by Lance Somoza

Gadgets

Catch-all for gadgets.


Ashley Carman for The Verge:

Juicero, the company that made its name by creating a proprietary juice-squeezing machine, is shutting down. The announcement comes from Juicero’s website. In its post, the company writes that it is suspending the sale of both its juice packets and its Juicero Press device. The last juice packet delivery will occur next week. All customers have up to 90 days to request a refund for their purchase of the Juicero Press, regardless of when they bought it. Fortune reports that employees are being given 60 days notice.

I’m surprised Juicero lasted this long. The packets of juice were squeezable by hand, rendering the $400 juicer completely pointless. 1 This is what happens when companies get greedy by focusing so much on just the trends (connected device, subscription model, etc.). Not that I want to see anyone fail, but I’m glad the market didn’t fall prey to this lousy attempt at a cash grab.

Sadly, I’m sure there will be other Juiceros down the line, given the obsession to connect literally everything to the Internet.


  1. Original price was a criminal $699. ↩︎

Greg Kumparak for TechCrunch:

The Thermostat E, meanwhile, is meant to blend in. It’s for the vast majority of the thermostat buying population that doesn’t really want anyone noticing the little doodad that keeps their house warm.

Nest has dropped the metallic ring around the edges, instead replacing it with a white plastic ring that the company says is meant to feel like ceramic (it felt like soft-touch paint to me; velvety when brushed with the thumb, harder when tapped with a fingernail.) The screen, too, is white — or, more accurately, a fancy white diffuser on top of a black screen makes it look like a white screen. Most walls are white/off white, so going all white here lets the E blend right in.

I kind of get what Nest was going for with the all-white design, but it just seems like they missed the mark. The diffuser looks so plasticky, like they took inspiration from one of those white push lights you put in your closet. Gross. It certainly is a far cry from the design of my black and silver Nest Learning Thermostat.

Design inspiration?
Design inspiration?

On functionality:

So what can’t it do that the original can to account for that nearly-$100 difference? The screen is a bit more basic; it’s only meant to tell you the temperature now, rather than doing fancy things like acting like a clock in its downtime. Meanwhile, they’ve dropped a few wiring connections inside that Nest says will limit compatibility to around 85% of US houses rather than 95% — so if you’ve already checked if the original model will work with your place, you might want to check again here.

On availability:

Orders for the new Nest Thermostat E should open up on August 31st, with shipments going out on September 1st and hitting retail stores sometime around the 10th.

Design aside, this is most likely aimed at those who thought the main Nest was a bit too expensive. There will probably never be official HomeKit integration, since Nest is owned by Alphabet (Google’s parent company). There are, however, other ways to integrate Nest with Siri..

Dieter Bohn for The Verge:

Last night, some customers who had preordered an Essential phone received an email asking for a copy of their driver’s license, ostensibly to verify their address in an attempt to prevent fraud.

Dozens of customers replied with their personal information, but those emails didn’t just go to Essential; they went out to everybody who had received the original email. That means that an unknown number of Essential customers are now in possession of each other’s drivers license, birth date, and address information.

The incident is being reported as phishing by many outlets, because it looks and smells quite a lot like a phishing attempt: a weird request for personal information. After examining the email headers, it doesn’t look like this was an actual phishing attempt. It seems much more likely that this was a colossal screw up, the result of a misconfigured customer support email list.

Just wow. Definitely not the headline you want surrounding your first product release.

In a post regarding Andy Rubin’s vision, I said the following in reference to user data. With today’s mistake, Essential has absolutely lost some credibility. And this is the company that wants to run our homes?

While many may trust Andy Rubin, Essential has to walk the walk. They have to measurably demonstrate their accountability and be transparent with user data.

Update

Andy Rubin has now penned a formal apology on the Essential Blog, saying:

Yesterday, we made an error in our customer care function that resulted in personal information from approximately 70 customers being shared with a small group of other customers. We have disabled the misconfigured account and have taken steps internally to add safeguards against this happening again in the future. We sincerely apologize for our error and will be offering the impacted customers one year of LifeLock. We will also continue to invest more in our infrastructure and customer care, which will only be more important as we grow.

Being a founder in an intensely competitive business means you occasionally have to eat crow. It’s humiliating, it doesn’t taste good, and often, it’s a humbling experience. As Essential’s founder and CEO, I’m personally responsible for this error and will try my best to not repeat it.

Good on him to take ownership for the blunder and provide LifeLock to the affected individuals. Also glad to hear the impact was minimal. Hopefully Essential learns a big lesson from this.

This is an incredibly ugly watch. The bezels are huge, the body is blocky, and the gigantic “fitbit” on the front is an eyesore. The software looks decent from a design perspective, and multi-day battery life is nice (if true), but the new Apple Watch coming in the next few weeks is going to embarrass this thing.

After a three-month delay, Essential Phone has landed in the hands of reviewers across the internet. For the most part, the phone is well-received — the camera being an outlier. What was that about Android phones and cameras, again? Anyway, congratulations for Andy Rubin and Essential are definitely in order. That screen is a stunner. Coupled with its adoption of ceramic and titanium, Essential Phone looks like a great first generation smartphone. Will be interesting to see how well it sells.

Notable Reviews

David Pierce for Wired:

The only downside of this gloriously full screen lies in the software. More often than not, Android slaps a black border at the top of the phone above whatever app you’re using, which kind of kills the effect. In a few places, content can flow all the way up, giving you more maps or an even wider-angle Netflix, but you’d often never know you didn’t have a bezel. As more phones get smaller bezels, this will change, but the full effect of the full screen hasn’t quite arrived.

And…

Essential’s camera specs meet your expectations for a high-end phone, but the photos don’t. The two 13-megapixel cameras on the back—one in color and one in monochrome, used mostly to bring additional clarity and depth data in your photos—occasionally take beautiful, rich photos. They also, for no apparent reason, occasionally capture well-lit, noisy, poorly focused shots. I like the slightly saturated look of the photos; I don’t like that they collapse into pixelated blobs as soon as I zoom in. At least the 8-megapixel selfies come out better

Dieter Bohn for The Verge

Essential says the titanium makes the phone more rigid and less susceptible to cracking when you drop it. And the ceramic is meant to be very scratch-resistant and allows certain radio signals through. I can’t say that I did a bunch of drop and key-scratch tests to verify those claims, because I did not.

Other Reviews

David Pogue from Yahoo gave Samsung’s voice assistant Bixby a run-through and it doesn’t impress much. Here are some particular downsides from Pogue’s article:

Bixby is especially pathetic when it comes to navigation.

  • What pizza places are nearby? (Bixby: “Looks like there’s a connection problem.”)
  • Find me an Italian restaurant nearby. (Bixby opens Google Maps—promising!—but then stops, saying, “It looks like we experienced a slight hiccup.”)
  • Give me directions to JFK airport. (Bixby: “Which one?”)
  • Give me directions to the Empire State Building. (The “slight hiccup” error message appears after 10 seconds.)
  • In all cases, Bixby is very, very slow—plenty of videos online show how badly it lags behind Siri or Google Assistant.

It’s also fairly confusing. Most response bubbles include the baffling phrase, “You’re in native context.” And every so often, you’re awarded Bixby XP points for using Bixby. Samsung suggests that if you accumulate enough, you’ll be able to earn valuable prizes. OK, but if you have to bribe your customers to use your app…

This is hilarious. Samsung is resorting to gamification in hopes it will entice people to use Bixby. This is so incredibly ass-backwards. Imagine if you could win Apple points for using Siri or Amazon credits for using Alexa 1. How about this, Samsung: build a worthy product that compels people to use it because of how great it is, not because they can win imaginary points.

Like I’ve said before, no virtual assistant is perfect, but Samsung is incredibly late to this game. Since there’s a precedent now where every manufacturer needs their own virtual assistant, I suppose it’s no surprise. I’m sure Bixby will get better with time, but imagine how far ahead Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant will be when that happens.

Side note: my favorite blunder from the video is when Pogue asks when Abraham Lincoln died and Bixby responds “Which One?”.


  1. On second thought, Bezos should get on this. ↩︎

Reviews for the Amazons Echo Show are coming in ahead of its launch later this week, and most reactions are positive. The Echo Show offers a new experience for smart speakers with its touch screen and video calling capabilities.

My ‘Show’ will be arriving later this week, and I’m looking forward to writing up another in-depth review once I put it through its paces. I think a touch screen smart speaker definitely has its positives, but it will be interesting to see just how often the screen gets used.

Review Roundup

Dieter Bonn for The Verge—Amazon Echo Show Review: Doing More By Doing Less

You basically never need to tap the screen for anything, unless you really want to. There is not an “app store” where you hunt around for new things to add to your screen. It sits on your counter, answers your questions, sets your timers, and occasionally displays useful information. That’s it, and that’s great.

Mark Gurman for Bloomberg—Amazon’s Echo Show: Do You Need Another Screen?

Voice-activated speakers are not essential purchases. I don’t see the benefit to looking up a weather forecast on a speaker attached to a screen, when you can easily do that with your smartphone’s voice assistant. And for those of you who have a portable tablet or a big-screen TV in your home, would you really want to watch a video on the Echo Show’s 7-inch screen?

Mat Honan for BuzzFeed—Amazon’s New Echo Show Is Very Cool And A Little Creepy

It has this wild new feature called Drop In. Drop In lets you give people permission to automatically connect with your device. Here’s how it works. Let’s say my father has activated Drop In for me on his Echo Show. All I have to do is say, “Alexa, drop in on Dad.” It then turns on the microphone and camera on my father’s device and starts broadcasting that to me. For the several seconds of the call, my father’s video screen would appear fogged over. But then there he’ll be. And to be clear: This happens even if he doesn’t answer. Unless he declines the call, audibly or by tapping on the screen, it goes through. It just starts. Hello, you look nice today.

Some people will definitely be seen naked with Drop In. Good thing you can set permissions. It’s pretty radical, for sure, to allow for immediate access without prompting.

Andy Rubin took the stage last night at Walt Mossberg’s Code Conference to talk more about the Essential Phone and Home devices announced yesterday. Here’s the latest.

Essential Phone

Essential Home

Andy wants customers to be able to run whatever virtual assistant they want on the Home (i.e. Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant).

He goes on to say:

All of these [companies] have ecosystem envy and want to create their own ecosystem. But consumers don’t want just Samsung stuff in their house. They want diversity.

This is a novel idea on the Smart Speaker concept, allowing for maximum compatibility with consumer devices. That said, I seriously doubt Google and Apple would go for it. Google makes its money on search and user data, and I don’t think they can afford to not have full control over that experience. Apple is renowned for being secretive, isolated, and integrated with their software and hardware. Don’t hold your breath for Siri on anything without an Apple logo. Amazon has already licensed out the Alexa voice service, so it seems like less of an issue there.

He also mentions that the new Ambient OS run by the Home will follow a similar development and deployment process as Android. This has led to fragmentation as new versions of Android become available, it is up to the phone manufacturers to implement them, which they have historically been slow to do. Andy says they have a plan to prevent this with Ambient.

As hinted at last week, Andy Rubin’s new startup (Essential) has announced Essential Phone and Essential Home (Amazon Echo/Google Home competitor).

Essential Phone: In a Nutshell

  • Runs Android
  • Body is made of titanium, with a ceramic back.
  • Colors: Black Moon, Stellar Grey, Pure White, and Ocean Depths
  • 128GB of Storage, 4GB of RAM
  • Full Display (takes up most of the front of the phone).
  • Cameras
    • Rear: 13 megapixels, True monochrome mode, 4K video
    • Front: 8 megapixels, 4K video
  • USB-C port for charging and audio (phone comes with a USB-C to headphone jack adapter).
  • No headphone jack.
  • Accessories snap on to the rear corner of the phone via magnetic pogo pins.
    • The first of these accessories is a 360 degree camera ($50 with the phone or $199 by itself).
    • Another accessory announced is a docking station the phone simply rests on to charge.
  • Price: $699 (US only)

The Essential Phone looks pretty, and definitely has a gorgeous display, which is on par with what we’ll see with the upcoming iPhone 8 (latest mock up based on leaks below). The use of titanium and ceramic is really cool, given how strong these materials are. It has been rumored that Apple is testing out ceramic for the iPhone, and they released their first product with ceramic last year (Apple Watch Edition).

Latest mockup of iPhone 8 based on leaks.

128GB of storage should be good for most people, but 4GB of RAM in an Android phone is a little measly.

I’m wondering how well accessories will hold to the magnetic back, or how easily they can be knocked off the phone. Essential’s website says this about it:

Don’t you hate it when you have to buy new dongles, chargers, and accessories every time your phone is upgraded? We do too. So we decided to make this a thing of the past. The magnetic connector with wireless data transfer keeps your phone cord-free, future-proof, and always up-to-date.

I have a couple issues with this. First, Essential provides a USB-C to headphone jack dongle in the box. Sure, you don’t have to buy it separately, but they should own their design choice for not including a headphone jack in the phone instead of being hypocritical for embracing a natural progression of the market (see iPhone 7 and Galaxy S8).

Second, the thought of the magnetic connector keeping your phone future-proof and up-to-date is just BS. It echoes back to the reign of PCs, when eMachine computers would come with those horrid stickers proclaiming “This computer is never obsolete”. You will still have to replace your phone every 1-2 years to get the latest and greatest, not simply snap on accessories for the foreseeable future.

eMachines’s laughable “never obsolete” sticker.

That said, any competition is good for the industry and consumers. Fresh ideas are always welcome and it is clear Andy Rubin has a vision for Essential.

You can reserve an Essential Phone today, but there’s currently no delivery date specified.

Essential Home

Essential Home: In a Nutshell

  • Runs a new OS named Ambient
  • Round touchscreen
  • Covers the basics like: playin music, setting timers, answering questions, and home automation control
  • Proactively alerts you for calendar meetings or events

I’m loving the competition that is heating up in this market. Amazon is the leader by far, but Apple is rumored to be announcing a Siri Smart Speaker at WWDC next week, and Google Home is going to be receiving major updates soon.

Essential Home looks pretty cool. It has a touchscreen like the newly announced Amazon Echo Show. Unlike the Show, however, Essential Home does not appear to have a built-in camera for video calling. I like the first looks we’ve seen of the interface, but more information is needed to really get an idea of how Essential will position itself in this market. They can definitely make a larger impact here than with the Phone.

Andy Rubin is one of the co-founders of the Android Operating System, which was purchased by Google in 2005. Back in October 2014, Andy left Google to pursue a new startup we have come to know as Essential.

This past March, Andy tweeted out the following teaser.

Today, the @essential account tweeted this.

Followed by…

The above image has been enhanced by others in an attempt to identify the top device sticking out the phone. Here’s one representation.

Augmented Reality and enhanced cameras are something the industry is pushing towards very rapidly, and the device sticking out of the phone definitely looks like it has something to do with a camera.

Not too much else is known about Essential or this new phone they are teasing, other than Eric Schmidt (Executive Chairman, Alphabet) essentially1 confirming it will run Android (see below). We also know it will have a rounded screen and small bezels, based on the first tweet above. This is definitely on par with the latest design trend (Samsung Galaxy S8 and the rumored iPhone 8).

It will be interesting to see if Essential will be able to differentiate themselves beyond the rounded-rectangle, glass, and aluminum standard that is the smartphone world.

One thing’s for sure, though. I fully support the ‘war on bezels’, and 2017 is shaping up to be the year we make substantial progress.


  1. Pun totally intended. ↩︎

Hot on the heels of Amazon’s Echo Show announcement, CNET has confirmed Amazon will be introducing voice calling features for existing Alexa users today.

Existing Echo devices and the Alexa app will be updated to receive this functionality, which has the opportunity to truly change the dynamic in which these smart speakers are used.

This is truly an ‘Amazon’ way to do this, since their Fire Phone was a flop. I expect Apple’s ‘Siri Speaker’ to handle calls as well, but in a much different way. Either way, taking calls from the comfort of the couch without reaching for your phone will be nice.

After multiple leaks this past Friday, May 5, and a Wall Street Journal report, Amazon introduced the Echo Show this morning. You can buy one for $229 or two for $358 (saving $100) for a June delivery. This is a very compelling move by Amazon and something Apple would never do (highlights the stark contrast between the two). I own an Echo Dot to mostly control our smart lights, and it is a pretty amazing little device. I’m curious what it would be like with a touchscreen. The Echo Show looks promising, as the features below highlight. I don’t care much for the design, though, with its sharp edges and blockiness in an age of sleek and soft corners.

Apple is also rumored to be working on a Siri-enabled smart speaker themselves, to be announced as early as June.

Pricing and Availability

$229 or two for $358 (save $100)
Colors: White, Black
Releases June 28, 2017

Features

  • Echo Show brings you everything you love about Alexa, and now she can show you things. Watch video flash briefings and YouTube, see music lyrics, security cameras, photos, weather forecasts, to-do and shopping lists, and more. All hands-free—just ask.
  • Introducing a new way to be together. Talk to family and friends who have an Echo or the Alexa App.
  • See lyrics on-screen with Amazon Music. Just ask to play a song, artist or genre, and stream over Wi-Fi. Also, stream music on Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and more.
  • Powerful room-filling speakers with Dolby processing for crisp vocals and extended bass response.
  • Ask Alexa to show you the front door or monitor the baby’s room with compatible cameras from Ring and Arlo. Turn on lights, control thermostats and more with WeMo, Philips Hue, ecobee, and other compatible smart home devices.
  • With eight microphones, beam-forming technology, and noise cancellation, Echo Show hears you from any direction—even while music is playing

Update 5/9 at 4:27pm: added intro video from Amazon.

After a low resolution image was reported by tech news outlets earlier today, notorious device leaker Evan Blass has released a high resolution image of a purported Amazon Echo device with a touchscreen.

Amazon has been rumored to be working on such a device for a while. I’m not sure I see the entire benefit of having a touchscreen on a communal device, unless you’re already standing/walking, but it will be interesting to see what features Amazon brings forward.