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Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab review

Think back five or so years to when phone screens were pushing into 5-inch displays. Tablets were still popular and the larger screens were great to have for reading, editing, markups, and writing.

Today, as handsets routinely hover above 6 inches, it’s kind of hard to justify the need or money for a tablet under ten inches. Why drop a few hundred bucks on something that’s not all that different?

As tablet sales have seemingly plateaued, 2-in-1 devices and Chromebooks have picked up more traction. These offer a more unique experience — often one that lends itself to productivity and multi-tasking.

Devices are more appealing when they offer more than just a bigger display. Thankfully, we’re starting to see hardware makers play around with different designs again.

The Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab is the sort of product that puts Android and Google Assistant support in a body that’s more versatile than a traditional tablet. It might resemble a conventional 10-inch tablet on its face, but there are a few hardware designs underneath that put it in a slightly different space.

We’ve had the chance to spend time with a Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab and are happy to share our impressions and insight into the device.

What is the Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab?

Introduced in fall of 2019, it’s largely a 10.1-inch tablet with mostly mid-range hardware. It’s priced about $300 and looks to compete with the likes of the Amazon Fire HD 10 (2019) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1 (2019).

Powered by Android 9 Pie, the Yoga Smart Tab has a 10-inch display at 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution. Internally, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 439 (octa-core) processor is supported by 4GB RAM with storage coming in at 64GB.

A 7,000mAh battery promises up to 11 hours of web browsing or up to 10 hours of 1080p video playback. In terms of cameras, the Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab has a rear 5-megapixel shooter with fixed focus; the front houses an 8-megapixel camera with autofocus.

Other traditional specifications include USB Type-C charging, a microSD expansion card slot (up to 256GB), Bluetooth 4.2, and a headphone/mic combo. A pair of 2W JBL speakers offer Dolby Atmos support

What’s so special?

As to what makes the Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab more unique, however, is the way it houses the hardware. Flip the device over and you’ll find the design isn’t the same platter you’ve seen time and again over the past decade.

The Yoga Smart Tab has a built-in kickstand that allows for four different ways to use it. Users can hold it, sit it so that you can read at a 45-degree angle, stand it on its side, or even hang it on a wall.

One orientation in particular makes it feel like a completely different product altogether. See, this device has Google Assistant support in it and comes with an ambient mode that essentially turns it into a smart display. Indeed, it’s not unlike how a Nest Hub or Lenovo Smart Display functions. It’s just that here you can pick it up and use it as a full-fledged tablet.

The unique design also gives Lenovo an opportunity to play with the placement of the speakers and audio experience. As such, there are dual JBL HiFi speakers, optimized by Dolby Atmos on the ends of the thick side.

How is the build quality of the Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab?

Imagine that you’re reading a magazine and want to hold it with just one hand. What do you do? You fold it over on itself and grip it by the thicker edge, right? That’s more or less what the design calls to mind. It might look awkward at first blush, but once you start to use the hinge/hook, you’ll appreciate it.

To be clear, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Lenovo employ a kickstand/hinge/hook. It’s been used in other tablets in the past, but never with the extra smarts that come with Google Assistant.

We found the Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab to be built with care and attention. The moving parts hold strong and don’t show any signs of slipping or weakening. In all other areas it resembles a traditional tablet. The buttons are exactly where you’d expect them to be and are quite responsive, with just the right amount of feedback and travel.

The speakers, while large in appearance, don’t get quite as loud as we’d expect. They’re definitely clear and provide an otherwise even audio experience, but you’ll still defer to a portable speaker if you’re looking to play music for a room. YouTube videos and short clips are great, but full movies might be better enjoyed with a pair of headphones.

One design choice we had a bit of a struggle with was the placement of the USB Type C port. While we’re really glad to see that port included here, it’s the physical placement that bothered us. As it’s located on the side, it makes hanging the Yoga Smart Tab a bit wonky.

How does the Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab perform?

More often than not, when we’re not using our tablet, they get powered off and put aside. This device works very well when you’re not actively engaging with it.

Because of its design, and the way it integrates Google Assistant, the Yoga Smart Tab wants to be seen and heard. Much in the way you occasionally glance at your Nest Hub or Smart Display, the Yoga Smart Tab’s ambient mode offers up Photo slideshows and waits for you to task it.

Use the hinge to prop it up on a table or counter and you’ll have a smart speaker and screen that’s ready to leave the house with you. But, getting back to that USB C port…

There may be stretches of days where we don’t need our device to function as a tablet. That’s where hanging it on a wall becomes convenient. It’s like having a digital picture frame in the office or next to the couch.

Plug that power cable in, though, and everything goes off-kilter. The weight of the charging cable makes your digital frame hang crooked. That’s aggravating enough for us to largely avoid that type of usage.

If it’s short bursts, like a few hours at the office, that’s no problem. Come in to work, hang it up, and leave it alone. Or, if you’ve got a place over the kitchen counter, and you want to use it for recipes and walk through videos? Perfect. In our tests the battery was strong enough to consistently deliver 10+ hours of more of typical daytime usage without worry.

You’ll have to jump through a couple of tiny hoops to get the Assistant set up in a way that works best for you. Some of the default settings somewhat contradict other rules. Lenovo could do a better job of walking users through the process, making it a more proactive way of setting up the tablet.

When it comes to hardware prowess, the Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab isn’t designed with benchmarks and performance in mind. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 439 processor and 4GB RAM put it around the lower end of the mid-tier in 2020. With that said, it’s no slouch.

Gaming has never been all that interesting or fun on a tablet. Even with high-end hardware under the hood, tablets aren’t where we game. Casual stuff, and titles that work with occasional tapping, strategy, and turn-by-turn mechanics are fine. Suffice it to say, if there’s a game or app you’re using on a current tablet, the Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab will likely work.

Reading books, email, school papers, and browsing long-form websites and writing is how we find ourselves using tablets. Thanks to the physical design of this one, you can hold it for long periods of time without fatigue. Similarly, you can prop it up at the angle you want for viewing Netflix and other videos.

Conclusion

What do you do when you’re not actively using your Android tablet? Nothing, right? The Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab lets you place it on a night stand or kitchen counter and let it operate as a smart display. That’s pretty damn cool if you ask us.

Using the hinged kickstand you can also hang the Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab on a wall. It’s a perfect opportunity to add another smart display to your home or office. A display that works as a full-on Android tablet, remember.

As a full-on Android tablet it’s more than sufficient for everyday usage. Passive stuff, like reading and watching video requires very little hardware. But feel free to dive into a bit of casual and a more involved gaming as you should be fine here, too.

 

Could you get away with cheaper tablets? Sure, if that’s all you want, go for it. Heck, you can get a Fire HD 10 and likely be content especially if it’s a standard tablet experience you’re after.

The real draw here is the Google Assistant aspect that’s paired nicely with a unique design. You’d likely spend $100 or more for a decent sized smart display, right? Lenovo’s own Smart Display 8″ currently retails for about $90. Here, you get a 10-inch screen that’s not tied to a wall outlet.

Another factor that makes this stand out over Amazon’s offering is the full suite of Google apps and Play Store. There’s just something to be said about having access to anything and everything that Google puts forward.

Is the hardware unique or somewhat of a first-gen approach to something new? Sure. Does it feel like a gimmick or something that others might not embrace? No way. We could very easily imagine somebody else looking to replicate this experience.

The final question is whether it’s all worth the $300 asking price. As there’s no direct competitor in the space, its hard to compare it to what others are doing. But, taken as a whole, and given its intended usage, we have no issues recommending the Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab.

Availability

You can purchase the Lenovo Yoga Smart Tab for $300 at Lenovo’s website. Keep an eye open for promos over there as we recently saw it offered for $250 with an included Smart Clock. That’s a hell of a deal.

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Google Nest Wifi review

We’re a few years into mesh networking systems and things continue to get better. Not only that, but they’re getting less expensive, too. It’s quite easy to set up a home network that covers all rooms in all floors, regardless of the size of the house. And we don’t have to spend a ton of money in the process.

The Google Nest Wifi is Google’s second foray in this space, as it follows the 2016 Google Wifi. The 2019 experience gains a few upgrades with more powerful hardware, and also features a more modern design.

Google offers a number of Nest Wifi options, including a two-piece (router and access point) and three-piece (router and two points). Additionally, it sells the router and Wifi points separately. As to which one you’ll want or need largely revolves around the size of your home. Indeed, the router alone is reported to provide coverage up to 2,200 square feet.

  • Nest Wifi router – 2,200 square feet
  • Nest Wifi router w/ one point – 3,800 square feet
  • Nest Wifi router w/ two points – 5,400 square feet
  • Nest Wifi point – 1,600 square feet

Google provided us with the two-piece (router and point) system which covers up to 3,800 square feet. Here is our review of the Google Nest Wifi after spending a few weeks with the bundle.

Design

For a company who didn’t produce hardware until a few years ago Google really does have a particular design language. The router and point fit right in and look right at home in any environment. They’re unobtrusive, simple, and easy on the eyes.

Gone is the puck-like shape as this generation features a taller, marshmallow-esque design. The router is 4.3-inches tall and houses a WAN port, gigabit LAN port, and power jack in its base.

The point, available in Sand (tan), Mist (soft blue), and Snow (white) colors, is just a smidge shorter and contains a Bluetooth radio and Google Assistant-powered smart speaker. In essence, you get an extra Nest Mini with each point.

Inside the point are four far-field microphones and a 40mm speaker driver which offers 360-degree audio. There’s also a power jack, an LED ring that surrounds the base, and a privacy switch to disable Google Assistant. The light ring glows white when you ask questions of the speaker.

Setup

The Nest Wifi is not a modem, so you’ll be plugging into an existing modem. Your internet provider likely offers at least a basic model that may or may not provide for wireless connectivity.

The process is more or less plugging into the modem, opening the Google Home app, and following the instructions. If you’ve ever set up devices in the Google Home app, you’ll find this hassle-free stuff.

Should this be your first attempt at setting up a Google Home, you’ll need to log in via your Google account or create one first. You’ll want to download the Google Wifi app for more control over the network, including seeing which unit a device might be connected to or configure port forwarding.

The Google Wifi app also helps determine the best location(s) for your points, set up and test its speaker(s), and test speeds between the router and the point. It can also test the overall speed of your home connection.

Configuration and Usage

If for no other reason, parents ought to love where we are with today’s WiFi network capabilities. We appreciate controls over specific devices, blocking access to adult websites, and/or creating schedules. And, perhaps most of all, we love being able to hit the pause button any time we want.

The Nest Wifi provides all of these features and in a way that’s user friendly and intuitive. None of these are exclusive, of course, but we like that we don’t need to dig deep to make adjustments.

It’s worth noting here that the router only has one Ethernet port and that points have none. This could prove troublesome for people who like to physically connect devices like a PC, game console, Shield TV, and/or Chromecast Ultra. While some love the flexibility of going wireless, there are others who’d rather connect directly.

One of the cooler features that comes with the Nest Wifi is how it can help others connect to the network. Have friends over for game night? You can have your smart displays show a QR code that automatically lets them connect with the proper credentials.

Right around the time we started reviewing the Nest Wifi we also received and started testing out Google Stadia. As some may know, the game streaming service requires a rather solid (read: fast and stable) internet connection.

Nest Wifi can be optimized for Google Stadia with its “Gaming Preferred” mode. When enabled, it prioritizes gaming over Stadia or consoles instead of PC, Chromebooks, phones, etc. Sure, this feature is readily available for most wireless networks and mesh systems, but it’s not always this easy and obvious.

One thing we’re starting to see become popular in mesh networks is the advent of WiFi 6 support. It’s the newest protocol and a standard by which many new products will adhere. We’ll see it in laptops and other devices as they roll out over 2020 and beyond.

 

Unfortunately, there’s no support for WiFi 6 in the Nest Wifi. While this might be a deal-breaker for some, we’re reminded that very few people know what it is nor do they have a data connection that even comes closes to fully taking advantage. It’s a non-starter for all but the most serious, and demanding user.

Another feature that’s new for the Nest Wifi is that the Nest Wifi Point doubles as a smart speaker. It’s usually just $30-$50 for a Nest Mini; adding them to your home is cheap and easy.

Here, though, the sound that comes from the point is great — better than what you might get out of the low-cost Nest Mini. Hell, we like it better than the first-gen Google Home speaker.

Music is loud, clear, and punchy. In fact, you may wish to adjust the equalizer to dial bass down if you’re using it for music. The Google Assistant, and any podcasts or playlists sound excellent and particularly surprising for a device that’s first purpose is for WiFi.

Conclusion – Should you buy Nest Wifi?

Even though our homes aren’t getting physically bigger, we find that single routers and modems just don’t work any longer. And while you might be paying for a great internet package, you’ll probably run into dropped connections, buffering, and poor reception in parts of the home.

If you’ve added a handful of smart speakers, displays, lights, or anything similar in the last year or two, you’ll want to consider a mesh system. The same goes for a home with multiple family members. By the time you add in phones, tablets, computers, TVs, game consoles, and other WiFi-connected products, you could be looking at dozens of things nipping at your network.

That’s a long way of saying that you should be looking into a mesh system. But, what about Google’s Nest WiFi? If the Google Assistant is your preferred virtual/digital assistant, the Nest Wifi is a no-brainer. You absolutely should be looking at this as a possible solution.

Things are super simple from the time you take it out of the box to the time your friend jumps on as a guest. You can’t ask for a much easier or more intuitive interface. Additionally, you’d be hard-pressed to find an option that has the same range and features. In fact, there are no other options on the market which add a Google Assistant-ready speaker.

We appreciate that consumers can select from different options and that it’s not just a “one size fits all” package. There’s no risk of buying too much network, and if your needs change, you can scale to meet demands.

Availability

Nest Wifi comes in the following options:

  • One piece: (Router) for $169
  • Two pieces: (Router + Point) for $269
  • Three pieces: (Router + Two Points) for $349

Consumers can find the Nest Wifi at their favorite retailers including B&H Photo, Amazon, Best Buy, and online at the Google Store. Color choices include Snow (white), Mist (light blue), and Sand (light pink).

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JBL Link Bar review

As a self-proclaimed audiophile and home theater geek who loves using Google Assistant, the JBL Link Bar and its promise of an all-in-one Android TV soundbar with built-in Assistant had me beyond excited. Unfortunately, the reality leaves much to be desired. It was meant to be a “Jack of all trades” yet it is a master of none.

Hardware

The first thing that struck me about the JBL Link Bar was how surprisingly light and slim it was. It made me question whether it would be able to produce any bass at all, which is important given that it doesn’t include a subwoofer. Later, I’d come to find out that looks can be deceiving, and it pushes more bass than I expected.

Given that the JBL Link Bar is more than a soundbar, it is also a fully functional Android TV box, it’s important that it has plenty of ports. Fortunately, JBL has included three HDMI ports with support for 4K HDR passthrough and a dedicated HDMI ARC port for connecting it to your TV. This will give you enough to connect three devices, such as gaming consoles, cable boxes, or a Blu-ray player to the soundbar. However, if you have more than three HDMI devices you’ll be out of luck.

Along with the HDMI ports, the JBL Link Bar also hosts an Ethernet port, auxiliary port, and Optical port on the back. When it comes to storage, JBL left off anyway to expand; there is no microSD card slot and the USB-C port is for maintenance only.

It’s particularly disappointing because it only includes 4GB of storage total. This is much less than on the original Android TV box, the Nexus Player, which launched with 16GB of storage. That will make it difficult to load up with apps, especially any games.

As a Soundbar

When it comes to being a soundbar, the JBL Link Bar pleasantly surprised me. This is the first soundbar I’ve ever used that did not include a subwoofer, and I was concerned the sound would suffer significantly. It’s true, the bass was nowhere near what you’d get with a dedicated subwoofer, but I was still impressed with the oomph added to movies and music.

It sounded much better than I expected, giving plenty of stereo separation which lets you hear sounds clearly going from left to right or vice versa. Movie soundtracks were brought to life with a much richer and fuller sound than you’d be able to get from TV speakers alone. The only downside being that you won’t have the same impact a dedicated subwoofer brings to the party.

While that can be disappointing, it also makes this soundbar perfect for people who live in apartments, condos, or even those with roommates. Without the boombastic bass, you can still enjoy much better sound quality from your TV without disturbing others.

As an Android TV box

There’s no real getting around this, Android TV on the JBL Link Bar is a bit of a dumpster fire. It would crash on me and require a full reboot at least twice a week. This is quite frustrating when you’re trying to binge-watch a new series or have a movie night.

To make matters worse, the JBL Link Bar refused to play movies in 4K HDR via popular streaming apps like Vudu or Google Play movies despite supporting it. The good news is Netflix 4K HDR movies did continue to work. Sadly, the movies I purchased in other services or providers did not.

That in itself was not the fault of the JBL Link Bar but was an issue with the Android TV software. Even users of the popular NVIDIA Shield TV encounter this issue. It was later fixed and 4K HDR videos worked for a couple of weeks, but as of the time this post was published it is broken again.

While it certainly has issues, when the JBL Link Bar did function properly, it functioned well. I was able to use voice commands to summon up movies and TV shows. I could stream all my favorite movies and TV shows and they looked great.

The UI was snappy and, all in all, I was pleased when I wasn’t encountering crashes and bugs. The problem is that every time I started to enjoy using the JBL Link Bar a crash would come or I would get frustrated by voice commands taking forever to respond.

As an Assistant speaker

I love having Google Assistant speakers all around my house and being able to use them to play music, set reminders, check the weather, or control my smart home. I was excited at the thought of adding the JBL Link Bar into this ecosystem and it serving as the sole Assistant speaker in the living room.

Unfortunately, that’s just not possible and it comes down to one frustrating reason. That being when using the “Ok, Google” or “Hey, Google” hot words the JBL Link Bar is painfully slow to respond, especially when compared to other Assistant-enabled speakers.

It takes some real practice to get used to waiting a few seconds before giving your command. Then it starts to become confusing because that is the only device that requires a pause in your house.

Inevitably, you’ll end up repeating yourself pretty often when using the Link Bar after forgetting to pause long enough after using the Google Assistant hot words. Ultimately, it became so frustrating that I opted to not even use it for voice commands. Unless I used the remote, which works immediately.

When it first launched, the Link Bar lacked support for speaker groups. This was a huge bummer for me since I wanted to use it as part of my whole-home audio setup. Around a month ago I discovered that had been fixed and the Link Bar is now an option to include as part of speaker groups. It took them several months to implement this but better late than never.

Final Thoughts

The JBL Link Bar was an ambitious product with a lot of promise. Unfortunately, it falls short. Most of the blame is due to buggy Android TV software which often feels incomplete for the experience it promised. It doesn’t help that it retails for $250, with additional $200 for the optional subwoofer. If the product functioned flawlessly, that wouldn’t seem too bad.

For that same amount of money, or even cheaper, you could get a better home theater setup by buying a soundbar with a subwoofer and an Android TV box such as the NVIDIA Shield TV. You’d still be subject to some Android TV bugs but at least the products would work more reliably and you’d get more oomph from the included subwoofer.

Despite all of the issues I encountered with the JBL Link Bar, I still really want to love this product. I’m hopeful that one of these days a software update will come along and fix most of what is broken or frustrating, making it the finished product it could have been.

I’d be even happier to see a second version of this device next year with more storage, a subwoofer included for the price, and bug-free software. Hopefully, JBL makes those dreams come true because an all-in-one soundbar is a fantastic idea. This one just left a lot to be desired.

Buy from Amazon Buy from JBL

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Sbode’s M350 wireless speaker offers quite a lot for only $32 (Review)

Bluetooth speakers are all the rage right now and the market for them is rapidly growing. So finding the best Bluetooth speaker out there can be a daunting task. The market is awash with countless models, as every major consumer electronics manufacturer from Apple to Sonos or JBL is trying to get a piece of the action.

Which one should you buy? Well it depends on many things, but mainly your expectations and budget.

Yet sometimes you can get quite a pleasant surprise from the more obscure brands. Companies that no one has heard about can and do make pretty great products that are sold for a lot less than their more main stream alternatives.

This is the case of the portable wireless speaker (M350) by Sbode which offers quite a lot for only $32.49. Curious of what such a low budget will get you? Keep reading below.

Design and build

The Sbode speaker comes in a very nice magnetic closure box that contains the speaker, micro USB cable, aux in cable and user manual.

The speaker per-se is shaped like an oversized Pepsi can, but even so it can easily fit in one hand. Made of lightweight materials, the speaker also features a dedicated wrist strap, for easy carrying.

The device features a rugged, mesh wrap-around that acts like the speaker’s grille. You have passive bass radiators on the top and bottom of the speaker, which pulsate when the music is playing and is quite satisfying to look at.

We should also note that the mesh material is rated IPX6 for water proofing so you won’t have a problem taking the speaker with you into the shower.

Four control buttons live atop the mesh across the speaker, but they might be a bit hard to spot, at first. The buttons and black and they perfectly blend against the black background, so you might have to look twice to locate them.



You get the standard Power and Play/Pause buttons, as well as two additional Plus and Minus buttons, which have some weird combined control use. More on this in the following section.

The ports and plugs are hidden behind a silicone flap. That’s where you’ll find the microUSB slot for charging the speaker, which is powered by a 2,200 mAh battery. The juice box can offer around 6-7 hours of music. It takes another 4 hours to recharge the speaker.

The speaker is compact and weighs around half a kilogram, so as I said before, it’s easy to carry around and about.

Impressions

The Sbode speaker is very easy to set up and use. Just connect it via Bluetooth to your smartphone and start playing the music.

The product comes equipped with two full range 40 mm drivers and two 71mm bass drivers that can deliver pretty decent sound.  This is not the first budget wireless speaker I’ve tested so far, but it’s definitely the loudest. Although, don’t expect it to shake your windows or anything like that.

What’s more, in my experience the speaker does not distort sound at maximum volume levels unlike other alternative in this price category.

The device can easily fill most rooms in a home with sound, but if you are looking for something that can power huge spaces this is definitely not the speaker for you.

As we mentioned above the speaker features four control buttons: there’s a circular one which is the Power button and there’s the Play/Pause button which is the fourth button in the vertical arrangement.

But the Plus/Minus buttons in the middle are a bit counter-intuitive to use since they come with the opposite configuration compared to other speakers on the market. Skip to the next song by short pressing to Plus button, but if you want to turn the volume up you’ll have long press the same button until the sound reaches the level you want.

While it might be a bit annoying at first, getting used to the controls doesn’t take too long. So in the end it didn’t prove too big of a major turn-off, especially since you can always adjust the volume from your phone.

Sbode is marketing this speaker as being a 360-degree one. But in my opinion you’ll be limited to using it mounted on either side in vertical position, instead of keeping it on the side with both ends open. There’s a big chance the device will roll off the table if you do. Don’t worry about keeping it vertical though, the speaker will still be as loud as it can be.

Wrap-up

Should you buy the Sbode (M350) wireless speaker? Yes, if you’re looking for speaker for smaller spaces, one that can provide decent, albeit not stellar audio quality. If you can look past that, the M350 has a lot going for it at this price. It’s waterproof, portable and loud enough, with little distortion.

But if you want something more advanced, you might want to look somewhere else. Just remember, it will cost you extra.

Buy at Amazon

 

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Cavalier Maverick Alexa speaker review: Style comes at a cost

There is no shortage of speakers on the market these days that support Alexa. As the market grows we see more and more competition trying to find a way to stand out. Cavalier is throwing its hat in the ring with the Maverick speaker using premium materials and a fashionable design. Let’s see if Cavalier can deliver more than just a good looking speaker.

Design

The Cavalier Maverick is hands down one of the most beautiful and well-built speakers I’ve ever used. Using a mix of metal, fabric, and leather together with a classic style the Maverick stands out in the best of ways.

Cavalier put an astounding amount of thought into the design of the Maverick speaker paying attention to even the smallest details. From the chamfered edges, to the touch controls, to even including a C shaped charging contact on the bottom of the speaker.


The speaker itself is solid with a nice hefty weight, reinforcing even further that it is a premium product. The front, sides, and top of the speaker are all clean with beautiful lines allowing the design of the speaker to truly shine. The top features a knob that allows you to adjust the volume and doubles as touch controls for music or activating Alexa.


The back of the speaker is where all of the buttons are hiding including the power button, mute switch, and toggles for Bluetooth and WiFi. The USB-C charging port is also found on the back. Finally, a company who uses the modern USB-C standard instead of micro USB. This is just one of the many ways Cavalier demonstrates they are a company that is all about combining style and modern tech.

In case it wasn’t obvious the Maverick speaker is a portable speaker. Which is why there is an included base that is also used for charging the speaker and the charging contacts on the bottom. I’ve used portable smart speakers in the past but they all required to be manually plugged in to charge and used micro USB.

Once again Cavalier shows how much thought went into every detail when designing the Maverick. Using the charging stand was so far superior to plugging and unplugging the speaker repeatedly. There is even an included carrying case for when you want to take it on the go. Put simply, I was blown away by the design of the Cavalier Maverick, the attention to every detail, and how well it was built.

If I had one small nitpick about the design it would be that the leather on the front was not distressed as it is shown in some of their product photos. That’s not a big deal just a minor nitpick if you were hoping for that distressed look.

Features

The Cavalier Maverick speaker is powered by Amazon’s Alexa assistant making it a highly capable smart speaker. The microphones never had any trouble hearing me, even from across the room. While it had no trouble hearing me, it did seem to take a second or two longer to respond than my Echo Dot.

With the power of Alexa you can use one of its thousands of skills to control your smart home, play music, play games, ask questions, and much more. Unfortunately, it is not as fully featured as Amazon’s own Alexa powered speakers. There are key features that are left out of the experience such as making calls, sending messages, announcements, and drop in. This could be a deal breaker for some of you out there.

However, if you’re only looking to play music, control your smart home, or play games then it is perfectly suited for that.

App

In order to set up the speaker initially, it requires installing the Cavalier app. Not only is this used to set up your Maverick but it also allows customizing of your speaker. With the app, you’ll be able to reassign the tap controls, adjust the treble and bass, update the firmware, turn on Alexa tones, control music playback, and more. This also includes the ability to playback music on your local network.

The app is designed well providing many extra features but I found myself rarely opening it after setting up Alexa and updating the firmware. Regardless, I still appreciate Cavalier going the extra mile and making their speaker more functional.

Sound Quality

The Maverick provides a clear and full sound with a nice balance between the highs, mids, and lows. Music had a consistent clarity throughout the volume range without highs becoming piercing or any distortion. My only complaint would be the bass response can be slightly weak.

Even tweaking the settings in the app couldn’t help the bass overcome the highs and mids. If you’re someone who is hoping for a bit more impact in the low end, you could end up disappointed.

Battery

Cavalier rates the Maverick for up to 10 hours of playback on battery power. This, of course, depends on what you use the speaker for, whether you have Wifi or Bluetooth enabled, and the volume you use the speaker at while on battery power. In my experience, over the past few weeks, it is easily able to last me a few hours while on the go before getting it back to the charging base.

Final Thoughts

The Cavalier Maverick is one of the most stylish and well built smart speakers I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. Despite the fashionable design, it can leave a little to be desired when it comes to bass and some of Alexa’s extra features.

This becomes a little too much to overlook when the Maverick carries a $300 price tag. For that price, you could pick up two fully featured Amazon Echo Plus speakers with built-in Zigbee smart hubs. Unfortunately, as much as I loved the design of the Cavalier Maverick, unless you truly need a fantastic looking well built portable Alexa speaker, you would be better off going with a cheaper alternative.

Buy from Amazon Buy from Cavalier

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Ring Video Doorbell 2 review: worth the money?

Smart home products are designed to make our lives easier. They can focus on health, self-improvement, making our lives a little bit easier, or safety. The Ring Video Doorbell 2 is the latter– a safety device designed to help keep your family safe. After a month of using the device, I would definitely say that I feel safer in my home.

First, let’s get to the basics. What exactly is a Ring Video Doorbell? You may have overheard people talking about it or seen it on a store shelf, but what does it really do?

Well, the function really is right in the name. Think of your doorbells of old and put a video camera on it. The device allows you to see who’s at your door, whether they decide to ring the doorbell or not! And, the company saves video files of when the doorbell activates so you can see exactly what’s going on the other side of your front door, whether you’re there or not.

When you pick up the Ring Video Doorbell 2, you get everything you need in the box. There’s the doorbell itself, a battery, two mounts, two faceplates, and all of the screws and tools you need for assembly. A small tip: as soon as you get home, open the box up and charge the included battery.

Read more: Hunter Symphony Smart Fan –  Pricey and niche, but great

The instructions are simple and easy to understand. After we charged up the battery, we had the unit installed in about ten minutes. We one mounting bracket to angle to the left. There’s another that angles it down so you can get the perfect view of who was coming to your door.

I also appreciated the inclusion of two different faceplates. There’s a silver and dark faceplate which allows the Ring to look perfect no matter what kind of siding or material you’re attaching it to.

Speaking of attaching, it was a breeze. We have siding and we were easily able to screw in the mounts then attach the doorbell to those mounts with a few more screws. If you have existing doorbell wiring, you can hook the Ring into that too. The doorbell can take up 8 to 24 W AC power, but unfortunately does not support DC power.

If you’re able to hook into your existing wiring, your Ring should be able to chime your speaker. If you can’t hook into wiring but still want that chime experience, Ring sells a $30 chime that you can plug into any outlet. It runs off WiFi so you should be able to place it anywhere in your house that has internet so you’re notified when someone rings your bell.

The bottom features a screw so people can’t easily tamper with your doorbell

Personally, I don’t have wiring and I didn’t spring for the chime (yet) but I still have had a great experience. We have the live preview feature turned on so that we get an alert on our phones if anyone walks inside the camera’s sensor. You can adjust exactly where you want alerts from within the camera’s field of view so if you have a neighbor that often leaves their house, you won’t get alerted everytime the door opens.

Despite the live preview feature sucking power, we’re still at about 40-45% battery. I can’t tell you exactly how much battery it has because it only shows and icon instead of a battery percentage number, something I hope they change in a future software update. I know that turning off the live preview feature will increase my battery life, but I value it too much.

Read more: Deebot 901- Cleaning your house just got smarter and easier

After you successfully install and setup your Ring Video Doorbell 2, you’ll log into the app and connect it to your WiFi settings. You’ll also notice that Ring gives you a free 30-day free trial to its premium subscription service. This, among other things, allows you to go back and watch previous video clips of when someone rings your doorbell or the live tracking catches someone.

This is extremely useful if you’re keeping your eyes out for a package or making sure someone doesn’t steal that Amazon box off your doorstep. If you see something nefarious, you can share it with other Ring owners in your area so they know what to look out for. I really love the community feature built into the Ring app. While people are mostly sharing videos as a “just in case”, there have been a few confirmed thefts around here that people have caught and shared.



I have only a minor gripe with the app, and really it’s only one of two gripes I have overall. Sometimes the app will lock up when I tape on the notification and take me to a black screen. In this screen it’ll give me an option to view or ignore what’s going on outside, but even tapping “view” takes a pretty long time to get it to load. Hopefully Ring fixes this in a future app update.

My only other gripe? This doesn’t feel like the most premium device in the world. In all actuality, it’s fine. There’s hard plastic all around the device and it’s fine to stand up to the conditions, but it could feel a little bit more premium, especially for how much these devices cost. This is a minor issue and I wouldn’t let it deter you from picking one of these up.

The segment of smart doorbells is growing rapidly but I feel like Ring offers the best package for the money out there. You can even get the subscription for as low as $3 per month or $30 a year. The top-tier package is only $10 per month or $100 per year. Really, it’s a small price for the peace of mind that it provides.

If you’d like to pick up a Ring, you can grab one at Amazon and Best Buy.

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Turn older heaters or AC units into a smart home product with Sensibo Sky

The trend toward smart home products is a welcome one in my book. Here at AndroidGuys, we’ve reviewed a ton of products that make things a little easier, like Hunter fans, Deebot robot vacuums, and Nest x Yale smart locks. These products are all designed to be smart right out of the box.

But, if you’re not in the market for something new and just want to make your legacy products smart, there aren’t a ton of options. I had been on the lookout for a new AC system for my ductless master bedroom but man, those prices are staggering.

Then, I came across Sensibo Sky. After a quick chat with Sensibo’s team, I was able to secure a review unit to test out and I’ve been pleasantly surprised ever since.

First off, let’s talk a little bit more about Sensibo Sky actually is and what it’s supposed to do.

The Sky is a little box that picks up on infrared signals. This allows it to simulate those signals and control your AC or heating unit. We have a window AC unit in our bedroom that I tested it on and if you’d like to find out if your system works, you can check out the supported devices list here.

Sensibo also has a first-class app to make your life even easier. It comes in Android, iOS and web flavors and works cross-platform. It makes setting up your Sensibo Sky incredibly easy– I was up and going in less than five minutes.

The app allows you to control your heat or AC system right from your phone. You can set up geofencing areas so your unit kicks on as soon as you enter the area, schedules, and temperature alerts so if the temp drops or rises above a certain limit, it knows to kick on. All in all, the app is fantastic and one of the best parts of this experience.

But, just because there’s an app doesn’t mean you can’t keep using your remote if you’d like. We continued to use the remote at night so we didn’t have to stare at a bright phone screen or talk to Google Assistant at three in the morning when we wanted the air to kick back on.

Google Assistant, Alexa and IFTTT are all supported out of the box. I am in the habit of talking to Assistant to adjust our Nest thermostat anyway so this was pretty easy for me to pick up. If you’re new to this or have something else, Sensibo has you covered. The open API the company uses allows integration for other platforms like SmartThings. This allows users a ton of flexibility, no matter what platform they’re currently tied to.

Going back to the Sky itself, I am impressed by the device. It doesn’t have the most amazing build quality in the world, but it doesn’t need it. This is a set it and forget it device. The hard plastic is more than enough to get the job done. If you’re moving, take care of the Sky, but in everyday use, it’s completely fine. Although, I do wish I had the white version since all of my walls are white.

And why does that matter? Because you can mount the Sensibo Sky just about anywhere. On the back of the unit you’ll find some adhesive tape you can strip away to mount on the wall. There’s also a hook mount that allows it to set on a hook or nail coming out of your wall.

It receives power through the micro USB port at the bottom of the device. Normally I’d give a company crap for not using USB type C this long after its introduction, but it’s really not needed here. We all have micro USB cables laying around and Sensibo even includes on in the box. And, I really love that it takes cables like this instead of tying up a wall outlet with a big brick. I have a USB power strip next to my bed and can easily just plug right into that. It’s super convenient.

If there’s a negative here, it might be its price. The unit retails for $149 which isn’t a king’s ransom, but I feel is a little high. If you’re able to get it closer to that $100 mark, I feel it’s an instant buy. Luckily for you, Sensibo is running a Black Friday deal where you can pick it up for just $89. You can grab it from Sensibo’s website or Amazon.

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Audeara A-01 headphones review, how a headphones with a hearing test affects your music

The Audeara A-01 headphones are an ambitious project from two Australian doctors with a goal to provide better-personalized audio for every ear. They tackled this problem by using their medical background to create a pair of headphones and an app that tests your hearing.

After testing, it then uses this information to customize the sound specifically to your ears. In theory, this sounds amazing and after raising $100,000 within the first hour of launching on Kickstarter there are big expectations.

Design and Comfort

The Audeara A-01 headphones are solid as a tank. They are built using aluminum, hard plastic, and faux leather ear cups. The headband also features a touch of the faux leather with Audeara embossed on the top and a soft cushion underneath.

You’ll find the music controls, power switch, and headphone jack on the right ear cup. I’m a big fan of headphones that offer a wired back up and I’m glad to see they included this option. While the left ear cup includes the micro USB charging port and the switch that controls noise cancellation.

Unfortunately, like many headphones, the Audeara A-01 use micro USB to charge instead of USB-C. It’s difficult to hold this against them as the vast majority still use micro USB, but I still dream of a world that leaves micro USB in the past and embraces USB-C for everything.

While there is nothing particularly special about the design of the Audeara A-01 headphones they are durable, comfortable, and feel well made. Between the oversized rotating ear cups and the padded headband, you should have no problem wearing the A-01 headphones for hours. However, your ears can become warm after a while, but this is typical of closed back headphones.

When not in use the Audeara A-01 can be kept safe in the include hard case which also includes accessories such as a 3.5mm cable, airline adapter, 6.5mm headphone adapter, accessories bag, and micro USB cable.

The App

The Audeara experience would not be complete without the app, it is an integral part to the experience. The Audeara app is required to test your hearing and apply the Audeara effect. The app itself is designed beautifully and works great.

You’ll be required to set up an account before using it though, which also requires you to verify with your email address. This was a minor annoyance but Audeara says they have plans to enable sharing of profiles and settings in the future.

The hearing test itself is straightforward with easy to follow directions. After you set up your profile you are able to choose from three different accuracy levels. It is important to do the test in a quiet area and not to cheat because you’ll only be cheating yourself. The Audeara app also tests both ears separately because each ear hears differently.

Once you finish the test you are presented with your very own audiogram displaying a line graph for each ear. I found this fascinating looking at how my ears differed in frequency response. No matter what age you are bound to have some hearing loss to some degree. Which is exactly why these headphones were created with this app.

After inspecting the graph you can jump to enabling the effect and once enabled it will stay enabled on the headphones. Whether you choose to use them wired or wireless as long as they are turned on the effect will be applied.

The Audeara app allows you to create multiple profiles and do multiple tests all saved under your profile. So, fear not if you make a mistake or want to test again later on or in another location.

Sound Quality

Now, here’s what you’ve all been waiting for. After all of that testing, what do they sound like? Audeara provides you with the ability to apply the effect at 0, 25, 50, 75, and 100 percent. It suggests starting with 50 percent and working your way up from there because 100 percent can be overwhelming at first.

Audeara wasn’t joking, there is a huge difference in sound quality after applying the effect. Like suggested, I started out at 50% and could hear an instant change in the music. Out of curiosity I jumped to 100% and found music unsettling to listen to. I soon switched back to 50% and then began to sample each level with different songs.

While I wish I could say it made the music sound amazing or better than any other headphones I’ve ever heard. That simply was not true, I had high hopes to see what could be done with a medically based test to personalize headphones to my ears. Yet, it did not enhance the music listening experience the way I wish it had.

What I found as I increased the effect was it made the highs stronger on each level while decreasing the bass. Apparently, according to the hearing test, I’m good at hearing the low end and not as good at hearing the high end of the spectrum. It seemed as if it was trying to compensate by turning up the treble and turning down the bass in order to level out the music.

This was an effect I did not care for. I found it most pleasing to listen to at 25 percent and thankfully they provide that option. At 25 percent the highs were boosted slightly while still leaving some bass in the music. However, it still lacked the deep bass, clean highs, and open soundstage that I’ve come to enjoy from other headphones. I ran the test at all three levels and each time I was presented with similar results.

According to Audeara it can take some time for your ears to adjust and for your brain to relearn how to hear. After using them for several weeks exclusively and going back to my favorite headphones that wasn’t true for me. I’ve been listening to music my entire life and I don’t think my brain needs to learn how to hear differently when something sounds good, it just knows.

Noise Canceling

The addition of noise canceling technology is welcomed in any pair of headphones. It is a stand out feature and a great perk for frequent travelers. Unfortunately, this was another area the Audeara A-01 didn’t quite live up to.

Without a doubt, the A-01 headphones minimized noise but not as much as several other pairs of noise canceling headphones I’ve tried in the past. If this is an important feature in your headphones then there are more affordable headphones on the market that do it better.

Battery Life

Battery life has been stellar on the Audeara A-01 headphones. I have been using them both wired and wireless with the Audeara effect turned on and ANC turned off. They are rated for 45 hours with Bluetooth with the Audeara effect and I’ve yet to kill them. Thankfully, even if you were to run the battery down the wired option guarantees that you’ll never have to be without your music.

Final Thoughts

The Audeara A-01 headphones sounded so promising. They were taking a medically based approach to improve the way we enjoy our music. I was so excited of the prospect of hearing my favorite songs with a fresh pair of ears. Hoping to hear new them in a whole new light picking up on instruments or vocals in ways I had never heard before. Unfortunately, in practice, they fell far short of that.

It’s not that the Audeara A-01 headphones sounded bad by any means but they lacked the deep rich bass, clean highs, and open soundstage of other more affordable headphones. When you’re asking $499 for a pair of headphones you are hitting at the premium sound end of the market and you better deliver. You can find better-sounding headphones at half of the price.

Regardless, I love the concept of a medical hearing test to personalize the sound for your ears. I only wish the execution would have been better. If you’d like to give it a try yourself then you can pick up a pair at Audeara’s site by using the link below.

Purchase from Audeara

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Lenovo Smart Display review

Google Assistant is awesome. It’s everywhere we go, knows just about everything, and helps us keep track of our lives. We use it in our phone multiple times a day and our homes are starting to fill up with Assistant-powered smart speakers and connected devices.

If you thought talking to Google was really cool, wait until you’ve interacted with it visually. That’s the basic premise of the Lenovo Smart Display, one of the first products of its type to hit the market which is powered by Google Assistant.

Available in 8-inch and 10-inch configurations, the slate is everything your kitchen or home office ever needed. Well, that might be just a slight exaggeration. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine a future without something like this in every room.

What is the Lenovo Smart Display?

The Lenovo Smart Display runs a different, but increasingly interesting operating system in Android Things. It’s not the full-blown Android experience that you get with a phone or tablet; it doesn’t have any apps or access to the Google Play Store. In essence, it’s a canvas that compliments your lifestyle using anything and everything possible from your Google account.

When not in use, the Smart Display defaults to a digital picture frame or clock. Walk into a room and you’ll see it cycling through a Google Photos album or simply offering up the current time. Prompt it with “Hey Google” or “Okay Google” and it gets down to business.

Think of all of the things you do with Google Assistant today. Whether it’s asking for the weather forecast, a glimpse into your day, or querying Search for some random statistic, you’re tapping into it quite often. If you’re like us, we’re using more with each passing week.

Once you have the ability to literally see what Google knows, it changes the game. Now, instead of hearing how tall a particular building is, you get a picture and a readout of the stats, too.

If you ask for a timer on your phone, you get a countdown that can run in the background. If you ask to watch a video, your phone hands you off to YouTube. Music? Here’s that playlist with album artwork on Google Play Music. How about a recipe? Ask Google how to make a raspberry Danish and your phone pulls up neatly organized results with easy-to-read ingredients and directions.

The Lenovo Smart Display takes all of that stuff you get on your phone and reconfigures it for the kitchen. Or home office. Or bedroom. It works no matter where you put it, and it works in so many facets of our lives.

This isn’t simply taking the same results and actions and expanding them to a larger display. No, Google does an excellent job of taking advantage of a bigger, portrait orientation.

Design

We’ve already talked quite a bit about what the Smart Display can and does do. Let’s back up and discuss how it’s designed as well as how it looks, and sounds.

First, and foremost, it takes up a fair amount of space. It’s not the same as a 10-inch tablet as there’s a speaker grille to the left with a curved, angular back with bamboo finish. It’s a unique design that lets the Smart Display sit in both landscape and portrait orientation.

There are rubber feet on the bottom and left end, meaning it is meant to fit your environment. That’s physically, at least. For not the software does not allow for any portrait stuff just yet.

In a crowded kitchen, on a smaller nightstand, or on a cluttered desk the portrait mode would work best. With that said, if there’s room for it, the landscape looks awesome and it compliments pretty much any decor.

The 10-watt speaker, and two passive tweeters are fairly nice, but it’s not what you want to use for really diving into music or starting a party. It gets loud enough, sure, but it doesn’t have the range you get from other Bluetooth speakers.

We’ve enjoyed playing music, casting YouTube TV, and other audiovisual media if, for no other reason, than to have an extra place to consume content. If you’re using the Smart Display for recipes, timers, alarms, and other daily needs, the sound experience is great. The same goes for taking in a podcast. You can easily fill a room with a respectable sound.

Unlike the Google Home Hub, the Lenovo Smart Display houses a front-facing camera. Don’t be alarmed, though, as you can slide a shutter over it to block it out. This was the sort of peace of mind we hoped for as we moved the device to the bedroom for a few days. Similarly, there is an option to toggle the microphones, too. Rest easy knowing Google isn’t listening to you talking in your sleep.

The two microphones do an excellent job of recognizing voices, particularly those you’ve set up with Google Assistant. As you may already know, it behaves differently when different people use it.

Google replies with specifics when you ask your phone how your day looks or to remind you of upcoming appointments. But, that doesn’t mean your spouse can’t pick up the phone to use it for other, broad purposes. That’s the same situation with the Smart Display.

Setup

Setup is surprisingly easy. If you’ve ever used a Google Home or Google Home Mini, you know what it’s like. In essence, you use the Google Home app and follow a few steps as the device is found and registered on your network.

We’ve moved it from home to the office and found it really simple to set up. The only thing we’d caution is to go into the settings and have the device “forget” the current Wi-Fi network before taking it to another location. Once off the registered network you’ll not be able to communicate between phone and device.

Once you’re up and running, you are able to tap into Google Assistant right away. Ask Google whatever questions you have, direct it to play a video, or look up a recipe. This is where the fun begins.

Usage and Features

Having a display for Google Assistant is pretty damn cool. If you’ve ever asked to broadcast “it’s dinner time”, you know it’s accompanied by a dinner bell. Here, you get visual representations, too. So, when mom tells you to come downstairs to eat, and you’ve got your headphones on, your Smart Display will show fun, attention-getting animations.

When used for recipes, for instance, you get sharp, large text with a standardized format and photos. Tap the button to get going and you’ll get prompts to preheat the oven with a nice large readout of 350 degrees.

We found that we’ve significantly increased our usage of Google Assistant in the time we’ve spent with the Smart Display. Instead of setting reminders on our phone or putting in a cooking timer on the oven we simply said, “Hey Google, set a timer for 15 minutes”. Doing so gives us large clock which counts down until zero when it rings and flashes an image.

While much of what we do with the Smart Display is done via voice, the screen does reply nicely to touch. What’s more, navigation is intuitive hassle-free.

Swipe from the left and you find it acts like a “back” button. If you’re listening to a podcast, you can swipe back to the home screen or ambient screen saver. Swipe up from the bottom and you can adjust volume and brightness.

You won’t find very many screens to go through, which we found to be refreshing. Too much stuff tends to feel like clutter and leads to a confusing experience. It takes all of a few minutes to figure out how things work here and what you’ll see.

The Google Home app gives you control over what you get to see. Let’s say you don’t want to see your personal photos splashed across the screen or show your calendar appointments. That’s all really easy to change and you’re never stuck with any particular settings.

One thing we’d like to see in Google Home is the ability to add merge more than one account. It would be nice to see both our personal and work calendar but that’s not a shortcoming of the device.

Making and receiving calls via Google Duo is pretty interesting, and is probably the most compelling reason for the service yet. We could imagine having these throughout the home or office so it makes sense that contacts can reach us as easily as they would through a phone.

Thinking more broadly, it doesn’t seem a stretch to consider an update which allows room-to-room calls or video chat from one office to another. The more we outfit our homes with smart displays with cameras, the more helpful they become. A mom can ask to see a baby’s room regardless of where she is in the house. A co-worker can go over the TPS report with management without leaving the cubicle.

We love using the Smart Display as a screen for casting our apps. Whether that’s from our phones with YouTube TV in the kitchen, or Google Play Music from a web browser in the living room, it’s a seamless experience.

It might only be 10-inches, and sound really small, but catching up on the news is awesome when putting dishes away. Forget about pausing live TV or recorded shows because you have to hang up laundry. Cast to your Smart Display and make sure you catch that touchdown drive.

Conclusion

The Smart Display might be manufactured by Lenovo but it is Google through and through — and that’s awesome. We use its services for search, Chrome, Gmail, calendar appointments, YouTube, and much, much more. This is a piece of hardware that ties many of those things together, and it does it in a uniform and interesting experience.

We would love to see how this works in portrait mode and hope that an update is not far away. Upright could change things quite a bit and force us to reconsider how and where we use it.

We’ve already increased our Google Assistant use with just one of these devices. A second one, or one in another location such as work, feels like the next move.

Although Google Home and Google Assistant have been around a few years, we’re just starting to kick things into gear. Devices like the Lenovo Smart Display make us giddy with anticipation over where we might be a year or two down the road.

As of the time of publication we were not able to use the Home Hub features or add the Smart Display to a group. Both of these issues will be resolved in an update which should arrive in the coming weeks.

Availability

You can purchase the Lenovo Smart Display in 8-inch and 10-inch options for $179.99 and $249.99, respectively. It’s available at lenovo.com as well as through retailers like Best Buy, Office Depot, and Newegg.

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Google Home Hub review

First there was the Google Home. Then, the Google Home Mini and Home Max. For 2018 it’s the Google Home Hub.

Unlike its predecessors, the Home Hub is the first product in the smart home line to offer up a full display. It’s the same smarts underneath, and features a a decent speaker, and sounds pretty much like the same experience. It’s not. The Google Home Hub changes the game for Google.

Think back over the last decade or so and chances are good that you’ve either owned or known someone who purchased a digital picture frame. Google Home Hub is that, but so much more.

Almost all of us have at least one Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connected speaker that we like to listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks on. Nothing fancy, just a favorite unit that travels either throughout the house or stays in a convenient location. The Google Home Hub is that, too, but so much more.

Many of us own a smart speaker that we can tap into for reminders, grocery lists, help with cooking or homework, or general search. Google Home Hub is… well, you already know.

Falling Fast in Love

After just a few days with the Home Hub we’ve already come to appreciate it for so many reasons. From the simple, intuitive design to the technical prowess under the hood, it’s one of those devices we can see in each room of the home.

The Home Hub is more compact than you’d imagine, but it doesn’t feel small. It’s comprised of a 7-inch display with a white bezel and a speaker. The former sits in landscape mode at a reclined angle while the latter is your base. The speaker is wrapped in a fabric not unlike what Google has on the Home Mini.

The front side features two far-field microphones, and “Ambient EQ” light sensor. Around back is the volume rocker and the microphone toggle. There’s no camera to be found, but you won’t really need, or miss that option.

The light sensor automatically adjusts brightness and color temperature based on the ambient lighting in environment. Place it in a well-lit kitchen or living room area and it pushes out a brighter image. Dim the lights, or keep it on the nightstand, and it dials things down so they’re not jarring or harsh.

Display

Surprisingly, the display resolution is relatively low at 1024 x 600, which is far less than what you’re getting in today’s smartphones. What’s more, the pictures you’re capturing tend to have exponentially higher pixels. That’s hardly noticeable here as pictures still pop right off and look every bit as sharp as you’d like.

Color balance and saturation are tuned to our liking and we never really felt like we needed to dial something up or back. Brightness, thanks to the sensor, is always what the room calls for and doesn’t distract.

Tips and tricks every Google Home user should know

If for no other reason than to provide a connected digital picture frame, the Google Home Hub is worth the price. Moreover, it’s incredibly simple to set up and work with; it’s a perfect gift idea for grandparents or long-distance family.

Setup

Setting up the Home Hub is incredibly simple, particularly if you’ve already got a device or two in the home. Our process consisted of plugging and following the prompts in the Google Home apps on our phone. All told, we probably spent 3-4 minutes in setup with some of that coming from an update.

The connected device is designed to work as a passive, always-ready, speaker and display. You can leave it alone for days on end and let it cycle through your Google Photos or a collection of curated pictures. Alternatively, you can opt to show one of a few clock options.

Choosing your pictures to showcase can be a lot of fun as all of your shared albums are ready to go. Additionally, you can just let Google do its magic and pick highlights of your gallery, randomly pulling up your best stuff.

Users have control over how often pictures change with a range of five seconds to ten minutes. Changing the album(s) and speed is a breeze; you’re never stuck with anything.

The Google Home app has really improved over the last few releases, adding in options and a more friendly interface. It’s insanely easy to configure your connected speaker or display.

If anything, the Google Home Hub is the easiest device we’ve added to a network. Why? Maybe it’s the visuals that help us see where we are in the process.

What Else?

The Google Home Hub is ready for you to Cast to it. That’s an awesome feature and one we’ve found ourselves using quite a bit. Depending on where you’ve placed the unit you might want to send YouTube TV or Hulu over to it to act as a second or third screen in the room.

You can cast pretty much anything you want to the Home Hub save for Netflix. This isn’t a limitation on the side of Google so much as an Netflix decision. Nevertheless, as much as we’ve enjoyed watching small bursts of news or sports as we go about chores, we don’t see ourselves binge-watching our way through Ozark on it.

Sound is good, but it’s not great. If you’re primarily concerned with pumping out music, you’ll want to pair a separate Bluetooth speaker to it. Generally speaking, we’re okay with the somewhat flat audio experience as it’s right in line with the Google Home or Google Home Mini.

The more we’ve used Google Assistant over the last few years, the more we’ve come to appreciate it. We’ve evolved from having it on our phones as a Google Search/Google Now on steroids to something we often rely for small things.

Today we’re routinely asking Google Assistant about our day, the weather, our appointments, or commute. Getting that information is helpful not only on a phone, but anywhere we happen to be. Having visuals makes that better.

It cannot be overstated how nice it is to see a graphic representation of the weather, or calendar events. Ask how your day looks and you get a map of the route with any slow downs or accidents to accompany the commute details.

We’re going to have a difficult time getting the Home Hub outside of the kitchen. Not only are we enjoying the manner in which recipes look and work, but we’ve asked it to be our oven timer and conversion tool, too.

Although the Home Hub doesn’t have a camera on it, you can use it for Google Duo calls over voice. By contrast, the Lenovo Smart Display does allow for this, and it’s pretty nice to have. We don’t necessarily need it, though, as it’s not a primary means of communication.

As the name implies, the Home Hub does give you control over the various connected items in your home or office. You can’t set everything up directly from within the app, but it’s a solid way of managing things once they are up and running.

Controls can include things such as dimming lights or switches throughout the house, adjusting the thermostat, or viewing Nest doorbells and cameras. Google has done an excellent job of adding in new controls and hardware partners over the last couple of years. Looking ahead we fully expect that to ramp up, particularly now that we have visuals.

Conclusion

The Google Home Hub is a must-have device for those who rely on Google Assistant. For about $20 more than the Google Home you end up with a 7-inch digital display that compliments search and routines.

We like creating groups of speakers and devices so we can play music, podcasts, and other media throughout the home. As we move from room to room in the morning, as part of readying for bed, we appreciate that we can keep up with the news or a book.

Given how easy it is to install and configure, we’re really itching to add devices like these to other rooms. In fact, we’re already looking ahead to the holidays and outfitting the homes of friends and family.

If you’re considering a connected or smart speaker, you absolutely should put the Google Home Hub on your list. Whether it’s your first foray into the world of Google Assistant or if you’re complimenting your current setup with something visual, it’s the stepping off point.

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