At CES in Las Vegas earlier this year, Google boasted about new ways to use its digital assistant everywhere you go: in the Google Maps app, infotainment systems, and car accessories. Now Google Assistant is available for hardcore users whose cars aren’t so “smart” and can’t work with Android Auto. It’s the first after-market device to bring Google Assistant to the car.
In a partnership with Anker’s Roav brand, the Bolt device brings Google Assistant to your car through your smartphone (be sure to download the Google Assistant app if you don’t have a Pixel phone) via car charging socket and stereo. It’s optimized for Android devices, so iPhone users will have to wait.
You can ask the assistant for directions (it’ll pull up Google Maps on your phone), text your mom, look up nearby restaurants or businesses, play music or podcasts, call someone, have the Assistant read your texts to you, and any other assistant duties like adding items to your to-do list or calendar.
Last week, Tomer Amarilio, a Google product manager, showed me how the accessory works plugged into the cigarette lighter port and with an auxiliary cord so you hear everything through your car speakers. Last week he explained that it’s a way to “make the Assistant part of the car” instead of using your phone on a dashboard dock with harder-to-hear speakers than those in your car.
It’s a bit redundant if you already have the Google Assistant app on your phone and straight-up unnecessary if you have a connected car with Android Auto or Apple’s CarPlay. But the accessory is made for a car experience — meaning it can handle loud background noises with its dual microphones and noise reduction built into the small device. So it can pick up your “OK, Google,” wake word even with the radio blaring.
The device is helpful for users who’ve gotten used to voice control in other spaces like their kitchen or living room. Without plugging in a Google Home smart speaker into your car, you can be like one of the 20 million vehicles expected within the next four years to include Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa in the car — even if you’re driving in an older, “low-tech” vehicle.
Amarilio said the accessory is supposed to bring the helpfulness of the Assistant into the car while driving. “The whole point is to have distraction-free driving,” he said.
iPhone users should stick with the Assistant app since the device doesn’t pair well yet with iOS. But the accessory does have two USB charging ports that can charge your iPhone (or any device), so it’s not a total waste if you get one.
Starting Wednesday, the Roav Boalt is at Best Buy stores and online at bestbuy.com and walmart.com. It’ll be in Walmart and Target stores in the next few weeks. It’s $49.99, so not cheap but half of a Google Home smart speaker. Amazon’s slow-to-arrive Echo Auto is going for a special $25 price, but you need an invite to purchase Alexa for your car. Eventually its non-promo price also will be $50.
Unlike its older brother, the super-fast G12, Greyp G6 looks and feels like a regular mountain e-bike.
Image: Stan Schroeder/Mashable
How smart can a bike get?
The Greyp G6, a battery-powered bicycle launched Friday, March 15, provides a new answer to that question. It raises the bar for every other e-bike manufacturer with a ton of original features that turn the bike into a powerful, high-tech gadget.
Over the weekend, I got the chance to try out the G6 on the beautiful trails of Croatia’s island Brač. Turns out, it’s also incredibly fun to ride.
Greyp is a sister company of Croatian hypercar maker Rimac Automobili, and the two share a lot of the same DNA. Neither company is interested in doing something that’s been done before, and both build high-end products that may not be for everyone, but will surely make every tech geek’s eyes light up.
Greyp’s first bike, the G12, was launched in 2013, and it was an entirely different animal. Half electric motorcycle and half e-bike, it was speedy and powerful — so much, in fact, that it wasn’t exactly street-legal in the same way a regular bicycle is.
The G6 comes in three flavors — G6.1, G6.2, and G6.3. It’s definitely an electric bicycle, of the mountain bike (eMTB) variety. But it, too, has a duality that makes it hard to categorize, simply because there aren’t many (or any) similar bikes around.
On one hand, the G6 is a high-end mountain e-bike with a 250W MPF motor and a 700mAh battery that provides additional power as you hit the pedals, but it never just drives itself like a motorcycle does. It has some of the best components imaginable, including a carbon fiber-reinforced frame, an enduro-oriented dual suspension with 150mm of travel and top RockShox parts, and SRAM EX1 shifters, cassette, and chain, to name a few. If you don’t recognize these components, suffice to say that you’ll find them on the best enduro and all-mountain bikes. See full specs for the three Greyp models here.
Everything and the kitchen sink
You may have seen similar electric bikes from companies such as Giant, Cannondale, and Specialized, but this is where the similarities end. First, Greyp drew from Rimac’s battery expertise to build its own custom battery, providing some 100 kilometers (62 miles) of range. Based on the short time I’ve spent with the bike, it’s hard to judge how much of an advantage over other brands this is. But having seen Rimac’s battery assembly plant, and given the fact that the company provides battery expertise and parts for some of the world’s fastest supercars, I’d say these folks know their battery tech. One other detail makes the G6 different from many competitors: The battery is visible (as opposed to being built into the frame) and easily detachable; you charge it at home with Greyp’s own custom charger.
But the biggest difference between Greyp G6 and most other e-bikes is that instead of relying on added sensors and smartphone smarts to provide extra functionality, the G6 has all of that built in. The bike has a GPS chip, a 3-axis gyroscope and accelerometer, and even a barometric pressure sensor. It has two wide-angle, 1080p cameras (front and rear). It has a 3-inch TFT screen, designed to be readable in sunlight, with a 240×400 pixel resolution for showing basic info such as battery life and speed. Connectivity-wise, the bike’s equipped with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and a USB-C port. Most importantly, it’s constantly connected to the internet via a built-in e-SIM, with Greyp covering the data costs until at least 2022.
If you think that sounds like a specs list for a smartphone instead of a bike, well, you’re right, it kinda does. I’ve checked numerous competitors, and I haven’t found an e-bike that has all these features, even on pricier models (though the G6 itself isn’t cheap; more on that later).
While the bike is fully functional as is — basic functions are accessible via rugged, waterproof buttons on the left handle — the real fun starts when you connect a smartphone and place it in a special cradle on top of the built-in screen. Then, you start Greyp’s companion app (Android-only, for now; iOS support is coming this year) and get features such as navigation, a live video feed from front or rear camera (seeing what’s behind you can be really handy sometimes), or detailed info about your ride. You can even put a built-in heart rate sensor on your wrist (it comes with the bike) and set the bike to provide more power when your heart rate goes up and less when it goes down, keeping you in that fat-burning sweet spot all the time.
Yeah, this thing is clever.
It doesn’t end there. When it’s not plugged into the bike (the bike’s battery charges the phone, so no need to worry about your phone dying), the G6’s smartphone app turns into a sort of remote control for the bike. If someone’s touching your bike, for example, you’ll be notified. You will then be able to remotely warn them via a text message on the bike’s screen, take a photo through the bike’s cameras, or disable it completely and track its location through the G6.
Between the bike itself and the companion app, the list of features is too long to name them all. Still more are coming, as the bike’s software can be updated with over-the-air (OTA) updates. But enough lists.
Turning a beginner into a pro
Unlike some prototypes we’ve seen, the Greyp G6 is a finished product that can be pre-ordered now and will start shipping to customers in a month or two. I had the rare opportunity to actually test it out right after launch, on a variety of terrain and in two different configurations — the G6.2 and the most powerful variant, the G6.3.
As a pure mountain e-bike, the G6 is just loads of fun. If you’ve never ridden a pedelec e-bike — one that assists you while pedaling instead of just driving you like a motorbike — you should know that it has two important traits. First, yes, it makes the ride easier by helping you out during those nasty uphill climbs. If you’re not very experienced or just can’t handle a climb on a regular bike, the G6’s motor will make you feel like a pro by providing just as much power as you need.
But if you are experienced and are looking for a challenge, the e-bike won’t turn you soft and lazy. You can ride as hard as you like and break a serious sweat, but the difference will be that, compared to a regular bike, the G6 will help you cover more distance. On a normal bike, 20 miles on rough terrain with a solid amount of elevation would be a long, painful ride for me. On the G6, I was blasting through the finish line. In fact, a couple months with this bike, and I bet I’d be testing the G6’s nominal 62-mile range, which would take me years to achieve on a regular bike. Note that once the battery’s depleted, the G6 becomes a perfectly capable regular mountain bike, so no problems there.
The G6 excels on rough roads. It’s got wide, off-roady tires and a sturdy frame that make the bike feel incredibly stable. With the help of the electric motor, I was easily conquering terrain that’d be a real challenge on a regular bike. Often I felt more confident at high speeds than I usually am; that could mean I’ve suddenly become a better rider, but it’s far more probable that the bike is just fine-tuned well. On an asphalt road, I didn’t mind those rugged tires; again, with the electric motor I was easily achieving good speeds, perhaps not comparable to a road bike, but still fast enough for my liking. I’ve tested both the mid-range G6.2 and the most powerful G6.3 variant, and honestly, both had plenty of power. I’ve also tried turning the power assistance off completely during a steep climb — and I very quickly realized that I’m not in the shape this bike made me feel I’m in.
The brakes, shifters, and suspension all performed admirably on both bikes I’ve tested. The G6.3 has slightly better parts than the G6.2, but it’s all high-end stuff that’s far better than anything I usually ride. One cool feature was the ability to change the seat height with a switch, mid-ride. The control buttons for the bike’s smart features seemed sturdy enough to me, though using them while riding over rough terrain wasn’t always easy.
Tech platform for the future
With the G6, the ride itself is just half the fun. I also enjoyed fidgeting with the extra features provided by the smartphone app. Some, like navigation, were most useful during a break. While riding, I mostly had the camera on, because it’s just so cool to have an HD stream of your ride in front of you. And you can record it to your phone at any time.
There were a few bugs. Sometimes, the video stream would lag considerably, and sometimes, the app crashed — but those issues were only present on an older, Galaxy S8+ Android model, which happened to be installed on the bike I was testing. This is made worse by the somewhat odd decision to place the phone cradle so that the phone covers the bike’s built-in screen. If the phone app dies, you lose access to all the info about the bike and the ride (plus, as a tech geek, I just like the idea of being able to see two screens at the same time).
The next day, the Greyp crew outfitted me with a different bike that sported a newer Android phone, and I had no issues during a 45-minute ride. Some parts of the trails had a poor 3G signal, which was also an issue for the always-connected G6. I’ve spoken to the folks at Greyp; they’re aware of these issues and are working to fix them before the product reaches end users.
The most interesting aspect of the bike, however, are the features yet to come. Some, like the possibility of getting a one-minute video replay (useful in case of crash) are nearly there, but aren’t fully implemented. And some, like gamification and racing against other riders, I didn’t get to test. But the possibilities of this platform are truly endless. Notifications if you stray off path and fall out of your group? Bad weather warnings? Music streaming? With the tech this bike has, it’s all possible.
Why hasn’t anyone done this before?
You could take a regular bike, add some third-party gizmos, and create some sort of makeshift version of the G6. Use a phone for the info screen, a helmet cam for video recording, a sports watch for the measurements, and stick a bunch of sensors on the bike. But it will never work as well as it does when the cameras, the sensors, and the connectivity are all built into the bike itself.
The truth is, once you get used to it — and you do get used to it fast — you start to wonder why other e-bikes don’t have these features. Mate Rimac, the CEO and founder of both Greyp and Rimac Automobili, tells me the secret is simple. “We’re an engineering company first. Innovation comes before everything else. We aren’t looking to build another bike, we’re looking to see where can we take the idea of the bike.”
I really do believe we’ll see these sorts of smart features on e-bikes more and more. After all, when you have that big, juicy battery, why not have it power a bunch things instead of just helping the bike move forward?
There’s another reason why all e-bikes aren’t as advanced as this, though, and it’s the price. Starting at 6,499 euros ($7,359), the G6.1 is not cheap. The G6.2 costs 6,999 euros ($7,925), and the G6.3 costs 7,499 euros ($8,491).
While the prices may be eye-watering for someone used to regular bikes in the sub-$1,000 price range, when you compare apples to apples, Greyp’s pricing makes sense. Comparably equipped e-bikes from big bike brands like Specialized and Cannondale are priced similarly, and they don’t have all the features that Greyp has.
The Greyp G6 can be ordered now from Greyp’s website, and should be hitting dealers in Europe over the next months.
With the weekend almost here, we’ve rounded up the best deals on kitchen gear, laptops, and Amazon devices so you can get the most out of your days off. We also found great deals on online courses from Udemy starting at $10.99 if part of your New Year’s resolution is to learn a new skill.
If you’re looking for a last-minute gift, then look no further. Here are the best deals from Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, Macy’s, and more for Thursday, Dec. 13:
Best tech deals: Laptops, Apple Watches, and more
You can save $50 on Apple Watch Series 3, as well as save up to 29% on Apple MacBook Pro (with Touch Bar). You can also save up to 38% on Microsoft Surface Pro and Surface Laptops.
Create the kitchen of your dreams with sales on appliances from KitchenAid, Cuisinart, and Blendtec. You can save 40% off the Instant Pot smart Wi-Fi multi-cooker, which is priced at just $90, plus so much more.
If you’re looking to learn something new like web design, animation, and even photography as part of your New Year’s Resolution, Udemy is a great place to start. Scroll through thousands of online courses on sale for $10.99.
A sampling of some of the new Echo devices Amazon just launched.
Image: karissa Bell/mashable
In case there was still any doubt about Amazon’s vision for the smart home, the company just made its intentions clear: it wants to dominate every aspect of your house.
The company revealed a dozen new Alexa-powered gadgets on Thursday, including redesigned Echo speakers, a new subwoofer and amplifier, a wall clock, and, yes, a microwave.
Taking over the smart home
Of these, the $59.99 microwave (officially called the AmazonBasics Microwave) attracted much of the attention because, well, it’s pretty damn random, right? But while some wondered about the usefulness of having Alexa inside your microwave, it also offers the clearest look at how Amazon plans to put Alexa on every surface it possibly can.
So why a microwave? Is it actually faster than just pushing a few buttons? According to Amazon, it opted for the microwave because it’s an appliance that hasn’t changed much in the last few decades. And, more importantly, one that can still be frustratingly complicated. Do you know how to use all the built-in presets on your microwave? I definitely don’t.
Though microwave is Alexa-enabled, it doesn’t have any speakers or microphones built in. Instead, it pairs to a nearby Echo speaker. There is an Alexa button on the microwave, but this is just for saving time; if you push the button on the microwave, you can simply say what preset you want, like “one potato,” without saying “Alexa” or “microwave.”
At launch later this year, Alexa will be able to understand dozens of presets, as well as commands like “add 30 seconds.” Amazon says more commands will be added over time as well.
Strategically, though, the microwave is about much more than making popcorn slightly faster. It’s powered by something called Amazon Connect Kit, which will soon be available to the makers of other kitchen gadgets. This means device makers can make their blenders and coffee makers and mixers compatible with Alexa without having to remake their products with microphones and speakers and custom software.
If you don’t want to wait for manufacturers, though, you’ll have another option: Amazon’s new $24.99 Smart Plug, which lets you control any device you plug into it with your Echo. Think of it as essentially an Alexa-enabled on/off switch.
The somewhat bulky plug does a few neat things in the background as well. You connect it to your home WiFi network by scanning a barcode on the back of the plug with the Amazon app, which should make setup relatively painless.
Finally, there’s the $29.99 Echo Wall Clock, which is meant to take advantage of what might be the most popular feature on all smart speakers: timers. The clock connects to your Echo speaker and gives you a visual cue to track your timers.
New and improved Echos
Amazon revamped much of its Echo lineup, with new Echo Dot, Plus, and Show speakers. The good news is that all three are way less ugly than the previous models. The Echo Dot, previously a plastic hockey-puck shaped speaker, has been completely redesigned. The new version now looks a bit like a larger Google Home Mini. It’s rounder, and covered in fabric (available in black or white).
On the inside, the new Echo Dot has also been engineered to sound louder and clearer. In the brief demos I heard, it did better than the original, though I was in a loud room at the time.
All this also means it’s a bit larger than the original, but it shouldn’t take up much more space. Most importantly, the new Echo Dot is priced the same as the original at $49.99.
The larger $149.99 Echo Plus has also ditched the plastic covering in favor of fabric which, again, makes it look way better and more like a “premium” speaker. It’s also shorter and rounder, making it look more like last year’s Echo 2. On the inside, the Plus has gained a new temperature sensor, so it can detect the temperature of its surroundings, as well as upgraded audio.
The relatively new Echo Show also got a much needed facelift. While the previous version looked like some kind of teleconferencing device, the new Echo Show places the speaker on the side of the device, making it look much less bulky.
Amazon also delivered its answer to Google’s Chromecast Audio with the $34.99 Echo Input, a thin disc-like gadget you connect to an existing speaker in order to turn it into a smart, Alexa-enabled speaker.
If you’re really serious about upgrading your audio setup, Amazon has offered a solution in the form of the $129.99 Echo Sub. The sub pairs to your existing Echo speakers, which can now be paired in stereo and support multi-room audio.
In the demo I heard it sounded pretty good by my ear — with a noticeably thumpy bass— but again, I was in a loud demo room so it’s hard to judge the audio quality at this point. What is clear is that Amazon wants to fight the perception that Echo speakers aren’t meant for people who care about sound quality.
Does all that seem like too much Alexa? Perhaps. But Amazon doesn’t need you to buy all of its products or even most of them. What it is trying to do is make its ecosystem of hardware and software an essential part of the things you do in your home every day, whether it’s listening to music, turning off the lights, or cooking popcorn.
It’s no secret that the smart home, right now, is kind of a mess. From complicated setup processes to getting a bunch of disparate gadgets to sync up to one another, we’re still a long way off from the cohesive vision so many tech companies have promised us.
For Amazon, the solution isn’t just to make Alexa smarter and easier to use, it’s to integrate it with every conceivable appliance and gadget you could possibly need or want. Once you’ve bought into one part of the ecosystem, why wouldn’t you keep investing in it?
The assistant was revealed Thursday at a TechCrunch Disrupt main stage event. BMW senior vice president of digital products, Dieter May, showed it off, extolling its skills beyond “just voice commands.” He said the assistant would “live side by side with you” — which is either super helpful or super creepy.
It’s compatible with other voice assistants, so don’t worry, you can still shout at Alexa to put more laundry detergent on your Amazon shopping list.
May was very clear in a conversation after the launch event that this assistant is not something to ask informative queries like “What year was Barack Obama born?” Instead it’s more of a coach about driving and getting places, think: “Where’s the nearest charging station that’s still open?” As May sees it, “It’s more of a co-driver.”
What really distinguishes the BMW assistant is its auto skills. “It’s a real expert who knows everything about your car,” May said. So when something makes a weird noise or a light starts blinking, you can quickly get answers.
You can rename the assistant, and BMW encourages conversation and casual chatting. The assistant is supposed to be able to pick up on patterns and habits. “It’s a much more natural and easier way to interact,” May said. With its predicative abilities, you shouldn’t have to tell it to take you to the gym; it’s already got the GPS loaded up once you sit down. Since we spend so much time in our cars, the AI can quickly learn what we want.
The car isn’t a new space for voice. Far from it, with Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto and third-party services built into infotainment systems, like Nuance with its Dragon Drive interface. Talking to Waze (“OK, Waze“) brings a voice-based navigation system into your car through the app or infotainment system. Then there are devices that act like an Amazon Echo, but for your car, like the Muse.
Just this week Uber added voice commands for drivers picking up passengers. Mercedes unveiled its newest electric vehicle, which will of course include its proprietary voice-controlled user experience, MBUX. On Thursday, Nuance announced an in-car partnership with Affectiva Automotive AI, the MIT startup that measures your emotional reactions and facial expressions. The system will recognize if you’re angry, happy, sleepy, distracted or angry while driving. Emotion-based control is like next-level voice control, where your sad voice could trigger some uplifting tunes.
Amazon’s announcement last month about an Alexa integration coming directly into cars seemed to reinvigorate the potential of in-car voice assistants in a way that CarPlay and Android Auto haven’t, even though plenty of cars work with those operating systems.
Voice has become the go-to tool for the modern household, such as in the “smart” kitchen or living room, and even more so in the car.
A survey from digital consulting firm Capgemini found 85 percent of voice users prefer to use the tool while on the go, meaning in their cars, on their commutes, on a bike ride.
Alex Stock, a partner at Capgemini, said in a call that “car companies are trying to use voice to create more exciting experiences for consumers.” So while the wow factor is still high that cars can turn on the air conditioning or one day interpret your frustration into a pitstop for ice cream (sounds plausible), the next step is commoditizing the experience.
As we’ve seen again and again, cars have figured out how to offer a seamless experience with directions and music choices coming up on command. Now that we’re hooked on voice, it’s time for the cars to turn the “cockpit experience” into an e-commerce shopping hotspot.
I first tried out Microsoft HoloLens a few years ago, a few months before its launch as a developer tool, and came away with similar impressions that many tech journalists had at the time: the tech was intriguing and impressive in some ways, but its limited field of view diminished the experience considerably.
I’ve used HoloLens a few times since then at demos and events, and although there have been improvements, they haven’t changed fundamental experience — or its limitations.
Magic Leap, which launched its developer hardware in August, provoked similar reactions. Although the product is different from HoloLens in many ways — it’s more steampunk goggles than futuristic visor, and you need to carry around a small hockey-puck computer to make it work — most people who had hands-on time with the device had similar observations: Here was a very promising augmented-reality experience that also suffers from field-of-view limitations and a lack of compelling software (although the latter criticism may have changed on Wednesday, with the release of a Magic Leap version of Angry Birds).
But if you were to conclude from those general impressions that the two devices provide near-identical experiences, you’d be mistaken. There are clear differences between the two, rooted in each company’s approach to augmented reality, the specific problems they’re trying to solve, and even the respective company cultures. Magic Leap also had the benefit of being able to act after HoloLens, learning from early criticisms of that device.
I recently got a chance not just to try out Magic Leap and HoloLens, but to do so back to back — a rare treat for expensive developer hardware made by competing companies. Thanks to a gathering of virtual- and augmented-reality storytellers arranged by StoryUp, a startup that helps produce immersive content, and the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri, I was able to use both products extensively. The exposure to both headsets in the same time and place gave me strong impressions of what each product is — and isn’t — good at.
Leaps and Lenses
This was my first exposure to the Magic Leap One. Most AR/VR headsets require a certain amount of precision when putting them on, but that goes double for Magic Leap since it requires that you carry around the tiny computer, called a Lightpack, that powers the experience. That means you have to remember to sling it around your shoulder before donning the goggles. You also need to make sure the supports in back are more on the top of your head than lower on your skull, which is a bit counterintuitive.
HoloLens isn’t much better in this department, but it’s better. Microsoft’s headset is a single, standalone unit, so there’s no purse computer. However, it’s also a bit weird in how it fits on your head: The visor connects to a headband via a hinge, and you’re often left wondering if you’ve put it on right once you’ve slipped it on and raised the visor back up. Still, I prefer Microsoft’s crank for tightening the headset on your head to Magic Leap’s traditional straps, but will admit the crank might feel weird for novice users.
Where Magic Leap surprised me the most was its field of view. Yes, it’s limited — the virtual images are confined to a rectangular zone right in front of you – but it’s not nearly as limited as HoloLens. There’s no official spec for field of view, but some have pegged the vertical FoV at almost double that of HoloLens.
Smart hardware and software choices help, too. My first experience with Magic Leap was a demo “world,” where various patterns that resemble marine life appeared all around me, changing seemingly at random. When I reached out to touch the images, they’d react in different ways: seaweed-like tendrils would bend to my hand movements, and a jellyfish-like ball would rapidly spin and implode when I tried to grab it.
Magic Leap’s goggles do appear to cut off more peripheral vision than HoloLens. While that sounds bad, it also means the ratio of non-augmented space to augmented space in your gaze goes up, so naturally it feels more immersive. Whatever the reason, I was not immediately struck, and subsequently frustrated, by how limited the “magic” window was on Magic Leap.
By contrast, HoloLens keeps reminding you of what you’re missing. After putting on the $3,000 headset, I took a look around the kitchen I was standing in and saw it was populated with several holograms, including very precise renderings of ballerinas, weightlifters, and breakdancers. But as I moved my head to check them out, parts of the holograms would get cut off as they moved out of the holographic part of the display.
This is the most annoying thing about HoloLens. When something interests you visually, you have a natural inclination to move closer so you can see it better. But instead of rewarding you, HoloLens’ limited field of view will cut off parts of the object you’re looking at, preventing you from taking it in fully. The closer you get, the more it takes you out of the experience.
A winner materializes
I didn’t experience the same level of frustration with Magic Leap. The software is a big part of this; most of the virtual objects I interacted with weren’t particularly large, so there was less chance of them being cut off.
The objects also tended to have a more ethereal quality to them, which does a lot to manage expectations: it’s less weird to see something ghostly start to disappear. By contrast, Microsoft’s very solid-looking holograms always looked strange when heads, feet, or arms were cut off.
That said, I have to concede realistic holograms are more of a point for Microsoft than against. The goal of HoloLens is to mix virtual objects with the real world, but in a way where the viewer sees and treats those objects as if they were real. And it succeeds: The holograms are almost always crisp and clear to the eye. I tried a couple of different apps on Magic Leap, but the virtual objects never felt quite as present.
So yes, HoloLens has a certain rigidity that the Magic Leap didn’t match, but it wasn’t always an advantage. The hand gestures that you use to manipulate the holograms need to be very precise, and those interactions often call up icons and menus in 3D space. In general, it feels like the experience was designed by engineers — it seems Microsoft can’t help but be Microsoft, even when it’s innovating.
I found using Magic Leap to be a much more natural experience. The only menu I really used was the main one that you call up with the remote. Otherwise I mostly just used my hands to goof around with things, walking through virtual environments, like a volcano-ravaged Guatemalan village in an AR experience created by The New York Times. At one point the headset got confused when it couldn’t figure out exactly where I went in the room when I moved from an open area to a tight space, but mostly it did a better job of creating an AR-enhanced environment than HoloLens.
If you’re getting the sense there’s a winner here, you’re right. Again, Magic Leap had the advantage of taking its time — thanks in part to an absurd amount of venture funding — and addressing early concerns of AR, so it’s not an even playing field. But there are also some some fundamental differences in approach that help, too.
With its traditional dialog boxes, desktop-like iconography, and need for precise gestures, HoloLens feels much more like a developer tool. Microsoft has told a confusing story around HoloLens — at various points in its lifetime it’s been touted as a consumer, gaming, and enterprise device – which has led to some paralysis in the experience. Without a software experience to walk you through things, it’s not intuitive to use.
Magic Leap, on the other hand, feels like a level up. The graphics don’t look better, but, using it immediately after HoloLens, I felt like an artist who’d just been given a slightly bigger canvas and a much better paintbrush. Both platforms still need a killer app to make them worthwhile, but at least with Magic Leap you’re thinking more about what you can see and do than what you can’t.
It’s also similarly pricey at $200 for the 8-inch display and $250 for the 10-inch version, which I’ve been using at home for just over a week.
With a priced at $130, the big question on everyone’s mind is: Is a touchscreen worth another $70-120?
I wish there was a simple answer, but it all comes down to how much you value the information that gets displayed on the screen. A display is great for showing information that can’t be conveyed verbally, but it’s also not a necessity for everyone.
Fits right at home
I think most people agree the Echo Show is more functional than beautiful. Sure, the design is less of an eyesore the more you use it, but that doesn’t mean we should just accept ugly design. Anyone who’s seen the knows what I’m talking about.
Compared to the Show, the Smart Display is a looker; it has a -ish vibe going for it. It’s slick and fits in well in the kitchen or on a bookshelf, two places it’s likely to end up.
The 8-inch model comes with a white frame around the display and a gray backside. On my 10-inch device, the frame’s also white, but the rear has a bamboo finish.
The Smart Display is meant to be stood up in landscape, but you prop it up vertically for making video calls using Duo, Google’s FaceTime clone. Don’t bother trying to stand it up vertically for regular use because the interface only works in landscape.
The smaller Smart Display has a 1,280 x 800 HD resolution and the larger one has 1,920 x 1,200 full HD resolution. I can’t speak for the smaller screen, but the 10-inch Smart Display’s IPS screen is bright, sharp, and has nice wide viewing angle. It’s comparable to a decent tablet display.
The 10-incher comes with a single 2-inch 10-watt speaker with two passive tweeters and dual array microphones. For buttons, there are just the essentials: a volume button, a physical mute switch, and — this one I really like — a physical camera privacy shutter that blocks the 5-megapixel camera.
Honestly, any camera-equipped device that’s always “looking” at you should have a privacy shutter just for peace of mind. Extra points to Lenovo for including one.
Lenovo really nailed the Smart Display’s hardware, but the size might be a problem for some people. The 10-inch model’s nearly twice the width of an Echo Show and can dominate a smaller kitchen counter or bedside table.
If you’ve used a Google Home or Google Assistant-powered smart speaker of any kind, you’ll know exactly what capabilities to expect from the Smart Display.
Everything you can do with a Google Home you can also do on the Smart Display. That means asking the Google Assistant to tell you the weather, play your music, control smart home devices, set alarms, make phone calls, search for things, etc.
The dual 2 x 2 microphones work really well. The Smart Display was able to pick up my “Hey, Google” requests even when it was playing music at the highest volume. At close range, it could also pick up the wake word if I whispered it.
The single speaker has decent range, too. Side-by-side with the Echo Show, the Smart Display sounds a lot clearer. Music sounds less muffled, and the bass isn’t as distorted at higher levels. On the Show, the speakers crackled as they tried to push more air. The only edge the Show has over the Smart Display is that it’s capable of louder sound. But that’s not really much of an advantage since it’s rare you’ll ever crank these kinds of tabletop smart devices to full volume.
The value of the Smart Display, like the Echo Show, is of course its screen. The touchscreen interface is extremely stripped-down — there’s no grid of apps or app drawer — and serves as a reminder that the Smart Display isn’t a tablet. As such, it’s for short voice and bite-sized screen interactions.
On standby, the screen shows the time and weather. Tap it and it takes you to a home screen with an expanded weather forecast. Swipe to the left to scroll to access features like music. A right swipe from the left bezel returns you to the home screen. Swiping up from the bottom of the screen brings up controls for adjusting brightness, volume, and toggling Do Not Disturb mode.
All of these touch controls can also be performed with voice controls. So instead of swiping on the bezels, you can just say say “Hey Google, go back” or “Hey Google, go home.”
Voice controls are super convenient, especially when your hands aren’t free, but there are many times where visual information is either more useful or augments the digital assistant experience.
For example, Google Maps. It’s great that a Google Home can tell you how long it takes to go somewhere, but it’s even better when you can see the route and all the additional info that comes with Google Maps such as street names, nearby restaurants, etc.
Same goes for showing information such as your Google Calendar, the upcoming five-day forecast, album art, Google Translations, to name a couple of things. These are all things that are better with visual info.
The most obvious use for the screen is for playing videos and displaying photos. If you have the Smart Display set up in your kitchen, the display’s really handy for showing recipe instructions (Google’s even condensed popular recipes from various independent online sources into easy-to-follow step-by-step slides) and for watching tutorials on YouTube.
I can’t stress enough how convenient it is to have YouTube videos on the Smart Display. It’s infinitely more valuable than watching Amazon Prime Video on the Echo Show. While chopping veggies one night, I simply asked the Google Assistant to show me Mashable’s MacBook Pro video without ever lifting a finger off my knife.
Similarly, you can tell the Google Assistant to show you photos. By default, it’ll pull photos from your Google Photos gallery first. I asked to show photos of my mom and because I had her face ID’d and tagged in my Peoples & Pets section within Google Photos, it pulled up all her photos.
The screen’s also essential for video calling over Google’s Duo service. Video and audio quality is alright. I used the Smart Display to video call Mashable Tech Editor Pete Pachal’s iPhone X and though the connection was solid, the video call picture quality was average.
For almost all screen info, the Smart Display also includes a handful of actions that you can take either with touch or voice. But sometimes, actions aren’t clearly labeled. For instance, I pretty much guessed at using voice controls to scroll through this recipe’s steps, and it worked even though it wasn’t clear how to do so:
It’s also worth mentioning that you don’t quite get all of Google search just because the Smart Display has a screen. There’s no Google app where you can manually search the web like you can on Android or iOS. Which kind of sucks because when Google doesn’t understand something, it’d be great to have the option to perform a manual search.
One good example was when I asked for a meatloaf recipe. It worked the first time with the Smart Display showing recipes from a couple of publications. But for whatever reason, the time I asked for meatloaf recipes, the Google Assistant apologized and said it couldn’t understand what I wanted. After a handful of fails, it finally understood the command again.
Then again, Alexa fared way worse. When asked for meatloaf recipes, it just messed with me — every single time:
After trying out the Smart Display, I’m convinced that smart speakers are better with screens. There’s no doubt in my mind that certain information is better shown than spoken. With the Lenovo’s Smart Display you can the best of both voice and touch.
You don’t have to use the touchscreen if you don’t want to. It’s there to augment the experience, which is still primarily voice-based.
The Smart Displays aren’t cheap at $200 for the 8-incher and $250 for the 10-incher. But they’re also not outrageously priced when compared to the $230 Echo Show.
Regardless of the model, you’re getting what is arguably a richer and more meaningful experience than you get with the Show. The Smart Display is prettier and has a larger screen. The Google Assistant is smarter and does more than Alexa. It also plays YouTube videos, which the Show can’t.
That tablet and dock combo, however, is powered by Alexa. With the Google Assistant, the Smart Displays are more intelligent, but if you can make do without the deep Google services integrations, it’s a much better buy for something that’s probably going to end up as kitchen toy.
However, if the decision’s only between the Echo Show and the , I’d go with the latter unless you’re already locked into the Alexa ecosystem.
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It’s time to stop giving so much attention to the pineapple on pizza controversy – the real issue is brownie edges vs. middles. If you’re a person who cuts the rectangle of edge pieces out of the pan and leaves the rest to the plebeians, we understand you. Edges are chewier, crispier, and obviously better.
Baker’s Edge has come up with a brownie pan just for you, edge lovers. The genius zigzag-shaped pan makes every inch of batter bake into a chewy edge piece. Because the pan is shaped in one continuous design, there is no end to the edge goodness.
If you’re more of an inside brownie fan, we forgive you – and now you have a unique present idea for any edge dessert lovers you may have in your life. Equipped with non-stick coating, the pan also comes with its own spatula for scooping out those chewy bites.
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You know that feeling when you make the perfect Sunday morning pancakes, go to the pantry for some syrup, and there’s nothing but an empty container? Never again.
This is Hiku. It’s a button that lives in your kitchen, whether stuck to the fridge or sitting on the counter, that can record your voice and scan product barcodes to preserve a kind of digital shopping list as you begin to run low on things. With the Hiku app, youre able to create a shared shopping list on your phone that will always be near you and up-to-date.
Check out what josh128 had to say about it: I LOVE my Hiku!!! This is by far one of my favorite kitchen gadgets. I keep it stuck to my fridge and anytime I start to run short on something I just give it a quick scan and it’s added to my list. This device has changed my life and made my shopping much easier.
Never worry about running out of things again. Hiku is here to make your shopping simple and stress-free. Get the shopping button here for $43.99.
This Crosley turntable will give you the rich sound of vinyl with wireless, Bluetooth features. Available in a variety of colors, this portable speaker is the perfect thing to bring to a party. Get it here for $73.52.
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If youre going out into the wilderness for any significant amount of timewhether youre tent camping or cabin glampingyoure going to want to have a more reliable source of fire than your old Zippo. After all, even the cushiest camping trips can get rugged real fast, and it never hurts to be as prepared as possible.
Replace your current lighter with the Saberlight Plasma Beam Lighter and youll have a contingency against inclement weather and low lighter fluid reserves. Plus, youll have a remarkably slick lighter that will blow your fellow campers moisture-wicking socks off.
The Saberlight Plasma Beam Lighter offers unparalleled reliability in rough conditions, including high winds and rain. It features the same flip-top functionality as your standard butane lighters, but its electrically generated plasma beam burns hotter and cleaner.
Hold a piece of kindling to the beam and it instantly ignites, allowing you to start your campfire quicklyso you can skip the hassle and get right to the marshmallow roasting. Saberlight can be used over 300 times on a single charge, and then replenished via USB in a laptop or portable battery (or a good old electrical outlet if youre not exactly roughing it). Normally, this remarkable gadget costs $99.99. Today, however, the price has dropped to just $15.95 for a limited time.
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We all do dumb things when we drink: call an ex, send a profanity-laced email to the boss, buy used jeans on eBay that arent returnable. We know we shouldnt be doing these things, but theres never a responsible person next to us to say hey, I think youve had too much to drink.
Fortunately, theres now a smartphone accessory that takes care of this for us: the DrinkMate Breathalyzer. Drinkmate promises that you can plug this tiny, 1.9-inch breathalyzer into your phone, blow into it, and get an accurate reading of your BAC level within seconds. When was that last time one of your drinking buddies did that?
The DrinkMate Breathalyzer connects to your iPhones lightning jack (an Android version is also available) so you never have to worry about needing an external power source. It easily hooks to your keychain or slips it into your pocket too. And since your lips dont actually make contact with the DrinkMate Breathalyzer, you can even share it with your friends. Compete to see who has the lowest BAC. Or to ensure that everyone in your group makes smart decisions.
Actually, you should always do that. Safety first!