If software is not kept up-to-date, items can lose functionality and become a security risk
Smart appliances that can be controlled remotely and will let you know if there is a fault or other problem may not be worth paying extra for unless manufacturers commit to keeping software updated, Which? has warned.
The consumer group said that smart fridges, dishwashers and tumble dryers cost hundreds of pounds more than their conventional counterparts, but in some cases could be rendered obsolete after as little as two years.Continue reading...
From energy-saving bulbs to leak detectors, smart tech offers many benefits at the touch of a button
Almost everything in your home, from lights and thermostats to door locks and security cameras, can now be connected to the internet. With a few taps on an app or a voice command you can turn down your heating, let visitors into your home or check for leaks.
But while many of these gadgets appear to be simply a way to impress visitors (“Hey Google, dim the lights and play some romantic music”), others can save you money. And at a time when many of us are working from home and running up bills during the day, this is likely to be their biggest selling point.Continue reading...
Everything in your smart home, from the lightbulbs to the thermostat, could be recording you or collecting data about you. What can you do to curb this intrusion?
During an interview with the BBC last year, Google’s senior vice-president for devices and services, Rick Osterloh, pondered whether a homeowner should disclose the presence of smart home devices to guests. “I would, and do, when someone enters into my home,” he said.
When your central heating thermostat asks for your phone number, your TV knows what you like to watch and hackers can install spyware in your home through a lightbulb security flaw, perhaps it’s time we all started taking smart home privacy issues more seriously. Just this week the National Cyber Security Centre issued a warning to owners of smart cameras and baby monitors to review their security settings.
When hackers can get spyware into your home via a lightbulb, maybe it’s time to take smart home privacy issues seriouslyContinue reading...
Upgrade keeps what is good and improves sound for Google’s smallest, cheapest smart speaker
The second generation of Google’s smallest smart speaker gets a new name, more eco-friendly, a little smarter and more bass.
The £49 Nest Mini replaces the Google Home Mini as part of a revamped and renamed line of Google smart home products under the Nest brand, pushing its predecessor to a clearance price of only £19.
Dimensions: 98mm x 42mm
Connectivity: Wifi ac, Bluetooth 5.0, Chromecast
Speakers: one 40mm driver
Pros: good sound for the money, wall mount, made of recycled plastic, Google Assistant, Bluetooth 5.0, native BBC radio playback
Cons: No 3.5mm input, privacy concerns of a smart speaker, not quite room-filling sound
Google Home review: the smart speaker that answers almost any question
Google Home Max review: bigger and smarter sound
Google Nest Hub review: the smart display to buy
Google Nest Hub Max review: bigger, better and smarter display
Sonos One review: the best smart speaker for audiophiles
Amazon Echo Dot (3rd gen) review: better all round
Amazon Echo second-generation review: smaller, cheaper and betterContinue reading...
With ever more tech in our lives, our data is vulnerable. Here are our six top tips to keep it safe in the new year
Technology is changing our lives for the better; yet it’s also exposing us to organised crime, online scammers and hackers – and whole industries built around monetising our personal data. But you don’t have to be resigned to cyber-victimhood. Give yourself, and your devices, a security update for 2020 and start fighting back.
Hackers don’t like a liar – especially if the fibs are about the questions sites ask you as a means of identificationContinue reading...
Top-end smart TV box can’t quite live up to the promise of the voice-controlled TV commander
The Fire TV Cube is Amazon’s attempt to combine a smart TV streaming box with an Alexa-powered smart speaker, producing a small black box that doubles as an Echo device.
The Cube doesn’t look like anything else. The combination of shiny and matt black plastic makes it stand out at first, but the 86mm-wide and 77mm-tall cube is small enough not to be distracting sitting next to your TV.
The blue LED strip pulses from side to side when Alexa is turning things on or off
Volume control via Alexa caused wild jumps until I manually adjusted the IR controls through the settings on the Cube
Alexa mutes your TV when it hears its wake word
“Alexa, go home” takes you back to the Fire TV interface even if you were watching Sky or Virgin
You can turn off the mics on the Cube and still use the button on the remote to talk to Alexa
Pros: fast, comprehensive audio and video support, most streaming services including YouTube and Apple TV, Alexa remote, voice control of Fire TV interface
Cons: no BT Sport, variable volume output bad as a smart speaker, device control more trouble than it’s worth, more than twice...
DIY wireless home security system is a great alarm that’s smart enough without trying to do too much
Amazon’s new Ring Alarm smartens up the traditional home security system without radically changing how it works, combining the best of both worlds into a DIY-friendly wireless alarm arrangement that just works.
It’s been a 16-month wait in the UK since the Ring Alarm line of products launched in the US in July 2018, but it has been worth it.
By default, the sensors trigger a little chirp from the base station when activated, meaning there’s a tone every time a door is opened – it felt like living in a corner shop, so I turned it off
If you have an Alexa device such as an Echo Dot, you can set the alarm via voice
You can bypass a sensor if you want to temporarily deactivate one of them when you arm the system
You can change the arming or alert delay
The siren produces 104 decibels at 30 metres, which is louder than a jackhammer and similar to a rock concert
Pros: wireless, effective, simple to install, rental-friendly, smart but not complicated, works as well as a traditional alarm, expandable, dependable, good app, individual pins, temporary pins, integrates with other smart devices...
Adding a screen for the time transforms the Echo Dot into the best bedroom smart speaker
Amazon has a new twist on its popular cut-price Echo Dot smart speaker, now setting its sights squarely on your beleaguered bedside alarm clock with a new LED display embedded in the side.
The Echo Dot with Clock is one of those true Ronseal products - it says what it does on the tin. It is literally the same as the excellent third-generation Echo Dot, but is only available in white and has a white LED display showing the time peeking through the fabric side.
Pros: can always hear you, small but loud enough, great device support, clear when muted, activity can been seen from across the room, Bluetooth, 3.5mm audio socket, LED time
Cons: music distorts at max volume, no real bass, general knowledge not quite as good as Google Assistant
Amazon Echo Dot (3rd gen) review: better all round
Amazon Echo Show 5 review: smaller, cheaper Alexa display
Amazon Echo Spot review: cute smart speaker with a screen
Amazon Echo second-generation review: smaller, cheaper and betterContinue reading...
Camera with local AI for face recognition allows proactive display of personalised information
Google’s latest smart display is larger and can recognise your face for proactively showing you personalised information making it just that little bit smarter than competitors.
The £219 Nest Hub Max is Google’s second own-brand smart display and is essentially a super-sized version of the excellent original Home Hub (now renamed Nest Hub). But where the Nest Hub is a veritable bargain at £119 or frequently much less, the Nest Hub Max is a different proposition at a little under twice the price.
You can broadcast a voice message to the rest of your Google smart speakers, handy for announcing when dinner is ready or similar
There’s a green light and a message on the screen when the camera is actively streaming to the internet for Nest functions
A mute switch on the back disables the mic and camera temporarily, or you can disable the camera permanently in settings (but there’s no physical shutter)
Volume buttons are on the back side of the display, or you can request volume levels via voice or sliders on the screen
Pros: big, good-looking display, Google Assistant, Face Match, Voice Match,...
There are more than 100m Alexa-enabled devices in our homes. But are they fun time-savers or the beginning of an Orwellian nightmare
One day in 2017, Alexa went rogue. When Martin Josephson, who lives in London, came home from work, he heard his Amazon Echo Dot voice assistant spitting out fragmentary commands, seemingly based on his previous interactions with the device. It appeared to be regurgitating requests to book train tickets for journeys he had already taken and to record TV shows that he had already watched. Josephson had not said the wake word – “Alexa” – to activate it and nothing he said would stop it. It was, he says, “Kafkaesque”.
This was especially interesting because Josephson (not his real name) was a former Amazon employee. Three years earlier, he had volunteered to sit in a room reciting a string of apparently meaningless phrases into a microphone for an undisclosed purpose. Only when Amazon released the Echo in the US in 2014 did he realise what he had been working on. He bought a Dot, the Echo’s cheaper, smaller model, after it launched in 2016, and found it useful enough until the day it went haywire. When the Dot’s outburst subsided, he unplugged it and...
British Gas owner to harness smart appliances to help balance National Grid
Centrica, the owner of British Gas, plans to use its customers’ hot water tanks to create a virtual power plant which could help National Grid prevent future blackouts.
The UK’s biggest energy supplier hopes to harness household gadgets with energy capacity equivalent to a large power plant by 2025. The plan could help to balance the energy system without any perceptible impact for British households.Continue reading...
A Twitter user’s claim to have tweeted from a kitchen appliance went viral but experts have cast doubt
A resourceful teenager appeared to have taken the rise of increasingly powerful smart home devices to its logical conclusion – tweeting from her family’s smart fridge after her mother confiscated her phone.
An Ariana Grande fan known only as “Dorothy” tweeted last week to say she was barred by her mother from using her phone but said she managed to find a number of innovative ways to reach her thousands of followers – a handheld Nintendo device, a Wii U gaming console and, finally, her family’s LG Smart Refrigerator.
I do not know if this is going to tweet I am talking to my fridge what the heck my Mom confiscated all of my electronics again.
— dorothy (@thankunext327) August 8, 2019
hey guys omg. my mom is at work so i’m looking for my phone. wish me luck. lov u #Mii #MiiMaker #WiiU pic.twitter.com/BaaAWUUjoV
— dorothy (@thankunext327) August 6, 2019
This story was updated on 15 August with additional reporting casting doubt on the accuracy of Dorothy’s claims, including the analysis of Luca Hammer and Igor Brigadir. It also includes fresh comments from LG.Continue...
High street bank says Google Home trial could let you do the banking as you make a cuppa or iron a shirt
Get ready to say: “Hey Google. How much do I have in my bank account?” NatWest is to begin voice-only banking that will give customers direct access to their accounts by talking to the Google Home smart speakers now in millions of British homes.
The trial – the first by a UK high street bank – will let customers ask Google “What’s my balance?”, “What’s my latest transactions?” and “What’s my pending transactions”. Google devices will answer verbally, and also flash the answers up on the customer’s smartphone.Continue reading...
Would any other chief executive have done things differently? The question has been the topic of conversations in the energy industry since Iain Conn, Centrica’s chief executive, said last week that he would step down.
The boss of British Gas’s parent company will move early next year, leaving a company shaken by seismic shifts in Britain’s energy industry and facing an existential crisis.Continue reading...
Camera shutter, tap gesture, better speakers and 5.5in screen make for an appealing smart alarm clock
Amazon’s latest Echo Show 5 Alexa smart display is smaller, cheaper and has improved privacy, but is a £79.99 5.5in screen with a camera ready to replace your alarm clock in the bedroom?
The Show 5 isn’t the first Alexa smart display aimed at being your bedside clock. The Echo Spot, with its pleasingly round screen and ball-like shape, was released in 2018 and is still available for £120.
If you don’t quite manage to swipe upwards on the display far enough to dismiss an alarm you end up snoozing it, which is really irritating.
The quick access panel is responsive, but there’s a noticeable delay when you tap into one of the sections.
Swipe down from the top to access brightness control, activate the “do not disturb” mode, get to the settings app, go to the home screen or view the currently playing music.
You can choose from a few wakewords, including non-gendered ones such as “Echo”, but the voice is always female, which is a shame.
Pros: relatively compact, sounds good, Alexa, good smart home control, 3.5mm output, extra clock and alarm features, relatively low cost
Cons: too small to...