Amazon’s Dot is Spot on
Amazon’s second generation bid to smarten up your home is well worth a look
SOMETIMES it seems hard to keep track of all the devices Amazon has released with its AI assistant Alexa built in. There are big ones, small ones, ones with screens, ones without screens, tablets, and once even a phone.
But if you want to dip your toe into the future – be that to take a look at what the smart home world might do for you, or find out just what all the fuss is about with Alexa, you might start with this week’s gadgets on test.
We have been living for a couple of weeks with Amazon’s new Echo Dot, and its sister the Echo Spot.
The Dot is the second generation of its kind and features two rather handsome upgrades on its predecessor.
The mini smart speaker has a fancy new look – clad in fabric instead of the first generation’s shiny plastic – and it has new and improved speakers.
One of the problems with the first Dot was that it sounded awful. It was almost as if even Amazon wasn’t expecting you to actually use it as a speaker, but to plug better external speakers into it and listen via them.
You can still do that with the new Dot, but you might not have to. The new speaker is a lot louder, and a lot fuller in the bass department.
Perfectly acceptable for radio (and let’s face it, use as a radio replacement is high on the list of things people do with their Echos).
The new look is also a welcome addition – it speaks of quality and class, and looks a lot more at home in the home than the glossy plastic of old, which rather drew attention to itself.
All is good with the new Dot, then, and at £49.99 a pop, it’s not going to break the bank.
If Amazon’s past behaviour is anything to go by, it’ll regularly have the Dot on sale for around £35, too. You could get one for every room.
Except your bedroom, that is, or your office (if you’re lucky enough to have one). In there you will want the Echo Spot.
The Spot is a Dot with a screen. A tiny screen – which is circular and just 2.5in across. I’m not sure the sound quality is quite on a par, but still – it’s good enough for radio, and for voice and video calling.
That’s right, the Spot (£119.99) also has a front-facing camera, so you can video chat with anyone else who has one, or who has an Echo Show (the big brother with a 10in screen). It works with the Alexa smartphone app, too.
The screen works pretty well for video calling, but you obviously wouldn’t want to watch anything of any length on it.
You can, though, watch news bulletins, and Youtube videos, and it’s surprisingly usable for both those things.
The circular shape makes it perfect for displaying clock faces, and this is more or less the Spot’s default look – and it dims perfectly at night, so makes for a great bedside companion. You can set alarms for it, obviously, and can wake up to almost any sound source Alexa is capable of finding – and there are plenty of options, from the BBC, to Tunein to Spotify, it’s all there.
It’ll also show you the weather, news updates, and your calendar and reminders.
The big question is, do you buy into Amazon’s eco system? Google and, to a significantly lesser extent,
BUZZFEED has been busy disrupting the news business with its chatty style, inane quizzes, and daft videos. But it’s also been building an inspired food brand.
Tasty is a recipe distribution network, with channels on every platform, including its own website and Youtube, it’s own app – and a printed recipe book.
It’s a massive compendium
of all kinds of recipes – although it might be a little American for some tastes.
Not that Buzzfeed hasn’t provided some very useful features to make it appeal to the widest possible audience.
Tell it you are vegetarian on launch, and it will hide all Apple, are also heading down this road. And while Google is catching up fast, and in the market with a host of compelling devices, Amazon is certainly still out in front.
These devices are great – they look good, sound good, and are truly useful.
Alexa is, at this point, the pick of the AI assistants, too, which makes these devices even more attractive.
At the moment Amazon is selling the Dot and Spot in various bundles with Phillips Hue smart lighting bulbs, and its own smart plug. It’s an ideal way to test the smart home waters. You’ll never want to go back.
recipes that feature meat (you can turn this off later). You have to log in to save recipes, but that also allows you to add ingredients to an in-app shopping list. It’s a fun way to discover new ideas, presented in a typically inventive way – it is Buzzfeed, after all.
SMUGMUG CHANGES THE FLICKR RULES
IF you’ve got any precious photos in Flickr’s generous 1TB of free storage, get them out now.
New Flickr owner Smugmug has changed the rules for those in the free tier of membership.
The 1TB is to be reduced to just 1,000 images. If you’ve got more than 1,000 images, Flickr will start deleting them, starting with the oldest first, until you do.
So you have two choices – cough up for a Flickr Pro membership or download any images and videos you want to keep before the changes take effect in February.
Flickr’s Pro tier costs $5.99 (£4.59) a month, but you can get it cheaper if you agree to sign up for a whole year – that costs $50 (£38.34, or £3.20 a month). Better yet, to ease the blow, Flickr is offering 30% off at the moment, so you could go all in for just £2.24-a-month.
Is it worth it? I’d say yes – with unlimited storage, ad free browsing, great offers on discounts from Flickr’s many partners, advanced stats and an increased time limit for videos of 10 minutes.
PHONES GO BENDY
WHILE we are all holding our breath waiting for Samsung to come out with the world’s first smartphone with a foldable screen… somebody else went and did it first.
No, not Huawei, and definitely not Apple… the honour of reaching this cultural milestone goes to Royole. Never heard of them? Me neither.
But the company, based in Fremont in the Bay Area of California, has beaten all the big boys to claim the prize.
The Flexpai, is more than a phone – it’s sort of a tablet that folds in half, at which point it becomes more phone-like, although all its surfaces remain in use (the “spine” for example becomes a special area for notifications).
To be honest, it looks pretty clunky, but we’ll have to wait till it ships at the end of the year to find out if it’s any good.
You can order what Royole is calling a “developer model” at royal. com now for £1,209… but I’d wait until the reviews are in if I were you.
Amazon’s upgraded Dot is a quality offering, and the Spot can be your window on the world