Monthly Archive: November 2014

Security Systems, Software and Product Reviews 0

Security Systems, Software and Product Reviews

Starting with a goal several years ago to include more and varied products and services in our monthly Group Tests and First Looks, we established our U.S.-based testing team, which includes SC Lab staff and a network of external experts who are respected industrywide. 

The diligence and commitment to excellence made by these staff and other members of our editorial team have made our Product Reviews[1] one of the most well-read sections of our magazine and website. As a result, they remain the most objective, thorough and best in the industry.

In our Group Tests each month, we look at several products around a common theme based on a predetermined set of SC Labs standards (performance, ease of use, features, documentation, support, and value for money). There are roughly 50 individual criteria in the general test process. These criteria were developed by the SC Lab in cooperation with the Center for Regional and National Security at Eastern Michigan University.

We developed second sets of standards specifically for the groups under test and use the Common Criteria (ISO 1548) as a basis for the test plan. Group Test reviews focus on operational characteristics and are considered at evaluation assurance level (EAL) 1 (functionally tested) or, in some cases, EAL 2 (structurally tested) in Common Criteria[3]-speak.

Our final conclusions and ratings are subject to the judgment and interpretation of the tester and are validated by Technology Editor Peter Stephenson. All reviews are vetted for consistency, correctness and completeness by Stephenson and his team prior to being submitted for publication. All prices quoted are in American dollars.

Year-end Innovators

Additionally, each December we select the past year’s Innovators, those companies that have shown sustained innovation and performance and have contributed materially to the growth of our industry.

As well in December, among the Innovators, we honor a few companies with induction into the SC Magazine Hall of Fame. This is reserved for our best of the best. That is not a simple or knee-jerk kind of decision, either. There are lots of organizations – large and small – that have cool products and, in fact, there are publications that address the “cool product” issue quite well. We, on the other hand, are concerned that, no matter how cool the product is, the company will be around in one form or another for quite a while.

The recipient needs to be a demonstrated innovator. That is not a one-year proposition. That means sustained performance. The company also needs to show depth. That means that not just the product or service is innovative, the organization itself must demonstrate an innovative approach to its business and the market. Third, the winners need to be responsive to real challenges, and those challenges need to be important over time to an identifiable segment of the market.

Finally, our Hall of Famers need to demonstrate in other ways – such as winning Best Buy, Recommended and other SC Magazine designations – that they have reached the level of excellence that belongs in the Hall of Fame and have sustained that level of excellence over time.

Each month, Peter Stephenson introduces the Product Section of SC Magazine. As many of our loyal readers likely are aware, Stephenson has worked with SC Magazine in some capacity for years.

In addition to overseeing SC Magazine‘s reviews, Stephenson also is CISO of Norwich University. His areas of expertise include information assurance and risk, information warfare, counter-terrorism, and digital investigation and forensics. He teaches information assurance, network attack and defense, digital forensics and cyber investigation on both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

He started his 40-year career as a U.S. Navy cryptographer, then moved into the private sector where he operated his own information security consulting practice for some 20 years. Navigating the industry and his career with aplomb, he then became director of technology for the global security practice of Netigy Corporation and was, until July 2003, the director of technology and a research coordinator for QinetiQ Trusted Information Management, a large international information security professional and managed services company.

In short, Stephenson knows a thing or two about IT security


For more information, click on the links below.

FAQ[4]

How we test

Basic guidelines[6]

Sample product reviews submission form (PDF download)[7]

Submit a product for review[8]

Click here to download our 2016 editorial calendar
[9]

[2][5]

References

  1. ^ Product Reviews (www.scmagazineus.com)
  2. ^ Group Tests (www.scmagazineus.com)
  3. ^ Common Criteria (www.commoncriteriaportal.org)
  4. ^ FAQ (www.scmagazineus.com)
  5. ^ How we test (www.scmagazineus.com)
  6. ^ Basic guidelines (scmagazineus.com)
  7. ^ Sample product reviews submission form (PDF download) (media.scmagazine.com)
  8. ^ Submit a product for review (media.scmagazine.com)
  9. ^ Click here to download our 2016 editorial calendar (media.scmagazine.com)
Amazon Echo review: Hands on with Amazon’s clever smart home assistant 0

Amazon Echo review: Hands on with Amazon’s clever smart home assistant

The Amazon Echo is finally on sale in the UK. The cylindrical take on Siri, Cortana and Google Now, Amazon’s Bluetooth speaker-cum-digital assistant costs £149 and is available in either a black or white finish. It’s been sitting in American homes playing music and answering questions for two years now, so it’s great to see Echo finally putting in an appearance on Amazon’s UK storefront. It also launches alongside Amazon’s new Echo Dot buttons, which are available for £50.

I’ve yet to try out Echo in my home (review units are due very soon), but I did see it in action during Amazon’s official launch event. Personally, I’m not quite sure that Echo will become an integral part of my home once I get one in for review, but its speed and intelligent answers are certainly very impressive. It certainly seems more capable than Apple, Google and Microsoft’s phone-based voice assistants, and I do quite like its cylindrical, speaker-like design. As a physical object, it doesn’t really look out of place, and you can talk to it whenever you like without having to find your phone.

Measuring 83mm wide and 235mm high, Echo is always on and (provided it’s connected to your home network) will begin working whenever you say the wake-word “Alexa”. With its far-field voice-recognition technology, Echo uses seven microphones to hear you from any direction. It can even hear you ask questions when you’re playing music thanks to its advanced noise cancellation feature.

Amazon Echo microphones

Much like other voice-control digital assistants, Echo will be able to search the web to answer queries and set alarms and timers, but it can also add items to your shopping and to-do lists and play music using its dual downward-firing speakers.

These comprise of a 2.5in woofer for deeper bass and a 2in tweeter for crisper high notes, and together they should produce 360-degree onmi-directional audio. It also has a volume ring at the top of the cylinder.

It’s not yet clear whether Echo will have built-in support for popular note-taking apps such as Evernote and Google Keep – something that would be a killer feature in our eyes – but seems less than likely given Amazon’s preference for its own home-grown alternatives. 

Echo also doubles up as a Bluetooth speaker so you can use it to stream other services such as Spotify and iTunes from your phone or tablet. It worked surprisingly well during our hands on demos, and it quickly identified subsequent voice commands once the music was playing.

It can even tell jokes, but one thing it couldn’t tell us in our demo session was how Derby County played at the weekend, so it looks as though there’s still a little work to be done before it’s completely perfect. It looks like Echo will have some form of cross-platform compatibility, though, as Amazon’s introductory video of the device (below) showed it tapping into local radio stations and ESPN via TuneIn to give news and weather updates.

Video of Introducing Amazon Echo

The big question is, though, will it be able to do the same for British radio? Will you be able to hear shows from iPlayer, for example, and pause or start playing them using only your voice? This would be a great feature if it came to fruition, but I fear Amazon might pull an Amazon Fire Phone[1] on us and make it heavily tied to Amazon services rather than anything else.

However, Amazon has already confirmed that the UK version of Echo will have several additional ‘skills’, or voice-controlled apps, which do indeed feed into other non-Amazon services. These include Sky Sports, The Guardian and The Telegraph for news updates, Uber for ordering taxis, Radio Player, Just Eat for ordering take-out deliveries, Jamie Oliver for cooking recipes, BMW, National Rail and Laundrapp.

Amazon Echo speakers

It will also be able to integrate with smart home equipment such as lighting and thermostats, including Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Wemo and Wink, as well as Nest, Honeywell, Honeybee and Insteon. It will also work with Hive and Netatmo, Innology and EDF Energy thermostats, and Amazon even hinted at skills being developed for cars so you can lock your car simply by speaking to Echo. 

What’s more, the latest version of Amazon’s Echo Dot will also be coming to the UK. This is a cut-down version of the standard Echo without the additional Bluetooth speaker. It’s still powered by the same Alexa engine as its big brother, so it will still be able to answer all your questions and make calendar appointments and the like for you, but you’ll need to pair it with a dedicated speaker (or use an auxiliary cable) if you want to use it to control your music. 

It also supports Amazon’s brand-new Echo Spatial Technology. If you have multiple Echoes or Dots around your home, it can automatically work out which one is closest to you when you ask it a question, so you don’t have dozens of voices coming at you from around your home. This will be rolled out to older Dots over the coming weeks, but all new Dots and Echoes will be support this out of the box. 

The Amazon Echo Dot will cost £50 on its own when it launches on 20 October, but it will also be available in six and twelve pack bundles, the latter of which gives you 12 speakers for the price of 10, while the former gives you 6 for the price of 5. 

References

  1. ^ Amazon Fire Phone (www.expertreviews.co.uk)
Amazon Echo finally coming to the UK: Hands on with Amazon’s clever smart home assistant 0

Amazon Echo finally coming to the UK: Hands on with Amazon’s clever smart home assistant

Amazon’s voice-activated assistant Echo is officially coming to the UK. Having sat in American homes for two years now, Amazon’s cylindrical take on Siri, Cortana and Google Now is finally heading to UK shores this autumn for £149. Prime customers, however, can get an Echo for £50 less over the next two days, starting right now. 

Unlike Apple, Microsoft and Google’s phone-based voice assistants, Echo is a physical object that’s designed to sit anywhere in your home. It has a cylindrical speaker-like design so it won’t look of place in your living room or kitchen, and you can talk to it whenever you like without having to whip out your phone.

Measuring 83mm wide and 235mm high, Echo is always on and (provided it’s connected to your home network) will begin working whenever you say the wake-word “Alexa”. With its far-field voice-cognition technology, Echo uses seven microphones to hear you from any direction. It can even hear you ask questions when you’re playing music thanks to its advanced noise cancellation feature.

Amazon Echo microphones

Much like other voice-control digital assistants, Echo will be able to search the web to answer queries and set alarms and timers, but it can also add items to your shopping and to-do lists and play music using its dual downward-firing speakers.

These comprise of a 2.5in woofer for deeper bass and a 2in tweeter for crisper high notes, and together they should produce 360-degree onmi-directional audio. It also has a volume ring at the top of the cylinder.

It’s not yet clear whether Echo will have built-in support for popular note-taking apps such as Evernote and Google Keep – something that would be a killer feature in our eyes – but seems less than likely given Amazon’s preference for its own home-grown alternatives. You will be able to play music directly from your Amazon Music and Prime Music libraries, TuneIn Radio and iHeartRadio, but will you be able to access your own MP3s over DLNA.

Amazon Echo speakers

Echo also doubles up as a Bluetooth speaker so you can use it to stream other services such as Spotify and iTunes from your phone or tablet.

It seems as though Echo will have some form of cross-platform compatibility, though, as Amazon’s introductory video of the device (below) showed it tapping into local radio stations and ESPN via TuneIn to give news and weather updates in the US.

Video of Introducing Amazon Echo

The big question is, though, will it be able to do the same for British radio? Will you be able to hear shows from iPlayer, for example, and pause or start playing them using only your voice? This would be a great feature if it came to fruition, but we fear it may pull an Amazon Fire Phone[1] on us and be heavily tied into Amazon services rather than anything else.

However, Amazon has already confirmed that the UK version of Echo will have several additional ‘skills’, or voice-controlled apps, that feed into other non-Amazon services, including Sky Sports, Uber for ordering taxis, Radio Player, Just Eat for ordering take-out deliveries, Jamie Oliver for cooking recipes, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Spotify, BMW, National Rail and Laundrapp.

It will also be able to integrate with smart home equipment such as lighting and thermostats, including Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Wemo and Wink, as well as Nest, Honeywell, Honeybee and Insteon. It will also be able to work with Hive and Netatmo, Innology and EDF Energy thermostats, and Amazon even hinted at skills being developed for cars so you can lock your car simply by speaking to Echo. 

I’ll be going hands on with the Amazon Echo shortly, so check back soon for our first impressions. 

References

  1. ^ Amazon Fire Phone (www.expertreviews.co.uk)