Voice-commanded devices and their apps are turning up the volume in the market, but who will get your ear?
When Apple finally entered the wireless speaker market with HomePod, which can be voice-controlled by Siri, its competitor Sonos, which now responds to voice commands via Amazon’s Alexa, took a swipe at the launch with a tongue-in-cheek playlist on Spotify, a service that the HomePod cannot access except through a workaround using other devices. While gags like this make the rivalry of these manufacturers sound like fun and games, the truth is that they are in a ruthless race to gain market share among literally dozens of new players in the space, from some you may have not yet heard of, like the TCL Xess video home hub ($499), to spin offs to the most popular devices, in different sizes and colors.
Some of these speaker systems and their attendant voice-commanded assistants are better than others, and some are simply clones. Here’s a short list of the ones we like, and why.
HomePod is a powerful speaker and sounds amazing, but Siri has a lot of catching up to do in order to hold a candle to Alexa, and at the sticker price of $349 and its inability to work with streaming music services besides Apple Music, there’s better bets out there, unless you are simply an Apple fanatic and will have nothing else.
Sonos remains a favorite, with its first-to-market Hi-Fi Wi-Fi streaming abilities and pairing with speakers in the Sonos family, including the new single speaker silo, Sonos One ($199), with Alexa built in.
808 XL-V smart speaker is a new entrant to the Alexa-enabled speaker systems, with a design closely resembling the original Amazon Echo, though the 808 has a bit more style than the original with its fabric-like wrap, resembling a traditional Wi-Fi speaker. Using the 808 audio app, you can use voice commands to control all the smart devices in your home, like thermostat and lightbulbs, and you can access your Amazon music and book library as well as premium accounts on Spotify and other music streaming services; or you can always use the Bluetooth connection to stream audio from other Bluetooth enabled devices or hook it up devices to the aux-in jack. The 808 XL-V also has the ability to stream the same music simultaneously from another 808 XL-V, you can play the same music in every room where you have a speaker.
Of course, you can’t talk about Alexa, without talking about the Poindexter stepsister-from-another-mother, Google Assistant, originally developed for Google Home and now expanding into a number of devices, including the adorable Google Home Mini ($49).
The TicHome and TicHome Mini are two great entrants into the Google Home voice command family. These speakers have great audio quality, especially for their size, and they also come in a variety of attractive colors to spruce up your countertop, desk or wherever they sit with their compact footprint. Like Google Home, they access the massive knowledge base of Google search, so by comparison to Alexa-enabled devices, The Google Assistant-enabled devices are far superior. The one big downside is that Google Assistant is not able to access your Amazon Music account at this time, obviously because their competitor controls the behemoth Amazon enterprise, but if you subscribe to premium services on Pandora and other listening services, you won’t miss a beat.
Amazon has had to up their game with more exciting speakers to compete with all the other Alexa-enabled systems now on the market. Amazon has met the demand for variety by adding not only an assortment of devices, such as the Dot ($49), Tap ($129), featuring both wi-fi and Bluetooth capabilities, and the tablet-like Show ($229), they’ve also added colors to the scheme. Now you can choose from hues like a teal and orange to liven up your table top and blend in with your decor.
As the creator of Echo ($129), of the first-to-market voice command speaker, Amazon Alexa is still king, or queen as it were, when it comes to audio quality and responsiveness, with its Dolby-powered omni-directional seven speakers that detect voice from multiple directions around it. And because Amazon’s signature Alexa-enabled speakers were build to work with the Alexa app, they are the most seamless in performance with Alexa and experience much lower rates of error than the other systems built by third parties.
With all of these systems, there is still work to be done to perfect their interactions with voice command. Expect that for no reason at all sometimes these speakers drop off Wi-Fi, requiring a reset or other intervention, and no matter how clearly and loudly you command them, sometimes you have to repeat yourself and yell at them like they are a petulant child to get them to do something or stop doing what they’re doing. But just like our kids, once we have them, we wonder how we ever lived without them.
If you are shopping for a tech geek this holiday season, here are 12 great electronic gifts that will light them up.
The myCharge RazorPlatinum portable charger ($99.99) is the perfect companion for the MacBook on the go. It charges a MacBook in 100 minutes via a USB – C port, and it also can charge any compliant USB – C or USB-A device, such as tablet, phones and other devices. It has an anodized aluminum body, and a rapid – recharge power bank and includes a USB – C cable. This heavy-duty battery will add a bit of weight to your load, but the power it packs is worth its weight. To check if the myCharge is topped up, you simply shake it, and it will light up with one to four flashing dots, depending on remaining battery life.
Just in case
For the iPhone aficionado who takes their phone everywhere – who doesn’t – OtterBox makes a hard-core hard case that will protect their prized possession from dings and scratches with the stylish and durable Defender Series. The case can be customized with a variety of colors for the slipcover ($29.95) and shell ($29.95), which is always helpful since so many cases look alike. For added protection, the charger and headphone jack inputs feature rubber covers to keep out dirt and dust, and another huge plus to the Defender Series is the touch surface is incorporated into the shell, so you do not need to apply a separate protection film.
Not your dad’s (or mom’s) smart watch
For parents who would love to get their kids a smart phone to keep track of their whereabouts and call them when needed, but they are afraid the child will lose such an expensive device, Tinitell is the perfect wearable solution. This wristwatch phone has voice calling and smart location features so kids can run and play without having to carry a phone. With the touch of a button, kids can connect with the phone’s directory of contacts, and using the Tinitel app, parents can geo-locate their kids. Tinitell looks cool and comes in a variety of colors, and at the cost of $149 it’s far less expensive than a smart phone.
No jack, no worries
Audiophiles who might have been disappointed in the headphone-jack free iPhone 7 will no longer have to suffer thanks to Wicked Audio Reach Bluetooth Audio Receiver ($19.99). This little device, about the size of a money clip, can connect wirelessly to any Bluetooth-enabled mobile device to stream music to headphones in a 30 foot range. It also has a built-in microphone for calls. The little magic matchbox device can slip into a pocket or clip on to clothes for people on the go, and it recharges in an hour and a half for five hours of play.
I stream, you stream…
The neat freak geek who loves streaming video but hates the clutter of cords connecting HDMI devices to the TV will go nerd crazy over the Nyrius Aries Pro ($249) wireless HDMI transmitter and receiver. This receiver will send video wirelessly to your TV without any latency or lag time — where audio and video don’t match up. It transmits up to 160 feet, allowing you to show video from your laptop or other device on the TV screen in another room. Because there are no wires, you can free up space around your TV and even place your game controller or other device across the room. The small receiver can also attach to drones or cameras, and up to eight devices total, so you can view video from those sources remotely.
A cord of a different color
Techies can never have enough charging cables for their iOS devices, but cables don’t have to be white and boring. NewerTech makes premium USB 2.0 lightning-fast charge/sync cables ($7.99-$24.99) for Apple iPhone iPod and iPad devices in exciting colors and a variety of lengths ranging from 20 inches to 118 inches, to make plugging in anywhere easy. The multicolored cables feature a woven sheath over them so they are more durable than most cables, and because of their bright colors it’s less likely they will get left behind or mixed up and taken by your friends and family by accident.
Search and protect
The ALLY Plus Whole Home Smart Wi-Fi System by Amped Wireless will connect your entire household to Wi-Fi, up to 15,000 feet, even out to your patio. This two-component rounter and extender system offers high power, buffer-free coverage for streaming HD and 4K games and videos on multiple devices at once, and all your internet needs. Using the app, parents can pause the internet for homework or dinner time and monitor what sites their children visit. For extra protection the system uses AVG software to guard against malware and phishing attacks. $379, www.ampedwireless.com
for the tech geek on your list who is a freak for holiday decorations, give them the ultimate turn on, and I devices outdoor switch. This switch can power up and control all their outdoor electronics such as lights, fans, speakers, fountains and more with the ease of Siri voice control and the I devices connected app. The switch theaters old outlets to control to products simultaneously and comes equipped with mounting hardware and easy instructions to connect the switch to your home Wi-Fi network and control devices with any home to compatible iOS device. $79, Available at Lowe’s Stores, Apple Stores and www.idevicesinc.com
Store it up
Any smartphone-carrying tech aficionado knows it’s hard to choose what videos, photos and music to delete when your hard drive gets too full. The same is true for laptops. With the Seagate 2TB Wireless Mobile Storage Device you can keep it all, safety stored and easily accessible on the wallet-sized external hard drive, which creates its own personal Wi-Fi network and features a 10-hour battery life. Using the Wireless Plus free Seagate Media app for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire and Windows 8/RT, you can carry, manage and stream hundreds of movies or thousands of photos, songs and documents. $179, Amazon or retailers found at www.Seagate.com.
Everyone hates to get up off the sofa to adjust the thermostat when the room gets too hot or cold. With Honeywell Lyric WiFi Thermostat you can regulate the temperature from anywhere – at home or outside the home, using an app or even voice commands with Siri or Alexa in a smart home. Cool off or warm up the house before you get home or set a program to change the indoor climate when you sleep, wake, or are away at work. $199, Home Depot and hardware retailers nationwide.
Cordless vacuums are usually great for fast-and-dirty pick-ups, but with the Dyson V-6 Absolute, the once-over will be the end-all. Its portable size makes it perfect for those quick jobs to clean up the floor, carpet or sofa when guests are coming over and you don’t have time to get out the heavy-duty vacuum, but unlike other mini-vacs, this powerful bagless vacuum has super strong suction that doesn’t quit, with a full charge lasting up to 26 minutes. It also features a variety of attachments and a handy holster to mount on the wall. $599, available at Dyson dealers nationwide found at www.dyson.com
Snap a pic
The old meets the new, with the latest shoot-to-print camera from the first name in instant photography. The Polaroid Snap Instant Digital Camera has an all-new style in a compact pocket-sized camera that can capture photos and print them out in minutes. The camera features six different capture modes, including a vintage-Sepia tone, and a timer mode to snap a quick selfie. Prints use ZINK zero ink print technology, and each print can double as a sticker. $84.99, Amazon
For those who love electronics but hate the tangle of charger cables on their bedstand, Easy-Dok has a solution. The Dök CR33 5-Port Smartphone Charger features a organizer cabinet with a built-in Bluetooth speaker and ports to simultaneously charge up a smartphone, iPad, iPod, tablet, MP3 player and most any device that can be charged with a USB cable, up to five devices simultaneously. The multipurpose dock can display and play one device while charging another all while streaming music streaming and allowing hands-free calls via Bluetooth. To protect devices and persevere batteries, the dock features SCD (Smart Current Detection) Technology to protect your device’s battery from being over charged. $65.67, Amazon or www.easy-doks.com
Editor’s note: Companies featured in this article provided sample products for review, but the opinions expressed belong to the author.
Amped Wireless, the leading manufacturer of high power, long range wireless solutions, is bridging Wi-Fi performance, security and simplicity with the launch of ALLY, a whole-home smart AC1900 Wi-Fi system with MU-MIMO. Available for pre-order August 23, ALLY is designed to deliver an unparalleled Wi-Fi experience for homes of all sizes.
The ALLY Wi-Fi system is the first seamless roaming solution with blazing-fast Wi-Fi speeds, MU-MIMO technology and whole-home coverage with award winning, high power technology. Offering easy setup and a mobile app for on-the-go control, the ALLY and ALLY Plus systems reach up to 15,000 square feet of secure coverage for seamless roaming and uninterrupted streaming.
Built with the digitally-connected family in mind, ALLY features intelligent parental controls that make online parenting feel easy and safe. Through ALLY’s customized user profiles, parents can manage and limit access to selected content, websites or apps. Additionally, parents can monitor and segment a child’s screen time, review an activity log, pause Internet service and even set a curfew schedule for their Internet use.
Parents can also feel at ease knowing that devices on their network are protected by AVG Technologies, the leading provider of software and services to secure devices, data and people. Customers can download the ALLY app and help safeguard devices from malware by activating AVG’s free, built-in web protection and real-time monitoring of network traffic. ALLY’s security features, parental control options and iOS and Android apps are built on Chime, AVG’s smart router platform developed by AVG’s Innovations Labs, an exploratory branch of AVG Technologies.
“Innovation is part of our DNA here at Amped Wireless,” said Jason Owen, Executive Vice President of Networking, Amped Wireless. “We are elated to announce ALLY and our partnership with AVG. By combining Amped Wireless’ award winning high power technology with AVG’s software and security expertise, we’ve created the industry’s best whole-home Wi-Fi solution. The result is a one-of-a-kind system that performs at the highest levels while providing a user experience that is second to none, bringing peace of mind to users as their network and families are protected.”
The partnership establishes ALLY as the only home wireless system that offers web protection that safeguards devices, including tablets, phones, computers and other devices. Additionally, the system alerts users when a new device requests network access, further protecting the network from unwanted parties.
“Gartner predicts the average family house will contain more than 500 smart devices by 2022. As the complexity of the connected home increases, so does the potential risk involved,” says Todd Simpson, Chief Strategy Officer of AVG Technologies. “AVG’s Innovation Labs created Chime to simplify security and router technology for connected families. In time this will be like an antivirus for the home that can stop threats before they reach devices.”
In addition to the advanced software and security, the ALLY hardware is also ahead of the innovation curve. All units are built with next generation 802.11ac, Multi-User MIMO technology. Traditional Wi-Fi systems stream data to just one device at a time, leaving the rest of the devices to wait their turn which results in slower downloads and video buffering. With MU-MIMO, ALLY is able to stream HD content at faster speeds to multiple devices at once, delivering increased speeds for homes with multiple devices. Pair that with Amped Wireless’ award winning High Power Technology and you have unparalleled reliability, coverage and performance. Every smartphone, tablet, computer, TV and more can connect from virtually anywhere in the home or office. It is the solution for a flawless, whole-home, reliable Wi-Fi system.
There are ALLY solutions for both small-medium sized homes, as well as medium-large sized homes, and everything in between. Both ALLY and ALLY Plus products have an estimated delivery of early October. ALLY is priced at $199.99 and ALLY Plus at $379.99. For purchase information and additional details visit ampedwireless.com.