Magic cutlery that makes food taste better may sound like something from Harry Potter, but it’s the promise of Ken and Cameron Davidov, a father-and-son inventor team working from Ossining, New York, in the Hudson Valley.
Their electronically enhanced SpoonTek spoon was one of the minor sensations of an admittedly limited and muted Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month. But we’ve had an opportunity to be among the first to try the magic spoon and have to say it works. At least, we think.
Taste is a fickle thing, subjective and changeable, but we are pretty sure SpoonTek heightens sweet and salty flavors by perhaps 10 or 20 percent—meaning you can enjoy, say, a yogurt or ice cream with less sugar or sweetener, or a soup with less salt.
More markedly, the spoon improves the texture of foods such as oatmeal and thick, Greek-style yogurts. Both seemed creamier with the SpoonTek than with regular silverware.
The spoon works by passing a very weak electric current—12 volts at less than one milliampere (a thousandth of an ampere)—through liquid or semi-liquid food, onto your tongue, and into the rest of you. It may sound a little eccentric, but there is science behind it. Google “electrical taste stimulus” and you’ll find plenty of citations from respectable sources, including the National Institutes of Health.
The Davidovs, who are also behind a toothbrush and a brain function–enhancing headband that similarly use minimal electrical currents, were themselves stimulated to build a new spoon by early reports of the coronavirus’s diminishing people’s sense of taste. (For the record, there has been a taste-enhancing spoon before, the Taste+, which appears never to have made it to market.)
“SpoonTek will make a chemically non-dairy chocolate ice cream taste thicker and richer, more like Häagen-Dazs or Godiva,” Davidov Sr. tells us. “Our endgame is … [to] have you eat the worst-tasting ice cream or yogurt but with great health benefits, but experience it as pleasant.” The Davidovs, in an effort to expand their reach beyond spoon loyalists, are now working on sporks, plates, and drinking cups with similar technology.
Here’s an intriguingly fun, if trivial, fact, and it’s not that Ossining is the site of Sing Sing Correctional Facility, where rather stronger electrical currents were applied to people in the state of New York’s execution chamber. No, it’s that Ossining has had a slightly left-field association with spoons in the past. It was there that an excitable physicist named Andrija Puharich lived and worked on a property known locally as “the Turkey Farm” or “Lab Nine,” inviting the Israeli illusionist Uri Geller in the early 1970s for extended research into his claimed ability to bend, yes, spoons with the power of his mind.
Not everyone will believe that SpoonTek works, but it makes for an interesting experiment—and if it fails, you still have a serviceable spoon for your $29.
KINDLE PAPERWHITE SIGNATURE EDITION
Upgrades, iterations, and that gloopy Silicon Valley favorite, “reimaginings,” are the daily diet of the technology reviewer.
And they are a problem. While new versions of this or that are often valid and worthwhile, they are never as thrilling as wholly innovative products. Some updated versions are not really noteworthy at all. Cell-phone manufacturers in particular struggle to come up with a good reason to buy their latest model. It must be difficult for them to dream up new features when for all effective purposes—with the possible exception of battery life—cell phones are now pretty much solved.
So, an upgrade to that grayest and most unspectacular of tech products, the pigeon in the zoo—the e-book reader—would normally rate as too dull to report.
But the latest Amazon Kindle is superlative, miles ahead of any of its already excellent predecessors. The sunlight-readable touch screen is a crucial 0.8 inches bigger than the previous Paperwhite Kindles. The backlight color when reading in low light, such as on a flight or in bed, can be changed from glaring bluish-white to a warm, less stressful glow.
The annoyingly sluggish page turn is a welcome 20 percent faster. The raised bevel has been eliminated—a small gain, but surprisingly noticeable—which, in combination with the rubbery, easy-grip back, makes the device wonderfully comfortable in the hand. The battery life is on the order of weeks between the need for charges. The storage capacity, as before, is ridiculous: the 32-gigabyte “Signature” version has space for thousands of books. The interface and navigation are better. There’s a much improved charging port, the USB-C type, that’s far less fiddly than before. And you can drop the whole apparatus in the bath without ruining it. At a push, you could probably read underwater, should that be your thing.
The newest, uh, reimagined Kindle is still a pigeon, but now a pedigree racing pigeon rather than a scruffy thing in the park. But however much you too love it, be sure to keep some physical books. A Kindle on a shelf still doesn’t make a sufficiently high-minded backdrop for serious Zoom calls.
La Vitre Video-Calling System
This ambitious new video-calling system from a French start-up about to launch in the U.S. promises to make Zoom meetings look as quaint as old-fashioned phone calls.
La Vitre—“the Window”—allows companies (or families willing to pay the rather high price) to communicate at near life-size. Two or three people standing in front of its giant, 86-inch screens can have a more natural discussion than with Zoom in the all-too-familiar and spirit-flattening gallery view.
And because it’s said that meetings in which participants stand encourage more focused conversation, albeit to the disadvantage of an organization’s more long-winded employees, La Vitre has chosen to orient the screen vertically in its floor mount, much like a standing mirror.
Some prestige businesses in France are already using La Vitre, and the company is in the process of setting up showrooms in the United States—it’s one of those technologies that you need to see in action to appreciate—but exact U.S. pricing was still being determined at the time of this writing. For the moment, you’ll need to go to Paris (or Nantes, Lyon, Marseille, or Monaco) to see the system at work—a tough job, but someone has to do it.
Khadas Tea Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC)
A Chinese start-up, Khadas, known in a small way for computer circuit boards, is behind this cool new way to listen to music both around the home and out and about.
Streaming services such as Spotify and Tidal are now capable of delivering ultra-high-quality audio to your phone, which is marvelous, but if you’re an audiophile there’s still the problem of how to actually listen to that music.
Connecting earbuds to your phone via Bluetooth—or, less commonly these days, with a cable—is fine for the average listener, but expert ears will detect missing subtleties in the recording, and the overall sound can be lacking in vibrancy. It will also be wanting in the volume department because the amplifier inside a phone is insufficiently powerful to drive the most serious over-ear, hi-fi headphones.
In recent years, the remedy for these limitations has been an external DAC (digital-to-analog converter), which overrides the audio processing in the phone. But when DACs aren’t desktop-size—less than convenient on, say, a train journey—they come in the form of a small-but-lumpy in-line box that intervenes between your headphones and the phone. And even then, good external DACs for phones normally cost hundreds of dollars.
Khadas’s Tea DAC, however, is not much bulkier than a credit card, and, more convenient still, clings magnetically to your phone even when it’s in a case.
The Tea provides a powerful and refined sound output when you plug in headphones of any kind. There’s another neat trick, too: you can take the Tea off of the back of your phone, link it by Bluetooth, leave the phone on your desk (or wherever), and slip the Tea into your pocket as a satellite sound source to keep you supplied with loud, upgraded music as long as you’re within a 60-foot range.
Many readers will think this latter use case a little unlikely to be useful, but in testing, we grew to like it a lot.
Based in London and New York, AIR MAIL’s tech columnist, Jonathan Margolis, spent more than two decades as a technology writer for the Financial Times. He is also the author of A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book on the history of futurology