Posts with «author_name|daniel cooper» label

Nanoleaf Lines are customizable smart light bars

Nanoleaf knows that its users sometimes crave something a bit more minimal than LED light panels that stretch across their wall. That’s why the company is launching Lines, a series of backlight LED light bars which offer the same features as previous products, albeit in a more elegant body. Each “Line” is 10.96-inches (27.85cm) long, and can join to its siblings at either end, or at a 60-degree angle. The company says that you can “paint your space with lines,” creating “grand geometric shapes” and “sleek linear layouts.”

But beyond the new style of design, this is still the same Nanoleaf setup that you already know and love, letting you paint with light. Each Line has two color zones, and you can plug in dynamic lighting scenes, sync with your music and mirror the colors on your computer’s display. In addition, the hardware will act as a Thread Border Router to help connect smart gear nearby that can also harness the same protocol. It’s also future-proof, and will work with Matter, a new protocol due to roll out next year.

Nanoleaf

Nanoleaf Lines are available to pre-order today, with the 9-line starter kit setting you back $200, while add-on packs with 3-lines a piece will cost $80. It’s expected that the products will start shipping to homes in the US at some point before the end of November.

HTC’s Vive Flow is a $499 lightweight VR headset built for entertainment and wellness

HTC is today launching a lightweight headset designed to split the difference between a standalone VR headset and a personal cinema. The HTC Vive Flow is a pair of glasses weighing just 189 grams (6.6 pounces) which pair with a smartphone to let you play some VR content or simply watch TV. It’s marketed as both a piece of tech to keep you entertained and a device to help you improve your mental wellbeing.

Naturally, the company doesn’t want to talk too much about the technology inside Flow, preferring to focus on what it can do. What we do know, however, is that it has two “1.6K” displays running at a 75Hz refresh rate and offering a 100-degree field of vision. There’s no battery per-se, except for a tiny cell designed to make sure that it’ll shut down safely if Flow is severed from whatever power source you've connected its USB-C cable to. 

HTC

It’s in this regard that it’s set up more like a personal cinema than it is your standard VR headset, especially with the fairly narrow body. HTC spent a lot of time and effort shrinking the distance between the display and your eyes, and Flow uses a pair of diopter lenses up front. It means that short-sighted folks won’t need to wear their glasses when using Flow, since they can set the lenses up to suit their comfort level.

To ensure that Flow really is portable, HTC set a power budget of 7.5 watts, the upper limit for USB 3’s charging spec. It means you can run this thing off any compatible battery pack (or your phone, in a pinch) as well as a standard socket over a USB-C cable. Some of that juice goes to powering a small active fan in front of the nose, which pulls cold air over your face and pushes warm air out of the Flow’s top vents.

HTC

HTC also spent plenty of time talking about how the dual-hinge system will ensure that the Flow’s glasses-like frame will sit comfortably on anyone’s head. A pair of speakers embedded into the arms offer what we’re told is surprisingly high quality spatial audio, and beefy given their relative size. And since they sit on your head like regular glasses, you can wear them laying down should the need arise.

You can pair Flow with your smartphone over Bluetooth or Miracast (for watching protected content) and use the phone as a pointer inside VR content. That limits the number of experiences you’ll be able to enjoy with the gear, but you were hardly going to be able to play Half Life: Alyx on this thing anyway. A pair of camera lenses facing forward will, when the feature is ready, enable the Flow to track your hands for more immersive VR, too.

It's worth saying that this is not, and as I understand it, can never become an AR headset in its current form. Those lenses don't apparently offer much passthrough (beyond what's necessary for motion tracking) and this isn't designed for it anyway. 

HTC says that the focus of Flow’s content on “wellbeing, brain training, productivity” and “light gaming,” with apps like Color Connect VR, Space Slurpies and VR meditation app Tripp. The headset will be able to access a special version of Viveport Infinity, offering a wide library of Flow-compatible content for a monthly fee of $5.99. The company added that if users wanted to meditate within the Flow towards the end of the day, a blue light filter will kick in to help ensure that you can get more restful sleep.

HTC

If you’re looking to get hold of an HTC Vive Flow, then pre-orders are opening from today, with shipping expected to begin in November. The price is $499, and for that you get the glasses and a soft carrying case thrown-in, but I’d strongly advise you to pre-order if you want one. Doing so entitles you to receive the flask-like hard carrying case, as well as seven pieces of additional VR content thrown in gratis.

Naturally, Flow has become something of a worst-kept secret in technology after many of these details were leaked ahead of time. One of the obvious sticking points is the higher price compared to the Quest 2, although HTC was clear to dispel the notion that the products were equals. Flow, after all, is a not a standalone headset, and HTC believes that the lighter, more elegant hardware will win it fans in the health and fitness market. 

Facebook is using first-person videos to train future AIs

One of the obvious goals of almost every computer vision project is to enable a machine to see, and perceive, the world as a human does. Today, Facebook has started talkingabout Ego4D, its own effort in this space, for which it has created a vast new data set to train future models. In a statement, the company said that it had recruited 13 universities across nine countries, who had collected 2,200 hours of footage from 700 participants. This footage was taken from the perspective of the user, which can be used to train these future AI models. Kristen Grauman, Facebook’s lead research scientist, says that this is the largest collection of data explicitly created for this focus.

The footage was centered on a number of common experiences in human life, including social interaction, hand and object manipulation and predicting what’s going to happen. It’s, as far as the social network is concerned, a big step toward better computing experiences which, until now, have always focused on sourcing data from the bystander’s perspective. Facebook has said that the data sets will be released in November, “for researchers who sign Ego4D’s data use agreement.” And, next year, researchers from beyond this community will be challenged to better train machines to understand what exactly humans are doing in their lives.

Naturally, there is the angle that Facebook, which now has a camera glasses partnership with Ray Ban, is looking to improve its own capabilities in future. You probably already know about the perils of what this potential surveillance could entail, and why anyone might feel a little leery about the announcement.

Acer's glasses-free 3D SpatialLabs laptop arrives this winter

As part of its usual raft of hardware updates, Acer is adding new ConceptD machines with new displays and different chassis options. But the most notable product on the docket for late-2021 is the new ConceptD 7 SpatialLabs Edition, which packs a stereoscopic display. It’s the first time that such a product is available for everyone to buy after the company first teased the project earlier this year.

Back then, Acer and SpatialLabs teamed up to put one of the latter’s stereoscopic displays on the former’s machines. The idea is to enable 3D artists to preview their work in a form closer to the finished article long before it had reached the lengthy rendering pipeline. But while that initial concept was only available to developers who applied (and promised to share their work with Acer), this is a retail product.

The ConceptD 7 SpatialLabs Edition is packing an 11th-generation Core i7, with the option of a GeForce RTX 3080, up to 64GB RAM and up to a 2TB SSD. And users are going to be staring into a Pantone-validated 4K display with a Delta E<2 color accuracy for those who need it. Of course, this is only a sideshow to the eye-tracking cameras sited on the top bezel to match the 3D images to your gaze.

Acer added that, on the software side, it has updated the AI underpinning the system that enables users to view 3D content from any 2D image (or video) shown on screen. The company has also launched a new developer site to allow users to download all of the various plugins and tools (including a hand-tracking app and add-ons for Unreal Engine) to make everything work.

Of course, it’s not simply designers who may find the D 7 (don’t make me type it all out again) a useful proposition. The company says that it already has examples of companies using this as a car configurator for showroom use, architects using this to show off home designs and researchers examining high-resolution images from satellites.

If you want one of these, bear in mind that you’ll need to wait until December (if you’re in EMEA) or 2022 (if you’re in the US). Plus, you know, it’s going to cost: The starting price on that side of the pond will be €3,599 (roughly $4,158).

At the same time, the company is launching a new 16-inch ConceptD 3 model with a 16:10-ratio display and a 15.6-inch convertible edition. These, too, will be reaching the US at some point early next year, with base prices running from $1,700 through to $2,000, depending on your size preferences.

The Morning After: Google might offer a Pixel Phone subscription bundle

Are you ready for another Pixel phone? After Apple’s iPhones and Samsung’s Galaxy devices (both folding and, er, static), Google’s homegrown phones are probably the third most interesting family of smartphones.

Maybe it’s because Google has typically leaned into software and processing tricks rather than spec wars, both to offer features not found elsewhere (like its AI phone assistant) and to amp up its camera skills.

Now the company has shown us what the Pixel 6 looks like, and a little of what to expect, but leaks have offered a few more tidbits over the last few days.

One leak suggests a new subscription bundle could appear, which will combine a new Pixel phone — not necessarily the new flagship — with a bunch of Google subscription services including YouTube premium, Google One and Play Pass. This would all roll into a single monthly payment, although the leak doesn’t offer a price.

It means Google could offer an array of services all together, similar to Apple’s One bundle — with the cost of your smartphone lumped in. Let’s wait and see how Google prices it.

— Mat Smith

Burger King’s Impossible Nuggets go on sale this week.

Starting today.

Burger King

The fast-food chain will add an eight-piece order of Impossible Nuggets to the menu at select restaurants in Des Moines, Iowa; Boston, Massachusetts, and Miami, Florida. They’ll be only available for a limited time.

The nuggets themselves are made mostly of soy protein and sunflower oil, but, as the company notes, they won’t be technically vegan, as they’ll be fried in the same oil used to cook non-vegan foods. 

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The best outdoor gear for fall

Options for grilling, chilling and a whole lot more.

Ooni, Solo Stove, Brumate

But if you’re less about the plant protein and the king of burgers, we’ve got our 2021 outdoor gear guide, covering BBQs, pizza ovens and even a few meat thermometer options to ensure you’re cooking things just right.

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Three classic Grand Theft Auto games are being remade for modern platforms

Oh, I thought everyone already knew this.

One of the worst-kept secrets in the gaming world has been confirmed: Rockstar Games is re-releasing Grand Theft Auto III, GTA: Vice City and GTA: San Andreas.

Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy — The Definitive Edition is coming to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC later this year. The bundle will also land on iOS and Android in the first half of 2022, though we’d suggest getting a Bluetooth controller if the mobile versions are tempting you.

Expect major graphical upgrades — and hopefully some quality-of-life improvements when the updates land. Rockstar plans to remove the original versions of GTA III, Vice City and San Andreas from digital storefronts starting next week.

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Google adds a guitar tuner to Search

You can summon it on mobile and desktop.

Smartphones have made it easier than ever to tune your guitar. There are myriad tuning apps or you could even ask Google Assistant to tune your instrument. Now Google has made the process even more painless by launching a chromatic tuner right in Search — no need for an app or voice commands.

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Sony and TSMC may team up to tackle global chip shortages

A joint factory could help produce more cameras and cars.

Global chip shortages may soon create some unexpected team-ups. According to Nikkei sources, Sony and TSMC are "considering" the joint creation of a semiconductor factory. While TSMC would have majority control, the plant would operate on Sony land near its image sensor factory. The Japanese government would reportedly cover up to half of the $7 billion investment.

A joint plant wouldn't be surprising. Some analysts expect the worldwide chip shortage to last until 2023. It could help Sony, TSMC and the larger Japanese tech industry bounce back from the shortage, not to mention add greater stability — and less worry about China–US tensions threatening production in Taiwan.

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Instagram will encourage teens to 'take a break'

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ICYMI: Everything you need to know about Microsoft's new Surface devices

The Carol smart exercise bike is a $2,400 paradox

If you had the opportunity, would you pay more in order to use an exercise bike less frequently? That is, give or take, the sales pitch for Carol’s at-home spin bike. It’s the anti-Peloton, designed to be used for just 8 minutes and 40 seconds per workout. At the end of its standard program, it even tells you that you can go to the gym if you want to, rather than because you need to. But stealing back all of those hours from the capricious gods of exercise comes at a price: $2,395, plus $12 per month after the first three months. It’s up to you to decide if that eye-watering fee is worth swerving all of those cardio sessions.

Science

Daniel Cooper

Carol leverages the principles of Reduced Exertion, High Intensity Interval Training (REHIIT), a variation on the Tabata method of HIIT. Put simply, you’re asked to exercise at a very high intensity for a very short period of time, rather than a long period of time in a steady state. In this example, Carol says that its standard sub-nine-minute workout gives you the equivalent workout to a 45-minute jog. This involves you going all-out for 20 seconds, but then having the better part of three minutes to recover.

That 20-second frenzy is designed to deplete your body’s stores of glycogen and pushes the heart rate through the roof. The long recovery time is designed to reset your body, enabling you to grind out far more from your muscles than you would in a standard Tabata workout. And studies have shown that, at least in male participants, a six-week REHIIT program can improve their insulin resistance and oxygen consumption.

“One of the things I like about REHIIT is the long length of the recovery periods,” says Stuart Moore, trainer and owner of Wheel Fitness, a specialist cycling practice. “This enables people without a lot of experience to recover properly between bouts of hard work and then go again with another round.” He added that “all interval training can be useful,” but stressed that would-be adopters “should get the important checks with your doctor” before trying this sort of thing. “I’d prefer complete beginners to interval training try something more mild than modified versions of HIIT,” he said, “this could help with developing a base before delving into the more intense exercise later.”

Andrea Speir, co-founder and lead trainer at Speir Pilates, added that the psychological benefits on neophyte exercisers were crucial. “Because it spikes the heart rate and improves VO2 Max, cardiac output and boosts the metabolism [...] without being too strenuous,” she said. “It’s not as daunting to commit to it three-to-five times a week, which is where you really see great results,” she added.

History

Daniel Cooper

It’s not often that a company founder announces that their product exists because of a BBC documentary, but Carol isn’t exactly a standard Silicon Valley story. Co-founder Ulrich Dempfle was a management consultant working with the UK’s National Health Service on behalf of firms like McKinsey and PWC. Part of his role was to look for ways to encourage people to exercise more, despite the fact they would often say they didn’t have enough time to become gym bunnies. It wasn’t until he watched 2012’s The Truth About Exercise that he became a convert to REHIIT.

The documentary was fronted by Dr. Michael Mosely, who is chiefly responsible for making intermittent fasting mainstream in the UK. One of Mosely’s gimmicks has always been to look for more efficient ways to feel healthy, and this was a love letter to REHIIT. Dempfle and his team contacted the academics whose research was featured in order to get a look at their equipment. Dempfle explained that the bikes featured had their intensity controlled by one of the academics while a person exercised on them, and that the price was astronomical. It was here that the idea of building an affordable REHIIT bike was more or less born. In fact, Carol would wind up being featured in a Mosley’s 2018 follow-up documentary, The Truth About Getting Fit, albeit not named because of the BBC’s rules against product placement.

Bike

Daniel Cooper

At first glance, Carol could be mistaken for pretty much any at-home exercise bike. It has a very large, rear-slung flywheel and a beefy drive unit, which houses the system to electronically control the resistance, the secret sauce behind the REHIIT program. A pair of short handles with the customary heart rate-monitoring electrodes sit below the display housing, which holds a 10.1-inch screen. The seat height and distance is adjustable, as well as the height of the handlebars, and there are toe cages and clips on the pedals, for pro cyclists.

After you’ve registered, you can then log in to the bike, which is a process you’ll have to do every time you want to use it. After the first attempt, you can just tap on your initials on a list of stored users, but there’s no way to stay logged in by default. Given how beefy the bike is, and that it’s designed for both at-home and professional use, I feel as if this makes it well-suited to offices and gyms, more so than people’s homes. You could easily see this in the corner of a small business, with staff members getting their 10 minutes each day as they take a break from their work.

Display

Daniel Cooper

When it comes to screens, there are two schools of thought dominating the at-home fitness market. Peloton’s ubiquity means that consumers may soon expect all machines to have a glossy, massive HD display as the default. Companies like Wattbike, Concept2 and others, however, are happy pushing out machines that still leverage old-school LCD head units. (On a personal note, the Polar View offered by the Wattbike PMB is one of the best training tools I’ve ever encountered).

Carol splits this difference by offering a 10.1-inch color touchscreen that offers the same sort of data you’d find on an LCD set, but cleaner and more colorful. The UI flashes an angry red when you hit the high intensity phase, and the visualizations showing your power output are great. A software update, too, came through during my review that has made the UI a lot cleaner and smoother than it was before. And, even better, you can use the display to live stream classes from Peloton’s own app, although you’ll need to subscribe to them separately.

Boot the bike up for the first time and you’ll be greeted by a Lenovo splash screen because Carol’s display is quite literally a Lenovo tablet in a housing. On paper, this is genius: An Android tablet should last longer, is more affordable and should be easier to replace than a custom solution. Plus, you can (and Carol does) leverage Google’s pre-built accessibility features for adjusting screen fonts and voice overs that it would take time and money to copy for little-to-no upside.

Not to mention that, because it is an Android tablet, you can run third-party apps through the Play Store, albeit only ones that have been sanctioned by Carol’s makers. So far, that’s just Peloton, but there’s no technical reason that your favorite fitness, or entertainment, app couldn’t wind up on this screen as well. But, for all of those positives, slamming an Android tablet onto a bike and calling it quits still feels a bit lackluster for a bike costing two thousand four hundred dollars.

In use

Daniel Cooper

Once you’ve answered the medical questionnaire, you have to go through six taster sessions for the bike to gauge your overall fitness level. After that point, you’re free to sample the delights that the bike has to offer, including four different REHIIT workouts. I pretty much stuck to the standard program — the reason anyone would buy a Carol bike — but there are other options available. This includes an Energiser ride, which offers shorter, 10-second sprints, as well as 15-minute or 25 minute Fat Burn program, with 30 or 60 sprints, respectively. You also get the option for a Free Ride, with power controlled by yourself, or an Endurance ride with the resistance slowly ramping up beyond your ability to cope with it.

Once you’ve chosen a program, you’re asked to choose from a series of generic audio options but, again, I was advised by the company’s representatives to stick with the default. (This was probably for the best, because the other options are essentially musak.) In it, a calm voiceover talks about how neanderthal man never jogged, they either walked slowly, or ran like their lives depended on it. At the same time, the on-screen coaching tells you to breathe in for four seconds, hold for a beat, and then exhale over six seconds, which is hard to coordinate if you’re bad at multitasking. All the while you’re asked to cycle at a very low level, never exceeding an output of 20 watts or so.

There’s a countdown timer on screen (and a timeline), so it’s not as if you’re not told when the sprints are about to begin. But the narration treats it more like a surprise, talking about the vista when, suddenly, she tells you that there’s a tiger leaping out at you!, and you have to pedal for your life. The screen turns red three seconds before the sprint begins, letting you spool up as you prepare to go hell for leather to escape your predator. Because the resistance is calibrated to your fitness level, it continues to go up after your initial burst of energy to ensure that you’re nicely wiped out by the end of the sprint. Hell, I found that I was flagging at the 10-second mark, and could never get back to my first output peak no matter what I tried.

You may scoff at the idea that biking for just 20 seconds can wipe you out and make any positive impact on your fitness. You begin to feel your legs go as your body suddenly starts to wuss out, and the final quarter of the sprints have you running on fumes. As effective exercises go, the system makes good upon its promises, and you need that long recovery time to restore any sense of humanity you may have had. The screen will graph your output (and compare it to your output on the second sprint, when you hit it) and let you see how far you’ve dropped between runs. Although the on-screen display’s promise that you won’t sweat is mostly true, it’s not entirely fair for sweaty, sweaty boys like me.

Wrap-up

Daniel Cooper

In the period in which I was using Carol, I think my fitness did improve, as did my mood when I was trying to complete one of these more or less every single day. (The bike repeatedly advises you, as does its representatives, to only do a single sprint session in a 24 hour period and only three times a week to avoid injury.) You certainly start the day feeling more energized, and I can’t complain that this has eaten a big chunk of my day when it hasn’t.

But I’m finding myself hamstrung by the price, especially given the fact that it’s designed to do one job, one fitness program, to the exclusion of most others. Do I want to spend $2,399 plus an additional $12 a month on an appliance I’d use for 30 or 40 minutes a week? Yes, that’s less than you can spend on a Wattbike Atom or Peloton Bike+, but it’s still a lot. In that philistinic sense of knowing the cost of something but not its value, the numbers make my eyes water.

It’s a bike that does one thing, really, and it does it well, but I feel in my gut that I’d have an easier time singing this thing’s praises if its price was just below the $2,000 mark. It’s a weird psychological barrier for sure, and maybe you’re scoffing at my imaginary parsimony. But as much as this thing is designed for a mainstream audience, right now, it’s priced at the level where only enthusiasts can buy it.

Sky's first smart TVs point to Comcast's box-less future

Sky’s long journey to move beyond satellite TV is finally over, as the company launches its brand new internet-only TV platform. Sky Glass is the company’s first own-brand Smart TV, one which ditches the home-mounted satellite dish and set-top box in favor of pulling all of its content from the internet. The company’s pitch is to centralize not just its own content inside the one box, but to act as a universal platform for every streaming TV app currently available on the market. Not to mention that putting it all inside a single piece of hardware reduces the clutter that builds up underneath the family TV.

On the hardware front, Sky Glass comes in three sizes, 43-, 55- and 65-inch displays, all of which have 4K Quantum Dot LED screens with 10-bit HDR+ and Dolby Vision. It ships in five colors: Blue, White, Green, Pink or Black, with matching remote controls, speaker fascias and stands. On the audio front, Sky says that you won’t need a soundbar with this kit, since the hardware comes with six-speaker Dolby Atmos sound, as well as a subwoofer, built-in.

(The company added that, consequently, Sky Glass is up to 50 percent more energy efficient than your current set-up since you’ll not be powering a discrete set-top-box and soundbar.)

Sky

But Sky’s value proposition isn’t just that it’s selling a fancy TV with some streaming bits inside, but a whole new way to end the infinite scroll. With Sky Q, the company already positioned itself as a curation layer between you and the content you want, but this takes it a big step forward. It’s designed to aggregate all of the catalogs from all of the streaming apps available and let you pick and choose what you want from one centralized location. That means you can watch episodes of the same TV series, in order, even if they’re hosted on different streaming platforms.

Sky Glass is also voice-activated, with the wake word ‘Hello Sky,” and you should be able to access all of your favorite shoes, live TV and play listed content with it. But if you’d prefer, you can use the new remote, which is a simplified version of the touch remote already available for Sky Q, albeit with backlit buttons for better night-time operation.

At the same time, Sky also announced a 4K webcam which it is planning to release at some point in the future which will sit on top of the TV and offer Portal-esque video calls. This system also offers motion-tracking and skeleton tracking for both motion gaming and customized workouts, and it even looks like a Kinect. When this hardware is available, you’ll also be able to have watching parties for live TV even when you’re not in the same location.

Sky

Of course, given that Sky is owned by Comcast and the company is rumored to be working on its own TV platform, you can assume for yourself that a rebranded version of Sky Glass is coming to the US. Protocol reports that Comcast has been working on a product, dubbed the XClass TV, for the US market. In addition, Sky says that Glass will not just be available in the UK and Europe, but also in Australia and other markets across the next year or so.

Price-wise, Sky Glass will cost £649, £849 or £1,049 depending on if you opt for the 43-, 55- or 65-inch version. But the company says that it expects more people to buy it on a monthly subscription contract, much as it does with phones via Sky Mobile, for a minimum contract term. In that instance, the hardware will set you back £13, £17, or £21 per month, depending on which size you opt for.

The Morning After: Boba Fett's very own show debuts this December

The drama, litigation and tweets continue between Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and all those space-faring companies. As reported by CNET, Musk told Code conference attendees Bezos should put more effort into "getting into orbit than lawsuits," and that you couldn't "sue your way to the Moon" as Blue Origin allegedly tried when it lost its lunar lander bid.

SpaceX

NASA legal documents have revealed the space agency felt Blue Origin "gambled" with its originally proposed $5.9 billion lunar lander price. Bezos' company allegedly set the price far higher than necessary, expecting (hoping?) NASA to award the contract and negotiate a lower cost. Further, it assumed NASA would get the full funding from Congress needed for that initial price. That didn’t happen.

Blue Origin’s VP Megan Mitchell told The Verge the company rejected NASA's views. She felt it made a "great offer" and that it disagreed with how NASA had framed its bid.

An Amazon representative also got in touch with Engadget to remind us that SpaceX has a "long track record" of suing the US government over contracts and other decisions. Yes, we’re aware.

In the end, SpaceX’s lower bid of $2.9 billion was picked by NASA, despite Blue Origin’s subsequent challenges and a last-minute $2 billion bid — almost a third of its original proposal.

— Mat Smith

Fitbit Charge 5 review

New look, same tricks.

Engadget

Valentina Palladino puts the latest Fitbit through its paces. Don’t expect any major shakeups, but we do get a more modern fitness tracker. Not only is it thinner, lighter and less bulky than the Charge 4 but it now has some features previously reserved for Fitbit’s full-fledged smartwatches, the Versa and Sense. At $180, you will pay a premium for those updates.

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'Mandalorian' spin-off 'premieres December 29th

Disney+ will have one more big show before 2021 is over.

Disney

Disney vowed The Book of Boba Fett would premiere this December, and it's making good on its promise — barely. It’s revealed the Mandalorian spin-off will debut December 29th on Disney+, replete with a little bit of teaser art you can see above. We’d explain more, but spoilers abound. For everyone already caught up with The Mandalorian, click on.

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Amazon's biggest innovation is being cheap

You look familiar, Alexa.

If you were following along with all the Amazon product announcements yesterday, you might have experienced a dose of tech deja vu. Cherlynn Low felt exactly that. With products that borrowed heavily from the likes of Fitbit, Nest (both Google properties now), as she put it, Amazon's biggest innovation increasingly seems to be: being cheap. Aside from that robot.

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Sony's latest true wireless earbuds are only $100

The company also revealed $250 ANC headphones promising 30-hour battery life.

Sony's flagship noise-canceling headphones and tech-filled true wireless earbuds have both been updated for 2021. Now, the company's more affordable options are getting the same treatment. With the WF-C500, you can pick up a solid set of true wireless earbuds capable of handling immersive 360 Reality Audio for $100. And if over-ear noise-canceling headphones are more your vibe, the WF-XB910N pairs ANC (active noise cancellation) with 30-hour battery life for $250.

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Jeep's Grand Cherokee plug-in hybrid will arrive in early 2022

GM's new software hub will update your next EV like a smartphone

Google wants to streamline the tricky process of assigning addresses in rural areas

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Fairphone swings for the fences with its newest smartphone

Ever since its first “ethical” smartphone hit the market, Fairphone reviews have always been haunted by the wary acknowledgement that the devil always has the best toys. But times have changed, and Fairphone can at least be confident that it has won both the moral and the economic argument. Right to Repair laws are currently being kicked around in several US states and Framework is now building Fairphone-esque laptops. If there’s one word I can use to describe the new Fairphone 4, it’s mature. As much as the previous generations of this handset have been good, none deserve as much attention as this one likely does.

First, a caveat: Various global crises have pushed back the launch date for the Fairphone 4. I didn’t receive a unit until a few days before the announcement, so I’ve only had a limited amount of time to give this thing a thorough going over.

Daniel Cooper

Pick up the Fairphone 4 and you’ll first notice how solid this thing feels in your hand compared to its predecessor. This is not the flimsy plastic concoction we saw in previous generations but a monument, wrought from metal and glass. It may weigh a gram less than the iPhone 11 Pro Max I was holding in my other hand, but this one just feels more substantial. The new metal chassis and thick plastic backplate gives it, to quote Auric Goldfinger, a divine heaviness. I have no qualms about how sturdy and durable this thing is, even knowing that I can pick up replacement parts for very little cash up front.

The design language has changed from the awkwardly long slab of the 3 and 3+ to something that looks a lot more like a current-generation (or at least previous-generation) Android handset. Fairphone has also taken the courageous decision to ditch the 3.5mm headphone jack here in favor of just USB-C. The only things breaking up the outside of the frame, beyond the antenna lines, are a power button with a built-in fingerprint sensor and a pair of sturdy volume buttons. Gone, too, is the conspicuous branding of the previous editions in favor of the company logo edged into the base of the backplate.

Daniel Cooper

A 6.3-inch Full HD+ display coated with Gorilla Glass 5 takes up most of the room up front, although this is no slim-bezel chin-free edge-to-edge number. The only interruption is the teardrop in the middle of the screen, which houses the 25-megapixel selfie camera. There’s nothing of note to say about the screen, which has a decent backlight, good viewing angles and solid black levels. I think I said a year ago that it’s now hard to mess up a phone display and Fairphone hasn’t fixed what didn’t need mending. Sadly, as good as the vision is, the sound that accompanies it is tinny, thin and reedy with non-existent bass. 

Now, Fairphone hasn’t strayed too far from its goal of producing an affordable and reliable modular smartphone. But while it’s splashed out on some specs, others remain firmly in the “nothing to write home about” league. The system-on-chip, for instance, is a Snapdragon 750G, which you’ll find in a number of non-premium 5G handsets like the Moto G 5G and Galaxy A52 5G. It’s worth saying that the 750G offers very respectable performance and tests well in benchmarks but it’s certainly not a screamingly-fast flagship unit.

Daniel Cooper

Unlike previous models, Fairphone is actually offering two versions of the Fairphone 4, one with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage, the other with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. Both can be bolstered with the internal microSD slot that’ll take up to 2TB cards. The Fairphone 4 can support both a physical nano-SIM as well as an eSIM, both of which support 5G (although not simultaneously.)

Fairphone opted for a double-camera setup here with an f/1.6 48-megapixel primary camera packing Sony’s half-inch Exmor IMX582 sensor with OIS. You’ll get 8x digital zoom, and can shoot 4K video at 30fps, or HD slow-motion at 240fps. The second camera is a 48-megapixel f/2.2 120-degree wide-angle lens for landscape photography. Joining those two on the back of the phone is a time-of-flight sensor for better autofocus, which also makes it look like you’re rocking a triple-camera phone.

Daniel Cooper

Nestled up front in the teardrop is a 25-megapixel, f/2.2 forward-facing camera which uses a Sony IMX576 sensor. You’ll get support for HDR, 8x digital zoom and the ability to record video in HD at up to 30 fps. The images you get out of that selfie lens are respectable, although even when you shoot 25-megapixel images, you’ll get very little detail when you zoom in and things get muddy pretty quickly.

The company said that I shouldn’t do too many photography tests with the Fairphone 4 until a yet-to-be-distributed software update pushes the final tweaks. That said, the standard camera is perfectly reasonable and the live filters produce pretty lovely images.

Repairing this phone should, again, be relatively easy given how little a challenge it was to upgrade the previous model. Simply pop off the back cover and extract that replaceable 3,905mAh battery and a Phillips 00 screwdriver is all you need to get working. Again, I’ve not had any time to delve yet, but even a quick poke inside makes me think that it’s not more difficult to do any repair job than it was on the older models. One thing to bear in mind, however, is that Fairphone is no longer shipping a screwdriver in the box, assuming instead that you already own a tool suitable for the job.

Daniel Cooper

Fairphone has said that it has learned a number of valuable lessons from the launches of its last few handsets. That’s why this new model has a five-year warranty and guarantees software support until 2025 at the earliest, but pledges to keep that going to 2027 at best. (Fairphone has previous here: Earlier this year it managed to get Android 9 running on the Fairphone 2, five years after it was first released.) It also has pledged to ensure that spare parts for the phone remain available until that same 2027 deadline.

Whereas before Fairphone talked about a “fair” supply chain both looking for ethically-clean raw materials and paying workers a fair wage, it also describes the 4 as “e-waste neutral.” This is a neat way of summing up the idea that the company will recycle one device for every Fairphone 4 it sells. In addition, Fairphone can boast that it now uses 70 percent “fair” material inside the handset, including FairTrade Gold and Silver, aluminum from ASI-certified vendors and a backplate made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled polycarbonate.

And while some of the spare parts are a little more expensive than on the previous edition, the prices are more or less affordable. The company supplied me with a parts and price list (in GBP, at least) and the most expensive components are a replacement display and rear camera, which both retail for £69.95 (around $78 before sales tax). The forward-facing camera and battery pack replacements, meanwhile, are £25.95 (around $29), while components like the loudspeaker, USB-C port, earpiece and so on all cost less than £20 (around $22).

Daniel Cooper

Interestingly, as part of this launch, Fairphone is also launching a pair of true wireless headphones. These are, naturally, one of the most notoriously hard-to-repair and recycle devices currently littering the market. At this point, Fairphone hasn't tried to re-design these things to be more repairable, but did say that the units were made with “fair and recycled materials” including at least 30 percent recycled plastic and FairTrade Gold.

The Fairphone 4 will be available to pre-order on September 30th, with the first handsets due to arrive on October 25th. Unlike previous years, however, there will be the two previously-outlined variants depending on storage and RAM options. The 6GB RAM / 128GB model will retail for €579 / £499, while the 8GB / 256GB model will set you back €649 / £569.

Withings puts its heart-monitoring ScanWatch in the body of a diver’s watch

Withings is today launching the ScanWatch Horizon, a dolled-up version of its ScanWatch inside the body of a diving watch. Horizon comes in a bigger, 43mm case size, but is otherwise the same device we already think is the best hybrid on the market. That includes the built-in ECG, blood oxygen sensor and sleep apnea tracking, as well as the usual activity and sleep-monitoring features. You’ll also get the same pair of sub dials, one with a small digital screen for notifications, the other an analog activity counter.

Steve Dent/Engadget

Sadly, the beefier body and higher price hasn’t added anything to the feature list, and so there’s no GPS on this watch unless your phone comes along for the ride. And, if we’re nit-picking, we can say that while it’s dressed to impress as a diving watch (with an accurate laser-engraved rotating bezel and Luminova watch hands) water resistance is limited to 10ATM, which isn't much compared to most serious diving watches.

That said, the smartwatch world is crying out for anything that matches premium diving watch styling with a hint of smarts. It can’t be that TAG Heuer’s Connected is allowed to become the default in this market by default, especially since it’s running, you know, Wear OS.

Withings

Withings told Engadget that FDA approval of its health sensors is holding back the ScanWatch Horizon's release in the US, but it's hoping to release it stateside by the end of the year. That's also why the original ScanWatch has yet to go on sale in the US, in case you were wondering. 

As for when you can get one of these on your wrist, the ScanWatch Horizon will first launch in the UK from September 29th, priced at £499.95 / €499.95. Buyers will be able to choose the Blue or Green face color, and both models will ship with a stainless steel and an FKM rubber band (for swimming), both of which are naturally quick-release. Naturally, you can expect this watch to start popping up across Europe and over in the US at some point in the near future.