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IKEA and Sonos’ picture frame speaker has one big problem

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Sonos and IKEA have returned with another surprisingly affordable speaker, but the SYMFONISK Picture Frame hides its music in plain sight. In the process it has added a new element of design to the partnership though, as excited as I am for more attainable connected speakers, I can’t help but feel that neither company has quite closed the loop on this third product.

I’m a big fan of Sonos and IKEA’s original SYMFONISK range, particularly the bookshelf speaker. At $99 it’s the most affordable speaker you can buy which will integrate with Sonos, and that opens up the door to expanding a Sonos system into rooms and spaces you might not otherwise have been able to justify. Home offices and kids bedrooms are good examples, but the affordable speaker also serves well as components for a rear surround sound system too.

Even when it launched the bookshelf and table lamp speakers, IKEA and Sonos weren’t coy in promising more from the SYMFONISK series. It was to be a long-term collaboration, the two companies insisted, leveraging the mass-market design chops of one with the tech-savvy of the other. We had to wait, of course, almost two years to see the third product arrive.

I’ll confess, I’m left scratching my head a little at the new SYMFONISK Picture Frame. Announced yesterday, it takes Sonos into a whole new form-factor compared to what the company is familiar with.

Sonos speakers aren’t exactly attention-grabbing, and Sonos Architectural installations can be positively surreptitious. However the new speaker for IKEA goes one step further, effectively hiding the audio side of things even as the SYMFONISK sits on the wall. Only the power cable really gives things away.

Speaker companies have tried flat speakers before, but never quite like this. IKEA’s contribution is, in no small part, the price tag. Yes, at $199 the picture frame is the most expensive of the SYMFONISK line-up so far, but it’s a far, far cry from the super-premium flat speakers we’ve seen attempted in the past. At 2.36-inches deep it’s not quite as slender as them, either, but I suspect the cost/thickness balance will be far more acceptable in terms of people opening their wallets.

What I struggle with, though, is the idea of it being a picture frame at all. More specifically, the fact that right now there’s no way to actually use your own art in there.

IKEA has designed it so that the picture pops out and can be replaced. The frame – in either black or white – is super-slim, to the point that you don’t really see it around the edge of the picture insert, but it means that you’ll be able to swap the default image for something new. That is, assuming IKEA has a design you like.

The two standard art pieces are the handiwork of European artist Jennifer Idrizi. They’re apparently inspired by visualizations of music and inter-connections, the result being an abstract interplay of lines that are more like a topographical network map than anything else. Neither is unpleasant, and you could easily picture them on the wall of a fancy apartment building’s show-suite.

At the same time, though, they’re hardly striking in an art sense. IKEA will have a couple of other designs, following on in August, and the retailer says that more versions will follow – and vary by geographic location – in due course. Much like the furniture company’s regular range evolves with the seasons, so too will SYMFONISK art, it seems.

What I’d really like, though, is the ability to put my own pictures in there instead. I doubt I’m alone in that. I suspect the challenge is that IKEA isn’t using paper or canvas for its art, instead relying on some sort of mesh that’s still acoustically transparent despite also showing Idrizi’s handiwork.

For now, Sonos tells me, there’s no provision for custom art for the SYMFONISK Picture Frame. That could change in the future, of course, and I really hope it does. The ability to upload a picture and have it reproduced on a speaker-compatible mesh seems like the sort of home decor idea people would love, and the Sonos audio side of that would be the gravy on top.

Honestly, I’m not sure SYMFONISK is going in the direction I – and others – expected it to. Sonos and IKEA’s plan to democratize music and design looked, initially, like a value play: the value that IKEA is already known for with so much of its range. However instead we’ve seen the attainable design side be emphasized, a reminder that part of IKEA’s charm has long been that it works with individual designers on products that are not only distinctive to look at but can be cost-effective to manufacture and ship at scale.

That’s arguably a far more exciting approach to the home audio category, and one I hope we don’t have to wait another two years to see the next installment in. More immediately, though, my fingers are crossed that Sonos and IKEA join up the dots on this new SYMFONISK offering, because while art is nice, art with personal meaning can be truly uplifting.

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Orbital Marine Power O2 begins grid-connected power generation

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Orbital Marine Power has announced that the world’s most powerful tidal turbine has begun grid-connected power generation at the European Marine Energy Center. O2 is a floating turbine anchored off the Fall of Warness and connected via a subsea cable to the local onshore electricity network. O2 is a 2MW offshore power generation unit.

The power generation device was manufactured and launched in Dundee earlier in 2021 before being towed to Orkney. The device being deployed is the culmination of more than 15 years of development in the UK. The turbine is 74 meters long and is expected to operate in offshore waters for the next 15 years.

Its 2MW of energy production can meet the annual electricity demand for around 2000 UK homes. The power it generates is clean and predictable, thanks to the fast-flowing waters where it is anchored. Public lenders enabled O2’s construction via an ethical investment platform called Abundance Investment. The Scottish government also supported it via the Saltire Tidal Energy Challenge Fund.

With its first power generating unit in place, Orbital is now looking to commercialize this technology via the deployment of multi-MW arrays. The company says UK suppliers delivered about 80 percent of the turbine, and its operation will bring long-term employment to coastal communities. Orbital also says that commercialization costs are expected to decrease significantly compared to the roll-out of the technology, which it says was previously demonstrated with both wind and solar energy.

O2 is designed with twin 1MW power generating nacelles at the end of a retractable leg structure that is designed for low-cost access to all major components for servicing throughout its lifetime. The turbine uses 10-meter blades to give more than 600 square meters of swept area to capture flowing tidal energy. Not only does the device produce enough electricity for about 2000 UK homes, it will offset about 2200 tonnes of carbon dioxide production yearly.

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B&O Beoplay EQ wireless earphones feature Adaptive Active Noise Cancellation

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Bang & Olufsen has unveiled a new set of wireless earphones that feature something it calls Adaptive Active Noise Cancellation. The noise cancellation feature eliminates surrounding noise and improves immersion with the music the wearer is listening to. The true wireless earphones are called the Beoplay EQ and also support wireless phone calls.

Bang & Olufsen‘s Adaptive Active Noise cancellation combines active noise cancellation with passive cancellation to block external noise. The earphones have a dedicated ANC DSP chip and six microphones to automatically adjust noise cancellation levels to create a more seamless listening experience. The six integrated microphones are also used for directional beamforming technology, providing clearer calls and speech quality.

While the earphones are smaller in-ear style compared to other offerings that Bang & Olufsen sells, they still offer long listening times. Beoplay EQ promises a powerful and authentic listening experience with up to 20 hours of total playtime per charge. The total playtime is expanded to 20 hours thanks to the aluminum charging case that provides an additional 6.5 hours of playtime with active noise cancellation turn on.

Integrated fast charging allows the Beoplay EQ to be charged for 20 minutes to provide two hours of playtime. Two colors are available, including Black Anthracite and Sand Gold Tone. Beoplay EQ was designed to be small, comfortable to wear, and offer a secure fit thanks to an ergonomic shape. They are sweat and water-resistant and ship with interchangeable air tips in different sizes for a custom fit.

Beoplay EQ earphones utilize aptX adaptive, Bluetooth 5.0, and are IP54 rated. In addition, the earphones support any Bluetooth device, have Microsoft Swift Pair technology, and are Made for iPhone. Beoplay EQ will be available to purchase on August 19 for $399.

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OnePlus 7 and 7T Widevine DRM fix comes with a caveat

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There has been a lot of griping about the quality and pace of OnePlus’ recent software updates, especially when OxygenOS 11 brought about major UI changes and, with it, some nasty bugs. OnePlus 7 and 7T owners, however, seem to have had it worse and have experienced the worst that the release has to offer. After two months since the issue appeared, OnePlus is finally rolling out the fix to a bug that locked users into watching SD quality streaming videos, but many users still aren’t satisfied with how the update is being handled.

Last May, owners of OnePlus 7/7 Pro and 7T/7T Pro phones reported losing access to the ability to watch HD videos on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and other streaming services. It was traced down to a still-unexplained bug from an OxygenOS 11 update that dropped the phone from Widevine DRM L1, which is required for HD or higher-res streaming, to L3, which only allows for SD content. Unsurprisingly, affected owners were none too happy, especially without an immediate solution.

Two months later, that solution finally comes with the OxygenOS 11.0.2.1 update for the OnePlus 7 and the OnePlus 7T. Unfortunately, it seems that not everyone who has installed the update is actually seeing any change on that front. Some have reported the need to clear the cache of affected apps like Netflix, which potentially means messing up some of the stored data in those apps.

Owners of these phones aren’t just complaining about the questionable quality of the fix. Some have pointed out how the latest update brings Android’s June security patches near the end of July, a week before Google releases the next round of security fixes for August.

It’s all too easy to see these complaints as just whining, but OnePlus 7 and 7T users have really had it bad. In addition to what is considered to be a very buggy OxygenOS 11 rollout, those owners feel let down by the unexplained removal of an always-on display feature that was present in previous betas. OnePlus has remained silent on that matter, but that didn’t stop the company from asking those users about how much they enjoy that non-existent AOD feature.

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