is teasing new Xbox hardware and accessories will launch at Gamescom in Germany next month. Details are limited. The word comes from about the event in which it lists the date and time of the August 21 event, which will feature “lots of news, all-new Xbox hardware and accessories, and features on upcoming titles.” Don’t expect the successor to the Xbox One, though. There are several options here and most signs point to a new Xbox Elite controller. Rumors have been swirling that the updated controller will feature USB-C charging, Windows 10 compatibility and updated mechanisms for the triggers and buttons. The timing is right, too. If announced in the middle of August, Microsoft will have plenty of time to get the expensive controller into retail stores for the holiday season. Microsoft just released the 4K Xbox One X last year. This model is still competitive with the latest Playstation 4. A lower price, or a redesigned low-end Xbox One S, could also be on tap. Whatever is announced on August 21 at Gamescom, we’ll pass along the word.
I have to hand it to 8BitDo. At first I thought they were just opportunistically hawking cheap hunks of plastic in an era of unparalleled nostalgia for retro games, but… well, who am I kidding? That’s exactly what they’re doing. But they’re doing it well. And are the latest sign that they actually understand their most obsessive customers. While you can of course purchase fully formed controllers and adapters from the company that let your retro consoles ride the wireless wave of the future, not everyone is ready to part with their original hardware. I, for example, have had my Super Nintendo for 25 years or so — its yellowing, cracked bulk and controllers, all-over stains and teeth marks compelling all my guests to make an early exit. I consider it part of my place’s unique charm, but more importantly I’m used to the way these controllers feel and look — they’re mine. 8BitDo understands me, along with the rest of the wretches out there who can’t part with the originals out of some twisted concept of loyalty or authenticity. So they’re giving us the option to replace the controllers’ aging guts with a fresh new board equipped with wireless connectivity, making it a healthy hybrid of the past and present. If you’re the type (as I am) that worries that a modern controller will break in ways that an SNES controller would find laughable, if it could laugh, then this will likely strike your fancy. All you do is take apart your gamepad (if you can stand to do so), pull out the original PCB (and save it, of course), and pop in the new one. You’ll be using more or less all the same parts as these famously durable controllers came with (). The way the buttons feel shouldn’t change at all, since the mechanical parts aren’t being replaced, just the electronics that they activate. It runs on a rechargeable battery inside that you recharge with an unfortunately proprietary cable that comes with the kit. If you’re worried about latency… don’t be. On these old consoles, control latency is already like an order of magnitude higher than a complete wireless packet round trip, so you shouldn’t notice any lag. You will, however, need to pick up a Bluetooth adapter if you want to use this on your original console — but if you want to use the controller with a wireless-equipped setup like your computer, it should work flawlessly. If you buy it and don’t like it, you can just slot the original PCB back into its spot and no harm is done! for the NES and SNES, the new Classic Editions of both, and the Sega Mega Drive. At $20 each it’s hardly a big investment, and the reversible nature of the mod makes it low risk. And hey, you might learn something about that controller of yours. Or find a desiccated spider inside.
I have to hand it to 8BitDo. At first I thought they were just opportunistically hawking cheap hunks of plastic in an era of unparalleled nostalgia for retro games, but… well, who am I kidding? That’s exactly what they’re doing. But they’re doing it well. And are the latest sign that they actually understand their most obsessive customers. While you can of course purchase fully-formed controllers and adapters from the company that let your retro consoles ride the wireless wave of the future, not everyone is ready to part with their original hardware. I, for example, have had my Super Nintendo for 25 years or so — its yellowing, cracked bulk and controllers, all over stains and teethmarks, compelling all my guests to make an early exit. I consider it part of my place’s unique charm, but more importantly I’m used to the way these controllers feel and look — they’re mine. 8BitDo understands me, along with the rest of the wretches out there who can’t part with the originals out of some twisted concept of loyalty or authenticity. So they’re giving us the option to replace the controllers’ aging guts with a fresh new board equipped with wireless connectivity, making it a healthy hybrid of the past and present. If you’re the type (as I am) that worries that a modern controller will break in ways that an SNES controller would find laughable, if it could laugh, then this will likely strike your fancy. All you do is take apart your gamepad (if you can stand to do so), pull out the original PCB (and save it, of course), and pop in the new one. You’ll be using more or less all the same parts as these famously durable controllers came with (). The way the buttons feel shouldn’t change at all, since the mechanical parts aren’t being replaced, just the electronics that they activate. It runs on a rechargeable battery inside that you recharge with an unfortunately proprietary cable that comes with the kit. If you’re worried about latency… don’t be. On these old consoles, control latency is already like an order of magnitude higher than a complete wireless packet round trip, so you shouldn’t notice any lag. You will, however, need to pick up a Bluetooth adapter if you want to use this on your original console — but if you want to use the controller with a wireless-equipped setup like your computer, it should work flawlessly. If you buy it and don’t like it, you can just slot the original PCB back into its spot and no harm is done! for the NES and SNES, the new Classic Editions of both, and the Sega Mega Drive. At $20 each it’s hardly a big investment, and the reversible nature of the mod makes it low risk. And hey, you might learn something about that controller of yours. Or find a desiccated spider inside.
It took more than a month, but its new home theater speaker is now available. You can buy it on for $399 (or €449 if you live in Europe). It’s also available on Amazon and other retailers. The Beam is an affordable soundbar for your TV. This isn’t the company’s first soundbar, but it’s a better one. According to , its slimmer design makes it more versatile in many cases. Sometimes your TV is hanging on a wall. Or maybe you want to hide the speaker in a TV shelf. Just like recent Sonos speakers, it features Amazon Alexa. The company also promises Google Assistant support in the future. It’s a connected speaker for the home assistant generation. More interestingly, the Beam isn’t just a TV speaker. If you’re not using your TV, you can use it like a normal Sonos. You can pair it with other Sonos speakers, stream music using the Sonos app, Spotify Connect or AirPlay 2. You can now also use the Beam to play Audible audiobooks. And if you switch on the TV, the speaker automatically stops the music and gives the priority to what’s playing on the TV. It’s a seamless experience that greatly improves the sound quality of your TV.
Not far from Tel Aviv a drone flies low over a gritty landscape of warehouses and broken pavement. It slowly approaches its home – a refrigerator-sized box inside a mesh fence, and hovers, preparing to dock. It descends like some giant bug, whining all the way, and disappears into its base where it will be cleaned, recharged, and sent back out into the air. This drone is doing the nearly impossible: it’s flying and landing autonomously and can fly again and again without human intervention and it’s doing it all inside a self-contained unit that is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time. The company that makes the drone, , invited us into their headquarters to see their products in action. In this video we talk with the company about how the drones work, how their clients use the drones for mapping and surveillance in hard-to-reach parts of the world, and the future of drone autonomy. It’s a fascinating look into technology that will soon be appearing in jungles, deserts, and war zones near you.
When reviewing hardware, it’s important to integrate it into your life as much as possible. If you can, swap it in for your existing devices for a few days or a week, to really get an idea of what it’s like to use it day to day. There are certain nuances you can only discover through this approach. Of course, that’s easier said than done in most cases. Switching between phones and computers every week isn’t nearly as glamorous as it sounds, especially when juggling multiple operating systems. As a MacBook Pro owner, however, this one was a fair bit easier. In fact, there’s very little changed here from an aesthetic standpoint, and beyond the quieter keyboard and Siri integration, there’s not a lot that’s immediately apparent in for me. That’s because I’m not the target demographic for the update. I write words for a living. There are large portions of my job that I could tackle pretty easily on an Apple IIe (please no one tell the IT department). This upgrade is for a different class of user entirely: the creative professional. These are the people long assumed to be the core user base for the Mac ecosystem. Sure, they only account for around 15 percent of Mac users, according to the company’s estimates, but they’re the people who use the machines to make art. And as such, it’s precisely the group of influencers the company needs to court. In recent years, however, some vocal critics have accused the company of taking that key demo for granted. has seemed more focused on a populist approach to its technology. The simplification of pro software like Final Cut X and the seeming abandonment of the Mac Pro have been regarded as exhibits A and B. For the first time in recent memory, the company has serious competition for the hearts and minds of creative pros, including Microsoft, which has made the category a focus with its high-end Surface line. But the last two years have seen Apple fighting back. The company was uncharacteristically open about the status of the Mac Pro line, which has been undergoing a fundamental rethink. In the meantime, it released the iMac Pro and added a bunch of new features to macOS aimed firmly at that category. The new MacBook Pro continues that trend; the form factor remains the same, and the changes are largely under the hood. But these are in fact extremely powerful machines but around the premise that, in 2018, one shouldn’t have to compromise power in order to go portable. Well, maybe a little — but in those cases where you need some intense graphical processing, there’s always an external GPU, which makes the machine capable of VR and other process-intensive tasks. The new Pros top out at a bank-breaking $6,699, presenting a healthy jump over the highest-end models money could buy last year. For the rest of us, however, the starting price remains the same, at $1,799 for the 13-inch and $2,399 for the 15. Keys to quiet There’s a lot going on here. First, as many pointed out in the initial announcement, Apple didn’t alter the fundamentals here — they just made the loud typing a bit quieter. That was a surprise to many, given everything that’s happened on that front over the last several months. After all, if the company was going to go out of its way to update the technology, wasn’t a fundamental rethink in order here? A couple of things. First, things () didn’t really start getting hot and heavy on that front until recently. The first major class-action suit was filed back in May. Hardware iteration happens slowly, especially with a massive company that supports so many users. After all, you want to get things right — especially when correcting a known issue. A couple of months is hardly sufficient lead time. Old keyboard Second, Apple says the actual instances of real keyboard failure are a small minority. I’m inclined to believe that’s the case, though the internet certainly has the tendency to amplify these kinds of things. But still, there seems a reasonable possibility that some bigger fix is in the works. The company will also point out that, in spite of pushback, many users like the new keyboards. Based on the multiple threads of discussion we had after the news was announced, I can tell you that this is anecdotally true among the TechCrunch staff. Things got better with gen two, and I’ve certainly become more used to typing on it. I still , but I’d say I’m pretty much keyboard-agnostic at this point. I did have an issue with one key not working, but it was nothing a blast of canned air couldn’t fix. Another reason to always keep some lying around. New keyboard Along with the mechanics, the key travel is the same. So if you had issues with the typing being too shallow for your liking, sorry, you’re out of luck here. An points to a thin, silicone membrane sitting on top of the keyboard switch that serves to help protect the undercarriage from spills, food particles and the like. I once got a small piece of something stuck under there once, and it hampered movement entirely. In my case, it was nothing that a blast of canned air couldn’t fix (we don’t all have one lying around, but we really should), but clearly not everyone has been so lucky on that front. It seems as though the muffling of the sound and the extra sense of tactile pushback was a happy accident of a kind here, but hey, we’ll take it. after getting our hands on the system. We enlisted Anthony Ha, TechCrunch’s Loud Typing World Champion five years running (they tried to recruit him out of college, but the allure of writing about VCs was too strong) to try it out. Even with Anthony downright punishing the keys, the result was noticeable. The new keys aren’t silent, but they’re a lot less likely to get you kicked out of the library. There’s not a huge difference between the actual decibel levels between the two, but the older model’s more staccato typewriter clacking sound has become more dull and less harsh on the ears, which likely makes it sound that much quieter. Another tidbit here for people who focused on such things: The keys’ cap color is ever-so-slightly lighter than the last. I thought I was going crazy at first, but there you go. I mean, I still think I’m losing my mind, but for non-keyboard-related reasons. About those specs Apple didn’t splurge on the specs with the review unit it sent along. The model sports: 2.9 GHz Intel Core i9 32 GB of DDR4 memory Radeon Pro 560X 4TB of storage Configured on Apple’s site, that will run you a cool $6,669 — about the same as the monthly rent on a studio apartment in San Francisco from what I understand. It’s worth noting here that it’s the SSD storage that really pushes the cost into the stratosphere. That’s an additional $3,200 over the default 512GB. Again, 4TB is probably overkill for the vast majority of users. All of the above configurations are really, but they’re there if you want/need them. Apple was able to push memory up to 32GB courtesy of finally introducing DDR4 to the MacBook. That move does come with a hit to the battery life, however, so the company went ahead and increased the battery size to offset that hit. The company says the laptop gets around 10 hours of use in its testing. I admittedly put it through something a bit more rigorous than standardized testing when incorporating it into my daily usage, recording a podcast on Skype, listening to music while working/browsing the web (it’s part of my job, I swear) and got a few hours less than that. As for performance, Apple’s not messing around here. Running Geekbench 4 (a popular PC benchmark), I got an impressive 5540 on the single core and 233345 with the multi core test. Geekbench got similar — if slightly lower — results in its own tests on the high-end. Here’s on the findings: For the 15-inch models, single-core performance is up 12-15%, and multi-core performance is up 39-46%. Since the underlying processor architecture hasn’t significantly changed between the 2017 and 2018 models, the increases in performance are due to higher Turbo Boost frequencies, more cores, and DDR4 memory. The 2018 MacBook Pro is the most substantial upgrade (at least regarding performance) since the introduction of quad-core processors in the 2011 MacBook Pro. Taken together, that represents a significant upgrade from last year’s model. Individual performance will vary depending on a lot of different topics, but there’s no doubt these are powerful machines. Hey, Siri The addition of hands-free Siri functionality didn’t get a lot of play here, but it’s an important one — if not for the computer itself, then for Apple’s broader ambitions. Like Google’s play, Siri was mobile first. But Apple’s assistant has always been about building a broader ecosystem of contextual search that can help the company tailor its offerings to individual user needs. We saw this manifest itself last year with the addition of HomePod, a typically Apple high-end approach to the insanely popular world of smart speakers. The assistant has actually been available on macOS since Sierra (10.12) rolled out back in late 2016. This, however, marks the first time hands-free voice interaction has been available on the desktop. Apple says it was the T2, introduced on the iMac Pro, which allowed for the capability — just one of an extremely long list of features the company has offloaded on the proprietary chip. Like other key features, Siri is enabled during setup. If you’re the sort who sticks masking tape over your webcam, you can also simply opt out of having the MacBook’s microphones listening in for the wake word. And you can always untick the “Listen for ‘Hey Siri’” box in Settings. Setup is more or less the same as on iOS. You’ll be prompted to speak a couple of phrases to train the AI on your voice. Device interaction functions similarly as other assistant hardware ecosystems. The moment you say, “Hey, Siri,” your iPhone/Mac/HomePod, et al. communicate with one prioritize either the device the heard the query the best (likely the closest) or was most recently used. I ended up disabling the feature on my phone in order to test it on the desktop, because there were too many instances of the phone picking it up or having Siri pop up on both at once and then disappearing on the one that was de-prioritized. When the feature was switched off the phone, however, its desktop counterpart was plenty responsive. All of this leads to a key question: Is a desktop smart assistant ultimately very useful? The primary driver of voice functionality is the ability free up your hands from having to type. Presumably, however, you’ve already got your hands at or near the keyboard if you’re close enough for Siri to hear you. Multitasking seems to be the primary use-case here. Say you’re typing and want to know the weather or find movie times, you can definitely do that. Ditto for sports scores — it took a query or two, but “did the A’s win yesterday?” got me the answer I wanted, with a conversation reply, “the Athletics eked out a win over the Giants in the Bay Bridge Series by a score of 4 to 3 yesterday.” Hey Siri, a win is a win, okay? Multimedia functionality, which seems like one of the most logical applications, is still limited here. Siri will find and play things in Apple Music, but ask her to play something on Spotify and that’s a no-go — you’ll get an Apple Music link and Wikipedia entry instead. Siri knows which side her bread is buttered on. Ask her to play a movie and she’ll confess that she can’t do that. More functionality is surely on the way. For now, however, Siri on the desktop is more a nice addition than necessary feature. Toning it down Like Siri, True Tone is opt-in during the setup process. You can toggle it on and off at the beginning, which I suggest, just so you know what you’re getting yourselves into. And like Siri you can always go back into settings later to adjust if it’s not to your liking. Clicking Option and the Touch Bar bright icon will get you there, as well. The effect, which debuted on the iPad Pro (and rolled out to other new iOS devices) utilizes a light sensor (new for the Mac) to determine the ambient color and brightness of its surroundings. It’s a sort of more sophisticated version of the brightness detection Apple computers have had on board for some time now. If you’ve ever fiddled with a camera (even the one on your phone in most cases), you recognize the importance of white balance. That’s the thing that turns objects weird colors when you step into different lighting settings. It’s a key to perceiving contrast getting lifelike reproductions of images. I have two 15-inch MacBooks in front of me right now (that’s just how I roll), and it’s like night and day. You’ve got no idea how blue the screen you’ve been staring at is until you see it up against another True Tone-enabled display. For a majority of us, it’s a nice feature, but for photographers, video producers and designers who rely on a MacBook for their work, it’s a much bigger deal. As recently published support documents point out, the feature will also work with a handful of secondary displays, including Apple’s own, and LG’s Ultrafine 4K and 5K. Upgrade time? I’m staring at my now 2017 MacBook Pro as I type this. It’s always tough to compete with the latest and greatest, especially when it’s been specked out like crazy. I’m going to miss the quieter keyboard and True Tone display, for sure. Hands-free Siri, I can really take or leave at the moment based on current functionality. But I’m not ready for upgrade just yet. For a majority of users, the upgrades on the high end will mostly amount to overkill. Thankfully, however, the low-end price points remain the same at $1,799 and $2,399 for the 13- and 15-inch, respectively. Those who expect a lot more from their machines will no doubt be excited to see what these laptops can do. The new MacBooks aren’t a fundamental rethink by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re a welcome acknowledgment that the company still considers creative pros a key part of its DNA.
is getting into the speaker business with today’s announcement of Roku TV Wireless Speakers. Mark Ely, the company’s vice president of product management, said Roku is trying to address a growing consumer problem — the fact that as TVs get thinner, you end up buying “this beautiful TV, but it sounds bad.” To address this, you may end up purchasing a soundbar or creating a more elaborate home theater setup, but Ely argued that many consumers find this process confusing and intimidating. So as the name suggests, Roku has created wireless speakers specifically for , the company’s lineup of partner-built smart TVs. Ely described them as speakers that deliver “really premium sound in a really compact package,” and at an affordable price. (They’re about seven inches tall and weigh four pounds each, he said.) Roku says it should be easy to pair these speakers wirelessly with a Roku TV using Roku Connect, and since the company controls both the video and audio experience, it can ensure that they’re sync’d up perfectly, without lag. To minimize those moments when you’re frantically reaching for the remote to adjust the volume, the speakers also come with Automatic Volume Leveling to lower the sound in particularly loud scenes and boost the sounds when it gets too quiet. Ely said the product takes advantage of : “The goal has been to have audio be a real center of excellence for the company.” “Our fundamental belief here is that by delivering a better sound experience, you get a better entertainment streaming experience,” he added. The speakers will also come with a new remote called the Roku Touch, which is designed to emphasize voice controls without fully giving up the benefits of a regular remote — you can press-and-hold to deliver voice commands, but it still has buttons for playback control and others that you can preset. Smart speakers from big tech companies like Apple and Amazon are seen as one main ways to get into the voice-powered home assistant market. Roku has its own voice assistant (which it’s ), but Ely and VP of Consumer PR Seana Norvell said it’s really focused on understanding your entertainment needs — rather than, say, telling you the weather or helping you order products online. While Roku says the speakers will ship in late October at a price of $199.99, they’re available for pre-order now, with pricing at $149.99 until July 23, and then $179.99 until October 15. Ely said the company is only selling the speakers from , at least initially, because that allows it to “market directly to Roku TV customers” while ensuring that other Roku customers (namely, those who have a Roku streaming device but not a Roku TV) don’t end up buying these speakers, which won’t work for them.
released a refreshed MacBook Pro this week and top among the new features is a tweaked keyboard. Apple says its quieter than the last version and . But something else: thin, silicone barriers that could improve the keyboard’s reliability. This is big news. Users have long reported the butterfly switch keyboard found in MacBook Pros were less reliable than past models. There are countless reports of dust and lint and crumbs causing keys to stick or fail. Personally, I have not had any issues, but many at TechCrunch have. To date Apple has yet to issue a recall for the keyboard.. iFixit found a thin layer of rubberized material covering the new butterfly mechanism. The repair outlet also points to an Apple patent for this exact technology that’s designed to “prevent and/or alleviate contaminant ingress.” According to Apple, which held a big media unveiling for new models, the changes to the keyboard were designed to address the loud clickity-clack and not the keyboard’s tendency to get mucked up by dust. And that makes sense, too. If Apple held an event and said “We fixed the keyboards” it would mean Apple was admitting something was wrong with the keyboards. Instead Apple held an event and said “We made the keyboards quieter” admitting the past keyboards were loud, and not faulty. We just got our review unit and will report back on the keyboard’s reliability after a day or two at the beach. Because science.
has announced a new investment fund to foster clean energy usage in China. The company isn’t just trying to switch its own offices and facilities. Apple is also working with its suppliers to expand the use of clean energy across the board. For this fund in particular, Apple and 10 suppliers will invest $300 million over the next four years. Overall, the company expects to finance multiple clean energy projects to produce 1 gigawatt of renewable energy in China. Apple isn’t going to manage the fund itself. The company is partnering with , a division of Deutsche Bank. DWS will also participate in the fund. The company started working on renewable energy projects a few years ago. Earlier this year, Apple that 100 percent of its offices, retail stores, data centers and Apple-owned facilities are now powered by renewable energy. Apple is not there yet when it comes to suppliers. The company has launched the Supplier Clean Energy Program back in 2015 with 23 manufacturing partners, and regularly shares — Foxconn seems to be missing so far. By 2020, Apple and its suppliers hope to generate 4 gigawatts of clean energy. And let’s be honest, this is great news for the planet.
Don’t look now, but the PC might not be dead. , collector of marketshare and industry metrics, worldwide shipments of personal computers just experienced the first year-over-year growth since 2012. Shipments totaled 62.1 million units, which is a 1.4 percent increase from the same time period in 2017. The report states “experienced some growth compared with a year ago” but goes on to caution declaring the PC industry as in recovery just yet. The top five PC vendors all experienced growth with Lenovo seeing the largest gains of 10.5% — though that could be from Lenovo completing a joint venture with Fujitsu. HP grew 6.1%, 9.5%, Apple 3% and Acer 3.1%. All good signs for an industry long thought stagnate. This report excludes Chromebooks from its data. PC vendors experienced growth without the help of Chromebooks, which are the latest challenger to the notebook computer. Gartner points to the business market as the source of the increased demand. The consumer market, it states, is still decreasing as consumers increasing use mobile devices. Yet growth in the business sector will not last, it says. “In the business segment, PC momentum will weaken in two years when the replacement peak for Windows 10 passes.” said Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst at Gartner said in the report. “PC vendors should look for ways to maintain growth in the business market as the Windows 10 upgrade cycle tails off.” Consumers will likely continue, for the most part, to keep a computer around but since the web is the new desktop, the upgrade cycle for a causal user will keep getting longer. As long as a home has a computer that can run Chrome, that’s likely good enough for most people.
A clever little robot made by researchers at can roll around, flip itself over, and even crawl like a turtle through rough terrain. The robot uses wheels, a set of star-shaped rollers, and cleverly-articulated arms to ride along at various speeds. The robot, called , uses wheels and spoked “whegs” to roll around at about one meter per second and it can fold itself flat and pull itself forward when it finds mud or sand. It can also make itself very skinny to ride through tight spots and can even flip itself over if it falls. A weighted “head” can keep the robot balanced as it tools along, allowing it to climb up and over steep surfaces and, the researchers say, even sneak through pipes or between tight walls. Rising STAR is an updated version of the university’s that it displayed in 2013. This new version is far more capable and, thanks to its “whegs” and turtle-gait, far cooler.
Makula Dunbar Contributor Makula Dunbar is a writer with . More posts by this contributor Editor’s note: This post was done in partnership with . When readers choose to buy independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch may earn affiliate commissions. Gearing up for a pleasant road trip entails more than picking an exciting destination. The mode of transportation, and what you’re able to do while traveling, sometimes makes or breaks hours spent on the road. Whether you’re taking an older car on a short solo excursion, or piling in with family and friends for a cross-country drive, your road trip gear and setup can add to the experience. We’ve gathered some of our favorite picks that cover the basics. iPad Headrest Mount: Arkon Center Extension Car Headrest Tablet Mount If in a backseat and watching a movie sounds like an ideal way to pass time, do so with the help of a . The securely holds iPads and most 9- to 12-inch tablets. It attaches to the metal rods of the front seat headrest and its holster is attached to an extendable arm that can be positioned so one or multiple backseat passengers can get a clear view. Photo: Rik Paul Car GPS: Garmin DriveSmart 51 LMT-S Before the wheels start rolling, knowing where you’re going and how to get there is likely the first order of business. Using a standalone means your smartphone doesn’t have to be held hostage and you don’t have to rely on a live data connection. The has maps and a database with points of interest built in so that navigation — even off of the beaten path — is straightforward. It works via Bluetooth, can display alerts or searches from a smartphone and its maps are updated over . During testing, its voice-control system was the simplest to use and its audible directions were the most precise. You’ll like that its 5-inch touchscreen displays easy-to-follow lanes and road signs, along with nearby stops and speed limits. Bluetooth Kit: Anker SoundSync Drive There’s no fun in a road trip that doesn’t include your favorite podcasts and music playlists. Older cars without built-in Bluetooth pose a problem when it comes to streaming curated entertainment from a smartphone. Bypass installing a new stereo system and use an inexpensive instead. We recommend the for cars with an aux-in port as well as other options for different setups. The SoundSync Drive will allow you to listen to music and makes hands-free calls. It offers high-quality audio that’s on par and better than competitors we tested, and it has convenient track-control buttons. Keep it powered by plugging its USB-A charging cable into any car charger or . Photo: Michael Hession Car Mount: iOttie Easy One Touch 4 Air Vent Mount For a that won’t get in the way of other devices that have to be placed on a windshield or dashboard, we recommend the . It fits into an air vent and its grip — which is secured by long rubber-lined arms and a spring-loaded clamp — places it above similar models. Its cradle holds firm, it can be placed on vents of all thicknesses and it’s easy to position. The Easy One Touch 4 Air Vent Mount’s build makes it easy to access and it works against weighing down vent slats. Photo: Nick Guy USB Car Charger: RAVPower RP-VC006 The RAVPower RP-VC006 is small but packs a punch (up to 2.4 amps) with two USB ports for powering smartphones or tablets. It isn’t difficult to insert or remove, and when it’s dark outside, its LED and white ports make it easy to locate. We like that it’s compact and doesn’t stick out too far. The plugs into a 12-volt power jack and it’s capable of charging two devices — simultaneously and in little to no time. It comes with a lifetime warranty, and if you’re concerned about misplacing it or running out of juice, it’s cheap enough to buy a few. This guide may have been updated by . When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Engadget may earn affiliate commissions.
A multi-year legal battle over the ability to distribute computer models of gun parts and replicate them in 3D printers has ended in defeat for government authorities who sought to prevent the practice. Cody Wilson, the gunmaker and free speech advocate behind the lawsuit, now intends to expand his operations, providing printable gun blueprints to all who desire them. The longer story of the lawsuit is , but the decision is eloquent on its own. The fundamental question is whether making 3D models of gun components available online is covered by the free speech rights granted by the First Amendment. This is a timely but complex conflict because it touches on two themes that happen to be, for many, ethically contradictory. Arguments for tighter restrictions on firearms are, in this case, directly opposed to arguments for the unfettered exchange of information on the internet. It’s hard to advocate for both here: restricting firearms and restricting free speech are one and the same. That at least seems to be conclusion of the government lawyers, who settled Wilson’s lawsuit after years of court battles. In a copy of the settlement provided to me by Wilson, the U.S. government agrees to exempt “the technical data that is the subject of the Action” from legal restriction. The modified rules should appear in the Federal Register soon. What does this mean? It means that a 3D model that can be used to print the components of a working firearm is legal to own and legal to distribute. You can likely even print it and use the product — you just can’t sell it. There are technicalities to the law here (certain parts are restricted, but can be sold in an incomplete state, etc) but the implications as regards the files themselves seems clear. Wilson’s original vision, which he is now pursuing free of legal obstacles, is a repository of gun models, called DEFCAD, much like any other collection of data on the web, though naturally considerably more dangerous and controversial. “I currently have no national legal barriers to continue or expand DEFCAD,” he wrote in an email to TechCrunch. “This legal victory is the formal beginning to the era of downloadable guns. Guns are as downloadable as music. There will be streaming services for semi-automatics.” The concepts don’t map perfectly, no doubt, but it’s hard to deny that with the success of this lawsuit, there are few legal restrictions to speak of on the digital distribution of firearms. Before it even, there were few technical restrictions: certainly just as you could download MP3s on Napster in 2002, you can download a gun file today. Gun control advocates will no doubt argue that greater availability of lethal weaponry is the opposite of what is needed in this country. But others will point out that in a way this is a powerful example of how liberally free speech can be defined. It’s important to note that both of these things can be true. This court victory settles one case, but marks the beginnings of many another. “I have promoted my values for years with great care and diligence,” Wilson wrote. It’s hard to disagree with that. Those whose values differ are free to pursue them in their own way; perhaps they too will be awarded victories of this scale.
There’s nothing like a great new toy to make you mourn the ghost of bygone youth. I don’t have the opportunity to try many out at this job, but when I do, there’s an invariable pang of jealousy for kids today who have much broader access to sophisticated playthings than we did in our day. Nerf Laser Ops Pro is a pretty solid example of this. It finds the company combining a solid bit of nostalgic IP with some modern technology, to good effect. The new toys, which hit virtual store shelves next Monday, look like a Nerf, play like a Lazer Tag and incorporate your smartphone to help take them a step beyond what either line has offered in the past. Arguably the most compelling bit in all of this is the price point, with none of the sets running more than $50. I have a vague memory of the original Lazer Tag system being prohibitively expensive in my youth — or maybe that’s just what my parents told me because they didn’t want any fake guns lying around the house. There was, after all, with the line from the outset. Here’s from the height of Lazer Tag’s success that no doubt caused its manufacturers to rethink the product’s presentation. In 1998, the brand was purchased by Hasbro, and in 2012, it was rolled into the Nerf line. The foam gun brand has always offered a warmer, fuzzier take on toy weapons, and that’s very much at play here. The likelihood of ever mistaking Nerf Laser Ops Pro for a real gun is slim to none. That said, true diehards will likely miss the Knight Rider-esque black and red vibe of the original product. But if that’s enough to ruin your childhood, it was probably already on shaky ground to begin with. The more important question is whether Laser Ops Pro is fun. I only played with it briefly today (reminder: I’m an adult with a job), but I can unequivocally state “yes” on that front. Habro’s done a good job marrying the new with the old here. The guns are big and plasticky and hearty, combining digital technology with mechanical haptic feedback. Smartphone use is optional, which is good for the little ones. When you add that in, however, you get the benefit of things like leaderboards, states and GPS tracking (all secure and private, the company assures me). There’s also a fun little AR shooting game you can play when you’re all by your lonesome. The blasters will be available online July 16, with retail availability next month. They’re a solid summer purchase for parents looking for ways to get their video game-obsessed offspring up off the couch while the weather’s still nice.
People ask me all the time about my favorite gadgets and I rarely have any answers. I’ve been playing with stuff since 2004 and I’m pretty gadget-ed out. But this year I’ve finally found something that I really enjoy: the , an Android-based gaming handheld that lets you play multiple emulators including an endless array homebrew and classic ROMS. As an early fan of the I’m always looking for handheld emulators that can let you play classic games without much fuss. The Caanoo worked quite well, especially for 2010 technology, and I was looking to upgrade. [gallery ids="1670742,1670739,1670738"] My friend bought a GDP and showed it to me and I was hooked. I could play some wonderful old ROMs in a form factor that was superior to the Caanoo and this super cheap, super awful The GDP, which has two joysticks, one four-axis button, four shoulder buttons, and a diamond of game buttons, is basically a Wi-Fi enabled Android device with a touch screen. It runs Android 7.0 and has a MTK8176 Quad-core+ processor and 4GB of memory. It comes with NES, SNES, Arcade, and Playstation emulators built in as well as a few home-brew games. You can install almost anything from the Google Play store and it includes a file manager and ebook reader. It also has a micro SD card slot, HDMI out, and headphone jack. To be clear, the GDP isn’t exactly well documented. The device includes a bit of on board documentation – basically a few graphics files that describe how to add and upload ROMS and emulators. There are are also a number of online resources including talking about this thing’s emulation prowess. The original model appeared two years ago and they are now selling an updated 2018 version with a better processor and more memory. GPD recently launched another handheld, the , which is a full Windows machine in a form factor similar to the XD. It is considerably more expensive – about $700 vs. $300 – and if you’re looking for a more computer-like experience it might work. I have, however, had a lot of fun with the XD these past few months. So whatever your feelings regarding ROMs, emulators, and tiny PCs, I’m pleased to report that I’ve finally pleased with a clever and fun bit of portable technology.
It’s going to be an exciting year for photographers — finally — as both and are reportedly planning full-frame mirrorless cameras for debut before the end of 2018. It’s good news for consumers, because it means that both companies have been investing heavily in the next phase of digital photography, and that competition in the mirrorless world is about to heat up. Photography is a difficult space right now because smartphones have been eating up the low-end and increasingly the mid-range market. Point-and-shoots are effectively extinct, and DSLRs are reserved for serious shooters — though those occupying the middle ground, such as Fujifilm with its lively X series and Olympus with its PENs and OM-Ds, have been prospering modestly. , which basically do away with the bulky mechanical bits of a single-lens reflex camera but have virtually no drawbacks from their absence, allow for a more compact camera that still seriously outperforms phones. They seem quite clearly to be a big part of the future of photography, which is why every company has been investing heavily into the technology. Early results weren’t great, and it was clear that Canon and Nikon in particular have had their priorities divided: DSLR sales have been dropping, but flagship full-frame (that is, with sensors the size of 35mm film) DSLRs still represented the best of the camera world, embraced especially by professionals. But inroads have been made, especially by Sony and Fujifilm, into even that professional space. The Alpha and X-Pro series have shown that mirrorless cameras can perform at least as well as DSLRs, and boy are they easier to carry around. So, faced with either innovating and cannibalizing their own sales, or allowing competitors to eat their lunch, Canon and Nikon have chosen to do the former… after a couple years of the latter, anyway. We’ve seen the early results from Canon in the form of the mid-range M50, but it seems Nikon has kept theirs under wraps. and report that the companies both plan to sell full-frame mirrorless cameras by the end of the year — in Nikon’s case maybe even by the end of the month. Going full-frame means several things: They believe their mirrorless systems are good enough to compete with SLRs at a professional level They believe professionals are ready to make the transition to mirrorless They are ready to do so themselves, cannibalizing and eventually winding down SLR sales That last point is likely the scariest for them. These are companies that have been making SLR cameras for the better part of a century — it’s not just part of their core competency but key to their identity as camera makers. This is essentially a point of no return for them. Sure, SLRs will stick around for a while longer, but sooner or later the burden of improving and manufacturing them as sales decline and mirrorless systems take over will prove too much. What about the cameras themselves? There are supposedly two from each company. Nikon’s have lots of rumored details, the most important of which are that there will be one high and one low megapixel model, in-body stabilization (allows for smaller lenses), a new lens mount, and naturally an electronic viewfinder. Less is known (or rumored anyhow) about the Canons, but they will likely share many of these characteristics. Don’t expect a lower cost to accompany this shift. These cameras will likely cost in the $2,500-$4,000 range, just like the SLRs they’re replacing. This is also a chance to really go to town on the features and shooting experience; both companies need to make a big impression, not just with the customers they’ve lost to rival systems but to their own loyal shooters. So there may be other major changes, such as to the interface, layout, and so on. Expect lots of digital integration like wireless tethering as well — better than the junk they’ve been foisting on us for the last few years. Will this reverse the tide of smartphones taking over the photography world? No, but it’s heartening to see these rather inertia-bound companies finally embrace the future. I love SLRs, and I plan to shoot on them forever in one way or another, but as an occasional serious photographer I’ll be glad to give these new systems a try. I’ve asked both companies about the rumors, but I doubt they’ll comment. On the other hand, if the rumors are true, we won’t have long to wait before they turn into facts.
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a robot clapping over a human face, forever,” wrote George Orwell and his dire prediction has finally come to pass. This product – a year old device that I have never seen before but now love – is and it is basically an orb with a funny face and big white hands. When you set it up in a location it will yell and clap endlessly, a sort of robotic tummler that can pick up your spirits while it drains your will to live. The product, found by , is wildly manic. BigClapper can be used at offices! In front of stores! At parties! It can clap as people walk by, encouraging them to come into your shop! It is red! It has hands! While it’s not yet Alexa compatible, the BigClapper looks to be a model of future human-computer interaction. After all what is more pure than a big red face howling at you on the street while it claps maniacally in an effort to sell you more products. It’s a literal symbol of true capitalism in this modern era. I, for one, welcome our clapping robot overlords.
In a truly fascinating exploration into – the One and the Echo – BoltVC’s Ben Einstein has found some interesting differences in the way a traditional speaker company and an infrastructure juggernaut look at their flagship devices. The post is well worth a but the gist is this: Sonos, a very traditional speaker company, has produced a good speaker and modified its current hardware to support smart home features like Alexa and Google Assistant. The One, notes Einstein, is a speaker first and smart hardware second. “Digging a bit deeper, we see traditional design and manufacturing processes for pretty much everything. As an example, the speaker grill is a flat sheet of steel that’s stamped, rolled into a rounded square, welded, seams ground smooth, and then powder coated black. While the part does look nice, there’s no innovation going on here,” he writes. The Echo, on the other hand, looks like what would happen if an engineer was given an unlimited budget and told to build something that people could talk to. The design decisions are odd and intriguing and it is ultimately less a speaker than a home conversation machine. Plus it is very expensive to make. Pulling off the sleek speaker grille, there’s a shocking secret here: this is an extruded plastic tube with a secondary rotational drilling operation. In my many years of tearing apart consumer electronics products, I’ve never seen a high-volume plastic part with this kind of process. After some quick math on the production timelines, my guess is there’s a multi-headed drill and a rotational axis to create all those holes. CNC drilling each hole individually would take an extremely long time. If anyone has more insight into how a part like this is made, I’d love to see it! Bottom line: this is another surprisingly expensive part. Sonos, which has been making a form of smart speaker for fifteen years, is a CE company with cachet. Amazon, on the other hand, sees its devices as a way into living rooms and a delivery system for sales and is fine with licensing its tech before making its own. Therefore to compare the two is a bit disingenuous. Einstein’s thesis that Sonos’ trajectory is troubled by the fact that it depends on linear and closed manufacturing techniques while Amazon spares no expense to make its products is true. But Sonos makes speakers that work together amazingly well. They’ve done this for a decade and a half. If you compare their products – and I have – with competing smart speakers an non-audiophile “dumb” speakers you will find their UI, UX, and sound quality surpass most comers. Amazon makes things to communicate with Amazon. This is a big difference. Where Einstein is correct, however, is in his belief that Sonos is at a definite disadvantage. Sonos chases while Amazon and (and Apple, if their HomePod is any indication) lead. That said, there is some value to having a fully-connected set of speakers with add-on smart features vs. having to build an entire ecosystem of speaker products that can take on every aspect of the home theatre. On the flip side Amazon, and Google are chasing audio quality while Sonos leads. While we can say that in the future we’ll all be fine with tinny round speakers bleating out Spotify in various corners of our room, there is something to be said for a good set of woofers. Whether this nostalgic love of good sound survives this generation’s tendency to watch and listen to low resolution media is anyone’s bet, but that’s Amazon’s bet to lose. Ultimately Sonos is strong and fascinating company. An upstart that survived the great CE destruction wrought by Kickstarter and Amazon, it produces some of the best mid-range speakers I’ve used. Amazon makes a nice – almost alien – product, but given that it can be easily copied and stuffed into a it’s clear that Amazon’s goal isn’t to make speakers. Whether the coming will be successful depends partially on Amazon and Google playing ball with the speaker maker. The rest depends on the quality of product and the dedication of Sonos users. This good will isn’t as valuable as a signed contract with major infrastructure players but Sonos’ good will is far more than Amazon and Google have with their popular but potentially intrusive product lines. Sonos lives in the home while Google and Amazon want to invade it. That is where Sonos wins.
has released a handful of new ads promoting the iPad’s portability and convenience over both laptops and traditional paper solutions. The 15-second ads focus on how the iPad can make even the most tedious things — travel, notes, paperwork, and ‘stuff’ — just a bit easier. Three out of the four spots show the , which was revealed at Apple’s , and which offers a lower-cost ($329 in the U.S.) option with Pencil support. The ads were released on Apple’s international YouTube channels (UAE, Singapore, and United Kingdom). This follows another , focusing on FaceID. The commercial shows a man in a gameshow-type setting asked to remember the banking password he created earlier that morning. He struggles for an excruciating amount of time before realizing he can access the banking app via FaceID. There has been some speculation that FaceID may be , though we’ll have to wait until Apple’s next event (likely in September) to find out for sure.
With long summer evenings comes the perfect opportunity to dust off your old boxes of circuits and wires and start to build something. If you’re short on inspiration, you might be interested in artist and engineer Dan Macnish’s how-to guide on building an AI-powered doodle camera using a thermal printer, Raspberry pi, a dash of Python and data set. “Playing with neural networks for object recognition one day, I wondered if I could take the concept of a Polaroid one step further, and ask the camera to re-interpret the image, printing out a cartoon instead of a faithful photograph.” about the project, called Draw This. To make this work, Macnish drew on Google’s object recognition neural network and created for the game Google Quick, Draw! Tying the two systems together with some python code, Macnish was able to have his creation recognize real images and print out the best corresponding doodle in the Quick, Draw! data set But since output doodles are limited to the data set, there can be some discrepancy between what the camera “sees” and what it generates for the photo. “You point and shoot – and out pops a cartoon; the camera’s best interpretation of what it saw,” Macnish writes. “The result is always a surprise. A food selfie of a healthy salad might turn into an enormous hot dog.” If you want to give this a go for yourself, Macnish has uploaded the instructions and code needed to build this project.