Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you
Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you

The Wrap – September 29, 2017

Apple’s big new phone, Sphero’s tiny little droid, Intel’s super tiny brain, and Nokia’s mid-sized look at yesteryear. It’s The Wrap for every size.


For the last week of September 2017, this is The Wrap, Australia’s quickest look at technology, covering all sorts of gadgets big and small.

And this week we’re starting with the smallest of the small, because if you happen to like it when technology is miniaturised, you’re going to love how small some of this week’s stories are.

Let’s start with positively tiny, because this week Intel talked up a new chip, and while it’s a very, very small processor, it has the potential to do some very, very big things.

Consider this one of the very things that starts computers, machines, and robots being able to learn like humans, with a processor that can mimic the way our brain functions in order to get smarter over time.

Designed to emulate the human brain, Intel calls this feat of artificial intelligence engineering “neuromorphic computing”, which essentially models computing technology on how the human brain works.

Right now, Intel’s Loihi chip is more of a research and experimentation concept, and while it has the potential to do a lot of things, most of the technology will be used to power research programs focusing on AI.

But who knows what will come next, and the first robot you have in your life that could help you might run on Intel’s platform, making it possible for robots and computer systems to do more and go further, maybe even helping us at home.

Before we get to that point, however, we’re going to need robots in the home, and that’s a while off yet. Right now, most robots are either toys or devices built to teach kids how to code, and this week, there’s one more of those.

The people behind those cool Star Wars robots like R2D2 and BB-8 and -9 have been at it again, working on ways to shrink their robotic ball technology down to something smaller than the hand-sized balls you’ve seen about the place.

And they’ve come up with something called the Sphero Mini, a tiny robot ball that will sell for $80 locally and provide all the technology of Sphero’s SPRK+ program to teach kids how to code, but in a ball the size of a ping pong ball, not the cricket ball Sphero’s robots normally sit in.

Like the other Sphero robotic balls, Sphero Mini can be used to play games and roll around, but its main purpose is to teach kids the basics of programming and start them on a trip in the world of computer science, using the mobile phone apps to program what the ball can do.

In fact, the Mini has one neat trick we’ve not seen from the company yet, with a “Face Drive” feature that will let you make faces to drive the ball around.

There is one other thing that separates the Sphero Mini from its SPRK+ sibling, and that’s a lack of water resistance. Simply put, if you want to paint with your robotic ball or roll it around in the mud, you’re going to need its big brother, as the Mini won’t be as comfortable out in the water or rain.

Next up is the mid-sized devices, and this week we’ve seen one of those as a little piece of the past returns to our hands, and potentially yours too.

If you grew up with mobile phones before the iPhone, there’s a good chance you owned a Nokia, as that brand practically dominated the mobile world. We don’t even want to count how many phones we can think of that Nokia made, because the number is big, real big, but one stood out: the 3310.

Often seen as one of the best devices Nokia had ever produced, it helped introduce what a mobile phone should be to a bigger crowd, pushing the antenna into the frame of the handset, offering what was at the time a relatively big screen, and providing decent battery life and durability. Basically if you dropped the 3310, you could usually put it together easily. It even had exchangeable covers, allowing you to customise your phone.

With the return of Nokia to the smartphone world, the brand is back with a new generation of the 3310, and this one’s a bit of a strange one, especially in Australia where smartphones more or less reign supreme. Nokia’s new 3310 is basically what it sounds like it might be, with a new generation of the handset available in 3G compared to the 2G it used to work with, a colourful screen, and a battery life of up to 27 days standby and a little over six hours of talk time.

That makes it specifically targeted at people who don’t plan on using their phone much. Likely kids or seniors. We’ll say kids probably won’t like this phone, as the screen isn’t big or colourful enough, so that leaves seniors, which it’s certainly going to be good for since there’s no touchscreen and it has physical buttons.

But it also comes with a $90 price, and given that it edges quite close to cheap-as-chips but still semi-decent smartphones, we’re not sure it’s going to be for everyone.

That said, you’ll find the new Nokia 3310 in stores and from both Optus and Vodafone in October, and that’s great if you want an old school phone.

But what if you want something big, new, and impressive.

Well, aside for there being some big phones from Samsung, Sony, HTC, Huawei and Google, there’s also something new from Apple, and we’ve taken a look at that this week.

Now it’s not the one you’ve been waiting for, as sadly the iPhone X hasn’t been placed in our hands. For now, though, we’re reviewing the iPhone 8 Plus, what is basically the main flagship around for Apple right now, and we’re sure you’ll be totally shocked when we tell you that this phone is pretty bloody good.

You’re shocked right? We know you are. Just admit it.

Seriously, the iPhone 8 Plus is more of what people expect from Apple, with another big 5.5 inch phone, two improved cameras, a much better spec’d processor and set of innards, not to mention that same front design people have come to love over the years. Yep, you’re not going to be forced to buy the full screen iPhone X, because Apple is still making phones in its original design, and that’s something.

You’ll also find a good day of battery life, some improvements to the screen, a very cool take on augmented reality that can kind of just exist anywhere, faster 4G speeds, and a new camera mode for its dual cameras that will let you tweak the lighting to match your subject even after you’ve captured the image.

There’s even wireless charging, something you now get thanks to a glass back, making it possible for you to charge the iPhone simply by resting it on a charge pad.

Our one major criticism is the price, because for the minimum $1229 the iPhone 8 Plus costs, you kind of want to feel like more has changed, and while the iPhone 8 Plus is excellent, you don’t really get that feeling.

It’s good, it’s great, but it can come off feeling like more of the same.

Fortunately, more of the same is something quite a lot of people want, and if that’s you, we can’t fault you, and you’ll find this one in stores now.

There is another iPhone coming, though, so if you like the sound of this phone with a longer and more futuristic screen, hold on, because that’ll be here very, very soon.

But not before the end of this show, because that’s now.

You’ve been listening to The Wrap, Pickr’s technology podcast wrapping the week’s news and a review in the shortest amount of time possible. We’ll be back next week for more news and reviews, and maybe a sarcastic comment or two. Until then, be sure to have a tremendous week and we’ll see you next time on The Wrap. Take care.

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