Save on apps, games, movies, and more.
The Google Play Store runs quite a few sales and promotions throughout the year, and as we get ready to close out 2017, the digital storefront is running its final one before 2018. With the Play Store’s ’12 Days of Play’ campaign, you’ll find savings on apps, movies, TV shows, and even special in-game items for some mobile games.
There’s quite a lot to talk about, so let’s get right into it.
Save even more with a discounted Google Play Gift Card
- 50% off your first three months of HBO NOW
- 40% off your first year of TuneIn
- 40% off a Lifesum subscription
- Rent any movie for just 99 cents (must be redeemed by January 14, 2018)
- Up to 50% off select movies and television series
- Buy three TV episodes for just 99 cents each
- Get a $5 credit for any book you purchase that’s $5 or more (offer ends January 10, 2018)
- Up to 80% off titles like Reigns, Bloons TD 5, Minecraft: Story Mode, FRAMED 2, The Room Three, and plenty more.
- Special in-game items for Clash of Clans, ROBLOX, Pokémon Go, etc.
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The Echo Spot may be the cutest yet. And unlike its older sibling with a display, this one seems more comfortable in its skin.
The quick take
The Echo Spot is a smaller, rounder version of the Echo Show, with many of the same advantages — and missing some of the same features that are solely missing in that device.
- It’s a fun, great-looking Echo
- The round display is a good size
- All the smarts of Alexa
- No access to YouTube
- Seems like it’s a bit pricey
- Do you want a camera next to your bed?
Amazon Echo Spot Video Review
Awwww, it’s cute
Amazon Echo Spot Full Review
What if you took the most expensive version of the Amazon Echo — one whose potential was essentially chopped off at the knees by a competitor — and shrunk it down a bit, lopping of $10 from the price in the process.
Because that’s what you get with the Amazon Echo Spot. It’s a smaller, slightly cheaper, and definitely cuter version of the Echo Show that made its debut in mid-2017 with a 7-inch touchscreen and the promise to bring constant and convenient video throughout your home. The Spot trades the angular body for a softball-sized sphere — and all things round are cute as hell — and a 2.5-inch display. And Amazon Alexa, of course, is tucked inside.
It’s a great-looking Echo. But is this $130 device any more useful than the Echo Show? Let’s take a look.
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Which Amazon Echo is right for you?
No flat tires here
Amazon Echo Spot Embrace the Ball
Take a softball and slice off the bottom, and then angle off another slice from the side for the display. That’s the Echo Spot.
- Price: $129
- Size: 4.1 x 3.8 x 3.6 inches
- Weight: 14.8 ounces
- Display: 2.5 inches diameter
- Wifi: 802.11n (dual-band)
- Other: A2DP, Bluetooth out, 3.5mm line-out
It’s a little larger than I’d expected. That’s a good thing, though. Because even though the display is a mere 2.5 inches in diameter, you don’t get the sense that this thing is undersized. It’s also not perfectly round, hitting 3.8 inches tall and 4.1 inches wide.
But whatever. It’s basically a ball. And round is cute. Friendly.
Up top, you’ve got the same buttons as on the Echo Show. (Though this time in the proper order!) There’s an on/off button for the mics and camera, flanked by volume up and volume down. The four pinhole microphones are visible up here as well. On the back of the ball are two ports that look nearly identical. They’re not, though. On the left is the power port (no Micro-USB for this thing) and on the right is a 3.5mm audio input.
And that’s it. The rubber base keeps things in place well enough (the 419 grams of weight help with that, too).
Take the Echo Spot out of the box and you quickly get the sense that it belongs on a nightstand. And it does. But there’s really no reason you couldn’t put it somewhere else, too. It’d fit in just fine on a desk, I guess. But usage is going to be the same in any case.
There’s really not that much to overthink here. It’s the sort of mix of matte plastic and glossy face (which, of course, attracts dust like nobody’s business) that we’ve come to expect in this sort of device — especially if you’ve seen the Echo Show. They’re very much members of the same family, just with different designs.
Clock first, everything else second
The first thing you’ll notice about the Echo Spot is that it’s not trying to do too much at once. That’s important because there’s not all that much screen real estate.
But it is, first and foremost, a bedside clock. You’ve got options for analog or digital (I’ve opted for the former), and options for the background. You can use one of Amazon’s artsy designs, but just like the Echo Show, the Spot is a decent little digital picture frame. So family pics it is.
Beyond that the Spot rotates through the same on-screen info as the Echo Show — it just has a very different feel thanks to the round screen. You get weather info on its own page. If your calendars are hooked into Alexa, you’ll get that, too. Same goes for hints on things you can do with the Spot, and the not-so-useful trending headlines.
And you can do everything on the Echo Spot screen that you can on the Echo Show screen. It’s just smaller. And round. Want to watch video? Go for it, just so long as it’s not from YouTube. Hell, I can even fire up my Ring Doorbell camera and see what’s going on, right there on the Spot. (Though the feed still doesn’t pop up automatically when someone rings the bell.) Video calls? Sure thing.
Obviously, the Spot isn’t ideal for watching longer videos. Or any videos at all, really — because there’s a really good chance you’re going to have a phone or a tablet or a television all within sight, and all with larger displays.
And while I’m tempted to say that videos calls are the exception to this, they’re really not. For as good as Amazon is with them — and it’s not a bad experience at all — it still requires the person on the other end to either (a) have an Echo Show or Echo Spot or (b) have the Alexa app installed on a phone or tablet and set up for video calls. Folks on iOS will already be using FaceTime, and Google’s made inroads with Duo. (Plus Uber-popular apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp have that functionality as well.)
Concerns? Look, if you’re going to use this as a bedside clock, you’re going to have to be comfortable with having a working microphone and camera in your bedroom. Trust the mute button if you want, stick a sticker over the camera lens. Or don’t. I won’t wear your tinfoil hat for you. I learn more toward the “let’s keep the screens away from my face while I’m sleeping” end of the spectrum. But that’s a personal decision. And in any event, the dimmed nighttime display and do-not-disturb function work well enough, so it’s unlikely the Spot will keep you up after hours.
Amazon Echo Spot
Should you Buy It? Sure!
At the end of the day, the Echo Spot is an Echo, just like the rest. Better in some ways, worse in others. And that means you’re going to get out of it what you put into it. If you don’t ever want to talk to a digital assistant thing or do any of the connected smart stuff, do you really need a $130 digital clock?
In addition to telling you the time and showing weather info, the screen is fun. I like having a digital photo album at hand and on display. It’s still woefully underutilized in other ways — my dream of the Echo Show and Spot being a true visual hub hasn’t come anywhere close to fruition yet.
The internal speaker isn’t bad for the size, it’s not as good as the new Echo or Echo Plus. It’s good for a bedside alarm clock. (And you can always shoot audio out via Bluetooth or the 3.5mm line-out jack if you just have to hook it into a proper speaker.)
No, if you’ve got $130 to spare and want an Amazon Echo, this is a fun option. I’d go so far to say I prefer it over the Echo Show at this point, and that’s because you get the sense the screen isn’t just a waste of space. It’s not trying to be a faux web browser or a way to watch video.
It’s just a fun, useful clock.
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- Tap, Echo or Dot: The ultimate Alexa question
- All about Alexa Skills
- Amazon Echo review
- Echo Dot review
- Echo Spot review
- Top Echo Tips & Tricks
- Amazon Echo vs. Google Home
- Get the latest Alexa news
See at Amazon
Time’s running out!
Christmas is right around the corner and if you still haven’t got all the gifts you wanted to give, your time to shop online is running out. Today is the last day you can order from Amazon with two-day shipping and have your gift in time for Christmas. If you aren’t a Prime member, you’ll have to shell out some extra money to upgrade to the two-day shipping, and the cost varies by item. The smarter thing to do would be to sign up for a free 30-day trial of Amazon Prime and then you can get the two-day shipping for free.
There are a ton of awesome things you can still get your loved ones, so don’t stress if you aren’t fully prepared. Amazon has some great daily deals on items like aroma diffusers, wooden trains and accessories, 12-month magazine subscriptions for $3.75 and so much more.
There are also discounts on almost all the Amazon Echo devices, tech toolkits for $7, discounted iTunes and Google Play gift cards, and even the infamous Instant Pot.
Go ahead and sign up for the free trial of Amazon Prime, shop for the perfect gift and then sit back and think about how much your friends and family will love the gifts!
Qualcomm’s current board will be nominated for re-election for another year.
At Qualcomm’s 2018 Annual Meeting of Stockholders, Broadcom and Silver Lake Partners approached the chip-maker with 11 nominees that were recommended to replace Qualcomm’s current board of directors. Following a review of the candidates it was presented with, Qualcomm chose to reject the offer.
Qualcomm’s reasoning for this is that the nominees are “inherently conflicted and would not bring incremental skills or expertise to the Qualcomm Board.” As such, the board’s 11 existing members will be nominated for re-election to continue their duties.
These members include Barbara T. Alexander, Jeffrey W. Henderson, Thomas W. Horton, Dr. Paul E. Jacobs, Ann M. Livermore, Harish Manwani, Mark D. McLaughlin, Steve Mollenkopf, Clark T. Randt, Jr., Dr. Francisco Ros and Anthony J. “Tony” Vinciquerra.
Qualcomm says all of the current board members have existing knowledge and a better understanding of the semiconductor industry and all of the company’s various projects, but even so, both Broadcom and Silver Lake Partners are reaching out to stockholders and asking them to give the positions to their 11 nominees.
Broadcom approached Qualcomm with an offer to buy the company at the beginning of November, and while this was initially rejected, a report later came out saying that the sale could still go through if Broadcom offered more money. There hasn’t been any development with this since November 20, but this rejection of Broadcom nominees certainly doesn’t do anything to help the relationship between the two businesses.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 might make its way to Chromebooks
This Aukey 8-outlet 2-USB port surge protector is down to $24.84 with code AUXMAS39 on Amazon. Over the last six months this surge protector has mostly sold around $30, although it has seen a surge in the last week or so as high as $35. Either way, it has never gone this low through a direct price drop.
- Consolidate your power supply – 8 AC outlets and 2 USB ports meet all your power requirements. Surge protection safeguards your devices and gives you peace of mind
- Two USB charging ports simultaneously charge two USB-powered devices with 2.4A (total). Keep your smartphones, tablets, and other USB-powered devices charged up and ready to go
- Protection and safety design features effectively guard against damaging power supply surges & spikes and also prevent overheating & overcharging
- Protected Indicator shows, at a glance, energy absorption and dissipation has not been compromised by extreme surges and your devices are safely protected
Aukey covers all products with a two-year warranty.
See on Amazon
You can’t be everywhere at once, but this could help.
Right now, you can grab two Yi Wireless Home Cameras for just $40 total when you enter promo code 32QMPUSR at checkout. You must add two to your cart to see this deal. $20 apiece is a price we’ve shared on this camera once before recently, and it sold out very quickly.
The wireless Yi Home Camera features 720p HD resolution with a 111-degree wide-angle lens. It can zoom up to 4X and has a 940mm infrared sensor for clear vision in the dark. It can send instant alerts to your phone when activity is detected, and you can also initiate a 2-way conversation with its built-in microphone and speaker. It’s a great option for baby monitoring or even pet monitoring.
This product supports up to a 32GB micro SD card but doesn’t include one. However, you can grab one by Samsung on sale for $10. Without it, you’d be able to view a live-stream of the camera’s video via your smartphone but you wouldn’t be able to save anything, so you’ll want to make sure to pick one up. There’s also a secure cloud service you can choose to pay for which could store your video footage.
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“AI is like the Wild West right now,” Tim Leland, Qualcomm’s head of graphics, told me earlier this month when the company unveiled its latest premium mobile chipset. The Snapdragon 845 was designed to handle AI computing tasks better. It’s the latest product of the tech industry’s obsession with artificial intelligence. No company wants to be left behind, and whether it’s by optimizing their hardware for AI processing or using machine learning to speed up tasks, every major brand has invested heavily in artificial intelligence. But even though AI permeated all aspects of our lives in 2017, the revolution is only just beginning.
This might be a helpful time to clarify that AI is often a catch-all term for an assortment of different technologies. There’s artificial intelligence in our digital assistants like Siri, Alexa, Cortana and the Google Assistant. You’ll find artificial intelligence in software like Facebook’s Messenger chatbots and Gmail’s auto-replies. It’s defined as “intelligence displayed by machines” but also refers to situations when computers do things without human instructions. Then there’s machine-learning, which is when computers teach themselves how to perform tasks that humans do. For example, recently, an MIT face-recognition system learned how to identify people the same way humans do without any help from its creators.
It’s important not to confuse these ideas — machine-learning is a subset of artificial intelligence. Let’s use the term machine learning when we’re talking specifically about concepts like neural networks and models like Google’s TensorFlow library, and AI to refer to the bots, devices and software that perform tasks they’ve learned.
Still with me? Good. This year, AI got so smart that computers beat humans at Poker and Go, earned a perfect Ms. Pac Man score and even kept up with veteran Super Smash Bros. players. People started using AI in medicine to predict diseases and other medical conditions, as well as spot suicidal users on social networks. AI also began to compose music and write movie scripts.
Everywhere you look, there’s someone trying to add AI to something. And it’s all facilitated by neural networks that Google, Microsoft and their peers continued to invest in this year, acquiring AI startups and launching or expanding AI divisions. Machine-learning has progressed quickly, and it’s going to continue improving next year.
One of the biggest developments as we head into 2018 is the shift from running machine-learning models in the cloud to your phone. This year, Google, Facebook and Apple launched mobile versions of their machine-learning frameworks, letting developers speed up AI-based tasks in their apps. Chip makers also rushed to design mobile processors for machine learning. Huawei, Apple and Qualcomm all tuned their latest chipsets this year to better manage AI-related workloads by offering dedicated “neural” cores. But barring a few examples like Face ID on the iPhone X and Microsoft Translator on the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, we haven’t yet seen concrete examples of the benefits of chips tuned for AI.
Basically, AI has been improving for years, but it’s mostly been cloud-based. Take an image-recognition system, for example. At first, it might be able to distinguish between men and women who look drastically different. But as the program continues training on more pictures in the cloud, it can get better at telling individuals apart, and those improvements get sent to your phone. In 2018, we’re poised to put true AI processing in our pockets. Being able to execute models on mobile devices not only makes AI faster, it also stores the data on your phone instead of sending it to the cloud, which is better for your privacy.
It’s clear the industry is laying the groundwork to make our smartphones and other devices capable of learning on their own to improve things like translations, image-recognition and provide even greater personalization. But as the available hardware gets better at handling machine-learning computations, developers are still trying to find the best ways to add AI to their apps. No one in the industry really knows yet what the killer use case will be.
Eventually, every industry and every aspect of our lives — from shopping in a mall to riding a self-driving car — will be transformed through AI. Stores will know our tastes, sizes and habits and use that information to serve us deals or show us where to find what we might be looking for. When you walk in, the retailer will know (either by recognizing your face or your phone) who you are, what you’ve bought in the past, what your allergies are, whether you’ve recently been to a doctor and what your favorite color is. The system’s AI will learn what you tend to buy at specific times of the year and recommend similar or competing products to you, showing the information on store displays or tablets on shelves.
Cars will be smart enough to avoid obstructions and use machine-learning to better recognize dangers and navigate around hazards. Even your doctors will soon rely on AI to classify X-rays, MRI scans and other medical images, cutting down the time involved in diagnosing a patient.
AI is already prevalent in image-recognition, and it will soon become even more pervasive. Home-security cameras are already getting better at distinguishing between individual humans, dogs, cats and cars. Don’t be surprised if this is ultimately used in law enforcement to sift through traffic- and other public-camera footage to look for potential criminals or missing persons.
The digital assistants that we talk to through phones and smart speakers will not only get faster and converse more naturally by learning from our conversations, they’ll also better anticipate our needs to offer the things we want when we want them. When you walk into your home after work, your lights will come on, your thermostat will turn the temperature up and your favorite winding-down music will start playing.
Sure, this already happens, but the existing method relies on triggers you’ve set based on your location or the time of day. In future, AI will know just how to adjust everything in your home just the way you like it while accounting for external factors. For example, if it’s a hot day, your digital assistant can turn up the air conditioning without your input after detecting temperature changes outside. All these automations could eventually make the world of Black Mirror a reality.
In 2017, the AI takeover gained momentum, but the most compelling use cases were confined to controlled, experimental environments. Next year, we’ll start to see more powerful AI emerge that might actually change the way we live. It might not happen right away, but soon AI will run our lives — for better and worse.
Check out all of Engadget’s year-in-review coverage right here.
Images: Chris Velazco/Engadget (Poker pro); Cherlynn Low/Engadget (Qualcomm chipset); Manuel Gutjahr (Security monitor, splitscreen); Engadget (Amazon Echo Dot)
People seem to believe that the ability to drive fast makes them good drivers. Folks who drive below the speed limit are also under the same misconception. The reality is, if you’re a good driver, you should be able to handle anything that’s thrown at you while still treating your fellow drivers with respect. The Mercedes-Benz AMG C63S sedan is a good car not because it’s fast (though it is very fast with a zero-to-60 time of 3.9 seconds) — it’s a good car because it delivers everything you’d expect from a high-tech, luxury sports sedan.
Starting at $73,700, the C63S is out of reach for anyone who punches a clock or works in middle management (unless that management is helping to run a hedge fund). But get behind the wheel, and it becomes clear why the car merits all those extremely high monthly payments and insurance costs. It all comes down to a nearly perfect combination of speed, handling, comfort, technology and design.
Under the hood, the hand-built twin-turbo V8 outputs 503 horsepower and 516 pounds of torque to ensure that even in comfort mode, you have enough power to be the first off the line at the stop light. In the more powerful Sport mode and especially in Sport plus mode, you should expect to spin the tires a few times at the intersection if you don’t respect that beast of an engine.
Handling and tight-gear transitions are governed by the Ride Control sport suspension and AMG Speedshift 7-speed transmission, respectively. Together they helped the car make short order of the mountain roads around Mount Tamalpais in Northern California during my drive. But all that tight cornering comes at the price of a rough ride, even in Comfort mode. It’s not horrible, but it’s nowhere near as smooth as other luxury vehicles.
Normally, purchasing a car this powerful means of investing in something that could potentially land you in the hospital. Fortunately, the C63S is packed with safety features to reduce the chances of you ending up in the ICU. Foremost among them is the Distronic Plus driver assistance suite, which includes adaptive cruise control and steering assist. The car did an outstanding job tracking the vehicle in front of it with the Stop and Go Pilot feature. While stuck in various degrees of gridlock, I found the car’s ability to gently come to a stop and resume rolling to be the smoothest and most “human” of all the semi-autonomous systems out there. Even when a car cut me off, the Mercedes didn’t stomp on the brakes any more than it needed to. Performance was graceful in all situations.
Lane assist is a different matter. On long curves the vehicle would turn the wheel, straighten out, turn the wheel, straighten out and turn the wheel, creating a less-than-ideal experience. It does an adequate job assisting the driver stay in their lane, but it needs a bit more polish to catch up with systems from BMW, Tesla, Cadillac and Nissan.
The C63S is also equipped with the Mercedes Pre-Safe braking system that uses data about traffic down the road to get the brakes ready in case of a traffic slowdown. If it determines the car is about to hit gridlock it will help bring the vehicle come to a stop just that much quicker. The Mercedes will also brake automatically when it’s about to collide with a pedestrian or another car. I demoed these features during a recent trip to the automaker’s headquarters in Germany, and was particularly impressed by how well they performed during a rainstorm.
All of these safety measures are wrapped in a very elegant package. It’s tough to describe how much more striking the car is in real life compared to photos. It has a low and wide aggressive stance while still retaining an air of civility. It’s equally at home on the track as it is on a night out. The interior, though, is bound to be polarizing. It’s like sitting inside a stitched leather Coach handbag. It also has flourishes of metal and carbon fiber throughout the passenger cabin that I enjoy, but others might find ostentatious.
The feature-rich infotainment system in the C63S is packed behind a 7-inch screen. You can access the usual navigation and media integration, but also fine-tune how the car drives and sounds. It’s one of the best systems out there except for one thing: It has too many controls. Mercedes offers a touchpad and a click wheel to control its infotainment system. That would be fine, but they’re stacked on top of each other with the touchpad above the wheel. Both are capable of navigating many features. But it just seems like overkill to have them both, and a few times I inadvertently selected something with my hand on the pad. Either put a touchpad on the click wheel or remove the wheel all together.
All that said, Mercedes will unveil a new infotainment system at CES, so it’ll be interesting to see how they’ve evolved their system. But for now, the C63S is a top-notch sport luxury sedan with an eye on safety. It combines break-neck acceleration with safety features that keep you from actually breaking your neck.
It’s only been half a year since the $3,499 Insta360 Pro VR camera started shipping, but the Chinese company is already offering a “V2.0” release right before the holidays. To be exact, this is actually more about a “major” firmware update with significant improvements on the same hardware, and existing users can already download the beta firmware for a spin (though it’s also possible to roll back should something go wrong). Once updated, the device will benefit from much improved image quality, as well as a 12K “Super Resolution” still photo mode, optical flow interpolation for double frame rate output plus a few new professional tools.
First off, based on the sample media provided by Insta360, the Pro’s V2.0 firmware does appear to offer a higher dynamic range plus improved image clarity. The above footage taken at the Insta360 office also shows reduced noise levels along with much better color accuracy. These improvements alone are already rather impressive.
In terms of new features, the aforementioned 12K “Super Resolution” still mode works for both stereoscopic and monoscopic capture. This is achieved by quickly taking a burst of ten 8K shots, and then merging them to form a 12K image, though this output resolution can also be lowered to 8.2K to suit Samsung GearVR’s maximum resolution while obtaining a sharper image.
Another noteworthy feature is optical flow interpolation, which allows you to natively adjust the output video frame rate up to twice as much for a smoother 360 video, as shown in the above comparison video. Other new handy tools include exposure curves, a new brightness histogram, much quicker on-device stitching when connected to a computer, optimized stitching at the zenith and the option to connect to a smartphone’s 4G hotspot or a mobile WiFi hotspot. Feel free to head over to Insta360’s blog post for more detail.
Belkin Halts Sales of ‘InvisiGlass Ultra’ Screen Protector for iPhone X Following Widespread Customer Complaints
Belkin has temporarily halted sales of its InvisiGlass Ultra screen protector for iPhone X after numerous complaints about it cracking way too easily.
The $39.95 screen protector is no longer available to purchase from Belkin’s website or Apple’s online store after dozens of customers—but not all—complained about it cracking in normal usage conditions and without ever dropping their devices. We’re told it has also been pulled from shelves at Apple retail stores around the world.
Here’s one customer review from Belkin’s website:
I purchased this at the Apple Store a little over a month ago and had them install it using their machine. Installation was quick and the fit on my iPhone X was flawless. I loved the glass feel and everything was fine until a couple days ago when I lightly tapped on the top portion of the screen with my pen and it cracked! There are 3 crack lines coming from the initial crack point. I am very disappointed in the durability of this product to say the least.
When we first reached out to Belkin about the InvisiGlass Ultra’s many one-star reviews in November, a company spokesperson informed us that it had not identified any issues with the screen protector at the time. It has since changed tune.
“We have been constantly testing this product since we released the first generation of it timed to iPhone X availability and things have evolved since you and I last spoke,” a Belkin spokesperson informed MacRumors. “We identified some improvements to be made in the next generation of this product.”
A new and hopefully improved version of the InvisiGlass Ultra screen protector for the iPhone X will be available to purchase from Apple in January and from Belkin around January or February, according to the spokesperson.
Belkin said it considers “product quality and consumer feedback of paramount importance” and said that customers who have any questions should contact the company directly or reach out to their local Apple store. Belkin didn’t specify if customers will be eligible for a refund, but hopefully it honors these requests.
The original InvisiGlass Ultra uses 0.21mm ion-strengthened glass from iPhone display glass manufacturer Corning. Belkin said the screen protector improved the iPhone X’s scratch resistance by up to three to five times, with up to a 25 percent increase in protection against cracking and breakage from drops.
The InvisiGlass Ultra was released in late October alongside Belkin’s anti-glare and tempered glass screen protectors for iPhone X, which both remain available to purchase for $19.95 and $24.95 respectively.
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