I’ve always loved being at the forefront of technology. Being an early adopter, however, has its downsides, like when you pick the wrong format, which I have frequently done. As a kid, when the other children were asking for an Atari 5200, I was begging for (and received) a Vectrex. I invested an obscene amount of money in HD-DVD which, on paper was the superior system. Then there was the time I spent $200 on a Diamond Rio, the first commercial MP3 player with its whopping 32 megs of storage, or roughly enough space for an album at low enough bit rates. Gadgets are expensive, but for nerds like me, they are ambrosia, and usually worth every penny. Nothing is quite as fun as unboxing a new toy and showing it off.
As technology improves, science fiction is quickly becoming reality. My children will never know what it’s like to live in a world without touchscreens or Netflix. As sad as it is to think that they won’t experience enjoying Saturday morning cartoons with a bowl full of sugary cereal or having to adjust the tracking on the VCR, they also get the privilege of experiencing technology that, for my grandparents, would have seemed like magic. As 2014 comes to a close, it’s time to look back at that magic by taking a look at the ten best gadgets the year has brought us. Get your checkbooks (or Apple Pay) ready, kids: it’s time to start planning for 2015’s holidays.
10. P3 Pinball Platform
As cool as video games are, there’s something compelling about the physicality of pinball. There’s nothing quite like juggling 80 gram steel balls, and as cool as the virtual versions are, they still can’t replicate the real thing. For years the industry was clinging to dear life harder than the Master fresh out of regenerations, but as technology has gotten cheaper, more upstarts are entering the industry. Industry leader Stern (The Walking Dead and the upcoming Wrestlemania) has been joined by no less than nineteen new manufacturers such as Jersey Jack Pinball (The Hobbit) and Dutch Pinball (The Big Lebowski). Stepping away from the more traditional machine is Multimorphic and their new P3 Modular Pinball system.
The biggest problem for pinball enthusiasts is the price. Generally speaking, unless your last name is Koch, you can’t afford to buy a new pinball machine. When a buddy of mine purchased a new-in-box Tron Legacy pinball, I jokingly mentioned that I would sell a kidney to buy one which, according to the World Health Organization, would be about an even trade (The going rate for a kidney is about $5000, or enough for a pinball machine plus shipping). As new features debut, the prices continue to go up into the five figures range for just a single game. That’s where the P3 system comes in. Using a replaceable upper playfield module, software-driven variable targets and a computer animated playfield, you can literally have the pinball equivalent of a Playchoice-10. While the two games debuting on the system don’t look particularly spectacular, the almost limitless potential of the system and its open source software opens the door to developers of both professional and amateur levels…all of whom want you to play with their balls.
9. Polaroid Socialmatic Camera
2008 was a year of great loss. Heath Ledger, Paul Newman, Charlton Heston, Sho’Nuff from The Last Dragon and the Polaroid Camera ceased to be. Only a small group of upstarts and their company The Impossible Project sallied forth and continued to produce film for the instant camera scene, a scene which had been replaced by cell phones and Instagram. Polaroid stayed in the camera market, moving to digital, as well as dabbling in televisions, headphones, apparel, and really crappy tablets, but they left the instant printing camera behind…until now.
The Socialmatic Camera is a hipster dream. Capable of taking, printing and sharing pictures on a multitude of social networks, it lets you overshare to your heart’s content. You won’t even have to whip out your cell phone to e-mail that picture of you in the sexy dress to your ex, as the Socialmatic is running a full-featured version of Android that includes e-mail connectivity. In fact, you won’t have to remember anything any more: the Socialmatic can remember it for you…wholesale!
8. Panono Panoramic Camera
Remember when panoramic camera apps were the highlight of the iPhone? Don’t worry about having to get too close to stinky cousin Jethro, because we can just extend the picture to include him. As cool as panoramic shots can be, the human factor very often became noticeable, as seen in some of the epic pano-fails seen here. Enter the Panono.
At first look, the Panono looks like the mapping devices known as “pups” in Prometheus and it would act just like one if it levitated and traveled automatically. Essentially, toss the Panono up in the air and it instantly takes a perfect 360×360 degree picture, all without inadvertently combining your face with your mother’s crotch.
7. Biodegradable Drones
Love them or hate them, it’s clear we are living in a world of drones. Here in United States airspace, we can be thankful that our drones are limited to hobbyists, Amazon and the NSA, and don’t have the propensity for Hellfire missiles that drones flying in other countries have. The problem is, as simple as it might be to fly a drone, most people would likely fall under the category of “shitty pilots”. Thankfully if you have questionable aircraft driving skills or just feel the need to be green, we now have just the drone for you.
At first glance, the Biodegradable Drone looks like a kindergarten art project consisting of a section of egg carton with four propellers mounted to it, but NASA insists that it is indeed an airworthy craft. While the mostly green craft (the motors, propellers and power source are not biodegradable) is firmly in the hands of NASA for research purposes, it won’t be long before we see a civilian-ready model making its way to stores. My question: will you get high from licking the chassis of your mushroom-composed aircraft?
6. Big-Ass Smartphones
Ever since their invention, manufacturers have worked to shrink the size of the cell phone. My mother’s first mobile was carried in a sack roughly the size of my Thinkgeek Bag of Holding, and had a battery life of about two hours. Thankfully, battery life got larger, and phones themselves got smaller, that is, until we wanted our phones to do more than just make phone calls.
While my friends all had Motorolla Razr flip phones, I was one of about twelve people who actually bought the enormous and awkward Nokia N-Gage. Sure, it was difficult to talk on, but I could play Red Faction while the rest of you bastards were still playing Snake.
When smartphones of the Apple and Google variety hit the market, the race was on for bigger and better screens, and while there have been a few missteps (the Samsung Galaxy Mega, perhaps?), with the invent of phones like the iPhone 6+, the Galaxy Note 4, and the Nexus 6, we have finally reached the big-ass phone promised land. I’d be a fool to think that phones are going to top out at this size; undoubtedly we will see someone walking the street in coming months with what looks like an iPad against their heads, but for now we can enjoy what feels like cellphone perfection until someone comes up with the Earth: Final Conflict Global Link smartphone.
5. Flir One Infrared Camera
FLIR, which stands for Forward Looking Infra-Red, has been a component of military vehicles for decades, giving operators a heat-based picture of what is in front of them. While the average person would have little need for this, it’s a fantastic way of finding bad guys in the night. The Flir One is an add on case for your Apple iPhone 5 which instantly turns your phone into an infrared camera.
Now I know what you’re asking: “Jason, why do I want an infrared camera?” According to the website, Flir One is great for things like finding plumbing leaks in your house, fixing your car or finding out where you need more insulation, but as someone of the nerdier persuasion, I’m not interested in fixing my pipes. I’m interested in only one thing this camera will give me:
Mother-fucking Predator Vision!
That’s right kids, with the Flir One I can play night paintball Predator-style. I’m covering you in paint faster than the time it takes for Carl Weather’s severed arm to hit the ground. I’m gonna have me some fun!
4. Motorola Moto 360 Smartwatch
Wearable technology has decorated fiction since Dick Tracy first equipped the Two-Way Wrist Radio. The concept of the smartwatch even predated the inspiration for the cell phone: the Star Trek communicator. Last year, the smartwatch debuted with mixed reactions. Some offered more functionality than others, though with less function came more fashion. My own first-generation Galaxy Gear had a dedicated space on my wrist for about four months before I realized what a pain in the ass it was to use, and how much of a douche I looked talking into my wrist.
This year, however, the technology has evolved to the point where the smartwatch is actually useful. The second iteration of the Galaxy Gear beefed up the power and removed the camera nipple, and the line has only continued to improve as the year went on. Pebble continued to be a powerhouse in the wearable technology department, and while it’s nowhere near as functional as some of its counterparts, its low price and almost universal compatibility make it incredibly popular.
The real hero of wearable technology in 2014, though, is Motorola’s Moto 360 line of watch which, unlike the other competitors in the market, actually looks like a real watch and not some accessory from an episode of Buck Rogers. Its functionality and seamless integration with Android phones makes it simply the best piece of wearable technology on the market, though you’re still going to look like a dork talking into your wrist.
3. The Cocojet
In the new-found era of 3d printing, the chains restricting creativity have been obliterated. With the proper equipment, just about any object can be constructed at home out of almost any available material. Hell, the International Space Station is printing its own tools now from blueprints e-mailed to it. In space, no one can hear you squee!
The gift of chocolate is almost universally accepted. That being said, it typically comes only in your standard forms: Bar, truffle, kiss, bunny, etc. Or at least it did until now, thanks to the Cocojet. It is as simple and amazing as it sounds; a 3d printer that uses Hershey’s chocolate as the raw material. Move over candy hearts; with a proper 3d model, you could literally give your sweetheart a cocoa rendering of your heart. Just imagine the confectionery creativity! Like John F. Kennedy in Bubba Ho-Tep, you could offer someone your chocolate Ding Dong. Usul, we would have debauchery the likes of which even Abraxas has never seen before!
2. The Hendo Hoverboard
At a whopping $10,000 and with steering that is questionable at best, I doubt that many people will have the Hendo Hoverboard prototype on their Christmas lists. That being said, we can now say we live in a world where hoverboards exist.
As cool as the Hoverboard is, I know for a fact that any attempt by me to ride one would likely end in the hospital, but what I am truly excited for is practical uses of hover technology. Imagine if you will, a cart that could hold a ton of material that my toddler could likely push, levitated an inch off the ground by a cluster of hover engines. It will likely be years before we see both practical and entertainment applications for the Hoverboard arrive at affordable and safe levels, but until then, bojo, you can’t have a Hoverboard, unless you have MONEY!!!
1. Galaxy Gear VR
The first glimpse most people received into the world of Virtual Reality was the 1992 craptacular The Lawnmower Man, where James Bond and some video games morph Jeff Fahey from Forrest Gump to genius hunk before ultimately turning him into Matt Frewer.
Since then, several companies have dabbled in VR with less that stellar results like Virtuality brand arcade games and the very impressive but not VR Virtual Worlds. Last year we saw a resurgence in the VR concept with the Oculus Rift and the incredibly impressive CastAR augmented reality system, both of whose Kickstarter campaigns obliterated expectations. 2014 was the year where VR made the leap from indie to big business in record time.
It seems like everyone is rushing to put out a VR system. Oculus was purchased by Facebook, of all people, and Sony announced a product for PlayStation 4, but it was Samsung’s collaboration with Oculus that won the day with the release of the Gear VR.
The concept is simple: combine a Galaxy Note 4 smartphone with the Gear VR headset and a pair of headphones, and you instantly have a super-high resolution virtual reality system. Using the display of the Note 4, which boasts the highest resolution in the industry, the Gear VR projects images into the eyes of meatbags better than any other device on the planet. The only downsides are the cost (retail price of the phone and VR system will running you a cool $1000), the limited software library (only a few programs hosted on the Samsung App Store and specifically formatted videos will play at this time, so no watching Gravity from Play Movies), and the inability to connect the device to anything but a cell phone. But if the Gear VR is any indicator of the future, where we’re going we won’t need TVs.
Previously By Jason Helton
9 Educational Kids Shows Dying for the Reading Rainbow Revival Treatment
9 Things I Learned About Gaming With Disabilities from the Ablegamers Foundation and My Son
Ten Amazing American Arcades (That You Can Still Visit)
The 10 Happiest Moments in Battlestar Galactica