A number of different updates about smart assistants and smart speakers have been announced recently (including current and upcoming updates). Google, Amazon, and Facebook have all provided updates on their smart assistant plans. Here’s some of what you might have missed this week!
Google Home now lets you play through Bluetooth speakers
When comparing smart speakers (as I did recently; read about it in my article from last month), people typically take a closer look at the smaller, less expensive versions of the products. For instance, the Amazon Echo has the Echo Dot and the Google Home has the Google Home Mini. One of the things that set the Echo Dot apart from the Home Mini was that the Echo Dot could connect to other Bluetooth speakers. This meant that the less amazing speakers in the Echo Dot weren’t a deal-breaker, because the Dot could be connected to a better Bluetooth sound system.
Now the Home Mini can also improve its sound. The Verge is reporting that the smaller version of Google’s smart speaker can now connect to Bluetooth speakers. Previously, the Home Mini had a lot of great features but had the drawback of featuring unimpressive sound. Now that it can do what the Dot was already able to do, it’s even more of a competitor. If you already have a nice Bluetooth speaker, you no longer need to worry about the Google Home Mini’s sound quality.
Amazon’s Alexa plans to integrate more with your home products
Amazon has now announced their plans for more upcoming devices with Alexa built in. In their post this past week, Amazon detailed three upcoming products that will have Alexa enabled. These “white-box solutions” are part of Amazon’s plan to be more fully integrated into homes.
One product stands out in particular. The Lamp Speaker from Adition mostly looks like the typical smart speaker from Amazon: it’s a tall cylinder. However, it’s also a lamp. This means even typical household devices, like light sources, will soon be able to respond to voice commands and perform the Alexa capabilities we’re used to.
Facebook’s upcoming smart speaker announcement pushed back
You may remember the news at the beginning of this year about Facebook’s planned smart speaker. As I wrote in my article, Facebook has been planning to release a smart speaker currently referred to as ‘Portal.’ The smart system is supposed to include cameras and a screen for video chatting, and the focus is on social connection.
However, The Verge has reported that Facebook’s planned announcement about the smart device has been stalled. According to most reports on this postponement, it’s likely due to Facebook’s current data scandal fallout and its negative connection to user data and privacy.
It’s that time again—time for Tech Spotlight! I’m keeping my eyes open to spot technology you should check out. In the Tech Spotlight, I describe three different products you can find on Amazon right now. This week, I’m talking about a helpful little clock, a showerhead speaker, and tech for better sleep. Have a look at what I’ve found before you add them to your Amazon cart!
If you’re ever late to work or class because you slept in too late, Clocky is the answer. This clock makes it much harder to go back to sleep once the alarm has gone off.
Clocky’s concept is pretty straightforward, but it’s also a fantastic idea. Clocky has wheels that allow it to “run away.” If you hit the snooze button, Clocky will run away while beeping loudly at you. It can drop off of nightstands and roll across the floor. This means you’ll be forced to get out of bed if you don’t want to hear Clocky beeping insistently.
If you happen to have a day where snoozing is okay, you can also turn Clocky into a normal alarm clock by disabling its wheels. You can also customize it by deciding whether to allow some snoozing or disabling the snooze.
If you’re a habitual oversleeper who loves to hit the snooze button too much, check out Clocky and see how you can make it easier to force yourself awake in the morning!
This device is two products in one. Looking for a new showerhead? Want a speaker so you can sing along to music in the shower? Moxie does both.
As a showerhead, Moxie is meant to provide a good showering experience. Its full spray is achieved through its “60 angled nozzles,” meaning you won’t just get an unsatisfying trickle of water. You can also choose from five different colors, keeping it simple with white or making things lively with a bright blue, red, or one of the other color options. And the showerhead is just as easy to install as a typical showerhead; there’s no added difficulty just because it’s also a speaker.
The speaker uses a lithium-ion battery that’s built in, and it can be taken out of the showerhead for charging purposes. Bluetooth devices can connect to the speaker, and KOHLER promises as many as 7 hours of playing before the speaker needs to be charged again.
If you’re interested in getting a new showerhead, and if you don’t really want to take your Bluetooth speaker into the bathroom where it’ll get all steamed up, take a look at Moxie from KOHLER!
If you think you could be getting a better night’s sleep than you are, you might want to look into a device like S+ By ResMed.
With this device, you can learn more about your sleeping habits and your surroundings. S+ uses its sensor to learn about your breathing patterns and movements as you sleep. It specifically focuses on your chest moving as you breathe in and out, as well as how (and how much) you move as you sleep. You don’t need to be touching the device, and you don’t need anything special for your bed. It just uses its sensor to gather information.
It also takes note of things like sounds, light, and temperature as you sleep. After it gathers all its information, it analyzes it and provides suggestions for better sleep. It can take into consideration your environment overnight and then suggest environmental changes that will improve sleep quality.
Amazon now offers a ‘$10 & Under with Free Shipping’ section for those looking for affordable products. The new section became available this past week and could be a great draw for people who like to shop but are on a tight budget.
The ‘$10 & Under’ section currently has 9 categories to choose from. You can choose All if you want to see everything added to the section. Or you can get more specific with the following categories: Women’s, Men’s, Electronics, Gifts, Home Décor, Household, Watches, and Hello 2018!
The section also mentions free shipping. Prime users already expect free shipping, but this section has a draw for everyone—you don’t have to have Prime to get the free shipping. This means you can shop in the ‘$10 & Under’ section without worrying about shipping costs even if you’re not paying for a Prime membership.
Right now the section is a little tricky to navigate, because you can only filter items by the categories mentioned above and you can’t search the section. However, if you have some time to scroll through, you’ll likely spot something that catches your interest.
There are a variety of items in the Women’s and Men’s sections. The Women’s category includes a lot of clothing and accessories. There’s jewelry, like earrings and bracelets, plus there are hair accessories and full clothing items like blouses and skirts alongside miscellaneous small items. In the Men’s category, you can find items like t-shirts, hats, sunglasses, and tie clips. There are also items like water bottles and headphones.
In Electronics and Gifts, there are quite a few items to choose from. The Electronics category has items like iPhone armbands and other iPhone accessories, smartphone cases, chargers and charger cords, and headphones. The Gifts category has a pretty scattered collection of items. There are things like sunglasses, balloons, throw pillows, greeting cards, baseballs, soap, and succulent plant pots.
Home Décor and Household both feature an array of items for the home. The Home Décor section is filled with plenty of throw pillows in all sorts of designs and colors. There are also items like coaster sets, decorative signs and knick knacks, tablecloths, string lights, and curtains. In the Household section, you can find plenty of cleaning supplies, as well as storage containers, lightbulbs, kitchen utensils, and shower caddies.
The Watches and Hello 2018! sections are interesting categories. The Watches section is centered on, of course, watches. There are analog and digital watches with various designs and styles. There are also watch accessories. In the Hello 2018! section, there’s a variety of colorful, glittering items. There are things like earrings, yoga mats, sparkly phone cases, confetti, workout clothing pieces, and to-do lists.
As previously mentioned, going through the available items involves quite a bit of scrolling and just looking for whatever catches your eye. Head over to the ‘$10 & Under’ section of Amazon to see if you spot something you like.
Depending on where you live, you might be dealing with some unpleasant cold weather lately. (If not, I’m a little jealous of you.) As always, many of us are dealing with dropping temperatures, freezing rain, blizzards, or a little bit of everything winter has to offer.
There’s a lot that goes into things like weatherization and car care, so of course, this article should act as a supplement to the basics. Specifically, in this article, I’ll be sharing a few ways you can use tech and the internet to make it through winter!
First things first: focus on safety
The most important thing to remember during inclement weather is that you should always stay focused on safety. There are some suggestions in this article that are mostly for convenience or money-saving. However, you should always carefully look into safety tips for different situations.
To go over winter weather tips, take a look at the National Weather Service’s Winter Resources.
For your home
You might want to consider how you can best save energy while keeping warm in the winter. There are many things you can do to cut back on energy use. One way you can reduce energy is by upgrading your thermostat.
For instance, one affordable thermostat is Lux’s Programmable Thermostat. This thermostat doesn’t have a ton of bells and whistles, but it’s helpful because you can program it to change the temperature while you’re away. It can also be set to turn the heat back up at a certain time, so when you get home, the temperature is comfortable again. This way you don’t have to worry about wasting heat for hours every day.
If you have more money to spare, you can also try one of the popular smart thermostats. One option is the ecobee4. It’s much pricier, but you can do additional things like change the temperature from an app and use its integrated Alexa voice control.
You can keep extra warm with a cozy blanket. Maybe you have roommates who aren’t as bothered by the cold, or maybe you just like to curl up under warm blankets. Either way, an electric blanket might make winter easier to endure.
Sure, electric blankets aren’t new tech. But there are better options than there used to be. For example, Sunbeam has a queen size electric blanket that is designed to actually be comfortable while also letting you set the different sides of the blanket at different temperatures, and it has an auto-off feature.
If this is a bit too costly, there are cheaper options available. Just make sure to buy from a brand you trust, and always use an electric blanket as intended to avoid accidents!
Prepare for power outages
Aside from the usual preparations, make sure you have a way to keep your devices on if the power goes out. You might just need or want an inexpensive, low-power battery pack. Or you could look into full-blown backup generators.
You can find small portable chargers for just a few dollars. Aibocn has one for just under $10. If you want more than just one or two charges from your battery pack, Anker has many portable batteries available. Their 20100mAh battery pack can charge some devices up to 7 times from just one charge of the pack.
Consider everything you’ll want to charge during a power outage, and then consider purchasing a battery pack that can charge what you specifically need.
Clear your windows
If your windshield is frozen over, you can use a variety of products to melt the ice and scrape it off. If you want to potentially make things even easier, try adding a new device to your collection. There are ice scrapers available that plug into your car’s lighter outlet and heat up to help melt the ice while you scrape.
One example of this is Zone Tech’s Ice Scraper. It’s heated, uses a squeegee to clear away water, and is designed to avoid scratching windows. Launch Innovative Products has a similar heated ice scraper. This one also has a light so it’s easier to see while you’re scraping.
Warm your seat
If you get out early in the morning, you might have come to dread sitting on your car seat because it gets so cold. Some cars come with heated seats, which is great, but if you have an older car (or don’t have the money for actual heated seats), you have options. Specifically, you can purchase heated seat covers.
There are quite a few of these products on the market, and many of them are reasonably priced. A good example of this is Wagan’s Heated Seat Cushion. The seat cushion is held down with straps, and it’s powered by plugging it into your car’s lighter outlet. You can even add an adapter for extra when you buy it, letting you use the seat cushion other places, like at your desk.
If price is less of an issue, there are also heated cushions with more features. SNAILAX has a seat cushion that can heat and cool, so it works year-round. It also plugs into the lighter outlet, and this cushion automatically turns off after 30 minutes, helping prevent things like overheating.
Keep your drink warm
Warm drinks are important during the winter, especially if you have to leave the house to go to work or run errands. Whether you’re drinking coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or any other hot beverage, it can sometimes be difficult to keep them warm after leaving home.
Naturally, there are products meant to help combat this issue. The electric mug from GEEPIN is one option. It’s a thermos that plugs into your car’s lighter outlet and keeps the liquid inside it hot. You can also just use it as a kettle and make drinks with it on the go. It seems to heat quickly and get hot enough to take care of those icy winter days.
You might also consider a cup warmer. If you enjoy stopping at a coffee shop to pick up a drink, you can keep it warm with something like the Auto Cafe Take-Out Hot Cup Warmer. Like many of the devices mentioned, it’s powered through your lighter outlet. It fits the typical cup of coffee, plus it only turns on when a cup is placed in it, and it turns off once the cup is removed.
For your devices
Get weather alerts
Making it through winter is a little easier if you’re keeping up to date with the weather. Sometimes, despite checking the weather regularly, something can be missed or come seemingly out of nowhere. Weather alerts are a great way to overcome this issue.
There are many ways to get weather alerts. If you already have a weather app on your device, you probably already have access to alerts. Apps like Accuweather and Weather by WeatherBug have options in the settings to get severe weather alerts. If you have a weather app, check the settings to see if you have this option.
There are also apps that specifically cater to sending weather alerts. There’s AlertsPro, which uses the National Weather Service to provide warnings and alerts. Then there’s NOAA Weather Radar & Alerts (by Apalon Apps), which can even let you get alerts for numerous different locations.
Check in with friends and family
If there’s been a serious winter weather event in your area, your friends and family might be worried about you. If you have the Facebook app (or access to Facebook some other way), you may be able to easily let everyone know you’re okay.
If enough people let Facebook know about a serious event that’s occurred, their Safety Check will be activated. This feature is found in the “Crisis Response” section on Facebook. This feature lets you check in and say you’re okay.
Of course, the situation has to be extremely serious, and Safety Check might not be activated even if you’re in danger. In this case, you might consider simply posting on Facebook that you’re safe and then tagging specific friends and family in a comment to the post. It may not be quite as effective, but it can get some peoples’ attention.
Make a shopping list
Shopping to prepare for a winter storm is usually not particularly fun. Stores can be chaotic if winter weather is coming. One way to get in and out more quickly is to make an easy-to-follow shopping list beforehand.
A shopping list app can be particularly useful. You don’t have to carry paper and a pen, plus you can quickly add and remove things as you need to. Try using a popular app like List Ease (for Android and iOS) or Grocery iQ (for Android and iOS).