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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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Bridie Connell: the 10 funniest things I have ever seen (on the internet) | Comedy

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Ah, the internet. My reliable friend. I turn to it when I need to smile (cute pet videos), when I need to cry (war veterans being reunited with their kids), and when I need to destroy what’s left of my self-esteem (Instagram). There are plenty of arguments about why life would be better without it, and honestly? It probably would be. But it also wouldn’t be as funny. Here’s a bunch of things from the world wide web that never fail to make me laugh.

There’s nothing I enjoy more than people trying to make the world a better place. Particularly when they make the world better in a way they’d never intended. I can just imagine the conversations that took place in the drafting process for this campaign:

“We need a catchy and educational campaign to tackle the horrors of addiction.”

“Yes, one that shows we’re in this together, as a community.”

“One that doesn’t stereotype addicts.”

“I’ve got it!”

The result is what I believe they call a “swing and a miss.” A+ for effort, though.

If there was an award for best award acceptance speech, this would win. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is brilliantly funny (while accepting an award for being brilliantly funny) and she remains my hero.

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Here’s one for my fellow theatre kids. This pitch perfect sketch is from comedian and writer Jacob Kaplan. Does it make me laugh? Yes. Does it make me tense every single muscle in my body and hold my breath while I try not to think about the time that 14-year-old Bridie wrote a play about the dangers of DRINK-DRIVING and also DRUGS, which inexplicably culminated in a peppy dance routine? … No comment.

Amber Ruffin is one of the most versatile and talented comedians around. I love a lot of what she does, but this song is a special favourite. Hilarious, a little creepy and downright catchy: a winning combo!

This sketch from the late 1990s sketch group Big Train still delights me. Short, sharp, silly. Please and thank you!

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Adrian Bliss, Certified Internet Star™, is a go-to for inventive sketches (and a seemingly endless supply of costumes). Many of his skits feature historical characters, like this one about a Greek soldier inside the Trojan horse. That layer of awkwardness that the Brits do well drives this skit, and now that I’ve seen it I can only hear The Aeneid being read in Bliss’s voice: “I sing of arms and a man, innit.”

Now this, THIS is some relatable content. Don’t pretend you’ve never tied one on and woken up on a golf course/boat/gold lame suit, because I won’t believe you. Perfectly encapsulating the delight of a great night-turned great story, I give you this hungover Scotsman who woke up in the wrong house. Of course, it’s made all the better by the Glaswegian accent.

*Assumes elderly wizard voice* I have been studying and performing improv since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, so the Whose Line crew are some of my longtime heroes. This game is one of my faves, not just because it’s so funny and clever, but because the “mistake” that happens around the 2:20 mark encapsulates the joy and collaboration that good improv is all about. Oh dear, this got more earnest than I intended. Just watch it!

A masterclass in physical comedy, from one of the greats.

Last but not least, here’s a video to save for a day where you need a bit of a pick-me-up. This is my favourite of all “laughing baby” videos, a classic in a crowded genre. And sure, if we’re measuring “funny” by incisive satirical commentary or well crafted punchlines, then this is a fail – but no other video fires up my mirror neurons and makes me laugh as much as this one.

Seriously, if you watch this and don’t feel at least a little bit better, then call a cardiologist because you have NO HEART.



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North Korean ransomware dubbed Maui active since May 2021 • The Register

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For the past year, state-sponsored hackers operating on behalf of North Korea have been using ransomware called Maui to attack healthcare organizations, US cybersecurity authorities said on Wednesday.

Uncle Sam’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the FBI, and the Treasury Department issued a joint advisory outlining a Pyongyang-orchestrated ransomware campaign that has been underway at least since May, 2021.

The initial access vector – the way these threat actors break into organizations – is not known. Even so, the FBI says it has worked with multiple organizations in the healthcare and public health (HPH) sector infected by Maui ransomware.

“North Korean state-sponsored cyber actors used Maui ransomware in these incidents to encrypt servers responsible for healthcare services – including electronic health records services, diagnostics services, imaging services, and intranet services,” the joint security advisory [PDF] reads. “In some cases, these incidents disrupted the services provided by the targeted HPH Sector organizations for prolonged periods.”

The Feds assume the reason HPH sector organizations have been targeted is that they will pay ransoms rather than risk being locked out of systems, being denied data, or having critical services interrupted.

Maui, according to Silas Cutler, principal reverse engineer at security outfit Stairwell, is one of the lesser known families of ransomware. He says it stands out for its lack of service-oriented tooling, such as an embedded ransom note with recovery instructions. That leads him to believe Maui is operated manually by individuals who specify which files should be encrypted and exfiltrated.

The advisory, based on Stairwell’s research [PDF], indicates that the Maui ransomware is an encryption binary that a remote operator manually executes through command line interaction. The ransomware deploys AES, RSA, and XOR encryption to lock up target files. Thereafter, the victim can expect a ransom payment demand.

According to SonicWall, there were 304.7 million ransomware attacks in 2021, an increase of 151 percent. In healthcare, the percentage increase was 594 percent.

CrowdStrike, another security firm, in its 2022 Global Threat Report said North Korea has shifted its focus to cryptocurrency entities “in an effort to maintain illicit revenue generation during economic disruptions caused by the pandemic.” For example, consider the recent theft of $100 million of cryptocurrency assets from Harmony by the North Korea-based cybercrime group Lazarus. But organizations that typically transact with fiat currencies aren’t off the hook.

Sophos, yet another security firm, said in its State of Ransomware Report 2022 that the average ransom payment last year was $812,360, a 4.8X increase from the 2020 when the average payment was $170,000. The company also said more victims are paying ransoms: 11 percent in 2021 compared to 4 percent in 2020.

The advisory discourages the payment of ransoms. Nonetheless, the FBI is asking any affected organization to share information related to ransomware attacks, such as communication with foreign IP addresses, Bitcoin wallet details, and file samples. The advisory goes on to suggest ways to mitigate ransomware attacks and minimize damage.

Last month, the US Justice Department outlined its Strategic Plan for the next four years and cited enhancing cybersecurity and fighting cybercrime among its objectives. One of its key metrics for success will be the “percent of reported ransomware incidents from which cases are opened, added to existing cases, or resolved or investigative actions are conducted within 72 hours.” ®

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Revolut banks on Stripe tech to expand payments globally

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Soon to launch in Mexico and Brazil, Revolut joins a long list of Stripe users including N26, Ford and Spotify.

Revolut will now use Stripe’s financial infrastructure platform to power its payments in the UK and Europe.

Stripe’s international reach is also expected to accelerate the global expansion of Revolut, helping it enter and grow in new markets. The UK neobank is soon planning to launch in Mexico and Brazil.

With this latest partnership, Revolut joins a long list of tech companies that have turned to Irish-founded Stripe to power payments, including German neobank N26, Swedish fintech Klarna, US carmaker Ford and streaming giant Spotify.

“Revolut builds seamless solutions for its customers. That means access to quick and easy payments and our collaboration with Stripe facilitates that,” said David Tirado, vice-president of business development at Revolut.

“We share a common vision and are excited to collaborate across multiple areas, from leveraging Stripe’s infrastructure to accelerate our global expansion, to exploring innovative new products for Revolut’s more than 18m customers.”

Founded in 2015, Revolut has become one of Europe’s biggest fintech start-ups. The London-headquartered company now offers payments and bankings services to 18m customers and 500,000 businesses in more than 200 countries and territories.

Last month, the fintech made its debut in the highly competitive buy now, pay later market in Europe, with roll-out starting in Ireland. It also revealed this week that it is moving into in-person payments, launching a card reader for businesses in the UK and Ireland.

“Revolut and Stripe share an ambition to upgrade financial services globally. We’re thrilled to be powering Revolut as it builds, scales and helps people around the world get more from their money,” said Eileen O’Mara, EMEA revenue and growth lead at Stripe.

Even though Revolut has 1.7m customers in Ireland and is rolling out banking services here, the fintech is set to face stiff competition from Synch Payments, a mobile payments app venture from some of Ireland’s pillar banks. Synch recently took another step towards launch by picking a technology partner for its app.

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