Amazon Products designed to revolutionize + establish trends in the tech world!

Amazon has revolutionized the tech world with its ingenious releases! They’ve pioneered major change right from their designs to the way they work and consumer behavior. And today in an ode to the tech giant, we’ve curated a collection of its best products. From a bi-directional robotaxi that brings autonomous ridesharing to even a 3-in-1 humidifier – these innovative products have unlimited scope and possibilities. Amazon has dipped its toes in almost every category possible, and this list celebrates the best of those explorations. Enjoy!

Amazon-owned Zoox (acquired last year by Amazon) has been working relentlessly for six years towards its goal of bringing fully autonomous robotaxi to the crowded urban landscape, which has finally been revealed. Zoox is a conventional cube-shaped with a unique bi-directional ride sans any steering wheel – having the capability to smoothly navigate tight spaces without much fuzz since it comes with a 4 wheel independent suspension system. The fact that it can move in any direction (independent turning wheels) and does not need to reverse (remember it is bi-directional) gives it an advantage on urban roads as it measures just 3.63 meters.

I’m not entirely sure whether the resemblance to the Harman Kardon Aura Studio is intentional or not, but it definitely gives the Amazon Humidifier a certain visual appeal. The humidifier is powered by ultrasonic tech that helps create a uniformly distributed mist of vapor in the air. An auto-sensing mechanism allows it to switch on when the air gets exceptionally dry, and turn off after a while.

The Always Home Cam (as it’s called) expands on Ring’s home security line-up (an Amazon company), giving you a camera that sits INSIDE your house rather than at the entrance of it, like the Ring’s more popular video doorbells. When it detects a break-in, the flying camera un-docks from its station and travels to the intruder, capturing their face on video, which is beamed to the owner’s phone (and possibly even the police, considering Ring’s partnerships with local police forces). It’s designed to activate only when the owners aren’t at home and come with a completely enclosed propeller system so that it doesn’t harm anyone or any pets as it flies around the house to surveil intrusions.

Labeled as the ‘best-dressed Echo yet’, the speakers look less like a mysterious black orb and more colorful, fitting with your home’s decor. Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg introduced the three patterns that are very much evergreen styles, with palettes that add a fresh zing to your living space. Titled Midnight Kiss, Ikat, and Twigs, the Echo Dots turn the boring black sphere into an instant point-of-interest in the room.

Health and wellness are one of the few industries still thriving in unprecedented times because physical and mental well-being is of utmost priority for everyone right now. Amazon’s Halo’s most exclusive feature is the fact that it creates a 3D model of your body and tracks the emotional tone in your voice for an even more personalized wellness journey. Technology with EQ (emotional quotient) capabilities are rare and mostly seen in experimental robots. The existing trackers can probably get an idea about your feeling through heart rate but evaluating your emotions through your voice is new in wearables.


Called Echo Show 10, it’s roughly 20 bucks costlier than the previous 10.1-inch brick but is more life-like and productive. This smart assistant comes with a similar 10.1-inch full-HD screen (two tweeters and a woofer) that’s capable of rotating as you move around in front of it. The movement is only kicked off when you interact with it – whether by saying “Alexa” – to trigger the voice assistant – or by touching the screen. You can be confident you’re not being followed around the room when you’ve not authorized the device to do so. Echo Show 10 employs audio beamforming technology and computer vision to know where you are in the room and then silently face the screen toward you.

Amazon’s musical instrument isn’t for musicians… it’s for developers. This is the AWS DeepComposer, a machine learning-driven keyboard aimed at coders and developers, giving them a creative, hands-on way to approach machine learning, and probably knock out a few jams while they’re at it. “AWS DeepComposer is a 32-key, 2-octave keyboard designed for developers to get hands-on with Generative AI, with either pre-trained models or your own”, says Julien Simon from Amazon Web Services.

The drone (there’s no codename yet) is the culmination of over 50,000 iterations and computer tests, and Amazon hopes to use it for delivering smaller items like groceries and supplies over distances of 7-8 miles, helping the company achieve same-day instant deliveries without the hassle of moving parts of trucks, delivery agents, and traffic. The drone’s design comes with an integrated squarish pod that can carry a parcel at a time, delivering items in under 30 minutes to customers. Its design comes equipped with 6 rotor units sporting unique S-shaped propellers that provide the thrust without making excess noise, allowing the drone to fly over neighborhoods without causing much of a disturbance (an issue most citizens expressed their concern over during multiple tests runs).


Amazon’s Echo Sub unit can be used alongside the Echo and Echo Dot. Its purpose? To bring the bass! Colliding head-on with companies like Sonos (or even Apple’s exorbitant Home Pod), the Echo Sub is a 100W down-firing woofer that can pair with existing Echo devices to bring a rich low-end to the music you listen to. The Sub can connect with as many as two Echo devices too, to give you a rather nifty stereo 2.1 setup. The Echo Sub’s up for pre-orders, with shipping beginning as soon as the end of this month!

Amazon also unleashed some interesting releases for its own workspaces! AmaZen brings employees into interactive kiosks that are dotted throughout Amazon’s factories to guide them through meditation and mindfulness practices, and Wellness Zones “provide employees with voluntary stretching and muscle recovery via easily accessible, dedicated spaces within Amazon’s operations buildings”.

The best study-from-home essentials for students

Engadget recommends a variety of laptops every year as part of our annual back-to-school guide. But that’s not quite enough if you want a productive study environment. Whether you’re a student staying home this year or you’re returning to campus, you’ll benefit from a few additional essentials. A laptop stand is useful for preventing neck and arm pain, while a lumbar pillow supports the lower back. A pair of noise-cancelling headphones does wonders for blocking out distractions and a LED lamp helps ease eye fatigue. From an external keyboard to a USB dock, we think all our suggestions below will lead to much-improved setup for those long study sessions.

Soundance Laptop Stand

Soundance Laptop Stand
Will Lipman Photography / Soundance

While laptops are more convenient than desktops, using just your notebook for long periods of time is bad for your posture and can lead to neck ache. That’s why we strongly recommend getting a laptop stand. You can position your machine so that the screen is at the appropriate height. In general, you want your eye level to be one to two inches below the top of the display.

One of our team’s favorites is this one from Soundance, which can support laptops with 10- to 15-inch screens. It’s made from a sturdy aluminum alloy and the surface that holds the laptop is rubberized, which prevents it from sliding around. And, thanks to a series of detachable components, it’s also one of a few stands that’s easily portable. You can take it apart and put it together in minutes, making it great not just for your desk at home, but also for using it in the library.

The Soundance raises your laptop six inches above the desk, which should work well for most people. Also, the elevated design both facilitates better posture and helps ventilate your laptop. There’s even enough space underneath for you to store your keyboard and mouse when they’re not in use. If you want one with adjustable height, we recommend the Rain Design iLevel 2. It’s not quite as portable and it’s more expensive than the Soundance, but it’s a good option if you need a stand with more flexibility.

Buy Soundance laptop stand at Amazon - $24Buy Rain Design iLevel 2 at Amazon - $47

Logitech K780 multi-device wireless keyboard

Logitech K780 Multi-Device Wireless Keyboard
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If you do get a laptop stand, you’ll definitely want an external keyboard to go along with it. (It’s not going to be comfortable typing on your laptop while it’s docked in the stand.) We recommend a wireless model so you don’t have to worry about cords cluttering up your desk. Logitech’s line of Bluetooth keyboards is an Engadget favorite, and the K780 is one of the brand’s most versatile models. It’s a full-size keyboard complete with a numpad, but it still feels slim and compact. The keys are responsive and comfortable as well, and you can pair it with up to three devices. There’s even an integrated cradle if you wish to use it with a smartphone or iPad.

Buy Logitech K780 at Amazon - $59

Logitech M525 wireless mouse

Logitech M525 Wireless Mouse
Will Lipman Photography / Logitech

In addition to the external keyboard, you should get a wireless mouse to match. Logitech’s M525 is a great option thanks to its ergonomic design and affordable price point. It’s small enough that it won’t take up much space on your desk and It has an ambidextrous design that’ll fit both right and left-handed users. Its precision scroll wheel has a tilt function that allows for side-to-side scrolling as well. We should note, however, that this isn’t a Bluetooth mouse; you connect it to your computer via a USB receiver.

If you’d rather have the convenience of Bluetooth, consider the MX Anywhere 3. It has a 4,000-dpi Track Anywhere sensor that works on most surfaces, even glass. However, the MX Anywhere 3 is a lot pricier at $80 and it doesn’t include the aforementioned tilt wheel, so bear that in mind.

Buy Logitech M525 at Amazon - $25Buy MX Anywhere 3 at Amazon - $80

Purple Back Cushion

Purple Back Cushion
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Long study sessions often mean sitting for an extended amount of time, which can result in lower back pain. You could get a chair with better back support, but those can be expensive. Plus, if you’re living in a dorm, you probably don’t have much choice in furniture anyway. The next best option is to get a lumbar support pillow. I personally recommend the Purple Back Cushion because it has a cushy grid that’s malleable enough to mold to the contour of my spine. One of the features that sets it apart from other cushions is that it has hundreds of air channels, which means you won’t get a sweaty back after sitting in a stuffy dorm room all day long. It comes with a washable cushion cover and an integrated strap that helps you attach it to most chairs.

Buy Purple Back Cushion at Amazon - $39

Taotronics LED Desk Lamp 38

Taotronics LED Desk Lamp 38
Will Lipman Photography / Taotronics

Another desk must-have is a lamp for those late-night study sessions. And if you’re going to spend money on one, it’s a good idea to get a lamp that can charge your devices at the same time. We’ve commended the Taotronics desk lamps in previous buying guides due to their multi-functionality, which is why we feel so confident recommending the Taotronics LED Desk Lamp 38 for most students.

The lamp has a built-in Qi-enabled wireless charger on its base that works with fast-charge compatible iPhone and Samsung devices up to 7.5W and 10W, respectively. Additionally, it has a USB port for charging other devices that aren’t Qi compatible. A multipurpose lamp is perfect for students who have a limited space and budget, plus the quick-charging base means you can quickly top up your battery in between classes. Of course, not having to deal with a charging cable while you’re studying is also a bonus.

The LED Desk Lamp 38 is also just a really excellent lamp, with five lighting modes and five brightness levels. You can use it on your nightstand too: It has a “night light” and a timer mode that automatically shuts off after an hour, which is helpful for those of us who like to read before bed.

Buy Desk Lamp 38 at Taotronics - $56

Sony WH-CH710N noise cancelling headphones

Sony WH-CH710N Noise Cancelling Headphones
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

A pair of noise-cancelling headphones is great for blocking out unwanted noise during study sessions, be it from annoying siblings or a raucous roommate. You might be hesitant to get one because you think noise-cancelling headphones are expensive, and for the most part that’s correct. Fortunately, there are some budget options that aren’t terrible.

Take Sony’s WH-CH710N wireless cans, for example. Engadget’s Billy Steele noted that it offers decent range and good clarity, adept ANC, plus it has dual noise sensors that can detect environmental noise. You can also switch to ambient sound mode if you need to quickly hear the world around you. They also offer an impressive 35 hours of battery life, plus USB-C quick charging that promises 60 minutes of playback on a 10-minute charge.

These headphones may look a little more basic than the higher-end XM4s, but Sony didn’t compromise on comfort here thanks to adjustable sliders and soft oval-shaped earcups. They’re also much more affordable at $198 (and we’ve seen them for less), giving you a lot of bang for your buck.

Buy WH-CH710N at Amazon - $178

Cooper Standing Desk Converter by Fully

Cooper Standing Desk Converter by Fully
Fully

Sitting for long periods is bad for your health, which is why many people like to have standing desks. Unfortunately, they can be expensive, plus you might not even have the space for one. Instead, consider a standing desk converter that can be used with the desk you already own. Fully’s Cooper is a staff favorite, and we like it more than even the company’s Cora model because it has two levels: one for your laptop and another for your external keyboard and mouse. Raising and lowering it is easy thanks to a simple hydraulic lift, and it’s external-monitor friendly thanks to its 35 pounds (16 kilograms) weight limit. Plus, unlike a lot of other sit-stand converters, it’s pretty stylish to boot — we especially like the one with the bamboo finish.

Buy Cooper converter at Fully - $299

CalDigit USB-C Pro Dock

CalDigit USB-C Pro Dock
Will Lipman Photography / Caldigit

Your computer can be your portal to, well, everything when you're in school — you're probably using it to attend classes and complete coursework all while also relying on it to connect with family, game with friends and the like. You may find yourself constantly connecting and disconnecting peripherals and accessories while pushing your machine to its limits, and that's where a dock like this one from CalDigit can come in handy. Commerce Editor Valentina Palladino likes it because it has 10 ports, including USB-A, USB-C, Gigabit Ethernet and DisplayPort (or HDMI, depending on the model you choose), and it supports up to two 4K monitors with a single cable.

Our favorite part, though, is that it works with both Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C laptops, so if you’re not sure which you have, you don’t have to worry about it. You can also use it with the latest iPads, such as iPad Pros and the 4th-gen Air. Unlike smaller dongles, it’s not the most portable solution, but the Pro Dock makes up for that by giving you many more ports than your traditional adapter has — and it provides up to 94W of power to charge your device while it’s connected.

Buy USB-C Pro Dock at Amazon - $239

24-inch ViewSonic VA2456-MHD monitor

24-inch ViewSonic VA2456-MHD monitor
Will Lipman Photography / ViewSonic

Sometimes a laptop screen just isn’t big enough, and an external monitor is needed for you to do your best work. It’s useful for those who need more screen real estate for stats and charts, Excel spreadsheets, editing photos or video, or just looking over copious amounts of code.

However, monitors can be pricey. ViewSonic’s 24-inch VA2456-MHD, however, delivers an impressive feature set for the price. Though we haven’t reviewed it, it’s highly-rated on Amazon and we’ve liked ViewSonic’s other monitors in the past so we know the company has a solid track record for quality. The VA2456-MHD has HDMI, DisplayPort and VGA connections, which makes it pretty versatile for a budget monitor. It also has 1080p resolution and an IPS panel for wide-angle viewing. Its three-sided frameless design is sleek too, an important quality for such a relatively large object. Lastly, it has a blue light filter to help minimize eye strain.

We should note however, that those looking for a color-accurate monitor might want to invest in something more powerful, like Dell’s UltraSharp U2720Q, but it is also considerably more expensive at nearly $700.

Buy 24-inch ViewSonic monitor at Amazon - $180

Ironflask 24 oz Classic tumbler

Ironflask 24 oz Classic Tumbler
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

It’s important to stay hydrated even when you’re at your desk, which is why we like having a dedicated water vessel nearby. Commerce Editor Valentina Palladino recommends the Ironflask 24-ounce Classic tumbler as a more affordable alternative to a Yeti or a Hydro Flask (the new Nomad tumbler is slightly more travel-friendly thanks to its leak-proof flip lid). Its double-walled, vacuum insulated construction can keep drinks cold for up to 16 hours and hot for up to four hours. That means you can use it for water as well as coffee or tea when you need a pick-me-up. It comes in a variety of colors, and it ships with two stainless straws, two plastic straws and straw cleaning brushes — so not only is the cup itself easy to clean, but you’re getting the tools to clean the straws, too. It also fits standard-size cup holders, which is great when you want to grab a drink on the go.

Buy Ironflask Classic tumbler at Amazon - $23Buy Nomad tumbler at Ironflask - $24

The best student discounts we found for 2021

They say your college years are the best of your life. But they tend to leave out the part where you’re scrounging every dollar for textbooks, food and (if you’re lucky) the occasional weekend outing with friends. Money is tight when you’re a student, and that financial stress can be compounded by the reality of having to stay on top of your studies.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s student discounts. Many companies offer their products and services for less to those struggling through lectures, writing research papers and studying for finals. We’ve compiled a list of the best deals you can get on useful services, along with some things you’ll enjoy in your down time. Just keep in mind that most of these offers require you to prove your status as a student either by signing up with your .edu email address or providing some form of student identification.

Shopping

Amazon Prime Student

If you’re not piggybacking off of your parents’ Amazon Prime account, you can have the subscription for less while you’re in school. College students can get Prime Student for $6.50 per month or $60 per year, and it includes the same perks as a standard Prime membership including free two-day shipping, free same-day delivery in select areas, and access to the entire Prime Video library. Amazon also currently offers a six-month free trial, so you’ll pay even less during your first year.

Buy Prime Student at Amazon - $60 a year

Best Buy

While it doesn’t offer a specific student discount, Best Buy has Student Deals that you can sign up to receive. Aside from proving your student status, the only requirement is for you to be a My Best Buy member; that program is free to enroll in. We actually recommend that most people sign up for My Best Buy because some items, especially during site-wide sales, will be even cheaper for members. All student deals will appear in the Member Offers page in your account.

Sign up for Student Deals at Best Buy

Apple

Apple offers some deals to students and educators. This year in particular, Apple is throwing in a free pair of AirPods when you buy select Macs or iPads for college. You’ll get AirPods with the regular wired charging case free, or you can upgrade to AirPods with the wireless charging case for $40 more. Alternatively, you can get the AirPods Pro for $90 more. Apple knows how popular AirPods are and it clearly wants to sweeten the deal for students who have been thinking about getting a new computer before heading off to college.

The AirPods promotion also includes Apple education pricing on Macs and iPads. There isn’t a flat percentage rate across all products; the discounts are device dependent. For example, right now students can get a new MacBook Air M1 starting at $899, which is $100 less than the normal starting price (Amazon's matching this price, too). The 13-inch MacBook Pro also starts off $100 cheaper and the new iPad Pros start at $749, or $50 cheaper than usual. These are decent savings if you must have a brand new Apple product, but those with tighter budgets should also consider Apple’s refurb program.

Shop Apple’s back-to-school promos

Samsung

Samsung offers up to 10 percent off most of its products to students and educators. The brand also has some decent offers like a "speed and storage" bundle that includes two Samsung drives for under $300. We’d recommend stretching that 10 percent discount as much as possible by using it on big-ticket items like a Samsung laptop or a Galaxy smartphone if you need one. Otherwise, Samsung has solid accessories like the Galaxy SmartTag and the Galaxy Watch Active 2.

Shop Samsung’s back-to-school promos

Microsoft

Microsoft also provides students and educators with up to 10 percent off its gadgets, including the already affordable Surface Go 2 and the Surface Headphones 2. And Microsoft’s online store doesn’t only sell Surface devices: You can also find Windows PCs from Lenovo, HP, Acer and others there at discounted prices.

Shop Microsoft’s back-to-school promos

Streaming

Spotify

Spotify Premium’s student plan gives you a lot for only $5 per month. Besides access to millions of songs, it also includes Hulu’s ad-supported plan and Showtime’s ad-free service. You’d spend roughly $27 a month if you paid for all three separately at their full prices, making this student offer one of the best you can get.

Buy Spotify Premium Student - $5 a month

Pandora

Pandora also offers students its Premium membership for $5 per month. Pandora’s offering doesn’t include any additional services, but you do get an ad-free experience, personalized music, unlimited skips and unlimited offline play.

Buy Pandora Premium Student- $5 a month

Apple Music

Apple also slashes 50 percent off its Apple Music subscription for students, bringing it down to $5 per month. The offer is available for up to 48 months so you can enjoy the rate for the entirety of your college experience. What’s more, the company bundles Apple TV+ in this student offer, so you can watch Apple originals like The Morning Show and See.

Buy Apple Music Student membership - $5 a month

Tidal

Tidal provides student discounts on both of its streaming services: Premium and Hi-Fi. Premium drops to $5 per month, down from $10, while Hi-Fi costs $10 per month, down from $20. This year, the company is offering a three-month free trial of either of its services to any new user through the end of August. Tidal is still often overshadowed by Spotify and Apple Music, but these discounts are a good way to give it a try without spending too much money.

Buy Tidal Student starting at $10 a month

Hulu

College students can sign up for Hulu’s ad-supported plan for only $2 per month. That’s $4 less than the normal price and a great deal considering all of the content that Hulu has to offer (think The Handmaid’s Tale, Grey’s Anatomy, Rick & Morty and more). Yes, you have to deal with commercials, but it’s a small price to pay to binge-watch shows like Brooklyn Nine Nine, which can provide a much-needed laugh when you’re drowning in coursework.

Buy Hulu (ad-supported) - $2 a month

YouTube

If you’re already spending a lot of time watching YouTube, you may have a better experience with YouTube Premium. The Student plan knocks nearly 50 percent off the price so you’ll pay $7 per month for ad-free video viewing, background play, video downloads and access to YouTube Premium Music. The latter is YouTube’s attempt at a Spotify/Apple Music competitor, but it has a long way to go before it can really hold a candle to those services. However, if you listen to most of your music via YouTube already, Premium could be your one-stop-shop for music and video streaming.

Buy YouTube Premium Student - $7 a month

Headspace

Being a student is stressful even in the best of times, but now it’s even more difficult to concentrate and find peace. Headspace is just one of many meditation and mindfulness apps available that can help with that, but it stands apart with a great student discount: $10 for the entire year, or $60 less than a normal annual membership. In addition to a large library of meditation lessons and routines to follow, Headspace recently added SleepCasts, a collection of soothing voices reading bedtime stories to help you fall asleep, as well as “mindful” workout routines.

Buy Headspace Student plan - $10 a year

Tools

Adobe Creative Cloud

You’re probably using Adobe products if you’re studying anything to do with digital art or design. Adobe CC is the industry standard in this space but the entire suite of programs is quite expensive at $53 per month. Thankfully, Adobe has education pricing for students that drops the entire creative suite to $20 per month for the first year. That includes the big programs like Photoshop CC and Illustrator CC along with Lightroom CC, Premiere Pro CC, Adobe XD and more.

After your first year, the monthly cost increases to $30 per month. While not ideal, it’s still more affordable for students than it is for industry professionals. If you’re not tied to Adobe programs, you might also consider Affinity Photo, Designer and Publisher apps from Serif ($50 each for the Mac or Windows versions), which compete with Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

Buy Adobe CC - $20 a month

Ableton Live

Regardless of whether you’re studying music production, students can get 40 percent off Ableton Live Standard or Suite for as long as they are enrolled full-time. That brings Live 11 Standard down to $269 and Suite down to $449 — great discounts on some of the best music software available right now.

Buy Ableton Live starting at $269

Microsoft 365

Many students have to use Microsoft 365 tools on a regular basis. If your college or university doesn’t provide you with an account, you can still get Microsoft 365 for free by taking advantage of the company’s student and educator discount. This gives you access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and even Microsoft Teams free of charge, which is a great deal considering an annual subscription costs $100.

Get Microsoft 365

Ulysses

Spending all day and night writing papers is even more frustrating when you don’t have all your writing organized in one place. Ulysses is a popular writing app for mac/iOS that can be used for note taking as well as thesis writing, with features like auto-save and auto-backup, word-count writing goals, markup, plain text support and DropBox integration. Normally, Ulysses costs $40 per year but students can get it for only $11 every six months, or $22 per year. There isn’t a direct alternative for Windows users, but you do have options including Scrivener (a one-time student price of $41.65), IA Writer (a $20 one-time price) and FocusWriter (free and open-source).

Buy Ulysses - $22 a year

Evernote

Evernote can be an indispensable tool if you like to keep all of your thoughts in one place — everything from class notes to web clippings to to-do lists. Students can get half off one year of Evernote Premium, which brings the price down to $4 per month or $48 for the year. Premium is the way to go if you’re investing in Evernote because it syncs your notes across unlimited devices, gives you offline access, lets you annotate PDFs and search saved documents.

Buy Evernote Premium (1 year) - $4 a month

Squarespace Student plan

Whether you’re itching to get a jump-start on your portfolio or just want an online space for to show off your work, Squarespace is a good option as it gives students a 50 percent discount on any of its annual plans. The most affordable option will cost $72 for the year, which is half the normal yearly price of $144. Squarespace is one of many website builders out there, but it’s particularly popular with creative professionals. Its customizable templates make it easy to build a website and make it look exactly how you want it. Plus, you can upgrade down the line to add things like website analytics, custom JavaScript and CSS and e-commerce.

Buy Squarespace starting at $72 a year

News

It’s always been important to keep up with the news, but it’s never been more important than it is now. Yes, it’s daunting sometimes and we don’t expect (or encourage) you to inhale every breaking-news headline as it’s published. However, it’s crucial to know what’s going on in the country and the world as a whole. Here are some reputable news organizations that offer student discounts on their monthly or annual subscription plans.

The Atlantic: Starts at $25 per year for digital-only access.

The New York Times: $4 every four weeks for a base subscription.

The Washington Post: $5 every four weeks for digital-only access.

The Wall Street Journal: Starting at $4 per month for the Student Digital Pack.

Amazon just gave their Echo Dot speakers a fashion makeover along with designer Diane von Furstenberg

It’s summertime, lockdowns are lifting, and people are dressing up and stepping out again. While the Echo Dot smart speaker really doesn’t have much of a social life, Amazon’s making sure the Echo Dot has its ‘hot girl summer’ too, with a fresh set of fabric designs in collaboration with fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg.

Click Here to Pre-Order

Labeled as the ‘best-dressed Echo yet’, the speakers look less like a mysterious black orb and more colorful, fitting with your home’s decor. Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg introduced the three patterns that are very much evergreen styles, with palettes that add a fresh zing to your living space. Titled Midnight Kiss, Ikat, and Twigs, the Echo Dots turn the boring black sphere into an instant point-of-interest in the room.

There is, however, a catch. The speakers are a part of Amazon’s crowdfunding platform, Day 1 Editions. Amazon is inviting people to vote for their favorite designs by pre-ordering them, and if they hit their pre-order goal, the company will ship the product out to its customers. (Customers will only be charged if the product meets its pre-order goal)

The stylish Echo 4th Gen speakers are also available at a reduced price of $59.99 (as opposed to the original $99 price tag). Plus, as a part of the collaboration, Amazon also pledges to make a donation to Vital Voices – a non-profit chosen by Diane von Furstenberg which invests in women leaders tackling the world’s greatest challenges.

Designer: Diane von Furstenberg in collaboration with Amazon

Click Here to Pre-Order

This smart delivery box sits on your door and is an innovative design to keep porch pirates away!

The pandemic has changed innumerable dimensions of our lives – no contact socializing being one. The term ‘untact’ is a combination of the prefix ‘un’ and the word ‘contact’. Untact has been around as a buzzword since 2017, but now it has gone mainstream courtesy of the COVID-19 stricken world. It portrays the way of doing things without direct contact – home deliveries of products being a good example. The volume of contactless deliveries via numerous services like Amazon and Walmart or other small players with a focused regional reach requires a stringent workflow to ensure that the end-user gets the products without any damage.

Foundation Studio pondered over this problem along with the sensitivity of contactless, safe delivery mechanisms. Their solution is the Smart Delivery Storage Box (SDSB), a.k.a. Smartbox, designed in collaboration with Cheolmin. One fundamental problem identified by them both was safe delivery when the recipient is not home. The SDSB solves this issue, along with the contact-less delivery requirement, without any hassles. The app-enabled Smartbox eliminates any chance of losing the package since you as a user can track it in real-time. The delivery man opens the door of the Smartbox with a one-time verification code, places the product to be delivered inside it, and closes it. For security reasons, the cute little delivery box records the instance when the delivery agent places the box. It then only opens up when the QR code is scanned via the app by the owner.

To make the whole user experience more friendly, the display on the Smartbox shows the status of the delivery – whether it is full or empty. The delivery agent also benefits from this display as it shows the status as “Ready to Receive” once the package has arrived in the designated area. I find this concept very interesting as it makes things easier when nobody is home and important package delivery is arriving the same day!

Designer: Foundation Studio and Cheolmin

The biggest problem with smart-speakers is that they’re voices without faces – LAYER’s Capsula Mini fixes that

Filling a rather strangely-ignored UX gap with the smart-speaker market, LAYER Design’s smart-speaker for Russia-based Mail.ru comes with its own expressive little face that reacts as it listens and speaks. Titled the Capsula Mini, the smart speaker runs Mail.ru’s native voice AI – Marusya, while assuming the friendly avatar of a little AI butler that’s ready to answer all your requests.

The speaker takes on the familiar puck-like shape seen with other mini smart-speakers like the Amazon Echo Dot or the Apple HomePod Mini. It sports a fabric clad around the sides where you’d expect the speakers to fire audio out of, and a set of LED eyes shine right through the fabric. The speaker uses a seven-segment LED display for each eye (and a single dot for the nose), allowing it to express emotions like happiness, sadness, nonchalance, and surprise, while also doubling as a clock that displays the time. A touch-sensitive surface on the top lets you physically interact with the Capsula Mini, while an LED ring underneath its touch panel lights up when the speaker’s active (and turns to red when there’s an error).

The voice and touch-activated speaker hopes to do something rather new by associating a face with the speaker’s voice. Given how our visual sense plays such a dominant role in our perception of everything from events to emotions, it makes sense, being able to associate a face with the voice – after all, video chats are so much better than audio calls, no? Capsula Mini’s eyes and nose also pull off the ‘serious’ veneer associated with gadgets that end up scaring people who are tech-phobic or don’t know how to use certain tech appliances – like children or the elderly. The fact that Capsula Mini has a face and a voice anthropomorphizes it, making it much more approachable, especially to people who aren’t tech-savvy.

The smart-speaker will be available to Russian users in two color variants – ‘Dove Grey’ and ‘Charcoal’, with more colors in the future.

Designer: LAYER Design for Mail.ru

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Amazon’s Amazen meditative boxes and new safety program plans to reduce workplace injuries by 50%

Striving to become ‘Earth’s Safest Place to Work,’ in 2021, Amazon pumped $300 million into safety projects. Intending to cut annual recordable incidents rates– or work-related injuries that result in loss of consciousness, days away from work, restricted work, or transferring of job in half, the giant corporation says in a press release that the new safety programs “will help prevent injuries, provide wellness services, and offer quality healthcare for employees while at work and at home.” Dubbing it WorkingWell, the new overarching safety effort consists of a comprehensive program that provides employees with physical and mental activities, wellness exercises, and healthier food options at work and home.

Coming out of a record-breaking year, accruing an annual revenue of $386 billion, Amazon shelled out $300 million for safety projects in 2021. In Amazon’s press release, it said that WorkingWell incorporates “scientifically proven health and safety education and exercises,” such as health and safety huddles where groups of employees learn in collaboration about rotating topics that range from gripping and handling machinery to health and wellness. Wellness Zones “provide employees with voluntary stretching and muscle recovery via easily accessible, dedicated spaces within Amazon’s operations buildings”. AmaZen brings employees into interactive kiosks that are dotted throughout Amazon’s factories to guide them through meditation and mindfulness practices. Keeping the press release aside, these tiny rooms or “individual interactive kiosks,” look too small to provide any actual relief. In fact, the company faced quite a backlash over their release, with Amazon actually deleting a video of Amazen they initially shared on Twitter.

EatWell positions employees to develop healthier eating habits by “increasing the availability of healthier [food] options.” Another safety effort, Amazon’s Neighborhood Health Center, manifests as a partnership with Crossover Health, providing employees with access to comprehensive primary care services that “focus on acute, chronic, and preventive primary healthcare needs.” Employees situated behind workstations will also be notified of hourly computer prompts that guide them through “scientifically proven physical and mental activities to help recharge and re-energize.” In 2019, Amazon fulfillment centers reported 14,000 severe injuries, which increased by 33% since 2016. By integrating WorkingWell into their factories and safety measures, Amazon announces a goal of cutting that number in half by 2025.

Designer: Amazon

AmaZen and EatWell provide Amazon employees with opportunities to meditate and develop healthier eating habits at work.

Group huddles allow Amazon employees to collaborate and learn about health and wellness as well as the proper handling of onsite machinery.

The hourly computer prompts remind Amazon employees to move around to “recharge and re-energize.”

Spotify launches its first hardware device, a touchscreen player for your car called the “Car Thing”

While its name probably makes it sound like something an executive at Spotify thought of overnight, the Spotify ‘Car Thing’ has been in the works for years. It honestly makes sense, considering every one of Spotify’s competitors is in the hardware space too – Apple has the HomePod Mini and the AirPods complementing its Apple Music, and Amazon has the Echo series of smart speakers tying in with Prime Music. The Car Thing helps Spotify enter the hardware space too, and solidify its position in the one area where the market still remains untapped, and where honestly people require music/radio/podcasts the most… the car.

Picture this… you’ve got a long, 30-minute drive to work. A decade ago, you’d switch the radio on and listen to the news or some music. Now, you’re most likely to tune into your favorite podcast episode, or play music from a playlist on your streaming service. The software has evolved, although the hardware’s still playing catch-up. Not every car comes with a smart dashboard, and it can be a nuisance to constantly lift up your phone and unlock it to pick a song or a podcast episode… especially when you’re driving. That’s where the Car Thing comes in.

Issued as a limited release, Spotify’s Car Thing provides a bridge between your car’s speaker system and your favorite online streaming service. Available for free to a select group of applicants (you can sign up on Spotify’s Car Thing microsite), the Car Thing is a nifty little dashboard that brings Spotify to life in your automobile. It runs a version of the streaming company’s Car View, a simple interface that’s easy to use and navigate while driving, and while the device DOES have a touchscreen, it comes with physical dials and buttons that you can instinctively operate with your hand as you keep your eyes on the road.

The Spotify Car Thing is built to be compatible with vehicles regardless of make or model and displays a home screen with a touch-sensitive navigation dial slightly overlapping the screen to make the device look visually dramatic. The device comes with voice-controlled search too, and you can simply summon songs, artists, and playlists by using the command “Hey Spotify” before your query. Alternatively, you could rotate the dial to navigate the dashboard, increase or decrease volume, or press it to select songs or play/pause music. A button right below the dial lets you go back to the home screen, and 4 preset buttons on the top let you instantly play songs, stations, podcasts, or playlists of your choice.

Ultimately, the Car Thing works as a bridge between your phone and your car’s speaker system. It doesn’t sport a speaker of its own, instead, it connects to your car’s built-in speaker system either via Bluetooth or an aux cable. It still requires your smartphone too, given that it can’t connect to the internet independently. Sure, that sounds like a bit of a drag, but what Spotify is betting on is a much more intuitive and easy-to-use interface that lets you listen to your favorite talk shows and music without fiddling with your phone as you drive. The Car Thing ships with three mounting accessories for connecting it to a vent, the dashboard, or the CD player, and can be powered either by the USB port in your car, or a USB adapter that fits into the lighter socket. Sadly, the Car Thing isn’t quite available to the general public yet. You need to sign up on the Car Thing website and Spotify states that the device will only be available to “select” Spotify Premium members. To make up for that, the company is giving the Car Thing away at a 100% discount on its $79.99 price-tag. All you really need to pay is a nominal $6.99 shipping fee.

Designer: Spotify

The Car Thing sports a 4-inch touchscreen, with a durable construction and matte-textured rubber controls that are responsive and easy to use.

A rotating dial lets you quickly cycle through elements on your interface, and you can simply push the dial to select an item within your menu or press the home button below to go back to your home screen.

The upper edge of the Car Thing spots 5 buttons – 4 for dedicated presets, and a recessed button on the extreme right lets you either quick/mute a song, or access your settings. The device even comes with 4 microphones on the top, laid out in between each of the buttons, that run Spotify’s adaptive interference cancellation technology to help tune out the background noise and focus on your voice commands.

Each Spotify Car Thing ships in a kit that includes a USB cable to power the device, a 12V adapter for your car’s lighter socket, 3 different mounts to choose from, and a rubber cover for extending the primary dial’s lifespan.

Xiaomi’s new $59 Smart Clock is a super-affordable alternative to the Amazon Echo Show

I wouldn’t be surprised if you mistook the Mi Smart Clock for an Amazon Echo Show from afar. They both share a pretty similar front-view, with a landscape display accompanied by a thick bezel. The only difference is that the $59 smart speaker/clock doesn’t come with a camera embedded within the bezel. At that price, I wouldn’t expect it to… more so considering it costs just $30 in Xiaomi’s home country, China.

I’d hate to really harp on its price (after all we’re a design site), but the price of the Xiaomi Mi Smart Clock is really a feature, given most regular smart speakers cost nearly double… multiply it by 4 if you’re adding a display too. The price aside, the Mi Smart Clock is a nifty little smart-speaker with Google Assistant built-in. The display on the clock is a high-quality 3.97-inch touchscreen running MIUI, and can be used either to display images and photos from your camera roll, or as a clock (with a variety of themes to choose from). Aside from these two functions, the Mi Smart Clock allows you to connect it to a host of IoT devices too, letting you monitor and control a variety of other smart devices around your house (like your home security cam or smart lights) simply by summoning Google Assistant. The display acts as a dashboard for notifications too, and thanks to built-in Chromecast, you can beam music, videos, and other content from your smartphone or tablet to your Mi Smart Clock’s display (potentially allowing your kids to watch cartoons without having to give your phone to them). Of course, the Mi Smart Clock works as a regular smart-speaker too, letting you do things you’d normally do with your Echo or Google Nest speaker like play music, narrate the news, or tell you the weather.

In a market saturated with smart speakers, Xiaomi manages to strut in rather comfortably, thanks to its brand recognition and that frankly unbeatable price. Although given that tag, you’d have to wonder where the compromise lies… is it in the lack of a camera? Or in the fact that the company access to all your data?

Designer: Xiaomi