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The Amazon Echo vs. the new Echo vs. the Echo Plus: Which should you get?

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The Amazon Echo is one of the most popular smart speakers on the market today, giving users the ability to command Alexa to browse the internet or order items from Amazon. With competition from Google and Apple, however, Amazon couldn’t rest on its laurels. The tech giant recently released the new-and-improved Echo and the Echo Plus, a smart-home hub that will automatically connect to your other devices. Here’s how the new models compare to the first generation in design, sound, connectivity, calling, and pricing.

Design

Amazon Echo best amazon deals

Encased in a tall, black (or white) cylinder, the first-generation Echo is an imposing monolith. The original Echo emphasized simplicity with two buttons on top and a pinhole microphone and a ring around the edge to control the volume.

Amazon Echo Second Generation

Amazon Echo Second Generation

The new Echo comes in a much smaller package (just 5.9 inches tall), and comes in different body designs. Given that our reviewer found the original to be prone to fingerprints, the additional designs are a great idea. There are six variations for the second generation Echo; three have cloth covers, while three have sleek finishes, including wood.

The Echo Plus mimics the design of the original Echo, a tall (9.3 inches), cylindrical body. It comes in black, white, and silver. While the facade may be familiar, the Echo Plus has a lot of new stuff going on beneath the surface.

Sound

The original Echo might not have amazed any audiophiles, but our own Caleb Denison considered it fine for its purposes, saying that it “has a very large sound with full bass that doesn’t go overboard.” Given that many people might use their Echo to blast music, however, the sound quality ought to be more than “adequate,” and the new Echo models take things to another level with Dolby speaker technology. Both the new Echo and Echo Plus sport 2.5-inch woofers for a full bass sound.

The second-generation Echo has a 0.6-inch tweeter for clear treble, while the Echo Plus has a larger 0.8-inch tweeter, which should give it improved sound dispersion. The new Echo and Echo Plus also support multi-room audio, so you can play one track in your kitchen while someone else listens to a different track in the living room.

None of the Echo models will give you a superb music-listening experience — you will probably want a proper speaker and receiver setup for that — but they’ll probably be adequate if you want to put on some tunes while you have company over. With the Echo’s connectivity, you should be able to easily hook it up to a high-end set of speakers anyway.

Usefulness and Connectivity

Improved audio is nice, but ultimately, the point of a smart speaker is to make mundane tasks easier. The original Echo allowed users to perform a huge number of tasks hands-free, whether it be launching movies or songs with simple commands or asking Alexa to show the view from an outdoor security camera. The first-gen Echo also had great compatibility with smart-home devices such as Nest. Naturally, the Echo will work with other Amazon products, such as the new Fire TV.

The new Echo models have upped the game. Both have what Amazon calls improved “far-field voice recognition,” so their microphones can hear your commands from afar, even in noisy rooms. Owners of the original Echo were dependent on additional “smart hubs” to connect Alexa to their various smart devices, but that will no longer be a problem for Echo Plus users. The Echo Plus is also a smart-home hub by itself, connecting to and interfacing with smart appliances directly, giving it an extra edge above the second-generation Echo.

Calling

The original Echo allowed users to make calls to other Echo devices or devices running the Alexa app. The new Echo models improve on this feature, allowing users to call phone numbers in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. Users can also send text messages to any device that has the Alexa app.

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Users can also use the “drop-in” feature to instantly speak through any connected Echo device in their home, so if you want to remind your roommate to put their dirty plate in the dishwasher, you no longer need to pound on their door.

As far as making calls is concerned, the new models are a clear step up from the original. If you still have a landline, you can also hook that up to your Echo system via the newly announced Echo Connect, which costs $35.

Pricing and availability

Following the unveiling of the new Echo models, the first-generation Echo appears to be unavailable on Amazon, implying that the company may be retiring it in favor of the next generation. The second-generation Echo costs $100 for a cloth-covered model, and $120 for a model with a finish. Amazon is currently offering a deal — users get $50 off their purchase if they buy three second-gen Echoes, which might be the right purchase if you want Alexa throughout your home. The Echo Plus costs $150 and for now comes with a Philips Hue bulb to get you started with smart-home lighting.

Conclusion

Assuming Amazon does not restock the first-generation Echo, the choice comes down to the new Echo or the Echo Plus. If the idea of having Echoes throughout your house is appealing to you, buying a trio of second-gen Echoes is probably the most economical choice. The biggest factor to consider is smart-home integration. If you don’t have an array of smart appliances to manage, then the Echo should suffice. For those who want to unite everything in their home through one device, the Echo Plus is the clear choice.

***This post originally published on Digital Trends***

Digital Trends is a leading consumer technology publisher helping people navigate an increasingly digital world. With easy-to-understand product reviews, entertaining news and videos, Digital Trends serves more than 30 million unique visitors each month. Digital Trends reaches 90 million tech influencers through their own media network, and its syndicate partners include Yahoo!, FOX News and more than 200 broadcast news stations. Digital Trends is headquartered in Portland, OR with offices in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Chicago.

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Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: Ultra-grippy Socks and Dirt-cheap 3D Printers

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At any given moment, there are approximately a zillion different crowdfunding campaigns happening on the Web. Take a stroll through Kickstarter or Indiegogo and you’ll find no shortage of weird, useless, and downright stupid projects out there – alongside some real gems. We’ve cut through the Pebble clones and janky iPhone cases to round up the most unusual, ambitious, and exciting new crowdfunding projects out there this week. That said, keep in mind that any crowdfunding project — even the best intentioned — can fail, so do your homework before cutting a check for the gadget of your dreams.

Wiral — cable slider for GoPro

Cable cam systems are awesome. When used properly, they allow filmmakers to capture jaw-dropping shots that would otherwise be impossible. The only problem is that, more often than not, these rigs are cumbersome, complex, and extremely expensive, so they’re generally out of reach for amateurs and casual videographers. But thanks to a startup called Wiral, that might soon change. The California-based company has recently taken to Kickstarter to crowdfund the development of an affordable, compact, and simple-to-use cable cam system designed for compact cameras.

Wiral Lite, as it’s called, is a complete cable cam rig that fits in a backpack, sets up in three minutes, and accommodates a number of different lightweight cameras, including GoPros and smartphones. Oh, and did we mention it’s motorized? Once you’ve set the cable and pulled it taut, Wiral Lite allows filmmakers to drive the dolly from a snail’s pace 0.006 mph all the way up to 28 mph, shooting for up to three hours on the built-in battery. A time-lapse mode also allows for moving time-lapses at three different speeds. If you’re looking to take your GoPro footage to the next level, look no further.

NewMatter Mod-t 2.0 — affordable 3D printer

Back in 2014, there weren’t many sub-$500 3D printers floating around — but then NewMatter burst onto the scene with the Mod-t, a unique new printer with a simple design and an affordable ($399) price tag. The machine was a resounding success on Indiegogo, but like many first-generation products that are brought to life via crowdfuding, it had some problems that needed to be fixed. Fast forward to the present, and NewMatter is finally back with the new-and-improved version that addresses those issues: the Mod-t 2.0.

In place of belts and gears, the Mod-t uses a toothed build plate placed atop two perpendicular pinion rods. As these grooved rods spin, they catch the teeth on the bottom of the build plate and move it in a given direction. This configuration doesn’t boost accuracy or precision in any major way, but what it does do is simplify the overall design of the printer. Because the pinion rod setup combines the driving force of one axis with the guiding force of another, the Mod-t requires far fewer parts than it otherwise would. This makes it cheaper and easier to manufacture than most other 3D printers, and allows NewMatter to sell the printer for such a low price. You can get one one Kickstarter right now for less than $200!

SpeedGrip Socks — high-traction athletic socks

Ever since the dawn of athletic footwear, shoe manufacturers have been trying to out-do each other. If it seems like shoes get more and more advanced with each passing year, its because they do. Just take a stroll through the nearest Nike outlet and you’ll encounter everything from shock-absorbing foam to 3D printed insoles. But while the footwear industry has been so fixated on shoes, the other side of the equation — namely, socks — has largely been left behind. But NY-based upstart Storelli Sports has a plan to change that.

The company’s latest product — SpeedGrip Socks — are a clever new take on athletic socks. When paired with a set of specialized insoles (which Storelli crowdfunded on Kickstarter earlier this year), SpeedGrip socks provide outrageous amounts of traction — not between your foot and the ground, but between your foot and your shoe. This, in turn, translates to better traction, more reliable grip, and better overall performance, since your foot doesn’t slide around as much inside your footwear. Why aren’t more companies doing this?

I’m Back — digital upgrade for analog cameras

As you may or may not have noticed, film photography has enjoyed a resurgence as of late, and as it continues to claw back some of its former popularity, inventors are finding more ways to blend classic photography with digital convenience. I’m Back is the latest such invention to hit the crowdfunding scene. After finding success with a 3D printed, Raspberry Pi-powered film camera, the creators of the device are back with a clever new gizmo that transforms old film cameras into digital shooters.

Here’s how it works. Instead of popping a roll of 35mm film into your old camera, you open up the back and attach the camera to I’m Back. The device’s 16 megapixel sensor will then pick up light that passes through the cameras lens, and save it to an SD card. If you’d like you see the photo afterward, you can even connect your smartphone and use it as a display screen.

The Universe in a Sphere — Glorious desk ornament

Remember that scene from Men In Black? The one that zooms out to reveal that our entire galaxy sits inside the marble on a cat’s leash? Well if that scene stuck with you, there’s a good chance you’ll appreciate this new desktop trinket that recently popped up on Kickstarter. The Universe in a Sphere is exactly what it sounds like: a desk ornament that contains a tiny scale model of the cosmic neighborhood that we live in.

“What I did was is to take a catalog of galaxies, including our home supercluster called Laniakea, converted the XYZ coordinates and selected all of the 675,758 galaxies in a radius of 125 megaparsecs,” creator Clemens Steffin told Digital Trends in an interview. “One megaparsec stands for about 3.2616 million light years, so the cloud in my glass sphere represents a diameter of 815,400,000 light years.” Steffin next searched for (and found) a company capable of lasering in each one of these 380,000 dots, each representing an entire galaxy, into a glass sphere. After that, he launched his Kickstarter.

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These automakers have learned to stop worrying and love the plug

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Aside from a handful of pioneer models like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S, automakers have largely shied away from electric cars. But that’s about to change.

Over the past few months, several major automakers have announced plans to add large numbers of electric cars—along with hybrids and plug-in hybrids—to their lineups. Some have even pledged to stop selling cars that don’t feature some degree of electrification.

Some have even pledged to stop selling cars that don’t feature some degree of electrification

It’s a bold move, but automakers may not have a choice. World governments are passing stricter regulations to curb carbon emissions. China—the world’s largest car market—will institute sales quotas for electric cars and plug-in hybrids in 2019. Several European countries are considering banning sales of new conventional gasoline and diesel cars in the coming decades.

While the current U.S. presidential administration opposes regulations related to climate change, automakers will still have to realize significant efficiency gains under regulations that have already been locked in. California—which is allowed to set its own emissions standards—continues to pursue aggressive policies promoting electric cars.

But automakers are preparing for this low-carbon future. Here are the plans that have been announced so far, including the new electric cars and hybrids that will hit the road over the next few years.

BMW

BMW i3

At the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show, BMW announced plans for 25 electrified models by 2025. That total includes 12 all-electric cars. These cars will be sold not only under the main BMW brand, but also Mini and Rolls-Royce. Even BMW’s vaunted “M” performance division will get some electric cars or hybrids.

BMW has more experience with electrification than some of its luxury rivals. The automaker already sells the i3 electric car and a fleet of plug-in hybrids—including the sleek i8 coupe.

BMW definitely needs an electric model to slot between the i3 and i8

Up next is a production model based on the Mini Electric concept, which will arrive in 2019. An all-electric version of the BMW X3 crossover will follow in 2020, and an i8 convertible is also in the pipeline. In 2021, BMW will unveil the iNext, an all-electric sedan that will also have some degree of autonomous-driving capability.

It’s unclear how BMW will fill the many remaining electric-car slots. The automaker definitely needs an electric model to slot between the i3 and i8 in its “i” sub-brand, and rumors of such a model have swirled for the past few years. The BMW i Vision Dynamics concept from the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show provides a hint at what this new electric car could look like.

Daimler

Mercedes-Benz Generation EQ concept
The parent company of Mercedes-Benz, Maybach, and Smart will soon offer a hybrid or all-electric version of nearly every car it makes. Mercedes will offer an electrified version of every model in its lineup by 2022, Daimler boss Dieter Zetsche announced at the company’s investor day in September. Mercedes will eventually offer no less than 50 hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric cars, Zetsche said at the time.

Daimler previously announced that Smart would sell only electric cars in North America beginning in 2018. The automaker has sold Electric Drive versions of its Fortwo alongside gasoline versions for several years. In the U.S., Mercedes currently sells plug-in hybrid versions of the C-Class, S-Class, and GLE-Class, but just discontinued its only all-electric model, the B250e.

Mercedes’ future electric-car plans center around EQ, a new sub-brand for electric cars analogous to BMW’s “i” division. EQ will eventually encompass 10 models, the first of which will be a production version of the Generation EQ SUV concept that debuted at the 2016 Paris Motor Show. A production version of the EQA concept from the 2017 Frankfurt show will likely follow.

In addition to cars, Daimler plans to electrify commercial vehicles. It’s currently upgrading a factory in Germany to build electric versions of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, and recently delivered a handful of Fuso eCanter electric trucks in the U.S.

Ford

2017 Ford Focus Electric
The Blue Oval recently formed “Team Edison,” a dedicated group focused on the development of electric cars. But the company’s electrification plans seems a bit more limited than its competitors’.

Ford’s only confirmed new all-electric model is an unnamed SUV launching in 2020, which will have a 300-mile range. The company will also build hybrid versions of the Mustang and F-150, and its promised self-driving car (due in 2021) will be a hybrid as well. Those will be among the 13 hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and all-electric models Ford has said are in the pipeline.

Outside of passenger cars, Ford is building a Fusion Hybrid police car, with plans for a second hybrid police vehicle. It’s also working with DHL to build electric vans in Germany, is demonstrating a plug-in hybrid van in London, and unveiled a prototype Transit Connect hybrid taxi at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show.

General Motors

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Andrew Hard/Digital Trends

Detroit’s largest automaker may have created the Chevrolet Volt and Bolt EV, but until now it hasn’t tried to build on those successes with a wider range of models. On October 2, though, GM announced an electric-car blitz.

GM will launch at least 20 new all-electric vehicles by 2023

GM will launch at least 20 new all-electric vehicles by 2023, with the first two coming in the next 18 months. The automaker has not offered specific details on what types of vehicles these will be, or which brands they will be sold under, but it did say that future models will apply lessons learned from the Bolt EV.

The General is also one of a group of automakers still pursuing hydrogen fuel cells. It has a deal with Honda to partner on the technology, and has shown military-oriented hydrogen pickup truck and cargo vehicle concepts. However, this work hasn’t coalesced into any apparent plans for a production fuel-cell passenger car yet.

Hyundai

Hyundai Kona
The Korean automaker is taking an “all of the above” approach to reducing emissions. Hyundai currently rosters hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery-electric, and fuel cell models, and it’s planning more of each. Those plans include sibling brand Kia and the Genesis luxury brand.

In August, Hyundai announced a new round of green car launches, with the goal of adding 31 new “eco-friendly” models across the Hyundai and Kia brands by 2020. That includes an electric version of the new Kona SUV, which will have a 390-kilometer (242-mi) range and arrive in the first half of 2018.

After that, Genesis will get its first all-electric model in 2021, and Hyundai will launch an electric car with a 500-km (310-mi) range that same year. Hyundai is also working on a second-generation fuel cell SUV to replace the current Tucson Fuel Cell.

Jaguar Land Rover

Jaguar I-Pace in London
In September, JLR announced that it would put a mild hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or all-electric powertrain in every new model beginning in 2020.

Given the tight timeframe and the need to please conservative buyers, it’s likely that most of these future models will be mild hybrids, which use electric power primarily to run accessories rather than for propulsion. Mild hybrids are cheaper to engineer, and feel more like conventional cars from behind the wheel.

But not every new JLR product will go the mild-hybrid route. The Jaguar I-Pace electric SUV will launch next year, and Land Rover has already confirmed plug-in hybrid versions of the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. Electrifying the automaker’s sedans and crossovers should be pretty straightforward, but some models—like the Jaguar F-Type sports car and upcoming Land Rover Defender SUV—might prove more difficult.

Volkswagen Group

Volkswagen I.D. Buzz Concept
As it works to recover from its diesel emissions scandal, Volkswagen is about to undertake what might be the most ambitious electrification effort of all. VW wants to offer a hybrid or all-electric version of every model across its numerous brands by 2030. Right now, the company offers more than 300 distinct models ranging from the humble Volkswagen Up! to the mighty Bugatti Chiron.

By 2025, Volkswagen wants to introduce 50 all-electric cars and 30 plug-in hybrids.

By 2025, Volkswagen wants to introduce 80 new electrified models, including 50 all-electric cars and 30 plug-in hybrids. The identities of some of these new models have already been revealed.

The Volkswagen brand will get production versions of the I.D. hatchback, I.D. Crozz crossover, and I.D. Buzz electric-car concepts. Inspired by the classic VW Microbus, the I.D. Buzz has been confirmed for a 2022 launch, but it’s unclear when the other two will arrive in showrooms.

VW’s luxury brands are also getting in on the electrification act. Audi will launch its e-tron electric SUV next year, and will follow that up with a production version of the e-tron Sportback concept in 2019. Porsche will launch an electric four-door sedan based on the Mission E concept by the end of the decade.

Volvo

Volvo plug-in hybrids
The Swedish automaker kicked off the wave of grandiose electrification announcements when it declared in July that, beginning in 2019, every new car it sells will have a mild hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or all-electric powertrain.

Volvo already has something of a head start on this. It already sells “T8” plug-in hybrid versions of the XC90, S90, V90, V90 Cross Country, and XC60. The recently revealed XC40 crossover will get a plug-in hybrid variant as well. Other Volvo models will likely get the plug-in hybrid option as they are redesigned, with mild hybrids filling out the rest of the lineup.

Volvo doesn’t currently have any all-electric cars in its lineup, but it will launch five of them between 2019 and 2021. Three will be sold under the main Volvo brand, and two will be allotted to Volvo’s Polestar performance sub-brand.

The rest

Nissan Leaf
Other automakers have smaller-scale electrification plans. Here’s a sampling.

The Nissan Leaf is the bestselling electric car in history, and a new model is on the way. Nissan’s partner Renault sells electric cars in Europe, and new acquisition Mitsubishi has its Outlander PHEV plug-in hybrid. But the three automakers have not discussed electrifying a larger array of models. That may happen eventually, though, in which case Nissan and Renault will adopt Mitsubishi’s plug-in hybrid tech, and Mitsubishi will lean on its new benefactors’ experience with all-electric cars.

Toyota has been a champion of hybrids and hydrogen fuel cells, but has been less enthusiastic about battery-electric cars. Japan’s largest automaker is now expected to launch a mass-market electric car by the end of the decade, and will continue selling its Prius Prime plug-in hybrid. But hybrids without plugs will likely continue to dominate its product plans.

Mazda has no hybrids or electric cars in its lineup, but still manages to lead automakers in average fuel economy. But it will need to add plug-in hybrids or all-electric cars to satisfy California’s zero-emission vehicle mandate, and a partnership with Toyota should help with that. Subaru is in the same boat, so expect it to launch at least one new car with a plug to comply with the California rules.

Aston Martin is working on an electric version of its Rapide sedan called the RapidE. The car is expected to launch in 2019, and will be a limited-production model. Aston CEO Andy Palmer previously said the RapidE will have 800 to 1,000 horsepower, and a range of over 200 miles. The RapidE will be a stepping stone to a higher-volume model, likely an electric version of the upcoming DBX SUV. More recently, Palmer said Aston will electrify its entire lineup by the mid 2020s.

Aston Martin RapidE concept

Honda currently sells all-electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell versions of its Clarity. The Japanese automaker wants electrified models to make up two thirds of its global sales by 2030, but so far it has committed to ending sales of conventional gasoline and diesel cars only in Europe.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) CEO Sergio Marchionne is a notorious critic of electric cars, and the company has not announced any large-scale plans to develop them. But as a large global automaker, FCA will need to embrace electrification to meet tougher global emissions standards.

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Huawei may be releasing a foldable smartphone next year

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Why it matters to you

Huawei maybe joining the ranks of Samsung and ZTE by offering a foldable smartphone next year.

Edge-to-edge displays were the defining trend of smartphone design in 2017. First appearing on the Samsung Galaxy S8, the feature will be included on the iPhone X and numerous other smartphones. As pretty as these screens look, it is possible that we’ll be seeing yet another trend emerge in 2018, and it’s one that could really shake things up: foldable smartphones. ZTE kicked things off with the Atom M, which featured two screens connected by a hinge. The device was certainly an interesting one, but we found it lacking in comparison to the more traditional, and much cheaper, Axon 7.

ZTE’s offering may not have been perfect, but it may have been a herald of things to come as CNet has reported that Huawei is working on a foldable smartphone for next year. Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s consumer business group, said that the company already has a workable prototype, but stressed the need for better design and innovation.

“We have two screens,” Yu said. “But we still have a small gap [between the screens]. That’s not good, and we should get rid of that gap.”

Such new features are more than just a novelty for tech enthusiasts. It is one of the ways in which Huawei hopes to overtake its rivals and become the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer.

“We will overtake them definitely,” Yu said. “That’s our destiny. Maybe I’m not humble … but nobody can stop us.”

Such boasting might seem like PR spin, but Huawei has the resources and market share to back it up. The company might not be the household names that Samsung or Apple are, but it is the world’s third-largest smartphone manufacturer.

In terms of foldable smartphones, Huawei isn’t the only company seeking to enter the market. Samsung is hoping to release a bendable smartphone next year. Samsung’s device, which appears to feature a single flexible screen, is more in line with the rumors and patients regarding foldable phones. As for Huawei, it remains to be seen whether their device will be closer to Samsung or ZTE’s. Either way, 2018 is looking like it will be a very interesting year for smartphone enthusiasts.

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