Eight great gadgets from startups that build hardware

When you think Silicon Valley startups, you think applications, locational data, cloud storage and social gaming. We dug around to find some companies that still innovating on the physical plane and making actual, tangible products.

Dropcam

Dropcam

This is a gizmo for those days when you’re at work and all you want to do is see your puppy who’s stuck back at home. Or the weekends away from your startup office when you’re worried about burglars. Dropcam is a Wi-Fi enabled camera that plugs into the wall for 24/7 streaming footage. You can access the video online, or through your mobile phone. The camera is meant to be a surveillance device, and is set-up to mark changes in motion and sound on the footage. It can even send you mobile push notifications if you want to keep an eye on your house. You do have to buy a service plan in order to record to your DVR, which isn’t too steep, but does make this a gift that keeps on charging. However, there are many cool uses for its free “Basic” plan, which doesn’t record video, but still streams it.

Price: Audio enabled camera is $279, no audio is $199

Service Price: Plus Plan is $8.50 a month for 7 days of recording, Pro Plan is $24.95 a month for 30 days of recording

touchfire

TouchFire

Even the daintiest of fingers, fit for a piano, become giant pieces of cylindrical lard when they first type on an iPad. Typing on the tablet, while easier than typing on the iPhone, is still a tedious process, which some have solved by purchasing keyboard attachments and screen props. TouchFire’s solution takes us back to sixth grade typing class when a bulky piece of plastic covered the key names so you’d have to learn each letter. This time around it’s a clear, plastic sleeve that lays over the keyboard section of your iPad in horizontal mode. The solution is simple: It gives your fingers the feeling of individual keys, on top, while activating the right letters on the tablet screen below. Little clips secure it to your iPad with magnets, so the plastic doesn’t flop around. The TouchFire supports a number of foreign language keyboards and was built to fit inside the iPad 1 and iPad 2 covers.

Steve Isaac and Bradley Melmon came up with the idea and posted it on Kickstarter, quickly raising $200,000 to start production immediately. The first round of keyboards was doled out to its investors. Now, the company is taking orders for its second shipment, but requires a down payment of $10.

Price: $45

Soulo

Soulo iPad Karaoke Microphone

We all enjoy singing in the shower because Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves just sounds better with the tiled-wall acoustics. Now, with the power of the iPad, you can unleash your inner-Cher in any room. The Soulo mic plugs into your iPad or iPhone and works with its companion app to correct your pitch, record your jam sessions, and allow you to share recordings, if you’re feeling bold. While singing, you can adjust how much you’d like the mic to keep you on key. It also has audio modifications such as echo and vibrato. You can turn up the original vocals if you need a little extra help.

The application has its own preloaded songs, which the company says it is adding to everyday. But you’re not stuck with Soulo’s selection. You can also sync your iTunes account to the mic and play songs that you’ve downloaded yourself. The mic’s wireless receiver also has an output jack, which allows you to bring up the lyrics on your television. Sounds like a New Years Eve party to me.

You can buy the Soulu mic at Brookstone, Apple stores, Target, Walmart and other retailers.

Price: Wired mic is $70, wireless $100, and the app is free

Olloclip

Olloclip

Camera phones are booming in popularity, and their quality gets better with ever new smartphone release. iPhone users can do more with their photos using the Olloclip, a fish-eye or wide lens that attaches over the camera on your iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S. The two glass lenses are fused together to create a 2-in-1 device that legitimately improves the quality of your photo.

You can use it with a number of different applications as well, such as your favorite sepia tone filter app and Apple’s FaceTime video chat app. Each of the lenses has its own cap, and there’s a small microfiber carrying case for the whole device.

Price: $70 for either red or black

Nabi

Fuhu’s Nabi “Kiddified” android tablet

You get a fun new toy like an Android tablet or an iPad and then the kid comes along and hijacks it to play Cut the Rope. Fuhu has a compromise: just give them little dears their own tablet. The Nabi tablet, which runs the Android operating system, a combination game console, library, school, movie theater and art studio. The apps available in the Nabi app store are specifically created to be used by children.

It also has great security settings to block a child from accessing the over-informative Internet. The Nabi tablet has two settings, one for kids and one for parents. The munchkin can play around with different apps, and access select, safe areas of the Internet. “Mommy mode” lets the grown-up use it like a regular tablet, with access to the full app store, Internet and email.

Price: $149 at Toys R Us

Striiv

Striiv

Striiv is like an omniscient and super attentive personal trainer. It’s a small square touchscreen device that you can put in your pocket, in a handbag, or wear around an arm or wrist. When you’re in motion, it records every step you take, how many calories you burn and the distance you’ve traveled. It even adjusts to reflect when you go upstairs. The device will set motivational goals for you as well, and has built in games that are powered by your activity. Once you’ve finished your exercise, the app will add the data to a page analyzing your walking habits over a period of time.

What’s really cool about Stiiv is its charitable features. The company describes it as a “walkathon in your pocket.” You can sign up to have your walks recorded for number of steps taken, and as you hit goals, a participating company donates money to one of three charities. These include charities for water, saving the rain forest and fighting Polio. The device does not need to be hooked up to a computer.

Price: $99 on Amazon

Nest

Nest Thermostat

Most of us turn our thermostats off during the work day, turn them back on after rush hour, put them to a certain temperature for sleeping, and then crank them when we’re freezing in the morning. If this is the delicate thermal dance we partake in each winter, then Nest is our Michael Flatley. The thermostat is “smart” and when installed pays attention to changes we make to our indoor temperature. After getting acquainted with our habits, the thermostat begins to automatically cool or heat our spaces based on our schedules. The device will even tell you when your temperature of choice is saving you money.

The coolest feature, however, is the ability to change the temperature from your iPhone or Android. You can pump up the heater before having to get out of bed to face the cold, cold world.

Price: $249

HappiTaps

HappiTaps by Infantino

Okay, this one isn’t a startup, but it’s too cute not to include. Infantino’s HappiTaps Teddy Bear does what every child wanted their stuffed animal to do: talk back. [EDIT: Author is clearly too young to remember Teddy Ruxpin.] It is a simple teddy bear “skin,” which lays over an iPhone and acts as the animal’s face. You buy the cover, then download the companion app to make “Beary” come to life. Beary will tell your child stories, sing songs and play peek-a-boo, while still looking and feeling like a traditional teddy bear. It also has a toddler setting and a night time function. When set to night time, Beary will read your child a story, sing a song and provide sheep for counting.

Infantino was founded 25 years ago, and is focused on family products, with a focus on safety. It is part of the also family-focused Step2 company, which is headquartered in Ohio.

Price: $20 for the cover, the app is free

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