Sean Connery in Thunderball, 1965
Sean Connery in Thunderball, 1965 © Alamy

Activ5 pocket gym

Activ5 pocket gym, £130
Activ5 pocket gym, £130

The 125mm-long box announces this as a “tiny gym in your pocket” – one of the more extravagant claims I have seen, unless the gym were for the performers in a flea circus. The Activ5 is like a smooth, medium-sized pebble that fits in the palm of your hand and has no controls and seemingly no gym-like characteristics – not even an overpriced juice bar. But what is not immediately obvious is that it is an isometric-based training device and turns out to be rather brilliant. Isometrics are strength exercises that use your body’s muscle force against itself or a static object or surface, and are said to be highly efficient without involving weights or other equipment.

The man behind the Activ5, Dr Kosta Yanev, says working out with the device three times a day for five minutes over six weeks has been shown to deliver a 30 per cent increase in strength. His San Diego company, Activbody, evolved from his desire to keep fit while travelling. Hence, with a comprehensive programme of in-app exercises, Activ5 can assist a full-body muscle workout virtually anywhere – including at your desk and on a flight. The electronics in the Activ5 measure your movement and force in multiple planes, and it is important to push the pebble against your (pushing-back-with-equal-force) limbs or torso exactly as the instructions indicate. Set correctly, it will calibrate exercises to your ability and track your performance over time. While isometric exercise is low impact, you do feel the burn in your five-minute routines. But Activ5 does not seem to leave you aching or regretful the next day – or maybe I was just lucky. Or not working hard enough.
Activ5 pocket gym, £130, activbody.com

PocketTalk translator

PocketTalk W, €199
PocketTalk W, €199

I wrote a while ago about the sweet little ili translation gadget from Japan that translates essentials from English to Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish and doesn’t require WiFi or 4G connection. I’ve since used the ili in linguistic combat in Spain and it really is remarkable. This, the PocketTalk, is, however, far more sophisticated – the heavy artillery of electronic translation, if you like. One caveat: to work, it has to be connected to the internet (WiFi, with its own SIM, or tethered to your phone), so a hacker could presumably access everything you ask it to translate.

The PocketTalk can translate any combination of 75 languages almost instantly and at surprising levels of complexity. There’s a handful of languages (Swahili, Javanese, Lao, Filipino, Georgian, Khmer, Nepali and others) that it doesn’t (yet) speak out loud, but you still get text translations, and your interlocutor can speak into the device in their tongue. How is this different from Google Translate and other language apps on a phone? The microphones are significantly better, so you don’t have to go through handing your precious phone backwards and forwards to strangers. There’s also noise cancellation, so you can hold a relatively unstilted conversation in a crowded spot.
PocketTalk W, €199, see europe.pocketalk.net

Huma-i air-quality tester

Huma-i air-quality reader, around £75
Huma-i air-quality reader, around £75

In the interests of finding you great stuff most people don’t have, I spend a lot of time combing through crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter and buy products rather than ask struggling startups for review samples. That’s how this portable air-quality monitor came to turn up in the post from South Korea long after I had forgotten ordering it. You may have noticed I have featured a few quality monitors in recent years – Foobot, Awair and Netatmo Home Coach, along with AirBubbl, which is more of an air cleaner for inside the car, and Dyson’s air-scrubbing Pure Cool room fan. So yes, there is a theme here, and yes, it’s dictated by my being a fully paid-up member of “the worried well” – who lived for a few years in a house where the air definitely wasn’t good.

The delightful little Huma-i, however, is the first portable air tester I have seen, and if you work in a building you suspect is a bit on the toxic side, you will love it. It’s exceptionally neat – weighs just 60g – and is a user-friendly little thing that tests for CO2, particulates and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), as well as recording temperature and humidity. It comes in a handy rubber jacket, and agrees with all the other trusted non-portable instruments I have tested it against.
Huma-i air-quality reader, around £75, from indiegogo.com

Cygnett power pack 

Cygnett ChargeUp Pro 20k, £120
Cygnett ChargeUp Pro 20k, £120

Cygnett makes some of the neatest power packs going. The size, finish and feel of this 20,000 mAh pack are exemplary – it slides into any flight bag and has prodigious power. I was able to get a full charge for a 12in MacBook plus a little left over to wake an iPhone X from the dead. For £149.99 and quite a bit extra in dimensions and weight, Cygnett’s top, 27,000 mAh model (in black only) would have fully charged the phone too – but since I’d never get on a flight without a full phone and don’t use phones for much en route, I find the 20k more than enough.
Cygnett ChargeUp Pro 20k, £120, from uk.cygnett.com

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