Learn a new language with Duolingo’s chatbots

Duolingo has been offering language learning tools for a while now, but today the company debuted a new tool inside its iPhone app that could make the task a bit easier. Thanks to AI-powered chatbots, the language-learning app offers a way to have conversations while you’re trying to learn French, German and Spanish. That’s a short list of languages for now, but Duolingo says more options are on the way.

Right now, you can only interact with the chatbots via text, but the company does have plans to add spoken conversations in the future. Duolingo gave these bots a bit of personality to make them more like real people and created them to be flexible with the answers they’ll accept when there’s multiple ways for you to respond. For the times when you can’t think of the words you need to say, the app has a “Help My Reply” button that offers a few suggestions.

The new feature gives users of the free iOS app a way to learn through conversations without the anxiety of making mistakes when speaking with a real person. The chatbots are available now via the latest update, but just be sure your iPhone has an internet connection before you try to use them.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Duolingo (iTunes)

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Kohl’s is the latest retailer to roll out its own mobile payments

If you like to shop at Kohl’s and need an alternative to Apple Pay, Android Pay or Samsung Pay, you’re in luck. The retailer announced today that its own mobile payments platform, Kohl’s Pay, is now available to all customers nationwide. The company revealed last month that its take on payments would complement its existing mobile wallet app that gave customers a way to store payment info, organize rewards and collect promotions in the same spot.

Unlike retail mobile payment platforms from Walmart and CVS, Kohl’s Pay doesn’t allow customers to add their credit and debit cards to the app for use in stores. Instead, you’ll have to sign up for one of the company’s own Kohl’s Charge cards. While that might seem like an odd choice, TechCrunch reports that the retailer has 25 million customers actively using its credit cards with 60 percent of in-store purchases being paid for with Kohl’s Charge. That’s a substantial number of people you could bring to the mobile platform even if they can’t add any payment method they want.

The payments system is available inside the store’s existing mobile apps for Android and iOS. The Kohl’s app also doesn’t support NFC or tap-to-pay like Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay. Instead, it displays a QR code that’s scanned by the cashier at checkout. That code is used to not only handle payment, but to apply any savings a customer has stored in the app, too. When you combine the ability to pay to for items, organize discounts/promotions and track returns, exchanges and regular purchases, Kohl’s is giving its customers a handy shopping companion. And that’s on top of using the app to browse items, save gift cards to the mobile wallet and scan barcodes will looking around in stores.

Kohl’s still supports Apple Pay, including the ability to earn loyalty points when using that payment method on an iPhone or Apple Watch. It was the first retailer to do so and it was also the first store to allow customers to use its own credit cards with Apple’s payment platform.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Kohl’s

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GOP website outed its response to the VP debate a bit early

Today the Republican National Committee showed tech companies aren’t the only ones to get a little jumpy with the publish button. Following Apple’s early Twitter leak of the iPhone 7, the GOP website pushed up blog posts declaring its VP candidate, Mike Pence, the “clear winner” of a debate against Democratic candidate Tim Kaine, before the debate actually began. The content has since been pulled but lives on in screenshots as the debate goes on live. Of course, a CMS timing error can happen to the best of us, but maybe this is one election data leak that won’t be attributed to emails or foreign hackers.


Source: CBS, Deadline, The Atlantic

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Google Pixel tools help you switch from an iPhone

We’ve seen many attempts at helping you switch from one smartphone platform to another, but Google is kicking things up a notch with its Pixel smartphones. The lineup will include software to bring over contacts, media and messages from other phones, including iPhones. It’ll even bring over your iMessages, in case you’re worried that all those blue chat bubbles will disappear while moving to Android. To that end, Google bundles an adapter to help iPhone owners make the leap. These tools aren’t that necessary if you store a lot of your data in the cloud, but it’s evident that Google wants to remove as many pain points as possible — it wants Pixel to appeal to everyone.

Click here to catch all the latest news from Google’s fall event.

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Apple Maps displays nationwide Amtrak train routes

Prefer to travel cross-country by rail? If you’re an iPhone owner, you no longer need to fire up a third-party app to plan your trip. Apple Maps has introduced support for Amtrak train routes across North America — if you want to navigate all the way from Los Angeles to Toronto while seeing the sights, you can make it happen. You’ll need to live in an area where Apple’s mass transit directions are available, of course, but this remains a big deal if you’re more interested in how you travel than the time it takes.

Source: MacRumors

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USB-C’s new audio spec could rid of your headphone jack

Like it or not, the effort to get rid of the headphone jack is well underway. The USB Implementers Forum has published its long-expected Audio Device Class 3.0 specification, giving device makers the standard they need to pipe sound through USB-C ports on everything from phones to PCs. And the organization isn’t shy about its goals, either — this is mainly about letting companies removing the ages-old 3.5mm port, according to the Forum. In theory, that means slimmer devices, better water resistance and opening the “door to innovation” through room for other features.

We’re not sure everyone will buy that last argument, but there are some advantages to the spec that are worthwhile even if the headphone jack is here to stay. Aside from offering better digital audio support (such as headphones with custom audio processing), the USB-C sound spec improves on earlier USB approaches with power-saving measures and keyword detection. In other words: a company could take advantage of USB audio without hurting your battery life as much as before, and it should be easier to implement voice recognition.

This doesn’t mean that every company will embrace 3.5mm-free hardware with the same enthusiasm as Apple or Motorola. After all, Samsung used its Galaxy Note 7 introduction to make a not-so-subtle dig at Apple’s then-rumored decision to drop the headphone jack on the iPhone 7. However, the USB-C spec may nudge vendors who were thinking about ditching the conventional audio socket and were just waiting for official support to make their move.

Via: AnandTech

Source: USB Implementers Forum (PDF)

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The best smart leak detector

By Rachel Cericola

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. Read the full article here.

After spending over 10 hours pouring water, mopping it up, and changing wet socks to test the performance of seven DIY leak detectors, we’ve decided that the D-Link DCH-S160 Wi-Fi Water Sensor is the best smart water sensor currently available. It’s one of the few options that doesn’t need a smart-home hub, making it a more affordable solution than the competition because it can work with your existing Wi-Fi network. It can—like the rest of the units we tested—deliver alerts whenever water is present, but it also throws in a few perks that aren’t available on any other smart water sensor at this price.

Who should get this

Water sensors are small devices that can alert you whenever water is present around the refrigerator, the washing machine, sinks, and toilets—even in the basement. If you’ve got a leaky basement or appliances of a certain age, a smart water sensor makes for a strategic addition to your home.

Some smart water sensors work alone via Wi-Fi, and others connect to a smart-home hub; when wetness occurs, both can send a message to your phone so you can respond with a towel or a plumber. The units we’re talking about here can’t actually shut off the water; they simply alert you to the danger so you can respond quickly.

Though you can get a leak sensor that will set off an eardrum-piercing tone for as little as $ 10, if you want to get alerts and remote access, be prepared to pay a bit more: Our recommendations hover around the $ 60 mark.

How we picked

We tested a variety of smart water sensors, including Wi-Fi models and those that work with Z-Wave smart-home hubs. Photo: Rachel Cericola

We compiled a list of smart water sensors by doing a Google search for reviews and roundups; once we had a list, we looked for feedback on Amazon and Google. Although we found a million different leak sensors, when you factor in the smart aspects, the list of what’s out there is much smaller. We narrowed that list further using features, availability, and price. The average cost for a smart water sensor that fit our criteria is about $ 60; you really shouldn’t pay more than that. That narrowed our list down to seven products to submit to our water-torture tests—each product is easy to set up, works with an app, and can be used almost anywhere you expect water to make an appearance.

How we tested

We used a spray bottle to determine how little water would trigger an alert. Photo: Rachel Cericola

For each of our tests, we used apps on an iPhone 5, an iPad, and a Samsung Galaxy S6. Most of the devices used either the SmartThings or Wink hub, so we used the applicable app; when the device connected via Wi-Fi, we used that device’s specific app.

When dousing each smart water sensor, we used four different amounts of water to see if it would react and how quickly. We used measuring cups to douse each sensor with one-quarter cup of water, as well as a full cup. We also measured sensitivity using a spray bottle and, finally, by completely submerging each unit in a bowl of water.

The main purpose of these devices is to alert you to water, whether you’re at home or away, so we made sure each detector delivered those alerts to a mobile device from afar. Anything beyond their basic features was considered a bonus—for instance, quite a few of the devices on our list allowed you to check on room temperature and even battery life.

Our pick

The D-Link DCH-S160 Wi-Fi Water Sensor. Photo: Rachel Cericola

The D-Link DCH-S160 Wi-Fi Water Sensor is a reliable smart water sensor that’s also affordable. It’s actually the least expensive option we tested—not coincidentally, it’s also one of the few models that doesn’t need a smart-home hub. Instead, it uses Wi-Fi to deliver water alerts through the mydlink Home app (available for iOS and Android devices) and integrate with other smart devices in the home. It’s also the only model on our list that relies on power from the wall rather than a battery.

The D-Link device performed well throughout our testing, sending out alerts about six to 10 seconds after the sensors first touched water. It also features an audible alarm that you can hear from about 35 feet away, though that sound doesn’t travel as well through floors.

The app associated with the D-Link DCH-S160 Wi-Fi Water Sensor—mydlink Home—is pretty basic. Other than a record of when water was present, it offers options to change the device’s name, add in a personal photo, and create rules. For instance, we set the device to send both push notifications as well as an email whenever water was present; texting is not an option here.

For a stand-alone device, it does offer a few integration options as well. If you search the D-Link Water Sensor channel on IFTTT, there are ways to get phone calls, post to Slack, trigger the Nest thermostat, and more. It also works with other D-Link Connected Home devices, which you can control and set up integrations for from the same app.

A pick for smart-hub users

If you don’t have access to an electrical outlet, and don’t mind using a Z-Wave hub, the Fibaro Flood Sensor is a great choice. Photo: Rachel Cericola

The Fibaro Flood Sensor features an audible alarm that also triggers when someone tilts or tampers with the device in any way. It has a temperature sensor and a visual “drop” display that can change color based on if there’s water, weird temperatures, or bad network connections. As an added bonus, this little circular device can actually float—which can end up being a huge bonus if a leak turns into a flood. However, unlike the D-Link, it requires a smart hub, a requirement that kept it from being our top pick.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

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