Posts with «author_name|sam rutherford» label

Apple plans to let you pay for gas using CarPlay

Apple has a big update to CarPlay slated for sometime later this year, but in the meantime, the tech giant has begun working with partners to support a new feature that will let users pay for gas directly inside the company's infotainment platform. 

While the ability to purchase fuel using CarPlay was first revealed during developer sessions at WWDC earlier this month, it didn't get a ton of attention until recently when energy company HF Sinclair announced plans to implement the feature at its gas stations in the U.S. 

HF Sinclair told Reuters that more specific details will be released in the coming months, but the basic idea is that instead of needing to swipe your credit card at the pump, users will be able to buy gas via an app in CarPlay. However, there will be some initial setup, as you'll need to download the app and enter your payment info first. Once everything is set up, you'll be able to select a specific pump from your navigation screen and refuel without needing to pull out your wallet. 

Ahead of a major update to CarPlay, Apple's push to support buying gas digitally comes amidst larger efforts to integrate more third-party services as the company looks to expand the role of its automotive platform. In a statement given to Reuters, Asymco analyst Horace Dedie said given the reach of CarPlay, this strategy could have an even greater impact than Apple's long-rumored efforts to design its own EV. 

“Forget about Apple Car - Apple CarPlay is a bigger deal,” Dediu said. “It’s very likely to scale to millions and millions of cars, if not hundreds of millions.” However, with Google also eying a number of upgrades to Android Auto, it appears the competition among in-car infotainment systems is just beginning to heat up. 

Sony’s new gaming brand merges the best of its PlayStation and consumer gear

I've always wondered why aside from a handful of peripherals like the Pulse 3D headset and that weird 3D display, Sony never really tried to expand the PlayStation brand outside of consoles. And while you won’t find any PS logos on its new line of headsets and monitors, with Inzone it really feels like Sony is finally bringing its wider tech expertise to gaming.

Now the reason we haven’t seen a ton of PlayStation-branded peripherals before is because the Sony most people think about is actually a conglomerate of several companies that make everything from medical diagnostic tools to camera sensors. And in the case of Inzone, its new gaming gear isn’t being made by the same Sony that produces its iconic consoles (Sony Interactive Entertainment) but instead by the Sony that makes everyday consumer gadgets (Sony Corp/Sony Electronics) like TVs and headphones including the excellent WH-1000XM5.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

That’s important because, while these devices have design cues borrowed from the PS5, including their black and white color scheme and sleek sci-fi lines, much of the tech inside has trickled down from a range of Sony Electronics' devices. And after using a handful of Inzone’s new peripherals for about a week, it really feels like you’re getting a great mix of tech from two different branches of Sony.

Let’s start with Inzone’s headphones which consist of three different models: the entry-level $99 H3, the mid-range $229 H7 and the high-end $299 H9. As the cheapest of the three, the H3 are incredibly simple and straightforward. Unlike their more expensive siblings, they don’t support wireless audio and instead rely on either a 3.5mm cord or a USB cable for connecting to your console or PC. On the bright side, the thick padded headband and cloth earcups make the H3 a joy to wear, even during marathon gaming sessions.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Another bonus is that due to cooperation between two arms of Sony, all Inzone headsets, including the H3, support the PS5’s Tempest 3D audio engine just like you get on the official Pulse 3D headphones. That means you get spatial audio and customizable sound profiles that make it easier to hear things like the footsteps of someone trying to sneak up behind you. That said, with the Pulse 3D also costing just $99 for wireless headphones that are just as comfortable as the H3, I think they’re probably the better buy for anyone on a budget.

Where things get really interesting though is when you move up to the H7 and H9, which feature dual-mode wireless connectivity (Bluetooth and a dedicated 2.4GHz wireless dongle), a slightly more streamlined design and strong battery life. On top of that, the H9 also feature digital noise canceling using the same tech as Sony’s 1000X line, and it shows.

Unlike the cloth earcups you get on the H3 and H7 headsets, the flagship H9 features soft fit leather earcups just like you get on Sony's WH-1000XM5 headphones. 
Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Now I should mention Sony was only able to send out the H3 and H9 for testing, so I’ve been using those for my comparisons. But the H7 and H9 are fairly close in terms of specs, with the main difference being the H7’s lack of exterior RGB lighting, no support for digital noise canceling and the use of cloth earcups instead of the soft fit leather padding you get on the H9 (which is the same material Sony uses on the WH-100XM5). In return, because they don’t have built-in noise canceling, the H7 offer slightly longer battery life (around 40 hours) compared to the H9 (around 32 hours).

Regardless, my time with the H9 so far has been great, and in a lot of ways, they feel like a pair of WH-1000XM5 that have been tuned for gaming. The noise cancellation works wonders for drowning out background sounds, and the super supple leather makes wearing them feel like putting a cloud around your head.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

I also really appreciate some of the small details Sony added to the H9. On a lot of headphones that offer two modes of wireless connectivity, you can typically only use one type at a time. But with the H7 and H9s, you can connect to two different devices simultaneously. This means you can use the wireless dongle to connect to your PlayStation or PC, and then use Bluetooth to get audio from your phone. And because the PS5 doesn’t have native support for chat apps like Discord, this makes it much easier to talk to your friends regardless of what platform you’re on at the moment.

Additionally, the H7 and H9 are the only other headphones besides the Pulse 3Ds that can use the PS5’s on-screen status notifications, which means you can see stuff like volume levels, battery status, mic mute, and game/chat balance all at glance. So while they aren’t the PS5’s official headphones, they behave like they are, while also offering even more features and better audio quality. And just like the WH-1000XM5, you can even use your phone to take a picture of your ear, to tune their sound even further.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

As for Inzone’s new monitors, there’s the $529 M3 and the $899 M9. However, since the M3 won’t be available until sometime this winter, I’m going to focus on my time with the M9. Featuring a 27-inch 4K IPS panel with a 144Hz refresh rate, the M9 isn’t the biggest or fastest gaming monitor around. But for the money, it packs a ton of features compared to similarly-priced rivals. Not only does it support VRR and NVIDIA G-Sync, it also sports a strong one millisecond gray-to-gray time, DisplayHDR 600 certification and a gamut that covers more than 95 percent of the DCI-P3 spectrum. In short, colors are bright, rich and vivid while also being largely immune from the ghosting you often see on less sophisticated displays.

However, the M9’s biggest advantage is its full-array local dimming (FALD) which is made up of 96 different lighting zones compared to just eight or 16 on competitors like the LG 27GP950 or the Samsung S28AG700. And after seeing the results side-by-side, I was kind of shocked at how much of a difference the M9’s FALD makes. A lot of gamers can spot bloom in games when something bright moves quickly across a dark background, which often produces ring of light around the object. But not only does the M9 almost completely eliminate halos, the ability to adjust lighting zones with greater precision also gives the monitor improved dynamic range. So in games like Elden Ring, I saw backgrounds that were much darker and atmospheric compared to the washed-out gray tones I saw on other monitors. This allows you to get much better contrast and black levels without needing to upgrade to more expensive QD-OLED displays like Alienware’s $1,300 AW3423DW.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

And just like its headphones, Inzone’s first monitor has a lot of really thoughtful smaller features. It has a built-in KVM switch, which is extremely useful if you have multiple PCs connected to the same display. It also has a native FPS counter so you can easily keep tabs on performance, while the monitor’s Auto Genre Picture Mode can switch between settings like Cinema Mode and Gaming Mode depending on the content coming from your PS5. And in addition to being height and tilt adjustable, Sony even designed the M9’s stand so that its feet stick out towards the back, which means PC gamers who need to place their keyboard as close as possible to their monitor like Dafran totally can.

But perhaps my favorite little touch, is the software that allows you to navigate the monitor’s on-screen display with your mouse, instead of having to fumble around with the joystick on the back of the panel. The M9 even comes with built-in stereo speakers, so you can plug in your PS5 and get straight to gaming without worrying about audio. And thanks to two HDMI 2.1 ports, one DisplayPort 1.4 jack, support for video over USB-C (DP Alt mode) and a built-in USB Hub, there’s a wealth of connectivity.

All of Inzone's new headsets and monitors will be available this summer except the M3 display, which will go on sale sometime this winter. 
Sam Rutherford/Engadget

So aside from the H3 which is somewhat basic, I’ve come away quite impressed with Inzone’s first batch of PC and console gaming peripherals. That said, looking at the pedigree of these two faces of Sony, that probably shouldn’t be a surprise. It might not say so on the box, but in a lot of ways, this feels like the marriage between PlayStation and the tech from some of Sony’s best gadgets. But what might be the most promising part is that while Inzone hasn’t shared any future plans just yet, after talking to some of its reps, it’s clear Sony has big plans for its new gaming brand going into 2023 and beyond.

Nothing's Carl Pei thinks everyone else's smartphones are boring

Carl Pei thinks there’s something wrong with the smartphone industry. That’s not to say the handsets on sale today are bad. Across the board, modern mobiles are faster, more sophisticated and take better photos than previous generations. But like a growing number of tech enthusiasts, Pei has started feeling like new phones just aren’t as special as the devices that came out five or 10 years ago. So ahead of the launch of the Phone 1 on July 12th, I sat down with the founder and CEO of Nothing to learn how the mobile startup is trying to bring some innovation, quirkiness, and maybe even a bit of fun back to the smartphone market.

Now there’s a very logical explanation for why recent phones don’t possess the same kind of wow factor. Back when the iPhone made its debut, it felt like a revelation. “I used to watch all the launches. I was in Sweden, so I stayed up until midnight or 4AM to see what was coming out,” said Pei. But in recent years, that excitement has waned, with Pei often skipping big keynotes and relying on condensed recaps to stay informed. And it’s not just Pei that feels this way.

Nothing

“When I talk to consumers, they are also quite indifferent,” says Pei. “When doing focus groups, some consumers said they believe smartphone brands are holding features back intentionally just so they have something to launch for the next iteration, which is not the truth. But if consumers feel that way, it's a sign that they're kind of bored.”

The big issue for Pei is one of stagnation. With major players like LG and HTC having exited the market or becoming irrelevant, the smartphone industry is dominated by a handful of huge corporations like Apple, Samsung, and Google. “You have a few big companies and the way they work is more structured and systematic,” said Pei. “They have technology roadmaps from partners like Qualcomm, Sony or Samsung Display, so they know what's coming. They do a lot of consumer research, they get their feedback and they look at their competitors and the overall market landscape.”

However, Pei feels that approach leads to a lot of sameness. “So they have this information, they analyze it, and then they create a very rational product that is going to do well on paper because they used all this great data,” said Pei. “But the problem is everybody's using the same data and everybody's using the same analysis. So if the input is the same and the method is the same, the output is more or less the same as well.”

Nothing

That’s one thing Pei is trying to change with Nothing’s upcoming handset, the Phone 1. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel – or in this case, the phone – Pei wants to bring some originality back to mobile tech design. “Maybe we can turn down the brain a little bit and turn up the intuition,” said Pei, which is a mantra that has resulted in some of the Phone 1’s more unique features including its design, embedded lighting and glyph interface.

Pei says the inspiration behind the Phone 1’s design comes from a concept the team describes as “raw technology meets human warmth,” or technical warmth for short. “It's got this machine-like nature to it, but also has quirky and very human elements as well.” That’s why instead of hiding the inside of the device behind an opaque back, like you see on so many other phones, Nothing uses transparent glass that exposes components like the Phone 1’s wireless charging coil, heat pipes, and more. In a lot of ways, it feels like a modern industrialist take on the Game Boys and iMacs with see-through plastic shells we got in the 90s and early 2000s.

“I think one thing we’re trying to accomplish is to bring people back in time to when they felt more optimistic about gadgets,” said Pei. This desire to make tech fun again is actually something Nothing carried throughout its entire design process, right down to Phone 1’s codename Arceus, which is a reference to the legendary Pokemon of the same name. (For the record, Pei says his favorite ‘Mon is Squirtle.) There are other quirks too, like the heat pipe at the bottom of the phone that looks like an elephant and the red indicator light in back that lets people know when a video is being recorded.

See if you can spot the elephant hidden in the Phone 1's design.
Nothing

However, while Pei wants to bring fun back to gadgets, Nothing always falls back on the core design principle of form following function. Pei said “We don't do ornaments. We can design different things and unique things, but they always have to be functional.” The best example of this is the Phone 1’s glyph interface, which uses 900 LEDs arranged across the back of the device to create a sophisticated notification system unlike anything out right now.

By allowing owners to assign unique combinations of lights and sounds to different contacts, the idea is that people will be able to see who is calling or texting without looking at the screen. Even the Phone 1’s ringtones evoke old-school analog synths combined with the noise of a dial-up modem, it’s both fresh and retro at the same time. On top of that, the lights glow when the phone is wireless or reverse wireless charging, while the small strip of LEDs next to the charging port can show how much juice the phone has – once again, without ever seeing the screen.

That said, having big ideas about phone design and actually making them a reality are very different things. Making phones is hard, and trying to break into the market as a startup is damn near impossible. If you look at the industry today, the only company that has really broken through in the last decade is OnePlus, which was co-founded by Pei and received significant backing as part of BBK Electronics’ tech umbrella. Meanwhile, the junkheap of failed smartphone startups is littered with ambitious companies like Essential (whose branding and IP are actually now owned by Nothing) that teased similarly big ideas, but went belly up before ever making a second-gen device. Or consider more mainstream companies like Motorola, who failed to make modular phones more than a novelty with its Z-series devices. And ever since, Moto has largely played it safe by shelling out endless rehashes of its G-series line.

Nothing

“The reason why this industry is very hard is because it requires end-to-end capability,” Pei said. “If you're going to create a smartphone company, every single team has to be at least seven out of 10. And some of them have to be even better if your product is going to stand out in some way.”

“Your supply chain team has to be great. Your mechanical engineering, your software, engineering, your industrial design, your sales, your marketing, your customer support,” said Pei. And if we look back at the PH-1 which had an innovative design and a team with serious pedigree, in the end, a handful of issues like its high price and weak camera quality at launch ultimately spelled doom for Essential.

On the flipside, despite Pei claiming that Nothing has already sold more than 560,000 pairs of its Ear 1 buds, there are concerns about the Phone 1 being overhyped. Some commenters online have even compared Nothing’s community forums to a cult based on early reactions to what remains an unreleased device. But when it comes to hype, Pei feels like there’s only one road that leads to success.

“One is the path we currently are taking. We try and create the maximum interest for a product at launch. That sets really high expectations for the product to deliver. And if it does, things go really well. If it doesn’t, maybe it fizzles out.”

However, the challenge is that if a company tries to reign in the hype, the product may never take off regardless of quality. Pei said “In this path, we at least have a chance to try and deliver a great product. The second option is being a small company with no marketing budget is that no one will know about your device. So even if the product is good, the result is still that nobody cares. You don't even have a chance to prove yourself. This is actually our only logical option.”

Nothing

So while the design of the Phone 1 is quite unique and eye-catching, Pei preaches a pragmatic approach. Instead of taking a huge swing right out the gate, Pei is looking to gradually grow Nothing’s business and ecosystem, starting with its first earbuds and soon, its first phone.

“We’re a fast follower. We didn't invent smartphones. We didn't invent Android, but we have experience in this market. We see ways in which we could do it better and some gaps in the market.” But Pei knows Nothing needs to take it one step at a time. “We need to gradually build to a position of strength. Then when you’re strong, you can go and do something really, really innovative, because you’ll have a business that’s stable enough to take a lot of shots.”

However, while the success (or failure) of the Phone 1 is still to be determined, I appreciate that not only is Pei challenging billion-dollar giants with a new smartphone startup, Nothing is also trying to shake things up in the process. “I think this device is the beginning of something different, but it’s also a gift to our industry,” said Pei. “We're not saying this is a revolutionary product that's going to change the entire industry overnight. But maybe it's going to plant a germ in people's minds.” In a sea of similar-looking glass bricks, Pei hopes the Phone 1 will encourage customers to ask for more creative devices while also sparking larger companies to take more risks. “Some of it will fail. But ultimately, the smartphone market is going to be much more dynamic and we'll improve faster as an industry.”

Surface Laptop Go 2 review: Basic, but in a good way

The word basic gets a bad rap. But there's something to be said for simple devices that deliver everything you need without a bunch of costly extras. So while the new Surface Laptop Go 2 isn’t as flashy as the Surface Studio or as flexible as a Surface Pro 8, it delivers all the essentials for a very affordable price. And thanks to a refreshed CPU, upgraded storage, redesigned fans and a starting price of just $600, now you get even more for your money. 

Design

Not a lot has changed about the design, and I don't care because it's basic in the best ways. You still get that super minimalist Surface aesthetic in a light 2.5-pound body. Microsoft uses aluminum on its lid and deck, but a plastic bottom helps keep its price down. Inside, the 12.4-inch PixelSense display has slim bezels, and while the Laptop Go 2's keycaps and touchpad are a bit smaller than what you'd get on a bigger Surface, it never felt cramped. That said, I think not adding backlighting to the keyboard was a bit too frugal on Microsoft's part. It's 2022: Backlit keys should be standard, regardless of price. 

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Now, I must admit that the port selection does feel a bit limited. All you get is one USB-A connection, one USB-C socket, a headphone jack and a magnetic Surface Connect slot. My ideal laptop has at least three USB ports. And unlike its bigger siblings, the Surface Laptop Go 2 doesn't have a bonus USB-A port on its power brick, which would be really handy for when you want to recharge an extra accessory. On the bright side, the Laptop Go 2 does support USB-C power delivery, so if you want, you can easily switch out Microsoft's included brick for a third-party charging adapter.

I also want to mention that while our higher-end review unit does come with a fingerprint sensor built into its power button, you won't get that on the base model. Again, I know Microsoft is trying to keep costs down, but this should really be available on every config.

Display, webcam and sound

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

As for the display, Microsoft stuck with the same 1,536 x 1,024 touchscreen it used on the old model. No, it’s not even full HD, but colors are vibrant, and while Microsoft claims a brightness of 330 nits, our review unit actually registered a much more impressive 375 nits. So kudos to Microsoft for exceeding its nominal specs. Would I prefer a slightly higher resolution? Of course. But on a 12.4-inch screen, things still look pretty crisp. From a normal viewing distance, you don't really notice the lower pixel density. 

Microsoft also says the Laptop Go 2 speakers are 24 percent louder than before, and that feels about right. You're not going to see any obvious speaker grilles because everything is hidden beneath the keyboard. But audio still comes through quite clearly, even if the soundstage comes off a bit shallow with less detail in the highs and lows that I’d like. But on a system that starts at $600, I'm satisfied. 

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

The Laptop Go 2's webcam is still just 720p, but Microsoft says there's a new sensor inside that improves contrast and color saturation. And you know what, it does. I still maintain that a 1080p webcam should be the minimum. But unless you're livestreaming on Twitch or something, which is sort of outside the system's intended use case, this webcam is plenty capable.         

Performance                                                  

The most important improvements on the Surface Laptop Go 2 are to its performance. Microsoft has upgraded to an 11th-gen Intel Core i5 CPU, which isn't cutting edge, but has more than enough oomph to ensure general productivity feels snappy. Compared to a bigger machine like the HP Spectre x360 with an i5-11390H chip, the Laptop Go 2’s scores were only around 10 percent lower on general performance tests like PCMark 10 and Geekbench 5. Though its lack of discrete graphics holds it back during more demanding tests or workloads.

Laptop

PCMark 10

Geekbench 5 (single core/multi-core)

3DMark Night Raid

Surface Laptop Go 2

4,213

1,349/3,764

11,173

HP Spectre x360 16

4,785

1,518/4,200

16,927

Surface Pro 8

4,542

1289/5,217

16,092

Surface Laptop Studio

5,397

1,445/5,430

26,566

Sadly, Microsoft stuck with just 4GB of RAM on the base model, which is a bit skimpy, and is probably why the company sent out a higher-spec model with 8GB of RAM for review. And if you decide to pick one up, you should probably pay $100 for that upgrade. Meanwhile, the biggest change is that the Surface Laptop Go 2 now comes with a 128GB SSD standard, instead of the 64GB eMMC drive you got before. So you get faster storage and more of it, even on the base model.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

In the real world, the Surface Laptop Go 2 has no issues quickly switching between a bunch of browser tabs, multiple office apps and more – which is really all I'm asking for in a system like this. And thanks to its integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics, you can even do some light video editing and casual gaming, though anything more is definitely pushing it. 

Battery life and thermals

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Battery life on the Surface Laptop Go 2 is strong, lasting 14 hours and 43 minutes on our video rundown test. That’s even longer than what you get with more expensive Surfaces, including the Surface Pro 8 (13:06) and the Surface Laptop Studio (12:24). However, if longevity is your main concern, the 15-inch Surface Laptop 4 still has a bit of an edge with a time of 15:25 on our test. 

Laptop

Battery life

Surface Laptop Go 2

14:43

Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch)

15:25

Surface Pro 8

13:06

Surface Laptop Studio

12:24

I also appreciate that Microsoft made efforts to reduce the system's fan noise, by as much as 10 decibels at max speeds. In normal use, the Laptop Go 2 is actually rather quiet, often running completely silent if you're just browsing the web, and rarely rising above a whisper unless you're doing some serious multi-tasking. In some respects, this laptop seems like the ideal candidate for a fully fanless design. That said, Windows machines don't have access to the same kind of super-efficient chips you get from something like an M1 MacBook Air. But let's not forget, an equivalent MacBook Air also costs $200 more than the Surface Laptop Go 2. 

Wrap-up

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

And in a way, that’s important context when comparing Microsoft’s most travel-friendly notebook to more expensive rivals. For someone like me who uses a desktop at home, the Surface Laptop Go 2 is a great travel companion and I'd much rather drag it around than the bigger and heavier Intel MacBook Pro 13 I got assigned for work. Sure, it’s not quite as powerful and it’s got a lower-res screen, but it has more than enough performance for working on the go. It's also a great machine for students or anyone who just wants a well-designed no-frills notebook that's easy to carry. It doesn’t have an IR webcam for facial login or a stylus like you get on more sophisticated Surfaces, but that's okay. Even if you pay for an upgraded model (which I highly recommend), the Surface Laptop Go 2 is still super portable, very affordable and even kind of stylish, while also having all the basics down pat.

HyperX’s Cloud Mix Buds makes managing multi-device audio a breeze

Wireless headphones have gotten better at connecting to multiple devices in recent years. But pairing can still be kind of a hassle, especially if you’re gaming on a range of devices including consoles, phones and PCs. But after testing out its new Cloud Mix Buds, it feels like HyperX has come up with a simple and elegant way of supporting wireless audio on a bunch of different gadgets, regardless of if you’re gaming or just relaxing to music.

The main thing that separates the Cloud Mix Buds from similar headphones is that in addition to Bluetooth 5.2, the earbuds also come with their own dongle that sends audio over a dedicated 2.4Ghz channel. So not only do you get lower latency compared to Bluetooth – which is extremely useful when you’re playing fast-paced games – you also get a stronger signal that’s less likely to cut out.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

The thing I like the most about the Cloud Mix Buds’ kit is that because the dongle has a USB-C connector, it worked seamlessly with every gaming system I tested including more oddball ones like the Steam Deck. And I didn’t even need to install HyperX’s free Ngenuity app either. The one exception is that, while the Cloud Mix Buds are compatible with both Android and iOS devices, PCs and consoles at large, because Microsoft uses a proprietary wireless audio protocol, the earbuds don’t work with Xboxes.

That makes switching wireless audio as easy as moving the dongle from one device to another. In my experience, the best way to take advantage of buds’ dual-mode wireless connectivity was by keeping them paired with my phone over Bluetooth (where latency isn’t as big a concern) and attaching the dongle to whatever I’m gaming on at the time. The USB-C adapter even has a handy button that you can press to mute its mics.

For gadgets that don't have a USB-C port or have ports that are hard to reach, the Cloud Mix Buds come with a handy extension adapter and a USB-C to USB-A cable. 
Sam Rutherford/Engadget

As an added bonus, HyperX includes a small extension adapter and a USB-C to USB-A cable with the earbuds. This allows the buds to work with an even wider range of devices like the Nintendo Switch, whose lone USB-C port is occupied when docked. So instead of plugging the dongle into the console itself, you can connect the extension adapter to the USB-A port on the Switch’s dock, and then plug the dongle into that. This also worked really well for my desktop PC, which doesn’t support Bluetooth (it has an older mobo without built-in WiFi or BT) and lacks easily accessible front-side USB-C ports.

As far as audio quality goes, the Cloud Mix Buds 12mm drivers deliver crisp sound including a bit deeper bass than what I get from Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro. And while it’s subtle, the reduced latency you get with the 2.4GHz connectivity is noticeable in shooters where reaction times really matter. Unfortunately, because I’ve been using the buds prior to their official release, I didn’t have the chance to dive deeper into the Ngenuity app’s more advanced features, which include support for virtual 7.1 surround sound, customizable EQs and adjustable touch controls.

For devices like a PS5, the size of the Cloud Mix Buds' dongle may block other nearby ports. 
Sam Rutherford/Engadget

The Cloud Mix Buds feature above-average battery life with around 10 hours of runtime using Bluetooth (or closer to 8 hours when using the 2.4GHz dongle), with another 20 to 22 hours in the case. HyperX also includes a protective silicone sleeve for the charging case and a choice of three different ear tips (small, medium and large). For me, the default medium tips offered a snug fit that blocked a lot of ambient noise without being too tight.

Finally, while you don’t get support for wireless charging, my favorite little design element is being able to plug the 2.4GHz dongle into the bottom of the case when traveling so you don’t lose it. For a device that’s meant to be used both at home and on-the-go, that’s a really thoughtful touch. The downside is that the dongle is so wide, it can block nearby ports like the front USB-A jack on a PS5.

When you're traveling, you can stash the Cloud Mix Buds' dongle on the bottom of its case so you don't lose it. 
Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Now I admit getting earbuds to play nice with a lot of different gaming devices is sort of a first-world problem. But for those who have the luxury of jumping between multiple consoles or systems (sorry Xbox), HyperX’s Cloud Mix Buds makes all that a breeze, while still offering good battery life, a simple design, and solid audio quality. And with a price of $150, that’s an appealing combo for big-time gamers that appreciate the freedom of wireless sound.

Surface Laptop Go 2 hands-on: An upgrade that's worth the extra money

The Surface Laptop Go line holds an interesting position in Microsoft’s notebook lineup. It’s not quite as cheap or portable as the Surface Go 3 and it’s not as powerful or flexible as the Surface Studio. But a recent component refresh has added new life to a very travel-friendly system.

Starting at $600, the Surface Laptop Go 2 costs $50 more than the outgoing model. That gets you an 11th-gen Intel Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. Now it might seem strange that Microsoft didn’t opt for a newer 12th-gen chip, but the company says it really wanted to keep the cost of the base model down, and going with a slightly older processor could have factored into that. The big upgrade, though, is Microsoft has finally ditched the 64GB of eMMC storage that came on the original Surface Laptop Go, which on its own is worth a $50 price hike.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if the choice of an 11th-gen CPU was made due to considerations regarding battery life and thermals. A lot of 12th-gen chips tend to run hot and are somewhat power hungry. For the Surface Laptop Go 2, Microsoft says it was able to increase the notebook’s total runtime slightly by 30 minutes to 13.5 hours on a charge, while also reducing fan noise by up to 10 decibels at max speeds. And in my experience, that noise reduction is rather significant, with the system rarely rising above a whisper unless you're doing something more intense like gaming or editing a video.

The new Surface Laptop Go 2 shares a lot of features with the previous model. The design is basically the same, which is fine by me – the clean lines and minimalist aesthetic still look great. There is a new sage green finish that I’m rather partial to. But if that hue doesn’t do it for you, the laptop is still available in platinum, ice blue and sandstone.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

The Surface Laptop Go 2’s 720p webcam is the same resolution as last year. However, Microsoft says it switched to a new sensor that offers improved image quality. And thus far, I’ve found that even though the camera isn’t full HD (which should be the bare minimum nowadays), you do get better color saturation and contrast. So while it’s not ideal for live streaming, it’s good enough for your average video call.

The other area where I wish Microsoft had upgraded a bit more is the Laptop Go 2’s screen. It’s still the 12.4-inch 1536 x 1024 PixelSense display, which is well short of full HD. On a smaller screen like this, the lower resolution looks nice at normal viewing distances, though people with good eyesight will probably still be able to discern individual pixels. Thankfully, colors are punchy and its 330 nits of brightness means you won’t have much trouble seeing it in a sunny room.

Sadly, just like the original, the new Surface Laptop Go 2 still doesn't have a backlit keyboard.
Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Microsoft also says the Surface Laptop Go 2’s speakers are 24 percent louder. Like before, the drivers are hidden underneath the keyboard (which sadly still isn’t backlit). And while I have no doubt about those volume claims, its audio profile sounds a bit flat, lacking punch in both its highs and lows.

As before, there’s also a fingerprint sensor that works with Windows Hello. But it’s important to note you only get this option on more expensive configs – it’s not available on the base $600 model. Another small bonus is that the Laptop Go 2 is more repairable than before. For regular people, Microsoft says the Laptop Go 2’s SSD, Aurflink cable, keyboard and trackpad, and even the display are user-replaceable. The battery can be swapped out as well, but only by authorized service providers.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Finally, port selection on the Surface Laptop Go 2 has stayed the same, with one USB-A and one USB-C port, along with a headphone jack and a Surface Connect Port. And sadly, unlike more expensive Surfaces, the power brick on the Laptop Go 2 doesn’t have an extra USB-A port for charging peripherals, which would have been really handy on a system with just two USB ports.

OK, so that’s about it. Not a ton has changed on the outside, but on the inside the Surface Laptop Go 2 got some much-needed refreshes. The new 11th-gen Intel chip should provide a notable boost in performance, and an extra half hour of battery life is always nice. But I’m going to need a little more time to see how this thing really holds up as a primary work machine, so stay tuned for a full review coming soon.

Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Apple's passkeys offer even better protection for your passwords

As part of the company's ongoing efforts to improve user security, at WWDC 2022 Apple announced new digital passkeys that add an extra layer of security to your passwords.

Available on both iOS and macOS, Apple's passkeys are designed to replace standard passwords by providing unique digital keys that are stashed locally on your device. Apple says that by not storing passkeys in the cloud, they are much less susceptible to being stolen in the case of a data breach or phishing attempt. 

Passkeys will feature integration with biometric security including Touch ID and Face ID, and can be synced to other Apple devices via your iCloud Keychain. They will also work with apps and on the web, allowing users to sign into their accounts using their iPhone instead of their password. 

The arrival of passkeys comes after Apple, alongside Google and Microsoft, announced a partnership with the FIDO Alliance and the WWDC earlier this spring. Apple's passkeys look to be the company's attempt to simplify and streamline the use of passwordless sign-on methods and will feature end-to-end encryption and compatibility with a wide range of Apple devices including the iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV when it arrives sometime later this year. 

Follow all of the news from WWDC right here!

 

iOS 16 brings big updates to the lock screen

Ahead of its official release sometime later this fall, today at WWDC 2022 Apple announced a number of exciting new features heading to iOS 16. 

One of the most important new changes in iOS 16 is a revamped lock screen, which features a wide range of customization options and layouts. There will even be new templates that let you choose different fonts and accent colors, in addition to support for widgets — all of which can be accessed without needing to unlock your phone. Additionally, there's also a new wallpaper feature that lets you select from a range of categories including dynamic wallpapers that change based on the time or even the weather.

Another big update is revamped notifications, which will now roll up from the bottom of the screen. Meanwhile, the new Live Activities features is designed to help you keep track of current events and appointments like live game scores. 

iOS's Focus Mode is also getting an upgrade that works with the new lock screen, so you can use widgets or things like to-do lists to stay on target. 

This story is still developing, so check back soon for updates...

Follow all of the news from WWDC right here!

Ring is raising the cost of its cheapest subscription by 99 cents a month

The price of Ring's cheapest security camera subscription plan has stayed flat at $3 a month since it was introduced in 2017. But soon, alongside increased video storage and some expanded features, the price of a Protect Basic subscription is going up by 99 cents.

Ring says the rate hike will go into effect starting with your first bill on or after July 1st, 2022, bumping the price of a Protect Basic plan up to $3.99 a month or $39.99 per year. Other Ring subscription plans are staying the same, with the Protect Plus plan remaining at $10 or month, or $20 a month for Protect Pro. In its press release, Ring justified the increase by adding support for more video storage (up to 180 days, up from 60 days), larger bulk videos downloads (up to 50 videos at a time, up from 20) and the ability to receive exclusive discounts on future Ring products (which was previously only available with Protect Plus and Protect Pro plans).

Amazon/Ring

While a 99-cent bump might not sound like much, because each Protect Basic plan only covers a single camera per sub and Ring cameras require a subscription to save and record videos, owners with two or three cameras could be looking at a more significant yearly cost. This may push some customers towards upgrading to Ring's mid-range Protect Plus plan, which covers all the cameras in your home for $10 a month. 

In the future, Ring also says package alert functionality will soon be available on a wider range of doorbells, along with upcoming support for smart alerts, sound detection, and custom event alerts — all of which are currently not available with a Protect Basic plan. Thankfully, it appears standard functions such as two-way communication and the live camera view will continue to work without a subscription. So if you don't want to fork over an extra dollar a month, you'll still have access to a limited set of default features. 

TCL is jumping on the pen phone trend with the Stylus 5G

A couple of years ago, Motorola introduced its first phone with a built-in stylus, which quickly became one of the company’s best-selling handsets. And now TCL is jumping on the trend with its first attempt at making a budget Galaxy Note alternative with the $258 TCL Stylus 5G.

Featuring a large 6.81-inch FHD+ display, the TCL Stylus 5G provides ample room for things like drawing, taking notes or simply watching videos. And similar to other TCL handsets, the phone features a blue light filter and support for the company’s NXTVISION tech, which can upscale SDR content to HDR to improve things like contrast and color saturation in both movies and games.

Other specs include a 4,000 mAh battery, an octa-core Mediatek Dimensity 700 chip, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Thankfully, unlike a lot of premium smartphones, the Stylus 5G still comes with a microSD card slot for expandable storage and a 3.5mm jack for wired audio. Cameras include a 50MP main sensor in back, along with a 5MP ultrawide lens, a 2MP depth sensor and even a 2MP macro cam. Meanwhile in front, there’s a 13MP selfie shooter.

TCL

As for the stylus, just like on a Galaxy Note (or more recently, the Galaxy S22 Ultra) the TCL Stylus 5G has a built-in storage slot for its pen along with a number of pre-installed stylus apps. There’s a feature similar to Samsung’s Screen Off memo that lets you start taking notes without needing to unlock your phone first. There are also dedicated shortcuts for grabbing screenshots and creating custom GIFs. And thanks to a partnership with MyScript, the phone also comes with free subscriptions for the Nebo and MyScript Calculator apps, which allow you to convert handwritten notes or formulas into text.

Unfortunately, the Stylus 5G lacks some of the advanced functions you get on more expensive alternatives. The phone’s pen is a passive stylus, so it can’t be used as a remote camera shutter or presentation tool, and despite having 5G in its name, the phone only supports sub-6Ghz 5G. That said, TCL claims the Stylus 5G has 30 percent less latency than similarly priced rivals like the Moto Stylus 5G. So in the end, perhaps the biggest concern about the phone is limited software support, as TCL is only promising one major Android OS update and just two years of security patches.

However, if you’re looking for a super affordable phone with a built-in pen, it’s nice to see a company other than Motorola test the market with the TCL Stylus 5G. The phone is available today on T-Mobile and Metro.