Apple and Google's best new tech – from smartphones to voice plan

TECH giants Apple and Google both had big launch events this week.

Apple unveiled new AirPods and HomePod speakers, plus a cut-price version of its streaming service. And Google has new phones to rival Apple, Samsung and Huawei.

Top laptops, top prices

REDESIGNED Apple laptops are more powerful than most desktop computers but cost at least £1,900.

The firm unveiled two new MacBook Pro laptops alongside new versions of its own-design computer chips, which it is using instead of Intel’s.

The new MacBook Pro range will be powered by Apple’s new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. These are several times faster than the original M1 but use significantly less power in the process – handy for laptops.

The chips will be available first in the newly announced MacBook Pro – which will come in either a 14.2in or 16.2in size, with an HDMI port and SD card slot being reintroduced alongside the popular MagSafe magnetic charger that had disappeared in recent years.

The new MacBook Pro screen also adds a now-signature Apple feature – with the camera notch seen on the iPhone added to the top of the display.

Going on sale next week, the 14in MacBook Pro starts at £1,899, while the 16in starts at £2,399.

Cheaper music

APPLE has halved the price of its music-streaming service – so long as you access it only with your voice.

The new plan is £4.99 a month, and sits alongside the standard £9.99 deal and the family one for up to six people at £14.99.

Voice plan still gives unlimited access to the 20million-plus songs, but users can only ask for songs or playlists using Apple’s Siri.

So if you want to hear Adele’s new hit single, Easy On You, you need to shout out.

This could be via an iPhone, iPad or the firm’s HomePod mini smart speakers.

The idea is to get more people using Siri and reward them with a cheaper price.

The trade-off is that it will be harder for users to create their own playlists.

But the other trade-off, of course, is having to use Siri.

Voice assistants like Alexa and Google are mostly reliable but Siri is known for getting things wrong.

New ways to listen

AIRPODS 3 now come with Apple’s spatial audio – in effect, 3D sound – previously only on the fancier and pricier Pro and Max models.

They have been redesigned with smaller tips and punchier sound, and are now sweatproof and waterproof.

There is a longer battery life, and five minutes of charge gets an hour of use. They cost £179, with the entry-level Air Pods 2 now £129.

Apple also unveiled three new colours – yellow, orange and blue to go with the original black and white – for its £99 HomePod mini speakers.

Can Google rival iPhone?

GOOGLE has had another crack at a smartphone to rival the iPhone – and at first glance it looks like they’ve failed again.

The £599 Pixel 6 and £849 Pixel 6 Pro are cheaper than other top-end rivals.

The Pixel 6 comes with a 6.4in display, while the 6 Pro has a 6.7in screen.

Both devices have a new 50-megapixel camera lens as part of a dual-camera system on the Pixel 6 and a triple-lens set-up on the 6 Pro, and both devices include larger batteries, which Google says can mean up to 24-hour battery life on a single charge.

The phones have been given a complete redesign on the outside, while housing Google’s first own-designed processor, Google Tensor.

They come with the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system, Android 12, and will go on sale on Thursday.

But industry expert Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight, believes Google will continue to struggle to entice customers away from the smartphone heavyweights.

He said: “Apple and Samsung have had decades to build their brands, distribution and consumer loyalty. There is still a huge swathe of consumers who don’t know that Google makes phones or that Android is a Google product.

“Google is going to have to spend a small fortune on marketing to move the needle if it wants to be a major smartphone player, just as Huawei did in the past.”

The energy cap app

AT war with your other half over the central heating? Suspect the kids are on the PlayStation long after bedtime?

A new free app from Samsung called SmartThings Energy can help you keep track of their usage, while also helping you cut your bills.

It connects to a smart meter and can provide live updates of how much gas and electricity your household is using.

Plus, it links to smart appliances and gadgets such as thermostats, your dishwasher and washing machine, even the fridge, letting you work out the precise usage.

Smart plugs, which fit between the socket and any electrical device, will also work with an update coming soon.

With our energy bills sure to rise in the coming months, the idea is that families can learn more about how they use gas and electricity and make small changes to reduce consumption. This could be turning the thermostat down one degree.

Teg Dosanjh, director of connected services at Samsung, said: “In a time when people are feeling a lack of control over their energy usage, with very limited options to mitigate increasing costs, we’re pleased to be able to drive change.”

The service can be used to switch appliances to low-energy mode and let you know if they are running when no one is at home.

It will also notify users when their energy consumption exceeds monthly targets.

As part of a tie-up with uSwitch, it can suggest how to save money by moving to another supplier. But at the moment, with soaring energy prices, there are very limited good deals out there and experts advise households to stick with their current supplier so they are protected by the price cap.

Let me enlighten you: LEDs will cut carbon emissions

WE are being told to move away from gas boilers – but switching to LED lights is a cheaper and easier way to go green, experts say.

Money is up for grabs, including £620million for electric vehicles and chargers and £140million to help green hydrogen projects get off the ground.

A £450million pot will give households in England and Wales grants of £5,000 to swap their gas boilers for low-carbon electric air-source heat pumps.

Heat pumps still cost £10,000-plus.

But critics point out that a lot of the plans in the heat and buildings strategy are aimed at new-builds – and miss out on “quick wins” like lighting in existing homes.

For example, more efficient lighting, and other lower-power appliances, can help save you £75 a year, after the cost of puchasing new LED bulbs to replace older types.

Stephen Rouatt, UK boss of Signify, said: “While the ambition is a step in the right direction, it is simply not enough and is not designed for quick or big wins.

“The Government needs to encourage energy-efficient retrofits. LED lighting is one of the quickest renovations that dramatically cuts carbon – it does not require large capital investments and has a short payback time.”

He said switching to low-carbon, smart LED lighting can remove emissions equivalent to one coal- power plant, 636,000 cars or 496,000 households for the UK.

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