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A first look at Sony’s full-frame A99 II

In the last year alone, Sony launched three major E-mount cameras, the full-frame A7S II and A7R II, along with the A6300 — all impressive mirrorless models. So you might think it was losing interest in its A-mount single-lens translucent (SLT) series, having just launched one, the entry-level A68, late last year. At Photokina, however, Sony unveiled the Alpha A99 II, the long-awaited successor to its flagship A99 model.

We got our hands on one at the camera show in Cologne, and it a pretty nice combination of speed and resolution: 42.4 megapixels at a 12fps RAW shooting speed with continuous AF and exposure. To get that kind of performance, Sony incorporated its hybrid 4D Focus tech with 79 dedicated phase detection and 399 focal plane phase detection points. It’s also got a max 102,400 ISO and new 5-axis stabilization system, so shooting in low-light won’t be an issue.

The A99 II is also well-suited for video, allowing full-frame 4K recording at 30fps max. If you use it in crop-frame, “super-35” mode (at a 15-megapixel still resolution), it can do 4K with a full sensor readout, 1.8X oversampling and no pixel binning. If 1080p is okay, you can shoot at 120 fps for optimal slow-mo. Like other Sony models, it uses the XAVC S format to capture video at up to 100Mbps.

A show floor isn’t an idea place to try out a camera, but we did get a feel for the handling. The camera is smaller and lighter than the original, so with the new grip, it’s easy to heft. Like the original A99, it doesn’t have an optical viewfinder — the translucent mirror is only used for focusing. However, the XGA, 2.36 million dot OLED electronic viewfinder is bright and sharp, and allows up to 10X magnification to nail manual focus.

You can shoot at up to 8fps with live view activated. Based on an informal try, the 12fps burst speed, meanwhile, seems to work as advertised, and it could sustain that rate for several seconds — not bad considering that each 42.4-megapixel RAW file is as large as 50 MB. All told, this camera should be a worthy flagship for Sony’s A-mount series — we’ll know more when we get a look at it later this year.

Aaron Souppouris contributed to this report.

We’re live all week from Cologne, Germany, for Photokina 2016. Click here to catch up on all the news from the show.


Bloomberg: Apple moving forward with smart speaker to rival Echo

Back in May, reports surfaced that Apple was working on a device that would rival Amazon’s Echo speakers. In fact, those rumors indicated that Tim Cook & Co. had been working on the gadget before Amazon announced its speakers with the Alexa virtual assistant on board. Now Bloomberg reports that Apple’s upcoming device is moving from the R&D phase and into proper testing. Similar to the Echo line, Apple’s smart-home unit will pack in Siri and control connected appliances, lights and more via voice cues.

Google announced its version back at I/O in May, a smart speaker called Home. The company scheduled an event for October 4th, so perhaps we’ll hear more about the device in addition to the anticipated new Nexus phones. According to Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, Apple wants to stand out from Amazon and Google by offering “more advanced” microphone and speaker tech inside its device. Gurman has a solid track record when it comes to reporting on what Apple has in the works.

What’s more, Bloomberg says some of the prototypes that Apple is testing include facial recognition as well. After acquiring two facial recognition startups in the last two years, Faceshift and Emotient, the speaker could behave based on who is in the room or how they’re feeling. There are also core controls like getting Siri to read emails, preform web searches, run down sports scores, post to Twitter and control music.

Bloomberg reports Apple tried to integrate the smart-home features into the Apple TV before opting for a standalone speaker instead. Voice commands were eventually built into the remote of the current-gen set-top box. According to this report, Apple began toying with the idea of a Siri-driven speaker back in 2014 alongside the launch of HomeKit. Like Amazon, the company considered multiple devices of different sizes. Yesterday, a device about the size of an Apple TV popped up in an FCC filing with Bluetooth and NFC connectivity on board. Those features aren’t on the current model, so there could be a new option on the way (hopefully with 4K) or perhaps the paperwork has something to do with that smart speaker. Only time will tell.

In addition to a speaker, Bloomberg lists a number of improvements that Apple has in the works for Siri on iPhones and iPads. A project code named “Invisible Hand” is said to be working on a way for users to “fully control” those phones and tablets with spoken commands within the next three years. In other words, you’ll be able to use the virtual assistant outside of its app without having to activate it. An example of this would be asking Siri to search for a restaurant without the need to manually launch the feature. The three-year window may rule out an appearance in iOS 11, but there’s a chance Apple could surprise us at next year’s WWDC.

Via: The Verge

Source: Bloomberg


NSA operative might have accidentally leaked its hacking tools

American authorities are still digging into how a set of NSA’s hacking tools landed in the hands of a group called Shadow Brokers who then leaked them online. According to Reuters, they’re now focusing their investigation on a theory that one NSA operative used the tools on a remote computer three years ago. They believe the operative left them there exposed, and that’s where Russian hackers got a hold of them. The exploits allow users to take advantage of security systems’ software flaws. They can target a number of companies’ products in particular, including Cisco’s firewalls and routers, putting their customers at risk.

Edward Snowden and some security experts pinned the leak on Russian hackers from the start, what with the ongoing digital war between the US and the world’s largest nation. If you’ll recall, Russia is being blamed for several high-profile security breaches in the US, including the most recent Guccifer 2.0 leak that contains documents from the Democratic National Convention.

The fact that Shadow Brokers dumped the tools online just like Guccifer 2.0 did supports authorities’ belief that Russians are behind this incident, as well. Center for Strategic and International Studies cybersecurity expert Jim Lewis said: “The dumping is a tactic they’ve been developing for the last five years or so. They try it, and if we don’t respond they go a little further next time.”

Reuters also revealed that after the NSA found out that its tools were stolen, it deployed sensors to detect whether foreign countries with cyberattack capabilities like Russia and China had been using it. When it didn’t pick up any suspicious activity, it didn’t bother notifying the companies that could be affected by the exploits.

At this point in time, investigators are still looking into the possibility that the operative in question did it on purpose, and that another person might have committed a similar mistake that made the tools more vulnerable. They’re also still confirming whether Shadow Brokers are directly connected to the Russian government. What they’re sure of, however, is that it wasn’t the work of a whistleblower like Edward Snowden and that the hackers didn’t directly infiltrate NSA’s headquarters.

Source: Reuters


Fotr takes you back to photography’s bad old days

Before digital, photographers of all calibers had to be careful, since there were several limits imposed on what they could do. For instance, you only had a limited number of exposures per reel and you had to pay to print all of your images, even the duds that were destined for the trash. It all sounds dreadful, but that doesn’t mean that companies like Fotr aren’t going to try and recreate it for the smartphone age. The app, very simply, forces would-be snappers to be as careful as they used to, since Fotr will print out every image you snap with it.

Once you’ve downloaded Fotr, you’re encouraged to buy a “roll of film,” that’s actually a set of prints that’ll be delivered to your door 10 days after shooting. If you want a traditional 6 x 4-inch, 24-frame color roll, it’ll cost you €18 ($20), while the most expensive reel produces 7 x 5-inch, 36-frame color images for €30 ($33). You have a choice between monochrome and color “films” and a series of Instagram-style filters that imitate the look and feel of classic photo stocks. For instance, if you select BW3, your images will mirror Kodak’s Tri-X monochrome film, while C2 is modeled on Fuji’s Velvia which comes with a blue tint and brighter colors.

It looks as if the mainstream photography world is, at least on the surface, rekindling its love with physical photos. Fujifilm’s been keeping the genre ticking over with its Instax cameras (including ones with Michael Kors) but this year’s Photokina was full of other entrants. Even Leica — Leica! — has a printing camera called the Sofort, and Amazon has launched its own Shutterfly-style cloud printing service. Although, all told, it’s probably still better for 90 percent of smartphone photographers to be able to pick and choose one good shot from a thousand.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Fotr


The best laptop stands

By Kimber Streams

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. Read the full article here.

If you spend hours every day hunched over a laptop at your desk, get a laptop stand. Paired with a mouse and an external keyboard, a laptop stand can help fix your posture and reduce neck and arm pain. After months of testing 11 laptop stands at a coworking space and in our home office, we found that the Rain Design iLevel 2 works best for most people who use the same desk all the time. It’s sturdy, it’s adjustable for a wide range of humans and laptops, and it looks nice. It’s also expensive, but no other laptop stand we tested matched the iLevel 2’s stability and adaptability.

Who this is for

Hunching over a laptop is terrible for your back and neck. Photo: Kevin Purdy

Laptops are ergonomic nightmares. When you’re using a computer, the top of the screen should be just above eye level, and your keyboard should be just below elbow level. This arrangement isn’t possible with a laptop alone: Because its screen and keyboard are so close together, you either have to hunch forward and crane your neck, or raise your hands and arms, straining your shoulders and wrists—sometimes both at the same time. Raising your gaze by using a stand-alone monitor is ideal, but if you don’t have the budget or space, the next best thing for your posture and health is a laptop stand, plus a separate keyboard and mouse.

How we picked and tested

Most of the laptop stands we tested. Photo: Kimber Streams

A good laptop stand should raise your laptop so that your eye level is 1 to 2 inches below the top of your screen when you’re sitting (or standing) up straight. (Do not use your laptop’s keyboard and trackpad when it’s propped up on a stand, which is no better than hunching over the laptop on your desk. Instead, use an external keyboard and a separate mouse or trackpad.)

Everyone has a different body, a different laptop, and a different desk setup, so recommending a single fixed-height laptop stand that will work for everyone is impossible. And if you work at a sit/stand desk, you need to be able to adjust the height of the screen to account for your sitting and standing postures. This means that most people should get an adjustable laptop stand so that they can tweak the laptop’s height as needed.

A stand designed to hold your expensive laptop must also be sturdy, and it shouldn’t wobble or shake while you’re typing on a nearby keyboard; a portable stand must be light, designed to fold up fairly small, and quick and easy to set up and break down—but it still needs to be stable.

Finding comprehensive reviews of laptop stands is tough, so with those criteria in mind, we looked at 38 models and tested 11 with a variety of laptops on a variety of desks with a variety of people, across the span of several months.

Our pick

The Rain Design iLevel 2 is sturdy, stylish, and simple to adjust. Photo: Kimber Streams

The Rain Design iLevel 2 offers easy-to-use adjustability and a simple, sturdy aluminum design. It’s expensive, but no other laptop stand we tested was as quick and simple to set up for different heights, laptops, and postures. Plus, it looks stylish on your desk, with an open-back design handy for stashing cables, and the aluminum helps conduct heat away from your laptop.

The iLevel 2’s laptop platform tilts upward when you slide a knob on the front of the stand from the left to the right; the stand lowers your laptop when you slide the knob back to the left. Though the range will vary slightly depending on the depth of your laptop, the iLevel 2 raises the back of a laptop roughly 6 inches above the desk surface on its lowest setting and about 7¾ inches at its highest level. That range is tall enough to raise a laptop to eye level for most people sitting at a desk, and quickly switching between height settings is easy, too.

If you frequently transition between sitting and standing, and if you’re over 5 feet 8 inches tall, the iLevel 2’s top height may not be high enough for you to use while standing. If you’re using a sit/stand desk, you’ll be better served by the taller Roost Laptop Stand, though that model is harder to adjust. If you’re 5 feet 8 inches or below, the iLevel 2 should work fine.

A collapsible, portable option

Simply pull the two rubber feet apart to unfold the Roost, and push them together to fold the stand up. Photos: Kimber Streams

If you need a laptop stand to take between work and home, or to use while traveling, the Roost Laptop Stand is the best portable option we tested. This lightweight model folds up into a long, thick stick. And though it’s easy to set up and collapse, it doesn’t sacrifice stability. Switching between the Roost’s three height settings is a bit tricky, but gets easier with practice.

A fixed stand that looks nice

The Rain Design mStand isn’t adjustable at all, but it has an attractive look and does the job of elevating a laptop. Photo: Kimber Streams

If our top two picks are too expensive, but you want a laptop stand that looks nicer than a stack of books, the best option is the Rain Design mStand. This sturdy, aluminum platform has a hole for cable management and a nook to store your keyboard, but unlike our other picks, it isn’t adjustable.

The cheapest option: Using stuff you already own

Books work just as well as any laptop stand, and you can customize them. Photo: Kimber Streams

If a laptop stand just isn’t in your budget, you can use pretty much anything to raise your laptop screen to eye level. We like books—except for stability, they’re just as effective as any fixed laptop stand, and you can even customize the height and colors. We recommend using wide, flat books (think textbooks, cookbooks, or coffee-table books) to create a stable base.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.


Facebook’s Safety Check was activated by protesters in Charlotte

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed that the company was working on a way for users to activate its Safety Check feature back in August. During this week’s protests in Charlotte, North Carolina, users of the social network employed the feature for the first time without the social network flipping the switch itself. Facebook confirmed to BuzzFeed News that it didn’t activate the feature and this was the first time Safety Check was used during a protest.

The move to allow user-driven Safety Checks follows criticism that the social network was picking which events were important enough to use the tool. Thus far, it has been activated during a number of natural disasters and attacks in Paris, Nice and the nightclub shooting in Orlando. A Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed that when “a significant number” of users post about an incident and are close to “a crisis area,” they will be asked to let their friends know they’re safe. Again, the company confirmed that it didn’t employ the Safety Check, but rather it was turned on by the activity of users in the Charlotte area.

Thursday marked the third day of protests after Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police shot and killed 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott on Tuesday. Police say Scott was holding a gun and didn’t respond to requests to drop the weapon. Scott’s family says he was actually holding the book he was reading while waiting on his son to get back from school. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has declared a state of emergency for the area and brought in the National Guard to assist local law enforcement. Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts announced a curfew between midnight and 6:00 AM, however police said it wouldn’t be enforced so long as the protests were peaceful.

Source: BuzzFeed News


Apple Watch Series 2 review (as written by a marathoner)

When the Apple Watch first came out last year, Engadget published not one but two reviews. There was the “official” review, which provided an overview of the device’s features and, more important, attempted to explain who, if anyone, should buy it. Then there was a piece I wrote, focusing specifically on the watch’s capabilities (actually, drawbacks) as a running watch. Although we knew that many readers would be interested in that aspect of the device, we were wary of derailing the review by geeking out about marathoning.

This year, we needn’t worry about that. With the new Apple Watch Series 2, the company is explicitly positioning the device as a sports watch. In particular, the second generation brings a built-in GPS radio for more accurate distance tracking on runs, walks, hikes, bike rides and swims. Yes, swims: It’s also waterproof this time, safe for submersion in up to 50 meters of water.

Beyond that, the other changes are performance-related, including a faster chip, longer battery life and a major software update that makes the watch easier to use. Even so, the first-gen version, which will continue to be sold at a lower price, is getting upgraded with the same firmware and dual-core processor. That means, then, that the Series 2’s distinguishing features are mostly about fitness. And if you don’t fancy yourself an athlete, we can think of an even smarter buy.


Apple Watch Series 2 Review

For all intents and purposes, the Series 2 is identical to the original. Apple says the new models are nine-tenths of a millimeter taller, allowing them to accommodate bigger batteries. This was news to me: When I first saw a tableful of the Series 2 watches at the company’s launch event earlier this month, I was sure the dimensions were unchanged. The screen sizes are otherwise the same — 38mm and 42mm — which means the respective bands will fit either generation of the device. So if you’re one of the few who’s already upgrading to your second Apple Watch, you can keep whatever bands you own.

The watch is available in the same finishes as before too, except that an all-white (and apparently very durable) ceramic model has replaced last year’s 18-karat gold model as Apple’s highest-end “Edition” offering. Most of us are likely to go for the aluminum version, which comes in gold, rose gold, silver and space gray and starts at $369 ($399 for 42mm), or the stainless-steel model, which is offered in two colors and is priced from $549.

If you’re looking for something different, a special-edition Nike+ version of the Apple Watch is coming out next month. It comes in four choices of sporty bands, which are made from the same elastomer as Apple’s own Sport strap, but are lighter-weight and easier to fasten. You’ll also get two exclusive Nike watch faces and support for Siri voice commands — something you won’t otherwise see in Apple Watch apps made by third-party developers. Speaking of the sort, Nike’s run app comes pre-installed, though it’s also available in the App Store for anyone to download on any iOS or watchOS device. It will start at the same price as the Series 2. Which makes sense: It’s basically the Series 2 with a few Nike extras thrown in.

Across the lineup, the Series 2’s screen is more than twice as bright as before, with an option to go up to 1,000 nits. But so long as you have auto-brightness turned on, you’re unlikely to see the panel get that bright on its own — not unless it’s really, really bright outside. Finishing our tour, you still have the rotating “digital crown” on the upper-right edge, with another physical button below that. Those buttons each work slightly differently than they did before, but I’ll get to that in a moment, in the software section.

For now, here’s the last thing I’ll say on the “recap” front before I get to the new stuff: I suggest women and thinner-wristed people opt for the daintier 38mm model. Yes, it still looks like you have a computer strapped to your wrist (you do!), but I find it’s small enough that it blends in with most outfits.

As a sports watch

As I write this, I’m training for my seventh marathon. When the first Apple Watch came out, I was unable to write Engadget’s official review because I was on “vacation,” running the Paris Marathon. I know a thing or two about running.

And, as it happens, I also have strong feelings about sports watches. I don’t actually ask much from them, though. More than anything, I need accurate distance and pace tracking, as well as enough battery power to last through my slow five-hour marathons.

The first Apple Watch wasn’t so good at the whole distance-tracking thing. But I had high hopes for this new model, which has its own GPS and GLONASS radios inside, meaning you no longer need to bring your phone with you to achieve the most accurate results.

Indeed, when I tested the Series 2 alongside my trusty Garmin Forerunner 225, the distance gap was often very narrow. One day, I ran the 3.35-mile interior loop of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, and the two devices were off by 0.03 miles: 3.39 on the Garmin, and 3.42 on the Apple Watch. At first blush, this doesn’t seem unusual: When I run with my training group, my friends’ devices often show slightly different numbers at the end of a run.

The problem is, even a seemingly minuscule distance gap can translate into a big difference in calculated pace. In the case of that 3.35-mile route, Garmin said I ran a 10:20 mile; Apple claimed my pace was 10:12. Needless to say, because Garmin did a better job estimating my distance around the park, I trust its pace calculation more too.

That pace gap grew whenever I allowed myself to walk. On one workout where I did walk/run intervals, the Series 2 and my trusty Garmin Forerunner 225 were off by 0.11 miles over two hours and 15 minutes, or nine seconds on pace. The discrepancies widened further when I did these walk/run intervals on shorter routes. In one 42-minute workout, the two watches were 0.09 miles off, resulting in a whopping 17-second difference in the average pace. Throughout, Apple consistently told me I ran farther and faster than I actually did.

The Series 2 and Garmin Forerunner 225 frequently disagreed on how fast I ran.

Interestingly, Apple’s calorie-burn estimate was always similar to that of both the Garmin and the treadmill at my gym. The heart-rate readouts during my cross-training classes were also on target (meaning: in the range I expected). I found all of this was true of the original Apple Watch too.

In any case, because the issue here is the pace calculation, and not whether I ran a few hundredths of a mile less than the watch said I did, the Series 2 could still be a good fit for walkers, hikers and casual cyclists. It might even work for sometimes-runners who just want a rough idea of how far and fast they’re going. But I would not recommend it for someone like me who trains for events where speed matters.

Believe me, I’m just as disappointed as you are. Especially since the distance and pace tracking seem to suffer when I switch to walking. Some of the fastest, fittest runners I know slow down or walk sometimes. Any sports watch worth its salt should take that into account.

Speaking of which, I know I sound like a broken record repeating this in every story I write about the Apple Watch, but would it kill the company to add a run/walk mode? Or interval workouts of any kind — even distance? These seem to me like fairly common, in-demand features, and what’s more, you can find a lot of them on cheaper devices. Anyhow, if you want them badly enough, you’ll download a third-party running app, like RunKeeper, which are often more full-featured.

The battery life here is at least decent. Apple says the watch can last through five hours of continuous GPS activity. Having done some testing, though, I believe that’s actually a conservative estimate. After a two-hour-and-fifteen-minute run with auto-pause and no heart-rate monitoring, I was down to 78 percent. That would have been plenty to last me through the rest of the day and into the evening, and then it was easy enough to recharge while I was in the shower. Just as important, the fact that I lost only 22 percent of my charge during such a long run means perhaps I really could finish a five-hour marathon without depleting the battery.

I also like Apple’s slick-looking Activity app for the iPhone. As on other running apps, you can see a map of your route, along with the weather conditions you ran through that day. Here, though, you also get color-coded lines showing where you sped up and slowed down. It’s a nice touch, but can we get some mile markers on the map too, Apple? Oh, and an elevation chart would be nice. Heck, if Apple wanted to study established players like Garmin, it could even throw in things like minimum, maximum and average cadence and steps per minute. Nike, meanwhile, is known for its cool photo feature. Some sort of picture tool seems like a no-brainer here, especially with the iPhone’s cameras being as good as they are.

I’m not saying the average user will demand all these things, but without them, why would a serious (and brand-loyal) runner like me switch? Especially if you could get a more feature-rich sports watch for the same price or less?


There’s one thing I can’t argue with: The Series 2 watch really is waterproof. Whereas last year’s model was splash-resistant, the new model can handle immersion in up to 50 meters of water. Engadget’s senior mobile editor Chris Velazco took one for a dip on the Jersey Shore, and he didn’t break it. The watch is still “ticking,” so to speak.

What’s more, Apple added two swim workouts — pool and open-water-swimming — which the company said it tested on 700 swimmers of different abilities, for a total of around 1,500 workouts. Depending on the kind of workout you choose, the Apple Watch uses different techniques to track your distance. In a pool, you can program the length of the pool, at which point Apple can detect when you’ve turned around for another lap. In open-water swimming, the watch’s GPS radio pulls in your location every time your hand is above water to track where and how far you’ve gone. In addition to counting pool laps, the watch can calculate your average pace and even detect the kind of stroke you’re doing. That last part matters because it has a bearing on calorie burn. There’s a reason most of us don’t enjoy the butterfly: It’s hard!

Regardless of the swim workout you choose, the watch will automatically lock the screen to prevent accidental “touches” (water can sometimes register as a tap). When you’re out of the water, rotate the digital crown to unlock the screen and eject water from the speakers. What happens there is that the speakers use their own vibration to push out any remaining water. It’s a neat solution, considering the speakers were the one part of the device that couldn’t be totally sealed. You’ll probably also enjoy the retro arcade-esque beeps that the watch emits while releasing water. On the other hand, you might also be disappointed to find that the water doesn’t burst from the watch’s orifices like an open fire hydrant. You might not even see a trickle.

As a smartwatch

The Series 2 arrived about the same time as watchOS 3, the third and best version of Apple’s smartwatch software. And by the best, I mean this is the operating system the company should have launched on the original Apple Watch.

In addition to being faster, watchOS 3 has a far more intuitive user interface, with a revamped layout that generally requires less swiping and tapping than it used to. Now you can press the side button to open a brand-new “Dock,” where you can swipe horizontally through thumbnails of recent and favorite apps. Just as convenient, these previews refresh in the background. So if it’s my Activity Rings I’m after, I can see them at a glance and get a rough sense of how I’m doing. Depending on how much detail I need in that moment, I might not even need to open the app.

That side button serves a second purpose, by the way: An optional “SOS” feature allows you to hold down that key to call emergency services in whatever country you happen to be in. Unlike some other features in watchOS 3, this is one you actually have to opt into to use. That’s probably a good thing — we wouldn’t want anyone accidentally and unknowingly calling the police.

Another intuitive thing: You can swipe right and left on the home screen to cycle through whatever watch faces you’ve loaded onto the device. Indeed, there are some new faces on offer, and you can find them all in a brand-new face gallery in the Watch app. Adding and removing faces is intuitive, as is reordering them and selecting different accent colors (oh, the options there). My only complaint here is that sometimes when I would swipe left and right on the home screen, my swipes wouldn’t register at first; I’d have to try again before I could get to the watch face I wanted. Also, though I like the watch faces available, I wish I had more options. Why not open this feature up to outside developers?

You may have gathered already that Activity is one of my most-used Watch apps. And it’s not just because I’m a bit of a fitness nut. Even on days when I’m not running, there’s something addictive about completing my three color-coded Activity Rings. On days when I forget to wear my watch, I regret that I don’t get credit for all my New York speed-walking.

All that said, there was apparently room for the app to get better. With watchOS 3, Apple added social sharing, so you can see how far along your friends are in meeting their daily fitness goals. Once you’ve sent a connection request and your pal has accepted, you can check up on them by swiping left to a second screen in the Activity app. You’ll be notified when your buddies finish a workout, earn an achievement or close their rings. You can also send text messages from inside the app, with so-called Smart Replies designed specifically for activity sharing (and smack talk). Lastly, the Activity app is now optimized for wheelchairs, with an option to track wheelchair push counts instead of steps.

In a similar vein as the Activity app, watchOS 3 ushers in a new “Breathe” app that encourages users to stop what they’re doing and breathe deeply. Just take a minute to inhale and exhale as you watch an on-screen graphic contract and expand. Though I was annoyed to find that Breathe notifications can’t be permanently disabled, the app did come in handy on a recent subway commute, where I was otherwise feeling irritated by all the pushy people around me. If meditating is your cup of tea, you can adjust both the target breathing rate and the length of the session. If it isn’t, you can dismiss the notifications — for the day, at least.

Meanwhile, in Apple’s Workouts app you, can now assign names to miscellaneous workouts so that you don’t have to settle for the “Other” label. Think: yoga, belly dancing, et cetera. There’s that auto-pause feature I mentioned earlier, which works for both indoor and outdoor runs. (You’ll feel a “tick” on your wrist when the stopwatch pauses itself.) Additionally, you can mark segments in any workout by double-tapping the display. And you can hit Quick Start for your most common workout types — another example of how watchOS 3 often requires fewer taps than it used to.

A lot of the other new stuff in watchOS 3 matches what you’ll find in iOS 10. In Messages, you can send so-called Tapbacks, which let you respond to a message by adding a thumbs-up, heart or other pictorial reaction by tapping rather than hitting “reply.” That’s particularly useful on a watch, where you can’t type anything and probably want to minimize scrolling through dozens of lines of emoji.

Speaking of replies, you also get a “Scribble” feature, which is exactly what it sounds like: You can draw letters and hearts on the screen with your finger. For now, that feature is available only in English and Traditional and Simplified Chinese, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Apple incrementally added support for more languages. Rounding out the list of Messages features, you get access to those animated full-screen effects that make texting so addictive on iOS 10.

Other features borrowed from iOS (and even macOS): a new Home app, where you can control any smart home devices based on Apple’s HomeKit standard. There’s a new Reminders app and complication. Find My Friends is now on Apple Watch for the first time. And, as I discussed in my macOS Sierra review this week, you can use watchOS 3 to unlock your Sierra Mac. In theory, setting this up simply requires having two-factor authentication enabled and checking off a box in your system settings, but I wasn’t able to get the feature to work until I reset my iCloud password. Hopefully you have better luck there.

Performance and battery life

Throughout, the Series 2 feels fast — gone are the days when you’d have to wait several seconds for an app to load. That’s partly because watchOS 3 itself is faster and more efficient, but it’s also because of the second-gen watch’s new, faster “S2” chip. All told, Apple says the dual-core CPU inside can deliver up to a 50 percent performance gain, while the GPU is up to twice as fast as on last year’s watch.

The Series 2 does indeed feel materially faster than the original. Apps load quickly, it’s easy to swipe left into second screens, and the background updates have been super-helpful. I occasionally notice some lag when scrolling up and down; maybe that’s something Apple can address in next year’s software update. Even so, watchOS 3 and the Series 2 in particular are vast improvements when it comes to sheer speed and efficiency.

Though Apple says the Series 2 watches are slightly taller to accommodate a larger battery, the company lists the battery life as the same for the 38mm and 42mm models: up to 18 hours. In my day-to-day use, I found I could leave the house early in the morning — say, between 7 and 8 — and return some 14 hours later with as much as half a charge left. That’s assuming I used the watch intermittently, checking in occasionally to peek at my Activity Rings and dismiss those incessant “Stand” reminders. You still need to charge the watch once a day, but that never really bothered me. It’s not like I’m going to sleep with that big thing on my wrist, so why not just let it rest on its magnetic charging disc overnight?

The competition

The Garmin Vivosmart HR+

In a sense, the new Apple Watch’s greatest competition is actually … the old Apple Watch. The original model is still being sold under a new name, the Series 1, and at a lower starting price: $269 (make that $299 if you want the larger 42mm version). What’s more, the Series 1 now ships with the same dual-core processor as the Series 2, not to mention watchOS 3. That means the differences between the two models are few: The newer edition has a 1,000-nit screen instead of a 450-nit one; built-in GPS; and waterproofing. There will always be folks who want the latest and greatest (or who want to go for a swim), but I predict that this holiday season, many people will opt for the cheaper model instead.

Beyond that, it’s not helpful to say that the Series 2 competes with every other smartwatch out there; let’s instead focus on devices that are primarily as sports watches but also do typical smartwatch things, like handle notifications. Samsung has the $180 Gear Fit 2, which we called Samsung’s best wearable yet, thanks to its GPS, automatic workout tracking and stylish design. The problem? It’s Android-only for now.

For $250, Garmin’s Vivosmart HR+ has GPS, a waterproof design, support for cycling and a battery rated for eight days total or 13 hours of GPS activity. And, yes, it works with iOS. You might also be considering the Moto 360 Sport (now $200), but as we found in our review, the Android Wear watch doesn’t function nearly as well when paired with an iPhone.


The Series 2 is a good smartwatch, but not the best sports watch. I always appreciated the availability of apps for the Apple Watch, but I’m particularly fond of the revamped layout in watchOS 3 — everything is easier to find, often with less tapping and swiping than before.

But considering that the Series 2 is being positioned as more of a sports watch, and that the GPS radio is one of the few things distinguishing it from the older Series 1, it’s disappointing that the pace calculation is often off the mark. Apple’s own Activity and Workout apps could benefit from more features too — things like mile markers on running maps, elevation charts and interval settings. In any case, if all you want is distance tracking (meaning pace is irrelevant to you), the Series 2 will make a fine companion on walks, hikes and maybe even casual jogs. But it isn’t precise enough for athletes in training.

Basically, it’s a very stylish, feature-rich fitness tracker. For most people, the less expensive Series 1 is a better bet, since it has the same processor and OS as the Series 2 and works just as well as a smartwatch. Really, I would recommend the newer model only to people who swim. Even then, as with running, it’s probably best for recreational use. Apple might feature serious-looking athletes in its ads, but ultimately, the Series 2 isn’t robust enough for those people to give up their dedicated sports watches just yet.

Photography by Chris Velazco


Law enforcement may target hate crime by analyzing Twitter

Cardiff University is currently working on a project to let law enforcement scan social media to identify outbreaks of hate crime. According to the Financial Times (subscription required), this $800,000 project is being funded by the US Department of Justice; its main component is an algorithm that scans Twitter to identify hate speech in defined geographic regions of the US. From there, the hope is that the algorithm can look for patterns between hate speech online and violent actions offline.

Eventually, police may be able to use the tool to predict violent outbursts and hate crimes taking place after “triggers” like this week’s police shooting in Charlotte that left Keith Lamont Scott dead. What’s perhaps most notable about this project is that the algorithm will use machine learning to pick up less obvious words associated with hate speech. “It doesn’t always have to use derogatory words associated with racism: it could be much more nuanced, which is the major challenge in the project,” computer scientist Peter Burnap from Cardiff University said to the Financial Times. “We are using natural language processing to identify cyber hate in all its forms.”

Los Angeles will be the first cit to test this new tool, and the goal is to help police peacefully intervene before any violence occurs. It’s still an ongoing process to teach the algorithm how to successfully identify trigger phrases — over the next three years, it’ll analyze tweets in the context of specific events (like the upcoming US presidential election), map them to areas of different cities and then see how those tweets map up with reported hate crime in that area. With Twitter still not doing much to curb the rampant abuse that takes place on its platform, it seems like the Cardiff University researchers will have plenty of data to analyze.

Via: Fast Company

Source: Financial Times


Apple Releases iOS 10.0.2 With Fixes for Headphone, Photos, and App Extension Bugs

Apple today released the first official update to the iOS 10 operating system, just 10 days after releasing iOS 10 to the public and two days after seeding the first iOS 10.1 beta.

iOS 10.0.2 can be downloaded as an over-the-air update on all devices running iOS 10.

Today’s update includes fixes for several minor bugs that have been discovered since the operating system was released.

A bug that caused the new Lightning EarPods designed for the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus to stop working properly has been addressed. EarPods have been timing out after a short period of time when listening to music, rendering the remote unresponsive and unable to control volume, access Siri, and answer phone calls.

The update also resolves an issue that caused Photos to quit for some users when activating iCloud Photo Library and fixes an issue that prevented enabling some app extensions.

iOS 10 is a major update that includes features like a redesigned Lock screen experience, a revamped Messages app with a full App Store, a Siri SDK for developers, new looks and features for Maps and Apple Music, and tons more.

Related Roundup: iOS 10
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Apple Submits Mystery ‘Wireless Device’ With Bluetooth and NFC to FCC

Earlier this week, we spotted an Apple filing for a nondescript “wireless device” pass through the FCC ID database. Apple characteristically requested permanent confidentiality for most of the documents in the filing, including photos, user manuals, and schematics, so the entry largely remains a mystery.

What we do know is the device has a model number of A1844, which does not line up with any existing Apple products. A regulatory label shows the device has two Torx screws on the back plate of the device, which appears to have at least two slightly curved edges. The device has an electrical rating of 5.5V to 13.2V.

Test reports completed by UL Verification Services also reveal the wireless device has Bluetooth and NFC, although Wi-Fi is not mentioned.

Some websites have speculated the filing could represent a new Apple TV, but the device appears to be smaller based on the artwork — although there are no exact measurements for scale. The device also has oddly specific regulatory text etched directly on the back of the device, including a wiring guide, which would be uncharacteristic of Apple to include on the exterior of a consumer-facing product.

Perhaps, then, the wireless device is for internal use. Back in 2014, an FCC filing revealed Apple’s first-party iBeacon hardware, for example, which the company uses in its retail stores. Originally introduced at WWDC 2013, iBeacon technology enables iOS devices to communicate with transmitters via Bluetooth LE in order to deliver relevant information to apps and services when a user is nearby.

Without any supplemental information, the FCC filing will likely remain a mystery. At this point, virtually any wild speculation is fair game, ranging from a new AirPort Extreme to Apple’s widely rumored Siri-enabled speaker for smart homes, although the latter product is reportedly still being prototyped.

Tag: FCC
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