SmartMoney Blogs

Pay Dirt
A daily look at what we buy, how we spend, and the companies that do right - and wrong - by their customers.

Technology - All posts in category Technology

  • Jan 12, 2012
    5:32 PM ET

    Getting Hip To Music, Using Laser Beams

    Kelli B. Grant

    Consumers who never learned to play a musical instrument — well, or at all — can now fake it.

    The new Beamz interactive music system plays the melody line of songs in its library, letting the user add in complementary beats, vocals and instrumental riffs by moving his or her hands through its laser beams.

    A spokeswoman says the $199 device is meant to appeal to “the Guitar Hero” set, as well as wannabe deejays (although mixing your own tunes requires additional equipment). “You can’t really sound bad on this,” she says. The USB-powered device comes with software and 50 songs; others in the 200-plus song library cost $0.99 to $1.99 each.

  • Jan 12, 2012
    4:55 PM ET

    CES: A Polite, Well-Spoken Alarm Clock

    Kelli B. Grant

    If it’s not enough that consumers can give voice commands to their TV and their phone, well, now the alarm clock wants to get in on the action.

    Ivee’s new line of alarm clocks respond to 35 to 43 voice commands, depending on the model. She — and Ivee is a very polite-sounding she, with a slight accent — can help users set alarms and timers, and answer questions about the date, time and temperature. “She’s almost like Siri’s cousin, with an agenda,” says chief executive Jonathan Nostrant. The clocks, which sell for $50 to $60, also include ambient sleep sounds and, in some models, radio.

  • Jan 12, 2012
    3:49 PM ET

    CES: No Gadget Left Behind

    Kelli B. Grant

    Travelers who get that sinking feeling that they have forgotten something often discover later that the something in question is the cable for charging their laptop, smartphone or other devices.

    The mountain of cable cords at Loss Prevention Systems’ booth speaks to the issue: several dozen chargers, all collected from a single Manhattan hotel over the course of several days. The company’s new $10 device, Perch, aims to eliminate the problem.

  • Jan 12, 2012
    2:48 PM ET

    CES: The Family Flatscreen, Now A 42″ Phone

    Consumers itching to video chat on a grand scale can now do so in high definition on their flat-screen, even if they don’t have one of the new Internet-connected models.

    Kelli B. Grant

    The new Biscotti TV phone is a tiny set-top box containing a camera and microphone. Hooked up to the TV and a home Internet connection, the $199 device allows for unlimited calling anywhere in the world.

    Biscotti users can video chat in high-def 720p resolution with each other, or with laptops and cellphones that use Google video chat, says a spokesman.

  • Jan 12, 2012
    2:07 PM ET

    CES: Skip Moisturizer for Technology

    Kelli B. Grant

    A recent UK study found that the average woman spends $164,000 on beauty products over a lifetime. Maybe more, if she buys into some of the new high-tech beauty gadgets.

    Moneual’s “Dr. Soo BH1000” facial system claims to use a combination of hydrating steam, “anions” (an ionic particle or charged group of atoms for the non-scientists among us) and aromatherapy to moisturizer skin and kill bacteria. “It gives you that alert, fresh feeling, like opening a window,” says a spokeswoman. But more expensive — the device, currently being tested in Asia, it expected to sell for $299 when it arrives in the U.S. sometime during the third quarter. (In comparison, mass-market facial steamers run as cheap as $20.)

  • Jan 12, 2012
    1:03 PM ET

    CES: Gadget Juice-to-Go for Travelers

    Kelli B. Grant

    When we received a pre-CES review unit of RFA Brands’ Powerbag, which contains an in-pack battery and adaptors to simultaneously charge up to four devices, our first question was, “Will this make it through airport security?” Absolutely, said a spokesman, who rattled off a list of airports he’s flown through with the bag and praised the way it unzips to lie flat on an airport security scanner, negating the need to remove a computer from its specialized compartment.

    Fast-forward two days. “You sure have a lot of gadgets and wires in here,” says the TSA agent swabbing our bag for explosive residue. To be fair, we did, and the TSA check took maybe a minute. (Another company spokesman said our story is an aberration, and they haven’t heard of other similar problems.)

  • Jan 12, 2012
    12:50 PM ET

    CES: Smartphone Features For a Home Phone Line

    Having a home phone line may have just gotten hipper.

    VoIP provider Ooma’s new $60 handset, available in March, has a 2″ color LCD screen, and links with Facebook to provide the caller’s picture and name when available. Users can also designate different ringtones for different callers — that way, there’s no need to go racing for the phone when the “Jaws” theme announces it’s an unknown, probably telemarketer’s number. Or worse, your mother.

  • Jan 12, 2012
    11:30 AM ET

    CES: (Another) Death Knell for the Fax Machine

    Kelli B. Grant

    Fax machines aren’t exactly cutting-edge technology any more, and chances are, if you’ve used one lately, it was to send some kind of official document requiring a signature.

    A new consumer product called Docusign in the e-signature space aims to eliminate even that odd fax encounter. The free software lets consumers create digital versions of their signature and initials to insert in emailed or scanned documents. A spokesman says the idea would be that consumers could eventually digitally send a signed permission slip for their child’s classroom field trip instead of trusting he won’t forget it in his backpack. (He says the company makes its money on a business product for sending digital contracts, invoices and the like.)

  • Jan 12, 2012
    10:53 AM ET

    CES: A Tablet for the Kitchen?

    Kelli B. Grant

    A big theme this year at CES features new ways to take gadgets everywhere: Bluetooth speakers in the shower, high-speed Internet in airplanes. Next up, a kitchen-specific tablet.

    The $400 Qooq (pronounced “cook”) will be available stateside in September after debuting in France two years ago. It’s designed especially for kitchen use, with spill- and splash-resistant coatings, four rubbery feet to keep it from sliding off the counter and a built-in kickstand in the back. Continuing the food theme, it comes preloaded with more than 500 recipes and apps to manage weekly menus and grocery shopping lists. (All that content, however, requires a subscription — price to be determined — after the first month.)

  • Jan 12, 2012
    10:37 AM ET

    CES: Smartphone Control Over Video Content

    Getty Images

    Watching movies on the comparably tiny screen of a smartphone doesn’t hold appeal for plenty of consumers, but soon, it may be the equivalent to a universal remote for much of their video content.

    Coming soon: A new app called Shodogg will let users use their smartphones to find their movies or TV show of choice, then send streamable content from their phone to any web-connected device, including computers and televisions. A spokesman says it won’t require any special equipment, and can be used with any product brand — so long as the phone in question is a smartphone and the various devices can connect to the Internet. The smartphone then effectively functions as a control, pulling content from those devices or pushing it to them, and letting users pause and fast-forward from the phone screen.

About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.