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Google, Amazon smart speakers can be more helpful digital assistants

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Already, about one in four U.S. consumers has a home personal assistant at their beck and call, thanks to the success of smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Nest.

But many users are just scratching the surface of what these gadgets can do.

If you aren’t familiar with the speakers (both starting at $35), you wake up your artificial intelligence-driven helper with a keyword – “Alexa” for Amazon devices and “OK, Google” for a Google Nest or Google Home speaker – followed by a question or command.

A human-like voice will give you a response, whether you want to hear the weather, a specific song, set a timer for the oven, or control your smart devices in your home, such as adjusting lighting or a thermostat.

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One-fourth of U.S. consumers (25%) will use a smart speaker in 2020, up from 17% in 2018, according to research firm eMarketer.

If you have a smart speaker already, don’t you want to get more out of it? Here are 10 helpful – and lesser-known – functions to take your digital assistant to the next level.

Make free phone calls

Both Alexa and Google devices let you make free phone calls – even if you don’t own a landline. It uses the internet to place the outgoing call, using Voice over Internet Protocol or “VoIP” technology.

Just say “Alexa” or “OK, Google,” followed by a phone number (“dial 212-555-1212”), a name in your smartphone’s Contacts (e.g. “Call Mary Smith at work”) or a business name (“call the Home Depot at the corner of 1st and 3rd street.”)

It works for any 10-digit American or Canadian number!

‘OK, Google, remind me’

No pen or paper needed if you have an Amazon or Google speaker. Say something like “Alexa, remind me to pick up Maya from the mall at 4 p.m.” or “OK, Google, remind me to take my pills every day at 9:30 a.m.” When the time comes, you’ll be reminded by your speaker.

Your smart speaker can also be an alarm clock. Just say something like “Alexa, wake me up to (specific song or radio station) at (time).” You can even specify the wake-up time to be for weekdays only.

‘Alexa, find my phone’

Smart speakers can also help you remember things.  For example, say something like “OK, Google,” or “Alexa,” and then “Remember my passport is in the small drawer in the kitchen.”

When you need it in the future, ask “Where’s my passport?” and she’ll tell you where it is, and what date you asked her to remind you.

On a related note, if you can’t find your smartphone, perhaps because it’s buried between sofa cushions, ask your smart speaker to find your phone and it will ring.

Use Bluetooth to pair a better speaker

Since both Google and Amazon smart speakers have integrated Bluetooth, you can wirelessly connect it to a better Bluetooth speaker or soundbar for louder and clearer sound.

Therefore, you can get away with buying an inexpensive and teeny Google Nest Mini or Amazon Echo Dot, yet still have room-filling sound for music playback.

You can tell it to pair to another device with your voice or by going into the app on a smartphone.

AI assistants can learn your routine

Another useful, and relatively new feature – for both Amazon and Google gear – is to set up Routines.

Instead of manually activating tasks, you can create automatic routines at a certain time, when you get to a specific place (as identified by your phone’s location info), or when you say a specific phrase.

For example, set a routine to start at, say, 7 a.m., and have your smart speaker wake you up with your favorite song, turn the smart lights on in your bathroom, brew a cup of coffee (with the help of a smart plug) and read your calendar appointments.

To enable a Routine on an Amazon speaker, go into the Alexa app on your phone, tap Settings > Routines.

For Google, open the app, and go to Settings > More settings > Assistant > Routines. 

Buy something with your speaker

Use your voice to easily buy things on an Amazon Echo or Google Nest speaker, saying the wake word, following by something like “Order a Fitbit Versa 2 Smartwatch” and the product will ship to your door from Amazon. 

Your speaker will tell you the item name and price. You’ll be prompted if Alexa or Google Assistant needs more info before ordering (and you can see the item on the app, too).

On Amazon devices, you can also track your package. Say “Alexa, where’s my stuff?” You’ll hear the day your delivery is expected to arrive on your doorstep.

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Use it as a night light

Alexa users know the neon blue ring on top of the smart speaker means Alexa is listening or processing your request. But you can go into the app and choose different colors and patterns to visually tell you things, such as if you missed a message or if someone is calling, what volume the speaker is at, and if the mic is turned off, to name a few options. 

There’s also a third-party “skill” (optional add-on) called Night Light that lets you use the ring as a night light in a dark room. First enable the skill by saying “Alexa, enable the Night Light skill.” Then, going forward, tell your speaker something like “Alexa, open Night Light for two hours.”

Personalize voice recognition

If you share a home with family members or a housemate, it’s a good idea to train your Amazon or Google device to recognize your voice.

When you do, you can ask for calendar appointments, favorite music, or how long it will take to get to work (taking real-time traffic information into account) – and it will be only tied to you.

Say “Alexa, train my voice” to get started. When you tell Google to “train your voice,” it will prompt you to open the smartphone app to begin.

Smoothen the conversation

It can be a pain to keep saying the wake word every time you need information from your smart speaker. But you can set up “Follow-up” mode (Amazon) or “Continued Conversation” (Google) to reduce how many times you have to say “Alexa” or “OK Google,” respectively.

Now, when you ask a question, like “Alexa, what’s the weather like today?,” you can follow up with something like “And how long will it take for me to get to work?” – without having to say the wake word again.

Another example is “OK, Google, turn the lights off,” after she says OK, say “Lock the doors” or “Set the thermostat to away mode.”

After enabling this in the app for Alexa or Google, this will work so long as you follow up within a few seconds of the original request.

Change the voice

For both devices, you can change the wake word, accent, and even the language of your smart speaker. Check the Settings of your smart speaker’s app to make those changes. 

You can also change the voice altogether. With Google, open the app, tap your profile picture in the top right of the screen, followed by Assistant settings > Assistant > Assistant voice. Choose which voice you like, and you can select celebrity voices, too, like John Legend.

The process is similar with Alexa devices. On the app, choose, Settings > (Device name) > Language.

As of last month, you can also embody your Echo with the voice of Samuel L. Jackson. Say “Alexa, introduce me to Samuel L. Jackson.” Agree to pay 99 cents. And now you’ll hear weather, a joke, music and more, in Sam’s voice, but you’ll have to first say “Alexa, ask Sam for __.” You can choose a clean or explicit version of banter from the actor.

There’s also a “Whisper mode” on Alexa devices. When you enabled this in the app’s Settings (under Voice Responses), whenever you whisper to your speaker – perhaps if a child is sleeping nearby – your speaker will whisper back to you!

Follow Marc on Twitter: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast at www.marcsaltzman.com.

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U.S. Supreme Court rejects Apple appeal in patent fight with VirnetX

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FILE PHOTO: The Apple logo is shown atop an Apple store at a shopping mall in La Jolla, California, U.S., December 17, 2019, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear Apple Inc’s bid to avoid paying about $440 million in damages for using patent licensing firm VirnetX Inc’s internet security technology without permission in features such as FaceTime video calling.

The justices rejected Apple’s appeal in the long-running case in which a federal jury in 2016 found that Apple had infringed VirnetX’s patents and awarded $302 million. A judge later increased that amount to $439.7 million including interest and other costs.

The case dates back to 2010 when Nevada-based VirnetX filed suit in federal court in the Eastern District of Texas accusing Cupertino, California-based Apple of infringing four patents for secure networks, known as virtual private networks, and secure communications links. VirnetX said Apple infringed with its FaceTime and VPN on Demand features in products such as the iPhone and iPad.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, which specializes in patent disputes, upheld the judgment against Apple last year.

During the litigation, Apple and other companies requested that a tribunal of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office review the validity of the VirnetX patents. The tribunal canceled key parts of the patents at issue in the case.

But in separate decisions also issued last year, the Federal Circuit set aside certain of the tribunal’s rulings, bringing VirnetX closer to collecting damages from Apple. Apple appealed to the Supreme Court, contending that the damages should be recalculated because the specific patents VirnetX accused it of infringing with FaceTime were nearly wiped out.

Apple in a court filing called the Federal Circuit’s refusal to entertain its demands “legally wrong and grossly unfair.” The company also said the lower courts impermissibly allowed VirnetX to request damages far beyond the value of the patented invention.

VirnetX told the justices: “The entire damages award … remains supported by claims that a jury – and the Federal Circuit – found valid years ago and that have not been canceled since.”

Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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5 amazing products at their lowest prices

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— Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.

Happy Monday! In my humble opinion, there’s no better way to start the week than hunting down a good deal. Not only can you get something you’ve been eyeing for a while at an incredible price, but there’s also a little excitement knowing a package will be arriving for you sometime during the week. Today’s deals are particularly exciting because you can find some of our top-tested products at their lowest prices including robot vacuums, Lodge cast iron skillets, and Roku streaming sticks. Check out all the ways you can save today.

Love a good deal?: Sign up for our weekly deals newsletter. It’s free and you can unsubscribe any time.

1. Lowest price: The best affordable robot vacuum on the market

2020 is the year I’ve decided to become a little more cleaner and organized, but being as busy as I am, the cleaning part—specifically vacuuming enough—has been left in the dust. But with a nifty robot vacuum, I could get it to do my dirty work for me before I can do a weekly (err, monthly) deep clean. Plus, you don’t even have to spend too much to get a great one. Right now, you can get our favorite affordable robot vacuum for $70 off in the color white, which is also the lowest price we’ve seen since the holidays. We love the Eufy RoboVac 11S for its great cleaning power and reasonable price, which is even more reasonable thanks to this deal.

Get the Eufy BoostIQ RoboVac 11S for $159.99 (Save $70)

2. Under $10: Our favorite cast iron skillet

Cast iron pans are a game-changer in the kitchen. Not only can you use them on the stovetop but they can also go in the oven or on the grill, making them a versatile piece of cookware. Lodge makes the best cast iron cookware, and right now you can get this popular 8-inch skillet for just $8 and the lowest price we’ve ever seen. It’s an ideal size for baking smaller desserts or cooking a meal for one.

Get the Lodge Cast Iron 8-Inch Skillet for $7.99 (Save $2)

3. $20 off: The best affordable streaming stick

During the colder seasons, there’s nothing I want to do more than binge-watch Disney+ or Netflix and avoid going outside. For the best binge-watching experience, you’re going to want a good streaming stick to watch it on the small screen as opposed to your laptop. The Roku Streaming Stick+ is the best affordable media streaming device we’ve ever tested. It offers 4K or HDR content and has an amazing interface, which means it’s probably better than the streaming interface your Smart TV currently has Right now, you can get it for $20 off, which is its second lowest price.

Get the Roku Streaming Stick+ for $39 (Save $20.99)

4. 25% off: The best packing cubes for traveling

The most stressful part about any trip is packing. You need to figure out how you’re going to fit everything in your suitcase, and how you’re going to find what you’re looking for without making a mess once you’ve reached your destination. That’s where packing cubes come in and this set from eBags is the best one we’ve ever tested. Right now, you can get the three-piece set 20% off and the six-piece set for 25% off if you clip the on-page coupon, which is the lowest price we’ve ever seen for either. If you have any big trips planned for 2020, this deal is for you.

  • Get the eBags Three-Piece Packing Cube Value Set for $23.99 (Save $6)
  • Get the eBags Six-Piece Packing Cube Value Set for $33.74 (Save $11.25)

5. Lowest price: Our favorite classic rolling pin for baking and more

I love baking cooking, pizza making, and the like, but for some reason, I still don’t own a proper rolling pin—and let me tell you, a wine bottle just doesn’t cut it. But now is the time to finally get one because the best classic rolling pin we’ve ever tested is down to its lowest price of just $8. We love how comfortable the pin felt in our hands (read: no hand cramps) and that it was seamless to achieve the desired thickness of the dough. It’s honestly the perfect pin for any kitchen, especially at this price.

Get the Farberware Classic Wood Rolling Pin for $7.99 (Save $10) 

The product experts at Reviewed have all your shopping needs covered. Follow Reviewed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest deals, reviews, and more.

Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.



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Is There A Dangerous Link Between Corona Virus & 5G Technology? with Ole Dammegard & Special Guests

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News reports from China indicate the Corona virus is impacting virtually everything including the much debated 5G roll out, but is there a deeper connection between the feared outbreak and the controversial next generation tech?

Ole and I are joined EMF technology expert Olle Johansson and military technology expert Cody Snodgres.

Don’t miss today’s episode of Light On Conspiracies with Ole Dammeagard on SubscribeStar and Patreon

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