Ama­zon’s Dot is Spot on

Ama­zon’s sec­ond gen­er­a­tion bid to smarten up your home is well worth a look

The Sentinel - - TECH NOW -

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

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