When the Amazon Fire TV stick was launched last year it was a very popular device for its sheer versatility. This year, Amazon has updated it to make this 4K compatible and give it more intelligence by incorporating Alexa smart assistant.
The Amazon Fire TV stick 2018 looks exactly like the earlier version. However, the remote is different. It now comes with a power button and there are volume controls too, including a separate mute button at the bottom.
In fact, while setting up the Fire TV, the on-boarding includes a test to check if the remote can control the television. This is a great feature and you can basically forget the TV remote once you start using the Fire TV as the power button switches off the television too.
I could not test the 4K abilities of stick as I don’t have a UHD television at home. But during the demo I have seen that the video quality is pretty stunning. Maybe, because it needs more power for 4K, the set up told me that the USB power from the TV was not enough.
However, I stuck to it and did not go for the power adapter as finding another slot on the power strip is impossible in my home. Even on my Full HD television, the picture quality was pretty good.
The other new feature is Alexa on the Fire TV. Now, you click the search button and ask Alexa whatever you want. For me, with my son sitting idle at home for holidays, the first query was “Alexa, play Harry Potter”. And it worked as I would have expected on my Echo.
However, there is no wake word here and you have to press the Mic button on the remote to make Alexa hear your command. But Alexa knows the context about the content and asking it to play opens up video by default and not songs like on the Echo.
The other interesting feature is how the Fire TV can be paired with an Echo device and you can ask Alexa directly to play on the television. However, since I connected the Fire TV to my LG smart TV it seemed the latter too started appearing in the network as a Fire TV. I ended up linking the Echo with this first and that did not lead anywhere. Then when I unlinked and found the actual Fire TV network, voice commands started working fine.
However, this linking makes sense only if the Echo and TV are in the same room. Also, I could not get to stream audio from the TV via the Echo too. That would have been a good function to have.
Overall, the Fire TV has made enough improvements to make it ready for 2019. It’s not very different from the earlier version, but it gives you access to 4K content via streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime, while adding the convenience of Alexa.
But buy this only if you have a 4K television at home, otherwise settle for the earlier version which also happens to be much cheaper.
Amazon Echo Input Goes on Sale in India, Brings Alexa to Your Dumb Speaker for Rs. 2,999
Back in September 2018, Amazon added a suite of new products to its Echo line of devices and among them was the Echo Input, which was scheduled to launch in early 2019 in India. It seems as if Amazon has kept good on its promise as the Echo Input is finally on sale in India, at a price of Rs. 2,999. The device adds Alexa support to any of your existing speakers at home, either through a wired or Bluetooth connection. This lets you stream music from Amazon Prime Music, Saavn and TuneIn and starting today, Hungama and Gaana music streaming services too, with simple voice commands. Apart from Amazon, the Echo Input will also be available from offline retailers such as Croma, Vijay Sales and others.
To recall, the Amazon Echo Input was first introduced in September last year, and at around the same time, US-based e-commerce giant had announced it would be made available in India early next year – that time has come. Amazon had not detailed the Amazon Echo Input price in India back in September, and this is the first we’ve learned of it.
Amazon Echo Input launch offers
Amazon has tied up with some speaker manufacturers to bundle the Echo Input with certain products. The JBL Go 2 speaker bundle gets you a flat Rs. 1,499 discount where as you can get the Echo Input for free if you buy the newly launched Ultimate Ears Boom 3 or the Bose SoundLink Revolve. You can check out the offers on right side of the page, just below the ‘Buy Now’ button.
Amazon Echo Input specifications
The Echo Input measures just 12.5mm in thickness and looks a bit like a hockey puck. There are two buttons on the top for switching the microphone off and triggering Alexa, respectively. You also get a four-microphone array on the Input which is said to recognise your voice across a room, even with music playing. There’s a single LED light on the top and a 3.5mm headphone socket and a Micro-USB port on the side for connectivity and power.
It also features dual-band 802.11 Wi-Fiac for connecting the device to you home Wi-Fi. Setting up the Echo Input requires the Alexa app, which is available on both Android and iOS. The Echo Input ships with a 5W power adapter, Micro-USB cable, auxiliary cable and a quick start guide.
Novel technology cleans water using bacteria
Researchers, led by one of Indian-origin, have developed a new technology that can clean water twice as fast as commercially available ultrafiltration membranes, an advance that brings hope for countries like India where clean drinking water is a big issue.
According to a team from the Washington University in St. Louis, more than one in 10 people in the world lack basic drinking water access, and by 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas.
The team led by Srikanth Singamaneni, Professor at the varsity, developed an ultrafiltration membrane using graphene oxide and bacterial nanocellulose that they found to be highly efficient, long-lasting and environment-friendly.
The membrane technology purifies water while preventing biofouling, or build up of bacteria and other harmful micro-organisms that reduce the flow of water.
For the study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, they used bacteria to build such filtering membranes.
The Gluconacetobacter hansenii bacteria is a sugary substance that forms cellulose nanofibres when in water.
The team then incorporated graphene oxide (GO) flakes into the bacterial nanocellulose while it was growing, essentially trapping GO in the membrane to make it stable and durable.
They exposed the membrane to E. coli bacteria, then shone light on the membrane’s surface.
After being irradiated with light for just three minutes, the E. coli bacteria died. The team determined that the membrane quickly heated to above the 70 degrees Celsius required to deteriorate the cell walls of E. coli bacteria.
While the bacteria are killed, the researchers had a pristine membrane with a high quality of nanocellulose fibres that was able to filter water twice as fast as commercially available ultrafiltration membranes under a high operating pressure.
When they did the same experiment on a membrane made from bacterial nanocellulose without the reduced GO, the E. coli bacteria stayed alive.
While the researchers acknowledge that implementing this process in conventional reverse osmosis systems is taxing, they propose a spiral-wound module system, similar to a roll of towels.
It could be equipped with LEDs or a type of nanogenerator that harnesses mechanical energy from the fluid flow to produce light and heat, which would reduce the overall cost.
If the technique were to be scaled up to a large size, it could benefit many developing countries where clean water is scarce, the researchers noted.
Google loon balloon web service taps board to lift business
Loon, the balloon-borne rural internet service from Google parent Alphabet Inc, has recruited three wireless-industry leaders to help the company’s yearslong effort to get the business off the ground. Wireless pioneer and Nextel Partners Inc co-founder Craig McCaw, former Verizon Communications Inc executive Marni Walden, and Ian Small, a former Telefonica SA executive, will serve as Loon’s new three-member advisory board. They’ll help the fledgeling company sign on partners and expand to new areas.
Loon started as a project inside Google’s X research arm to deliver internet access to rural areas. As of last year, it planned to offer service in Kenya. Using antennas held aloft by large balloons 12 miles (20 kilometres) above Earth, well beyond the paths of aeroplanes, Loon can beam coverage over a wide area and relay the signals to ground stations operated by wireless carriers.
When first conceived, Loon was considered a potential threat to wireless carriers, but in recent years the company has wooed established providers as partners. Other companies including Facebook Inc have been working on ways to get more people connected to the internet. Instead of balloons, Facebook has tested solar-powered drones and satellites.
“We quickly realized that as a business with the mission of connecting people everywhere, our path to success is to partner with those who have significant experience connecting people every day,” Loon Chief Executive Officer Alastair Westgarth said in a blog post.