Gadgetology: A palm-size drone and phone-charging luggage scale

Do you hate fun? Because we’re rounding up some new, fun portables in our latest gadget roundup. Hey, don’t say you weren’t warned.

This edition of Gadgetology has something for everyone whether it be frequent travelers, music lovers, little kids or kids at heart (you know who you are). We check out a teeny-tiny drone, a portable luggage scale that doubles as a smartphone and tablet charger, a writing board that serves up a fresh take on good, old flash cards, and a pair of hyperstatic headphones.

Sounds good? Then let’s get this gadget train chugging along!

Boogie Board Jot 4.5 eWriter Clear View

Boogie Board Jot 4.5 eWriter Clear View
Boogie Board

As someone who loved to doodle on paper as a kid, I’ll admit that I have personally contributed to the demise of many a tree. These days, however, it’s quite possible to humor your child’s doodling fancies without wasting paper.

Boogie Board just released a new version of its classic erasable miniature board with the Boogie Board Jot 4.5 eWriter Clear View. The overall profile mirrors the mini board that was first released in 2013 but also features a clear screen as well as the ability to slide in flashcards (it comes with 20 cards and you can also download a free flashcard app). Kids can then use the flashcards to either learn how to write letters and numbers by tracing them as well as solving math problems.

As with other Boogie Boards, you can erase the screen with a simple button press. Just make sure you watch out, though, as it can be quite easy to press the erase button accidentally and delete your work without meaning to do so. Personally, an erase lock function would have been nice. Otherwise, switching the button to a toggle switch might have been more helpful. The screen, meanwhile, is a bit on the dark side. This isn’t much of an issue during the daytime but makes visibility a challenge in low light.

Still, if you’re looking for a portable board that kids can doodle with and also learn from via flash cards, then the Boogie Board Jot 4.5 eWriter is worth looking into.

Cost: $19.99

Metakoo Bee Mini Drone

Metakoo Bee Pro Mini-Drone
Metakoo

There are micro drones. And there’s this itty-bitty contraption dreamed up by Metakoo.

The Metakoo Bee Mini Drone is a tiny quadcopter that literally fits in the palm of your “most beautiful hands,” with apologies to Donald Trump. Talk about making America gyrate again — courtesy of four little rotors, of course.

Just like politics, The Metakoo Bee gives you two choices. There’s the standard Metakoo Bee, which comes with a separate control pad for operating the quadcopter as well as a lower price tag. Then you’ve got the more fancy-sounding Pro version. No, it won’t automatically make you fly like a pro as I could attest after crashing it into walls not once, not twice, not thrice — well, you get the deal. Instead, the Pro moniker refers to the extra bells and whistles that you get with it.

For starters, the Metakoo Bee Pro Mini Drone comes with a built-in camera for tickling your wannabe spy fantasies.

“Bond. Gold Bond.”

The Pro also trades in the separate remote by syncing with your smartphone or tablet via Wi-Fi instead. In my case, I used an iPhone 6 with the Pro, which ended up doubling as a camera monitor and virtual controller when used with the Metakoo app. The app also lets you easily snap photos or video straight from the touchscreen when controlling the drone. Granted, we’re not talking about high-quality imagery here but it’s still a neat feature to have, nonetheless.

Battery life, meanwhile, is on the short end for both versions at just about five minutes or so. That’s just enough time to get in a few flights as well as get you in trouble while adjusting to the controls. The mini quadcopters I tested tended to still move even while hovering so expect to run into lots of obstacles while getting used to it. I recommend testing it inside the house first as it would be easy to lose it outdoors.

The good news is that the mini drones can take a lot of abuse. It doesn’t have prop guards, however, and the propellers tend to come off easily during collisions so make sure you pay attention. Otherwise, the Bee come with spares. If you’re starting out with drones or want to get an affordable one for your child, then you might want to check these ones out. For drone safety pointers, make sure to check out our tips for 9 Do’s and Don’ts when flying drones.

Cost: $33 to $55

OAXIS AirScale

OAXIS Air Scale
OAXIS

Whenever I travel overseas by air, there are two things that I always tend to think about. One is how heavy my luggage is. The other is how much battery power I’ve got left on my phone.

Apparently, I’m not the only one if the OAXIS AirScale is any indication. Not only does this gadget let you measure the weight of your baggage, it comes with a built-in battery for charging your portable devices, as well. That’s like getting to weigh your cake and charge it, too. Wait, that doesn’t quite sound right.

Shaped almost like a mini flashlight, the AirScale is definitely more portable than your typical step-on scale. It’s quite easy to stash it into one of your backpack or purse pockets, for example, in case you need to measure your luggage again on your return trip. The device comes with a hook strap that you can attach to the AirScale’s side while the other end connects to your luggage. Once connected, all you need to do is lift your luggage up with the portable scale and you’ll get a reading on its digital display. Maximum weight is 40 kilograms or about 88 pounds. That places it well within the range of the 50-pound baggage limit for us peons in economy class as well as those hoity-toity travelers in business and first class who imbibe in drinks with their pinkies raised (they have a higher weight limit of 70 pounds). Did anybody ask for some Grey Poupon?

Then again, there’s also one more reason to bring this gadget with you as mentioned earlier. That would be its built-in battery, which you can use to charge your other devices. Capacity is quite robust, too, at 6,500 mAh. To put that in perspective, the new iPhone 7 comes with a 1,960 mAh battery while the Samsung Galaxy S7’s power source rings in at 3,000 mAh. It’s not quite enough to fully charge an iPad Air 2 but should juice it up more than three-quarters of the way. The AirScale also comes with 2.4A output to allow for fast charging when you need power quickly in a pinch.

Although the AirScale is easy to use with bags and normal luggage, it can be more challenging to use it on boxes. You’ll pretty much need to tie some rope or strap around a box if you want to be able to lift it up. Other than that, it’s a pretty nifty multitasker that is quite useful when you’re traveling by plane. By the way, if you're interested in just a portable USB charger, there are several options out there. If you want a dedicated charging device without the luggage scale, make sure you also check out our handy-dandy tips for picking a portable charger.

Cost: $59

Sharkk Bravo Electrostatic Headphones

Sharkk Bravo Electrostatic Headphones
Sharkk

 Here’s a sneak peek at a pair of cans scheduled to hit the market in the spring of 2017.

Regardless what Apple thinks, I love full-size analog headphones. Personally, I have yet to try a pair of wireless headphones or earphones that sound as great as a good pair of plug-in cans or buds. You know, the kind that will now apparently require an adapter in order for it to work with the new iPhone 7 and 7 Plus? Yes, I’m still salty about Apple removing the headphone jack. I’m about this close to yelling at some kids to get off my lawn.

Which brings me to the Sharkk Bravo. At first glance, this pair of full-size cans don’t look anything out of the ordinary. In fact, I would describe the Bravo’s design as patently inoffensive. It’s not quite as sexy-looking as some of the more popular boutique headphones out there but it also doesn’t look as cheap as some of the budget cans in the market. If I had to describe it, I‘d say it has a bit of a 1980s vibe to its look.

Closer inspection, however, reveals that these are electrostatic headphones. All of a sudden, that price tag doesn’t seem so crazy. Unlike the more common dynamic drivers used in most headphones, electrostatic headphones feature a more classic technology that usually leads to less distortion and nice detail. The downside is that they’re usually more expensive, with electrostatic headphones from brands such as STAX usually costing thousands of dollars.

Personally, I found the audio from the Sharkk Bravo to be surprisingly good with excellent balance, clarity and dynamic sound. I’m used to a lot of headphones playing up their performance with fancy claims but the Bravo delivers on its promise. I typically use an iPhone as a benchmark for how good a pair of headphones is because poor ones typically sound flat and lifeless when used with the smartphone’s stock music app. The Bravo, however, actually made the music sound good from an iPhone. Use it with a better player like the Sansa Clip and it performs even better, with dynamic audio that’s pleasing to the ears.

Downsides include lack of extra features such as active noise canceling compared to headphones like the Turtle Beach i30 or the A-Audio Icon — although the Bravo does have some noise isolation capability for reducing outside noise. It also does not have a built-in remote and its cable is not detachable. As far as extras, the headphones come with a pair of spare earcups in case you need them. It sadly does not come with a hard case but features a soft pouch instead.

Admittedly, these headphones are not as sexy as some of the boutique cans out there. If you’re on the lookout for a no-nonsense pair of headphones that sounds great, however, the Bravo fits the bill nicely.

Cost: $249.99 to $399.99

Jason Hidalgo is About.com’s Portable Electronics expert. Yes, he is easily amused. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhidalgo and be amused, too.

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