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30
Dec

The biggest, baddest, and most incredible scientific breakthroughs of 2017


This past year was at times exhausting, confusing, and exciting; but at least we had science to keep up sane.

The scientific breakthroughs and discoveries of 2017 were ones for the history books. Exoplanets, indestructible animals, unpredictably intelligent machines — there was something for everyone. But not all of the news was so uplifting. Some of the most important findings, like those linked to climate change, were hard to swallow.

From recycled rockets to climactic wake up calls, here are some of the most exciting science stories of 2017.

CRISPR Edits Human Embryo

No year-end list would be complete without a nod to CRISPR, the genetic wonder tool that is already revolutionizing science and medicine. For years CRISPR has been used to edit genomes with little fuss, but 2017 saw the first case in the United States of CRISPR being used to edit a human embryo. And it did so in a remarkable way.

The project involved editing the human genome to fix a genetic defect that can cause severe heart problems. Similar research had been conducted in China, but at the cost of inviable embryos. Legal and regulatory obstacles remain in CRISPR’s future (not to mention the oft-cited ethical qualms of editing human embryos) but studies like these give evidence for it’s potential.

Lambs are Kept Alive in Baby Biobags

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia / Nature Communications

And the award for the most oddly adorable biotech story of the year goes to: lamb biobags. Conducted by physicians at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the research saw premature lambs placed into fluid-filled plastic bags designed to mimic the environment of the womb. The results showed that these “critically premature” babies could be kept alive for up to six weeks. Moving forward the researchers hope to conduct preclinical animal trials before potentially using the biobags for human babies.

Bionic Skin Takes Us One Step Closer to Cyborgism

We know, we know — 3D printing is so 2015. Or what it 2016? Either way, this past year saw a handful of 3D printing breakthroughs that make it well worth a revisit. Not least of these was a prototype of a 3D bioprinter capable of mass-producing human skin. In the short term expect this tech to be limited things like testing new compounds, but in the long term the researchers hope their device could print skin transplants for victims of burn or skin problems. That is, once regulatory agencies give the go-ahead.

SpaceX Rocket Re-launch

SpaceX

To say SpaceX had an exciting year would be a huge understatement. On the heels of a successful but less than stellar 2016, which saw its fair share of explosions, Musk and co entered 2017 with their heads held high. And in March, SpaceX completed a re-launch and re-landing of a recycled rocket, marking the first successful re-flight of an orbital class rocket.

Huge Haul of Habitable Exoplanets

When NASA told the world it had exciting exoplanet news to announce in February, few would have guessed that the agency had discovered not one but three potentially habitable exoplanets in a nearby solar system. Discovered around an ultra-cool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1, the three habitable-zone planets were announced alongside four more exoplanets just outside of the star’s habitable zone. NASA also agency released a 360-degree virtual reality look at what it might be like to stand on the surface of one of those planets.

Neutron Stars Shake Space-Time

This was, without a doubt, the most space-time rippling discovery of the year. Albert Einstein’s long sought after gravitational waves were first confirmed in 2016, but it wasn’t until August of this year that researchers confirmed the collision of two distant neutron stars, which created a massive explosion that literally shook the fabric of space and time. The event made gravitational waves the most talked about scientific topic, and was called the scientific breakthrough of the year by the journal Science.

AlphaGo is Back and Better Than Ever

It took just four games for a machine to challenge what we thought we knew about artificial intelligence. When Google’s program AlphaGo defeated a top Go player last year, even AI experts were stunned. They thought it would take AI at least another decade to achieve such a feat.

But this October, a few months after AlphaGo “retired,” DeepMind revealed that its newer, shinier, and smarter program, AlphaGo Zero, had been trouncing players without their knowledge. Amazingly, AlphaGo Zero managed to learn Go from scratch, knowing nothing but the rules and creating its own knowledge along the way. After just three days of self-playing, Zero was able to beat its predecessor 100 games to none.

Another Climate Change Wakeup Call

Let’s face it — climate change is exciting, just not in a good way. More of an anxiety-inducing kind of way. We’re fascinated and frightened by its power to destroy. There were a lot of important climate science findings this year, but perhaps the most illuminating was a review by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which found that 2016 was the warmest year globally since records were first kept in 1880. The facts are in. Climate change is not a Chinese hoax. It’s an inconvenient truth in an age of fake news.

An Indestructible Animal

Sebastian Kaulitzki/123RF

You know who else doesn’t care about climate change? Tardigrades. Not because they’re in denial but because they’re practically indestructible. Thanks to researchers from Harvard and Oxford, tardigrades, aka “water bears,” aka “moss piglets” are the ultimate survivors. Come hell or high water, these little guys may be Earth’s last living creatures. At least until the Sun swallows our planet in 10 billion years or so.

Editors’ Recommendations

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  • Digital Trends looks back on its favorite games of 2017
  • Scientists hope their latest alien invitation won’t trigger an invasion of Earth




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30
Dec

This 11-year-old on a mission to Mars is 2018’s ‘American Girl of the Year’


On January 1, the doll company American Girl will release its newest “Girl of the Year,” an 11-year-old Chilean girl named Luciana Vega, who dreams of being the first person to set foot on Mars. The 18-inch-tall doll is the newest addition to the line of collectibles, and she comes with her own authentic NASA spacesuit and other accessories.

The Girl of the Year dolls are a wildly popular series aimed at preteen girls, and the 2018 version may be the most sought-after yet. American Girl has been releasing dolls with elaborate backstories since 1986, and it began the “Girl of the Year” series in 2001. In a statement announcing the release, American Girl said the dolls are meant to be inspiring characters that motivate tomorrow’s leaders.

“Luciana is a role model for today’s girls — empowering them to defy stereotypes, and embrace risks that will teach them about failure and success as they chart their own course in life — whatever the goal,” said company president Katy Dickson.

The new doll was revealed on Good Morning America to a horde of excited girls clad in Space Camp jumpsuits. “Luciana is our first character that’s really immersed in STEM,” said designer Rebecca Dekuiper. “We’ve had STEM products before, but we really wanted to do a whole character to show girls that STEM is cool.”

American Girl got a big boost from NASA for its latest creation as well. A four-member advisory board, including astronaut Dr. Megan McArthur Behnken, assisted with the development process. She hopes the doll will help inspire young women to pursue STEM careers.

“I was able to follow Lucy through all of her story and adventures, and provide feedback from an astronaut’s perspective on the authenticity of her story and the activities that she participated in,” Behnken said. “I’ve been in space and fixed the Hubble space telescope, so I have some perspective on how we use robotics, how we train for robotics.”

A companion book series written by Erin Teague chronicles Luciana’s journey through Space Camp in Alabama to astronaut trainee. American Girl is also joining a partnership to fund Blast Off to Discovery, an educational series for third- though fifth-grade students that includes lesson plans and classroom activities.

Luciana is available for $115, and additional accessories include her space suit and a Martian habitat.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Here are the names and achievements behind this year’s Nobel Prizes in Science
  • Time Magazine just named a hashtag as the Person of the Year (sort of)
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  • Long live the black box! How ThinkPads have thrived for 25 years
  • Production on ‘House of Cards’ will resume early next year without Kevin Spacey




30
Dec

Xbox party chat arrives on iOS in beta


You no longer need an Android phone if you want to join in Xbox party chats when you’re away from your console — Microsoft has introduced party chat to the beta Xbox app for iOS. If you’ve been accepted into the program (you have to sign up first), you can keep up with your teammates’ voice conversations from your iPhone or iPad while you’re racing home to join them in a multiplayer match.

There’s no word on when party chat will reach polished versions of the Xbox mobile app, although beta testing suggests it’s more a matter of weeks than months. Whenever it does arrive, it’ll be good news for gamers who don’t want their chats confined to the living room.

Via: OnMSFT, Windows Central

Source: Xbox App Beta signup

30
Dec

State Department releases emails from Clinton aide Huma Abedin


Like it or not, the Hillary Clinton email saga isn’t over yet. The US State Department has released about 2,800 emails and other documents from former Clinton aide Huma Abedin that were found on the laptop of her soon-to-be-former husband Anthony Weiner. The disclosure is a response to a 2015 Freedom of Information Act request from Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group that has been hoping to use the presence of classified emails from personal accounts as evidence of lawbreaking by Abedin and Clinton. Most of the messages (covering January 2009 to February 2013) are unclassified, though a handful have been redacted at least in part.

Five of Abedin’s messages were deemed classified and discussed Middle Eastern affairs, including a call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a deal with talks between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization and chats with the UAE’s foreign minister. The least redacted message discussed a call to Saudi Arabia’s Prince Saud al-Faisal in 2010 about WikiLeaks’ then-looming release of documents from Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning.

Whether or not anything results from publishing the emails is another matter. While Judicial Watch has demanded a formal investigation, the FBI has stated more than once that it doesn’t intend to press charges over the Clinton email probe despite calling her handling of messages “extremely careless.” The newly published messages increase the transparency surrounding what happened, but they don’t fundamentally change the narrative — it might take a change of heart or a political vote (Republicans have continued to call for a special investigation) to prompt formal legal action.

Via: Political

Source: Department of State FOIA

30
Dec

Apple Makes $29 Battery Replacements Available Immediately for iPhone 6 and Later


Apple today announced it is making its reduced $29 battery replacements available immediately for iPhone 6 and later.

Apple previously said it would offer the cheaper battery replacements in late January, but it has removed that timeframe from its letter to customers, and has confirmed immediate availability in a statement to TechCrunch.

We expected to need more time to be ready, but we are happy to offer our customers the lower pricing right away. Initial supplies of some replacement batteries may be limited.

Apple normally charges $79 for out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacements, but it reduced the price by $50 following a wave of controversy over its process of dynamically managing the peak performance of some older iPhone models with degraded batteries to prevent unexpected shutdowns.

Given a lack of nuance in some mainstream coverage, some headlines have fueled speculation that Apple artificially slows down older iPhones to drive customers to upgrade to newer models, but the actual issue was Apple’s lack of transparency about the power management changes it made starting in iOS 10.2.1.

Apple said it will release an iOS update in early 2018 with new features that give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance. It’s unclear if Apple will ever let customers opt out of the power management process.

Apple said the cheaper iPhone battery replacements will be available worldwide through December 2018, and it will share more details soon.

Related Roundups: iPhone 7, iPhone SEBuyer’s Guide: iPhone 8 (Buy Now), iPhone SE (Don’t Buy), iPhone 8 (Buy Now)
Discuss this article in our forums

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30
Dec

Wi-Fi wherever you go: Here’s how to set up a hot spot on Android and iOS


Wi-Fi is becoming increasingly popular, but it’s still not everywhere. As Wi-Fi is still evolving, and since it’s not everywhere yet, there are going to be times when you pull out your laptop and search for a Wi-Fi network, only to find that there’s no open connection in sight. What do you do in those moments? Well, you could use your phone instead of your laptop — or you could use your phone to create a Wi-Fi hot spot that you can connect to with your laptop.

Now, before we dive into exactly how to set up a hot spot, a word of warning: Using your phone as a Wi-Fi hot spot, if supported by your carrier, could eat up a lot of data. If you don’t have an unlimited data plan, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on exactly how much you’re using, especially if you’re doing things like streaming video, torrenting, or gaming. That’s if your plan supports Wi-Fi hot spots. You’ll also want to check with your carrier if it does.

Assuming you’re ready to use data and your plan supports creating a Wi-Fi hot spot, here’s how to enable one. We’ll start with Android, but iOS users can simply skip to the iOS section.

How to create a Wi-Fi hot spot on Android

Creating a Wi-Fi hot spot on Android is super easy, as is turning it off after you’re done using it. If you have a power outlet available to you, it’s a good idea to plug your phone in before you create the hot spot — being used as a Wi-Fi hot spot can draw a lot of power from your battery. If you have an Android device, simply follow these instructions to create a Wi-Fi hot spot.

Open the Settings app.
Press the Network & Internet option.
Press the hot spot & tethering option.
Toggle the switch next to Wi-Fi hot spot to on.
Tap Set up Wi-Fi hot spot to manage name and password settings for your hot spot.

After that’s done, you should be able to find the Wi-Fi network from your other devices. When you’re done, simply follow the instructions again and toggle the switch in step 4 back to the off position.

How to create a Wi-Fi hot spot on iOS

Apple makes creating a Wi-Fi hot spot on your iPhone pretty easy too. As we mentioned in the Android section, it’s a good idea to plug your phone in to a power outlet to ensure it doesn’t run out of battery. If you’re using an iPhone running iOS 11, here’s how to create a Wi-Fi hot spot.

Open the Settings app.
Tap Personal hot spot.
Switch the slider next to Personal hot spot to the on position.
From that same screen you can edit your Wi-Fi password.

After that’s done, you should be able to access your Wi-Fi hot spot. When you’re done, simply follow the instructions again and switch the slider in step 3 back to the off position to turn off the Wi-Fi network.

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  • Scientists create unpowered 3D-printed objects that can communicate via Wi-Fi




30
Dec

Google Calendar: Everything you need to know!


Everything you need to know about Google Calendar.

google-calendar-events-hero.jpg?itok=eUR

Google Calendar is an amazing and useful app because it’s more than that — it’s a cross-platform service that is as elegant as it is versatile.

It starts by being pre-loaded on your Android phone, tablet or Chromebook, and it goes from there. It’s on the web, and it’s on iOS. You can use it by yourself or share it with others. You can even subscribe to public calendars that are separate but perfectly integrated into your own. And the best part is that it syncs seamlessly in the Google Cloud, so you never have to worry that you’ve lost something.

How to add events and reminders

Google Calendar allows you to easily keep track of your busy schedule. With events and reminders, you can ensure that you never forget the important days, no matter how busy you get. We’re here to show you how to do it all the right way.

How to add events and reminders to Google Calendar for Android

How to change your Google Calendar view, the color of events, and return to today’s date

Google Calendar is one of the easiest ways to keep track of all the moving parts in your life, from upcoming birthdays to meetings you need to attend. Now the default view on Calendar will show you your schedule, and what you’ve got coming up next. Sometimes you want to check on things further out on your schedule, though, and for that you may want to change your calendar view.

That includes changing the color of events so that they pop out when you take a quick look at your schedule. We’ve also got the details on quickly returning to today’s date with just a tap, so you can ensure you’re always looking in the right place. Thankfully Google has made this really easy, and we’ve got all the details.

How to change your Google Calendar view, the color of events, and return to today’s date

How to add a goal

google-calendar-goals-setup-exercise.jpg

Plenty of us already use Google Calendar to keep track of the many different parts of our lives. On top of making events and reminders you can also set goals for yourself. These include goals for exercising, work, friends, and plenty more. We’ve got the details for you here on how to set one up.

How to add a goal to Google Calendar

It’s the best calendar app out there

We love Android because it offers alternatives to the apps built into your phone. But what if Google Calendar is the best calendar app? That’s what we determined when we pitted it against a bunch of third-party alternatives in our Best Calendar App roundup. Do you agree?

The best Calendar apps for Android

Google Calendar on the desktop is now more Material… and beautiful

Google-Calendar-Desktop-Update-2017_0.jp

If you’ve been digging the fact that Google Calendar on Android looks so good, and dreading using it on desktop for its old, non-Material workflow, you’re in luck — Google Calendar on the desktop now looks like its mobile counterpart!

Google Calendar’s Material Design refresh on desktop is officially rolling out

Want to see more?

How do you use Google Calendar? Is it an essential part of your daily routine? Let us know in the comments below!

30
Dec

Google Photos is the best gift you can give your family this year


The holidays are a time for taking lots of photos. Make sure you know how to keep them all safe!

Whether you’re out with your friends or spending time with your family unwrapping presents, there’s a good chance you’ll be taking a lot of photos this holiday season. But there’s also the chance that someone has a bit too much eggnog, breaks their phone, and — poof — there go your fun new memories. That’s why this year might finally be the time to get your family on board with Google Photos.

Backing up your photos has never been easier. Once you set up Google Photos, it works in the background to automatically upload your shots to the cloud as you take them. The best part is that it’s not just limited to Android users. Google Photos is also available on iOS, and its unlimited storage option gives it a big advantage over iCloud.

Setting up Google Photos

google-photos-honor-view-10.jpg?itok=j_t

Setting up Google Photos is as easy as opening the app and tapping Done during the initial prompt. By default, the app will upload your images at a slightly reduced quality, offering free unlimited storage, but if you prefer to keep your memories in full resolution, just jump into the Back Up and Sync settings and adjust the Upload Size. Keep in mind that full-res uploads count against your Google Drive storage.

From the Back Up and Sync settings, you can also decide whether you want your photos to upload over the cellular network or through Wi-Fi only. The former ensures that your photos are safely backed up almost immediately after you take them, but of course, it comes at the cost of running up your carrier data plan. If you’re blessed with unlimited data, flip on cellular backups and shoot away!

Google Photos: Everything you need to know!

Finding your photos later

google-photos-people-pets.jpg?itok=c-J94

One of the best parts of Google Photos is its ability to automatically sort your photos by people, places, and even objects in the shot. This is a great way to quickly find that awesome picture you took of your niece opening her favorite present so you can show the rest of the family.

At the top of the Albums tab is a horizontally scrolling list of features Google’s AI service was able to detect in your photos. Tap People & Pets to find thumbnails of all of your friends and photo subjects, linking to every photo and video you’ve taken of them. From within an individual person’s collection, you can add a name, change the featured photo used in the thumbnail, or remove erroneous results.

Similarly, Places utilizes geotagging to sort your photos by cities, counties, or even specific points of interest like universities or malls. The Things category uses the same machine learning as People & Pets to detect objects and scenarios like dogs and cats, skyscrapers, selfies, concerts, etc. Just like with People & Pets, you can remove results, but you might be surprised by the accuracy of the software.

Turning your photos into gifts

google-photo-book.jpg?itok=RlBECwS2

On top of cataloging your memories, Google Photos also lets you immortalize them by creating personalized Photo Books. You can choose up to 100 images from your Google Photos library, organize them any way you wish, and customize the cover and spine. The Photo Books are made using high-quality prints, and make for excellent holiday gifts.

Photo Books

Start the holiday season right

Google Photos makes it so easy to back up your pictures that anyone can do it, regardless of their level of experience with a smartphone. This holiday season, take the time to help your family members set up Google Photos and protect them from losing important shots — lasting memories are the gifts that keep on giving.

30
Dec

4 tips for getting the most battery life out of your Huawei Watch 2


huawei-watch-2-face-on-55u0.jpg?itok=y6E

The Huawei Watch 2 is one of the best Android Wear watches currently available, and it manages surprisingly good endurance out of its 420mAh battery. Still, for heavy users who are constantly checking notifications and flipping through apps, it might not be enough to last through a busy work day. Here are a few tips on how to make the most of the Huawei Watch 2’s battery.

Turn down your brightness

This one’s pretty obvious, but the brighter your display, the faster your battery will drain. In most cases, the Huawei Watch 2 can handle automatic brightness adjustment on its own, but particularly if you’re in a dark room, you might benefit from manually dimming the display.

To do this, just swipe down from the watch face and jump into the settings. Tap Display, then Adjust brightness, and choose any level from 1 to 5. Even in fairly bright rooms, the lowest setting can be enough, but keep in mind that switching away from auto brightness can lead to added hassle once you step out into direct sunlight.

Use a black watch face

The Huawei Watch 2 features an AMOLED display, which can be a huge advantage when it comes to battery life. Unlike LCD displays, which emit light evenly across the entire panel, AMOLED displays can achieve perfect black by simply not backlighting black pixels. In other words, the more black pixels being used, the less power it takes to display it.

The Huawei Watch 2 already takes advantage of this with its always-on display, but you can further the benefits by using a primarily black watch face. The pre-installed Elements Digital watch face offers options for a black background with either blue or green elements, but if that’s not your style it’s easy enough to download other watch faces from the Play Store.

Turn off always-on display

Those power savings we just talked about when using a black watch face? They come in handy for always-on display mode too, but while it’s helpful to only display a few elements on the screen, an even better way to cut back on battery drain is to turn off the always-on display altogether.

From the watch face, access the Settings app by swiping down and tapping the corresponding icon. Tap Display, then scroll to the bottom of the list and tap Always-on screen. Make sure the blue dot within the circle to the left turns grey, indicating that the feature has been disabled.

In a pinch? Use Theater Mode

If your battery percentage has reached the single digits, you can turn on Theater Mode as a last-ditch effort. Theater Mode conserves power by muting notifications, turning off the display, and basically turning off the entire watch — turned back on by hitting the power button.

To enable Theater Mode, swipe down from the watch face and tap the box with the diagonal line through it. The Watch 2 will instruct you to press the power button in order to disable the mode, then the display will turn off. Keep in mind that while leaving the display off will minimize power consumption, Theater Mode won’t stop battery drain completely — the watch still needs to carry out background tasks like maintaining its Bluetooth connection.

Android Wear

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30
Dec

Blunders and blockbusters from the biggest names in tech


In many ways, the world in 2016 was defined by its mistakes. Companies let products languish, and when they did release updates, they often made questionable design choices. And of course, one of Samsung’s most important phones literally went up in smoke. This year was a different story though. Some previous offenders learned their lesson while others set themselves up for success down the road. Not that everything was rosy. There were plenty of errors along the way, including glitchy products and misguided strategies. With that in mind, let’s look at the hits and misses of 2017 — and more importantly, consider how they’ll affect what happens in 2018.

Apple

Apple iPhone X

You could call 2017 Apple’s year of redemption … or at least the start of its redemption. Whereas 2016 was defined by iterative devices and a sense that Apple had lost its way (see the dongle-tastic MacBook Pro), this year saw Apple rethink multiple products with a mind to 2018 and beyond.

To start, it apologized for botching the Mac Pro and neglecting the pro market as a whole. Soon after, it unveiled the iMac Pro as a near-term fix, but the biggest news was the promise of a redesigned Mac Pro in 2018 that addresses gripes about expandability and performance. Whereas 2017 began with pros wondering if Apple was abandoning them, 2018 will start with a renewed (if cautious) optimism. The company also spent much of 2017 laying the groundwork for more futuristic technologies, including virtual reality and external graphics cards. Between this and refreshing most of its computer lineup, Apple made it clear that the Mac will enjoy a renaissance in 2018 — and catch up with tech that Windows has had for a while.

And then there’s the iPhone. After years of conservative updates, Apple finally shook things up with the iPhone X. Its nearly all-screen design was a welcome upgrade, and its depth-based face detection was a clever (if imperfect) replacement for fingerprint readers. It’s safe to say that Apple will spread the iPhone X’s technology across other parts of its lineup in 2018.

On top of this, 2017 was the year the Apple Watch came into its own. A rocky launch notwithstanding, the Series 3 addressed the wish lists of early adopters with cellular data, improved performance and longer battery life. The new model helped Apple regain its lead in the wearable world and left little doubt that smartwatches would continue to be hot commodities in 2018.

That’s not to say there weren’t missteps. Buggy software marred some key products, from an Apple Watch connection glitch to iOS 11 reliability issues to a scary Mac root access flaw. Moreover, 2017 was the year of premature hardware announcements. The HomePod, iMac Pro and new Mac Pro were all unveiled several months before they were due to ship, which is unusual for a company that frequently delivers newly announced hardware within weeks. Even the iPhone X missed the usual iPhone release window in September. Simply put, Apple developed a habit of announcing products well before they were ready, but hopefully in 2018 the company will focus on fulfilling promises rather than making them.

Google

If Google had only been dipping its toes into the hardware waters before, it dove in headfirst with its 2017 lineup. In many cases, the company’s AI know-how was a central feature — and that’s likely to continue in 2018. The Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL were two of the best phones of the year, thanks in part to their excellent AI-assisted cameras, and they’re only likely to improve through features like the Pixel Visual Core. Google’s smart speaker line clearly blossomed too. The Home Mini’s lower price made Google Assistant more accessible in the living room, while the Home Max gave audio enthusiasts an alternative to the Sonos One and (eventually) Apple’s HomePod. The company prepared for VR’s wireless future with support for standalone Daydream headsets, and it even gave hope to Chrome OS fans by replacing the Chromebook Pixel with the more flexible Pixelbook.

Even so, to say that Google flubbed a few things would be an understatement. The Pixel 2 line launched with its share of glitches, and the 2 XL took an extraordinary amount of flak for its display. Between blue tinting, muted colors, burn-in and unresponsive edges, there were so many complaints that Google extended warranties to quell upset customers. Software fixes addressed some of these problems, but it’s evident that quality control will need to be a priority for 2018.

And then there are the Pixel Buds. While they do offer solid sound quality, just about everything else about them screams version 1.0. Fiddly controls, an awkward charging case and the questionable utility of the signature translation feature (which could easily be handled on your phone) make them a tough sell. There’s a good chance Google will address at least some of these flaws later in 2018, but for now they don’t live up to their promise.

Amazon

This was the year Amazon went all out in its bids to conquer the smart speaker arena and make Alexa the voice assistant of choice in 2018. It released no fewer than five Echo models in 2017, all but one of which could do considerably more than play audio. Want a smart home hub? Echo Plus. Video viewer? Echo Show. You can even get an alarm clock (the Echo Spot) or a fashion adviser (the Echo Look). And that’s not including Alexa-equipped devices like the Cloud Cam, Fire HD 10 tablet and new Fire TV. While we had our misgivings (the second-gen Echo’s sound quality was initially lousy, for one) Amazon made Alexa far more accessible and capable. Expect that trend to continue in 2018: There has already been a leak hinting at a hybrid Echo/Fire TV media hub.

However, Amazon’s real coup was getting other device makers to hop on the Alexa bandwagon. It wasn’t just the Sonos One, although that was definitely the most prominent example. Jeff Bezos and company managed to slip Alexa into hardware as diverse as the HTC U11 smartphone, the Ecobee4 thermostat and even Mercedes-Benz cars. While the AI helper doesn’t currently have the international reach of Apple, Google or Microsoft, Amazon’s rapid international expansion of Alexa support at the end of 2017 hinted that Alexa could become truly ubiquitous in the year to come.

Unfortunately for Amazon, things started to unravel toward the end of the year. Google pulled support for YouTube on both the Echo Show and Fire TV in a dispute over Amazon’s hardware sales policies and unofficial apps, hobbling two of Amazon’s most important products. Amazon only just started making amends by carrying the Chromecast. Plus, there were a few questionable gadgets. Does anyone really want an upscale Kindle reader or Alexa game button? Amazon may have spread itself too thin, and there are easily a few products that could fizzle out in 2018.

Facebook

Oculus Go

There was one common theme for Facebook’s hardware in 2017: VR, VR and more VR. Just under its own brand, it introduced 360-degree pro cameras, launched social VR spaces and promoted virtual reality technology at every given opportunity. There were other hardware initiatives, such as the Building 8 lab’s brain-computer interface and internet drones, but there’s no indication that you’ll get more than peeks at these projects in 2018.

Oculus was certainly busy as well. It spent 2017 priming itself for a future in which VR is truly wireless, whether it’s the low-cost Oculus Go or the advanced Project Santa Cruz prototype. It revamped its VR interface to be easier to use. While there’s no guarantee the Go or Santa Cruz will reach your head in 2018, Oculus will go into the year with the clear goal of leaving clunky, complicated headsets firmly in the past.

Microsoft

This was a renewal year for Microsoft’s hardware. After laying low in 2016, the company’s device teams sprung into action, not only refreshing products that had been left untouched for more than a year but also addressing long-standing requests from fans who wanted a more complete selection. Its PC line finally got a conventional portable in the form of the Surface Laptop, while the Surface Book 2 added a 15-inch model packing the sort of horsepower that pros and gamers crave. There’s no certainty that Microsoft will continue to aggressively update its Surface line, but its device catalog is much stronger going into 2018.

The Xbox One X will shape Microsoft’s new year too. Even more so than in 2017, you can expect the company to push its high-end Xbox as a vehicle for all things 4K, whether it’s the latest games or streaming services. It could even be a Trojan horse for VR, given that there are plans to bring mixed reality headsets to the Xbox. The challenge is that Microsoft is somewhat late to the party. Sony offered gamers a taste of 4K with the PS4 Pro and has already been selling PlayStation VR for over a year, so Microsoft will have to spend 2018 proving that its hardware was worth the wait.

hololens-designer-side.jpgMicrosoft’s Hololens provides mixed reality tools to assist in the workplace.

Microsoft

Microsoft has some more experimental projects too. It might offer a glimpse of its next-generation HoloLens headset in 2018 and thus show everything it has learned about wearable holographic computing over the past few years. There are even reports that it could resurrect the Courier digital notebook concept.

In some ways, Microsoft’s biggest move in 2017 was enabling hardware for others. Windows Mixed Reality established a common platform for AR and VR on Microsoft-powered PCs. The Cortana voice assistant, meanwhile, spread beyond computers and phones to reach smart home devices like speakers and thermostats. Microsoft even revived ARM-based Windows PCs, with ASUS and HP unveiling laptops that could easily last all day while keeping you connected. Only a small amount of this hardware arrived in 2017, but you should anticipate a flood of it in the year ahead. Microsoft may have already defined the tech trends that will shape the industry in 2018.

There weren’t any major gaffes in 2017, but the company’s less-than-ideal execution suggests it has room to improve going forward. It had to grapple with claims of poor Surface reliability and questionable design decisions, such as underpowered chargers. The Xbox One X’s high price didn’t do it any favors and gave the PS4 Pro another advantage. Windows 10 S was meant to offer an alternative to Chromebooks with similar security and more flexibility, but the dearth of hardware didn’t exactly put Google on notice. Moreover, Microsoft came to terms with its long-term failures by putting Windows Mobile on life support and ending Kinect production. It’s beginning 2018 with a clean slate, but only after learning some hard lessons.

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Samsung

Samsung ended 2016 with its tail between its legs, to put it mildly. The Galaxy Note 7’s battery fiasco was so bad that it led to the company effectively killing the phone, and that left many people wondering whether Samsung’s reputation would recover in 2017.

Thankfully for Samsung, it did. The Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8 not only represented returns to form but also pushed the boundaries of smartphone design in a literal way with their edge-to-edge displays. The tech giant also took the Note 7’s failure head on, offering a detailed explanation of the battery problems and clear solutions. Even the firm’s wearable efforts hit their stride between the solid Gear Sport smartwatch and the Gear VR controller. Samsung regained a lot of the trust it lost. And while rumors hint that 2018’s Galaxy S9 could be an iterative update, Samsung might just shake up the mobile world with its plans to release a foldable Galaxy Note.

However, we still wouldn’t call it a stellar year. Samsung made a push into voice assistants with Bixby, but the AI helper was undercooked at best — and that’s a problem when the S8 and Note 8 have a dedicated Bixby button. Yes, Bixby 2.0 could address some of the assistant’s limitations (particularly around language recognition), but Samsung is starting 2018 after having placed a lot of faith in technology that remains shaky. The company is likely to bring Bixby to devices beyond phones and tablets in 2018, such as a smart speaker, but right now the assistant isn’t mature enough to do justice to the hardware.

Check out all of Engadget’s year-in-review coverage right here.

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