Posts with «author_name|daniel cooper» label

The Morning After: Is the new Zephyrus G16 any good?

ASUS has updated its 16-inch Zephyrus G16 for 2024 with fresher chips and graphics options all the way up to an RTX 4090. There’s a new OLED display with a 240HZ refresh rate and a full size SD card reader for transferring files. But, as much as ASUS is positioning this as a laptop for media makers as well as gamers, we need to know if its promises match its power. If you’re as curious as I am, you’ll have to read Sam Rutherford’s review to find out for yourself.

— Dan Cooper

The biggest stories you might have missed

Media coalition asks the feds to investigate Google’s removal of California news links

TikTok is trying to clean up its For You recommendations

Amazon says a whopping 140 third-party stores in four countries use its Just Walk Out tech

There’s a TV show coming based on Sega’s classic arcade game Golden Axe

Cheaper Evercade retro consoles will arrive in July

Apple renews For All Mankind and announces a spinoff series set in the Soviet Union

TikTok Notes is basically Instagram for your TikTok account

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes, by Sayonara Wild Hearts devs, comes out on May 16

Yars Rising revives a 40-year-old Atari game as a modern metroidvania

Shadow platformer Schim is coming to PC and consoles on July 18

​​You can get these reports delivered daily direct to your inbox. Subscribe right here!

X’s AI bot is so dumb it can’t tell the difference between a bad game and vandalism

They’re called euphemisms, Elon.

Basketball’s Klay Thompson had a rough time of it at a game, leading X users to suggest he was “throwing bricks.” This is a basketball term meaning he wasn’t throwing well, but if you didn’t know it, don’t worry too much, since neither did Grok, X’s homegrown AI. After reading the messages, it confected a news story suggesting Thompson was vandalizing homes in Sacramento.

Continue Reading.

Good riddance, WH-XB910N: Sony’s confusing product names are going away

Sony catches up to the 19th century.

Sony’s always been capable of making a great product, but it’s never quite nailed the knack of naming them. For instance, it makes the best pair of wireless headphones on the market today but saddles them with the name WH-1000XM5. Now, however, the company has pledged to simplify its naming scheme, including renaming its headphone range as Wear.

Continue Reading.

Nintendo emulator Delta hits the iOS App Store, no sideloading required

Apple’s relaxation of rules around what it permits on the App Store has seen the arrival of Delta. It’s a Nintendo emulator (and a successor to GBA4iOS) that runs a plethora of older titles from the company’s older consoles. Given its long-running enmity with game emulators and the ease with which it wiped out Yuzu, it can’t be long before Nintendo’s lawyers turn up with a fat stack of cease and desist letters.

Continue Reading.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-morning-after-is-the-new-zephyrus-g16-any-good-111508697.html?src=rss

Formlabs' new 3D printers are faster and cheaper to use

The dawn of the 3D-printing age was full of sky-high promises that had no chance of matching the reality of what was possible. Companies like Formlabs have taken the subsequent decade to look for places that the manufacturing process can work, and refining its technology to suit. Today, the company is announcing its Form 4 and Form 4B printers that, it says, offer a substantial improvement on what has gone before. And with maturity comes a shift in focus from just being able to create custom doodads on the fly toward a real manufacturing platform. The headline promise is simple: The Form 4 series will crank out prints up to five times faster than its predecessors. Rather than waiting a full day for a prototype to print out, the company is now suggesting you’ll be able to get something usable in just two hours.

(For the uninitiated: The B suffix stands for “biocompatible,” meaning the unit can 3D-print materials for medical applications. Formlabs has made inroads into the dental and medical industries, making cheap, custom-designed dentures as well as training models, prostheses and custom-fit medical equipment.)

The faster print time is enabled by better hardware, including a new print engine and a new light processing unit, as well as better resins. Formlabs is today announcing a set of new resins, including ones that help you crank out quick-and-dirty initial prototypes, as well as ones with more rigidity and color retention. Plenty of effort has also been jammed into ensuring that the resins (and the printers themselves) last longer, making prints cheaper and more efficient. The company is suggesting that prints made with the new gear will be around 40 percent lower thanks to the efficiency savings made elsewhere. This emphasis on speed, efficiency and lower cost should help bolster the sales pitch that these units are ready for bigger and better manufacturing jobs.

The Form 4 and Form 4B are available today, priced at $4,499 and $6,299, respectively.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/formlabs-new-3d-printers-are-faster-and-cheaper-to-use-130008859.html?src=rss

Paramount announces yet another Star Trek prequel

Movie-industry shindig CinemaCon was the venue at which Paramount Pictures announced it has started work on a new Star Trek movie. Slashfilm reports Untitled Star Trek Origin Story will be a prequel to Star Trek (2009), J.J. Abrams’ glossy prequel to Star Trek (1966). It’ll be directed by Toby Haynes, most famous around these parts for helming episodes of Andor and Black Mirror’s USS Callister. The screenplay has been written by Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote The Lego Batman Movie and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

So that we’re clear, Untitled Star Trek Origin Story will serve as a prequel to the 2009 origin story and a sequel to 2001’s origin story, Enterprise. It will likely be set before Discovery, which was conceived as a prequel to Star Trek (1966) and Strange New Worlds, which is a prequel to Star Trek (1966). And, look, if you’ll allow me to get a little personal for a moment, I am deeply overjoyed at the news. Given the dearth of origin stories, prequels and nostalgia-parades in the Star Trek universe, an Untitled Star Trek Origin Story is a welcome, necessary and life-giving addition to the franchise.

Let’s be honest, it’s high time we got something insular and backward-looking after so many years of non-stop groundbreaking, original adventures shorn from the burdens of continuity.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/paramount-announces-yet-another-star-trek-prequel-101030423.html?src=rss

Smart rings are meant to be invisible, and that’s the problem

Sometimes, you’re in bed and the glow from your smart ring’s optical heart rate sensor creeps into your peripheral vision. It got me thinking about how Samsung (and potentially Apple) will join the smart ring market, and why that’s a terrible idea. You see, these companies want devices that make their presence known in your life, embedding themselves in your routine. But smart rings blend into the background on purpose, which limits how much you can, or will want, to do with them.

Back in February, Samsung announced the Galaxy Ring, a health-tracking wearable baked into a ring. When it launches later this year, it will continuously monitor your sleep, breathing, movement and reproductive cycle. Entirely coincidentally, I’m sure, Bloomberg reported Apple was also conducting investigations into its own smart ring platform. Both companies are not-so secretly gunning for the Oura Ring, the market leader in finger-worn wearables. And I’ve been testing one of these for a long while.

Oura tracks your sleep, temperature, activity, post-exertion recovery and menstrual cycle. It’s a marvel of engineering to get so much technology into such a small and elegant package. The downside, if you can call it that, is there’s no way to access the data the ring collects, or its insights, unless you have a phone on hand.

But here’s the thing: It’s not that often I find myself actually opening the app to see what the stats are saying. If I wake up feeling like crap, there’s normally a self-evident reason why that needs no further explanation. And on those rare occasions when I wake up and don’t know why I’m feeling bad, the last thing that would occur to me is to check my phone. Who wants to look at fine-grain data when your head is pounding and your eyes refuse to focus?

That friction, that small gap between having the information there and it being easily accessible is a problem. Yeah, you can get a notification if your "Readiness Score" — Oura's proprietary metric for overall health — falls below a certain level. But I’ve been using this thing for long enough that I’ve never taken up the habit, and I suspect others would struggle to do so, too. It’s nice to have that information on those rare occasions when I’m thinking enough about it to look at my data over a longer period of time. But I can’t imagine myself looking at this data once or twice a day.

It’s also not that useful for workout tracking, principally because you won’t want to risk your $300 gadget in the gym. The first time I took it to work out, I picked up a pair of metal dumbbells, realized their knurled handles were rubbing against the metal of the ring and quickly took it off.

Because there’s no direct method of input, it’s far too easy to forget it’s there and not make use of its information. If you’re all-in on using a ring to track your fitness because you won’t wear a smartwatch or fitness tracker, and you’re always checking your stats, then it’ll work for you. But, deep down, I prefer a watch with a display that’s easy enough to check as a matter of instinct. And it’s this that I think should be a concern for Samsung and, potentially, Apple, as they look to move into this space. A smart ring caters to a niche inside a niche – quantified self obsessives who refuse to wear a watch. They obviously believe that’s enough of a draw to devote time and money to building their own, but I’m not sure it’ll be a blockbuster.

Not to mention these rings only have a few hooks to keep users inside their specific corporate bubble. Both Apple and Samsung have dedicated health-tracking apps and it’s likely whoever buys one of these will have one fewer reason to switch providers in future. But compare that to the watches, which offer health tracking, messaging, app interactions and mobile payments. Smartwatches are beneficial to these platforms because they help draw together various features from the phone. Rings do not.

Perhaps this is another sight tech’s biggest players now just need to copy and destroy their smaller rivals rather than striving for new products. Smart rings cater to a small market, albeit one that big tech could dominate with very little time and effort. Especially given the strength of their relative brands, which means these devices will more or less sell themselves to diehard fans. But is that all a new product can be in 2024, and is that what we could or should expect these companies to be doing?

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/smart-rings-are-meant-to-be-invisible-and-thats-a-bad-thing-140927134.html?src=rss

Fairphone’s repairable wireless earbuds put the industry on notice

True wireless earbuds are flimsy, easily lost and prone to battery failure. Given their size and cost, companies would rather you throw them out when they succumb to the inevitable. Fairphone, however, has built a pair of buds with easily replaceable batteries, as well as a swappable cell in the charging case. And, look, if the engineers working at this tiny Dutch company can work this out, then the army of designers in Apple and Samsung’s steel-and-glass cathedrals have no excuse.

Fairbuds are a pair of true wireless earbuds that look like Samsung’s Galaxy Buds, with the outermost surface on both sides being a controller. Fairphone promises six hours of battery life on a charge with an extra 20 hours nestled inside the case. The buds are packing the usual feature list, including ANC, multipoint connectivity as well as an IP54 rating for sweat and water resistance. As usual, the company wants to make the argument (on paper, at least) that just because the devil has the best toys, you can still have fun while wearing a halo.

Fairbuds are the company’s second crack at the true wireless whip after its 2021’s obviously named True Wireless Stereo Earbuds. Those were made with fairtrade gold and 30 percent recycled plastic, but were still more a part of the problem than the solution. At the time, I gave the company grief for launching a product so at odds with its environmental goals. In retrospect, the crap name should have been a clue that these were a stopgap. Since then, the TWS were dumped off, and the company released Fairbuds XL, a pair of over-ear cans that I rather liked.

Fairphone says that the Fairbuds here are made with 70 percent recycled and fair materials, while 100 percent of the rare earth elements and tin are recycled. The company also claims to offer improved pay for factory workers compared to rival manufacturers and works with suppliers to improve working conditions for the people on the production line.

Photo by Daniel Cooper / Engadget

I don’t think it’s unfair to say Fairphone prioritizes repairability over look and feel, so these won’t take a podium at the Beautiful Gadget Awards. I had a pair of AirPods Pro on my desk and, sat beside the Fairbuds, the difference between the two is almost comical. Fairbuds’ case is about twice the size and, while the corners are rounded off, it’s still going to be an unwelcome presence in your jeans pocket. It’s not as if there’s acres of wasted space in the case but it’s a product that the armchair designer in me keeps wanting to slim down.

There are other irritations, like the fact the action button is on top of the charging tray but the status light is on the side by the USB-C port. That’s not a deal breaker but you hope these fit and finish issues are the focus for any future version two. But the point of these irritations is that elegance has been sacrificed on the altar of repairability, and that’s why you’d buy a pair.

I probably need to make clear, for the people who will point to the iFixit guides showing you how to swap the battery in an AirPod and a Galaxy Bud that it is possible to do so. But if the guides ask you to use a heat gun, scalpel, vice, pry bar and glue-dissolving solvent, then that’s not an easy job just anyone can do. When I say that you can swap out the battery on each Fairbud with the same level of ease as you could a ‘90s cell phone battery, I mean it.

In fact, my first attempt took all of 30 seconds since all you need to do is get a small, flat-headed screwdriver to slide off the rubber gasket. Once done, you just need to gently pry out the hinged holder and the battery will slide out easily. Swap in a new cell, slide the rubber gasket back in place (if you’re gentle, it mostly plops back into position without any fussing) and you’re done.

Similarly, the charging case has a replaceable battery held in place with a single philips head screw. A few twists and the charging plate pops out, revealing the 500mAh cell underneath, with users able to buy replacement outer shells, charging trays and case batteries. You can also buy eartips, earbuds and earbud batteries from Fairphone’s online parts store.

Photo by Daniel Cooper / Engadget

It’s likely you’d only want or need to swap the batteries once every three or four years so you won’t benefit from this flexibility on a daily basis. Reading lots of online chatter, a rule of thumb is that most TWS buds last for between two and three years before things start to go wrong. Fairphone, too, offers a three-year warranty on the buds, but I’d hope to see a well-used pair of Fairbuds lasting for twice as long, assuming you don’t lose them in a sewer or leave them in the back of a cab.

Sadly, I can’t be as praiseworthy for the Fairbuds’ sound quality which isn’t as strong as you may hope. They’re not bad by any means, but the default sound profile lacks a dynamism you hear in competitors. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a lush orchestral piece by Jerry Goldsmith or something beefier, like Korn, you’ll feel the sound is rougher and flatter than other products. It’s like the top and bottom ends of the sounds are being sliced off to keep everything from getting too out of hand.

There are sound profiles in the Fairbuds app that I found similarly lackluster with users able to opt between standard tuning, Bass Boost or Flat. None of them feel distinct. There’s also a Studio option where you can adjust the tuning along eight specific frequency bands. It’s here that you can really improve the sound quality but it’s more time and effort than I’d be happy putting in on a regular basis.

At least the fundamentals are all pretty good: I’ve been testing these for a big chunk of the last five days and I’ve not felt the need to recharge the case battery at all. Even with ANC on, I think I’ve squeezed at least 20 hours out of these things and I’ve still got juice left in the tank. And the ANC itself offers the same background muffling you’ll hear in every other mid-range ANC earbud.

One of the mantras Fairphone has always repeated is that it doesn’t expect to build a phone that will topple the big manufacturers. Its products are designed to appeal to folks who want something a little more ethically made, and to act as a north star for the technology industry more broadly. There are plenty of engineering questions — around durability, bulkiness and ease of use — that linger. But Fairphone’s impact here should be to lay down a challenge to its bigger rivals to use their vast resources to build an earbud that isn’t condemned to live in the trash from the moment it was born.

Fairbuds are making their debut in Europe today from Fairphone as well as a variety of retail partners across the territory. They are priced at €149 and while there’s no word on the matter now, it’s likely that we’ll see them making their way to the US at some point in the future.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/fairphones-repairable-wireless-earbuds-put-the-industry-on-notice-080033940.html?src=rss

Form’s smart swimming goggles get refined for 2024

In 2019, Form launched a pair of goggles with a built-in display showing real-time data when you swim. Given how many things the company got right the first time around, the word of the day for its successor, the Smart Swim 2, is refinement. But a handful of incremental improvements also means there's no scream-from-the-rooftops reason to upgrade.

Smart Swim is a pair of fancy swim goggles with a chunky box (the “tech pack”) attached to one eye cup and a crystal in the corresponding lens. With it, you can see your statistics like your heart rate, distance, split times and more on a waveguide display without ever having to break your cadence.

Plenty about Swim 2 is carried over from the first model, including the two-button user interface, display resolution (72 x 40) and many of the internals. The addition of the heart rate sensor (which the company says has been tweaked to work well in water) has shaved down the battery life down to 12 hours from 16. But I’m not sure that’s a real issue unless you’re planning on swimming the English Channel.

Instead, Form has nipped and tucked at the existing model, with the tech pack being 15 percent smaller than its predecessor. Comfort and fit have also been worked on, with longer, more adjustable straps and a broader range of swappable nose bridges. Oh, and there were a couple of features that Form built into the first-generation hardware that have, until now, remained dormant. More on that later.

History

Form founder Dan Eisenhardt was in on the ground floor of the wearables craze of the 2010s. His last company, Recon Instruments, was building head-mounted displays long before Google pushed Glass out of the door. After initially considering, and then abandoning plans to make a swimming-focused wearable, it launched a pair of smart goggles for skiing in partnership with Oakley before making Jet, a cycling-focused unit under its own name.

These early successes attracted the attention of Intel while it was looking for the next big thing in computing. It bought Recon, among other wearables companies, with the smart business strategy of… running them all into the ground before cutting its losses a few years later. Once Recon had been scuttled, Eisenhardt and his colleagues went back to the product they had originally founded Recon to pursue, a head-worn swimming display.

Photo by Daniel Cooper / Engadget

In use

It’s not a complicated process to get started once you’ve downloaded the app and paired it with your goggles. Turn it on with a long press of the power button and cycle through the options menu with the other button. You can opt for a pool, open water or a swim spa — the latter available for specific partner gyms. If you’re in the pool, you can then select its length from a list of standard options and press start, with the headwear tracking your motion automatically.

If I’m honest, not a huge amount has changed from the first version in terms of operation and use. If you’d like more details, then you can head back and read my original review which will hold you in pretty good stead. The only differences, really, are that you get your heart rate on the display. And, if memory serves, the markers showing you when the headgear thinks you’re swimming and when you’re at rest are clearer and more regularly updated. But that’s it, really.

Now, remember when I referenced that the first-generation Form had some extra gear on board that was left dormant? SwimStraight is making its debut on the Swim 2 but will also come to the first-generation hardware — so long as you sign up for the premium app subscription. You see, there’s a magnetometer in the tech pack that can act as a compass, and will give you a live directional bearing as you swim. When activated, the bottom half of the display transforms into the compass view, showing you a relatively precise heading.

SwimStraight is designed for open water swimmers who would otherwise rely upon landmarks to chart their course. For instance, if you’re doing a lap in a lake or out at sea, you might be breaking your stroke once every few minutes to make sure you’re lined up with a buoy. But the company showed me GPS telemetry data showing that these intermittent corrections cause swimmers to veer off course a lot. Whereas, if there’s a live compass bearing in your eye at all times, you’ll be able to keep more or less to your intended path.

I’m not going to lie, this feature impressed me far more than it had any business doing, given the low-ish tech nature of the hardware. Thrash your head around and you might force a slight delay as the compass catches up to your orientation but otherwise it’s very quick.

HeadCoach, meanwhile, launched last fall on the first-generation goggles and is similarly held behind the Premium paywall. The system looks at various elements of your form, like the pitch and roll of your head, and how quickly you turn your head to the side to breathe. It then scores you out of 99 for each of these facets, with video lessons and suggestions to get better. You can then set these suggestions onto your goggles for the next time you go into the pool, so you can get a real sense of what you’re doing and how to improve matters.

Form’s Smart Swim 2 is available today across the world, priced at $249 in the US and $339 in Canada. Its predecessor now has a 1 appended to its name and will remain on sale for $179, offering a more affordable entry-point for wary would-be swimmers. Here’s the thing, I actually think that the Smart Swim 1 with Premium is probably a more compelling option for many people. That’s not a diss against the 2 so much as praise for how good the existing model already was. Look, if you’re a Serious Triathlete who cares about your split times and owns a Garmin the size of the Cullinan Diamond, get the 2. But if you’re a better swimmer than I am (and it wouldn’t be hard) but would like some real-time data in the water, get the 1.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/forms-smart-swimming-goggles-get-refined-for-2024-150056789.html?src=rss

The Morning After: Does your car need a rear windshield?

You know those folks who say they’d donate a major organ to own a fancy car? Ask them if they’d feel as comfortable sacrificing a rear window instead. Polestar’s newest ride has made its North American debut at the NY Auto Show and notably lacks a rear windshield. The rationale is rear passengers get better headroom and a more comfortable ride than in other cars. Drivers, meanwhile, get a high-res display where the rear-view mirror used to be, linked to a live feed from a rear-mounted camera. Given how often people’s heads or luggage obscure the backward view, it’s a trade I’m readily prepared to accept.

— Dan Cooper

The biggest stories you might have missed

You can now use ChatGPT without an account

How to watch (and record) the 2024 solar eclipse on April 8

Open Roads review: Take it slow and savor the drama

Microsoft unbundles Teams and Office 365 for customers worldwide

​​You can get these reports delivered daily direct to your inbox. Subscribe right here!

From its start, Gmail conditioned us to trade privacy for free services

Two decades of the customer being the product.

Gmail wasn’t the first service that turned its users into the product, but it’s probably the one we’re the most comfortable with. After all, while Facebook and its kin have been perpetually slammed for privacy issues, who really gets mad at Gmail? Our anniversary package has a deep dive into the last 20 years of Google’s flagship mail product.

Continue Reading.

Google says it will destroy browsing data collected from Chrome’s Incognito mode

… Oh, and speaking of Google and privacy.

The search giant has settled a recent class-action lawsuit relating to Chrome’s tracking of Incognito users. It has pledged to wipe out “billions” of data points it improperly collected and take steps to block any further tracking for five years. (Always a good sign when a company pledges to stop doing something it’s been told off for doing, but only for a short period.)

Continue Reading.

Tekken director apparently keeps getting requests to add a Waffle House stage

They could call it the Waffle Rough-House.

For the uninitiated, Waffle House is a waffle-centric chain of 24/7 American diners with a reputation for random outbursts of violence. It’s apparently so well known that Tekken players have been petitioning the game’s director to add a Waffle House level. Sadly, it probably won’t happen because Waffle House stands accused of underpaying its workers and, given the above context, exposing them to an unsafe working environment.

Continue Reading

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-morning-after-does-your-car-need-a-rear-windshield-111523159.html?src=rss

Friends don’t let friends use an AI STI test

Picture the scene: Your date has gone well and you and your partner might sleep together. Like any safe adult, you assume there will be a conversation about STI status and the use of protection. Now imagine how you would feel if they asked to take a photo of your penis and upload it to a website you’ve never heard of. That’s the future of intimacy, as imagined by Calmara, a new service launched by “men’s health” startup HeHealth.

HeHealth Website

Its press release suggests users take a picture of their partner’s penis so it can be run through a deep learning model for visual signs of sexually-transmitted infections. And while the website suggests users should wear protection, a banner atop the HeHealth sites describes the app as “Your intimate bestie for unprotected sex.” Mixed messages aside, you may notice some major issues with the pitch: That this only covers infections that present visually, and that it’s only designed to work with penises.

But even if that use case applies, you might not feel you can trust its conclusions once you’ve looked at the data. The Calmara website claims its scans are up to 90 percent accurate, saying its AI has been “battle-tested by over 40,000 users.” That figure doesn’t match up to its press release, which says accuracy reaches 94.4 percent (a figure cited in this NSFW preprint paper submitted a week ago), but its FAQ says the accuracy ranges “from 65 percent to 96 percent across various conditions.” We've reached out to the company and want to learn more about the apparent discrepancy.

Calmara

It’s not impossible for models to categorize visual information — I reported on how systems like these look at images of cells to aid drug discovery. But there are plenty of reasons as to why visual information isn’t going to be as reliable for an STI test. After all, plenty of conditions don’t have visual symptoms and carriers can often be asymptomatic long after infection. The company admits to this in its FAQ, saying that the app is a “first line of defense, not a full-on fortress.” Not to mention that other factors, like the “lighting, the particular health quirks you’re scouting for and a rainbow of skin tones might tweak those [accuracy] numbers a bit.” Even more alarming, the unpublished paper (which is riddled with typos) admits that a full 40 percent of its training dataset is comprised of "augmented" images, for instance "extracting specific visually recognizable disease patterns from the existing clinical image dataset and layering those patterns on top of images of health (sic) penises."

Calmara

The Calmara website’s disclaimer says that its tools are for the purpose of “promoting and supporting general wellness and a healthy lifestyle and are not to be used to diagnose, cure, treat, manage or prevent any disease or condition." Of course, if it really was intended as a general wellness tool, it probably wouldn’t describe itself as “Your intimate bestie for unprotected sex,” would it.

It doesn’t help that this is a system asking users to send pictures of their, or their partner's genitalia. Issues around consent and — as writer Ella Dawson raised on Bluesky — age verification, don’t seem to have been considered. The company's promises that the data is locked in a "digital stronghold" lacks specifics about its security approach or how the data it obtains may be shared. But that hasn’t stopped the company from suggesting that it could, in future, be integrated “directly into dating apps.”

Fundamentally, there are so many red flags and potential vectors for abuse and giving users a false sense of confidence that nobody should try using it.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/friends-dont-let-friends-use-an-ai-sti-test-162354796.html?src=rss

Lotus' secret weapon is EVs with personality

A lot of EVs aren’t that fun to drive, built as they are to glide around a highway like a swan on a river. Sure, like the swan’s manic paddling, there’s a lot of hardware and software sweating in the background to maintain that serenity. But the feeling can be so soporific that you wind up lusting for the day full autonomy comes and puts us out of our misery.

Except, of course, if you’re driving a new Lotus.

You see, when you’re driving an electric Lotus, there’s a sense of cognitive whiplash you don’t often get these days. EVs are quick and have plenty of torque thanks to their electric motors but they rarely have anything close to a personality. But even when you’re driving its new two-plus ton SUV, you’re capable of zooming around a race track as if you were driving a go-kart. It’s this unity of electric smarts and old-school drivability that Lotus hopes will return the perpetually beleaguered manufacturer to its former glory.

Lotus

Lotus Cars

If you’re not a car person, I wouldn’t blame you for not knowing Lotus was a big name in manufacturing and F1 – emphasis on was – responsible for many innovations that shaped how we build, drive and race cars today. “We talk about [having] this pioneering and rebellious spirit,” says Mike Johnstone, Lotus’ new VP of Commercial Operations. For the last 75 years, Lotus has been a left-field car manufacturer, with customers who want something that is “not necessarily part of the status quo.”

Lotus is a company defined by, and proud of, its idiosyncrasies. It’s idiosyncratically based in rural Norfolk, a hundred miles or more from the rest of the UK’s automotive industry. It’s idiosyncratic co-founder Colin Chapman (pictured, above), whose famous mantra was “simplify, then add lightness.” It’s idiosyncratic technical innovations, like monocoque bodies, ground-effect aerodynamics and the early use of carbon fiber. Its cars' idiosyncratic obsession with perfect handling and speed rather than creature comforts.

It would be impolite to mention the idiosyncratic financial relationship between Chapman and John DeLorean that would lead to the latter’s undoing.

It was this idiosyncratic reputation that made it a draw for pop culture figures who wanted to stand out from the crowd. Patrick McGoohan chose a Lotus Seven to be The Prisoner’s car in 1996 because it showed a “touch of the rebel.” The Avengers’ Mrs. Peel drove a Lotus Elan, while James Bond drove a Lotus Esprit underwater in The Spy Who Loved Me and a Turbo Esprit in For Your Eyes Only. And Richard Gere drove a Lotus Esprit in Pretty Woman because Porsche and Ferrari, who were asked first, objected to the film’s subject matter. I doubt Lotus has ever uttered the phrase “brand safety” with a sincere face.

Since Chapman’s death in the early ‘80s, Lotus has become a byword for stagnation, passed from one corporate parent to another. Its model line suffered: It sold the Elise from 1996 until 2021, while the Exige was in production from 2000 to 2021. Its newest car pre-Geely was the Evora, and its 12-year lifespan made it the youngest and freshest ride in the range. All three were discontinued in 2021 when the Emira made its debut as the company’s last gas-powered car.

Lotus remained alive because of its small but passionate fanbase, which happened to include a number of automotive executives. But while demand for its own cars waned, the rest of the industry continued to rely on its expertise in making cars drive well. Lotus’ fingerprints are visible in so many high-profile cars, from the DeLorean DMC12, Aston Martin DB9 and even Sinclair’s C5. More importantly, the first Tesla roadster was developed on Lotus’ platform, with the first run of cars built at its Hethel, England base.

In 2017, Geely — the Chinese EV giant that owns Volvo and Polestar — bought a 51 percent stake in the company. It’s spent the last few years and a considerable amount of cash to push the company into the 21st century. The existing gas-powered product line was cleared out, the HQ revamped and a new electric-only facility built in China. I was able to visit the company’s Hethel plant to see the fruits of this investment, and also to try all of the new vehicles. The headline-grabbing model, of course, is the Evija, the company’s $3 million all-electric hypercar.

The Evija

Lotus Cars

Emeya, Eletre, Emira, Evija, Evora, Exige, Elise, Elan, Esprit: It’s tradition, or something, that all Lotuses have incomprehensible faux-Latin names beginning with an E. The Evija will, hopefully, lodge itself in your memory as the company’s hypercar, of which only 130 will be built. One of the first is owned by former Formula One world champion Jenson Button with a Brawn GP paint job in honor of his 2009 win.

Lotus opted to put a lot of hardware in the middle of the car behind the two seats to retain that mid-engined weight distribution. The body is a single piece of carbon fiber, and it’s obvious to all that this is a race car first, with Lamborghini-esque styling. To save weight, there’s little sound dampening, so you can hear the roar of the gear, and the road, as you slice through the air. Put your foot down and you’ll hear the power unit spin up to push juice to those four wheel-mounted 500W motors.

What comes out the other side is eye-bleeding acceleration and enough g-force that you feel your lunch shift from one side of your stomach to the other. Yes, other EVs can go quickly, and some accelerate ludicrously fast, but the Evija is playing in different water. For car people, Lotus has always been synonymous with fast-twitch driving dynamics and slightly lackluster reliability. But the Evija feels mature, solid, stable and able to harness all of the pure grunt that only an electric motor can provide.

I’d go further and say that the Evija is terrifying, especially when Karl Eaton, one of the minds behind the vehicle, took me around the track in one. He waited until the car reached 201 miles per hour to start explaining all of the smart choices embodied in its design. I didn’t recall much of what he said at the time since I was trying to keep all the fluids in my body.

The Eletre and Emeya

Lotus Cars

Of course, the Evija is the standard bearer for Lotus as a luxury EV maker that stands out from the crowd. It’s not likely you’ll have a few million lying around, but its existence will make you aware of the relatively more reasonably-priced options in its lineup. The Eletre is the first real Lotus EV, priced around $100,000 and again, something of a departure from the norm. Whereas Lotus prides itself on making zippy, mid-engined sports cars, this is a two-and-change ton SUV that just happens to be as capable on a race track as its E-named predecessors.

On my first few laps around the track, I drove the Eletre like a high-sided SUV, which is to say, gently. After all, I didn’t want to flip this thing over when I’d need to save three years worth of paychecks just for a chance to look at the sales brochure. My co-pilot kept urging me to go harder, and eventually I did, realizing that Lotus has done something amazing. It’s a car that you can fling around a track and feel like you’re Lewis Hamilton, and then drive it home without missing a beat.

Lotus Cars

The Eletre is already on sale, but we won’t need to wait a decade to see what follow-up Lotus has planned. Next on the docket is the Emeya, a luxury hyper-grand tourer based on the same platform as the Eletre. You can see the shared design language and the emphasis on active aerodynamics in the body to help the cars zoom around the corners. There are gaps and vents all around the body to help push air past the cabin and keep all four wheels planted on the road.

As for the interiors, Lotus is a company that has traditionally avoided fripperies like comfort and ease of use. These, after all, aren’t conducive to Chapman’s mantra of simplifying and adding lightness. But the Eletre and Emeya have gloriously un-Chapmanesque cabins full of luxurious materials and physical dials and switches more reminiscent of a high-end camera. When you look at the price and see that the luxurious excesses of this cost the same as a Tesla Model X, you feel as though the incumbents need to get a lot better quickly.

The Spirit of Lotus

Lotus Cars

You could argue that Lotus is just a badge under which Geely can slap components it’s using elsewhere. But Mike Johnstone said the parent company has no interest in diluting what makes Lotus Lotus. “More than 99 percent of all of our development is done ourselves,” said Johnstone, “where we benefit [from being owned by Geely] is access to a supply chain.”

Much has been made about what Lotus’ role in the automotive firmament should be in the new world of electric vehicles. Colin Chapman’s famous principles were to simplify and add lightness so aren’t bulky EVs, shorn of their gas-powered engines, an insult to his memory? Thankfully, I only needed to cross the road that runs alongside Lotus’ Hethel HQ to ask an expert: Chapman’s son, Clive (pictured, left). Clive is the head of Classic Team Lotus, a heritage brand that keeps the company’s former gas-powered F1 cars working. Despite the shared name and proximity, there’s no financial relationship between Lotus and the Classic Team.

Clive showed me around the facility, which maintains those classic F1 cars and races them at heritage events, like the Historic Grand Prix at Monaco. If you’re a one-percenter with an old Lotus, you can also send it here to be restored by specialists. On the upper floor, there’s a collection of classic Lotuses of every stripe. It’s a rare and beautiful sight to see. I asked Clive how his father would feel about the shift to electric. “Dad was never sentimental,” said the younger Chapman, and directed me to a pristine Lotus 56 in the collection. He explained that his father was never wedded to one technology or philosophy, despite what some Lotus fans may claim. The Lotus 56, after all, was equipped with a gas turbine engine more commonly seen in aircraft than vehicles, but Colin Chapman was very interested in the speed advantage it could have offered.

It seems that what mattered to Colin Chapman then is the same as what matters to Lotus now: Pushing automotive design forward, no matter how unusual the method. Before I tried any of Lotus’ EVs on its test track, I tried the (gas-powered) Emira and used that as my benchmark. My expectation was that the subsequent cars would all pale somehow in comparison to the last “true” Lotus to be made at Hethel. And yet, the new cars, despite their batteries and electric motors, are just as lithe and energetic as ever. This, I suspect, is why Lotus has a good chance of making a mark in the new world, because it remains enough of that uncompromising spirit to stand out from the crowd and make sure that, for those who need it, you can still feel connected to your car.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/lotus-secret-weapon-is-evs-with-personality-140013839.html?src=rss

Disney+ screws UK Doctor Who fans with global release strategy

The latest series of Doctor Who will debut on iPlayer and globally on Disney+ at midnight in the UK. The first two hour-long episodes land on May 11, which will then air on BBC One later that day in prime time. Those who know how time zones work will have already guessed that Doctor Who will now be available to view in the US on May 10 at 7pm ET and 4pm PT.

There are plenty of sucky things about living in the UK, one of which is that we’re a day behind the US TV schedule. Buzzy shows like Lost were often spoiled by the internet long before it was legally available to view here. To curb the rampant piracy, shows like Game of Thrones and Succession were broadcast at 2am or 3am.

That way, ardent viewers could DVR those airings and watch them before they got to work lest it be spoiled. Because, if you didn’t, you’d have to be extremely careful when you were treading around on the internet. There were very few shows I didn’t have spoiled for me given that I work on the internet all the damn day.

So you can imagine my dismay to learn that Doctor Who, one of the crown jewels in the British TV firmament, will now be treated the same way. It’s hard not to feel annoyed given that the bulk of the series’ funding comes from the license fee paid by the majority of TV owners in the UK. It seems mad, to me, that the global simulcast isn't tied to the UK broadcast, rather than this obvious tweak to ensure the US gets it first. Especially when the alternative is to stay up until 2am on a Saturday morning. 

(Yes, I know there’s precedent for this, The Five Doctors aired on PBS two days before the UK airing, and the TV movie aired on Fox twelve days earlier. But that was in the pre-internet heyday when you didn't have every big moment from the show shared by its own official social channels mere seconds after it aired.)

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/disney-screws-uk-doctor-who-fans-with-global-release-strategy-155040558.html?src=rss