Qualcomm unveils 5 new audio products for IoT and Smart Home

Smart home technology is shaping up to be the next big thing in consumer electronics, and this trend is requiring not only new solutions from product designers, but also from chip and component manufacturers. To meet the new demands of today’s smart speakers, wireless headphones, and new interfaces like USB Type-C, Qualcomm’s Voice and Music division has just unveiled a range of new audio related products at a developer conference in Shenzhen, China.

The new product announcements include a high-end flash chip for wireless speakers and headphones, called the CSRA68100, along with a new range of Bluetooth SoCs for entry and mid-tier products, which will fall under the QCC3XXX family. For new wired connections, Qualcomm is catering to the growth in USB Type-C devices with its new WHS9420 and WHS9410 SoCs, and there’s a new DDFA class-D amplifier for more powerful speaker setups. Qualcomm also unveiled its smart audio platform, which is based on existing Snapdragon technologies, designed to provide the additional processing power demanded by today’s smart home speakers.

See also: Why you won’t be using Bluetooth 5 on your Galaxy S8 just yet – Gary explains

Bluetooth headphones and speakers

Taking a closer look at Qualcomm’s latest wireless speaker and headphone chips, the new CSRA68100 and the entry-level QCC3XXX familiy both come supporting Bluetooth 5.0, ensuring standard compatibility with the latest wireless products and upcoming smartphone software releases. Qualcomm also says that it’s keeping an eye on the upcoming 5.1 specification, which will have some more interesting implications for the way that Bluetooth support audio. Importantly, the full product range supports Qualcomm’s aptX codec, so audio quality will be the same even if you’re using a compatible device based on an older Bluetooth standard.

The high-end CSRA68100 boasts a 24-bit 192 kHz codec with both inputs and outputs, enabling support for voice controls. The codec can deliver just under 1 watt of power, making it suitable for in-ear headphones, or can be paired up with an external amplifier to drive more power hungry loads. The chip also includes dual 32-bit DSPs, capable of performing processing on incoming and outgoing audio channels. These DSPs are OEM programmable, allowing them to implement their own processing algorithms or use Qualcomm’s own solutions, which supports features including voice controls, far-field echo cancellation, sensor processing, and other audio post processing needs. In terms of performance, Qualcomm says that the chip’s DSP capabilities are now four times greater than its predecessor, the CSR8675.

The high end CSRA68100 boasts 24-bit 192kHz audio, DSP, NFC, Bluetooth Low Energy, battery charging, and UI interface capabilities in a single chip package.

The high-end chip also include NFC support for quick pairing with other wireless devices, support for regular Bluetooth and Low Energy profiles, a LED driver section and capacitive touch controller to support UI elements, and integrated power management features. Qualcomm sees Bluetooth headphones as a particularly quick growing market opportunity, and this chip certainly packs in high-end features that OEMs and consumers are after.

The entry-level QCC3XXX doesn’t feature all of these top-end capabilities, but is designed to bring previous high-end features to lower cost devices and enable more OEM differentiation in budget oriented products. The range consists of eight SoCs, three designed for Bluetooth speakers and five for various headset applications. All of these chips support Qualcomm’s aptX wireless codec, Bluetooth 5.0, ambient noise cancellation, and Qualcomm’s TrueWireless technology.

“Hearables users also want all-day performance and battery life from their earbuds and personal assistants. In Q1 2018 we aim to launch a new family of low-power Bluetooth audio SoCs which are highly optimized for intended use in compact, feature rich devices.” – Anthony Murray, senior vice president Qualcomm Voice and Music

USB Type-C

Although wireless is probably capturing more immediate marketing attention, we’ve also seen a growth in the number of devices, particularly smartphones, that are now offering audio over USB Type-C. Sometimes at the expense of the common 3.5mm audio jack. Qualcomm’s new WHS9420 and 9410 SoCs are designed to cater to headphones and other USB Type-C connected devices that will take audio inputs from smartphones.

The WHS9420 is the higher-end option, integrating ambient noise cancellation alongside support for 24-bit 192 kHz audio files via Qualcomm’s top-tier DAC output. Again, this chip can be paired up with additional amplifier components, such as Qualcomm’s new DDFA chip which we’ll discuss next, to drive more powerful speakers. The WHS9421 lacks the advanced noise cancelling features, but retains support for high resolution audio files, making it a more cost effective option.

Related: Bluetooth audio just got a lot better with Android O

DDFA Class-D amplifier

In order to scale up its technology to larger products, Qualcomm has also unveiled details about its latest Direct Digital Feedback Amplifier (DDFA). The power efficient class-D design and patented closed loop architecture should offer performance that’s closer to linear amplifier designs, making it an interesting proposition for high-end products.

By opting for a low power class-D design, rather than AB, and allowing OEMs to configure output transistors for various power points Qualcomm is targeting its technology across a greater range of products. This can include portable speakers, through to home cinema soundbars, and potentially even high-end headphones. In the future, Qualcomm plans to offer a DDFA option with up to 20W of output power straight from the chip too.

Qualcomm’s next generation DDFA will be available on its CSRA6620 SoC first. Audiophiles interested in some specifications will likely be pleased by an SNR and dynamic range at 113db, THD+N at <0.002%, and a residual noise of 35μVrms@ 1Khz. The SoC also supports 384 kHz audio and DSD 64/128 inputs.

Smart Home

Perhaps the biggest trend emerging over the past year has been the snappy adoption of smart home speakers, such as Amazon’s Echo range and the Google Home hub. We’re sure to see a growing number of these products on the market going forward, and Qualcomm’s new Smart Audio Platform may end up powering a number of them. The platform support both Linux and Android Things operating systems.

The Smart Audio Platform is designed to facilitate speedier development and commercialization of these systems, and is based on Qualcomm’s existing Snapdragon 425 (APQ8017) and Snapdragon 212 (APQ8009) mobile platforms. Of course, these designs have been optimized for audio use in this instance, cutting out the integrated modem and camera capabilities, and reducing the display and GPU silicon footprint. But this platform retains important Bluetooth and WiFi capabilities, as well as additional processing power.

The combination of a quad-core CPU, DSP, and Always-Aware capabilities makes Qualcomm’s Smart Audio Platform well suited to virtual assistant speaker products.

By offering developers a platform with more powerful quad-core Cortex-A53 or A7 CPU choices, combined with the company’s Hexagon DSP capabilities and optional All-Ways Aware technology, this platform is able to do more than your typical audio SoC. The platform can run a wide range of applications and the software stack will be much more configurable, allowing OEMs greater differentiation. Voice recognition, 32-bit 192kHz music streaming, VoIP, running smart voice assistants, and even voice biometric capabilities are possible with this extra processing power.

On top of the advanced processing capabilities, Qualcomm’s Smart Audio platform offers noise cancellation, support for the growing portfolio of AllPlay equipped speakers , 24-but aptX HD wireless audio, and other proprietary features. There’s support for displays, touch controls, and configurable speaker output power too.

In the future, Qualcomm envisions that developments being made in the mobile space regarding machine learning and heterogeneous compute, as seen on its top-tier Snapdragon 8XX platforms, could make its way to its smart speaker and home platforms too. Machine learning being a particularly useful tool for voice recognition and speaker identification.

Wrap Up

Qualcomm is already a big name in the smartphone market, but these announcements show the company is equally as committed to supporting emerging trends in the audio and smart home markets too. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see how OEMs leverage these technologies to create interesting new products for us consumers.

Qualcomm expects that its early partners may announce products making use of these new technologies as early ass Q1 2018. However, most products will be targeting the holiday season next year, so might not appear until Q3 or Q4 2018. The Smart Audio Platform is expected to be available in Q3 2017.

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The 15 greatest NES games of all time

best NES games

Video game systems have certainly come a very long way, with modern graphics, online multiplayer, and tons of other functions that gamers of the 70s, 80s, and 90s couldn’t have even imagined would be possible. Still, it’s always fun to take a look back, and it’s hard to forget the NES.

While Pong was technically the first push to accelerate video games to the state we have today, the Nintendo Entertainment System helped define what a home console could be, and was one of the most definitive pieces of hardware of all time. The console’s controller shaped the evolution of the gamepad for decades to come, and it’s hard not to love everything about the box-shaped masterpiece.

See also: How to make your own Nintendo Classic clone

These days, retro seems to be very in, with devices like the Nintendo Classic giving folks a healthy dose of nostalgia — if they can get their hands on it. If you’re up to take this trip down memory lane with us, strap in. It’s going to be a lovely ride. These are the 15 best NES games of all time.


Super Mario Bros. 2

While Super Mario Bros. 2 was not the first Mario game to be released on Nintendo’s definitive console, it is certainly one of the most memorable. The second iteration of the popular franchise allowed players to switch between four different playable characters, each with special strengths and weaknesses. The colors and themes introduced in the title are some of the most definitive of Mario as a brand, and its hard to give an opinion on the series if you have not spent some quality time with this title.

Interestingly, Super Mario Bros. 2 was not initially meant to be a Mario game at all.

Development started around a 2-play co-operative side scroller, which was rebranded to tie in with the Fuji Media Technology Expo. The characters and enemies in the game were meant to be representative of that event. After the regular Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan was found to be too difficult after extensive play testing, Nintendo converted the side scroller into Super Mario Bros. 2 for release outside of Japan, and the Japanese version became known as Super Mario Bros. 2: The Lost Levels around the world.

Learn more about this classic!


The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda series has evolved a lot over the years, and even recently took a massive leap forward with Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But at the core, it’s always been an epic adventure game with a simple premise: save the princess and defeat Ganon (with a few exceptions). Part open-world, part guided adventure, The Legend of Zelda set a trend for how the series would evolve over the next couple of decades. The system of finding dungeons across the land and scavenging them for the next big weapon has persisted throughout most of the series, and has become its own sort of genre as well.

The game was released in Japan as Hyrule Fantasy: The Legend of Zelda 1, but was just labeled as The Legend of Zelda in other parts of the world. Due to its legendary status and overwhelming popularity, the game has been officially ported to both Game Boy Advance and Gamecube, and is also available on virtual console on Wii, Wii U, and 3DS.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS CLASSIC!


Metroid

Metroid is a side-scrolling adventure game that is based around re-claiming the parasitic aliens called Metroids from space pirates. The game is technically a side-scroller similar to Super Mario Bros., but allows you to go back and find special rooms that enable power ups for the main character, Samus Aaron. This gameplay mechanic is one of the first examples of physical progression with power-ups, which lets you access certain areas of the game after you gain certain abilities. At the start of the title you can only use your power beam and jump, but later on you are able to do things like use rockets  and get special armor that allow access to new places. These mechanics have persisted throughout the history of the series, and have become beloved by many gamers over the years.

The series has become one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises over the years, and the original game has been ported to Game Boy Advance as well as the Nintendo Wii virtual console. The game was also one of the first to introduce alternative endings based on the speed of completion, making it extremely popular among speed-runners. The player only finds out that the protagonist is a female if they complete it within 5 hours, leading to one of the first female protagonists in video games.


Excite Bike

Excite Bike is one of the first racing games available to consumers, though it did not utilize the now popular ‘Kart Racing’ style that we all know and love today. The game was one of the 18 launch titles available for the NES, and utilized a number of interesting mechanics like overheating to keep players from continuously holding down the gas.

While this game is mostly based around speed and beating your previous best time, it is greatly beloved by players around the world. It helped to define the racing game genre, and introduced mechanics like tricks to gain points. It was released on the Nintendo e-shop in 2011, and had a playable demo in Super Smash Bros: Brawl.


Kirby’s Adventure

Kirby’s Adventure was not the first Kirby game ever created, but it was one of the most influential. The game introduced the sucking mechanic that would eventually become a crucial part of the character’s persona, and gave players special abilities based on what the player decided to suck up. The title used a multi-directional platforming for level design, which has persisted throughout almost all Kirby games to date.

The game was released just two years before the NES was discontinued, but it quickly became a classic and one of the most recognizable games on the system. The title received critical acclaim across the industry, and is known as one of the best in the series. The game also introduced the antagonist of Meta Knight, which has persisted throughout the series and also made appearances in games like the Super Smash Bros. series.


Super Mario Bros.

It’s impossible to make a list of the best NES games without mentioning the original Super Mario Bros. The game started a franchise that would quickly become one of the most recognized of all time, and spawned more spin-offs than almost any other franchise ever. It helped introduce the side scrolling platformer, and restricted the player from moving backwards in the game to promote a high-strung “in the moment” style. The game also introduced the gameplay style of moving around worlds and zones to play different levels with different terrain and enemies, which would follow the series throughout history.

While the game was technically a sequel to the original “Mario Bros.” arcade title, it is known as the spiritual original, and set high expectations for the future of the series. The title allowed the player to play as Mario’s brother Luigi for multi-player turned based play, which utilized both controllers on the NES to set a precedent for “Player 2” gaming in the future.


Balloon Fight

While this game is not exactly the deepest in terms of lore and plot, it’s arguably one of the most fun multiplayer games on the console. Balloon Fight is all about landing on your enemy while flapping your arms to rise around the stage, and has 2 different modes for the user to choose from. The main 1/2 player game mode is the primary meat of the title, tasking 1 to 2 players to knock out all the various balloon fighters on the stage. The second game mode is called ‘Balloon Trip’, which quickly whisks the players across the stage while avoiding obstacles and collecting more balloons.

Some of the most memorable moments I have are my sister and I playing this game at my grandparent’s house, and it is definitely optimized as a party game. It was re-released via the Gameboy Advance e-reader in 2002, and has been beloved ever since.


Super Mario Bros. 3

Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced a number of new abilities that made Mario even more fun such as the Tanooki suit. This, among a huge amount of other changes, made the game stand out and was easily the most advanced among all the Mario games on the NES. The title is widely known as one of the greatest games of all time, and helped spread the popularity of Mario far and wide.

The popularity of the title was so vast that it spawned a TV show titled The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3. as well as a swift sequel just 2 years later. This game also introduced Princess Toadstool as the main “damsel in distress” in the series instead of Princess Peach, and spread the game across 7 different worlds. It became the third best selling NES game of all time, and was ported to Game Boy Advance as well as virtual console on the Wii, Wii U, and 3DS.


Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Zelda II is a direct successor to the original title, yet it introduced a huge number of gameplay changes that the original title did not have. The game used side-scrolling gameplay which departed from the consistent overhead view from The Legend of Zelda, and also introduced a very different fighting system similar to Castlevania.

Unlike the original game, Zelda II also introduced the Magic Meter and experience points, which added a sort of strategic gameplay element to the title. Link uses his experience points to increase his magic meter and available life force, which helps to advance through the game after a bit of grinding. Many of the gameplay elements in this title were never carried forward though other Zelda games in the series, but rather defined Zelda II as a unique experience altogether.


Castlevania

Castlevania is one of the first games on the NES to be modeled after real-life folklore. In the title, the player plays as Simon Belmont, who wields a magic whip to destroy the vampire Dracula. The gamelay utilizes the side-scrolling style and is divided into six stages of three levels each. The game spurred an entire line of games that have come after it, but is known as one of the most definitive. It was so popular that Super Caslevania IV for the Super NES is modeled after the original title.

Many titles have come after the original, but none had the same appeal as the first. The title is known as one of the best NES titles ever released, and has attracted some die-hard fans over the years.


Mega Man

Mega Man is a platforming title that tasks the player to move forward in order to destroy the six evil robot warriors and Dr. Wily who controls them. Each time the player destroys one of these main 6 robot warriors he is able to take their signature attack and use it throughout the rest of the game. Because of this, the player has all the different skills from the different bosses by the end of the game, which adds a very progressive element to the game.

The game was not a commercial success, but has been critically acclaimed around the world. Much of the commercial failure has been said to be attributed to poor marketing in North America, though its sequels have found much more success than the original.


Contra

Contra is one of the first “run and gun” titles released for the NES, and it is also known as one of the best. Up to 2 players can play the game at the same time, running though the jungle with large guns and shooting down enemies. The title employs a number of different perspectives in order to tell the story, which was very different for game of that time.

The game felt a lot more like a multi-player arcade game than a console title, since it focused on action and excitement over story. It spurred a number of sequels that aimed to emulate the original feel, but the first Contra title is known as one of the all-time best in the series. The game is also known as being extremely difficult, and was rated by IGN as the most difficult game to complete of all time.


Tetris

You can’t really make an NES Best-list without Tetris. The game was one of the first never-ending puzzle titles to be released on the platform, and was also the first game to be exported from the USSR to the United States. Because of it’s simplistic gameplay and versatility, the game has made its way to almost every computing platform ever created, and has become the standard for endless puzzle titles. Thousands of variations of the game have been produced over the years, with each acting slightly different from the next.

The score of the original title is known as one of the best video game scores of all time, being reprised in a variety of different games, concerts, and movies. At the time of writing, there are three different Tetris movies in production, which will likely make their debut sometime in 2017. The spread of the title is nearly endless, and you’ll find it difficult to find someone who hasn’t heard of the series.


Punch-Out!!

Punch-Out!! is a boxing game released in America as Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! It was the first title to introduce Little Mac to the world of Nintendo, who inspired the same character in Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U. While the title may not be the most realistic in terms of boxing fundamentals, Nintendo opted to focus on arcade-style fun.

The game was originally an arcade game which was ported to the NES, though it had to be rebuilt quite a bit in order to work for the play style of the new system. In the original version, the player is wire-framed in order to see the enemy on the flat screen, but the NES port opted to make the main character quite short as to add depth and allow the enemy to be seen more easily. It is often referred to as one of the greatest NES games of all time, and is playable through the NES port in Animal Crossing.


Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy is a title that grew so popular it spawned sequel upon sequel. Now up to 15 at the time of writing, the original Final Fantasy is known as one of the most influential in the series. The game played out as a sort of open world title which uses turn-based gameplay to move the player through the story. There are a variety of different transportation methods used in the game, which was quite different for titles at that time.

The title is based on a class system of which the player can select four to use throughout the duration of the title. Because of this mechanic, the game will play out differently each time is is played, adding quite a lot of variety and replay value. It is one of the most popular titles sold for the NES, and sold 700,000 copies in the US alone. Spin offs and mobile games have all spawned from the series, making it one of Square Enix’s most popular series.


While we obviously couldn’t include every game in our best NES games list, we tried to represent the best of the best. Do you think there are any titles that would fit better in this list? Let us know in the comments below.

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Everyday carry – 6 EDC essentials you’ll want to get

We all know that guy or gal, the one that is always asking “where are my ****ing keys??”, “where’s my wallet?”, and so forth. Maybe you are one of those people, in fact. Or maybe you’re the kind of person who is totally addicted to your mobile device and going without it due to low power just isn’t an option. Find yourself stuck in the dark without a light in sight? Yah, been there.

Whatever your situation, life can throw us through the ringer, and every day it’s important to be prepared. The good news is it is 2017 and there are plenty of epic products out there that can make our lives that little bit easier. With that in mind, let’s take a look at just a few everyday carry essentials we absolutely recommend checking out.


A Bluetooth Tracker

everyday carry

If you’re like me, you probably lose things. A lot. Fortunately, we have Bluetooth, which can work with smartphones to do some pretty amazing things. If you throw a tag on some of your stuff, you’ll be able to keep your things linked to the Bluetooth on your phone, which can send location data as long as you’re still connected. In addition, many of these tags are able to talk to each other, so if you live in a city with a lot of them, you should find it pretty easy to find all your lost things.

Of all the options on the market we’d recommend Tile and Trackr, both which offer some robust features in a compact form factor.

Tile on AmazonTrackr on Amazon


Portable Power

We’ve all been there. You’re using Google Maps, trying to get home, and then suddenly, your phone dies. You have no idea where you are, you can’t call anyone, and you can’t even hair an Uber or Lyft. Portable battery power solves that problem by giving you the extra juice when you need it. These packs come in all shapes and sizes nowadays, so they’re easy to store almost anywhere. Heck, they make battery packs that are so slim they can fit in your wallet. How cool is that?

Our friends at Android Authority have gone ahead and kept an updated list of all the best battery banks on the market, so make sure you go and check them out. You won’t be disappointed.


Keychain USB Cable

everyday carry

Sure, now you’re all prepared with your fancy portable power pack, but one problem remains: how are you going to charge your phone? Most power banks come with standard cables which are incredibly easy to lose, and it would be much better if you could have a power cable that you could keep on your person at all times. That’s where keychain USB cables come in. They hook right into the things you bring with you every single day, so you’ll never have to worry about not having them available.

There are quite a few options on the market, but we think the coolest one is the Native Union Key Cable. This cable mixes functionality and style in a way we haven’t seen from very many other options on the market, and your friends and cat will absolutely love it.


Compact Charging Brick

everyday carry

Sometimes we simply run out of power, there’s no avoiding it. When your phone has run dry and your battery bank has dripped the last drop of juice, what do you do? To be truely prepared, you should carry your own charging bring. Now we know what you’re thinking. These things are generally big, bulky, and extremely awkwardly shaped. However, they really don’t have to be. With today’s rapidly evolving market, there are a number of options available that are portable enough to go where you are.

Personally, we recommend the Native Union 2-Port USB smart charger. They’re not paying us to say this, but this product is pretty darn nifty. The brick is slim and compact, and allows you to charge any device over USB power from your wall. That’s pretty darn cool. Check them out in the link below.


Credit Card Flashlight

We can’t always see in the dark, and for these instances, it’s good to be prepared. Flashlights have managed to get thinner and thinner, and now, there are flashlights that are so thin they can fit in your wallet.

While there are quite a few of these on the market, the Ninja Light credit-card flashlight is one of our top options. It can fit compactly and robustly into your wallet, and is rated to be more than four times brighter than many smart phone flashes. This is sure to get you out of some sticky situations when you need it most, and at only $ 6.99 at the time of writing, it’s a fantastic option for those looking for some everyday carry on the cheap.


Bluetooth Headphones

When you’re on the go all the time, it’s important to be prepared, and often times being prepared means being able to sit through long periods of dullness. Whether it be on the bus, train, or doctors office, it’s always nice to be able to boot up your favorite podcast and keep yourself entertained.

So what are the best Bluetooth headphones? Lucky for you our friends over at Sound Guys have take the time to review all the best options on the market, and have compiled a killer list for you to check out. Whether they’re super affordable or audiophile-grade, there’s a pair out there for you.


Are there any crucial tech EDC items that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!

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Best Smart Lights and Bulbs – The Future is Bright

smart bulbsExpertReviews.co.uk

Arguably, the easiest entry into making your home “smart” is by way of smart lighting. As opposed to something like smart locks, thermostats, mesh Wifi networks, etc. – smart lighting is relatively plug and play, and doesn’t require a lot of technical know-how in order to get up and running.

Regardless of how easy it is to get going, it’s still one of the most impressive things to people who aren’t familiar with smart home tech, and it also adds a level of convenience to your home-living experience. So if you’re ready to get started with your smart home, or add on to your existing platform, check out our list of the best smart lights below!

GE C-Life

GE C-Life - Best Smart Lights

If you’re an absolute smart home beginner, with no other hubs or accessories that you’re worried about trying to tie together, GE’s offering is a good place to start. The “C” lineup from GE consists of Bluetooth-connected bulbs that provide a range of temperature to suit your needs. Currently, this lineup consists of two bulbs – C-Life and C-Sleep. The difference being that C-Sleep allows you to adjust color temperatures in addition to brightness. These bulbs are a great budget buy, but you will notice that they aren’t as feature heavy as what you will find from others in this space.

The main downfall to these lights is that there is no voice control at the moment. GE has indicated that voice control will be available soon via their own proprietary bridge (additional hardware) but you won’t be tying these into Google Home, Apple HomeKit or Amazon Echo.

For the price of only $ 48 (at the time of this writing), it’s hard to beat what you can get. The starter kit comes with two C-Life bulbs, and two C-Sleep bulbs. As GE suggests, the C-Sleep bulbs will go in your bedroom and can automatically adjust lighting conditions based on your sleep routine. So, for instance, with a bit of configuring, your C-Sleep bulbs will automatically turn on, and gradually brighten and change color temperature to encourage you to get your day started. And at night, they’ll do they opposite to help you wind down. Granted this functionality can be achieved in other bulbs on the market, this is pretty cool trick for a bulb that is so affordable.


Ikea Tradfri

Ikea Tradfri - Best Smart Lights

Speaking of budget buys, the Ikea Tradfri starter kit is another cost efficient entryway into smart lighting set ups. This starter kit is pretty comparable to what you would find with a Phillips Hue starter kit, minus the ability to introduce other colors into your home’s lighting. Currently, the Tradfri lineup only provides white light. Similar to what Phillips has to offer, the Tradfri starter kit comes with Ikea’s proprietary hub, called the Gateway, two E26 bulbs, and a magnetic remote control.

With the Tradfri starter kit you will find a familiar experience to what you’d get with other competing systems. With the Gateway and and Ikea Tradfri app set up, and with your bulbs paired, you can turn your lights on and off, dim them, and change the color temperature of the white light. Additionally, you can set various routines and moods to really customize your experience from your smartphone. The one immediate downside to the Ikea Tradfri smart light set up is that it does not currently work with Amazon Echo or Google Home. However, Ikea has announced that this feature is coming soon, so now might be a good time to get in. Another key downfall is that you cannot control your lighting unless you are on the same WiFi network.

At the end of the day, the real draw to Tradfri ecosystem is the sheer affordability. Adding on to your system is quite cheap considering each bulb is only around $ 18. With that said, you could outfit your entire home (within the limitations of the Gateway) for not a lot of money. As for the starter kit? It’ll set you back just $ 80.


Ilumi

Ilumi - Best Smart Lights

Next up is something that’s a little more on the pricier side of the spectrum. Ilumi has been around for a few years now, but they’re still a solid choice in the smart light space. The first thing you’ll notice right of the bat is “whoa, those are expensive.” But, the question is – the price justifiable? The short answer is… kinda. An upsell for the Ilumi is that you don’t need anything other than your phone and the bulbs to get the job done. No bridges, gateways, hubs, etc. are required in order for you to control the lights with your phone. That’s because everything is handled via Bluetooth – similar to how Ikea is handling the Tradfri system.

In addition to not needing any sort of hub, the Ilumi system also offers a range of neat features that somewhat helps to justify that price tag. Granted these features aren’t always the most reliable, and some even just a little gimmicky. For instance, if you want to sync your Ilumi bulbs up with some music and have them pulse to the rhythm, you can do that. But, don’t expect too much from it. You can also have the lights triggered by proximity. So, if you wake up in the middle of the night and need to make quick trip to the john, your hallway Ilumi bulb could reveal the way. The catch is that you need to have your phone with you for the bulbs to recognize you’re nearby.

Overall, it comes down to preference here. If you don’t want yet another accessory like a hub sitting on your countertop or in your living room, and if you prefer the ease of using Bluetooth to control the lights, this might be a good option for you. At $ 50 per bulb, however, there’s a lot of more affordable options available these days.


LIFX

LIFX- Best Smart Lights ExpertReviews.co.uk

Keeping with the more expensive theme, LIFX is another smart bulb ecosystem that has been around for some time now. In fact, LIFX has been around since the infant stages of the smart home tech boom, with crowdfunding campaigns dating back to 2013. The offering here is pretty standard as far as what you can do with the bulbs, but a big selling point is the quality of these bulbs. The LIFX bulbs have a superior build quality to that of other competitors. Outside of that, many people will claim a much more accurate color representation from these bulbs, as well as a more bright light. In fact, the LIFX A19 bulb is rated at 1100 lumens, compared to the Phillips A19 at only 800 lumens. So, if you’re looking for the best of the best in terms of quality, and aren’t too concerned with money, this might be a good buy for you.

Like other smart lights, the LIFX system is WiFi enabled. And, even though it can be paired up with Amazon Echo and a whole host of other smart devices (including the Nest Thermostat and Samsung SmartThings,) you aren’t required to use any sort of hub to control your lights via WiFi. If you’re looking for something more than just your traditional color palette, bright white lights, dimming, etc. – LIFX has a couple of other goodies available.

The LIFX + A19 Night Vision emits950 nanometer infrared light. Basically, if you have any night vision security cameras in your house, this will help the cameras see better. In addition to that, LIFX offers an LED light strip that can be configured to create custom scenes by setting the color for various “zones” along the light strip.

Overall, at nearly $ 50 for a standard white-only bulb, it’s hard to recommend this for the price. However, if money is no object, this is certainly one of the better options on the market today.


Misfit Bolt

Misfit Bolt - Best Smart Lights

The Misfit Bolt is another option that offers a reasonable amount of quality for a not too expensive of price, at around $ 25 a bulb. Now, before we get to far, it’s worth noting that this bulb is no longer sold directly by Misfit. So, proceed knowing that if you purchase this bulb, there isn’t going to be a ton of support for the lineup moving forward. But, if you’re just interested in dipping your toes into the smart light world, this may be a good place to start.

As for the quality of the bulb, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at color accuracy you can achieve here. If you’re in to setting specific atmospheric moods in your rooms, these bulbs are going to be the way to go. However, if you’re into brightness more so than color, you may want to look elsewhere. The Misfit Bolt can put out great colors, but the brightness is one department in which it’s lacking. Compared to the standard A19 Phillips bulb which puts out 800 lumens (and the LIFX A19 bulb at 1100 lumens,) the Misfit defaults to 600 lumens. If you feel like pulling your phone out and opening the app, you can crank up the brightness to a max of 800 lumens.

Speaking of pulling your phone out of your pocket, you won’t find any smart hub integrations here. So no voice commands with Google Home or Amazon Echo. Like I said before, if you’re looking for a budget bulb that can still do a pretty decent job, give this one a shot. But, be warned, this doesn’t seem like a product the original manufacturer has much of a vested interest in at this time. For those that own a Misfit fitness tracker, it is worth noting you can control these bulbs with it, which is a nice little extra.


Philips Hue

Philips Hue - Best Smart Lights

Last, but not least, we find ourselves at the most popular of the group, Philips Hue. Philips has been the most recognizable brand in this space for a long time, and for many, it’s the default starting point for their smart light ecosystem. Outside of the sheer branding power of Philips the company, and the money they’re able to spend on marketing, there are a couple of reasons Hue has risen to the top of the smart light game. To begin with, they have a HUGE offering. Besides your standard A19 bulb (what you would find in most light fixtures and lamps,) you can find bulbs of all shapes and sizes. This includes desktop lamps, flush mount lights, candelabras, and more.

With such a wide variety of bulbs, you have options in what you choose to have in your home. For instance, there are straight-up white bulbs that can only be dimmed and turned on and off. There are white ambiance bulbs of which you can adjust the specific color temperature as well as dim. And finally, there are fully color adjustable bulbs of which you can adjust brightness, colors, and temperature. So you can see how you might choose a custom assortment of bulbs depending on the needs in your house.

The Philips system works off of the Philips Hue Bridge. Basically, each of your lights will connect to the bridge and this is where all of your commands are processed. The one major advantage to this is that you can send commands to the bridge from anywhere at any time. This comes in handy when you’re out of town, but you want to make it seem like you aren’t. Philips Hue also works with the major smart home “managers” such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomeKit. So that means voice commands are most certainly in the wheelhouse.

The easiest place to get started with Hue is with the A19 starter kit ($ 69.99) which includes two A19 bulbs and the Bridge. However, if you want to dive straight into the good stuff, Philips offers starter kits of similar stature costing as much as $ 200.


When it comes to smart light systems, you can see that there is a lot of parity in the features that each lineup offers. It really comes down to a couple of factors: price, WiFi vs. Bluetooth, and general compatibility. Once you determine how much you’re willing to spend, how you would like to be able to control your lights, and what existing systems (Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomeKit) you want easy integration with, you can quickly narrow down which smart lights are for you.

Which of these, if any, smart lights are you currently using? Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below

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Here are the best Nintendo Switch accessories

While the Nintendo Wii U never quite resonated with the public to the same degree that its predecessor, the Wii, did — the good news for Nintendo is that the Switch has already proven itself to be a pretty hotly anticipated piece of tech, largely thanks to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and slightly later releases like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

What makes the Nintendo Switch so appealing is its extraordinary versatility, with the system easily turning from a portable to a home console, and then back again. If you haven’t picked up a Nintendo Switch yet, you should strongly consider it. If you have, you might be looking to pimp it out with some cool accessories. To help with that endeavor, we’ve created a roundup of the best accessories you can buy for the Switch!

Joy-Con Pair

Our first pick is a pair of Joy-Con’s, the Nintendo Switch’s main controllers. Each pair allows for up to two more players to join the fun. They can alternatively be connected to a Joy-Con Grip to become a larger, more comfortable controller. Each Joy-Con comes with an adjustable strap to ensure that you do not accidentally throw it across the room. The Joy-Con Pair comes in five colors: Grey, Neon Yellow, Neon Red, Neon Blue, and Neon Red & Blue.

Joy-Con Wheel

The Joy-Con Wheel provides the best experience for playing racing games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Just snap a Joy-Con controller into the wheel, and get ready to crush your competitors. Each box comes with two wheels which have markings on them to show how the Joy-Con controller is inserted. Nintendo only sells them in Grey, but other manufacturers have released other colours. Race on!

Nintendo Switch Pro Controller

This one is for the people who want to level up their gaming experience. It comes with all the same buttons as the Joy-Con controllers, but is laid out in a way that makes the controller more manageable to hold comfortably. And yes, it’s pretty clear the design is inspired by Microsoft’s Xbox controller, but that’s not a bad thing!

In addition, the Pro Controller comes with built-in Amiibo support: just touch the base of your character to the the Nintendo Switch logo, and the controller will recognize it. The controller is charged via USB-C, and it comes with a USB-C to USB-A cable. The controller comes in a slightly transparent grey color that allows you to see part of the internals.

Joy-Con Charging Grip

Play for longer with the Joy-Con Charging Grip. Just slip a pair of Joy-Con’s and your gaming session will get extended so you can crush the next boss battle without worry. The charging grip also makes the Joy-Con’s more comfortable to hold by providing the same side grips that come on the regular Joy-Con Grip. Like the Pro Controller, this one comes with a USB-C to USB-A charging cable to keep your controllers and Charging Grip charged for your next outing.

Nintendo Switch LAN adapter

Perfect for unreliable Wi-Fi connections, or just for those who want to ensure that their Switch has a strong and stable connection, this adapter is a simple way to connect an ethernet cable to their Switch. Plug in the USB-A end of the adapter to your Switch Dock, and an ethernet cable into the other end, and enjoy a fast connection for online multiplayer.

Orzly Screen Protector

Rest assured that your Switch’s display is safe from accidental contact with sharp objects with this tempered glass screen protector. If you are concerned about decreased touch responsiveness, worry not, because at only 0.24mm thin, there will be no decrease in touch responsiveness! Orzly wanted to ensure maximum safety, so they rounded the corners of the screen protector to avoid any sort of injury from sharp corners. Each pack comes with two screen protectors: bonus!

USB Type-C battery packs

While the Nintendo Switch makes for a pretty compelling portable device for those long flights, bus rides, or wherever your modern life takes you — the battery life  provided by the 4,310 mAh battery isn’t exactly wonderful. Depending on the game, you’ll typically get between 3 to 5 hours of battery life on a full charge. That’s pretty not-so-awesome but the good news is that a standard USB Type-C power bank will allow you to extend you game. Depending the size of the power bank you use, you could end up doubling or even tripling your total battery life with this simple accessory.

For a full list of recommended USB Type-C battery chargers, you’ll want to head on over to our sibling site, Android Authority.

Memory cards

Historically Nintendo hasn’t been very good when it comes to storage space, and unfortunately things continue the same with the Nintendo Switch. With only 32GB NAND memory, things might be speedy, but there’s only so much space. For those who like the idea of storing all their files locally, you’ll find that you’re completely out of space in no time. Good news though, there’s a microSD slot.

With that in mind, head on over to Android Authority for a list of the best microSD cards you can buy right now.


And there you have it, our roundup of the best accessories for you Nintendo Switch! We want to hear from you if we left out any great accessories that you have for you Switch, so make sure to drop us a comment below with your thoughts!

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