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.

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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

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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 comes with its own expressive little face that reacts as it listens and speaks. Titled the Capsula Mini, the smart speaker runs’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

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How Michelangelo’s Statue of David helped inspire one of the most beautiful, home-friendly speaker designs ever

Torso Speaker inspired by Michelangelo Statue of David

The fact that fabric is now considered an industrial design material can be directly attributed to Google. When the company first designed smart speakers for homes, it deliberately looked to interior decor for inspiration. In came soft forms, fabric clads, leather trims, and home-friendly color palettes. Google’s smart home products played a pivotal role in reinventing how home appliances are designed to fit into their domestic surroundings rather than look like gadgets, and it’s something the Torso Speaker embraces so incredibly well with its statuesque design that draws inspiration from marble sculptures from the Greco-Roman times. The speaker’s bust-shape is a rather literal interpretation of turning gadgets into home-friendly decor, but there’s something immensely poetic about how it draws a balance between the two! By drawing from the beauty and perfection of marble sculptures, the speaker echoes those very attributes too – elegance, beauty, perfection.

Torso Speaker inspired by Michelangelo Statue of David

What the Torso does is quite literally show us that we’re in a Renaissance period of smart home-appliance design. Speakers are being made to blend into surroundings, with them sometimes looking like lamps, furniture, or even as IKEA’s demonstrated, photo-frames. Designer Yang Dong Wook created the Torso speaker in the image of Michelangelo’s bust of David, bringing its nuanced classical qualities into product design. Created as a part of Samsung’s Design Membership Program, the Torso speaker explores the relationship between interiors and gadgets (sort of the same way Samsung’s Serif TV did). The speaker looks remarkably like an abstract bust you’d proudly place on your mantelpiece, displaying for all your guests to see. It adopts the same shapes, contours, and tilts as the Bust of David, with the slanted shoulders and the slightly angled head, resulting in an incredibly expressive form.

Torso Speaker inspired by Michelangelo Statue of David

Torso Speaker inspired by Michelangelo Statue of David

The speaker’s built to scale and serves a highly elevated decorative purpose in its surroundings. Its neck acts as a vessel, allowing you to use the speaker as a vase or a place to hang your ornaments, and that gray finish gives it a pristine marble-like appearance too.

Torso Speaker inspired by Michelangelo Statue of David

Torso Speaker inspired by Michelangelo Statue of David

While the upper part of the Torso serves as a vase-like container, its collar area comes outfitted with the speakers, sitting under a fabric clad. The speakers fire forwards (because of how the Torso has a very definite front profile), while passive radiator channels in the bottom create a reverberating bass.

Torso Speaker inspired by Michelangelo Statue of David

Torso Speaker inspired by Michelangelo Statue of David

The controls for the speaker are located on the shoulder of the bust. A power button on the left lets you switch the Torso on or off, and a Bluetooth button on the right lets you connect a device. The shoulder-bridge sports a touch-sensitive volume slider, so increasing or decreasing the volume becomes an incredibly interactive, almost sensual experience, as you drag your fingertip down the Torso’s shoulder. Talk about a product having sex appeal!!

Torso Speaker inspired by Michelangelo Statue of David

Torso Speaker inspired by Michelangelo Statue of David

The Torso speaker does a few things pretty adeptly. For designers and companies, it shows how inspiration can be found practically anywhere. For a consumer, it unlocks an absolutely new category of products that redefine tech and home decor completely, combining the timeless beauty of Greco-Roman sculptures with a contemporary, functional product… but most importantly, for the vast design movement, it shows how a design can have a timeless quality to it, by borrowing from something that’s truly iconic, classical, and evergreen in its allure!

Designer: Yang Dong Wook

Torso Speaker inspired by Michelangelo Statue of David

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

Sony’s absurd electric-shaver-shaped wireless speaker can fill your entire room with rich sound

When you think of smart speakers, Sony is a brand that’s name really doesn’t come to mind. The company never really invested its efforts in the smart-speaker game, or even in developing its own Voice AI the way Samsung and other Asian tech companies did. As fashionably late as Sony may be to the party, at least it knows how to make a grand entrance. The company just unveiled its series of premium wireless speakers, the SRS-RA3000 and the SRS-RA5000… and while those names aren’t really catchy, you could just call the SRS-RA5000 the shaver speaker, because well, just look at it.

The speaker’s design is a function of its audio driver layout. It features a 70mm subwoofer in its base, and six full-range 46mm drivers laid out around the sides and the top (quite similar to Amazon’s Echo Studio and the now obsolete Apple HomePod). Together, these drivers push out sound upward and outward, creating what Sony describes as “ambient room-filling sound”. Sony’s even outfitted the speaker with two microphones, but they aren’t for your voice. Rather, the microphones help the speaker automatically calibrate its sound based on where you place it in the room, allowing for it to adjust how the speaker throws sound when placed in a corner of the space versus the center. Although, if you do want your smart speaker to respond to voice commands, the SRS-RA5000 is compatible with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.

Sony’s speaker works over Bluetooth and WiFi, and is even compatible with Spotify Connect and Chromecast Audio. The speakers are optimized for Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format, which can ‘upscale’ regular tracks to make them sound more rich and immersive, although this feature currently works only with selected platforms like Tidal, Deezer, and Amazon Music HD. For other streaming services and offline music sources, Sony’s thrown in its DSEE technology which greatly improves the sound of compressed audio or lossy MP3s. Oh yes, I did say offline music, because the speaker even sports its own 3.5mm jack that lets you hook it up to analog audio sources like your iPod, a turntable, or even your TV! The Sony SRS-RA5000 is available for pre-order and is expected to ship as early as the first week of April… although it’s difficult to see past that electric-shaver-inspired design, and its $700 price tag!

Designer: Sony

Get Amazon’s latest Echo and two Hue bulbs for $80

Amazon is making it a little easier to get started with a smart home. The internet giant is selling a bundle that pairs the latest-generation Echo with two Philips Hue white light bulbs for $80 — a full $50 below the official asking price. And when t...