Hardware

Auto Added by WPeMatico

Google Nest Mini hands-on

Two years after the release of the Home Mini, Google’s back with the sequel. Well, “sequel” might be a bit strong. The Nest Mini is more like one of those 1.5 movies they release on home video with a little extra footage than the theatrical release.

That’s not a compliant, exactly. The truth is there are some improvements here, but honestly, Google didn’t really need to do much. The $49 Home Mini sold like hot cakes and is a big part of the company’s rapid growth in the smart home space.

google nest mini

It was a low barrier of entry for those who were curious, but perhaps not fully on-board. And, like the Echo Dot before, it’s been an inexpensive way to outfit an entire home with smart speaker functionality.

Google has smartly kept the price the same with the Nest Mini. The device may not be a loss leader, exactly, but it’s the easiest and cheapest way of hooking users into the Assistant ecosystem — one that will theoretically lead to more smart home purchases, and, perhaps mobile device decisions.

The Nest is nearly identical to its predecessor. That, too, is fine. It’s simple and with a choice of four pastel colors (Chalk, Charcoal, Coral and Sky), it should fit most interior designs reasonably well. Bonus points for the new fabric covering, which is made entirely from recycled plastic bottles. Google says one half-liter bottle will cover two Minis. Interestingly the new cloth doesn’t negatively impact the sound.

google nest mini

Speaking of, that’s the biggest upgrade on-board. Sound has been improved over the original with a louder max volume and twice the bass. I’ve been listening to music at home on the new device, and while it gets pretty loud, I can’t recommend it as a standalone speaker. There are much better options for that. It serves Assistant and voice playback pretty well, but it gets a bit distorted at louder volumes.

I do quite like the music playback controls, however. Tap the center to play or pause music and either side to increase and decrease volume. When your hand approaches the speaker, two dots will illuminate on the edges to show you where to touch. Paired in stereo mode with another, better speaker (like, say, the Home Max) and it serves as a cool little touch control. The recent addition of stream transfer, meanwhile, makes it easier to keep listening to music as you change rooms.

Another interesting tidbit that didn’t get a lot of mention at today’s event is dynamic volume adjustment, which adjusts the sound based on background noise. It’s similar to the feature the company teased with today’s Pixel Buds reveal and could come in handy if you happen to live or work in a loud environment. Take that, neighbors.

google nest mini

The new Mini presents one of the more compelling use cases I’ve seen for Duo thus far (and honestly, I haven’t seen a ton). You can use the device as a kind of speakerphone with the app. I can certainly see this coming in handy for things like work calls at home. If you’ve got a big home, you can also use it as an intercom to communicate with other Home/Nest devices.

One other bit worth mentioning is the smart addition of a wall mount on the bottom of the device. It’s something small, but handy. Using a nail or thumbtack (well, probably just a nail, given the size/weight), you can now hang the Mini on a wall. Apparently this was a pretty heavily requested feature for those with limited shelf space. I could certainly imagine sticking it in my kitchen, where counter space is at an extreme premium — though dealing with the cord is another question entirely.

The Nest Mini arrives on retail shelves and walls October 22.

HTC stopped innovating on smartphones, new CEO admits

Several months back, we invited HTC cofounder and CEO Cher Wang to appear on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt. Sometimes, however, life happens. Two weeks ago, the company announced that Wang would be stepping down from the role, which would immediately be filled by longtime telecom vet, Yves Maitres. Thankfully, the former Orange exec also agreed to appear on stage at this week’s event.

Maitres took the stage immediately following a one on one with OnePlus cofounder, Carl Pei. The contrast of the two companies couldn’t be more stark. In six short years of existence, OnePlus has managed to buck a number of industry trends with a controlled growth that flies in the face of wider industry smartphone trends.

HTC, meanwhile, has been struggling for years. In Q2, the Taiwanese hardware maker posted its fifth consecutive quarterly loss. Last July, it laid off around a quarter of its staff. It’s been a precipitous fall. In 2011, the company comprised around 11 percent of global smartphone sales, per analyst figures. Now its figures are routinely classified among the “Others” in those reports.

Speaking to Maitres at an event such as this offers a rare opportunity for insight from a newly minted exec who has spent years watching his new company from the outside. As such, he addressed HTC’s struggles with a refreshing candidness.

“HTC has stopped innovating in the hardware of the smartphone,” he told the audience. “And people like Apple, like Samsung and, most recently, Huawei, have done an incredible job investing in their hardware. We didn’t, because we have been investing in innovation on virtual reality. When I was young, somebody told me, ‘to be be right at the wrong time is to be wrong and to be wrong at the right time is right.’ I think we’ve been right at the wrong time and now we have to catch up. We made a timing mistake. It is very difficult to anticipate the time. HTC made a mistake in terms of timing. It is a difficult mistake and we are paying for that, but we still have so many assets in terms of innovation, team and balance sheets that I feel we are recovering from the timing mistake.”

‘Timing,’ here, is primarily a reference to the company’s decision to move much of its R&D money into XR (primarily VR through its Vive wing). Maitres said he anticipates that HTC’s XR offerings will overtake the mobile side in about five years.

“We’ll do our best to make it shorter, but customer adoption is key,” he explained. “How people are adopting your technology. And we all know know it is absolutely critical. And the end of the day, we have human beings in front of us, and they’re dealing with something total new and totally unusual, which is virtual.”

On the mobile side, Maitres sees 5G as the primary bottleneck to growth. Contrary to suggestions that the company’s best play is in developing nations, he says HTC’s play going forward will be more premium handset focused on “countries with higher GDP.”

“The competition is changing,” he says. “We’re all having a situation where worldwide marketshare is going down and the customer is disappointed in not being to have the latest Huawei phone anymore. How to give our customers the ability to come back to what they wish, in terms of best in class hardware and photography that HTC to will to solve in the next few months.”

While figures will largely be dependent on decisions Brough to HTC’s board, Maitres maintains optimistic projections when it comes to returning the company profitability.

“I truly believe that it is going to depend on the way carriers deploy 5G,” he says. “And you know that 2020 will bee the starting point for 5G. Usually it takes two years to deploy a network. So 2023 will have significant coverage. That’s why I believe that 2025, probably even earlier will be the turning point. We are dependent on carrier deployment speed.”

After conquering smartphones, PopSocket sets its sights on beverages

In its first half-decade of existence, PopSocket has grown into one of the most popular — and imitated — smartphone accessories on the market. In 2018 alone, the company generated $90 million in profit. Not to bad for a little Colorado-based upstart.

So, where does an utterly dominated accessory maker go from here? Beverages, naturally. Delish was the first to report the existence of the PopThirst line. You may well have missed it in the wake of this week’s iPhone news. I was on a plane with limited WiFi access, I swear. Whatever the case, the weird little retractable phone holder that has captured the world’s imagination $15 at a time is now headed for the lucrative field of refreshments. 

It’s an odd evolution of the brand, to be sure. But why not strike while the iron (and coffee) is hot? I know plenty of people who swear by the phone accessory, and the pop-out gripper looks to fit pretty well on a matching koozie for hot and cold beverages, alike. Pop it on a can of LaCroix to find yourself on the cutting edge of the 2016 zeitgeist.

The cupholders feature a wide range of styles, from leopard print to camo. They’re up for pre-order on Popsocket’s page for $15 a pop. They’ll go on sale Sept 15.

Another high-flying, heavily funded AR headset startup is shutting down

While Apple and Microsoft strain to sell augmented reality as the next major computing platform, many of the startups aiming to beat them to the punch are crashing and burning.

Daqri, which built enterprise-grade AR headsets, has shuttered its HQ, laid off many of its employees and is selling off assets ahead of a shutdown, former employees and sources close to the company tell TechCrunch.

In an email obtained by TechCrunch, the nearly 10-year-old company told its customers that it was pursuing an asset sale and was shutting down its cloud and smart-glasses hardware platforms by the end of September.

“I think the large majority of people who worked [at Daqri] are sad to see it closing down,” a former employee told TechCrunch. “[I] wish the end result was different.”

image

The company’s 18,000+ square foot Los Angeles headquarters (above) is currently listed as “available” by real estate firm Newmark Knight Frank. The company’s Sunnyvale offices appear to have been shuttered sometime prior to 2019.

Daqri’s shutdown is only the latest among heavily funded augmented reality startups seeking to court enterprise customers.

Earlier this year, Osterhout Design Group unloaded its AR glasses patents after acquisition talks with Magic Leap, Facebook and others stalled. Meta, an AR headset startup that raised $73 million from VCs including Tencent, also sold its assets earlier this year after the company ran out of cash.

Daqri faced substantial challenges from competing headset makers, including Magic Leap and Microsoft, who were backed by more expansive war chests and institutional partnerships. While the headset company struggled to compete for enterprise customers, Daqri benefitted from investor excitement surrounding the broader space. That is, until the investment climate for AR startups cooled.

Daqri was, at one point, speaking with a large private-equity firm about financing ahead of a potential IPO, but as the technical realities facing other AR companies came to light, the firm backed out and the deal crumbled, we are told.

As of mid-2017, a Wall Street Journal report detailed that Daqri had raised $275 million in funding. You won’t find many details on the sources of that funding, other than references to Tarsadia Investments, a private-equity firm in Los Angeles that took part in the company’s sole disclosed funding round. We’re told Tarsadia had taken controlling ownership of the firm after subsequent investments.

In early 2016, Daqri acquired Two Trees Photonics, a small UK startup that was building holographic display technologies for automotive customers. The UK division soon comprised a substantial portion of the entire company’s revenues, sources tell us. By early 2018, the division was spun out from Daqri as a separate company called Envisics, leaving the Daqri team to focus wholly on bringing augmented reality to enterprise customers.

The remaining head-worn AR division failed to gain momentum after prolonged setbacks in adoption of its AR smart glasses, including difficulties in training workers to use the futuristic hardware, a source told TechCrunch.

All the while, the company’s leadership put on a brave face as the startup sputtered. In an interview this year with Cornell Enterprise Magazine, Daqri CEO Roy Ashok told the publication that the startup was forecasting shipments of “tens of thousands” of pairs of its AR glasses in 2020.

Daqri, its founder and several executives did not respond to requests for comment.

CDC says stop vaping as mystery lung condition spreads

Vape lung is spreading and the CDC is warning people not to use vaping products while they are investigating the cause. In a media briefing, the public health agency said that some 450 people are now thought to be affected, and as many as five have died.

The CDC’s incident manager for this issue, Dana Meaney Delman, summed up the situation as follows:

CDC, states, and other partners are actively investigating, but so far, no definitive cause has been established. No specific e-cigarette device or substance has been linked to all cases, and e-cigarette include a variety of chemical and additives; consumers may not know what these products contain.

Based on the clinical and laboratory evidence to date, we believe that a chemical exposure is likely associated with these illnesses. However, and I really want to stress this, more information is needed to determine which specific products or substances are involved

Reports earlier this week suggested that Vitamin E acetate, a byproduct of the vitamin complex formed during the vaporization process, may be to blame. Delman downplayed this, saying that although they are working with the labs that made that connection, nothing has been established as yet.

One trend worth noting, however, is that very few of the cases involve only nicotine products; most of the afflicted users reported using THC exclusively or as well as nicotine. This could be the result of many factors, however, so take it with a grain of salt.

The first death was reported in late August in Indiana, but other suspected cases have turned fatal in Illinois, Minnesota, California and Oregon — as reported by The Washington Post, though the CDC said three are confirmed and one is under investigation. The number of reported cases has skyrocketed, though this is likely a consequence of better information coming from state health authorities and hospitals, rather than a sudden epidemic.

In the meantime, the only advice they have is to avoid e-cigarette and vape device usage, especially modified devices or homebrew material. The fact is no one really knows what chemicals are formed in the conditions created by these devices, and some of them could be toxic.

While the investigation is ongoing, CDC has advised that individuals consider not using e-cigarettes because as of now, this is the primary means of preventing this type of severe lung disease. And of course e-cigarette use is never safe for youth, young adults, or pregnant women.

People who do use e-cigarette products should monitor themselves for symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, or others) and promptly seek medical attention for any health concerns. Regardless of the ongoing investigation, people who use e-cigarette products should not buy these products off the street and should not modify e-cigarette products or add any substances that are not intended by the manufacturer.

The CDC is working with numerous state authorities and the FDA to identify the cause of this malady, and will soon publish a report in The New England Journal of Medicine detailing the first 53 cases identified. This should help doctors and other health workers tell if they are dealing with a case of vape lung or something else.

Daniel Fox from WakeMed Hospitals in North Carolina characterized the condition as they had encountered it, with a preliminary diagnosis of “lipoid pneumonia”:

What we wanted to report and what we have seen has been a cluster of five cases that will be reported later today. Each of these cases featured a pulmonary illness in a relatively young person. Ranging in age from 18-35 from what we saw here in North Carolina. The symptoms that these patients were experiencing were being short of breath, having some GI or gastrointestinal symptoms of nausea and vomiting and fevers.

One of the things that was found in common with all of these cases is that all patients were using vaped substances in e-cigarettes. They all had abnormal chest x-rays and developed a need for a lot of oxygen.

All of our patients underwent evaluation, and after the clinical evaluation we found a certain type of pneumonia that was noninfectious. It’s called lipoid pneumonia. Basically, can be, it can occur when either oils or lipid-containing substances enter the lungs.

That is consistent with the Vitamin E acetate hypothesis, as that substance is oily and could enter the lungs mixed with the vapor and then stay there. But none of the doctors or experts on the call made that connection officially.

Some patients are being misdiagnosed as having bronchitis or a viral infection. If you are or anyone you know is getting sick and uses vaping products a lot, it’s worth mentioning this if you get checked out.

Delman concluded her briefing with an assurance that everything that can be done is being done:

Please know that CDC, FDA, state, and clinical partners are working hard to understand why people are getting sick. We will continue to share what we know and what we don’t know to help health departments, clinicians, and the public respond to this outbreak.

If you are concerned about your health or the health of a loved one who is using an e-cigarette product, contact your healthcare provider, or your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

Silicone 3D printing startup Spectroplast spins out of ETHZ with $1.5M

3D printing has become commonplace in the hardware industry, but because few materials can be used for it easily, the process rarely results in final products. A Swiss startup called Spectroplast hopes to change that with a technique for printing using silicone, opening up all kinds of applications in medicine, robotics and beyond.

Silicone is not very bioreactive, and of course can be made into just about any shape while retaining strength and flexibility. But the process for doing so is generally injection molding, great for mass-producing lots of identical items but not so great when you need a custom job.

And it’s custom jobs that ETH Zurich’s Manuel Schaffner and Petar Stefanov have in mind. Hearts, for instance, are largely similar but the details differ, and if you were going to get a valve replaced, you’d probably prefer yours made to order rather than straight off the shelf.

“Replacement valves currently used are circular, but do not exactly match the shape of the aorta, which is different for each patient,” said Schaffner in a university news release. Not only that, but they may be a mixture of materials, some of which the body may reject.

But with a precise MRI the researchers can create a digital model of the heart under consideration and, using their proprietary 3D printing technique, produce a valve that’s exactly tailored to it — all in a couple of hours.

ethz siliconeprinting 1

A 3D-printed silicone heart valve from Spectroplast.

Although they have created these valves and done some initial testing, it’ll be years before anyone gets one installed — this is the kind of medical technique that takes a decade to test. So in the meantime they are working on “life-improving” rather than life-saving applications.

One such case is adjacent to perhaps the most well-known surgical application of silicone: breast augmentation. In Spectroplast’s case, however, they’d be working with women who have undergone mastectomies and would like to have a breast prosthesis that matches the other perfectly.

Another possibility would be anything that needs to fit perfectly to a person’s biology, like a custom hearing aid, the end of a prosthetic leg or some other form of reconstructive surgery. And of course, robots and industry could use one-off silicone parts as well.

ethz siliconeprinting 2

There’s plenty of room to grow, it seems, and although Spectroplast is just starting out, it already has some 200 customers. The main limitation is the speed at which the products can be printed, a process that has to be overseen by the founders, who work in shifts.

Until very recently Schaffner and Stefanov were working on this under a grant from the ETH Pioneer Fellowship and a Swiss national innovation grant. But in deciding to depart from the ETH umbrella they attracted a 1.5 million Swiss franc (about the same as dollars just now) seed round from AM Ventures Holding in Germany. The founders plan to use the money to hire new staff to crew the printers.

Right now Spectroplast is doing all the printing itself, but in the next couple of years it may sell the printers or modifications necessary to adapt existing setups.

You can read the team’s paper showing their process for creating artificial heart valves here.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ review

It’s true, you’ve got the Galaxy Note to thank for your big phone. When the device hit the scene at IFA 2011, large screens were still a punchline. That same year, Steve Jobs famously joked about phones with screens larger than four inches, telling a crowd of reporters, “nobody’s going to buy that.”

In 2019, the average screen size hovers around 5.5 inches. That’s a touch larger than the original Note’s 5.3 inches — a size that was pretty widely mocked by much of the industry press at the time. Of course, much of the mainstreaming of larger phones comes courtesy of a much improved screen to body ratio, another place where Samsung has continued to lead the way.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

In some sense, the Note has been doomed by its own success. As the rest of the industry caught up, the line blended into the background. Samsung didn’t do the product any favors by dropping the pretense of distinction between the Note and its Galaxy S line.

Ultimately, the two products served as an opportunity to have a six-month refresh cycle for its flagships. Samsung, of course, has been hit with the same sort of malaise as the rest of the industry. The smartphone market isn’t the unstoppable machine it appeared to be two or three years back.

Like the rest of the industry, the company painted itself into a corner with the smartphone race, creating flagships good enough to convince users to hold onto them for an extra year or two, greatly slowing the upgrade cycle in the process. Ever-inflating prices have also been a part of smartphone sales stagnation — something Samsung and the Note are as guilty of as any.

So what’s a poor smartphone manufacturer to do? The Note 10 represents baby steps. As it did with the S line recently, Samsung is now offering two models. The base Note 10 represents a rare step backward in terms of screen size, shrinking down slightly from 6.4 to 6.3 inches, while reducing resolution from Quad HD to Full HD.

The seemingly regressive step lets Samsung come in a bit under last year’s jaw dropping $1,000. The new Note is only $50 cheaper, but moving from four to three figures may have a positive psychological effect for wary buyers. While the slightly smaller screen coupled with a better screen to body ratio means a device that’s surprisingly slim.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

If anything, the Note 10+ feels like the true successor to the Note line. The baseline device could have just as well been labeled the Note 10 Lite. That’s something Samsung is keenly aware of, as it targets first-time Note users with the 10 and true believers with the 10+. In both cases, Samsung is faced with the same task as the rest of the industry: offering a compelling reason for users to upgrade.

Earlier this week, a Note 9 owner asked me whether the new device warrants an upgrade. The answer is, of course, no. The pace of smartphone innovation has slowed, even as prices have risen. Honestly, the 10 doesn’t really offer that many compelling reasons to upgrade from the Note 8.

That’s not a slight against Samsung or the Note, per se. If anything, it’s a reflection on the fact that these phones are quite good — and have been for a while. Anecdotally, industry excitement around these devices has been tapering for a while now, and the device’s launch in the midst of the doldrums of August likely didn’t help much.

The past few years have seen smartphones transform from coveted, bleeding-edge luxury to necessity. The good news to that end, however, is that the Note continues to be among the best devices out there.

The common refrain in the earliest days of the phablet was the inability to wrap one’s fingers around the device. It’s a pragmatic issue. Certainly you don’t want to use a phone day to day that’s impossible to hold. But Samsung’s remarkable job of improving screen to body ratio continues here. In fact, the 6.8-inch Note 10+ has roughly the same footprint as the 6.4-inch Note 9.

The issue will still persist for those with smaller hands — though thankfully Samsung’s got a solution for them in the Note 10. For the rest of us, the Note 10+ is easily held in one hand and slipped in and out of pants pockets. I realize these seem like weird things to say at this point, but I assure you they were legitimate concerns in the earliest days of the phablet, when these things were giant hunks of plastic and glass.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Samsung’s curved display once again does much of the heavy lifting here, allowing the screen to stretch nearly from side to side with only a little bezel at the edge. Up top is a hole-punch camera — that’s “Infinity O” to you. Those with keen eyes no doubt immediately noticed that Samsung has dropped the dual selfie camera here, moving toward the more popular hole-punch camera.

The company’s reasoning for this was both aesthetic and, apparently, practical. The company moved back down to a single camera for the front (10 megapixel), using similar reasoning as Google’s single rear-facing camera on the Pixel: software has greatly improved what companies can do with a single lens. That’s certainly the case to a degree, and a strong case can be made for the selfie camera, which we generally require less of than the rear-facing array.

The company’s gone increasingly minimalist with the design language — something I appreciate. Over the years, as the smartphone has increasingly become a day to day utility, the product’s design has increasingly gotten out of its own way. The front and back are both made of a curved Gorilla Glass that butts up against a thin metal form with a total thickness of 7.9 millimeters.

On certain smooth surfaces like glass, you’ll occasionally find the device gliding slightly. I’d say the chances of dropping it are pretty decent with its frictionless design language, so you’re going to want to get a case for your $1,000 phone. Before you do, admire that color scheme on the back. There are four choices in all. Like the rest of the press, we ended up with Aura Glow.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

It features a lovely, prismatic effect when light hits it. It’s proven a bit tricky to photograph, honestly. It’s also a fingerprint magnet, but these are the prices we pay to have the prettiest phone on the block.

One of the interesting footnotes here is how much the design of the 10 will be defined by what the device lost. There are two missing pieces here — both of which are a kind of concession from Samsung for different reasons. And for different reasons, both feel inevitable.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

The headphone jack is, of course, the biggie. Samsung kicked and screamed on that one, holding onto the 3.5mm with dear life and roundly mocking the competition (read: Apple) at every turn. The company must have known it was a matter of time, even before the iPhone dropped the port three years ago.

Courage.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Samsung glossed over the end of the jack (and apparently unlisted its Apple-mocking ads in the process) during the Note’s launch event. It was a stark contrast from a briefing we got around the device’s announcement, where the company’s reps spent significantly more time justifying the move. They know us well enough to know that we’d spend a little time taking the piss out of the company after three years of it making the once ubiquitous port a feature. All’s fair in love and port. And honestly, it was mostly just some good-natured ribbing. Welcome to the club, Samsung.

As for why Samsung did it now, the answer seems to be two-fold. The first is a kind of critical mass in Bluetooth headset usage. Allow me to quote myself from a few weeks back:

The tipping point, it says, came when its internal metrics showed that a majority of users on its flagship devices (the S and Note lines) moved to Bluetooth streaming. The company says the number is now in excess of 70% of users.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Also, as we’re all abundantly aware, the company put its big battery ambitions on hold for a bit, as it dealt with…more burning problems. A couple of recalls, a humble press release and an eight-point battery check later, and batteries are getting bigger again. There’s a 3,500mAh on the Note 10 and a 4,300mAh on the 10+. I’m happy to report that the latter got me through a full day plus three hours on a charge. Not bad, given all of the music and videos I subjected it to in that time.

There’s no USB-C dongle in-box. The rumors got that one wrong. You can pick up a Samsung-branded adapter for $15, or get one for much cheaper elsewhere. There is, however, a pair of AKG USB-C headphones in-box. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Samsung doesn’t get enough credit for its free headphones. I’ve been known to use the pairs with other devices. They’re not the greatest the world, but they’re better sounding and more comfortable than what a lot of other companies offer in-box.

Obviously the standard no headphone jack things apply here. You can’t use the wired headphones and charge at the same time (unless you go wireless). You know the deal.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

The other missing piece here is the Bixby button. I’m sure there are a handful of folks out there who will bemoan its loss, but that’s almost certainly a minority of the minority here. Since the button was first introduced, folks were asking for the ability to remap it. Samsung finally relented on that front, and with the Note 10, it drops the button altogether.

Thus far the smart assistant has been a disappointment. That’s due in no small part to a late launch compared to the likes of Siri, Alexa and Assistant, coupled with a general lack of capability at launch. In Samsung’s defense, the company’s been working to fix that with some pretty massive investment and a big push to court developers. There’s hope for Bixby yet, but a majority of users weren’t eager to have the assistant thrust upon them.

Instead, the power button has been shifted to the left of the device, just under the volume rocker. I preferred having it on the other side, especially for certain functions like screenshotting (something, granted, I do much more than the average user when reviewing a phone). That’s a pretty small quibble, of course.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Bixby can now be quickly accessed by holding down the power button. Handily, Samsung still lets you reassign the function there, if you really want Bixby out of your life. You can also hold down to get the power off menu or double press to launch Bixby or a third-party app (I opted for Spotify, probably my most used these days), though not a different assistant.

Imaging, meanwhile, is something Samsung’s been doing for a long time. The past several generations of S and Note devices have had great camera systems, and it continues to be the main point of improvement. It’s also one of few points of distinction between the 10 and 10+, aside from size.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

The Note 10+ has four, count ’em, four rear-facing cameras. They are as follows:

  • Ultra Wide: 16 megapixel
  • Wide: 12 megapixel
  • Telephoto: 12 megapixel
  • DepthVision

Samsung Galaxy Note10

That last one is only on the plus. It’s comprised of two little circles to the right of the primary camera array and just below the flash. We’ll get to that in a second.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

The main camera array continues to be one of the best in mobile. The inclusion of telephoto and ultra-wide lenses allow for a wide range of different shots, and the hardware coupled with machine learning makes it a lot more difficult to take a bad photo (though believe me, it’s still possible).

The live focus feature (Portrait mode, essentially) comes to video, with four different filters, including Color Point, which makes everything but the subject black and white.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Samsung’s also brought a very simple video editor into the mix here, which is nice on the fly. You can edit the length of clips, splice in other clips, add subtitles and captions and add filters and music. It’s pretty beefy for something baked directly into the camera app, and one of the better uses I’ve found for the S Pen.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Note 10+ with Super Steady (left), iPhone XS (right)

Ditto for the improved Super Steady offering, which smooths out shaky video, including Hyperlapse mode, where handshakes are a big issue. It works well, but you do lose access to other features, including zoom. For that reason, it’s off by default and should be used relatively sparingly.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

Note 10+ (left), iPhone XS (right)

Zoom-on Mic is a clever addition, as well. While shooting video, pinch-zooming on something will amplify the noise from that area. I’ve been playing around with it in this cafe. It’s interesting, but less than perfect.

Zooming into something doesn’t exactly cancel out ambient noise from outside of the frame. Everything still gets amplified in the process and, like digital picture zoom, a lot of noise gets added in the process. Those hoping for a kind of spy microphone, I’m sorry/happy to report that this definitely is not that.

Screen Shot 2019 08 16 at 5.43.43 PM 2

The DepthVision Camera is also pretty limited as I write this. If anything, it’s Samsung’s attempt to brace for a future when things like augmented reality will (theoretically) play a much larger role in our mobile computing. In a conversation I had with the company ahead of launch, they suggested that a lot of the camera’s AR functions will fall in the hands of developers.

For now, Quick Measure is the one practical use. The app is a lot like Apple’s more simply titled Measure. Fire it up, move the camera around to get a lay of the land and it will measure nearby objects for you. An interesting showcase for AR potential? Sure. Earth shattering? Naw. It also seems to be a bit of a battery drain, sucking up the last few bits of juice as I was running it down.

3D Scanner, on the other hand, got by far the biggest applause line of the Note event. And, indeed, it’s impressive. In the stage demo, a Samsung employee scanned a stuffed pink beaver (I’m not making this up), created a 3D image and animated it using an associate’ movements. Practical? Not really. Cool? Definitely.

It was, however, not available at press time. Hopefully it proves to be more than vaporware, especially if that demo helped push some viewers over to the 10+. Without it, there’s just not a lot of use for the depth camera at the moment.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10

There’s also AR Doodle, which fills a similar spot as much of the company’s AR offerings. It’s kind of fun, but again, not particularly useful. You’ll likely end up playing with it for a few minutes and forget about it entirely. Such is life.

The feature is built into the camera app, using depth sensing to orient live drawings. With the stylus you can draw in space or doodle on people’s faces. It’s neat, the AR works okay and I was bored with it in about three minutes. Like Quick Measure, the feature is as much a proof of concept as anything. But that’s always been a part of Samsung’s kitchen-sink approach — some combination of useful and silly.

ezgif 1 f1b04b8e2ef9

That said, points to Samsung for continuing to de-creepify AR Emojis. Those have moved firmly away from the uncanny valley into something more cartoony/adorable. Less ironic usage will surely follow.

Asked about the key differences between the S and Note lines, Samsung’s response was simple: the S Pen. Otherwise, the lines are relatively interchangeable.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Samsung’s return of the stylus didn’t catch on for handsets quite like the phablet form factor. They’ve made a pretty significant comeback for tablets, but the Note remains fairly singular when it comes to the S Pen. I’ve never been a big user myself, but those who like it swear by it. It’s one of those things like the ThinkPad pointing stick or BlackBerry scroll wheel.

Like the phone itself, the peripheral has been streamlined with a unibody design. Samsung also continues to add capabilities. It can be used to control music, advance slideshows and snap photos. None of that is likely to convince S Pen skeptics (I prefer using the buttons on the included headphones for music control, for example), but more versatility is generally a good thing.

If anything is going to convince people to pick up the S Pen this time out, it’s the improved handwriting recognition. That’s pretty impressive. It was even able to decipher my awful chicken scratch.

Note 10

You get the same sort of bleeding-edge specs here you’ve come to expect from Samsung’s flagships. The 10+ gets you a baseline 256GB of storage (upgradable to 512), coupled with a beefy 12GB of RAM (the regular Note is a still good 8GB/256GB). The 5G version sports the same numbers and battery (likely making its total life a bit shorter per charge). That’s a shift from the S10, whose 5G version was specced out like crazy. Likely Samsung is bracing for 5G to become less of a novelty in the next year or so.

The new Note also benefits from other recent additions, like the in-display fingerprint reader and wireless power sharing. Both are nice additions, but neither is likely enough to warrant an immediate upgrade.

Samsung Galaxy Note10

Once again, that’s not an indictment of Samsung, so much as a reflection of where we are in the life cycle of a mature smartphone industry. The Note 10+ is another good addition to one of the leading smartphone lines. It succeeds as both a productivity device (thanks to additions like DeX and added cross-platform functionality with Windows 10) and an everyday handset.

There’s not enough on-board to really recommend an upgrade from the Note 8 or 9 — especially at that $1,099 price. People are holding onto their devices for longer, and for good reason (as detailed above). But if you need a new phone, are looking for something big and flashy and are willing to splurge, the Note continues to be the one to beat.

China plans e-cigarette regulation as industry booms

China is taking steps to regulate its blossoming vaping market as health concerns over electronic cigarettes increase in recent times.

China’s National Health Commission has begun research into e-cigarettes and plans to issue legislation for the industry, said the head of the health authority Mao Qunan at a press conference this week. The attempt came as Chinese e-cigarette startups raised loads of venture capital over the past year in their fight to vie for attention in the world’s largest market of smokers.

Vaping suppliers in China range from little-known workshops that have come under legal attack from industry giant Juul, which is reportedly mulling a China entry itself, to venture-backed startups operating out of manufacturing hub Shenzhen. At least 20 e-cigarette companies in China have raised fundings since the beginning of 2019, according to data collected by Crunchbase.

These players are in effect up against state monopoly China Tobacco, which is the world’s biggest cigarette maker and provides the government with colossal tax revenues.

Some researchers support the use of vaping to help adults quit smoking while others have shown that e-cigarettes are just as addictive as traditional ones. The other major controversy is the growing use of e-cigarettes among teenagers, which has led to California’s plan to ban vaping product sales.

China is also applying more scrutiny to the new smoking technology. Research shows that the aerosol produced by heating up e-cigarettes can contain “a lot of harmful substances” and additives in e-cigarettes can “pose health risks,” said Mao. He also noted that equivocal labeling of nicotine level can misguide smokers and sloppy device standards can result in battery explosion and other safety incidents.

Like the U.S., China has seen a worryingly high vaping rate among young people, which is another reason that urges Beijing to hold the industry in check. The use of e-cigarettes by kids, teens and young adults has been proven unsafe because nicotine, which is highly addictive, can harm brain development.

In May, China drew up a set of standards (in Chinese) for e-cigarettes that specify the level of nicotine, the type of additives and other components and designs allowed in battery-powered cigarette devices.

Notes from the Samsung Galaxy Fold: day four

Apologies for skipping day three. This kept me extremely busy yesterday. Though the Galaxy Fold remained a constant companion.

Before you ask (or after you ask on Twitter without having read beyond the headline), no it’s hasn’t broken yet. It’s actually been fairly robust, all things considered. But here’s the official line from Samsung on that,

A limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review. We have received a few reports regarding the main display on the samples provided. We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter.

Separately, a few reviewers reported having removed the top layer of the display causing damage to the screen. The main display on the Galaxy Fold features a top protective layer, which is part of the display structure designed to protect the screen from unintended scratches. Removing the protective layer or adding adhesives to the main display may cause damage. We will ensure this information is clearly delivered to our customers.

I’ll repeat what I said the other day: breakages and lemons have been known to happen with preproduction units. I’ve had it happen with device in a number of occasions in my many years of doing this. That said, between the amount of time it took Samsung to let us reviewers actually engage with the device and the percentage of problems we’ve seen from the limited sample size, the results so far are a bit of a cause for a concern.

The issue with the second bit  is that protective layer looks A LOT like the temporary covers the company’s phones ship with, which is an issue. I get why some folks attempted to peel it off. That’s a problem.

At this point into my life with the phone, I’m still impressed by the feat of engineering went into this technology, but in a lot of ways, it does still feel like a very first generation product. It’s big, it’s expensive and software needs tweaks to create a seamless (so to speak) experience between screens.

That said, there’s enough legacy good stuff that Samsung has built into the phone to make it otherwise a solid experience. If you do end up biting the bullet and buying a Fold, you’ve find many aspects of it to be a solid workhorse and good device, in spite of some of the idiosyncrasies here (assuming, you know, the screen works fine).

It’s a very interesting and very impressive device, and it does feel like a sign post of the future. But it’s also a sometimes awkward reminder that we’re not quite living in the future just yet.

Day One

Day Two

Did you fly a drone over Fenway Park? The FAA would like a chat

Drones are great. But they are also flying machines that can do lots of stupid and dangerous things. Like, for instance, fly over a major league baseball game packed with spectators. It happened at Fenway Park last night, and the FAA is not happy.

The illegal flight took place last night during a Red Sox-Blue Jays game at Fenway; the drone, a conspicuously white DJI Phantom, reportedly first showed up around 9:30 PM, coming and going over the next hour.

One of the many fans who shot a video of the drone, Chris O’Brien, told CBS Boston that “it would kind of drop fast then go back up then drop and spin. It was getting really low and close to the players. At one point it was getting really low and I was wondering are they going to pause the game and whatever, but they never did.

Places where flying is regularly prohibited, like airports and major landmarks like stadiums, often have no-fly rules baked into the GPS systems of drones — and that’s the case with DJI. In a statement, however, the company said that “whoever flew this drone over the stadium apparently overrode our geofencing system and deliberately violated the FAA temporary flight restriction in place over the game.”

The FAA said that it (and Boston PD) is investigating both to local news and in a tweet explaining why it is illegal.

FAA Statement: The FAA is investigating a report that a #drone flew over @fenwaypark during the baseball game last night. Flying drones in/around stadiums is prohibited starting 1hr before & ending 1hr after the scheduled game & prohibited within a radius of 3 nm of the stadium. pic.twitter.com/o6nOGVf8K2

— The FAA (@FAANews) April 12, 2019

That’s three nautical miles, which is quite a distance, covering much of central Boston. You don’t really take chances when there are tens of thousands of people all gathered in one spot on a regular basis like that. Drones open up some pretty ugly security scenarios.

Of course, this wasn’t a mile and a half from Fenway, which might have earned a slap on the wrist, but directly over the park, which as the FAA notes above could lead to hundreds of thousands in fines and actual prison time. It’s not hard to imagine why: If that drone had lost power or caught a gust (or been hit by a fly ball, at that altitude), it could have hurt or killed someone in the crowd.

It’s especially concerning when the FAA is working on establishing new rules for both hobby and professional drone use. You should leave a comment there if you feel strongly about this, by the way.

Here’s hoping they catch the idiot who did this. It just goes to show that you can’t trust people to follow the rules, even when they’re coded into a craft’s OS. It’s things like this that make mandatory registration of drones sound like a pretty good idea.

(Red Sox won, by the way. But the season’s off to a rough start.)

The Inning: Bottom 9
The Score: Tied
The Bases: Loaded
The Result: pic.twitter.com/lrRneiCGim

— Boston Red Sox (@RedSox) April 12, 2019

A look at new power banks from OmniCharge and Fuse Chicken

When you’ve been doing this job long enough, you start to develop strange interests (though some might compellingly argue that strange interests are a prerequisite). Lately for me it’s been power banks. Quite possibly the least sexy product in all of consumer electronics outside of the ever-ubiquitous dongle.

I don’t know what to tell you. Blame the fact that I’m traveling every other week for this job. There are also all of the liveblogs from years’ past that got cut off in the last few minutes as my poor ancient MacBook put itself to sleep during those last precious battery percentages. Low batteries give me anxiety. I’m the guy who’s the first to notice when your phone’s screenshot is below 10 percent.

So the power bank has become constant accessory in my life, both home and on the road. Until last year, I used to carry a massive one that was just north of 20,000mAh. The peace of mind to back pain ration seemed sensible enough, but I learned the hard way that, not only do Chinese airports have a limit on battery size, they chuck yours in the trash without a second thought if you go over. It’s a quick way to lose $150.

The good news, however, is that between USB-C, wireless charging and the magic of crowdfunding, it seems we might be living through the golden age of the power bank. I know, right? What a time to be alive.

Point is, there are a lot of choices out there. Anker and Amazon’s house brand RAVPower both offer some good options on a budget. There’s also mainstay Mophie for those who don’t mind paying a bit of a premium for design.

Fuse Chicken was actually a brand that was new to me when they hit me up to try out their latest product. It’s a name I definitely would have remembered — because, honestly, it’s pretty terrible. Memorable, but terrible. Maybe that’s why the company went with such a mundane name for what’s a really interesting charger.

My dad ones told me that he gave my sister and I boring first names because we had such an unusual surname. I have no idea if this is true, but it’s an interesting story and could well apply here.

The Universal is a good example of making the most of out a form factor. It manages to jam a lot of features in without creating a Frankenstein’s Monster worthy of the name Fuse Chicken. On its face, the product looks like a black and white version of Amazon’s default power bricks. It serves that purpose, of course, coupled with a trio of swappable international wall adapters (bonus points for travelers).

But the brick also sports a 6,700mAh battery inside, so you can continue charging gadgets while unplugged. That’s ideal for a phone — you can keep a laptop alive for a bit as well, but you’re going to burn through that pretty quickly. There’s also a wireless charging pad up top, so you can power up another phone or, say, a new set of AirPods at the same time. The side of the device features a small display showing off how much juice is left.

It’s great having a bank that’s also a plug, though like Apple’s brick, it’s much too massive to plug into many vertical outlets. I learned this lesson the hard way on a recent coast to coast flight. Thankfully, though, it’s compatible with Apple’s extension cable.

OmniCharge, meanwhile, is a company I’ve been following since their earliest Kickstarter days. Matter of fact, the aforementioned power bank that’s currently sitting in a Chinese garbage dump is one of their products. R.I.P. noble battery pack.

The Omni Mobile 12,800 mAh is a much more basic product that the company’s earliest offerings. There’s no display for power information here — instead you have to rely on four lights to let you know how much juice is left.

As with most of the company’s products, I do quite like the design language. It’s subtle and unobtrusive and fits nicely inside a backpack. It’s definitely too big for carrying around in a pocket, however. Thanks the wonders of USB it will charge a laptop, as well, though once again, you’re going to run through that 12,800 mAh pretty quickly, if you do.

The Fuse Chicken and OmniCharge run $85 and $99, respectively. They’ve both served me well as travel companions these last few weeks. Here’s to long flights and avoiding life’s landfill.

Leica’s Q2 is a beautiful camera that I want and will never have

Leica is a brand I respect and appreciate but don’t support. Or rather, can’t, because I’m not fabulously rich. But if I did have $5,000 to spend on a fixed-lens camera, I’d probably get the new Q2, a significant improvement over 2015’s Q — which tempted me back then.

The Q2 keeps much of what made the Q great: a full-frame sensor, a fabulous 28mm F/1.7 Summilux lens, and straightforward operation focused on getting the shot. But it also makes some major changes that make the Q2 a far more competitive camera.

The sensor has jumped from 24 to 47 megapixels, and while we’re well out of the megapixel race, that creates the opportunity for a very useful cropped shooting mode that lets you shoot at 35, 50, and 75mm equivalents while still capturing huge pixel counts. It keeps the full frame exposure as well so you can tweak the crop later. The new sensor also has a super low native ISO of 50, which should help with dynamic range and in certain exposure conditions.

Autofocus has been redone as well (as you might expect with a new sensor) and it should be quicker and more accurate now. Ther’s also an optical stabilization mode that kicks in when you are shooting at under 1/60s. Both features that need a little testing to verify they’re as good as they sound, but I don’t expect they’re fraudulent or anything.

The body, already a handsome minimal design in keeping with Leica’s impeccable (if expensive) taste, is now weather sealed, making this a viable walk-around camera in all conditions. Imagine paying five grand for a camera and being afraid to take it out in the rain! Well, many people did that and perhaps will feel foolish now that the Q2 has arrived.

Inside is an electronic viewfinder, but the 2015 Q had a sequential-field display — meaning it flashes rapidly through the red, green, and blue components of the image — which made it prone to color artifacts in high-motion scenes or when panning. The Q2, however, has a shiny new OLED display with the same resolution but better performance. OLEDs are great for EVFs for a lot of reasons, but I like that you get really nice blacks, like in an optical viewfinder.

The button layout has been simplified as well (or rather synchronized with the CL, another Leica model), with a new customizable button on the top plate, reflecting the trend of personalization we’ve seen in high-end cameras. A considerably larger battery and redesigned battery and card door rounds out the new features.

As DPReview points out in its hands-on preview of the camera, the Q2 is significantly heavier than the high-end fixed-lens competition (namely the Sony RX1R II and Fuji X100F, both excellent cameras), and also significantly more expensive. But unlike many Leica offerings, it actually outperforms them in important ways: the lens, the weather sealing, the burst speed — it may be expensive, but you actually get something for your money. That can’t always be said of this brand.

The Leica Q2 typifies the type of camera I’d like to own: no real accessories, nothing to swap in or out, great image quality and straightforward operation. I’m far more likely to get an X100F (and even then it’d be a huge splurge) but all that time I’ll be looking at the Q2 with envious eyes. Maybe I’ll get to touch one some day.

Korean conglomerate SK leads $600M round for Chinese chipmaker Horizon Robotics

Horizon Robotics, a three-year-old Chinese startup backed by Intel Capital, just raised a mega-round of fundings from domestic and overseas backers as it competes for global supremacy in developing AI solutions and chips aimed at autonomous vehicles, smart retail stores, surveillance equipment and other devices for everyday scenarios.

The Beijing-based company announced Wednesday in a statement that it’s hauled in $600 million in a Series B funding round led by SK China, the China subsidiary of South Korean conglomerate SK Group; SK Hynix, SK’s semiconductor unit; and a number of undisclosed Chinese automakers along with their funds.

The fresh capital drove Horizon’s valuation to at least $3 billion, the company claims. The Financial Times previously reported that the chipmaker was raising up to $1 billion in a funding round that could value it at as much as $4 billion. Such a price tag could perhaps be justified by the vast amount of resources China has poured into the red-hot sector as part of a national push to shed dependency on imported chips and work towards what analysts call “semiconductor sovereignty.”

Horizon did not specify how the proceeds will be used. The company could not be immediately reached for comments.

In 2015, Yu Kai left Baidu as the Chinese search engine giant’s deep learning executive and founded Horizon to make the “brains” for a broad spectrum of connected devices. In doing so Yu essentially set himself up for a race against industry veterans like Intel and Nvidia. To date, the startup has managed to make a dent by securing government contracts, which provide a stable source of income for China’s AI upstarts including SenseTime, and several big-name clients like SK’s telecommunication unit, which is already leveraging Horizon’s algorithms to develop smart retail solutions. Like many of its peers who are at the forefront of the AI race, Horizon has set up an office in Silicon Valley and hiring local talents for its lab.

Other investors who joined the round included several of Horizon’s returning investors such as Hillhouse Capital and Morningside Venture Capital . There were also some heavyweight new backers, such as a fund run by conglomerate China Oceanwide Holdings as well as the CSOBOR Fund, a private equity entity set up by China’s state-owned CITIC to back projects pertaining to China’s ambitious “One Belt, One Road” modern Silk Road initiative.

Xiaomi-backed electric toothbrush Soocas raises $30 million Series C

China’s Soocas continues to jostle with global toothbrush giants as it raises 200 million yuan ($30 million) in a series C funding round. The Shenzhen-based oral care manufacturer has secured the new capital from lead investor Vision Knight Capital, with Kinzon Capital, Greenwoods Investment, Yunmu Capital and Cathay Capital also participating in the round.

The new proceeds arrived less than a year after Soocas, one of Xiaomi’s home appliance portfolio startups, snapped up close to 100 million yuan in a Series B round last March. Best known for its budget smartphones, Xiaomi has a grand plan to construct an Internet of Things empire that encompasses smart TVs to electric toothbrushes, and it has been gearing up by shelling out strategic investments for consumer goods makers such as Soocas.

Founded in 2015, Soocas’s rise reflects a growing demand for personal care accessories as people’s disposable income increases. Electric toothbrushes are a relatively new concept to most Chinese consumers but the category is picking up steam fast. According to data compiled by Alibaba’s advertising service Alimama, gross merchandise volume sales of electric toothbrushes grew 97 percent between 2015 and 2017. Multinational brands still dominate the oral care space in China, with Procter & Gamble, Colgate and Hawley & Hazel Chemical occupying the top three spots as of 2017, a report from Euromonitor International shows, but local players are rapidly catching up.

Soocas faces some serious competition from its Chinese peers Usmile and Roaman. Like Soocas, the two rivals have also placed their offices in southern China for proximity to the region’s robust supply chain resources. Part of Soocas’s strength comes from its tie-up with Xiaomi, which gives its portfolio companies access to a massive online and offline distribution network worldwide. That comes at a cost, however, as Xiaomi is known to impose razor-thin margins on the companies it backs and controls.

According to a statement from Soocas’s founder Meng Fandi, the company has achieved profitability since its launch and has seen its margin increase over the years. It plans to spend its fresh proceeds on marketing in a race to lure China’s increasingly sophisticated young consumers with toothbrushes and its new lines of hair dryers, nasal trimmers and other tools that make you squeaky-clean.

Mental well-being took center stage at CES 2019

This week, the Las Vegas Convention Center was packed with many of the year’s biggest new devices. But over the last several years, The Sands has become the place where the real magic happens. The segment of the show known as Eureka Park is where the startups and accelerators congregate, often times showing off products that are still years away.

A quick walk around the floor (insofar as someone can walk quickly with that much humanity slowly shuffling through the halls) sheds a lot of light on the industry’s biggest trends. Plenty are holdovers from previous years — smart home and wearables continue to dominate —  but others offer insight into where the next several years of technology may be going.

One key trend that absolutely exploded this past year is mental well-being. Between the sleep, relaxation, concentration and meditation products on display, you couldn’t walk five feet without encountering another pitch. The list includes some familiar faces (to us, at least) like the Muse meditation and sleep headsets and a whole slew of new entrants.

The trajectory tracks if you consider many of these products a kind of extension of the fitness trackers that were all the rage a few years back. First startups pushed to keep our bodies in shape, moving on to sleep tracking and, eventually, our minds. The accessibility of sensors that can track things like basic brain activity have helped push the concept along.

It’s a worthy cause, of course. The proliferation of many technologies has done some pretty rough stuff to our bodies and brains over the years. Wouldn’t it be great if tech could also turn that around.

In many cases, the use is clear. Decades of scientific studies have demonstrated the value simply sitting quietly during meditation practice can have on your stress levels and mental health. If a product can help you get into a routine, great. But there’s an even larger opportunity for snake oil salespeople than we saw on the fitness side.

Certainly the FDA has a role to play, ensuring that companies can’t make untested medical claims for their products, but much of the burden here will ultimately be placed on journalist and consumer alike. When it comes to this category, the placebo effect is very real.

Samsung steps up its game with the new Notebook Odyssey

Reviews of the Notebook Odyssey line have been…mixed. Hopefully the electronics giant can right the ship as it navigates the tricky waters of high-end gaming systems. At very least, the latest version of the line — unveiled tonight at CES in Vegas — certainly looks the part.

The 15.6 inch laptop features an aluminum design and a display attached with an innovative hinge connected only in the center to mimic a standalone monitor. The bezels have been shrunk down considerably as well, at 6.7 millimeters. The typewriter-style keyboard is backlit, as one would expect from their gaming laptop.

There are a few different performance pre-sets on-board here, too. Per Samsung,

Odyssey Mode allows users to save settings presets under different profiles for various types of games. Beast Mode lets users modulate the Samsung Notebook Odyssey’s performance depending on the software it is running, and the Black Equalizer helps users get a leg up on the competition by improving in-game lighting.

Inside you get an eighth-gen hexa-core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and either 256GB (SSD) to 1TB (HDD) of storage. Graphics-wise, you’re getting an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080, featuring the new Turing GPU. There’s a fairly healthy selection of ports, as well, including USB-C, three full USB, HDMI and Ethernet.

The new Odyssey is due out at some point “early” this year. No word yet on pricing.

Facebook starts shipping Portal, clarifies privacy/ad policy

Planning to get in early on the Portal phenomenon? Facebook announced today that it’s starting to ship the video chat device. The company’s first true piece of devoted hardware comes in two configurations: the Echo Show-like Portal and the larger Portal+ . Which run $199 and $349, respectively. There’s also a two-fer $298 bundle on the smaller unit.

The device raised some privacy red flags since it was announced early last month. The company attempted to nip some of the those issues in the bud ahead of launch — after all, 2018 hasn’t been a great year for Facebook privacy. The site also hasn’t done itself any favors by offering some murky comments around data tracking and ad targeting in subsequent weeks.

With all that in mind, Facebook is also marking the launch with a blog post further spelling out Portal’s privacy policy. Top level, the company promises not to view or listen to video calls. Calls are also encrypted and all of the AI tech is performed locally on-device — IE not sent to its servers.

In the post, Facebook also promises to treat conversations on Portal the way it does all Messenger experience. That means while it won’t view the calls, it does indeed track data usage, which it may later use to serve up cross platform ads.

“When you make a Portal video call, we process the same device usage information as other Messenger-enabled devices,” Facebook writes. “This can include volume level, number of bytes received, and frame resolution — it can also include the frequency and length of your calls. Some of this information may be used for advertising purposes. For example, we may use the fact that you make lots of video calls to inform some of the ads you see. This information does not include the contents of your Portal video calls.”

In other words, it’s not collecting personally identifying data, but it tracking information. And honestly, if you have a Facebook account, you’ve already signed up for that. The question is whether you’re comfortable introducing an extra level and bringing it into your living room or kitchen.

IoT company Smartfrog takes controlling interest in Canary

Things have been pretty quiet on the Canary front. In January at CES, the New York-based smart security startup released a stripped-down version of it its flagship camera. Beyond the odd software updates here and there, however, we haven’t heard much. This morning, however, the company announced some pretty big changes coming from the top, down.

Smartfrog, a European IoT company, has invested $25 million in the startup, bringing its total funding up to $66 million.  With its investment, Smartfrog will also take a controlling interest.

That means some shakeups, up top. Smartfrog CEO Charles Fraenkl will retain the top spot at the combined companies, while Bob Stohrer, Canary’s CMO, will be put in charge of its New York-based operations. Former Canary CEO Adam Sager, meanwhile, will stay around in an advisory role, according to the company. 

“We are very excited about the opportunities that derive from joining forces. Our businesses are extremely complementary and will enable us to scale the business faster globally,“ Stohrer told TechCrunch.

From a strategic standpoint, the move gives Smartfrog a foothold in the States, while potentially affording Canary the ability to spread into the EU. The camera maker offered a pretty impressive product out of the gate, putting it at the forefront of smart home security.

A spokesperson for the companies told TechCrunch,

Globally, the smart home security market is at an inflection point, and as the industry becomes increasingly competitive with some of the world’s largest technology companies, Smartfrog and Canary joining forces enables both companies to better compete globally. Together the group will immediately become a formidable global provider of IoT services and SaaS solutions leveraging combined strengths. With artificial intelligence, machine learning initiatives, easy-to-use products and affordable prices, the group ensures continued consumer benefits and accelerated global growth.

Increased competition from the likes of Nest, Amazon-owned Ring and, most notably, Netgear’s Arlo, have, however, made for a far more competitive space.

“Canary´s achievements — in creating an award-winning smart home security solution and becoming one of the fastest-growing category leaders in US — is nothing short of impressive,” Fraenkl said in a statement. “By joining forces, the group will be well positioned in an increasingly competitive market.”

Canary will continue to function as an independent brand, moving forward.

Marshall’s Kilburn II is a ruggedly handsome bluetooth speaker

Marshall hasn’t been been shy about capitalizing on its legacy. The legendary English amplifier company has plastered its name on cans of beer and a line of refrigerators. It’s not the most crass branding we’ve seen, but it’s pretty damn silly.

At first glance, the same can be said for its line of bluetooth speakers and headphones, save for one important thing: they’re actually quite good. It’s been several years since the company branched out into consumer electronics, and along the way, it’s been remarkably consistent with the products that bear its iconic cursive logo.

Announced this summer at IFA, the Kilburn II doesn’t stray far from the familiar Marshall amplifier style. In fact, you’d be forgiven if you mistook the thing for a practice amp. Instead, it’s just a solidly built bluetooth speaker with a rubberized faux leather design that can take some serious bumps. It’s further ruggedized by way of a chainlink metallic grille up front.

The speaker is water resistant, so you can take it outside without much concern. That said, if you need a true all-weather speaker, I’d recommend looking at something from JBL. The Kilburn isn’t going to go swimming with you, but it’ll withstand a little spilt whiskey.

The sound quality is decent for speaker of this size. It’s not the best sound I’ve heard out of a bluetooth speaker, but if you’re looking for something portable to fill up a small room, it’s a pretty solid choice, and the treble and bass knobs up top will help you find find the perfect medium.

Unlike most bluetooth speakers, the Kilburn requires a proprietary plug for charging. That means no microUSB/USB-C. That’s understandable though, given the massive on-board battery, which should give more than 20 hours of life on a charge, watching the series of red bars creep down in the meantime.

At $299, it’s not a cheap bluetooth speaker, but it’s solid as far as the price point goes. It’s not going to replace your audiophile sound system any time soon, but at least it will look nice sitting next to your vinyl collection.

iRobot’s new Roomba knows where it’s going

The Roomba i7+ looks like, well, it looks like a Roomba. There are few factors distinguishing the product from the last several generations. The rollers are bright green, along with a large Automatic Dirt Disposal section just below. Beyond that, however, it’s nearly identical to what you’ll already find on store shelves.

For iRobot co-founder and CEO Colin Angle, however, the product represents the culmination of the company’s nearly 30-year existence. “This is the thing,” the executive explains. “This is the Roomba I’ve always wanted to make.”

The latest version of the robotic vacuum represents a number of advances over its predecessor, chief among them the ability to know where it’s going and remember where it’s been. It’s a skill Angle has teased for a few years now, including several appearances on TechCrunch — and high atop the list of the line’s most requested features.

The feature has been teased in past versions of the home robot. Last year, the company added Clean Mapping to the 900 series. The feature lets the robot create an indoor map of the home, showing where the Roomba spent most of its time and helping it return home to the dock, even when it’s on the other side of the home.

With the i7+, however, Roomba will be able to recognize different rooms.

“The idea that we can build this system that remembers what’s going on in the home is the big leap,” Angle tells TechCrunch. “The 900 built maps, but didn’t remember them. The goal of organizing information to enable the smart home required this robot. For the company, it’s huge. We transition from being a company that is building robots to a company that is organizing spatial information in the home. There’s a data dimension to the company that can now actually be talked about.”

This is accomplished, in part, due to a large jump in computational power  — 50x over the 900 series, according to the CEO. While most users refresh their Roombas at roughly the same rate as smartphones (every two to three years), the bump in on-board tech means the company is able to offer a device that continuously updates over the life of the product.

“It’s much more of a platform at this point,” Angle says. “We can improve your robot, and you should expect the robot to be more of a software product. Your ability to interact with it and the sophistication of what it can do at launch versus a year from now is actually going to be pretty different. The next time it can be smarter about what it can do.”

iRobot gave us a sneak peek of the product on a recent trip to its Bedford, Mass. headquarters. The iRobot HOME lab is a 4,000-square-foot fake home protected by a series of secure doors. It’s much nicer and much larger than my own New York City apartment, save for the notes that line different piece of furniture, warning visitors not to do things like lie on the bed.

The company showed off the tech by mapping roughly half the space for the new Roomba, code-named “Lewis,” as a tip of the cap to one half of the famed duo of 19th century American explorers. The combination of  iAdapt 3.0 Navigation with vSLAM location mapping makes the robot able to navigate to a destination chosen by the user. The recent additions of Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa means users can command the robot with their voice.

There’s one more key hardware addition for the i7+, which addresses another longstanding complaint with the Roomba. The Clean Base is a large bin attached to the charging dock. Using the Automatic Dirt Disposal system, the Roomba is able to empty its own bin. You’ll still have to clean out the larger bin, of course, but only 1/30th of the time of the on-board system. When that bag is full, the user will get a notification from the app.

The i7+ is up for presale starting today, priced at $699. The clean base runs another $299. The robot will start shipping in September. You also can get a sneak peek of the system this week at TechCrunch Disrupt.

Amazon’s Echo Spot is apparently free right now (Update: aaand it’s gone)

Update: Nothing gold can stay, Ponyboy. It was fun while it lasted, but both Spots are back to their original $129 asking price — and the white version still appears to be totally sold out. It looks as if the whole thing was a pricing mistake, rather than extra generosity on the part of Jeff B. So, nice work if you nabbed one in time. Keep those fingers crossed that it actually gets delivered. 

I like the Spot. It’s my favorite Echo. And due to what may well just be an error on Amazon’s part, the screen-sporting smart speaker is currently showing up for $0.00 — for those who can access it, at least. Some users are already registering it as Out of Stock.

The black version of the device is still listed as $99 — a much less killer deal, but still $29 down from the original asking price. It could be a pricing error, or maybe Amazon is trying to get rid of that old stock for some reason. Heck, maybe the company just really wants to get the Alexa delivery system in as many homes as humanly possible. This is certainly one way to do it. 

Chances seem decent it may never even ship — those who did order one (or three or four) are seeing a still pending delivery date. In either case, we’ve reached out to Amazon and will update when we hear back. 

Netgear’s Arlo security camera spin-off files for IPO

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 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.

Oh, the things I would do to get this cardboard-style Nintendo Switch

Nintendo is building on its strange but wonderful cardboard Labo platform with some sweet Mario Kart integration and a truly fabulous limited edition Switch with a faux-cardboard finish. It really is just the greatest thing and I would do terrible things to have it. Unfortunately some smart kid will probably get it, because you have to win it by designing something cool with Labo.

So, first the Mario Kart stuff. If you have Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Switch, and you really should because it’s excellent, you can now use the Toy-Con (buildable with the Labo Variety Kit) as a sort of real-world controller. You twist the right “handlebar” to accelerate and rotate the whole thing to turn.

This is the first game to get its own special Labo support, but the company says more are on the way. Splatoon 2, perhaps?

If you’re a creative type and you have a Labo set, you’re in luck. There are two new contests you can enter, and entry puts you in the running to win the amazing neutral-colored Switch shown up top. I really don’t know why I love it so much, but I do. And if you do too, you should enter. (If you’re in the U.S. or Canada. Sorry, world.)

The first challenge is to create a musical instrument with the Toy-Con pieces and “craft materials.” You’ll have to document its creation and show it working on video; it’ll be judged on “Quality, Creativity, Spirit, and Sound.” Caps Nintendo’s.

The second challenge is to create a game or game-like experience using Toy-Con Garage. Same judgment categories as before, minus Sound.

There will be one grand prize winner and four runners up per contest. Grand prize is that amazing Switch (approximate retail value $1,000?!), plus a cool (?) Labo jacket. Runners up get a pair of cardboard style Joy-Cons and a jacket. Respectable.

If you’ve been looking for a reason to pick up that Labo kit again or use some random pieces you never tried, this is surely that reason. Now get to work!

Amazon starts shipping its $249 DeepLens AI camera for developers

Back at its re:Invent conference in November, AWS announced its $249 DeepLens, a camera that’s specifically geared toward developers who want to build and prototype vision-centric machine learning models. The company started taking pre-orders for DeepLens a few months ago, but now the camera is actually shipping to developers.

Ahead of today’s launch, I had a chance to attend a workshop in Seattle with DeepLens senior product manager Jyothi Nookula and Amazon’s VP for AI Swami Sivasubramanian to get some hands-on time with the hardware and the software services that make it tick.

DeepLens is essentially a small Ubuntu- and Intel Atom-based computer with a built-in camera that’s powerful enough to easily run and evaluate visual machine learning models. In total, DeepLens offers about 106 GFLOPS of performance.

The hardware has all of the usual I/O ports (think Micro HDMI, USB 2.0, Audio out, etc.) to let you create prototype applications, no matter whether those are simple toy apps that send you an alert when the camera detects a bear in your backyard or an industrial application that keeps an eye on a conveyor belt in your factory. The 4 megapixel camera isn’t going to win any prizes, but it’s perfectly adequate for most use cases. Unsurprisingly, DeepLens is deeply integrated with the rest of AWS’s services. Those include the AWS IoT service Greengrass, which you use to deploy models to DeepLens, for example, but also SageMaker, Amazon’s newest tool for building machine learning models.

These integrations are also what makes getting started with the camera pretty easy. Indeed, if all you want to do is run one of the pre-built samples that AWS provides, it shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes to set up your DeepLens and deploy one of these models to the camera. Those project templates include an object detection model that can distinguish between 20 objects (though it had some issues with toy dogs, as you can see in the image above), a style transfer example to render the camera image in the style of van Gogh, a face detection model and a model that can distinguish between cats and dogs and one that can recognize about 30 different actions (like playing guitar, for example). The DeepLens team is also adding a model for tracking head poses. Oh, and there’s also a hot dog detection model.

But that’s obviously just the beginning. As the DeepLens team stressed during our workshop, even developers who have never worked with machine learning can take the existing templates and easily extend them. In part, that’s due to the fact that a DeepLens project consists of two parts: the model and a Lambda function that runs instances of the model and lets you perform actions based on the model’s output. And with SageMaker, AWS now offers a tool that also makes it easy to build models without having to manage the underlying infrastructure.

You could do a lot of the development on the DeepLens hardware itself, given that it is essentially a small computer, though you’re probably better off using a more powerful machine and then deploying to DeepLens using the AWS Console. If you really wanted to, you could use DeepLens as a low-powered desktop machine as it comes with Ubuntu 16.04 pre-installed.

For developers who know their way around machine learning frameworks, DeepLens makes it easy to import models from virtually all the popular tools, including Caffe, TensorFlow, MXNet and others. It’s worth noting that the AWS team also built a model optimizer for MXNet models that allows them to run more efficiently on the DeepLens device.

So why did AWS build DeepLens? “The whole rationale behind DeepLens came from a simple question that we asked ourselves: How do we put machine learning in the hands of every developer,” Sivasubramanian said. “To that end, we brainstormed a number of ideas and the most promising idea was actually that developers love to build solutions as hands-on fashion on devices.” And why did AWS decide to build its own hardware instead of simply working with a partner? “We had a specific customer experience in mind and wanted to make sure that the end-to-end experience is really easy,” he said. “So instead of telling somebody to go download this toolkit and then go buy this toolkit from Amazon and then wire all of these together. […] So you have to do like 20 different things, which typically takes two or three days and then you have to put the entire infrastructure together. It takes too long for somebody who’s excited about learning deep learning and building something fun.”

So if you want to get started with deep learning and build some hands-on projects, DeepLens is now available on Amazon. At $249, it’s not cheap, but if you are already using AWS — and maybe even use Lambda already — it’s probably the easiest way to get started with building these kind of machine learning-powered applications.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard skims space in successful 8th test launch

Blue Origin conducted the 8th launch of its New Shepard sub-orbital rocket and crew capsule today out in Texas, and things couldn’t have gone better for the growing space tourism company. The rocket ascended into a cloudless sky, reaching a max velocity of about 2,200 MPH, and delivered its capsule to the edge of space, where its occupant, “Mannquin Skywalker,” will have had a lovely view of the Earth.

New Shepard isn’t meant to deliver things into orbit, of course; Blue Origin has a different purpose and technology from the likes of SpaceX, focusing on giving people a quick, safe lift into space followed by a period of weightlessness and a pleasant descent.

That’s what was demonstrated today, and you can watch the whole thing live in the video below — the pre-launch coverage starts about half an hour in, and liftoff is at the 1h10m mark.

Everything went smoothly from liftoff to touchdown. I love watching the altitude graph filling in slowly at first, then blasting upward as the rocket gradually accelerates. After main-engine cutoff, which occurs just after crossing the Karmann Line, which indicates you’ve entered space, and anyone inside would experience weightlessness for about a minute and a half as the capsule slows down. Apogee for this flight was 347,000 feet, or about 106,000 meters.

While Mannequin Skywalker was enjoying microgravity, the booster was returning to Earth at high speed — over 2,600 MPH. The drag brake deploys around 100,000 feet up, reducing speed to a more manageable 370 MPH before the booster re-ignites at 2,500 feet and brings itself down to a hover landing.

This is one of the most obvious differences to a viewer between New Shepard’s booster and the Falcon 9s; New Shepard has more control over its thrust, allowing for a highly controlled landing where it could even float for a bit if necessary. The larger Falcon 9 has to land using much more powerful thrust, meaning if they aren’t careful, they might just take off again. It’s kind of like the difference between having to let up on the gas to ease into a parking spot, and having to pull the e-brake at precisely the right moment.

Meanwhile the capsule, with its higher apogee and greater drag, has been falling down this whole time, waiting for the right time to deploy its parachutes. It didn’t happen until below the 7,000-foot mark, making me sweat a bit. It wouldn’t be a good look to have your crew capsule impact at 240 MPH.

The commentator describes the capsule touchdown a minute or two later as a “beautiful soft landing,” though honestly it looks like it would give anyone inside something of a jolt. Let’s hope the seats are comfortable in that thing.

Is the world ready for the return of the PDA?

I want to live in the Gemini’s universe. It’s one where the promise of on-demand hardware has been fulfilled. Where crowfunding, rapid prototyping, scalable manufacturing all of those good things have improved our lives by giving us the devices we both want and need. It’s the utopian dream of 2011, fully realized.

In the Gemini universe, the PDA never went away. It simply adapted. All of those irritated anti-touch typers had nothing to complain about. Sure, the iPhone still moved a billion units, because Apple, but the physical keyboard simply evolved alongside it, because tech should adapt to people and not the other way around.

Of course, the realities of technological Darwinism are much darker, and every half decade or so, there’s an extinction-level event, and Apple’s smartphone hit the earth like football field-sized asteroid covered in the bubonic plague. Over the past 10 years, many have and tried and all have failed to address the shrinking, but vocal niche of consumers bemoaning the death of the physical keyboard.

Many of us, myself included, fell in love with the Gemini at first sight when we spotted it across the room at CES. It wasn’t the hardware or the execution, so much as the idea. And, of course, we weren’t alone. When an astonishing 6,200 people came together to pledge $2.2 million on Indiegogo to help bring it to life, it was clear London-based Planet Computers had struck a chord.

And with both Nokia and BlackBerry having waged comebacks of sorts (albeit through licensing deals), it seems the iPhone’s 10th anniversary has been the perfect time to revel in a bit of mobile nostalgia. People have gone utterly gaga over the 3310 — clearly there must also be space in amongst this smartphone fatigue where a PDA can positively flourish.

In one sense, it almost didn’t matter what the final hardware looked like, this felt like a kind of bellwether. But in a larger and more important sense, of course it did. When it comes to consumer electronics, people don’t buy ideas, they by hardware. And in the cold, harsh light of day, the Gemini is a far more exciting concept that it is an actual product.

The product is a return of sorts for the Psion 5, with some of that clamshell’s designs back on board. And indeed, the device takes more than a few design cues from that 20-plus-year-old piece of hardware. The build itself is a bit of a mixed bag, here. It’s solid, but the clamshell ensures that it’s big and bulky, compared to standard smartphones with similarly sized screens (5.9-inch).

It’s not much to look at from the outside, with a plain metal casing, through there are some innovative touches here, including a break in the top that can be plied open to access the device’s innards, using compatible tools. The lid flips open, with a nice, satisfying motion, but screen’s hinge feels loose, moving each time you interact with the touchscreen. It would have also been nice to have the display open at different angles, but there are only two positions here: opened and closed.

As for typing, well, if you’re among the vast majority of mobile users have made the leap to touchscreen typing, you’re going to have to unlearn those skills. My own typing on the keyboard is nowhere close to what I’m able to achieve on a touchscreen these days. For a few fleeting moments, I entertained the idea of writing this review on the thing, but almost immediately backed down, when I found it difficult to type even a sentence right the first time.

The device’s size makes for an extremely cramped keyboard, in which many of the keys have to do double duty. But the width and girth of the device itself means there aren’t too many scenarios in which using the keyboard make a whole lot of sense. Attempting to type while holding it feels like an almost acrobatic feat. Really, a flat surface, like a desk, is your best bet, at which point you’re left wondering why you didn’t simply shell out the money for a real laptop. The ability to dual-boot Linux and the inclusion of a healthy 64GB of storage are interesting cases for the product as more of a small computer than a massive phone, that, of course, is ultimately hampered by the small display with smartphone dimensions.

That gets at what is perhaps a larger issue here. It’s unclear which problems the device is looking to solve in a world of ubiquitous slate phones and low-cost laptops and tablets. There aren’t ultimately all that many scenarios in which the throwback makes more sense than the hundreds of other available options, so it’s hard to recommend this as either a primary phone or laptop in 2018.

Perhaps many of its issues can be chalked up to first-generation hardware issues. There’s a lot to be said for the mere fact that the company was able to deliver a product in the first place. The Gemini certainly works as a compelling niche device, and it would be great to see Planet explore this idea further.

Anything that frees us from the oppression of nearly identical handsets is a victory in and of itself. As I said earlier, I want to live a world where devices like the Gemini can peacefully coexist with more mainstream devices. I just won’t be using it as my phone any time soon.

Is the world ready for the return of the PDA?

I want to live in the Gemini’s universe. It’s one where the promise of on-demand hardware has been fulfilled. Where crowfunding, rapid prototyping, scalable manufacturing all of those good things have improved our lives by giving us the devices we both want and need. It’s the utopian dream of 2011, fully realized.

In the Gemini universe, the PDA never went away. It simply adapted. All of those irritated anti-touch typers had nothing to complain about. Sure, the iPhone still moved a billion units, because Apple, but the physical keyboard simply evolved alongside it, because tech should adapt to people and not the other way around.

Of course, the realities of technological Darwinism are much darker, and every half decade or so, there’s an extinction-level event, and Apple’s smartphone hit the earth like football field-sized asteroid covered in the bubonic plague. Over the past 10 years, many have and tried and all have failed to address the shrinking, but vocal niche of consumers bemoaning the death of the physical keyboard.

Many of us, myself included, fell in love with the Gemini at first sight when we spotted it across the room at CES. It wasn’t the hardware or the execution, so much as the idea. And, of course, we weren’t alone. When an astonishing 6,200 people came together to pledge $2.2 million on Indiegogo to help bring it to life, it was clear London-based Planet Computers had struck a chord.

And with both Nokia and BlackBerry having waged comebacks of sorts (albeit through licensing deals), it seems the iPhone’s 10th anniversary has been the perfect time to revel in a bit of mobile nostalgia. People have gone utterly gaga over the 3310 — clearly there must also be space in amongst this smartphone fatigue where a PDA can positively flourish.

In one sense, it almost didn’t matter what the final hardware looked like, this felt like a kind of bellwether. But in a larger and more important sense, of course it did. When it comes to consumer electronics, people don’t buy ideas, they by hardware. And in the cold, harsh light of day, the Gemini is a far more exciting concept that it is an actual product.

The product is a return of sorts for the Psion 5, with some of that clamshell’s designs back on board. And indeed, the device takes more than a few design cues from that 20-plus-year-old piece of hardware. The build itself is a bit of a mixed bag, here. It’s solid, but the clamshell ensures that it’s big and bulky, compared to standard smartphones with similarly sized screens (5.9-inch).

It’s not much to look at from the outside, with a plain metal casing, through there are some innovative touches here, including a break in the top that can be plied open to access the device’s innards, using compatible tools. The lid flips open, with a nice, satisfying motion, but screen’s hinge feels loose, moving each time you interact with the touchscreen. It would have also been nice to have the display open at different angles, but there are only two positions here: opened and closed.

As for typing, well, if you’re among the vast majority of mobile users have made the leap to touchscreen typing, you’re going to have to unlearn those skills. My own typing on the keyboard is nowhere close to what I’m able to achieve on a touchscreen these days. For a few fleeting moments, I entertained the idea of writing this review on the thing, but almost immediately backed down, when I found it difficult to type even a sentence right the first time.

The device’s size makes for an extremely cramped keyboard, in which many of the keys have to do double duty. But the width and girth of the device itself means there aren’t too many scenarios in which using the keyboard make a whole lot of sense. Attempting to type while holding it feels like an almost acrobatic feat. Really, a flat surface, like a desk, is your best bet, at which point you’re left wondering why you didn’t simply shell out the money for a real laptop. The ability to dual-boot Linux and the inclusion of a healthy 64GB of storage are interesting cases for the product as more of a small computer than a massive phone, that, of course, is ultimately hampered by the small display with smartphone dimensions.

That gets at what is perhaps a larger issue here. It’s unclear which problems the device is looking to solve in a world of ubiquitous slate phones and low-cost laptops and tablets. There aren’t ultimately all that many scenarios in which the throwback makes more sense than the hundreds of other available options, so it’s hard to recommend this as either a primary phone or laptop in 2018.

Perhaps many of its issues can be chalked up to first-generation hardware issues. There’s a lot to be said for the mere fact that the company was able to deliver a product in the first place. The Gemini certainly works as a compelling niche device, and it would be great to see Planet explore this idea further.

Anything that frees us from the oppression of nearly identical handsets is a victory in and of itself. As I said earlier, I want to live a world where devices like the Gemini can peacefully coexist with more mainstream devices. I just won’t be using it as my phone any time soon.

Don’t just stir; Stircle

Although I do my best to minimize the trash produced by my lifestyle (blog posts notwithstanding), one I can’t really control, at least without carrying a spoon on my person at all times, is the necessity of using a disposable stick to stir my coffee. That could all change with the Stircle, a little platform that spins your drink around to mix it.

Now, of course this is ridiculous. And there are other things to worry about. But honestly, the scale of waste here is pretty amazing. Design house Amron Experimental says that 400 million stir sticks are used every day, and I have no reason to doubt that. My native Seattle probably accounts for a quarter of that.

So you need to get the sugar (or agave nectar) and cream (or almond milk) mixed in your iced americano. Instead of reaching for a stick and stirring vigorously for 10 or 15 seconds, you could instead place your cup in the Stircle (first noticed by New Atlas and a few other design blogs), which would presumably be built into the fixins table at your coffee shop.

Around and around and around she goes, where she stops, nobody… oh. There.

Once you put your cup on the Stircle, it starts spinning — first one way, then the other, and so on, agitating your drink and achieving the goal of an evenly mixed beverage without using a wood or plastic stirrer. It’s electric, but I can imagine one being powered by a lever or button that compresses a spring. That would make it even greener.

The video shows that it probably gets that sugar and other low-lying mixers up into the upper strata of the drink, so I think we’re set there. And it looks as though it will take a lot of different sizes, including reusable tumblers. It clearly needs a cup with a lid, since otherwise the circling liquid will fly out in every direction, which means you have to be taking your coffee to go. That leaves out pretty much every time I go out for coffee in my neighborhood, where it’s served (to stay) in a mug or tall glass.

But a solution doesn’t have to fix everything to be clever or useful. This would be great at an airport, for instance, where I imagine every order is to go. Maybe they’ll put it in a bar, too, for extra smooth stirring of martinis.

Actually, I know that people in labs use automatic magnetic stirrers to do their coffee. This would be a way to do that without appropriating lab property. Those things are pretty cool too, though.

You might remember Amron from one of their many previous clever designs; I happen to remember the Keybrid and Split Ring Key, both of which I used for a while. I’ll be honest, I don’t expect to see a Stircle in my neighborhood cafe any time soon, but I sure hope they show up in Starbucks stores around the world. We’re going to run out of those stirrer things sooner or later.

Elon Musk’s Boring Co. flamethrower is real, $500 and up for pre-order

 So that flamethrower that Elon Musk teased The Boring Company would start selling after it ran out of its 50,000 hats? Yeah, it’s real – and you can pre-order one now if you want need a ridiculous way to spend $500. Musk revealed the flamethrower on Saturday, after some digging tipped its existence late last week. The Boring Company Flamethrower is functional, too, as you can see… Read More

Google has planted its flag at CES

 Google’s here, and it’s planning something big. The company’s presence is impossible to miss as you drive down Paradise Road toward the Las Vegas Convention Center. Like much the rest of the show, the company’s parking lot booth is still under construction today, but the giant, black and white “Hey Google” sign is already hanging above it, visible from… Read More

Certain Sonos and Bose models can be accessed by hackers to play sound remotely

 Researchers at Trend Micro have discovered a potential hack opening key speakers from Sonos and Bose to remote access. As first reported by Wired, the Sonos Play:1, Sonos One, and Bose SoundTouch systems can be located and taken over through an online scan, letting hackers play music through the system. For now, the access appears to be largely prank-based. The researchers, naturally, used… Read More

Apple’s hand is down and its $1 trillion dream now rests with consumers

 As we head into the end of 2017, it’s pretty safe to say that Apple’s fate — barring any major issue with its phones — is now in the hands of its consumers. With the iPhone X now in stores (if you catch them at the right time), Apple has now laid down its hand and waits to see where consumer demand lands. Read More

LG shakes up its struggling mobile division with new top executives

 If you’ve stopped paying attention to LG in the last couple of years, you’ll learn everything you need to know from the first paragraph of its latest press release that highlights a “sweeping realignment to better address the challenges ahead.” The company’s in a tough spot. It makes good and innovative phones, but just seem to make a dent in a crowded mobile… Read More

OmniHub tries to fix the MacBook Pro’s port shortage with magnets and modules

 My five-year-old MacBook Pro finally gave up the ghost. After traveling the world and surviving several CESes, it was time to finally lay the thing to rest. I had some misgivings about replacing the old workhorse with one of the new models, not the least of which was the company’s fairly unpopular decision to ditch all existing ports for a quartet of ThunderBolt 3 ports. Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

BlackBerry’s KEYone ‘Black Edition’ offers more than just good looks

 BlackBerry’s most interesting phone in years – if not an entire decade – is the KEYone, an Android device with a classic BlackBerry hardware keyboard that finally answers the needs of truly dedicated thumb typists with a modern mobile OS. Now, the KEYone ‘Black Edition’ has arrived, and it’s more than just a fresh coat of paint on an older gadget. In fact,… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

Petcube Bites is a capable canine companion for when you’re not home

 Keep your dogs close but your kitties closer, is I think the expression. Maybe. Whatever it is, pets are important to people. And keeping a close watch on them even when you’re not located in the same place has become increasingly possible thanks to the broad proliferation of tech like Wi-Fi connected cameras. Petcube Bites is one of those cameras, but it’s also a treat… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

The Amazon Echo now doubles as a home intercom system

 Amazon will officially release the Show in a few days, but in the meantime, the company is introducing a long-awaited intercom feature for existing Echo devices. The addition uses Drop-In, a teleconferencing feature introduced on the Show that lets close friends and family members call into one another’s device with little warning. I really didn’t like the feature when I tested… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

Time-tracking startup Timeular raises $1.1M to help you work smarter

 Timeular, the Austrian startup behind the neat Zei time-tracking device that we wrote about last year, has raised €1 million ($1.1 million) in funding to develop new productivity coaching tools to help you work smarter. The company is best known for the Zei, its eight-sided device that is Bluetooth-enabled and acts as a timer. You simply program each side to a different task and tip it… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

Smart running shoes won’t make you faster, but they could help you avoid getting hurt

 Altra’s Torin IQ were inevitable. Sensors integrated into articles of clothing have long been acknowledged to be the next step in wearable tech, and the Utah-based footwear maker just happened to beat most of its competition to the finish line with a pair of running shoes that bake tracking directly into the sole. But unlike the scads of smart clothing that’s almost certainly on… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

At under $60, Misfit’s Flare trims all the fat and many of the features from fitness tracking

 Misfit’s new fitness tracker comes in at under $60. The Flare is a device completely devoid of all bells and whistles for the sake of offering users simple tracking functionality without losing an arm and leg in the process. It’s a logical play for the Fossil-owned hardware maker. After all, Misfit’s roots lie in simple trackers like the Ray and the modular Shine. Though this… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

A UK entrepreneur takes flight by attaching miniature jet engines to his limbs

 A YouTube collection of grainy video clips highlights the progress Gravity founder Richard Browning has made toward his outlandish dream over the past year. Each seems more terrifying than the last, with multiple jet engines attached to his limbs in various configurations, as he hovers a few feet from the ground. Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

Your next smartphone is not going to be a revolution

 Samsung promised a revolution today. The company opened today’s Unpacked event by contextualizing the history of mobile phones, from the 1980s to today. The conceit was simple: Today’s big announcement marks a step in cell phone evolution akin to the jump from the Zack Morris brick to the flip phone or the clamshell to the smartphone. What it delivered was a phone with fewer bezels. Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

BeeHex cooks up $1 million for 3D food printers that make pizzas

A heart-shaped pizza printed by BeeHex. The phrase “3-D printer” typically brings to mind devices that churn out plastic objects like jewelry, toys, hardware prototypes or even prosthetics. Now, a startup building a 3-D food printer, BeeHex, has raised $1 million in seed funding to launch its first product, a pizza printer called the Chef 3D. Initially, BeeHex wanted to develop a printer that would be able to make a… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

Camera wars, retro phones and aspect ratios: MWC’s biggest announcements

splash-mobile The news happens before the convention really starts. That’s the rule of thumb for covering tech show. The big companies scramble all over one another to make their announcements at overlapping press conferences in the days leading up to an event. Mobile World Congress only just opened, but we’ve already seen all the big news from Samsung, Sony, LG and Motorola, among others.… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

Live from Samsung’s 2017 MWC press conference

mwc-2017-pc_main A very happy Mobile World Congress to you and yours. The world’s largest smartphone show is still a couple of days from its official kick off, but there’s plenty of news to be had this weekend. Samsung will be taking the stage tonight in Barcelona to show off – well, not the Galaxy S8. That much we seemingly know for sure. The company announced a few weeks back that… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

The BlackBerry Mercury is now the KeyOne

img_0692 If you thought the BlackBerry Mercury had a bit of a codename vibe to it, you weren’t wrong. Today at Mobile World Congress, TCL officially took the wraps of its first true BlackBerry handset, now going by the admittedly less sleek KeyOne (pronounced “key one,”) name. Though I suppose when your company is attempting to plant its flag firmly in the world of enterprise, sexy… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico

HP’s Spectre 15 makes 4K on a laptop a livable experience

cma_1520 What makes it better than other 4K laptops is its decent battery life and healthy selection of ports. If Windows is your jam and you need full-size screen, this is the notebook to get. The latest edition of the 15-inch Spectre x360 is only offered with a 4k (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) screen. HP is that committed to providing an ultra-high res experience. But having a 4K display on a 15-inch… Read More

Powered by WPeMatico