The latest smart speaker with screen looks better, sounds great and has built-in smart hub
The new second generation Echo Show is bigger with a better display, but is size enough to keep Amazon ahead of stiff competition from Google?
Since the original Echo Show launched last year the software has been refined, but the experience is broadly the same. The Show is a voice-first Alexa speaker, with touch interactivity as an additional input rather than the core experience. If you never wanted to touch the screen beyond the initial set-up ,you wouldn’t have to.
It routinely got stuck on one particular photo in my library, showing it for hours on end.
If you’re listening to music while cooking, the Show will just display recipes and steps without interrupting via voice.
You can’t turn off the tips of things to try through Alexa that show at the bottom of the screen when just showing photos, which is very annoying.
You can disable the camera entirely if you want to, but if you don’t trust Amazon with your data you shouldn’t be buying an Alexa device.
You can use the Echo Show as a Bluetooth speaker or connect it to a Bluetooth speaker.
Despite the screen, shopping on the Echo Show is still...
A new generation of devices featuring a host of clever features will make conventional alarm systems obsolete. We review four of the best
The days of alarms and floodlights being the only choice for home security are behind us with the growing availability of more intelligent and flexible options, such as smart cameras.
Placed outside or within the home, these internet-connected cameras offer a live view of what’s happening from practically anywhere, send alerts when they detect motion – and some can even recognise friend from foe. They promise full control and piece of mind through your smartphone, tablet or smart display.Continue reading...
Firm will install devices in homes of elderly, disabled and ill people for monthly fee
British Gas owner Centrica is planning to put motion trackers in the homes of elderly, ill and disabled people as part of a service aimed at easing the concerns of millions of unpaid carers.
The company has already built a connected home business selling smart thermostats and other devices to more than a million households. In the latest sign of how the UK’s biggest energy company is diversifying away from traditional electricity and gas supply, Centrica’s Hive unit is launching a subscription service to help unpaid carers keep track of those they look after.Continue reading...
Under a heading explaining which personal information Sleep Number collects, the company, which makes smart mattresses with adjustable firmness, said it “may” collect “audio in your room to detect snoring and similar sleep conditions” as well as sleep-related data such as “movement, positions, respiration, and heart rate while sleeping”.Continue reading...
Facebook, Google and Amazon are eager to get their new devices under your tree. But will they give away your privacy?
If you’ve so far withstood the temptation to install a smart speaker in your home, worried about the potential privacy pitfalls and a bit embarrassed about the notion of chatting aimlessly to an inanimate object, brace yourselves. This Christmas, the world’s biggest tech giants, including Amazon, Google and Facebook, are making another bid for your living room, announcing a range of new devices that resemble tablets you can talk to.
Facebook’s is called Portal, Google’s the Home Hub, and Amazon has unveiled the second version of its Echo Show. You can still speak to the digital assistants embedded in these devices, but their screens enable hands-free video calling (apart from the Google one), can act as a control pad for various smart devices you may have around your home, such as thermostats or security cameras and (this feature is on heavy rotation in all the promotional material) you can use them to prompt you through a recipe without resorting to smearing your buttery fingers over your phone or laptop. And they’re on sale just in time for the festive...
This gadget is your Google Assistant, smart-home dashboard and digital photo frame in one – and it’s good for cooking, too
The Home Hub is Google’s first own-brand smart display, combining Google Assistant, advanced smart-home control and a digital photo frame into a neat and tidy package.
Google isn’t the first to market with smart displays. Amazon’s Echo Show put the company’s Alexa on a screen a year ago, while Google Assistant smart displays made by Harman, Lenovo and LG were released a few months ago.
The screen can be set to turn off or go very dim in darkness
Swipe from the left edge to go back one screen
Some answers are accompanied by sound effects, such as birds tweeting for sunny weather predictions
Manual tweaking of brightness, low-light mode and display settings are buried in a menu on the Google Home app
There’s a night mode you can schedule to reduce the volume of responses and block notifications apart from alarms and timers
You can use it as a Bluetooth speaker
The Home Hub can show you the video from any linked smart cameras
Pros: great touchscreen, minimalist design, Bluetooth, Google Assistant, can hear you well, excellent smart home control, great recipes, cheaper...
Heating controller cheaper than previous model and consumers will not require a boiler engineer to install it
Google’s latest smart-home product is a cheaper smart thermostat that anyone can install themselves without the need for a boiler engineer.
The new £199 Nest Thermostat E is a two-part system consisting of a battery-powered heating controller called the Heat Link E, which replaces an existing wired thermostat or heating controller, and a smart thermostat that can be placed somewhere else in your home.
Nest Learning Thermostat third-gen: the simple, effective heating gadgetContinue reading...
Excellent smart device comes with optional 24/7 video recording with facial recognition – and works as a doorbell too
Google’s new Nest Hello is a video doorbell that aims to be smarter than the rest with constant recording, face and object recognition.
The Hello is a direct replacement for a wired doorbell, working with an existing chime and requiring constant power, making it one of the high-end options for smart doorbells.
The Nest app runs you through full installation instructions that you can’t skip, even if you’ve had an electrician install the doorbell for you. Tedious.
The hyperlapse effect of scrolling through a full day’s video is really beautiful, watching the sun streak across the sky
I received far too many notifications for people passing by without a Nest Aware subscription, meaning I had to turn them off
Shadows of people walking are identified as people, setting off the alert even if the person isn’t actually in your motion zone
The Hello is weather-proof, but the backplate doesn’t fit all that tightly to the wall, so water can get in behind it if it’s exposed to torrential rain or similar
You’ll need a strong wifi signal for the doorbell and an uncapped broadband...
Smart speakers are taking over British homes. A recent YouGov survey found the number had doubled in three months, with around 10% of Brits owning one – and that 75% of these were Amazon Echo devices. The overwhelming majority are used for basic tasks like playing music and answering general knowledge questions – but with the right tips, tricks, skills and accessories you can get the Echo’s digital assistant Alexa to do just about anything…
The Paloma’s Bedtime skill sings lullabies and reads stories. You have to like Paloma Faith – but children frequently doContinue reading...
The energy used in our digital consumption is set to have a bigger impact on global warming than the entire aviation industry
It was just another moment in this long, increasingly strange summer. I was on a train home from Paddington station, and the carriage’s air-conditioning was just about fighting off the heat outside. Most people seemed to be staring at their phones – in many cases, they were trying to stream a World Cup match, as the 4G signal came and went, and Great Western Railway’s onboard wifi proved to be maddeningly erratic. The trebly chatter of headphone leakage was constant. And thousands of miles and a few time zones away in Loudoun County, Virginia, one of the world’s largest concentrations of computing power was playing its part in keeping everything I saw ticking over, as data from around the world passed back and forth from its vast buildings.
Most of us communicate with this small and wealthy corner of the US every day. Thanks to a combination of factors – its proximity to Washington DC, competitive electricity prices, and its low susceptibility to natural disasters – the county is the home of data centres used by about 3,000 tech companies: huge...
As most digital devices are installed by men, it is former partners, not hackers, who pose the greatest threat to women’s welfare
Standing on a tube platform the other day, I found myself looking at a huge ad for the Nest Hello, “the doorbell you’ve been waiting for”. Apparently, “it makes other doorbells seem like dumbbells”. That’s because it “lets you know who’s there, so you never miss a thing. It replaces your existing wired doorbell and delivers HD video and bright, crisp images, even at night. It’s designed to show you everything on your doorstep – people head to toe or packages on the ground. And with 24/7 streaming, you can check in any time. Or go back and look at a three-hour snapshot history to see what happened.”
The Nest doorbell fits neatly into the emerging narrative of networked devices that will make your home “smarter”. The company already markets the Nest Learning Thermostat – “an electronic, programmable and self-learning wifi-enabled thermostat that optimises heating and cooling of homes and businesses to conserve energy”. It’ll go nicely with your networked lightbulbs, your Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod or Google Home.
Victims of this kind of abuse reported...
System would allow Facebook to identify what adults and children are watching based on ambient noise
Facebook has filed to patent a system that can remotely activate the microphone on someone’s phone using inaudible signals broadcast via a television.
The patent application describes a system where an audio fingerprint embedded in TV shows or ads, inaudible to human ears, would trigger the phone, tablet or long-rumoured smart speaker to turn on the microphone and start recording “ambient audio of the content item”. The recording could then be matched to a database of content to allow Facebook to identify what the individual was watching – like Shazam for TV, but without the individual choosing to activate the system.
Related: Facebook creates Orwellian headache as news is labelled politics
Related: No, Facebook isn't spying on you. At least not with the microphoneContinue reading...
Smart home appliances send data to manufacturers and third parties, Which? warns
British homes are vulnerable to “a staggering level of corporate surveillance” through common internet-enabled devices, an investigation has found.
Researchers found that a range of connected appliances – increasingly popular features of the so-called smart home – send data to their manufacturers and third-party companies, in some cases failing to keep the information secure. One Samsung smart TV connected to more than 700 distinct internet addresses in 15 minutes.Continue reading...
Nest Hello promises to recognise friends and family at the door, but could provoke privacy concerns
Google’s facial recognition video doorbell, the Nest Hello, is launching in the UK to challenge Amazon’s Ring.
Initially released in the US in March, Nest Hello is the first of Google’s new home security product lineup to make it to the UK, ahead of its Nest Secure alarm system.Continue reading...
Church of England’s Alexa skill offers prayers and answers questions such as ‘who is God?’
Alexa, who is God? Or: Alexa, read the Lord’s prayer, say grace, explain something about Christianity, find a church near me.
The Church of England has launched an Alexa “skill” to complement a range of apps it has produced as part of a digital drive over the past few years. Other faith organisations are also harnessing technology to allow people to access prayers, readings and worship on the move or in their homes.Continue reading...
Can a robot fold towels? Could your toaster turn against you? And will Amazon know when you’re hungry and drone-deliver a Chinese takeaway directly to your mouth? Find out as we step into the home of the future
If the invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck, as the French philosopher Paul Virilio suggested, then what does that make the invention of the Nest learning thermostat? As our homes fill up with more connected devices, funnelling every aspect of our lives into the great cloud of big data, the answer could be something much more alarming than just a few more faulty appliances cluttering up our cupboards.
This is one of the unsettling questions at the heart of The Future Starts Here, an exhibition about to open at the V&A in London. It promises to be less of a showcase of Tomorrow’s World-type gadgetry than a thought-provoking probe into where exactly this new generation of smart technology is taking us. “People seem scared of the future at the moment,” says Rory Hyde who, with co-curator Mariana Pestana, has spent the last two years trawling university laboratories and touring Silicon Valley to gather 100 hot-out-of-the-factory innovations, from a...
Last February our electricity provider, Scottish Power, asked to install a smart meter. I immediately told it we have no trace of a mobile signal here, and, as result, it would not work. But it insisted, and in February someone called to install one. After a few seconds he concluded that it wouldn’t work, and left without undertaking the work.
Since that day, Scottish Power has insisted the meter was changed. It claims that the reason it cannot read the meter is because some gadget is in the wrong place. It insists that we must move this non-existent gadget nearer to the non-existent smart meter.Continue reading...
Retailer celebrates by slashing prices on smart doorbells, while deal includes transfer of customer data to company
Amazon’s reported $1bn acquisition of video-doorbell maker Ring has closed, giving the company a significant lead over rival Google in the potentially lucrative home security market.
The deal, announced in February and closed today, means Amazon now owns a leader in DIY video security systems. Ring makes popular wireless doorbells with cameras and a range of home security cameras, recently launching a wireless home security system with keypads, contact sensors and motion detectors.Continue reading...
‘Get smart” urges the website of EDF, one of the UK’s largest utilities firms. It tells customers that a free smart meter will help them manage their gas and electricity bills “the hassle-free way” and promises those who book an installation that “we’ll help you get smart about the energy”. The deal is part of a government target to offer every householder a cost-saving smart meter by 2020. The technology provides real-time information about energy consumption, but many of those who accept the invitation are left not smart but smarting.
London pensioner Lara Sykes* has repeatedly tried to book an installation with EDF. “It keeps urging me via online promotions to hurry up and book an appointment, but each time I try I’m told it is not servicing my area yet,” she says. “This has happened more than six times. I was told that it was still training engineers. It is unable to give even an approximate timescale.”
On the last call EDF said it had a backlog of 200 installations in my area aloneContinue...
The company acknowledged the issue after some reported their devices had developed an unsettling new skill
The robot wars are coming, and Alexa will have the last laugh.
Amazon acknowledged on Wednesday that some of its Alexa-enabled devices have developed a new skill: creeping out their owners with unexpected and unwarranted bursts of robotic laughter.
So Alexa decided to laugh randomly while I was in the kitchen. Freaked @SnootyJuicer and I out. I thought a kid was laughing behind me. pic.twitter.com/6dblzkiQHp
Lying in bed about to fall asleep when Alexa on my Amazon Echo Dot lets out a very loud and creepy laugh... there’s a good chance I get murdered tonight.Continue reading...
The firm’s latest Alexa-powered addition to its Echo range adds a clock and touchscreen interface to the mix
Amazon’s new Echo Spot is one of the most novel takes on a smart speaker yet, and while it is certainly more than just a smart clock, that’s what it’s best at – an attractive voice-assisted smart desk or bedside-table accessory.
Pros: attractive, clear screen, Alexa, can hear you well, Bluetooth, video calling, excellent smart home control, lots of clock faces to choose from
Cons: always-listening object in your house, no web video support, expensive compared to EchoContinue reading...
This smart doorbell connects to your phone – but you might want to disable notifications when at work
The Ring Video Doorbell 2 adds the convenience of a front-door intercom to pretty much any home, and with minimal DIY skills required, meaning it’s never been easier to get rid of doorsteppers.
There have long been wifi-connected doorbells, for those envious of flat-dwelling friends with video intercoms adding that extra barrier between them and the outside world, but most of them require some sort of wiring to install.
Pros: easy to install and set up, solid app, great as basic doorbell, great as a camera from your door, attractive, no wiring required, lots of accessories and options
Cons: battery needs charging once a month, can’t use local storage for video, quite large for some door frames, expensive for a doorbellContinue reading...
Voice assistants were in everything at the trade show, suggesting the future is smart – but does anyone actually want to talk to their toilet?
The annual trend-setting tech extravaganza that is CES International in Las Vegas is drawing to a close, having suffered through torrential rain, blackouts and a few uncooperative robots. And it’s clear that your voice is more important than ever.
CES 2018 rammed home that big technology thinks voice is the next major evolution in computing. First we had the computer, then the smartphone and now voice assistants.
Get a closer look at the #Volocopter, the Intel-powered autonomous air taxi that took flight at #CES2018 pic.twitter.com/XQUhIxx6cQContinue reading...
Amazon and Google believe they’ve struck gold with their voice-controlled speakers while Apple and Microsoft struggle to catch up
Move over smartphones. The battle now raging between the big technology companies for consumer cash is focused on the voice-controlled smart speaker.
Having already conquered the pocket with the ubiquitous smartphone, big tech has been struggling to come up with the next must-have gadget that will open up a potentially lucrative new market – the home.
Related: Amazon Echo, Google Home or Sonos One: which smart speaker should I buy?
Related: Amazon Echo Show review: smart speaker with a screen has great potential
Related: Google Home Mini review: a brilliant little £50 voice assistant speakerContinue reading...
Security flaw in latest iPhone and iPad iOS 11.2 software meant hackers could potentially gain remote control of lights, cameras and locks in smart homes
Apple has been forced to fix a security hole within its HomeKit smart home system that could have allowed hackers to unlock users’ smart locks or other devices.
The bug within iOS 11.2 permitted unauthorised remote control of HomeKit-enabled devices. Such devices include smart lights, plugs and other gadgets, but also includes smart locks and garage door openers.Continue reading...
For the homeowner who wants everything: a 19th-century cottage with original beams and a brick fireplace that can deal with modern electrical demands
People will pay more for a period property. For years, this baffled me. “Why pay extra for a house that has a downstairs bathroom, needs endless repairs, and has had someone die in it?” I’d wonder. “Nostalgia must be one hell of a drug.”
I now know that many homebuyers think about resale value, and the joy of waking up in a high-ceilinged room flooded with daylight from sash windows. For buying to let, there are generous room sizes and the potential for modification to maximise occupancy. But what these future landlords don’t think about enough is plug sockets. How is any modern human meant to survive with only two double plug sockets per room? Don’t get me wrong, I like an ornate fireplace, but the mounting tension in the living room over who unplugged whose phone puts its beauty into perspective.
Related: All the places I’ll never live: a flat without a whodunnit mysteryContinue reading...
Hi-tech features concealed throughout this 50s seaside house in East Sussex make it highly energy efficient – and make life easier for its owners
Picture a tech-savvy home and you will probably envisage a slick, white cube where the blinds whirr up at a preset hour and sensors turn on the shower. But a smart home doesn’t have to be robotic and flashy. “We wanted to use technology to make life easier,” says Gigi Sutherland of the home she and her partner, Matt Sellers, redesigned in East Sussex. With walls clad in basic building materials, the mood here is far from futuristic. The rough and ready aesthetic has hidden depths, though, from concealed speakers and motion sensors to app-controlled energy and security systems.
The house dates from the 1950s and, while the building itself is not so special, it backs on to Camber Sands. “It was just a set of boxy rooms and two garages,” says Sutherland, a stylist. “We wanted to join up the spaces and integrate the garages into the house.” The pair rebuilt the interior from scratch. Walls are made from OSB, a type of chipboard, and plaster-like dark grey Artex. “It creates a tadelakt-style finish with a nice chalky texture,” says...