12 Tech Days Of Christmas 2011

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Sifteo Cubes Make Gaming a Hands-On Experience

By J.R. Nelson


At first glance, you might expect Sifteo’s unique new product to be some kind of MP3 player or other media device. Called Sifteo Cubes, the little boxes measure just an inch and a half on a side, and about a third of that in height. Okay, okay, so they aren’t cubes, precisely, but even the most uptight geometer will let it slide once they see what these things can do.


Inside of each Cube is a 32-bit ARM CPU (the kind of computer chip that powers your smartphone), a 128×128 pixel LCD, eight megabytes of flash storage, a three-axis accelerometer, 2.4GHz wireless radio and a Lithium Polymer (Li-Poly) battery. The display isn’t a touchscreen, but it is clickable, enabling you to turn on the devices and providing another means of interaction.

The magic of these gadgets comes with the addition of Sifteo’s proprietary implementation of a near field object sensing technology. You might have heard of NFC, or near field communication; it’s been in the news a lot lately as the technology starts to roll out in cell phones. This is a similar idea, except Sifteo uses it to communicate between the Cubes themselves.


In order to play a game, you just plug in the included wireless USB dongle into a computer. All you have to do is stay within twenty feet or so of that dongle, and you can play with the Cubes for hours. Each game uses a minimum of three cubes, which is the base Sifteo package, but the software and USB dongle can interact with up to six Cubes at a time – so if you want to expand your set or play with a friend, you can.


The games themselves run on the computer, which, incidentally, also provides the sound…but the display and interaction all takes place within the Cubes. Depending on the game, you might need to click the devices in order, or rearrange them to correct an error, or  “pour” an object or color from one Cube to the next by tilting one over top of another.




Make Your Own Games


Each package comes with the Siftrunner software, which lets you browse the Sifteo app store, and the Sifteo Creativity Kit. That last one lets you create your own games to run on the Sifteo cubes, and it doesn’t require a bit of programming knowledge. Instead, you can use the simplistic editor to create basic apps, whether they’re new or simply personalized clones of pre-existing software. For game developers looking to take things to a slightly more complex level, Sifteo also makes a software development kit, or SDK, available. It’s also free.


If you want to stick to games made by other people, however, you’ll be happy to know that there are already a fair number available. The Cubes will come with two games, but Sifteo’s marketplace provides access to many more. About a third of those are free, and the rest range in price from 100 to 300 points. Additional points can be purchased at a rate of 500 for just five bucks, so even if you go a little app crazy, it’s not going to break your wallet. Games range from educational, targeted at children, to music puzzles, mazes, logic and matching games appropriate for any age.


Thanks to the addition of the Li-Poly batteries, each device can be used for roughly four hours before it needs to be recharged. At that point, just sit the cubes into their docking station and before long they’re once again ready to play.


Sifteo sells the cubes for $149; for your money you can expect three Sifteo Cubes, a docking station that recharges the units, two free games, a 500-point card usable in their marketplace, an A/C adapter and the Siftlink wireless USB dongle. Additional cubes can be purchased at a cost of $45 a piece, so if you want to play with six at a time, it’s more cost effective to buy three standalone devices and one kit than it is to just buy two kits.


At $149, the cost puts the Sifteo Cubes a little outside the range of stocking stuffers, even if the size makes it perfect. Either way, Sifteo’s product makes you engage with video games in an exciting and unique way, and if you’re looking for something fun to give to that gadget-obsessed kid or adult in your life, then these might be the perfect match.


Price: $149 for three Cubes; additional Cubes available for $45 a piece
Website: www.sifteo.com


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