Amazon Fresh has made its way to the East Coast. Amazon Fresh, the company’s grocery delivery business, has been operating in Seattle and parts of California, but has now opened up shop in Brooklyn. Park Slope, Amazon’s first stop in Brooklyn before expanding to other neighborhoods, is a perfect place to start. Predominantly populated with young professional families, the area is likely to have a large number of Amazon customers. Customers in Park Slope can get Amazon Fresh’s same-day delivery on all orders placed before 10 a.m., while orders placed after 10 a.m. will be delivered the next day. While its focus is groceries, Amazon Fresh isn’t exclusively a food delivery service. Other items, including electronics and toys, are also available for same-day delivery. Any Amazon Prime members in Park Slope will be able to try out Amazon Fresh for free for the rest of the year, without having to pay an additional fee. Starting in 2015, however, those customers will have to upgrade to the $299 Prime Fresh program to keep using the service.
HBO recently announced it will offer its service in Web-only format, meaning anyone can subscribe to HBO to watch its programming, even without a pay TV subscription. For years, HBO and its parent company Time Warner have been content to offer HBO exclusively as a part of pay TV packages. But with Netflix and its 50 million subscribers set to generate more revenue than HBO this year, the time has come to change things up. The day after HBO made its announcement, CBS launched a similar subscription package called ‘All Access,’ giving anyone the ability to view a live stream of their local CBS affiliate for $5.99 per month. ESPN has also announced plans to offer select NBA games to digital subscribers sometime in the next few years. While cord-cutters can rejoice, there are still big questions about HBO’s new subscription plan. How much will it cost? When will it launch? Will it be the same as HBO on TV? We’ll find out the answers to all of these questions soon enough. After all, who can make Amazon’s products more appealing than Amazon employees?
Apple’s first major update to iOS 8, version 8.1, is available today as an over-the-air download and adds a handful of great features. The most notable addition is Apple Pay, which lets you store credit card info in your phone to help you easily make purchases through select apps and at select retailers. iOS 8.1 also signals the triumphant return of the Camera Roll. After re-designing the Photos app for iOS 8, Apple said many customers complained about the changes, so Camera Roll is making its way back to your iDevice. Today’s update also adds in a public beta of iCloud Photo Library, which syncs your photos and edits across all your Apple devices. iCloud Photo Library syncs your first 5 GB of photos for free, with additional storage available for a fee. The final major addition is Continuity, which lets you start tasks on one device and finish them on another – and also lets you answer phone calls on your Mac. iOS 8.1 is available very soon or now as an over-the-air download.
While tablets can do just about anything you’d want them to do, few accessories push the limits of these devices even further. A new transparent film designed by Microsoft called FlexSense looks to change that. The film has thin sensors printed on its surface, and is designed to lay over tablets and e-readers to offer new forms of interaction. When you move, bend or deform the film, your device detects and translates those changes without needing any extra hardware, like cameras or external trackers. The researchers that developed FlexSense think it’ll be used to add new methods of interaction to existing apps, instead of requiring a new suite of programs. For example, say you’re editing a photo on your tablet. Peeling back the film could roll back the edits you’ve made, revealing the original image. For e-readers, peeling the film could be like flipping back or forward in a book or magazine. There’s no word how long it’ll be until we see FlexSense available to the public, but its possibilities are very exciting.
You may not know this, but Siri loves music. Siri has always been able to let you play tracks, albums or genres through voice commands. But with iOS 8, Siri can do even more. Siri is now able to rate songs in your music collection. While a song is playing, you can tell Siri, “Rate this song 5 stars.” This action briefly pauses the music, but it helps organize your library and sets up future playlists, so you can tell Siri to play all songs you’ve rated five stars. Siri’s also able to identify any song you’re listening to. Thanks to Shazam integration, you can now ask Siri, “What song is playing?” or “Name that tune, Siri!” and it will identify the track and artist. It’s nothing your phone couldn’t do before, but it saves you the time and trouble from having to unlock your device, open Shazam and identify a song. A quicker response time means you’ll always know exactly what song that was, so you can get on with your day.
GoPro’s cameras are awesome devices, but not all of us are action sports superstars. HTC’s newest product, a standalone digital camera called The Re, is for the rest of us living our normal lives. The Re, which looks sort of like a miniature periscope, pairs with Android and iOS smartphones and aims to make taking pictures and videos quicker and easier than using your smartphone. The Re has a minimal design, with two buttons and a couple of LED lights. There’s no need for a viewfinder, display or user interface – everything is managed through your phone. This lack of features means The Re is able to focus on what matters: its 16 MP sensor and ultra-wide lens. It’s more comfortable to hold and shoot with than a GoPro, and its solid design, slim form factor and waterproof case mean it’s easy to bring anywhere you go. But will anyone want to spend $200 on an add-on camera? We’ll find out later this year, when The Re hits store shelves in the US for $199.
If you’ve ever wished you could visit Amazon.com in the real world, you’ll soon get your chance. The online superstore recently announced plans to open its first physical store on 34th Street in Manhattan for the Holiday 2014 season. Amazon has talked about opening physical locations before, but this is the first time it’s followed through. The location, which is situated across the street from the Empire State Building, will give shoppers a place to buy holiday gifts, while also doubling as a billboard for Amazon.com and a mini-warehouse for same day deliveries in New York City. The store will also serve as a pick-up location for Amazon.com orders, as well as a place to return orders you made online. Amazon hasn’t announced what types of products it plans to show off in the location, but it’s safe to assume you can expect a lot of Amazon’s hardware staples, like the Fire Phone, Kindle Voyage and Fire tablets. After all, who can make Amazon’s products more appealing than Amazon employees?
Microsoft recently unveiled Windows 10, which will soon power all of its computers, tablets and smartphones. But Microsoft didn’t show off all the cool nooks and crannies of its next OS. Here are some of the best bits kept secret. Notifications have never been unified or prominent within Windows, but that’s about to change. Dropbox, for example, has prominent pop-ups in the upper-right corner of the screen showing synced and updated files. Windows Explorer is also getting a Windows 10 update that makes it easier to use. You can now easily pin your Recycle Bin to your taskbar, which has never been an easy task in the past. The OS also features a new “Home” section in Explorer that displays folders you’ve designated as your Favorites, as well as frequently-used folders and recent files. Speaking of files, Windows 10 brings back the File History feature of Windows 8, which was basically like OS X’s Time Machine for Windows. Right-click on any file and click Properties to see the previous versions of any updated document.
While Netflix has thousands of movies available to stream, its original content has focused on TV series, comedy specials and documentaries. A couple of recent high-profile deals, however, are set to change all that. Netflix recently acquired exclusive worldwide rights to four upcoming movies produced by and starring Adam Sandler. While Sandler's recent films haven't won over many critics' hearts, they've almost all been worldwide box office smashes. For those with more sophisticated tastes, Netflix also reached a deal with The Weinstein Company to produce a sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” which is set to hit Netflix and IMAX theaters on the same day next August. Not everyone is happy about these deals, though, and theater chains like Regal, AMC and Cinemark, are all refusing to screen the film. As movie theaters struggle to find ways to keep their seats full, companies like Netflix continue to up-end the status quo. The big winner in all of this is us, as we now have more ways to watch new movies than ever before.
GoPro recently unveiled a new line of action cameras that are better than ever. GoPro’s new top of the line camera, the $500 Hero4 Black, can shoot 4K video at 30 frames per second and 1080p video at 120 frames per second. Its built-in processor is twice as fast as its predecessor, and it features a new interface for easier menu browsing. The GoPro Hero4 Silver costs $100 less than the Black, but still includes many of its high-end features. It’s able to shoot 4K video, though only at 15 frames per second. But the Silver’s signature feature is its touchscreen display, which means you’ll be able to see exactly what you’ve shot without having to connect to a smartphone. The most exciting new GoPro camera may be its cheapest yet; the $130 GoPro Hero is still able to shoot 1080p video without breaking the bank. All three cameras, as always, are waterproof, and all three are available today to become the perfect complement to your active lifestyle.
Want to train your brain? All you’ve got to do is play some Portal 2. A recent study conducted at Florida State University concluded that the 2011 video game was more effective at training participants’ brains than Lumosity, a cognitive training program designed to improve memory, reasoning and problem-solving skills. The study had 77 participants play either eight hours of Portal 2 or eight hours of Lumosity. Before and after the gaming session, each subject was given a series of tests to gauge performance in three areas: problem solving, spatial skill and persistence. So what did the study find? The people who played Portal 2 showed increased performance in all three areas. Those subjects also saw significant boosts on spatial tests, an improvement that wasn’t seen in the group that played Lumosity. While the sample size was small and the study only pitted Portal 2 against one other program, the results are a great defense for anyone tired of being told that video games are rotting away their brains.
Microsoft recently unveiled the future of all of its devices when it announced Windows 10. The brand new operating system looks a lot more like Windows 7 than 8, but combines the best of both of those worlds. Gone is the Windows 8 Start Screen that hid your desktop. Those live tiles aren’t gone, though, because Windows 10 lets you add them to your Start Menu, which is back in full force and totally customizable to be whatever you want it to be. Windows 10 also lets you mix and match new and legacy apps across multiple windows and multiple desktops, letting you use whichever version you’re more comfortable with. The technical preview of Windows 10 is available now, but the full version won’t be widely available until sometime next year. Microsoft said it plans to make Windows 10 able to run on a “vast majority of devices,” so keep an eye out for its launch next year if you’re eager to upgrade to the latest and greatest.
For all the variety that Netflix offers in its programming, its pre-stream browsing can be a little bland. A new Chrome extension called Flix Plus aims to improve that experience and make sure the next movie you watch is a great one. One of Flix Plus’s biggest improvements is cleaning up Netflix’s suggestions. You know those rows of movies and shows Netflix suggests when you first fire up the app? Flix Plus lets you hide shows you’ve watched or rated, as well as those listed multiple times. You can also hide entire sections that don’t interest you at all. Flix Plus also hides spoiler images and text for TV episodes, helping make sure each episode is a surprise. For holdouts still using the “My List” page, Flix Plus adds improved sorting controls, more expiration warnings and a box that lets you write why you added that movie to your queue in the first place. To improve your Netflix experience, grab Flix Plus for free in the Chrome Web Store today.
AT&T recently sweetened its low-cost internet and TV package by throwing in Amazon Prime for free. Aimed at cord-cutters looking to avoid an expensive monthly TV bill, AT&T’s “skinny” bundle packages broadband internet, some basic TV channels and HBO for about $40 per month. But AT&T recently upped the ante by tossing in the complete Prime experience at no extra charge – that means free two-day shipping, plus Amazon’s Instant Video, Kindle Owners Lending Library and more. Don’t expect this kind of deal to last forever – the promotion is only valid for 12 months of service. After the first year, your $40 monthly fee will get bumped up to a more conventional number. But as AT&T and other companies try to convince cord-cutters and other non-subscribers to become invested in watching live TV again, adding in extra perks like an Amazon Prime subscription may help push people over the top. Whether those subscribers stick around after the first year remains to be seen, but it sure is a sweet deal while it lasts.
Now that iOS 8 has been out for a while, you’ve had plenty of time to find new features that you like – but probably also some new features you hate. Don’t worry, though – a bunch of the new features Apple added can be easily disabled. Hate seeing those contact bubbles when you swap between apps? Head into Settings, then Mail, Contacts and Calendars to change the “Show in App Switcher” option to off – or to only show the contacts listed in your phone’s “Favorites” menu. Similarly, you can turn off enhanced searches in Spotlight. Don’t like that your phone shows results from iTunes, the App Store and nearby locations? Under the “General” section of the Settings app, tap on Spotlight Search and disable the options you don’t want. If you don’t want predictive text showing up above your keyboard, stay in that “General” section of Settings, then tap Keyboards. Here, you can disable predictive text and a few other features, and also quickly delete any third-party keyboards you no longer want on your phone.
One day soon, we’ll be able to control just about every element of our homes from our smartphone. Thanks to a new Kickstarter campaign, we can add window blinds to that list. A company called Tilt My Blinds will soon let you control your existing blinds’ tilt mechanism through a smartphone app, wall switch or built-in light sensor. Automated blinds have been around for years, but what makes Tilt My Blinds cool is its technology is retrofitted onto existing blinds. Designed to work with the most popular type of blind in the world, Tilt My Blinds’ motor is installed in your blind tray, so it’s completely out of sight. Once installed, you can control the blinds through the Bluetooth-enabled app, but the most innovative option is through the built-in light sensor. Want to open your blinds at first light? Close them as the sun sets? It’s all possible. Tilt My Blinds’ Kickstarter campaign is fully funded with a few weeks still to go, with plans to ship this February.
Radiohead fans woke up to a fun surprise recently when frontman Thom Yorke released a surprise new album on BitTorrent through its new “paygate” feature for Bundles. BitTorrent has work to re-brand itself from a pirate’s paradise to a legitimate place for artists to distribute their music. BitTorrent’s first bundles kept content behind a gate unless you provided more info, like your email address. Thom Yorke’s newest album, “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes,” is the service’s first paygated Bundle. Anyone can download the single and video for free, but unlocking the rest of the album costs $6. It’s fitting that Thom Yorke is the service’s first paid artist – Radiohead released its 2007 album “In Rainbows” as a download with a pay-what-you-want model. BitTorrent takes a 10 percent cut, but the publisher and artist get the rest of the money and the associated fan data. Time will tell if BitTorrent’s service is a viable option for artists to launch new music, but as a platform with more than 100 million downloads, it’s at least worth a look.
When the iPhone 4 was released in June 2010, people noticed that holding the device in a normal, natural way caused it to drop calls. Apple’s suggestion? If it doesn’t work when you hold it a certain way, don’t hold it that way! It wasn’t the message new iPhone 4 owners were expecting, but it was prescient. The iPhone 6 is facing a problem of its own – its “form-fitting” case shapes itself to match your backside – if you keep the device in your back pocket. In other words? It bends. Sadly, it does not bend back. Apple says this isn’t true, and that the iPhone 6 meets its high quality standards. Apple also says only nine people of the 10 million iPhone 6 owners have complained. If your iPhone is bent, Apple has nothing that might comfort you. While we wait for Apple to offer a solution instead of a non-explanation or denial, we consider all the possible meanings of the phrase “bend over.” It’s what Steve would have wanted us to do.
Amazon’s Kindle Voyage is the company’s best e-reader ever. Its biggest improvement over the Kindle Paperwhite is in its screen, which has a resolution of 300 pixels per inch. The text is more clear and crisp than ever, making it the best reading experience ever on an electronic device. The Voyage also includes an ambient light sensor, which dynamically adjusts the screen’s brightness depending on your settings. If you’re reading in the dark, the screen gradually gets darker as your eyes adjust to the darkness over time. The Voyage also has a new way of turning pages, called “PagePress,” which lets you gently squeeze the left or right bezel to turn the page. The Voyage also added some nice software features, too. It tracks how quickly you’re reading and displays how much time you have left until you finish your current chapter. “Word Wise,” meanwhile, expands the text to add hints and definitions for tougher words. If you’re looking for the next great e-reader, Amazon’s Kindle Voyage ships in late October for $199.
Are you debating whether or not to upgrade to iOS 8? Software launches can be buggy, but iOS 8 can do a bunch of cool things iOS 7 can’t – especially when it comes to texting and typing. The best new addition to iOS 8 may be the option to install a third-party keyboard. That means you can pick up keyboards like Swype, Fleksy or SwiftKey and start typing as quickly as your Android friends. iOS 8 also give you the ability to leave group chats. Can’t be bothered at work while your friends make plans? Don’t care about your fantasy football league as much as everyone else? A few taps and you’re out of the conversation. Speaking of messages, iOS 8 lets you send voice messages instead of text. Press and hold the record button in the bottom right corner, then send it off with a single tap. And if you get a text, you can now reply to it directly from the pull-down menu without having to leave the app you’re in.