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By Usman Khan Lodhi
Amazon to spend $500 million in bonuses for front-line workers
by Usman Khan Lodhi
Amazon announced today that it would award more than $500 million in one-time bonuses to its front-line employees in the U.S. in recognition of their services during the holiday season and the coronavirus pandemic. Operational employees that are employed from December 1 to December 31 will be entitled to receive a bonus of $300 if they're working full time and $150 if they're part-time workers.
The initiative brings the firm's total spent on special bonuses and incentives to roughly $2.5 billion during this year, which includes a $500 million "thank you" bonus in June to workers that were most exposed to COVID-19.
However, Amazon has been facing intense scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers over its treatment of workers and whether it's doing enough to protect them from COVID-19. Vice reported today that the Seattle firm's workers in 15 countries are planning to conduct strikes and protests on Black Friday, which is one of the biggest sales events of the year. By doing so, they intend on calling out Amazon to improve pay and safety conditions in addition to recognizing their rights to organize.
UK MPs criticise lacklustre tech sustainability efforts
by Paul Hill
A new report from UK Members of Parliament (MPs) has criticised Amazon and other online retailers for not pulling their weight when it comes to collecting electronic waste from consumers. They said that high streets are under “severe pressure” and new laws due in 2021 will only entrench online retailers’ unfair position.
The report highlighted that the UK is currently the second-highest contributor of electronic waste driven by relentless consumption of new tech products, the inability to repair some devices, and relatively short software support. To add to the problems, a lot of this waste is going to landfill, being incinerated or dumped overseas which is sometimes illegal.
According to the report, even if you send it off for recycling, the device still may be processed incorrectly:
The report highlighted a wide range of solutions to address these issues, they include:
Online retailers must allow customers to send back electronic waste; Online marketplaces should ensure all electrical equipment sold on their website is compliant with the law and producers should pay the same responsibility fees they pay to sell offline; The government should ban the practice of intentionally shortening the lifespan of products through planned obsolescence; Devices should be labelled with their expected lifetime including how long they will receive software updates, how repairable they are, whether spare parts of accessible and affordable and how accessible repair manuals are; They said the government should give people the right to repair electronic products in law which would require producers to supply repair manuals, affordable spare parts for products, and for products to be designed so that repair is not prevented through limited access to physical or software tools; VAT charged on repairs should be reduced to make the option more attractive to customers; Manufacturers should ensure their products are recyclable and dismantlable by waste treatment operators. They should provide recyclers with information about the materials and quantities of the materials used in the products. To help achieve these, the government should offer incentives and fast-track the national material datahub to help monitor the movements of rare materials critical to our healthcare, defence, and low-carbon technologies; The government should spend more money on high-quality recycling methods that ensure that rare materials are recovered for reuse; The Environment Agency in England should undertake stronger enforcement and actively collect data to estimate the actual quantities of E-waste being exported illegally. In 2015, all 193 member states of the United Nations signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals which are supposed to be met by 2030. Goal 12 - Responsible consumption and production, has several indicators to see if countries are meeting their pledges. According to SDG Index, many areas including Europe, Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand and several others have huge challenges to solve when it comes to electronic waste.
By Rich Woods
Amazon Sidewalk is coming to turn your network into Amazon's
by Rich Woods
Today, Amazon started notifying Echo and Ring users of a new service that it's rolling out this year called Sidewalk. Sidewalk is essentially a proprietary shared network that runs on top of your personal network. According to the company, it uses a "small portion of your Internet bandwidth", although it obviously won't help you out with your internet bill.
Amazon didn't get too specific on how Sidewalk will improve your life, but you can check out the product page here. The firm says that it "helps devices work better", and can simplify setup, extend the range of devices, and allow your devices to stay online if they leave your home Wi-Fi, as you'll just be using someone else's.
According to the listing, it uses about one-fortieth of the bandwidth that a high-definition video would use at 80Kbps, although it's capped at 500MB. That should be the same as about 10 minutes of HD video.
It's essentially creating a mesh network, and the more people that get on-board, the broader the reach will be. If you're uncomfortable with that, that's fine too. You can easily turn it off in the Ring or Alexa apps, although based on the listing, it does seem like this will be turned on by default. Amazon is referring to the Echo and Ring devices that support this as "Sidewalk Bridges", and it's pretty much anything from the second-generation Echo and newer.
By Rich Woods
2020 Holiday Gift Guide: Streaming solutions
by Rich Woods
Every year, we like to write up some holiday gift guides for those that like to get people some device as a gift, but don't quite know what to get. One of my favorite topics is set-top boxes; you know, those little streaming devices that let you play Netflix, Hulu, and a lot more. The reason is that for so many people, streaming devices are the perfect gift.
There are so many people that only think to upgrade one component of their entertainment system. I can't tell you how many people I see spend a couple thousand dollars on a brand-new LG OLED or Samsung QLED 4K UHD TV, but they're still using their third-generation Apple TV or original Amazon Fire TV Stick. Many people just don't stop to think that they're limiting their experience by using an old device.
It's a meaningful upgrade in our experience too. We spend a lot of our time in front of TVs, whether it's for binging a new show on Netflix or watching movies. Going from something that only supports FHD to something that supports UHD and HDR formats like Dolby Vision can really change the experience. And it's not even an expensive gift.
Amazon Fire TV
If you're buying for someone that's invested in Amazon's ecosystem, the Fire TV is the way to go. What's great about them is that Amazon has some solid deals on its own hardware throughout the holiday season. There are four key products here: Fire TV Cube, Fire TV Stick 4K, Fire TV Stick, and Fire TV Stick Lite.
The Fire TV Cube is the best that Amazon has to offer. It's faster than the quad-core processors in the Fire TV Sticks with its hexa-core chipset, and it has an Ethernet port for wired internet speeds. Another key feature is far-field voice microphones for Alexa support. It's normally $119.99, but right now, it's $79.99.
The Fire TV Stick 4K has the same picture quality as the Fire TV Cube, meaning 4K resolution support along with HDR10+, Dolby Vision, and more HDR support. It comes with an Alexa voice remote. Normally $49.99, this product is just $29.99.
Next, we have the FHD lineup, which is the Fire TV Stick and the Fire TV Stick light. The Fire TV stick is normally $39.99 and it's marked down to $27.99, so you should probably just spend the extra $2 for 4K and Dolby Vision support. Finally, normally $29.99, the Fire TV Stick Lite is $17.99.
Fire TV Cube Fire TV Stick 4K Fire TV Stick Fire TV Stick Lite Google Chromecast
Google's Chromecast was always a product that I had trouble recommending. The whole idea was supposed to be a new take on a streaming device. Instead of a remote control, you cast content from your smartphone to the device, also controlling it with your phone. It was interesting, but not always practical.
The new Chromecast is more traditional though. It comes with an actual operating system, Google TV, which will let you run all of your apps like Netflix, Hulu, and so on. It also comes with a proper remote control. And another thing, you don't need to spend extra money on some "Ultra" variant to get 4K support. The new Chromecast supports 4K resolution, and HDR formats like Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HDR10+.
If you want to check it out on the Google Store, you can find it here.
The nice thing about Roku is that it's platform-agnostic. Amazon's Fire TV is built around Amazon Prime subscription content and on-demand content. Apple TV is built around iTunes. Roku isn't built around any service, although it does have a few of its own now. Roku was also the first to make a streaming set-top box back in the day.
These days, it makes a ton of products, and you can check out the full list here. At the top of the lineup is the Roku Ultra, which supports 4K, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and wired internet. Usually $99.99, it's on sale for $69.99. Roku also has the Streambar and Smart Soundbar, which add audio quality to the mix along with 4K HDR support.
There are some other things that are nice about Roku too, such as AirPlay support if you don't want to go all-in on an Apple TV. There's also a headphone jack in the remote control, so you can watch TV without waking people up. Just like Amazon, Roku also has its own range of inexpensive streaming sticks.
Roku Ultra ($69, usually $99.99) Roku Streambar (99.99, usually $129.99) Roku Smart Soundbar ($179.99) Apple TV
Apple TV is great if you're invested in Apple's ecosystem, and the nice thing about iTunes is that Apple doesn't charge extra for 4K content. Apple has two models, the Apple TV HD and Apple TV 4K. The difference is pretty self-explanatory. The only problem is that the Apple TV 4K is already three years old, and the Apple TV HD is over five years old.
If you want to check these out, you can find them here:
Apple TV 4K ($179) Apple TV HD ($149) As an Amazon Associate, Neowin may earn commission from qualifying purchases.
By Jefferson Mangubat
Amazon is rolling out workout tracking feature to Echo Buds
by Jefferson Mangubat
Amazon is finally adding a new feature to Echo Buds meant to help track your workouts. That capability was first tested on the earbuds a year ago, and Amazon says it's finally rolling it out over the next few days.
With fitness tracking, the Echo Buds can monitor how long you've worked out in a given period. It can also measure the amount of calories you burn, count the steps you take, and estimate how fast or far you walk or run.
If you want to give it a try, you can start by opening the Alexa app, going to Account Settings, tapping the Workouts section, and then setting up a workout profile. To view your stats, you can simply open the Alexa app again, go to the devices tab, and then find your stats in the Echo Buds section. You can ask Amazon's digital assistant to start tracking your activities by saying: "Alexa, start a workout." The feature also lets you use your voice to pause or end a workout.
It's worth pointing out that Amazon has a dedicated fitness service called Halo, which was unveiled in August alongside the Halo Band. While the Echo Buds may not represent the company's health-focused business, its fitness tracker could still offer an alternative for customers.