Each September the world’s tech innovators come together in Berlin to show off their latest and greatest gadgets at IFA. The media tends to concentrate only on the newest phones and giant TVs, but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes that rarely gets written about.
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This year there were wearable cameras, giant Kindle-like tablets, global WiFi hotspots, and even remote cat feeders. Truly something for every kind of traveller looking for ways to make their next journey the smoothest yet.
Here’s a selection of the gear we loved best in Berlin:
1. IceBRKR Ski Goggles
If you’ve ever tried to wear wired earphones while skiing or snowboarding in a safety helmet, you’ll know why the IceBRKR Ski Goggles were inevitable. They use bone conduction, which sends low-frequency sounds from the vibrations of the helmet shell into your inner via your jawbones, leaving the higher frequency sound to come to your via two small speakers.
In short, there’s nothing in your ears, so you can hear music while you ski and hear everything around you, too. Equipped with Bluetooth 5.0 MESH Intercom tech, the IceBRKR can also be used to stream music from a phone, but also to make calls while you’re on the move.
As a bonus, that MESH tech means you can communicate wirelessly with anyone else using the same technology within a mile, which has obvious uses on mountains. It’s now selling for US$79 on Kickstarter. The ski goggles themselves have polarised lenses with an iridium coating to minimise glare and heighten contrast.
2. Onyx BOOX Max3 e-Ink screen
Remember E-Ink? Before the Kindle went all iPad-like and pointless the original e-reader sported battery-efficient screen tech that was merely black and white, but didn’t run out of juice for weeks. Resurrecting that tech is Onyx, whose Boox Max3 is an ultra-modern take on E-Ink. With a whopping 13.3-inch E-ink Mobius and Carta display, it’s way bigger than an iPad Pro.
It’s got a resolution of 2,200x1,650 and 207 DPI, a quick-charge 4,300mAh battery and, best of all, in runs Android 9.0. Yup – and that means it can get on 5G WiFi and host any apps from the Google Play store. Think the likes of Dropbox and … err … the Kindle app!
Though the 490g BOOX Max3’s real ‘thing’ is that as well as looking like (digital) paper, it also feels like it; use a stylus on it and it feels like real paper. Comes with fingerprint recognition, and can even double-up as a desktop extender for a PC monitor.
3. PIX backpack
Do you wear your heart on your sleeve when you travel? So why not put it on your backpack, too? Travellers used to wear flags on their rucksacks, sometimes also sporting sewn-on patches collected from around the world. Now everyone totes smartphones and looks the same.
So why not stand out a little on the road with this backpack with a built-in customisable LED screen? After pairing with a smartphone it can display photos, animations, and widgets, but if you’re not up for creating your own artwork you can choose from a variety of content in the Pix app for iOS and Android and display it right on the backpack. It’s also handy for staying visible on the roads, hills and during the night time.
It’s on sale now for US$259 (opens in new tab).
This is Bobine. When you go swanning-off on long weekends away he gets put into a horrible cattery. So next time you travel why not leave Bobine in his home and introduce him to CatsPad, a food dispenser that you can control from afar by the magic of smartphones.
The unit has a water tank that holds six litres of water, with the water fountain turning on automatically when Bobine approaches. Ditto a tank of 1.6 kg of biscuits, which can be dropped into Bobine’s bowl gradually throughout the day – if he’s a gannet – with you receiving updates of exactly what he’s eaten. CatsPad even has RFID and can identify up to five cats wearing special collars.
Catspad goes on sale soon for €389 (opens in new tab).
5. Skyroam Solis X smartspot
OK, it’s a hotspot, but there’s so much more going on with this device that ‘smartspot’ does seem appropriate. Firstly, it gets your phone (and up to 10 devices, in fact) online thanks to a reliable 4G LTE WiFi connection in 130+ countries for relatively small spend (a package of five global WiFi day passes – purchased in-app – costs £35.50).
Secondly, it has a 4,700 mAh power bank that can be used to recharge a smartphone or tablet (though it has 16 hours of battery life if left alone).
Thirdly – and most oddly of all – it has a built-in 8MP remote camera. Say what? With a wide-angle field of view, that camera can be used to film video via the Solis WiFi app. Who needs FaceTime?
Solis X costs £179.99 and is on sale now (opens in new tab).
6. Insta360 GO wearable camera
Launched a few weeks ago and on show in public for the first time in Berlin is this unique wearable camera. Already on sale for £209.99 (opens in new tab), GO is a tiny 18.3g device that clips onto the lapel of your shirt or jacket, onto a magnetic pendant or affixed to vehicles/skateboard/surfboard using various mounts.
It then records video in short bursts, 15 or 30 seconds to be precise, at the touch of a button (or an app). It uses cutting-edge six-axis FlowState stabilisation tech for super-smooth-looking video, and it also takes 5MP photos.
However, what we think it’s going to be famous for is hyper lapses, which it produces easily and shares just as effortlessly. Perfect for capturing the atmosphere of big, bustling cities and producing easy to share content, GO is intriguing time-saving travel tech.
7. Fresh ‘n Rebel Rockbox Bold X Bluetooth speaker
Music everywhere. That's what Dutch tech brand Fresh ‘n Rebel (opens in new tab) promises with Rockbox Bold X (£99.99 from October 2019), a portable Bluetooth speaker made for the outdoors. Unusually, it's completely waterproof – so perfect for the ski slopes, the beach and for literally throwing into a swimming pool – and keeps going for eight hours.
You can also daisy-chain a couple of Rockbox Bold X's together for stern separation, though probably the big thing here is colours. Fresh ‘n Rebel just don't do black or white. Instead, choose from grey, pink, green, burgundy, blue and dark grey.
8. Skullcandy Crusher active noise cancelling headphones
From being a niche, expensive and bulky product just a few years ago, perhaps the ultimate travel technology has slimmed-down considerably in 2019. Cue Utah-based lifestyle audio brand Skullcandy's (opens in new tab) Crusher ANC headphones, which launched at IFA for €299.99 with a claim of uniqueness.
The secret sauce is Sensory Bass, Skullcandy’s patented bass technology, as well as Personal Sound that lets you custom-tune the soundstage via an app. However, the most important slab of tech here is active noise cancellation, which monitors the surrounding environment and filters-out external noise. Crusher ANC has a 24-hour battery and even has a built-in Tile tracker so owners can easily locate it using the Tile app on any smartphone.