TIME Gadgets

After Recall, Nest Smoke Alarm Is Back and Discounted


Nest’s followup to its nicely designed smart thermostat was a smart smoke detector called Protect (see our original coverage here).

One of the features of Protect — aside from being Internet-connected and able to send alerts to your smartphone — was a trick that let you wave your hand underneath it to silence it.

The thought was that people have a tendency to accidentally set off their smoke alarms while cooking, and getting the alarms to pipe down is more cumbersome than it should be.

However, the company found that the feature might have been at risk of malfunctioning, which in certain cases could have silenced the alarm when it was supposed to be making noise. So in early April — a few months after Nest was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion — nearly half a million Nest smoke detectors were recalled; the wave-to-dismiss feature was able to be deactivated via a software update as well, making physically sending the smoke detector back to Nest unnecessary.

Now, the Nest Protect is back on the market, with the wave-to-dismiss feature disabled altogether. The company had originally alluded to trying to fix it via a future software update, so we’ll see if and when that comes to fruition. The price of the Nest Protect has also dropped from $130 down to $99 as well.

[New York Times]

TIME Gadgets

New Samsung Tablets Use Size and Screens to Take On iPads

Samsung's 10.5-inch Galaxy Tab S tablet Samsung

Samsung has trotted out another round of tablets: The 8.4- and 10.5-inch Galaxy Tab S line looks to take on the 7.9- and 9.7-inch iPads by offering larger, more colorful screens while keeping thickness and weight comparable.

The $399 iPad Mini with Retina Display, for instance, measures 0.29 inches thick and weighs 0.73 pounds. The 8.4-inch Galaxy Tab S, by comparison, is 0.26 inches thick and weighs 0.65 pounds. Take the $499 iPad Air: also 0.29 inches thick, and it weighs 1.03 pounds. The 10.5-inch Galaxy Tab S is 0.26 inches thick and weighs 1.025 pounds.

To the average person, the size and weight differences amount to splitting hairs; from a marketing perspective, Samsung gets to claim its tablets are thinner and lighter despite having bigger screens.

As for those Samsung screens, they’re color-rich Super AMOLED screens, each with 2560×1600 resolutions. Apple’s Retina displays are of the IPS variety and sport 2048×1536 resolutions. As far as total resolution goes, it’s another marketing point for Samsung. As for the merits of Super AMOLED versus IPS screen technology, the conclusions aren’t nearly as clear-cut. Here’s a good IPS vs. AMOLED piece if you’re interested. Spoiler: Let your eyes decide.

Samsung — and, by extension, Google — are still playing catch-up to Apple, however, when it comes to tablet-optimized apps. Android has made gains towards stocking its store with bonafide tablet apps recently, but with so many Android devices — both phones and tablets — out there, from a developer’s standpoint, the path of least resistance is to make an app that works well on Android phones and then hope it scales well enough to keep tablet owners happy.

Samsung’s 8.4-inch Galaxy Tab S Samsung

With Apple, you have far fewer devices for which you have to try to build apps: all iPhone models from the iPhone 5 onward have 1136×640 screen resolutions; all the Retina iPads have 2048×1536 resolutions. Your major outliers are the non-Retina iPad Mini and earlier iPhones that are on their way out.

Samsung’s arguably done a good job getting its tablets into the hands of consumers. As The Verge’s Dan Seifert notes, Sammy shipped 40 million tablets last year, against Apple’s 70 million. Samsung has also not been shy about flooding the zone with Galaxy tablets: “Samsung has released at least nine tablets in just the first six months of this year, many of which have overlapping features and designs,” writes Seifert.

And Samsung does have some neat software tricks up its sleeve. This line of tablets will let you dock two apps next to each other, and you have access to a specially-designed, high-definition Netflix app. You also get a feature that mirrors your Samsung phone on the tablet’s screen and Galaxy Gifts, a package of almost 30 time-limited premium services from the likes of Box, WebEX, Evernote and several newspapers.

On paper, this latest tablet salvo from Samsung looks impressive, but now we get to see how consumers react. The 8.4-inch model starts at $399, and the 10.5-inch model starts at $499. Both will be available as Wi-Fi models in July, with LTE versions to follow later in the year.


Surprise! Amazon Launches Streaming Music Service


Like a ninja in a library, Amazon has quietly launched Prime Music, a streaming music service similar to Spotify, Rdio and others.

If you’re a $99-per-year Prime member, you’ll have unlimited access to north of a million songs, which makes Amazon’s library far smaller than its competitors’ libraries. Spotify, for instance, boasts over 20 million songs.

But this is another added nicety for Prime subscribers, who, for $99 a year, get free two-day shipping on a bunch of Amazon products, a free Netflix-like video service, a handful of freely borrow-able Kindle ebooks and now, free music to boot.

The fact that Prime Music was launched without much fanfare likely means that Amazon isn’t looking to try to lure people away from competitors — not yet, anyway. If the company builds up the music catalog in the coming months, however, it could serve as an interesting underdog.

As for what you actually get with Prime Music, there are no ads and you can listen to as many songs as you like. Songs can be downloaded for offline listening, though you’ll have to listen to them through Amazon’s music app, which is available on most popular tablet, smartphone, web and computer platforms. Here’s a list of available songs.

Amazon is expected to launch its own smartphone on June 18, so we’ll see how much the company’s new music service plays into the phone’s launch.

TIME Wearables

Fancy Bluetooth Ring Connects to Your Phone for Discreet Alerts

Over at Wired, Liz Stinson profiles a tech-infused ring — called Ringly — that looks like costume jewelry (I only know what “costume jewelry” means after being with my wife for a decade). This ring sports a Bluetooth chipset, however, and pairs with your phone to discreetly alert you to calls, text messages, email and other notifications that’d otherwise steal your attention away. You can customize the alerts as one of four vibration patterns or one of five different colors.

Speaking to the ring’s creator, Christina Mercando, Stinson’s piece contains a quote that pretty much perfectly sums up what’s going on here:

“The fashion world is blown away; they can’t believe something like this exists,” says Mercando. “And the technology world is like, is that all it does?”

People who have been writing about gadgets for more than a couple years will instantly recall HTC’s Rhyme smartphone, a device awkwardly marketed to women by way of a little cube-shaped charm that plugged into the headphone jack and lit up when calls and texts came through. The idea was apparently that you could leave your phone in your purse, and stretch the charm outside your purse so you could see if someone was trying to get a hold of you. Our own Jared Newman took two for the team, first writing about the phone and then reviewing it.

High-tech rings pair with your phone to discreetly alert you to calls, messages and more Ringly

While Rhyme sales probably didn’t make HTC’s year in 2011, Ringly might have a shot. For starters, the ring itself will cost almost as much as an on-contract smartphone — just shy of $200 at retail, though pre-orders are going for $145. So it’s already a luxury item: It’s available in a handful of different designs and contains 18-karat gold.

More importantly, it doesn’t look like a ridiculous gadget you strap on your body somewhere. I showed a picture of one of the rings to my wife, who immediately identified it as costume jewelry, not some newfangled wearable device housing a power-sipping Bluetooth Low Energy chip. Big points for hiding the technology.

So would she wear one? “I would wear it as costume jewelry when going out, sure.” Would she pay $200 for it? “I wouldn’t spend $200 on costume jewelry. A lot of people do, though.”

If you’re going to pay $200 for an oversized ring, why not buy one that pairs with your phone, right?


TIME apps

The Best Replacement Android Keyboard Is Now Free

The SwiftKey Android keyboard predicts which word you'll type next SwiftKey

SwiftKey is one of the first apps I install on any new Android device I get, so consider this a mini-review, if you would: If you type a fair amount on your Android phone and you haven’t tried SwiftKey yet, it’s worth a download — especially now that it’s free.

The app replaces your stock Android keyboard with one that lets you quickly swipe around from letter to letter, figuring out which word you’re trying to type.

What’s more, it uses prediction technology to try to guess the next word you’ll type, offering a few choices up above the top row of keys. If you see the correct word, just tap it and it’ll get plopped into your current sentence. The guesses improve over time: The more you use the app, the better it gets.

SwiftKey used to cost $4 after a one-month free trial, but the company has decided to make the app free from now on, charging users for additional keyboard designs instead. (If you’re a former paid customer like me, we get 10 free themes that would otherwise cost $5. Hooray?)

The latest version of SwiftKey finally includes access to a top row of numbers, too, which can be activated from within the app’s settings.

I don’t have a ton of complaints about the app — certainly no major complaints, anyway. Its former $4 price tag would have been a strike against it, but now that it’s free, Android owners should find a lot to like about it.

The company is also planning an iPhone version once the next iteration of Apple’s mobile software, iOS 8, rolls out this fall. (Current Apple software rules restrict the installation of third-party keyboards, but iOS 8 is lifting that restriction.)

TIME Gadgets

Smart Thermostats: Honeywell Takes On Google’s Nest

When it comes to the Smart Thermostat Wars (is that a thing yet?), there’s no love lost between Honeywell and Google-owned Nest. The high-profile Nest Learning Thermostat triggered a nasty patent scuffle back in 2012, when longtime thermostat behemoth Honeywell went after Nest over several claimed patent infringements.

Fast forward to today, and Honeywell is rolling out its own smart thermostat, the $279 Lyric. It’ll actually be part of a broader network of home automation devices, also fitting under the Lyric moniker, but the thermostat will be the first device in the line. It’ll be available now-ish from Honeywell’s home contractor partners, and in August from Lowe’s.


This isn’t the first of Honeywell’s connected thermostats: The company has a line of Wi-Fi-enabled, voice controlled models. But the new Lyric line will be smart in the sense that it recognizes when you’re home or away, and adjusts the temperature accordingly. Nest sports a similar feature that uses a sensor to detect whether you’re physically nearby; Honeywell’s system uses geofencing technology to detect whether your connected smartphone is nearby. That means it’ll be able to automatically tell when you’re on your way home from work, triggering the temperature to pop up a couple degrees once you get a few miles away, for instance.

Seeing that the Nest is a connected, smart thermostat, it seems like it’d be trivial to add geofencing capabilities in a future update. And certain Nest owners have already figured out how to enable geofencing features — see here and here — though to have such features built into the core of the product would do nothing but enhance the perceived value of Nest.

There’s also the price difference: Nest can be had for around $229, while the Lyric system will cost $50 more. It’ll be interesting to see if Nest answers Lyric by adding similar geofencing features, and if either system starts dropping their respective price tags in order to lure more customers.

[The Verge]

TIME Security

Locked Out? This App Stores Your Keys Online

The KeyMe app lets you digitally scan your house keys for later duplication KeyMe

Some of you just aren’t going to be comfortable with an app that stores an image of your house key online so you can quickly get a replacement key cut. Some of you will think this is a great idea. Most of you have clicked away from this article already. If you’re still here, let’s move on.

The KeyMe app lets you scan your house key using your smartphone’s camera. Once the key has been digitally stored, you can take it into a place that duplicates keys and have them cut you a replacement (the app charges you $10 to “unlock” your key so a locksmith can cut it). You can digitally share keys with friends and family, too, if they need to get into your house while you’re out of town, for instance.

You can also order replacement keys by mail directly from KeyMe (those cost between $5 and $8), or there are a handful of KeyMe kiosks in the New York area that’ll hook into the app and cut you new keys on the spot (that costs $20 to pull your key from the cloud or between $3 and $6 if you have your key in-hand).

Over at Yahoo Tech, Rafe Needleman took KeyMe for a spin and came away mostly impressed. Needleman points out that you have to remove your key from its key ring and take a very specific shot of it in order for the whole process to work. In other words, someone with the KeyMe app can’t just secretly take a photo of your keys while you’re holding them in your hand, get a bunch of copies cut and then break into your house.

Needleman said two mail-order keys cost him $6 apiece and took three days to arrive at his P.O. box. The two house keys worked perfectly for him, but trying to scan a mailbox key did not. KeyMe’s site says it’ll work with “most common home, office, padlock, and mailbox keys” but it won’t do car keys.

It’s a neat idea, provided you’re okay with the idea of having copies of your keys accessible via your phone and stored somewhere in cyberspace.

[Yahoo Tech]

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