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20
Oct

Motorola One review: Nice phone, but not the one for me


The Motorola One is Motorola’s new mid-range offering, positioned just above its G range but just below the Z series. It costs 269 pounds (~$355) here in the U.K., and brings a set of fairly middling specs, a nice design, and importantly, Android One.

There are so many excellent mid-range Android devices around right now, so let’s take a closer look in this Motorola One review at whether this one brings anything new to the table.

One great thing: the software

Let’s start with something positive. Android One brings a clean, stock-like Android experience, with guaranteed, rapid updates. This marriage of OS and service is partly what has helped make phones like the Nokia 7 Plus so popular.

Motorla One Android One

While there are always people in the comments section willing to defend the various Android skins and their merits, stock implementations of Android tend to run faster, especially on underpowered hardware. There’s less bloat and fewer “extras” running on top of the UI. Compare the performance of two identical hardware set-ups, and the stock version will generally perform better.

I’m surprised Android One hasn’t made its way onto more mid-range devices

Stock Android devices also get updates faster. OEMs need to make sure their customizations will still work with the new software. For Android One devices, it’s a simple matter of pushing the update to users.

Stock Android

If you’re going to put a middling processor in your smartphone without a ton of RAM, it makes sense to lighten its load as much as possible and ensure it has the very latest version of Android running at all times. This is also typically cheaper for the OEM. There’s no downside — unless you really love a particular feature from EMUI, MIUI, or Color OS.

In this case, you get Android 8.1 out of the box, with monthly security updates and at least two platform updates guaranteed.

Motorola One App Drawer

I’m very happy to see Android One here. I’m actually surprised it hasn’t made its way onto more devices in fact.

Moto actions let you trigger the torch with a double karate chop

See also

Graduating class: Nexus – Pixel – Android One – Android Go

When Google abandoned the Nexus program a lot of its die-hard fans wanted to know why. Even when the Pixel series first emerged, many of us were still scratching our heads. Now, with the 20/20 …

While this is pretty much stock Android, Moto added a couple of customizations to set it apart. One is the inclusion of “Moto Actions.” These are the same as those found on other Moto devices and let you trigger the flashlight with a double karate chop action for instance, or turn on the camera with a twist of the hand. This works really well and could occasionally come in handy, as long as you don’t end up slinging your device into the floor. As Bruce Lee would say, phones can’t fight back!

Specs and performance

This clean software experience helps performance on the Motorola One make it firmly into the “pretty good” category. It runs on a Snapdragon 625, which is a bit of a drop from the 660 you might find in similarly priced devices.

Motorola One PUBG

That’s backed up with a very standard 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage which is expandable by up to 256GB. You’ll also get unlimited photo storage from Google.

Benchmark scores aren’t fantastic here. In Antutu, it only managed to beat 20 percent of users. Remember, this isn’t all that much cheaper than a Pocophone F1 (I’m sure OEMs the world-over are cursing the name Pocophone) or the Kirin 970-sporting Honor Play. The Snapdragon 625 is also inferior to the Helio P60 found in the significantly more affordable Nokia 5.1 Plus.

Motorola One Performance

The hardware affects gaming pretty much as you would expect — I can’t download Asphalt 9 and PUBG is jittery even on lower settings (higher setting options are missing). It also takes forever to load – a good 15 seconds at least (it feels longer when you’re waiting).

Apart from games, it can handle most of what you’d throw at it. Navigating the UI is pretty smooth, though apps occasionally take a second or two to load and the keyboard doesn’t appear quite as instantly as on better hardware.

Even given its lower price, it’s still not great performance. It’s fine for everyday tasks, but not much beyond that.

Motorola One Battery

The phone’s 3,000mAh battery isn’t massive, but it should see you through a day. The TurboPower charging should let you top up 6 hours of battery in just 20 minutes.

The screen is a 5.9-inch IPS LCD with a 19:9 aspect ratio, a hefty notch, and an 85 percent screen-to-body ratio. Unfortunately, it’s only a 720p screen, further hammering home that this isn’t a gaming phone. There’s a single mic at the bottom of the phone. It’s easy to cover up with a finger and only passable in terms of performance and audio quality. This isn’t a media consumption device.

Motorola One Display

Design and features

The actual design of the Motorola One is pretty nice. It’s glass-backed, which is unusual for the price point, with an attractive black glossy finish, vertical camera arrangement, and indented Motorola logo. It’s pretty slim, very light, and comfortable to hold and use — it actually feels a fair bit smaller than the large screen size might lead you to believe.

The Motorola logo is also a fingerprint sensor. It’s located just where I like and works very quickly.

Motorola One Design

Speaking of welcome features, there’s also a headphone jack, NFC, and dual SIM. The dual SIM uses “smart learning” to anticipate which SIM card you’ll want to use, based on the time of day and your historical usage. USB Type-C is also here, which isn’t always a given.

There’s no IP rating, which makes sense at this price, though it is splash resistant.

Camera

Motorola One Cameras

The rear camera here is a 13MP f/2.0 lens backed up by a 2MP depth sensor. The depth sensor allows for portrait mode shots. Unfortunately the aperture is a little too narrow to pull it off sometimes, but autofocus works well.



The front facing camera is 8MP and has pretty much average performance.

Motorola used its own camera app instead of the stock Android one, bringing some quite interesting features. The color picker tool which lets you turn an image entirely monochrome apart from one color, Sin City style. The cinemagraph effect lets you create a photo with one moving element.

You might have a scene of someone pouring a cup of tea while everyone is frozen around them for instance, or a waterfall that continues to fall even though everything else is static.

These are neat effects, but I couldn’t always get them to work. If you want more camera features,  you can download the G6 camera app from the Play Store, and gain access to the full suit of Moto Actions this way if you so wish.

Motorola One Camera

You can predictably expect a pretty average everyday photography performance here. Images often come out over-exposed in places. Detail is occasionally lacking when you zoom in. Some blurriness creeps in thanks to the lack of optical stabilization (don’t try walking and shooting). Low-light isn’t great. The portrait mode is far from the best implementation. However, it’s not totally awful.

If you’re just using it for everyday snaps, you’ll be fine. Occasionally it will even produce something nice. I always like having things to play around with too. This isn’t the best in class, or its own price bracket. It’s a bit of a disappointment. You can find more samples here.

Motorola One Selfie Camera

The camera also has Google Lens built in, which will allow you to do things like finding out where to buy things you see in the world. It’s neat and works a lot better than Bixby, but of course this is not the only place where you will find the app!

Closing comments

Motorla One Review

So, is the Motorola One competitive at this price range?

Eh.

This is a nice phone. I really like using it thanks to the Android One implementation, the thoughtful additional features, some fun camera choices, and a tidy design.

However, it’s a little underpowered for the price. The screen and mic combo mean it isn’t much fun for consuming media either. While I didn’t mind using it during my review period, I could fall back on my Note 9 for watching YouTube or gaming when needed.

Unfortunately then, it just can’t really compete in terms of value with the likes of the Nokia 7 Plus (which is only about 40 pounds (~$52) more expensive) or the Honor Play (which is 10 pounds (~$13) more). Both have similar middle-of-the-road cameras and equally strong designs, as well as significantly more horsepower and much better screens.

The experience is good — it’s not really Moto’s fault we’ve seen such a massive leap in what we can expect at this price range.

If you really love Android One and you don’t care about gaming or watching Netflix on your device, you’ll probably have a good time here. Just maybe wait for the price to come down a bit first.

Buy from Motorola

Next: Unpacking Google’s role in Android One

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20
Oct

Death from above? How we’re preparing for a future filled with weaponized drones


It’s a capacity crowd at the 2019 Super Bowl, and 80,000 football fans have gathered inside Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium to watch the game. The weather is crystal-clear, so naturally the retractable roof is open. As the halftime show gets underway, a wave of excited chatter rolls through the crowd — a flock of a dozen drones has just dramatically dropped into the stadium, immediately above the headline musical act. Even though none of the early rumors about the halftime show included mentions of a drone element, no one is concerned. After that crazy drone display at the last Olympics, aerial shows like this one seem par for the course.

Without the need for a pilot, a drone launched anywhere within the circle, flying at a speed of 45 MPH, could reach the White House in 10 minutes or less.

Sure enough, the drones begin what looks like a choreographed routine, each of the twelve drones heading out toward the seats in a perfect spoke-like pattern. The only hint that something isn’t going to plan is the fleeting yet visibly startled look on the lead singer’s face. But she’s a pro, and doesn’t miss a single beat.

A moment later, chaos. The drones, each equipped with a small but powerful explosive, have detonated within a few feet of the spectators below. Thousands now sit in their seats, unmoving, slouched over what’s left of the person next to them. Thousands more wander around, dazed, while those furthest from the blasts run, panicked, to the exits. Within a day, a known extremist group claims responsibility for the attack, the deadliest on U.S. soil since 9/11.

Real danger, or hype?

Let’s be clear. The scenario above isn’t the stuff of Hollywood spy movies any longer. Recently, DHS intelligence official, David Glawe, told CBS News that what concerns him the most is ”a weaponized drone threatening the Super Bowl or even the White House.” FBI director Christopher Wray, has also made it clear that drones represents a clear and present danger, telling Congress that, “given their retail availability, lack of verified identification requirement to procure, general ease of use, and prior use overseas, [drones] will be used to facilitate an attack in the United States against a vulnerable target, such as a mass gathering.”

The reality is, anyone with enough time, training, and the necessary bomb-making skills could orchestrate such an attack. Last month, Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro made headlines by coming perilously close to being the first head of state harmed or killed by explosive-bearing drones, when he appeared before a large crowd in Caracas.

“In five minutes, you can program an off-the-shelf drone carrying 20 pounds to fly five miles to a destination, perform its activity, and be done,” Tim Bean, CEO at Fortem Technologies, told Digital Trends. Fortem sells drone detection and remediation products, including the DroneHunter: a drone designed to perform mid-air, disabling attacks on other drones.

In the future, will it be necessary to keep an eye on the sky, and ready to take cover at a moment’s notice from an imminent attack?

“In five minutes, you can program an off-the-shelf drone with 20 lbs, to fly five miles, perform its activity, and be done.”

Companies, and professionals who work in the drone industry, perhaps not surprisingly, tend to downplay the risk presented by drone technology. China’s DJI is the world leader in civilian drones. In 2017 the company’s market share was estimated at 70 percent — miles ahead of its nearest competitor. “What happened in Venezuela raises concerns, and generates questions about what happens with drones,” Adam Lisberg, DJI’s corporate communication director for North America, told Digital Trends.  Though it is believed that two DJI Matrice 600 drones were used in the attack on the Venezuelan president, Lisberg was quick to point out that the vast majority of drone use is safe, and suggested that people’s fear of drones will fade as these devices become more commonplace. “There’s a lot of hype because this is a new technology,” Lisberg said.  “An awful lot of people, if they see a drone for the first time, they assume that it’s spying on them, or assume that it’s dangerous.”

Joshua Ziering, co-founder of commercial drone platform, Kittyhawk, agrees. “The Maduro incident certainly signifies a realization that there is the capability for bad actors to do bad things with drones,” he said. “However, I see a lot more hysteria than I do actual cause for concern.”

Preventing poor piloting

DJI sees poor piloting as the biggest cause for concern. “Most people using drones [recklessly], are probably careless, or clueless, not criminal,” Lisberg said. To address this issue, DJI has added a drone safety quiz to its mobile app, limiting beginner pilots to only the most rudimentary flight functions until they can show a sufficient level of knowledge. The app is also constantly updated with geo-fencing restrictions — information about local no-fly zones. Pilots receive warnings when they are flying near sensitive areas such as airports, and the software will actively prevent the drone from flying inside these zones.

Andrius Aleksandravicius/Getty Images

Ziering is also on-side with DJI’s belief that dangerous drone use is largely the result of ignorance, not malicious intent. “What really keeps me up at night is not the bad actors,” he said, “it’s the second group… the ignorant actors who maybe don’t know the rules and don’t want to harm anybody, but because of their disregard for understanding how this all works, they have a very real chance of harming somebody. There’s far more of them than bad actors.”

It starts with detection

Whether it’s an ignorant pilot, or an individual or group intent on causing harm, all of the experts we spoke to agree: The first step is being able to spot a drone before it causes havoc. Step two is determining whether or not it poses a threat. The third and final step, is taking action to neutralize the threat.

It’s like a license plate for drones, but instead of simply printing a physical ID on the drone itself, each drone broadcasts its ID.

Airborne drones fall into two categories: Those that are being actively piloted from a remote control, and those that are following a set of pre-programmed instructions.

Of all the drones in the air at any one time, most will fall into the first group. They’re remotely piloted, usually benign, and controlled by (hopefully) competent pilots. The drone industry, along with the FAA, which regulates drone use in the United States, is currently working out a framework that would give security forces and law enforcement the ability to differentiate these drones, from ones that might be possible threats. Known as “remote ID,” it’s like a license plate for drones, but instead of simply printing a physical ID on the drone itself, each drone broadcasts its ID.

DJI’s Aeroscope detection system can spot the company’s drones from miles away, yet is small enough to fit in a briefcase.

A year ago, DJI launched a remote identification system that represents the first attempt to establish this license plate concept. Aeroscope, as it’s called, automatically locates and monitors DJI drones flying anywhere within radio range. DJI claims that when equipped with an appropriate set of antennas, Aeroscope can detect the company’s drones up to 50 kilometers away, and can obtain info about these drones in as little as two seconds. Aeroscope can be ordered as a fixed installation, suitable for large, permanent zones like arenas, power plants, or airports, or as a briefcase-based mobile unit, for short term events like political rallies, or outdoor concerts.

It’s a powerful tool, but it’s not a panacea. The fatal flaw here is that Aeroscope only detects DJI-built drones. So how do we identify non-DJI drones? Unfortunately we don’t have a good system in place. While DJI is attempting to make its remote ID system an industry standard, its efforts have not been met with a lot of interest. “Other manufacturers don’t want to adopt that standard because they want their own standard,” Ziering said.

Eyes and ears

Even if Remote ID eventually becomes a standard, we’ll still need a way to detect drones that aren’t broadcasting it. In fact, these are almost certainly the drones we should be paying the most attention to. San Francisco-based DeDrone is one of a handful of companies that have created drone detection and surveillance products that are geared toward this task.

Using the same radio-frequency based techniques as DJI’s Aeroscope, combined with high-resolution video cameras, DeDrone’s DroneTracker platform can not only identify the location of a drone and its pilot, but it also takes an educated guess about the kind of drone it has found, which could help a security team determine the risk. A drone the size of a DJI Mavic Pro poses a far smaller threat than one the size of a FreeFly Alta 8, an octocopter that can carry a 20-pound payload. The goal, according to Pablo Estrada, DeDrone’s vice president of marketing, is to “make intelligent decisions about what’s happening in the airspace and display it to the user.” From there, it’s up to the security team to decide what their next steps should be.

Dedrone

Radio-frequency scanning on its own isn’t enough. Many drones can be set to follow a preset course using only GPS to guide them. “That’s called flying on the waypoint,” Bean said. “When you fly on a waypoint, the drone is not emitting any radio frequency — no RF, there’s no joystick, there’s nothing to jam, there’s nothing to intercept. It’s just listening to the GPS.” A drone flying on a waypoint represents a very credible threat. “These are called RF-dark drones,” Bean said, “and they are the tools of people with ill intent.”

These are called RF-dark drones, and they are the tools of people with ill intent.

Detecting these RF-dark drones requires radar. Trouble is, conventional radar, like the kind used at airports or military installations just isn’t designed for drone detection. “It’s topology challenged,” Bean said, “so it can’t see through a building, and it can’t see other side of a hill.” In a crowded, urban environment, this is a severe constraint. Conventional radar installations are big, expensive, and can emit a lot of energy, which poses a health risk. “If you stand in front of it, it will kill you.”

Fortem Technologies has created its own specialized radar module called TrueView, specifically for tracking drones. It’s small enough to be mounted on a drone, so it can even be used as an air-to-air tracker. It’s a low power system, and it’s also cheap enough that a facility like a stadium could install enough of them to give itself a 360-degree view of the surrounding airspace. “No one flies below our radar,” Bean said.

Downing a drone

Once a drone has been detected, and deemed a threat, it’s time to decide how to deal with it.

This is where things get dicey. Under the current FAA rules, even law enforcement personnel cannot legally shoot down a drone. “Shooting down a drone has the same consequences, legally and technically speaking, as bringing down an airliner or a Cessna,” Jeffery Antonelli, an expert in drone law, told Popular Mechanics.

A recent 1,200-page FAA Reauthorization Bill, however, is looking to change this, and would “give the Department of Homeland Security and FBI the right to track and down drones that they deem a ‘credible threat’ to a ‘covered facility or asset,’” according to NBC News.

Even if it eventually becomes legal for authorities to do so, perhaps the biggest reason not to shoot a drone with a gun, is it’s simply not that easy. Even trained snipers, under controlled conditions, struggle to hit a flying drone. In a densely-packed urban environment, a shot that misses a drone could easily become a shot that hits a bystander.

Georges Gobet/Getty Images

This has prompted companies to develop other forms of “kinetic” responses to unwanted drones. You may have seen videos of trained eagles grabbing drones out of the air, their sharp talons acting like grappling hooks on the drone’s landing gear. It’s a spectacular display of animal aerobatics, and when successful, the raptor drags the target drone to a safe location. Unfortunately they can’t always be relied on to do the job.

Because a netted drone will fall, it could be dangerous to use a net gun over crowds or other sensitive locations.

So-called “net guns,” like the SkyWall 100, are a non-lethal alternative to shotguns and rifles. These weapons fire cartridges at up to 100 MPH, which then expand into nets to envelope the target drone. Once tangled, the drone falls to the ground. The gun’s range is limited — usually no more than 100 meters — and is slow to reload. Additionally, because a netted drone will fall, it could be dangerous to use a net gun over crowds or other sensitive locations.

Another solution is to mount a net gun to a drone. Fortem’s DroneHunter, is an autonomous, radar-equipped drone, that is armed with a tethered net gun. It’s the airborne equivalent of “the good guy with a gun” defense. In the best case scenario, a DroneHunter captures its target, and tows it to a safe distance. This outcome is not guaranteed, The DroneHunter is limited to one shot per mission, making accuracy and precision critical to success.

A variation on this idea is Malou Tech’s Drone Interceptor MP200, a multi-rotor aircraft that drags a large net as it flies. The goal is to tangle a target drone in the net, but aerodynamic drag created by the net itself makes the MP200 much less maneuverable than its prey, and there’s always the risk that the net could be become caught on an object, downing the MP200 instead.

So are any of these kinetic responses reliable? Ziering has his doubts. “If you give me a drone,” he said, “I’m relatively sure that I could defeat most kinetic solutions very easily.”

Jammers and hackers

You don’t necessarily have to use physical force to eliminate a drone. Electronic countermeasures can be effective from a considerable distance, and they aren’t limited by quantity of ammunition. “Currently, the most effective technique is some type of a radio frequency jamming device,” Estrada said. It is suspected that such a device was used in Caracas to prevent those drones from reaching their target.

It is suspected that a radio frequency jamming device was used in Caracas to prevent those drones from reaching their target.

Unfortunately, jamming a venue the size of a stadium would invariably interfere with much more than just hostile drones. Were this kind of jamming to interfere with GPS or other aviation signals, it could be catastrophic.

It is possible, however, to aim a jamming signal at specific target. DeDrone is currently partnered with Battelle, the maker of the DroneDefender, a rifle-like electronic jammer that can disrupt a drone’s GPS reception, as well as the pilot’s remote control. Using the DroneDefender against a drone is almost like using a tractor beam from Star Trek, if Battelle’s YouTube videos are an accurate portrayal. They show soldiers safely forcing a drone to land, by maintaining a constant bead on the drone with a DroneDefender. Australian company DroneShield, makes a similar device, called the DroneGun. One of these devices was likely the “anti-drone” gun used on the set of Game of Thrones, to keep spies from taking photos of the HBO production.

Someone armed with the DroneDefender would need to be able to see their quarry, and be within 400 meters. Multiple, simultaneous targets would require multiple personnel armed with DroneDefenders, who could be deployed to an appropriate set of locations in time to intercept the drones before they reach their destinations. This makes it a last line of defense – one that’s hard to use in darkness, or in any conditions that make visibility difficult.

Battelle DroneDefender®

In an ideal world, law enforcement would have the ability to take control of a threatening drone without the need to jam its communication. Adam Lisberg doubts that such a thing is possible, at least with DJI’s drones. “You can never rule out anything in the technological arms race,” he said, “but we’ve never heard of a situation in which someone could be able to truly take control [of our drones]. Our drones are designed to be controlled only by the person who’s holding the controller.”

Nonetheless, this kind of remote-commandeering is exactly what a company called Department 13 claims it can do.  Its “Mesmer” technology can listen for, and take control of, any drone within range of its antennas. “By adapting to the protocol used to control a drone,” the company’s website says, “Mesmer inserts messages that tell the drone to exit a restricted airspace, return home, or land in a predetermined safe zone.” Department 13 says Mesmer can also scale up, to address multi-drone swarms. Italian company Finmeccanica, claims its Falcon Shield system can do the same thing.  It sounds like an excellent solution, albeit one with a potentially frightening down-side should the technology ever fall into the hands of the people we’re trying to defend against. The other problem with Mesmer is that it’s not effective against RF-dark drones. With no remote control signals sent to these drones, there’s nothing for Mesmer to hear or adapt to.

Flying in the face of danger

Both DeDrone and Fortem claim that their respective technologies have proven successful in the field, but neither company was willing to provide concrete proof. Estrada points out that his company has been used to protect against drone threats two years in a row at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. When we asked if DeDrone had managed to detect and help neutralize a drone threat at the conference, Estrada declined to comment.

Tim Bean was similarly coy about Fortem’s results. He claimed he didn’t have the rights to tell us about his clients, or to quote their experiences. “It is deployed, it is working, it is doing what it’s designed to do,” he said.

We may simply have to accept a world in which we add the threat of a dangerous drone to an already worrisome list.

The technology to detect, classify, and neutralize nefarious drones exists. It’s already being used to secure sensitive installations, like power plants, large sporting and entertainment venues, airports, and government buildings. High-profile events, like presidential inaugurations, royal weddings, or even the Olympics will also benefit from a heightened airspace awareness and ready countermeasures.

There’s even some hope that we’ll be able to monitor larger areas too. DeDrone and AT&T recently partnered to extend drone surveillance over areas the size of a city, but reliably protecting a busy city intersection, a school playground, or even a busy mall parking lot from a random drone attack will likely prove difficult.

In the end, we may simply have to accept a world in which we add the threat of a dangerous drone to an already worrisome list that includes mass shooters with large capacity magazines, bombs, and people who are willing to use vehicles as weapons.

For now, we’ll have to rely on lawmakers to ensure that our legal frameworks find the right balance between protecting the incredible opportunities and innovations that the drone industry is creating, and protecting the lives that will hang in the balance when this technology is inevitably used to cause harm. Let’s hope that’s not a flight of fancy.

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20
Oct

Behind the unsettling sci-fi landscapes of Simon Stalenhag’s ‘Electric State’


A boxy blue car, like the old Volvo my dad used to drive, sits parked in a desolate lot in one of Simon Stålenhag’s dystopian illustrations. Fastened to its roof rack is a kayak. A young woman in white sweatpants, a hooded leather jacket, and red backpack stands on a nearby hill.

It’s a familiar scene from my 90’s childhood — except the girl is holding hands with a bobble-headed robot and staring up at four animatronic ducks riddled with bullet holes from some recent wargame. One of the duck’s heads is blasted straight through. Dust gathers in the distance. As with a lot of Stålenhag’s work, it’s a haunting image that carries an air of tranquility. The focal point isn’t the devastated ducks but the gentle embrace of the human and her robot.

It’s been a big year for Stålenhag, a Swedish digital artist who’s gained something of a cult (and Kickstarter) following for his evocative depictions of rural and suburban landscapes mixed with eerie science fiction elements. In July, it was announced that Amazon Studios would adapt his breakout artbook, Tales from the Loop (2015), into a television series. In September, Stålenhag’s most recent work, The Electric State (2017), was released in the United States.

The narrative artbook follows the journey of a young traveler, Michelle, and her robot, Skip, as they head west to the Pacific coast through an alternative America torn apart by civil war and the trappings of military-grade virtual reality. Along their journey they encounter colossal warships that loom over the horizon like metal mountains and dead VR addicts still plugged into their headsets. Set in the 90s, the story mixes one-part nostalgia with one-part sci-fi into a captivating cocktail.

We spoke to Stålenhag about his inspiration for the book, his creative process, and whether he considers The Electric State a cautionary tale. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

With Amazon purchasing rights to Tales from the Loop, knowledge of your work has gone more mainstream. But, for people who aren’t familiar, how would you how would you describe the scenes you create?

Simon Stålenhag: My art is basically science-fiction-themed landscape painting. I try to approach scenes as if they’re real, as if I’m actually seeing these things. I’m more inspired by landscape artists and wildlife art than science fiction art. Although, I am also very inspired by science fiction.

When did you decide to place robots and spaceships into images of rolling hills?

I started with landscape and wildlife art. I drew birds and Swedish wildlife when I was a kid. That was my big passion. I always wanted to paint things that I see in my everyday life. And then I started working in the video game industry and I learned to draw all these the robot and monsters and science fiction themed stuff, and it just kind of bubbled out while I was doing the landscape.

I’ve had two passions, really. I had landscape and wildlife interests, and then rediscovered all these science fiction classics of the 80s, of my childhood, when I was in my early 20s. All the nostalgia of that era. It’s like I wanted to do two projects — one science fiction and one landscape — but I didn’t have time, so I had to combine them. It always felt natural to mix them together.

That’s one of the aspects that makes your work so gripping — it combines real, nostalgic, sort of rural settings with a kind of a high-tech alternative reality. It’s foreign things surrounded by the familiar.

Yeah, it’s like a two-part trick. The natural and familiar elements are like a trick to get you to buy into this science fiction stuff. But also, in terms of my own passions, I kind of use the science fiction stuff to trick people into seeing the ordinary stuff. Like, Oh yeah that’s how those cars looked like. To me, I’m not sure which part of it I enjoy the most or which part I want people to look at the most. Sometimes it’s the regular stuff, the ordinary and everyday items that I want people to look bit extra at. Sometimes you have to use some tricks to get people to do that.

What comes first for your creative process? Is it the story or the scene?

Most of the time it’s actually music. I make music playlists and I kind of see it play out as a film. I scrape the whole concept, the whole aesthetic from the playlist. With The Electric State I made this 90’s alternative rock playlist with Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson and Rage [Against the Machine]. A wide variety of music that spoke to the characters and attitude I wanted use. My previous books were much more the 80s and early 90s, more of that kind of innocent childhood nostalgia. With the Electric State I wanted to do something that was grungier and more about alienated youth culture. This is basically my Kurt Cobain book.

At one point I actually called main character “Negative Creep,” from the Nirvana song. I put that character in this creepy, weird version of the mid-90s U.S. This was before I did the actual research and the actual road trip that Michelle goes on in the book. I did the three-week road trip with my wife and mom. I wasn’t sure what exact landscapes and what exact settings I would use, but I knew I was going to see stuff that was going to fill my head and make me want to paint. I already had the character and the mood.

You’ve said previously that your work is very personal to you. I’m curious how the character Michelle develops as a personal character. You took this road trip, so that has a personal element but I’m wondering if there’s more.

The road trip was like the opposite of the book. It was a very happy experience. We were kind of singing along in the car. But the personal experience that I drew from were my own teenage years. When it comes to her story and memory flashbacks, they weren’t autobiographical but I’ve been on those similar situations. I wasn’t a foster kid and I didn’t have it as bad as she had it, but I’m a divorce kid and I kind of try to draw from those experiences of feeling abandoned.

The relationship with Skip was inspired by my older sister who took care of me when our parents divorced. She was eight years older than me and she was a taking care of me and my older brother. I wanted get that love into the book but place it in a very dark world. You can’t have everything be gloomy and dystopian. To me it has to have some kind of hope. That was the challenge — to make that relationship seem real.

With the backdrop of gloom in the story, it really magnifies things like hope and love. It makes them kind of pop.

Yeah, in a way it became easier to make that stand out because having a very grim setting and then having this girl speaking very compassionately to the tin-can robot.

I’m curious about your idea behind Sentre, the conglomerate that sells VR headsets to consumers but is also a part of the military industrial complex. Where did your idea for this company come from?

Sentre was inspired by the way a lot of our information technology, like the internet and computers, seem to come from the defense budget. We wouldn’t have this technology if it wasn’t for some defense projects back in the 50s or 60s. I wanted to mirror how cell phones and the internet became a consumer commodity but how they came from something else. How they came from within the war machine.

It’s meant to be satirical in a way. I wanted to make fun of the mid-90’s crazy boom in consumer information technology and all the advertising and the general tone of the home consumer electronics tech that we were flooded with in that era. I wanted to have fun with that aesthetic and make it into a kind of zombie thing.

Is the story a cautionary tale?

It’s more of a satire. It’s not too serious. There is a serious threat inherent in our technology but it’s almost cliché by now. Nuclear energy is a source of energy but you could also destroy the planet. Social media is a similar thing. It connects people in oppressed parts of the world and it can be used for good and bad. Right now it feels like it’s out of control and used in undemocratic ways. But this book isn’t about that. It’s more satirical.

But I am scared by technology and the way it’s used right now. I also don’t think there’s any other way out of our problems. I think technology is the only way to go. We just have to learn and get better at using it responsibly. I’m not the person to say how that should be done. But that’s the big question and problem of our age.  I sometimes feel like if I really would have wanted to address that problem, I wouldn’t do a book like The Electric State, which is much more personal. It’s about family. The backdrop of a dystopian high-tech world is just the way I do it.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a very proper post-apocalyptic work. It’s claustrophobic, much more confined, set in a bunker. We get to see some flashbacks. But it’s much more of a war traumatized world. My main idea right now is to capture the confusion of all of the trauma of the apocalypse and try to get stories about some characters. It’s definitely a darker story than the Electric State.

When do you think you’ll release that?

Hopefully late next year.

Do you have a working title?

Right now it’s called the Labyrinth.

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20
Oct

Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UA review



Research Center:

Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UA

There are legitimate reasons to spend over a thousand bucks on a laptop, whether it’s cutting-edge industrial design or durable build quality. But each year, the reasons are fewer and fewer.

The Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UA, which starts at $800, is yet another point against extravagantly expensive laptops.

Its predecessors have long been our go-to recommendation at this price point, and Asus has followed it up with a worthy successor. With a quad-core processor, a lightweight build, and ambitious battery life claims, is the UX331UA the little ZenBook that could?

Finding the right balance

Set the ZenBook 13 UX331UA next to a Surface Laptop 2, MacBook Pro, or Dell XPS 13, and you’ll immediately see the difference. All three might be thin and silver on the outside, but a discerning eye will spot where Asus cut costs. Everything from the shiny, concentric style of the lid to the plastic bezels feels, well, cheap – because it is less expensive.

Riley Young/Digital Trends

But that’s comparing apples and oranges.

Unlike those expensive devices, the ZenBook 13 lands at just $800, which happens to be right in the price range most people consider affordable. At that price, the ZenBook 13 fits in with its contemporaries, offering a modern design. We like the look of the Lenovo Yoga S730 and IdeaPad 530S better, but the ZenBook is right behind them.

Asus delivered a fantastic typing experience; we found ourselves typing quicker and more accurately on the UX330A

Weight and thickness are where this ZenBook really shines. At just 2.5 pounds and 0.55 inches thick, the ZenBook 13 is lighter and thinner than a MacBook Pro! It’s not the champion in this area. Compared to competitors in the same price, the $800 Lenovo Yoga S730 is slightly thinner and lighter. However, the Zenbook handily beats the affordable HP Envy 13t, or the Dell Inspiron 13 7000. It’s also lighter than the Dell XPS 13, though only just.

Though thin and light, the ZenBook 13 doesn’t feel flimsy. There are spots in the keyboard deck where there’s some flex if you push hard, but you have to go looking for this flaw to notice it. The hinge, meanwhile, feels sturdy and can be opened with one finger.

The ZenBook 13 has a standard array of ports, including an HDMI port, USB-C port, two USB-A 3.1 ports, and a miniSD card slot. That’s a bit of something for everyone. We’d prefer a USB-C charging port over the proprietary barrel plug, but that’s our only complaint, and it’s not one most its competitors solve.

You can have a good keyboard on a budget

The keyboard is a crucial area of the laptop where Asus could have cut quality. Instead, Asus has delivered a fantastic typing experience. We found ourselves typing quicker and more accurately than on lower-travel keyboards like the MacBook Pro. The bottoming action feels right in the sweet spot of firm without being stiff.

Riley Young/Digital Trends

As much as we enjoyed the keyboard, we do have one complaint. The function row of keys at the top of the deck require holding down one of the function keys to work. It’s a nitpick, but it required for accessing things like volume and brightness control. This is a common laptop tactic that makes accidental presses less likely, but we prefer immediate access without having to tap the function key.

The touchpad lets the keyboard down and is the laptop’s biggest flaw. It’s useable, but the tracking of precise movement often feels off. The touchpad seems to lack crisp response, leaving an ambiguous grey area between a tap, a drag, and a click. While it’s a Windows Precision touchpad, gestures like two-finger swipes felt clumsy, as did precise controls like selecting text.

Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UA Compared To

Razer Blade Stealth (2017)

Lenovo Yoga 720 13-inch

Toshiba Portege Z30-C1310

Asus ZenBook UX305

Asus Zenbook UX301LA

ASUS Zenbook Prime UX32VD

Acer Aspire S5

Sony Vaio S Premium 13.3-inch

Lenovo IdeaPad U310

Toshiba Portege Z835

HP Folio 13

Asus Zenbook UX31

Asus U36Jc

Sony Vaio S Series

Sharp M4000

The ZenBook 13 UX331UA does not include a touchscreen, a 360 display, or stylus support, instead opting for a traditional laptop experience.

Not perfect, but a beautiful display

Displays on laptops under $1,000 tend to be dull, and over-saturated. Most of the ZenBook 13 UX331UA’s contemporaries do poorly, whether that’s the Acer Swift 3 or the Lenovo IdeaPad 530S. Asus has, on the other hand, continues to defy the odds and include excellent displays in its ZenBook 13 laptops. In fact, this 13.3-inch, Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) IPS display is one of the better screens we’ve ever tested, especially in several key categories.

Riley Young/Digital Trends

The first is contrast. The UX331UA has a high contrast ratio and fantastic black levels. That makes it a perfect screen for watching movies, as the lighting appears just as the director of the film intended it to be. Go ahead and watch a horror film with the lights turned out on this laptop — we dare you.

The color gamut and accuracy also impress. In fact, it’s not a bad option for an amateur photographer looking for a display they can trust. That’s not something we can say about most mid-range laptops.

The only real problem with the UX331UA’s display is brightness. It maxed out at 256 nits in our reading, which is a bit under our preferred minimum of 300. Most competitors offer a brighter display. That said, we found brightness adequate in most situations, even under the bright lights of our office. Credit the matte screen, which reduces glare.

The speakers are weaker. They’re down-firing, which isn’t ideal for clarity or volume, and the ZenBook 13 has problem offering enough of either. Most owners will want to rely on headphones or external speakers.

Great performance for the price

The ZenBook 13 UX331UA comes with an Intel Core i5-8250U processor, which is the same chip we saw in the previous UX330UA. It’s a fast, nimble processor, and the perfect fit for a $800 laptop like this one. It multitasks like a champ, even if your typical workload includes dozens of open tabs, running applications, and streaming music simultaneously. At no point did we wish for a Core i7 instead.

Looking at the results of a synthetic benchmark like Geekbench, the UX331UA outpaces many laptops with the same processor, especially in multi-core performance. Results were middling in the Handbrake test, which measures how long it takes the laptop to encode a 4K video. It’s in tasks like that where the higher clock speeds of laptops with a Core i7 can flex their muscles.

You should note this ZenBook’s chip is part of the Kaby Lake-R series, announced in late 2017, and not the Core i5-8265U from the newer Whisky Lake series. While we don’t expect that to greatly change day-to-day performance, it’s missing a couple of features such as gigabyte Wi-Fi and a (supposed) increased battery life.

Fortnite won’t play well without turning the settings all the way down, but you could play a light game like Rocket League. 

The storage included on the UX331UA is one area where a sacrifice had to be made. Although it’s a solid-state drive, the Micron 1100 in our test unit connected over the SATA standard instead of the faster PCIe connection. Compared to high-end laptops like the MacBook Pro or Dell XPS 13, the read and write speeds are often cut in half. It’s common to see SATA SSDs or even old-school hard disk drives on laptops in this price range, but some laptops like the Lenovo IdeaPad 530s include a PCIe drive.

We wish Asus could’ve done the same, but we also think this is an acceptable sacrifice. The solid-state drive remains quick enough to offer snappy day to day performance, and you won’t notice a difference unless you regularly handle very large files.

Want to play Fortnite? Buy a different laptop

The UX331UA is not meant for games, as it lacks a GPU from AMD or Nvidia. You can’t enjoy Fortnite at playable framerates without turning settings all the way down and changing the resolution to 720p.

Riley Young/Digital Trends

However, a light game like Rocket League can play smooth using just the laptop’s integrated Intel 620 UHD graphics at 1080p resolution. You’ll have to turn down some of the render quality, but we achieved a smooth 50 frames per second once we did.

Because it doesn’t include a Thunderbolt 3 port, you can’t depend on the UX331UA to power an external GPU. Asus does offer a model with a Nvidia MX150 in it, known as the UX331UN, but that pushes the price up to $1,000.

Battery life

Excellent battery life was a strength this laptop’s predecessors offered, and that similarly-priced laptops lacked. This year, Asus reduced the size of the battery from 57 to 50 watt-hours, which worried us heading into our battery tests.

The first we tried was a video loop test, which plays a 1080p trailer on repeat until the battery dies. It lasted for nine and a half hours, which isn’t bad, but it’s a full hour and a half less than the older UX330UA. It even depleted the battery faster than the Acer Swift 3, which cleared 10 and a half hours.

It’s a similar story in the Basemark benchmark, which tests the battery against an intensive workload. This resulted in a 31 percent drop in battery life from the previous version — and again, is below the Swift 3.

Riley Young/Digital Trends

There is a silver lining to the ZenBook’s battery life, and that’s in web browsing. The UX331UA lasted over 10 and a half hours, which is extremely impressive. In fact, it sets a record in this benchmark, outside outliers like the Surface Book 2 (which has a second battery in the tablet portion) or the Asus NovaGo (which uses a Qualcomm processor). It even beats the Dell XPS 13, with its larger 60 watt-hour battery.

We don’t love the results of the first two tests, but none of the results are disaster, and web browsing best replicates what the average person will do with this laptop. Taken together, our tests make it clear you can rely on the ZenBook 13 to endure a full work day of use.

Our Take

The ZenBook 13 UX331UA once again proves Asus is the king of budget Windows laptops. It’s not perfect — we’d still prefer a more interesting design, a faster SSD, and even a better touchpad. But when it comes to the basics that really matter in a laptop, like portability and performance, the ZenBook 13 has it in spades. If $800 is your max budget, your hunt for a laptop is officially over.

Is there a better alternative?

The closest alternative is the Acer Swift 3, which was recently been updated with new processors and thinner bezels around the screen. However, we prefer the ZenBook UX331UA for its longer web browsing battery life and better display.

The other close competitor is the $800 Lenovo Yoga S730, which hasn’t been released. We were left impressed with the design, updated processor, keyboard, and size of the device in our short time with it, but we haven’t yet tested important features like battery life and display quality.

If you’re willing to add a couple hundred dollars to your budget, you can buy many great laptops, such as the $900 Dell XPS 13. The Core i3 processor will be a bit slower, though the premium design and faster SSD might be a worthy tradeoff. Lastly, you could always opt for the older ZenBook UX330UA, which isn’t much worse and saves you $50.

How long will it last?

The ZenBook UX331UA should last you at least a few years. Although you can’t upgrade the internal components, they are all up-to-date and high in quality. There’s even a USB-C port thrown in for good measure.

Asus’ customer service is another question. The one-year warranty that comes bundled is typical for a laptop, but Asus customer service isn’t as reliable as some competitors. The company’s support website is particularly difficult to navigate.

Should you buy it?

Yes. This is the best laptop at this price-point – and probably all the laptop you actually need.

20
Oct

How to stay anonymous online


When data and privacy scandals are a daily occurrence in the news, learning how to secure your identity online is essential.

This guide will help you learn ways to gain anonymity for the majority of your web-based communications and activities. But before we get started, it should go without saying that if you’re trying to stay anonymous, you shouldn’t use your real name when creating any online account. That’s the first step to take with your social media accounts.

Once that’s done, here are the four levels of anonymity we’d recommend next.

Level 1: Browse in private whenever possible

Browsing in private mode is simplest thing you can do to make some of your general internet usage a bit more anonymous.

Here’s how it works: You leave cookies every time you visit a website. These cookies are stored on your computer and hold a modest amount of data based on what websites you’ve visited, allowing other web pages to deliver an experience tailored to you. That could be Facebook showing you an ad for that new MacBook you searched for on Google, or YouTube seeing that you’ve been looking up videos about the new Samsung Galaxy Note 9 phone. These cookies can be used to create a unique fingerprint based on the data that’s been collected.

Just browse in private mode to avoid all that. All modern browsers have a private browsing feature, including on mobile.

Level 2: Avoid Google (or Bing or Yahoo)

Google, Bing, and Yahoo might be the three most popular search engines, but the trio also collects the most data about you in order to serve relevant ads and personalize services. Especially when logged in with your account, these search engines can collect your name, email address, birthday, gender, and phone number. Asides from that, Google and Bing can also collect important data such as device location, device information, IP address, and cookie data.

To avoid being tracked when searching on the web, we recommend you use a service like DuckDuckGo. This an independent search engine which doesn’t give you personalized search results. Everyone who searches sees the same results, and anything you search for won’t be collected or stored. The search engine also claims it has nothing to sell to advertisers, which means you won’t ever be subject to targeted ads seen when using Google and other websites.

Level 3: Hide your IP address

The next important thing you can do to stay anonymous is to hide your IP address, which is the easiest way to trace online activity back to you. If someone knows your IP address, they can easily determine the geographic location of the server that hosts that address and get a rough idea of where you’re located. Broadly speaking, there are three ways to obscure your IP address and hide your location.

First off, you can use a proxy server. If you want all of your online activity to be anonymous, the best way to do it is to pretend to be someone else. This is basically what a proxy server does: It routes your connection through a different server so your IP address isn’t so easy to track down. You also can use a virtual private network (VPN). For most intents and purposes, a VPN obscures your IP address just as well as a proxy does – and in some cases even better. A VPN is a private network that uses a public network (usually the internet) to connect remote sites or users together.

Finally, you can use TOR. Short for The Onion Router, TOR is a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet. Browsing with TOR is a lot like simultaneously using hundreds of different proxies that are randomized periodically.

Level 4: Use anonymous email and communication

Using proxies, VPNs, and TOR will obscure your IP address from prying eyes, but sending emails presents a different anonymity challenge. Let’s say you want to send somebody an email, but you don’t want them to know your email address. Generally speaking, there are two ways to go about this.

The first is to use an alias. An alias is essentially a forwarding address. When you send mail through an alias, the recipient will only see your forwarding address, and not your real email. Since all mail is forwarded to your regular inbox, this method will keep your real email address secret, but it will not, however, keep you from being spammed like crazy.

Secondly, you can use a disposable email account. This can be done in two ways: Either you can just create a new email account with a fake name and use it for the duration of your needs or you can use a disposable email service. These services work by creating a temporary forwarding address that is deleted after a certain amount of time, so they’re great for signing up for stuff on sites you don’t trust and keeping your inbox from being flooded with spam.

Also, using a VPN and communicating through an anonymous email address will keep your identity hidden, but it still leaves open the possibility of your emails being intercepted through a middleman. To avoid this, you can encrypt your emails before you send them using HTTPS in your web-based email client, which adds SSL/TLS encryption to all your communications. For webchats, you also can consider using TOR chat or Crytopchat, which are encrypted chat services that are hard to break.

So, there you have it, a simple four level guide to staying anonymous online. Some of these methods might be more extreme than others, but all put you in control of your privacy and should give you an extra peace of mind when browsing the web.

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20
Oct

Apple Begins Selling Refurbished 2018 15-Inch MacBook Pro Models in United States and Canada


Apple has added 2018 models of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar to its refurbished store in the U.S. for the first time. Prices are discounted by roughly 15 percent compared to the equivalent brand new models.

Quantities are limited, so we recommend acting fast or using Refurb Tracker to monitor when inventory is replenished.

Apple says refurbished MacBook Pro models are thoroughly inspected, tested, cleaned, and repackaged, with all manuals and cables included in the box. In our view, a refurbished MacBook Pro is virtually indistinguishable from a brand new model, so this represents a good opportunity for savings.

Note that third-party resellers sometimes offer better deals than Apple’s refurbished prices, so be sure to monitor our deals roundup.

A refurbished MacBook Pro comes with Apple’s standard one-year warranty effective on the date the notebook is delivered. The warranty can be extended to three years from the original purchase date with AppleCare+ for Mac, which costs $379 for the the 15-inch MacBook Pro in the United States.

Apple has also added refurbished 2018 models of the 15-inch MacBook Pro to its Canadian store at a 15 percent discount.

Apple began selling refurbished 2018 13-inch MacBook Pro models earlier this week.

(Thanks, Kevin Z.!)

Related Roundup: MacBook ProTag: refurbishedBuyer’s Guide: MacBook Pro (Buy Now)
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20
Oct

Scientists want to bore holes through clouds using lasers from satellites


Most information today travels through underground cables and from satellites beaming radio signals. In the coming decade, satellite information may instead be sent via lasers, which, among other advantages, are more secure and can carry more data. But lasers have a big weak spot those other technologies don’t have — lasers can’t pass through clouds.

Now, researchers at the University of Geneva in Switzerland have proposed a new technique for clearing cloud layers to aid in communication via laser technology. That solution? Add more lasers.

Using ultra-hot and ultra-short laser beams, the researchers say they can temporarily bore a hole through clouds so that the information-carrying lasers can pass through uninterrupted.

With all the information sent around the planet, radio frequency bands are crowded and long wavelengths limit the amount of information that can be carried. It can’t keep up with our modern-day demands, so researchers have begun experimenting with other technologies to fulfill our needs.

Lasers may offer one solution. Their short wavelengths can transmit thousands of times more information than radio frequency, according to the researchers, and offer more security. However, “as soon as there are clouds or fog, the usual light is scattered in every direction and not transmitted anymore,” Jean-Pierre Wolf, a physicist at the university who worked on the project, told Digital Trends. “There are nowadays no active solution to this problem, and what we propose may provide a solution.”

“We have demonstrated that a certain type of laser — ultra-short lasers, producing pulses as short as 1/10th of one millionth of one millionth of a second — create a shock wave in the air, that blows out the water droplets on its way,” Jérôme Kasparian, a physicist at the university who worked on the project, said. “By doing so, it can clear the way through a fog or a cloud, and open a clear channel for optical communication through the cloud.”

The satellite laser configuration proposed by Wolf and Kasparian includes one ultra-short laser that produces a shock wave to clear the clouds and a second to carry the information to Earth. Kasparian pointed out that the lasers they’ve used rely on chirped pulse amplification, a technology that earned Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland a Nobel Prize in physics this year.

There’s still plenty of work to be done, particularly in distributing the laser energy evenly over long distances, but Wolf said they have close contacts in aerospace interested in licensing the technology. They’re testing the lasers on synthetic clouds in the lab but hope to test on real clouds soon, with potential implementation by 2025.

A paper detailing the study was published this week in the journal Optica.

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20
Oct

Google Pixel USB-C earbuds review



Research Center:

Google Pixel USB-C earbuds

Google’s Pixel Buds, the company’s first attempt at wireless earbuds, suffer from a variety of issues. The charging case feels flimsy, stowing the wire around the case is a chore, we often run into pairing issues, and the earbuds don’t always have the best fit. They also cost  $159 – they’re still sold on the Google Store — which is the same price as Apple’s superior “true” wireless AirPods.

Instead of taking another stab at a wireless product this year, Google went the simpler route with USB-C wired earbuds that are now included with every purchase of a Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL smartphone. You can also buy them for $30, and all features work on phones running Android 9 Pie or, eventually, higher.

We’re quite happy with these affordable and wired buds. Google has ported over many of the smart Google Assistant features that debuted in the Pixel Buds and make the earbuds even more useful, whether you’re listening to music or not. The sound quality is a bit better than what you get with Apple’s Lightning EarPods, and you don’t need to worry about charging or pairing.

Good sound, open-ear style

Google has carried over the “open-ear” style it used with the Pixel Buds to the USB-C earbuds. If you want earbuds that can block out the rest of the world, look elsewhere. We like being able to hear our surroundings, which is intended with this design, as it helps us stay aware in the bustling streets and subway stations of New York City. There were only one or two times we weren’t able to hear our music at full volume, and it was when the subway was pulling up at the station.

This style also means the earbuds leak sound, though not as much as Apple’s EarPods. They still might not be ideal for an open office where your co-workers don’t share your same indelible love of ABBA’s greatest hits.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The Google Pixel USB-C earbuds also share a similar design aesthetic to the Pixel Buds, except they’re much more miniature. There’s still a loop you can adjust to help keep the buds in your ear, but there are no touch controls. They also look a bit plain, with an all-white design that makes them easy to mistake as Apple’s EarPods from afar. We would have liked to have seen some visual flair here, like the colored power buttons on the Pixel phones.

The fit in the ear is comfortable, and we’ve never had the earbuds fall out — the adjustable loop helps make sure they stay in. Over time, they slide slightly away from the ear canal, and we found ourselves pushing them a tad inwards every now and then. This may depend on how the earbuds fit in your ear, though.

Surprisingly good sound

Quite frankly, Google’s in-ears sound much better than they have any right to given their $30 price tag. Based on their look, we expected a similar tinny sound signature to Apple’s Earpods, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. As soon as we popped them in and pressed play, we found an exciting and vibrant soundstage worthy of actual praise.

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The Pixel USB-C buds punch well above their weight in terms of both musical weight and definition. We were astonished at the amount of low-end these eartip-less headphones could provide. They smack the meaty bass lines from Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and Outkast’s Southerplayalisticcadillacmusic out of the park, providing one of the most enjoyable listening experiences that we’ve ever had on such a cheap pair of headphones.

The high end is also something special, with acoustic guitars and string lines popping out of mixes like Star Rover’s densely layered new single Snow Moving, rather than glomming together in an overwhelming musical clump like they do on other affordable headphones.

We also enjoyed listening to classic lo-fi recordings like Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska on the little earbuds, which seemed to lend a more authentic “listening to a cassette player in the 1980s” experience to Springsteen’s gritty tape recordings.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

If you’re seeking a utilitarian pair of earbuds to throw into a backpack, laptop bag, or back pocket and not have to worry about, we think that these are some of the best-sounding you’ll find. You really do get significantly better audio quality than you’re paying for — especially if these little in-ears were included with your recent Pixel purchase.

Assistant is fast, useful notification alerts

There’s a little button on the inline mic on the wire – just press it to play or pause music, and you can increase or decrease music volume by tapping the hidden buttons above and below. Our favorite feature is accessing Google Assistant, which you do by pressing and holding the black button.

Having Assistant at the ready just a button away dramatically changes the way we use our phone.

On phones running Android 9 Pie, just press and hold the button and speak a command, and Assistant will respond quickly. You can control your smart home products, get turn-by-turn walking directions, ask Google queries, play podcasts or music — basically anything you can do with a Google Home. Having Assistant at the ready just a button away dramatically changes the way we use our phone, as we often asked it to perform tasks like set reminders as we walked along a busy street. It’s great.

Accessing Assistant through the buds works with devices running Android 8.1 Oreo or lower as well, but you need to wait to hear a sound before you start speaking, and in general it’s just not as fast.

You can also get real-time translations just by asking Assistant to help you speak a language. It’s powered by Google Translate, so the results are often a little funky, but it does the job, and it’s incredibly fast. It’s handy if you don’t know the language in a country, and the translated audio plays from the phone’s speaker so the person you’re talking to can hear it.

What doesn’t work on phones running anything lower than Android 9 Pie is notification alerts. With Pie phones, Assistant will say the name of an app when you get a notification (you can choose which app notifications you want to hear), and if you press and hold the volume-up button on the inline microphone, Assistant will read out the notification. We love this feature so much we’ve found ourselves keeping the earbuds in our ears even when we didn’t want to listen to music, just to hear notifications as they come in because it meant we didn’t have to take out our phone. The downside is unlike the Pixel Buds, there’s no way to respond to notifications with your voice, which is disappointing.

You can also press and hold the volume-up button at any time to hear the time and all the latest notifications on your phone. A simple tap of the black button on the inline mic will make Assistant go silent.

Price and availability

The Google Pixel USB-C earbuds cost $30 and are available from the Google Store now.

Our Take

The Pixel USB-C earbuds do not require charging or pairing, which takes away a lot of the pain points we have with Google’s Pixel Buds. They sound good, are comfortable, have a good deal of smarts thanks to Google Assistant, and best of all, they’re affordable.

Is there a better alternative?

Yes, but you may have to spend just a bit more. Shure’s SE112 cost $50, but they offer better sound and isolation. They will also work on a variety of devices as they use a 3.5mm headphone cable. Google’s Pixel USB-C earbuds are limited to computers and Android phones with USB-C ports.

Check out our best cheap headphones guide for more.

How long will it last?

We do wish Google used a more durable material for the wire, as it feels like it doesn’t take much to break them. We expect them to last you one to two years, provided you care for them well. We know some people who’ve eked out years on their cheap earbuds, but the Pixel USB-C earbuds aren’t the most durable on the market.

Should you buy it?

Yes, more so if you have a phone that runs Android 9 Pie. Chances are if you bought a high-end Android phone this year, you’ll be getting the upgrade at some point this year. Check out our guide to see when your phone will get version 9.0 Pie.

Google Pixel USB-C earbuds Compared To

Marshall Mode EQ

Audiofly AF45

Bose QC20i ANC

Westone Adventure Series ADV ALPHA

Audiofly AF78

Beyerdynamic MMX 101 iE

Paradigm Shift e3m

Bowers & Wilkins C5

Thinksound ts02

NOCS NS200

Thinksound ts02+mic

Jays a-Jays Three

Phiaton Primal PS 200

AIAIAI Y-com

Shure E3G

20
Oct

There’s now proof that quantum computing is superior to the classical variety


IBM Research

Researchers from IBM Research, the University of Waterloo, and the Technical University of Munich just proved quantum computing‘s mantra of “I can do what you can do, only better” true. Described as a major milestone in computer science history, the researchers ran an experiment, proving for the first time with a tangible example, that a quantum computer can do tasks that classical computers cannot. Prior to publication of this research, the benefits of quantum computing were mainly described in theoretical terms.

A quantum computer is described as a computer that uses quantum-mechanical phenomena, according to Wikipedia. Unlike a traditional computer, which encodes data into binary bits, quantum computers uses quantum bits, also known as qubits. “In a quantum computer, however, a bit can be both zero and one at the same time,” TechXplore noted. “This is because the laws of quantum physics allow electrons to occupy multiple states at one time. Quantum bits, or qubits, thus exist in multiple overlapping states.”

Quantum circuits are designed with a trade-off between the number of qubits on a circuit and the number of operations that can be performed on those qubits, Motherboard explained. This is known as the depth of a circuit, and increasing the number of qubits, or depth, will increase the computational abilities of a quantum computer. However, because of the trade-off, increasing the qubits would limit the number of operations, resulting in a shallow depth. This makes it hard to prove quantum computing’s benefit over classical computers in the past.

To prove that quantum computer is able to achieve tasks that classical computers can’t, the researchers used an algorithm based on the Bernstein-Vazirani problem. The problem would have been impossible for a classical computer to solve at a constant depth — a classical computer would require the circuit depth to grow.

However, by using the non-locality idea in quantum physics, Konig and his team designed a quantum circuit consisting of smaller, or shallow, parallel circuits. Combined, these circuits are still considered to be a single system based on the idea of nonlocality, and the system was able to solve the problem using a fixed number of operations. This means that the quantum computer was successfully able to solve the challenge using a “constant depth.”

“So as you increase the number of input bits, the depth of the quantum algorithm that solves the problem remains constant,” IBM Research researcher Segey Bravyi explained to TechCrunch.

Still, it will likely take years, if not decades, to deliver real-world results that take full advantage of the benefits of quantum computing. “Our result shows that quantum information processing really does provide benefits — without having to rely on unproven complexity-theoretic conjectures,” researcher Robert Konig from the Technical University of Munich said, according to Science Daily. Konig’s paper, titled “Quantum advantage with shallow circuits,” was co-authored by Bravyi of IBM Research and David Gosset of the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Quantum Computing.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • With Q#, Microsoft is throwing programmers the keys to quantum
  • Quantum computers could break encryption, so it’s going quantum too
  • It’s alive! Scientists create ‘artificial life’ on a quantum computer
  • Microsoft provides free lessons for quantum computing basics
  • The world’s first practical quantum computer has cash and a timeline



20
Oct

Everything you need to know about the 2018 MacBook


Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

While Apple’s higher-range MacBook Pros received an update earlier this year, the entry-level MacBook options are in desperate need of an overhaul. Rumors have been swirling as to what exactly that device will be, but we know the company has something up its sleeve for a cheaper MacBook in 2018.

There’s been no official announcement thus far, but here’s everything we know so far about what Apple’s upcoming laptop.

Oct. 30 event in Brooklyn

Invites were sent out to an Oct. 30 event in Brooklyn, New York. While the invites didn’t specify this would be a Mac event, it’s highly rumored that we’ll see updates to multiple Mac systems at the event.

Chief among these is the debut of some kind of a new MacBook. Along that, we could also see products such as a new iPad Pro, iMac, and Mac Mini. The event will be livestreamed for the world to see what Apple’s been working on in the world of new Macs. It starts up at 10 A.M. EST, which is 7 A.M. PST.

So, is it a MacBook Air or just a MacBook?

There are a number of reports concerning what the 2018 MacBook will be like, but one important question remains: Will Apple be applying these changes to the traditional 12-inch MacBook or the old MacBook Air? So far, we don’t know for sure. Signs do point to at least one of the new MacBook models being an updated Air.

We’ll keep you updated when it becomes clearer which MacBook line Apple is making such significant changes to, but for now keep in mind that these MacBook 2018 updates could apply to either the Air or the 12-inch MacBook. Both are fairly outdated at this point in terms of both internal components and design. The Air brand has been halted in other lines such as the iPad, so we’d be surprised to see it continued in MacBooks.

Which model ultimately gets a big update is an important question. If Apple updates the MacBook Air with major changes but leaves the 12-inch MacBook untouched, it will be a strong signal that Apple prefers to continue with the Air and Pro lines, leaving the state of the MacBook up in the air.

New processors

The MacBook and especially the MacBook Air (stuck on a fifth-gen chip) are due for processor upgrades. The problem is narrowing down exactly what processor the new model will include.

Let’s say that Apple sticks with Intel chips, in which case we have another set of reports that shows the company is expected to upgrade to 8th-gen processors. That gives us a few different options for the newer, powerful chips. On the older side, we have Kaby Lake Refresh line. In the middle, there are Amber Lake chips, which have been reported to be included in the new MacBook model and would make us very happy. On other side are the Whiskey Lake Y-series processors, which would could show up in an entry-level configuration.

If you’re still waiting for Apple to leave Intel altogether, don’t hold your breath just yet. Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, source of many Apple reports, believes that Apple wants to transition from Intel processors to its own chips (already used in many iOS devices), though it won’t be for a few years. This would switch MacBooks to ARM chips with Apple in full control, which may allow for additional efficiency.

Even thinner bezels

Bezels are officially the uncoolest kid at the party, so it’s no surprise to see brands cutting them out. The new iPhone models, for example, have as little bezel as they can get away with as a way to increase screen size. Reports suggest Apple is looking at a similar tactic for its new MacBook model, reducing bezel size and potentially increasing the display size.

This would be especially good news for the original MacBook, with a 12-inch display that hasn’t aged very well. The 2017 MacBook Pros cut down the bezel size, though they’re still a big bigger than on laptops like the Dell XPS 13. Could we see a notch on the new MacBook to leave room for a webcam position at the top of the display? Let’s hope not.

Retina display

Other reports from Bloomberg and Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo indicate that one of the upgrades Apple is planning is a Retina screen for the MacBook. The MacBook Air is, of course, the only MacBook model that currently doesn’t have a Retina screen, which is a sign that a new Air may be the big MacBook 2018 model. This would significantly improve the resolution of the screen and bring it more up to date with the current MacBook Pros.

Whatever Apple has decided on, it’s safe to say that screen improvements will be part of it in some way.

Touch ID included, the Touch Bar left off

The Touch Bar was definitely a hit-or-miss feature on the last crop of MacBooks. We weren’t exactly big fans of the feature, which seemed promising on paper but wasn’t all that convenient in daily use. Perhaps Apple will revamp the Touch Bar for a new MacBook in 2018 — or leave it off entirely. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo thinks that the Touch Bar is gone for good and that we will see a new feature hitting MacBooks instead: Touch ID.

Apple recently ditched Touch ID on its iPhones for facial recognition, but it may want a stepping stone on MacBooks before shifting to full facial recognition there (as Microsoft Surface devices offer, for example). Touch ID adds some nice biometric security without raising privacy concerns.

This would make a lot of sense, especially if the price of the new MacBook is to be on the lower-end. The Touch Bar was an expensive addition to the MacBook Pros that wasn’t received well, while Touch ID is a popular feature.

Potentially under $1,000

One phrase that keeps coming up in reports about the new MacBook is “low-cost.” Without a number attached to that phrase, it’s hard to say how much the MacBook will cost. The cheapest MacBook Air build is currently for $1000, so that’s probably the figure that we’re working with.

Meanwhile, the 12-inch MacBook starts at $1,300, which matches the price of the entry-level MacBook Pro. The pricing scale has always made the MacBook a hard sell, considering how much more powerful the Pro is. Apple could create a lower tier for a new MacBook or just slash the price altogether like it did with the iPad last year.

So, while the new MacBook model is likely to be around $1,000, don’t expect it to be much lower than that. Apple has never been very interested in selling laptops cheaper than a thousand bucks.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Apple preps production of updated MacBook Air for a 2018 launch
  • Apple’s new MacBook Air with Intel’s 8th-gen processors expected this year
  • A MacBook Air with Retina display and Mac Mini “Pro” could arrive this fall
  • Refreshed MacBook Air and iPad Pro are absent from Apple’s website leak
  • Apple could announce a new MacBook this week. Here’s what we want to see



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