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An unknown company made an actually decent $99 smartwatch

You probably haven’t heard of Mobvoi, the Chinese company that helped Google circumvent some blocked services to bring Android Wear to China. But now might be a good time to get to know the company. Mobvoi debuted its Ticwatch 2 smartwatch on Kickstarter today, bringing its popular smartwatch, which was previously only available in China, to the world. I got a chance to use a pre-production Ticwatch 2 for a week and so far, I’m intrigued.

I received the $99 “sport” version of the watch with a white silicone band. The Ticwatch 2 attracted plenty of curious glances, and my friends commented on its simple, clean design. It has a standard 20mm band that you can easily replace with other third-party bands you prefer, while the round silver case goes with most outfits. Impressively, the watch also comes with a heart rate monitor and GPS built in — something you generally won’t find on other watches in this price range.

This wearable differs from typical smartwatches in a couple of ways. It runs an Android-based OS that’s not Android Wear, and has a touch-sensitive surface on the right side of the face. Mobvoi calls this side strip the “Tickle,” which, apart from making me giggle, also lets you scroll through menus and notifications, control music playback volume as well as magnification of maps on the screen. That’s somewhat similar to what you can do with the Apple Watch’s crown dial.

Although I found myself swiping on the screen more often than “tickling,” having this alternate method of scrolling could let developers program swipes for other things. That would make it less swipe-dependent than Android Wear. The side panel was responsive as well, and allowed for fine control of the scrolling speed.

To me, the biggest selling point of the Ticwatch is its promised compatibility with all Android Wear apps. Despite running the company’s own Ticwear 4.0 platform, the Ticwatch has a compatibility mode that lets you connect the watch to the Android Wear app and install programs from there. My unit did not yet have this feature enabled, so I can’t vouch for how well it performs. But it apparently already works with Chinese devices.

I’m generally skeptical of startups and indie brands who make their own operating systems without first getting buy-in from major third-party players. But I was pleasantly surprised by how well a lot of the little things worked. Every time I lifted my wrist to look at the watch, the beautiful butterfly background I picked would appear and light up the watch face, which always displays the time. Other Android wearables dim and stop showing the time after 30 minutes of inactivity, even with Always On enabled.

Gestures are familiar: Swiping down on the face brings down a Wear-like quick settings menu, while sliding up shows the Notifications hub. Your watch apps are a left-swipe away, while hiding in the left of the watch face is the voice control page. These functions are much easier to get to than on Android Wear, which would require lots of swiping back and forth.

I also liked the bright, colorful OLED touchscreen, which was easy to see in sunlight, and the 300mAh battery lasts nearly two days on a charge. The heart rate monitor is a nice touch, and I appreciated getting the occasional (unintentionally hilariously named) “Sedentariness Reminder” that prompted me to get up and move.

Since Mobvoi is an AI company that focuses on voice recognition software, the voice assistant on its smartwatch is supposed to be more powerful than (or at least comparable to) others. Like Siri, “Tico” was able to pull up weather forecasts, nearby restaurants (via Yelp) and Google results. But it couldn’t handle contextual follow-up questions (such as, “What about tomorrow?” after a question about the day’s weather), nor could it show me sports results or a list of nearby ATMs. Siri, on the other hand, fielded these requests without issue.

I’ll give it to Tico, though: As long as it was activated (whether by trigger phrase or by swiping right), it always correctly interpreted what I was saying.

Unfortunately, my test unit still had some flaws. The watch is supposed to support voice and preset responses to messages, but this didn’t work on my unit (paired with an Android handset). The voice control function cannot be woken up with the verbal trigger phrase (“OK Tico”) if the watchface isn’t active, and I’m still suspicious about the promise of Android Wear apps on Ticwear. The iOS companion app isn’t ready yet either, and for some reason the Yelp app on the watch thought I was in Chinatown, when instead I was miles north.

Since my test device was not the final version that will ship to backers in September, Mobvoi has some time to iron out these kinks. The Ticwatch 2 is cheaper than most of the competition if you pre-order it. At retail, the sport version of the watch will cost $200, while leather and metal versions will cost $250 and $300, respectively. The more-premium metal model won’t be available for pre-order. The company expects to meet its $50,000 funding goal due to the popularity of its previous product, but its success will ultimately depend on having a smarter voice assistant and true Android Wear compatibility.


Adobe’s Lightroom app for Apple TV helps show off your photos

There are already ways to show of your photography skills on your television via the Apple TV, but Adobe is making those in-home exhibitions a bit easier. The company released a Lightroom app for the set-top box that allows users to pull in those snapshots quickly. Any photos that you’ve synced with Lightroom on the desktop, mobile or web are all available to display on your television. Adobe says the goal is for users to be able to share their work with anyone and anywhere, all while keeping top-notch image quality. Let’s be honest, offering a way to show images on the largest display in your house definitely fits the bill.
As you might expect, there’s a slideshow option as well as the ability to zoom in on a particular image to ogle the details. You’ll need a 4th generation Apple TV and a Creative Cloud subscription to take advantage of the app, but if you meet the requirements, the software is available at no extra cost from the App Store.

Source: Adobe


BBC to reboot game-powered TV show ‘Time Commanders’

Ready for some more BBC nostalgia? Following the carnage of last weekend’s Robot Wars (a great reboot, in my opinion) the broadcaster is turning its attention to Time Commanders. The game show, which simulated historical battles, originally aired on BBC Two — first in 2003 with a 16-episode run, then with a shorter 8-episode series in 2005. Four contestants would band together and take on different roles; one pair would act as generals while the other co-ordinated troops on the ground. Throughout the show, a group of historians would analyse the team’s moves and compare the outcome to what happened in real life.

Each simulation was based on Rome: Total War, a strategy role-playing game developed by The Creative Assembly. The British studio will be returning to help with the new series — it confirmed as much on Twitter — although it’s not clear exactly which game will be adapted. (Probably not Total War: Warhammer.) The new series will be produced by Lion Television and shown on BBC Four. The premiere date is a mystery, however you can apply to be a contestant up until September 1st, indicating that the show is still in a pre-production stage.

The return of Time Commanders! Think you have the strategic expertise to redefine history in front of a TV audience?

— Total War (@totalwar) July 26, 2016

Given its long hiatus, the BBC is tweaking the show’s format slightly. Two teams of three will now appear in each episode, taking on a simulation pre-programmed by the show’s historical experts. They’ll then face each other in “one of history’s biggest battles,” presumably crowing some kind of victor each week. Honestly, we can’t wait. Time Commanders was a refreshing blend of historical documentary and game show, with Total War serving as a solid foundation. The RTS franchise has, of course, evolved since then, meaning new episodes should look and feel more immersive.

Via: Videogamer

Source: BBC, Total War (Twitter)


Democrats wants to balance liberty and security in encryption debate

In 2012, the Democratic party platform document (released every four years at the Democratic National Convention) made barely a mention of internet privacy and how it affects US citizens. But that was before Edward Snowden’s revelations. This year, as the DNC kicks off in Philadelphia, the new Democratic Party platform addresses the privacy concerns brought to light in 2013. It also gets into the recent battle over encryption that was highlighted by the FBI trying to force Apple to decrypt an iPhone connected to a murder suspect.

As President Obama said at SXSW this past March, the Democrats will “reject the false choice between privacy interests and keeping Americans safe.” The party’s position is that we can have security while still letting citizens keep a degree of privacy, but we’re still not hearing too much on how it’ll do that. It’s not wildly different than the Republican take on the debate — the party’s platform says it does not want the government to become a “meddlesome monitor” in the tech industry, but it still leaves the door open for accessing encrypted information.

Obama said it’ll take a public discourse to get to a comfortable place on encryption, and the Democratic platform calls for a national dialog on the issue. “We will support a national commission on digital security and encryption to bring together technology and public safety communities to address the needs of law enforcement, protect the privacy of Americans, assess how innovation might point to new policy approaches, and advance our larger national security and global competitiveness interests,” the platform states.

While the platform is light on specifics in regards to the party’s approach to encryption, there are more details on how it’ll keep rolling back the widespread surveillance that came to light thanks to Snowden. The party says it’ll “stand firm against the type of warrantless surveillance of American citizens that flourished during the Bush Administration” and also that it supports “recent reforms to government bulk data collection programs so the government is not collecting and holding millions of files on innocent Americans.” Of course, plenty of these surveillance tactics went on long into Obama’s presidency, but the Democrats aren’t going to mention that here.

Just as in the 2012 platform document, cybersecurity gets a prominent mention. But there’s not a lot of meat in terms of what the party will actually do to make our digital world more secure. The party wants to strengthen cybersecurity, punish those who violate laws and work to build international norms in how we deal with cybersecurity.

That’s not wildly different than the language used in the 2012 platform, but the new document also mentions building on President Obama’s Cybersecurity National Action Plan, which includes the appointment of a federal Chief Information Security Officer. The plan was introduced in February and seems unlikely to pass before the end of Obama’s term, but if elected Hillary Clinton would seek to push it forward.

Some of the plan’s key tenants include modernizing government IT, hiring the aforementioned information security officer, making citizens more aware of the various ways they can protect their online identities (like two-factor authentication) and investing $19 billion for cybersecurity in the 2017 budget. That would mark a 35 percent increase over 2016 budget allocation.

Both the 2012 and 2016 platforms make significant mention of the importance of high-speed internet, but the latest document contains a lot more buzzwords of the time: the dreaded Internet of Things and 5G. The platform states the intention to help widely deploy 5G wireless technology that “will not only bring faster internet connections to underserved areas, but will enable the Internet of Things and a host of transformative technologies.”

The party also intends to finish the work done by the Obama administration over the last eight years to “connect every household to high-speed broadband.” 2012’s document state the goal connecting 98 percent of US citizens to high-speed internet; now it seems the Democrats want to close the remaining gap as quickly as possible. These initiatives aren’t radically different than what the Republicans propose, but the Republican platform calls out the current administration for not doing enough to “advance our goal of universal broadband coverage.” That’s not an unreasonable shot: the US has often been criticized for lagging behind other countries in broadband penetration as well as overall speed.

Another place that the 2016 platform differs from the 2012 document is there’s now one lone mention of net neutrality, up from zero four years ago. It’s just one sentence, but at least it’s pretty unequivocal: “Democrats support a free and open internet at home and abroad, and will oppose any effort by Republicans to roll back the historic net neutrality rules that the Federal Communications Commission enacted last year.” Indeed, the Republican platform didn’t mention net neutrality once, not surprising considering the party strongly opposes the protections granted by the FCC under Obama’s watch. If net neutrality is important to you, it’s clear that with one simple sentence the Democrats come out ahead.

Source: 2016 Democratic party platform (PDF)


Engadget giveaway: Win a complete set of Ultimate Ears Bluetooth speakers!

Summer is here and, at least in the north-eastern US, it’s providing strong sunshine paired with melt-inducing heat. Those vibes have been captured perfectly on Ultimate Ear’s latest limited edition UE Roll 2, which features the “Drippy” design from artist Jen Stark. Known for her psychedelic blends of contrasting color and repetitive layers, Stark aimed to bring oozing motion to this speaker’s fabric. This week’s giveaway is courtesy of Ultimate Ears and includes one of the limited edition UE Roll 2 Bluetooth speakers, along with one of each of its siblings: the UE Boom 2 and Megaboom. These speakers will help you kick out the jams all summer long in waterproof style. Each model has its own level of portability and volume output to fit your activity, plus any two can be paired for stereo sound. Want to get in on the audio fun? Head on down to the Rafflecopter widget below for up to three chances at winning this full set of UE speakers, including the limited “Drippy” release.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • Entries are handled through the Rafflecopter widget above. Comments are no longer accepted as valid methods of entry. You may enter without any obligation to social media accounts, though we may offer them as opportunities for extra entries. Your email address is required so we can get in touch with you if you win, but it will not be given to third parties.
  • Contest is open to all residents of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Canada (excluding Quebec), 18 or older! Sorry, we don’t make this rule (we hate excluding anyone), so direct your anger at our lawyers and contest laws if you have to be mad.
  • Winners will be chosen randomly. One (1) winner will receive one (1) UE Roll 2 in the new “Drippy” design, one (1) UE Boom 2 and one (1) UE Megaboom ($600 total value).
  • If you are chosen, you will be notified by email. Winners must respond within three days of being contacted. If you do not respond within that period, another winner will be chosen. Make sure that the account you use to enter the contest includes your real name and a contact email. We do not track any of this information for marketing or third-party purposes.
  • This unit is purely for promotional giveaway. Engadget and AOL are not held liable to honor warranties, exchanges or customer service.
  • The full list of rules, in all its legalese glory, can be found here.
  • Entries can be submitted until July 27th at 11:59PM ET. Good luck!

Alchema can make homebrew cider your next DIY habit

We’ve seen devices for brewing beer with ease at home, but what if you’re more of a hard cider drinker? Well, you may soon have a countertop option that turns fresh fruit into the adult beverages as well. This is Alchema: A $299 device that takes your favorite fruits, sugar, water and yeast and transforms them into your very own craft cider. The company, which goes by the same name, calls the gadget a “smart homebrewer,” a connected setup that uses an iOS app to help you select recipes and keep tabs on the fermentation process. What’s more, Alchema can make cider in 1-2 weeks, mead in less than a week and wine in about 4 months.

If you’re familiar with the brewing process, you know that sanitation is important. In an effort to provide more of an all-in-one solution, Alchema has a built-in medical grade UV-C LED light that sanitizes the the pitcher before you begin. To ensure you’re adding the proper amount of each ingredient, the device also has a weight sensor to measure how much fruit and other items should be added each time, depending on the selected recipe. During the fermentation process, the gadget keeps tabs on alcohol content, air pressure, and temperature to prevent contamination. And yes, all of this info can be viewed in the iOS app thanks to Alchema’s WiFi connectivity.

The team behind Alchema turned to Kickstarter to bring the product to kitchens of aspiring cider makers. The device already grabbed the attention of the HAX hardware accelerator that helped the company demo a working prototype at Target and Brookstone. Alchema won’t ship until July 2017 for the first group of backers, but the production process is slated to start next month as the company tackles the final design. If the campaign hits the $150,000 mark, the company says it’ll debut an Android version of the companion app after the device ships next year.

Source: Kickstarter


Google Maps’ WiFi mode won’t eat into your data plan

Google Maps is getting a subtle change to its offline and data modes that could have a not-so-subtle effect on your cellphone bill. According to an update spotted by Android Police, it has replaced the “Offline areas” in settings with something called “WiFi only.” The difference is apparently that with the new mode, Google Maps will (almost) never use cellular data, even if you’re outside one of your downloaded regions. Rather, it only connects to the internet when you have a WiFi connection.

The current offline mode, on the other hand, will stop using your pre-loaded maps as soon as it gets a signal, meaning it eats into your data plan unless you shut off your radios. (The current app does let you pick whether you download your offline areas over WiFi or cellular.) Google notes that with the new WiFi mode, “a small amount of data might still be used, but it will be significantly less than while on WiFi only.”

You’ll need the latest version of Maps (9.32) to get the feature. However, it appears to be a staged rollout, as several Engadget editors checked and don’t yet have it, even with the latest beta version (9.33) of Maps (we’ve reached out for more info). Once it does arrive, it will cure one of the weakest points of the app and may convince many to switch from mapping apps like Here, which has much better offline support.

Source: Android Police


Twitter for Android gets a much-needed night mode

White and blue might be Twitter’s official look, but it’s not exactly eye-friendly at night — fire up the official mobile app in the dark and you’ll burn your retinas. Mercifully, that won’t be a problem from now on. Twitter for Android now includes an optional night mode that, as you’d suspect, changes the palette to less eye-searing shades of dark gray. This isn’t a new feature in Twitter clients by any stretch (Tweetbot says hi), but it’s helpful if you prefer to use the official app. As for iOS? While there’s no mention of a night mode yet, it’s likely coming in the near future.

Now on Android! Turn on night mode to Tweet in the dark. 🌙

— Twitter (@twitter) July 26, 2016

Source: Twitter (1), (2)


Report: Nintendo NX is a tablet with detachable controllers

Remember those early reports that described Nintendo’s next game console as a TV / portable hybrid device? According to Eurogamer, they were right on the nose. Eurogamer sources claim that the Nintendo NX is a handheld game console with detachable controllers, a TV base station and NVIDIA Tegra graphics. In other words, it sounds like a standalone Wii U gamepad dialed up to 11.

Specifically, Eurogamer describe’s the NX as a powerful, portable game console with its own display and detachable controllers on either side — sort of like a mix between the Wii U gamepad and Razer’s defunct Edge tablet. The detached controllers can apparently be used for multiplayer gaming (one side for each player) or possibly discarded for a more touch-focused tablet experience.

At home, users will be able to plug the device into a docking station and play games on the big screen, but the outlet’s sources say the console will be marketed with the hook of “being able to take your games with you on the go,” basically unifying Nintendo’s home and portable markets with one device.

If true, however, the report reveals that Nintendo may, once again, be bringing a last-gen console to a current-gen market. Eurogamer’s sources say that Nintendo is sacrificing power for portability, claiming that development kits use the NVIDIA Shield TV’s Tegra X1. NVIDIA’s mobile super-chip certainly isn’t a slouch when it comes to power — but it’s not going to be able to keep pace with the PlayStation 4 Neo, either.

We’re taking the report with a side of sodium — but the console Eurogamer describes does sound familiar. The proposed portable meshes well with previous rumors and Nintendo patents that describe a console capable of using supplementary processors. It also echos reports that the NX would favor game cartridges over discs, and re-confirms Nintendo’s own claims that the device won’t be running Android, despite its mobile GPU.

Nintendo says it can’t respond to “rumors and speculation,” as usual — but Eurogamer claims we’ll know more in September, when sources say the NX will be officially revealed to the public. We’re looking forward to it.

Source: Eurogamer, Digital Foundry


I went on a Pokécrawl and all I got was this lousy Bulbasaur

“This is going to be awesome,” I thought to myself as I climbed the steep grade up to the statue of Hidalgo in San Francisco’s Mission Dolores Park. I was there for a Pokécrawl, you see, but after a week of local news stories and Twitter hype, all signs pointed to it being a circus. And who doesn’t love the circus?

It was supposed to huge. Even within the scope of the current Pokémon Go craze, the San Francisco Pokécrawl slated for last Wednesday night was expected to be a massive event. More than 9,000 people confirmed their attendance to the organizer’s Facebook page, while 24,000 more expressed interest. The crawl was touted as being so enormous, in fact, that it would have two starting points — one in the Mission, the other along the Embarcadero waterfront — to avoid overtaxing the local infrastructure. I attended the Mission crawl, half-expecting the event to be chaperoned by the whole SFPD, given that nearly one percent of the entire city’s population was scheduled to attend. Turns out both estimates were wrong.

The plan was simple: Show up at 6pm and be ready to crawl at 6:30. When I arrived a little after 6, there were already more than 200 people at the meeting point — every single one of them staring intently at their phones. As I reached the summit of the incline, I turned to see hundreds more streaming up the hill towards me, each of them with eyes downcast as they hunted their digital quarry. People arrived as singles, in pairs and in groups, yet upon reaching their destination, many appeared oblivious to the larger event going on around them, instead seeking a clear patch of turf or bench corner to stake out until the real action started.

Some would occasionally scan the crowd for friends, calling out and waving if they spied someone they knew. But for the most part, people kept to themselves or their personal cadres rather than reach out to strangers. It seemed, even knowing that everyone around them was currently engaged in the exact same activity with just as much enthusiasm (I mean, we all took time out of our Wednesday night to show up), there wasn’t much motivation to be neighborly.

That’s not to say people were hostile — aside from that one jackass who accused me of “stealing” a bulbasaur he was attempting to capture. In fact, I spoke with a few delightful folks, one of whom taught me the secret to evolving an Evee into a Vaporeon (it’s all in the name), but for the most part, people kept their guards up.

As the bottom of the hour drew near, the crowd swelled to more than a thousand. The Northern face of the hill swarmed with trainers, curious onlookers and cosplayers as gaggles of local news crews hustled from shot to shot, pestering attendees with banal questions about the game. A few uniformed police officers mixed in with the crowd, though neither they nor the trainers appeared in overwhelming numbers, as earlier estimates predicted. The most the crowd stirred was when a couple good samaritans arrived at the base of the hill with a cooler of free miniature Hagen Daaz cups. And when the clock struck 6:30 pm — nothing.

Nothing happened. There were no trumpets, no loudspeaker announcement, no doves released as harbingers of the world peace that our common love of Pokémon Go would surely deliver. Barely anybody even looked up from their phones.

When it became clear that the event’s organizers were not going to step forward and lead the masses of humanity that they had gathered, the crowd began its exodus. We all had the crawl’s route map from the Facebook announcement, we knew where to go and eventually where to end up. But without that leadership, the event spontaneously and effectively ended. The individual groups that arrived all began to shuffle off the hill towards the Castro and Mission districts. Even groups headed in the same direction failed to coalesce.

I was rather expecting a 1,000-plus person mob steamrolling through the city in search of Mews. I was hoping to see the sense of shared thought and purpose — at least a hint of the camaraderie that people have recounted online. Instead, I saw a crushingly familiar scene: countless people willfully ignoring one another in favor of what was happening on their phones. As the various cliques within the crowd diffused into the surrounding neighborhoods, it became nearly impossible to tell the hoards of trainers from everybody else.

By 7:30, the Pokécrawl to end all Pokécrawls had become just another Wednesday night in San Francisco.

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