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Member Since 10 Nov 2009
OFFLINE Last Active Apr 24 2012 09:08 AM

You’ll soon be able to make Skype calls from your Alexa device

21 September 2018 - 12:45 PM

Amazon has its own voice calling (and messaging) service built into Alexa devices (and the app), but if you wanted to use your Alexa-powered hardware to make Skype calls instead, this will be possible before long.

Microsoft has just announced that Skype calling is coming to Alexa devices, and will be rolling out “later this year”, so within the next few months. This will mean that you will be able to make and receive voice calls from your Echo, or indeed video calls if you have a device with a display (like the Echo Show).

It doesn’t matter what the recipient’s hardware is, of course, so you obviously aren’t restricted to just calling people with Amazon’s devices.

To make a call, all you’ll have to do is ask Amazon’s digital assistant: “Alexa, call Bob on Skype,” and Bob’s your uncle (which is presumably why you’re calling him).

Microsoft didn’t say whether or not you’ll need to load up this functionality as a skill on your Alexa device, but that will likely be the case.

Two heads are better than one

Amazon and Microsoft are already working with each other to bring their two digital assistants – Alexa and Cortana – closer together in terms of cross-platform integration, with Cortana able to summon Alexa on Windows 10 devices, for example. So the ability to use Skype via Alexa isn’t exactly an out-of-the-blue surprise.

Indeed, we’ve most recently seen Xbox One users get the benefit of this broad initiative, thanks to a new Xbox Skill that allows you to hook up any Cortana or Alexa-powered device to your console. This lets you pull off tricks like using your Amazon Echo to navigate the Xbox One interface, or trigger a screenshot, adjust the volume and so forth.

As ever, when big tech companies work together in this way, the consumer who owns the hardware is the winner, which is always good to see.

 Via Neowin

First look: Amazon Smart Plug will turn everything in your house into an Alexa device

21 September 2018 - 02:10 AM

Smart home gadgets are great and all, but what if you don’t want to buy a whole bunch of new smart light bulbs in order to talk to your light fittings? What if you wished you could turn off that fan on a hot day without trekking to the other side of the room? Or set an If This Then That app routine that’d ensure you never leave the iron on when your rush out the door for work in the morning?

With the newly-announced Amazon Smart Plug (set to be available in both US and UK-compatible configurations), you’ll be able to do all the above with your wall socket-powered gadgets around the home, whether they’re smart or not. 

The Amazon Smart Plug connects to your home Wi-Fi connection, letting it communicate with your Alexa-powered devices to let any attached electrical devices be controlled via voice alone. You can plug any old lamp, TV, blender or other device into the Amazon Smart Plug (itself plugged into your standard wall power outlet) and they can then be turned on or off using Alexa voice controls.

Easy customisation

Smart plugs are not unique – there are plenty out there that can already interface with Alexa. But the Amazon plug is unique in that it features Wi-Fi simple set-up, which allows an Alexa device to quickly find connected devices on your behalf, and intelligently rename them with voice commands alone. Plug in your bedside lamp, tell Alexa the Amazon Smart Plug is now called “bedside lamp” and then when you tell your Echo device to “turn off bedside lamp” it’ll intelligently turn off the correct gadget without you needing to manually rename a plug individually.

With a smart plug then you’ll be able to integrate all manner of electrical furnishings into your smart home routines. Walk through the door, say “Alexa, I’m home”, and you could have the smart plugs react by turning on your TV, a scent diffuser and a fan automatically to put your home in “my-work-day-is-done” chill-out mode. 

Available for pre-order now at £24.99 in the UK and $24.99 in the US, the Amazon Smart Plugs look set to be a streamlined way of smartening up even the dumbest of household objects.

First look: Amazon Echo Wall Clock brings Alexa smarts to the fourth dimension

21 September 2018 - 01:41 AM

Amazon wants to put its Alexa voice-controlled AI helper in everything. And when we say everything, we mean everything – not content today with putting out a whole range of new smart speaker equipment with its refreshed Echo range, it’s bringing Alexa to some of the most mundane items in your home.

As well as an Alexa-equipped microwave, Amazon is introducing a new Echo Wall Clock, that will sync up with your Alexa voice-controlled devices to give you some visual feedback on your timers and reminders.

On the (no pun intended) face of things, the Echo Wall Clock looks like your standard wall-hanging timepiece. It’s got a white frame with numerical marking around its circumference for keeping track of time against a charcoal face.

Where things get interesting is how it hooks up with Alexa. In addition to the numbers, the circumference features an LED array, marking down the minutes and seconds. Connect the clock to your Echo devices over Bluetooth, and these LEDs light up to show exactly how long is left on a timer, or until a reminder has counted down. 

It’ll even track multiple timers, with notches lighting up at different points around a face to denote different timers that are being tracked. Once a timer has counted down, those LEDs will flash, along with any audio feedback that your Echo speakers produce.

A few things to note, however – the Echo Wall Clock can only interact with one Echo device at a time. So if it’s hanging in your living room, connected to a living room-based Echo Dot, you won't be able to set a timer for it from the Echo Spot sat on your bedroom dresser. It’s also powered by two AA batteries, and, with a constant Bluetooth connection being established, we’re a little concerned that you’ll be pretty regularly changing out those cells.

With its subtle looks and simple visual feedback, there’s a lot to like about the Echo Wall Clock. For now, it appears to be a US-exclusive, priced at $29.99. But it’s a great example of how Alexa can be used to enhance the ambient-yet-useful furnishings that we take for granted around our homes.

Amazon Echo Show (2nd Generation) release date, price, news, and features

20 September 2018 - 09:17 PM

The Amazon Echo Show 2nd Generation release date has been announced, and, really, we should have taken the hint that it was due out when Amazon briefly halved the price of its old Echo Show for Prime Day. The redesigned, yet identically-named Amazon Echo Show is ready for pre-order today at the same $230 (£220 / AU$349) price, and will start shipping next month.

The refreshed Amazon Echo Show has a more streamlined look than the original, ditching the speaker bar below the screen for just a front-facing display lined by thinner bezels. Its speakers have been moved to the rear, under nondescript fabric.

The new Echo Show promises better audio and more microphones. It has a 10-inch screen, which is larger than its 7-inch predecessor.

Amazon Echo Show (2nd Generation)

Echo Show (2nd Gen) release date, pre-orders and price

The 2nd Generation Amazon Echo Show will ship next month, specifically on October 11, though you can pre-order it today.

The new Echo Show costs exactly the same as the old model, $230 (£220). We’ll add more regional prices as they are announced. It's the polar opposite of the cheap Amazon Echo Dot 3rd Generation.

Amazon Echo Show (2nd Generation)

Design and features

The original Amazon Echo Show looked dated when it came out in June 2017, so it’s not surprising that the new model has a more modern design, much like Google may do with its rumored Google Home Hub. The screen takes up most of the Echo Show’s front, and angles down the rear for a stylish, trapezoidal look. 

Amazon Echo Show (2nd Generation)

The Echo Show has an impressive eight-microphone array and ‘far-field’ technology to differentiate your voice from ambient sound. On the device’s sides under fabric wrapping, dual 2-inch Neodymium drivers and Dolby processing belt out tunes or streamed content. 

Its 10-inch HD screen has twice the area as the old model’s 7-inch display, according to Amazon. Above that is a 5MP camera supporting high-definition video calls, and sometime soon, they’ll be able to make Skype calls with the device.

Users can use the Echo Show as a hub for Zigbee-connecting smart devices. Later this year, they’ll also be able to pipe their Ring doorbell camera’s feed right to the Echo Show’s screen (Ring is an Amazon-owned brand nowadays). 

Finally, users can browse the web with Firefox. Amazon has been fighting with Google, which has unfortunately kept YouTube off its Echo Show devices, but it seems Amazon will work around that block by accessing YouTube through web browsers, a trick that’s said to be coming to older Echo Show devices, too.

Stay tuned for our hands-on Amazon Echo Show 2nd Generation review coming up next.

Amazon Smart Plug release date, price, news and features

20 September 2018 - 07:25 PM

At Amazon’s event today the company unveiled a raft of new Echo and other Alexa-equipped devices, and one of them is Amazon's very own Smart Plug, which lets you voice-control anything plugged into it.

It’s available to pre-order today for $25 (£25, about AU$34) and will ship next month. You’ll have it well in advance of Christmas and Black Friday.

Users must choose an Alexa-supporting device, or even just the Alexa app, to link up with the Smart Plug – but at least it doesn’t require a smart hub to work. Through their Alexa device, users can create routines for when to turn on whatever’s plugged in to it, from lights to fans to coffee makers. 

In essence, this makes ‘dumb’ appliances a bit smarter, letting users vocally set up schedules to activate or deactivate their appliances. It’s unclear whether the Smart Plug will get any more functionality than simply choosing when to supply power, meaning you’ll have to, say, set up your coffee pot to brew when it’s turned on rather then control its myriad options through Alexa.

The Smart Plug also only supplies one plug, so don’t expect to replace your multi-outlet extenders just yet. We’ll have an Amazon Smart Plug review as soon as we get one, plug it in, and shout commands at it.

Here's everything you need to know about some of the other new Amazon devices…