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05.19.17 | 9:26 am

Privacy concerns are the biggest drawback for smart home devices, say people who have them

We Americans aren't going to let a little thing like privacy stop us from wiring up our homes with more and more smart devices. A new survey from ReportLinker found that 31% of consumers say concerns about privacy are the main drawback for owning devices such as connected appliances, security systems, or smart speakers like Amazon's Echo. That makes privacy the most-cited drawback. A slightly smaller number, 29%, cited price as the main drawback to the devices, while 10% said they just don't have the time to learn how to use one. (Put me in that last bucket.) 

Still, half of the respondents said they owned one or two smart home devices and 26% said they owned five or more, so the convenience of having a smart home seems to be winning out over privacy angst. 

ReportLinker's survey of 508 online respondents representative of the U.S. population was conducted on May 4. Check out the full report here

[Image: ReportLinker]

04.28.17 | 1:36 pm

Amazon might launch a touch-screen Echo soon

A premium display-equipped version of the Amazon Echo speaker has been the subject of rumors for over a year now, and it could launch next month, according to CNET. The site's unnamed source claims that Amazon has accelerated the launch to stay ahead of Google, whose recent launch of multi-user support for the Google Home speaker served as a "wake-up call." If CNET's report is accurate, the device would be Amazon's second new Echo product in as many months, following this week's launch of the camera-equipped Echo Look.

This wouldn't be Amazon's first Alexa device with a display, as the voice assistant also appears on the company's Fire tablets and Fire TV media players. But the premium Echo device could help establish more of an on-screen presence for Alexa, ahead of its arrival on smartphones, car dashboards, and even refrigerators.

02.15.17 | 9:56 am

Alexa, call me maybe? Amazon and Google are mulling phone service for their home devices: report

Amazon and Google are reportedly interested in adding phone service to their popular home speaker devices—Echo and Home—but hangups about telecom regulations and privacy are complicating matters. Citing unnamed sources, the  Wall Street Journal reported this morning that the functionality could be added as soon as this year. Phone service would help the competing tech behemoths further entrench their devices into the lives of consumers and open a rich new vein of data collection. Read the full story here

[Photo: Amazon]

01.04.17 | 5:09 pm

Amazon says Alexa now has 7K “skills,” 7X what it had 7 months ago

So said Amazon's VP of Echo, Alexa, and app store, Mike George, while announcing an Alexa-enabled LG refrigerator at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Wednesday. Alexa is the voice-enabled AI brain behind Amazon's Echo home assistant device. 

The Alexa brain is finding its way into more and more devices as consumers get used to using voice commands for everything from music requests to cooking directions to hailing Uber rides. "We have a rich pipeline of Alexa voice service equipment that will be released over the coming months," George said.

Alexa has already made a big impact at CES this week, points out Geekwire. "Already, LG has announced the Alexa-enabled refrigerator, Lenovo debuted a voice-activated speaker that runs on Alexa, and Dish Network customers will soon be able to pair a Hopper DVR with an Alexa-powered speaker and control it using their voices," writes reporter Nat Levy.

11.03.16 | 1:40 pm

Google Home smart speaker off to a good start, say reviewers

Google finally has an AI- and search-powered home appliance to challenge the Amazon Echo. And the voice-controlled Google Home is off to a good start, say the first reviews.

The $129 Google Home's biggest strength is that it works well with Google, including complex search. "[Home] quickly informed me that giving my dog squash is totally fine as long as it's cooked," writes Brian X. Chen of the New York Times. Home wins for a smarter AI that understands context, not just individual questions, says Nathan Ingraham of Engadget. It answered both "When was Lincoln born?" and the follow-up "When did he die?" Because it integrates with a Google account (though just one person's) Home knows a lot about heavy Google users, if they enable the capability. It has the context to answer questions like how long will it take to get to work or to provide a summary of your whole upcoming day.

But Home could be dumb for to real-world uses. Walt Mossberg of The Verge and Recode asked it for local pharmacies and got three answers—two of them wrong—whereas Echo aced the test. Mossberg's in the minority on Home's audio abilities, calling the speaker "a tiny bit fuzzy," and saying that the Echo has better microphones to pick up commands. Others found the mic systems about equal, the speaker better. "Home is an excellent speaker, by the way—richer, brighter and more dynamic than the Echo," writes Wired's David Pierce.

Home falls short on integration with other services and devices, they all say, such as controlling a wide variety of home-automation products. Home could beat Echo some day, thanks to Google's capabilities. "Home might be better two years from now, but right now they're more or less the same device," says Pierce.

08.18.16 | 3:18 pm

The Whyd smart speaker looks like Sonos and Amazon Echo had a baby

Not sold on the whole wireless smart speaker thing? Here's another option to pique your interest: Whyd. The French company's colorful line of voice-controlled, high-fidelity speakers hit Sonos and the Amazon Echo where it hurts 'em the most. 

The $300 cylindrical speakers offer the simplicity of the Echo's voice control, but with higher quality: Each speaker contains five drivers and a subwoofer, aiming for audiophile crowd. It's also limited to music, unlike the Echo, which is trying to become the brains of your entire home. 

Sound-wise, the speaker is more analogous to Sonos, and it takes a crack at a common complaint among Sonos users: Its mediocre software control experience and its lack of support for wireless standards like Bluetooth, AirPlay, and Google Cast.  The Whyd vows to work with all of these standards, as well as major streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, and Deezer.  It has its own proprietary app for controlling music, but the Amazon-style voice control option is a nice, convenient touch.