Another year over and a new one just begun. That’s where we are today, not only a new year, but a new decade. Welcome to the 20s. The last time we had those my grandparents were young kids, Flappers were in style and nobody saw the great depression coming.
To celebrate the passing of time I'm going to look back at my favorite tech of 2019. Not all is new, but some is. The others are just things I still use all the time. I shall begin with the three new items.
Well, folks, Christmas 2019 is now in the rear view mirror. Hopefully you and your family had a wonderful holiday. Following Christmas, there is one big important tradition -- Amazon's bragging! Yes, every year, the online retailer loves to brag about its successful holiday shopping sales. They are always the best ever, of course, and this year, things are no different.
Yup, Amazon is claiming that it had record-breaking sales during the 2019 holiday shopping season. While the company doesn't share actual sales numbers, I actually don't doubt its claims. This year, when I went to brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday (and the days after), the stores were clearly experiencing a huge drop in foot traffic. In other words, Amazon has seemingly continued its trend of cannibalizing traditional retailers, but this year, it seemed much more dramatic. Hell, I ended up doing 90 percent of my own Christmas shopping on Amazon and I don't even have Prime!
As fear mounts in the UK at the prospect of the NHS being sold in part or in whole to the US, the government has decided to give Amazon access to National Health Service data for free.
The arrangement means that Amazon will be able to access "healthcare information, including ... symptoms, causes, and definitions". The tech giant will be able to use the data in conjunction with Alexa to enable users to get medical help and advice via the digital assistant.
In response to customers demanding portability in their digital assistants, Amazon has launched a battery-powered version of its Echo device.
Lengthily named the Echo Input Portable Smart Speaker Edition, the device features a 4,800mAh rechargeable battery which Amazon says should be enough for 10 hours of non-stop music playback. But while the allure of using Alexa while freed from a wall socket may be strong, it could be a while until you can get your hands on a battery-powered Echo.
When Microsoft was awarded the controversial $10 billion JEDI contract by the US Department of Defense, many people voiced surprise -- including rival bidder Amazon.
Now Jeff Bezos' company is heading to court, claiming that the process of choosing who to assign the contract to was biased. But these claims have been denied, with the Department of Defense saying there was no outside influence involved in the decision.
If you've ever expressed concern about the security implications of Amazon Ring connected doorbells; if you've ever voiced privacy concerns about letting Amazon have such a portal into your life... your fears have been justified.
It has just been revealed that a security flaw in the camera-toting devices made it possible for hackers to access customers' Wi-Fi usernames and passwords. With these credentials, it would then be possible to launch a wider privacy-invading attack on households, accessing all manner of data and devices on home networks.
The United States is undoubtedly the best country in the world, but how did it get that way? Our military. Look, these brave men and women put their lives on the line so civilians can enjoy their many freedoms. After all, the Constitution of the United States is merely pieces of paper if we don't have soldiers willing to fight to defend it. And so, every year, we celebrate Veterans Day to show our love and support for their sacrifices.
All holidays get commercialized, however, and Veterans Day is no different. Companies use it as a way to give shopping discounts -- and sometimes free stuff -- to members of the military. You know what? Even if it is fueled by marketing departments looking for positive press, I still really like it. Soldiers can get free meals and other cool stuff on Veterans Day -- they deserve it. Quite frankly, it is the least corporate America can do. This year, Amazon is getting in on the action with a HUGE discount on Prime. Just how significant is it? A massive $40 off!
Amazon has launched a child-friendly version of its Kindle ereader -- the Kindle Kids Edition.
At $110, this special edition device is slightly more expensive than the cheapest Kindle, but it has one massive advantage that will appeal to parents, kids and others: it is free from ads. But there are lots of other features to cater for young readers, including access to more than 1,000 books, and achievements to encourage reading.
Back in July, the YouTube app finally returned to the Amazon Fire TV platform. This was great news for both Google and Amazon, but more importantly, consumers were the big winners. Owners of Fire TV devices finally had an official app for watching YouTube.
Google and Amazon had promised that YouTube TV -- the search giant's live television service -- would come to Fire TV too, but for whatever reason, it did not debut with the return of the regular YouTube app. Thankfully, starting today, Fire TV owners can finally access YouTube TV on their devices -- as long as they have a compatible model.
Earlier today, Amazon unveiled a bunch of new Echo devices. As a hardcore Alexa user, I am sort of excited about this new hardware, but at the same time, my house already has enough of them -- I am not at all in the market for more.
In addition to Alexa-focused hardware, Amazon today also launches a new eero mesh Wi-Fi system. In case you forgot, yes, Amazon owns eero now. While this new mesh Wi-Fi system looks fine enough for the average consumer, it is quite underwhelming. Its speeds are hardly top of the line, and there is no WiFi 6 (802.11ax) to be found. For the most part, these 802.11ac access points are fairly basic, but I do like that each has two gigabit Ethernet ports. The cute devices are powered by USB-C as well, which I also appreciate.
At a special hardware event held today, September 25, Amazon took the wraps off an all-new line up of Echo devices, as well as additional Alexa features, like celebrity voices (Samuel L. Jackson will be the first of these).
The new products include an improved Echo, with an updated fabric design (in Twilight Blue, Charcoal, Heather Grey, and Sandstone colors) and superior sound, but the same $99.99 price tag; and a new $59.99 Echo Dot with a built in clock that can show the outdoor temperature and alarms, as well as the time.
When it comes to streaming music, Spotify and Apple Music are the two services fighting for the top spot, with Amazon’s offering a distant third.
However, the retail giant is hoping to change that, with a new service that offers more than 50 million songs in HD quality, as well as millions of tracks in Ultra HD, the highest quality streaming audio available.
I recently canceled Amazon Prime, as I found the subscription to be deficient -- especially at $129 per year. What was wrong with Prime? Many things, such as the video library being atrocious and the included Amazon Music service having a very small library (two million songs). Amazon makes you pony up even more money to have a larger music library (50 million songs). Not to mention, the Amazon Music interface is nothing to write home about -- overall, die hard music fans should look elsewhere, such as Apple Music or Spotify.
But OK, let's say you are a casual music listener that takes advantage of either Amazon Music or the pricier Amazon Music Unlimited. If that is you, I have good news -- your music service is now available on some Garmin smartwatches!
Sometimes a deal looks great on paper, but in reality, it isn't. For instance, I have a Costco membership. If you aren't familiar, it is a "club" style store when you pay an annual fee in exchange for good deals on bulk items. For the most part, a Costco membership is well worth it -- I recommend it -- but you have to be careful. Case in point, I have bought perishable items in bulk, but then had some of them expire before I've had the chance to use them fully. I mean, a giant tub of discounted Country Crock looks like a good value, but if you throw half of it away, then it really isn't.
This brings me to Amazon Prime. It is a subscription I've had for years, because I thought it was a great deal. For some people it is. You get access to lots of streaming music, TV shows, and movies. Not to mention, you get "free" 2-day shipping on many items (next day or same day in some cities). Hell, you even get discounts at Whole Foods! If you use all of those things, then hey, it might be worth it for you. Unfortunately, I found the $129 simply too high and canceled it this week.
There have been privacy concerns about digital assistants for just about as long as there have been digital assistants, and the recent confirmation that Google and Apple were listening to Assistant and Siri conversations has done nothing to allay fears.
The 'were' in that last sentence is important, as both companies have agreed -- at least temporarily -- to cease the practice. Not wanting to miss out on an opportunity for good PR, Amazon is getting in on the action, giving Alexa users the chance to opt out of having their conversations with its digital assistant listened to -- or "manually reviewed", as Amazon would prefer. Here's how to do just that.