The ultimate virtual drum kit
Occasionally, when I’m in buoyant mood, I will drum along to some percussion-heavy music I’m fond of, using anything around – chair arms, cushions, desk – as surrogate drums. It’s a habit which, as far as I can tell, I share with only about a billion of my fellow humans – including, unexpectedly, The Rolling Stones’ 79-year-old drummer Charlie Watts, who appeared playing phantom drums at his Devon home on the One World: Together At Home coronavirus benefit gig in April. With the drum soundtrack for You Can’t Always Get What You Want prerecorded, Watts used some boxes as pretend drums and the back of a tall armchair as a hi-hat. (It turned out that he doesn’t have a drum kit at home because his wife hates the noise.)
Being able to drum silently but produce sound on headphones was one of the reasons that Aerodrums, which I featured here before last Christmas, has been so successful. Drummers’ partners, children and neighbours tend not to love drumming.
But now there’s a French rival to the Liverpool-based Aerodrums that I and, more significantly, my drummer daughter-in-law believe has the edge. While Aerodrums uses cameras to track your hands and feet, and requires near-darkness to work well, with Senstroke, you slip a Bluetooth-enabled sensor onto each drumstick and each foot, pair with an app, and, voilà, you’ve got a drum kit.
The tactile feedback from a stick hitting an object such as a table or cushion isn’t quite the same as from hitting a real drum, but it’s more satisfying than the sensation of drumming air. And you can calibrate different objects in different positions to emulate different drum sounds. Daughter-in-law toyed with the idea of using a glass and porcelain cake stand as a cymbal, and then wisely un-toyed with it.
Senstroke is not just a bit of fun, although it is definitively that. In combination with a phone or tablet app (tablet is better), you can use it to learn drums from scratch, or to polish and practise your skills. The accompanying app is extensive, effective and serious.
Senstroke, from €160, senstroke.com
Fitbit’s in your blood
Fitbit has long been the pacemaker in gadgetry to track personal health. Now, again, it is one of the first off the blocks with tech to measure blood oxygenation – a key measure of health, which is why anyone in hospital regularly has an oximeter clamped to their fingertip. Blood oximeters measure oxygen levels by shining red and infrared light through the skin. The same principle applies in the latest Fitbit products, using the wrist. Fitbit takes readings through the night. So when you wake up, you see your oxygen-level variation. Too many orange peaks, indicating times when your level has dipped below ideal, can indicate potentially dangerous sleep apnoea and other breathing problems.
FitBit Versa 2, £179, fitbit.com
Sit still and concentrate
If this neat little wearable product hadn’t come out of Cambridge’s startup scene and been trialled by Cambridge students, I might have been less inclined to try it, and I would have missed out on some interesting and useful self-knowledge. Foci tracks the wearer’s focus at the work desk. It’s tuned to differentiate physiological signatures, such as unproductively shifting in your chair, as well as the subtle cognitive changes you aren’t aware of, such as the breathing patterns you can’t avoid if you’re planning to stay alive. After a couple of days of learning, Foci, via its app and AI-based cloud processing, starts providing genuinely useful feedback on how effectively you’re focusing, along with actionable tips on how to avoid the distractions you are encountering. I loved it and won’t be separated from my Foci now.
Foci, from £64, fociai.com
An outstandingly clear stereo digital recorder
If you are involved in audio content creation for podcasting, music or just a business meeting, Olympus’ latest LS-P1 stereo digital recorder is indispensable. It weighs just 75g and measures 10.9 x 4 x 1.4cm, but has a 4GB internal capacity that will store 123 hours of audio. This is expandable by 32GB with a simple MicroSD card. The microphone array, with the mics angled diagonally away from one another, means you record in true stereo at a quality of up to 96kHz/24 bit, which exceeds that of a CD. The recordings are outstandingly clear and crisp. And there’s a range of software tricks, like the ability to balance softer and louder voices – and a great hardware feature, a slide-out USB connector, for transferring files without wires.
Olympus LS-P1, from £110, olympus.co.uk
The iPad gets the Magic Keyboard it’s due
The new iPad Pros may feature significant camera and augmented-reality advances over the superb Pro tablets Apple introduced in 2018. But more interesting is the fact they can be paired with Apple’s superlative Magic Keyboard, enabling you to create the most innovative and effective hybrid tablet-laptop yet. The Magic Keyboard features, joy of joys, a trackpad – and a USB-C port that allows you to keep the iPad on charge. A 12.9in iPad Pro docked with the Magic Keyboard is slightly smaller and lighter than the latest 13in MacBook Pro. With the iPads offering up to 1TB of storage, a Pro-Magic Keyboard combo could now be all you need for work and leisure.
Apple iPad Pro, from £769, and Magic Keyboard, from £299, apple.com
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