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Amazon Echo Dot Review: Smart Home Assistant shows teenage potential

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The smart speaker competition this year is the hottest it’s ever been. Google has finally refreshed its midrange smart speaker with the impressively good Nest Audio. Apple has seen the error of its HomePod ways and is coming out with the much more accessible HomePod mini.

And Amazon, naturally, is not standing still. It has a brand-new Echo with the biggest overhaul in design and sound quality since the first Echo surprised the world back in 2014. And it’s all for the same $99.99 price as last year’s 3rd Gen Echo, the Nest Audio, and the HomePod mini.

Amazon also has a brand-new Echo Dot lineup that, well, echoes the design of the larger model, shrinking it down and bringing it to an even lower price point. I’ll be covering the Echo Dot in a separate piece, but if it’s anything like the larger Echo, it’s going to be impressive. Because the new 4th-Gen Echo sounds incredible.

The Echo’s design has been completely overhauled —the cylindrical shape is out, everything is about spheres now. The new Echo is essentially a 5-inch ball with a flat side on the bottom, so it doesn’t roll off the table. It’s vaguely melon-like in appearance, though I also can’t deny the Death Star vibes it projects.

According to Amazon, the ball shape is meant to improve the speaker’s acoustic properties and allows for more flexibility with the placement of the drivers inside. It also offers a fuller cavity behind the woofer for better bass response.

And sure enough, the Echo is physically deeper than the Nest Audio, which is a little bit taller. That depth allows Amazon to use two tweeters (each 0.8-inch) compared to the Nest’s single one, while still fitting in a 3-inch woofer and enough space for it to radiate bass.

The net effect is the Echo has a greater sound stage than the Nest and fills larger rooms better with sound. It also has noticeably better bass — you can feel it in the floor as well as just hearing it. That’s something I haven’t experienced from a $100 smart speaker before.

The top half of the ball is covered in fabric, and you can get it in dark gray, light gray, or a new light blue. At the very apex are four buttons: volume up, volume down, microphone mute, and the “action” button, which puts the speaker into listening mode without you having to say “Alexa”. Around back you’ll find the power port and the same 3.5mm jack that’s on all of the other Echo speakers for hooking it up to a larger sound system. There’s also a built-in Bluetooth radio for connecting directly to a device and playing whatever audio source you want.

ALEXA’S SIGNATURE LED LIGHT RING IS NOW ON THE BOTTOM

This new shape necessitates moving the signature LED light ring that lets you know when Alexa is listening for a voice command when it’s muted when you have a notification or the volume level of the speaker. It’s now on the bottom, which might be harder to see from a distance. But in my experience that was a non-issue: the light ring’s glow reflects off the surface of whatever you put the Echo on and it’s bright enough to see from across the room.

Lastly, the design is also much more directional than the prior models. Instead of trying to splash sound in all directions, the Echo’s woofer is pointed towards the front at a 45-degree upwards angle, while the two tweeters are below it, facing slightly left and slightly right. It’s clear that you are meant to face the speaker when listening to it, and it isn’t expected to be placed in the center of a room.

In all, the design is a radical departure for both Amazon and what we’ve collectively come to expect a smart speaker to look like. I like it.

I also really like the sound that comes out of the new Echo. As mentioned, it sounds better than the Nest Audio thanks to its larger physical size and unique shape. It also utilizes the same kind of active room tuning that is typically found on more expensive speakers from Sonos, Apple, Google, and even Amazon itself.

The new Echo will use the mics built into it to listen to the room and continuously gauge its size and shape. It will then adjust its audio output accordingly. This isn’t a feature that’s been available on speakers at this price before — neither the Nest Audio nor the HomePod mini has it.

It’s hard to quantify the difference this room tuning makes, especially since I can’t turn it on or off at will. But in combination with the three drivers and larger size, the Echo produces an impressively full sound. It appears that Amazon designed it for slightly larger rooms — the company recommends sitting ten feet away (and no closer than six feet) from it for the best experience. If you’re in a smaller space, the Echo Dot’s more compact, yet similar, the design is likely a better fit.

Amazon also claims that the Echo benefits from Dolby Audio tuning, but it stops short of supporting the 3D Atmos audio that the larger and more expensive Echo Studio is capable of (no big loss there).

In general, the Echo has a wide soundstage, deeper bass than typically found on speakers at this price, and some stereo separation thanks to those two tweeters. It also gets loud — when I compared it side by side with the Sonos One, a speaker that’s twice as expensive, the Echo was able to go toe-to-toe with the Sonos in terms of output.

The Echo isn’t quite able to match the Sonos on sound quality, and I do prefer the sound of the Sonos overall. But the differences are small: the Echo can sound more “processed” at times and it lacks the warmth in the midrange that the Sonos is so good at.

Those differences did not stop me from enjoying the music coming out of the Echo, however, whether that was the acoustic home recordings on the recent rerelease of Tom Petty’s Wildflowers; the driving, harmonized guitar riffs on Spirit Adrift’s Enlightened In Eternity; or the ambient Tycho beats I typically listen to while working. (I used Spotify for my testing, but the Echo supports all of the major music services, save for YouTube Music.) The Echo is good at allowing each instrument in the mix to shine, something prior models were horribly poor at, without drowning out vocals or mids with too much bass. I wouldn’t call the trebles “sparkly”, but they are pleasant and never grating, even at high volumes.

I’ve come to not expect much bass from smart speakers, especially at this price, so the fact that I could feel the bass drum in the floor was a nice surprise. It’s not going to replace a subwoofer at a house party, but it’s definitely more bass than the Nest Audio provides, even though both it and the Echo have the same size woofer.

It’s possible to pair two Echo speakers into a stereo configuration, and doing so produces a wall of sound that you’d expect to come from much larger or more expensive speakers. It also provides a much more obvious stereo separation than the two tweeters in a single Echo are able to manage on their own.

But I don’t think most people will find it necessary to buy two and use them in stereo — a single Echo gets plenty loud enough on its own, even in my open-concept living room with a high, sloped ceiling. (Two Echo speakers in stereo definitely makes more sense if you pair them with a FireTV for a home theater setup.)

The Echo also sounds good for spoken-word audio, whether that’s a podcast playing through Pocket Casts or an Audible audiobook. It remains a versatile speaker for a wide variety of uses.

As a smart speaker, the new Echo is capable of all the things that Echo speakers have been doing for years. You can ask Alexa to control smart home gadgets, set timers, give weather reports, add things to a shopping list, and so on. The list of things that Alexa can do continues to grow by the day, but most people still use smart speakers for the basics — music, alarms, timers, etc — and the Echo is very good at all of those.

It’s also very good at picking up the “Alexa” wake word, and I don’t have to raise my voice for it to hear me even when music is playing. That’s not something I can say about Nest Audio, where I have to consciously speak over the music to skip a track or adjust volumes. We’ll have to see how the HomePod mini fares in this regard when we’re able to test it.

THE ECHO IS GOOD AT PICKING UP VOICE COMMANDS EVEN WHILE MUSIC IS PLAYING

Amazon is using its new AZ1 Neural Edge processor in the new Echo, which is designed to speed up voice recognition. Unfortunately, that won’t be enabled until later this year, so I haven’t been able to test it. In general, Alexa on the Echo responds relatively quickly and faster than Google tends to on the Nest Audio. Siri has traditionally responded quicker than either Alexa or the Google Assistant on the original HomePod — again, we’ll have to see how the HomePod mini does when we get a chance to test it.

As if Amazon didn’t stack enough into the new Echo to make it a compelling option against the competition, it’s also included a full smart home hub inside of it. You can connect Zigbee devices such as lightbulbs, door sensors, and more right to the Echo without the need for a secondary hub, and then manage and control them through voice commands or via the Alexa smartphone app. There’s even a temperature sensor in the Echo, which can be used to trigger Alexa routines such as turning on a fan or air conditioner.

The Echo also supports Amazon’s new Sidewalk network, but until that actually launches, it’s hard to say what it will mean or how important it will be.

The progression of Amazon’s mainstream Echo speaker has been a long journey, from an odd, Pringles-can shape with admittedly terrible sound, to better-looking and sounding cylinders, to what we have now, a spherical speaker that legitimately sounds good. For a long time, if you wanted a smart speaker but cared even a little about sound quality, your choices have been to pay more for a Sonos One, a HomePod, or Amazon’s larger Echo Studio.

A NEW BAR FOR SOUND QUALITY AT THIS PRICE POINT

But now Amazon has brought excellent sound quality and a ton of features to a price that’s much more accessible. That price is likely to get better once Amazon’s frequent and aggressive discounts are available for the new Echo. If you already have Alexa speakers in your home, whether that’s a cheap Echo Dot or an older Echo model, the new Echo is a noticeable upgrade to throw into the mix.

And if you have been eyeing the smart speaker world for the past half-decade but haven’t jumped in yet, the new Echo is an excellent place to start. It’s a great-sounding speaker that also happens to do a million other things.

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Samsung Galaxy S21 (2021) Redefine Concept Introduction

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Samsung Galaxy S21, the next flagship series from the South Korean tech major, is expected to launch in January next year, and the phones could go on sale by the end of the month. In the latest leak, tipster Jon Prosser has revealed the launch, sale, and pre-order dates of the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S21 phones on Twitter. The Samsung Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21+, and Galaxy S21 Ultra launch will take place on January 14, 2021 and pre-orders will start on the same day. The tipster also claims that the devices will go on sale on January 29.

Samsung’s flagship lineup sees the S series launch in the first half of the year, while the Note series comes in the second half. While some reports are claiming the brand will launch the phones with Samsung Galaxy S30 name label, others are saying Galaxy S21 will be the official name.

Prosser in his tweet also revealed the colour variants of the Samsung Galaxy S21 series. These are black, white, grey, silver, violet, and pink. While the features of the devices are yet to be revealed, several leaks have already suggested what could be the possible specifications of the new phones. Here’s everything we know so far.

Samsung Galaxy S21 price (expected)

The Samsung Galaxy S21 price is expected to start from $999, which is around Rs 74,640 in India. The Galaxy S21 Plus could cost $1,199 (around Rs 89,580), whereas the Galaxy S21 Ultra $1,399 (approximately Rs 104,529).

Samsung Galaxy S21 series: Specifications

As per the leaks, the Galaxy S21 or Galaxy S30 phones will sport a punch-hole display design. The cutout will be placed on the upper right side of the display. The handsets will also have slim bezels. The design of the phones will be almost similar to the Samsung Galaxy S20 series.

The leaked renders showed that the volume rockers and power button will be located on the right edge. The standard version is expected to come with a compact 6.2-inch flat display. The screen of the Galaxy S21 Ultra could measure between 6.7 and 6.9 inches. It is expected to come with a slightly curved display and could include support for the S Pen, which would be a first in the S series. However, the device might lack any slot for the brand’s signature stylus.

The phones will likely be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 875 processor in some markets. Samsung is expected to announce its own Exynos 1080 processor on November 12. This chip is based on the 5nm process. But this is not going to power the S21 series, according to a report on Sam Mobile. The devices will run the Exynos 2100 chipset, depending on the region.

The most premium version in the series is rumoured to pack a 108-megapixel primary camera and a 40-megapixel snapper for selfies. The Galaxy S21 series could also see the introduction of a new under-display selfie camera. Again, Samsung could limit this new technology to the most premium flagship in the series, which would be the S21 Ultra.

On the software side, the Galaxy S21 will ship with One UI 3.0, which will be based on Android 11. The Samsung Galaxy S21 series was recently spotted on 3C certification. The site hinted that the standard version will offer a 4,000mAh battery, whereas the Samsung Galaxy S21+ is tipped to feature a 4,660mAh battery. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra will reportedly have a 5,000mAh battery. All three phones are expected to ship with a 25W fast charger.

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WhatsApp New Exciting Features (2020) November

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New features on WhatsApp

WhatsApp the messaging platform is at the helm of social media applications. Run by Facebook one of the four Big Tech companies, its features complement those of its sister platforms like Instagram and Facebook. So if any feature exists on one of these platforms, expect it to show up on all eventually. For instance Stories. By imitating the Snapchat model of quick short-lived stories, Instagram mastered it, further emulating it on Facebook and WhatsApp.

In a big to keep the app updated and fresh, new features are introduced every once in awhile. Take a look at what to expect!

WhatsApp regularly updates the app with new features. It also tests unreleased features on its beta app for Android and iPhone. Recently, WhatsApp has been focusing on privacy and control of spam on the platform. It has rolled out features to help curb these issues on WhatsApp.

In terms of UI change, the app will soon roll our dark mode on Android and iPhone. WhatsApp dark mode is expected to arrive with iOS 13 and Android Q update. While we wait for that, there are other features available now on WhatsApp. If you’re a frequent WhatsApp user, these are some features you can use right now. WhatsApp has confirmed its new exciting disappearing messages feature which, once enabled, will make new messages sent in individual or group chats disappear after seven days.

As per the information provided on the support page, enabling the settings will not affect the messages previously sent or received in chat. While the users can themselves turn disappearing messages on and off for individual chats, in a group chat, only the admins will get to use the feature. With this, if a user does not open WhatsApp in the seven-day period, the message will disappear, but its preview might still be displayed in notifications until the App is opened. The feature, as per the App, will not work if the disappearing message is forwarded, and in case the user creates a backup, however, when the user restores from a backup.

As per the settings for media download, if auto-download is turned on the receiving phone the images, videos will be automatically saved on the device. There, however, is no option of customizing the time frame after which the messages will be deleted.

WhatsApp is hard at work making its hugely-popular app even better. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen the launch of disappearing messages which, as the name suggests, makes text messages self-destruct after a week, coupled with the introduction of a new storage setting designed to allow users to quickly find and remove content filling up their precious memory.

And now, it seems WhatsApp is working on two more updates – one aimed at Android users, and another designed for those with an iPhone.

The first change that’s coming to Android looks set to allow users of this Google-powered operating system to access more exciting wallpapers than what’s currently available.

As spotted by the team at WABetainfo it appears that there will be a total of 32 bright wallpapers and another 29 designed for dark mode. It seems you’ll even be able to set unique background patterns for different chats and adjust exactly how they look to suit your tastes.

This upgrade is currently in the beta phase of testing but a launch could come soon.

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Realme 7 5G Smartphone launched; Features

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Key Highlights

  • Realme 7 5G has been launched in the UK.
  • Some of the key specs of the Realme phone are MediaTek 800U SoC, 120hz display, four rear cameras and more.

Realme has expanded its 7 series of smartphones with the launch of Realme 7 5G in the European market. This is the company’s first Realme 7 series smartphone to come with 5G support. The smartphone is said to be the upgraded version of Realme 7 which the company launched in India this year.

Realme 7 5G price

Realme 7 5G has been launched at a price of GBP 279, which roughly translates to Rs 27,400 in the UK for the base 6GB RAM and 128GB of internal storage. The phone will be made available in a single Baltic Blue colour option. The smartphone will be available for purchase in the UK starting November 27 and will be up for grabs through Amazon UK at a discounted price of GBP 229, roughly around Rs 22,500 until November 30 as a part of the Black Friday Special deal.

Realme 7 5G Features

As far as the cameras are concerned, the Realme 7 5G on the rear packs a 48-megapixel primary camera with an f/1.8 aperture; a second 8-megapixel camera with an f/2.3 aperture; a third 2-megapixel camera with an f/2.4 aperture and a fourth 2-megapixel camera with an f/2.4 aperture. The rear camera setup has autofocus. It sports a 16-megapixel camera on the front for selfies, with an f/2.1 aperture.

The Realme 7 5G runs Realme UI based on Android 10 and packs 128GB of inbuilt storage that can be expanded via microSD card (up to 256GB) with a dedicated slot. The Realme 7 5G is a dual-SIM (GSM and GSM) smartphone that accepts Nano-SIM and Nano-SIM cards. The Realme 7 5G measures 162.20 x 75.10 x 9.10mm (height x width x thickness) and weighs 195.00 grams. It was launched in Baltic Blue colour.

Connectivity options on the Realme 7 5G include Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, GPS, Bluetooth v5.10, USB Type-C, 3G, and 4G (with support for Band 40 used by some LTE networks in India). Sensors on the phone include accelerometer, ambient light sensor, gyroscope, proximity sensor, and in-display fingerprint sensor. The Realme 7 5G supports face unlock.

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