When this blog was created over 3 years ago I was a professional amateur. I worked in IT with no formal training. I still don’t have formal training, but through a series of career moves I find that I’m much more of an IT person today than those early blogging days. Along with my relatively new role working with Virtual and Augmented Reality comes a ticket to CES 2018. CES stands for “Consumer Electronics Show” and it highlights all the cool new tech for consumers from self-driving cars to TVs, smart appliances to all that wrist based tech, and so much more. I’ve long listened to live broadcasts from the arena floor in Las Vegas, but I’ve never been there myself. So here I sit in the airport, sipping a pretty decent ramen bowl, waiting my flight.
I plan to follow this post with my observations of the tech at CES. The challenging piece these days is that I’m becoming more cynical about the invasion of pocket based technology. I tend to agree with the news articles and scientific studies pointing to the negative element of carrying a super-distracting super computer in our pockets. So during my first trip to Consumer Tech Mecca, I’m hitting the floor looking for something very specific.
I started this blog with the statement: If your technology is not enhancing your life, then it isn’t serving it’s purpose”. And I don’t think constant access to the web is the purpose we want to see fulfilled. What I actually think is still up for grabs, and CES will be a true test of a fanboy turned consumer tech philosopher.
It’s official. I now own the entire Amazon Echo family. It started almost two years ago with the beta version (by invite only) of the Echo Speaker. Last Spring I added the micro version, Echo Dot, to the mix. And finally I caved and bought the Wireless Bluetooth version, Amazon Tap. This purchase was much debated. It even resulted in buying a different Bluetooth speaker, which I don’t regret getting, but that purchase did highlight what was missing, and why the Tap was “needed”. I’ve had the Amazon Tap for five days, and these are my First Impressions…
It’s Alexa with a Tap
I’ve been a fan of the Echo Speaker for years. Check out my early reviews HERE and HERE. The Amazon Tap has all the same functionality of the more expensive Echo, just without the “always listening” element. For some, that might even be seen as a good thing. To access the Alexa element of the Tap you just “tap” the button on the side, and the mics activate. Ask for a song, the weather, the news, a timer, an Uber, or the Capital of Turkey. Everything the Echo can do, so can the Tap. As this is a portable speaker (read wireless), the always listening element would most certainly kill what is actually very good battery life (9 hours of playback).
It’s a Speaker on the Move
This is the first of the Echo Speaker family that is cordless. So now whichever room of your house that needs some music can have it. Basement? Garage? You’re covered. In my first week with the device, I’ve found it my constant companion as I move around the house. I look forward to taking it out on the road as well, as it’s much smaller form factor makes it ideal for tossing in my bag. And I dropped some extra coin for the “sleeve” which lets me clip it to my bag as well, along with a little cushion for a tumble (though I don’t place much stock in that element). When you’re done moving for the day, you simply place the device on it’s cradle, in any alignment, and you get your charge back. Super easy experience!
It’s Got New Features for the Echo Line
There are now more buttons on the top of the device. This is a big deal for me. Your have “play/pause”, track advance in both directions, and volume in both directions. These options are missing from the other two Echo speakers. They both have a “turn the top part for volume” element, but the physical buttons for tracks and play/pause are great. Sometimes I don’t have want shout “Alexa NEXT!!!” And having a button to push is handy. For those who don’t want an “always listening” device, this is definitely the speaker for you, as it only listens when you push that “tap” button. The TAP also features a “line in” to plug the device into speakers or receivers to make your old tech smart (to be fair, the Echo Dot also has this feature).
It’s (of course) Missing a Few Things
The same feature could be seen by others as a missing element. Without constant listening, you will have to move to the device to get it to listen. Hands free is pretty awesome, and that button is sometimes a pain. The sound quality is not on par with the big Echo speaker, but it still blasts pretty decently. Though I wouldn’t choose this as my primary home speaker. While it has that line in, it only works for attaching to speakers, it is not a headphone jack, which could come in handy when you want to keep the tunes to yourself, and save your smartphone battery.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
The Tap is definitely a speaker worth considering. If you dig the idea of voice activated speakers, the Echo line is one of the few choices out there. Since the Echo Dot seems to have been a short lived (buy with Echo only) device, you are left with two choices, that offer very different experiences. The large Echo offers better sound and always listening voice activation. And that comes with a high price tag ($179 vs 139) and a power cord (which for many isn’t a big deal if this is their “stereo”, like it is in our house). Then there’s the Amazon Tap. You get everything in terms of functionality of the larger Echo but skip the cord and the always listening. And a lower price tag. You sacrifice some sound quality, but for a portable speaker it’s still a good bet for most.
UPDATE 9/15/16: My reference to the “short-lived” Echo Dot has proven false. This week Amazon released a 2.0 model of the Echo Dot. It’s shorter, it comes in white, and has some nice enhancements. And it’s $50. Definitely worth considering if the $100+ price tag is to high. Check it out HERE.
The market for “smart speakers” is sure to get more interesting as Google and Apple are rumored to be getting into the game soon. But in the meantime, the Echo line of speakers are great and worth considering for your home music (or on the go music) needs. Happy Listening!
I have many friends who absolutely LOVE podcasts. They always have recommendations, and are always curious why I haven’t gotten on the “podcast train”. I listen to NPR most of the time anyway. Why not have curated shows around my interests? I have one friend, a game enthusiast, who listens to many podcasts dedicated to his niche obsession. I’m sure there are plenty of podcasts for someone like me. But I always hesitated because like Twitter and Snapchat, to dive in seemed daunting. Where do you start? How do you know which ones are good? How do you keep things organized? It was easier to blast the FM dial and keep it simple.
But then my cousin started a podcast, and on Facebook asked people to check it out. When I did I found that I enjoyed the format (especially his short 6 minute motivational podcast) and suddenly I dove in. But I didn’t dive in so far as to get out of control. True, I now follow roughly 20 podcasts, but I could have stopped at a smaller subset and been perfectly happy with it. So now I have some answers to my questions. The biggest being “Where do you start?” Followed by “How to Keep Things Organized?” Let me recommend 7 podcasts. I will give you a few sentences to sum up each. Then I’ll recommend a couple apps for organization, should you decide to jump into the crazy world of podcasts. I don’t regret that I finally did. And it’s not nearly as daunting as Twitter (at least for me).
7 PODCASTS TO GET YOU STARTED
1.Your Motivational High 5 – short format for quick motivation. Phil, my cousin, has a great voice and sound advice. He pulls in others to share their stories, and 5 minutes at a time, he’s helping his listeners re-organize their thought processes around healthy approaches to living a full, rich life.
2. Stuff You Should Know – Two hilarious guys share their love of learning. From Evel Knievel to How Night Terrors Work, these guys have mad researching skills and are a blast to listen to.
3. Serial – Two seasons are in the can for this episodic examination of criminal cases. First it was a murder case, which resulted in a new trial for the subject, and then the Bowe Bergdahl case, of the soldier who abandoned his post. Well paced, well researched, well worth your time.
4. Someone Knows Something – Similar to Serial, this first season
examines a 30 year old cold case in Canada, involving the disappearance of a little boy. A cool view into the minds of investigators and an insightful look into different perspectives and the challenges of age and memory.
5. Vergecast – For a techie like me, the Vergecast is top of my list. A bunch of geeks around a mic once a week (roughly) talking about the tech of the day. Feels like a place I could call home.
6. Brains On! – For the kiddos. This podcast produced at the University of Minnesota brings cool science stuff to the inquisitive child’s mind. “How Do Airplanes Fly?”, and “Why are No Two Snowflakes the Same?”. I, for one, was fascinated by the “Science of Baking”. They are short, and full of cool stuff for kids.
7. On Being – For those in search of some contemplation, Krista Tippett offers some amazing interviews with great minds. Famous Names, and not so famous names are included, but all will make you think deeper about life in general. Check out the Thich Nhat Hanh one for starters!
BONUS: I would be remiss to not include one last podcast. “Spoilers” is the creation of a co-worker of mine. Their format is basically a bunch of buddies sitting around talking about a specific movie. Sometimes it’s current releases (Killing Joke and Swiss Army Man), other times it’s old classics (Alien and Time Bandits!) At times chaotic, it only reflects the fun of hanging with friends and talking movies. Check it out.
Finally, here are two “podcast apps” that will not only keep your stuff organized, but will help you find the podcasts I’ve mentioned, and find new ones too.
- Podcasts – native application on all iPhones and iPads
- Pocket Casts – this is my chosen app. It costs a few bucks but has a great interface to keep it all organized.
That’s how I started. I just downloaded some of the most popular podcasts and found topics that interested me. And I’ve been listening ever since.
Hop on board and enjoy the world of podcasts!!