iPhone 7 will get a larger camera, according to spy shot (updated)

Another week, another iPhone 7 leak. (Hey, it rhymes!) Following the set of components allegedly showing dual-SIM support, up to 256GB of storage and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the next iPhone, Chinese repair shop Rock Fix is back with a photo of what it claims to be the 4.7-inch iPhone 7’s rear casing. Most notably, there are fewer plastic antenna bands here, and the main camera is said to feature a larger CMOS sensor — here’s hoping this will offer larger pixel sites to boost light sensitivity. What’s interesting is that contrary to WSJ’s report earlier this week, Rock Fix pointed out that the headphone jack is here to stay on one of the two 4.7-inch variants, which would explain why we’re seeing conflicting rumors about the headphone jack.

Rock Fix added that the cheaper 4.7-inch model — our money’s on the one that’s keeping the headphone jack — will replace the aging iPhone 6 in the new lineup. As for the bigger iPhone 7 Plus, it’ll unlikely have a variant with the headphone jack, but we’re told that it’ll be the only one featuring the special dual-lens camera we saw last time. Both sizes will apparently have dual-SIM slots, which is a common feature in competitive markets like China and India. If true, this move will hopefully give Apple a much needed boost after its recent iPhone sales decline.

Update: We’ve updated our article with new information regarding the special variant that will apparently be keeping the headphone jack, as well as the above image of a purported iPhone 7 chassis without the headphone jack.

Source: Rock Fix (Sina Weibo)

Engadget RSS Feed

Simple Habit aims to de-stress you with 5-minute meditations

Yunha Kim knows a lot about stress. She founded Locket, an app that put ads on the Android lock screen, which was eventually bought up by the shopping app Wish. Starting and running her own company, naturally, was a stressful proposition, so she turned to meditation as a way to center herself. Now, she’s hoping to do the same for everyone with a new iPhone app called Simple Habit. It offers five-minute guided meditation sessions that you can do from practically anywhere, each targeted for specific situations.

While there are plenty of mindfulness apps out there — even Apple is getting in on the meditation bandwagon with Breathe in WatchOS 3 — Kim says Simple Habit differs by adopting a Netflix-like model. The app is free to install, and there’s also a quick introductory session that shows you what the experience is like. But to get access to all of the meditation lessons, you’ve got to pay $ 4 a week, $ 15 a month or $ 120 a year.

It might seem counterintuitive to pay up front for mindfulness training, but it looks like you get a lot for your money. (And it’s not as if meditation lessons are always free.) Kim has around 30 experts contributing lessons to the app, which from very specific (at work and stressed) to fairly general (morning meditation). With this many contributors, Simple Help should be able to keep its selections of lessons fresh, something that other relaxation apps often have trouble with. Kim is also working with a Harvard psychologist to ensure the lessons actually help you relax.

While sitting at my desk, I went through the “Improve Focus at Work” session. A calm and pleasant British woman guided me to sit down, stretch my shoulders, and then focus on my breathing. Over the course of the five-minute session, she had me focus on my left hand, every single digit and repeat the process for my right hand. Yes, it doesn’t sound very exciting, but that’s the point. It’s a simple way to clear your thoughts, focus your mind and hopefully make yourself feel less stressed

Simple Habit also has sessions going all the way up to 30 minutes, which will be helpful if you really get into the habit of meditation. Honestly, it’s not that hard to start meditating for free on your own, with some light research. That’s how I’ve been de-stressing for the past few months. But Simple Habit’s targeted sessions makes it easy for people with far less patience to relax. Eventually, you might find that you don’t need the app anymore for your meditation fix, but your time with it will have been well worth it.

Source: iTunes, Simple Habit

Engadget RSS Feed

MacOS Sierra first look: Siri, show me the new stuff

As of last week, OS X has a new name. It’s macOS now — macOS Sierra, specifically. The newest version of Apple’s desktop operating system arrives next month in the form of a public beta, with the final build coming out sometime in the fall. All signs point to this being a less exciting release than in years past, with the most exciting features being the addition of Siri (it’s about time!), auto-unlock and the ability to copy and paste between your Apple devices. (Other additions, like automatically backing up your desktop and Documents folder, are useful though hardly groundbreaking.)

With the public beta launch still a few weeks away, I’ve already had a chance to play around with an early version of the software. It was so early-stages, in fact, that some of the headline features weren’t ready for testing. Enjoy this first look, then, but let’s agree to regroup a few months from now — there’s still a lot of ground left for us to cover.

Siri

There are a few places where you can find Siri in macOS, and each feels intuitive. For starters, you’ll find the familiar purple Siri shortcut in the Dock, right next to Finder. That lower-left corner is the same place we already expect to find Cortana on Windows 10. If you like, though, Siri also lives in the tray, in the upper-right area of the screen, right next to where the search bar already lives. Or — and this is my personal favorite — you can use the keyboard shortcut Fn-spacebar to bring it up without using your cursor. Power users will notice that’s very similar to the shortcut you’d use to bring up Spotlight search, which is command-space. It makes sense that each has a keyboard command, and that they’re similar — if you know how to do one, you basically know how to do the other.

As you’d expect, Siri handles all the same commands that it does on iOS: searching the web, setting reminders, creating calendar events, composing emails and texts, etc., etc. You can also ask follow-up questions. Say, if I asked for dry cleaners in my neighborhood, I can then narrow my search to “only on 7th Avenue.” Really, I’d expect no less of a digital assistant these days. Given that this is macOS, Siri has also been optimized to control the operating system itself, giving users the ability to search for files, change their settings and find out more about their machine (how much local and iCloud storage you have left, for instance).

Once you find what you want, be it a specific file or a baseball game schedule, you can pin the results to the Notification Center, as well as copy and paste or drag-and-drop them into a different app. You can also open files straight from Siri, though in some cases you’ll need to follow a link to Finder to see the complete results.

Picture in Picture

Sierra brings with it a picture-in-picture mode, wherein you can pop out a movie in iTunes or Safari and watch in a separate stay-on-top window. (Look for a new icon in the video player that looks like a window popping out of a window.) Because I was testing an early version of the OS, most websites didn’t yet support this feature (an API is available to developers), but I was able to take an ESPN video and watch a recap of game seven of the NBA finals, all while opening and closing other apps and windows. If the window is getting in your way, you can drag it around as well as resize it. Media controls appear when you hover over it, though in my tests I couldn’t jump forward or back to a different point in the video. When the video ends, the pop-out window automatically closes — a convenient touch.

Universal Clipboard

For a long time now, Apple’s big focus with macOS has been around “Continuity” — the ability for apps to work seamlessly across the desktop and mobile devices, with carryover in things like documents and web activity. Now, users will also be able to copy and paste between their gadgets, whether that be macOS and iOS, Macs only, or from one iOS gadget to another. As in other instances of Continuity on the Mac, you don’t actually need to set anything up; just make sure all of the devices you plan to use are signed into the same iCloud account (which, let’s face it, they probably already are).

I was initially skeptical that it would be that easy. But in fact, once I set up Sierra on two different Macs, each signed into the same iCloud account, I was able to hit command-C (copy) on one machine and command-V (paste) into a TextEdit doc on the other. Basically, it seems that Sierra is remembering your most recent copy action across all of your devices. To paste that text in, you just need to make sure you’re pasting into an app that already supports copy-paste, which, duh: of course you are.

Messages

This fall Apple fans will have revamped messages apps for both macOS and iOS 10, with features that include enlarged emoji (three times bigger than before), inline previews of videos and websites and so-called Tapbacks, which let you respond to a message by adding a thumbs-up, heart or other pictorial reaction. The fact that your reaction appears on top of the message bubble means less clutter as you scroll through a message thread.

In addition, Messages on macOS can display some of the flashy new effects that are specific to iOS 10, including stickers, handwriting, “invisible ink” and “Digital Touch.” It’s a shame you can’t actually send messages from your Mac using these effects (they were some of the most fun things we saw at Apple’s WWDC keynote last week), but at least you can see what friends are sending you from their iPhones.

iCloud and Documents

Starting with Sierra, macOS behaves a lot more like Dropbox. If you like, you can have your Desktop and Documents folder automatically upload to iCloud, so that you don’t have to manually cherrypick which files you’d like to save. Once you enable this feature (it’s not turned on by default), you’ll find the Desktop and Documents in a slightly different location in Finder: under the iCloud banner in the left-hand pane.

Optimized Storage

“Optimized storage” aren’t the sexiest words ever uttered by Tim Cook during a keynote, but this is actually a feature everyone can benefit from. (Unlike Siri, maybe?) To call it a feature — a singular word — might be a misnomer; by enabling Optimized Storage, you’re actually turning on a host of processes that work in the background to free up space on your local disk. This includes automatically moving seldom-used files and already-watched iTunes movies and TV shows to the cloud and, if you like, storing Mail attachments on the server unless you choose to download them.

The system will also automatically erase items that have been in the trash 30 days and clear your cache and logs. In addition, it flags duplicate downloads in Safari and reminds you of used application installers. Certain nonessential features, like dictionaries, instructional videos and special fonts, are now available on-demand, instead of loaded on your system by default. Heck, even the OS itself takes up less space: Apple said it worked to make the installer smaller than in years past.

Photos

Here again, we have a new macOS feature that’s also a new iOS feature. The Photos app on both platforms is getting an upgrade, with a new “Memories” view that automatically detects events in your life, based on the people in them and where the shots were taken. Thanks to “advanced computer vision,” the new Photos is also smart enough to know which of your pics contain things like dogs or snow.

Scroll through the Memories view, and you’ll see a breakdown of people and places. Take note, though: To make the most of the facial-recognition feature, you’ll need to do some preliminary legwork, tagging faces in your photo library. To be fair, Apple makes this easy by automatically surfacing some frequently featured faces, prompting you to assign them a name. Oh, and the Memories view also includes a “Related Memories” section at the bottom, so that you have Memories to go with your Memories. It’s Memory-ception, basically. And also, a rabbit-hole of vacation photos.

As you navigate away from the Memories tab, you’ll also find dedicated People and Places albums. In the People album, your subjects are ranked by how often they appear in photos, though if you like, you can mark someone as a favorite so that they always appear up top. Additionally, Albums View looks different, with rounded tiles and photo and video counts. If you’re viewing one big photo on the screen, you’ll notice that the scrubber on the bottom looks a lot like the one on iOS (pick “Show Thumbnails” from the View menu to make the scrubber appear in the 1-up layout). Also note the search bar in the upper-right, from which you can search by places, people and keywords, like “beach.” And, of course, Siri can find your photos too.

Lastly, what would a Photos update be without new editing tools? New options include “Brilliance,” which applies region-specific adjustments to brighten dark areas, and “Markup” for adding text, shapes and signatures to images. You can also edit Live Photos, a feature that I’m sure some iPhone 6s owners have been demanding. Those edits apply to both the still photo and the video. Apple is opening Live Photos editing to third-party developers as well, in case you happen to prefer a different photo editor.

iTunes

iTunes generally still feels like a bloated mess, but Apple Music at least has received a major redesign. The new UI is much simpler, marked by large headers and prominent album art. In addition to your library and the iTunes store, you’ll find three other tabs toward the top to guide your experience: “For You,” “Browse” and “Radio.” Those last two are pretty self-explanatory, but it’s worth pointing out that “For You” is a mix of personalized playlists and recommendations, along with updates from whatever artists you might be following.

Tabs

Expect to see a lot more tabs across macOS. In addition to Safari and Finder, you can also open tabs in Maps, Mail, TextEdit and the whole iWork suite. The feature will automatically work in third-party document-based apps too, with no updates required from the developer. The only stipulation is that the app has to already support multiple windows, which is why you’re seeing tabs in Maps but not, say, Messages.

It’s all pretty simple, though you do still get some options in terms of how this works. For instance, you can choose to always open new windows in tabs, which is what I personally would do. Or, you could set your system up so that new windows only become tabs if you’re already working at full-screen.

Features we can’t test yet

Auto-unlock

Once Sierra and the newly announced watchOS 3 arrive in the fall, Mac users will be able to unlock their machine using an Apple Watch. It seems like the setup is straightforward: Make sure both devices are signed into iCloud with the same Apple ID, and enable Auto Unlock in your Mac’s system’s settings. From there, so long as you’re within three meters of your Mac, you can unlock your machine simply by lifting the lid or hitting a key.

Selfishly, I wish our IT department would support this feature on my company-issued Mac so that I don’t have to type in a complex 16-character password every time I come back from a coffee break. Fat chance that’ll ever happen, though.

Apple Pay on the web

Apple Pay has been steadily expanding to include more banks and more retailers, but until now, there was a glaring blind spot: payments on the web. That changes in the fall, when some merchants will start building in an Apple Pay button. A few things need to be in place in order for this to actually happen: The retailer of your choice needs to actually support Apple Pay on their website, of course. Also, you’ll need to visit the website in Safari, not some other browser. Lastly, you need an Apple Pay-equipped device, like an Apple Watch or newer iPhone or iPad.

That last bit is important because you’ll need a secondary device to actually complete the transaction. Even after you hit the Apple Pay button in Safari, you still have to either double-click the button on your Apple Watch or enter a passcode or use Touch ID on your iOS device. For Apple’s part, the company is quick to tout the security benefits — namely, that Apple doesn’t store your credit card number on your device or Apple’s servers, nor does it save the details of your transactions. For retailers, though, there’s surely another benefit, which is that getting customers checked out faster is always a good thing (the better to enable your impulse purchases, my dear!).

At launch, we’ll see Apple Pay on Etsy, Expedia, Fandango, JetBlue, Lululemon, Nike, StubHubm Target, Under Armour, United Airlines, Conde Nast and The Wall Street Journal‘s websites. Additionally, e-commerce platforms like Shopify, Demandware and IBM are working behind the scenes to enable Apple Pay for some 250,000-odd websites that are powered by their technology.

Compatibility

When Sierra comes out, it’ll be available on Macs up to 7 years old. In particular, it will run on MacBooks and iMacs from as far back as late 2009. If it’s any other kind of Mac — an Air, Pro, mini or Pro desktop — your machine needs to be from 2010 or later. Obviously too (I think this goes without saying?) to make the most out of the OS you’ll also need an iDevice. Think: an Apple Pay device for Apple Pay, a Touch ID-enabled device for auto-unlock, and an iOS 10 device to use Universal Clipboard, Memories or the new Messages on the go.

Come to think of it, to really evaluate Sierra, we’ll also need to take a look at iOS 10. Not coincidentally, both launch around the same time. Expect to hear a lot more from us then on all things Apple software.

Engadget RSS Feed

BBM Video for Android and iPhone is now out in Asia-Pacific

Most BBM users finally have access to the app’s video calling capability. BlackBerry has released the feature for Android and iOS in Asia-Pacific, which is apparently home to its biggest userbase. The company said it made cross-platform video calls available in the US and Canada first, because it wanted to be able to fix bugs before it reaches more people. Since video calling is now stable, the phonemaker can roll it out to the rest of world.

While BBM isn’t as popular as its newer, shinier rivals like Messenger or WhatsApp anymore, BlackBerry is still developing new features for it. In fact, this release is but a small part of a bigger rollout. Later this summer, the company will launch the capability to register for an account using a phone number, among other things. Android users will be able to share larger videos, as well, while those on iOS will be able to mute group notifications.

Source: BlackBerry

Engadget RSS Feed

WSJ: This year’s iPhone won’t feature big changes

If you’re eagerly awaiting a load of new features for this year’s iPhone, you might be a bit disappointed come fall. The Wall Street Journal reports that the upcoming models will offer only modest changes from the current iPhone 6S and 6S Plus rather than a more robust redesign. Apple has been trotting out new designs every two years with the “S” models offering mostly internal tweaks in between. According to WSJ’s sources though, that won’t be the case this year.

WSJ reports that both the 4.7- and 5.5-inch models will return, and they’ll do so without a 3.5mm headphone jack. Rumors have gone back and forth on whether or not Apple will ditch the port entirely, and we’ve even caught a glimpse of alleged iPhone 7 parts that indicate the jack is staying. The rumblings about the company’s preference for Lightning connectivity for headphones began late last year and has been the most discussed tweak for the new models. Nixing the 3.5mm port is said to not only improve the phone’s water resistance, but also allow for a thinner handset.

Apple is planning a massive overhaul for 2017’s 10th anniversary of the iPhone, according to WSJ. Those updates are said to include an edge-to-edge OLED display while nixing the iconic home button entirely. Sources say that the Touch ID security features would be part of the display itself. Of course, that release is well over a year away, so things could change significantly between now and then.

What’s the reason for not having a major update this year? Apple’s coming off its first quarter of sales decline in the iPhone’s history, but WSJ reports that the reason for subtle changes is due to tech that’s currently in the works taking more time to finish. While the iPhone 5S featured the addition of Touch ID, last year’s 6S and 6S Plus focused largely on internals with 3D Touch and improved cameras. Both kept the same overall design as the iPhone 5 and iPhone 6 the year before. Nixing the headphone jack wouldn’t be a small change though, especially if you’ve already invested in a set of wired headphones.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Engadget RSS Feed

Android Pay Day offers UK discounts for mobile payments

Now that Android Pay is available in the UK, Google wants to make sure people are actually using it. The company has come up with a promotion called Android Pay Day, which offers discounts every month on the Tuesday before your next pay slip. The scheme kicks off today with two deals; firstly, in Starbucks, you can get two-for-one on Frappucinos; the second is a £5 voucher (ANDROIDPAY5 for new users, ANDROIDPAY2.5 for existing customers) that you can redeem inside the Deliveroo app, provided you select Android Pay as your payment method at checkout.

These discounts are designed, no doubt, to educate people about the different ways they can spend with Android Pay. Most Brits will know they can use their phone to pay at physical stores — they’ll have seen iPhone users doing the same with Apple Pay. But it’s possible, or rather likely, that users are less familiar with Android Pay’s second role as a digital wallet. Android Pay Day could, therefore, be an important tool for raising awareness among the Android-wielding public. Success will ultimately hinge, however, on Google promoting the monthly rewards effectively — if no-one knows they exist, they won’t have an impact on adoption.

A good start would be a promotions page like the one it’s set up for US customers.

Engadget RSS Feed

Add-on brings Game Boy cartridges to your Android phone

Hyperkin toyed with gamers last year when it teased a peripheral that would play real Game Boy cartridges on your phone, but it wasn’t just kidding around — it’s making good on its word. The company is now taking pre-orders for a Smart Boy Development Kit that lets your Android smartphone play Game Boy and Game Boy Color cartridges. The $ 60 peripheral isn’t meant for everyday use — Hyperkin is hoping you’ll improve the open source code yourself. Nonetheless, it’s likely the closest you’ll get to reviving your childhood short of dragging the original hardware out of storage. Just be ready to wait until December 1st to get yours… and while Hyperkin originally talked about an iPhone version, Apple handset users are out of luck so far.

Via: SlashGear, Neowin, Gizmodo

Source: Hyperkin

Engadget RSS Feed

Driverless cars could be the future of racing

Translogic host Jonathon Buckley heads to Thunderhill Raceway for the first Autonomous Track Day. We caught up with Silicon Valley entrepreneur and event organizer Joshua Schachter to find out if driverless cars will ever race themselves. “That would be fun,” said Schachter. “We have to make sure it’s interesting. If it’s just robots driving perfectly, that’s not exciting.”

“I think we’ll figure it out.”

We also check in with George Hotz, originally famous for unlocking the iPhone and now builder of driverless cars. Hotz shared his story of how he got involved with autonomous technology through a disagreement with Elon Musk.

“Elon Musk was originally going to give me money to build this for his Tesla,” said Hotz of his driverless car. “Elon changed the deal at the last minute, said no…[I] bought this car, made it drive itself.”

TRANSLOGIC

  • Click here to find more episodes of Translogic
  • Click here to learn more about our host, Jonathon Buckley

Engadget RSS Feed

iPhone 7 may keep the headphone jack and support dual SIMs

One of the most intriguing rumors about the upcoming iPhone 7 is that it’ll ditch the 3.5mm headphone jack, meaning users will have to get audio output via Lightning or Bluetooth. But according to a leakster, this may no longer be the case. Rock Fix, a smartphone repair shop based in China’s Ganzhou, has recently been posting photos of alleged iPhone 7 components. One of these is apparently the 4.7-inch model’s Lightning cable assembly which, contrary to what we’ve been hearing before, still has a headphone jack attached to it. And more recently, the shop shared photos of what it claims to be the next iPhone’s dual-SIM trays, which will be a first for Apple if true.

Other parts shown off by Rock Fix include some screen panels in the usual two sizes, some SanDisk memory chips of up to a whopping 256GB, plus a dual-lens camera for the larger model (hello, Huawei!). The shop owner also told us that there will be some changes to the antenna design, though he clarified that this won’t get rid of those antenna bands on the back of the phone; maybe it’s more to do with the rumored switch to Intel’s modem for the GSM models.

Despite such recent leaks, there’s still some uncertainty regarding the iPhone 7’s features. For one, just three days ago, an industry insider claimed he heard from a Foxconn source saying Apple had canned the dual-lens camera because the technology wasn’t ready, but the following day another insider shot this rumor down, as he had heard from multiple suppliers saying the tooling was already made and that it’d be too late to change it (a self-proclaimed Foxconn employee commented below this Weibo post to say mass production started last month). He added that Samsung, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi are also exploring dual-lens cameras for their upcoming smartphones, so it’ll be interesting to see what the mobile industry will offer in the coming months.

Source: Rock Fix (1), (2)

Engadget RSS Feed

Amazon’s Echo Dot is a great way to bring Alexa to more rooms

I haven’t been shy about my love for the Amazon Echo. I wake up with it, and aside from my phone, computers and TV, it’s one of the gadgets I rely most on most throughout the day. So when Amazon announced the $ 90 Echo Dot, which brings all of its larger sibling’s features to any speaker, I was onboard before you could say “Alexa, what’s the weather?” I couldn’t wait to bring Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant, which is the heart of soul of the Echo, into my bedroom (ahem) and office. It took a long while for the Echo Dot to finally reach me (Amazon, once again, refused to make it available early for reviewers), but after a week of living with it on my nightstand, I’m finding it just as useful as the original.

Let’s make this clear up front: You still can’t buy an Echo Dot on its own. The only way to order one is to ask Alexa on an Echo or Fire TV to order it for you and wait several weeks. Amazon is clearly positioning it as a secondary device, which makes sense for most people, but also seems like a bafflingly restrictive choice in this day and age. Perhaps the company just wanted to limit its first available units to Echo users, especially since it’s had trouble producing enough devices in the past.

The actual process of buying the Echo Dot was smooth and easy — almost worryingly so. It’s strange to just say a few words and then have a $ 90 gadget headed towards your home. You’ve been able to buy things via the Echo with voice commands for a while now, but that’s something I’ve never done before the Dot. At most, I would ask Alexa to add a few items to my shopping cart or wish list. It reminds me of when, in 2009, I bought my 50-inch plasma TV via Amazon’s iPhone app — a moment of ludicrously convenient big-ticket consumerism that I remember to this day. Now, you don’t even need to look at a screen before you fork over money to Amazon.

Setting up the Echo Dot is only slightly more involved than with its larger sibling, mainly because you have to plug in an auxiliary cable, in addition to a power cord. You’ll have to use Amazon’s Alexa iOS or Android app to get the Echo Dot connected to WiFi, which typically only takes a few minutes. The Alexa app is also where you can manage the Echo Dot’s settings, as well as its “skills,” or connections to third-party services. You can also go through voice training with the app to help your Echo Dot understand you better.

The Dot feels like a large hockey puck: It’s basically the top part of the original Echo sitting on its own. There are two buttons on top for disabling the microphone and enabling Bluetooth pairing. To control the volume, you just need to turn the top portion of the device, which also lights up with LEDs to show you the sound levels. While it has a small built-in speaker, the entire appeal of the Echo Dot is its ability to connect to a beefier system. Once it’s plugged in, it’ll turn anything, even a decades-old amplifier setup, into a smart speaker. It’s also a useful accessory if you’ve already invested in modern speaker systems like Sonos. The Echo Dot has the same beam-forming seven microphone array that sits atop the original Echo, so it’s just as accurate when it comes to hearing your commands, even in moderately noisy rooms.

Currently, I have a large Echo set up in my living room and the Echo Dot about 30 feet away in my bedroom. When standing between them, they’re equally as fast at determining my voice commands and bringing back responses. (It’s truly weird occasionally hearing a symphony of Alexa responses in my apartment.) Since they’re plugged into power continuously, the Echo devices are better about listening for potential voice commands than phone virtual assistants like Siri and Google Now. Alexa doesn’t have to worry about conserving battery life, after all.

With the Echo Dot connected to an older Logitech speaker on my nightstand, it worked like a charm. Audio quality was solid, and being able to shout Alexa commands from under the comfort of my duvet felt downright luxurious. The only potential issue? Your speakers, naturally, need to be turned on for the Echo Dot to work. In the interest of energy conservation, that’s not something I’m willing to do 24/7. So I’ve taken to disconnecting the Echo Dot from my bedroom speaker most of the day, and instead relying on its embedded speaker for simple commands. When I want to listen to music or online radio, I just plug the speaker in. It would be nice if future versions of the Echo Dot gave you an easy way to automatically switch between its speaker options (or better yet, do it automatically).

Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The Echo Dot sounded great when connected to my elaborate home theater setup, which consists of a Denon S910W receiver and Pioneer Elite tower front and center speakers (I don’t use my rear speakers for music). Just like with the original, you can ask the Echo Dot to play your playlists from Amazon Music, as well as other services including Pandora and Spotify (after connecting to them with the Alexa app). While actual music performance will depend on the service you’re listening to, I didn’t hear many hints of compression with Pandora streams, which is among the lower-quality options. True audiophiles will still prefer using something like the new Chromecast Audio on big speaker setups, though, since that gives you the option of using an optical cable to let your amplifier handle audio processing. Your only option with the Echo Dot is a standard 3.5mm cable.

If you live in a smaller apartment, there’s a good chance you don’t actually need two separate Alexa devices. If I shout loudly enough from my bedroom, the Echo in my kitchen usually hears me. Still, it’s nice being able to have a closer device for voice commands, especially if you’re trying to set an alarm late at night. If you’re looking for a secondary Echo device and don’t have any extra speakers, Amazon’s $ 130 Tap speaker might be a better option for you. And if you just want to jump into Amazon’s ecosystem, the original Echo is still a great product at $ 180.

The Echo Dot is the very definition of a niche device. It’s meant to be connected to expensive gear that many people don’t have, and the future of voice-powered digital assistants is still uncertain. But for Alexa addicts who have decent sound systems, it’s the perfect virtual companion.

Engadget RSS Feed