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September 21, 2018
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Everyday home gear made smart

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Editor’s note: This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch may earn affiliate commissions.

If you only have one smart home device, it’s likely something simple and fun like a voice-controlled speaker or color-changing LED light bulb. As you expand your smart home setup, you can begin to swap out gear that isn’t as flashy but you still use everyday.

Switching to connected locks, power outlets and smoke alarms are all simple installs that can improve your safety and comfort in your own home. We’ve pulled together some of our favorite essentials made smart for anyone looking to upgrade.

Smart lock: Kwikset Kevo Smart Lock 2nd Gen

The Kwikset Kevo Smart Lock 2nd Gen is the most versatile smart lock that we’ve tested. Whether you prefer to use a wireless fob, smartphone app or key, you’ll be able to control the lock with all of them. When we compared it to similar models, the Kevo’s Bluetooth-activated tap-to-unlock mechanism was the easiest to use.

The second generation of the Kevo improved on security and has all-metal internal components for better protection against forced break-in attempts. With the optional Kevo Plus upgrade, you’ll add the ability to control the lock remotely and receive status-monitoring updates.

Photo: Liam McCabe

Robot Vacuum: iRobot Roomba 960

If cleaning is neither your forte or preferred pastime, a robot vacuum will come in handy. Our upgrade pick, the iRobot Roomba 960, is one of the most powerful models that we tested. It can be controlled through the iRobot Home app and uses a bump-and-track navigation system that helps vacuum an entire floor without missing spots.

If its battery is running low during a session, it’ll return to its dock to power up before finishing the job. It’s easy to disassemble for maintenance and is equipped with repairable parts that make it worth its price over some of our less serviceable picks.

Photo: Rachel Cericola

Plug-in Smart Outlet: Belkin Wemo Mini

We tested 26 smart outlet models over more than 45 hours and chose the Belkin Wemo Mini Wi-Fi plug as our top pick. If you’ve ever thought it’d be nice to remotely turn on or off home essentials such as lamps, air conditioners and fans from your smartphone, plugging them into a smart outlet makes it possible.

The Wemo Mini has proven to be reliable throughout long-term testing, it doesn’t block other outlets on the same wall plate and it’s compatible with iOS and Android devices and assistants, including HomeKit/Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant. The interface of the Wemo app is intuitive and easy to use. You can view all of your connected devices on one screen, set powering timers and from anywhere power on or off a device plugged into the Wemo outlet.

Photo: Jennifer Pattison Tuohy

Smart Thermostat: Nest Thermostat E

For a smart thermostat that’s affordable and doesn’t require extensive programming, we recommend the Nest Thermostat E. After about a week, it creates a schedule after learning cooling and heating preferences that you’ve set. It isn’t compatible with as many HVAC systems as similar Nest models, but it’s easy to install and doesn’t lack any features we expect.

It does come with Eco Mode — an energy-saving geofencing feature that detects when your home is empty (or when your smartphone is nowhere near your house). The Nest app uses the same technology to set the thermostat to a preferred temperature when it senses you’re on your way home. If you don’t have your smartphone on hand, you can still operate the Thermostat E by turning its outer ring and pressing selections on its touchscreen.

Photo: Michael Hession

Smart Smoke Alarm: Nest Protect

A smoke alarm is one of the most relied-upon safety devices in every home. Nonetheless, it’s easy to forget to do routine checks to ensure it’s in tip-top shape and functioning properly. With a smart smoke alarm like the Nest Protect, we found that its simple app, self-tests, monthly sound checks and consistent alerts are enough to keep fire safety worries at bay.

It isn’t difficult to install, has a sleek design and integrates with other smart home devices like the Nest Cam (which can record video of a fire) and the Nest Learning Thermostat (which shuts down HVAC systems that may be the cause of a fire). It’s sensitive to fast- and slow-burning fires, plus it monitors homes for both smoke and carbon monoxide.

These picks may have been updated by Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch may earn affiliate commissions.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Kegel trainer startup Elvie is launching a smaller, smarter, hands-free breast pump

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Elvie, a Berlin-based startup known best for its connected Kegel trainer is jumping into the breast pump business with a new $480 hands-free system you can slip into your bra.

Even with all the innovation in baby gear, breast pumps have mostly sucked (pun intended) for new moms for the past half a century. My first experience with a pump required me to stay near a wall socket and hunch over for a good twenty to thirty minutes for fear the milk collected might spill all over the place (which it did anyway, frequently). It was awful!

Next I tried the Willow Pump, an egg-shaped, connected pump meant to liberate women everywhere with its small and mobile design. It received glowing reviews, though my experience with it was less than stellar.

The proprietary bags were hard to fit in the device, filled up with air, cost 50 cents each (on top of the $500 pump that insurance did not cover), wasted many a golden drop of precious milk in the transfer and I had to reconfigure placement several times before it would start working. So I’ve been tentatively excited about the announcement of Elvie’s new cordless (and silent??) double breast pump.

Displayed: a single Elive pump with accompanying app.

Elvie tells TechCrunch its aim all along has been to make health tech for women and that it has been working on this pump for the past three years.

The Elvie Pump is a cordless, hands-free, closed system, rechargeable electric pump designed by former Dyson engineers. It can hold up to 5 oz from each breast in a single use.

It’s most obvious and direct competition is the Willow pump, another “wearable” pump moms can put right in their bra and walk around in, hands free. However, unlike the Willow, Elvie’s pump does not need proprietary bags. You just pump right into the device and the pump’s smartphone app will tell you when each side is full.

It’s also half the size and weight of a Willow and saves every precious drop it can by pumping right into the attached bottle so you just pump and feed (no more donut-shaped bags you have to cut open and awkwardly pour into a bottle).

On top of that, Elvie claims this pump is silent. No more loud suction noise off and on while trying to pump in a quiet room in the office or elsewhere. It’s small, easy to carry around and you can wear it under your clothes without it making a peep! While the Willow pump claims to be quiet — and it is, compared to other systems –you can still very much hear it while you are pumping.

Elvie’s connected breast pump app

All of these features sound fantastic to this new (and currently pumping) mom. I remember in the early days of my baby’s life wanting to go places but feeling stuck. I was chained to not just all the baby gear, hormonal shifts and worries about my newborn but to the pump and feed schedule itself, which made it next to impossible to leave the house for the first few months.

My baby was one of those “gourmet eaters” who just nursed and nursed all day. There were days I couldn’t leave the bed! Having a silent, no mess, hands-free device that fit right in my bra would have made a world of difference.

However, I mentioned the word “tentatively” above as I have not had a chance to do a hands-on review of Elvie’s pump. The Willow pump also seemed to hold a lot of promise early on, yet left me disappointed.

To be fair, the company’s customer service team was top-notch and did try to address my concerns. I even went through two “coaching” sessions but in the end it seemed the blame was put on me for not getting their device to work correctly. That’s a bad user experience if you are blaming others for your design flaws, especially new and struggling moms.

Both companies are founded by women and make products for women — and it’s about time. But it seems as if Elvie has taken note of the good and bad in their competitors and had time to improve upon it — and that’s what has me excited.

As my fellow TechCrunch writer Natasha put it in her initial review of Elvie as a company, “It’s not hyperbole to say Elvie is a new breed of connected device. It’s indicative of the lack of smart technology specifically — and intelligently — addressing women.”

So why the pump? “We recognized the opportunity [in the market] was smarter tech for women,” Boler told TechCrunch on her company’s move into the breast pump space. “Our aim is to transform the way women think and feel about themselves by providing the tools to address the issues that matter most to them, and Elvie Pump does just that.”

The Elvie Pump comes in three sizes and shapes to fit the majority of breasts and, in case you want to check your latch or pump volume, also has transparent nipple shields with markings to help guide the nipple to the right spot.

The app connects to each device via Bluetooth and tracks your production, detects let down, will pause when full and is equipped to pump in seven different modes.

The pump retails for $480 and is currently available in the U.K. However, those in the U.S. will have to wait till closer to the end of the year to get their hands on one. According to the company, It will be available on Elvie.com and Amazon.com, as well in select physical retail stores nationally later this year, pending FDA approval.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Back-to-college tech for minimalists and the over-prepared

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Editor’s note: This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch may earn affiliate commissions.

Heading back to college with the best gear is the only push that some students need to get things moving in the right direction. While students are expected to take lecture notes during class, power through study sessions and, if necessary, do assignments on the go, there are tech essentials better suited than others for getting these jobs done.

Whether it’s time for a new laptop and protective gear or a few new accessories, we’ve got the recommendations covered.

Chromebook: Chromebook Flip C302CA

A Chromebook is a great choice for a simple notebook with a cloud-based storage system, and we think the Chromebook Flip C302CA is the best option. You’ll work predominantly in a browser and across apps — and whichever way is most comfortable, as the Chromebook Flip C302CA’s 360-degree hinge allows it to be used as a laptop or tablet.

It only comes with a few ports (a headphone jack, two USB-C ports and a microSD slot) but you can use an adapter to plug in additional peripherals. We like its backlit keyboard, touchscreen, Android app support and that its build feels more like a pricier Ultrabook. If portability is at the top of your list, it’s lightweight and compact, which makes carrying it around campus and doing work on the go more manageable.

Laptop for creative work: Dell XPS 15 & Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2017)

For film, photography and design students who can’t always use on-campus labs and want a capable machine of their own, we recommend the Dell XPS 15. This Windows laptop has a powerful graphics card and processor that contribute to quick upload and rendering speeds. The Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2017) is an alternative for students who prefer macOS.

It’s also equipped with a powerful processor, and both machines have excellent displays and responsive trackpads. Either laptop can handle heavy editing projects and demanding creative work that would otherwise slow down a basic laptop.

Anti-malware software: Malwarebytes Premium

In addition to antivirus software, secure passwords, data logins and two-factor authentication, a reliable anti-malware program will help ensure that your computer is protected against vulnerabilities. While antivirus software typically works against worms, viruses and Trojans, anti-malware tackles newer exploits that aren’t spread by email, USB drives or older avenues.

We recommend Malwarebytes Premium for macOS and Windows computers because it runs well with Windows Defender and doesn’t get in the way of other programs. It’s simple to set up and use, plus it performs real-time scanning and doesn’t require you to make special adjustments to settings in order to get the best coverage.

Bluetooth keyboard: Logitech K380 Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard

For students who like working across different setups, a Bluetooth keyboard provides the option to take a break from a laptop and work with a desktop computer, smartphone or tablet. The Logitech K380 Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard can connect to three devices at once and switch between them with the press of a button.

It’s light, sturdy and small enough to stash in a backpack and use in class, at a library or anywhere else on the go. The combination of its rounded springy keys and the angle of its slope make it comfortable to use over long periods of time. Aside from outperforming other models that we tested, it’s inexpensive and offers two years of battery life with heavy use.

Sanho HyperDrive USB Type-C Hub (left)Type-C Multiport Adapter: Sanho HyperDrive USB Type-C Hub

With every school year that comes around, an updated batch of laptops are released — many of which come with the latest ports. The Sanho HyperDrive USB Type-C Hub pairs best with MacBooks that have a single USB-C port. It adds a single HDMI port, two USB 3.0 ports and a USB-C port for passthrough charging.

You’ll be able to connect to HDMI displays that support 4K video while charging your computer at the same time. It’s small, durable and, like other USB-C port laptop adapters that connect devices with “legacy” ports or transfer data, it can be a lifesaver when you’re in a pinch.

These picks may have been updated by Wirecutter

News Source = techcrunch.com

Tommy Hilfiger has launched a ridiculous line of smart clothing that rewards you for wearing it

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Here comes more smart clothing nobody asked for. Fashion brand Tommy Hilfiger today announced the launch of a new line of men’s and women’s clothing, Tommy Jeans Xplore, which comes with smart-chip embedded technology. Unlike, say, Google’s Project Jacquard and its partnership with Levi’s, the goal is not to offer access to calls, texts, maps and music controls when you can’t get to your phone – like when you’re riding your bike, for example. Instead, Hilfiger’s smart clothing aims to reward you with points for wearing Hilfiger clothing. Yes, really.

It’s come to this, folks.

The line includes t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, jeans, jackets, caps, and bags which pair with the Tommy Jeans Xplore (or “XPLORE” if you use their branding) iOS app over Bluetooth. Once paired, the idea is that users will compete in challenges in the app to earn points. You get points for things like how often you wear the clothes (!!!) and for walking around to find heart-shaped, Tommy-branded icons on the app’s map. (???)

The points can be translated into rewards, including gift cards, signed merchandise and pieces from the Tommy Hilfiger archives, among other things, the company says.

I guess doling out more Tommy Hilfiger merch to players makes sense because the only people who would spend $90 on smart sweatshirt just to play a marketing campaign’s idea of fun have got to be the most seriously devoted – nay, obsessed – Hilfiger fans.

But beyond that, Tommy’s smart clothes don’t make much sense for anyone.

Despite its use of smart technology – like the embedded Awear Solutions’ Bluetooth low energy smart tag – the company hasn’t actually innovated here. At best, it’s a loyalty program requiring customers to overspend in order to join.

Even the company seems to be aware of the line’s niche appeal, saying in its official announcement that its goal is to create a “micro-community of brand ambassadors.”

Yep, micro – as in really, really, really small.

The brand, however, is no stranger to experiments with new ideas and technology. But some of its prior developments have been less absurd – like testing the use of A.I. to forecast design trends, its smartwatches, or adaptive clothing for the disabled.

Smart clothing for the sake of smart clothing though?

Just no.

No.

No.

Stop.

No.

 

 

 

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Anker Mars II projector promises solid summer fun

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Anker, a popular if battery and cable company, recently announced the Mars II projector under its Nebula brand. The company, which primarily sells via Amazon, is expanding out of batteries and cables and is now creating audio and other portable AV gear. This compact, battery-powered DLP projector is their latest creation and it has found a place of honor at our family barbecues.

The projector is actually an Android 7.1 device stuffed into a case about as big as a Bluetooth speaker. A physical lens cap slides down and turns on the system and you control everything from he included remote or the buttons on the top of the device. You can also download an app that mimics a mouse and keyboard for choosing videos and information entry. It projects at a maximum of 300 lumens and projects at 720p. You can also connect an HDMI device like a game console or stick in a USB drive full of videos to view on the fly.

Again, the real benefit here is the ability to stream from various apps. I have YouTube, Netflix, Plex, and other apps installed and you can install almost any other Android app you can imagine. It has speakers built in and you can cast to it via Miracast but you cannot insert a Chromecast.

If all you want to do is throw up a little Santa Clarita Diet or Ice Age on a sheet in the back yard, this thing is perfect. Because the brightness is fairly low you need solid twilight or a partially dark room to get a good picture. However, the picture is good enough and it would also make a great presentation device for a closed, dark conference room. Because of its small size and battery life – four hours on a charge – it makes for a great alternative to a full-sized projector or even a standard TV.

At $539 the Mars II is priced on par with other 720p projectors. The primary use case – connecting a computer or console via HDMI – works quite well but streaming user experience is a bit of a mixed bag. Because Anker didn’t modify the Android installation much further than adding a few default apps, some apps require a mouse to use and others can be controlled via the arrow keys on the remote or body of the device. This means that some apps – like Plex, for example – let you pick a video via the arrow keys but require you to press the “mouse” button to begin simulating a mouse cursor on the screen. It’s a bit frustrating, especially in poor lighting conditions.

One of the interesting features is the automatic focus system. Instead of fiddling with a knob or slider, you simply point this at a surface and the system projects a bullseye focus ring until the picture is in focus. The focus changes any time you move the device and sometimes it gets caught up if the screen or projector are moving. However in most cases it works perfectly fine.

Like most portable projectors you aren’t buying the Mars II to watch 4K video in 5.1 surround sound. You buy it to offer an alternative to sitting on the couch and watching a movie. That means this is great for on-the-road business presentations, campouts, outdoor movie viewing, and sleepovers. It is cheap and portable enough to be almost disposable and it’s not as heavy and hot as other, larger devices. In short, it can go anywhere, show anything, and works really well. Anker also makes the Mars, a more expensive 1080p device, but this one works just fine for about $400 less – a big drop in just about a year of brisk sales. It’s nice to see a good, low-cost manufacturer dabble in the world of complex consumer electronics and come up with a product that is truly useful and fun.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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