Category Archives: gadget

Simple with Sim Only Deals

The more savvy amongst the mobile phone and iPad user population have known about the advantages of sim only deals for several years; some of the rest of us have taken time to catch up! GiffGaff were the pioneers of the sim only offering in the UK, using the 02 network, but other network providers were quick to jump on the bandwagon, so there’s now healthy competition between the main operators. You will find that when you are researching the best sim only deals GiffGaff remain leaders in the field, their per minute price of 10p comparing very favorably with the competition.

So what are the advantages of sim only deals? Simplicity, for a start – buying just a sim card without a handset releases you from being tied in to a long-term contract, and most sim only contracts run for a minimum term of 30 days.

Cost-saving is another big advantage offered by the sim only deal. Because the network operator is not subsidising the cost of handsets to its customers, it can afford to make significant reductions to its tariffs.

The flexibility that a sim only contract offers allows you to change the tariff regime that you are on from one month to the next, depending on your circumstances; and if you are dissatisfied with the coverage offered by your network operator in your area – it’s easy to switch! You may also be wanting to snap up the next iPhone or iPad when it comes on the market, and a sim only deal gives you the flexibility to keep your monthly contracts ticking over whilst waiting for its arrival.

A greater choice of handset can also be available to you from retailers, as some network operators have a more limited menu to offer their contract customers. However, this might also be the point at which you discover one of the potential drawbacks of sim only deals. For buying handsets on their own can be expensive, and you are likely to have to do quite a bit of shopping around to find a deal that anywhere near matches what you would be offered if were on a longer-term contract with a network operator.

If you prefer not to have to give either time or thought to your mobile phone bill, but just to pay it when it comes in, then sim only deals are probably not for you. They do require you to be proactive in researching the best offers, month by month, and to keep track of your usage so that you ensure you are on the most suitable tariff. You may need to monitor you text, voice and internet minutes carefully to make sure that you don’t go over your allocation, as this can get very expensive.

Morphing programmable matter gadgets could soon be a reality

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Imagine a bracelet or a watch that morphs into something else when you take it off. Perhaps it becomes a phone, or perhaps a small computer screen and keyboard.

Researchers are just a few years away from bringing to life revolutionary morphing devices known as programmable matter which can change size, shape and function.

Programmable matter, or “claytronics”, involves creating devices made of millions of microscopic robots that are to 3D objects what pixels are to a screen.

These devices sound like pure science fiction, but they might be closer than anyone would have dreamed. And that includes Jason Campbell, one of the key members of the research team developing the technology at the Intel Research Centre.

“It’s a really challenging research vision, but we are making steady progress and we’re now more convinced that we are actually going to do it,” says Mr Campbell.

“My estimates of how long it is going to take have gone from 50 years down to just a couple more years. That has changed over the four years I’ve been working on the project.”

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‘Instant on’ computing

Materials researchers say rebooting soon may be a thing of the past

The ferroelectric materials found in today’s “smart cards” used in subway, ATM and fuel cards soon may eliminate the time-consuming booting and rebooting of computer operating systems by providing an “instant-on” capability as well as preventing losses from power outages.

Researchers supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) nanoscale interdisciplinary research team award and three Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers at Cornell University, Penn State University and Northwestern University recently added ferroelectric capability to material used in common computer transistors, a feat scientists tried to achieve for more than half a century. They reported their findings in the April 17 journal Science.

Ferroelectric materials provide low-power, high-efficiency electronic memory. Smart cards use the technology to instantly reveal and update stored information when waved before a reader. A computer with this capability could instantly provide information and other data to the user.

Researchers led by Cornell University materials scientist Darrell Schlom took strontium titanate, a normally non-ferroelectric variant of the ferroelectric material used in smart cards, and deposited it on silicon–the principal component of most semiconductors and integrated circuits–in such a way that the silicon squeezed it into a ferroelectric state.

“It’s great to see fundamental research on ordered layering of materials, or epitaxial growth, under strained conditions pay off in such a practical manner, particularly as it relates to ultra-thin ferroelectrics” said Lynnette Madsen, the NSF program director responsible for the Nanoscale Interdisciplinary Research Team award.

The result could pave the way for a next-generation of memory devices that are lower power, higher speed and more convenient to use. For everyday computer users, it could mean no more waiting for the operating system to come online or to access memory slowly from the hard drive.

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Future shock: The PC of 2019

For those of you who want the world at your fingertips, the wait is almost over.

The future PC promises to put nearly everything you could need or want right in your palm.

Think of a souped-up version of today’s smartphone, with a monitor that unrolls into a larger screen and a biometric security system that lets you access everything in your professional and personal life from anywhere, with all the data residing in the cloud. Wave it at your car to unlock the door. Order and pay for your morning coffee with a touch of a button. Plug it into a docking station and project that big presentation to your clients. Book a weekend getaway with just a few clicks.

“PCs are going from engines or tools to portals and enablers. The vision of what they’ll be in the future is a partner. They’ll be participating in the higher cognitive tasks of what people do to get their jobs done,” says Andrew Chien, director of research at Intel Corp.

The personal computer has been a corporate workhorse for decades. And while it has evolved, becoming slimmer and more mobile, in many ways it still resembles those old terminals tethered to the mainframe. But the next decade will bring dramatic changes, as the PC evolves past the standard desktop and laptop units to amalgamations of computing devices and their peripherals.

This future PC will be smarter, too. It could discreetly remind you of the name of an acquaintance and alert you when it’s time to take your medicine. It will be your colleague, your butler — and possibly your friend.

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CES 2009: 3D video gaming to become a reality next month

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Mitsubishi will be pitching a 3D product consisting of Nvidia driver software, 3D glasses with a receiver and a sender that is placed on top of a TV. If you own a home entertainment PC with a potent Nvidia graphics card, the driver software can create 3D imagery from regular video games, we are told. The sending unit  reacts to the position of the 3D glasses to create a true 3D feeling.

We were able to testdrive the technology for a few minutes and were deeply impressed. Mitsubishi said that the product will be offered for $200 beginning next month – home entertainment PC and 3D-enabled LCD TV not included.

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Scientists Use Paper To Develop A Futuristic Memory Device

The world of electronics could be changed forever as a team of scientists have developed a memory device made of organic materials. These organic memories are cost-efficient, easy to manufacture, and lightweight just like a memory device should be. In order to make it work, the scientists built a field-effect transistor on paper, and in the same time, they demonstrated its great performance.

“The longest time that has lasted from organic memories is about 5,000 seconds. This just doesn’t allow for practical use in many cases as a memory device. What we have shown is that it is possible to store information on paper, electronically, for more than a year and a half,” said Rodrigo Martins, a scientist at the New University of Lisbon, Portugal.

Probably the best part about this device is that it can already be to manufactured at room temperature with ease. This organic memory device is made of long fibers from pine and polyester which were coated with gallium indium zinc oxide. The scientists used a technique called magnetron sputtering, and all of these also made the paper to be erasable and rewritable, and that it can hold hold multiple layers of information.

“What we are doing is exploiting the memory effect. We have a sort of type of integrated foam composed of fibers set up that increases the capability of storing carriers or charges in our paper. We have integrated discrete fibers, and contacts are applied on the extremes of the channel region to allow the induced carriers to move. Electrons move along the fibers,” said Martins.

“If I want my paper to catch information I can apply a signal of, say, five volts. And it writes on the paper. If I want to erase the information, I basically apply minus five volts – the opposite. But, at the same time, I can write another layer of information using 10 volts. The paper can distinguish between the two, and even if I erase the five volt information, the 10 volt information remains,” he added.

In conclusion, Martins explained the implications that this technology could have and he let us know that he is very confident that in a few years this paper memory device could enter on the market and be commercialized worldwide.

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Google Is Taking Questions (Spoken, via iPhone)

Pushing ahead in the decades-long effort to get computers to understand human speech, Google researchers have added sophisticated voice recognition technology to the company’s search software for the Apple iPhone.

Users of the free application, which Apple is expected to make available as soon as Friday through its iTunes store, can place the phone to their ear and ask virtually any question, like “Where’s the nearest Starbucks?” or “How tall is Mount Everest?” The sound is converted to a digital file and sent to Google’s servers, which try to determine the words spoken and pass them along to the Google search engine.

The search results, which may be displayed in just seconds on a fast wireless network, will at times include local information, taking advantage of iPhone features that let it determine its location.

The ability to recognize just about any phrase from any person has long been the supreme goal of artificial intelligence researchers looking for ways to make man-machine interactions more natural. Systems that can do this have recently started making their way into commercial products.

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3D Printers Now as Cheap As Laser Printers Were in 1985

We do go on about the possibilities of downloadable designs, where you can pick the best from around the world and get it printed up at some form of 3D Kinko that might some day be in every neighbourhood.

Perhaps that vision isn’t wild enough; the Ponoko blog notes that the desktop publishing revolution was born when the Apple LaserWriter was released in 1985 for $6995. Now Desktop Factory is launching a 3D printer that isn’t much bigger than that laser printer, and at $5,000 in 2008 dollars a whole lot cheaper.

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20 megapixel cellphones shooting Full HD video in 4 years

It’s tough to predict the future, especially with cutbacks to R&D budgets in the face of a global economic slowdown. Still, it’s always nice to see a forward-looking corporate-slide related to mobile handsets from the taller, blonder half of that Sony Ericsson partnership. LTE and fast CPUs are certainly no surprise, nor is that 1,024 x 768 XGA screen resolution that Japan’s superphones are already bumping up against. The most compelling vision is that of the embedded camera sensors: 12-20 megapixels capable of recording Full HD video by 2012. Adding more fuel to firey speculation that handsets are about to find themselves embroiled in a megapixel war.

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Alaris 30 Desktop 3D Printer Unveiled

Objet Geometries have kindly offered us (in advance of even their own official press release going live) a tantalising insight concerning their new Alaris 30 Desktop 3D Printer which, despite its decidedly compact design, offers high resolution 600 x 600 dpi resolution 3D printing using PolyJet Photopolymer Jetting Technology to render not only full, and exceptionally detailed 3D objects but which, as is evidenced by the impressive car model sent to us (which is presently sitting on my desk), can even produce models complete with intricate, interacting moving parts.

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