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Tech News

Amazon will prevent command confusion on all Alexa devices

July 25, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Engadget

Amazon’s Echo lineup, like some smart speakers, uses proximity detection to decide which device is best-suited to responding to your voice commands. It’s a clever way to prevent multiple devices from waking up at the same time. There’s just one problem: support in non-Amazon devices has been inconsistent at best, creating a mess if you have third-party gear that doesn’t use the feature. Thankfully, that shouldn’t be an issue from here on out. Amazon has moved its Echo Spatial Perception technology to the cloud, ensuring that all devices can use it.

The ESP upgrade is automatic and doesn’t require any changes on the part of hardware makers. It’s also more accurate, according to Amazon, and can change over time as Alexa receives upgrades.

This doesn’t change some limitations for multi-device households. Many commands still apply specifically to the device where they’re set, such as reminders and timers. Even so, this could be a crucial update for Amazon. If it’s going to bring Alexa to virtually every device it can, it has to create a harmonious ecosystem.

Tech News

Alexa can crank the bass on your Echo when you ask

July 23, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

AOL

Amazon is giving you more control over audio with an Alexa update that lets you adjust the equalizer and sound modes using your voice. So if you think the music you’re listening to on your Amazon Echo could use a touch more low end, asking Alexa to increase the bass should do just that. More specifically, the bands you can tweak are bass, midrange and treble. Alexa can also switch your Echo to a number of EQ presets as well, including for movies, music, sports and TV.

The update is rolling out to US users today across the various Echo devices, as well as some third-party smart speakers that use Alexa, including the new Sonos Beam. If you have that soundbar, you could, for instance, switch to night mode to balance loud and quiet noises in a movie so you don’t bother anyone else in your home late at night. Amazon is opening up the equalizer function to let developers add it to more speakers, so it could be available on other devices soon.

Gaming News

How to Play Westworld: The Maze Without an Amazon Echo

July 6, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

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Now that the second season of Westworld is over, freezing motor functions on a delightful, but somewhat-confusing series for the next year or two, you might feel a bit lost about what you should do next. Find another show to binge? Re-read even more fan theories? Start writing out a delightful old-timey piano cover of your favorite 1990s alt-rock song?

Don’t worry; you can still get one more hit of Westworld before the long wait begins. And I’m not talking about that terrible mobile game that Bethesda is trying to sue into oblivion—good riddance.

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If you have an Amazon Echo device, check out the skill Westworld: The Maze. While it might not allow you to fulfill every one of your secret fantasies in a murder-filled version of Disney’s Frontierland, it’s a clever little choose-your-own-adventure trip that’s packed with “two hours of unique gameplay,” as its description reads. (You’ll probably be able to finish it in around 20–30 minutes, if you know your Westworld lore and make reasonable choices.)

If you don’t have an Echo, you won’t be left out of the loop—er, maze. Download the Amazon app for iOS or Android and pull it up. Tap on the icon in the upper-right corner that looks like a small solar eclipse, but is actually a tiny speech bubble in the center of a white circle. When prompted, say, “Alexa, open Westworld: The Maze.” Agree that you can listen to adult things, and the game will fire up.

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As for the experience itself, make sure you’re paying attention to everything you’re told. You’ll have to make it through three “levels” to reach “the maze,” answering plenty of questions along the way. I was snarky in my first attempt and managed to get myself booted out of the game after two questions. What can I say; I like to test the limits.

Tech News

Alexa and Echo will arrive in Italy and Spain later this year

June 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

AOL

Amazon’s plan to put Alexa everywhere is extending from homes to hotels and, soon, the Mediterranean. It will bring Alexa and the various Echo devices to Spain and Italy later this year. Sonos and Bose will also start selling their Alexa-enabled devices in those countries before the year’s out.

In the meantime, Amazon is encouraging developers to start creating skills in Italian and Spanish. There’s no use having a smart voice assistant on hand if it can’t do a whole lot, after all. Amazon is also opening an invite-only preview for hardware manufacturers who want to bake Alexa into devices they plan to sell in the two nations.

Extending Alexa’s reach throughout Europe follows Amazon’s launch of the voice assistant and Echo in France this month. The company built a new Alexa experience to align it more with French culture, news, weather and other information, and it seems likely it will do the same for Spanish and Italian. A Spanish version, in particular, could boost Alexa’s growth rapidly given its status as one of the planet’s most commonly spoken languages. Amazon didn’t say when exactly Alexa would reach the sunny shores of Spain and Italy, other than to say it will happen this year.

Tech News

Amazon launches Alexa for hotels

June 19, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Amazon

Visitors to Marriott hotels will soon be able to use Amazon Alexa to make their stays more enjoyable. “Alexa for Hospitality” lets guests ask Alexa — via an in-room Amazon Echo — for help with hotel information, booking guest services, playing music and managing room controls, such as lighting and temperature.

We’ve seen hotels leverage Alexa before — in 2016 Wynn’s Las Vegas hotel installed an Echo in all 4,748 of its rooms, letting guests control environmental conditions with vocal commands. The Marriot partnership takes things further, giving the hotels the option to configure and customize voice-first features based on their specific property and guest offering. You’ll be able to use Alexa to book a massage if the hotel has a spa, for example, or ask Alexa where the gym is located, if it has a fitness center. Hotels can also choose to give their guests access to thousands of Alexa skills that can help with other aspects of traveling, such as checking flight times or local public transit systems.

Personalization is also on the cards. Alexa for Hospitality will eventually allow guests to temporarily connect their Amazon account to the Echo in their room so they can play their own music from services including Amazon Music and Spotify, or listen to audiobooks via Audible. When they check out, their account will be automatically disconnected from the device.

The system has been built to work with existing hotel technology, so locations won’t need to retrofit or upgrade anything, but whether or not you’ll get to try it out during your summer holidays will depend on where you’re heading. It’s arriving at Marriott hotels in Charlotte, NC, and Irvine, CA, first, with other hotel locations “by invitation” from today, before rolling out internationally later this season.

Gaming News

How to Play Skyrim: Very Special Edition With (or Without) an Amazon Echo

June 11, 2018 — by Kotaku.com0

Oh Bethesda, you trolls, you. I say that lovingly, as the trailer the company showed off during its E3 press conference Sunday was a nod to its wildly successful Elder Scrolls franchise. The joke, if you didn’t get it, was that Bethesda has dumped Skyrim, the series’ most recent installment, onto nearly every modern platform it can—minus your TI-83 calculator and your car (sort of). So why not have a version of Skyrim for Amazon’s Echo devices, too?

Here’s the fun part, though. You actually can play Skyrim: Very Special Edition on your Echo. And if you don’t own any Amazon devices, that’s fine—you can also play it on any iOS or Android device with a little extra creativity.

How to play Skyrim: Very Special Edition on an Amazon Echo

If you have any of the devices in Amazon’s Echo family, including its larger flagship speaker, the tinier Dot, or the more-expensive Echo Plus, getting a Skyrim-ish game going is simple.

First, visit the Skyrim Very Special Edition” skill on Amazon and enable it for your Echo device (assuming you’ve connected your Echo to the Amazon account you’re using when browsing that skill. You have, I’m sure of it, but I just wanted to be thorough.)

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Up next: the Skyrim Super-Special Deluxe EditionScreenshot: David Murphy

Once you’ve done that, wander up to your Echo device and (Dragon) shout “Alexa, Open Skyrim.” The “game” will begin by asking you whether you want to explore an isolated shack or ancient standing stone, and off you’ll go on your adventure. We won’t spoil the rest, including some of the silly Easter eggs you’ll stumble across while exploring, but it’s a pretty fun experience—as if someone was reading a text-based RPG out loud instead of displaying your narration on a monochromatic computer screen.

And, like the real Skyrim, you can save your place in your adventure simply by telling Alexa to “stop.” When you reload Skyrim: Very Special Edition, you’ll jump right back to wherever it is you left off—on page 34 of The Lusty Argonian Maid, no doubt.

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How to play Skyrim: Very Special Edition if you don’t own an Echo

Worry not, lesser-equipped adventurers. If you haven’t yet crafted an Echo during your travels, you can still play Skyrim: Very Special Edition. Just install the Amazon app on your iOS or Android device (if you haven’t already). Tap on the circle icon to summon Alexa. It looks like this:

That little circle in your Amazon app launches Alexa and, a few words later, your spoken Skyrim game.Screenshot: David Murphy

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From there, ask your app-based Alexa to “Open Skyrim.” You won’t have to enable the skill beforehand, as you’ll be asked to do so if you haven’t already. Within a few seconds, your adventures in text-based Tamriel will begin. Good luck, living room adventurer.

Tech News

Amazon admits to labor violations at Echo speaker factory in China

June 10, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Darley Shen/Reuters

Labor violations are an all too common reality in technology manufacturing, and Amazon just made that patently clear. In the wake of a joint exposé between China Labor Watch and the Guardian, Amazon has acknowledged that a Foxconn factory in Hengyang, China has been violating labor laws while making Echo speakers and Kindle e-readers. A March audit revealed that over 40 percent of staff were low-cost agency workers (who don’t get holiday or sick pay and can be laid off without wages), or well over the 10 percent allowed in China. Moreover, employees who worked overtime were paid at their regular rate, rather than the time-and-a-half demanded by both Chinese laws and Amazon itself.

On top of this, Hengyang workers were paid considerably less than those at other Foxconn factories. A staffer making Apple products in Shenzhen has a base monthly pay of 2,400 yuan ($375 US), but one of Amazon’s Hengyang workers starts at 1,750 yuan ($273) per month. Both are considerably lower than an estimated living wage of about $710, prompting employees to work as much as 80 hours of overtime in the case of the Hengyang factory.

Amazon said it took action against the violations, including a request for a “corrective action plan” from the Hengyang factory as well as “regular assessments” to be sure that Foxconn enacts the necessary changes. Foxconn said it didn’t comment on matters involving current customers or products, but promptly claimed that it “works hard” to honor the law and that it will “rectify” violations if they’re found.

This isn’t the first time Amazon has been chastised for its labor practices, but those criticisms usually focus on its warehouses, where workers reportedly deal with a combination of low pay, dangerous conditions and limited privacy. It is, however, believed to be the first time Amazon’s manufacturing base has received this kind of scrutiny. And unfortunately, it shows just what many expected: like other giant device makers, it relies on factories that are obsessed with cost cutting and frequently respond only when faced with audits.

Tech News

Bonjour, Alexa: Amazon's Echo finally comes to France

June 6, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Amazon

While all my American and UK colleagues have had access to Amazon’s Alexa for years, I’ve been left out of the party here in France. At last, however, folks in the nation (and Monaco) can parlez Francais with Alexa on Amazon’s Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Spot. Those devices are now up for pre-order on Amazon at half price, with delivery set at June 13th for Prime members.

It took Amazon long enough to teach Alexa French, but the assistant has reportedly gained mastery of both the language and country. “In France, Alexa is French,” said Amazon VP Jorrit Van der Meulen. “We’ve built an entirely new experience from the ground up that honors the French language and culture, allowing customers to just ask to get music, weather, news, information, and more.”

Alexa is considered by many to be the smartest of all the assistants, and certainly has the most third-party “skills.” Amazon is also pretty popular (and fretted over by politicians, of course) with most services like Prime Now and same-day grocery deliveries available here. As such, it’s a bit of a mystery as to why it took Alexa so long to come to the nation, considering that Google’s Assistant, Apple Siri and Cortana from Microsoft have been here for quite awhile now.

For the launch, folks can get the Echo Dot for €30 instead of €60, Echo at half price for €50 and Echo Spot €65 instead of $130 (I picked up the Echo). French users can get immediate access to skills from Philips Hue, Uber, Domino’s Pizza, TP-Link, Franceinfo, Legrand, and dining reservation site La Fourchette. You’ll be able to use Alexa on supported devices from Harman Kardon, Sonos, Ultimate Ears, Netgem, Archos, Boulanger, Sowee and others.