All posts in “Hardware”

Essential Phone gets a $200 price drop, existing customers get credit


Essential has an offer that’s honestly very hard to refuse: The price of the Essential Phone (PH-1, going by technical model number), is now $200 cheaper, so $499 off-contract and unlocked. That’s an amazing price for their debut smartphone, which remains my favorite in terms of straight up industrial design (and it has one of the best color-tuned displays in devices right now in my opinion).

The Essential Phone went on sale just a few months ago, but the company believes that as a young startup just getting out therein a market where incumbents like Apple and Samsung basically take up all the available space, there’s a lot of value in word of mouth and perceived value. That’s why it’s making this price change, Essential tells me – though you have to also wonder whether the company’s not seeing the numbers it was hoping for in terms of initial sales, which is what some early third-party sales estimates have suggested.

Regardless of the reason, the price drop makes Essential arguably the best value smartphone on the market, and definitely the best Android device in that range. It’s one major failing has been its camera, which launched as a slow and buggy feature compared to most out there, but the subsequent camera software updates have improved its speed and reliability a lot, and more updates are promised in the future, too.

Lest Essential’s earliest customers feel slighted, it has a deal for early buyers, too – they’ll receive a $200 ‘friends and family’ credit they can use to further discount (valid through December 15, 2017) a device for a loved one (or another for themselves, if they maybe also want the just-released white Essential Phone, for instance), or to buy the 360-camera attachment. Customers will be able to sign up to redeem the $200 credit on the Essential page, using their phone’s IMEI and serial numbers, along with the email address they used to purchase.

In a time when the price of flagship smartphones in both iOS and Android worlds are ballooning, this is a very welcome nod to affordability. Without question, if you want an amazing phone at a killer price, the now $499 Essential Phone is the one to get.

Also, this is U.S. only for now – details on a program for Canadian device followers will follow, per Essential.

Featured Image: Darrell Etherington

Jaybird’s Run totally wireless earbuds are wire-free wonders for everyone


The market for totally wireless earbuds is really maturing fast, with many entries from both new and established companies. Jaybird recently joined the crowd, with its own Run earbuds. The Logitech-owned company has long been a really solid competitor when it comes to Bluetooth headphones, and its Freedom and X-line, and in fact made some of the very first wireless sport earbuds that proved you could also get good sound with Bluetooth.

Now, the Run proves that Jaybird can play well in the totally wire-free market, too. It’s the company’s first attempt at the category popularized by Apple’s AirPods, but it’s a strong first effort: The Run come with sound that’s on par with Jaybird’s other headsets, and they also benefit from the company’s ample experience helping to provide the right fit for a variety of ear shapes and sizes.

Jaybird also gave the Run four hours of battery life under normal conditions, along with and additional 8 hours of charge built into the battery case they ship with. The header’s also sweat-proof and water-resistant for workouts in all conditions, and you can alter the sound with the companion Jaybird app for mobile devices, or use the ‘Find My Buds’ feature to locate them if you happen to misplace one or both (this comes in very handy, I can tell you from personal experience).

The best thing about the Jaybird Run, however, is how quickly you’ll forget you’re wearing them. They’re incredibly comfortable (especially if you spring for the Comply foam tips that are available as an aftermarket add-on), and they produce a pleasing, full sound that’s suited both to music and to spoken work playback including podcasts and audiobooks. And Jaybird also does what the company does best, engineer these for use in sweat-heavy conditions including outdoor runs, which is how I used them for the bulk of my testing.

Jaybird also put button controls on the Run, with each earbuds’s primary surface acting as a pressable physical control. You can use the left bud to activate either Siri or Google Assistant with a single press, and you can also play and pause music or podcasts with a button press of the right. This will also allow you to accept a call, and you can double press to skip to the next track on the right bud.

If there’s one thing I would’ve liked to see Jaybird add, it’s volume control via some means of additional button presses. You can tweak settings for the buttons in the companion app to change a single press on the right to be volume up, and a single post on the left to be volume down, but that means sacrificing the play/pause and Siri/Assistant features, which isn’t ideal.

Otherwise, these are a great offering in the totally wireless earbud category. They’re flexible, produce good sound, are as durable as the rest of Jaybird’s lineup and maintain a good solid connection with your Bluetooth smartphone or other device. And at $179, they’re not all that expensive when compared to other headphones in this segment. Jaybird definitely isn’t first in with this emerging space, but they took the time and made a good product that you’ll almost certainly enjoy using.

BlackBerry’s KEYone ‘Black Edition’ offers more than just good looks


BlackBerry’s most interesting phone in years – if not an entire decade – is the KEYone, an Android device with a classic BlackBerry hardware keyboard that finally answers the needs of truly dedicated thumb typists with a modern mobile OS. Now, the KEYone ‘Black Edition’ has arrived, and it’s more than just a fresh coat of paint on an older gadget.

In fact, the ‘Black Edition’ doubles the internal storage of the KEYone, from 32GB up to 64GB (and it retains its expandable memory capability via microSD) – plus, it boosts RAM up to 4GB, which is a very welcome change from the 3GB on the original, if only because the one complaint I had about the original KEYone was that it could feel a bit pokey in places in terms of the speed of elements of the OS and some aspects of a few applications.

The ‘Black Edition’ feels speedier in all regards, after a few days of testing, and still retains all the charm of the original. The all-black design feels a bit less retro, but on the whole is probably a more appealing look for a larger segment of the population vs. the dual-tone silver and black of the original. And the phone benefits from months of production of the KEYone by TCL, which should mean it’s got less in the way of manufacturing quirks.

Basically, this is the current best BlackBerry you can buy, and it’s actually up there in terms of the top Android device options – for a certain type of buyer. That is, if you value the physical keyboard, and the convenience that comes with having a whole lot of hardware shortcuts for apps and actions at your fingertips, and you’re not as concerned about having a large, generous display for watching videos or other content, this is probably right up your alley.

The ‘Black Edition’ KEYone also has that assignable dedicated hardware button on the side, which is far more useful than the Note 8’s Bixby button, and the keyboard doubles as a trackpad for scrolling and other features which keep the display free of obfuscation while browsing Twitter and reading documents.

BlackBerry’s ‘Black Edition’ KEYone went on sale this week in Canada at Amazon, Telus and Walmart for $799.99 off contract.

Nintendo nabs two-thirds of monthly game hardware sales thanks to Switch


Nintendo has managed to lead the industry in video game hardware sales – by a wide margin – for September, which is a very promising sign going into the holiday shopping season. The Nintendo Switch helped this immensely, leading the industry as the top-selling console for the third straight month, and the fifth month overall since its introduction seven months ago.

Switch’s U.S. sales have now topped 2 million units, which is great considering that the Wii U sold all of 6.23 million units across North America during its entire time on the market. Nintendo Switch’s success was also bolstered by continuing 3DS device family sales, as well as Super NES Classic Edition sales, both of which helped it not only lead, but essentially dominate the video game hardware market.

Nintendo Switch is moving into some high-profile software releases for Switch that should help it gain even more consumer traction, including Super Mario Odyssey, which lands on October 27 and which has been widely praised by early players and critics, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which, despite being a port of a game that’s now nearly six years old, will still no doubt be a popular download.

Nintendo also just released a software update for the Nintendo Switch that allows data transfer between consoles, including saves, and I can confirm that this works as advertised from personal experience. It’s also added the ability to save and share video clips from certain games, which could help raise the hype factor around high-profile releases. Also, and again from personal experience, this console has basically had just a ton of great releases thus far, which makes me very excited about its future.

Swedish lock giant Assa Abloy acquires smart lock maker August Home


The smart home market continues to heat up, and the legacy giants do not want to get locked out: quite literally. This morning, Assa Abloy, the $23 billion Swedish lock giant that owns Yale and many other brands — announced that it is buying US-based smart lock maker August Home to double down on new technology. 

Terms of the deal are not being disclosed but we have asked both August and Assa Abloy and will update this post as we learn more. Pending regulatory approvals, Assa Abloy says the acquisition will close in the fourth quarter of 2017.

August has confirmed to us that co-founder Jason Johnson will remain CEO of August Home, and Yves Behar will continue in his co-founder role as well. The company will keep its branding and operate under the  Americas division of ASSA ABLOY.

“I am very pleased to welcome August into the ASSA ABLOY Group. August constitutes a strategic addition to the Group and reinforces our position in the residential smart door market,” Johan Molin, President and CEO of Assa Abloy, said in a statement.

“August Home strengthens our residential smart door strategy with complementary smart locks, expansion into video doorbells and comprehensive solutions for home delivery,” Thanasis Molokotos, its EVP and head of Americas added.

The news comes at a tumultuous time for Assa Abloy — it announced earlier this month that CEO Johan Molin is considering exiting the company next year, although he is still making prominent statements in support of the company’s acquisition strategy and future plans, as you can see here. 

Assa Abloy is the very definition of an old-guard giant that is now figuring out its steps in a new world very much being shaped by technology. The company has been in business in some form since 1881 (although the currently publicly traded company has been around since 1994). The company employs 47,000 people and has annual sales of about $8 billion.

August, in contrast, has been around since 2013 and has 90 employees. But it has become a market leader in the emerging connected security space, courtesy of its smart home locks and door bells.

The smart lock market is still a relatively nascent area. To put this deal into some context, August Home’s revenues for 2018 are expected to be $60 million, Assa Abloy noted today, or 0.75% of Assa Abloy’s entire current business. Future projections of the value of this market vary widely: one estimate puts it at $1.17 billion by 2023; another has boldly predicted it will be worth $24 billion by 2024.

August had raised around $75 million in venture funding, with the most recent round closing only in July of this year. Investors were a long list that included strategics like Japan’s KDDI and Qualcomm, as well as Maveron, Bessemer, Rho, Cowboy Ventures and a number of individual investors.

August has been growing fairly quickly on its own in recent years, courtesy of distribution deals with mega-retailers in the U.S. like Best Buy. Back in July, the hardware startup raised a $25 million series C, with plans to beef of August Access, the company’s partner platform. Late last month, it also found a partner in mega-retailer Wal-mart, which announced its intentions to use the company’s connected locks as part of its delivery services. Among other things, this deal should increase August’s international presence.

Updated with more detail on August under its new owner. We will update this post as we learn more.