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Gadget Ogling: Lingering Echoes, DIY Scanner Projects, and Empowered Pitchers

By Kris Holt
Mar 8, 2016 2:33 PM PT

Gather around, everyone, for the latest edition of Gadget Dreams and Nightmares, the column that deciphers the coded messages of the latest gadget announcements to determine which are of merit, and which are in actuality secret grocery lists.

Surfacing from the Morse code this week are new versions of Amazon's Echo hub, a 3D scanner, and a water pitcher with WiFi connectivity.

The ratings are included only to show how enthused I am about trying each item. Do note that these are not reviews, for the vast majority of products I look at in this column exist for me only as things I read about on the Web.

Tapping Dots

Amazon is doubling down on its Alexa personal assistant with two new models of the Echo speaker: Echo Dot and Amazon Tap.

The Dot (pictured above) is a much more compact version of Echo. While it does have its own speaker, it apparently has nowhere near the quality of the Echo proper. As a standalone device, it looks more suited to standing in as an alarm clock and delivering the day's headlines than playing music.

However, the idea here is to turn any speaker into an Alexa-connected machine. The Dot can connect to other speakers using Bluetooth or audio cable, which means you can use your high-end audio system as a personal assistant, if you like.

There's a catch here: Currently, one can order the Dot only using a device with Alexa capabilities -- i.e., the original Echo or Amazon Fire TV -- and you must be an Amazon Prime member. I'm sure there are some resourceful quasi-anarchists already subverting Amazon's restrictions, though.

As for the Tap, it's all about portability. It's a wireless model that can connect to WiFi or a mobile hotspot over Bluetooth. It has speakers that project sound in all directions, and you might opt to use it simply as a Bluetooth speaker. It can offer nine hours of playback from a single charge.


Each is more useful and palatable to me than the standard Echo. I have some quality speakers, and the opportunity to have them stream music through Alexa is very welcome. So too is the prospect of taking the Tap on a spring venture to the park. I'm counting down the days until I can do just that.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Yells Into the Abyss

DIY in 3D

One of the great equalizers 3D printing offers is in tweaking objects to make them better. That's reasonably straightforward with a 3D computer model, but adapting a physical entity is a little more complex without the aid of a 3D scanner.

CowTech's Ciclop is a relatively inexpensive option at US$99 -- but you'll need to print some of the parts for it to work.

The open source scanner, which wields a pair of lasers along with a 720p-resolution camera, requires some assembly. I think that's bound to be intriguing for maker enthusiasts, adding an essence of DIY into the scanner itself.

The cost-cutting measure surely will be inherently palatable. There's an inspiring thought process behind this, and should I ever find myself with a 3D printer, I'd be keen to grab one of these as well.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Action Figures With 17 Arms

A Whole Water Convenience

The quality of water in my part of the world is usually very good, so I don't have the urge to pick up a filtered water pitcher for my refrigerator. Some sealed one-liter glass bottles work just fine. Yet Brita's latest model, the Infinity, is certainly intriguing.

It's a WiFi-connected pitcher that keeps tabs on the filter's health. When it's about ready to be replaced, the pitcher automatically will order a new one from Amazon.

Brita's Infinity ties into Amazon's program for automatic ordering of household essentials, typified by the Dash Buttons. From Amazon's perspective, it's a valuable way to convince consumers that this is the way forward for replenishable items, as we march toward more connected homes.

While I find this Brita pitcher itself somewhat agreeable, I can manage just fine with unfiltered tap water. I'll bear it in mind should I ever start pulling my drinking water from a well.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Fast Filters

Kris Holt is a writer and editor based in Montreal. He has written for the Daily Dot, The Daily Beast, and PolicyMic, among others. He's Scottish, so would prefer if no one used the word "soccer" in his company. You can connect with Kris on Google+.

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How do you feel about accidents that occur when self-driving vehicles are being tested?
Self-driving vehicles should be banned -- one death is one too many.
Autonomous vehicles could save thousands of lives -- the tests should continue.
Companies with bad safety records should have to stop testing.
Accidents happen -- we should investigate and learn from them.
The tests are pointless -- most people will never trust software and sensors.
Most injuries and fatalities in self-driving auto tests are due to human error.