Posts Tagged ‘CNET’

TCL S305 series Roku TV (2017) review

Posted by Samuel Eiferman on 20th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

Here’s the thing about small TVs: Their picture quality is pretty much all the same.

TV manufacturers tend to pour their effort and latest image-enhancing extras like 4K and HDR into larger models that will be used in more demanding viewing environments, and incidentally can be sold for a higher profit. In the world of small, bedroom-sized TVs — I’m talking 43 inches and smaller — the focus is on reducing cost to hit a price point.

So what separates a good small TV from the pack? In my book it’s convenience and ease of use, and nobody does that better than Roku TVs. Chinese TV maker TCL is the leader in televisions powered by the Roku operating system, the same one found in my favorite external streaming devices. Roku streaming, complete with thousands of apps and a dead-simple menu system, is built right into the TV, and everything is controlled by one remote.

TCL S305 series Roku TV

The fact that you don’t have to connect an external streaming device, combined with their dirt-cheap prices, makes TCL’s S305 series our go-to budget budget pick at modest screen sizes. Its closest competitor is Vizio with its D series or the 43-inch member of the E series, but Vizio’s Smart TV system is significantly worse. I didn’t review any of those smaller Vizios this year, but based on what I’ve seen in the past, their image quality is close enough to this TCL’s that it doesn’t make a difference.

Smart TV made simple

TCL’s sets are bare-bones, with a thin, glossy black frame and prominent logos, including one for TCL and another for Roku along the bottom. Silver legs to either side keep the TV upright.

I like Roku’s simple remote for TVs. It’s tiny, with just a few buttons, and unless you dial in channel numbers from an antenna you probably won’t miss the absent ones. Unfortunately its central directional cursor has a cheaper feel than Roku’s device remote, with every press emitting a hollow click.

TCL S305 series Roku TV

Sarah Tew/CNET

The volume control/mute are side-mounted and the shortcut key varies. Both the 32- and 43-inch remotes had Netflix and Sling TV, but on the 32-inch there were also shortcuts Hulu and Starz, while the 43-inch got Amazon and CBS News.

Simplicity and customization reign with Roku’s menu design. The main difference between its streaming devices and its TVs is the handful of icons along the top of the main home screen, like “Antenna TV,” “DVR,” “Blu-Ray player” and “HDMI 3.” You’ll choose a name and icon for your connected gadget during the setup process, and you can easily change it later or hide unused inputs.

Roku TVs have access to all the thousands of apps found on Roku’s platform, which still offers better coverage than any competitor, smart TV or otherwise. Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Hulu, Plex, HBO Now, Showtime, Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, Vudu, Google Play Movies and TV, Watch ESPN, Fox Sports Now, FX Now, Comedy Central, Starz, PBS Kids…if there’s a video app that isn’t iTunes, Roku almost certainly has it. And thanks to Movies Anywhere, it can access iTunes movies, too.


Sarah Tew/CNET

It’s also worth mentioning the exclusive Roku Channel app which has a bunch of free on-demand movies (with ads). The selection is a lot better than you’d think, and the ads aren’t that bad, although you might have to put up with some awkward breaks.

As usual with Roku, apps launched quickly and performed well. I also appreciated that the TV, unlike cheaper Rokus like the Express, can connect to both 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless networks. Search is the best in the business overall, and in general the interface is as friendly and simple as it gets. For more info, check out my review of my favorite Roku device, the Streaming Stick Plus.

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Google Pixel Buds review

Posted by Samuel Eiferman on 19th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

Google’s Pixel Buds, the company’s $159 (£159, AU$229) in-ear wireless Bluetooth headphones, were the surprise hit of the company’s October hardware event that also saw the unveiling of the Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL and PixelBook. What captivated the gadget press — and the wider media — was the headphones’ advertised ability to deliver “real-time” translation of spoken languages. Many publications likened it to the Babel Fish of “Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy” fame. Engadget said the feature “will change the world.”

Now that they’re here, well… let’s just say the translation singularity hasn’t quite arrived.

What you get instead is a decent if unremarkable wireless headphone that has an interesting (if somewhat cumbersome) integration with the (admittedly excellent) Google Translate app that’s long been available on the smartphone that’s already in your pocket. In fact, the Buds best tricks are reserved for owners of Pixel and Pixel 2 phones only. 

That said, my experience with the Buds wasn’t the outright disaster that other early reviewers seem to have experienced. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they get better in the future with additional software tweaks — and, ideally, compatibility with a wider range of phones.

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The Pixel Buds are available in colors that match the colors of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.


Hey, Bud

The Pixel Buds have a few design traits that help distinguish them from a crowded field of competitors. Shaped like Menthos candies, they’re available in color options that match the Pixel 2 ($649.99 at Best Buy) and Pixel 2 XL ($849.99 at Best Buy) phones, and have an open design that doesn’t keep out noise (you don’t jam the buds into your ears). The adjustable loop at the top acts as a kind of fin to help keep the buds securely in place.

On the right earbud there’s a touchpad that allows you to pause or play music, adjust the volume and answer calls. With a touch of that surface you can also access Google Assistant — it comes up really quickly — and issue voice commands to play music, send a text or get walking directions. Double-tapping on the right earbud after hearing a notification alert tells Google Assistant to read the new message to you.

The Google Assistant feature works quite well, but I’m used to being able to double-tap on a touch-enabled headphone and have the track advance forward or skip back. That feature is sadly missing at this time. In essence, this is the same complaint that people had about Apple’s AirPods, which — pre-iOS 11 — had limited touch controls and made you use a voice command to skip a track forward. With Google Assistant, you can say “Next” while using the most popular music streaming services, including Spotify. But the problem is you have to access Google Assistant first.

First I had to fiddle around with the buds to get them to sit well in my ears. Once I adjusted the loops to the right length, I got a pretty secure fit and found the Pixel Buds lightweight and relatively comfortable to wear. Bose’s similarly priced SoundSport Wireless earphones are little more comfortable to wear and fit a little more securely — and their tips seal out more ambient sound — but the Pixel Buds’ design grew on me over time. 


I’m also a fan of the included compact charging case. You drop the buds in and wrap the cord around the inner rim of the charger (no, these aren’t totally wireless earphones like the AirPods ($199.97 at The charging case features a USB-C connection, not Micro-USB, so you only have to carry around one cable for your Pixel phone — or another Android device that charges via USB-C — and your Pixel Buds. The case is arguably the best thing about the headphones. 

Battery life is rated at 5 hours, which isn’t bad, but it’s also not great. The charging case delivers multiple charges, according to Google, allowing you to get up to 24 hours of battery life on the go. I didn’t listen to them for 24 hours straight, but I did use them through the course of the day without a problem. Like the AirPods, they charge quickly in the case. A 10-minute charge seems to get you about an hour’s worth of battery life.  

I initially paired them with a Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus. It was not an automatic pairing process. The instructions said that if I charged the case for 10 minutes and then opened the case near my phone it would pair. It didn’t (I later had the same problem with a Pixel 2 XL). But there’s a little button in the battery case that if you press for 3 seconds, while the buds are in the case, manually puts the Pixel Buds into pairing mode. They paired fine after that — and re-paired after the initial setup when I did open the case. But the setup process could have been better.

While the Buds didn’t sound great, they sounded better than I thought they would. Due to their open design, they sound pretty open and have a reasonable amount of bass and clarity — at least with less demanding music (acoustical material, for example). Throw something a little more complicated at them, like Rag’n’Bone Man’s “Human,” and things start to get a little muddy and distorted, particularly at higher volumes.


Like a lot of these in-ear Bluetooth headphones, the Pixel Buds have their moments where you say to yourself, “OK, that sounds pretty good.” And then they fall down a bit with other tracks, making you question your initial judgment. In terms of sound, they’re in the same league as the AirPods. And like the AirPods, they let in a lot of sound from the outside world, so they weren’t great for walking around the noisy streets of New York (if your priority is hearing music rather than situational awareness). However, for the gym, at home and at the office, they were good. 

It’s worth noting they’ll pair — and work — with Apple mobile devices, but you can’t touch the right bud for Google Assistant and you don’t get access to the “real-time” translation feature that Google is touting. 

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Motif Mentor review

Posted by Samuel Eiferman on 18th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

CNET también está disponible en español.

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Secretlab Omega 2018 Release Date, Price and Specs

Posted by Samuel Eiferman on 17th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

Singapore-based startup Secretlab isn’t resting on its comfortable gaming chairs just yet, despite having great success in getting its chairs sold outside of its home country to places like the US, UK and Australia.

For its new 2018 version of its Omega line, Secretlab is wasting no time in making sure its international customers are able to get their bottoms seated on one — the new chair is available now for $440 in the US (with a special launch price of $299), £400 in the UK (special launch price of £279) and AU$620 (launch price of AU$449).

If you’re already an Omega owner, you may not want to switch, but if you’re looking for a throne that can last you long gaming sessions or for use in the office, this could be something to consider, especially the new Ash model, which isn’t too ostentatious for use even in a business setting.

Of course, the only reason for paying so much for a chair is for support and comfort, and the new Omega delivers this in spades with its cold cured foam and memory foam lumbar pillow. I had colleagues at the CNET office in Singapore try it out, and they were impressed at how much more comfortable the chairs were compared to our usual office seats.


If you’re worried about the chair tipping over, fret not. I’ve put it to plenty of napping tests.

Aloysius Low/CNET

The padded foam bottoms don’t sink in, giving your butt ample support. Like most gaming chairs, the Omega can do a very steep recline, but it’s well balanced enough you don’t ever feel like you’re toppling over. It takes some time to get over your fear though, but lying down in the office to take a power nap has never been easier. There’s also a lock to keep it from springing back, in case you’re too light to keep the chair titled backwards (as some of my female colleagues discovered).

The armrests have been upgraded with a soft touch material, and are slightly wider as well. They feature four axis of rotation, so you can tweak them to your comfort (which you should, because it really helps support your wrists when typing.)

I’ve spent a week seated in the Omega, and compared to my office chair’s poor back support, the Omega has been great in keeping my lower back pains away, even after hours of being seated while working on my reviews.

All in all, the new Omega 2018 is a worthy successor to the company’s chair line up — though if you already own a good chair (like the previous Omega), it may not make financial sense to upgrade, after all, the current chair still has a few years left. But if you’re keen, feel free to head over to Secretlab’s online store to check it out.


Retailing for $440 in the US (with a special launch price of $299), £400 in the UK (special launch price of £279) and AU$620 (launch price of AU$449), the Omega 2018 isn’t a cheap chair, but it’s competitively priced against the competition.

Aloysius Low/CNET

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Microsoft Surface Book 2 (15-inch) review

Posted by Samuel Eiferman on 16th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

CNET también está disponible en español.

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Fender Newport – speaker – for portable use – wireless Release Date, Price and Specs

Posted by Samuel Eiferman on 15th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

CNET también está disponible en español.

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HTC Vive Focus Release Date, Price and Specs

Posted by Samuel Eiferman on 14th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

CNET también está disponible en español.

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2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 Release Date, Price and Specs

Posted by Samuel Eiferman on 12th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

Being far away from America, Dubai may seem like a strange place for Chevrolet to launch its 2019 Corvette ZR1. But using a city whose mantra is “impossible is just an opinion” as a launchpad for the most powerful Corvette ever actually feels completely natural once you’re here on the ground. 

GM may have chosen to reveal the ZR1 at a studio sound stage on Sunday, but its real coming out party will be at the Dubai Motor Show on Tuesday, where it will sit shoulder-to-shoulder with six- and seven-figure luxury sedans, SUVs and hypercars.

Based on the seventh-generation Corvette, this is only the fourth-generation ZR1, and it features a number of key innovations that help make it the most powerful production Corvette ever. General Motors isn’t releasing all of its performance stats just yet, but we do know some tasty tidbits. Namely: 755 horsepower and 715 pound feet of torque in a package that weights 3,650 pounds. 

Chevy officials promise that the ZR1 will do better than 210 miles per hour, and with 105 more horses and 65 pound-feet more torque, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that it will be quicker to 60 mph than 2.95 seconds, GM’s official time for the Corvette Z06. (For added perspective, 715 is roughly two-thirds more horsepower than the 455 in the base Stingray).

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The Sebring Orange Design Package displayed at the ZR1’s Dubai reveal is not for shrinking violets.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Of course, the ZR1 isn’t just a case of cranking up the boost on the Z06’s 6.2-liter V8. On the contrary, the powertrain has been comprehensively reworked from its air and fuel delivery systems on through its exhaust, with the goal of creating more power up and down the rev range. Despite being “conservatively spec’d,” Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter says, “after you drive this car for a while, a Z06 feels really sluggish, like it can barely get out of its own way.” He only sounds like he’s half joking when he says that to us assembled journos.

Not only have significant upgrades in breathing capacity necessitated major changes to the ZR1’s front end, aero changes have been carried throughout the bodywork, all the way to the rear end. You’ll hear a lot of that word in this story: “necessitated.” As it turns out, when building an envelope-pushing supercar, solving one problem often creates another technical challenge to be surmounted. 

As you can see from these images, the ZR1’s resulting bodywork is incredibly aggressive, from a completely unique front clip featuring markedly bigger air inlets and front splitter (that incorporates a Corvette-first underwing) to a massive, high-set rear airfoil that’s part of an option package.

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The 2019 ZR1 has the most radical aero of any production Corvette ever.


One of the biggest challenges for the ZR1 was working out improved cooling for the 2.65-liter Eaton supercharger that’s 52-percent bigger than the Z06. That in turn necessitated sourcing a 95-millimeter throttle body — GM simply couldn’t find one big enough anywhere that could produce a large enough throttle opening to keep from choking the engine, so it had to design its own. 

Case in point: Chevrolet learned the hard way with this car’s Z06 forebearer that too much cooling is just enough. Embarrassingly, the company suffered a small but statistically significant number of heatsoak/overheating-related issues reported by Z06 owners at racetracks, a development that forced the company to make some changes for the 2017 model year.

That shouldn’t be a problem with this new ZR1. It boasts no fewer than 13 heat exchangers, including a pair of additional radiators on each side of the nose. That key addition along with the bigger supercharger changed the weight distribution on the car, so Chevy compensated by widening the front wheels by half an inch for better grip. That, along with the need for more fresh air and a higher hood to clear the supercharger necessitated that the ZR1 would get all-new front bodywork — no Z06 bits would fit. 

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The ZR1 features a shaker hood with bookmatched carbon fiber.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

If you scroll through the gallery of photos accompanying this story, you may take notice of the hood, what with its bare carbon midsection. It may look like one piece, but it’s not — that’s the top of the intercooler cover poking through. That’s right, the ZR1 has a shaker hood. It couldn’t have been easy to engineer this solution and still effectively manage any air and drainage concerns. You can practically hear the mix of pride and weariness in Juechter’s voice when he speaks of the difficulty in bookmatching the carbon-fiber weave between the hood itself and the intercooler cover.

Better breathing is only half the solution, of course: to get more power, you need more fuel, and that necessitated the development of a new duel fuel injection system, a first for Corvette. Like the Stingray and Z06, the LS9 in the ZR1 relies on direct injection, but it has a supplemental port injection, too.

Transmission-wise, Chevy’s 7-speed rev-matching manual will come standard, but GM has chosen to make an 8-speed automatic optional for the first time on a ZR1 — the new 10-speed from the 2018 Camaro doesn’t fit. The paddle-shift 7-speed gearbox has received numerous upgrades to improve shift times, and Juechter says those upgrades will filter back down through the rest of the Corvette lineup.

2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 live reveal in Dubai

Let’s go back to the aerodynamics for a moment, because if you’re like me, you can’t stop staring at that wing. It’s actually part of an option ZTK Performance Package, which incorporates a unique front splitter with tall carbon-fiber end caps, as well as specific chassis and Magnetic Ride Control calibrations and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 summer rubber.

The wing itself was codeveloped with Corvette motorsports partners Pratt Miller, and its angle of attack is manually adjustable up to five degrees. Those tall stanchions bolt directly to the chassis for maximum effect, and the wing itself can deliver upwards of 950 pounds of downforce at speed, yet it actually creates less drag than the “wicker bill” fencing on the Z06’s wing. The uprights are actually so tall that Juechter says the rear wing clears the rear window so that you can still see out back, and cargo room avoids taking the hit that an active wing’s mechanism might necessitate.

The Corvette Z06 sounds plenty snarly, but the new ZR1 promises to go a step further. It still has the former’s active clapper valves to sound more socially acceptable around town, but new internal passive valves help build sound more progressively, so it’s not an all-or-nothing auditory experience. “It’s brutal when you’re in track mode and you’re revving on it,” Juechter says. 

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For the first time ever, ZR1 is available with an optional automatic transmission.


According to Tom Peters, director of exterior design for GM, customers have been clamoring for a new orange paint option, so for those buyers, Chevy has developed the decidedly unsubtle Sebring Orange Design Package shown here. It includes Sebring Orange Tintcoat paint, as well as matching brake calipers and accents on the rockers and splitter. Inside, orange seatbelts play off carrot-colored stitching, and there’s unusual bronze-finish aluminum interior trim accents, as well.

Most of the Corvette range’s other options, including competition sport seats, Bose premium audio and Chevy’s trick Performance Data Recorder are also available. After years of downmarket interiors fitted with uncomfortable seats and cheap plastics, the C7 generation took huge strides to make living with a Corvette on a daily basis not just easier, but more enjoyable.

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A revised active exhaust insures they will hear you coming… and going.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

No word yet on price, but it won’t be cheap — the C6 ZR1 was about $110,000, and this one should be priced appropriately for a model that will likely only see two or three thousand examples built per year.

Despite repeated pestering, company officials still won’t talk about the much-rumored mid-engined Corvette that’s still in the pipeline. But the 2019 ZR1 that hits dealers in spring not only looks good enough to be more than just a placeholder until that car arrives, it looks like formidable competition for both track day and valet stand honors — even here in Dubai.

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iHome iAVS16 Alarm Clock with Amazon Alexa review

Posted by Samuel Eiferman on 11th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

Let me start by being very clear about something: $150 is way, way too much to spend on an alarm clock.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me tell you all about iHome’s new $150 alarm clock. It’s called the iAVS16, and iHome will point out that it’s not just an alarm clock, but a full-fledged Alexa device with Amazon’s voice-activated virtual assistant built right in. Save for calling, messaging, and ESP, which makes it so only the Alexa device closest to you responds to your command, it can do everything the Amazon Echo can do. It’s Alexa’s brain transplanted into an alarm clock body.

If that pitch sounds a bit familiar, it’s because Amazon has an Alexa alarm clock of its own in the works. That soon-to-be-released gadget, the $130 Echo Spot, costs a little less than the iAVS16, and unlike the iAVS16, it includes a touchscreen and a camera. That might sound like bad news for iHome, but I’d actually argue the opposite — plenty of folks who’d be interested in an Alexa alarm clock will likely prefer that it not keep a camera pointed at them while they sleep, thank you very much.

On top of that, the iAVS16 offers decent, full-size sound quality that, to my ear, sounds almost as good as the Echo, and certainly good enough for bedside listening. It’ll even wake you up by playing a Spotify playlist — something the Echo still can’t do. If it looked a little nicer, I might even call it a legitimate temptation. But at $150, it’s just too pricey to recommend.

Design and features


You can use those LEDs at the bottom of the clock as wake-up lights, or set them to change colors in rhythm with whatever music you’re listening to.

Ry Crist/CNET

The iAVS16’s build is a bit bulky as far as alarm clocks go, especially considering that it doesn’t include a dock for your phone. The size was necessary, I suppose, to give it full-sounding audio, but I would have gladly traded some of that fidelity in exchange for a design that gobbles up less of my nightstand’s real estate — especially if that also meant a lower price.

The aesthetics leave a lot to be desired, too. With the time in large print surrounded by the date, the weather, the Wi-Fi status and your alarm info, it’s a cluttered, inelegant display that doesn’t do much to set itself apart from good-looking competitors like Beddi, or even from iHome’s own, less-expensive alarm clocks.

Speaking of which, those cheaper iHome offerings include an alarm clock that doubles as a dock for the Amazon Echo Dot. I liked that product when I reviewed it, but thought that it was too expensive at $70. iHome has since marked it down to $50, which feels a lot more reasonable. At any rate, if you’re already using an Echo Dot to wake you up in the morning, then that product would make a much more sensible upgrade.

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Don’t let the voice controls fool you — this alarm clock still has plenty of buttons.


Whereas that alternative includes no buttons at all, the iAVS16 has a whopping 14 buttons up top, including two programmable smart buttons that can trigger playlists or turn iHome smart plugs on and off. There’s also a button to pair via Bluetooth, a button to put the clock into speakerphone mode, a full set of buttons for music playback, a separate, programmable button that’s supposed to trigger multiple things at once when you wake up or settle in, a button to wake Alexa, a button to mute Alexa, a button to toggle the color-changing LEDs on the bottom of the clock, and, of course, the venerable snooze button. 

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Jibo review

Posted by Samuel Eiferman on 10th November 2017 in Consumer Electronics

The age of the robot companion is here. There’s no sign of Rosie the robot maid yet, but given the Jetsons was based in 2062, she’s still got time. Several new robots are making a buzz in 2017 though, including Jibo, a $899 social robot. What can Jibo do? Not as much as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant. His cute personality feels determined to distract you from his otherwise basic skills. Given Jibo’s limited talents, I can’t recommend bringing him home unless you have $899 just burning a hole in your pocket. In which case, go ahead, because he’s adorable.


Jibo is a social robot, crowd-funded on Indiegogo and engineered by a Boston-based startup of the same name. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Officially a “he,” Jibo got his start three years ago as an Indiegogo crowd-funded project by Dr. Cynthia Breazeal of MIT. The project was fully funded by September 15, 2014, preceding the release of the first Amazon Echo, which showed up in November of that year. Three years later, Jibo is finally available for purchase, and I have to wonder if Alexa’s speedy rise to the top stacked the cards against Jibo.

Weighing nine pounds and measuring 12 inches tall with a 6-inch base, Jibo is essentially a countertop robot. He’s stationary, but does have two spherical halves rotating on a three-axis motor system to animate his personality, along with a 5-inch rectangular color display. Jibo dances, purrs when your pet his head and swivels to look at you when he hears a “Hey, Jibo” command.  

The Jibo app manages the robot’s settings as well as his “Loop.” The Loop holds names of up to 16 people Jibo can recognize by face and voice. Jibo is COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) compliant. Any children under the age of 13 will need the assistance of a parent to sign up, and the parent must also be in Jibo’s Loop. You can adjust Jibo’s settings via the app. This is where you’ll connect Jibo to Wi-Fi, set your location for local results, and view a history of recent Jibo interactions.


Jibo works with IFTTT triggers and can turn on Philips Hue lights or adjust a Nest thermostat. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

When it comes to skills, Jibo has limited capabilities. He can set reminders and timers, as well as check the weather, sports scores or a flight’s status. Jibo can answer a host of questions through resources like Bing, Wolfram Alpha and Wikipedia, or read headlines from the Associated Press. Jibo also tells jokes, most of which I’m pretty sure he got from my dad. Jibo dances and reads random facts, poems and short stories. With two front-facing cameras, Jibo can also take photos and store up to 700 images locally as 1-megapixel, JPEG files.

Interestingly, Jibo also works with IFTTT triggers. You can ask him to find your phone, turn on your Philips Hue lights, or set a Nest thermostat by using a trigger word. I was also able to create IFTTT recipes for Lutron lights and shades. That gives me hope for Jibo’s future as a useful robot. He doesn’t work with IFTTT actions, though. You can’t set him to congratulate you on hitting the step goal on your fitness tracker, for example. It is interesting that Jibo is IFTTT compatible, given that he isn’t really optimized for any other smart home functions.

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