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Doing double duty is doubtful for a smart soundbar
Bogdan Petrovan / Android Authority
For people like myself, one of the overriding problems with a smart soundbar is having to share it with others. My wife and I have been together since 2014, and if at least one of us is off work, there’s a strong chance the TV is busy. Our son arrived in 2023, and he’s old enough now that he can launch apps by himself.
When someone else is watching TV, a smart soundbar might as well be out of bounds.
The issue is that if someone’s watching, say, The Northman or Golden Girls, it’s rude to ask Alexa or Google Assistant to set a timer on a soundbar, never mind hijack it with music or a podcast. Even the shortest requests are going to temporarily mute someone’s content. And regardless of who’s doing what on a TV, if it’s in use, you may still find yourself having to shout or mute to make voice commands heard, neither of which is ideal for a couple or family.
The Sonos Playbase doesn’t have a microphone, but was a potential source of conflict in our household anyway, since it was possible to accidentally cast audio to it when we meant to select different outputs. A “dumb” soundbar avoids any kind of social pitfall.
There are better places for smart speakers
Roger Fingas / Android Authority
Potential social troubles aside, there are often more useful places to put a smart speaker than next to your TV. If I’m listening to something instead of watching, it’s probably in my office, kitchen, bedroom, or bathroom. Back when our son was a baby, I’d sometimes put naptime music on a nursery speaker. Whenever I get around to building a home weightlifting gym, I’ll want one there.
Often there’s not much going on in a living room that really demands voice control. Yes, some people do like hands-free TV viewing, or even kicking back on the couch for a ’70s-style listening session, but if you’ve got a decent smart TV or media streamer, a remote is probably all you need for input. The main exception to this is adjusting accessories like smart bulbs and thermostats, but of course, not everyone has those. In my case, I’ve also had separate smart speakers for years, so while something like the Sonos Playbase might sound better, I’ve always got accessory control on lock.
Often, there’s not much going on in a living room that really demands voice control.
Heck, even general knowledge questions seem to make more sense away from the TV. It’s when I’m in bed or getting breakfast that I want to call up news, weather, or my calendar — not when I’m sitting down to watch a show.
Soundbars without direct voice support, like the Playbase, can actually introduce more friction in the living room. Since the best way to control them without a TV (or a separate speaker) is a phone, I can unintentionally find myself fiddling with apps, whether it’s to find content or change settings. That might happen anyway with an interface like Apple TV or Google TV — I’m picky about the media I consume — but at least that cuts out the middleman.
A question of value
You can speak directly into the remote or say, “Hey Google,” to activate the soundbar’s microphone.
As anyone who’s shopped for them can attest, smart soundbars are often expensive. For the price of a Sonos Beam ($499 at Amazon), you can get a conventional 5.1-channel surround setup or a Dolby Atmos system, albeit not a spectacular one. For the cost of a Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar Max ($1999.99 at Amazon), you can shake the earth and make neighbors call the police.
Moreover, the functions in smart soundbars can be redundant, as I hinted earlier. Many modern TVs support not just Google Cast and AirPlay but direct control through smart home platforms like Alexa, Google Home, and/or Apple HomeKit. When they don’t, add-on media streamers will often do the trick, and some TVs (like Amazon’s Fire TV Omni series) have built-in microphones so that you don’t even need a remote, much less a smart speaker. As long as your TV is on, you’ve probably got smart tech, so it often makes more sense to focus spending on improving sound quality.
What should you consider instead of a smart soundbar?
Chris Thomas / Android Authority
The side speaker grilles hide four side-firing channels.
While smart soundbars are increasingly common, there are still plenty of vanilla ones out there, if usually at the lower end of the performance spectrum. In fact that suits my personal interests just fine at the moment — money is tighter than I’d like, so if I was buying something right now it’d be a 2.1-channel product like Vizio’s V214X-K6 ($182 on Amazon). It’s very affordable and if I really wanted to, I could still connect my phone via Bluetooth. I care more about bass and vocal clarity than I do smart functions or even spatial audio.
One thing you should also always consider is room size. You don’t necessarily need more than a budget soundbar in a small room, especially if you’re in an apartment, where a dedicated subwoofer might generate noise complaints.
A 2.1-channel setup with Bluetooth can be excellent for a lot of people.
Others may want to step up in quality, in which case they should check out mid- to high-tier brands like Samsung and Klipsch. Anything with spatial audio support typically comes with at least some smart features in tow though, so don’t expect to save cash if you want that feature. Just avoid setting up smart options if there’s nothing for you to gain.
If you’re seeking high fidelity without smart tech, you may need to bite the bullet and hunt for separate wired speakers. They’ll be more complicated to place and connect, but your ears will thank you in the end.
Some cinema purists might say so, but otherwise, absolutely not. All smart TVs have internal speakers, and some of them are pretty decent now, if not spectacular. You can always buy detached speakers too.
Possibly, but I’d normally recommend against it. They don’t offer the best of Roku or soundbar technology, so you’re probably better off pairing a Roku Ultra or Streaming Stick 4K Plus with a different bar. If you insist on an all-in-one solution, you could do far worse.
Only partially. For TV audio, you generally need an optical or HDMI ARC/eARC connection, though if you have an Apple TV 4K you can set a Sonos speaker as temporary wireless output. All Sonos speakers connect to Wi-Fi for independent music, podcasts, voice commands, and smart home functions.
Some low-end soundbars are barely better. Most, however, deliver noticeably improved volume, bass, and clarity. They can potentially enable spatial audio formats like Dolby Atmos.
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Despite the well-documented chaos wrought by sea level rise, hurricanes, and climate change, Americans keep returning to imperiled coastal areas. In fact, a new study in the journal Nature Sustainability indicates residents may be living larger than they were before the storm.
In an analysis of satellite images of five American coastal communities before and after a catastrophic weather event, the authors found “the same pattern at all five locations: since the last major hurricane, larger residential buildings have tended to replace smaller ones,” according to the study.
Eli Lazarus, a lecturer in geomorphology at the University of Southampton and lead author on the study, says that the findings have important repercussions for taxpayers. It may also fill in a few more pixels in our big picture understanding of the way Americans respond to disasters.
To estimate the mean change in real estate, Lazarus and his team gathered satellite data, from sources like Google Earth, of five hurricane-prone places: Mantoloking, New Jersey; Hatteras and Frisco, North Carolina; Santa Rosa Island, Florida; Dauphin Island, Alabama; and Bolivar, Texas. They looked at images taken before the most recent hurricane and compared them to satellite data gathered post-recovery.
Even with conservative study inclusion criteria (any structure that experienced a 15 percent or smaller change in size was excluded, Lazarus says, because with “satellite imagery, there’s tilt, the sun can glare in places, and you have to be careful with what you’re digitizing”), the results were striking. The study found that rebuilds were between 19 and 50 percent larger than the original structure. New construction increased in mean size between 14 percent and 55 percent compared to the buildings that stood before a given storm.
Lazarus admits that “people can renovate their houses for all manner of reasons,” and houses everywhere in the United States have been growing larger, irrespective of disaster. But he think his team identified an interesting and troubling post-disaster trend.
There’s also concern that such disasters may be displacing poor and middle-class homeowners, allowing developers to swoop in after a catastrophe and build a wealthy renter or buyer’s dream McMansion from the ashes. In a blog post accompanying the study, Lazarus cited several such events, documented by newspapers around the country. “The one that really continues to hold my attention is the New York Times piece on the Jersey shore,” he says, citing a story about developers who were able to buy bigger lots at depressed prices, permanently changing the community.
Not every disaster-prone place is eagerly repopulated. After Hurricane Sandy, residents of Staten Island’s Oakwood Beach neighborhood decided to sell their land to the government. They hope to use the money to rebuild a life where 20-foot storm surges can’t find them. And earlier this year, the Louisiana state government began formalizing plans to buy out homes in southern marshland. There, coastal flooding agitates and endangers residents—and restoring natural ecosystems has the potential to minimize natural disasters for people farther inland.
But these are unusual incidents, well-publicized precisely because of their rarity. “The political rhetoric you hear after an event, always, is, ‘We’ll be back. We’ll make it better than ever,’” Lazarus says. That line of thinking is likely to continue, but the evidence suggests it shouldn’t.
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At Nintendo’s launch event today, I played a dozen games on the 3DS, their forthcoming 3-D handheld system. Having previously spent a few minutes with it at CES, along with a bevy of other 3-D gaming gear, after today’s playing I’m ready to make a declaration: 3-D’s killer app is not movies and television. It’s gaming. Here’s why.
This feeling began to solidify for me earlier this month at CES. Being a 3-D skeptic at CES is like being a vegetarian at a 24-hour all-you-can-eat prime rib buffet. But there I was, facing a tidal wave of 3-D products head-on for the second year running and, frankly, still not feeling at all excited about our extra-dimensional future. That is, until I spent about 20 minutes playing Call of Duty in 3-D on a Toshiba 3-D laptop.
Here’s the main problem: right now, the 3-D experience sucks when more than one person is involved. Out of the confines of a theater, watching video entertainments with others almost always begets multitasking. You want to discuss the movie, make jokes, eat a snack, maybe browse the web on your laptop or tablet. Channel surf. You’ll occasionally want to get up and walk around, and see the TV from different angles while doing so. You’ll watch sporting events or favorite weekly shows with big groups. These activities range from annoying to just plain impossible with current-gen 3-D TVs and their limited viewing angles, required glasses and blurry picture for anyone not wearing a pair.
What snapped into focus while playing the Nintendo 3DS and Black Ops on a 3-D laptop is that we don’t multitask while playing games. Especially in a single-player setting, at home or on a handheld. In this environment, 3-D makes so much more sense. It’s just us and the game–no need to accommodate other activities. Plus, in a gaming environment, many players are already used to donning geeky accessories like earpieces to talk trash online, or fancy surround-sound headphones for PC gamers. Adding glasses to that mix doesn’t feel as awkward and uncomfortable.
Plus, in a fully synthetic environment, the 3-D effect is more enjoyable, and more powerful. Many people I’ve talked with about 3-D enjoy digitally animated features like Toy Story 3 or Despicable Me more than live-action films. The all-digital scenes in Tron were much cooler in three dimensions than looking at the actual humans (even Jeff Bridges’s freakish youth mask). This is true too for games. As good as computer animation is today, it still inserts a degree or two of separation from reality; in this environment, the fantastical nature of 3-D feels more at home.
Additionally, there are more elements to take on the 3-D effect in games. Your HUD or on-screen radar map can hover pleasantly above the action. The best 3-D effect is that of depth, looking into the screen rather than having objects flying out at you. In a first-person shooter, a sense of depth truly adds to the realism of the environment. In just 20 minutes of strafing long corridors and peering over cover, I felt more excited by Call of Duty than I had at home on the Xbox in quite a while.
Nintendo’s move with the 3DS proves that they’ve figured this out, too. Not only is the 3DS an experience for two eyeballs only, it also nixed the glasses by using a nifty parallax barrier display. A slider varies the intensity of the 3-D effect from zero (good ol’ 2-D) to strong, at any time, in any game. A great feature.
So I must say, I’m excited for the 3DS. And in turn, I can now at least entertain the thought of having a 3DTV (or, perhaps more practically, a 3-D-capable computer monitor) in my home, one day, for gaming.
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority
As a journalist writing about some of the best Android smartphones, I usually have one or a dozen phones at any given point. Some have personal accounts logged in, others have work accounts, while yet others might be used for very specific use cases. Sounds fun? Not quite.
Making sure you don’t miss out on notifications or text messages is a problem you have to deal with daily if you’re toting multiple Android phones like me. I’ve been using Pushbullet to manage that chore. However, the notification mirroring service goes far beyond plain and simple, well, notification mirroring. I’ve got it plugged into servers, I use it for file sharing, and much more. There have been several Pushbullet alternatives and competitors over the years, but ten years later, here’s why the OG is still my go-to.Do you still use Pushbullet?
One-stop notification hub
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority
I don’t know about you, but I often keep my phone silent when focusing and chasing a deadline. However, this usually means missing important text messages or notifications. Being a Mac user, my options are a bit limited with ways to fire away notifications from my phone to my computer unless I use an iPhone.
Pushbullet comes in clutch for Mac users to enable deeper integration with Android phones.
With the Pushbullet extension installed on my browser, notifications from all my phones sync conveniently both within the browser and to my Mac’s notification hub. Pushbullet lets me interact with those notifications to send quick responses in supported apps like WhatsApp. So when I get a text message from a friend or family member, I can reply or ignore it right there from the comfort of my computer without breaking my flow. For my use case, I prefer to glance at notifications and respond directly via my phone, but the functionality is there if you need it.
It’s not perfect, but it gets the job done
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority
For all its simplicity and seamless usability, Pushbullet isn’t quite perfect. For one, I’d like to see local LAN based syncing for devices connected to the same network. This would make the lightning-fast service even quicker. Moreover, the company pulled its iOS app a few years ago and has made no effort to bring it back. For a service that initially started as a way to unify all your devices, the lack of iOS support is disheartening, and I miss the ability to have the same notifications accessible on my iPad. Couple that with a glacial pace of feature development, and you might be led to believe that Pushbullet is abandonware, even if it is not.
Despite the glacial pace of feature development, Pushbullet is a de facto install for me on any new phone.
In almost a decade of use, there are very few services, and apps that have stayed with me and become de facto installs on any new phone. Pushbullet is one of those. Despite its limitations and misses, the utility it adds is critical for power users like me, and I don’t see myself switching to another app anytime soon.
Now that Google Reader is gone, most of you have moved to Feedly and used it as the alternative to Google Reader. If you are a Google Chrome user, here are some extensions that you can use to improve your Feedly experience.
Feedly comes with its own interface and design. However, if you are too used to the Google Reader experience, this GGReader extension can turn your Feedly page into a Google Reader look-alike.
Once installed, you just have to reload your Feedly page for the changes to take effect.
This is how Feedly originally looked like:
And this is how Feedly looks after the installation of GGReader:
Did you notice that even the Feedly logo has been styled to look like Google?
The bad thing about this extension is that it doesn’t allow you to change the color scheme, nor does it show a distinction between read and unread articles. It will be great if all these issue are fixed.2. Feedly Background Tab
When you are reading an article in Feedly, you can press the shortcut key “v” to load the article in a new tab and switch to this new tab immediately. What if you want to open it in a background tab and read it later? The Feedly Background Tab extension allows you to do just that.
Once installed, you can assign a shortcut key (the default is “;”) to the extension. While reading a feed in Feedly, you just have to press the shortcut key (;) and the article will load in a background tab. You can then continue to read other feed in Feedly.3. Feedly Pooqer
If you are always crazy about the number of new items in your RSS reader, then this extension will be handy to you. Feedly Pooqer add an icon to your Chrome’s system tray and shows the number of unread count in your Feedly account.
You can set the interval that Feedly Pooqer polls Feedly for the unread count, but you need to be constantly logged on to Feedly (or Google).4. Add to Feedly
Google Chrome doesn’t come with any RSS subscription feature by default. This extension not only adds a RSS subscription feature to Google Chrome, it also allows you to add the RSS feeds directly to Feedly.5. Feedly Readable
For those who prefer to read their feeds in a distraction free environment, the Feedly Readable extension can transform the current Feedly design into a minimal distraction free interface so you can focus purely on the readability of your articles.
When this extension is active, the Feedly’s navigation pane will be missing from the interface. You just have to hover your mouse over the empty area and the navigation pane will appear.Conclusion
Damien Oh started writing tech articles since 2007 and has over 10 years of experience in the tech industry. He is proficient in Windows, Linux, Mac, Android and iOS, and worked as a part time WordPress Developer. He is currently the owner and Editor-in-Chief of Make Tech Easier.
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When I could not sleep, I’d turn to my mobile to get a gateway to a different world. However there were definite drawbacks to scanning Instagram at the Wee Hours.
When I was a child, I believed that monsters came from the dark. Turns out, they come from this light. Much like you, I conduct my own life over the supercomputer in my pocket. At night I’d put it under the cushion and fight to place it out of thoughts, its glowing display a gateway into other worlds.
Sure, the majority of Twitter is bile, but social media matches my exhibitionist soul; I need to be front and center of whatever talks are occurring. As a journalist, I’m supposed to be. When I explained I wanted to receive my phone from my bedroom, then a colleague half-jokingly asked: “What if something happens?”
Related: – Social Media isn’t the Problem – The Side Effects of using more it are
I read if I must have slept. I read humorous takes on the most recent meme. I browse the takedowns of Donald Trump’s most recent outburst. I read folks I believed I wholeheartedly making explanations for cruelty as lightly as cruelty appears to be creeping into public life. I read somber upgrades on new tragedies. I didn’t find the connection between bingeing on terror rather than sleeping.
Your 30s are tough, together with increasing responsibilities. Everybody else copes with it, why can not you? These ideas whirred around my mind as I stared up at the ceiling, sensing my heartbeat rising the longer I wondered why I was awake. When heavy breathing did not do the job, I’d turn into the phone under my pillow. No new mails, barely any fresh tweets except for Americans. So I would go on Instagram, where I felt depressed because I followed the others living their lives without me.
My very first efforts to sleep meant keeping the phone near. I downloaded a program of calming sounds, listened to some crackling fire through cans and, even when this did not work, switched it to full volume, which your phone warns can harm hearing. It makes as much sense as determining which, as a campfire is not warm enough, you need to place your head on it.
I went to work and sensed that my eyes drooping at 11 am. I took caffeine pills and got on with it.
Shortly after, I had been sitting at a pub cafe together with my mother and sister, fearing a second year once I felt like I had not done a fantastic job of this previous one. I clarified that I wished to eliminate this phone but I wanted its one unarguably essential function: the alert. My sister vanished into”go to the restroom” and 2 weeks after I unwrapped a retro alarm clock in the gallery store.
In the home, I snapped from the AAA battery set the wound and time the alert hand around to 6 am. This was it. However, the difference was instant. That night I left the phone in my living room couch, wondering if I’d last the night without needing to receive it. I recall no matter what happened. I must have dropped asleep too fast.
Ever since that time, I’ve slept fine. The phone’s lack is calming. Despite feeling anxiety, I haven’t yet felt that I must get my mobile phone in the middle of the night and deliver the entire world running to stave off bad ideas. I’ve actually slept through my causes for not sleeping, such as going to bed than seven hours prior to when I need to get up, which was used to direct to me lying awake reflecting the way I could no more have seven hours’ sleep.
My weekly swim isn’t any more a desperate effort to drill out. I read a novel a week later studying 12 in seven weeks. The cushion next to mine is strewn with publications. I like the serendipity of finding something I wish to read inside something little someone else has curated. You can not curate the entire internet.
The alarm clock, with its purpose, has begun to feel like a neighbor who constantly helps with this 1 job you dread. It’s comfortable, secure — something which my phone never was. Pushing down the large button on the best to quiet the alert is much more satisfying than some of those countless occasions I’ve tweeted, either emailed or Googled. The clock moves. It simply sits there, offering me the tiniest gesture of stability and control.
I love my mobile phone. In the evenings, there’s more to catch up on after a rest and I expect, less chance of others by viewing their Instagram narrative within seconds of those submitting it. 1 night, Twitter users began joking about”feral hogs”. Seven hours later, they’re going, and that I doubt after it resides helped anybody understand why. I belatedly joined in and went to work.
The alarm clock enabled me to learn to accept the world continues to turn without me. It’s not a gateway to a different planet, it’s a reminder to awaken and reside within this one.
Here are 7 strategies I found useful to prevent phones from taking over our time and attention:
Use airplane mode, even when you’re not in the air.
Do a phone swap.
Designate a “distractions” device.
Make more social.
Create a “Mindless” folder.
Mind the gaps.
Think twice before adding a new device to your life.
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