Three Cool and Unusual Gadgets from Around the World

I’ve been overseas for a short while but for me, any trip is an excuse to hunt out some cool and unusual gadgets.

From a new digital friend to help around the home, to a frankly quite scary money box, here are some of my globe hopping gadget purchases.

Amazon Echo (country of origin, USA)

Price $180 USD at or Best Buy – (approx. $230 NZD)

What can it do?

  • Plays all your music from Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and more using just your voice
  • Fills the room with immersive, 360º omni-directional audio
  • Allows hands-free convenience with voice-control
  • Hears you from across the room with far-field voice recognition, even while music is playing
  • Answers questions, reads audiobooks and the news, reports traffic and weather, gives info on local businesses, provides sports scores and schedules, and more using the Alexa Voice Service
  • Controls lights, switches, and thermostats with compatible WeMo, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Wink, Insteon, Nest, and ecobee smart home devices
  • Always getting smarter and adding new features and skills–over 1,500 added since launch, including Domino’s and Uber


What is it?

It looks like a WiFi connected speaker (which it is) but it’s capabilities go far beyond that. The Amazon Echo is actually the voice activated assistant that can help you control your smart home.

Alexa is the word you say to get the Echo’s attention. Say this “wake word” and tell echo what you want to do.

It’s all beginning to sound a bit “Siri” now isn’t it? Well Alexa has been judged to be smarter than Siri (technologically speaking) and it’s her integration with your home that delivers the greatest potential.

Here are just a few of the things you can ask Alexa.

Alexa, set the alarm for 7 am.

Alexa, what’s the weather in Auckland New Zealand?

Alexa, how old is Taylor Swift?

(if you have supported gadgets like the Philips Hue light range) Alexa, Dim Hue lights to 30%

Alexa, Wikipedia the All Blacks.

Alexa, play my Coldplay playlist from Amazon Prime.

Alexa, buy the new Harry Potter book and send it to me (this is Amazon after all).

With an August lock and the new August Home skill for Alexa, you can use your voice to lock your doors or check the status of your locks.

Once your devices are set up, enable the August Home skill and link your account.
Then just ask:

  • “Alexa, ask August to lock the front door.”
  • “Alexa, ask August to check the status of my lock.”

Released first in 2014 the Amazon Echo is still not officially available in New Zealand and Alexa is very US-centric (traffic alerts, news and weather are all linked to US zip codes).

In the US if you are an Amazon Prime subscriber and are running out of an everyday item like soap powder you can say “Alexa, order Tide laundry powder” and it your oder will be delivered the same or next day.

Having said that about it being very American-centric, I expected it to be much more difficult to get her to work in NZ (you used to have to fake your IP address, jailbreak phones to download apps etc.) but after a bit of mucking around I found I was able to control it through my home computer’s web browser.

If you do buy one, be prepared to treat it is a gadget experiment, tinkering with the settings (you will also need a plug adapter as it only ships with a US power connector.)



Secrid Mini Wallet (Price 65 Euros in Dublin or $100 NZD. Country of origin, Holland)

Keeping your funds protected while you are traveling is a high priority.

The Secrid Wallet not only keeps your cards in one place, the Dutch designed wallet is a sophisticated card and money holder that prevents your tap and go cards from being scanned and your payment details stolen.

Plastic cards have a hard time, they get bent and become brittle in your pocket. In particular, RFID/NFC cards are not safely stored in a regular wallet. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) or NFC (Near Field Communication) cards have a chip and an antenna for wireless communication. These cards, such as the public transportation pass, new credit cards and admission tickets, can be activated, selected and copied from up to many metres away, without you noticing. The Secrid Cardprotector works as a firewall in your wallet.

To safely use an RFID/NFC card, you slide it out 3 cm from the Cardprotector; the sensitivity for the radio signal is then substantially reduced, but still sufficient for contact over short distances. By minimising the time duration and signal strength, you remain outside the reach of digital pickpockets.

The Secrid Mini Wallet can hold up to five bank cards and slide them out with a flick of a switch. It also has a pocket for old fashioned notes and coins.

It’s definitely my favourite wallet of the past few years (even if I’m not paranoid about my RFID cards being scanned by e-pickpockets).



Facebank (country of origin, Japan)

Price $40 (USD) approximately $55 NZD


From AC Gears – possibly the best gadget shop in Manhattan, comes the Facebank.

Never mind Facebook. How about Facebank? Because Facebank really does what it’s supposed to do – a bank with a face that takes any change you feed it. Designed by Japanese designer Takada and shown on TV, this is the world’s first interactive bank that can “eat” up to 30 500 yen coins (quarters, 50c pieces etc). The eyes of the FaceBank are actually sensors. Activate the FaceBank by waving at it and it will eat your coins! A great gift idea to freak out your guests. Available only in Japan in blue, red, and white. Another gizmo first available from AC!


All prices correct at time of publication. Products subject to availability.