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Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen) review: Alexa’s new small budget ball | Amazon Alexa

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Amazon’s fourth-generation Echo Dot has evolved from its predecessors’ puck-like appearance into a small ball, shaking up the idea of what a small smart speaker can look like.

The new Echo Dot is priced the same as the last one, costing from £50, although it will be frequently available at a discount at various retailers, and looks like the full-sized £80 Echo hit with a shrink ray.

It has a fabric top and front, hard plastic sides and back, and Amazon’s traditional four-button array for turning the volume up and down, muting the microphones and an action button.

amazon echo dot review
The fourth-generation Echo Dot (left) next to the third-generation (right). Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

It is a cute little ball that doesn’t look like a speaker or its competition. But while it takes up the same footprint as its puck-shaped predecessor, it is about twice its height which makes it slightly less discreet in your home.

The power cable plugs in the back next to a 3.5mm analogue audio socket for connecting external speakers but the Echo Dot has Bluetooth too.

The light ring lights up at the bottom making it look like the speaker is glowing when Alexa is active or to show alerts or when adjusting the volume.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 100 x 100 x 89mm

  • Weight: 338g

  • Connectivity: wifi 5 (ac), Bluetooth, 3.5mm analogue audio

  • Controls: voice, top-mounted volume, action and mic mute

  • Speakers: single 1.6in speaker

Small ball of sound

amazon echo dot review
The speaker projects sound forward through the mesh, rather than 360-degrees like its predecessor, while a silicone rubber foot keeps the ball from vibrating or rolling around. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Dot is larger and produces slightly fuller and wider audio because of it, despite having the same sized speaker as the third-generation model.

It sounds surprisingly good for its size and price. The Dot lacks real bass, but it is otherwise pleasant to listen to music, the radio and Alexa’s voice with enough volume to fill a small room. Two can be paired for stereo sound and the Dot can be grouped with other Alexa-enabled speakers for multi-room audio.

Alexa natively supports music streaming services from Spotify, Apple, Deezer or Amazon, or you can stream tunes to it via Bluetooth. Radio services are handled by TuneIn, or using BBC Sounds and other individual station “skills” you can install like apps using the Alexa app on your phone.

Just like any other Alexa speaker it will read the news headlines, tell you the weather, answer questions, set alarms, timers and control smart home devices, too.

Clock or not?

amazon echo dot review
The display shows time in 12 or 24-hour format, and will also display the current outside temperature among other things on command. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Dot comes in two versions: a regular Echo Dot and an Echo Dot with Clock for £10 more, which as the name suggests has an LED time display hidden behind the mesh at the front.

They are functionally identical apart from the display, which shows the time, the outside temperature when asked, timers, the volume when adjusting it and the time of the alarm when setting it. A little white dot next to the time shows when an alarm has been set or a timer is active.

As with its predecessor, the clock turns the Dot into a good bedside accessory. The brightness of the display automatically adjusts based on ambient light, but you can customise how bright that adjustment is. On its most dim setting it is slightly brighter than the outgoing model and produced enough light to create shadows on the wall at night. You can turn the display on and off with the Alexa app or via voice.

Sustainability

The speaker is generally repairable. It contains 100% post-consumer recycled fabric, 100% recycled die-cast aluminium and 50% post-consumer recycled plastic. Amazon has also pledged to offset the electricity used by Echo devices with renewable energy. Amazon also offers trade-in and recycling schemes.

Observations

amazon echo dot review
As with all smart speakers, you have to trust the manufacturer with your data, but the mute button and the light ring at the bottom glow bright red when the mics are silenced so you can easily see privacy mode has been enabled from across the room. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • You can tap the top to snooze an alarm, but I wish you could do it to just dismiss it too.

  • You can change the wakeword from Alexa to Amazon, Echo or computer, but you still can’t change the gender of its voice, unlike competitors.

Price

The fourth-generation Amazon Echo Dot costs £49.99 or £59.99 with the LED clock.

For comparison, the third-gen Echo Dot has been reduced to £39.99, the standard Echo costs £79.99, Google’s Nest Mini costs £49 and Apple’s HomePod mini costs £99.

Verdict

The fourth-generation Echo Dot is a cute, ball-like redesign that breaks the mould of the traditional puck or pincushion-like speakers.

Bought with or without an LED display, the Dot continues to sound better than you’d expect – ideal for small rooms or background listening – and provide all of Alexa’s features in a good-value package costing £50 or less in Amazon’s frequent sales.

It may look more interesting, but it is slightly harder to place at home than the previous lower-profile design. The Dot with Clock’s screen is a little brighter at its dimmest setting, which some may find irritating.

Pros: Good value, Alexa, loud enough for small rooms, Bluetooth, 3.5mm socket, can be paired, frequently discounted, good mics, can be bought with or without LED clock, fresh design.

Cons: no real bass, less discreet shape, clock display brighter than predecessor, potential privacy implications of having mics.

amazon echo dot review
The Dot is about the size of a softball or a large orange. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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Bitcoin price back above $40,000 after Elon Musk comments | Bitcoin

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The price of bitcoin hit a three-week high on Monday, climbing back above $40,000 after Elon Musk said that Tesla would resume allowing transactions made in the digital currency once crypto mining becomes greener.

The electric car company’s latest change of direction on its acceptance of bitcoin once again highlighted the continuing ability of Tesla’s billionaire chief executive to influence the price of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

“When there’s confirmation of reasonable (~50%) clean energy usage by miners with positive future trend, Tesla will resume allowing bitcoin transactions,” Musk said in a tweet on Sunday.

The price of one bitcoin climbed to a high of $41,033 (£29,063) on Monday before slipping back to $40,580, still up more than 12% from its price before Musk’s tweet.

Musk, one of the most high-profile proponents of cryptocurrencies, also said that Tesla sold about 10% of its holdings to confirm bitcoin could be liquidated easily without moving the market.

He announced in May that Tesla would no longer accept bitcoin for car purchases, citing long-brewing environmental concerns for a swift reversal in the company’s position on the cryptocurrency. In February, Tesla revealed it had bought $1.5bn of bitcoin and would accept it as a form of payment for cars. But the cryptocurrency’s production is at odds with the company’s mission toward a “zero-emission future”.

Bitcoin fell more than 10% after Musk’s tweet in May. He said that he believed cryptocurrency had a promising future but it could not be at great cost to the environment.

The energy used to produce bitcoin alone is equivalent to the annual carbon footprint of Argentina, according to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, a tool from researchers at Cambridge University that measures the currency’s energy use.

Bitcoin mining – the process in which a bitcoin is awarded to a computer that solves a complex series of algorithms – is deeply energy-intensive. Because there is a finite number of bitcoins that can be mined – 21m – computers have to solve harder and harder algorithms in order to get bitcoin. The special equipment and intense processing power use a lot of electricity – as much as some entire countries.

The concerns over energy use aside, cryptocurrencies have split opinion among investors and financial regulators for other reasons, including the rollercoaster ride sparked by their frequent swings in price.

Despite bitcoin’s recent rise, it is still trading about a third lower than the record high of $63,000, which it reached in April. A year ago, bitcoin’s value was under $9,500.

Earlier in June, the Central American country of El Salvador became the first in the world to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, as part of its technology-loving president’s proposals to use the cryptocurrency to promote “financial inclusion”, investment and economic development.

However, others remain unconvinced, and cryptocurrencies remain controversial. Global regulators are sceptical, on account of their volatility and vulnerability to theft or hacking.

The Bank of England has previously warned that the rise of digital currencies could set off a flood of withdrawals from high-street banks, risking financial stability and the wider economy, and cautioned that investors risk losing their money.

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According to various measures, bitcoin is undervalued at current prices, said Alexandra Clark, a sales trader at the digital asset broker GlobalBlock, although she added: “Many analysts are still on the fence when it comes to determining whether the digital asset is ready to continue its uptrend.”

Tesla’s decision to sell 10% of its bitcoin holding “has brought about fresh accusations of pumping and dumping by Musk and reiterated the need for an investigation by the SEC [US Securities and Exchange Commission],” Clark said.

The US securities watchdog warned Tesla last year that Musk had twice violated a settlement requiring his tweets and material public communications to be preapproved by company lawyers, the Wall Street Journal reported at the start of June.

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Price-capped broadband on hold for New York State after judge rules telcos would ‘suffer unrecoverable losses’ • The Register

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A new law due to come into force tomorrow that would force broadband providers in New York State to provide net access to low-income households for $15 a month has been put on hold.

A preliminary injunction [PDF] was granted by United States District Judge Denis R Hurley on Friday after a string of trade bodies – including the New York State Telecommunications Association and The Broadband Association – launched the action on behalf of their members.

The ruling notes that telcos and ISPs forced to impose the price caps would “suffer unrecoverable losses increasing with time” and that the “bulk of these losses will stem from lost income.”

“While a telecommunications giant like Verizon may be able to absorb such a loss, others may not: the Champlain Telephone Company, for example, estimates that nearly half [approximately 48 per cent] of [its] existing broadband customers will qualify for discounted rates,’ with each such customer ‘caus[ing] a monetary loss’,” it states.

The legal action also highlighted that not only would telcos lose revenue by offering cut-price access, they would also incur additional costs associated with increased spending on advertising.

In April, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo put his name to legislation that would force operators in the state to offer $15 a month high-speed internet to low-income families across the state.

The legislation also made it a legal requirement for operators to inform the authorities about their broadband products and prices, and how many had taken up the offers.

In all, it was estimated this change would impact seven million New Yorkers and some 2.7 million households.

At the time, Governor Cuomo said the need for remote access to work, education, and healthcare – which had been brought into sharp focus by the pandemic – had underlined the “need to make sure every household has access to affordable internet.”

“This program – the first of its kind in the nation – will ensure that no New Yorker will have to forego having reliable home internet service and no child’s education will have to suffer due to their economic situation,” he said.

US telcos in the crosshairs of the enforced price cap were quick to challenge the legislation, pointing out, among other things, a temporary $50-a-month discount being offered to households as part of a federal benefit.

In a 19-page lawsuit filed on 30 April, the industry lined up to say that they’re already doing their bit to help close the digital divide including offering cut-price tariffs to people on low incomes.

They also claim that New York is acting beyond its jurisdiction.

“In short, New York has overstepped its regulatory authority,” lawyers acting on behalf of the telcos said in their lawsuit.

Governor Cuomo hit back almost immediately and in a statement on the same day as the 30 April lawsuit said: “I knew giant telecom companies would be upset by our efforts to level the playing field, and right on cue, they’re pushing back. This is nothing more than a transparent attempt by billion-dollar corporations putting profit ahead of creating a more fair and just society.”

Fast-forward to this week and the decision to grant a temporary injunction halting the introduction of the $15-a-month broadband cap has left many wondering what happens next.

In a statement, US Telecom said: “The broadband industry is committed to working with state and federal policymakers on sustainable solutions that will serve the needs of all low-income Americans. While well-intended, the state’s law ignored the $50 monthly broadband discount Congress enacted, as well as the many commitments, programs and offerings that broadband providers have made for low-income consumers.” ®

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Sweden’s Vässla raises $11m for its e-bike rental service

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The company is building a subscription service for its micromobility vehicle, which is a cross between a moped and a traditional e-bike.

Vässla, a Swedish micromobility start-up, has raised $11m in fresh funds to expand during the increasing demand for e-bikes.

The Stockholm-based company initially launched with e-mopeds and is now launching an e-bike with a club-like subscription model.

Vässla Club will target individuals, delivery drivers and businesses like hotels and holiday resorts with a subscription model to access its e-bikes with fleet management features built in for businesses.

The round of funding was led by Swedish investment firm Skabholmen Invest with eEquity contributing to the round.

The company is running trials in the Scandinavian market with further trials pencilled in for Berlin, Vienna, Hamburg and Madrid. It is also planning a UK launch once legislation around e-scooter and other electric micromobility vehicles has been introduced beyond the current trial stages across the country.

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Vässla designed its bikes in-house and describes it as a midway point between a moped and an electric scooter. It has a maximum speed of 25km/hr and battery range of 40km.

The company was founded by chief executive Rickard Bröms over his frustration with commuting and a mission to reduce dependency on privately owned cars.

“The problem with electric pedal bikes is that your morning commute becomes a workout session – you arrive at work or at your important meeting sweaty and tired. It’s really no better than using packed trains or buses,” Bröms said.

The new iteration of its bike is lighter but capable of multiple trips a day, he added.

“The investment, which will help us launch Vässla Club, and expand into other territories, comes at a very exciting time and we are very much looking forward to seeing how the attitudes of the general public towards micromobility will change over the next few years.”

Wilhelm Pettersson, CEO of lead investor Skabholmen Invest, said that it invested in the company as it believes the “future of urban planning will exclude personal cars”.

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