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Main article: Netgear

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Netgear’s Meural Canvas II is a better version of the best home gadget for photographers

00:18 | 22 November

Netgear has released the first updated Canvas digital art from from Meural since acquiring the company last September, and the next-generation connected frame comes with some decent quality-of-life improvements as well as a new, additional size. It’s not a dramatic change from the original Meural Canvas, but it means that a product that was already great is now even better.

The Meural Canvas II from Netgear comes in two sizes, including a smaller 16×24 frame that provides a 21.5-inch diagonal picture (starting at $399.95), and a 19×29-inch frame with a 27-inch diagonal display (starting at $599.95). Both screens are 1080P full HD resolution, and both feature ambient light sensors (which are relocated to a better location under the mat that surrounds the screen for improved light detection) that will automatically adjust the brightness of your image to make it appear more natural and less like a screen.

The Canvas II features built-in Wi-Fi, which is also upgraded with this generation (Netgear, which makes routers and other Wi-Fi products, seem to have brought their expertise to bear here) and they offer new Ethernet connectivity, as well as full-size SD ports. They can also hang either vertically or horizontally, and a new accessory mount for this generation (sold separately) allows for even easier switching between the two orientations via simple rotation.

For the virtual art collector

Meural is controlled primarily from the Meural companion app, though you can also access a web interface to accomplish much of the same thing from a desktop browser. The app features curated collections of artwork, which is available both via a paid monthly subscription, and via direct, one-time purchases. One of the changes that the Meural service has undergone is that the subscription membership now gets you some, but not all of the art available – some premium content is still and additional charge on top of that. It’s definitely not as good from the user’s perspective as when everything was free once you’d paid the subscription fee, but paying monthly still nets you 20GB of cloud storage for uploading your own art, discounts on the stuff that is available for purchase, and access to a much larger library than you get without any membership.

Subscriptions go for either $8.95 per month, or $69.95 per year, and they’re probably plenty to satisfy most casual art lovers who just want some recognizable or interesting works to adorn their walls, and want to be able to change that on a fairly regular basis. And when you use the art provided through Meural’s various collections, you can take a look at credits and descriptions right on the display – available quickly via a motion control swipe up gesture made possibly by the sensors built into the frame.

A note on those motion controls – they allow you to navigate between artwork, and even change playlists and access a menu of other options related to the frame. Basically you wave your hand near the bottom of the Meural to make this work, and it’s great when it does work, but it definitely takes some learning to figure out how and where to swipe to make it reliably respond. It’s convenient that it’s an option, but controlling the display with the iOS or Android app is a lot more pleasant generally speaking.

The built-in library that Meural provides is definitely a selling point, and Meural is regularly adding new art collections, both for paid purchases and to build out the library of those works available included in the subscription. It just added a bunch through a new partnership with Marvel, in fact, including movie posters from a long list of their cinematic universe releases.

For the amateur/enthusiast/pro photographer

The primary reason I think the Meural Canvas II is a fantastic product has very little to do with its subscription-based art collection, however. Instead, it’s all about the flexibility and convenience that the Canvas provides when it comes to displaying your own photos. It’s incredibly easy to upload your photos from your mobile device or your desktop, and you can organize them in playlists, add descriptions and titles, and crop them manually or have the frame crop them automatically to display in its 16×9 aspect ratio.

As a display for your own photos, the Meural Canvas II is hard to beat: It’s a lot more flexible and cost effective than getting high quality prints made, since you can rotate them out as often as you feel like, and the display’s color rendering and matte finish, while obviously not as good as a professional photo print, is nonetheless very pleasing to the eye. When you take as many photos as we collectively do now, but seldom have anywhere to show them off, the Canvas provides the perfect opportunity to ensure they have a great place to shine at home.

The included SD card reader means it’s easy to load up images and put them on the Canvas locally, but I also found that uploading from whatever WiFi-connected device I had access to around the house was easy and fast (again, seems like Netgear’s core expertise came into play here). The ability to quickly change the orientation, which is fast and simple even without the rotation mount accessory, is another big plus for your own photos since it means you can show off both portraits and landscapes.

Oh, and the ability to load your own artwork isn’t limited to just your photography, of course – any image in a standard format, including animated GIFs, can work on the Meural, which means it’s really only limited by the scope of what’s available on the internet.

Bottom line

Between the frame options, which you can swap out for different color options eventually when they’re sold separately, and the ability to upload your own content to the Canvas, it’s easily the most customizable piece of home decor you can find right now. For some, opting to move up to something like Samsung’s The Frame TV might be a better option, but that’s much larger, much more expensive, much heavier for mounting and not as flexible when it comes to playlists and your own curation of art to display.

The Meural Canvas II provides largely the same visual experience as the generation it replaces, but the other improvements make this a much better product overall, with faster, more reliable WiFi connectivity, improved motion controls, more flexible on-device storage and new mounting options. If you like some variety in your wall art, or you’ve just been trying to figure out to do something interesting with all those pictures you take, the Meural Canvas II is a great option.

 


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Netgear adds gigabit routers to its Orbi mesh

02:39 | 8 January

My favorite mesh gear, Netgear’s Orbi, has gotten a considerable speed update. The new router, called the RBK50, supports Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax technology which will send gigabit wireless speeds from router to router in your mesh.

WiFi 6 is still new to the industry and there isn’t much support outside of specific hardware like this.

Performance of the industry leading Orbi Mesh Wi-Fi Systems is improved by adding 1024 QAM with a 4×4 Wi-Fi 6 backhaul, increasing the speeds, coverage and capacity of this dedicated wireless link between the Orbi router and satellites.

With an advanced Wi-Fi 6 networking SoC from Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., Orbi with Wi-Fi 6 will support even higher performance simultaneous Wi-Fi streams, making it possible to deliver gigabit internet to far more devices and enable these gigabit internet homes to take advantage of new Wi-Fi 6 performance, which will be designed into the next generation of mobile and smart home devices.

The new routers will ship in Q3 2019 or later. No pricing is available yet.

 


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AT&T is turning on 5G access for its new mobile hotspot this week

17:24 | 18 December

A little taste of 5G is coming early, courtesy of AT&T’s new mobile hotspot. The carrier announced this morning that it will be firing up limited 5G service in a dozen cities across the U.S. this Friday, currently only accessible via the Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot.

Announced in October, the device actually hit the market prior to this week’s launch, offering what the carrier has somewhat confusingly referred to as “5G Evolution” — essentially faster access on existing 4G networks.

Branding, am I right?

Those who picked the router up will be able to access the new network speeds in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raligh, San Antonio and Waco. Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose are all coming early next year.

The first batch of 5G smartphones are also coming at some point next year, with Samsung notably having already announced two handsets for 2019. In the spring, the carrier will offer the router for a $499 up front fee, plus $70 a month for 15GB of data, with no long term commitment — a price, it notes, is around the same as the current 4G hot spots. Pricing for phone plans is still unannounced.

It’s all pretty limited, but in the current 5G land grab, every inch counts.

 


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Pretty art screen startup Meural gets acquired by ugly wifi router company

04:43 | 7 September

The startup behind the Meural art frame has been acquired by Netgear. The deal was announced during the router company’s analyst day and was confirmed to TechCrunch by a Meural spokesperson. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Netgear may feel like an odd suitor for this consumer hardware startup, but they were an early investor in them and the buy is certainly no more strange than the last exit in this smart art space, when Giphy bought Electric Objects, torched the hardware business and made the subscription content free to existing users.

Meural has built some very nice hardware. At $595 the company’s art frames are a bit pricier than other products in the market, though its $40 annual subscription to its art network is much more palatable. The device’s gesture controls also offer some quality controls beyond the mobile app.

Netgear seems to have some real interest in bringing the Meural hardware into its plans to hide wifi routers in plain sight in people’s homes, an analyst at the event noted in Forbes.

It’s certainly an interesting prospect, this seems like an odd product to exercise this strategy with though. Smart art frames are at their ugliest when the power cord can’t be hidden and it’s probably going to be a tad difficult for you to hide ethernet cords on your wall unless you’re hiding them in the wall which doesn’t work great when so many smart home hubs need a direct connection to your router.

Meural raised $9.3 million in funding from investors including Corigin Ventures, Bolt, Forefront Ventures, Firstrock Capital and Netgear.

 


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Alexa routers are a thing now

16:58 | 31 August

Some things are inevitable — stock market fluctuations, thunderstorms, your favorite band reuniting to offset poor financial planning. And then there’s Alexa. Amazon’s smart assistant is slowly making its way onto every aspect of of the smart home, and Google’s own offering isn’t too far behind.

As far as these things go, routers make a lot of sense. They’re a key part of stay connected, and in the case of mesh ones, they’re everywhere. So why not have them do double duty, right? Clearly Huawei and Netgear were struck by the same thought, and Amazon was more than happy to oblige. 

Both companies debuted a take on the concept this week at IFA. Huawei’s AI Cube, which despite not being a cube at all, is the more straight forward of the two offerings. The device looks remarkably like a Google Home (and, by extension, a Glade air freshener, but I digress) and does LTE via a 4G SIM card, along with both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands.

The fabric bottom of the router is a larger speaker so Alexa can talk back, featuring a “400ml sound cavity and an aluminum diaphragm.” The “AI” appears to refer to the Alexa functionality. No word on what specific router skills Alexa will have here, but speed readings seem like a pretty good start.

Netgear, meanwhile, beat Huawei to the draw by a day with the Orbi Voice. The addition to the popular line takes advantage of the fact that mesh routers are designed to be placed throughout the home to help cover WiFi dead spots. It’s a bit like putting Echo Dots everywhere, except they’re helping keep your network covered in the process.

No word on price for the Huawei, but the Netgear’s gonna run you $300. Either one seems like a pretty solid addition for those looking to Alexa up the place.

 


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Arlo adds a smart doorbell to its home security offerings

22:44 | 23 July

Netgear home security spinoff Arlo just added another key hardware piece to its growing portfolio of connected devices. The Arlo Audio Doorbell is a kind of Ring/Nest (to which it bears a pretty striking resemblance) competitor that sends calls to the home owner’s smartphone every time someone buzzes the door. Visitors can either talk to the user or leave a voicemail message.

The product, which runs on two of AA batteries (getting around a year of use, according to the company) or can be wired directly into the house’s electrical system.

Interestingly, unlike much of the competition, Arlo didn’t build camera functionality directly into the doorbell. That’s likely, in part, a cost cutting measure. It also gives users some flexibility. If that do want that funtionality, they can pair it with one of the company’s numerous cameras.

It can also be paired with the new Smart Chime accessory, offering a more traditional doorbell experience. You can install as many of those as you want around your gigantic, cavernous home. Both new products arrive in the fall. No price has been announced, but the product should sell pretty briskly, given how successful the rest of the company’s line has proven, thus far. 

 


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Netgear’s Arlo security camera spinoff files for IPO

01:59 | 7 July

Netgear’s Arlo wing has been a surprise hit for the networking company. The line of cameras are relatively new to the market, but they’ve utterly dominated the connected security space, breathing new life into the company in the process.

Back in February, Netgear spun off Arlo, courtesy of unanimous board approval and announced plans to file an IPO in the process. That bit came to fruition this week, as the company filed an S-1 form with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The security camera company has also applied for the “ARLO” ticker symbol with the New York Stock Exchange. Makes sense.

As it notes in a press release tied to the news, neither the number of shares nor price range have not been determined yet. Earlier this year, however, it suggested that it would issue less than 20 percent of common stock, while retaining interest on the rest. As usual, all of this is pending approval from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

According to the company, “BofA Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank Securities, and Guggenheim Securities are acting as lead book-running managers for the proposed offering. Raymond James, Cowen and Imperial Capital are acting as joint book-running managers for the proposed offering.”

The Arlo line has been highly successful for Netgear, in spite of it playing in a crowded market alongside the likes of Ring, Nest and Canary. The unit effectively doubled revenue between 2016 and 2017, as connected home devices pushed toward mainstream acceptance.

 


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Netgear put a cable modem in latest Orbi wifi router

16:12 | 8 May

Generations ago, the internet spoke of an old saying that involved a man exhibiting excitement about hearing of a person’s love of an object, so he did favor, and put that something inside of something else. That’s what Netgear did here. Netgear heard people like the internet so much that the company put an internet modem inside a wifi router.

The Orbi WiFi System with Built-in Cable Modem is just that. It’s an Orbi wifi router with a DOCSIS® 3.0 cable modem built in. In theory this setup would make for easier setup and troubleshooting of internet issues while providing the home with great wifi.

I have an Orbi system in my house and it’s wonderful. The system does a far better job at covering my home with wifi than my previous single router setup. Including the cable modem in the setup, though, just makes sense and other networking companies would be smart to follow Netgear’s lead. Naturally, there’s a danger in including a cable modem in a router as one piece could become obsolete before the other but I would argue that most consumers upgrade their equipment every few years anyway.

This convinence comes at a cost. The router with built-in Orbi networking costs $299 and a system with an Orbi extender costs $399.

 


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b8ta unveils Shopify-like solution for retail stores

19:00 | 10 April

b8ta, the store founded by Nest alums to sell trendy gadgets, is entering new territory. Today, the startup is launching “Built by b8ta,” which functions as a retail-as-a-service platform for brands that want a physical presence.

Building off the success of its own retail stores, b8ta is confident it can provide an easy, cost-effective solution to brands wanting to launch physical stores of varying sizes. Since launching its first store in December 2015 in Palo Alto, b8ta has built and deployed an additional 78 stores across the country.

“As our business grew, there started being a class of larger companies in apparel and beauty that wanted to bring products to store but the product experience was misaligned with what they wanted to do,” b8ta CEO Vibhu Norby told TechCrunch. “With apparel, you don’t need a separate display for every shirt. So we started imagining creating a number of different brands for other categories.”

Instead of creating those brands itself, b8ta figured it would be more scalable to open up its store building and infrastructure processes to other entrepreneurs looking to open their own stores. That’s how b8ta landed on selling its software and retail services for a flat, monthly fee. The monthly fee, of course, depends on the square footage required as well as the cost of real estate in whichever market the customer decides to open the retail store.

“For most brands we’re working with, the costs are quite reasonable,” Norby said. “I’ll say that it’s at least 50 percent cheaper than doing it yourself.”

b8ta’s flagship store

b8ta’s software solution includes checkout, inventory, point of sale, inventory management, staff scheduling services and more. Netgear will be the first customer to launch a Built by b8ta store this June in Silicon Valley’s Santana Row. b8ta has plans to deploy additional stores for other brands in that area. In fact, Norby said there are a handful of other brands that b8ta will announce soon. This year, b8ta expects anywhere from ten to 15 companies to launch stores built by b8ta across cosmetics, apparel and furniture.

“This is designed for direct-to-consumer brands who have no store space but believe it’s important or they’ve done one or two stores and are having a hard time scaling that up to ten, twenty or thirty,” Norby said.

Some of these built by b8ta stores will exist within some of b8ta’s existing flagship stores. For brands that need more space, b8ta can build out separate medium to large-sized stores.

b8ta’s concept of small store inside a shopping center

b8ta likens its offering to Shopify, in that it provides physical stores for brands while Shopify provides virtual stores for brands. Instead of requiring brands to deal with store build-outs, infrastructure, real estate people and so forth, b8ta can provide all of that for them. On the real estate side, b8ta already has relationships with national real estate owners, architects, contractors and designers.

“We already have tremendous scale,” Norby said, noting how b8ta has a whole supply chain for fixture manufacturing and modular designs. On the staffing side, Norby said, the “big innovation” b8ta has is opening up many stores in the same shopping center, which is what b8ta plans to do with Santana Row. That enables b8ta to cover operations and management for multiple brands.

“In our system, no individual store needs to hire their own management team,” Norby said. “It’s just one team looking over the whole center.”

 


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Orbi Outdoor Satellite adds Wi-Fi coverage to your back yard

02:18 | 15 February

I’m a big fan of the Netgear Orbi line of mesh access points and now there’s more to love. Netgear is now shipping the RBS50Y, a new satellite that is weatherproof and allows you to add coverage to your back yard or garage without worrying that your access point will short out in the rain.

The new device requires an Orbi Router – the RBR50, RBR40, RBR20 or SRR60, specifically – and connects to your home network via an easy-to-use app. The outdoor router adds up to 2,500 square feet of extra coverage and it increased my Wi-Fi coverage in the back of my house from about -80 dBm to -51 dBm, a marked improvement. This means we have better access to the Sonos indoors as well as to the camera in the back yard.

Overall the Orbi is an excellent hardware solution for whole-home Wi-Fi and I’m pleased to note that the app has been improved since my first foray into the product. Now the app supports granular device control – you can kick folks off the network – and it now supports Disney’s Circle for parental controls. This lets you filter the Internet automatically and even pause the Internet to keep the kids from browsing for a few hours.

The outdoor Satellite costs $329 while a router and two satellites costs $291. This is a bit pricey for a home router setup but it did improve my Wi-Fi speed considerably throughout my old brick Brooklyn home and it it now lets me switch songs and keep an eye on things from the back yard. It’s a small price to pay for complete and total wireless domination of your domain.

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