Gadgets & Smart Home Reviews

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Despite what you may have read, the Amazon Echo was never a do-anything smart home device. Sure it could tell you about the weather and maybe control your lights, but it lacked the under-the-hood hub capabilities that could make all your connected devices work together. The new Amazon Echo Plus offers just that. I'm not sure it's worth it, but that absolutely depends on you.

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Peace of mind is one thing that a smart home can give you -- knowing that your precious property is monitored whether you're home or away. Ring's Video Doorbell 2 is a smart home gadget that sits at your front door and logs a video snapshot of all visitors, whether they press your doorbell or not.

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The original Amazon Echo was an ugly black tube -- a speaker meant to be set back in the corner, hidden from view. It was a cheap imitation of the computer from Star Trek. The new Amazon Echo is a much prettier device. It's not suddenly faster or smarter, and your old Echo will do the exact same thing as before, but this one actually looks pretty nice, sells for cheaper, and boy does that make a difference.

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I expected something wonderful. The Samsung Sound+ has eleven drivers, Wi-Fi audio capabilities similar to the Sonos Playbar, and a very attractive design. In short, I was hoping for a cheaper version of the Sonos Playbar, and in many ways that's very much what you get, particularly if you're using a Samsung TV, which it magically pairs with. Yet a slightly lower price tag than the competition comes at a significant ding to audio. This thing did not fill my home with music or explosions. Instead it just offered a decent upgrade to the dinky speakers on my TV.

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In recent years, set-top boxes have been shrinking down to tinier, cheaper packages with a growing list of fun new features. The new Fire TV dongle with 4K, HDR, and Dolby Atmos showcases some of the best aspects about this trend. It's cute. It's a thrill to use. It's just $US70. The only problem is that you still can't use the new Fire TV for everything. It's very good, but it's not the very best.

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Sonos wouldn't like it, but you could call its new smart speaker an "Echo." A high-end, very nice-sounding, but flawed Amazon Echo -- the kind someone who just got a promotion might buy themselves, because unlike the $US50 Dot or new $US100 Echo, this speaker will set you back $299.

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It feels like we're leaving the world of set-top boxes as we know them behind. For one, few people own a TV big enough that you could actually put a box on top of it -- that's been true for a long time. The box itself has also dwindled down to a dongle, a handy little thing that disappears behind the screen. These HDMI sticks have been a bit weak in the past, serving as a convenient but compromised alternative to a larger piece of hardware. The Roku Streaming Stick+, with its ability to handle 4K and HDR, changes all that.

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It's almost unfair that most of the world met our voice-controlled future in the form of an Amazon Echo. Sure, the gadget works, but damn is it ugly. The Google Home was better but still sort of silly-looking. That's why the sleek, minimalist Google Home Mini feels like a revelation.

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Here's a bold statement: Beats headphones have gotten better since Apple bought the company. They're still kind of a trick, fuelled by premium marketing from the tech company that invented premium marketing. The new Beats Studio3 Wireless headphones are no different. They're better! But they're still Beats.

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I would not want to be a dedicated Apple TV user and an obsessive TV consumer. In the years since its release, the little black box by Apple has often lagged behind competitors, seemingly forgotten by Apple in favour of phones, computers, and even watches. And the Apple TV's status as the "other" on Apple's list of sales feels evident when you notice how late to the 4K party it is. Fortunately for Apple fans, the Apple TV 4K is so polished it almost feels like it was worth the wait.