Tech Lab Plus

Device lets you take control of driving games

Appfinity AppDrive smartphone gaming device, by Spin Master Ltd.

$19.95 at

I’ve never been much good at video games that involve driving a car. But I’m even worse when the game is running on a smartphone. It’s just too hard to work the accelerator­ and brake by handling a touchscreen. Which is why this cheap gadget is such a good idea.

The AppDrive is shaped like a race car’s steering wheel. At its hub is a plastic frame, designed to hold a variety of Android and Apple­ smartphones.

First, you download a compatible driving game from your phone’s app store. The system works only with Appfinity’s own games, alas, but some of them are free. Now snap the phone into the AppDrive frame.


The wheel sports a set of push buttons that fall comfortably under your fingers. Use them to speed up or slow down your digital car. You steer by rotating the phone, of course, but that’s a whole lot easier when the phone’s mounted inside a steering wheel.

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If the producers of popular driving games like Need For Speed would make them compatible with AppDrive, this might become a major hit.

But even with its limited roster of games, the AppDrive’s low price and good performance make it a welcome smartphone accessory for racing game buffs.

Netatmo wireless weather station

$179 at

I don’t see a lot of cool tech products from France. This gorgeous and well designed gadget for weather buffs makes me wonder why.

Netatmo includes a pair of cylindrical­ climate sensors. One goes inside your home, while the other sits outdoors. Each of them connect to your home’s Wi-Fi Internet­ link. The sensors detect temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure; the indoor sensor also measures the level of carbon dioxide in the room, as well as the sound level, a feature designed to protect users from noise pollution. I’m not sure I see the point, but it works.


At least my iPhone tells me so. Install the Netatmo app — there’s one for Android phones, too — and you can get a readout of the weather conditions around your home, inside and out, from pretty much anywhere.

The app also displays three days of weather forecasts and downloaded data on air-quality conditions.

Netatmo users also get access to an online community that caters to weather junkies. Your weather data can be stored there, letting users build up a history of the local climate. Netatmo hopes that if they get enough users, their collected weather readings will prove to be an essential resource for climate researchers.

The weather reports on the late news are good enough for me.

But I still love Netatmo. Not only does it work as advertised; it’s one of the most attractive devices­ I’ve reviewed.


When I’m hunting for first-class digital hardware, I don’t generally look to France. Maybe I’d better start.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at