See, here’s the thing about Vertu phones: anyone who’s wealthy enough to afford one probably wants (and can afford) more than one, probably doesn’t care about newfangled goodies like 3G or a large, high resolution display, and probably keeps a Ferrari or two in the garage. On that note we give you the “Ascent Ferrari 60,” the Nokia division’s second Ferrari-themed handset. Unlike the first — which happened to also be an Ascent — the Ferrari 60 features a shift gate on its posterior instead of a brake pedal, which clearly makes it worth the €18,000 (about $25,370) asking price. Of course, that hefty cost of admission also nets you an elaborately fashioned storage box, a Vertu Aerius headset, and an actual valve out of a Ferrari F1 car, so the 60 lucky sons of guns that grab this thing are in for a treat (if valves and outdated Bluetooth headsets are your thing). Check it out at Nokia’s London, Paris, Singapore, and Hong Kong locations.
Amazon seems bound and determined to not let its internet-connected wünderspeaker, the Echo, fall prey to the same fate as the Fire Phone. Good on Jeff Bezos for that. In case you’re already bored of the device reading you news headlines and finding restaurant info for you, now the gizmo’s Alexa app will play games and even tell you how much gas you have left in your car. Games include Bingo; trivia; simple math puzzles and even rock, paper, scissors. As Android Central points out, the automotive stuff is available via a third-party solution, dubbed Automatic, that interfaces with your car via a $100 adapter. With that, you can ask questions about how far you drove recently or what your gas gauge is sitting at. Or you could, you know, look at your instrument cluster. It’s up to you!
After the failure of the Fire Phone and the so-so Fire TV, it was hard to get excited about Amazon’s $180 Echo wireless speaker. At best, it seemed like a superfluous device that simply mimicked voice-powered tech from our phones in monolithic speaker form. At worst, it felt like yet another way for the company to insert itself into your life — all in an effort to make you buy more crap from Amazon. I’ll admit, I wasn’t in any rush to nab an Echo of my own after it was first announced (Prime members with a special invite were able to get it for $99). And, curiously, Amazon didn’t make review units available at the time, either. But now that Echo is widely available to everyone, I was finally able to get my hands on one to test out. Surprisingly enough, I ended up falling for it big time.
To be clear, I fell for Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa. Sure, she’s just another spin on the likes of Siri, Cortana and Google Now (time for a friendlier name there, eh Google?), but Alexa also differs in a few key ways. For one, she’s always listening, and she generally does a better job of understanding me than other virtual assistants. Alexa also has the uncanny ability to hear me even when I’m on the other side of my living room, thanks to Echo’s seven microphones. That’s something I’ve never seen with any other virtual assistant. (I even have trouble getting Siri to wake up and accurately hear my voice on my Apple Watch — and that’s right on my wrist!)
All of this is due to Amazon’s unique approach with the Echo. It’s not a portable speaker like we’ve seen from Jambox and Logitech. Instead, it’s a rather large, cylindrical device that needs to be plugged into power. It’s something you’ll likely just leave in a single spot in your home. But what you give up in portability you gain in overall reliability, as Alexa is ready to listen to your commands at the drop of a hat. After all, it’s harder for battery-powered devices to always be ready for voice commands without slowly draining power (Motorola went to great lengths to make that possible on the Moto X).
As someone who’s tied to a smartphone, tablet or computer most of the day, it was tough for me to get the hang of the Echo initially. Most of its functionality, like asking for the weather, checking on my calendar or looking up facts, is comprised of things we’re all used to doing on plenty of other devices. But eventually, its hands-free access to information began to feel downright empowering. If I’m on the way out the door, or in the middle of making dinner, it’s far easier to shout commands to Alexa rather than try to activate Siri on my phone, or load up an app. Alexa is the first virtual assistant I’ve used that actually lives up to that title.
It also helps that learning to use the Echo involves far more delight than frustration. Alexa has her limits, of course, but she also ended up consistently surprising me with her capabilities. I learned that she could tune into my local NPR station just by asking her to “play WNYC,” which pulls in a stream from TuneIn. Once I linked my Pandora account (through the separate Echo mobile app), it was easy to start playing any of my saved radio stations, or any random Pandora channel. And Alexa never failed to resume whatever I had playing whenever I interrupted her to ask a question.
Echo also shines as a decent speaker for music listening. Amazon packed in a 2-inch tweeter, a 2.5-inch woofer and an elongated reflex port in Echo’s 9-inch tall frame, giving it enough power to fill a small room with distortion-free music. It’s certainly no match for a dedicated hi-fi setup, but it’s about on par with Bluetooth speakers in this price range, with thumping lows and crisp highs. Don’t expect it to capture the nuances of a good jazz or classical performance, though. Echo’s circular design is reminiscent of Logitech’s UE Boom lineup, allowing it to spit out sound in every direction.
You can connect Echo to any mobile device over Bluetooth, after which it’s recognized just like a typical Bluetooth speaker. There’s also some basic hands-free support, allowing you to use voice commands to have Alexa do things like pause and skip media tracks. Unfortunately, Echo doesn’t work as a speakerphone yet, but that’s something I’m hoping Amazon adds eventually. Its complex array of microphones and noise-canceling technology would make it pretty useful for phone calls.
On top of the functions mentioned above, Echo can also do things like set a timer or alarm; play music from your Amazon library, Prime Music and iHeartRadio; and play Audible audiobooks. Echo can also control WeMo and Philips Hue smart home devices, but I wasn’t able to test that functionality since my home isn’t very smart yet. You can also add items to a shopping list and even re-buy things from your shopping history with voice commands. To Amazon’s credit, Echo offers enough other compelling features that it doesn’t feel like a crass e-commerce Trojan horse in your home, lying in wait for your late-night impulse purchases.
I probably sound like a pretty big Echo fan by this point, but there are still things I hope Amazon improves on eventually. It’d be nice to be able to activate Echo with your own custom voice command, other than saying “Alexa” (or “Amazon,” which is just boring). Amazon also needs to add more services to make Echo more useful — it kills me there’s no Spotify support yet. And while I can understand why Echo has to be plugged in, it would still be nice to have a small battery built in to give us a few hours of portability. As much as I like Echo, its current $180 price tag (down from its original $199 non-Prime price) also seems pretty steep, especially when select Prime members were able to snag it for $99.
The good thing is that the company is constantly updating and improving Echo. I didn’t run into any of the voice-recognition issues that earlier reviewers saw, which makes me think Amazon wasn’t just twiddling its thumbs for the past few months.
Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give the Echo is that it just works in a way that Siri and Google Now don’t — at least, when it comes to actually listening to and understanding voice commands. Once it’s plugged in, you just need to learn the basic Alexa commands and you can start feeling like a pro Echo user. It’s also pretty clear that Amazon is committed to making Echo a compelling platform. It just announced a $100 million Alexa Fund to promote voice-powered apps, and it’s offering an SDK that will let developers bring their apps to the Alexa platform. Echo may have just seemed like a weird speaker gadget when it was first announced, but it might just end up being as transformational as the Kindle over the next few years.
After roughly a year of dismal sales (and the resulting steep discounts), Amazon’s Fire Phone is no more. The internet retailer has confirmed to GeekWire that it sold its remaining stock of the Fire OS-powered smartphone at the end of August. There’s no mention of whether or not this is a sign of a sequel — the more successful Fire TV is also sold out, we’d note — but you shouldn’t count on it. Reports claim that Amazon is chopping both future phones and other hardware projects as a result of the Fire Phone’s failure, so this will likely join the annals of one-and-done flops like the HTC First and Microsoft’s Kin series.
This is an ignominious end to what was supposed to be Amazon’s triumphant moment, but it wasn’t hard to predict even when the Fire Phone was fresh. The centerpiece Dynamic Perspective feature (which altered the on-screen content depending on your gaze) was widely considered a novelty. Moreover, the heavily customized Android interface that did reasonably well on Fire tablets was unintuitive and limiting here. It was designed to boost Amazon’s sales (Firefly object scanning, anyone?), not to help you use your phone. Combine these with slightly behind-the-times specs, poor battery life, a limited app ecosystem and an AT&T exclusive, and it was hard to justify a Fire Phone in favor of the many more practical alternatives.
Amazon just made it much, much easier to catch up on the news while you’re getting chores done around the home. A newly-added option for its voice-guided Echo speaker, Trove, lets you ask the device to read the top news headlines on a given subject. Want to get the gist of the latest political drama? Just say as much — you don’t even have to glance at your phone or your wrist. This isn’t going to provide insightful commentary, of course, but it could be good for those moments when you just don’t have time (or the free hands) needed to go in depth.
This is also a big update if you use the Echo to stay on time. You now have very fine-grained control over alarms and timers, including the ability to cancel specific alerts (say, your weekend alarm) and asking when multiple timers will run out. In other words, this gadget may now be exactly what you need to juggle multiple meals or sleep in on a lazy weekend.
It’s such an obvious feature it’s hard to believe it wasn’t already there, but the latest update for Amazon’s Echo lets it pull up Yelp recommendations for restaurants and other local businesses. Just ask about info on where to get Chinese food or pizza delivery, and it will send the Yelp-powered results to the Echo app on your phone or tablet. For it to work you’ll need to have your local address set up in the Echo app, but that’s it. Amazon says more local search results are coming soon, but for now you should also know it can help you easily stock up on Halloween candy. Just ask the speaker to “order Halloween candy” or “order Halloween chocolate” and it will — provided you have voice purchasing enabled (read: disable voice purchasing before your kids find out about this feature).
Find local businesses and restaurants
You can now ask Echo for info on local businesses and restaurants and Alexa will give you the details—straight from Yelp. To get started, go to Settings in the Alexa App, select your device, and add your address. Here are some ideas once you’re set up:
Craving cashew chicken? Just ask: “Alexa, find me a nearby Chinese restaurant.”
Wondering when the pharmacy closes? Just ask: “Alexa, what are the hours for a nearby pharmacy?”
View even more details such as star rating, phone number, and a link to Yelp listings in the Alexa app. To learn more about this feature, go to Search for Nearby Places.
Having a hard time motivating yourself to exercise? What if somebody offered to pay you work out? That’s the idea behind Bitwalking — an app, digital currency and marketplace that pays its users 1BW$ (Bitwalking dollar) for every 10,000 steps they take.
The idea behind the app is about more than simply bribing people into getting up and moving more — its founders actually hope that it will be able to give people in developing countires another source of income. The company has set up “Bitwalking hubs” in Malawi, for instance, designed to help users learn to manage, trade and spend the digital currency they earn bitwalking.
On the surface it sounds like a noble idea, but Bitwalking payouts have to come from somewhere. According to the BBC, the company is looking for partners to help foot the bill, potentially trading walking payouts for data on Bitwalking users. Advertisers or sports brands could use this information to see how active their target market is, for instance. Even so, you’ll have to wait awhile before before trying the service out — for now, Bitwalking is invite only.
Looking for a good deal on a refurbished Wii U, but don’t like using Nintendo’s clunky online shop? Now you have another option — the company just opened an official eBay store, stocked with new and refurbished games, consoles and accessories. Don’t expect to find any deals though: almost everything on the official eBay store conforms to current retail prices (fixed using eBay’s “buy it now” feature) or Nintendo’s existing refurb pricing.
Truth be told, the unexpected eBay shop might actually be a good idea: Nintendo’s existing online store is kind of off the beaten path, where a lot of shoppers won’t come across it. Ebay, on the other hand, is a well established online marketplace — giving Nintendo more visibility than it may get on its own website. The new store is certainly more convenient for users who already have an eBay account.
That said, there’s not much there. At the time of this writing, the official Nintendo eBay store has only 34 items for sale, only one of which (A Wii Fit U bundle) listed below retail price. Still, something to keep an eye on as the holiday season and Black Friday approach. Check it out for yourself at the source link below.
Thinking about jumping into the world of Wii U console ownership? For a limited time, Nintendo’s online store is offering refurbished Deluxe bundles for $200, knocking $50 off the console’s regular price.
The bundle includes a black Wii U 32GB console, Wii U gamepad, pack-in NintendoLand game, adapters for the console and gamepad, a sensor bar for Wii controller compatibility and an HDMI cable. The console also carries a standard one year warranty.
The only caveat is the bundle is not eligible for Club Nintendo registration, meaning new owners can’t earn coins toward special offers available from Nintendo. Though Nintendo says products in the bundle “may have minor cosmetic blemishes, it is guaranteed to be fully functional.”
Nintendo’s latest home console is home to some of our favorite exclusives, including ‘Best of’ titles Super Mario 3D World from 2013 and 2012’s ZombiU. Some multiplatform stuff? You may find yourself waiting a little longer than on other consoles.
Virtual reality is nothing if not an awesome font for weird little experiences, but they can be kind of difficult to find. Some are on Steam, some are available elsewhere. Oculus is hoping that Oculus Concepts, its new section of the Gear VR’s Oculus Store will make that easier. Concepts, like the name suggests, is a place where developers can toss their games and apps that might not be ready for primetime but are still worth checking out. One of the experiences shown off in official imagery is The Night Cafe: An Immersive Tribute to Van Gogh which was part of the Oculus Mobile VR Jam earlier this year. Like the company notes, some of the biggest VR games hit that status because they were released to the public early. So if you have a shiny new Gear VR and are looking to check out something aside from Netflix, here you go.