Friday, April 20, 2018

ZTE Exports Ban May Mean No Google Apps, a Death Sentence for Its Smartphones →

Ron Amadeo for Ars Technica:

ZTE was caught violating US sanctions by illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea. The company then made things worse by “making false statements and obstructing justice, including through preventing disclosure to and affirmatively misleading the US Government,” according to the Department of Commerce. The company reached a settlement with the government, agreeing to pay up to $1.2 billion in penalties and discipline the employees involved in the sale.

Recently, the Commerce Department found ZTE was not complying with this settlement, which triggered the next part of the agreement: a seven-year ban on US exports to ZTE. The company is no longer allowed to use US components and, possibly, software in its devices.

On the ZTE Temp Go, the first Android Go smartphone:

The $80 Tempo Go went on sale on March 30 and quickly sold out in about a day. Since then, the device has been listed as “Out of stock” on ZTE’s website. Since the devices use a Qualcomm SoC and Google software, is the Tempo Go dead after a single day on sale?

Damn. Cold blooded, but fair. Hopefully returns will be in order for Temp Go owners.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Essential Phone price already reduced by $200 →

Darrell Etherington for TechCrunch:

Essential has an offer that’s honestly very hard to refuse: The price of the Essential Phone (PH-1, going by technical model number), is now $200 cheaper, so $499 off-contract and unlocked.

Also:

Lest Essential’s earliest customers feel slighted, it has a deal for early buyers, too – they’ll receive a $200 ‘friends and family’ credit they can use to further discount (valid through December 15, 2017) a device for a loved one (or another for themselves, if they maybe also want the just-released white Essential Phone, for instance), or to buy the 360-camera attachment. Customers will be able to sign up to redeem the $200 credit on the Essential page, using their phone’s IMEI and serial numbers, along with the email address they used to purchase.

$499 (or even $599) should have been its price to begin with. Essential doesn’t have the clout to expect a large number of purchases on a $699 device, but hey, good on them for trying. As Darrell says in the article, $499 makes Essential Phone a hell of a deal if you’re in the market for a barebones Android device. 1


  1. Make sure you’re OK with the somewhat lacking camera quality as well. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Juicero, maker of the $400 connected juicer, is shutting down →

Ashley Carman for The Verge:

Juicero, the company that made its name by creating a proprietary juice-squeezing machine, is shutting down. The announcement comes from Juicero’s website. In its post, the company writes that it is suspending the sale of both its juice packets and its Juicero Press device. The last juice packet delivery will occur next week. All customers have up to 90 days to request a refund for their purchase of the Juicero Press, regardless of when they bought it. Fortune reports that employees are being given 60 days notice.

I’m surprised Juicero lasted this long. The packets of juice were squeezable by hand, rendering the $400 juicer completely pointless. 1 This is what happens when companies get greedy by focusing so much on just the trends (connected device, subscription model, etc.). Not that I want to see anyone fail, but I’m glad the market didn’t fall prey to this lousy attempt at a cash grab.

Sadly, I’m sure there will be other Juiceros down the line, given the obsession to connect literally everything to the Internet.


  1. Original price was a criminal $699. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The new, cheaper Nest Thermostat E

Greg Kumparak for TechCrunch:

The Thermostat E, meanwhile, is meant to blend in. It’s for the vast majority of the thermostat buying population that doesn’t really want anyone noticing the little doodad that keeps their house warm.

Nest has dropped the metallic ring around the edges, instead replacing it with a white plastic ring that the company says is meant to feel like ceramic (it felt like soft-touch paint to me; velvety when brushed with the thumb, harder when tapped with a fingernail.) The screen, too, is white — or, more accurately, a fancy white diffuser on top of a black screen makes it look like a white screen. Most walls are white/off white, so going all white here lets the E blend right in.

I kind of get what Nest was going for with the all-white design, but it just seems like they missed the mark. The diffuser looks so plasticky, like they took inspiration from one of those white push lights you put in your closet. Gross. It certainly is a far cry from the design of my black and silver Nest Learning Thermostat.

Design inspiration?
Design inspiration?

On functionality:

So what can’t it do that the original can to account for that nearly-$100 difference? The screen is a bit more basic; it’s only meant to tell you the temperature now, rather than doing fancy things like acting like a clock in its downtime. Meanwhile, they’ve dropped a few wiring connections inside that Nest says will limit compatibility to around 85% of US houses rather than 95% — so if you’ve already checked if the original model will work with your place, you might want to check again here.

On availability:

Orders for the new Nest Thermostat E should open up on August 31st, with shipments going out on September 1st and hitting retail stores sometime around the 10th.

Design aside, this is most likely aimed at those who thought the main Nest was a bit too expensive. There will probably never be official HomeKit integration, since Nest is owned by Alphabet (Google’s parent company). There are, however, other ways to integrate Nest with Siri..

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Essential accidentally shares sensitive customer data →

Dieter Bohn for The Verge:

Last night, some customers who had preordered an Essential phone received an email asking for a copy of their driver’s license, ostensibly to verify their address in an attempt to prevent fraud.

Dozens of customers replied with their personal information, but those emails didn’t just go to Essential; they went out to everybody who had received the original email. That means that an unknown number of Essential customers are now in possession of each other’s drivers license, birth date, and address information.

The incident is being reported as phishing by many outlets, because it looks and smells quite a lot like a phishing attempt: a weird request for personal information. After examining the email headers, it doesn’t look like this was an actual phishing attempt. It seems much more likely that this was a colossal screw up, the result of a misconfigured customer support email list.

Just wow. Definitely not the headline you want surrounding your first product release.

In a post regarding Andy Rubin’s vision, I said the following in reference to user data. With today’s mistake, Essential has absolutely lost some credibility. And this is the company that wants to run our homes?

While many may trust Andy Rubin, Essential has to walk the walk. They have to measurably demonstrate their accountability and be transparent with user data.

Update

Andy Rubin has now penned a formal apology on the Essential Blog, saying:

Yesterday, we made an error in our customer care function that resulted in personal information from approximately 70 customers being shared with a small group of other customers. We have disabled the misconfigured account and have taken steps internally to add safeguards against this happening again in the future. We sincerely apologize for our error and will be offering the impacted customers one year of LifeLock. We will also continue to invest more in our infrastructure and customer care, which will only be more important as we grow.

Being a founder in an intensely competitive business means you occasionally have to eat crow. It’s humiliating, it doesn’t taste good, and often, it’s a humbling experience. As Essential’s founder and CEO, I’m personally responsible for this error and will try my best to not repeat it.

Good on him to take ownership for the blunder and provide LifeLock to the affected individuals. Also glad to hear the impact was minimal. Hopefully Essential learns a big lesson from this.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Fitbit intros the Ionic smartwatch

This is an incredibly ugly watch. The bezels are huge, the body is blocky, and the gigantic “fitbit” on the front is an eyesore. The software looks decent from a design perspective, and multi-day battery life is nice (if true), but the new Apple Watch coming in the next few weeks is going to embarrass this thing.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Essential Phone Review Roundup

After a three-month delay, Essential Phone has landed in the hands of reviewers across the internet. For the most part, the phone is well-received — the camera being an outlier. What was that about Android phones and cameras, again? Anyway, congratulations for Andy Rubin and Essential are definitely in order. That screen is a stunner. Coupled with its adoption of ceramic and titanium, Essential Phone looks like a great first generation smartphone. Will be interesting to see how well it sells.

Notable Reviews

David Pierce for Wired:

The only downside of this gloriously full screen lies in the software. More often than not, Android slaps a black border at the top of the phone above whatever app you’re using, which kind of kills the effect. In a few places, content can flow all the way up, giving you more maps or an even wider-angle Netflix, but you’d often never know you didn’t have a bezel. As more phones get smaller bezels, this will change, but the full effect of the full screen hasn’t quite arrived.

And…

Essential’s camera specs meet your expectations for a high-end phone, but the photos don’t. The two 13-megapixel cameras on the back—one in color and one in monochrome, used mostly to bring additional clarity and depth data in your photos—occasionally take beautiful, rich photos. They also, for no apparent reason, occasionally capture well-lit, noisy, poorly focused shots. I like the slightly saturated look of the photos; I don’t like that they collapse into pixelated blobs as soon as I zoom in. At least the 8-megapixel selfies come out better

Dieter Bohn for The Verge

Essential says the titanium makes the phone more rigid and less susceptible to cracking when you drop it. And the ceramic is meant to be very scratch-resistant and allows certain radio signals through. I can’t say that I did a bunch of drop and key-scratch tests to verify those claims, because I did not.

Other Reviews

Monday, August 14, 2017

David Pogue Reviews Bixby →

David Pogue from Yahoo gave Samsung’s voice assistant Bixby a run-through and it doesn’t impress much. Here are some particular downsides from Pogue’s article:

Bixby is especially pathetic when it comes to navigation.

  • What pizza places are nearby? (Bixby: “Looks like there’s a connection problem.”)
  • Find me an Italian restaurant nearby. (Bixby opens Google Maps—promising!—but then stops, saying, “It looks like we experienced a slight hiccup.”)
  • Give me directions to JFK airport. (Bixby: “Which one?”)
  • Give me directions to the Empire State Building. (The “slight hiccup” error message appears after 10 seconds.)
  • In all cases, Bixby is very, very slow—plenty of videos online show how badly it lags behind Siri or Google Assistant.

It’s also fairly confusing. Most response bubbles include the baffling phrase, “You’re in native context.” And every so often, you’re awarded Bixby XP points for using Bixby. Samsung suggests that if you accumulate enough, you’ll be able to earn valuable prizes. OK, but if you have to bribe your customers to use your app…

This is hilarious. Samsung is resorting to gamification in hopes it will entice people to use Bixby. This is so incredibly ass-backwards. Imagine if you could win Apple points for using Siri or Amazon credits for using Alexa 1. How about this, Samsung: build a worthy product that compels people to use it because of how great it is, not because they can win imaginary points.

Like I’ve said before, no virtual assistant is perfect, but Samsung is incredibly late to this game. Since there’s a precedent now where every manufacturer needs their own virtual assistant, I suppose it’s no surprise. I’m sure Bixby will get better with time, but imagine how far ahead Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant will be when that happens.

Side note: my favorite blunder from the video is when Pogue asks when Abraham Lincoln died and Bixby responds “Which One?”.


  1. On second thought, Bezos should get on this. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Review Roundup: Amazon Echo Show

Reviews for the Amazons Echo Show are coming in ahead of its launch later this week, and most reactions are positive. The Echo Show offers a new experience for smart speakers with its touch screen and video calling capabilities.

My ‘Show’ will be arriving later this week, and I’m looking forward to writing up another in-depth review once I put it through its paces. I think a touch screen smart speaker definitely has its positives, but it will be interesting to see just how often the screen gets used.

Review Roundup

Dieter Bonn for The Verge—Amazon Echo Show Review: Doing More By Doing Less

You basically never need to tap the screen for anything, unless you really want to. There is not an “app store” where you hunt around for new things to add to your screen. It sits on your counter, answers your questions, sets your timers, and occasionally displays useful information. That’s it, and that’s great.

Mark Gurman for Bloomberg—Amazon’s Echo Show: Do You Need Another Screen?

Voice-activated speakers are not essential purchases. I don’t see the benefit to looking up a weather forecast on a speaker attached to a screen, when you can easily do that with your smartphone’s voice assistant. And for those of you who have a portable tablet or a big-screen TV in your home, would you really want to watch a video on the Echo Show’s 7-inch screen?

Mat Honan for BuzzFeed—Amazon’s New Echo Show Is Very Cool And A Little Creepy

It has this wild new feature called Drop In. Drop In lets you give people permission to automatically connect with your device. Here’s how it works. Let’s say my father has activated Drop In for me on his Echo Show. All I have to do is say, “Alexa, drop in on Dad.” It then turns on the microphone and camera on my father’s device and starts broadcasting that to me. For the several seconds of the call, my father’s video screen would appear fogged over. But then there he’ll be. And to be clear: This happens even if he doesn’t answer. Unless he declines the call, audibly or by tapping on the screen, it goes through. It just starts. Hello, you look nice today.

Some people will definitely be seen naked with Drop In. Good thing you can set permissions. It’s pretty radical, for sure, to allow for immediate access without prompting.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

More info on Essential Phone and Home

Andy Rubin took the stage last night at Walt Mossberg’s Code Conference to talk more about the Essential Phone and Home devices announced yesterday. Here’s the latest.

Essential Phone

Essential Home

Andy wants customers to be able to run whatever virtual assistant they want on the Home (i.e. Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant).

He goes on to say:

All of these [companies] have ecosystem envy and want to create their own ecosystem. But consumers don’t want just Samsung stuff in their house. They want diversity.

This is a novel idea on the Smart Speaker concept, allowing for maximum compatibility with consumer devices. That said, I seriously doubt Google and Apple would go for it. Google makes its money on search and user data, and I don’t think they can afford to not have full control over that experience. Apple is renowned for being secretive, isolated, and integrated with their software and hardware. Don’t hold your breath for Siri on anything without an Apple logo. Amazon has already licensed out the Alexa voice service, so it seems like less of an issue there.

He also mentions that the new Ambient OS run by the Home will follow a similar development and deployment process as Android. This has led to fragmentation as new versions of Android become available, it is up to the phone manufacturers to implement them, which they have historically been slow to do. Andy says they have a plan to prevent this with Ambient.