Apple Watch Series 3 will track your shredding on the slopes
Fancy yourself a skier or snowboarder? Don’t let winter’s impending conclusion distract you from news that your Apple Watch Series 3 can now track those snowy workouts and put them toward your daily activity goals. Apps including Snoww, Slopes and Ski Tracks will take advantage of the Watch’s built-in GPS and altimeter.
Apple says that in conjunction with those apps, the Watch will log your total vertical descent and horizontal distance (perfect for cross-country skiing), calories burned, average and maximum speed, number of runs and total time spent on the slopes. And of course, you’ll be able to start a few of the apps with Siri voice commands.
What’s a little weird though is that instead of adding these features directly to the Health app itself, Apple is relying on third-parties to make use of the functionality. This might all change once watchOS 5 rolls around, presumably, this fall. Regardless, the updated apps are on iTunes right now. There’s always time for a trip to Vail this summer, right?
The chaos of unlocking your phone in 2018
PIN codes and patterns are passe. MWC 2018 kicked off with the usual fanfare of a major flagship launch — the Galaxy S9. With it, Samsung introduced its own, new, face unlock feature. Google may have added the feature to Android many years ago, but it seems technology has progressed enough to make it worth resurrecting by Samsung — with some extra biometric backup. The House of Galaxy might have also felt the competitive tug of Apple’s surprisingly slick Face ID unlock feature on the iPhone X.
Samsung wasn’t the only company innovating when it comes to how we get our smartphone working. And it’s not just the thousand-dollar flagships, either. Biometrics are here in a big way, although no-one seems to know which method’s best. How many of these techniques will last to see 2020?
Samsung Galaxy S9’s “Intelligent Scan”
Samsung’s new flagship devices have both a front-facing 8-megapixel camera and an iris scanner. These work in tandem for “Intelligent Scan”, which combine the secure identifying nature of your eye’s unique makeup with a camera that detects your face. Samsung believes its iris scanner isn’t as effective in bright light as it is in the dark, thus it’s included the more traditional camera backup this time. With the new system, the S9 tries to sign you in with your eyes by default, but when that fails, it will use facial recognition. Samsung says the technology is learning-based, which means it should improve its ability to latch on to your face as you continue to use it.
This is the marquee feature for Samsung when it comes to ID and security: it plans to use this like Apple does for app purchases and feature logins. The company says Samsung Pass will be up first, offering identification for websites through its own Internet app. (Which means you’d have to use that over, say, Chrome on Android.)
We’re still putting this Intelligent Scan feature to the test ahead of reviewing the device in full, but remember; facial scans don’t offer the security necessary for keeping your phone locked. Samsung has also kept its fingerprint sensor, although it thankfully moved it further away from the camera this time.
To be honest, the company’s packed nearly every security option in here. You can unlock its newest phones with a pattern, PIN, or password; the iris scanner, fingerprint scanner or face recognition; and Intelligent Scan (that aforementioned blend of iris and face scanning).
Samsung has packed nearly every unlock option into the Galaxy S9: pattern, PIN, password unlock; iris scanner, fingerprint scanner and face recognition.
Vivo’s hidden dual fingerprint scanner
Vivo’s in-screen fingerprint scanner offers a glimpse at the future of all-screen phone interfaces: No giant button needed. While we saw that back in January, at MWC this week the company bested, well, itself. Compared to the X20 Plus, which had a single spot for on-screen fingerprint verification, the new concept device has an entire quarter of the screen to do the deed. It’s a big enough space that it can also handle dual fingerprint scanning — if you wanted that extra coating of security.
Vivo’s using ultrasound sensors that can apparently read your prints across a bigger area beneath the screen. (In comparison, the last model did the same scanning trick with a tiny camera sensor, but that’s something apparently only possible with OLED screens).
When Engadget Senior Editor, Chris Velazco, tested it out in person, the tech wasn’t exactly flawless, taking multiple attempts to unlock with a fingerprint. It’s also folded into a concept phone — one with a pop-out selfie cam, no less. The chances of an identical phone appearing in the west are pretty slim.
Alcatel’s cheap smartphones still pack face recognition and fingerprint scanners
Not all phones are born flagships, but that’s no longer a good enough excuse not to upgrade from a PIN you made back when Brangelina was a thing. The Alcatel 5 might be a middleweight in spec sheet terms, but it still folds in both a fingerprint sensor and face unlock features. It doesn’t sound particularly foolproof: the “Face Key” will attempt to detect 100 points on the user’s face to verify, so it’s possible photos might be enough to trip it up. Still, the unlock feature was swift enough during our brief time with it earlier this week. Somehow, you can even go cheaper: the Alcatel 3 slides in just under 200 Euros.
Also announced this week, LG’s V30S ThinQ isn’t a huge leap beyond last year’s V30, and it doesn’t pack any new methods to unlock. It does, however, offer voice unlock, something that snuck into the debut V30 last year but hasn’t been adopted on any other devices, as far as we can tell. It’s not hard to see why: Asking Google Assistant / Siri questions in public is hard enough, let alone with the frequency we all unlock our phones. Still, it’s yet another method to add to the pile.
We’ll throw in a quick hat-tip to Apple and Face ID. Its True Depth camera system — that’s why there’s a notch — is made up of a bunch of sensors (ambient light, infrared and proximity) that detect your face, even in the dark. It offers a more secure version of simple camera-based face recognition and is surprisingly smooth and hassle-free — so much that Huawei is looking to fold in similar tech into its next phone but better, of course.
For now, it’s still a mess of techniques out there, and you get what you pay for when it comes to reliability and security. It might, however, be a sign to upgrade your smartphone security.
Catch up on the latest news from MWC 2018 right here.
Sandisk’s super-fast 400GB microSD is ready for 4K HDR video
It’s great that Sony’s new Xperia XZ2 smartphone can record 4K HDR video footage, but the bandwidth and storage requirements are bound to be, er, extreme. That’s where SanDisk’s new 400GB Extreme UHS-I microSDXC card comes in, delivering 160 MB/s read and 90 MB/s write speeds while maintaining compatibility with most devices. It also conforms to the A2 specification (4000 IOPS read and 2000 IPS write), meaning it’ll let you launch apps more quickly.
There are faster cards out there, but those are UHS-II-flavored models not supported in most smartphones. SanDisk managed to increase UHS-I speeds using parent Western Digital’s 3D NAND tech, it said. It also notes that the cards are shock-proof, temperature-proof, waterproof and x-ray-proof, according to its internal tests. That’ll make it ideal for things like drone, diving and wildlife photography, or just filming your cat in super-slow-motion.
Western Digital also demonstrated an experimental SD card based on PCIe technology that’s normally only found in computers. The increased bandwidth lets it read data at a stunning 880 MB/s and write at 430 MB/s, putting most SATA-based SSDs to shame. That would be very useful for, say, recording RAW 4K or 8K video on DSLRs or mirrorless cameras.
That’s still a distant dream, but it could happen one day. The SD Card Association is pushing the industry to adopt PCIe as a standard for next-generation storage so that speeds will keep climbing. Planned next-generation UHS-III cards will hit 624 MB/s max, but PCIe 3.0 would easily top it at 985 MB/s.
Camera and other manufacturers aren’t yet convinced about changing to a a completely different standard, however. So, you can view Western Digital’s 880 MB/s SD PCIe demo is one part research experiment and another part industry persuasion.
Google’s Slack alternative is available starting today
It’s been almost a year since Google first mentioned Hangouts Chat — a totally redesigned messaging service that’s more like Slack than the Hangouts most consumers know today. As of now, Hangouts Chat is out of its “early adopter” program and will be available to all G Suite users over the next week, assuming their company enables it, of course.
To be clear, Hangouts Chat is a totally separate and distinct service from Hangouts proper, which still lives in your Google mail inbox. And while we’ll forgive you for rolling your eyes at yet another chat service from Google (the number of different apps the company has built is legendary at the point), Hangouts Chat does offer something potentially valuable to companies using G Suite — assuming they’re not on Slack already.
Just like Slack, Hangouts Chat features virtual rooms for different parts of a company’s team or to organize people around a specific project or task. Each room can hold up to 8,000 people, and Chat works with 28 different languages total. Naturally, it has direct messaging and threaded conversations as well as apps for iOS, Android, macOS and Windows; there’s also a web interface, of course.
Hangouts Chat includes a total of 25 bots that interface with other G Suite apps — you can talk with @Drive to get updates on shared files, or use @Meet to check people’s calendars and schedule meetings. Many of those bots are also built by third-party companies to interface with their own services, like Xero accounting or Jira and Trello for project management. As you’d expect, Google is keen on having other companies build their own integrations for Hangouts Chat, so it is also offering developer resources for anyone who wants to add their software to this new platform.
Given Google’s focus on AI across basically all of its products, it’s no surprise that Hangouts Chat will use machine learning to try and figure out what users might need. Specifically, Google says AI will help book meeting rooms, find files “and more.” Specifically, a link between Chat and Calendar will learn how to suggest locations to book by analyzing attendees’ “building and floor location, previous booking history, audio/video equipment needs and room capacity requirements.” It’s hard to say how well this will work — but anyone working in a semi-large company also knows that booking a meeting room likely can’t get any worse than it is right now.
As for files, Google Docs will now feature the same “quick access” feature that predicts what files you might want to access in Drive. When you’re working on a specific document, clicking the “explore” section will reveal related files that Google thinks might be useful. It’s not clear yet how this will play into Hangouts Chat specifically, but give the tight ties between all of Google’s various services it seems likely that these suggestions might be accessible right through the chat interface.
On one hand, it’s easy to roll our eyes and yet another attempt at Chat. But Google has been saying ever since it launched the consumer-focused Allo messaging app that Hangouts was destined for businesses. And at this point, despite the derivative name, Hangouts Chat is a messaging service that’s pretty unique in Google’s portfolio. The success of Slack has made it clear that more robust messaging apps than what the old Hangouts offered is important. Google might not have an easy time convincing companies to change their workflows to accommodate Hangouts Chat, but getting new customers on board is another story. Since G Suite customers get Hangouts Chat by default, giving it a shot will probably make both logistical and financial sense for many businesses — assuming, of course, that Hangouts Chat can get the job done.
Nintendo already pulled user reviews for Switch games
Last week, Nintendo began allowing customers to leave reviews for Switch games on its site. Along with leaving comments, reviewers could list themselves as a Nintendo fan, core gamer, casual player or a parent and they could also tag their review with a number of descriptions such as kid appropriate, immersive or great characters. But, as Polygon reports, customer reviews have already been suspended and there’s no word on when or if they might be back.
On Nintendo’s website, there’s now a note under “Customer Review Status” that says, “Customer reviews have been taken offline as we evaluate this feature and its functionality. We currently have no estimated date on when an update will be provided. We appreciate the positive response and thank the reviewers who provided such thoughtful commentary on the games.”
That could mean that Nintendo is tweaking the feature’s design or it could mean it’s considering whether customer reviews should stick around at all. We’ll let you know if we hear more.
TwitchCon returns to the Bay Area on October 26th
TwitchCon has been pinballing around California since it debuted in 2015 in San Francisco, shifting to San Diego and Long Beach in the following years. But in 2018, Twitch is bringing its convention back to the Bay Area, occupying the San Jose McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, CA on October 26-28.
“As with our previous three conventions, we are keeping things fresh with a new location. And since San Jose has a proven track record of successfully holding major events with plenty of great places to eat and stay, it’s exciting to give our attendees a new city to explore for all of the expected community meetups,” director of TwitchCon Krystal Herring said in a press release.
Convention attendance continues to grow, from 20,000 in 2015 to nearly 50,000 last year. Twitch didn’t announce when tickets for this year would go on sale, though early bird options started appearing in late May for last year’s event. Eager fans can keep checking the TwitchCon site for news, and in the meantime, the online platform’s first reality show ‘Stream On’ will debut on March 8th.
Blue Origin isn’t interested in a race with SpaceX
When we talk about the current era of private spaceflight, the phrase “space race” is thrown around quite often. It’s meant as a good thing; a space race against the Russians is what put American astronauts on the moon. The idea of rocket billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos working day and night to outdo one another in some spectacle of bravado may sound appealing; it would certainly have entertainment value. But a space race isn’t necessarily, in and of itself, a good thing. After all, it’s why we’ve been stuck in low Earth orbit for going on five decades.
It’s difficult to overstate the achievements the US made in going to the moon. From rocket science to pushing the limits of computing tech, the advancements that emerged out of the endeavor are astounding. What’s more, it was a stellar opportunity for science and exploration. The argument isn’t that it was a bad idea to go to the moon; it was possibly the greatest achievement in the history of humankind, and scientists are still studying the data from those missions. But the way it happened — specifically, the fact that it was a race against the Russians, rather than a project centered around science and exploration — has stifled our nation’s spaceflight program ever since.
The problem with a race is that the end goal is winning. President Kennedy’s dream was “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth” before the end of the 1960s in order to “win the battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny.” Apollo was a product of the Cold War. Once we beat the Russians to the moon, budget cuts to NASA began to roll out. The planned Apollo 20 flight was cancelled in January 1970, just six months after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. Apollos 18 and 19 quickly followed. NASA had the will and the way, but Congress wasn’t on board for it. The decades that followed have seen a cycle of ambitious plans downscaled to fit shrinking budgets.
Now, SpaceX’s founder Elon Musk has made clear that he’s interested in igniting another competition. “We want a new space race,” he said during the press conference that followed the successful launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket. “Space races are exciting.”
And it’s true: They are exciting. There’s a thrill in getting there first, in being bigger and better than everyone else. It’s part of the allure of SpaceX, and the company has shown it has the substance to back up its bravado with rockets like the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy.
But a problem arises when the space race becomes the singular goal. When the emphasis is on building something bigger because you can, to prove that you could do it first, it can make for a difficult environment. Competition can be good and healthy, but it also can diminish values of exploration, collaboration and scientific knowledge. It’s a product of a machismo that many believe should have no place in space or in science.
To more than a few, SpaceX and Blue Origin are two sides of the same coin. They are both rocket companies founded by white male entrepreneurs. But their approaches have been markedly different. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin has operated somewhat outside the public eye, solidifying its identity as a rocket manufacturer with a massive new factory at Kennedy Space Center. It’s planning multiple launches of its suborbital rocket New Shepard this year in advance of a crewed flight. The company has found success in building on what it already has achieved, rather than continually embarking on massive new projects.
SpaceX, on the other hand, is broader in scope. Is it a rocket company? Is it interested in colonizing the solar system? Is it a satellite internet provider? Apparently, the answer to all of these is . . . yes. When it comes to space, ambition is good. However, the question is whether the lack of a clear focus, and an emphasis on visionary goals rather than tangible short-term objectives, will end up hurting the company. After all, a focus on what can be done, rather than what is practical and necessary, could end up expending the company’s resources too quickly.
But what about Blue Origin’s approach to space? After all, in the eyes of many, the company has been thrown in a space race with SpaceX. But the question is, does the company even want to be in this sort of competition?
According to Blue Origin, the answer is no.
When asked whether Blue Origin felt pressure to accelerate its launch testing and schedules because of competitors’ achievements, Caitlin O’Keefe Dietrich, the Head of Public Relations at Blue Origin, told Engadget, “Space is a big place. It’s not a zero-sum market.” The company, it seems, isn’t even interested in the space race challenge that Elon Musk presented.
Jeff Bezos isn’t above poking some fun at rocket size, as he did when he unveiled the company’s massive New Glenn rocket, which is currently scheduled for its first launch towards the end of 2020. And it would be foolish to presume that ego doesn’t play into his decision making when it comes to his rocket company. But generally speaking, Blue Origin’s approach is to think long-term, rather than jumping from rocket to rocket. “Our philosophy is to use an incremental, step-by-step approach for our long-term space technology development programs. And this approach has yielded us a lot of progress thus far,” Dietrich said.
It’s certainly different than SpaceX’s approach to rocket building. On a press call for the Falcon Heavy before the rocket’s launch, Musk stated that the company has already assigned the bulk of its engineering teams to the even larger BFR because “I was looking at Falcon Heavy, and thought it’s a bit small.” There isn’t currently a huge market for the Falcon Heavy; SpaceX has only booked a few launches for it. Yet SpaceX has already put its resources toward building another, even bigger, rocket simply because the Falcon Heavy wasn’t quite large enough for Musk (and because of SpaceX’s Mars colonization ambitions). It’s not exactly the incremental approach of Blue Origin.
Blue Origin’s comparison of rocket sizes
One philosophy isn’t necessarily inherently better than another. But it’s important to remember that a space race isn’t, in and of itself, a good thing. It certainly can be an avenue of technological achievement, but if it’s used to show off prowess at the expense of building solid foundations, it can end up being a detriment. It’s important to have somewhere to actually send a rocket, and a plan surrounding its use, before you turn to building the next, bigger one.
Space is big, and there is room for many different ways of looking at spaceflight. Elon Musk may want a space race, and he’ll likely get it from ULA, Boeing or another spaceflight provider. Perhaps even Blue Origin will join the fray at some point. But for now, the company isn’t interested in a rivalry, nor does it feel any pressure to perform based on the recent Falcon Heavy launch. “Our vision is for millions of people to live and work in space,” Dietrich said, “so we are applauding all launch operators that are building new and more capable systems.”
Images: Swapna Krishna / Engadget, Blue Origin, Blue Origin
Amazon now streams UFC pay-per-view fights
Amazon really isn’t shy about its ambitions for live sports streaming. The tech firm is now selling access to pay-per-view UFC matches, starting with the March 3rd bout between Cris Cyborg and Yana Kunitskaya. If you’re willing to drop $65, you can watch fights on any device that can play Prime Video — although you won’t need a Prime subscription. You won’t need a TV subscription or a UFC Fight Pass, either.
The company certainly isn’t a stranger to cord cutting between Prime Video and Channels, which can unify your streaming services. However, this kicks things up a notch: it’s supplementing Prime’s broadcast-style programming with the premium events that would lead you to either stick with traditional TV or visit a rival digital service. You certainly can’t depend primarily on Amazon for sports coverage at this point, but don’t be surprised if that changes over time.
Please, Nokia, bring back the 7110 next
It’s becoming something of an MWC tradition that HMD Global, the company that builds phones under the Nokia brand, offers a gift to sentimental Europeans. In 2017, the manufacturer rebooted the 3310 while 2018 saw the arrival of a similarly refreshed version of the 8110. When HMD/Nokia returns to Barcelona in 2019, I hope that the company chooses to unveil a new version of the 7110, because I’d be first in line to buy one.
Most British teens who clattered into adolescence at the turn of the millennium have a passion for Nokia phones. Like the car for earlier generations, the Nokia 3310 represented freedom, independence and rebellion. The 3310 was tailor-made for kids, since it had a ring-tone composer that let you craft tunes that kinda/sorta sounded like the pop hits of the day. The Xpress-on covers let you alter the shell of the phone to suit your style, and at its peak, you could buy thousands of third-party cases.
Ever the angry nonconformist, my desire for the 3310 rapidly evaporated while I was sitting in Lowestoft’s premier/only fleapit, the Hollywood Cinema. In the summer of 1999, seated next to my friend in a near empty theater, we saw The Matrix, a movie that forever altered our adolescent brains. The customized 8110 used in the film, with its spring-loaded cover, became the most desirable device we’d ever seen. After all, it just sprung open, so you didn’t even have to hit the respond button. How cool was that!?
The only problem was that the 8110 was a phone for hard-nosed business types and was priced well beyond the wallet of a dirt-poor 15-year-old. Oh, and it didn’t have a spring-loaded mechanism in real life; it was doctored by production designer Owen Paterson for added cinematic flair. The Wachowski siblings were apparently fixated on ensuring that the film’s stars didn’t fumble with their phones on-screen. Thankfully, Nokia was already working on the real thing.
“I wanted a spring for the 8810,” Nokia’s former chief designer Frank Nuovo told Engadget, “but we just couldn’t do it.” It wasn’t until the team commenced work on designing the next phone in the range, the 7110, that Nuovo’s team solved the issues that enabled the slide to work. Nuovo doesn’t know if someone from the production team was shown a 7110 prototype at the time or if “art and reality happened in parallel.”
The result, however, was that my plan to save up and buy a 3310 was ditched in favor of saving up for the 7110. It would only be another couple of months before the 7110 arrived in the UK, and I worked twice, possibly three times as hard to earn the £130 ($210 in 1999 money) that I needed. But what a phone I was getting in return: one that was the first to come with a WAP browser, the first running Nokia’s Series 40 OS and a NaviRoller, a clickable scroll wheel that eliminated the up-and-down buttons.
But it’s not really about the specs or the fact that my 7110 can still kinda/sorta work, even now. It’s the fact that it was damn cool. Admittedly, “damn cool” in my vernacular meant that I could shoot open the phone and begin talking as if I was an enigmatic cyber hacker from the 21st century. In retrospect, it’s fortunate I couldn’t afford a leather trench coat, because you can be damn sure I’d have worn one. It’s the 7110 that got me interested in weirdly designed phones, because it was put together with so much love.
My one concern is that nü-Nokia would do what it has done with the 3310 and 8810 and omit many of the original reasons to love the 7110. It’s an anxiety shared by its original creator, who feels that the reimagined shape is a little bit more sterile than his original. “There was a romanticism in our design,” Nuovo said. His flourishes included cladding phones in an oil-slick black plastic that, in certain lights, tinted green. Trust me, this was cool in 1999.
Then there’s the fact that the redesigned 8810 lacks any of the faux-chrome flair that made it easier for your thumb to find specific buttons. Now the keypad is uniform and ultimately rather bland, a fate that could befall the 7110 as well. It would be a shame to rob the 7110 of the techno-fetishism it demonstrated so well. Look at the way the the menu buttons pinch in to accommodate the slider — like oblique muscles on a bodybuilder. The buttons on the keypad flare, with spacing around each one, make it easier to text without looking. Nuovo feels like this can be avoided. All HMD/Nokia would need to do is hire him back to help with the redesign.
My colleague Jamie Rigg says that HMD’s policy of rebooting classic Nokia phones is little more than a “calculated marketing ploy.” I’m sure that the company welcomes all the nostalgia-stoked think pieces that help remind folks that Nokia is alive and kicking and still making phones. But if we live in an era when companies can spend not too much cash to rebuild a two-decades-old phone and get some user love, what’s wrong with that? I’d happily tote around a 7110 as my backup, something to show off at parties and otherwise keep in the car for emergencies. I’m still a nonconformist, and my teenage self still lusts after a daily phone with a mechanical slider.
Catch up on the latest news from MWC 2018 right here.
Play the new ‘Overwatch’ support hero on test servers right now
There was a time when the Overwatch team spent months dripping out information about a new hero for fans to obsess over. But now it’s content to simply drop a new one out of nowhere like a dropped mic and revel in the game’s overjoyed community. Today is one of those days: Brigitte, a new melee support hero, has joined the fray — and you can play her right now on the game’s PTR servers.
Introducing Brigitte—an engineer turned valiant squire ready to protect her allies on the front line.
Learn more @ https://t.co/JCSkZJGOzc pic.twitter.com/me59upxJYU
— Overwatch (@PlayOverwatch) February 28, 2018
Brigitte has been in the background of the game for years, first shown repairing Reinhardt’s armor in the ‘Dragon Slayer’ comic, though the Overwatch Twitter account has been teasing her reveal. In the lore, she’s the daughter of everyone’s favorite dwarf Swede, Torbjörn, and goddaughter of the heroic hammerer Reinhardt. In the game, she’s a melee healer that balances armor, defense and health restoration — in essence, the first true ‘support’ character in the game. And like the last new addition Moira, Brigitte is a cool reshuffling of existing heroes’ powers.
Like Reinhardt, her basic mace attack has a slight AOE and distance effect — but every hit with it heals nearby allies. She also has a deployable shield, and though it’s only enough to cover herself, it’s coupled with a cool charge ability that stuns enemies. Another ability hurls her mace outward knocking back what it hits — the opposite of Roadhog’s hook, say. Her healing feature, Repair Pack, is a projectile version of Torbjorn’s ability that heals up to the character’s cap — and any remainder is granted as armor. Finally, her ultimate, Rally, gives her a small speed boost and provides an armor aura similar to Lucio’s Sound Barrier.
Clearly, Overwatch has heard the need for distinctly different support characters and provided another that balances healing with utility and damage. With a wide-ranging kit and durability, Brigitte is an intriguing addition. But fans should pay close attention to her reveal trailer, since it hints at another beloved character concept that Blizzard shelved early in the game’s development…