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TECHNOLOGY

OwnFone: A minimalist reimagining of the cellphone

OwnFone is a small and light cellphone which lacks in features but is very accessible as a...

Modern-day smartphones like those produced by Apple and Samsung have put a bunch of cool features into our pockets, turning the mere portable telephone into a computer, personal organizer, games console, and more besides. OwnFone, however, takes the opposite approach, offering an inexpensive, easy to use handset stripped down to the bare essentials.

Of course, basic cellphones are nothing new, but OwnFone goes further than, say, the Doro and ClarityLife C900 for sheer simplicity.

OwnFone’s spartan interface features just enough buttons to cover the basics. The handset sports a minimum of two, and a maximum of twelve contact buttons, each of which is printed with a contact's name which corresponds to a predefined number chosen upon purchase. The user simply selects the relevant contact name to make the desired call. The few other buttons turn the phone on and off, answer and hangup calls, and adjust

Remaining buttons are cover on/off, answer and hangup, and volume adjustment. There's no support for SMS messaging, no display (a blue light indicates that the phone is ready to place a call), and, obviously, no keypad to dial numbers with.

OwnFone measures 7 mm (0.2 inches) thick and weighs 40 g (almost 1.5 oz), which is around a third the weight of an iPhone 4 and significantly thinner. The device's battery is good for around three days, or if you prefer to keep it switched off, a recharged battery should last about a year. It also supports call-forwarding, so you can divert calls from your smartphone if doing something potentially hazardous to expensive gadgetry.

When purchasing an OwnFone, customers are able to personalize the phone’s color and design to their taste. A monthly plan can be chosen at various price points, starting at £7.50 (US$12) per month for 50 minutes of calls. Should one ever wish to change the numbers on the OwnFone, this can be done for free by ringing the OwnFone helpline, while new contact buttons can be purchased for £5 (US$8).

Clearly, OwnFone’s distinct lack of features and basic styling are unlikely to get technophiles hot under the collar, but the device’s very simplicity could make it a good fit for children, the elderly, and those with learning difficulties. With no numbers, but only names to press, OwnFone makes communicating via cellphone very easy, and an upcoming braille will only enhances its accessibility.

Wi-Fi weather station could help create world's biggest weather-monitoring network

Netatmo's Urban Weather Station consists of Wi-Fi-connected indoor and outdoor modules

There is no shortage of smartphone apps that compile information from official weather monitoring sources, but if you’re looking to get some info on conditions closer to home – or inside it – then the Urban Weather Station from Netatmo could fit the bill. Designed specifically for iOS devices, (but also supporting Android devices), the cylindrical units monitor a range of environmental elements inside and out. Netatmo also hopes to use the Wi-Fi-connected devices to create “the largest weather and air quality monitoring network ever established.”

The Netatmo system consists of two separate modules, one for indoors that is powered by USB, and one for outdoors, which draws power from four AAA batteries that should provide power for up to one year. The indoor unit’s sensors measure temperature, humidity, air pressure, CO2 levels and sound levels, while the outdoor unit measures temperature and humidity.

Users can access a seven-day forecast, with those in the U.S and Europe also able to access outdoor air quality index information, both of which are pulled from online sources. Both units transmit their readings to an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch or Android device running version 2.3.4 or higher via Wi-Fi (b/g/n), with readings accessed via a free app.

Netatmo's Urban Weather Station sends real time alerts when indoor CO2 levels rise

As well as letting users pick the best time to grab some exercise outdoors when the air quality is best or ventilate a room when CO2 levels are on the rise – the app will even sound a real time alert in such cases and let you know when CO2 levels have returned to normal – Netatmo also hopes to pool data collected from multiple devices as part of its Urban Weather Program.

This program is designed to create a worldwide weather-monitoring network that meteorologists, environmental activists, scientists and people living in urban environments can use to gain a better understanding of their environment. With the data captured on the units also stored permanently so users can compare environmental conditions over time via a free online account, the company also sees the potential for the network to become an important resource for climate research.

Netatmo's Urban Weather Station lets users monitor environmental conditions over time

The indoor unit measures 45 x 45 x 155 mm (1.8 x 1.8 x 6 in), while the outdoor module is a bit shorter at 45 x 45 x 105 mm (1.8 x 1.8 x 4.1 in). Both are constructed from a single piece of aluminum and the outdoor unit is UV-resistant (although there’s no mention of waterproof). Both come with a kit for mounting on a wall and should work over a wireless range of 100 m (328 ft).

Netatmo is selling the Urban Weather Station for US$179. The App for iOS devices is available as a free download from the Apple App Store, while the Android App is set to arrive on Google play this October.

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