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Engadget giveaway: Win a wireless surround sound system courtesy Polk Audio!

Surround sound is a wonderful thing, especially when you can have it in your own home. Running wires, sometimes across the center of a room to hook up your satellite speakers, however, is rarely ideal. Starting October 25th, when a DTS Play-Fi firmware update rolls out, Polk Audio will offer immersive 5.1 surround sound through its various Omni series of wireless speakers. Products like Polk’s SB1+ sound bar and subwoofer combo will be able to send a Dolby decoded rear channel signal to the Omni S2, S2R and S6 wireless speakers. Not only will those Omni wireless options continue to provide multi-room networked audio, but you can place them in a surround configuration for immersive enjoyment. This week, Polk has provided us with the SB1+ and a pair of Omni S2 wireless speakers for a ready-to-go surround system for one lucky reader. All you need to do is head to the Rafflecopter widget below for up to three chances at winning!
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 a Polk Omni S1+ sound bar and subwoofer, along with two (1) Polk Omni S2 wireless speakers.
  • 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 Oct. 12th at 11:59PM ET. Good luck!

Sprint offers high school students a million free wireless devices

In an effort to help bridge America’s digital divide, Sprint announced today that it will provide a million wireless devices and service to disadvantaged high school students. Dubbed the “1Million Project,” it’ll give kids the choice of a free phone, tablet, hotspot or computer, together with 3 gigabytes of LTE data (along with free 2G data beyond that) and free voice and text. Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure (who is also a founding member of the One Laptop Per Child project) says he hopes to get the equipment out to students within five years.

Specifically, Sprint is hoping to help underpriviliged students who can’t afford to have internet access at home. That puts them at a severe disadavantage when it comes to getting homework done, especially now that more teachers expect students to use the internet to complete their assignments. The 1Million Project comes on top of Sprint’s participation in the White House’s ConnectedEd initiative, which provides wireless internet to 500,000 students in low-income districts.

While it might seem surprising to see a struggling company giving out free equipment, Claure says the cost to Sprint will be fairly minimal. It’s not that tough to offer service to new devices (especially since the company has lost plenty of subscribers over the years), and it’ll also get the equipment from manufacturers for free. When it comes to choosing which devices students get, Claure says Sprint will be working with school districts to figure out what exactly is needed by their students.

Source: Sprint


As the Note 7 dies will Google inherit the Android kingdom?

Samsung just officially ended the Note 7, barely two months after it launched. The full implications for Samsung are yet to be seen, but it’s undeniably a huge blow to its mobile reputation. When Mountain View unveiled the “made by Google” Pixel recently, some wondered what it meant for the Android ecosystem. If Google can capitalize on the demise of the Note 7, it could mean a significant shift in the Android hardware landscape. And it could happen faster than anyone thought.

That said, a highish price tag ($769 or $869 for the 32/128GB XL version) and limited carrier options (Verizon in the US/EE in the UK) currently give brands like Samsung, Huawei and LG some breathing room. But, there’s no denying the Note 7 leaves an immediate hole that needs filling, and the Pixel XL could be a logical fit.

Samsung’s Note arguably defined (and then did away with) the term “Phablet.” The first model was “only” 5.3-inches — normal by today’s standards — but this was at a time when the current iPhone had a mere 3.5-inch display. Samsung also normalized the dual-sized flagship strategy. We don’t think anything of a company launching a handset along with a “pro” or “plus” model these days.

While Samsung is oft-maligned (or legally charged) for copying Apple, it’s not hard to argue the Note was the one thing Cupertino envied. Its success was clearly the inspiration for the iPhone Plus. The demise of the Note 7 today is not the end of big phones from Samsung (it makes many of those), but the Note branding may be in danger. And now there’s a gap in the market just ahead of the holidays.

Enter Google Pixel XL

“Made by Google.” That’s how Mountain View sold its Pixel phones to the world at their Californian launch last week. The reality, however, could be that Pixel ends up being made by Samsung. At least in a metaphorical sense. The Pixel line-up was already imposing on Samsung’s turf. The “regular” 5-inch Pixel and a 5.5-inch “XL” version would stand shoulder to shoulder with the 5.1-inch Galaxy S7 and 5.7-inch Note 7.

Then there was the Daydream VR headset that didn’t step, rather trampled on the GearVR’s toes in the mobile virtual reality space. This might not have been a direct attack on Samsung — most phone line-ups resemble this, and Samsung could make Daydream handsets — but the parallels to the Korean giant’s mobile offering were undeniable. Even if Google was ostensibly setting its sights on Apple.

Pixel, on the other hand, needs every chance it can to get it’s hooks in the public’s mind. The Nexus brand never fully managed this. Samsung might have had problems with the Note 7, but it’s dominated Android in terms of both brand recognition and sales. The Pixel, with its fancy AI “Assistant” and big camera boasts had instant tech-appeal, but the relatively high upfront cost and limited carrier options aren’t setting it up for mass appeal.

Google just needs to make the Pixel XL easier, and cheaper to get hold of. Right now, unless you’re on Verizon in the US, you have to either pay upfront or buy direct from Google (and pay monthly on top of your cell plan). And even with a contract, the Pixel isn’t cheap. In the UK EE is the only direct operator, but it’s available on other networks via one online retailer. Not to mention that, ironically, with Samsung’s Note out of the way, Google’s biggest competition for the Pixel XL could be the relatively affordable Moto Z ($624) from the formerly Google-owned Motorola.

Here’s the big question: Can Google position the Pixel XL at a more competitive price and mop up the Note 7 market? Then address the second issue: getting it sold through more operators. It’s not clear if Google’s exclusivity deal with Verizon is just for the launch window, or the life of the phone (we’ve asked). But, getting more operators onboard seems the most sure fire way for Mountain View to get the Pixel into the largest amount of hands, quickly.

Google’s newly appointed (and formerly Motorola) hardware boss Rick Osterloh proudly told Bloomberg “[Pixel,] it’s ours.” Osterloh was referring to Pixel being the first phone designed in house (albeit assembled by HTC). He was perhaps also reasserting Google’s place in the hardware game (and moving away from the experimental Nexus Q, and Google Glass era). We’re sure Google wasn’t expecting Samsung to help with its goal, but the Note 7’s demise could be the surprise gift Pixel needed.


Scientists want to send a telescope to Alpha Centauri

It used to be that if NASA didn’t want to do something, it didn’t get done, but we’re a long way from those days. The agency doesn’t believe that there’s currently enough value in sending a probe to seek out new life forms and new civilizations in Alpha Centauri. But a consortium of private science nonprofits disagree, and are looking to send their own space telescope to our nearest neighbor. They’ve united together under the name Project Blue and hope to raise enough money to circumvent NASA and do it off their own backs.

The group is backed by some heavyweight names including SETI, UMass Lowell and the BoldlyGo Institute. It’s hoped that Project Blue can construct and launch a small space telescope with a 45 to 50 centimeter aperture. This craft will then be sent to snap images of Alpha Centauri A and B in the hope that they can find Earth-like planets that could sustain life. That would, the group claims, “profoundly impact our understanding of the potential for life to exist elsewhere in our galaxy.” It’s not the only initiative that would send craft that way: Stephen Hawking has put his weight behind the $100 million Breakthrough Starshot concept.

The New York Times asked Jon Morse, one of the project’s leaders, how much the proposed mission would cost. He feels that the whole trip could be undertaken for around $50 million, roughly a third of your average NASA mission. That money is likely to be raised through a series of private donations from rich people with an interest in science. At least, that’s the plan, although we imagine plenty of millionaires get requests like this on a regular basis. Then again, it does seem a bit screwy that our first contact with aliens could depend on how generous the folks from Shark Tank are feeling.

Via: NYT

Source: Project Blue


ACLU: Police use Twitter, Facebook data to track protesters

According to an ACLU blog post published on Tuesday, law enforcement officials implemented a far-reaching surveillance program to track protesters in both Ferguson, MO and Baltimore, MD during their recent uprisings and relied on special feeds of user data provided by three top social media companies: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Specifically, all three companies granted access to a developer tool called Geofeedia which allows users to see the geographic origin of social media posts and has been employed by more than 500 law enforcement organizations to track protesters in real time.

Law enforcement’s ability to monitor the online activities of protesters could have a chilling effect on First Amendment rights, the post asserts. “These platforms need to be doing more to protect the free speech rights of activists of color and stop facilitating their surveillance by police,” Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director for the ACLU of California, told the Washington Post. “The ACLU shouldn’t have to tell Facebook or Twitter what their own developers are doing. The companies need to enact strong public policies and robust auditing procedures to ensure their platforms aren’t being used for discriminatory surveillance.”

Based on information in the @ACLU’s report, we are immediately suspending @Geofeedia’s commercial access to Twitter data.

— Policy (@policy) October 11, 2016

Twitter released the above statement, Facebook (which owns Instagram) provided Engadget with the following comment, “This developer only had access to data that people chose to make public. Its access was subject to the limitations in our Platform Policy, which outlines what we expect from developers that receive data using the Facebook Platform. If a developer uses our APIs in a way that has not been authorized, we will take swift action to stop them and we will end our relationship altogether if necessary.”

All three companies have sought to restrict Geofeedia’s access to their data in recent weeks. Instagram and Facebook reportedly terminated access to their respective APIs on September 19th. Twitter renegotiated their contract with the subsidiary that granted Geofeedia access with additional terms to safeguard against surveillance and sent the analytics company a cease and desist letter on Monday before shutting down access altogether earlier today.

Via: Washington Post

Source: ACLU


Dropbox for iOS lets you sign PDFs, adds iMessage app

Dropbox isn’t a company that makes flashy, high-profile changes to its products. Instead, they’re all about refinement, making small changes over time that end up making things faster and easier for customers. That’s happening today with the Dropbox iOS app: the company is rolling out five new features, with another important one, iPad split-screen multitasking, coming soon. None of the new features are groundbreaking on their own, but they take advantage of some new iOS 10 features and add up to a Dropbox experience that makes it easier for the company’s customers to Get Things Done.

First up is the ability to add your signature to PDFs stored in Dropbox — you can drop a text field anywhere in a document that you want to type in, and you can also open up a window to trace your signature on your device’s touchscreen. Much like the document scanning feature Dropbox added in June, this isn’t something you’ll use every day, but it could be a lifesaver when you need it. It’s certainly a lot easier than printing out, signing, scanning and then emailing a document like a lease or school permission slip. I’ve done that dance far too often lately and would be happy to try Dropbox’s workflow.

The next set of new features relies on iOS 10’s new capabilities. You can now share files through iMessage — the app shows up in the iMessage app area, and tapping it brings up a list of your most recent files. When you send them through iMessage, the recipient will get a little preview of the document. That’s an improvement on how things worked before; you could send files through iMessage by using the share panel inside the Dropbox app, but the recipient would only get an unwieldy link, with no info on what the file they were going to receive was.

Dropbox’s “today” screen widget is also more useful now. Instead of just showing a list of your recently edited files, there are three shortcuts that let you scan a document, upload a photo or create a new Microsoft Office file. The scanner shortcut seems particularly useful; a swipe and a tap will let you capture that receipt you need for expenses before you forget about it and lose it forever.

There’s also a new version control feature for mobile: if you’re in a shared file, you’ll receive a little notification if someone else has made changes to the document. You can then just tap to refresh and see what’s changed. Given that staying in sync across shared documents remains one of the trickiest things to do, this is a most welcome change — although we don’t imagine that most people do so much work on their phones that they’ll need to be alerted of changes in real time. It’s still helpful for those doing a lot of work on their mobile devices, though.

The last few updates are for the iPad. If you’re watching a video stored in your Dropbox, you can now view it in the picture-in-picture mode Apple added to iOS 9 last year. The other, more useful update is “coming soon” — that’s full split-screen support. That’s one of the most important things a good iPad app can offer at this point, and it’s a little surprising that it took Dropbox a year to get there. But if you have documents stored in Dropbox that you want to keep an eye on while writing or browsing the web or doing anything else, this feature will finally make that possible.

Matt Pan from Dropbox told me that these features were the latest efforts to both bring the full desktop functionality of the program to mobile as well as continue the company’s mission to offer its tools to users inside software they’re already using. That latter case is what Dropbox is doing with iMessage and what it has already done with Microsoft Office. Not everyone will automatically find a use for each new tool — but if you use Dropbox, probably at least one of these new features will be handy, and it’s entirely possible you’ll find a few others come in handy down the line. The update rolls out for iPhone and iPad today, and split-screen view on the iPad will arrive “in the coming weeks.”


Sports Illustrated captured a full Mount Everest climb in VR

Thanks to virtual reality, viewers have the opportunity to visit places they would like never have the chance to see in real life. Sports Illustrated and Endemol are teaming up for another one of those VR experiences and it’s set to debut next year. The duo will document what Time, Inc. (SI’s parent company) is calling “first-ever bottom to top climb of Mount Everest in virtual reality.”

A VR documentary series will chronicle the journey of four climbers and their attempt to ascend Everest this year. There’s no exact date for when the “multipart, multi-platform production” will premiere just yet, only an “early 2017” estimate. Time says that this “Capturing Everest” series will be the first VR project from Sports Illustrated that will debut on its Time Life VR platform that was announced in September. It’s not the first foray into virtual reality for the sports publication though. SI used the immersive medium to take viewers inside the most recent swimsuit issue back in February.

“Capturing Everest” was filmed over the course of two months, capturing video and visuals in 360 degrees during that time. Cameras were attached to zip lines and body harnesses to offer a first-person perspective of the climb and the harsh conditions. The series begins in Kathmandu, Nepal, as the climbers head to Everest Base Camp before making their way across bottomless crevasses, ice walls and more on the way to the top. We’re sure to hear more about the exact premiere date in the weeks to come, but for now you have some time to prepare for the virtual journey.


Google’s Project Fi now has family plans

If you don’t use a ton of data, Google’s Project Fi (a cell phone service that jumps between Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular, depending on signal strength) is one of the better deals in wireless. Now, Google’s making it a bit easier and cheaper to use if you have a family: the company is rolling out group plans starting today. If you’re a Project Fi user, you can add up to six total people to your plan. Each additional user costs $15 per month for unlimited talk and text, down from the $20 Project Fi charges when starting up service on your own. Data stays at the same $10 per GB rate that Fi has always offered.

As before, you only get charged for what you use: if you have 10GB of data on your plan, that’ll add $100 a month to your bill in addition to the charges for each line. But if you only use 8GB, you’ll get $20 back on your next bill. And if you go over by 500MB, Google adds $5 to your bill.

Project Fi’s group plans include safeguards to keep your data usage under control, also. You can set different alerts and caps for your group members — so if you only want your kids using 2GB of data a month, it’ll shut them down after that point, for example.

It’s hard to compare Project Fi’s costs to other carriers because no one else really offers a plan like this, but things could get expensive quick if you use a lot of data. But no other carrier offers you money back for unused data, and there’s a lot to like about Project Fi beyond that — there’s no contract, and group members can be added or dropped at any time. That same reasonable data rate applies in dozens of international locations. If you’ve ever tried to take a phone abroad using Verizon or AT&T, Fi can be a godsend.

Perhaps the biggest drawback to Project Fi is that it only works with three phones: the brand-new Pixel series, the Nexus 5X and the Nexus 6P. To make starting out with Fi a little less expensive, Google is offering discounts on the 5X and 6P: the 6P now starts at $399. The Nexus 5X still costs $199, the same price Project Fi has offered it at for a while now. And it’s about time Google slash the price on the 6P, given that it’s a year old now with a shiny new successor out in the field.

If you’re a Project Fi user and want to add members to your group plan, the feature is live today. You can add users by visiting your Project Fi account page online.


FCC fines Comcast $2.3 million for shady billing practices (updated)

Comcast is no stranger to customer complaints, but today the service provider’s practices cost it $2.3 million. That fine will settle an FCC investigation into whether the company was charging its customers for services and equipment that they didn’t authorize. The practice of so-called “negative option billing” charges subscribers for items that they don’t explicitly turn down. The FCC explains that the practice forces customers to spend the time and effort to contact the cable company to dispute the charges and seek a refund.

The FCC says that it received “numerous complaints” from Comcast customers stating that the company was adding charges for services and gear like premium channels, set-top boxes and DVRs they didn’t order. Some customers said they were billed for those items even after they declined them. Others stated they weren’t aware of the charges until they received the unordered equipment in the mail or took a look at their monthly statements. As you might expect, the FCC notes those consumers were “expending significant time and energy” to get the charges removed and request refunds.

In addition to the fine, Comcast will also adopt new policies requiring it to get proper authorization from customers before billing for new services or equipment. More specifically, the company will send out clearly labeled order confirmations separate from bills that explain any new items. Comcast will also allow subscribers to block the addition of anything new to their accounts. The company must also revise how it handles billing disputes and refunds “in a standardized and expedient fashion” and adopt a method that “limits adverse action” (late fees, collections, etc.) while a charge is being investigated.

Comcast says those changes were updates the company had already committed to make and they are either “well underway” or will be implemented “in the near future.” The company says that after two years the FCC “found no problematic policy of intentional wrongdoing.” Instead, the complaints stemmed from “isolated errors and customer confusion.”

Here’s Comcast’s official statement on the matter:

“We have been working very hard on improving the experience of our customers in all respects and are laser-focused on this. We acknowledge that, in the past, our customer service should have been better and our bills clearer, and that customers have at times been unnecessarily frustrated or confused. That’s why we had already put in place many improvements to do better for our customers even before the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau started this investigation almost two years ago. The changes the Bureau asked us to make were in most cases changes we had already committed to make, and many were already well underway or in our work plan to implement in the near future.

We do not agree with the Bureau’s legal theory here, and in our view, after two years, it is telling that it found no problematic policy or intentional wrongdoing, but just isolated errors or customer confusion. We agree those issues should be fixed and are pleased to put this behind us and proceed with these customer service-enhancing changes.”

Update: We’ve updated with a statement from Comcast that was sent to Engadget shortly after this post was published.

Source: FCC


Sony’s ‘EmojiMovie’ looks terrifying

If you’ve ever wondered what emojis would look like if they were anthropomorphized as mutated Pac-Man characters, just take a look at the first image from Sony’s upcoming Emojimovie: Express Yourself. The project, which we were hoping was a joke when it was being bounced around last year, will star The Late Late Show host James Corden and Broad City’s Ilana Glazer when it hits theaters on August 11, 2017.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film centers on Textopolis, a world inside our phones where emojis live. While most have only one facial expression, the movie will follow a unique emoji named Gene (played by Silicon Valley’s T.J. Miller) who can show multiple expressions. In an effort to be “normal,” he teams up with a friend, Hi-5 (Corden), and the infamous Jailbreak (Glazer) to find a fix. The trio will encounter “the most popular and universally recognized smartphones apps” in their journey, which means you can expect a slew of on the nose jokes about Facebook and Snapchat (and maybe a sly reference to swiping right on Tinder).

Now there’s a slim chance Emojimovie could actually end up being watchable. But unlike The LEGO Movie, this project doesn’t a team of renowned comedians behind it. The film is directed by Anthony Leondis, who previously handled the direct-to-video Lilo & Stitch 2, who also shares writing credits with sitcom writer Eric Siegel. And judging from the image above, it doesn’t seem like much thought was put into character designs, aside from slapping stick figure legs and simple faces on existing emojis.

Via: The Hollywood

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