Archives For Alexa

The new Amazon Echo Dot is out. And Alexa’s reviews have been exceedingly positive. From The Verge:

I’m going to cut right to the chase: the new Echo Dot smart speaker is so much better than its predecessor that it would not be totally out of line to replace a whole houseful of old Echo Dots with new ones. The new Echo Dot looks better, works better, and, most importantly, sounds much better than the prior model. And it still costs the same $49.99.

Beyond the 3rd generation Dot’s vastly superior audio (including stereo pairing), Amazon also up the style quotient with a (larger, but) more refined presentation, including Google-esque fabric-covered speakers… that I’m a-OK with.

While I frequently vacillate between Alexa, Google Assistant, and nothing at all (stop listening to us!)… prior gen Dot audio quality is atrocious and, lately, has only been used to entertain my daughter. Fortunately, Amazon is running a nice Echo upgrade program: get some cash by trading in your prior devices plus 25% off any future Echo device purchase – including these low ticket Dots ($50) and even the new Echo Show ($230). Amazon also covers the return shipping, so it’s a pretty pain-free transaction. As such, I pocketed a whopping $10 Amazon credit by offloading two unused 2nd gen Dots and will hang onto my 25% discount until the inevitable Echo device sale.

Folks routinely ask for streaming box recommendations. And, for a few years, I took the position that Roku and Fire TV were largely equivalent and indicated the decision should come down to content and app preferences. Need Kodi? Amazon is the answer. YouTube? Roku. Etc. However, the math changed last fall when Roku refreshed its lineup with smartly integrated volume-control capabilities. For many with streamlined configurations, a Harmony is unnecessary or overly complex (with additional clutter) — whereas simply adding some CEC and IR control to an expensive streamer may be exactly what the doctor ordered for increased efficiency. Well, today, Amazon ups the ante with similar from the $50 4K Amazon Fire TV Stick… and then some.

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Can’t tell you how many devices this applies to, but Amazon wants my buddy’s Cloud Cam back.

About two weeks ago, he had told me the WiFi camera died. He attempted a factory reset, but no love. He hadn’t found time or energy to follow-up with Amazon when, out of the blue, he received a voicemail and an email “message from Amazon’s Engineering Team” (device-recovery@amazon.com) this week stating:

I was calling to talk about one of your Cloud Cam devices. I’d like to get you a replacement Cloud Cam device as soon as possible at no additional cost to you. Additionally, I would like to schedule a pick-up to have the original device delivered to our lab for analysis. Continue Reading…

Amongst the 70 devices (!) Amazon announced was… a clock. An old, school analog clock. Or so it appears upon casual inspection. But, in actuality, the $30 Echo Wall Clock is a smart home accessory, that communicates to a linked Echo over Bluetooth. As such, your time will always be set, including adjustments for DST. Further, up to three Alexa timers can be set (by speaking to that aforementioned linked Echo) with lighted tick marks providing various visual status indicators. Watch CNET’s event video below, it’ll make more sense. Or maybe not. :)  Continue Reading…

I’ve got some very good news for owners of legacy TiVo hardware… and a smattering of bad news.

While I had assumed the TiVo Premiere was end-of-life, over 250,000 of you still on the platform recently received the Roamio and Bolt’s highly desirable SkipMode – which enables somewhat automated commercial skipping of most prime time television recordings. Additionally, these 8-year old DVRs have been treated to the recently released Alexa integration for voice control. It’s quite refreshing to see TiVo invest their finite resources in backporting a subset of folks on this older hardware (and I’m guessing those of you on monthly or annual service plans are to be thanked).

On the flip side, the less than 1% of TiVo owners still using dial-up for guide data are about to be cut off due to exorbitant fees: Continue Reading…

Amazon Fire TV Cube Reviews

Dave Zatz —  June 21, 2018

Amazon Fire TV Cube has arrived … and the reviews are in! The streamer essentially mates an Amazon Fire TV with an Echo Dot and some Logitech Harmony-esque IR blasting capabilities. When first announced, I was enticed (especially given the introductory pricing) – but Amazon’s increasingly cluttered presentation and conspicuously missing volume buttons gave me pause. Not to mention, I’m currently down on always-listening voice assistants — whereas the more economical, yet sufficiently powerful, Amazon Fire TV ships with a perfectly suitable Alexa-powered, push-to-talk voice remote. But let’s see what folks who’ve actually put the hardware through its paces have to say:

The Verge: Alexa turns out to be a good match for your living room

The speaker is not as powerful as a standard Echo, but it’s not designed for playing music — the Cube will route any music requests to your TV’s speakers or your soundbar. Most of the time, Alexa’s responses will also route through the TV’s speakers, but it will use the Cube’s speaker if the TV is off or set to another input. […] And in my experience of testing the Fire TV Cube over the past few days, its Alexa-based voice control system works more often than it doesn’t. But I’m not throwing my remotes in the garbage just yet.

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As revealed back in April, Sonos is poised to announce a new entry in their home theater lineup. As described in the FCC filings:

The model S14 is a high-performance all-in-one home theater smart speaker and part of Sonos’ home sound system.

Given the newer hardware like the Sonos Playbase and Sonos One, we might reasonably expect on-device touch controls, unlike the somewhat long-in-the-tooth (stylistically) Playbar. But what exactly does the “smart” refer to? Is it onboard Alexa control as seen with the Sonos One? Or might it have something to do with the integrated Bluetooth Low Energy communication, which I don’t think we’ve seen from Sonos before.

In terms of connectivity, Sonos has shied away from HDMI. But that will no longer be an issue as also revealed by the regulatory documentation. Further, a supposed report by a former employee indicates the video market didn’t move exactly as the company had expected and so they have embraced the new HDMI 2.1 eARC specification enabling increased throughput for higher-fidelity:

HDMI 2.1 introduces so-called eARC (enhanced Audio Return Channel), which increases bandwidth for audio to 38 Mb/s. This allows TVs to output lossless audio, including Dolby Atmos and the full range of DTS audio formats. […] The first product from Sonos to take advantage of this will be a mini soundbar due this year.

Beyond a new, smaller soundbar (perhaps similar in size to the Bose Solo 5 and supposedly pictured in the leaked render above), might Sonos also announce updates to the existing Playbase and Playbar? We’re gonna find out real, real soon…