T3's Gadget Guru is here to solve all your gadget woes. He's got a Masters degree in being a right smart-arse.
What in-car tech should I be rocking in 2016?
With the (admittedly slow) rise of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus the gradual transformation of cars into rolling Wi-Fi hotspots that will eventually drive themselves while you sit back and enjoy the scenery, this is an exciting time for tech on wheels. If you don’t have one already, this year’s must-have piece of auto tech is a dash cam. Why? For a start, they enable you to save money on your car insurance – you can use the footage captured by your cam to prove that it was the other driver’s fault. More importantly, owning a dash cam means you can shoot exciting footage of that little oik from down the road keying your paintwork, or capture evidence of any idiots who dare to cut you up. Guru’s favourites in the dash-cam ï¬ eld have traditionally come from RAC and Garmin. Garmin’s Dash Cam 35 (£160, garmin.com) is a good example. It shoots in HD, offers collision warnings and stamps footage of shunts with location (there’s built-in GPS), speed, date, time and direction.
New kid on the block NextBase offers even swankier models, with the iN-Car Cam Duo (£200) keeping an eye on your rear as well as your front, and the iN-Car Cam 512G (£180) using a polarising ï¬ lter to remove windscreen glare. For insight into how you drive, take a look at TomTom’s Curfer (from £59 – the site has a handy widget to determine if your car is compatible). This small device plugs directly into your car’s diagnostic port to analyse your driving. Data is then transferred to the free Curfer iOS/ Android app, with scores duly given to your braking, acceleration, idling and cornering skills. More in-depth analytics are also available, and a car-ï¬nder tool is on hand to help you locate your wheels if you’re the ‘park and forget’ type. Guru has already collected all the Curfer’s digital trophies for road mastery, and his idling is legendary.
I’m keen to ‘lay down some tracks’. What’s the best tune-making tech for newbs?
How well GaGu remembers his early-Nineties glory days in bedroom-based acid-folk combo Elektrik Morris and the Halftones. Back then, it was all about the Roland 808 and the Casio SK-1, where you could fart into a mic and play it back at any pitch. Now it’s seemingly all about getting a laptop and learning software that’s only slightly less complex than that used in Mars landings. There is another option, thankfully, and that’s to get an iPad and load up on apps. Apple’s GarageBand is probably the ï¬rst port of call for budding musos, and indeed it is a good choice, but GaGu’s favourites begin with Korg’s suite of synths and FX, including the essential Gadget and Module, plus iKaossilator (which is based on the company’s palm-sized synth). Other must-have apps for synth lovers include Moog’s Animoog, Arturia’s iProphet and Propellerhead’s Figure.
With prices starting from a few quid up to around £20, you can build a virtual synth collection that would costs thousands if it were real gear. Those with a taste for hard rock and metal might enjoy plugging in their axes via a suitable adaptor and getting busy with virtual guitar amps and effects pedals. There are loads to be found, with IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube 3 and Agile Partners’ AmpKit+ offering access to swathes of amp channels, pedals, cabs and mics. There are even mastering-suite apps for applying a layer of spit and polish to your tracks, as if you’re some kind of non-homicidal Phil Spector. Check out the likes of Positive Grid Final Touch, a modular mastering package for iOS. If you’re ascending to those levels of iPad-based seriousness, look for compatibility with Audiobus or Inter-App Audio in your choice of apps. With either, you can use apps from different brands and bring them together in one big old harmonious tech orchestra.
How can I get better phone reception in rural parts?
GaGu occasionally ventures out of London, and is shocked to discover that you can’t always get 4G out in the sticks. Or 3G. Or even GPRS. Or quinoa. Seriously, where’s the quinoa?! Thankfully, there’s a solution to dire phone reception – although not to the raging quinoa issue. So, imagine that you can ‘roam’ like you do when you’re abroad, with your phone ï¬nding the strongest nearby signal. Well, imagine no longer, for this very thing exists in the form of the AnywhereSIM.com. This service uses Anywhere’s own network, plus Vodafone, EE and O2 – with a choice of three tariffs – enabling you to send and receive calls via any available network in the UK or the EU. Then there’s Home, a service through which you can receive calls via any network, but only make them via Anywhere’s own network. It costs 5p per minute, text or MB of data, so there’s a bit of a premium price attached here, but for UK wilderness-dwellers it’s probably the best news since wolves died out.
Can tech help keep cats out of my garden?
Cats, dogs and indeed any other creatures that venture into your backyard just to take a dump are a blight that must be repelled. You need to do this humanely, however, because pet owners can get incredibly upset if you attack their four-legged friends with a baseball bat – GaGu learned this the hard way. And it still hurts. For this situation, what you need is a motion-detecting hose attachment, such as PestBye’s Jet Spray Repeller Motion Activated Animal Deterrent. For 30 quid, it’ll keep your garden free of any creatures that love taking a dump on your cauliï¬owers but don’t enjoy being sprayed with water. Unfortunately, this has led to GaGu’s garden being overrun with ï¬sh.
Settle it now: best multiroom speakers?
There is, of course, Sonos. That’s an obvious answer, perhaps, but its £249 Play:3 in particular is corking, and the whole range is strong. German rival Raumfeld is utterly wunderbar if you like proprietary multi-room speakers with more striking looks than Sonos. Best AirPlay and DLNA options (although, in all honesty, the latter isn’t great for multi-room) are the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless (£500), the Naim Mu-So (£895), and Monitor Audio’s S200 and S300 (£199/£249). Another good option is to use an existing speaker and plug a Google Chromecast Audio (£30) or Apple AirPort Express (£79) dongle into it. If you’re really on a budget, GaGu recommends simply turning up the volume so that you can hear your music in the next room/the house next door/three blocks away.
How can my busy family communicate better? Help!
The hub of any family home is the kitchen. When GaGu wishes to leave a message for Mrs Guru – “Where are you? It’s been three weeks,” and so on – this is where he does it. The Invoxia Triby (£159) is a magnetic speaker that sticks to your fridge. Not only does it let you stream music, it also – via an app and Wi-Fi – works as both an intercom and a message board, upon which you can leave hand-scrawled messages. Alternatively, Smeg makes a 256-litre, AA-energy-rated fridge (£1,499) that’s also a fridge-sized blackboard. Chalks away!
Liked this? Check out T3 tests the best multi-room audio systems