Welcome to another edition of the week in smart home, with your host, The Ambient.
The smart home is progressing and evolving at a furious pace, especially when it comes to smart speakers with voice assistants. Apple, Google and Amazon seem to be adding features to their tech on a daily basis.
The week in smart home is the place to catch up on all this news – in one bitesize read.
Alexa Calling gets update, as Brief Mode drops
It was a busy week for new Alexa features and rumoured additions, as Alexa Calling was treated to an overhaul. The feature, which allows you to call the phones of contacts who have linked their number to their Amazon account, is now available on Android, iOS and Amazon tablets via the Alexa app.
Up until now you could only use Alexa Calling and Drop In on your smartphone or Echo device – so this is evidence of Amazon ramping up the feature, putting it into more hands. It’s probably more useful for Drop In; if you’re using your tablet in bed, you can Drop In to an Echo speaker downstairs to ask for a cup of tea to be brought up. That’s what we all use it for, right?
But that’s not it for Alexa updates. Amazon is reportedly working on a low feedback level for Alexa, which will make her a little less verbose. It can be annoying to have her long windedly explain everything she’s doing when you’ve just asked for it. Reddit users reported that Brief Mode had appeared in their Alexa app, which when activated, reduced some Alexa interactions to a mere beep – when turning on lights, for example.
Essential reading: How to use Alexa Brief Mode
And that’s not all. Cnet reported that Daon, a biometric security company, reckons that it’s developed a way for customers to send money via their Amazon Alexa speaker – and it’s working on signing up banks.
Nest drops new tech
Nest has also had a busy week. It announced the $39 Nest Temperature Sensor, which adds into your Nest Learning Thermostat system, enabling room by room control It’s a diminutive little puck, and you can get three for $99, so it’s not going to break the bank.
Since being welcomed back into the Google family, Nest has started tapping into the full power of Google Home. It’s got the Nest Secure smart lock, Nest Hello doorbell, and Nest Cam IQ Indoor working together with Google Home, which will announce "Someone's at your door" when you have a visitor, and will even use Nest Aware (if you pay the subscription) to announce who’s there with its facial recognition skills.
Google Home plays catch-up
Not to be outdone, Google Assistant has had a host of updates this week – as it plays catch up with Alexa. Assistant will now handle location based reminders, so you can ask it to prompt you to get milk when you’re at the store, for example.
But it’s also getting even more powerful. Google has updated Assistant to handle multiple commands at once using Routines. That means light and thermostat actions at the same time, wrapped up in one pithy command. Check out our full guide to Google Home Routines, and we’ve added one as this week’s Google Assistant command of the week.
Finally, Google Assistant has got a bunch of new languages, with Italian and Hindi landing. Namaste!
Smart home bargains of the week
US: You can bag an Amazon Echo second generation for a tidy discount of $15, taking the price to a reasonable $84.99. For all the tech you get – and the power of Echo as a smart home hub – it’s well worth the price.
US: Amazon has also dropped the price of the Fire TV 4K, which gets a very positive review in our guide to the best streaming sticks, thanks to its agnostic approach to supporting the best services out there. Prime members are treated to a $25 discount, taking the final price to $44.99.
UK: Amazon Echo second generation is also getting a price cut in the UK. If you buy two Echo speakers you get £25 off. The savings get even bigger if you buy two Echo Spots at £40, although that’s a little less appealing in terms of usability.