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20
Oct

Sony MDR-1000X Review: Wireless Hi-Res Headphones Offer Next-Level Noise Canceling


The wireless headphone market has been shaken up so much recently that it’s hard to know where to begin when a new entry appears on the stage and announces itself as the next big thing.

Fortunately this latest Bluetooth offering from Sony is targeting a very specific market segment best referred to as “premium noise cancelation”, and the company seems pretty confident that with the MDR-1000X headphones ($400), it has got a hit on its hands.

Sony is claiming “industry-leading noise cancelation” with these luxury cans, which use ostensibly the same drivers as last year’s highly regarded MDR-1A headset made for listening to Hi-Res Audio, as supported by the company’s audiophilic Walkman range, not to mention its line of wireless home speakers and in-car audio systems.

Can it improve upon the finely honed features of Parrot’s Zik 3.0, Bose’s QuietComfort 35, and Sennheiser’s PXC 550 Wireless noise-canceling headphones? Let’s take a look.

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Design

The Sony MDR-1000X’s come in a box design and hard carry case that will seem suspiciously familiar to Bose QC35 owners, but that’s where the similarities pretty much end. I received a beige pair (also available in black) that came with a nice thick matching 1.5 meter cable sporting a gold-plated mini jack, along with a black micro-USB charging lead and an airline adapter.

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The swivel-folding earcups and pivots are made of a robust, creak-free plastic, with champagne-colored rims and squishy earpads covered in smooth synthetic leather that’s pretty convincing to the touch.

The polished steel headband packs some decent padding between the adjustable slats, and Sony has decided to let the design speak for itself by keeping the branding relatively understated. The only other distinctive mark on the outside of the cups are two small grilles where the noise-canceling microphones live. Altogether the headset weighs 275 grams, so slightly lighter than the QC35’s (309g).

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The left earcup contains an NFC chip for pairing with compatible devices and a micro-USB port for charging, while the right earcup has a touch-sensitive back that responds to taps and swipes to control music playback, skip tracks, change volume, and invoke Siri. Like most modern headphone gesture pads, it can also be used to take and end calls.

Around the rim of the right earcup are three physical buttons and an input jack. Unfortunately these controls aren’t particularly textured or distinctive, so expect some fiddling when you’re wearing the headphones before you get used to where they sit in relation to each other (although voice prompts helpfully accompany each press). The Ambient button lets you choose between different external sound filtering modes which we’ll cover below, the NC button lets you turn noise canceling on and off independently, while the power button can be pressed quickly for a battery level update and also activates the pairing sequence with a long press. All of the buttons have inset LEDs to indicate status.

Performance and Features

It’s worth stating right off the bat that Sony has taken noise cancelation to a new level with these headphones. This seems to have been achieved through a sustained period of self-reflection and extensive acoustics research in light of earlier shortcomings, combined with an exhaustive exercise in technological oneupmanship. In other words, Sony has pulled out all the stops in an attempt to beat Bose at its own game.

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To begin with, Sony has chosen a headset design with a firmer grip than its NC rivals so that the earcups alone do a better job of isolating you from the outside world. There’s a slight trade-off here – Sony has used thicker urethane foam earpads than those found on Bose and Sennheiser’s NC cans to improve passive reduction, and they don’t feel quite as plush against your head as a result. It’s not a deal breaker by any means – they still feel lovely and squishy, and never bothered me after several hours of listening, but a few minutes back with the QC35’s was all it took to confirm they do lack the latter’s sumptuous cushiness.

Second of all, Sony’s patented Sense Engine boasts a “personal NC Optimizer”, a fancy-sounding piece of tech that’s supposed to determine your individual characteristics and wearing style to optimize the audio output just for you. Basically, Sony had the bright idea to build a microphone within each ear cup, which means the headset can sample ambient noise from both inside and out, effectively canceling out a wider range of sounds with corresponding inverted frequencies.

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Hold down the NC button, and the headphone speakers emit a series of tones that bounce back and forth between the mics to analyze the shape of your head, work out whether you have big hair, wear glasses, and so on. It’s a unique innovation from Sony in the NC space – and it works, too. The only minor drawback for some wearers will be the ever-so-slightly more noticeable hiss when no music is playing. I found it pretty relaxing, kind of like distant lapping ocean waves. Your mileage may vary.

Otherwise, the NC easily stood up to scrutiny in a range of environments, including a busy bus and a crowded shopping mall. It didn’t detract from calls either, and effectively piped in my own voice as part of the conversation. The filtering is adaptive too, and corrected for changes in ambient levels as I moved around. These are also the first pair of noise cancelers I’ve worn that completely blot out my heavy-handed keyboard tapping and reduce my house phone in the same room to a barely audible, faraway whisper.

You don’t even need to take off the cans to realize just how effective the technology is, thanks to another feature unique to the Sense Engine called “Quick Attention”. Cupping your fingers over the touchpad instantly turns the volume down and lets in the outside world, allowing you to engage someone in conversation. Bring your hand back down and the music is re-instated to its prior volume. It’s genuinely useful for situations in which you’d usually be apt to take off the headphones – when a fight attendant offers you refreshments, for example.

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The MDR-1000X’s Ambient button performs two further NC sound tricks. One is called “Voice mode” and lets in the range of sound frequencies the human voice normally occupies. This is also meant to let you hear in on important announcements – when you’re waiting to be called to a boarding gate, say – while still allowing you to enjoy your music in relative quiet.

I found the feature a bit overly enthusiastic, sometimes failing to filter out other ambient sounds like the rustle of bags and suchlike which then became exaggerated and annoying. The “Normal” ambient mode on the other hand worked very well, and let me stay mindful of traffic sounds as I walked the street without entirely extinguishing that insulated cocoon feeling that good NC cans do so well.

Sony’s headphones certainly have a stronger Bluetooth connection than the competition – the MDR’s didn’t drop out once in areas where rival Bluetooth headsets I’ve tested regularly faltered. The link was retained around harder corners and over bigger distances – the MDR-1000X’s even passed the ‘microwave test’ and didn’t get all glitchy as I hovered around the kitchen while my dinner was being nuked.

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Wireless audio connections have their limits of course, but Sony has also included a neat sound prioritization feature in the MDR-1000X that I haven’t seen in other cans. By default the headphones automatically select the highest quality Bluetooth protocol available, but hold down both power and NC buttons for a couple of seconds and you can switch them to “Priority on stable connection” mode, which falls back to the less-demanding SBC codec. Bear in mind I’ve no idea how well it works because I never had to use it.

On the subject of wireless codecs, this headset supports them all: AAC (iPhone), aptX (Mac/Android), SBC (everything), and LDAC. That last one is a Sony special which apparently transmits up to three times more data than conventional Bluetooth for superior sound, but it only works with Sony devices, such as the company’s Xperia smartphones and Walkman digital audio players. There’s some proper science behind it and I have it on good authority (an audiophile friend) that it delivers on its promise, but I didn’t have any other Sony hardware to test it with.

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To be honest though, it didn’t bother me. The MDR-1000X’s sound brilliant over bog-standard Bluetooth anyway, and certainly outperform the QC35’s thanks to a wider, more expansive soundstage. The mid-range is wonderfully balanced and the highs sparkle, while a good, chunky bass serves as a warm foundation. They sound even better when the cable is used – so long as the headphones are on. Whether this is all down to Sony’s DSEE HX processing (which allegedly recreates higher frequency signals lost in low-quality compressed music files) or simply better tuned drivers, I can’t say. Whatever the reason, the MDR-1000X’s sound fantastic, especially for NC cans.

A few other points bear noting. Unlike the QC35’s and PXC 550’s, Sony’s headphones don’t seem to be able to pair with more than one device at the same time. I had to manually disconnect my iPhone to reconnect with my Mac, and vice versa, despite the fact that the cans had no trouble auto-pairing with the last known device when turned on. Also, the 1000X’s live up to their 20 hour battery life, but they take 4 hours to fully charge – twice as long as Bose – and the battery is similarly integrated, so it has to go back to Sony if/when it comes to replacing.

Bottom Line

Sony has pulled a fast one on its rivals here. For a company whose last serious attempt at noise canceling was the h.ear on Wireless NC headphones, the MDR-X1000’s are a huge step up in performance. Not only do they look smart and block out distraction, they also pack a ton of technology (not to mention compatibility), keep a strong connection, and deliver a beautiful sound.

It’s a sure sign that the premium NC market is maturing, and that translates to better consumer choice. For those who favor comfort, always-on NC and listening simplicity, Bose still wins. If a bigger sound and the ability to switch between multiple audio sources are your top considerations, Sennheiser’s PXC 550 cans are a great alternative. But if superior noise canceling and audio quality are more important to you than cushiness and dynamic pairing, then these new MDR-1000X headphones from Sony have your back.

Pros

  • Unrivaled noise canceling
  • Exceptional sound for wireless
  • Multiple audio codec support
  • Solid design and touch controls

Cons

  • Comfy, but not Bose-comfy
  • Lacks dynamic multiple device switching
  • Longer charge time than other cans
  • $50 more expensive than Bose QC35

How to Buy

The Sony MDR-1000X headphones come in beige or black, cost $400, and can be ordered via the Sony website.

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Note: Sony supplied the MDR-1000X’s to MacRumors for the purposes of this review. No other compensation was received.

Tags: Sony, review
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20
Oct

Apple Seeds Fourth Beta of tvOS 10.0.1 to Developers


Apple today seeded the fourth beta of tvOS 10.0.1 to developers for testing purposes, 10 days after releasing the third tvOS 10.0.1 beta and more than a month after releasing the tvOS 10 update. tvOS 10.0.1 has been in testing since September 21.

Designed for the fourth-generation Apple TV, the tvOS 10.0.1 beta can be obtained by connecting the Apple TV to a computer with a USB-C to USB-A cable and downloading and installing the software from a registered developer account via iTunes or Apple Configurator. Once a beta profile has been installed on the device through iTunes, new beta updates will be available over the air.

No obvious outward-facing features were discovered in the first three tvOS 10.0.1 betas, so it’s likely the update focuses on bug fixes and under-the-hood performance improvements to address issues discovered since the release of the first version of tvOS 10.

Single sign-on, a feature that will allow Apple TV users to sign in once with their cable credentials to access all live cable content included in a cable subscription, does not appear to be included in this beta and will be introduced in the future.

tvOS 10 brings improved search, expanded Siri capabilities, a new dark mode, a Continuity option for using the iPhone for text input, automatic download of universal apps, easy access to live TV, and more.

Related Roundups: Apple TV, tvOS 10
Buyer’s Guide: Apple TV (Caution)
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20
Oct

How to fix Mail’s two annoying problems in iOS 10 – CNET


The Mail app didn’t get the overhaul that Messages did with iOS 10, but it still received an update with a few changes that might be tripping you and your inbox up. If you are less than thrilled with Mail after making the move to iOS 10, these two fixes might help.

Problem 1: Tiny text

When I first updated to iOS 10, my Mail app looked like it was displaying a desktop version of emails. The main view of my inbox looked normal with the usual font size for senders’ names and subject lines. When I opened any email message, however, the text was so small I could barely read it. I had to pinch to zoom in order to make it legible, but that meant I had to swipe side to side to read to the end of each line and then the start of the next.

Weird, because the font size significantly increased in other parts of iOS 10, including Apple’s redesigned Music and News apps.

I experienced this tiny-font issue on my iPhone 7 Plus, but it was not evident on my wife’s iPhone 6S, so your mileage and font size my vary. (Judging from AppleSupportforums, however, I’m not the only one who was struggling to read the Mail app’s tiny font after updating to iOS 10).

The fix: If the Mail app displays tiny text for you, the fix is easy: simply restart the Mail app by double tapping on the Home button and swiping up on the Mail app to quit out of it. When you open the Mail app again, the font size should be much larger and legible without the need to zoom.

Problem 2: Order of threaded conversations

Apple inexplicably changed how threaded conversations are organized in iOS 10. When you have a back-and-forth email conversation, the Mail app groups the messages under one subject line in your inbox. This is nothing new. What is new is the small blue-arrow button along the right edge of the subject line of any threaded conversation in your inbox — and the order in which messages are displayed in a conversation.

You can tap that blue-arrow button to view the subject lines of all the emails in a thread without leaving the main view of your inbox. It’s a convenient way to locate a specific email in a thread. The messages in this expanded view are ordered so that the most recent message is at the top.

If you tap to view the most recent message in the thread, however, you are taken instead to the original email and then must scroll down past all subsequent emails to reach the most recent email. If you are keeping up with a thread and just want to read the most recent message, it requires lots of scrolling. Too much scrolling.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

The fix: There is a setting that reverses the order of threaded conversations. Go to Settings > Mail and tap to turn on the toggle switch for Most Recent Message on Top. With this setting enabled, you are taken to the most recent message in a threaded conversation and then can scroll down to read the previous messages in the thread.

For more, check out our complete guide to iOS 10.

20
Oct

UA Sport Wireless Heartrate Headphones Release Date, Price and Specs – CNET


Under Armour has partnered with JBL to create a pair of in-ear Bluetooth sports headphones with a built-in heart-rate sensor. Bose and Jabra also make in-ear sports headphones with an integrated heart-rate monitor, so this isn’t a unique product, but few sports headphones offer this feature.

Under Armour has one advantage, though: The UA Sport Wireless Heart Rate Headphones can connect to the company’s immensely popular Record platform. The app lets you track workouts and receive audio updates for things like pace, distance, heart rate and heart-rate zones.

While the Record app is free, Under Armour’s headphones are priced at $200 (which converts to about £160 or AU$260), which is higher than some better-sounding alternatives. To sweeten the deal, the company is throwing in a complimentary 12-month subscription to MapMyFitness Premium, an offer valued at $30, which converts to about £25 or AU$40.

Hands-on with Under Armour’s new heart-rate…
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Design and battery life

The headphones are designed primarily for working out and are rated IPX5, so although they aren’t fully waterproof they will do just fine in the rain and with sweat. The open design and loop hooks help keep the headphones in place when exercising. This also allows you to hear cars and people around you when running, but it means they aren’t very good for blocking out noise.

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I want to hear my surroundings when running, but not at the gym. Unfortunately you can’t have it both ways. These weren’t able to cancel out gym noise unless I raised the volume to an uncomfortable level.

The headphones come with a small carrying case and four different size earbuds, but they aren’t normal earbuds. They are super-sized ones with a small ear tip at the end, and they are incredibly difficult to remove and replace. While I had an OK fit, my colleague David Carnoy struggled with his and preferred the comfort of the Bose SoundSport Pulse Wireless headphones.

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Other features include an inline remote and microphone on the right wire for taking calls, changing songs, and changing the volume. Charging the headphones is done through a Micro-USB port located right on the remote. The battery will last up to 5 hours, which is the same as Bose’s heart-rate headphones, but still a bit short for my liking.

Working out

I’ve been working out with the headphones for the past few weeks. I had no connection issues with Android and iOS phones, and the audio sounded crisp and clear for the most part, although the bass was a bit lacking. These were also one of the only headphones that didn’t fall out when I was running.

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Under Armour’s Record app has been one of my favorites for quite some time. It’s easy to use and is compatible with a lot of devices, even those that aren’t made by Under Armour. The app uses the sensors in your phone (such as GPS) to track a variety of exercises, such as running, biking and weightlifting.

You can set up audio prompts to activate after a specific distance or time. These will give you real-time feedback on your pace, distance, calories burned, heart rate and heart rate zones. You can also get an on-demand audio update on your heart rate by tapping the Under Armour logo on the right earbud.

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As for the heart rate sensor, it’s located on the left earbud and is similar to what we’ve seen in the Fitbit Charge 2 and Apple Watch — a flickering green LED light used to illuminate the capillaries and measure the blood as it flows past. I was a bit skeptical at first. This was my first time using heart-rate earbuds, but they turned out to be pretty accurate for measuring both runs and gym sessions.

The heart rate feature is cool. But let’s be honest, most people probably don’t care about it, and those who do are better off getting a heart-rate running watch or using a chest strap at the gym.

There are better alternatives

The sport earphone market is extremely competitive. If I’m paying top dollar for a pair of headphones, I expect them to be as close to flawless as possible. The sound quality of Under Armour’s headphones doesn’t justify the high price. They also aren’t worth wearing when you aren’t working out, and $200 (about £160 or AU$260) is a lot of money to pay for a pair of part-time headphones.

If you’re sold on having heart-rate tracking headphones, you’re better off getting the Bose SoundSport Pulse Wireless and Jabra Sport Pulse Special Edition. Both cost the same as Under Armour’s headphones, include heart rate, offer superior sound quality and are a more comfortable fit.

20
Oct

Amazon Fire TV Stick With Alexa Voice Remote review – CNET


The Good The $40 Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote is one of the least expensive devices to stream video from Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO, Sling TV and other online services. It’s just as responsive as other devices, meaning it’s lightning-fast, and charges less for an included voice remote.

The Bad The current user interface pushes Amazon content too aggressively. Alexa is less useful than with always-on devices. There’s no dedicated app for any other a la carte video service beyond Amazon’s.

The Bottom Line The fast, affordable new Fire TV stick is great for fans of Amazon who’ll use its voice capabilities, and an excellent value, but it’s still not as good as Roku.

Amazon’s Alexa rules the home voice-tech world while rivals Google, Apple and Microsoft race to keep up. The giant retailer doesn’t make phones (anymore), but it’s building the talking digital assistant into devices beyond its blockbuster Echo and Dot line of always-on, always-listening home speakers.

The cheapest, the Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, costs just $40. It’s always on but not always listening. Instead, it requires your TV to be powered up and you to talk into the remote while you hold down, er, Tap, the mic button.

Once you do that, the Stick behaves just like any other Alexa device. Her sorta-robotic female voice replies to questions like “What’s the weather?” or “How much does the sun weigh?” via your TV’s speakers (unlike Siri on Apple TV, who remains silent for now) and an on-screen message. She can turn on the lights, set the thermostat or otherwise interact with any other Alexa-compatible device in your home.

Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote
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That’s not why you’re buying one, however. For most people, Alexa on the Fire TV Stick will be an afterthought. The Stick’s main schtick is streaming video, just like its predecessor, which cost the same and also worked with Alexa, but didn’t include that voice remote.

The new Stick is faster and remains an excellent value with plenty of content. It’s a no-brainer buy for heavy Amazon video watchers and people who prefer talking rather than pressing buttons. But compared to rival Roku, whose $50 streaming stick is our favorite such device, the new Amazon stick currently falls a bit short.

The main reason is the on-screen user interface, which still relentlessly pushes you toward Amazon’s TV shows and videos rather than provide the equal playing field for all apps (like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, WatchESPN, Sling TV and countless others) that Roku does. The new Amazon Stick is just as quick as Roku’s stick, and its voice capabilities run circles around Roku’s, but for now it’s not as good unless you already get most of your video from Amazon anyway.

Why do I say “currently” and “for now”? Amazon will soon give all of its Fire TV devices a completely overhauled menu system and user interface (above). It will roll out first to this product by the end of the year, then make its way to older Fire TV models like the 4K-capable Fire TV box (which remains on sale at $100). For that reason I’m not going to say much about the current menu system (detailed here) in this review.

I will update this review when the new system becomes available and I can test it. In the meantime, here’s my take today.

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The original $40 Fire TV Stick (left) is a bit smaller than the new one, and doesn’t include the voice remote.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Same winning stick design

In my book smaller is better for pretty much any tech device (that doesn’t have a screen). The stick form factor slims streaming down to the bare minimum, allowing the device to hide discreetly behind the TV. The only real downside compared to boxes like the $100 Fire TV, Apple TV or Roku’s boxes is lack of ports like Ethernet (although Google’s Chromecast has a clever solution), MicroSD, USB and optical audio.

Unlike many of streaming boxes the new Fire TV Stick has 1080p resolution, not 4K. The only mainstream 4K stick-like streamer is the $70 Chromecast Ultra. Like the 4K-capable Fire TV box the new Stick does have HEVC decoding, so it can take advantage of that superior compression format to enable better image quality and use less bandwidth, even with 1080p streams. Amazon has re-encoded its entire video library to HEVC.

The newer version of the Fire TV stick is a bit chunkier than the original but still plenty small. If the back of your TV is too cramped to accommodate it, you can use the included “port saver,” a short female-to-male HDMI adapter included in the box (Roku’s stick doesn’t include one).

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Compared to the original, the new Fire TV Stick improves the Wi-Fi capability from 802.11n to 802.11ac, and adds the ability to connect a set of Bluetooth wireless headphones for private listening. I had no issues connecting to either 2.4GHz or 5GHz networks, and both of the headsets I tried (a Polk Hinge and a Motorola SF520) connected easily and showed good-enough lip sync. Lip sync issues can vary on different Bluetooth headphones, however.

Like other sticks Amazon’s power can come from a standard AC wall socket via the included adapter and cable, or from a USB port (typically on the TV). I recommend using the wall socket since it allows the stick to remain in standby, ready to go immediately. Using USB power from a TV means you’ll have to wait around 40 seconds for it to boot up each time. At least that beats the original stick, which took 110 seconds to boot up.

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Amazon’s speed stick

Amazon claims a 30 percent boost in speed compared to the original Fire TV Stick thanks to a new quad-core processor, and comparing the two directly the new version is certainly faster in many ways. That said, the improvement isn’t so stark that current Stick owners should feel compelled to upgrade.

The most popular apps provide the biggest differences. Netflix launched twice to three times faster, while YouTube launched about twice as fast. Browsing Netflix was about the same on both devices, although while YouTube’s browse was a bit pokier on the old one.

20
Oct

LeEco has to prove its content-first strategy is worth our time


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Without its content offerings, the LeEco Le Pro3 is just another cookie-cutter smartphone.

How does a manufacturer make its generic-looking smartphones enticing to the general populace? For LeEco, the answer is stuffing its first two U.S. smartphone releases with an abundance of internet TV channels and what seem to be direct-to-video movie releases.

LeEco failed to explain why anyone would choose it over Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video.

This is not a viable marketing strategy for a phone company that’s brand new to the U.S. Throughout its nearly two-hour presentation, LeEco showed off lots of product, including its flagship, the Le Pro3, and its mid-range counterpart, the Le S3, both of which come bundled with promises of bountiful content availability. However, LeEco failed to explain exactly why anyone would choose its offering over what’s already available. Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video are all alive and well. The Chinese device maker is planning to compete in an already saturated market.

What’s more: Despite the fact that Google’s been strong-arming software updates and ensuring that legacy devices are supported with security patches, there was no promise from LeEco that it would do the same. With regards to its smartphones, LeEco’s strategy seems to be to push its vast library of content while ignoring what it is that brought us all to Android in the first place: the software.

Internet TV is as bland as it sounds

Internet TV is not the same as cable television. I say this as a loyal watcher of Pluto TV, one of the best internet television apps. I like to put it on the Late Night channel as I’m getting ready for bed to catch up on Jimmy Kimmel and James Corden. It’s become a nightly routine for me, but I don’t see myself doing the same with either the Le Pro3 or Le S3.

The content offered by LeEco is slim at best. First off, there are four different applications that all offer a variance of the same content: LeView, Le, LeVidi, and Live. Le is the live video app, while LeVidi offers all of LeEco’s movies and television content on demand. LeView is a video aggregator affixed to the far left side of the home screen and Live is merely a quick launch icon for Le that lives permanently in the dock.

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If this all sounds confusing, that’s because it is. There are ostensibly four ways to consume LeEco’s content library, though only two of the apps are worth using: Le and LeVidi. Le offers a live television view, like if you were to launch the channel list option on your satellite or cable television receiver, while LeVidi looks and functions like Hulu, though it offers links to live feeds from time to time. The app also offers quick access to content from providers like Tastemade, SeeSo, and Machinima, as well as well as links to movies from partners like Lionsgate and MGM. Most of the movie offerings look like the kind of titles I’d typically skip over on any other streaming service, but I don’t doubt that there are at least a few gems buried in there.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to delve deeply into LeEco’s media library, but I can say that I was dubious about what I initially saw. Much of the content reminds me of what free apps like Crackle and Tubi.tv offer, and I don’t bother with those services because I already know what I’m paying for with Netflix and Hulu.

Here’s the other kicker: You actually have to pay for all this content after your initial three-month trial period is up

Here’s the other kicker: You actually have to pay for all this content after your initial three-month trial period is up. A subscription to LeEco’s EcoPass is required to continuing using the aforementioned apps, though you get a couple of other goodies, too, like 5TB of cloud storage and extended warranties. LeEco hasn’t released details on how much the EcoPass will cost yet, but I imagine that whatever the going rate is will cover subscriptions to services like Seeso, which is typically included with an Amazon Prime subscription. Expect EcoPass to cost around the same as an annual Netflix subscription, too.

Software that’s trailing behind Google’s

Let’s forget for a second that the launches of the LeEco Le Pro3 and Le S3 are centered around their seemingly abundant content offerings. Would you still be interested in one as your daily driver? What if I told you that both of these devices are still running Android 6.0.1 and that they both eschew any semblance of Google’s stock Android interface in favor of a candied, millennial-esque aesthetic? LeEco’s EUI (ecosystem user interface) looks similar to what Xiaomi does with MIUI and Huawei’s done with EMUI, albeit mercifully doesn’t add the pile of features and apps that the other companies do — the main features of EUI are the content selection and seamless interaction with other LeEco products.

I understand that LeEco wants to differentiate itself, but there’s a way to do so while also offering an interface experience that’s close to Google’s. OnePlus is the perfect example of this with OxygenOS; it sticks to Google’s native Material Design paradigm while also tossing in extra features that make it an Android interface worth considering.

Bottom line

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LeEco’s content offerings are compelling to some extent, considering the wide variety of videos offered — but the content offering alone is not enough to warrant the price of the Le Pro3 or the Le S3, which taken in a vacuum aren’t all that interesting themselves. Then you remember that the LeEco content requires a (currently unknown) monthly subscription fee.

LeEco is not exactly raking in subscriptions overseas, either, so it’s unclear as to why it’s marketing content as its marquee feature in the U.S. in the first place. Regardless, this strategy isn’t likely to work well in the U.S. where consumers have recently been trained to fear data-hungry services that will eat into their capped mobile data buckets.

LeEco has quite a journey ahead of it if it plans to make an impact stateside. I’ll be curious to spend a weekend with nothing but LeEco content to entertain me. Maybe then I can be convinced that this is the future of content consumption, and a feature worth buying a phone to get.

More:Le Pro3 and Le S3 hands-on: Welcome to the U.S., LeEco

20
Oct

Keep track of your fevers with this smart thermometer for just $15!


Right now you can grab this awesome digital smart thermometer from Kinsa for just $15 at Amazon. If your family spends a lot of time on the go, this thermometer is a great addition to any bag so you can quickly and easily check your child’s temperature if they aren’t feeling great. To keep kids sitting still, the app offers a bubble-popping game, and the flexible tip makes it more comfortable in their mouth.

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Beyond just telling you the temperature, the thermometer can also give you real-time guidance on what to do next, which is gathered from sources like Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic. You’ll be able to track your health history for each member of the family with ease, and all for just $15 right now.

See at Amazon

20
Oct

Best Music Streaming Services


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Which streaming music service is right for you? Here’s a look at some of the top options.

Over the last several years, music streaming has become arguably the most common way people choose to listen to their favorite tunes. Alongside that rise, a number of services have popped up from major and minor players alike, all competing for your subscription dollars. While many of these services no doubt share a lot in common, there are some differences that give each its own personality.

If you’re trying to choose the right music streaming platform for you, here’s a rundown of some of the more popular options in no particular order.

Spotify

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At more than 100 million users (40 million of which are paid subscribers), Spotify is the current king of the music streaming space — and it’s not hard to see why. The service is available on a wide variety of platforms with quality apps, and its free tier acts as an effective way for new users to see what Spotify is all about. If you want to remove ads, Spotify offers a $10 per month individual plan or $15 family plan.

Spotify offers a unique way of helping users sift through its catalog of more than 30 million songs as well, thanks to its weekly Discover playlist. As the name suggests, the playlist is refreshed weekly with new tunes Spotify thinks you might like based on your listening history. While other services have also thrown their hat in on curated suggestions, Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist has earned consistent praise from those who like the adventure of finding new artists and songs to check out.

Sign up for Spotify

Pandora

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As one of the first names in the streaming music game, Pandora is probably already familiar to many. Pandora operates as a streaming radio service, allowing users to start a radio station based around a particular artist or genre. You can then personalize each station by giving a thumbs up or thumbs down to each song played, allowing Pandora to further hone in on your tastes.

Pandora has also introduced Pandora Plus, a $4.99 per month subscription option that allows you to replay past songs, take your music offline, and skip as many tracks as you want. While this is a slightly tamer version of the unlimited, play-what-you-want offerings of other services, it’s also cheaper and should work just fine for those who enjoy Pandora’s streaming radio stations.

Sign up for Pandora

Google Play Music

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As far as its catalog is concerned, Google Play Music can go toe-to-toe with every other service on this list. While the service is restricted to a web browser or an app for iPhone and Android, you should be able to find almost anything you’re looking for — with the exception of certain exclusives. At $10 per month for individuals or $15 for families, the pricing is right too. Add in the service’s quick access to playlists sorted by mood or activity, and things start to get interesting.

Where Google Play Music really shines, however, is its tie-in with another Google-owned property: YouTube. Included in your subscription is also a subscription to YouTube Red, which removes ads from YouTube and gives you access to some exclusive content. If you already watch a lot of YouTube, that definitely makes Google Play Music an attractive option.

Sign up for Google Play Music

Apple Music

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Apple is a relative newcomer to the streaming music scene, but it’s already making quite a name for itself. Available via iTunes, as well as on iPhone and Android, Apple Music serves up catalog of music that’s just as compelling as other options on this list. Apple has also shown a knack for securing exclusive content, including from big names like Taylor Swift and Chance the Rapper.

Apple matches the pricing of its competitors, coming in at $10 for individuals and $15 for families. One of Apple Music’s more interesting offerings, its Beats 1 radio station, is available for anyone to stream for free, and includes interesting shows and interviews from celebrity DJs like Elton John and Josh Homme. Otherwise, subscribers will find plenty of on-demand music, along with some pretty compelling curated playlists in the service’s “For You” section.

Sign up for Apple Music

Groove Music

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Microsoft’s latest shot at a music streaming service is called Groove Music, and, like the others, includes a pretty large catalog of music for $10 per month. The service is widely available on multiple platforms, including Windows 10 PC and Mobile, iPhone and Android. Groove is even available on Xbox, letting you stream your favorite tunes from your console.

Like others on this list, Groove Music offers up its take on curated playlists and suggestions in its “Your Groove” section. There, you’ll find relatively nuanced suggestions centered around mood, genre or other parameters based on tracks you’ve listened to in the past. Another of Groove’s unique features is its tie-in with Microsoft’s cloud storage service, OneDrive. Simply upload your own tracks to your OneDrive storage, and they’ll be accessible from your Groove library across all of your devices.

Sign up for Groove Music

Amazon Prime Music and Music Unlimited

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Amazon curiously has a few different offerings on the table when it comes to music streaming. For Amazon Prime subscribers, you automatically get access to Amazon Prime music, which includes a comparatively paltry selection of songs that Amazon says come in at over a million. If you’re looking to step things up, however, the company now offers unlimited streaming of a much larger catalog that includes “tens of millions of songs” at $8 per month for Prime subscribers, or $10 for everyone else.

Like the others, Amazon Music Unlimited is ad-free, and includes on-demand music and curated playlists based on mood and genre. Where things get interesting is if you own an Amazon Echo, for which Amazon is offering a cheaper $4 per month Echo-only option. With Echo, you can do things like play a song based on lyrics you remember if you happen to forget its title.

Sign up for Amazon Music Unlimited

SoundCloud

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If you’re looking to venture away from the mainstream a bit, SoundCloud is worth a look. As opposed to the other services on this list, SoundCloud made its name on remixes and indie artists, and includes a ton of that content for free.

SoundCloud does offer a subscription option at $10 per month, which includes offline playback, ad-free listening, and access to its full catalog of music. You’ll be limited to streaming either through the SoundCloud website, or via the service’s Android and iPhone apps, but there’s no substitute if you’re looking for a wealth of indie artists and remix tracks.

Sign up for SoundCloud Go

What’s your pick?

What’s your go-to streaming music service? Let us know your pick in the comments!

20
Oct

Amazon Echo Dot now shipping, get Alexa voice control for just £50


Amazon unveiled the Echo Dot alongside the full Amazon Echo at a launch event in London a few weeks ago, but its release was staggered. The full speaker version was made available first, but now the smaller, cheaper Alexa-based hardware is available too.

The Amazon Echo Dot is essentially an Amazon Echo but without the speaker drivers. It has a single speaker so Alexa can respond to your queries, but for the full audio experience it plugs into your own speaker system.

It can also hook up to a Bluetooth speaker wirelessly, so you don’t necessarily need to cable it to an AV receiver, speaker or amp of some description. And if you only plan to use it to control other smarthome gadgets, you can just plug it in somewhere out of sight.

  • Amazon Echo vs Amazon Tap vs Echo Dot: What’s the difference?
  • Amazon Echo: First 7 things you should do to get Alexa started
  • Amazon Echo tips and tricks

Pre-orders of the Amazon Echo Dot have started shipping and you can now order one for yourself on Amazon.co.uk. Prime members can have it delivered tomorrow.

For those who want to spread Alexa voice assistants around their homes, Amazon offers a deal on the Echo Dot whereby if you order five you get a sixth free. Buy 10 and you get two extra Dots free.

The Amazon Echo Dot is available now for £49.99 and it comes in either black or white.

20
Oct

Marantz’s SR7011 is a do-it-all AV receiver powerhouse


Marantz has just announced its flagship home cinema amplifier for 2016, the SR7011 and it can do pretty much anything you’d want from an AV receiver. It will handle Dolby Atmos and DTS:X 3D object-based surround sound formats and delivers sound through up to 9 channels, each with 200-watts of amplification, making it a seriously powerful beast.

The SR7011 can calibrate the speakers in your room thanks to built-in Audyssey software and other Marantz-designed internal component promise the “purest possible sound”.

You’ll find eight HDMI inputs on the rear, so you’re not short of options to connect a Blu-ray player, games console, set-top box or any other HDMI device you have. All eight support 4K Ultra HD signals too, so you can use it with Ultra HD Blu-ray players such as the Panasonic DMP-UB900, Xbox One S or Samsung UDB-K8500.

The SR7011 is a dab-hand with music too and has built-in support for Spotify, Tidal and Deezer, and will support high-resolution audio. You also get Internet radio, Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay for streaming from mobile devices, but it will also work with Denon’s Heos multi-room speakers.

  • Denon Heos review: multi-room made easy

The Marantz SR7011 AV receiver will be available from November black and silver-gold for £1499.

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