USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham takes a look at three new connected speakers that all have video features.
Thanksgiving is now behind us, Black Friday seems like yesterday, and leftovers rule for our lunch and dinner plans.
Which can mean only one thing. It’s that time again for our annual list of the Top Tech Turkeys of the year. We got some assistance this year from some 1,000 consumers, whose responses were “universal” and totally in sync with our pick for No. 1.
“Across the board – regardless of age or gender – Facebook’s Portal was named by a quarter of consumers as the tech turkey of the year (25 percent),” notes the research team at Survey Monkey Audience, which did the exclusive poll for USA TODAY.
The Portal, a video chat device released in early November, saw its debut in a year with near weekly apologies from Facebook over the social network’s hacking and data breach crises.
The Portal has an always-on microphone and video camera that can move around the room to bring more people into view. Tech-wise, the Portal is the best video chat experience we’ve ever had, far superior to FaceTime, Skype or Hangouts, due to the higher-resolution screen and camera movement, which transforms a static image into something resembling a professionally shot video.
In our review, we noted this. But beyond that, and the innate creepiness that comes from putting what amounts to a Facebook monitor in your home, the product also pales in comparison to rivals in that, beyond video chat and a digital photo frame, it can’t get you voice-summoned music videos, recipes or any of the other features of the Amazon Echo Show or Google Home Hub.
And if you try to chat with someone who isn’t on Facebook Messenger, you’re out of luck. Not so with Home Hub or Echo, which lets you make calls to landlines and cellphones. Gobble gobble.
. Our tech turkeys of 2018:
Apple’s ever-rising prices
The company, sitting on more than $200 billion in cash, decided to up the prices on every one of its marquee products this year to new highs – with the top-of-the-line iPhone and premium iPad Pro each at or above the $1,000 mark, the MacBook Air at $1,200, the Mac Mini price increased by $300 – and eliminating the entry-level, bargain-priced $350 iPhone SE from its lineup.
Now, the lowest priced iPhone is the still available iPhone 7, which starts at $449. Apple still makes the best-selling consumer device in the world, but folks, if the prices keep going up and up, one of these days, many of us are going to turn our backs and shop elsewhere. (And on another note, those crazy repair prices. Buy an Apple Watch for $400, crack the screen, and Apple charges $300 to fix it. Something is wrong with that equation. How about making a product that doesn’t crack?)
The search giant made several great products this year, including the Pixel 3 smartphone and the Home Hub video speaker, which ranks as my favorite new device of 2018. Google Clips, however, wouldn’t make my top 10 best list. The $250 camera only shoots six- to seven-second silent video clips and photos automatically, when Google decides to do so. The camera is the photographer, not you. And what am I going to do with all those silent videos? No thanks.
This year’s crop of smartphones have higher resolution, more features that people probably don’t care that much about and won’t last as long without a charge. Fellow tech critic Geoffrey Fowler recently tested 13 top 2018 models and found that none lasted as long as 2017 models. Once again, smartphone makers, this is what we want: Screens that won’t crack and an all-day battery. (Note the above on repairs.) Nothing else. Well, maybe lower prices, too.
Photo site SmugMug sweeps in and saves the day to revive Flickr from the hands of Verizon, which snapped it up when it bought the remnants of Yahoo. All looks positive, then SmugMug earlier this month says that anyone who has more than 1,000 photos stored on the site, which predates Instagram and Facebook as a social sharing hub, would have to fork over $50 yearly or see their 1,001st photo and beyond. Delete now, or they will be removed by Flickr in January. Well, that’s a nice way to get people to come back to Flickr and start sharing again, isn’t it? (Folks who pay $50 monthly get unlimited storage.)
YouTube and machine learning
This was the year YouTube had to deal with Logan Paul, Alex Jones and all those misinformed conspiracy videos that leaped to the top of the rankings and had the potential to lead viewers to think they were spouting the truth. Paul posted a video of a suicide in Japan, Jones’ InfoWars spouted out conspiracy videos. Paul got a two-strikes warning, Jones got banned. But the problem remains. YouTube’s videos get posted by humans, and if they don’t abide by community standards, it’s up to the machine to figure that out. YouTube has 10,000 humans overseeing what is 400 hours of videos uploaded every minute. It’s a losing battle. YouTube says it has beefed up its human oversight, but do a search for anything icky, and we guarantee you’ll still find it in the YouTube index. There’s got to be a better way.
AT&T kills Filmstruck
That didn’t take long. AT&T swallowed up Time Warner in 2018, made a quick announcement that it would take on Netflix in 2019 with a new Warner Bros. Studios themed movie service and then proceeded to kill Filmstruck. The beloved classic movie service, which showcased movies from the Turner Classic Movies and Criterion Collection, had only around 100,000 subscribers, which AT&T said was not enough. Where this stings for consumers is that the big streamers, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, showcase current films and originals, and as a rule, classics need not apply. So if the video store and DVD rentals have gone away, the hope was that the film lovers and students of today would have an online resource to see classics such as “Citizen Kane” and “City Lights.” (Criterion is starting its own service in the spring, but without the involvement – and films – from WarnerMedia.) For now, check your YouTube, where clips from classics are in abundance and many greats are available for viewing at a fee.
TiVo’s high-fee DVR
The company that invented the DVR introduced a new model recently, the Bolt OTA, aimed at cord cutters who just wanted to record broadcast TV shows in addition to watching Netflix and Amazon. TiVo, which has a unique business model of selling you a device and then charging $15 monthly to use it – in order to access TV listings – hasn’t changed stripes, even when cord cutters are the target. The Bolt OTA is $249, plus $6.99 monthly to use it. Consumer alert: Amazon’s Fire TV Edition sets from Toshiba show you TV listings within the set menu, at no charge. Ditto for the TCL Roku TVs.
Amazon plays the cities
Amazon put many cities into an “Apprentice”-like contest to bid for its new corporate headquarters and, in the end, picked the usual suspects – New York and Washington, D.C., where some speculate it was always headed in the first place. It extracted huge tax breaks from New York and Washington to get Amazon, while the other cities spent precious time and person power trying to woo the e-commerce giant. Net result: These poor souls helped Amazon get richer terms from the East Coast cities.
And that’s our 2018 Tech Turkey list. If you’re keeping score, Snapchat’s Spectacles topped our chart last year, and the exploding Samsung Note phone in 2016. What’s on yours for 2018? Let us hear from you on Twitter, where I’m @jeffersongraham.
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