Amazon undercuts the Echo Dot with the $40 Echo Pop

You know the old saying: If you don’t like Amazon Echo’s form factors, just wait a few minutes. The company has seemingly attempted everything when it comes to getting Alexa into more homes. Some stood the test of time, while others have been lost to the sands of time. Remember the Amazon Tap? The Echo Look? What about the Echo Spot (I really liked that one), Plus and Loop? (I write about this stuff for a living, and I’d completely forgotten that the company made an Alexa Ring.) Some outlived their usefulness, some were cannibalized by different products and some never made much sense to begin with.

The release cadence appears to have slowed a bit from the years when the company was dropping Big Mouth Billy Basses on our heads, but reports of the division’s demise do appear somewhat exaggerated for the time being. This morning the company announced upgrades to existing devices and a new device in the form of the Echo Pop, a unidirectional smart speaker that occupies roughly the same space as its perennial favorite, the Echo Dot.

Image Credits: Amazon

Products like the Echo Dot and Google Home Mini are designed to get their respective smart assistants through the door. The cost is low enough to consider buying one for the sole purpose of serving as a cheap wireless speaker. Whatever the marketing materials might say (I see the phrase “great sound” bandied about enough that it has lost all meaning), most people who buy one are under no illusion that they’re getting some premium audiophile experience ( I hope).

Once it’s in place, you might as well ask Alexa to play some music for you. And maybe a weather forecast. Oh, and that smart bulb your cousin you talk to once a year got you for Christmas — you can control that, too. Then you wake up one morning and there are 50 Echo devices in your house, including three in the bathroom.

Image Credits: Amazon

At $40, the Pop undercuts the Dot by $10 — not an insignificant portion of the products’ overall cost. Though the company denies that the product will replace Dot and/or Dot With Clock. The Pop does, however, seem destined to cannibalize its market share. In terms of form factor, it appears as though someone bisected a Dot and propped up the directional speaker. It’s available in black, white, lavender and teal (the latter of which are both new for the line).

Between the price, form factor and colors, it seems as though Amazon is targeting a younger audience than the standard Echo fare — albeit one a bit more mature than the new Echo Show 5 Kids. Teenagers look like the primary demo, along with college kids moving into the dorm. It could be the cheapest self-contained entry point into a major smart home ecosystem. The familiar Echo Dot blue light ring has been truncated, sitting just above the speaker mesh to let you know when Alexa is listening. The Pop runs on Amazon’s own AZ2 chip and features built-in Eero support, which lets it double as a range extender.

Image Credits: Amazon

The Pop was announced this morning alongside a spate of product refreshes, including updates to Echo Show 5, Echo Buds and Echo Auto. Sarah spoke to SVP Rohit Prasad about Alexa’s future, in light of a recent round of 2,000 people from the company’s device’s division. “Contrary to some of the things written, it was very small in context,” the exec said. “In terms of our roadmap and our conviction, Alexa is one of the biggest investments at Amazon and our conviction has only grown — especially in this time of how exciting AI is and what can be a quantitatively different, better, and more useful Alexa for our customers.”

Generative AI was, naturally, top of mind, with all of the recent hype around systems like ChatGPT and Bard. Amazon has already discussed its own work in the space, and its easy to see how conversational prompts can push Alexa in the future. But it also arrives at a point when the smart assistant appears to be struggling from the outside.  “I’m very optimistic that…the AI advances will be massive, but we are actually contributing to the Amazon businesses,” Prasad adds. “And I believe that Alexa is well on its trajectory to be that personal AI — which will also be a successful business for us.”

Amazon undercuts the Echo Dot with the $40 Echo Pop by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

Beats launches $169 Studio Buds + with a transparent option

Want to get to know a pair of earbuds? Go on a run. A long, sweaty one. One of two things will happen: either you’ll spend half the time fumbling with them or you’ll forget you ever put them in. I realize not everyone can or does run (some mornings I feel like I’m electively grounding down my knee cartilage for fun), so hopefully you have your own method.

A good athletic lifestyle pair will simply stay put. One not suited for the task will start loosening up quickly, like a poorly installed hubcap on a pothole-filled road. This spirals quickly. You soon find yourself adjusting and jiggling, all while the sweat exacerbates the situation. All of a sudden, you’re accidentally playing/pausing and skipping tracks.

Not all earbuds need to be running earbuds, of course. Take the Sony LinkBuds S. They’re currently my favorite in a lot of ways (sound, comfort), but I avoid running in them at all costs. I learned that lesson the hard way. They’re too top-heavy and often loosen by the first mile. Then the chaos.

I long ago came to accept that no earbud will be right for everyone in every setting. Beats’ new Studio Buds +, for instance, don’t sound as good as the LinkBuds S. Their noise-canceling also falls short. But when I went for a couple of early-morning five-mile runs along the coast in Santa Cruz over the weekend, they felt great. Ditto for the treadmill runs I’ve done before and since.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The size and fit are great, with some slight tweaks to the regular Studio Buds it announced two years back. Having not used their predecessors in some time, the geometry of the buds took a bit of re-acclimation, both in terms of getting them into the ear and back into the case. That seems to be one of the minor drawbacks of making them this small.

The other is a lack of surface area, but Beats addressed that with physical buttons. These are, again, great for running. The company says it “revised the design of the multifunction ‘b’ button for better product interactions and to reduce the likelihood of accidental button presses.” Play/pause and track skipping are accomplished with button presses. Holding it will toggle active noise-canceling on and off.

The limited space means there’s no volume slider, but you can customize button hold to accomplish this. One side is assigned volume up and the other volume down. Honestly, that’s probably overcomplicating things. Noise-canceling is the way to go there.

Noise-canceling is improved here, but it doesn’t match up to the best on the market. Ditto for sound. It’s more than enough for casual music and podcast listening, but if audio is your main priority, look elsewhere. At $169, they’re $20 more than the Power Beats were at launch, which puts them between the AirPods 2nd and 3rd gen ($129 and $179, respectively) and well below the AirPods Pro ($249).

Again, if cost is your top concern, you can get a decent pair of buds for a lot less, but $169 is a good price point for premium buds (the lower end of premium, mind). Interestingly, Beats hopped off the Apple H chip train in favor of its own “proprietary platform” with the Studio Buds. The Buds +, meanwhile, run on the second generation of that platform. But you still get features like instant pairing and spatial audio.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Frankly, battery life is probably the biggest upgrade. At 24 hours, the Studio Buds were a step down from the 30 hours the company posted with the Beats Fit Pro’s massive case. The Studio Buds + best the both of them at 36 hours total. That includes nine hours on the buds alone and 26 with just the case, up from the Studio Buds’ eight and 16 hours, respectively. The short version is you’ll be able to fly across the continental United States with the buds alone. They’re also comfortable and the ANC does a good job with plane white noise.

When Beats contacted me about review units, they gave me a choice between two colors. The truth of the matter is 99% of the time I couldn’t care less about such things. You pick one and if they run out, whatever. That happened the other week with the Pixel 7a. Google told me they didn’t have my choice, I thought about it for roughly three seconds and then moved on with my day.

With the Studio Buds +, on the other hand, I’m not sure if I’d have gone through with the review. The black is perfectly fine. It’s a perennial favorite. There are gold and ivory versions as well. They weren’t on offer, but I wouldn’t have gone for them if they were. It felt like transparent or nothing here, and thankfully Beats didn’t make me choose.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

A transparent set of earbuds will invariably draw comparisons to the Nothing Ear line. It’s unavoidable. But Beats transparent is a whole different vibe. Nothing has cultivated an aesthetic of clean and clear lines. It’s a kind of boutique-industrial, if you will, down to text inspired by circuit board etchings.

The Studio Buds + are a throwback to the turn of the millennium. It was a time when the first iMac and Volkswagen’s New Beetle felt like the height of industrial design. In fact, the former inspired a wave of transparent and translucent product design. With its semi-frosted plastic and rounded edges, the Buds + feel like a kind of spiritual successor to the iMacs of the late ’90s. I dig it.

It’s also always fun getting a peek at what’s going on inside. It feels like a little insight into how small and seemingly precarious things are behind the scenes. It’s fun, and Beats is going to sell a lot of them.

The Studio Buds + offer some nice tweaks to their predecessor, but they certainly don’t warrant an upgrade if you still have a pair. The $20 increase is annoying, but $169 is a fine price for what you’re getting here: a decent pair of buds to wear on the go and at the gym. And as for the best color, that was frankly never up for debate.

Beats launches $169 Studio Buds + with a transparent option by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

Ring’s founder will become Latch’s CEO after selling a stealth startup to the company

Jamie Siminoff has been busy. The Ring founder quietly exited the advisor role he took back in March after exiting the brand’s CEO role. He had been at Amazon since its 2018 acquisition of the firm. Turns out he’s sold yet another startup — this time one you’ve never heard of. The clunkily named Honest Day’s Work (HDW) has been acquired by Latch, best known for its proptech smart lock and corresponding operating system.

As part of the deal, Siminoff will be stepping into Latch’s CEO role later this year, replacing the interim chief exec, Jason Keyes. Siminoff joins Latch during a difficult transitionary period. Almost exactly a year ago, the company announced that it had cut a total of 130 people — around 28% of its full-time roles.

In a letter to Latch staff, then-CEO Luke Schoenfelder explained that the layoffs were carried out to “ensure Latch is on a path to sustainable growth.” This January, Schoenfelder stepped down, along with chief financial officer Barry Schaeffer and chief accounting officer Junji Nakamura.

“From co-founding Latch at my kitchen table to leading it to its current scale, I am enormously proud of the products we’ve delivered for customers” Schoenfelder said at the time, “and I am excited to continue to support Latch’s new leadership team as a proud stockholder and advisor going forward.”

Siminoff’s HDW is a platform targeting “residential service provides, including drivers, dog walkers and housekeepers. It’s easy to see how it might be implemented into Latch’s broader offering, which intends to be a kind of one-stop shop for building management.

“I’m excited to join the Latch team, which has built an incredible offering that users across the country enjoy and benefit from every day,” Siminoff said in a release. “Smart, secure access control is not only fundamental to real estate operators like myself, but also to residents and service providers. I look forward to combining Honest Day’s Work with Latch to build a residential ecosystem that empowers building owners, operators, service providers, and residents alike.”

Per the details of the deal, Latch is acquiring 100% of HDW’s capital stock for 29 million of its own. The company says HDW’s 30 member team will join its own workforce. It expects the deal to be completed in Q3 of this year, pending all of the standard regulatory scrutiny.

Ring’s founder will become Latch’s CEO after selling a stealth startup to the company by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

Logitech launches the Logitech G Cloud gaming handheld in Europe

Logitech is moving forward with its handheld gaming console focused on cloud gaming as the company is about to launch its device in Europe. In addition to this release, the company is still actively releasing software updates for the Logitech G Cloud.

The Logitech G Cloud will become available gradually between May 22 and June 22 in the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland for €359 or £329. As a reminder, it costs $349 in the U.S. but it is usually on sale for $299.

European customers will get up to six months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (with Xbox Cloud Gaming), one month of Nvidia GeForce Now (Priority subscription tier) and one month of Shadow PC.

When Logitech announced the Logitech G Cloud in September 2022, many people didn’t really understand why people would spend $350 for a portable Android console. Unlike the $299 Switch, you can’t play Zelda on it. Unlike the $399 Steam Deck, you can’t play PC games on the go.

But the answer lies in the name of the device. The Logitech G Cloud has been designed specifically for cloud gaming. By default, the device comes with the Nvidia GeForce Now and Xbox Cloud Gaming apps pre-installed. Logitech even says on its website that its console “requires a cloud subscription service sold separately to work as intended.”

Alternatively, the Logitech G Cloud can be used for remote play. If you already have an Xbox or a PlayStation, you can use the device as a second screen so that you can play outside of your living room. Or it can be used to play PC games streamed from a gaming PC.

Shadow becomes an official partner

The Logitech G Cloud has a familiar design with a touchscreen surrounded by gamepad controls. It has just the right amount of computing power to run cloud gaming services, but nothing extra.

It means the the Logitech G Cloud doesn’t have a powerful APU, a ton of internal storage or a fan to cool the device. Instead, what you get is a nice 1080p 7-inch display, a microSD card slot, a USB-C port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, speakers, microphones and all the buttons that you would expect from a modern gamepad.

Under the hood, the Logitech G Cloud features a mid-range Qualcomm system on a chip (the Snapdragon 720G), 4GB or RAM, 64GB of internal storage, Bluetooth 5.1 and WiFi 5 support — yes, WiFi 6 support would have been nice.

I reviewed the Logitech G Cloud back in October, and it has quickly become my favorite way to play games. In particular, I praised the flexibility of the Logitech G Cloud paired with Shadow PC, a cloud computing service that lets you access a high-end PC in a data center near you.

With this setup, you can install any game on Steam and play them flawlessly while on the couch. The Logitech G Cloud weighs 463g, which is roughly 30% lighter than the Steam Deck. It remains cool and quiet. And the best part is that you don’t have to worry about battery life as all the intensive computing tasks take place on the remote server.

Over the last few months, Logitech has shipped software updates with new features, such as virtual button mapping for touch-based mobile games, customization settings when it comes to sensitivity and dead zones for the analog sticks and L2/R2 triggers, and official support for Shadow PC.

The Shadow PC app will be pre-installed on the Logitech G Cloud in the near future and the built-in controller is now fully supported by Shadow.

Once again, the Logitech G Cloud isn’t for everyone. It works well for people who are already into cloud gaming or who are looking for something designed specifically for this purpose with a large 7-inch display. It’s arguably a niche market, but the Logitech G Cloud fills that gap very well. And now, more people will be able to buy one.

Logitech launches the Logitech G Cloud gaming handheld in Europe by Romain Dillet originally published on TechCrunch

Teenage Engineering teases the tape recorder of my dreams, only it’s digital

The kooky geniuses at Teenage Engineering are back with a new gadget that is guaranteed to make you salivate until its price tag smacks you back to reality.

The maker of drool-worthy synthesizers just announced the TP-7, a teeny portable recorder that features a “motorized tape reel” that spins as it captures audio and also functions like a click wheel.

Teenage Engineering imbued this digital recorder with layers of nostalgia, evoking both the early-ish days of digital (like Apple’s original iPod, Gizmodo points out) and the yet-more-distant days of tape. The TP-7 also seems to pull from some iconic camera designs; its recording indicator beams like Leica’s red dot, while its leather back seems to draw from Polaroid’s classic SX-70

In other words: The Stockholm-based audio company is teasing yet another gorgeous, totally overbuilt and arguably unnecessary gadget. It’s $1,499 and “coming this summer.”

I want one desperately.

Okay, okay, I’ll focus — promise.

The TP-7 also features record, play and stop buttons, a fast-forward/rewind trigger, 128 GB of storage, and an internal mic and speaker. The device also supports up to three external mics (via 3.5 mm audio jacks) and it can connect to an iPhone or laptop via USB-C or bluetooth. Teenage Engineering says its battery lasts around seven hours.

The TP-7 is part of Teenage Engineering’s high-end “Field System” collection, alongside the OP-1 music maker and CM-15 mic. But if you want a taste of Teenage Engineering’s quirky gear without the prohibitive price tag, you can still peep its pocket synths, which are largely “sold out” on its website but typically cost just north of $100 on sites like Reverb and eBay.

Better yet, nostalgia-chasers who long for the days of cassettes can also simply opt for a bonafide shoebox or multitrack tape recorder.

Teenage Engineering teases the tape recorder of my dreams, only it’s digital by Harri Weber originally published on TechCrunch