This summer wasn’t just packed with gaming announcements, there were also plenty of smartphones and gadgets introduced via digital events held throughout the season. These items range from convenient to… er, creepy. But, hey, what are smart home devices without a little bit of a creep factor?
These pre-recorded announcements lacked the hype of an in-person event, but they were an interesting watch nonetheless. Apple in particular had some neat videos that used sets, model homes, and camerawork in increasingly creative ways.
Apple started making announcements in June, beginning with the release of the company’s new operating system, iOS 14. Finally, iPhone users could add widgets to their home screen and watch minimized videos while using different apps, among other features. Along with the new iOS was a new iPadOS, macOS, and watchOS — just in time for the launch of the latest Apple devices.
On October 13, Apple introduced the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max. These models marked the company’s first steps into the world of 5G, which Apple believes will offer customers faster download and upload speeds, better video quality for streaming, and more responsive gaming. The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 mini can be distinguished by their five different colors and two cameras on the back. The iPhone 12 has a 6.1″ display screen and will retail for $799. The mini has a 5.4″ display and will start at $699.
In addition to the regular models, Apple’s “Pro” lineup features two models with three cameras on the back, LiDAR for an improved augmented reality experience, and four metallic colors. These come at much higher prices, however. The iPhone 12 Pro, with a 6.1″ display, costs $999. The iPhone 12 Pro Max with its 6.7″ display goes for $1,099.
The company also announced it was going to stop including EarPods and wall chargers in iPhone boxes to reduce the company’s environmental impact. While the reasoning is noble, critics suspect Apple has ulterior motives for getting rid of its accessories.
Presenting the possible ulterior motive behind getting rid of the wall charger from iPhone 12 boxes: MagSafe accessories. These items use magnets to snap the iPhone 12s in place on a wireless charger. There will be MagSafe stands that can charge both an iPhone 12 and an Apple Watch, silicone and clear cases, and leather wallets that can attach to the back of the phone.
At this time, the price of the accessories ranges from $39 to $59.
Next is the HomePod mini, which is a funky little sphere that serves as a smart speaker for the home. Available in white and space gray for $99 each, these mesh-covered balls can connect with iPhones to pump out your favorite music using “computational audio.” This means the speaker will automatically adjust its tuning and balance depending on the song and whether there’s another HomePod mini nearby.
HomePod mini speakers are also fully compatible with Siri, which can distinguish between family members to take requests and recite schedules.
iPad Air 2020
The newest iPad Air improves on the previous model with a bigger 10.9″ screen and the A14 Bionic chip. It’s thinner, more powerful, and comes in five different colors. The Wifi models start at $599 for the 64GB version and $749 for the 256GB version.
According to Apple, the A14 Bionic chip gives the new iPad Air a 40 percent increase in CPU performance and a 30 percent improvement in graphics compared to the last model. This will help users create 4K videos, play games, take notes, and create art without worrying about slowdown.
Apple Watch Series 6
In September, Apple introduced the company’s latest smartwatch: the Apple Watch Series 6. The highlight of this device is its ability to detect the oxygen levels within a wearer’s blood. This can be handy for someone who wants to keep track of conditions like heart disease… or early indications of Covid-19.
But is it accurate? Well, not always. The readings can change depending on the temperature, arm movement, or even a new tattoo. A columnist from the Washington Post went as far as to question the usefulness of the feature, especially when its readings varied so much during his tests.
Android users weren’t left hanging this summer, either, as Samsung stepped up to announce multiple smart devices including a new phone and watch. Some devices are part of Samsung’s “Galaxy Ecosystem” — a group of devices meant to help consumers transition into a “new normal” that’s more digitally connected.
Galaxy S20 FE 5G
The new Galaxy S20 FE is a much more affordable option to spending over $1,000 for the latest smartphone. The S20 FE, which stands for “Fan Edition,” basically packs the improvements and performance of the mainline S20 model into a $700 package. It sacrifices some screen resolution to maintain smooth performance and has a camera that, according to a PC Mag reviewer, is nearly as good as the S20+. The biggest difference between the cameras can be seen when you’re zoomed in or in low light — that’s when pics will start to get a bit blurry.
Other than that, however, other reviewers say these are small sacrifices to make for a pretty damn good deal on a phone.
“Put side by side with a Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G and, quite frankly, I’m struggling to find enough compelling reasons to tell you to splash out on the much more expensive device,” wrote Chris Davies for Slash Gear. He’s not the only one to think this way. Earnings reports from both Samsung and Apple show that fewer consumers seem willing to buy another $1,000+ phone.
Galaxy Z Fold2
Samsung is at it again with its little folding phone project. The first model, the Samsung Galaxy Fold, was an ambitious design for a high-priced, foldable smartphone/tablet. But interest in the device soon waned as critics reported a hinge with gaps that allowed for debris to sneak beneath the screen.
The second model appears to be doing better. Reviewers wrote that the giant gap is gone, the screen stretches from edge to edge, and the phone feels like it’s higher quality than its predecessor. Is all this worth the $2,000 price tag? Well, probably not to the average user. But it’s certainly an interesting toy to whip out and flex on people with, if you’ve got the cash to spare.
Galaxy Buds Live
Also known as “Samsung Beans” because of their looks, these earbuds have caught people’s attention thanks to their unique, bean-like shape. Surprisingly, they appear to fit well in people’s ears, provide decent quality sound, and are pretty good at noise-cancelling. Despite the praise, there are critics who recommend the Galaxy Buds Plus for better quality. (You miss out on the sweet bean shape, though.)
The Galaxy Buds Live cost about $170.
These smart-looking smartwatches can track blood oxygen levels — which is all the rage in the wearables world, apparently — fall detection, sleep tracking, and fitness tracking. They’re also compatible with a bunch of smartphones as long as they’re running on Android 5.0.
The downside is that Samsung has been slow to add more health tracking features due to pending FDA approval. So it’s a bit behind the Apple Watch in that regard.
Google’s event lasted about half an hour and featured nothing but its latest hardware. The company focused a lot on entertainment this time around, offering smart home devices that can connect and stream your favorite shows and games.
Chromecast finally has a remote control. It’s a simple little remote with specific Netflix and YouTube buttons. Retailing for about $50, the little dongle and remote control gives viewers a new Google TV interface to navigate with.
Weirdly enough, it doesn’t work with Stadia just yet. That won’t be coming until 2021.
Let’s be real: Google’s Pixel 5 smartphone doesn’t appear to be aiming for the “Most Powerful” award. Instead, this model focuses on staying affordable while offering 5G compatibility and camera quality that’s competitive with other brands. “Affordable” doesn’t necessarily mean weaker, either; the Pixel 5 should pair well with the company’s game streaming service, Stadia.
The Pixel 5 starts at $699.
These colorful, little smart speakers are the new Google Home replacements. The soft-looking Nest Audio speakers can use Google Assistant to take requests, communicate with other smart home devices, and answer questions. With multiple speakers throughout the house, a user can ask Google Assistant to move the music to a different room or chat between rooms.
It also comes with a microphone you can physically turn off with a switch, if you’re concerned about privacy. The speakers cost about $100.
Mooom, Amazon is being creepy again. The standout product announced this summer was definitely Amazon’s flying home drone. The concept sounded like something from an 80s dystopian movie. The reality turned out to be way more plastic-y.
Amazon also went for the round, ball-like smart speaker design this year. This funky look gives the speakers a space-like feel as it pumps the air with better quality audio than its predecessor. Alexa is also more responsive and can connect to other smart devices in your home to complete requests like turning off the lights.
At $100, it’s not a bad smart speaker to nab if you already have Amazon Prime. But if privacy is a concern, then it’s probably best to skip these (or any other smart speaker, honestly).
Fire TV Stick
The updated model of the Amazon Fire TV Stick offers full HD streaming and 60 FPS playback. It also features an updated UI that should help users find their favorite apps more easily.
This $40 device pairs well with a 4K TV and speakers that support Dolby Atmos surround sound.
Ring Always Home Cam
While other companies are taking steps to make people feel like they have privacy options (whether it’s real or not), Amazon seems to be flying in the other direction. Literally, in the case with the Always Home Cam. This device is literally a home security drone that will fly around to make quick recordings of the home. If an alarm goes off or the drone detects motion, it’ll take off on a patrol. Then, you can get a short video of its patrol to check for disturbances.
Some critics expressed unease over the drone’s creep factor, primarily because Amazon doesn’t have a great record when it comes to privacy. Employees have accessed Ring doorbell security footage they shouldn’t have. Amazon has acknowledged storing voice recordings indefinitely. More people are wary of big tech collecting their personal data.
So it’s pretty understandable that people have questioned whether sending off a flying drone in your own home is worth the possible privacy risk. With a sticker price of $250, it’s not a bad question to ask.
Keep up to date on tech on Plex: