Qualcomm’s new chips power ‘smarter’ AI-connected speakers

Smart speakers still have a lot of room for improvement. How often have you had to shout a command over your music, or had to endure mediocre sound for the convenience of using your voice? Qualcomm believes it can do better. It's unveiling chips t...

IKEA will officially reveal its first Sonos-powered speakers next month

IKEA will reveal the first of its Sonos connected smart speakers at an exhibit in Milan next month. This isn't the first we've seen or heard of the speaker, and we knew IKEA had plans to start selling it in the US and Europe this August. An unveiling...

Sonos One speaker now packs more powerful internals

How do you improve the Sonos One speaker when there aren't too many qualms about the basic design? If you ask Sonos, it's all about future-proofing. The company is rolling out a Gen 2 version of the One that shares the same design, but includes Blu...

What to expect from Samsung’s Galaxy S10 event

We're mere days away from Samsung's next Unpacked event, so the Korean conglomerate is all but ready to dish the details on the Galaxy S10 smartphone family. Not that we're totally in the dark, of course. As is the case in the lead-up to all flag...

Ten products that showcase the Pantone 2019 Color of the Year in full CMF glory!

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Named as Pantone color of the year for 2019, Living Coral is an animating and life-affirming coral hue that signifies light-heartedness and positivity. The color is the kind that instantly makes one happy, with its touch of vibrance and warmth, and the minute you add it to a product, it stands out. Companies have, for long, used the coral color to make products look and feel youthful, and to make them add a splash of color to a space. Living Coral’s beauty especially lies in the fact that it goes well in any domain, fashion, interiors, consumer electronics, or even appliances. Heck, I’d wager that a Ferrari with a Living Coral paint job would look absolutely dope too. Almost a month into 2019, we’re here to take a look at ten of our favorite products that have wholeheartedly embraced Coral as a hue, using it wholly, or in part, to create a product that stands out, and looks great while doing so!
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01. Apple Watch Series 4 Nectarine Sports Loop
The Nectarine Sports Loop (along with the Watch Series 4) came just weeks before Pantone debuted their color of the year, and it’s almost as if Apple either knew, or they had some spectacular CMF Designers who just happened to feel that the color absolutely did justice to the Watch. There’s a silicone version of the Nectarine band too, but we prefer this woven nylon loop that’s breathable yet sweat-resistant. And it’s compatible with all versions of the Apple Watch!

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02. Google Home & Home Mini (Living Coral Edition)
The coral version of Google’s smart speakers were released shortly after Pantone announced the color of 2019. While the Mini comes completely coated in the Living Coral hue (with a rather remarkable contrast between the woven texture on top and the hard plastic at the bottom), the Google Home does a dual-tone, with white on top, and the addition of a detachable coral fabric grille at the bottom. Don’t make me pick favorites. I like them both.

Click Here to Buy Now (Coral Google Home Mini)
Click Here to Buy Now (Coral Base for Google Home)

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03. Urbanears Plattan Coral On Ear Headphones
The tragedy of these headphones is that Urbanears only produced the Coral edition as a limited run. I still maintain that the Plattan headphones look absolutely heavenly in their coral color, treading a fine line between sporty and fashionable with a color that isn’t as red as the Beats headphones, but is the perfect hue to look absolutely dapper. Yes, dapper’s the word.

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04. Retroduck Q Wireless Charging Dock
Unlike its previous, wired version, the Retroduck Q comes with two changes. Firstly, the dock works wirelessly, charging your phones simply by placing them on the retro TV-esque stand… and secondly, the Retroduck Q ditches its ancestor’s more orange-heavy color for a delightful coral version, or as they call it, Carmine Red. The Retroduck Q just finished its round of crowdfunding and is still under development at the time of writing this article. We’ll be sure to drop a link when they’re ready to buy online!

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05. Kvell Pop Clock
Rather strangely titled Pop, the Kvell clock actually comes in a single color, making it quite the opposite of pop… but it makes up for that with the use of such an incredibly rich hue that I’m sure it’ll pop off any wall you mount it on. I’d recommend a white or light teal colored backdrop for this beauty. Even a light blue would work, given that corals are originally found against a backdrop of oceanic blue.

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06. Dot&Bo Coral Pantone Clock
While most products embrace a hue, Dot&Bo’s Coral Pantone Clock embraces the entire shade card! With multiple hues arranged around the face of the clock, Dot&Bo’s timepiece is much more subtle than Kvell’s Pop Clock. After all, in-your-face vibrant decor isn’t for all homes.

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07. Vespa Coral Visor 2.0 Helmet
Vespa, the brand, stands on two pillars. Retro-Italian design, and an absolutely delicious color palette. The Visor 2.0 helmet has its share of both. Designed to pair perfectly with the adorable Italian legend-of-a-scooter, the Visor 2.0 Coral helmet will protect your brain and will blow the brains of pedestrians as they catch a glimpse of the Coral-colored helmet blurring past. Pairs well with a coral colored Vespa and the Italian countryside. Both sold separately.

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08. Hip Bottle by Karim Rashid
Rashid was using vibrant hues like Coral long before Pantone named it the color of the year. A major part of Karim Rashid’s design legacy is his use of CMF as an absolute weapon. Take the Hip Bottle for instance. Add any other pastel color to the Hip Bottle and chances are it probably won’t stand out. Its form is simple, and the bottle isn’t as edgy as most sports bottles out there… but carefully drop the Coral hue on it and the Hip looks stunning. Also available in 5 other colors that don’t match up to the sheer beauty of the Coral variant.

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09. Bird of Paradise (2018) by KitchenAid
I could totally imagine myself walking into a kitchen with a tropical teal wallpaper with pineapple graphics on it, and surrounded by KitchenAid’s coral-colored appliances. Kitchenaid, in fact, began its own Color of the Year series last year, and believe it or not, Coral was their color of the year for 2018. Titled the Bird of Paradise, the entire collection of kitchen appliances sports the beautiful coral hue, right from the range of blenders to the stand mixer that I personally love most, probably because of its distinctive design, and my obsession for meringues (what, I’m human).

Click Here to Visit Store

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10. Pantone Color of the Year Mug (2019)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a product from Pantone’s own catalog. Every year, along with their announcement of the COTY (Color of the Year), Pantone also releases their own merchandise, from notebooks to thumb drives to mugs, that feature the Color of the Year in its Pantone-branded color accuracy. The mugs, however, are a standout because notebooks are too basic and thumb drives are practically obsolete. Besides, look at that mug and tell me it isn’t simply the most eye-catching mug ever.

Click Here to Buy Now

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This little speaker-cap hacks your smart speaker to give you back your privacy

Project Alias looks and behaves like a parasitic fungus, in the sense that it latches onto its host, feeding off it and inhibiting its functions for its own gain. It may sound a little extreme, but it does it all for the sake of privacy. Smart speakers now sit in one out of three American homes… and while they’re great in terms of convenience, they’re a privacy nightmare. Smart speakers are always listening in on everything you say or do around your home, and companies create databases and profiles based on the tonnes of information they collect to sell ads and products to you. The two largest players in the market, Amazon and Google, literally have business models that revolve around harvesting personal data to sell to the highest bidder, which in turn sell you products and or services.

The Project Alias device sits atop the smart speaker, like a fungal growth, blocking out its microphones, so that the speaker can’t listen to you. However, when you do want to access the smart speaker, say a keyword and the Project Alias lets your command through to the speaker, effectively deafening the home assistant when you don’t want it listening, and bringing it to life when you do.

Designers Bjørn Karmann & Tore Knudsen designed Project Alias as a defense tactic, and modeled it on a fungal species that aptly captures the way the parasitic product behaves. “This [fungus] is a vital part of the rain forest, since whenever a species gets too dominant or powerful it has higher chances of getting infected, thus keeping the diversity in balance,” says Tore Knudsen. “We wanted to take that as an analogy and show how DIY and open source can be used to create ‘viruses’ for big tech companies.”

The project is an entirely open-source piece of tech that contains a 3D printed outer housing, a Raspberry Pi board, a microphone (for your voice commands), a set of speakers (that block out the home assistant’s internal microphones with a static), and a line of commands that are all readily available on GitHub, although I’d totally spring for a ready-made version of this. I imagine it won’t be long before companies begin building and selling their own Project Aliases, but then again, that goes against what the project stands for in the first place.

Assemble the product, plug it into a power source and you’re ready to go. The product sits on top of a Google Home or Echo, covering its microphones, while speaker modules inside the Project Alias produce a white noise that prevents the home assistant from hearing anything. In order to communicate with the home assistant, you can set your own catchphrase that the Alias recognizes. Program it to respond to “Hey Brad” or “Hey Speaker”, or “Hey data-mining corporation” (if you’re a bit of a nihilist), and the Alias picks up on the cue, triggering the home assistant to listen to the rest of your command. The Alias’ voice command recognition feature works locally and the device doesn’t connect to the internet or store any information on the cloud, making it perfectly safe and secure, allowing you to hack your smart speakers to work perfectly well without them invading your privacy, and preventing mega-corporations from gathering any further data on you and your personal lives. And there’s a side advantage to this too. You can now rename your smart speaker to pretty much anything you want, rather than being restricted to “Hey Google” or “Hey Alexa”. Rather cool, isn’t it?

Designers: Bjørn Karmann & Tore Knudsen

Click Here to build your own Project Alias

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Click Here to build your own Project Alias

Turn your Google Home Mini into a Mickey!

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Partnering with Disney to make a mount for the Google Home Mini, the Otterbox Den series comes in a shape that’s all too familiar. Designed with the silhouette and colors of the world’s most famous rodent, the mount lets you place a black Google Home Mini into it, turning the smart speaker into Mickey Mouse! The mount reroutes the wire from the back, making it look like the tail, and even comes with tiny cutouts at the base where the speaker’s buttons are. The mount makes the Google Home Mini much more playful and relatable, turning a smart speaker into a toy for the child as well as a piece of merchandise for Disney. My only suggestion? Release a feminine variant and call it the Google Home Minnie (Mini)!

Designer: Otterbox and Disney

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Samsung’s Galaxy Home Speaker is too little too late

In a world with Hey Siris, Hey Googles, and Hey Alexas, a Hey Cortana would throw you off… but what about a Hey Bixby?

The world’s largest smartphone seller (Yes, Apple’s the third largest), Samsung decided to surprise the world with their own “me-too”ish smart speaker. The Galaxy Home isn’t just unimaginative in its name, given that Google already has a Home, and Apple has the Homepod, Samsung’s Galaxy Home is a Bixby-powered speaker that rides on an ambiguity of design too. The overall form looks like a black Google Home sprouted three legs, while its speaker comes clad in a woven fabric with a criss-cross design that makes it look suspiciously like Apple’s device.

The rather massive looking speaker (it’s bigger and heavier than the competition) comes with audio powered by AKG, a company now owned by Samsung when they acquired Harman in 2017. With 8 far-field microphones on the inside to pick up voices, 6 speakers arranged in a layout to fill your room with sound, and a woofer to give you a resounding low-end bass, the Galaxy Home pretty much does the same stuff its competitors are doing. The only discernible difference remains Samsung’s Voice AI, Bixby, which powers this speaker. Bixby itself has always been known to lack behind the pack, and Samsung’s choice to bundle the Voice AI into this otherwise pretty capable speaker seems like a confusing direction to go in, given that its acceptance level has been pretty low.

The only high of the Galaxy Home is the fact that Harman Kardon’s sound processing could mean the smart speaker would be, in terms of audio fidelity, definitely a notch above the rest of the competition. Pair that with Samsung’s recent partnership with Spotify and you’ve got a speaker that should, on paper, deliver well in the audio department… but don’t expect Bixby to do a good job googling data for you or ordering stuff for you on online retail portals. This is definitely a good speaker, but calling it a ‘smart’ speaker is something that only time and user feedback will tell… and if nothing, its design could serve as a rather expensive scratching post if you’ve got a cat in the house.

Designer: Samsung

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The Cavalier Maverick is Amazon Echo’s hipster cousin

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In a market filled with tech companies building smart speakers to leverage the increase in voice-input to their favor, Cavalier’s Maverick stands out as a speaker designed for performance first, and for smart-features later. Built by a team of designers, engineers, and overall music aficionados, the Maverick stays true to its name by being one. Stepping away from the usual plastic and metal construction, the Maverick uses cutom-knit fabrics, distressed leather, and genuine wood too, to give you a speaker that conforms yet doesn’t. The speaker comes with Alexa built into it, making it like every smart speaker, but visually, and performance-wise, a class apart.

The Maverick comes with a 20W performance featuring two active drivers and dual passive radiators that fill the entire room with a sound that most smart-speakers can only dream of. Made with Bluetooth and WiFi capabilities, the speaker is fully portable, boasting of 9 hours of play time, and even comes with a charging dock of its own, complete with a leather finish. Built with Amazon Alexa and far-field voice activation, the Maverick lets you control it the way you’d control your smart-speaker, using voice input, accessing all the services Amazon’s Alexa gives you access to. For the analog-lovers, the Maverick comes with a control panel on it too. As far as playback is concerned, the Maverick comes with Cavalier’s partner app, allowing you to connect multiple Maverick speakers to one another and create a sound-stage around your house.

Fitting in the small intersection of the Venn diagram between true music lovers and tech lovers, the Maverick delivers on all fronts, with its incredible sound profile, voice assistant, and that difficult-to-ignore retro-premium aesthetic!

Designer: Cavalier Audio

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