Backerjack Podcast #21: Dish-sized Desktops and Roving Robots

In Episode 21 of the Backerjack Podcast, the triumphantly returning Steve and Ross check out some of the latest products seeking funds and preorders:

  • Remix Mini, a $30 PC that you can hold in your hands and runs a Windows-flavored version of Android.
  • Buddy, an expressive, face-sensing robot that can interact with multiple family members when you’re home and watch your home when you’re away.

Download the episode or listen below, subscribe via iTunes or RSS, and subscribe to the Backerjack Daily Digest to make sure you catch all the gadgets we’re covering. Also check out Steve’s great work on Apple World Today!




Android does its best Windows impression in the ultra-cheap Remix Mini desktop PC

editors-choiceOnce upon a time in a land before laptops, towering desktop PCs peppered the landscape, their hulking shells loaded with all manner of cards and drives dependent on support from the operating systems of their day.

The Remix Mini PC shows how the desktop has evolved in an era of mobile hardware and software. The elongated dish-like device, which makes the Mac mini look large in comparison, is bereft of buttons. (It turns on by touching its top surface.). Its rear is only slightly less minimalist — two USB ports, an HDMI connector for a monitor, a microSD slot and headphone port. Something of a surprise is a standard Ethernet connector, which may be welcome for corporate use or anyone who wants to escape the occasional unpredictability of Wi-Fi.

Tech Accessories

Lappito reclaims desk writing space from your laptop keyboard

This may be the perfect item for college students required to attend lots of lectures, and perhaps traveling business professionals. Situations such as these can mean that desktop space is limited, so if a person wants to make notes in a notebook, it can be an annoying hassle. Lappito fits over the keyboard of a standard sized laptop, and has tiny legs that raise it up just enough so that it isn’t touching the keyboard. Seems like it should be easily transportable since it is supposed to fit right inside the laptop bag with the computer. As long as access to the keyboard while making those notes isn’t necessary, this seems like it has the potential to be a rather handy item to have available. This campaign is seeking to raise $38,000 by November 13, 2014. For $20, early bird backers get two Lappitos with free shipping and an expected delivery of January 2015.

Connected Objects Technology

Rockhopper puts supercomputing power in a small package

rockhopperResearchers and businesses are almost always in need of more computing power, but having room for a datacenter is the least of worries when there’s overhead, product cost, and upkeep to consider. The Rockhopper boasts itself as the world’s smallest datacenter, offering 8 nodes for credit card sized servers, supporting as many as 64 cores in something that fits on a desktop. The product is entirely open source and supports multiple Linux distributions while being extremely space- and energy efficient. The device looks sleek and customizable, but will require both a need and the knowhow to properly make use of it in the IT department. Rockhopper datacenters start at $299 CAD and are expected to ship in May 2015.

Health and Wellness

Stealth Rising Desktop rises to your challenge of sitting

Stealth Rising DesktopTired of sitting in front of a computer screen all day?  Now it’s possible to stand up for a while and keep on working. Stealth Rising Desktop raises the user’s desktop at the press of a button. For those who are counting calories, it’s even possible to hook up a PC to the Stealth and schedule regular times of standing and track the extra calories burned from standing rather than sitting. While this might be a nice way to change up the workday, the claims that it actually improves health seem like they may be a bit on the exaggerated side although there’s lots of evidence in favor of at least getting out of the seated position once in a while. Expected delivery is February 2014.

Input Tech Accessories

Motus leads the movement for new desktop controls

The Premise. Aside from the stubborn curmudgeons and the technologically impaired, people need more than a keyboard and mouse these days. Touch screens and mobile devices have brought about simpler, more intuitive methods of controlling a computer. Now it’s time for those controls to become part of all computing experiences, including the desktop.

The Product. Motus may look like a tablet, and may control like a tablet, but it certainly has some new tricks up its sleeve. Connecting to computers over Bluetooth 4.0, Motus sits well on the side of the keyboard opposite the mouse, giving users the ability to use gesture controls in the space above the Motus itself to pan, zoom, rotate, scroll, and more. Motus is designed to be comfortable, intuitive, and allow three-dimensional concepts to find their way into the computer control scheme. Motus also has 15 touch capacitive buttons that owners can customize and program to do any functions that they may need quick access to.

The Pitch. Motus is an attractive piece of tech with an exciting feature set, and Ideas Un Limited knows this, so their campaign video focuses on the excitement of using the device and the sleek look of the product itself. A good portion of the campaign itself covers the design process of the Motus and the tech that goes inside of the device, with some tutorial and introduction videos sprinkled throughout. Ideas Un Limited needs $128,000 CAD to make using a Motus a reality for most consumers, and also has a stretch goal in place at $250,000 CAD for some different colors for the device.

The Perks. In order to get their hands on and above a Motus, backers will need to pledge $149 CAD and wait until November 2014. Developers who want to push the abilities of the device can get one of the very first devices available and have open access via phone and email with the hardware developers for $600 CAD.

The Potential. The personal computer is long overdue for an overhauled control scheme, but a big hurdle that needs to be overcome is designing an operating system with new controls in mind. Windows 8 took a big step in this direction, and the programmability of the Motus should make it flexible to handle any task with enough setup, but until a device like this is big enough to get native integration to a popular OS, it might be more of a struggle to get it working properly than it is to just stick with a keyboard and mouse for now while devices like this and Motix (sense a “mot“if?) try to find a lasting foothold in the PC market.


Novena gives hackers the portable, customizable PC of their dreams

The Premise. In some circles, it’s become increasingly commonplace to want to build  a computer rather than buy a ready-made model. Even when building, however, buyers are at the mercy of multiple manufacturers who may or may not want to add things like unwanted programs or trackers to prevent any tampering with the hardware.

The Product. Going far beyond lower-end hacker hardware like the Raspberry Pi, The Novena Open Laptop is a device designed by two men with a passion for open-source, flexible computers made to be hacked and played with. Developed entirely in-house from the ground up, from motherboard to operating system, the Novena is meant to be a powerful computing option for people who want their machine to do a lot, and who want to do a lot to their machine. With a 1.2 GHz quad-core processor, 4 GB of RAM, a 4GB microSD card, and onboard Wi-Fi, Novena is built to crunch some serious code.

The Pitch. From the get-go, the passion of Novena founders Andrew “bunnie” Huang and Sean “xobs” Cross regarding open-source and hacking is apparent. That passion translates to every aspect of the Novena system, from the easy-open case to the extensive documentation for the boards that makes the hardware (relatively) easy to tailor for any need. Novena wants to raise $250,000 to bring this openly designed laptop to market, mostly to handle manufacturing and finalization of the firmware.

The Perks. Hardware junkie DIY builders can receive just the Novena board and build their own case for $500. The pre-built “desktop” model is available for $1,195, the laptop for $1,995, and for those that are obsessed with style, a hand-crafted wood and aluminum case laptop is available for $5,000. The boards are expected to ship in November, with each higher tier launching in subsequent months.

The Potential. Let’s be clear, for everything the Novena can do, it is certainly not going to be a mass-market, user-friendly option. What it can do is give hardcore tech lovers a device that is flexible and accessible to any need or hypothesis that can be tested. Because everything is open and accessible, some professional knowledge of usage and safety is required, but for those who have that knowledge, this is a compact, modifiable solution for any kind of software or hardware development needs.