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The allure of a $600 smartphone

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Style in spades, but what about everything else?
Review: Honor View 20 smartphone

The Morning after

Despite a price tag far lower than those of high-end flagship phones, Huawei’s Honor View 20 packs a handful of forward-looking features that some people will be able to use right away. There’s that 6.4-inch display that proves life with hole-punched screens won’t be so bad. And the 48-megapixel dual camera system has lots of potential (especially its super-crisp Ultra Clarity mode), even if it’s only just OK in most situations. The View 20 is a tantalizing package for the price, and one that’s well worth looking into if you don’t mind occasionally odd software, minimal water resistance, and don’t live in the US.


The Big Picture

Bringing the wonder of old-school survey maps into three dimensions

Designer Scott Reinhard is trying to bring a modern touch to vintage map designs using 3D technology. He used elevation data from the United States Geological Survey to create 3D elevations of the topography, then merged the data with ye olde worlde maps.


Conventional fingerprint readers still work better, and where’s my headphone jack gone?
Review: OnePlus 6T smartphone

OnePlus continues to deliver great hardware and software features with the 6T. However, a sluggish in-display fingerprint reader and the controversial decision to remove the headphone jack might give you pause. The 6T would have otherwise been a fitting successor to the highly praised 6. Read all about it on the site.


The Inspire is meant to encourage healthy living among the rank and file.
Fitbit’s latest tracker is only available through your work or insurance

Fitbit’s new Inspire is a fitness band intended for companies that plan to issue wearables en masse, whether it’s your health-insurance provider or a just a corporation that wants employees to stay active. It’s the definition of no-frills. A basic version doesn’t do much more than track activity and deliver phone alerts, while the Inspire HR adds heart-rate monitoring and GPS. There’s no price listed, but that’s likely to vary from deal to deal.

But wait, there’s more…


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Netflix cancels ‘Jessica Jones’ and ‘The Punisher,’ its last Marvel shows – TechCrunch

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Netflix is no longer in the Marvel superhero business, with the cancellation of “Jessica Jones” and “The Punisher.”

The writing has been on the wall since last fall, when the streaming service canceled its other three Marvel shows — “Iron Fist,” “Luke Cage” and “Daredevil.” Plus, showrunner Melissa Rosenberg was already announced to leave “Jessica Jones” after the upcoming third season.

There have been conflicting reports about which company ultimately decided to pull the plug, but this does seem to be part of a broader corporate rift, with Disney ending its overall deal with Netflix and producing Marvel shows for its yet-to-launch streaming service.

Disney has also announced a slate of animated Marvel series on Hulu (where Disney will become the majority owner, post-Fox acquisition), following a similar structure to the Netflix shows — four separate series followed by a big crossover.

Netflix, meanwhile, just released the first season of “The Umbrella Academy,” an offbeat superhero series based on the comics by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá.

In a statement, Netflix said:

Marvel’s The Punisher will not return for a third season on Netflix. Showrunner Steve Lightfoot, the terrific crew, and exceptional cast including star Jon Bernthal, delivered an acclaimed and compelling series for fans, and we are proud to showcase their work on Netflix for years to come.

In addition, in reviewing our Marvel programming, we have decided that the upcoming third season will also be the final season for Marvel’s Jessica Jones . We are grateful to showrunner Melissa Rosenberg, star Krysten Ritter and the entire cast and crew, for three incredible seasons of this groundbreaking series, which was recognized by the Peabody Awards among many others. We are grateful to Marvel for five years of our fruitful partnership and thank the passionate fans who have followed these series from the beginning.

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Google Assistant Actions up 2.5x in 2018 to reach 4,253 in the US – TechCrunch

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Google Assistant Actions up 2.5x in 2018 to reach 4,253 in the US – TechCrunch

In addition to competing for smart speaker market share, Google and Amazon are also competing for developer mindshare in the voice app ecosystem. On this front, Amazon has soared ahead — the number of available voice skills for Alexa devices has grown to top 80,000 the company recently announced. According to a new third-party analysis from Voicebot, Google is trailing that by a wide margin with its own voice apps, called Google Assistant Actions, which total 4,253 in the U.S. as of January 2019.

For comparison, 56,750 of Amazon Alexa’s total 80,000 skills are offered in the U.S.

The report notes that the number of Google Assistant Actions have grown 2.5 times over the past year — which is slightly faster growth than seen on Amazon Alexa, whose skill count grew 2.2 times during the same period. But the total is a much smaller number, so growth percentages may not be as relevant here.

In January 2018, there were 1,719 total Google Assistant Actions in the U.S., the report said. In 2017, the number was in the low hundreds in the beginning of the year, and reached 724 by October 2017.

Voicebot also examined which categories of voice apps were popular on Google Assistant platforms.

It found that three of the 18 categories accounted for more than one-third of all Google Assistant Actions: Education & Reference; Games & Fun; and Kids & Family.

The Education category topped the list with more than 15 percent of all Actions, while Games & Fun was 11.07 percent and Kids & Family was 9.29 percent.

Local and Weather were the least popular.

On Alexa, the top categories differ slightly. Though Games & Fun is popular on Google, its Alexa equivalent — Games & Trivia — is the No. 1 most popular category, accounting for 21 percent of all skills. Education was second most popular at around 14 percent.

It’s interesting that these two top drivers for voice apps are reversed on the two platforms.

That could indicate that Alexa is seen to be the more “fun” platform, or one that’s more oriented toward use by families and gaming. Amazon certainly became aware of the trend toward voice gaming, and fanned the flames by making games the first category it paid developers to work on by way of direct payments. That likely encouraged more developers to enter the space, and subsequently helped boost the number of games — and types of gaming experiences — available for Alexa.

Voicebot’s report rightly raises the question as to whether or not the raw skill count even matters, though.

After all, many of the Alexa skills offered today are of low quality, or more experimental attempts from developers testing out the platform. Others are just fairly basic — the voice app equivalent of third-party flashlight apps for iPhone before Apple built that feature into iOS. For example, there now are a handful of skills that turn on the light on Echo speakers so you can have a nightlight by way of the speaker’s blue ring.

But even if these early efforts sometimes fall short, it does matter that Alexa is the platform developers are thinking about, as it’s an indication of platform commitment and an investment on developers’ part. Google, on the other hand, is powering a lot of its Assistant’s capabilities itself, leaning heavily on its Knowledge Base to answer users’ questions, while also leveraging its ability to integrate with Google’s larger suite of apps and services, as well as its other platforms, like Android.

In time, Google Assistant may challenge Alexa further by capitalizing on geographic expansions, but for the time being, Alexa is ahead on smart speakers as well as, it now seems, on content.

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Amazon’s Echo Wall Clock is back on sale after connectivity fix

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The Echo Wall Clock was first announced by Amazon in September and started shipping just before the holidays in December. Just over a month after the clock was first made available to buy, Amazon decided to pull it because of problems with Bluetooth connectivity. That feature is essential to the device’s function, as it needs to connect to another Echo device in order to operate with voice controls. With the fix, users will once again be able to set alarms and timers via Alexa that will be displayed on the 60 LED lights around the edge of the clock’s face.

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