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Lofree’s $70 Poison Bluetooth speaker is the ultimate conversation starter

Lofree’s $70 Poison Bluetooth speaker is the ultimate conversation starter

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

Although it’s not a household name yet, Lofree is intent on making its mark in the tech accessories space with its beautiful, memorably designed hardware. You might remember the brand from our previous review of its gorgeous wireless mechanical keyboard, which I liked a lot.

Its new product, the Poison Bluetooth speaker, is no exception. It’s all about that retro vibe, but also happens to sound pretty good for a device of this size and at this price. Here’s what you get for your money.

Design

The oddly named Poison is, hands-down, one of the best looking Bluetooth speakers I’ve ever come across. With its mid-century FM radio-inspired design, fun details like the chrome grille and ornamental handles, and minimalist controls, it’s sure to get people talking when they see it.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

At just over 0.5 kg (1.2 lbs) and a length of 18 cm, it’s roughly as portable as a DSLR camera. Sure, you can get smaller and lighter speakers, but I found that in my use of the Poison over the past few weeks at home, parties and my office, the design strikes a reasonable balance between size and output.

The grille in front conceals an FM tuner panel where you can see what station you’re tuning into; on the back, you’ll find a bass driver diaphragm that with a floating cover that reverberates when the speaker pumps out low-frequency sound, along with a 3.5mm AUX jack and a USB port.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

The entire feels durable and well built, but given that it’s all smooth plastic surfaces and no manner of waterproofing, you won’t want to roughhouse with it. That might make the Poison better for use indoors than for the beach or a fishing trip.

Features

The Poison can connect to any mobile device via Bluetooth, hook up to an MP3 player with an AUX cable, or plug into your laptop with a standard USB cable. Bluetooth pairing is quick and hassle-free, and I was glad to be able to get up and running in just a few seconds.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

The inclusion of an FM tuner seemed like a gimmick to me at first, but hey, there’s nothing wrong with a feature that works well and lets you enjoy more programming than you can carry on your devices. It’s easy enough to pick up a signal and enjoy clear audio, but there’s no way to save presets.

Performance

The Poison packs two 10W speakers with a dedicated bass driver, which work together to deliver a crisp, clear and pleasant soundstage with a prominent low end. It works great for pop, hip-hop and R&B records like Anderson. Paak’s Venice, Stateless’ eponymous album and SBTRKT’s self-titled debut from 2011.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

It doesn’t do as well with heavier material like Katatonia’s beautifully detailed Dead End Kings, and Gojira’s modern metal masterpiece, L’Enfant Sauvage. There’s a noticeable amount of distortion at higher volumes that will likely annoy some listeners – so it might not be the best speaker to try and fill a large room with.

However, if you’re alright using it at moderate volume, you shouldn’t have a problem. I was more than happy using the Poison for background music at a dinner party, and for watching a range of YouTube videos in bed.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

The company claimed that the Poison is capable of running for six hours in Bluetooth mode on a single charge, and I found that to be about right. However, with a device of this size, one would expect at least twice that; as such, this is another reason why you’re better off rocking the Poison indoors.

Should you buy the Lofree Poison?

If you’re in the market for a pretty speaker, you’d be hard pressed to find one that looks nicer than the Poison in the sub-$300 range. It looks nice enough to leave in any part of your home without it looking too obviously like a gadget, and it’s hard to put a price on that.

That being said, I just wish I didn’t have to turn it down every so often to avoid that troubling distortion. Thankfully, it’s still plenty loud for most indoor spaces around the volume knob’s halfway mark. I’d deduct marks for the Poison’s short runtime, but given that it’s more at home on your bookshelf and in close proximity to a power outlet, I can let that go a bit.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

For its current asking price of about $69 (excluding shipping) on Kickstarter, the Poison makes a great addition to your small apartment, office; it’s also an excellent gift for your aesthetically conscious friends at any age. Once the limited-time offer runs out, it’ll cost $120; even at that price, I’d be happy to recommend it to anyone who’s not picky about their sound.

Find out more about the Lofree Poison and get your own from this Kickstarter campaign page.

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Gadgets

RightEye’s portable eye-tracking test catches concussions and reading problems in five minutes

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, but physiologically speaking, they’re really windows to the brain.

RightEye looks through that window to detect common but often subtle vision issues resulting from concussions and other brain troubles. Its quick, portable eye-tracking station can tell in minutes whether you should see a doctor — or look into becoming a pro ball player.

It turns out there’s quite a lot you can tell from how someone’s eyes move. We may not notice it ourselves, but we all vary in how and how well we execute a number of basic tasks, from flicking our eyes back and forth to smoothly tracking a moving target. For instance, your eyes may over-correct, fail to line up correctly, or track up or down when moving along a straight line.

For healthy individuals, these variations fall within a safe range, just part of the ordinary differences between bodies. But certain patterns well outside the baseline can be strong indicators of things like concussions and eye muscle problems — and even Parkinson’s and Autism-spectrum conditions.

RightEye tracks these movements with a custom device that looks a bit like an all-in-one desktop; it uses a Tobii eye-tracking module built into a single-purpose computer loaded with a library of simple tests. A basic EyeQ (as they call it) test takes five minutes or so, with more specialized tests adding only a few more, and results are available immediately.

To give you an idea: one test in game form has you defending a space station, destroying incoming ships by looking at them. But certain colored ships you must not destroy — meaning you have to detect them in your peripheral vision and avoid looking at them. In another test, you flick your eyes rapidly between two targets appearing on opposite sides of the screen, demonstrating accuracy and functioning saccades (micro-corrections made by your eye muscles).

Each eye is tracked independently, and their performance as a matched pair is evaluated instantly. An easy-to-understand results sheet shows their actual movements and how (if at all) they deviate from the baseline.

It’s compact and can run on battery for some 8 hours, making it ideal for deployment outside hospitals or the like: anywhere from school nurse’s office to the sidelines of an NFL game, even in the home.

I tested the device out myself at CES (my vision is just OK, but I want a rematch), and later chatted with Barbara Barclay, RIghtEye’s President. The two most exciting applications of the technology, as judged by her enthusiasm anyway, are in identifying vision-related cognitive problems in kids and in creating a sort of eye fitness test for sporting persons.

Say a child is having trouble learning to read, or perhaps can’t pay attention in class. The immediate thought these days is frequently ADD. But it’s more than a little possible that it’s a vision problem. A subtle difference in how the eyes track, perhaps one going off the horizontal when tracking a line of text, could easily make reading on the page or blackboard frustrating or even painful. What 3rd-grade kid would keep at it?

A reading-focused test tracks how the eyes move along a line of text.

This isn’t some groundbreaking new idea — but reliably and objectively evaluating individual eye movements was only something you could do if you went to see a specialist, perhaps after other explanations for a behavior didn’t pan out. RightEye’s test practically runs itself and can detect or eliminate the possibility of vision problems in minutes. Honestly, I think a kid might even find it fun.

Barclay has personal experience with this, her own daughter having had health issues that only after multiple false starts were found to have their root in a relatively simple vision problem the system indicated.

In 2016, RightEye acquired the rights to a pair of tests based on research linking eye movement patterns to Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, as well as Autism spectrum conditions. It’s not a magic bullet, but again, the quick and easy nature of the tests make them ideal for routine screening.

The Autism spectrum test is for children aged only 1 to 3, and watches eye movements between images of people and images of geometric shapes. Lingering on the shapes more than the people, it turns out, is a good indicator that at the very least the kid should receive further testing.

The Parkinson’s and Huntington’s tests watch for the more well understood patterns that accompany the motor degeneration found in those afflictions. They can be administered to people of any age and have (using earlier eye-tracking setups) contributed to many identifications of the diseases.

On a very different, but perhaps more immediately remunerative, note, Barclay told me that the test also works as a way to find outliers on the other end: people with what amounts to super-vision.

It’s entirely possible that someone could take the test and their results will show that they have faster, more accurate saccades, quicker target acquisition, and better continuous object tracking than the baseline. That’s a heck of an asset to have if you’re batting, fielding, goalkeeping, playing tight end — pretty much anything, really.

Examples of a healthy eye movement report (left) and concussed one (right).

It’s also a heck of an asset to have if you’re a scout or coach. If Lopez is catching great on the left side of the field but not the right, you can look into the possibility that he’s having trouble tracking the ball when looking over his left shoulder, his eyes all the way to the right.

Not only that, but you can test for effects of concussions or other traumas right there on the field if they’re having trouble. Given how widespread such injuries are and the immense danger of repeated concussions, testing early and often could literally save lives.

Right now, Barclay told me, 7 MLB teams are using RightEye tech for player assessments. As for the medical side of things, she said the company currently has 200 clients. The new hardware should help boost that number.

Perhaps more importantly, it has the backing (and therefore clout) of VSP, the country’s largest vision insurance company. That’s both a tremendous vote of confidence and a major in — nothing gets people using a system faster than knowing it’s covered by their existing insurance.

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Essential Phone’s new ‘Halo Gray’ color goes on sale exclusively at Amazon


The Essential Phone is currently in the midst of being rolled out in a range of new colors, including three that will be released excessively on Essential’s own website, with a staged release schedule that began Thursday. On Friday, however, Essential revealed a surprise fourth new color, “Halo Gray,” which will be exclusive to Amazon and which is now available to pre-purchase.

Amazon is a partner to Essential both as a sales channel, and as an investor. The distribution partnership with Amazon has been particularly fruitful, among all its sales channels, according to Essential President Niccolo de Masi, so it made sense to do something unique for Amazon with the ‘Halo Gray’ colorway.

With the Halo Gray Essential Phone, customers get the dark, matte finish of the ‘Stellar Gray’ color it released itself, along with the natural titanium, silver look of the band on the current white Essential model. The combination should be a good one, I can say from having seen both the matte finish and the titanium bands separately on other versions of Essential’s device.

The phone will also be unique in another way: It’ll include the Alexa app in the app drawer right from setup (though it’s still user removable, too, unlike pre-loaded stuff on most other Android devices). Given the popularity of Echo devices, and the gadget–buying audience Amazon is probably reaching anyway, it’s very likely that Essential buyers will appreciate saving a step with Alexa ready to go out of the box.

Amazon has been a solid partner for Essential, de Masi says, especially given its relative youth. The Essential Phone was one of the top-selling unlocked phones for Amazon on Cyber Monday last year, for instance, and also been an avenue for bringing the unlocked device to other markets via international shipping options.

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I asked De Masi about the recent IDC report that claims Essential sold just around 90,000 phones in its first six months of availability. Essential has always been upfront about the fact that it wouldn’t approach sales volumes of giants like Apple or Samsung in its first few years, but de Masi said he’s been pleasantly surprised by their performance, and called those estimates off-base relative to their actual sales volume thus far.

“I have yet to see any estimate throughout the life of this company that wasn’t low,” De Masi said. “Every single industry number has been low throughout the life of this product. I’m comfortable saying we sold in the six figures last year. We weren’t in the seven figures, but we certainly weren’t in the five figures.”

The Essential President also noted that Xiaomi’s first-year sales were in the same ballpark, so in general it’s happy with the company it’s keeping. De Masi also hinted about more to come, though he wouldn’t provide any specifics on any potential Essential Phone successors. New accessories are also in the pipeline, as are additional software improvements to build on the great work the company has done with the Essential Phone’s camera to date.

Like the other limited edition new colors from Essential, this Halo Gray version will be sold out once all the inventory is gone. de Masi acknowledged that Essential is taking cues from other limited release products in the lifestyle, including watches and sneakers, in pursuing this kind of strategy. Essential’s industrial design is unique and distinct enough that it seems like a good fit, but it’ll be interesting to see how it impacts overall sales numbers for the smartphone startup.
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This autonomous 3D scanner figures out where it needs to look


If you need to make a 3D model of an object, there are plenty of ways to do so, but most of them are only automated to the extent that they know how to spin in circles around that object and put together a mesh. This new system from Fraunhofer does it more intelligently, getting a basic idea of the object to be scanned and planning out what motions will let it do so efficiently and comprehensively.

It takes what can be a time-consuming step out of the process in which a scan is complete and the user has to inspect it, find where it falls short (an overhanging part occluding another, for instance, or an area of greater complexity that requires closer scrutiny) and customize a new scan to make up for these lacks. Alternatively, the scanner might already have to have a 3D model loaded in order to recognize what it’s looking at and know where to focus.

Fraunhofer’s project, led by Pedro Santos at the Institute for Computer Graphics Research, aims to get it right the first time by having the system evaluate its own imagery as it goes and plan its next move.

“The special thing about our system is that it scans components autonomously and in real time,” he said in a news release. It’s able to “measure any component, irrespective of its design — and you don’t have to teach it.”

This could help in creating one-off duplicates of parts the system has never seen before, like a custom-made lamp or container, or a replacement for a vintage car’s door or engine.

If you happen to be in Hanover in April, drop by Hannover Messe and try it out for yourself.
Featured Image: Fraunhofer Readmore

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