Google Nest Hub Max review – gpgmail


There were two standout features I really appreciated off the bat about the original Nest (nee Google Home) Hub: its compact size and its lack of camera. The new Nest Max has decidedly neither of those things.

After releasing a model that offered an interesting alternative to the Echo Show, Google’s taking Amazon’s flagship smart screen head-on with the Max. It’s a device that leverages the learnings of the earlier, smaller model, while applying new case users.

As far as design goes, Google decided not to mess with a good thing here. The Max is nearly identical to the Hub, albeit scaled up, from seven inches to ten. The form factor is the familiar tablet mounted atop a fabric speaker base. It’s simple, it’s subtle, and it will fit in with most decors. Lenovo’s given Google a run for its money with its own Assistant displays, but so far as I’m concerned the Nest line is still the best looking product in the category.

The addition of a camera is really the most radical difference here for a few reason. The most immediate is, of course, security. Google successful avoided inserting itself into that conversation with the original Hub. The reason was simple: it was a product designed to live on nightstands. Sure, the topic of privacy is a slippery slope that most of us have already tumbled halfway down, but for many the idea of introducing a cloud-connected camera into the bedroom was understandably a bridge or two too far.

Facebook, notably, stepped into yet another hornets’ nest when it launched its camera-sporting Portal device amid its own privacy scandal(s) — and rightfully so. Google, however, has inserted itself back into that conversation with Hub Max. Put in the company’s position, one would imagine doing as much as possible to ease users’ peace of mind about privacy concerns.

A physical shutter is a pretty quick and easy way to do precisely that. It’s a helpful sort of shorthand — heck, even Facebook included a clip-on shutter in hopes of nipping some of those concerns in the bud. It’s honestly a bit baffling that Google didn’t do the same — a strange oversight it appears to have made largely for aesthetic reasons.

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There is, of course, a switch in the rear, which turns off both the microphone and camera, illuminating a red light to the side of the camera in the process. That a red light can both indicate either camera off or record on different devices is a design conversation for another day, I suppose.

But Google’s decision to include a camera isn’t arbitrary. The truth is that it effectively unlocks a whole slew of new functionality here and further distinguishes Nest Hub products from Amazon’s offerings. And, naturally, it also unlocks further privacy concerns in the process. The biggest piece of the puzzle is a kind of personalization that wouldn’t be accessible through other means.

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During setup, the device walks you through a similar process that smartphones implement to enable unlock. Using your phone’s camera, it grabs a 3D image of your face. When the Nest Hub Max spots you, it will greet you with a note along the lines of “Good afternoon, Brian,” and the image of you associated with your Google profile. When you’re locked in, the device tailors all of its suggestions to you. It’s a clever way of swapping between accounts.

Of course, like so many other things, it feels like a piece of a slippery slope. Google, of course, has already identified the sound of your voice, which it can also use to provide bespoke content, but that’s a less dynamic approach to this kind of implementation. You can certainly opt out, though you’ll be missing out on a reasonably large piece of the puzzle here.

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The camera also brings the ability to video chat through Duo. The Hub Max utilizes a similar zoom feature as Facebook’s Portal — a dynamic pan that was initially positioned as that product’s killer app. Implementation here is similarly effective, moving and zooming out to follow the subject and included additional people at once. The digital zooming does notably degrade image quality, however.

The other big piece of the puzzle is security camera functionality. It is, after all, a Nest device. Given that it’s not a devoted security product, however, Google is positioning that feature as more of a supplement to existing Nest devices. In other words, you place your Nest Cam in key areas and use the Hub Max’s camera to fill in the gaps. It works similarly to those devoted devices (including features like geofencing), though it lacks some features like night vision.

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Handily, the device will let you know when it’s being used as a camera, sporting a “Nest Cam being viewed” notification, for added privacy. And, of course, it can be used with a variety of other connected cameras and smart home devices, serving as a kind of centralized control panel. There are a handful of compatible video services that can be added on set up, including HBO Now and CBS. No Netflix at the moment — and likely no Amazon Prime, ever, though Chromecast functionality addresses that to some degree.

The bottom speaker is bigger, louder and bassier (and stereo, to boot) than the original Home Hub. But it’s probably not sufficient for most as a standalone speaker. That said, the ability to pair it with another Home speaker makes it a nice companion to something like the Home Max, with the inclusion of a screen that displays and serves as a control panel while you’re listening to music.

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Notably, there are only two mics on board — fewer than many comparable smart home devices. In spite of the mics and improved sound, however, Google hasn’t built in the spatial-based level tuning you get on the higher-end Home Max.

At $229 (and available now), the Nest Hub Max is priced to compete with the Echo Show. It’s a stronger entry in most respects, and while the camera carries the aforementioned privacy concerns, it’s a clear sign of how Google’s strengths are coming together to create a superior smart home product.


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Tile teams up with Google to bring its lost item finding technology to Google Assistant – gpgmail


As rumors about Apple’s plans to launch a Tile competitor swirl, Tile today announced it’s teaming up with Google to make it easier for users to locate their lost items using their Android devices and Google Assistant. For the uninitiated, Tile is a small hardware accessory that you can attach to items like keys, purses, bags, wallets, and more, which can then be tracked using a combination of Bluetooth technology and the wider network of Tile users running the companion app on their phone.

The newly announced Google Assistant integration will make it possible for Android users to use voice commands to ring the Tile attached to the missing item. This is supported by way of Tile’s “direct ring” technology, which allows the platform to directly connect with then ring the lost item.

The Google Assistant integration will be similar to using any other smart home Action through the Assistant, Tile says, and will launch later this year.

“This is big news for Tile customers,” said CJ Prober, CEO of Tile, in a statement. “If you were to lose or misplace your wallet, remote, backpack – anything, Google will soon join your personal search party with a simple voice command.”

Tile’s announcement of Google Assistant integration comes at an interesting time.

Apple, which is hosting its iPhone event next week, has been found to be developing its own Tile competitor. Recently, code referencing a new tab labeled “Items” in iOS 13’s “Find My” app was also discovered, hinting at a forthcoming launch.

It’s unclear, of course, when Apple plans to actually unveil this hardware. But Tile, apparently, is looking to get ahead of any such announcement with its news for Android users.

Tile has grown to become one of the top makers of Bluetooth-powered lost item trackers on the market, with 22 million sold in 2018 and a user base that’s locating over 5 million items daily using its platform across 230 countries and territories around the world.

The company has since expanded beyond its consumer devices to provide location tracking to more products by way of partnerships with BLE chipmakers and other manufacturers.

As of today, that list also includes Sennheiser, which launched its new Momentum Wireless around-ear headphones (339 EUR) at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin today. The headphones will ship with Tile’s Community Fine technology built-in, so users can locate them if they become misplaced, lost or stolen.

Tile now has over 20 partnerships with the addition of Sennheiser, the company says.


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Lenovo slims down its Google smart display – gpgmail


Before there was the Nest Home — heck, before there was even the Google Home Hub — there was the Lenovo Smart Display. The smart screen was far and away the nicest of the original Google Assistant screens, and the partnership between the two companies continues to be a fruitful, including the recent Smart Clock, a purpose-built bedside alarm clock.

With the Smart Display 7, announced today at IFA in Berlin, the company has slimmed down both the screen size and overall device footprint. At seven inches, it’s smaller than both of the original models (eight and 10 inches, for the record). It’s a rare step down in screen size for a new generation, but given the relative freshness of the category, there’s probably a fair amount of trial and error here.

The design language looks nice enough — perhaps a bit more generic than the first generation with its faux wood panel backing but the fabric speaker grille is a nice touch that fits in nicely with the rest of the Google Home line. Feature wise, you’re getting pretty much what you’ll get with the rest of the Assistant smart displays — Youtube, answers, smart home control.

Of course, Lenovo’s got more direct competition this time out from Google itself, in the form of the Nest Hub Max. And when it comes to products like these, it’s can be tough to compete with first parties. That said, at $130, it’s a full $100 cheaper than Google’s version, which is compelling in and of itself. The device ships next month.


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Google Falls to Third in Smart Speakers Behind Baidu and Amazon


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Amazon’s original Echo speaker seemed like something no one would want when it launched in 2014. That feels like ages ago because consumers are now happily gobbling up smart speakers with always-on voice assistant features. After rising to the number two spot behind Amazon, Google has now seen its market share drop as China’s Baidu grows by leaps and bounds. Meanwhile, Amazon has continued advancing. 

The smart speaker market is potentially worth billions of dollars, but it also pumps up interest in other smart home devices like cameras, locks, and sensors with which the speakers can communicate. Amazon has moved aggressively to acquire smart home companies like Eero, Ring, Blink, and more. As for Google, it has a full lineup of Nest thermostats, cameras, and other devices that play nicely with Google Home speakers out of the box. Plus, everyone using an Android phone already has Assistant. 

In the most recent quarter, Amazon saw sales of smart speakers with Alexa grow by 61.1 percent. That leaves Amazon with 25.4 percent of the market. Google is down almost 20 percent year-over-year, leaving it with 16.7 percent of the smart speaker market. That’s just low enough that Baidu managed to slide into second place with 17.3 percent. It had barely started selling speakersSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce in 2018, so its Q2 2019 growth is an incredible 3,700 percent. 

The Amazon Echo Plus.

Baidu sells speakers in China where Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa do not operate, and there’s clearly pent-up demand. Baidu’s speakers run the company’s DuerOS assistant that is geared toward Chinese users. It has also worked to get DuerOS into as many form factors as possible. There are Echo-like speakers, ceiling-mounted lights, displays, and more. Amazon has also been cranking out new speakers — it released updated versions of the Echo Show smart display and several Echo speakers in the last year. 

Google has been chugging along with the same Home-branded speakers for a few years now. The original 2016 Google Home is still the heart of Google’s product lineup along with the budget Home Mini and premium Home Max. However, the Home doesn’t have as much power as newer Amazon devices like the Echo Plus. It’s probably time for Google to refresh its speaker lineup if it wants to stay competitive with Amazon.

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Bose’s new portable home speaker sports Alexa and Google Assistant – gpgmail


Bose’s portable speaker offerings have tended toward the cheaper end of the spectrum — bringing colorful competition for companies like JBL. With the dryly named Portable Home Speaker, however, the company looks to split the difference between portable and premium. And it’s certainly priced for the latter.

The $349 speaker looks to something of a high end take on the dearly departed Amazon Tap. It’s pretty small for the price, with a large handle up top so it can be moved from room to room, accordingly.

Bose continues to take the diplomatic approach, using built in mics for both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. There’s also AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect functionality built in, covering pretty much all of its bases outside of Bixby — that means, sadly, that it might not be able to talk to your fridge.

There are a handful of physical buttons up top, as well, including the every important mic-off. The device has an IPX4 water rating, which means it will handle some splashing or light rain, but don’t dunk the thing. It’s also pretty clear from the press materials that the speaker’s not designed to live outdoors, though the occasional picnic table should be fine.

The Portable Home Speaker arrives in stores on September 19. It’s already got plenty of competition, of course, and Sonos is set to add to the list with its own bluetooth speaker rumored to be in the works.


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Bring More Tech (and Amazon Boxes) Into the Garage With a Smarter Opener


Most every premium garage door brand these days has a Wi-Fi remote that lets you check the status of your garage door from your smartphone and open or close the door remotely. Increasingly, Wi-Fi remotes tie into home control services including Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant and let you monitor who comes in and when. They all beat the old clip-on open-close remotes that attach to your car’s sun visor. Some do more than others.

After researching what to do to improve the garage of our 40-year-old house with 20-year-old openers, I decided the best technology to control garage access is the Chamberlain myQ Smart Garage Hub.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce It’s a $50 device that connects virtually any opener of the past 25 years, regardless of brand. If your opener needs replacement, you can get the same myQ technology built into many openers from Chamberlain and sister company LiftMaster, which sells the practically identical WLED Belt Drive Wi-Fi Garage Door Opener (click to read PCMag’s full review of that model). The best feature of myQ is the Amazon Key partnership, which lets Amazon deliver packages inside the garage and monitor the delivery person with a video feed.

Read on for more on how to decide on a smart garage door opener — and if you’re game, how I also updated the rest of my garage, which cost a heck of a lot more than $50.

Ryobi’s traditional belt-drive opener, with a twist: power backup using a Ryobi power tool battery.

Choices in Garage Door Operators

Wi-Fi lets you control your garage door from anywhere. Some of the companies that have Wi-Fi operators, the industry term for a garage door opener, include:

  • Chamberlain / Liftmaster / Merlin (same company: Chamberlain Group)
  • Craftsman / Sears
  • Genie
  • Mighty Mule
  • Ryobi (a slick design lets you attach a Ryobi One+ portable tool battery to the opener for battery backup; see photo above)
  • Skylink

The cheapest operators, such as the Skylink Atoms AT61611 ($125), won’t have Wi-Fi. There are Wi-Fi-equipped openers for $175 and up that let you control and monitor the garage door remotely. If Wi-Fi is not built-in, there are more than a dozen third-party adapters that make virtually any opener accessible from the web or smartphone. These adapters work via wired or wireless signals to the opener, and by Wi-Fi to your home access point; they may require a sensor on the door.

Remote software lets the happy homeowner see a package delivered, safely, inside the garage. And the UPS person doesn’t worry about being chased back into their truck by a protective canine. In real life, the process is pretty much foolproof, and you quickly stop worrying about the safety of the stuff in your garage.

Choices in Garage Door Software

Third-party remote Wi-Fi openers (used here in the industry sense) comprise software and hardware that open the operators (the physical motor and drive chain/belt or gearing). They all can control the doors from afar. That means you can manually open the door for a service person, a neighbor, or non-driving idiot family member who again forgot the house keys (consider a keypad door lock).

Many Wi-Fi openers work with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant/Google Home, the incredibly useful IFTTT (If This, Then That) protocol, Apple HomeKit, and Samsung SmartThings. They typically show door status (open, closed) on your phone, and e-mail or text you when the door opens or closes. They may automatically close the door at a set time at night in case someone left it open. Most use the 2.4-GHz frequency of your access point or router, not 5 GHz.

Most vendors include a list of operators that aren’t compatible. Beyond that, don’t expect them to work with garage door openers — sorry, operators — pre-1993, which is when the Consumer Product Safety Commission mandated automatic reversers. In the 1980s, about five children a year were killed by automated garage doors that closed on them. No more, and nobody seems to complain the government is too intrusive.

Opener software (and necessary hardware) include:

Alcidae Garager 2, $130.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce It’s a 1080p Wi-Fi camera with night vision and two-way audio that attaches, typically, to the bottom of the garage door operator. There’s remote opener software. You can stream audio/video to your phone or tablet. If you want stored video you can recall, up to seven days worth, that’s $5 a month. Select clips can be stored. The Garager 2 works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Chamberlain myQ, part of many Chamberlain/LiftMaster garage door operator systems, or $50 as a module, the Smart Garage Hub,SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce for most any brand made 1993 or later. myQ is easy to set up, and that alone is enough to recommend it. You can open or close the garage door from anywhere (same as any other Wi-Fi opener system), a family share system that lets three others also open/close/monitor the garage doors and control up to 16 myQ accessories, typically in-house lights using wall-plug modules. myQ is compatible with Apple iOS and Android, Google Assistant / Google Home, and IFTTT (If This, Then That).

myQ supports Amazon Key for delivery inside your garage door. Oddly, support for Amazon Alexa has been lacking although some third-party workarounds have been published. Chamberlain has abandoned, at least for now, the $1 a month subscription fee for IFTTT. Some installations will also need the myQ Home Bridge ($70) to work with Apple HomeKit and Siri voice control if the system doesn’t have built-in WiFi.

Garadget WiFi Smart Garage Door Controller, $80.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce It’s easy to install and avoids most wires by using a laser sensor pointed at some reflective tape on the garage door. It is compatible with, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT, and SmartThings, among others (remember the Pebble smartwatch?).

Genie Aladdin Connect, $55.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce It’s useful for multi-door garages, includes hardware for one garage door and supports up to three, and if your house has four or more, you can probably afford to pay someone to create a way to control that many.

Gogogate2, $140.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce One controller supports up to three garage doors. It works with Apple and Android devices, supports third-party cameras, and uses IFTTT apps to expand its functionality, including for voice control. Setup is more complex than, say, myQ. It wires into an existing operator and uses a sensor mounted to the garage door.

Nexx Garage Remote Garage Door Opener, $100,SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce that has a difficult setup offset by a simple-to-use app, customizability, and compatibility with both Amazon Alexa and Google Home / Assistant, as well as Samsung SmartThings and others. It can be programmed to open automatically when the car approaches the garage. You must run a low-voltage wire to a garage door-sensor.

Amazon Key for Garage: Packages delivered inside your garage, protected from the weather and the odd thief, with delivery information via the Chamberlain/myQ app. $100 shop jack, left, stands in for the author’s hoped-for $5,000 post lift.

Amazon Key: myQ’s Best Feature

If you want packages delivered inside not outside, hassle-free, look into the Amazon Key apps, part of the Amazon Prime subscription.

For inside-the-house delivery, Amazon Key for Home, you need a smart lock kit from Kwikset, Schlage, or Yale. (Note Amazon agreed to three partners.)

For in-trunk delivery, you need Amazon Key In-Car, a 2015 or newer General Motors vehicle with OnStar, or Volvo with On Call telematics, and a currently active telematics subscription.

For Amazon’s in-garage delivery system, Amazon Key for Garage, there is currently one compatible technology, the myQ / Smart Garage Hub system, either as a $50 module (a physical hub) attached to any brand of compatible operator, or integrated in a $200-$500 Chamberlain / Liftmaster operator, and for video with the Amazon Cloud Cam (Key Edition) camera, which adds $120. Many, but not all, Amazon packages are eligible, and occasionally I found in testing Key delivery took one day longer than normal two-day Amazon Prime. Key for Garage is in 50 cities and their extensive surrounding areas as of mid-2019 (complete list).

As for security: You have to believe (and should) that your driver is not going to rip you off – really, is anybody looking to grab a broken lawn chair, a 350-pound snowblower, or smelly hockey gear kept outside the living area? As a practical matter, a delivery person wouldn’t last long stealing things, just as a hotel maid wouldn’t because a theft pattern would quickly show up (one package a month lost on each of 10 driver routes, 10 packages a month on the 11th route). If you’re a little (if not a lot) paranoid, Key for Garage is nice versus Key for Home because you might like that access is to the garage only and then you can deadbolt the access door to the house.

So far over two months, the Amazon Key for Garage system has worked perfectly for me. We get a notification delivery is about to happen. The package shows up, in the garage. We get a notification delivery took place, and when. With the Cloud Cam, we can see the delivery taking place. After you see this happen two or three times, you’re satisfied it all works according to plan. The Cloud Cam sends you a snap of the delivery and lets you watch event clips of the past 24 hours.

Premium storage, three plans, for 3-10 Cloud Cams and 7-30 days storage runs $7-$20 a month extra. You cannot currently swap in a non-Amazon video camera, although you could rig a third party camera that captures every garage-door-open event, working outside the Amazon Key app. I found after the first two weeks that the UPS guy was going to deliver, he did, the video was boring, and no packages got wet.

It would be nice, in our opinion, if Chamberlain/LiftMaster extended the garage access app to more vendors than Amazon. The company won’t comment on how long Amazon has Chamberlain locked into an exclusive, or vice versa. But, says Jeff Meredith, Chamberlain’s president and COO, “It’s not hard to imagine a garage being configured for things like home delivery – [a garage] equipped with reserved shelving for various sized packages and a refrigerator to accommodate online grocery purchases, which are set to quadruple between 2018 and 2023.”

Currently, the myQ app allows access by the homeowner plus three guest accounts that don’t have to share passwords. Additionally, the outdoor keypad can be programmed for a controlled number of accesses using an assigned code. Meredith said, “A dog walker, nanny, service person, realty agent, neighbor, extended family or delivery person … could all benefit from myQ.” For that, you might want a dozen limited-access guest accounts.

The Chamberlain Group is the major player in garage door openers (it also does access systems), but there’s big and then there’s big: Chamberlain’s parent, the privately held Duchossois Group, has an estimated $2 billion in revenues; Amazon is two orders of magnitude larger at $232 billion. If Chamberlain remains with Amazon exclusively, makers of competing garage door systems could partner with Walmart, Costco, Sears, pharmacies, or grocery delivery services that Amazon doesn’t own.

A wall-mount garage door opener, here the LiftMaster 8500W, and torsion springs on a shaft over the garage door header. It frees up space over the car for, say, a big storage rack. Yes, Marie Kondo would weep that you’re not throwing old stuff away.

How I Made a $50 Project Become Much More Expensive

Integrating myQ and Amazon Key into our garage was part of an ongoing garage and outdoors automation project with multiple outdoor cameras (brands TBD, see David Cardinal’s in-depth article on outdoor security cams for details), smart lawn sprinklers (Racchio), water leak sensors and auto shutoffs (product TBD), and outdoor lighting (Samsung SmartThings controls). Here’s what I did.

I went the new-opener route. I also added ultra-quiet rollers, weatherstripped the doors, and bought wall-mount openers for a cleaner design and had internal battery backup. And I had the two operators professionally installed because I also wanted the doors and rails tuned up, but mostly because you shouldn’t DIY a torsion bar spring installation. All told, it cost me about $2,000 rather than $50.

This garage-improvement project was launched because I wanted to fully use a two-bay, two-door garage equipped with ancient openers, doors that didn’t keep out the winter cold, a garage filled with one bay of junk, and lots of promise because the inside ceiling rises to 11 feet, enough to allow (until you price them) a shop lift for working on a car. The 160-pound wood doors banged and clanked on the way up or down. The safety reversers sometimes reversed when nothing was in the way.

The full project – in my plans – started with an epoxy or terrazzo-look floor ($1,000-$7,000), and it required shot blasting or diamond-grinding the existing surface for proper adhesion ($500-$1,000). There would be two new doors ($250 to $5,000 apiece, with really nice wood Craftsman-style doors matching the house at least $2,000 apiece). See video below to understand some of the hassles of DIY floors, starting with learning that your concrete has already been sealed and learning the top layer of concrete has to be ground or bead-blasted off.

The garage door operator would mount to the side of the door frame opening and drive a shaft running above the door header, eliminating the drive chain/drive belt above the centerline of the car. New tracks for the rollers would follow the sloped 4-in-12 pitch of the ceiling, allowing for a shop lift ($2,500 – $10,000) in one bay and overhead storage in the other. Ideally, the garage door openers would integrate battery backups in case town power failed and so did our backup generator.

I’d add more lighting in the ceiling, additional AC outlets in the wall, a gas-heater for work on wintry days, and a couple of speakers for music. Finally, a 240-volt transformer ($500-$1,000) would go in to charge the EVs and plug-in hybrids I test. Once there’s 240 volts in the garage, you can bring in a bigger air compressor.

Reality hit hard. Even $10,000 wouldn’t do the full job and “in my plans” became “in your dreams.” New, architectural-series doors were scaled back to the existing doors plus $250 of weatherstripping and insulation. The old floor remains, and even if I chose later to DIY the epoxy painting (carefully) to save money, the surface prep is hot, noisy, and dusty — one of those jobs you want to job out. The two-post shop lift became a $150 two-ton Harbor Freight compact jack, but don’t laugh: In the past year, I saw two professional race shops with HF jacks, okay? I also added four jack stands and wheel chocks.

As for the openers, the myQ technology was the bang-for-the-buck and ease-of-use winner. Because the existing openers were 20-plus years old, I opted for new Liftmaster openers, $500 apiece, with jackshaft drive (attaches directly to the torsion bar roller), integrated battery backup, keypad remote, and one each wired and wireless in-the-garage remote controls. With this opener, there’s no center drive rail, and later I can install the door rollers in a custom metal track that follows the ceiling. That would allow the future shop lift, and in the meantime, the garage looks a little more open. The follow-the-ceiling roller tracks can be added later.

The myQ app works well. I would like the option to the status of both garage doors on one screen, rather than one screen per door. I’d also prefer to get open-close messages as texts, not e-mails. Otherwise, it’s fine.

What Makes a Garage Door Opener Worth $500?

The top-of-the-line Liftmaster opener deadbolts the door every time it closes.

The operators I chose for my garage doors are currently about $500 street, the LiftMaster 8500W (photo right; Chamberlain equivalent, RJO70). It has Wi-Fi and myQ built-in. The wall-mount design frees ceiling space, so you can put a storage rack hanging down between door rails. It’s quiet. The mechanism actually slows the last foot of travel for a softer, quieter touchdown.

An electronic deadbolt auto-engages when the garage door is shut. If the power is out, the integrated battery opens the door, helpful for people who don’t always carry house keys or forget them. Each 8,500W operator comes with four controllers: an outside keypad, an inside wired switch (usually installed next to the door), an inside wireless switch (usually next to the house entry door), and a visor-mount wireless receiver. An included LED ceiling light (quite bright) mounts near any electrical outlet (typically the one used by the old ceiling-mount opener) and is wirelessly controlled.

To see your package being safely delivered, you have one choice: the Amazon Cloud Cam, $120.

If You Want to Do It Yourself

The LiftMaster 8500W operator (opener).

You can add-on adapters that bring Wi-Fi-control-from-anywhere to existing openers. myQ is about as easy as it gets. What’s especially nice is that this is one of the few instances in tech you can retrofit new technology to an existing product without having to buy a whole new device.

With modest skills, you can DIY install a new garage door opener – operator — with Wi-Fi if it uses a drive belt or chain, which is the most common type. A torsion spring opener calls for a professional installer; the spring needs careful tensioning and if it lets go, you could be hurt or killed. (This is not the usual abstract profession-drive-closed-course warning. That spring is dangerous.) If you put in a new chain- or belt-driver operator, not torsion-bar, with the springs running parallel to the horizontal tracks, make sure the springs have a safety cable running through the middle and if not, add one, because really old springs can break apart.

If the garage is under a bedroom, you want the quietest operator. In order from high to low in quietness and price, the preferred operator is:

  • Wall-mount operator with torsion spring (quietest, costliest).
  • Ceiling mount with belt drive.
  • Ceiling mount with chain drive (least quiet, cheapest).

But: If noise is the problem with a current opener, first replace any existing steel-wheel rollers with ball-bearing nylon rollers, at most $25 for a 10-pack, the number you need for a typical four-section door. Also, replace the pulleys (two per door). Or, get a garage door tune-up for $50-$100. A door that doesn’t close square to the ground makes noise. That alone, squaring the door, plus nylon rollers, made a significant difference with 20-year-old Craftsman belt-drive openers in our old house.

Read up if you’re thinking of doing this yourself. If you want affordable, effective, and simple-to-install, you’ll probably find a myQ system is the way to go, especially if you’re a frequent Amazon shopper. You only need to automate one garage door, which means $50 for the myQ Smart Garage Hub (MYQ-G0301) or $200 belt-drive operator with Wi-Fi/myQ integrated such as the Chamberlain B550. You should also spring for a new set of nylon rollers.

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Amazon’s lead EU data regulator is asking questions about Alexa privacy – gpgmail


Amazon’s lead data regulator in Europe, Luxembourg’s National Commission for Data Protection, has raised privacy concerns about its use of manual human reviews of Alexa AI voice assistant recordings.

A spokesman for the regulator confirmed in an email to gpgmail it is discussing the matter with Amazon, adding: “At this stage, we cannot comment further about this case as we are bound by the obligation of professional secrecy.” The development was reported earlier by Reuters.

We’ve reached out to Amazon for comment.

Amazon’s Alexa voice AI, which is embedded in a wide array of hardware — from the company’s own brand Echo smart speaker line to an assortment of third party devices (such as this talkative refrigerator or this oddball table lamp) — listens pervasively for a trigger word which activates a recording function, enabling it to stream audio data to the cloud for processing and storage.

However trigger-word activated voice AIs have been shown to be prone to accidental activation. While a device may be being used in a multi-person household. So there’s always a risk of these devices recording any audio in their vicinity, not just intentional voice queries…

In a nutshell, the AIs’ inability to distinguish between intentional interactions and stuff they overhear means they are natively prone to eavesdropping — hence the major privacy concerns.

These concerns have been dialled up by recent revelations that tech giants — including Amazon, Apple and Google — use human workers to manually review a proportion of audio snippets captured by their voice AIs, typically for quality purposes. Such as to try to improve the performance of voice recognition across different accents or environments. But that means actual humans are listening to what might be highly sensitive personal data.

Earlier this week Amazon quietly added an option to the settings of the Alexa smartphone app to allow users to opt out of their audio snippets being added to a pool that may be manually reviewed by people doing quality control work for Amazon — having not previously informed Alexa users of its human review program.

The policy shift followed rising attention on the privacy of voice AI users — especially in Europe.

Last month thousands of recordings of users of Google’s AI assistant were leaked to the Belgian media which was able to identify some of the people in the clips.

A data protection watchdog in Germany subsequently ordered Google to halt manual reviews of audio snippets.

Google responded by suspending human reviews across Europe. While its lead data watchdog in Europe, the Irish DPC, told us it’s “examining” the issue.

Separately, in recent days, Apple has also suspended human reviews of Siri snippets — doing so globally, in its case — after a contractor raised privacy concerns in the UK press over what Apple contractors are privy to when reviewing Siri audio.

The Hamburg data protection agency which intervened to halt human reviews of Google Assistant snippets urged its fellow EU privacy watchdogs to prioritize checks on other providers of language assistance systems — and “implement appropriate measures” — naming both Apple and Amazon.

In the case of Amazon, scrutiny from European watchdogs looks to be fast dialling up.

At the time of writing it is the only one of the three tech giants not to have suspended human reviews of voice AI snippets, either regionally or globally.

In a statement provided to the press at the time it changed Alexa settings to offer users an opt-out from the chance of their audio being manually reviewed, Amazon said:

We take customer privacy seriously and continuously review our practices and procedures. For Alexa, we already offer customers the ability to opt-out of having their voice recordings used to help develop new Alexa features. The voice recordings from customers who use this opt-out are also excluded from our supervised learning workflows that involve manual review of an extremely small sample of Alexa requests. We’ll also be updating information we provide to customers to make our practices more clear.


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Google’s new version of Android Auto focuses on Assistant – gpgmail


Google is starting to roll out an updated version of its in-car platform Android Auto that aims to make it easier and safer for drivers to use.

The version, which was first revealed during Google I/O 2019, has a dark theme, new fonts and color accents, more opportunities to communicate with Google’s virtual assistant and the ability to fit wider display screens that are becoming more common in vehicles.

Android Auto, which launched in 2015, is not an operating system. It’s a secondary interface — or HMI layer — that sits on top of an operating system and brings the look and feel of a smartphone to the vehicle’s central screen. Rival Apple introduced its own in-car platform, Apple CarPlay, that same year.

Automakers, once hesitant to integrate Android Auto or Apple CarPlay into vehicles have come around. Today, Android Auto is available in more than 500 car models from 50 different brands, according to Android Auto product manager Rod Lopez.

Car owners with Android Auto support will start to see the new design over the next few weeks. However, updates will not be made to the standalone version of Android Auto, a smartphone app that gave users access to the platform even if their car wasn’t compatible to Android Auto. Google says it plans to “evolve” the standalone phone app from Android Auto to the Assistant’s new driving mode in the future.

Meanwhile, the in-car version features some important changes, notably more opportunities for drivers to use their voice — and not their hands — to interact with Android Auto. Users will notice the Google Assistant badge on Android Auto, that when tapped will provide information about their calendar, read the weather report or news.

3Android Auto Google Assistant Badge

Other new features include a new app launcher designed to let users access their favorite apps with fewer taps. A button on the bottom left of the screen launches this feature. Once deployed, users will see app icons with the most commonly used ones featured in the top row.

Android Auto has also improved its navigation, which is perhaps the most commonly used feature within the platform. Now, the navigation bar sits at the bottom of the display and allows users to manage multiple apps. This improvement means users won’t miss an exit or street while they’re listening to Spotify .

4Android Auto Media

The navigation feature also pops up as soon as the driver connects with Android Auto. If a route is already queued up on a phone, Android Auto will automatically populate the directions.

This latest version also has a new notification button — located on the bottom right corner — houses recent calls, messages and alerts. Drivers can tap the mic button or say ” “Hey Google” to have the Google Assistant help make calls, send messages and read notifications.

Google has also developed an operating system called Android Automotive OS that’s modeled after its open-source mobile operating system that runs on Linux. Instead of running smartphones and tablets, Google modified it so it could be used in cars. Polestar, Volvo’s standalone performance electric car brand, is going to produce a new vehicle, the Polestar  2, that has an infotainment system powered by Android Automotive OS.


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