The QLOCKTWO W By Biegert & Funk Is A Timepiece For Literate Lovers Of Good Design

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Biegert & Funk has made a name for itself thanks to its iconic clock design that tells time the way we tend to convey it to one another in conversation – with written words in five-minute increments, spelling out “half past twelve” or “a quarter to five.” After creating a number of wall and desk clocks with this design, the firm made a lot of people’s wishes come true and revealed the QLOCKTWO W, a wearable version of the design that fits on the wrist. One has been sitting on mine for the past couple of weeks, and in that time it has managed to make a strong impression on both myself and my friends and family.

With only a 10 x 11 grid of letters making up 110 characters in total (that’s less than a tweet), the QLOCKTWO W can display any time, and even though it only spells out five-minute increments, if you’re more exact, four dots at the bottom of the watch’s face indicate the specific minute, and you can cycle through to a view of the seconds ticking by with a couple presses of the QLOCKTWO’s single button. It also displays the calendar date (and if you’re unaware of the month and year, you likely have more problems than a watch can fix), and is available in English, French and German versions.

The QLOCKTWO W comes in three different finishes – polished, brushed, or black stainless stainless steel. The face of each measures 35 x 35mm, which with a square-faced watch wears roughly similar to a 40mm standard round watch. For me, since I prefer smaller faced watches, it’s a perfect size. The square design and the non-tapering wide 24mm leather strap make it appear more substantial than you might expect, however, and it definitely attracts a lot of curiosity from onlookers.

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Biegert & Funk have done a phenomenal job with the overall look of the case and strap, which isn’t surprising given their history as a design firm. The QLOCKTWO W’s most impressive feature is its display, however. When you activate the display, words light up to reflect the current time. Unlike other watches that use a push-button LED illumination trick to show the time, I found the lighting on the QLOCKTWO to be incredibly even. The letters on the face are relatively small, but they show up clear and very easy to read thanks to the well-engineered backlighting. The amount of time the light remains active also seems perfectly engineered, for reading and for showing others when they ask for the time.

In general I tend to find it hard to continue to wear watches that use a push-button activation mechanism just to display the time, but the QLOCKTWO W has managed to beat that personal preference. You can also activate a demo mode to have it display the time constantly, but you’ll burn through your battery pretty quickly doing that. One other thing to note is that while the display is among the best LED-lit watch faces I’ve ever seen, it still isn’t great for reading in bright sunlight, though in all other conditions, including overcast days, it’s easy to read without a struggle.

The Biegert & Funk QLOCKTWO W is a comfortable-wearing watch that tells the time well and does so in a manner that’s unique without being difficult or obscure. It’s also a wearable work of art thanks to the iconic design of the face and smart, industrial minimalism of the case. Starting at around $ 650 (a price at which you can start to get some impressive automatics), it is likely to appeal to a niche crowd, consisting not so much of watch fanatics who appreciate good design, but of design fanatics who value a good watch. Whoever the buyer, however, the QLOCKTWO W makes for an interesting, attractive addition to a collection, one that practically oozes good taste.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Toshiba Building A Lytro-Style Camera Sensor For Smartphones And Tablets, Planned For 2013 Launch

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Toshiba is intent on making a camera sensor for smartphones and tablets that borrows a trick from Lytro and allows users to select a focus area in their photos after having taken them. Not only that, but it’ll also allow users to put the whole photo in focus, as well as work with video shot on the device, potentially one-upping the pioneering Lytro camera in a form factor designed for use in everyday devices. Engadget spotted a report from Asahi Shimbun detailing Toshiba’s latest mobile imaging project.

The camera is designed to use 500,000 small lenses layered on top of the camera sensor, each of which grabs a slightly different image which is then combined into one via Toshiba’s software. The result is an image that users can tap to select focus, just like with those created by Lytro’s lightfield technology, but in a package small enough to fit in your pocket, rather than in Lytro’s elongated camera body. While Toshiba is already hard at work on the tech, and hopes to link up with smartphone and tablet OEMs to work it into their devices, don’t expect to see anything available commercially using this tech before at least the end of 2013. No word yet on whether it’ll allow users to shift perspective slightly in addition to focus, the way Lytro does since its latest update.

We recently covered a project that allows you to create Lytro-style pics using any camera that can manual focus while shooting digital video, but Toshiba’s tech promises to be even easier to use, and likely cheaper for most individuals, too. Many see Lytro itself as a tech demo, with the ultimate intent of the project being to get the tech into more wide-ranging consumer devices. In an interview with Gizmodo in October, Lytro founder Dr. Ren Ng mused on when we might see Lytro tech in smartphones, which reportedly still requires “extensive research and testing.” It looks like the race is on, however, with Toshiba eager to capitalize early.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Insert Coin: Engadget Is Looking For Some Cool Crowdfunded Projects

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Our brothers and sisters over at Engadget are holding their first red hot, super exciting conference called Expand in SF in March. The event will feature all the boring, old commercial hardware you could imagine including the latest from all the hardware greats but, more important, they’re also reaching out to a contingent dear to my heart: crowdfunded gadgets.

Having a brilliant idea isn’t always enough. Bringing a product to market requires support, marketing and above all, funding. Lots and lots of funding – but don’t worry, we might be able to help you get there.

Engadget is proud to announce the launch of Insert Coin: New Challengers, a new competition aimed at helping to make those dream gadgets a reality. If you’ve seen our long-running series about the most promising crowd funded hardware, you can imagine that concept taken to the stage for a live competition between the best of the best new inventions.

Remember: this is for unlaunched products only and knowing the field this will be pretty competitive so those with solid sterling-silver iPad stands will have to take a seat. If you’re read to run with the big dogs, pop over here and submit and let us know how it goes. You know I love the smell of fresh crowdfunded projects in the morning.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Apple Reportedly Looking To Bring Mac Mini Production To U.S. Shores

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Apple is said to be considering a move that will bring Mac mini production to the U.S., through manufacturing partner Foxconn, according to supply chain sources speaking to Digitimes. Foxconn already has an estimated 15 “operating bases” in the U.S. according to Digitimes. Indeed two of those at least include factories in California and Texas that finish assembly of partially assembled products, and while Foxconn officially denied plans earlier in the year to expand to Detroit, it did note that it has multiple U.S.-based facilities already in place.

Part of the production effort will involve Foxconn’s push to outfit some of those facilities with more automated workers, something else we heard the manufacturer was planning for a future ramp-up back in November. More automated production lines would help Apple get around the limitations it has cited in the past for failing to do more production at home in the U.S.: costs, and getting production facilities up to its exacting standards.

The Mac mini is a good candidate for Apple getting its feet wet once again with U.S. production for a number of reasons. First, like the Mac Pro which was first suggested as the likely target for Apple’s $ 100 million investment in U.S. production, it doesn’t have a screen. Eliminating display components from the equation represents a significant cost savings in terms of shipping components, and it likely has other benefits, too. Displays on most Mac and mobile device models are now integrated tightly with other components including the glass and other internals, so having production facilities near to display partners just makes sense in case things go wrong or need adjustment once limited trial or full production has already begun.

The Mac mini is also a Mac with relatively low shipping volume: Digitimes predicts 1.4 million units total for 2012. While Apple doesn’t break out individual Mac sales figures, that would make for a relatively small chunk of the 18.1 million Macs it sold during fiscal 2012. It’s small enough to be manageable for what is essentially a trial run, while also being large enough to represent a serious undertaking, where producing the niche and aging Mac Pro would’ve been a symbolic gesture, at best.

This is Digitimes, which has a spotty track record, so be wary of its veracity as usual, but remember also that the publication has proven in the past to have significant upstream supply chain access, too, and Apple CEO Tim Cook is on the record saying the production of one Mac line in particular will move stateside in 2013.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

OUYA Ships 1,200 Development Consoles, Shows Off Its Pre-Release Android Gaming Hardware On Video

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OUYA, the Android-based affordable gaming console that inspired a wide range of reaction from tech watchers and gamers alike when it debuted on Kickstarter back in July 2012, today reached an important milestone: shipping product. Admittedly, it’s just the developer-specific consoles for now, but 1,200 units are now winging their way to actual people, and the company put the pre-release gaming console on video to prove it.

This OUYA unboxing video gives us a glimpse at what the thing looks like in the flesh – albeit in a transparent plastic casing for both controller and console that doesn’t reflect its anticipated shipping fit and finish. The design isn’t quite final either, as founder Jules Uhrman explains on the video alongside an Ouya designer that the d-pad will change, as will shoulder pad positioning and a number of other internal controller components. Also newly shown off in the video are a micro USB port on the console itself, and an internal fan in the device to keep it cool during intense gaming sessions.

The console looks an awful lot like early renders we’ve seen (minus the limited-edition transparent plastic finish) and Uhrman even goes so far as to actually plug in the console and power it up on video, although we don’t see anything beyond a boot screen as the device loads up with the “OUYA” branding. At the very least though, we know it turns on, and that it’s shipping in some capacity, which in itself might be enough to quiet those who were skeptical about OUYA’s ability to deliver any kind of working device at all.

Shipping development consoles today also means that OUYA has indeed kept its initial hardware ship date promise – a rarity among any Kickstarter projects, and impressive given the popularity of this one in particular and the amount of scrutiny it received. On-time delivery of these units bodes well for OUYA’s anticipated March 2013 shipping date for consumer units. But there’s still plenty of work to be done on software, and refinements are needed on the hardware side, too, so nothing’s set in stone at this point. Still, it’s great to see OUYA even reach this point, and here’s hoping they make that March launch.

TechCrunch » Gadgets