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The next generation of smart devices is here, to make your life easier, and more fun!

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The joke among tech geeks at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, the annual massive showcase of new gadgets, was “Does it work with Alexa?”

Indeed, Alexa will soon be commanding the market – or rather we will be commanding Alexa – and the innovators at the helm are the ones finding new and exciting ways to incorporate the voice controlled app into our homes and lives.

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One of the most anticipated incarnations of this technology is TCL’s Xess, pronounced “excess,” the next generation of Amazon Alexa enabled devices, in the form of a tablet. Similar to Amazon’s Echo and its offshoots Dot and Tap, and Google Home, the device uses the Alexa wake word, or it can be programmed with the user’s chosen word, to turn respond to voice commands. In addition to following voice commands, the Xess 17.3-inch touch screen responds to hand gestures, which can control functions like scrolling, taking pictures and other tasks.

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Xess also comes with a home security camera that can remotely monitor a room on 1/3 of the screen or on the full-screen, to keep an eye on kids, pets, or an area of a home.  Tapping on the camera icon can activate a video recording or capture still photos.

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Using Alexa app on Xess I am able to turn lights on and off and dim them, and I can also raise or lower the room temperature of my Honeywell Lyric thermostat.  I can also listen to my New York Times or NPR news briefs, get the weather or traffic report, find my phone with a tracker, ask Alexa to tell me a joke, and even be inspired by a daily motivational quote or guided in meditation or lulled to sleep by various skills I have enabled for those purposes.

My favorite companion for Alexa is the Lutron app, which works with Lutron’s Caseta wireless lamp plug-ins and remote controls as well as other peripherals, such as Sonos.  At this time Xess and Echo and its offshoots are not Alexa-enabled to use voice commands to control Sonos, but using the Lutron app I can play music on Sonos using scenes.

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Using programmed scenes on the Lutron app, which I can assign custom names and icons on the Lutron app, I can set lighting and music to match a desired mood or activity, such as dimmed lamps and mellow music for nighttime, or pop music and bright lights for my workout, which I can activate with the commands, “Alexa, turn on Sonos Chill-Out,” or “Alexa, turn on Sonos for Workout.”

Another terrific aspect of using the Lutron Caseta wireless platform is that the plug-in lamp dimmer acts as a range extender, which relays the wireless signal between smart devices, giving me an extra 30 feet for spacing devices.

At this time Xess is not integrated to use voice commands to play music from Amazon Music or read Audible books from Amazon and the like, but you can use these services on Xess just as you would on any tablet by selecting their apps on the screen and using the tablet interface.

One big difference between Xess and Echo/Tap/Dot and Google Home is that Xess can be controlled by hand gestures, such as an open hand to stop playback, a swipe motion to move screens or turn pages, a countdown with fingers for photos, and a shushing finger-in-front-of-the-mouth gesture to mute Xess.

Whereas the speaker-style Alexa enable devices are designed to be discreet, tucked away on a shelf or residing unnoticed on a countertop, the Xess is made to see-and-be-seen.

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The Xess is basically a portable mini flat screen TV. It features a retractable carry handle and an adjustable stand, so it can be set down on any flat surface and set a variety of angles. It comes loaded with a couple very useful apps, such as Kitchen Stories, a step-by-step cooking demo app loaded with recipes, making it a great chef’s assistant.  It also has a pop out hub for connecting USB devices, headphones and inserting memory cards.

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As an Alexa addict, I love having two dimensions in which to interact with the Alexa app. I still love my Echo, for its awesome seven-speaker sound capabilities, but Xess offers another dimension with its visual capabilities, plus it features JBL built-in audio for decent sound; and besides, when I am not using it to control my smart home, it’s a carry-anywhere oversized tablet, for homework, online shopping, or streaming video, like this great video series of Xess how-to videos:  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLnby6EE00VpVsaAP8pPR39Kgvddasgers.

If you would like a chance to own a Xess, compliments of TCL, valued at $499, please follow these easy steps to be entered into a random drawing, to be held April 6, 2017.

  • Like TCL’s Facebook page and on Twitter using the hashtag: #TCLXess.
  • Like this blog’s Facebook page and Follow us on Twitter
  • Post a comment on this post stating what feature(s) of the TCL Xess would get the most use in your home.

Extra chance:  Tweet and share this story on Facebook for one extra entry!

The recipient of the Xess giveaway will be notified by Twitter and Facebook. Good luck!

 

 

The Brown family was immersed in technology in their daily lives at work and school, but at home, their living room was still in the dark ages. Here is how Los Angeles interior designer Andee Ferrer took on the task of transforming the “great room” of their 1930s Spanish-style duplex into a contemporary, smart and connected hi-tech haven.

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Out with the old

As a designer of the digital age, Ferrer didn’t need to leave her laptop to reset this room with all the latest devices, décor and computer comforts of modern life. First thing Ferrer did was send the Colonial-style entertainment center off to the woodpile, via TruckBuddy. Next the sagging drab olive sofa and loveseat, bulky coffee table, 26” TV, DVD player, stereo receiver, five-CD changer, external speakers and other vintage electronics and furnishings, found new homes via craigslist. Then, it was time to refresh the scene.

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Technology and function

While a TV is the centerpiece of a traditional family room, Ferrer eschewed the eyesore of a wall-mounted TV and tucked it away in a custom-built Cabinet Tronix television cabinet.  With a touch of a button, the TV emerges, neatly and discretely, connected to half a dozen media peripherals, including a Blu-Ray player and X-Box, which are also hidden away, enclosed in a compartment at the bottom of the unit.

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Inside the cabinet, the family’s former tiny TV was upsized and upgraded with a 43″ TCL Roku TV.  Since streaming is the new cable, the family cut the cord, and cost, and now uses a TERK Trinity Indoor Amplified HDTV antenna to get basic channels sans subscription.

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Atop the cabinet, a stylish Sonos Playbar connects to the TV via optical cable and lends rich AV sound. The app-controlled system connects with other Sonos speakers in the house to stream free and paid playlists from sites like Pandora, Amazon Music, and Spotify. To amplify Wi-Fi throughout the house, a TP-Link VR900 modem/router is paired with the eero extender system to boost bufferless audio and video streaming.

Above the lift cabinet, Ferrer used the wall space as a projection screen for a  ZTE Spro2 projector. The palm-sized tablet-like projector transforms the living room into a cinema, streaming directly from the device or connecting to other devices via USB or HDMI cable.

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After some research, Ferrer learned that the best color wall for projection was not white, as one might expect, but grey.  She chose Sherwin-Williams Passive Gray to make the colors pop and show vividly on the wall.

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Get smart

To outsmart kids prone to leaving lights on, the Lutron Maestro motion sensor automatically turns lights on and off, and to set the mood lighting, the handy Lutron Caseta Wireless controller dims lights and raises and lowers blinds while iDevices switches wirelessly control the Robert Abbey Delta Emerald Glazed Table Lamp and floor fan, while the heat and AC are controlled by a Honeywell Lyric thermostat.  Both wireless controllers and the thermostat respond to app or voice commands by Amazon Echo, which can also play music, update a Google calendar, report the news, and even read the kids a story. The family can play it safe anywhere in the home with Samsung smartthings hub home monitoring kit which sends alerts via app if anyone passes a sensor or opens or closes a connected door or window.

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Creature Comforts

A couch is fundamental in a family room, so Ferrer started by replacing the old sofa and loveseat with a bright, comfortable contemporary sectional with a lounger sidecar from Article.  Ferrer also found beautifully floral-patterned side chairs and marble top sofa tables by La-Z-y Boy, gray lacquered BluDot Strut Square coffee table, a ghost chair from InStyleModern,  two Safavieh benches from Wayfair for extra seating, a gold geometric gardening stool by IMAX to serve as an end table, and a modern IKEA large-shade floor lamp.  Other textile pieces included Sanela room darkening draperies in light turquoise and faux skin rugs for the stools from IKEA, a Safavieh Hand Woven Natural Kilim Ivory Wool Rug and comfort padding from Overstock, Roman Shades by Pottery Barn, and fabric panels for the Cabinet Tronix lift cabinet, featuring Robert Allen fabric in Tiny Pebbles Parchment design.

To help brighten the room when it was not in use for projection viewing, Ferrer mounted two bright satin brass Robert Sonneman Palo Wall Sconces, which freed up space where floor lamps once stood.

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To help brighten the room when it was not in use for projection viewing, Ferrer mounted two bright satin brass Robert Sonneman Palo Wall Sconces, which freed up space where floor lamps once stood.

It’s all about the vase

No makeover is complete without the accessories. In keeping with an underlying gold and silver theme, Ferrer found an elegant silver bowl with bronze beading from Beatriz Ball collection, which complemented other metallic décor in the room including gold-accented vases and geometric shapes from Gold Leaf Design Group and unique Wall Play wire designs she used to sculpt and frame the projection “screen” to create anticipation on the wall.  Adorning another wall were two bird prints by Wooden Pencil Company, featuring a California quail and Virginia red cardinal, representing family member’s two home states. Across one wall Ferrer displayed a collection of black and white family photos created on aluminum by WhiteWall, a German company specializing in gallery-quality prints.

Centered above the sofa hung a Nurai Mora 2015 Artist Event Print from IKEA, which carried through the geometric design theme from the wire sculpture, the table sculpture and the leaded glass windows.

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Ferrer softened the room with geometric-patterned pillows from Fab and luxurious linen and wool throw blankets from COAST New Zealand.  She picked up all the remaining tchotchkes she needed, including silk flower arrangements, at HomeGoods.

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Good study

Because the room served as a home office for parents and a study room for kids, Ferrer placed a Liberty Furniture Brookview Writer’s Desk in one corner, which held the sleek workhorse Intel-powered HP Envy 34” Curved All-in-One PC, loaded with Windows 10 and featuring a Bang & Olufsen audio system, which serves as both entertainment center and homework base.  Homework or play can become a family affair by using the Nyrius Aries Pro wireless HDMI transmitter to stream content from the desktop to the TV or projector or other HD device.

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Good clean fun

Just as the Tronix cabinet was a sophisticated hideaway solution for the TV, Ferrer wanted to make the room multifunctional as a family play space and a place where adults could entertain, without being surrounded by kids’ playthings.  Three Casement black sideboards from Crate & Barrel, with the glass covered with frosted glass film, served to neatly and discreetly store all of the family’s board games, toys, and electronic peripherals.

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IT room

In case you worry that you have to be an IT genius to set up and enjoy this room, fret not.  Even if you have trouble programming your universal remote, anyone can be king of their smart domain with the help of HelloTech, the “Uber of tech.” All in all, it took one of their hero tech a few hours to unbox and get all of the electronics in the room and throughout the house up and working together.

(Photography by Katya Grozovskaya)

Editor’s note:  Companies featured in this article provided product samples or services for reviews, but the all opinions expressed belong to the author.


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