As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gadget reviewer. As a kid, my favorite reading material, in addition to American comic books and manga, were video game review magazines like GamePro and EGM. When I got to high school and started making my own money, I began spending most of my paychecks on gadgets. I still remember dropping $800 (my entire month's earnings as a teen) on an Archos PMA (portable media player), which was basically a very ancient version of the iPad, way back in 2001. Then in 2003, I got the T-Mobile Sidekick (aka the Danger Hiptop, rebranded for no particular reason because U.S. phone carriers like to interfere with every product), which was sort of a spiritual ancestor to the Android operating system.
Anyway, long story short: I am a gadget geek, and I've been very fortunate to be able to write about gadgets for a living right now. Because I live just an hour away from Shenzhen -- hardware capital of the world -- I have gotten my hands on some of the wildest gadgets this year.
Truly wireless earbuds that operate by touch, can act as a stand-alone music player without the need to play from another source, and plays/stops music automatically whenever I put on/take off the buds? Yup, Bragi's Dash (officially named "The Dash," which I think is apt considering how futuristic and cool these things look) sounds too good to be true. And while the Bluetooth connectivity isn't as strong as a pair of expensive wireless headphones, the Dash brings enough to the table to offset that small flaw.
The Bragi Dash has 23 sensors embedded inside and outside the buds. Photo: Bragi
Perhaps the feature I love most is "audio transparency," which utilizes the microphone on the Dash to absorb ambient sound from the outside and feed it back to me. This is useful if I want to have a conversation with someone without taking off the earbuds (though it would appear so rude) and also when I'm listening to music while walking on the streets -- with ambient noise audible, I can hear cars around me.
Crazybaby's floating speaker, named the "Mars." Photo: Crazybaby
Shenzhen startup Crazybaby's set to release its take on the truly wireless earbuds in a few months, but the product that got them attention first was this "floating" speaker. Here, watch it in action.
Cool, right? And the sound doesn't sound bad at all. As you can see on the video, the Mars consists of two parts: a spaceship looking speaker that "levitates" off of its sub-woofer base via magnets. Despite its large and heavy sub-woofer -- the thing weighs like 10 pounds -- the bass is, unfortunately, not too strong. Still, the Mars is enough to fill a normal U.S.-sized room or Asia-sized living room. But no one's buying this for the sound anyway, it's to show off the cool floating disc, which lights up and can spin different patterns that can be controlled via Crazybaby's app.
3: Bluegogo/Mobike Smart Bikes
Bluegogo's bicycle has a solar panel located inside the front basket. Photo: Bluegogo
Okay, this one isn't technically a gadget, but Shenzhen's bike- share scene is so much more advanced than the bike shares found in the Bay Area, New York or anywhere else in the world, I have to make mention of it here. Rival startups Bluegogo and Mobike have taken the traditional bike-share system and integrated the IoT to it. All of Bluegogo and Mobike's bicycles are partly solar-powered and do not need to be parked at a dedicated bike stand.
Me giving the Bluegogo a spin outside the start-up's office. Photo: Liz Choi
To ride, download the app, which will show you the nearest unused bike's location (with tens of thousands of bikes in the city, there will almost always be one within a five minutes walk), then unlock the bike via the app. When you're done riding, park the bicycle anywhere, tap a few buttons on the app and the bike will activate its rear-wheel lock. Payment is done digitally over the app, which also track riding stats. This makes the CitiBikes in New York look so dated.
4: Xiro Xplorer Drone
Xiro's Mini. Photo: Xiro
It's not as famous as DJI, but Xiro is China's second biggest drone company. I visited the startup's headquarters two months ago and got to try out its Mini drone, which was a smaller, more compact version of its popular Xplorer drone (which got great reviews). The Mini is controlled via its smartphone app, and uses a Qualcomm chip to run its image recognition algorithm, which means it can recognize your face and follow you. The guys at Xiro calls the Mini the "ultimate selfie drone," because it's got a 13-megapixel, f/2.8 aperture that can recognize your face and follow your around when you bike, skateboard, run, whatever. The Mini can also use ultrasonic sonar to track its surroundings so you can use it indoors.
The Xiro Mini drone in action. Photo: Ben Sin
It took a bit of time to get used to flying, but after 20 minutes, I was flying this around Xiro's office in Shenzhen Hi-tech Park without worrying about crashing into a window.
5: Vinci Smart Headphones
The Vinci comes in various colors, but yellow is the signature. Photo: Ben Sin
The Vinci is, simply put, the most ambitious headphones created. It's an over-the-ear headphone that aims to be an always-on virtual assistant, providing information throughout your day (if you're willing to keep it on) that can detect your location and do things like call you an Uber; read you your latest text messages; inform you of impending weather changes or unexpected traffic; track your heart rate and distance traveled during a run; make dinner reservations and provide driving/walking instructions ... along with play music. Watch Vinci's official promotional video to get an idea of what Vinci hopes to do for you.
Right now, in its current form, the Vinci hasn't reached its potential yet -- the voice assistant can't be voice activated yet; the heart rate sensor isn't working -- but the company boss Max Wu claims it will get there. Still, being able to activate the voice assistant (with touch for now) and ask the headphone to play a song or find you the nearest 7-11 is very cool.
The Vinci has a touchscreen on its left side for touch interaction. Photo: Vinci
I don't think I can wear headphones -- particularly these garish yellow ones -- all day, but if the Vinci ever become sleeker and less yellow, I can see myself using this.
6: Savfy Mini Wireless Earbuds
The Savfy Mini Wireless Earbuds. Photo: Ben Sin
Savfy's wireless earbuds are called the Mini, and for good reason. At just 0.5'' X 0.5'' by 0.8'', these are the smallest and lightest true wireless earbuds on the market. And unlike some of the other wireless earbuds I've tried, the connectivity on this is very good. Not quite as good as the Erato Apollo 7 (the best on the market in terms of stable connections), the Savry Mini is solid enough that you can't complain, especially since it's priced cheaper than Apple's AirPods or the Erato Apollo 7.
The charging case is full aluminum and feels very premium.
I took these for a gym session recently and was impressed by the sound -- dynamic range is excellent and the bass is surprisingly deep. Battery life on this is great too, I got close to four hours of use on one charge.