Today in Tech News Digest, the Amazon Fire TV, Windows Phone 8.1 with Cortana, Windows 8.1 Update 1 for mouse and keyboards, GoBe on Indiegogo, Rdio, Vudu, and Crackle on Chromecast, and a PSA about the dangers of binge watching.
Amazon Launches Fire TV Set-Top Box
Amazon has unveiled Fire TV, a powerful set-top box for streaming content and playing games. The Amazon Fire TV is available immediately and priced at US$99. The remote control is included, with a custom controller for playing games priced at $39.99.
The Amazon Fire TV is an Android-powered set-top box with a quad-core CPU, a dedicated GPU, and 2GB of RAM. The hardware is small and unassuming, and the UI is slick and filled with images; looking like a slightly improved version of Netflix.
Streaming content comes courtesy of Amazon’s own Prime Instant Video, as well as Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, VEVO, and Showtime to name just a few. As well as using the remote, Fire TV owners can use voice commands to control the action.
As for gaming, some titles will be playable using the remote, while others will require the (rather ugly and uncomfortable-looking) controller. There will be plenty of free-to-play titles on the Fire TV, with others such as Minecraft and The Walking Dead being paid options.
You can hear initial reactions to the Amazon Fire TV on Technophilia 107: Apple Cookbook. This episode of the MakeUseOf podcast also includes an interview with Yukari Iwatani Kane, author of the controversial book, Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs.
Microsoft Details Windows Phone 8.1
On the first day of Build 2014, Microsoft unveiled Windows Phone 8.1. The biggest new feature is Cortana, Microsoft’s long-awaited answer to Apple Siri and Google Now. Cortana is being launched as a beta, and rolled out around the world through 2014 starting in the U.S.
Other features of Windows Phone 8.1 include a new Action Center tracking notifications, wallpapers on the Start Screen, a customizable tile layout for larger phone, and a Swype-style keyboard called Word Flow.
This may only be numbered like a minor update but Windows Phone 8.1 looks to have made Microsoft’s mobile operating system a much more desirable alternative to both Android and iOS. Devices with Windows Phone 8.1 will start shipping in May 2014.
Microsoft Details Windows 8.1 Update 1
On the first day of Build 2014, Microsoft also unveiled Windows 8.1 Update 1. Again, this is seen as a minor update but it’s one that Microsoft believes will increase the appeal of the beleaguered operating system.
All of the new and improved features are as expected, with an improved Taskbar including pinned Windows Store apps, and an improved Start Screen including power, search, and settings options. Microsoft is making no secret of the fact that the changes are designed to accommodate mouse and keyboard users.
Windows 8.1 Update 1 will be available via Windows Update from April 8, which just happens to be the day Microsoft ends support for Windows XP. In other words, Microsoft wants you to stop using Windows XP and jump straight to Windows 8.1.
Is GoBe Too Good To Be True?
A controversial fitness tracker being crowdfunded on Indiegogo is on course to raise $1 million. The campaign creators claim the Healbe GoBe is capable of automatically measuring calorie intake, calories burned, stress levels, and hydration levels, all through the skin without any need for user input.
Enough people have believed the claims for the GoBe to raise $916,000 at the time of writing, with 13 days left to go. But several doctors have disputed the claims, and Pando has gone as far as calling for Indiegogo to pull the campaign for fear it’s based on nothing but “bullshit.” Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
Rdio, Vudu, Crackle Come To Chromecast
Rdio, Vudu, and Crackle have all joined the ranks of services supporting Chromecast, with the individual apps being updated to add Chromecast support. Google’s $35 media streaming device needs more support from services such as these if it’s going to continue gaining in popularity.
PSA: The Dangers Of Binge Watching
And finally, with all of these video streaming services and devices launching, it’s easy to get sucked into binge watching your new favorite TV show. But perhaps you shouldn’t. Perhaps you should think twice before embarking on this dangerous pastime. You have been warned!