TAG HEUER CALIBRE E4
If you live in the San Francisco Bay area or around Dallas–Fort Worth, you had a chance last month to try the first McDonald’s vegan burger, the McPlant. Developed with Beyond Meat, the Los Angeles meat-substitute producer, the McPlant patty, made from peas, rice, and potatoes, is already available in the U.K. and Ireland, and we can report that it looks a lot like a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and tastes … well, rather similar. It’s really not at all bad.
The relevance of this to Tag Heuer’s latest smartwatch, the Calibre E4, may seem limited, but there is a point to our comparison. Let’s imagine that veganism really takes off in the next 20 or 30 years. At what point will it no longer be necessary for a vegan burger to look like a burger with meat? Will there not come a point when people yet to be born look at their plant-based burger and wonder why it takes the form of a dish rarely eaten anymore? Won’t people of the future want to invent their own dishes?
When Apple launched the Apple Watch, they opted to make it look as unlike a watch as possible. The oblong shape with rounded corners was almost a little awkward, and indeed still is. But it’s its own thing.
When Tag Heuer launched their smartwatch, in New York in 2015, the tremendous hoopla around the event centered on the fact that, at last, here was a smartwatch that looked a lot like a real watch. It was an impressive achievement to reproduce the handsomeness of a Tag Heuer dial and hands on a screen. But it was still an ersatz mechanical watch.
Three generations on, the Tag Heuer Calibre E4 creates an even more convincing illusion, beautiful enough now to prompt a sharp intake of breath. Not quite its own thing, but a worthy substitute.
The detail and texture the O.L.E.D. screen renders is superb. The original, so arresting in its day, looks a little crude now. The Swiss company has also now followed the mechanical-watch tradition of offering a smaller, 42-mm. case as well as the 45-mm. one.
Water resistant to 165 feet, the E4 has a heart-rate sensor, compass, accelerometer, gyroscope, microphone, and barometer, and most models are said to be capable of making contactless payments. It will play nicely with iPhones and Androids to give notifications as well as host a wide variety of health-and-fitness apps. You know, so you can make sure you’re not overindulging in McPlants.
GilletteLabs Razor with Exfoliating Bar
In technology—as in most things—it is ever so slightly tedious when the big dog wins the fight. Spirits sag fractionally when Nikon, Canon, and Leica launch the best cameras, Apple the best computers and cell phones, Sony and Samsung the best TVs.
Which brings us to the fatigue many consumers must feel each time Gillette, the big dog in shaving, “reimagines” men’s razors. Surely there is a limit to how sharp a blade can be, we think as the latest, supposedly most revolutionary Gillette product is announced. “The best a man can get” more often seems to be a case of the best inflated price Gillette can get for their newest, fanciest, most over-engineered blades. It was irritation with Gillette’s pricing, after all, that made way for disruptive brands such as Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club.
This writer has tried almost every shave product going, from old-fashioned double-edged safety razors to the seven-bladed Dorco Pace 7 from Korea, only to settle (a bit sheepishly, it has to be said) in the past few years on the $150 Heated Razor by GilletteLabs, Gillette’s upmarket sub-brand.
The Heated Razor’s stainless-steel warming bar may seem a little gimmicky, but it makes shaving exceptionally pleasurable, not to mention that it’s the end of the day before the shave’s smoothness has worn off. That’s more than can be said for hot-towel shaves administered in London, Paris, and Istanbul by barbers with cut-throat razors, all of which demanded a proper shave in the hotel immediately thereafter.
But when the Boston behemoth launched its Gillette Exfoliating Bar Razor on TV during the Superbowl earlier this month, it seemed like just another overhyped, redundant solution to a problem long since solved.
The new product uses the same five-blade cartridges ($25 for four) as the Heated Razor but in a far cheaper unit, suggesting that Gillette has perhaps finally found a limit to what consumers will pay.
The exfoliating-bar razor’s unique selling proposition is a strip of roughened green plastic which, Gillette claims, will remove dead skin cells and other unpleasant debris ahead of the blades, allowing them to cut deeper into each hair they encounter.
It sounds like a rather desperate marketing-led innovation, but here’s a shock: this past month, the exfoliating-bar razor has been giving the smoothest and most long-lasting shave of any men’s grooming product this writer has used to date. After a shave with the new Gillette, the hated “five o’clock shadow” (a term coined by a 1930s Don Draper type working for the Gem Safety Razor Company) doesn’t kick in for almost 24 hours.
Yes, it seems like the green exfoliating bar works. In an interview with AIR MAIL, a senior scientist with Gillette said that as many as 300 people in the U.S. and U.K. have been working on the product since 2011, when they presented a paper on the benefits of exfoliation to shaving at the World Congress of Dermatology.
In a convincing presentation, he showed electron-microscope images of stubbly skin, which, thanks to accumulated biological secretions, pollutants, and dust, looks a lot like the surface of Mars from a rover vehicle. The green bar, made of a medical-grade plastic etched with a design chosen out of 60 tested, clearly sweeps away the detritus and allows the blades to cut more cleanly.
So, is this finally the best a man can get? Not necessarily, it seems. The scientist confirmed that Gillette is already working on a new shaving product that should be ready by the end of this decade.
Mark Levinson No. 5909
Headphones are like fine wines: however good the last one you enjoyed, another will have subtle differences that excite, stimulate, and make you want to re-listen to all your favorite music.
This new over-ear pair from Mark Levinson, one of the greatest names in American audio, will certainly have you wanting to hear all your tracks afresh. Whether you use them in Bluetooth mode to stream wirelessly from your phone or connect them by wire to a serious amplifier, they bring an extraordinary clarity and freshness to music. They are also incredibly comfortable and well built in aluminum and leather, as well they should be at a cost of $999, making them some of the priciest wireless cans out there.
Indeed, the Mark Levinson No. 5909 (all the company’s products have numerical names) are so beautiful in every respect that one imagines Mark Levinson himself would approve of them.
That may seem like a curious observation since the man is still very much alive and the headphones bear his name in retro-futuristic 1970s lettering. However, the jazz-trumpet player turned hi-fi designer—who built the stage mixer used at Woodstock in 1968 and pioneered the idea of high-quality in-car audio in 1979 (Mark Levinson is the name now to be found on the music system in many Lexus cars)—left the company in 1984 and, in a 1986 court case, lost the right to use his own name on any audio product. He financed and funded, and now directs, Daniel Hertz, a hyper-upscale hi-fi company in Switzerland, while Mark Levinson products are produced by Harman, which in turn is part of Samsung.
Back to the No. 5909 headphones he had nothing to do with: Mr. Levinson was at one point married to the Sex and the City actor Kim Cattrall, with whom he wrote the 2002 book Satisfaction: The Art of the Female Orgasm. While we wouldn’t want to get too carried away with this line of thought, the headphones are very, very, um, satisfying indeed.
Generic star projector with nebula cloud
During the grayest, chilliest days of this past winter, your columnist and his partner, with travel still difficult, decided it would be fun to buy some kind of projector to re-create a scientifically accurate, starry, tropical sky on their bedroom ceiling.
A National Geographic–branded star projector—designed by Bresser, a renowned German maker of telescopes, binoculars, and microscopes—was soon on its way from Amazon. The price, roughly $100, seemed pretty reasonable until the projector arrived, and the price tag was the only thing about it that seemed astronomical. Theirs was the shoddiest, most disappointing, unpleasant piece of plastic imaginable. We returned it to Amazon in short order.
So much for the dream. That is, until we spun the dice again on a whim and ordered this roughly $30 product, the Aurora Starry Sky Projector HR-A1, which might have been a piece of space junk but turned out to be sensationally good.
It projects fantastical, dramatic laser space-scapes that are not even remotely astronomically accurate and don’t pretend to be. (The stars are green, for one thing.) It’s not in very good taste, and some will say it makes a room look like a bad nightclub in Belgrade. But my partner, Sarah Jane, an art historian, maintains that bad taste is better than no taste, and has approved the projector—especially when set to Don McLean’s “Vincent” (Starry, starry night … ) to ramp up the cheesiness level further.
Beware, though, if you go looking for your own HR-A1: our Aurora vanished from Amazon almost as soon as it was unpacked. It seems that a range of similar star projectors are being produced in the Far East under a kaleidoscope of brand names, all priced from $30 to $50. Among the seemingly identical brands currently offered are out-of-this-world names from BlissLights to Brewish, CHIGIH, and GOZYE.
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