Resembling a sawed-off section of stovepipe in black or PVC in white, the original Amazon Echo was the anti-smartphone. It operated tethered to an outlet, it was communal. And it was pre-pandemically touch-free if you didn't care about muting its microphone. Unbound by a display, it inspired voice-driven variants that ranged in size from tiny rings to giant rigs. We've hand-picked 11 smart displays that will satisfy a range of wants and needs.
SAVE $39.99: Now through Feb. 7 at 8:55 p.m. PST, you can enter the code FTV2021 during checkout to get a 4th-gen Echo Dot for just $10 (normally $49.99) with the purchase of any Insignia or Toshiba Fire TV Edition smart TV from Amazon. Owning a smart TV but not a smart speaker is like having Mario but not Luigi, or Hall but not Oates, or a Wendy's Frosty but not a large order of French fries. Each of those entities can technically exist on their own, but they're much better as duos. Pair a smart TV and speaker and you open up a whole new world of extra functionality where you can use voice commands to boot up the next episode of your current binge-watch, adjust the display's volume, and search for different actors and genres. Conveniently, Amazon is running a promotion now through Feb. 7 at 8:55 p.m. PST where you can score the new 4th-gen Echo Dot for only $10 when you buy certain Fire TV Edition smart TVs.
Qualcomm on Tuesday outlined a broad strategy to advance its Snapdragon platform in the auto industry as it aims to expand in the cockpit as well as a bevy of subsystems. The Qualcomm playbook for the automotive industry rhymes with its plans for IoT, artificial intelligence and compute. That strategy revolves around using 5G and the Internet of everything to consolidate compute platforms. In an event dubbed Automotive Redefined, Qualcomm outlined a new software defined architecture called E/E (electronic/electrical) that aims to put its platforms in everything from the cockpit to autonomous driving to sensors to electric charging infrastructure. As automobiles become more connected via 5G enabled C-V2X technology, Qualcomm ultimately sees cars as the "ultimate mobility platform" with new experiences updated over the air.
Amazon's Alexa Guard Plus subscription service is now live in the US. The company unveiled Guard Plus back in September as a paid option for those who want the extra features that come with the premium version of its free Guard service. While the basic Guard feature can already turn Echo smart speakers and displays into home security devices, its premium version takes things a step further by giving subscribers hands-free access to emergency services and giving Alexa the power to deter intruders from breaking in. Customers who pay for a subscription will be able to ask Alexa to call Emergency Helpline for them to request medical, fire or police assistance. The service also gives Alexa the capability to detect sounds of activity in the house if its residents are away and to sound a siren from Echo devices if it does. Alexa could also play the sounds of dogs barking from the speakers if connected outdoor security cameras detect motion outside the door.
Sony's top of the line noise-cancelling headphones have long had a winning formula and the latest edition has a much-requested addition – multiple device connectivity – to make them the best of class. The WH-1000XM4 have an RRP of £350 and on initial inspection little has changed for the fourth edition of the 1000X line, with its understated design. The high-quality plastic body is well made and lightweight at 254g but doesn't feel as premium as some metal or carbon fibre competitors that weigh more than 300g. They are some of the lightest-feeling headphones you can buy, matching the longstanding comfort kings, the Bose QC35 II. The ear cups are well padded with a gentle, even pressure on the side of your head while a soft leatherette headband sits on your dome.
This week brought a return of some holiday sale prices, plus a few deals that are even better than those we saw late last year. Google's Pixel 4a 5G fell to a new record-low price, while the 8th-generation iPad remains on sale for $299. If you want to up your smart-home game, August's WiFi smart lock is more than $65 off and some Beats headphones are 50 percent off, too. Here are the best deals from this week that you can still get today. One of Google's newest smartphones, the Pixel 4a 5G is down to $459, or $40 off its normal price.
If you're still using an old pair of wired earbuds in 2021, it's time to trade them in for a pair that will actually make your life more convenient. Wireless earbuds are less hassle, perfect for workouts (achieve those fitness resolutions you set), and many of them are voice assistant enabled, meaning you'll be able to ask your headphones to set timers, respond to text messages, choose your music, and more. Amazon's Echo Buds check all the boxes of high-quality sound with helpful features that'll keep you hands-free, and as of Jan. 22, you can grab them for a 31% discount -- just $89.99. The Echo Buds boast high-quality sound and top-tier Bose Active Noise Reduction Technology to reduce any background noise that might be in your environment. Get some work done even if your kids are screaming, or listen to your favorite podcast on a busy street without all the interruption, thanks to the in-ear design.
Google is giving users a new way to take charge over their privacy when using its smart speakers and displays. The new security feature, known as Guest Mode, keeps your personal data confidential while still allowing others to get the most out of Google Assistant--and it's already available on your Google smart speaker. Guest Mode is a new privacy feature for Google smart speakers that, when enabled, doesn't store assistant activity and audio recordings, or provide personalized results. The new feature, announced on Jan. 13, is ready for use on Google speakers and displays like the Google Nest Mini and Nest Hub Max. To turn it on, say, "Hey Google, turn on Guest Mode."
Users of Microsoft's voice-enabled services such as Cortana will now be able to decide whether or not the audio recordings of their interactions can be used by the company to improve its speech recognition algorithms. By default, customers' voice clips will not be contributed for review, said Microsoft in a new blog post; instead, users will be required to actively opt in to allow the company to store and access their audio recordings. Customers who have chosen to remain opted out will still be able to use all of Microsoft's voice-enabled products and services, confirmed the company. Their audio recordings won't be stored, but Microsoft will still have access to some information associated with voice activity, such as the transcriptions automatically generated during user interactions with speech recognition AI. If and once they have opted in, however, users' voice data might be listened to by Microsoft employees and contractors as part of a process to refine the AI systems used to power speech recognition technology.
I have to admit it: I backed the wrong horse when it came to driving home automation from a digital assistant and went with Microsoft's Cortana and its Harmon Kardon Invoke smart speakers. I had good enough reason: I trusted Microsoft's privacy commitments a lot more than either Amazon's or Google's, and Apple's Home relied on the too-expensive HomePod smart speakers. Sure, I had a couple of Amazon Echoes and a Google Nest Mini to try out those ecosystems, but their over-reliance on in-cloud voice recognition was that bit too much on the creepy side. Still, I could happily control my Hue lights from Cortana, though support for my Netatmo thermostats and Ikea Tradfri lights had to be through maker tools like IFTTT and workflow automation with webhook APIs like Power Automate or Zapier. But then Microsoft refocused Cortana on its commercial customers and announced that its Invoke Cortana integrations were due to be turned off early in 2021.