolls, which you can accomplish at the touch of a button.

The new improved drone is smaller and more maneuverable, and comes, like the last one, with an indoor foam protector (touted as “robust and safe”), and an outdoor hard casing (“control and speed”). The thing itself looks scary with its whizzing propellers and the general ineptitude of its human masters, but it’s highly unlikely to injure anyone. As soon as the soft plastic blades touch anything the motor ceases and the ’copter falls to the ground. It is fairly resilient too, and any parts that break can be replaced. The little cogs that were our downfall with the last model are on Amazon.jp for ¥1,575.

With its new features and easy control, the 2.0 is more equipped to deal with the constantly expanding set of apps and games (both by Parrot and third parties) that pit you against your own PB; or against other rampant competitors to overcome obstacles, “shoot” each other out the sky, etc. It remains to be seen if some evil genius will be able to harness all the world’s drones and wreak havoc.

up

  • Intuitive control system
  • Record the flying film
  • Flips and rolls made easy
  • Games enhance potential

down

  • Still expensive
  • Buying parts could get pricy

The onboard HD camera streams to your smart screen, as if you were on the miniature craft zipping through the sky. But with the first drone we were so busy trying to control the thing we barely managed to see it. Now, you can plug your memory stick into the drone to record the HD footage for later viewing. We don’t know what you might be thinking of filming but if you accidentally scratch someone’s window you could hear a different drone—the drone of a police siren.

  • ¥29,558 from Amazon (buy here); also available from major retailers
  • To win a Parrot AR.Drone 2.0, come to the Metropolis Halloween Glitterball, Oct 25, 2012… watch this space for more info!

By: David Labi | Sep 25, 2012 | No Comments | 2,197 views

Courtesy of Parrot


Parrot Zik headphones

Audiophile quality they’re not, but there’s no denying the sleek good looks and ahead-of-the-curve design of the Parrot Zik headphones. Designed by Philippe Starck, these upscale headphones feature touch control and noise-canceling technology.

The rubberized black matte earcups are touch-sensitive. Swiping a finger up or down on the right cup adjusts the volume, while swiping it forward or back skips tracks. The Ziks are Bluetooth-enabled, so the whole package is wireless, freeing you up from tangles of cable and giving you a handy mic for mobile phone calls. Tap the right ear cup when your phone rings to answer a call. Do the same to hang up.

The Parrot Audio Suite is a free app that downloads to Android or iOS devices the Zik headphones are paired with. The app activates the noise canceling technology—which was useful in cutting outside sounds and effectively increasing the volume (or at least allowing you to hear your audio clearer at a lower than usual level). While it’s effective, these phones won’t win any awards from High Fidelity, with a bass that buzzes in higher volumes regardless of the equalizer settings you use. One nice feature in the app is the ability to change the field of sound from 30 degree (directly in front) to 180 degree on either side, as well as choices of concert hall, jazz club and silent (no echo) room settings—the difference was actually discernible, unlike other apps that just boost bass.

up

  • Wireless freedom
  • Touch controls
  • Sleek design

down

  • Uncomfortable in hot weather
  • Price

We used the Ziks with our computer (no noise cancelation, as that’s only available with the app), our iOS devices (iPhone 4S and iPad 2), and just about any other device that can pair audio accessories via Bluetooth and found them easy to setup, comfortable to wear (if a little heavy) and powerful enough for an enjoyable listening experience. The ability to use them with a mobile phone is a definite plus and we didn’t need to shout like a weirdo in order to be heard.

They do suffer from dropouts and occasional sound glitches, but with the ability to download and install firmware updates via the Parrot Zik app, many of these issues will probably be resolved. In fact, we enjoyed the wireless convenience and stylish comfort of them so much, we’d buy them tomorrow—if we could afford them. At just under ¥40,000, the Parrot Zik headphones are a serious bit of kit just for schlepping around town.

¥39,900. Available at select retailers such as Actus and Bals Tokyo, the Apple online store, or Amazon.jp.


Courtesy of Tekwind

up

  • Great sound
  • Light and comfortable

down

  • Windows-only custom presets

Turtle Beach PX 5 gaming headset

For those whiling away summer vacation time catching up on the newest blockbuster games (or working through that stack you haven’t played yet), you’re sure to kick more zombie/monster/enemy ass with the Turtle Beach PX 5 gaming headset. These wireless bad boys are designed with 360-degree surround sound to help you pinpoint the direction of any noise. What’s more, built-in Bluetooth allows you to pair them to another device simultaneously so you can answer phonecalls or stream music while in the heat of battle (if you’re that kind of multi-tasker).

As a bonus for PS3 users, the Bluetooth-enabled removable boom mic lets you communicate with those thirteen-year-olds you call your “platoon” over the PlayStation Network. It also offers programmable audio presets to help boost the sound of footsteps and reloads. We found these quite effective when sniping and the ability to limit loud booms helped in chaotic field-of-battle sections. Custom presets can be downloaded from the Turtle Beach website for specific game franchises: Modern Warfare 3, Drake’s Fortune, Final Fantasy, etc. Light and exceedingly comfortable, we were able to wear the cans for long periods without having to rearrange them or take them off. The best part? When you’re not getting fragged, the Dolby 7.1 Digital Surround Sound is great for listening to your late night BluRay video so the rest of the house doesn’t hear you (or know you’re watching Bridesmaids).

¥24,980, available at major electronic retailers and Amazon.jp.

By: Jeff W. Richards | Aug 14, 2012 | No Comments | 1,604 views

Photo: Kohji Shiiki; hand model: Jeff Hammond

With tablets becoming ubiquitous and smartphones the norm, inputting your crap into them is getting ever harder—especially with new smaller keyboard options that are mostly fiddly at best. The premise of the Magic Cube is promising: pair it to your device, and start typing on a full-size QWERTY keyboard projected onto the surface in front of you.

Set up couldn’t be simpler. The Cube works with any gadget (iPhone, iPad, Android, laptop, tablet, etc.) that can connect to mice, keyboards, headphones etc. via Bluetooth-based wireless technology. Tap, scroll or click your way to said device’s Bluetooth options and make sure “On” is, indeed, on—otherwise known as “discoverable.” Once they find each other, your gadget will spit out a four-digit code. Enter it on the cool red keyboard glimmering on the table before you and hit “Enter.” Done.

In a tactile sense, it’s not that much different than typing on an iPad, though the keyboard real estate is bigger—much bigger. Despite nifty typing skills, we ended up with text like: “dfgus tus thibg ib? The quck briwb fix humosiet he kszy fig.” So until you really get used to it, you’ll be doing a lot of editing.

The Magic Cube keyboard can handle input up to 400 characters per minute (if you got along well with the Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing course). It feels somewhat strange tapping on, well, nothing, but it’s certainly cool to see your device, in this case an iPhone 4S and an iPad 2, magically spooling characters across the screen. If the beep of each keystroke gets annoying, just use the cursor button to the right of the space bar and the arrow keys to adjust. The same goes for the light-saber-like brightness.

The sleek brushed aluminum cube—about the size of a decent shot glass—is futuristic and simple in aesthetic. The keyboard it emits onto any flat opaque surface will certainly get you some attention if you write in dark places, and spilling a drink over it means only your fingers get sticky. Since it can also optically track finger movements (sticky or not), it also does double-duty as a multi-touch mouse.

At ¥17,000 it’s no bargain (considering washable, flexible silicon ’boards can be had for less than ¥5,000) and it’s quite hard to use on the fly: nobody will be writing reports with it on their commute home. It might win you some bar bets, but it’s certainly not going to increase your productivity (though it might relieve the RSI on your wrists brought on by certain alternatives).

Cool? Hell, yeah. Practical? Not really, but who cares—it’s a laser projection keyboard!

yes

  • Type on any flat surface
  • Looks way cool
  • Easy setup
  • Pairs with almost any Bluetooth-enabled device

no

  • Limited portability: not for train commutes or lap-use
  • Typing definitely takes some getting used to
  • Keyboard is English-Korean or English only
  • Expensive for a novelty item

¥17,000, available from Amazon and Restir in Akasaka (Tel: 03-5413-3708. www.restir.com).

By: Jeff W. Richards | Feb 29, 2012 | No Comments | 6,026 views

Courtesy of Ginichi Corp.

Is this your year to become the next Robert Rodriguez? Finally going to shoot that guerilla mockumentary? No need for any expensive machinery with the ever-improving quality of smartphone video. Rapidly being called on for in-the-field video reportage and guerilla interviews, these portable workhorses can pretty much do anything. But until now, any kind of moving shots have resembled something filmed during an epileptic seizure or an earthquake.

Thanks to Tiffen, the company that brought the Steadicam to Hollywood, you can now use your phone to follow, track or pan your subject without a bouncing, jiggling frame. Based on the same technology as the professional $60,000 rigs used in LA, the Steadicam Smoothee enables smooth shooting with your Apple iPhone 3Gs, iPhone 4, iPhone 4s, iPod Touch, and Flipcam. The contraption is basically a pistol grip with a three-point gimbal on top, attached to which is a counterweight and mount for your device. Just snap your phone in the holder and clip onto the mount.

The counterweight keeps the camera level and steady, while the gimbal allows for free movement of your phone-grasping hand (the same way a compass is kept horizontal in a moving vessel). Wherever you need to move—up or downstairs, through a jostling crowd—you can still get sweeping shots with that floating effect. You might want to use the auto-exposure/focus lock, which is toggled on the iPhone by tapping and holding the video screen.

yes

  • Improves phone video quality beyond recognition
  • Lightweight and mobile
  • Easy to assemble and operate

no

  • Takes some time to calibrate weight of device
  • Thumb-stabilization wheel could have a more usable control
  • Momentum and rotation of device requires some getting used to

The Smoothee takes some getting used to, and you need to spend some time balancing the counterweight against your phone by turning two adjustment screws on the side for right and left tilt as well as one in the back for forward and back tilt— but the results are astounding. No matter how much you move around, the Smoothee keeps your shot tracking with nary a shake or jump. You’ll need to get used to using your thumb or index finger to stabilize or turn the phone mount, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be running through Shinjuku station filming chase scenes in no time.

The Smoothee is not a cheap toy, but at ¥19,950 it’s within the realm of the amateur filmmaker’s budget. It comes with a carry bag and strap, is fairly lightweight, and will fit in most packs or gear bags. The quick-release camera mount can also fit on standard tripods allowing you to swap out of the Smoothie and right into the tripod for your next scene.

Look for plenty more budding filmmakers out on the street with these mini-rigs in 2012. And to complement your ultra-mobile equipment, look into the newly released Scosche wireless mic for your smartphone, too (www.scosche.com).

¥19,950, available at Gin-Ichi stores (www.ginichi.com) and Amazon.co.jp. Check out our Que Sera Sera restaurant review, made with the Steadicam Smoothee, at http://meturl.com/queserasera

Jan 7, 2012 | No Comments | 1,974 views

© Revo Technologies Limited 2010

There are a few oldies hanging around here at Metropolis. You know, people who actually used to listen to the radio back in the day. It’s only been a few short years since mp3 players and digital audio have become ubiquitous and music seems to be played out of devices with screens. We were intrigued when we received a Revo Heritage Deluxe Table Radio at the office—and quickly went about putting it through its paces.

The Heritage is a throwback to the tabletop radios standard throughout homes in Europe and North America in the ’70s. Ours was a walnut finish with an aluminum grill and tactile rubber on top. With its digital alarm clock and white-on-black OLED display, it would not have been out of place on a typical breakfast table with morning drive show hosts blaring their sound bites and special effects between traffic reports on the new FM band. Except, nestled under the understated walnut hood are the digital goodies: Wi-Fi and wired LAN connectivity, wireless audio streaming from PC or Mac, iPod docking station, and plug-and-play USB audio. It also sports the usual AUX IN connectors with stereo RCA and optical out, as well as iPod video out.

Enough of the geeky stuff. This is basically an internet radio (it actually comes with an FM antenna) that connects to your network to access any of the 20,000+ stations streaming audio—and that doesn’t just mean your favorite indie FM station. That means things like BBC World Service, NPR, old time radio dramas, podcasts, scary, scream-laden horror shows, talk radio—and even subscribed and already personalized services like Last FM, so you can program your own station with your favorite music.

yes

  • Stylishly liberates your radio from your PC
  • Retro look, great for any table or countertop
  • If you can think of an online audio service—it can play it

no

  • Flimsy and finicky plastic “joystick” navigation button
  • Ours didn’t charge iPhone 4
  • Price tag will discourage some

While the navigation menu is pretty straightforward—you can select stations by genre or country via a system of drop-down menus shown on the OLED screen (think older iPod) that allow you to drill down deep into an astonishing number of choices—the small plastic joystick was hard to work with. We often “selected” when trying to navigate and vice versa. The included remote control works far better, and once we started fighting over it, we never touched the front buttons again.

What the Revo Heritage does, it does well. It’s impossible to count the number of stations the player will stream for you, and it liberates you from sitting in front of your PC. It is also surprisingly loud. The lightweight package has a 3-inch speaker driver and 7W amplifier that meant we never had to turn it to 11—in fact, we never turned it past 6 without annoying most of the miserable music-haters in the office.

Two models: Heritage (¥49,350) & Domino (¥36,750).
Available at Bals Tokyo, Conran and other select stores. www.modernity.jp/en/products/revo

By: Jeff W. Richards | Nov 18, 2011 | No Comments | 2,311 views


Seeing the “augmented reality” quadrocopter hovering in front of you, sussing you out on its front-end camera, gives you one of those “my god the future is here” tingles down your spine. It’s reminiscent of the buzzing seeker robots in Terminator’s vision of the future, and its not hard to imagine these things put to military use.

You might think of it as a remote-control flying vehicle—we do—but Parrot bills their AR. Drone as “The Flying Video Game,” which speaks to the potential they see for its exploitation by all manner of independently created games and applications. Right now, we’re content to use it for its crazy flying and filming capabilities.

On the touchpad of your Android, iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch—and in the future, anything with Wi-Fi capabilities will be made compatible—the feed from the drone’s front-facing and down-facing cameras appears (you can switch between them or view split screen). There are two touch screen buttons for control on the iPhone app. One swivels, elevates and descends. The other accelerates—quite terrifyingly for newbies. The device comes with an aerodynamic hull for outdoor swooping and a four-ring lightweight protector for indoor operations (caveat: don’t use anywhere where a mini windstorm could pose a problem).

Other tremendous uses, seen on thousands of vids already up on YouTube, are multiplayer shooting games and maneuvering competitions where your drone flies around sensor-equipped obstacles. Expect way more in the future, though what disappointed us for now was the impossibility of recording or streaming the video taken by the drone’s cameras. Apparently this is just a limitation of the iPhone 4, and it’s currently possible with the iPad 2—one presumes the iPhone 5 might have something to say about this.

Don’t worry about evolving technology making your drone obsolete, firmware updates are available and can be effected neatly through your smart device.


[+Pros]

  • You’ve never seen anything so exciting
  • Potential is huge—open development of apps and updateable firmware
  • Multiplayer games are sophisticated and will only get better
  • Parts are replaceable and a one-year guarantee allays fears of breakage
  • Fairly easy to control—after a fashion

[-Cons]

  • Price rather proscriptive
  • The excitement might fade after a couple of weeks
  • You need really big spaces to truly zoom
  • Some will not get the hang of the controls
  • No streaming or recording of video possibilities on iPhone 4

Parrot AR. Drone, from ¥28,000 from Amazon or Toys R Us and other retail outlets.
Call center. Tel: 03-3585-6609. Email: ardronecenter@parrot.com. Open Mon-Fri 9:30-noon & 1-6:30pm. http://ardrone.parrot.com

Oct 7, 2011 | No Comments | 2,035 views

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