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28
May

Recommended Reading: Is the VR hype train grinding to a halt?


Why the virtual-reality
hype is about to come
crashing down

Christoper Mims,
Wall Street Journal

While VR seems to be all the rage this year, WSJ’s Christopher Mims argues that the bubble is about to burst. Mims says that it’ll be the limited content that will ultimately derail the virtual reality hype train, and that it could happen sooner rather than later.

Technology is changing how we live, but it needs to change how we work
Ezra Klein, Vox

“Developing the technology turns out to be a lot easier than getting people — and particularly companies — to use it properly.”

Back to school
John Urschel,
The Players’ Tribune

The Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman discusses what he learned while training with the MIT football team.

Smart tampon? The internet of every single thing must be stopped
Joanna Stern, Wall Street Journal

We shot right past peak IoT, and it’s time to take several steps back.

Peter Thiel just gave other billionaires a dangerous blueprint for perverting philanthropy
Felix Salmon, Fusion

Peter Thiel’s all-out assault on Gawker through legal cases is quite the interesting story, but does it set a dangerous example for the future?

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28
May

Six transforming furnishings that make the most of small spaces


By Cat DiStasio

Convertible furniture isn’t new; most of us have lived with a shape-shifting futon or sofa bed at one point or another. Sometimes, though, a small abode cries out for much more than an extra sleeping surface, and designers have been racing to the rescue with innovative setups that completely transform living spaces. Some reach up, like this floating platform that rises to create a whole new room, while others stretch outward, like these smartly designed windows that double as a balcony. We’ve also spotted a sofa that turns into a comfy bunk bed, and a handcrafted wooden chair with dozens of configurations. These shape-shifting elements are just the tip of the iceberg of inventive solutions to small space dilemmas.

28
May

HomeKit does indeed make the August Smart Lock more useful


The August Smart Lock is not new. We reviewed it way back in 2014, and for the most part, everything we mentioned then still applies. The lock is still super easy to install, and it still works with deadbolts, not knobs. Most importantly, using an app instead of physical keys can still be an adjustment, but being able to control your lock remotely really is an interesting convenience. So why bother revisiting, then? Because two years post-launch, it’s finally been upgraded with HomeKit integration. Since Engadget hasn’t actually tested many HomeKit devices yet, we thought this one was worth a second look.

For those not in the know (this won’t be many of you), HomeKit is a home automation framework created by Apple that developers can use to send data across applications and devices. It means that information from your thermostat, light switches, lightbulbs, blinds, locks and other smart-home devices can be shared using a common standard and with approved security practices. For now, the only way to interact with HomeKit is through Siri, but rumors suggest that the system may soon be getting a dedicated app. In the case of the Smart Lock, upgrading to HomeKit actually means buying a new device; the hardware differs slightly from the original model introduced two years ago.

Thanks to HomeKit, one can control the August Smart Lock by speaking to the phone and saying things like “Close the door” or “Is the back door open?” and have it react accordingly. This is precisely what technology is supposed to do: make our lives easier. Am I lazy for opening my door from the couch? Maybe, but I’m fairly certain most people would do it if they had the option.

Regarding the installation, well, there’s no need to repeat all the instructions from our original review, but basically, you mount a plate to the door, adjust it according to the deadbolt’s brand and mount the Smart Lock to the plate. If you’ve ever installed a doorknob before, this shouldn’t take you too long, and the instructions are easy to follow. I’ll focus instead on the integration with HomeKit, which was fairly painless to configure. Just open the August app, select the option to set up Siri, scan the code included with the lock and… that’s it. After tapping through four screens and waiting a few seconds, my phone was ready to use the smart lock as a HomeKit device.

Once the initial excitement of having a smart lock wore off, I had a hard time getting used to the idea of using my phone to unlock the door. For more than 30 years, I have trained my brain to use a key, and honestly, pulling your phone from your pocket, unlocking it, finding the right application, connecting to the lock and clicking the button takes much longer than the old-fashioned key-in-hole process. However, asking Siri to open the door is in fact faster and more convenient, especially if you’re already wearing headphones with a button.

In addition, August offers geofencing, which means the door will open when I’m nearby. After enabling this feature, I didn’t mind my wife telling me she knew when I got home from work because the door unlocked itself. What bothered me was the admittedly unfounded idea of the lock misidentifying somebody else’s device and opening the door. So, I disabled the functionality.

I’m no security expert and haven’t researched possible vulnerabilities with the August Smart Lock, so I’ll refrain from weighing in there. What we do know is that door locks in general are not safe to begin with. Lock-picking can be learned in a few minutes watching YouTube videos and with some practice one can get really good at it. The fact is, if somebody really wants to get into my house, they can just disable the alarms, break a window and steal my outdated TV. So, hacking the lock should not really be a worry, even though it’s the first question I get asked when I show August off to my friends.

While I enjoy checking the lock’s status from the couch, my mother, who is staying with us for a few weeks, doesn’t find it convenient. She doesn’t like speaking to Siri to begin with, and pulling up the app is a hassle. Also, I wasn’t aware my wife hadn’t been using the back door for a few days because she didn’t have the phone with her. It was my mistake not explaining that the Smart Lock can be opened by hand. After I saw her avoiding the back door I realized I hadn’t properly explained how to use the app.

I mention this to demonstrate that we still have to get used to home automation, and retraining everyone is not an easy task. If the August Smart Lock looked more like a regular lock, maybe people would be more keen on using it.

After a few weeks using the August Smart Lock, I must say it’s a great product. I love it, just not enough to pay $200 to replace a perfectly good old-fashioned deadbolt. It works great, is convenient, and it looks futuristic. I would even consider installing one permanently if it didn’t cost so much. The fact is, I have been unable to sell the product to my wife, who makes most of the purchases for our home.

While doing some informal polling among my friends about whether or not they would use this smart lock, the answers varied. Money was not a huge concern, but security was. Can somebody else use it if they have my phone? Yes, but also they can open your door with your keys. Can August or somebody else use it to track me? Can it be hacked to be controlled remotely? Does it leak information inadvertently? Those are questions that I hope the security community can answer in a timely fashion.

People might be wary of using smart locks because humans have been using regular locks and keys for hundreds of years, and they mostly work OK. This new class of device could be a tough sell, if only because we’re afraid of new things. Regardless, for people like me and you (you are interested in technology, aren’t you?), the August Smart Lock is great because it works as an extension to old locks, offering added convenience. The addition of HomeKit makes the Smart Lock even more user friendly than before. Considering the integration with partners such as AirBnB, I can see a bright future for smart locks, if companies like August are able to educate more people about the benefits.

28
May

Apple Store Worker Says Staff Routinely Get Death Threats From Customers


Business Insider UK this morning published a detailed interview with an alleged UK Apple retail employee that provides an intriguing insight into what it’s like to work in an Apple Store.

The interview is unusual because every Apple staffer signs a confidentiality agreement on their first day in the job, which apparently prevents them from speaking publicly or announcing their new employment on social media, and even bans them from taking a selfie wearing their Apple T-shirt.

According to the veteran staffer – who remained anonymous in fear that Apple would pursue a legal action against them – Apple pays about £8 per hour in the UK (around $11.70) and staff receive no bonus incentives for sales, leaving many unable to afford the products they sell.

The worker claims that although positions in the company’s stores are highly prized, Apple doesn’t promote internally in the UK either, and that staff are prevented from transferring from part-time to full-time employment as a matter of policy.

“We had between five and eight store managers during my time at the store, of varying kinds,” says the staffer. “Only one of them had started at Apple, the rest had been recruited from elsewhere – from, say, Dixons or HMV.”

They did try to fix that with a ‘Lead and Learn’ program, where you train on the shop floor by acting as a manager without being a manager. We had some great people on the shop floor, people who had been there for five years, who were selling more than anyone else. But they were still just specialists or experts [two of the lowest ranked positions at Apple].

As far as I’m aware — and I’m still in contact with these people — no-one on this programme has been promoted to manager. There are other jobs in-store that can earn you more money, but they’re technical jobs, like working at the Genius Bar, which a lot of people absolutely hated because you’re dealing with really angry customers.

According to the worker, Apple Store staff routinely face death threats from unhappy customers, and receive no benefit if they manage to sell an enterprise contract to a business customer worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.

There are some advantages to working at an Apple Store though, says the employee. Staff get a generous discount on Apple products, a 15% discount on AAPL shares, and occasional direct access to CEO Tim Cook.

Apple declined to comment when contacted by Business Insider. The in-depth interview – which also reveals what happens if you come to work carrying a Samsung phone – can be read in full here.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.

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28
May

The life-changing magic of tidying your tech: The KonTechie Method – CNET


It’s easy to hold on to old tech; most was either expensive, useful, seemingly essential to our lives, or special to us at one point. That’s why learning to let go is an important skill to develop, one that can even help improve your quality of life.

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Introducing the KonTechie Method, heavily inspired by expert organizing consultant, Marie Kondo.


Screenshot/Xiomara Blanco

Are you one of the three million people who have read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying?

I am.

Inside the New York Times bestseller, author Marie Kondo coins the KonMarie Method.

Its basic premise is to get rid of clutter by discarding anything in your life that doesn’t serve a purpose or spark joy.

She shares detailed explanations on how to get started (start by sorting through items by category, like books, instead of by place, like your hall closet), what order to follow (clothing, books, etc.), strategies for storing (stacking things vertically lets you see everything inside of a drawer) and even how to fold your clothes.

As I easily applied the KonMarie Method to most of my belongings, I hit a speed bump when I got to my electronics.

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Look familiar?


Screenshot/Xiomara Blanco

What if I might need this AV cable in the future? Do I know anyone who needs a super-cute Samsung Galaxy S5 case? I spent so much money on this 250GB hard drive when I was in college, maybe I can use it again in the future? Does this original Xbox still make me happy?

Applying the KonMarie Method to your electronics can be a bit more tricky, but the same rules hold up: you’re better off without it if it serves you no purpose, or if it no longer makes you happy. The following is an easy, modified guide for applying the KonMarie method to the tech in your life.

The KonTechie Method

Tidy all at once

Once you’ve decided to get rid of your old tech, do it in one fell swoop. Try to get it all done in a day if you can. (Packrats can get away with an entire weekend.)

Visualize your destination

Is your media console a glorified DVD storage for old seasons of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”? Do you want your living room to be your family’s favorite place to spend quality time?

Think about the end goal of this project, and why you want to live the way you envision, whether it’s just an organized media library or a central place to put all of your chargers.

It sounds a little cheesy, but it actually helps. If you realize you want to do this to make your lifestyle easier or to help facilitate more family time, it’s easier to stick to the goal.

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Imagine your end goal.


Screenshot/Xiomara Blanco

Tidy by category (not location)

Begin with the small stuff, like USB flash drives, cables and manuals, then move onto items that are bigger or have sentimental value (like your first Tamogotchi).

Tidy in the right order

This is the fun part. Dump (or gently place, if you’re less dramatic) all of your tech items on the floor in one big pile. Then, by category, put them into smaller piles.

If you have any original packaging, throw it away already — it’s just taking up more space.

  • Cables (cords, chargers, etc.)
  • Miscellaneous accessories (old phone cases, Kickstarter investments you don’t use, manuals or warranties, etc.)
  • Mobile devices (phones, MP3 players, USB drives, hard drives, point-and-shoot cameras, etc.)
  • Big/sentimental items (old keyboard, gaming console, Tamagotchi, etc.)

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Hold every item.


Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Figure out what to keep and what to get rid of

One by one, pick up an item and hold it; if it has a purpose, like your phone charger, put it in a “keep” pile. If it doesn’t, but it makes you feel happy, you can also place it in the keep pile. If neither, put it in a discard pile. The more you do this, the easier it becomes to decipher what to keep and what to get rid of.

Don’t keep things “in case you need them.” Just buy what you need when you need it. If you’re keeping stuff around you think you’ll use again, like an old Xbox or Ethernet cable, chances are you won’t. Dump it.

And, importantly, don’t feel bad about letting go. At one point that device brought you joy, whether it was the person who gave it to you or the way you felt when you first bought it.

Even if it still has the tags on it and you never took it out of the box, it served its purpose when you bought it and were excited about its potential. Be grateful for the happiness it brought into your life, and let it go without guilt.

Repurpose

If you really want to get your money’s worth, you could also turn an old device into something new. If you have an old phone you don’t need anymore, you can turn it into a security camera. Extra tablet lying around? Use it as a remote control.

Do this before you get to the recycling phase, in case you end up making use of one of those extra cables or batteries in your discard pile.

Wipe clean

If you’ve finally come to terms with the fact that you will never use that old laptop, phone or flash drive again, make sure to erase any personal information on them before doing anything else. If you’re backing up or transferring data from an old hard drive to a new one and then wiping it clean, this may take a few hours. Good thing you’re taking an entire day (or weekend) to get all of this tedious stuff out of the way. (:

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If not selling or donating, recycle old tech properly.


Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Recycle, discard or donate

There are a few ways to get rid of your tech after you decide you no longer need it. You can donate, sell or recycle.

After the stuff you don’t want is out of the way, then you can start to organize what you kept.

Organize what’s left

Everything you keep should be easy to find. If not, you’re less likely to use those things often or again.

The KonMarie Method recommends using shoe boxes to easily organize small things (like socks), and I also found them to work well for neatly storing cables, hard drives and other small devices.

The author suggests that if you follow her instructions to a T, you’ll never go back to your messy ways. I don’t know about all that, but I do know my home has never been cleaner, and my tech never tidier.

28
May

5 Samsung Gear VR games you need to try right now – CNET


If you think you need to spend $600 on an Oculus Rift or $800 on an HTC Vive to enjoy seriously good virtual reality (VR) games, think again. All you need is a $100 Samsung Gear VR headset and a compatible Galaxy smartphone.

Make no mistake: I’ve tried the higher-end stuff, and it’s awesome. But I continue to find new and amazing games for the Gear VR, to the point where that’s my go-to headset — especially when I want to blow the minds of visiting friends and family members. (“Here, you gotta try this!”)

Eve: Gunjack

Arguably the showcase game for Gear VR, Gunjack ($9.99) is a stunner. The premise is familiar: blast wave after wave of incoming aliens from your fixed-position turret. Lots of games work similarly, including many for Google Cardboard.

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Eve: Gunjack is a seriously gorgeous VR game.


CCP Games

But it’s the presentation that elevates this above similar games: Gunjack looks incredible, with the kind of graphics you’d expect to see in, say, an Oculus Rift experience. Maybe that’s because it’s the mobile counterpart to high-profile Rift title Eve: Valkyrie. Although it ultimately boils down to repetitive gaze-and-shoot action, Gunjack is really a must-have Gear VR game.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

The Gear VR is clearly a single-person experience, which is what makes this amusingly named title such a revelation: It’s a party game.

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You can defuse this bomb, no problem — provided you get help from people in the real world.


Steel Crate Games

Like the desktop version, it challenges you and a small group of friends to deactivate a bomb. But the VR aspect makes it that much cooler, because only you can see and interact with the bomb, and only you can describe what you’re seeing to your friends. They, in turn, pore through a bomb-defusal manual in hopes of feeding you the information you need before time runs out.

It’s ingenious. And a riot. And the best way to bring friends into the VR experience. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes costs $9.99.

Land’s End

If you’re familiar with Monument Valley, the riveting M.C. Escher-inspired puzzle game for smartphones, you’ll feel right at home in Land’s End ($7.99). Created by the same developer, it transports you to a soothing, atmospheric world of mountains, seas, caves and of course, puzzles.

Even so, this is as much an experience as it is a game. If I can pull a deep-cut reference, it reminds me of the “Star Trek: Voyager” episode “Equinox,” in which the captain of the titular starship uses a VR-like headset to escape to a private, comforting beach. Land’s End feels like that same kind of escape. In a good way.

Please, Don’t Touch Anything

It’s like this: You’ve been left alone in some kind of control room while your buddy hits the bathroom. Your only instruction: don’t touch anything, especially that big, inviting red button. Yeah, good luck with that.

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Don’t let the somewhat dated-looking graphics fool you; Please, Don’t Touch Anything is a clever bit of puzzle gaming, made even better by VR.

What follows is part puzzle game, part escape room. And it’s not easy. But here’s what’s really intriguing: The game has multiple possible endings. So even if you play through once, you’ll have incentive to try again. If there’s a downside, it’s that PDTA doesn’t save your progress; if you abandon the game midway, you’ll have to start over when you return.

Please, Don’t Touch Anything costs $8.99. For that kind of money, seems like you should be able to touch, well, everything, doesn’t it?

Smash Hit

What was already a pretty entertaining smartphone game becomes just plain dazzling in 3D VR. Imagine a bit of Tetris combined with the arcade classic Breakout, then forget all that as you soar through breathtaking geometric landscapes, firing balls to break glass barriers in your path. If you run out of balls, you’re done. But you can get more by smashing pyramid-shaped targets.

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Screenshots don’t do Smash Hit for Gear VR justice. Not even close.

Because you need to tap the Gear VR’s gamepad every time you fire, plan on holding your hand upright for long stretches. A handheld gamepad would be a welcome addition for this game.

Best news of all? Smash Hit is free.

So those are my picks for must-play Samsung Gear VR games. If you’ve tried others you want to recommend, hit the comments!

28
May

Epson Expression Home XP-430 review – CNET


The Good Along with remote printing, the space-saving Epson XP-430 “Small-in-One” can also print from a variety of mobile devices including iOS, Android and Amazon Fire tablets. It features reliable output quality and a large color screen for making simple photo edits before sending a job through.

The Bad It doesn’t offer two-sided printing and the cost per page for the ink cartridges is slightly higher than average.

The Bottom Line The Epson Expression Home XP-430 combines reliable do-it-all multifunction printing and a space-saving design at an ultra-affordable price.

Every inch of space is essential for modern desks cluttered with devices, charges, and accessories. And unless you’re a productivity powerhouse or operating a business out of your home, there’s no reason why you need a giant printer taking up half your work space.

Epson XP-430 (pictures)
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That’s why the Epson Expression Home XP-430 multifunction printer is great for families and students: with a compact form factor and trays that fold into the device when it’s not being used, it really earns its “Small-in-One” nickname. The fact that it can print from nearly any device — PCs, Macs, iPhones, iPads, Android devices and Chromebooks — amps up the convenience factor. And the low price — it lists for $100, £90 and AU$129, but is available online for less — clinches the deal.

Design

The XP-430 replaces 2015’s XP-420 — which we loved for the price — and has a very similar list of features but boosts the size of the color display and updates the ink cartridges to Epson’s new model 288 tanks. The DuraBrite Ultra Inks work to reduce smudges immediately after you print a document or a photo and actually adds a bit of water resistance on both plain and glossy photo paper.

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Epson’s XP-430 is a combination ink-jet printer and scanner with a small form factor.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Like the previous model, the XP-430’s space-saving design is the machine’s main focus, measuring just 15.4 inches wide, 20.8 inches deep, and 11 inches tall (39.1 x 52.8 x 28 cm) when the printer is ready for action: that’s with both paper trays fully extended; when they’re closed, you can fit the printer into a space that measures just 15.4 inches wide, 11.8 inches deep, and 5.7 inches tall in storage (39.1 x 30 x 14.5 cm).

Epson XP-430

$99.99 MSRP, $70 online
£90 MSRP, £50 online
AU$129 MSRP
15.4″ x 20.8″ x 11.0″ (39.1 x 52.8 x 28 cm)
Print/Copy/Scan
4-ink tank (Black, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow)
No
No
Yes
USB 2.0, Wi-Fi, Airprint, Google Cloud Print, Epson Remote Print, Epson E-mail Print
100 Sheets
2.7″ (6.9 cm) Color LCD

The paper input tray can hold 100 sheets of plain paper, but it’s able to accept all different kinds of paper including Epson’s own Iron-on Cool Peel Transfer Paper, Ultra Premium Presentation paper, and more. There’s no auto-document feeder for batch copying and scanning, but I wouldn’t expect a $99 device to include one anyway.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Regardless, 100 sheets is certainly a suitable capacity for the average student or office worker, but small businesses looking for a high-volume printer will probably want to step up to a larger unit like the ET-2550 EcoTank that also happens to feature DIY ink refills.

The center control panel sits within a console that rotates up to view the 2.7-inch (6.9 cm) mono LCD display at a suitable viewing angle. Though I usually prefer printers that use mechanical buttons, I like that the XP-430’s directional buttons have a tactile click so you know when a press is registered.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The front has a memory card reader that lets you walk up and print from an SD card without actually touching a computer. Unlike previous models, however, you don’t have an open USB input to connect a flash drive; if you want to upload your photos, you’ll need to do so by extracting your SD card from the camera and popping it into the machine. That’s not a big deal either, especially now that Epson now offers one-touch photo uploads to Facebook and cloud-based services.

You can preview your photos on the LCD and even make simple adjustments to crop dimensions, resize, or perform one-button touch-ups.

Features and setup

Epson gives you the option to connect the printer to your computer using direct USB (you need to supply the cable), Wi-Fi or — if your router supports it — Wi-Fi Direct.

Smart setup on the touch panel is a two-part process: turn on the machine and click Network Setting, then designate your wireless network and enter its password, and that’s it. The entire setup from start to finish, with a connection established on our lab network (which uses a home-style Verizon Fios router) took us less than 5 minutes.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The installation process also includes a step that asks if you want the system to automatically hunt and install firmware updates, and we recommend you click “yes” when prompted; the appeal of Web-connected printers like the XP-420 means you don’t have to wait for Epson to ship you software updates, so take advantage of it.

28
May

B&O Play Beoplay A1 Portable Bluetooth Speaker review – CNET


The Good The dome-shaped, aluminum-clad Beoplay A1 speaker looks sleek, delivers relatively high-quality sound for its very compact size, has excellent battery life and works well as a speakerphone. A leather carrying strap allows you to hang the speaker from a hook, loop or branch.

The Bad It’s fairly pricey and heats up a little when played at high volumes for long periods. Also, no protective carrying pouch or case is included.

The Bottom Line The Beoplay’s strong design, sound and batter life make it a worthy premium mini Bluetooth speaker contender.

Credit B&O Play for creating a Bluetooth speaker that doesn’t look like anything out there already. The new dome-shaped Beoplay A1 is not only the smallest wireless speaker from the Danish company, but also the most affordable at $249, £199 in the UK and AU$379 in Australia.

Designed by well-known Danish furniture designer Cecile Manz, the aluminum-clad A1 is clearly meant to take on Bose’s popular SoundLink Mini II wireless speaker, and it’s one of the best-sounding mini Bluetooth speakers I’ve heard, though it better be considering its elevated price point.

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The Beoplay A1 charges via USB-C and has an audio input.


Sarah Tew/CNET

While it looks sleek and has no protruding buttons B&O Play says it’s “robust enough to handle the bumps and scrapes of everyday use.” It comes with a leather carrying strap, though no protective carrying pouch, which is too bad.

The speaker has two drivers — a 3.5-inch mid cone woofer and a 3/4-inch tweeter. It manages to play very loud for its size, delivers a surprising amount of bass and is very strong in the midrange where vocals live. That said, like all these small speakers, it does have its limitations, and has a harder time resolving more complicated tracks (a lot of instruments playing at the same time) at higher volumes. That said, it will fill a small room with sound and would work well in a kitchen, bathroom, home office or dorm room.

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As its shape implies, it also doubles as a speakerphone and it’s a good one. The other plus is the strong battery life — it’s rated at 24 hours thanks to a 2,200mAh internal rechargeable battery and an efficient adaptive power management system. It’s worth noting that it charges with a USB-C cable, not a standard Micro-USB cable.

Here are the A1’s key specs:

28
May

Microsoft Lumia 650 review – CNET


The Good The Lumia 650 has a great design and a price that can’t be beat.

The Bad It’s missing some key new Windows phone features, like Continuum and Windows Hello.

The Bottom Line As budget phones go, the Lumia 650 ticks most of the right boxes, but with Microsoft’s phone future looking dim, you may want to pass.

If Microsoft isn’t killing off the Lumia brand, it’s certainly tamping it down — that fact isn’t official, but the job layoffs to its phone business are all too real. If that’s true, then the Lumia 650 might well be the last of its line, and while it’s a fine phone for its price, this likely swan song would end with more a whimper than a bang. It’s hard to recommend a phone from a company with a shaky phone future, but if your budget-phone needs must be met, then read on.

First things first, the 650 looks the business. From the anodized aluminium frame to the bright and crisp 5-inch OLED screen, the Lumia 650 has a more premium look than the flagship Lumia 950.

But pick it up and you begin to realise how Microsoft can put such a low price on it: $199 or AU$299, which converts to £135.70. It’s just 6.9mm thick but at 122g (4.3 ounces), the weight feels so light that CNET editors I showed the phone too kept asking: Is the battery inside? Coupled with the flimsy plastic back panel, the lightness makes it feel cheap.

The screen might look good, but the 720p resolution is a let down in a world of Quad HD displays, and the low-end Snapdragon 212 processor isn’t exactly a powerhouse. Perhaps more sadly, it lacks support for the biometric security system Windows Hello and the turn-your-phone-into-a-PC Windows Continuum. One bright spot: despite performing poorly in our battery test, the 2,000mAh battery actually did very well in real-world scenarios of moderate use.

If you’re set on a halfway decent phone with a truly budget price, the Lumia 650 does give you a solid Windows experience with better looks than most phones in the range. It just isn’t clear how many updates and how much support Microsoft will be able to offer down the line.

28
May

Rosetta finds key building blocks of life in comet dust


The amino acid glycine, one of the key building blocks of life as we know it, has been found in the “fuzzy atmosphere” of comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the European Space Agency announced today. The findings mean it is likely the glycine was carried through space on the surface of the comet.

The ESA’s Rosetta probe actually detected the glycine during one of its flybys of the comet last year, and an earlier NASA mission had discovered glycine in the trail of comet Wild 2 back in 2006. However, Reuters reports there were contamination issues with the Wild 2 samples that “complicated the scientific analysis.”

“This is the first unambiguous detection of glycine at a comet,” said Kathrin Altwegg, one of the lead authors of a new paper in the journal Science Advances.

“Having found glycine in more than one comet shows that neither Wild 2 nor 67P are exceptions,” Altwegg said. The confirmation supports the idea that amino acids are common around star-forming regions of the universe and were likely delivered to Earth by a comet or other celestial object.

The Rosetta team also phosphorus, another key element for life, around 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, marking the first time time the element had been discovered around a comet. Although the Philae lander unfortunately gave out after just a few weeks on the comet’s surface, scientists plan to use Rosetta’s instruments to search 67P’s dust cloud for other complex organic compounds before it eventual crashes into the comet this September.

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