The Skagen Falster is a high fashion Android wearable

Skagen is a well-know maker of thin and uniquely Danish watches. Founded in 1989, the company is now part of the Fossil group and, as such, has begin dabbling in both the analog with the Hagen and now Android Wear with the Falster. The Falster is unique in that it stuffs all of the power of a standard Android Wear device into a watch that mimics the chromed aesthetic of Skagen’s austere design while offering just enough features to make you a fashionable smartwatch wearer.

The Falster, which costs $275 and is available now, has a fully round digital OLED face which means you can read the time at all times. When the watch wakes up you can see an ultra bright white on black time-telling color scheme and then tap the crown to jump into the various features including Android Fit and the always clever Translate feature that lets you record a sentence and then show it the person in front of you.

You can buy it with a leather or metal band and the mesh steel model costs $20 extra.

Sadly, in order stuff the electronics into such a small case, Skagen did away with GPS, LTE connectivity, and even a heart-rate monitor. In other words if you were expecting a workout companion then the Falster isn’t the Android you’re looking for. However, if you’re looking for a bare-bones fashion smartwatch, Skagen ticks all the boxes.

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What you get from the Flasterou do get, however, is a low-cost, high-style Android Wear watch with most of the trimmings. I’ve worn this watch off and on few a few weeks now and, although I do definitely miss the heart rate monitor for workouts, the fact that this thing looks and acts like a normal watch 99% of the time makes it quite interesting. If obvious brand recognition nee ostentation are your goal, the Apple Watch or any of the Samsung Gear line are more your style. This watch, made by a company famous for its Danish understatement, offers the opposite of that.

Skagen offers a few very basic watch faces with the Skagen branding at various points on the dial. I particularly like the list face which includes world time or temperature in various spots around the world, offering you an at-a-glance view of timezones. Like most Android Wear systems you can change the display by pressing and holding on the face.

It lasts about a day on one charge although busy days may run down the battery sooner as notifications flood the screen. The notification system – essentially a little icon that appears over the watch face – sometimes fails and instead shows a baffling grey square. This is the single annoyance I noticed, UI-wise, when it came to the Falster. It works with both Android smartphones and iOS.

What this watch boils down to is an improved fitness tracker and notification system. If you’re wearing, say, a Fitbit, something like the Skagen Falster offers a superior experience in a very chic package. Because the watch is fairly compact (at 42mm I won’t say it’s small but it would work on a thinner wrist) it takes away a lot of the bulk of other smartwatches and, more important, doesn’t look like a smartwatch. Those of use who don’t want to look like we’re wearing robotic egg sacs on our wrists will enjoy that aspect of Skagen’s effort, even without all the trimmings we expect from a modern smartwatch.

Skagen, like so many other watch manufacturers, decided if it couldn’t been the digital revolution it would join it. The result is the Falster and, to a lesser degree, their analog collections. Whether or not traditional watchmakers will survive the 21st century is still up in the air but, as evidenced by this handsome and well-made watch, they’re at least giving it the old Danish try.

Here are the five things I learned installing a Smart Mirror

I recently received a review unit of the Embrace Smart Mirror . It’s essentially a 24-inch Android tablet mounted behind a roughly 40-inch mirror. It works well when 3rd party software is installed. Here’s what I learned.

It’s impossible to get a good photo of the smart mirror

I tried a tripod, selfie stick, and every possible angle and I couldn’t get a picture that does this mirror justice. It looks better in person than these photos show. When the light in the bathroom is on, the text on the mirror appears to float on the surface. It looks great. The time is nice and large, and the data below it is accessible when standing a few feet away.

When the room is dark, the Android device’s screen’s revealed since it can’t reach real black. The screen behind the mirror glows gray. This isn’t a big deal. The Android device turns off after a period of inactivity and is often triggered by the light to the bathroom is turned on. More times than not, people walking into the room will be greeted with a standard mirror until the light is turned on.

There’s a handful of smart mirror apps, but few are worthwhile.

This smart mirror didn’t ship with any software outside of Android. That’s a bummer but not a deal breaker. There are several smart mirror Android apps in the Play Store though I only found one I like.

I settled on Mirror Mirror (get it) because the interface is clean, uses pleasant fonts and there’s just enough customization though it would be nice to select different locations for the data modules. The app was last updated in July of 2017 so use at your own risk.

Another similar option is this software developed by Max Braun, a robotistic at Google’s X. His smart mirror was a hit in 2016, and he included instructions on how to build it here and uploaded the software to GitHub here.

Kids love it.

I have great kids that grew up around technology. Nothing impresses these jerks, though, and that’s my fault. But they like this smart mirror. They won’t stop touching it, leaving fingerprints all over it. They quickly figured out how to exit the mirror software and download a bunch of games to the device. I’ve walked in on both of kids huddled in the dark bathroom playing games and watching YouTube, instead, of you know, playing games or watching YouTube on the countless other devices in the house.

That’s the point of the device, though. The company that makes this model advertises it as a way to get YouTube in the bathrooms so a person can apply their makeup while watching beauty YouTubers. It works for that, too. There is just a tiny bit of latency when pressing on the screen through the mirror. This device isn’t as quick to use as a new Android tablet, but since it’s sealed in a way to keep out moisture, it’s safe to go in a steamy bathroom.

Adults will find it frivolous.

I have a lot of gadgets in my house, and my friends are used to it. Their reaction to this smart mirror has been much different from any other device, though.

“What the hell is this, Matt,” they’ll say from behind the closed bathroom door. I’ll yell back, “It’s a smart mirror.” They flush the toilet, walk out and give me the biggest eyeroll.

I’ve yet to have an adult say anything nice about this mirror.

It’s frivolous.

A smart mirror is a silly gadget. To some degree, it’s a , but in the end, it’s just another gadget to tell you the weather. It collects fingerprints like mad, and the Android screen isn’t bright enough to use it as a regular video viewer or incognito TV.

As for this particular smart mirror, the Embrace Smart Mirror, the hardware is solid but doesn’t include any smart mirror software. The Mirror is rather thin and easily hangs on a wall thanks to a VESA port. There are physical controls hidden along the bottom of the unit including a switch to manually turn off the camera. It’s certified IP65 so it can handle a bathroom. A motion detector does a good job turning the device on so. If you don’t have kids, it should stay smudge-free.

The Embrace Smart Mirror does not ship with any smart mirror software. The instructions and videos tell users to add widgets to the Android home screen. This doesn’t work for me, and I expect a product such as this to include at least necessary software. Right now, after this product is taken out of the box, it’s just an Android tablet behind a mirror, and that’s lame. Thankfully there are a couple of free apps on the Play Store to remedy this problem.

At $1,299, the Embrace Smart Mirror is a hard sell but is among the cheapest available smart mirrors on the market. Of course, you can always build one yourself, and as The Verge points out, it’s rather easy.

Family networking app Life360 acqui-hires PathSense team to boost location-based services

Life360, the app for networking families together via mobile devices, has acquired the developer team behind PathSense, responsible for the creation of a location-based mobile application toolkit, to build out its location-based offerings.

The San Francisco-based Life360 will see all of PathSense’s employees joining its staff, while the tech that PathSense developed will be licensed by the family networking and security monitoring service.

PathSense uses location software and sensing technologies that use less battery power than other GPS apps, according to the company.

“For Life 360 it is very critical to have accurate geofencing to locate assets especially family members and if they leave specific geofenced areas,” wrote Neil Shahe, an analyst for Counterpoint Research.

Specifically, Life360 is applying the technology to crash detection services for families in the event of an accident.

“The PathSense technology, and the team’s expertise in utilizing all of the sensors available on smartphones in a unique way, provides our users with a world-class car crash detection and response system,” said Alex Haro, co-founder and CTO of Life360. “This ensures we fulfill our vision to make every family member a safer driver and be there for them when accidents happen.”

That service will detect when an accident occurs and initiates a call to the phone of whichever subscriber was in the accident. If the user needs assistance, Life360 says it will notify emergency contacts and dispatch emergency services to a location.

The feature is part of the company’s Driver Protect subscription service — which also includes monitoring of phone usage in cars.

PathSense’s team, now a part of Life360 was behind the development of Trapster — a Waze -like app using crowd-sourced data to provide traffic and accident alerts.

As part of the talent acquisition, Life360 gets a new technology development hub in San Diego — which the company intends to continue to staff up as it develops new location-based applications.

PathSense will also remain a going concern and will look to bring on new clients in its Southern California office.

 

HTC had a terrible holiday quarter

Smartphone and VR headset maker HTC has published its consolidated results for Q4 2017 — and it makes for grim reading.

The topline figures are:

  • Flat quarterly revenue of NT$15.7 billion (~$540M) with gross margin of -30.8%
  • Quarterly operating loss of NT$9.6 billion (~$330M) with operating margin of -60.8%
  • Quarterly net loss after tax: NT$9.8 billion (~$337M), or -NT$11.93 (-$0.41) per share

HTC says this latest quarterly loss was due to “market competition, product mix, pricing, and recognized inventory write-downs”. So pretty much a full house of operational and business problems.

The one bright spot for HTC’s business is a deal worth $1.1BN, in which Google acquired a chunk of HTC’s hardware business — which was completed at the end of January.

That one-off cash injection is not reflected in the Q4 results but will rather give some passing uplift to HTC’s Q1 2018 results.

HTC says it will be using the Google windfall for “greater investment in emerging technologies”, writing that they will be “vital across all of our businesses and present significant long-term growth opportunities”.

There’s no doubt that any business revival would require hefty investment. But exactly what long-term growth opportunities HTC believes it can capture is questionable, given how fiercely competitive the smartphone market continues to be (with Chinese OEMs making what running there is in a shrinking global market); and how the VR market — which HTC bet big on in 2015, with Vive and Valve, to try to diversify beyond mobile — has hardly turned out to be the next major computing paradigm. Not yet anyway.

So the emphasis really is on the “long-term” earning potential of VR — say five or even ten years hence.

HTC flags the launch of its VIVE Focus standalone VR system in China — which it last week said it would also be bringing to the UK and other global markets later this year — and the launch of a VIVE Pro premium PC VR system in January, which it was showing off at CES, as examples of focused product innovation in the VR space.

Following a strategic business review aimed at optimizing its teams and processes — both for smartphones and VR — it also says it now has “a series of measures in place to enable stronger execution”, and is touting fresh innovations coming across its markets this year.

But HTC is going to need a whole lot more than squeezable gimmicks and shiny finishes to lift out of these doldrums.

Baidu and Xiaomi are working together on internet of things and artificial intelligence

 Baidu, China’s answer to Google, and Xiaomi, which has modeled itself on the success of the America’s most successful technology manufacturer in Apple, have announced a strategic partnership to tackle two emerging technologies, internet of things and artificial intelligence. Announced today at Xiaomi’s first developer conference in Beijing, the alliance is a marriage between… Read More