Apple’s New School-Friendly iPad Won’t Kill Chromebooks

The biggest selling point of the new iPads, which Apple hopes will re-endear it to secondary schools around the world, is that it can do everything kids would otherwise use a budget laptop to accomplish, and much more.

While it’s true the iPad is a cutting-edge educational tool, it’s not a replacement for many of the boring but practical features that educators and parents have come to appreciate about cheap laptops.

At first glance, Cupertino’s claims about the iPad appear to have merit. The refreshed 9.7-inch tablet has a four-core CPU, a 64-bit operating system, two cameras, a maximum 128GB of storage, and a very high-resolution (2,048 by 1,536) touch display. Those specs would indeed make a Chromebook or cheap Windows laptop blush—or turn beet red when it learns of the iPad’s new $299 starting price for students and teachers.

A version of the Asus Chromebook Flip, one of the best Chromebooks you can buy, includes similar storage options but an inferior display and costs $499. Meanwhile, a cheap Windows laptop like the Asus VivoBook W202 ($279) beats the iPad on price but comes with a bottom-rung Intel Celeron processor and a painfully stodgy design.

“With the A10 [processor], this iPad is now more powerful than most PC laptops and virtually every Chromebook,” Greg Joswiak, Apple’s VP of Product Marketing, boasted at the iPad’s unveiling at a public high school in Chicago.

Apple isn’t just boldly claiming more power, though. The company also argues that the iPad can simply do more, mostly thanks to the fact that unlike its predecessor, it now includes support for an optional stylus like the Apple Pencil. With it or a similar third-party digital pen, students can annotate, sketch, take notes, or mark up a screenshot, in addition to tapping through iOS 11 with their fingers like they normally would on an iPhone.

Combine the Apple Pencil, the upgraded A10 processor, and the burgeoning support for augmented reality (AR) that Apple is continuously injecting into iOS, and you get some really cool applications. One example that Apple showed off in Chicago is Froggipedia, which lets kids use the Pencil to peel back the layers of a virtual frog. It’s not exactly a substitute for a real dissection, but it’s a powerful complement, especially since dead frogs don’t come with labels identifying their cranial nerves and other key bits or let you start over if you accidentally cut something you shouldn’t.

Once the dissection is over and it’s time to write up the report, the iPad can connect to a Bluetooth keyboard for easier typing. Detachable Windows tablets can do this too, but a decent one will cost around $1,000. Detachable Chromebooks designed for schools don’t even exist, although promising new models like the Acer Chromebook Tab 10 are forthcoming.

Where Is the Waterproofing? The Ports?

So it’s clear that getting the iPad into the hands of students and teachers is an admirable goal, and it’s one Apple is hoping to accomplish with its customary education discounts. The public starting price of the new iPad is $329 for 32GB of storage, but that drops to $299 after the education discount is applied. The Apple Pencil also gets a $10 price cut, down to $89.

The problem is that Apple is sending a single product to compete for school districts’ limited dollars against legions of $300 Chromebooks and Windows devices already in many classrooms today. They might not have support for digital pens or AR, but many, including the VivoBook W202, offer compelling kid-friendly features the iPad lacks, including rugged rubber bumpers and waterproofing.

Even worse, the iPad has no USB ports, HDMI outputs, or any other ports except for the Lightning connector. Simple tasks that are easily accomplished in Windows and macOS, such as connecting to a networked printer or classroom projector, are therefore more complicated and will sometimes require expensive adapters.

Perhaps the iPad’s most glaring omission is that it only supports iOS, a hobbled operating system with no cursor control and a requirement that third-party apps comply with Apple’s strict rules. Both Chrome OS and Microsoft’s new education-focused Windows 10 S suffer from the latter problem, but at least they allow students to plug in a mouse or use a touchpad when they need to. Dissecting frogs might be easier if you can touch the screen, but typing and editing an English paper certainly isn’t.

Searching for an ePad

Apple once took a practical approach in the classroom, of which the relatively boring but functional eMac is a prime example. This CRT all-in-one computer, introduced in 2002, was a version of the revolutionary new iMac designed expressly for the education market and initially not sold to the general public, which meant greater discounts and a more tailored set of features.

Apple has since drifted away from this approach, and Chromebooks and Windows PCs have taken the eMac’s place. The iPad is revolutionary and the newest member of its family is certaintly capable of widening a student’s world, but it compromises on the practical features that schools like about cheap laptops. Until Apple sees fit to offer an ePad to fill the eMac’s hole, competing systems running software from archrivals Google and Microsoft will be a better choice for schools.

Nokia 2, First Take: Lack of performance is a compromise too far

The return of the Nokia brand is now fully up to speed, with a good range of handsets available. Last year’s entry-level Nokia 3 is now undercut by the even more affordable Nokia 2, offering an Android 7 experience to those with just £100 to spend on a SIM-free phone. Obviously trade-offs have been made to achieve this price point. The question is, can you live with these compromises?

The Nokia 2’s industrial design doesn’t shout ‘low end’. There’s an aluminium chassis, which means the phone is pretty tough — I couldn’t bend it out of shape in my hands, for example. The black case of my review sample with its rounded corners looks fine (the handset also comes in white), although the phone is on the thick side at 9.3mm. The somewhat flimsy plastic back is removable, giving access to the SIM and MicroSD card slots. The battery can’t be swapped out, though.

The £100 Nokia 2 has a 5-inch 720-by-1,280-pixel LCD screen, but only 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage.


Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The Nokia 2 measures 143mm tall by 71.3mm wide and could accommodate a larger screen than the five-inch panel that’s fitted (although the price would rise). The upshot is relatively large top and bottom bezels that make this handset look a little dated.

Manufacturing costs have been cut by keeping the screen’s resolution to 720 by 1,280 pixels (294ppi), and by using an LCD panel rather than AMOLED. Still, the display is bright and sharp enough for everyday use.

More disappointing is that my review handset arrived with a fairly deep scratch on the Gorilla Glass 3 screen. I’ve no idea how it got there, but this might not bode well for the handset’s durability. Nokia has chosen to use MicroUSB for charging the battery rather than USB-C. That may not be an issue for most users, many of whom will also welcome the 3.5mm headset jack.

The quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 212 chipset with just 1GB of RAM is this handset’s key failing, as it’s noticeably sluggish. I watched webpages render before my very eyes, waited for apps to pop-up when I selected them, and generally felt I was waiting for the phone to respond to taps. It’s a real shame that Nokia didn’t add another gigabyte of RAM, which would almost certainly help the phone feel more responsive.

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Internal storage is also limited, with just 3.54GB of the 8GB total free for users after Android 7.1.1 (Nougat) has taken its 4.46GB. That’s really not enough, especially as there’s no bloatware that can be deleted to free up more space.

The backplate removes to give access to the SIM and MicroSD card slots, but the 4,100mAh battery is not swappable.


Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

As you’d expect the cameras are nothing special: an eight-megapixel main camera and five-megapixel front camera. HDR is present, but the main camera tended to produce rather dull shots with poor colour definition. The camera app took a while to load, and to take shots. You’ll need a steady hand to avoid blurred images, and there’s very little point in trying to take a photo of anything that’s moving (I got lots of blurry cat pictures).

The Nokia 2’s best feature is its battery life, which Nokia says should extend to two days. During testing, we found that the 4,100mAh battery did indeed power the Nokia 2 for a couple of days on a single charge. However, I did switch back to my main phone for streaming and other demanding activities when the Nokia 2’s performance limitations became too much to bear.

Overall, the Nokia 2 does the brand no favours. The processor/RAM combination delivers disappointing performance, while 8GB of internal storage means that many users will have to buy a MicroSD card, adding to the outlay. If your budget for a smartphone is around £100, you’d do well to shop around: at the time of writing, I found the superior Nokia 3 on a well-known auction site for less than that, for example.

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Neato Botvac D7 Connected review: Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and smartphone control with virtual boundary lines

As my three daughters move out and my wife and I stay busy with work and other tasks, it’s nice to find ways to reduce the amount of time spent on chores. A couple of weeks ago Neato announced the new Botvac D7 Connected and it has been cleaning my lower levels floors since then.

A couple of years ago I picked up a Neato Botvac D85 and we were very happy with its ability to thoroughly clean the floors. The only pain was having to place dense strips down in areas where we didn’t want the vacuum to clean, especially since some of these area were circular while the strips are straight.

The Botvac D7 Connected solves that problem with floor mapping and virtual No-Go lines that you can place near the dog water bowl, thick carpeted areas, or other spots that you do not want the vacuum entering.

Hardware and box contents

The Neato Botvac D7 Connected is primarily black plastic on the sides with a brushed silver/platinum color on the top. It is a D-shaped robotic vacuum with a raised control unit on the back. The round control unit contains the Botvision technology to get a 360 view of your floor plan. The D shape design lets Neato use the widest brush possible while also vacuuming efficiently.

Speaking of technology, the Neato Botvac D7 Connected has LaserSmart mapping and navigation, CornerClever technology to track down dirt, hair, and allergens, SmartLife for Google, Amazon, IFTTT, and Neato Chatbot connectivity, SpinFlow technology to combine powerful suction and precision brushes for clean floors, and a new FloorPlanner feature.

There is a single start button on the top left near the front with four clear LED icons to the right of the single button. Between the sets of LED lights is an indented area where you place your fingers to lift the dirt bin up and out of the vacuum. The front of the vacuum consists of the plastic bumper that is very sensitive to objects.

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There is a rotating side brush found under the left side of the vacuum, behind the main roller brush. The roller brush is made of silicone pieces that pick up efficiently, can be cleaned, and do not scratch floors.

There are two large wheels that move up and down to adjust automatically to the terrain of your house or office. The Botvac D7 Connected is 12.5 x 13.2 inches in length and width with a max height of 3.9 inches. It weighs in at 7.7 pounds

One reason I prefer Neato units over some others I have tested is the charging base design. The last vacuum I tested refuses to return properly to the base and is always dead, essentially making it a useless vacuum. The Neato charging base has two long contact strips and the Neato Botvac D7 returns to base and charges every single time.

The dust bin has proven to hold about one or two vacuum sessions for the approximate 700 square feet of coverage on my wood floors with a few raised area rugs. My floors look pretty clean, but it is stunning to everyone how much dog hair and other things are picked up by this vacuum.

Our new acacia hardwood floors are beautiful and well taken care of. My wife was concerned about the vacuum creating marks on the floors, but the soft silicone wheels turn and navigate around the floors with no trace of their passing.

The retail package includes the D7 Connected, a charging base and power cord, Quick Start Guide, spiral combo brush, ultra performance filter, side brush, 2 meters of boundary market (like the ones I use with my D85), and brush/filter cleaning tool.
























Software and services

You can control the vacuum using the single start button, you get full control through the iOS and Android smartphone applications. Follow the simple quick start guide to charge up the vacuum and then follow the steps on your smartphone to connect to the vacuum and your WiFi network. You will then see the new application and can completely control the vacuum from your phone, even if you are away at the office or on the road.

In order to take full advantage of the D7 Connected, you should map your floor area so you can use the No-Go Lines feature. You should lift up all cables and move interferences out of the way. I set the vacuum to map my entire main floor, exclusing one large area where we have couches, chairs, and a very thick area rug. I did not have to setup No-Go Lines for this area as the vacuum recognized it could not vacuum such thick carpet and did not map this area.

After the floor was fully mapped, I gained full access to the power of the vacuum. It can be simple with a single tap to start the vacuum in one of three cleaning options and two cleaning profiles. Cleaning options include house, spot, and manual. Manual can be used if you have a multi-level home to clean. Setup and use the vacuum on a main level and then when you want to clean another level switch it to manual mode. Pick up and place the vacuum on another level or area you want clean and then hit start. The vacuum will return to the spot that you started it in manual mode.

The cleaning profiles are Eco (quieter, longer cleaning run) and Turbo (super powered cleaning with maximum pickup). With my hardwood floors, Eco does a perfectly fine job for regular cleaning. After parties though, Turbo mode is great to help clean things up.

There is also a navigation mode you can toggle on called Extra Care so that the sensitivity of the bumpers is adjusted so that more sensitive furniture is not impacted by the vacuum. Even in standard mode, the Neato D7 Connected does a great job of “seeing” walls and furniture.

Tap on the left menu icon to access My Robot, robot schedule, your floor plan, settings, and help. The My Robot page is the default launch page for the application. Tap on Robot Schedule to enable the schedule with start times, days to repeat the cleaning, and the profile you want to use.

Tap on the floor plan to see the floor plan saved for your vacuum. On the last vacuum I tested the floor plan was erased on a regular basis and I had to waste time recreating it way too often. The floor plan was collected once on the Neato and this feature has been flawless. Within the floor plan view, you can add No-Go Lines right on your phone and set exclusion zones for the vacuum. These are saved and then used for all future vacuuming. You can clear all No-Go Lines if you change your mind or even tap on each single line and edit or delete it. I have yet to see a better custom solution than this.

Neato uses a proprietary laser distance sensing (LDS) technology to use the top turret to create a 360-degree view of the room at floor level. This works in brightly lit and dark rooms too. It scans while cleaning to adjust to changes. The Neato SLAM technology uses the map to plan efficient vacuum routes that minimize path overlaps. In the past I have seen robot vacuums go over the same path multiple times, but notice that the Neato D7 Connected cleans in a shorter period of time and leaves things spotless.

On the main My Robot display, tap on the far right icon to access the cleaning summary. This shows you a graphical image of what was cleaned for each day, including the time and square feet cleaned by the vacuum. You can also tap on the upper right to view bar charts of this data.

In addition to manual button and smartphone control, you can also connect the Neato Botvac D7 Connected to Google Home or Amazon Alexa for fully hands-free operation. My home is now setup with Google Home devices and my wife loves the ability to just have the D7 start vacuuming with a key phrase spoken to a Google Home device.

Price and competition

The Neato Botvac D7 Connected has a MSRP of $799, which is similar to the prices of other flagship connected robot vacuums.

The Roomba iRobot 980 is $875 and it’s Roomba 960 is $699. The Neato Botvac Connected vacuum is priced at $699.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

I performed a lot of research before I bought the Neato Botvac D85 and am a huge fan of the D-shape form factor of the Neato vacuums. This form factor, with the CornerClever technology means that you get a 50 percent larger brush, a larger dirt bin, and the ability to get dirt out of corners and along walls where it hides away from main traffic areas.

The Neato Botvac D7 Connected fixes the issue I had with the D85, which was the requirement for laying down strips to create exclusionary zones. The additional capability to fully control the vacuum for your smartphone or Google Home takes the D7 Connected to the next level.

While the vacuum is expensive, it’s comparable with other connected robot vacuums and if you total up the hours saved by letting it do the vacuum chore for you then it may pay for itself in short order. It runs from about 120 minutes between charges, which should be enough to clean most floors.

The Botvac D7 Connected has performed flawlessly over the past three weeks with cleaning quality, coverage, smartphone connectivity, and notifications for dust bin emptying. It is the best robot vacuum I have experienced and I could not find anything that disappointed me.

Uber’s Self-Driving Car Accident: Did AI Fail Us?

On March 12, MIT Technology Review ran a story that started like this: “It is the year 2023, and self-driving cars are finally navigating our city streets. For the first time, one of them has hit and killed a pedestrian, with huge media coverage. A high-profile lawsuit is likely, but what laws should apply?”

Everything about the prediction was right, except for the date. Exactly one week after the article was published, a self-driving Uber hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, while functioning in autonomous mode.

Though the incident is still being investigated, the commotion that ensued is an indication of how far we are from successfully integrating artificial intelligence into our critical tasks and decisions.

In many cases, the problem isn’t with AI but with our expectations and understanding of it. According to Wired, nearly 40,000 people died in road incidents last year in the US alone—6,000 of whom were pedestrians. But very few (if any) made headlines the way the Uber incident did.

One of the reasons the Uber crash caused such a commotion is that we generally have high expectations of new technologies, even when they’re still in development. Under the illusion that pure mathematics drives AI algorithms, we tend to trust their decisions and are shocked when they make mistakes.

Even the safety drivers behind the wheel of self-driving cars let their guard down. Footage from the Uber incident showed the driver to be distracted, looking down seconds before the crash happened.

In 2016, the driver of a Tesla S Model operating in Autopilot mode died after the vehicle crashed into a truck. An investigation found the driver may have been watching a Harry Potter movie at the time of the collision.

Expectations of perfection are high, and disappointments are powerful. Critics were quick to bring Uber’s entire self-driving car project into question after the incident; the company has temporarily suspended self-driving car testing in the aftermath.

AI Isn’t Human

Among the criticisms that followed the crash was that a human driver would have easily avoided the incident.

“[The pedestrian] wasn’t jumping out of the bushes. She had been making clear progress across multiple lanes of traffic, which should have been in [Uber’s] system purview to pick up,” one expert told CNN.

She’s right. An experienced human driver likely would have spotted her. But AI algorithms aren’t human.

Deep learning algorithms found in self-driving cars use numerous examples to “learn” the rules of their domain. As they spend time on the road, they classify the information they gather and learn to handle different situations. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they use the same decision-making process as human drivers. That’s why they might perform better than humans in some situations and fail in those that seem trivial to humans.

A perfect example is the image-classification algorithm, which learns to recognize images by analyzing millions of labeled photos. Over the years, image classification has become super-efficient and outperforms humans in many settings. This doesn’t mean the algorithms understand the context of images the same way that humans do, though.

For instance, research by experts at Microsoft and Stanford University found that a deep learning algorithm trained with images of white cats believed with a high degree of conviction that a photo of a white dog represented a cat, a mistake a human child could easily avoid. And in an infamous case, Google’s image classification algorithm mistakenly classified people of dark skin color as gorillas.

These are called “edge cases,” situations that AI algorithms haven’t been trained to handle, usually because of a lack of data. The Uber accident is still under investigation, but some AI experts suggest it could be another edge case.

Deep learning has many challenges to overcome before it can be applied in critical situations. But its failures shouldn’t deter us. We must adjust our perceptions and expectations and embrace the reality that every great technology fails during its evolution. AI is no different.

Garmin Speak Plus review: Amazon Alexa-controlled dash cam keeps you focused on just driving

Video: What Amazon’s voice service could do for the enterprise

People don’t seem to care about opening doors into other vehicles, and car prowling is prevalent in Washington State. Thus, our family purchases older model cars to avoid car payments, high insurance premiums, and concern for minor damage caused by reckless people.

This also means that my 1992 Honda and 2002 Acuras do not have the latest technology inside, and I have to look to other means to enable GPS navigation, lane assist, collision avoidance, and dash cam capability.

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Last year, Garmin partnered with Amazon to release the Garmin Speak. This year, at CES, it announced the Garmin Speak Plus that adds an integrated camera and features that utilize camera technology. The Garmin Speak Plus is $80 more than the Garmin Speak, but after using it for a couple of trips I think the camera functionality is worth the premium.

Specifications

  • Display: 17.2 x 9.6mm, 114 x 64-pixel resolution OLED display with LED light ring
  • Storage: MicroSD card slot, supporting up to 64GB capacity
  • Dash camera: Resolution support up to 1080p/30fps and 82-degree field of view
  • Dimensions: 35.7mm diameter x 37.7mm deep and 438.8g

The Garmin Speak Plus retail package includes the Speak Plus unit, magnetic mount with adhesive backing plate, and auto adapter with long cable to microUSB end. Garmin also included an 8GB microSD card for testing.

Hardware

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The first thing that struck me after I removed the Garmin Speak Plus from the shipping box was the small size of the device. It’s only about 1.5 inches in diameter and 1.5 inches tall, so it is easy to position on any windshield and tuck away in the a top corner.

The Speak Plus is constructed of plastic with a matte black finish. The camera is centered on the front with a speaker grille around the camera lens. The voice is very clear and crisp. The integrated speaker works well, but it is better to have the Speak Plus connected to your car stereo system if you want to hear it in all road conditions and also enjoy music through the Speak Plus.

An OLED display is integrated into the back, but you cannot see the display until you have the Speak Plus plugged in and turned on. The display font is crystal clear in all lighting conditions and looks almost like an electronic ink display on the Speak Plus. I was immediately impressed by the display and found the visual directions, arrows, and LED colors to be very helpful.

A LED light strip is located around the perimeter of the back. This lights up in blue when Amazon Alexa is functioning, green when approaching a turn, orange when transferring photos and videos, and other colors appropriate to the action occurring on the device.

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There is a ball joint positioned on the top with a small arm that is connected to a mounting pad. This has a magnet at the end that fits into a magnetic adhesive pad for mounting on the window. Try to figure out a place to secure the Speak Plus because the adhesive is not easy to remove and re-position later. One extra adhesive pad is included in case you want to mount it in two vehicles.

There are two buttons on the left side: One is for mute, and the other is to power on the device and make selections. The microUSB port for the power cable is on the right side. A microSD card slot is positioned on the bottom of the Speak Plus. There are mic openings on the bottom and back of the Speak Plus.

The Speak Plus has a Bluetooth radio, so you can connect it to your smartphone and to your car’s audio system. If you have older vehicles like I do, there is a 3.5mm aux port on the end of the vehicle plug so you can connect to your car’s stereo system for a much better speaker experience.






















Smartphone software

While the Garmin Speak Plus supports Amazon Alexa, this functionality is provided through a smartphone and its wireless connection to the internet. The Garmin Speak Plus does not operate as a standalone device, so your smartphone must first be setup to enable all of the features.

The first app you need to install is Garmin Speak. This app is used to setup the Bluetooth connection between your phone and Speak Plus, choose where to navigate to, manage the dash cam functions, toggle driver assistance functions, and customize navigation, audio, camera, and other settings.

Dash cam functions include toggling the record feature off or on (it is on by default when you start your trip), choosing to save a video manually, and choosing to have the Speak Plus capture a photo while in the car.

Navigation settings include toggles for units, carpool lanes, ferries, toll roads, and more. Audio settings let you choose if the Garmin Speak app or your vehicle (over Bluetooth) is where the audio will play. Camera settings let you select quality (1080p or 720p), whether audio is recorded, data overlay info, automatic event detection, and window placement. Driver assistance settings toggle the sensitivity of forward collisions, toggle an alert for departure, and toggle alert for lane departure.

Read also: Alexa video calling and messaging coming to tablets

Driver assistance options include forward collision avoidance, lane departure, and go alerts. I don’t drive close enough to drivers in front of me to fully test the forward collision, but I was able to test lane departure alerts.

The Speak Plus has an integrated gyroscope, so if there is a collision, then it will capture, record, and save the video from the incident.

In order to use the full capability of the device, really of your smartphone, you need to install the Amazon Alexa application on your smartphone. With this installed, you can then use any Alexa skill through the Speak Plus. You also control the Speak Plus experience by speaking, “Alexa, ask Garmin…”. It’s a bit odd, but I quickly became used to it as we drove across Washington State and back for a basketball tournament.

You can enjoy Amazon Music through the Speak Plus, check your calendar, make and receive phone calls, and perform virtually any of the Alexa skills while you or someone else is driving.

The last app you will need if you wish to view your video and photo gallery is the Garmin VIRB app. This is the same app that is used with the Garmin VIRB cameras, and if you select to view the gallery in the Garmin Speak app, then a pop-up will appear stating that a Wi-Fi Direct connection between the Speak Plus and your phone will be made. You can then view the videos and photos captured and choose to download them to your phone or share them.

Video is recorded automatically to the microSD card, and if your card reaches its capacity, then video will record over the oldest video content. This way any microSD card you insert will ensure video is recorded, but it will eventually be overwritten. The Garmin VIRB app lets you save this content outside of the microSD card for other purposes.

Pricing and competition

You can purchase the Garmin Speak Plus with Amazon Alexa now for $229.99.

Garmin has three other dash camera solutions with the Dash Cam 65W at $249.99, Dash Cam 55 at $199.99, and Dash Cam 45 at $149.99. These other dedicated dashboard cameras have higher resolution and wider angle options, but they do not have navigation functionality.

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There are a number of low-cost dash cameras, including from many China-based brands I have never heard of, but Garmin is a name I trust for quality and reliability.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The Garmin Speak brought Amazon Alexa to your vehicle, and the Speak Plus builds upon this with the dash camera. However, the dash camera is pretty basic with an 82-degree field of view and 1080p video resolution. Garmin makes better dedicated dash cameras, with voice control, for less money.

While I typically use smartphones for navigation while driving, I prefer the Speak Plus experience with basic visual cues and voice navigation that lets me keep the phone plugged in and out of my hands.

As you approach your turn, the bottom of the LED ring turns green and then that color moves up and around so that the full circle is green when your turn is to be completed. I also found the lane guidance particularly useful for left exits off the freeway, which are not that common, as the OLED screen shows all lanes as arrows.

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If you are an Amazon Alexa user that wants that experience in the car, then this is an excellent solution. I am not much of an Alexa user, as I’ve adopter Google Home in my house and also found it a bit odd to talk to the Speak Plus through Alexa. It works well — you just have to learn the proper commands to accurately control things.

Wirelessly controlled outgoing phone calls do not work, but you can accept calls. It’s really best not to make or receive calls while driving though, so I am fine with not having this functionality. You also cannot yet use Spotify, which is my preferred music service, but Amazon Music works just fine.

The $229.99 price is a bit high when compared to other dash cams, so I would love to see it go back to the $199.99 pre-order launch price. If you want a dash cam with solid navigation and spend a lot of time in your car listening to Audible books or completing other Alexa skills, then it is easy to justify the current price.

Previous and related coverage

Alexa smartphone: Amazon’s next strike in the mobile IoT war?

Google and Apple are behind in the Internet of Things, but they have the leading mobile platforms.

“Alexa, fart,” plus 15 other useful Echo tricks and tips

What? If you had a multi-billion dollar, state-of-the-art, cloud-based artificial intelligence, wouldn’t you want to see if you could get it to fart? It’s who we are… priorities, people! Priorities.

Boston Venom EPYC Workstation review: Price/performance equation adds up for multi-threaded applications

It’s taken longer than expected, but products built around AMD’s EPYC processors have finally started to ship and they’re not all servers. High-end workstations are also getting the EPYC treatment, including the appropriately named Venom EPYC Workstation from Boston Limited. According to Boston, the Venom EPYC is more than a match for pricier Xeon-based alternatives, particularly when it comes to compute-intensive CGI/VFX and virtual reality programs.

EPYC to the core

The EPYC processors are the big talking point on this workstation, and Boston provided ZDNet with a typical dual-socket configuration built for the product launch — hence the eye-catching graphics on the casing in the photo. Normally it’s all plain black, but we were told that requests for custom designs would be considered.

Designed to sit next to or under a desk, the Venom EPYC in standard livery doesn’t look any different from other Xeon-based Venom products. Inside, however, it’s all change with a new Supermicro motherboard able to take any processor from the EPYC 7000 series, which comprises processors with eight, 16, or 32 cores, priced accordingly. Boston, however, expects most customers to opt for the maximum possible and fitted the review system with a pair of 2GHz EPYC 7551 processors, giving the Venom 64 processing cores (128 threads) across its two sockets.

The bare Supermicro motherboard, used inside the Venom EPYC Workstation.


Image: Supermicro

Here’s the motherboard in-situ, with massive heatsinks hiding the AMD EPYC 7551 processors and surrounded by a full set of 16 DIMMs.


Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet

Those 64 cores put the EPYC at a real advantage compared to Intel alternatives with the latest Xeon Scalable Processor family topping out at just 28 cores per socket. Moreover, if you compare them on price the nearest competitor to the EPYC 7551 is the Xeon Gold 6152, which has just 22 cores per socket. That would mean 20 fewer cores (40 threads) altogether on a price-comparable dual-socket Xeon system.

Just how that might translate into measurable benefits is down to the applications involved. To get some idea, however, we tested both setups using Cinebench, with the Venom EPYC recording a processor score of 6753 compared to 4714 for a similar workstation with Xeon Gold 6152 processors. That’s a significant difference (43.2 percent), which could only be addressed by throwing money at the problem and opting for more expensive Xeons. But it’s not all about the processors, and there are other factors to take into consideration — not least memory, storage and (especially on a workstation) the all-important graphics subsystem.

Memory and storage

In terms of memory, there’s little in it. Both types of processor support DDR4 RAM clocked at 2,666MHz with AMD’s EPYC having eight communication channels per socket compared to six with Intel’s Xeon. The EPYC can also handle a lot more RAM: up to 2TB spread across 16 DIMM slots on the Venom workstation. However, that’s only an advantage for customers able to make use of that amount. Most will be more than satisfied with the 256GB that comes as standard, which is a good starting point for this type of workstation.

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Customers who think they might want to add more memory need to point this out when buying, to make sure some of the DIMM slots are available. On our review system, all 16 slots had been used.

As well as a couple of fixed bays for optical storage, the Venom chassis has eight hot-swap bays for SATA/SAS drives or NVMe SSDs.


Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet

Storage can also be scaled to suit, the base workstation shipping with a single 1TB SATA disk that looks a little lonely in the eight hot-swap bays provided. But then customers can opt to add whatever SATA disks they need, or SSDs; or they can switch to SAS rather than SATA and go for a RAID configuration. In addition, the Supermicro motherboard has a couple of tricks up its sleeve in the form of NVMe support, which allows solid-state storage to communicate direct with the processors via the PCI-e bus rather than be throttled by a much slower SATA controller.

The NVMe support is available in two formats here, starting with an integrated M.2 slot filled, on the Venom EPYC, by a 512GB Samsung 960Pro NVMe SSD. This makes for very fast boot times as well as providing applications with high-performance working storage compared to using SATA which, on this product, is expected to be used mainly for long-term bulk storage.

Primary NVMe storage makes for quick boot times as well as quicker apps.


Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet

On the downside, 512GB isn’t much given the typical workloads of most workstation users and, with only one M.2 slot, some customers might also be concerned about lack of redundancy. As such higher-capacity NVMe cards can be specified, added to which the Supermicro motherboard also has an additional set of four U.2 NVMe ports which can be cabled to compatible SSDs fitted in the disk bays at the front of the chassis.

Graphics

The crucial graphics subsystem, as is to be expected on this type of workstation, is catered for via a plug-in GPU. The market leader here is Nvidia with its Quadro family of products, but these can be expensive and the standard fare on the Venom EPYC is another AMD part — a Radeon Pro WX 7100.

The GPU is a high-end AMD Radeon Pro WX 7100 that can drive four 4K displays at 60Hz.


Image: Alan Stevens/ZDNet

The WX 7100 is the most capable of the single-slot Radeon Pro family, competing against the Quadro P4000 from Nvidia but at a much lower price point (saving around £300 in the UK). Despite the lower price, the Radeon Pro WX7100 is a very capable GPU based on AMD’s Polaris architecture with 2,304 stream processors delivering up to 5.73 TFLOPs of compute performance to accelerate large-scale parallel graphics tasks. It also benefits from 8GB of GDDR5 memory, enabling the WX 7100 to cope with large datasets across a broad spectrum of applications from CAD/CAM to real-time rendering apps as well as CGI, VFX, gaming, and AI.

The Radeon Pro WX7100 is also fully compatible with the AMD LiquidVR SDK, which is designed to give developers all the tools they need to build and support VR applications. It also benefits from a 10-year AMD warranty.

Implemented as a single-slot PCI-e adapter with its own cooling fan, the WX7100 sits in one of two PCI-e x16 expansion sockets inside the EPYC and has four DisplayPort sockets, each able to drive an external 4K display at 60HZ. Alternatively, it’s possible to hook up two 5K (5120 x 2880 pixels) displays, again at 60Hz or just one at 8K and 30Hz.

Monitors aren’t included in the price, but that’s standard on a workstation and most makes can be supplied to fit customer requirements. Likewise, buyers can opt for Nvidia graphics if they prefer — for example, to support applications dependent on Quadro drivers or to utilise Nvidia’s parallel computing architecture, CUDA.

Who will buy?

Other features are the same as on most other high-end workstations, with a robust tower chassis complete with removable side panel for access, redundant power supplies, hot-swap cooling fans and a couple of 10GBase-T ports for fast network connectivity.

The question is, why would you buy the Venom EPYC Workstation rather than a Xeon-based alternative?

Compatibility isn’t a major issue, but some customers may prefer to stick with Intel because of software and driver dependencies, or support for the latest AVX-512 instruction set, which isn’t available on AMD processors. Otherwise it’s largely a price/performance decision, with EPYC customers able to save money without losing out on performance to a comparable Xeon system and, in many cases, beating what Intel-based alternatives can do. The Radeon Pro GPU further helps contain those costs without compromising on performance or functionality.

With the AMD GPU fitted, the system we looked at could be yours for £10,688 (ex. VAT), which is very competitive. But it’s not all about price and, according to Boston, the Venom EPYC Workstation is already causing quite a stir among graphics professionals, who see it as delivering a performance edge across a broad range of applications.

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Fujitsu Tablet Lifebook P728 review: A 12.5-inch convertible with plenty of ports and security features

Lightweight 2-in-1 laptops with 13.3-inch or 14-inch screens are widely available, with Dell and Lenovo, in particular, offering some compelling models. But if you want to maximise portability in a 12.5-inch form factor, your options are more limited. They do, however, include Fujitsu’s compact, 360-degree rotating-screen Lifebook P728.

The Lifebook P728 is small enough to be a regular travelling companion. But any device that’s going to spend much of its life in a bag or rucksack needs to be reasonably robust, and Fujitsu could have done a little better in this respect. The base is quite solid, but I was able to depress the wrist rest area by exerting a bit of force. There’s a fair amount of flexibility in the lid, even though it’s 6mm thick. This laptop will probably benefit from a protective sleeve when you’re carrying it around.

The Tablet Lifebook P728 is a 12.5-inch convertible system supporting laptop, presentation, tent and tablet usage modes. It weighs from 1.2kg and features a removable battery.


Images: Fujitsu

Demure design is a Fujitsu trademark, with the black chassis and indented Fujitsu logo on the lid looking quite bland. The interior is primarily black, with a flash of crimson along the bottom of the keyboard area, tying in with the Fujitsu screen background. It’s subtle and rather fetching. Tiny LEDs on the front of the chassis keep you informed about battery and wi-fi status.

The Lifebook P728’s weight of 1.2kg is higher than we’d like for a 12.5-inch system — around the 1kg mark would be better. The footprint is relatively tidy at 299mm by 209mm, but the laptop is rather thick at 18.79mm. On the upside, this does allow the device to accommodate relatively sizeable VGA and Ethernet ports in the base.

The hinge rotates the screen through a full 360 degrees, allowing the system to be used in laptop and tablet mode, and all points in between (i.e. ‘presentation’ and ‘tent’ mode). With the screen facing outermost it’s offset from the base by about 12mm at the hinge side, and overhangs the base by the same amount on the other side. This rather odd arrangement meant I had to put less of my hands on the non-retracting keyboard when holding the Lifebook P728 in tablet mode. I’m always a bit concerned about damage to the keys when working in this mode, so that’s welcome.

Four rubber feet on the base are moderately successful at stabilising the laptop on a desk. The other key stability feature is a sufficiently weighty base in comparison to the touchscreen to prevent the system toppling backwards when you prod at the screen. The weighting is great here, and I could tap and swipe the upper part of the screen without causing the base to lift up at all.

The keyboard has large, well-sprung keys. The right-hand side of the wrist rest hosts a PalmSecure pad for biometric authentication via your palm vein pattern.


Image: Fujitsu

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The keyboard occupies a significant amount of the relatively small area available because the keys are large. They are very well sprung, with just the right amount of travel and a good ‘click’. The keyboard was a pleasure to type on, and I had no trouble working at full touch-typing speed. The arrow keys are small squares rather than the more usual elongated style, and I found them comfortable to use, although people with stubby fingers might find them a bit small.

The keyboard’s depth makes for a relatively shallow wrist rest, but I found it fine for extended periods of typing. The touchpad has a pair of physical buttons beneath it which are responsive and give out a gentle click when pressed. A Fn key disables the trackpad, but there’s no LED to remind you of the fact. I’ve seen people get quite confused about this, thinking that their trackpad is broken when it’s simply switched off. My review sample had a PalmSecure pad for highly secure biometric login using your unique palm vein pattern.

There are various options available for the 12.5-inch screen. My review unit’s touchscreen was a non-reflective 1,920-by-1,080 panel. It could arguably be a bit brighter at its 100 percent setting, but I found it fine for working indoors in natural light at the default 40 percent when on battery power. There is also a 1,366-by-768 option, although this resolution may be too low for many users. There’s a sizeable bezel on the long edges, which helps when you’re working in tablet mode by minimising accidental screen taps.

The speakers lack volume and bass tones, but are probably adequate for video conferencing purposes.

Although it’s rather thick at 18.79mm, the Lifebook P728 has room for VGA and RJ-45 Ethernet ports, along with two USB 3.0, one USB-C, HDMI and a full-size SD card slot. Our review unit also had a smart card reader.


Images: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

I noted earlier that the Lifebook P728 has room for VGA and Ethernet ports. These are quite a rarity for a laptop these days, although Fujitsu regularly accommodates them. The last time I saw these ports was on the Lifebook E558.

There are plenty of other connectivity options. My review sample had a HDMI port, two USB 3.0 ports, a USB-C port and a 3.5mm headset jack. There was also an SD card slot, in contrast to many laptops which, if they provide a flash card reader at all, tend to opt for MicroSD these days. You can also configure the Lifebook P728 with a smart card reader and mobile broadband, both of which were present on my review unit. The SIM card slot sits beneath the removable battery.

Processor options are mostly from Intel’s 8th-generation Core series, and include the Core i3-7130U, Core i5-8250U, Core i5-8350U and Core i7-8650U, all supported by 16GB of RAM and integrated graphics. Storage comes in the form of 128GB, 256GB and 512GB SSDs. Prices start at £1,121 (ex. VAT) rising to £1,927 (ex. VAT).

My review sample ran on a Core i7-8650U with 16GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage. It also had mobile broadband, PalmSecure and smart card authentication, and came with a port replicator. This configuration costs £1,833 (ex. VAT).

Fujitsu has not specified a runtime for the battery, but during testing I could get a full day’s work from a full battery charge. In one sample working session I spent four hours doing a mix of writing, web browsing and music streaming, and depleted the battery from 95 percent to 57 percent — a power draw of 38 percent. Moreover, as already noted, the battery is removable, so if you need to work for extended periods on battery power, you can carry a spare.

Conclusions

Fujitsu’s Tablet Lifebook P728 is a neat little 12.5-inch convertible that’s well built and supports all-day working on battery power. The PalmSecure biometric security, along with a smart card reader provides strong device security, and the whole package is relatively lightweight at 1.2kg. This is all good, but you do pay a hefty price.

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HP EliteOne 1000: A 34-inch curved all-in-one monster

The HP EliteOne 1000 is certainly a head turner, because when you see a 34-inch curved screen, it’s hard not to look at it.

This all-in-one PC has a look, and a bunch of silicon, that would suggest it is packing some real horsepower, and in a lot of ways it is.

In the unit we reviewed, the internals were a Core i5 processor, 16 gigabytes of memory, and 256GB of Samsung NVMe storage. This is a machine with a some proper grunt.

But then you realise its massive screen is driven by the onboard Intel HD 630 graphics, and suddenly you know where the bottleneck is going to be. So gamers and those with discrete GPU needs should look elsewhere.

It’s a weird package that HP has put together for this machine; it has premium silicon and a price to match, but it is all in the name of video conferencing.

Look no further than the touch controls to start and end a call on the front of the base if you want to know the reason this machine exists — which is a weird fit with a curved, 34-inch display. In our testing, starting up the venerable consumer-grade Skype does not work with the touch controls, but HP assures us they do work for Skype for Business, and one would hope so with the Skype for Business sticker on the rear of the unit.

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That said, the EliteOne 1000 retains many meritable qualities.

One of the most interesting is its ability to replace the screen and base separately. Thanks to an easy-access panel on the rear of the unit, the screen can be unscrewed and unplugged from the base and replaced. This is a great idea in theory, and should buyers of EliteOne be able to purchase a new base or display separately in several years, then it will be a great thing — but until then, the history of the industry must dictate that I am sceptical of the follow-through on such initiatives.

As is typical of many all-in-ones, the EliteOne has most of its ports on the rear and side of the base, but it would be nice to have ports on the front that are more easily accessible when seated, instead of needing to reach around to the side or rear.

In recent devices, HP has made use of a webcam that retracts into the back of the display, and is able to shoot forwards or backwards. For privacy reasons, and for those moments when webcams are accidentally left on, I like the idea of the webcam residing within the device, and if an attacker is able to turn it on, they will not see anything. It’s a shame a similar mechanism does not exist for the microphone as well.

Then there is the display, and this one is an absolute whooper. It’s big, it’s curved, and you may have to move your head to see it all.

Depending on how you work, the screen could be a blessing or a curse.

To see an exercise in wasted space, maximise a web browser. For disappointment, watch a 4K video and look at the black bars on all sides.

But if you are the sort of user that likes applications to be windowed, not maximised, and arranged just so — fans of older Apple desktop interface should love it — then it could work for you.

In the case of this unit, there is the almost AU$3,000 question, and it cuts both ways.






For that money, you get some of the latest silicon in an attractive body, and a whopping big screen if that is your thing, but on the other hand it lacks discrete graphics, something plenty of the other all-in-ones in its price bracket have, and includes a pair of bare bones peripherals. If a vendor is charging three grand for a device and giving it a premium look, a keyboard and mouse with a similar look would go a long way to continuing the premium feel.

I would like to think that HP would one day give this machine the graphics power it deserves, even as an optional extra, but that would encroach on its Envy all-in-one — which leaves the EliteOne as an overpowered video conferencing device, or the nippiest spreadsheet machine you have used in quite some time.

There is plenty to like about EliteOne 1000, but it pulls up short of being a must-have premium device.

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Garmin Speak Plus review: Amazon Alexa controlled dash cam keeps you focused on just driving

People don’t seem to care about opening doors into other vehicles and car prowling is prevalent in Washington State. Thus, our family purchases older model cars to avoid car payments, high insurance premiums, and concern for minor damage caused by reckless people.

This also means that my 1992 Honda and 2002 Acuras do not have the latest technology inside and I have to look to other means to enable GPS navigation, lane assist, collision avoidance, and dash cam capability.

Last year Garmin partnered with Amazon to release the Garmin Speak. This year at CES it announced the Garmin Speak Plus that adds an integrated camera and features that utilize camera technology. The Garmin Speak Plus is $80 more than the Garmin Speak, but after using it for a couple of trips I think the camera functionality is worth the premium.

Specifications

  • Display: 17.2 x 9.6 mm, 114 x 64 pixels resolution OLED display with LED light ring
  • Storage: MicroSD card slot, supporting up to 64GB capacity
  • Dash camera: Resolution support up to 1080p/30 fps and 82 degree field of view
  • Dimensions: 35.7 mm diameter x 37.7 mm deep and 438.8 grams

The Garmin Speak Plus retail package includes the Speak Plus unit, magnetic mount with adhesive backing plate and auto adapter with long cable to microUSB end. Garmin also included an 8GB microSD card for testing.

Hardware

The first thing that struck me after I removed the Garmin Speak Plus from the shipping box was the small size of the device. It’s only about 1.5 inches in diameter and 1.5 inches tall so it is easy to position on any windshield and tuck away in the a top corner.

The Speak Plus is constructed of plastic with a matte black finish. The camera is centered on the front with a speaker grille around the camera lens. The voice is very clear and crisp. The integrated speaker works well, but it is better to have the Speak Plus connected to your car stereo system if you want to hear it in all road conditions and also enjoy music through the Speak Plus.

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An OLED display is integrated into the back, but you cannot see the display until you have the Speak Plus plugged in and turned on. The display font is crystal clear in all lighting conditions and looks almost like an electronic ink display on the Speak Plus. I was immediately impressed by the display and found the visual directions, arrows, and LED colors to be very helpful.

A LED light strip is located around the perimeter of the back. This lights up in blue when Amazon Alexa is functioning, green when approaching a turn, orange when transferring photos and videos, and other colors appropriate to the action occurring on the device.

There is a ball joint positioned on the top with a small arm that is connected to a mounting pad. This has a magnet at the end that fits into a magnetic adhesive pad for mounting on the window. Try to figure out a place to secure the Speak Plus because the adhesive is not easy to remove and reposition later. One extra adhesive pad is included in case you want to mount it in two vehicles.

There are two buttons on the left side. One is for mute and the other is to power on the device and make selections. The microUSB port for the power cable is on the right side. A microSD card slot is positioned on the bottom of the Speak Plus. There are mic openings on the bottom and back of the Speak Plus.

The Speak Plus has a Bluetooth radio so you can connect it to your smartphone and to your car’s audio system. If you have older vehicles like I do, there is a 3.5mm aux port on the end of the vehicle plug so you can connect to your car’s stereo system for a much better speaker experience.






















Smartphone software

While the Garmin Speak Plus supports Amazon Alexa, this functionality is provided through a smartphone and its wireless connection to the internet. The Garmin Speak Plus does not operate as a stand alone device so your smartphone must first be setup to enable all of the features.

The first app you need to install is Garmin Speak. This app is used to setup the Bluetooth connection between your phone and Speak Plus, choose where to navigate to, manage the dash cam functions, toggle driver assistance functions, and customize navigation, audio, camera, and other settings.

Dash cam functions include toggling the record feature off or on (it is on by default when you start your trip), choosing to save a video manually, and choosing to have the Speak Plus capture a photo while in the car.

Navigation settings include toggles for units, carpool lanes, ferries, toll roads, and more. Audio settings let you choose if the Garmin Speak app or your vehicle (over Bluetooth) is where the audio will play. Camera settings let you select quality (1080p or 720p), whether or not audio is recorded, data overlay info, automatic event detection, and window placement. Driver assistance settings toggle the sensitivity of forward collisions, toggle an alert for departure, and toggle alert for lane departure.

Driver assistance options include forward collision avoidance, lane departure, and go alerts. I don’t drive close enough to drivers in front of me to fully test the forward collision, but I was able to test lane departure alerts.

The Speak Plus has an integrated gyroscope so if there is a collision, then it will capture, record, and save the video from the incident.

In order to use the full capability of the device, really of your smartphone, you need to install the Amazon Alexa application on your smartphone. With this installed, you can then use any Alexa skill through the Speak Plus. You also control the Speak Plus experience by speaking, “Alexa, ask Garmin…”. It’s a bit odd, but I quickly became used to it as we drove across Washington State and back for a basketball tournament.

You can enjoy Amazon Music through the Speak Plus, check your calendar, make and receive phone calls, and perform virtually any of the Alexa skills while you or someone else is driving.

The last app you will need if you wish to view your video and photo gallery is the Garmin VIRB app. This is the same app that is used with the Garmin VIRB cameras and if you select to view the gallery in the Garmin Speak app then a pop-up will appear stating that a WiFi Direct connection between the Speak Plus and your phone will be made. You can then view the videos and photos captured and choose to download them to your phone or share them.

Video is recorded automatically to the microSD card and if your card reaches its capacity then video will record over the oldest video content. This way any microSD card you insert will ensure video is recorded, but it will eventually be overwritten. The Garmin VIRB app lets you save this content outside of the microSD card for other purposes.

Pricing and competition

You can purchase the Garmin Speak Plus with Amazon Alexa now for $229.99.

Garmin has three other dash camera solutions with the Dash Cam 65W at $249.99, Dash Cam 55 at $199.99, and Dash Cam 45 at $149.99. These other dedicated dashboard cameras have higher resolution and wider angle options, but do not have navigation functionality.

There are a number of low cost dash cameras, many brands from China I have never heard of, but Garmin is a name I trust for quality and reliability.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The Garmin Speak brought Amazon Alexa to your vehicle and the Speak Plus builds upon this with the dash camera. However, the dash camera is pretty basic with an 82 degree field of view and 1080p video resolution. Garmin makes better dedicated dash cameras, with voice control, for less money.

While I typically use smartphones for navigation while driving, I prefer the Speak Plus experience with basic visual cues and voice navigation that lets me keep the phone plugged in and out of my hands.

As you approach your turn, the bottom of the LED ring turns green and then that color moves up and around so that the full circle is green when your turn is to be completed. I also found the lane guidance particularly useful for left exits off the freeway, which are not that common, as the OLED screen shows all lanes as arrows.

If you are an Amazon Alexa user that wants that experience in the car, then this is an excellent solution. I am not much of an Alexa user as I’ve adopter Google Home in my house and also found it a bit odd to talk to the Speak Plus through Alexa. It works well, you just have to learn the proper commands to accurately control things.

Wirelessly controlled outgoing phone calls do not work, but you can accept calls. It’s really best not to make or receive calls while driving though so I am fine with not having this functionality. You also cannot yet use Spotify, which is my preferred music service, but Amazon Music works just fine.

$229.99 is a bit high when compared to other dash cams so I would love to see it go back to the $199.99 pre-order launch price. If you want a dash cam with solid navigation and spend a lot of time in your car listening to Audible books or completing other Alexa skills then it is easy to justify the current price.