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January 17, 2019
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Bluetooth

Google cans the Chromecast Audio

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The Chromecast Audio is no more. Google has decided to stop manufacturing the audio dongle that allowed you to add any ‘dumb’ speaker to your Google Cast setup. If you still want one, you’ll have to hurry — and to entice you to buy a discontinued product, Google is now selling its remaining inventory for $15 instead of $35.

“Our product portfolio continues to evolve, and now we have a variety of products for users to enjoy audio,” Google told us  in a statement. “We have therefore stopped manufacturing our Chromecast Audio products. We will continue to offer assistance for Chromecast Audio devices, so users can continue to enjoy their music, podcasts and more.”

While the Chromecast turned out to be a major hit for Google, the Chromecast Audio was always more of a niche product.

Google is clearly more interested in getting people to buy its Google Home products and Assistant- or Cast-enabled speakers from its partners. It’s also worth noting that all Google Home devices can connect to Bluetooth enabled speakers, though plenty of people surely have a nice speaker setup at home that doesn’t have built-in Bluetooth support. “Bluetooth adapters suck,” Google told us at the time, though at this point, it seems a Bluetooth adapter may just be the way to go.

The Chromecast Audio first launched back in 2015, in conjunction with the second-generation Chromecast. Over the years, the Chromecast Audio received numerous updates that enabled features like multi-room support. Google says it’ll continue to support Chromcast Audio users for the time being, so if you have already invested in this ecosystem, you should be set for a few more years.

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

These baby concrete speakers aren’t as heavy as they look

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To paraphrase P. T. Barnum, “there’s a Bluetooth speaker born every minute.” At no time of year is that more true than at CES in Las Vegas, where they are bountiful beyond belief. But very few — nay, only one that I found — are made of concrete. And it’s French!

The speakers immediately attracted my attention because of their simplicity and of course material. I’m generally repelled, like water, from the plastic and silicone that most speakers are made out of these days. If it’s going to be visible in my house, shouldn’t it be wood or ceramic or steel? (That’s why I like Joey Roth’s stuff so much).

And why not concrete? It’s hard-wearing, cool-looking, tactile — and like ceramic actually has good qualities as far as using it for audio purposes. So the honest folks at Le Pavé Parisien tell me.

The speaker itself is single-channel, meaning it will mix down your music to mono (like many such speakers), but you can easily daisy chain a couple together for stereo or wire a bunch for a concrete wall of sound like they had on display.

I won’t speculate on the audio quality (it was extremely loud in the hall) but they’re marketing it as a high-end device, so it’s probably not bad. 60-20,000 Hz means you’ll miss out on the low end somewhat, but that’s kind of expected with small speakers.

One of the company’s engineers, Aurelien Bertini, explained that concrete is actually also more eco-friendly, since it can be recycled by being pounded into dust and recast. Sounds labor-intensive, but that’s how recycling is.

Bertini noted that concrete also can easily be customized — laser etched, dyed, etc. The magnetic grilles on the front are easily swapped out as well. They’re really not as heavy as they look, either: about 3 pounds. It’s mostly air in there.

More importantly, the device is designed to be repaired; you pop the grille off and there are only four screws holding the guts in; take it out, replace a piece, fit something back in place that fell off, that sort of thing.

You’ll want to repair yours, too, since Le Pavé Parisien is currently selling for $400, rather higher than the average Bluetooth speaker. If you simply must have them, they’re on sale now (following a successful recent crowdfunding campaign) and expected to ship next month.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Qualcomm expands its PC bet with its new 7nm 8cx platform

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Qualcomm wants to become a major player in the PC/laptop market. Now that there is Windows 10 on ARM, that’s more than a pipe dream, but in its earliest iterations, those Qualcomm-based Windows 10 laptops used the Snapdragon 850 system on a chip that was specifically designed for PCs but still very much a direct descendant of its smartphone platform.

Today, the company announced its Snapdragon 8cx platform, “the most extreme Snapdragon ever,” in Qualcomm’s parlance, which still leverages some of the company’s mobile expertise and building blocks, but which was built from the ground up to power PCs.

The 8cx is very much tailored toward the PC, down to how it handles peak performance and multitasking. It’s also the first 7nm PC platform, the company claims, though the first devices won’t hit the market until Q3 of 2019.

The promise of using Qualcomm Snapdragon platform for a PC (which Qualcomm and Microsoft brands as “always connected PCs”) is that you’ll get multi-day battery life and a performance that is comparable to what you’d get with an Intel chip. The first generation of devices delivered great battery life, but performance wasn’t quite up to par. With this new release, Qualcomm promises to change that. Without saying Intel, Qualcomm argues that its 7nm chips are “multiple generations ahead of the traditional PC space.”

Despite launching the 8cx platform, Qualcomm is keeping the 850 around. It’s positioning the 8cx as a premium platform that complements the existing 850 platform in order to allow vendors to offer PCs at a wide range of different price points.

The new 8cx will feature Qualcomm’s Kryo 495 CPU and the Adreno 860 GPU, which will be able to power two 4K HDR monitors. It’ll also feature Qualcomm’s latest quick charging technology and all the usual connectivity options, ranging from Bluetooth to USB-C and LTE (for that always connected connectedness).

“With performance and battery life as our design tenets, we’re bringing7nm innovations to the PC space, allowing for smartphone-like capabilities to transform the computing experience,” said Alex Katouzian, senior vice president and general manager of mobile for Qualcomm, in today’s announcement. “As the fastest Snapdragon platform ever, the Snapdragon 8cx will allow our customers to offer a powerful computing experience of multi-day battery life and multi-gigabit connectivity, in new thin, light and fanless design for consumers and the enterprise.”

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Logitech is reportedly offering $2.2 billion to bring Plantronics headsets into its hardware empire

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Logitech, the manufacturer best known for its computing peripherals like keyboards and web cameras, is in talks to buy Plantronics, a maker of bluetooth-enabled headsets, according to Reuters.

The company is reportedly offering as much as $2.2 billion for Plantronics, according to the Reuters report, in what would be Logitech’s biggest acquisition to date.

Driving the consolidation push is an effort by both companies to cut costs as tariffs on imports from China could eat into their margins or force them to raise prices for consumers against a backdrop of increasing competition from a number of different vendors.

Reuters is reporting that the deal between the two companies could be finalized as early as next week.

We’ve reached out to both Logitech and Plantronics for comment and will update this story when we hear back.

News of the deal sent Plantronics shares up in after hours trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Both Logitech and Plantronics have been active acquirers in the past year. Most recently, Logitech acquired the Blue Microphone business, which made popular podcasting microphones like the Yeti and Snowball.

 

Meanwhile Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Plantronics had bought Polycom in a $2 billion transaction earlier this year. The company, which started out making headsets for airline pilots and later sold equipment to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has struggled with low-cost competitors and new entrants into the headset market (like Apple).

 

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Sony’s new noise-canceling headphones are great traveling companions

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I’ll admit that I’ve been caught up in the Bose hype. I’ve worn qBoseSony WH-1000XM3, a pair of wireless/wired cans that truly give everything else I’ve tried a bad name.

These $349 headphones come with a USB cable, audio cable, international audio adapter, and a compact case that holds the whole thing in a tight package. The headphones also support Bluetooth and will automatically swap to wired mode when you insert the headphone cable. The WH-1000XM3s support full noise cancellation that turns even the noisiest situation into a blissful escape. An ambient audio feature lets you listen to external sounds at the touch of a button and there is even a “Quick Attention” feature that turns the headphones down instantly when you need to speak to someone. Sony touts 30 hours battery life on one charge, a claim that I won’t refute as I haven’t recharged these things after multiple flights and they’re still going strong.

In short, these things are great.

Sony likes to brand all of its features and these headphones are no exception. The cans contain a “HD Noise-Canceling Processor QN1″ that run two 1.57 ” drivers that can handle up to 40 kHz. Something called a SENSE ENGINE notices what you are doing – walking, sitting, talking – and automatically changes the audio and noise reduction. Finally, the headphones offer multiple styles including stages, clubs, and outdoor stages. I doubt many will use or notice these features but they’re nice to have.

How do they sound? First, understand that these are not audiophile headphones. You get nice separation, great sound stage, and high quality audio out of these things but mostly you’ll be listening wirelessly to music on your phone or listening to awful audio being blasted out of your seatback entertainment system. Put garbage in, as they say, and you get garbage out. That said, I found these headphones superior to nearly every other model I’ve tested recently, including my Bose QuietComfort 35 IIs. The Sony models were bright and crisp and sounded great with noise canceling on or off. I also tested the headphones in loud environments including cafes and at home with lots of ambient audio playing. The ambient audio immediately disappeared when I turned on noise canceling, leaving only great sound.

They charge via USB and easily pair with any Bluetooth device instantly.

Now for some quibbles. The WH-1000XM3 has no physical power switch, a feature that lets you ensure your headphones are completely off. This single feature could mean the difference between a good flight and a bad flight. Further, the power button is right next to and the same size as the noise cancelation button. This makes it hard to tap this button if you’re wearing the headphones.

Thankfully, the headphones work when turned off, a feature that many lower-end noise canceling models lack. This means you can still listen to headphones if the battery is dead. I also noticed a bit of a bass heaviness in the WH-1000XM3s, but that could be a relic of using the fairly flat Bose headphones for so long.

The headphones also have some fairly cryptic touch features on the right cup including a call and music pause feature that works when you tap the sensitive surface. You can swipe through songs and turn the audio up and down and change the soundstage with a little button next to the power button.

Sony produces excellent audio products and these are no exception. I fly nearly every week these days and find myself reaching for these headphones over anything else I have in my extensive test collection. Time will tell if these cans survive the rigors of travel but given the price and the build quality I wouldn’t be surprised if these headphones are nestled in my backpack for years to come. Now I just have to break up with my Bose and I just know there will be drama.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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