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Lofree’s $70 Poison Bluetooth speaker is the ultimate conversation starter

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Lofree’s $70 Poison Bluetooth speaker is the ultimate conversation starter

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

Although it’s not a household name yet, Lofree is intent on making its mark in the tech accessories space with its beautiful, memorably designed hardware. You might remember the brand from our previous review of its gorgeous wireless mechanical keyboard, which I liked a lot.

Its new product, the Poison Bluetooth speaker, is no exception. It’s all about that retro vibe, but also happens to sound pretty good for a device of this size and at this price. Here’s what you get for your money.

Design

The oddly named Poison is, hands-down, one of the best looking Bluetooth speakers I’ve ever come across. With its mid-century FM radio-inspired design, fun details like the chrome grille and ornamental handles, and minimalist controls, it’s sure to get people talking when they see it.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

At just over 0.5 kg (1.2 lbs) and a length of 18 cm, it’s roughly as portable as a DSLR camera. Sure, you can get smaller and lighter speakers, but I found that in my use of the Poison over the past few weeks at home, parties and my office, the design strikes a reasonable balance between size and output.

The grille in front conceals an FM tuner panel where you can see what station you’re tuning into; on the back, you’ll find a bass driver diaphragm that with a floating cover that reverberates when the speaker pumps out low-frequency sound, along with a 3.5mm AUX jack and a USB port.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

The entire feels durable and well built, but given that it’s all smooth plastic surfaces and no manner of waterproofing, you won’t want to roughhouse with it. That might make the Poison better for use indoors than for the beach or a fishing trip.

Features

The Poison can connect to any mobile device via Bluetooth, hook up to an MP3 player with an AUX cable, or plug into your laptop with a standard USB cable. Bluetooth pairing is quick and hassle-free, and I was glad to be able to get up and running in just a few seconds.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

The inclusion of an FM tuner seemed like a gimmick to me at first, but hey, there’s nothing wrong with a feature that works well and lets you enjoy more programming than you can carry on your devices. It’s easy enough to pick up a signal and enjoy clear audio, but there’s no way to save presets.

Performance

The Poison packs two 10W speakers with a dedicated bass driver, which work together to deliver a crisp, clear and pleasant soundstage with a prominent low end. It works great for pop, hip-hop and R&B records like Anderson. Paak’s Venice, Stateless’ eponymous album and SBTRKT’s self-titled debut from 2011.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

It doesn’t do as well with heavier material like Katatonia’s beautifully detailed Dead End Kings, and Gojira’s modern metal masterpiece, L’Enfant Sauvage. There’s a noticeable amount of distortion at higher volumes that will likely annoy some listeners – so it might not be the best speaker to try and fill a large room with.

However, if you’re alright using it at moderate volume, you shouldn’t have a problem. I was more than happy using the Poison for background music at a dinner party, and for watching a range of YouTube videos in bed.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

The company claimed that the Poison is capable of running for six hours in Bluetooth mode on a single charge, and I found that to be about right. However, with a device of this size, one would expect at least twice that; as such, this is another reason why you’re better off rocking the Poison indoors.

Should you buy the Lofree Poison?

If you’re in the market for a pretty speaker, you’d be hard pressed to find one that looks nicer than the Poison in the sub-$300 range. It looks nice enough to leave in any part of your home without it looking too obviously like a gadget, and it’s hard to put a price on that.

That being said, I just wish I didn’t have to turn it down every so often to avoid that troubling distortion. Thankfully, it’s still plenty loud for most indoor spaces around the volume knob’s halfway mark. I’d deduct marks for the Poison’s short runtime, but given that it’s more at home on your bookshelf and in close proximity to a power outlet, I can let that go a bit.

Credit: Abhimanyu Ghoshal

For its current asking price of about $69 (excluding shipping) on Kickstarter, the Poison makes a great addition to your small apartment, office; it’s also an excellent gift for your aesthetically conscious friends at any age. Once the limited-time offer runs out, it’ll cost $120; even at that price, I’d be happy to recommend it to anyone who’s not picky about their sound.

Find out more about the Lofree Poison and get your own from this Kickstarter campaign page.

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Let’s talk about commercial drones at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin

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Everyone loves drones, including companies with very specific needs. Drones once were the hot new thing and the perfect birthday gift. But drone makers are now realizing that there’s a bigger opportunity with commercial use cases, from farming to inspection. That’s why we’re excited to announce that three founders of three amazing companies in the drone industry will join us on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin on December 4-5, 2017.

As we already announced, Henri Seydoux from Parrot is going to tell us about his company’s shift. Parrot has been a pioneer in the drone industry. The company took advantage of the accelerometers, gyroscopes, wireless chips and energy-efficient processors that you can find in smartphones to power tiny quadcopters.

But Parrot has also made multiple acquisitions for its commercial drone division. SenseFly, Airinov, MicaSense and Pix4D are now all owned by Parrot. The French company also owns multiple patents on drone technologies and sells integrated software and hardware solutions for firefighters, farmers and more.

Second, James Harrison from Sky-Futures has been building software solutions for drone inspections. The company first focused on the oil and gas industry. When you think about it, it’s so much easier to fly a drone around an offshore oil drilling platform to see if everything works fine.

Other industries also have a hard time keeping an eye on inaccessible sites. If you’re maintaining bridges, keeping an eye on wind turbines or overseeing construction sites, drones can be much cheaper than human inspection. Sky-Futures lets you record, log and share all your observations.

Finally, Clément Christomanos from Uavia has been working on remote aerial inspection. If you’ve ever played with a drone, you know that they have limited battery life and that you need to stay in range.

Uavia thinks this can be an issue if you need to inspect multiple sites around the country. You either need to train people on the ground or send drone pilots. With Uavia, you can control a drone thousands of miles away from your web browser.

Drones receive instructions from traditional cell towers and then go back to charging stations when they’re done. This can replace or supplement surveillance cameras in sensitive areas.

All those use cases are just the tip of the iceberg. Goldman Sachs recently shared a report on commercial drones. There are more than a dozen industries that could greatly benefit from using drones.

Get your Disrupt tickets right now to see the founders of Parrot, Sky-Futures and Uavia tell you everything about the future of drones. You’ll also see the Startup Battlefield competition, in which a handful of startups pitch our judges with the hopes of winning the coveted Disrupt Cup and a cash prize.

You’ll get to chat with plenty of promising startups in Startup Alley, see amazing talks on the main stage, and unwind after a long day at the show with a cocktail and some new friends at the Disrupt after party.

Do you run a startup? The Startup Alley Exhibitor Package is your best bet to get the greatest exposure by exhibiting your company or product directly on the Disrupt Berlin show floor.
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Gadgets

Apple’s Thanksgiving ad is mostly about the AirPods

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Every year, Apple airs a new ad in the U.S. for Thanksgiving. Compared to other Apple ads, this is less about showing product features and more like a greeting card.

This year is no different — you still see a lot of AirPods. Apple’s new ad is called “Sway” and takes place in the streets of New York. A woman starts playing Sam Smith’s “Palace” on her white iPhone X with her AirPods.

She then ends up in an alternate reality where she can dance around people without getting noticed. She bumps into a man, hands him an AirPod and starts dancing with him under the snow.

Fun fact: these two dancers are married in real life.


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Snips lets you build your own voice assistant to embed into your devices

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French startup Snips is now helping you build a custom voice assistant for your device. Snips doesn’t use Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service or Google Assistant SDK — the company is building its own voice assistant so that you can embed it on your devices. And the best part is that it doesn’t send anything to the cloud as it works offline.

If you want to understand how a voice assistant works, you can split it into multiple parts. First, it starts with a wakeword. Snips has a handful of wakewords by default, such as “Hey Snips,” but you can also pay the company to create your own wakeword.

For instance, if you’re building a multimedia robot called Keecker, you can create a custom “Hey Keecker” hot word. Snips then uses deep learning to accurately detect when someone is trying to talk to your voice assistant.

The second part is automatic speech recognition. A voice assistant transcribes your voice into a text query. Popular home assistants usually send a small audio file with your voice and use servers to transcribe your query.

Snips can transcribe your voice into text on the device itself. It works on anything that is more powerful than a Raspberry Pi. For now, Snips is limited to English and French. You’ll have to use a third-party automatic speech recognition API for other languages.

Then, Snips needs to understand your query. The company has developed natural language capabilities. But there are hundreds, or even thousands of different ways to ask a simple question about the weather for instance.

That’s why Snips is launching a data generation service today. I saw a demo yesterday, and the interface looks like Automator on macOS or Workflow on iOS. You define some variables, such as “date” and “location”, you define if they are mandatory for the query and you enter a few examples.

But instead of manually entering hundreds of variations of the same query, you can pay $100 to $800 to let Snips do the work for you. The startup manually checks your request then posts it on Amazon Mechanical Turk and other crowdsourcing marketplaces. Finally, Snips cleans up your data set and sends it back to you.

You can either download it and reuse it in another chatbot or voice assistant, or you can use it with Snips’ own voice assistant. You can also make your capability public. Other Snips users can add this capability to their own assistant by browsing a repository of pre-trained capabilities.

  1. Step 1. Create Intent

  2. Step 2. Choose datagen package

  3. Step 3. Confirm results

A Snips voice assistant typically requires hundreds of megabytes but is quite easy to update. After installing the Snips app on your device, you just need to replace a zip library file to add new capabilities.

You also need to implement the actual actions. Snips only translates what someone is saying into a parsable query. For instance, Snips can understand that “could you please turn on the bedroom light?” means “light + bedroom + on.” A developer still needs to implement the action based on those three parameters.

Developers are already playing with Snips to test its capabilities. But the company hopes that big device manufacturers are going to embed Snips into their future products. Eventually, you could think about a coffee maker with a Snips voice assistant.

Compared to Amazon’s or Google’s wide-ranging assistants, Snips thinks that you don’t need to embed a complete voice assistant into all your devices. You only want to tell your Roomba to start vacuuming — no need to let you start a Spotify playlist from your vacuum cleaner.

This approach presents a few advantages when it comes to privacy and network effects. Big tech companies are creating ecosystem of internet-of-things devices. People are buying lightbulbs, security cameras and door locks that work with the Amazon Echo for instance.

But if you can talk to the devices themselves, you don’t need to hook up your devices with a central home speaker — the central hub disappears. If voice assistants are more than a fad, Snips is building some promising technology. And Snips could get some licensing revenue for each device that comes with its voice assistant.
Featured Image: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch Readmore

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