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Amazon Echo Dot

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Amazon Echo Dot
Value For Money
Build Quality
Ease of Use
Reader Rating0 Votes0
Pros
The Dot is unbeatably priced
A growing list of compatible smart-home devices supplemented by IFTT
Cons
Needs a Bluetooth or auxiliary speaker for decent music playback
Logic could be improved for a better contextual experience
5
Redcert Recommends
Why it
Although the Echo is only available officially at retailers or Amazon in teh UK, USA and Germany, there is no official version of the app for other countries so you’ll you need to use a UK or US Amazon account to set-up the app if you're an English speaker. However, I ask Alexa every day for my commute time to work in Dublin city centre. She gets it right to within a few minutes, always. It seems Alexa is happy living where she is, and she’s more than welcome to stay.

It’s sixty years since the smooth tones of Captain Kirk’s computer on Star Trek captured the imagination of a generation and hinted at a future that few thought would materialise. Over the last few years though, with the advent of smartphone based digital assistants, the future has edged closer. Google, Microsoft, Apple and recently Samsung have all invested time and research in to bringing us an assistant that’s always at hand. It was a surprise then, when the company who revolutionised bookselling launched their Echo smart home assistant in 2015.

There are now four types of Amazon Echo and the Dot is the lowest priced and physically smallest of the family. The Echo arrives in a small box and opening it up reveals just small this gadget is. It measured just over three inches across, and is barely over an inch tall. The small circular device is light at around 160 grams and included in the box there’s just the power cable and mains plug.After plugging in the device, I downloaded the free Amazon Alexa app for iOS and started the set-up process. The app finds the Echo and then there’s a quick pairing process to get the Echo added to your home network. Once set-up, the Echo is ready to respond to your spoken questions and requests.

The personality of the Echo is female, and she’s a confidently spoken lady called Alexa. The Dot has a few wake-word so, you when you say ‘Alexa’, the Dot’s lights pulse blue to let you know she’s listening and you continue to speak your question.

There’s a learning routine which Alexa will talk you through where it will ask you to speak phrases so it learns how you pronounce specific words. That learning practice is worthwhile doing immediately despite the temptation to start asking Alexa who won obscure sports games decades ago.

Once you’re up and running Alexa can very quickly become part of your daily life. There are built in radio news services from the likes of BBC and CNN that provide content for what Alexa calls your daily briefing. The Echo uses Wikipedia as a database for facts, and you can ask Alexa anything that you might have looked up on Wikipedia. It doesn’t read you the full article, but a short, salient digest of a person or place that you ask about.

As well as getting an instant spoken answer to casual everyday queries, the Echo does a lot more. You can link your smartphone calendar to the Echo and ask Alexa what appointments you have today. TuneIn radio is built in, and you can just ask Alexa to instantly play one of thousands of radio stations from around the world, or play music from your Amazon library. While you watch TV, you can ask Alexa to put something on your shopping or to do list and it will appear on the Alexa app, ideal for shopping notes.

The real power of the Echo Dot is as a smart-home hub. I asked Alexa to find new smart devices and within a minute all of my compatible smart-home gadgets appeared in the Alexa app. Now, when I want to turn on the kitchen lights or switch on the TV, I ask Alexa to do it.

Most new smart-home devices like Philips Hue bulbs and WeMo power sockets are compatible with the Echo and the integration is seamless.The audio output, particularly for music, of the Dot isn’t outstanding. However, it is designed to be linked to an external speaker or HiFi system. There’s a 3.5mm socket to connect a wired speaker and it pairs wirelessly with Bluetooth speakers.

 

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Value For Money
Build Quality
Ease of Use
Final Score

Reviews

Volkswagen Golf Highline 2017

For decades it was Formula 1 that gave the car business much of its cutting edge technology. Everything from a braking system that generates power to use later to innovations in tire technology, our road cars are more efficient and safer thanks to top-tier motor racing. These days though, mainstream car companies are investing much more in their own research and design, and they’re putting technology to work for us every day on the road.

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Volkswagen Golf Highline 2017
Looks
Build Quality
Tech Credentials
Reader Rating1 Vote4.8
Pros
Dash is the best so far from a traditional auto-maker
Cons
Voice-control needs an upgrade - use Siri or Android Auto
4.7
Redcert Score
Summary

For decades it was Formula 1 that gave the car business much of its cutting edge technology. Everything from a braking system that generates power to use later to innovations in tire technology, our road cars are more efficient and safer thanks to top-tier motor racing. These days though, mainstream car companies are investing much more in their own research and design, and they’re putting technology to work for us every day on the road.

Volkswagen’s new Golf Highline is full to the brim with tech designed to make it efficient and safe for drivers, but I was curious if all this new tech would still let motoring be fun as I took to the open road.

I picked up my Tumeric Yellow Golf Highline and it’s difficult, even for a nerdy type, not to be struck by the lines of this car. They call the Golf a family car, but the sharp colour, styling and Jurva alloy wheels catch your eye and it seems to exude an aura of sporty capability.

Inside though, is where my real interest lies and the very first thing I needed to do was pair my iPhone with the car. Volkswagen’s App Connect system give the driver a number of options for connecting a phone to the car. I used plugged my phone in to the Golf’s USB port and used Apple’s CarPlay but Android Auto and Mirror Link are also available. I noticed also, that my phone began to charge which was a useful bonus.

With my phone paired with the car I felt at home and the center console displayed the huge icons from my iPhone, but in remarkable definition that functioned just like the touch screen on my phone. Instantly I got access to my contacts, SMS and Google Maps, but also my playlists from Apple Music appeared, and even my audiobooks. Once my phone was paired, the car’s comprehensive voice-control feature, which is activated from the steering, wheel let me use voice commands to make calls using my phone.

Inside the glove compartment, I discovered the discreetly placed CD player and also, surprisingly a Micro SD memory card port for additional media access. The center console displays the traditional radio stations with nice bright display of the stations logos but also, if I select the TuneIn radio app, lets me listen to a radio station from anywhere in the world as I drive.

With my connectivity and entertainment sorted out I focused on the driving tech. Instead of traditional dials and gauges, the Golf has a huge twelve inch Active Info Display. This high-res display replaces a traditional speedometer and has five different views that can be selected to your own preference, depending on what you want to keep an eye on as you drive.

As I set about reversing, I discovered putting the Golf in to reverse activates the rear view camera and sensors with large, clear image of what’s behind you displayed on the center console screen. Once in a forward gear and heading for the open road, it was time to look at the other tech that makes like easier, and safer for drivers.

Volkswagen Golf TSI by Paddy McGrath

Active Cruise Control is a remarkable innovation. The simple idea is that the Golf will help you keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front. Simple, but needs a lot of tech to make it work. I set the speed I wanted to cruise at using the controls on the steering wheel but then sensors monitored the space in front of my car and analyses their speed and how close they are. The Active Cruise Control can keep you at a safe distance from the car in front at speeds up to 160 km/h. The most pleasing part though is surprisingly in annoying traffic. I could feel the car changing gear, and braking and then accelerating again when lights changed up ahead. It reduces your effort, but I think more importantly, reduces stress.

Back on the road, other smarter features become apparent. When a car came up behind me, Light Assist dimmed my mirror to reduce glare and a camera on the front recognizes a vehicle ahead and dimmed the headlights automatically. This sounds simple, but the wonderful part of this is that technology is taking away frequent adjustments and interruptions that distract me.

Perhaps the most safety focused tech in the Golf is Fatigue Detection Driver Alert. This tech monitors driver behavior and things like erratic steering wheel movements or lane deviation and even analyses traffic signals and figures out when you’re tired and need a break.

Fuel consumption and running costs are reasonable. Sure, it’s not a Tesla, Volkswagen have been making cars for almost eighty years and what’s fascinating about this car, the biggest gadget I’ve ever tested, is how it changes how I think about driving and traditional auto makers. Yes, it’s fun driving, but it’s also smart driving,.

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Reviews

NowTV Set-Top Box | Pay As You Go, Television

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NowTV Set-Top Box | Pay As You Go, Television
Looks
Build Quality
Ease of Use
Reader Rating1 Vote4.55
Pros
Thanks to it's Roku heart, the box is fast
Lovely interface that puts many cable operators to shame
Cons
Remote control is a little small and onscreen keyboard is a tad tireseome
Other service providers like Amazon Prime should be added as apps
4
Redcert Score
Summary
Whichever of the three viewing pass you pair it with, the audio and picture quality are excellent and the available apps give it the potential to do even more. It won’t replace a Sky or Netflix subscription, but it’s a smart, decently priced way of complementing them.

Even before NowTV, television was changing. TV programs are bigger, better and more star studded than ever. Whether it’s documentaries from far flung corners of the planet or slick retro productions like Mad Men, TV makers have upped their game. There’s more to watch on terrestrial and cable, and online services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have found niche markets with their own programs.

NowTV is a service from Sky that’s joined this line-up. It’s an entertainment, cinema and sports provider that’s available online. As well as being available on laptops or mobile phones and tablets, there’s a NowTV set-top box designed to be used using your home broadband. Apps and players are fine, but this box is the most user-friendly way to bring NowTV in to the living room, for all the family to watch.

Unboxing

Unpacking this new entertainment gadget reveals the box to be compact at three and a half inches square and weighing less than five ounces. As well as the NowTV box itself, in the package are two AAA batteries for the included remote, a mains power adaptor and thankfully, a HDMI cable.

The box also has a USB port and MicroSD card slot that can be used in the future as the service adds new features. There’s an Ethernet socket on the box for plugging in to your home broadband router which I prefer to use. Wired internet connections provide a more consistent connection than using a gadget’s own built in WiFi, particularly if you have a house full of connected smartphones or children.

Once I’d connected the HDMI cable to my TV and the powered up the box an introductory screen prompted me to connect to my broadband network which took only a few seconds. With that done, I used the remote control to enter my NowTV account details which I’d created earlier on my laptop.

Interface

The onscreen interface is attractive and easy to navigate. There’s an apps section which gives you access to the likes of YouTube and RedBullTV. TuneIn Radio is also available as an app and you can bring full internet radio to your TV and living-room via the NowTV box.

The settings section allows you to choose the resolution, with 1080 high-definition available and there are useful features like the ability to add closed-captions for those hard of hearing.

With the NowTV account I set up, I can watch on up to four screens, and two of them at the same time. NowTV works sort of like a Pay-As-You-Go mobile phone. You can buy passes for the cinema, entertainment or sports packages. They’re priced fairly, but the standout value seems to be the cinema package which I discovered has an array of films I hadn’t seen.

Using the box & NowTV

Using the box is straightforward and it’s performance surprised me with most apps and programs opening and playing instantly. The home screen that’s displayed on your TV is usefully organised to show content that you may have missed in the catch-up section. There’s also eleven live television channels if you have the entertainment pass and includes channels like Sky Atlantic and Gold.

NowTV is a service that’s likely to appeal to those wanting to shirk off the commitment of annual contracts for TV. That’s likely perhaps, to be students or those sharing houses but I think the NowTV box would also be ideal for second or holiday homes, given the a la carte nature of the viewing passes.

Overall, the box worked well for me. I’m not that keen on the remote control and it’s onscreen keyboard when you need to key in search terms or passwords. A dual sided remote with keyboard would be useful addition. That said, for a device that’s priced as it is, it’s well made and its performance is lightning quick.

Whichever of the three viewing pass you pair it with, the audio and picture quality are excellent and the available apps give it the potential to do even more. It won’t replace a Sky or Netflix subscription, but it’s a smart, decently priced way of complementing them.

More info: www.nowtv.com

 

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Reviews

Emfit QS Smart Mattress Sleep Monitor

Most of us recognise the value of getting a good night’s sleep. Over the last few years though, scientists have highlighted the benefits for mind, body and mood of a getting a good eight hours. The arrival of fitness trackers with their sleep monitoring feature helped many of us to be more aware of how much and how well we’re sleeping.

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Emfit QS Smart Mattress Sleep Monitor
Looks
Build Quality
Ease of Use
Data Quality
Pros
Ample data for even serious athletes
Long term analysis made easy
Cons
An iOS app would be a useful addition to the set-up
Availability for a double bed would be a nice option
4
Redcert Score
Summary
Overall, it’s provides a fascinating insight in to an important part of our lives. The device could even be useful for monitoring a relative who you’re concerned about or even for addressing sleep problems. It’s well made, good value and while not a medical device, it gave me more than enough data to change some bad habits and sleep a little sounder.

The fitness tracker is useful, but it can’t give you the holistic or detailed analysis that dedicated sleep monitors can. Emfit are a Finnish company who’ve been in business for decades but the evolution of home wifi and smartphones have given them the opportunity to create consumer friendly products more likely to be used by you and me.

The Emfit QS is one such gadget that’s designed to seamlessly integrate in to your nightly routine and give you feedback on your sleep. The device itself arrives in a small box and isn’t actually a mattress but a strip of synthetic leather that’s placed under your mattress. As well as the sensor strip, which has a power lead attached is a mains adapter.

Setting up the Emfit is reasonably straightforward. Unusually it doesn’t use Bluetooth, but Wifi to connect to your home network and the Emfit servers. I needed my Wifi password and the Emfit’s unique code to register it online, but it was quickly up and running.

The positioning of the sensor strip itself is important. It’s about half the width of a double bed and needs to be placed under the mattress. There is no contact between you and the gadget, instead it used incredibly sensitive sensors to monitor your sleep. I placed it under the mattress roughly level with my chest to ensure the cardio readings were accurate.

Once the device is powered up and positioned, I forgot about it for a couple of days. I find devices like these don’t tell you anything useful until you have a few days or even weeks of information to review. When I signed in online and connected to my account though, the broadness of what the Emfit can tell you becomes apparent.

The data is presented clearly and in chart form. As well as telling me how long I slept each night the data also shows the class of sleep from deep to light and even REM sleep. My breathing was also monitored every night and my heart rate was recorded. One of the most interesting statistics is how much you move during the night with any tossing and turning recorded.

There is more technical analysis available including heart-rate variability and athletes can use the data to review their recovery from exercise. For the average user though the data the basics that the Emfit records would be enough and there’s a useful daily wellness report.

The sleep data is presented using the Emfit website and while it looks good I think a dedicated app would be useful. Also, the device is made for one person whereas a bigger, double bed version would let a health conscious couple keep an eye on their sleeping stats.

 

 

 

 

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