THE CARLY AUTOMOTIVE SCANNER
Worried about a mechanic taking you for all you’re worth? Plug your car in before going to the garage
Modern cars rarely break down, but the richness and variety of seemingly symptomless warning lights and system alerts are deeply unsettling and can bring about full-on automotive hypochondria: How long has that light been on? What does that inscrutable icon mean?
For those wanting to treat their automotive anxiety, we bring you a German gadget, Carly, which was created after a tech-savvy inventor took his BMW 7 Series to the dealership and was told it needed a new, $8,000 gearbox—only to discover after a little research that all the car actually required was one $80 part.
How did he discover this? By plugging an OBD scanner into the car’s OBD port, obviously. A what? “OBD” is the acronym for “onboard diagnostics.” Most of us know vaguely that, in the shop, technicians—formerly known as “mechanics”—can plug a computer into some mysterious opening (it’s usually under the steering wheel) and investigate all the car’s workings electronically. OBD has been around so long that for the past 27 years the industry standard has been OBD2. Almost every car in the world built since 2000 has OBD2. And compliant scanners can be had for as little as $12.99.
The problem is that scanners mostly spit out arcane fault codes, and it takes quite the geek to work out what they mean. Carly is among the first user-friendly OBD2 scanners. It’s like an oversize USB stick that plugs into the universal port and communicates by Bluetooth with your phone, where an app tells you in relatively plain language what problems your car has and what needs to be done about them.
Extrapolating from data shared between Carly’s two million plus users, it even gives a readout of which faults might be coming soon. Carly tells you what mileage the different car components have covered and whether the real mileage is different from the odometer reading, and it can even spell out how hard the car has been driven in its lifetime.
Carly has been huge in Germany and mainland Europe and recently expanded into the U.S. While it may just make you paranoid, it also means you can have a knowledgeable conversation with your auto workshop, and perhaps even avoid getting completely ripped off.
Furthermore, if you are buying a used car from 1996 (when OBD2 systems became commonplace) or later, you can find out its deepest secrets before putting any cash down.
THE IPHONE 15 PRO
The gold standard of smartphones is getting better all the time
The Apple reviewers’ manual for the new iPhone 15 series, detailing every new feature and innovation, runs to 26 dense pages. We will not attempt to sum up why the new phone is better than your existing one, which may well be a perfectly good iPhone 6 from nine years ago—there are plenty still working fine.
The simplest way to put it is that even if the two- or three-camera-lens look is getting a little dated, the iPhone remains the best smartphone available, and the 15 series is a bit faster, a bit smoother, a bit smaller, and a bit lighter than previous models.
The camera function is ludicrously better than the iPhone 14’s, although we always feel it incumbent on us to remind you that even a $400 camera will significantly outperform an iPhone’s. We know people take serious photos on their iPhone, and even make movies on them, but camera phones are still, arguably, a gimmick, and holding up a flat rectangle to take a photograph is far from optimal.
Never mind. The 15 is amazing, whether you choose the Pro or the regular—and, if you go Pro, whether you choose the Brobdingnagian Pro Max or the more pocketable Pro.
Instead of tediously going through all the best features, here are the three we love the most after two weeks with a 15 Pro.
First, the Action button. There’s long been a rather junky mechanical switch on the upper-left side of iPhones to turn the ringer and other sounds to silent. On the 15, that switch is replaced by a neater button, which can be the silencer or anything else you want it to be. In this writer’s case, it’s the button which turns the flashlight on and off. The snag is, the Action button can be only one thing at a time. We hope that in a forthcoming software update it will be equipped with more functions. Other possible uses for the Action button: to turn on the camera, magnifier, voice memos, or, coming soon, a voice-translate mode.
Secondly, the replacement of the Apple-only Lightning socket, for charging and accessories, with a globally standard USB-C. Yes, it means you must buy new charging cables, and, yes, it means you’ll need to be charging bi-lingually if some in the household have a 15 and others do not. The reasons why USB-C is such an advance are boring in the extreme—but, trust us, it’s a good thing.
Lastly—and this is far from a core feature—Apple sent Landing Gear’s sample iPhone 15 Pro with a case made from a new fabric they call FineWoven. It’s a revelation. Made from “durable micro-twill,” it’s more slidy than a rubbery case, so it doesn’t stick to a pants or jacket pocket as you take it out, but it’s not so frictionless as to be slippery in the hand. It feels and performs just right, and we love it. Beware: a lot of Apple fans nostalgic for leather hate it, but don’t listen to them.
THE EPSON ECOTANK ET-4800 PRINTER
At long last, a printer—and ink cartridges—that last
It has long been the case that printer ink is more expensive ounce for ounce than many high-end perfumes. The crazy cost of ink is why printers, which are highly complex mechanical instruments, can be sold at such low prices. It is also, we suspect, why so many people no longer bother with the infuriating expense of a printer.
Landing Gear still likes having a printer about the house, and your columnist has always extolled the virtues of Epson’s EcoTank system. Instead of costly cartridges, the expensive printer comes with four bottles of ink, which you use to top the printer up. They claim this will typically provide two years—or 90 cartridges’ worth—of printing.
Our well-liked EcoTank printer-scanner-copier combo recently failed after having been used even moderately. The reason for the failure was almost certainly dust from a long renovation project chez Landing Gear. Thinking the EcoTank had been going four or five years, and being impressed by that, we were shocked to discover the printer had actually lasted just under 10 years, with only one purchase of ink. It’s enough to give the average printer manufacturer nightmares.
So we have replaced the original EcoTank model with the latest ET-4800. It’s the same, but, predictably, after a decade of innovation and improvement, even better—especially the photo-print quality. A truly marvelous machine. It’s not the sexiest tech, but when it comes to printers, economical and reliable are all anyone can hope for.
THE RUARK R410 ALL-IN-ONE STEREO
A retro-looking stereo with modern sound
Situated 40 miles from central London is the closest equivalent to New York’s Coney Island, Southend-on-Sea. And in an industrial park just outside the resort is a hi-fi company we love, Ruark Audio.
Ruark is a family-run company the same way the wonderful Grado headphone company, in Brooklyn, is. Grados are usually to be found on premises in Sunset Park. In Ruark’s case, although they now export globally, it’s not unusual for customers to call tech support to speak with the company’s founder, Alan O’Rourke.
O’Rourke’s father, Brian, was a skilled cabinetmaker and one of the pioneers of British hi-fi. The business has always worked on the basis that a lot of the quality attainable in loudspeakers is afforded by the standard of carpentry.
Accordingly, carpentry is front and center in Ruark products. Their new R410 one-box stereo player sounds like a dream, with wholly 21st-century electronics, but it’s also a beautiful creation in wood, with a 70s retro look. All the research and engineering for Ruark is done in-house in Southend.
The R410 sound is warm and old-fashioned, but the “soundstage”—the distribution of the stereo—stands out. It is wide and deep in a way you rarely hear from a hi-fi system in one cabinet.
The R410 is available across North America from the Art et Son hi-fi store, in Montreal.
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