The Framery Contact VideoConferencing Booth

Neutralize background noise and distracting visuals on your Zoom calls

A new product from the Finnish maker of soundproof office pods, Framery, strikes your columnist as unlike anything seen before, and well worthy of being described as “paradigmatic”—perhaps the most overused term in technology reporting. Their Framery Contact video-call booth is mind-blowing. Almost disturbing.

We first reported on Framery at the end of last year, when they launched their soundproof, transparent, one-person work pod—then priced at $12,000—for those who wanted a quiet place to work within a noisy office or home.

Framery Contact is a closed-in cubicle for one person to hold a video meeting with someone, so long as that person has an identical, $24,000 box. But video calls with Framery Contact are of a quality and realism that far surpass the likes of Zoom, FaceTime, esteemed corporate systems such as Cisco TelePresence, and even France’s La Vitre, which we reported on early last year.

Within Framery Contact’s darkened interior, you see the person you’re meeting with at life size, though seated rather than standing. The picture and audio quality—achieved with a complex arrangement of mirrors, lights, microphones, and speakers—are simply uncanny. The arrangement of space is such that you feel you’re looking directly into your interlocutor’s eyes. It even seems oddly 3D, although the Framery engineer we spoke with, who preferred to remain anonymous, assured us that the strange sensation of depth is a carefully created illusion. It all amounts to calls that have the intimacy of a real, in-person meeting.

There’s a touch of science fiction about the Framery Contact, in a 2001: A Space Odyssey sense. The technology seems deeply futuristic but in a peculiarly retro style. What is even odder is that something so startlingly realistic can at the same time be so … unearthly.

One reason for this is that the meeting is not set in anything resembling a conventional room. There’s no background but black or white, so you can’t see the other person’s surroundings. “It’s designed,” says the engineer we spoke with, “to make both parties feel they’re in a third space, not either party’s office, without time zones or weather.”

You don’t need anything to run Framery Contact other than a 25 Mbps Internet connection, and it’s not expensive relative to, say, TelePresence, which can cost well into the six figures for higher-end models. The one drawback is that only one person can use the booth at a time.

Framery Contact is shipping in limited numbers to what the company calls “pilot customers” and is presently hidden in a quiet corner of their Web site. We rather doubt, though, that anyone ready to drop $48,000 on a pair will be declined.

Framery is currently demoing to potential buyers in Chicago, on the third floor of the Mart. If you’re serious, a visit is de rigueur. We hope you’ll see what we mean.

The Stress Monitor App

The Stress Monitor app, $69.99 per year.

This smartwatch app won’t end stress, but it will remind you to breathe through it

Your columnist downloaded this Apple Watch app, Stress Monitor, on the very good recommendation of an ad on social media, and it’s been interesting and instructive enough to make him extend the seven-day free trial to a year’s subscription.

The app is based on the theory that heart-rate variability (H.R.V.) and stress are linked. The lower your H.R.V. reading at any one moment, the less adaptable you are to stress—the harmful consequences of which can make you more susceptible to disease and at higher risk of mortality.

To be honest, as with a lot of health apps that mine the rich seam of data the Apple Watch collects, diving into what it all means and closely heeding its personalized recommendations has not been a priority for us. What’s been fascinating, however, is just observing how accurately the app detects stress and reminds you with a haptic tap to calm down.

Within an hour of downloading Stress Monitor and being told everything was fine, an e-mail arrived from a pedantic city official asking for some renovation details she had already been given repeatedly. The Apple Watch began warning that it was necessary to “pay attention.” After your columnist breathed through that incident, it happened again when an e-mail from the architect arrived saying the official’s badgering was “outrageous.”

On the other hand, the app registered not a scintilla of stress during the unbelievably tense and exciting climax (Americans, you won’t get this) of this past summer’s cricket series between England and Australia.

In other instances, during what we thought to be a rather stressful time, being merely sad or emotional seemed to indicate no stress symptoms on the watch. Maybe being a little dejected is O.K., while being angry or worried is not?

The genesis for Stress Monitor was in New York three years ago, when a Polish couple, Elena and Maksim Strok, were, they say, deeply focused on their careers—he, working for a tech start-up; she, for Uber.

“We came to understand how badly stress can impact our lives, especially when it’s ignored or overlooked,” explains Elena. The couple invested their own money in the project and are now back in Poland running the company. The app claims to have more than one million users, according to the founders.

“Our hearts swell with gratitude when we receive feedback from those to whom our app helped to take control over stress, as well as endorsements from cardiologists, mental health coaches, and other medical professionals,” writes Ms. Strok.

The Sony HT-AX7 360 Portable Theater System

The Sony HT-AX7 360 Portable Theater System, $499.99.

Upgrade your surround-sound game without having to install a thing

Considering how central Japan’s Sony has been to the relentless advance of personal electronics since the company’s first transistor radios appeared in the late 1950s, it’s surprising how little they come onto this column’s radar.

It’s nothing personal, but this, their clever and unusual portable surround-sound system, is Sony’s first appearance in two years of Landing Gear.

The brand-new Sony HT-AX7 360 Portable Theater System is cute, quite innovative, and works well. It’s battery-powered and connects by Bluetooth—most modern TVs have a Bluetooth output buried deep in their settings menus.

The philosophy is that while few people want the hassle and expense of installing a full-on surround-sound system in their house, having one you can break out for movie night—and even take on vacation—is really rather desirable.

The main, front speaker unit and the two rear, satellite speakers nest magnetically and charge as one. They speak to one another wirelessly, so when you set the system up, you don’t have to place the speakers with any great precision—they do all the adjusting for you. Additionally, even when watching content without surround-sound audio, the Sony electronics will simulate a sound with a 3D-like depth.

The sound quality won’t have audiophiles fainting, but it’s perfectly good for most normies. And the idea that you could watch movies with surround sound in a vacation rental or even on a camping trip is rather wonderful.

The Claude AI Assistant

The Claude AI Assistant, free.

Does every article feel too long? This will help you cut to the chase

Prolixity is increasingly a disease of the young. Your midlife columnist, if our fine editor relaxes his editing pencil, can be pretty wordy. But, yikes, younger ones who are responsible for so much of the “content” online and in print these days go on and on even worse, rendering otherwise interesting stories indigestible.

Bald fact is, there are few documents that can’t be radically shortened. And we’re finding more and more that A.I. is a great way of getting down, Baloo-like, to those bare necessities.

Document summary is a specialty of Claude, a new A.I. assistant from Anthropic, a San Francisco–based company. It’s not the only A.I. product in the current flood tide of such services that can summarize text—nearly all of them can, in fact. We can’t help but admire, though, how good Claude is, especially for a free product.

We first used Claude to boil down a 2,700-word review of a café on the Web site of a fabulous—if very youthful—London food newsletter, Vittles. It distilled the sprawling piece down to 200 perfectly meaningful words in a second.

We later unleashed Claude on a PDF of a 10,000-word, semi-academic article. It took 15 seconds, but the crisp, 230-word summary Claude produced was impeccable so far as we could discern. Then again, one wouldn’t know unless he read the full piece.

When we used it for more routine questions rather than document summary, we found it was still suffering from the hallucination problem (i.e., making stuff up) that blighted ChatGPT in its “early days,” which in the large-language-model A.I. context is as recently as this past April. Claude managed to pack an impressive 12 lies into a 200-word piece on your columnist.

But in cutting the worthy but wordy down to size, it’s already quite masterful.

Based in London and New York, AIR MAIL’s Tech Columnist, Jonathan Margolis, spent more than two decades as a technology writer at the Financial Times. He is also the author of A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book on the history of futurology