The Nothing Phone (2)

If the iPhone is too common and the Galaxy is downright unconscionable, this wireless is for you.

Driving through what was then West Germany on family vacations in the 1960s, your columnist—funny kid—got into the habit of counting the number of Volkswagen (VW) Beetles on the autobahn. This was in the days when Mercedes and BMWs were still rare luxury vehicles, and Audis were chugging crates favored by pipe-smoking farmers who drove 20 m.p.h. in the middle of winding rural roads.

There’s no record of these car counts—I wasn’t that strange—but on a typical stretch of highway, I would find that around 80 percent of the cars would be VW Beetles, some going back to Hitler’s days, others new. It was an extraordinary monopoly in a capitalist country.

By comparison, a trip to the Soviet Union at the time revealed quite a spread of different models, ranging from the Communist Party elite’s Lincoln Continental–like Zil to the Zhiguli, based on an obsolete Fiat; to the K.G.B. man’s office car, the Volga; to the tiny, Fred Flintstone–style Zaporozhets. It was almost like a free market, except it wasn’t, because they were all state-built and terrible.

Today, the monopoly VW had in postwar Germany is matched only by the iPhone’s hegemony in the consumer-electronics market. Ask yourself how many people you know use anything other than an iPhone. The Android alternative, which can be equally expensive in the case of, say, high-end Samsungs, is almost a perverse choice, often picked by dissident types who, even when they can afford to, refuse to go with the flow.

The iPhone and its dominant, blue-balloon iMessage system is a rare example of the best and most expensive product in its category also being the most popular. Bentleys are lovely, but if you see one a week, it’s a lot. Yet almost everyone uses an iPhone, and you see a thousand a day.

This means, though, that however marvelous the latest iPhone is, it’s just a little bit, well, boring.

What is the choice, then, if you want something that’s excellent but different? Well, back in June we mentioned that an exciting new option for U.S. consumers was forthcoming, and now it’s here. It’s the first globally available cell phone from the quirky, young Anglo-Swedish-Chinese gadgeteer Nothing, which this column has long been saying could just be the next Apple.

The Nothing Phone (2) is as novel and exciting as it’s possible for a traditional cell phone to be. It doesn’t have a folding screen or a particularly extraordinary camera, but we guarantee that if you were using it in any upscale coffee shop in Brooklyn, it would attract admiration.

The phone’s see-through design is truly unique. The hieroglyphic-like array of white lightstrips on the back—designed to display customized silent notifications—looks like something rescued from a crashed alien spacecraft. Its operating system, based on Android but much, much cooler, is a delight. Its optional monochrome-screen filter is easy on the eye and almost snootily understated. And the device is priced to compete with the cheaper iPhones in Apple’s range.

We should add that there’s a rumor we are confident will turn out to be true: that you will soon be able to use Apple’s iMessage system on the Nothing phone. Which would leave almost nothing not to love.

The Stokke JetKids BedBox Suitcase

The Stokke JetKids BedBox Suitcase, $229.

Perhaps the only thing that can make traveling with young children tolerable

Back in 1997, a British student, Rob Law, invented a new kind of luggage—a colorful, animal-shaped, sit-on suitcase for children. Trunki, as he called it, began to sell in modest quantities. But when the young man went on the U.K. version of Shark Tank seeking a six-figure investment, the sample Trunki broke, and he was kicked off with the warning that his company was “worthless.”

Nevertheless, Law trundled on without significant investment, and alert travelers who remembered Trunki’s disastrous TV debut began to notice them being wheeled around airports across the U.K. and Europe. Perversely, Trunki became popular because of Law’s humiliation on the show. Earlier this year, with five million units sold in at least 100 countries (it launched in the U.S. in 2014, where it sells for $80), an e-commerce company bought Trunki for more than $15 million.

Trust a Scandinavian company—in this case, the 91-year-old Norwegian children’s goods–maker Stokke—to improve, albeit expensively, on the design and style of Trunki. Stokke’s $229 JetKids BedBox is a ride-on suitcase that can almost magically take on two additional configurations.

First, it can function as a leg rest to encourage children aged two to seven to sit still in flight rather than, as they love to do the world over, dangle their legs and kick the seat in front of them for hours on end. The second transformation the BedBox can undergo is, as the name suggests, into a bed, complete with a mattress and soft side panels—although reportedly some airlines and individual flight crews may not allow this.

We should note that, unusually, we haven’t tested the ingenious BedBox, but the user reviews online are excellent, and Stokke (pronounced a little like “stalker”) has a stellar reputation and exceptionally stylish products. So we judge it well worth a try.

The Steamery Cirrus 3 Iron Steamer

The Steamery Cirrus 3 Iron Steamer, $180.

A steamer that will make every trip feel like a cover shoot

There’s an argument that washing clothes too often damages fabrics and is harmful to the environment. This applies especially to jeans: Levi’s C.E.O. Chip Bergh notoriously admitted in 2014 that he washes his once a year or less, preferring to spot-clean them with a washcloth. He doesn’t recommend putting jeans in the washing machine.

For those who want to avoid ruining their clothes but find Bergh’s laundry methods a little extreme, an increasingly popular solution is steaming, which is extensively used in the fashion industry for the on-the-fly de-rumpling and freshening up of clothing. Steam, at approximately 212 degrees Fahrenheit, is said to kill odor-producing bacteria in clothes, as well as dust and dirt.

A few years back, Stockholm start-up Steamery introduced a range of exceedingly good-looking, user-friendly, and portable (although plug-in) hand steamers, lightweight and compact enough for travelers who prefer not to look like they’ve slept in a suitcase. Steamery says its devices enhance color and make fabrics feel softer and thicker by swelling their fibers.

Now Steamery has a clever hand-steamer-and-portable-iron combination, the Cirrus 3 Iron Steamer, which we have been using and love. The ironing part, which is comparable to the lowest setting on a domestic iron, can be done against an included heat-resistant pad if you’re on the road and lack an ironing board. It’s not relevant to the Cirrus 3’s performance, but we particularly like the sage-colored version.

The Blitzortunglive Weather App

The BlitzortungLive app, free.

The best way to keep tabs on thunder gods around the world

Climate and its showy little cousin, weather, are the hottest topics of the year, if we may be excused the grim pun. More than ever before, we all need reliable, real-time, hyperlocalized weather apps. Dark Sky used to be the best, but it was taken over by Apple in 2020 and, last September, was interred into the standard Apple Weather app, which now has the same data but is horrible to use.

So we’ve been impressed this turbulent summer by the Weather Channel’s beautifully clear and efficient (and free) Storm Radar. It’s even better than Dark Sky was. If it’s going to rain or storm where you are, you get a notification, and every time, during the few weeks we tested it, it’s been accurate.

For pure, geeky interest, though, we’ve been blown away—sorry, there we go again—by a German Web site,, which gives a live, dynamic, and quite dramatic overview of all the lightning storms in the world as they happen. Every flash, bang, and wallop appears in a rather exciting on-screen display of concentric circles. Blitzortung is a nonprofit and has volunteer-maintained detectors around the world.

It also has a free app, BlitzortungLive, which, like the Web site, adds audio-clicking effects for every lightning strike on-screen. But for a sense of vicarious awe, we prefer the Web site, even though it looks like something from the Internet circa 1998.

Blitzortung’s data can be seen on another site,, but, again, we prefer the near-Wagnerian, German original.

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