Archives For Gadgets

By Lauren Hirsch

(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc <AMZN.O> is investing between $250,000 and $500,000 in Bluetooth technology company TrackR to extend the reach of its Alexa virtual assistant, according to a source familiar with the matter

Alexa is the cloud-based system that controls the Amazon Echo, a speaker system launched by Amazon in 2014 that has emerged as a surprise hit. “Alexa” is the name the device responds to when users make requests, such as “turn on radio.”

trackr_bravo Continue Reading…

fitbit-logoBy way of the USPTO, we learn that Fitbit has applied for Fitbit Charge 2 and Fitbit Flex 2 trademark protection. So, while Fitbit has beefed up the top end of their fitness tracking line with Alta band and Blaze watch additions this year, it appears they also plan 2016 revisions to their lower and mid-end wearables.

As to potential improvements, Fitbit could conceivably up its plastics game – while effective as a fitness tracker, I’ve always found the bands a bit cheapy – in appearance, feeling, and durability. Further, the charging ports could use some work even if battery life cannot be extended. Although increased time between charges would be a nice-to-have, as well. For me personally, I’d like to see the vibrating activity alerts of Alta make its way down to other devices. What’s on your wish list?

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By way of the FCC, we learn Philips plans to soon expand their Sonicare line with yet another Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush. The technology had originally been released in a kids brush, as little ones presumably need more coaching as to when and where the cleaning gets done. As it turns out, Philips joins competitor Oral B in determining we adults can also benefit from a smartphone-linked brush:

Follow the Sonicare app’s brushing guidance combined with the BrushPacer and begin brushing. The Philips Sonicare app helps to address any missed spots by guiding you to spend 20 seconds in the areas you missed during brushing.

Does the incoming Sonicare Flexcare Connected solve a problem or merely represent more Internet of Stupid – is my brushing bad enough to justify continual monitoring and remediation (and do I really want my phone next to the sink?) Can I link up with friends, like Fitbit, to see who brushes better (and issue taunts)? Never mind oral hygiene, what happens to one’s stress level should we forgot to compulsively track each session?

Back in March, I came across a little nugget indicating a new Amazon Kindle would be unveiled this month. Although, at the time, I wasn’t entirely certain if it was another e-reader (despite being described as such) or a refreshed Fire tablet. Or, perhaps, even an existing product destined for a new market. Well, today, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has set the record straight with this out-of-character pre-announcement:

The little information I’ve dug up via regulatory filings and International shipping manifests indicate at least one model (and there may only be one) ships with WiFi, Bluetooth, and cellular connectivity – likely running running $200 or more (given an uncertain conversion rate and retail vs wholesale pricing) and presumably replacing the Voyage with a newer model of unclear branding.

Regarding new features, I don’t have much and can’t tell you, for example, if we’ll be treated to a new e-ink display or the return of “real” page turn buttons. But, while it’s often cheaper and easier to procure wireless chips containing both WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities these days, I’m hoping the new wireless protocol is truly present… as in “active”.

Beyond the device itself, there’s mention of a powered leather cover of some sort. I can’t tell you if this represents an extra battery, a keyboard, or is merely something lost in translation. But rest assured, I’ll continue digging (with the help of AFTVNews and The Digital Reader), until the big unveil next week.

Amazon has passed what looks to be a second generation Dash button thru the FCC — based on filing approach, device profile, and model number. But, given the very limited information, the only obvious enhancement is Bluetooth LE joining the existing 802.11 WiFi variants, potentially allowing smartphone or home automation interaction beyond what’s currently available in merely reordering supplies via wireless. Alexa-like integration would be cool…

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As to other upcoming Amazon reveals: I’m also currently tracking what’s either a new Fire tablet or Kindle e-reader or, alternately, an existing device of that sort headed to new markets. Stay tuned.

Amazon has unveiled two new Alexa-powered devices in the Amazon Tap speaker ($130) and the multifunction Echo Dot puck ($90). As with the original Amazon Echo, which I found compelling but unnecessary (at the time), both these units respond to voice comments – controlling an ever-growing list of products and services, such as Philips Hue lighting and native Spotify music streaming. However, whereas the Echo both listens and playbacks with a decent (if not stellar) speaker, the new devices are at once more limited and more versatile.

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Amazon Tap (above left) is an attractive and portable Bluetooth/WiFi speaker that features a convenient charging dock. Yet, to engage the virtual “Alexa” assistant, one must physically “tap” the microphone button. Had they’d incorporated a mic into the cradle, I’d easily be down for two. But, as designed, I’d probably just opt for my smartphone and a waterproof UE Roll to meet my mobile speaker needs… at about half the price.

Fortunately, the new Echo Dot (above right) retains the sometimes creepy, but always-on voice recognition and is designed as something like a night stand accessory with basic speaker or to be attached to an existing Sonos, AVR, etc of presumably superior audio quality vs Echo. Sure, there’s a certain amount of smartphone redundancy, but Amazon’s ecosystem of partners far exceeds say Apple’s HomeKit limited environment.

Yeah, we’ve been tracking the Internet of Shit. But bizarro “Internet of Things” really hit fever pitch this week at CES, where everything is connected — including this camera-equipped fridge for those times when actually opening the door is just too much effort. Just because we can wire something up doesn’t mean we should. And I’m fairly confident the market will prove folks are looking for meaningful solutions that add value and reduce effort (without breaking the bank). Pretty sure a disposable Bluetooth smartphone-linked pregnancy test isn’t what Al Gore had in mind.

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Bose SoundTouch 10

A couple weeks back, I began acquiring Bose SoundTouch connected speakers to replace Sonos. I’m no audiophile and not really equipped to compare acoustic properties, other than to say both platforms sound good. Whereas the Bose app experience and linked music service offerings are generally and significantly inferior to Sonos… the Bose-bundled physical remote control to tune up to six pre-assigned stations or playlists and adjust volume is priceless — it pretty much trumps all else. (Which makes me sad given the beautiful new Sonos Play:5.)

Bose SoundTouch Update

My initial experiences with SoundTouch were somewhat frustrating given my currently preferred music streaming services: iHeartRadio and Spotify. The Pandora-esque iHeart stations I’d created were inaccessible and would error out while Spotify access was largely and bizarrely managed via the Spotify app. But I held out hope, given this product’s intent, that things would improve. And, yesterday, Bose delivered — resolving both my issues. Continue Reading…