Tom Standage finds neat ways to amplify music and carry documents around, and relaxes with some electronic Lego ...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, Summer 2011

A GAME: Lego Universe

For family gaming, it’s hard to beat Lego, and “Lego Star Wars” in particular. And for something more expansive, “Lego Universe” fits the bill. It’s a “massively multiplayer online” (MMO) game in which your mini-figure fights bad guys, completes quests, searches for treasure and constructs elaborate Lego buildings that other players can visit. After a few missions you are invited to become a warrior, an explorer, a scientist or a builder, unlocking new missions and special skills. You can train animals, collect hidden items and race vehicles in a child-friendly world where interaction with others is carefully controlled.

MMO fans will grumble about the lack of team-play options—at times this feels like a single-player game in which other players happen to be present—and the lack of depth compared with grown-up examples of the genre. But new elements are added all the time (such as a ninja-themed world, to my son’s delight) and the result is a stepping-stone between the childish things of “Club Penguin” and the grown-up pleasures of “World of Warcraft”.

Lego Universe (PC/Mac): £14.99/€19.99/$19.99 (incl. first month), then £7.49/€9.99/$9.99 a month
A GADGET: Jawbone Jambox

What do you do in those situations—having lunch in the garden, or staying in a holiday home—when you want some music, but there’s no stereo? The puny speaker on your phone will hardly do the job. My family’s trick is to take an empty tube of Pringles (all too often close at hand) and use it as a low-tech amplifier by putting an iPhone in it. Sit it on a table and it does a pretty good job. But this summer our music is coming from a Jawbone Jambox—a small battery-powered portable speaker that streams music via Bluetooth from your phone and packs a surprising bassy punch, given that it’s smaller than a box of After Eights. It’s simple, elegant and charged via USB. It can also act as a speakerphone. We’ll have to find a new use for the Pringles tube.

Jawbone Jambox: about £159/€200/$200 in red, black, grey or blue
AN APP: Dropbox

Dropbox is the kind of app that makes you wonder how you lived without it. You install the software on your Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry or Android device. A Dropbox folder appears, and items you put in it are available on all your devices. Soon you’re moving everything you’re working on into your Dropbox, so you can get to it from anywhere, and it’s also being backed up on Dropbox’s servers in the cloud. This is one of the easiest ways to get documents onto your iPhone or iPod, or to share them with other people. It’s free for up to 2 gigabytes of storage, and you can pay for more capacity if you need it. No wonder Dropbox already has 25m users—or that its slogan is “Simplify your life”. It really does.

Dropbox: Download from dropbox.com


Tom Standage is The Economist's online and digital editor and author of "An Edible History of Humanity". He is the gaming columnist for Intelligent Life.