Gadgets & Smart Home Reviews

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Sonos wouldn't like it, but you could call its new smart speaker an "Echo." A high-end, very nice-sounding, but flawed Amazon Echo -- the kind someone who just got a promotion might buy themselves, because unlike the $US50 Dot or new $US100 Echo, this speaker will set you back $299.

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It feels like we're leaving the world of set-top boxes as we know them behind. For one, few people own a TV big enough that you could actually put a box on top of it -- that's been true for a long time. The box itself has also dwindled down to a dongle, a handy little thing that disappears behind the screen. These HDMI sticks have been a bit weak in the past, serving as a convenient but compromised alternative to a larger piece of hardware. The Roku Streaming Stick+, with its ability to handle 4K and HDR, changes all that.

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It's almost unfair that most of the world met our voice-controlled future in the form of an Amazon Echo. Sure, the gadget works, but damn is it ugly. The Google Home was better but still sort of silly-looking. That's why the sleek, minimalist Google Home Mini feels like a revelation.

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Here's a bold statement: Beats headphones have gotten better since Apple bought the company. They're still kind of a trick, fuelled by premium marketing from the tech company that invented premium marketing. The new Beats Studio3 Wireless headphones are no different. They're better! But they're still Beats.

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I would not want to be a dedicated Apple TV user and an obsessive TV consumer. In the years since its release, the little black box by Apple has often lagged behind competitors, seemingly forgotten by Apple in favour of phones, computers, and even watches. And the Apple TV's status as the "other" on Apple's list of sales feels evident when you notice how late to the 4K party it is. Fortunately for Apple fans, the Apple TV 4K is so polished it almost feels like it was worth the wait.

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Huge, detailed, brightly coloured images flickered across the screen, illuminating the whole room like the lights off one of those laser light disco balls at the skating rink. My brother's eyes bulged. "It's too much," he gasped as I scrambled for the remote just to pause the vivid assault on our eyeballs. He'd just come over to help me set up the enormous 65-inch Q9 television from Samsung, and after adding on the feet -- which required laying it across my entire bed, and then wrestling it onto the stand (it weighs over 27kg), we sat down to watch one of my favourite test shows Sense8.

The show is great for testing TVs because it's bright and colourful with a wide array of skin tones that can end up looking orange or muddy on a cheaper TV. I wanted to know if a super expensive set like the Q9 was ever worth it when it's totally possible to get great TVs for $1500 or less. As soon as I hit play I had my answer -- a pricey TV can be a real game changer.

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Electric personal transporters are mostly horrible. Segways are reserved for mall cops and helmeted tourists interested in experiencing both the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial without taking a single step. Hoverboards, which also explode, are just fodder for America's Funniest Home Videos. Everyone I've ever seen riding one of those electric unicycles has nearly caused a car accident. These machines are strange status symbols of lazy American excess.

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This fall seems like the season we're finally going to see an amazing new family of gadgets: completely wireless headphones that work properly. Sure, companies have tried for years, but most of those attempts have sucked (or been really hard to actually buy). And now, Jaybird is sprinting out of the gates with Run, a slick set of earbuds that practically disappear in your ears. Unfortunately, the new Jaybird buds have some problems.

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The Frame by Samsung is about as pretentious as a television could be. It's a $3299-plus 4K TV that doubles as a digital display for works of art. You can even hang it on your wall with a "no gap" mount and attach faux wood panels to the sides so that it looks like painting. Neat idea, sure, but inevitably, The Frame by Samsung is still just a television wrapped in a fancy sales pitch.

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There's nothing unique about loving Lego. Millions of people wax nostalgic when they see those colourful bricks. Millions more never stopped building. I've always been a bit in between. I like zoning out by putting stuff together so, every couple of years, I'll buy a Lego set and build it. But then what? Put it on my shelf? Thanks to the new Lego Boost Creative Toolbox, there's another possibility. Turning Lego creations into programmable robots makes them fun (and functional) in an amazing new way.

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My cat, Artemis, is a bustling career woman. She has many jobs that she juggles between stealing my hair ties and spilling her kibble; in addition to serving as the Mayor of Fluffingsville, she runs a network of freelancers as Editor-in-Chief of Catmodo. Since both of us are busy most of the day at our respective places of work, we forget to check in on each other. Thankfully, Petcube's newest gadget, Petcube Bites, lets humans check in on their furry companions when they're apart. It also lets us fling treats at them on command which is both heartwarming and mildly horrifying.

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Samsung's been making soundbars for a while -- and it sells the most of any A/V brand in Australia. Most of its soundbars have additional speakers or subwoofers to add a bit of extra audio oomph, but not the new MS650. Designed to operate without a subwoofer and still pump out dat bass, it's an all-in-one soundbar for small homes and apartments. But is it a waste of your time and effort?

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This is opulence. Suddenly, there is extra light blasting from behind my TV screen, making a day-glow title sequence positively atomic. The DreamScreen, a backlighting system that's designed to make your TV viewing more immersive, is a luxury that I absolutely don't need. In theory, the supplementary lights change colour based on the pixels on the TV screen for an "immersive theatre experience." In practice, it's an overstimulating, distracting, nauseating novelty, and I can't get enough of this shit.

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Sonos's latest speaker is built not to go around your TV, nor in front of it. It's built to go underneath, and to blend in with your existing furniture more than any Sonos speaker before it. It's only built for a certain kind of TV, but that doesn't mean you're not going to want to try it out anyway.