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19
May

A.I. border agents could use machine smarts to tell if travelers are lying


If you’re at an airport or border crossing in the next few years, you could possibly find yourself answering questions asked by a surly artificial intelligence with very little tolerance for lying.

According to a recent report, the United States, Canada, and the European Union are all said to be testing out new technology involving lie-detecting computer kiosks, which uses the latest A.I. tech to determine whether a person is trying to deceive officials.

While facial-recognition technology has been used as a security system in airports for at least the past decade, this proposed A.I. kiosk — like a more officious Siri or Google Assistant with the power to flag you as a possible cause for concern — goes further than simple face-matching. To make its judgments, the lie-detecting technology incorporates smart image recognition to spot signs of potential shiftiness. This includes giveaway eye movements, vocal changes, odd posture, or facial movements. According to a CNBC report, the technology is up 80 percent accurate when it comes to spotting potential deceit, which it a better hit ratio than that of human agents employed to carry out this task. Humans, by comparison, score between 54 and 60 percent when carrying out these judgments.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security first funded this research for a virtual border agent around six years ago. The Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real-Time (AVATAR) project was carried out by a team of researchers at the University of Arizona. It was tested at the U.S.-Mexico border on travelers who volunteered to participate in the study. In a report describing the 2011-2012 trial, the AVATAR technology was described as being potentially useful for processing citizenship, asylum, and refugee applications as a way to reduce backlogs. Similar systems have also been tested by other countries.

President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget request for Homeland Security includes a $223 million sum intended for “high-priority infrastructure, border security technology improvements.” An additional $210.5 million covers the hiring of new border agents. While the timeline for technology such as AVATAR to be rolled out is not clear, it would certainly make sense for tech such as this to factor into future plans.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • LED baseball cap fools facial-recognition tech into thinking you’re someone else
  • Board 350 passengers in 20 minutes? Facial recognition passes testing at LAX
  • An A.I. distinguishes between biological males and females based on a smile
  • Replaced by robots: 8 jobs that could be hit hard by the A.I. revolution
  • A new A.I. can guess your personality type based on your eye movements


19
May

A.I. border agents could use machine smarts to tell if travelers are lying


If you’re at an airport or border crossing in the next few years, you could possibly find yourself answering questions asked by a surly artificial intelligence with very little tolerance for lying.

According to a recent report, the United States, Canada, and the European Union are all said to be testing out new technology involving lie-detecting computer kiosks, which uses the latest A.I. tech to determine whether a person is trying to deceive officials.

While facial-recognition technology has been used as a security system in airports for at least the past decade, this proposed A.I. kiosk — like a more officious Siri or Google Assistant with the power to flag you as a possible cause for concern — goes further than simple face-matching. To make its judgments, the lie-detecting technology incorporates smart image recognition to spot signs of potential shiftiness. This includes giveaway eye movements, vocal changes, odd posture, or facial movements. According to a CNBC report, the technology is up 80 percent accurate when it comes to spotting potential deceit, which it a better hit ratio than that of human agents employed to carry out this task. Humans, by comparison, score between 54 and 60 percent when carrying out these judgments.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security first funded this research for a virtual border agent around six years ago. The Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real-Time (AVATAR) project was carried out by a team of researchers at the University of Arizona. It was tested at the U.S.-Mexico border on travelers who volunteered to participate in the study. In a report describing the 2011-2012 trial, the AVATAR technology was described as being potentially useful for processing citizenship, asylum, and refugee applications as a way to reduce backlogs. Similar systems have also been tested by other countries.

President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget request for Homeland Security includes a $223 million sum intended for “high-priority infrastructure, border security technology improvements.” An additional $210.5 million covers the hiring of new border agents. While the timeline for technology such as AVATAR to be rolled out is not clear, it would certainly make sense for tech such as this to factor into future plans.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • LED baseball cap fools facial-recognition tech into thinking you’re someone else
  • Board 350 passengers in 20 minutes? Facial recognition passes testing at LAX
  • An A.I. distinguishes between biological males and females based on a smile
  • Replaced by robots: 8 jobs that could be hit hard by the A.I. revolution
  • A new A.I. can guess your personality type based on your eye movements


19
May

DND, not D&D [#acpodcast]


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Daniel Bader, Alex Dobie, and Jerry Hildenbrand talk about the perceived smoke and mirrors behind the demonstration of Google Duplex last week, and the real world implications of the technology. They also take another look at Android P beta, especially the new gestures it supports.

From there, it’s a deep dive into OnePlus 6. With flawlessly smooth performance, it offers 90% of the quality of its competitors for 75% of the price. Finally, President Trump is working to get ZTE back into business. But will the company be held accountable for violating U.S. sanctions?

Listen now

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Show Notes and Links:

  • Google I/O 2018: All the big announcements!
  • What is Google Duplex?
  • Android P: Everything you need to know
  • OnePlus 6 hands-on preview: Still the best deal in town
  • OnePlus announces Bullets Wireless, its first wireless earbuds, coming in June for $69
  • President Trump working to get ZTE back into business

Sponsors:

  • Thrifter.com: All the best deals from Amazon, Best Buy, and more, fussily curated and constantly updated.
  • GameStash: Hundreds of awesome games on your Android phone. Try it free for 14 days!

19
May

Fiio F9 Pro In-Ear Headphones Review – Triple driver on the cheap


Fiio F9 Pro Headphones

All of the audio devices we’ve looked at in the past from Fiio have been players. After all, this the company’s specialized field, and where it’s been killing it as of late. But with growth comes opportunity. We’ve seen the highly regarded, bang-for-the-buck manufacturer gradually expand its accessory portfolio, with wireless solutions and cables for many purposes. Now headphones are included in its products list, and you bet that the company’s top-value ideal persists.

The F9 Pro is Fiio’s current flagship in-ear headphone, with a triple driver setup that aims to give the similarly spec’d (and much more expensive) competition a run for their money. Can it do it? Let’s see.

Fiio F9 Pro HeadphonesUnboxing the F9 Pro reveals a hard case and detached metal earpieces.

Design

In-hand, the F9 Pro delivers a premium impression not far from what we’ve seen in higher-end (and much higher-costing) earphones, like the Beyerdynamic Xelento or Shure SE846. The comprehensive use of metal to build the earpieces reminds us of the RHA T20, especially since that is another high-aiming, affordable in-ear headphone. Although, we can already say that Fiio is the winner when it comes to value.

Fiio F9 Pro Headphones

There are a couple surprises in the packaging that you probably won’t find in another earphone in this sub-$150 range. Opening the box reveals a waterproof case, and then within that case is a quality, appropriately-sized soft case (most earphone manufacturers make their carrying cases too big, which is counter-intuitive). Unzipping it presents us with two different cable options. Yes, we challenge you to find another set of earphones in this price range that sports a detachable cable design (in this case, using the common MMCX connector standard).

Fiio F9 Pro Headphones

Fiio F9 Pro Headphones

And this cable isn’t just a spare. It’s a Balanced cable…included in the box. Awesome. It uses the typical 2.5mm TRRS standard found in most portable HiFi DAPs (digital audio players). Fiio isn’t a stranger to making cables, and we love how the company seizes these kinds of opportunities to maximize value for customers.

That said, we found it strange that the standard (3.5mm jack) and Balanced cables are so different. The former has a more basic, solid form while the latter a thinner, twisted cable design.

Fiio F9 Pro Headphones

Standard, 3.5mm jack cable.

Fiio F9 Pro Headphones

Balanced, 2.5mm jack cable.

Also, the standard cable has an in-line 3-button remote, which is absent from the Balanced one. What if a Balanced-user preferred the other design, or vice versa? Another big difference is that the rubbery sheathing of the standard cable gives a lot of tangle-resistance, a quality nonexistent in the other.

Coming back around to the earpieces, we really dig the design. No earphone we’ve seen has this kind of 3D “wave” formation. It’s eye-catching in person, but manages to be more sophisticated than flashy.

Fiio F9 Pro Headphones

Usability

The general shape of the F9 Pro is like that of many around-the-ear earphones. That is, a pod-form that shoots the cable forward and up so that it wraps and falls behind the ear. There are several advantages to this method. It eliminates the chance of cable microphonics noise, and the fit is substantially more secure (especially better for working out).

Manufacturers make different decisions as to how much stiffness to place on the around-the-ear portion of the cable. I personally prefer none; it’s unnecessary in my experience. To my dismay, Fiio uses a very strongly molded routing.

Fiio F9 Pro HeadphonesFiio’s memory wire shape follows the contour of the ear nicely.

But I ate my words when I found it to work really well. The memory wires make the perfect ear shape and superiorly stays in place. It manages to sit just above contact with the skin, which equates to notable comfort.

Something we found odd is the lack of a chin slider. There’s considerable length from the earpieces to the cable’s Y-split, so the left and right channels can be dangly, especially when working out. It’s something that Fiio overlooked, but far from a deal-breaker.

Tips galore. Fiio’s packaging is generous with three different sets of silicone (including the highly-regarded SpinFits) and foam.

The Balanced cable wasn’t the only noteworthy aspect of the F9 Pro’s packaging. You’re also supplied a barrage of ear tip choices. There are four different sets (three types of silicone and one foam), which all have three different sizes. You should have no problem finding a pair that works. We’re glad about this because we weren’t fans of the Fiio-made silicone tips. None of the sizes were able to give us the perfect seal. But your mileage may vary.

Sound

The sound quality is where the real test is. Fiio sets the bar high with its feature-packed audio talk and premium aim. The F9 Pro is one of the few audiophile earphones that utilize a triple driver setup that consists of one dynamic + two BA (Balanced Armature) drivers.

We must mention that this “Pro” variant succeeds the original F9. The sound of that earphone left a bit to be desired, and this might be why Fiio upgraded the dual BA drivers to a Knowles-made solution in the F9 Pro.

You’ll get the most out of the F9 Pro with a dedicated DAC, but it still sounds great out of high-end smartphone like the Galaxy S9 shown here.

Fiio opts for an engaging bass response. It’s the first thing that caught our attention, and not in a bad way. Some headphone makers elevate the bass to elevate impact, but too much bass can muddy the sound signature. Fiio does it responsibly. It’s strong and encompassing but not bloaty. That said, where we’re satisfied with the punch, we think the definition could use a little more work. There’s a hollow quality (slight lack of body/texture) to the bass. It’s not bad, per-se, but we’ve heard a truer reproduction from other high-end earphones.

We like how the bass manages to have exceptional strength without interfering with the mid-range. Though, it’s not completely 1:1. The mids aren’t as powerful, making the response appear U-shaped. Fortunately, this doesn’t equate to lack of excitement in the region. Instruments and vocals are pronounced and gracefully articulated. A laid-back nature (slight distance and lack of fullness) keeps it from the superior detail that higher costing earphones can dish. The treble has a very similar quality to the mids. There’s an appreciable amount of detail but not exceptional. We’d like a bit more presence and capture of higher-end details in Fiio’s next flagship earphone.

Soundstage (spatial perception) is one of the best aspects of the F9 Pro’s sound. It punches above its small in-ear weight, as sounds are generally space-filling about the head, and dynamics have some dimensional play. It’s not completely taken advantage of by all areas in the spectrum, as we’ve discussed, but the F9 Pro has more to offer here than a lot of lower costing “high res” earphones.

Final Thoughts

Fiio F9 Pro Headphones

There’s a lot to like with the F9 Pro. It’s not the cheapest pair of in-ears you’ll find, generally, but it is very competitively priced when considering audiophile-class headphones. However, we ended up more impressed with the externals than the audio output. Fiio has some more tuning to do if it wants to give the high-end competition a run for their money. This isn’t to say that it’s not worth the money. You’re still getting a lot when you consider the overall package, and while we were critical with the sound quality, it is where it should be at this price range. And some qualities punch above its price, like the considerable bass response and lively soundstage.

19
May

How to change Amazon Alexa’s voice


Amazon Alexa is always there for you, answering your questions, notifying you when the prime rib is done roasting, and informing you of the weather. But perhaps you’re getting tired of hearing that same old voice coming from your Amazon Echo device and think it’s time for a change. Luckily for you, you can indeed change Alexa’s voice to that of another English-language regional accent. And while you can’t switch to a male voice or a different voice entirely, you can change Alexa’s language as well.

Want to hear Alexa speaking English in an Australian accent? You can make that happen. Interested to know what a Canadian accent sounds like coming from Alexa? No problem. But here’s a fair warning: changing Alexa’s voice will also make it a little harder for the device to understand your voice if you don’t speak in the particular accent in question. So unless you can do a perfect United Kingdom accent that would make Benedict Cumberbatch and the Queen of England proud, Alexa may be confused when you say “waw-tur” instead of “wah-tuh” while asking the device how much water there is in an Olympic swimming pool.

Still want to change Amazon Alexa’s voice so that she speaks with a regional accent? Here’s how to do it.

How to change Alexa’s accent

1. Open the Alexa app

Grab the device you use to control Alexa’s settings, whether it’s your smartphone or tablet. Tap on the Alexa app icon to open up the app. Then, go ahead and click the gear icon, which will lead you to settings. Wait until the list of connected devices pops up on the screen, then choose the device for which you’d like to change Alexa’s voice.

2. Select your language

Once you’ve chosen the device you want to configure, scroll down until you see Language, and give that word a tap. You’ll see a drop-down box with a list of accents. These are the English-language accents you can choose at this time: United States, Canada, India, Australia, and United Kingdom.

3. Save changes

Feel free to spend some time playing around with the different accents until you find the one in which you want Alexa to speak. When you’ve made your choice, hit Save Changes. Now, go ahead and ask Alexa a whole bunch of questions just to hear her answering in an awesome accent.

How to change Alexa’s language

So now you know how to change Alexa’s voice so that she speaks in a regional accent. What if you want to change the language Alexa speaks altogether? If you live in a country where English is not the primary language, or you’re learning a second language and want to get all the practice you can get, you can set Alexa’s default language to German, French (France or Canada), Italian, Spanish (Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia), Portuguese (Brazil), Japanese, Chinese (Simplified), Russian, or Dutch.

This way, Alexa will always answer your questions in your language of choice. Keep in mind that when you select a new language for your Amazon Echo device, all the text in your app will also change. The device menus, keyboard, and default dictionary will be changed to the language you select. The User Guide, as well as downloaded content on your Kindle, will remain in their original language. Want to hear what Alexa sounds like speaking fluent Portuguese or perfect Dutch? Here’s how to change the language settings on your Amazon Echo.

1. Open the Alexa app

Get your hands on the device you use to control Alexa’s settings, and open up the Alexa app. Tap the Menu icon (it looks like three dots arranged vertically), and hit Settings. When a list of connected devices pops up, choose the one in question.

2. Select language and dictionaries

From here, you have to option to control Language, Keyboard, and Dictionaries. The Language button lets you select a different default language. The Keyboard function allows you to choose a region-specific layout for the keyboard that will make typing easier. And finally, the Dictionaries setting gives you the ability to choose a default dictionary for whatever language you select for Alexa.

How to enable skills to get celebrity voices to talk to you

What if you want to have a famous celebrity speaking to you from Alexa? Thanks to Alexa Skills, you can have people like Gordon Ramsay, the famous foul-mouthed TV chef, speaking to you from the device. But take note: Ramsay’s famous voice won’t be replacing the default voice altogether. Instead, there will be predetermined phrases spoken by the chef, featuring his penchant for harshly criticizing perfectly edible food. Here’s how to get Ramsay to criticize your cooking skills. You can use these steps to enable skills with other celebrities as well.

1.Open the Alexa app

Once again, open up the Alexa app, and tap Menu.

2. Select the skill

Select the Skills button. From there, type in Gordon Ramsay to search for his voice. Select the first skill that pops up (it should be from Ground Control, otherwise it’s probably not the one you want). Then, sit back and enjoy being mocked by one of the most famous chefs on the planet. Note: many skills you can also activate simply by asking Alexa to enable them, although you’ll need to know which one you want in order to make the request.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • The best language-learning apps for Android and iOS
  • How to change your language in Google Chrome
  • How to build your own Alexa skills with Alexa Blueprints
  • Alexa, who am I? How to set up an Amazon Alexa voice profile
  • What is Alexa? It’s Amazon’s virtual voice assistant


19
May

Leaked docs show Google may be cooking up a stand-alone AR headset


With Google’s first stand-alone Daydream VR headset now available on the market via the Lenovo Mirage Solo, the company is now reportedly cooking up a design for a stand-alone augmented reality (AR) headset. That means the headset renders virtual objects, notifications, and more in your view of the real world, enabling services like visual directions as you walk through a city, product placement in your home prior to purchasing furniture, and more. 

According to leaked documents, the AR headset is internally known at Google as the A65. It may be powered by a custom Qualcomm QCS603 processor designed for Internet of Things devices packing two “gold” cores clocked at 1.6GHz (Cortex A-75), two “silver” cores clocked at 1.7GHz (Cortex-A55), and an Adreno 615 graphics component. It supports a maximum resolution of 2,560 x 1,440, up to 720p video capture at 60 frames per second and up to 1080p at 30fps. 

The specifications also show that Qualcomm’s chip supports OpenGL, OpenCL, and Vulkan graphics. Neural processing is baked right in supporting artificial intelligence through Qualcomm’s Neural Processing Engine and Google’s Android Neural Networks application programming interfaces. Other components include Wireless AC connectivity at 867Mbps, Bluetooth 5.1, and GPS. What’s missing is a 4G LTE or 5G cellular component. 

The documents also show that Google may opt for the Qualcomm QCS605 processor instead. This chip packs two “gold” cores clocked at 2.50GHz, six “silver” cores clocked at 1.7GHz, and the Adreno 615 graphics component. It supports up to 4K video capture at 60fps, up to 5.7K video capture at 30fps, and up to 1080p video capture at 60fps. Camera-wise, it can handle two 16MP cameras or a single 32MP camera whereas the QCS603 chip supports two 16MP cameras or a single 24MP camera. 

Google’s AR headset is supposedly in its early stages. The documents show that the company began discussing the project with partners at the beginning of the year, including Taiwanese manufacturer Quanta. This latter company is said to be working on a project with AR headset provider Meta called the A66. Given that Meta’s current $1,495 Meta 2 AR headset tethers to a PC, the company’s A66 project could be a high-resolution PC-bound version of whatever Google is cooking up with its A65 project. Think Oculus Rift vs. Oculus Go, but in AR form. 

Google entered the AR market once before with the ill-fated Google Glass. Appearing as a pair of spectacles, it presented virtual information in your field of view via a small display mounted in front of your right eye. The device is still in use in the enterprise market, but Google pulled the product from mainstream availability due to privacy concerns over the embedded camera. 

Meanwhile, Microsoft is seemingly spearheading the AR headset market with HoloLens. It doesn’t require a tethered PC, and thus relies on a battery lasting up to three hours of active use. Vuzix is a major AR headset player, too, and just introduced its Blade smart glasses to the mainstream market in January. Apple and Samsung are reportedly working on AR-based devices as well. 

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Apple’s wireless, mixed-reality glasses could launch in 2020
  • HTC’s Vive Focus mobile VR headset uses the same lenses, displays as Vive Pro
  • Lenovo’s Mirage Solo headset and VR camera are available for pre-order
  • Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 VR reference headset puts body tracking in mobile VR
  • HTC’s stand-alone Vive Focus VR headset hits markets outside China in 2018


19
May

Watch a NASA astronaut get stumped over how to use a GoPro


Don’t you hate it when, after leaving for the day, you discover on arrival didn’t bring something you need? That’s apparently what happened on May 16 to a NASA Astronaut, according to Geek. But the discovery — a missing SD card for a GoPro — soon revealed another problem.

The story began when an astronaut stepped outside the International Space Station (ISS). While he was maneuvering in space checking components on the spacecraft, he prepared to capture video. That’s when the problems began, as reflected in a conversation between the astronaut and NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

The exchange revealed an unfortunate level of confusion about how to use a common piece of earthly technology. Here’s Geek’s transcription of the NASA video:

“Hey, uh, Houston, I gotta ask a question about the GoPro real quick,” the astronaut said. “Pushing the button, I see a ‘No SD’ [alert]. … Do I need that to record? And if it’s recording, is there supposed to be a red light on?”

“I’m told that if it has the card in it, it should have a red light if it’s recording,” said a voice from mission control at the Johnson Space Center.

“And if it says ‘No SD,’ what does that mean?” the astronaut asked, repeating his earlier question.

“I think that means no card,” mission control replied.

“Well, let’s just forget it for now. I’ll get it later,” the astronaut said. “Let’s just not worry about it.”

There was no follow-up discussion or commentary about the GoPro or the missing SD card from the simulcast video that switches back and forth from the space station and mission control.

Expedition 55 is the current mission to the International Space Station, which began on February 27, 2018. According to NASA’s Expedition 55 site, the six mission crew members include Richard Arnold, Oleg Artemyev, Andrew Feustel, Norishige Kanai, Commander Anton Shkaplerov, and Scott Tingle. Geek suggests the GoPro nonuser was Feusel.

Feustel is a Lake Orion, Michigan native with a Ph.D. in Geological Sciences with a specialty in seismology. A NASA astronaut since 2000, Feustel is a veteran of two previous spaceflights. Before Expedition 55, Feustel spent more than 29 days in space and more than 42 hours on spacewalks.

NASA has not identified or confirmed the SD card-less astronaut’s identity.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • NASA wants to make the first Starliner test flight a fully operational mission
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  • Prolonged time in space literally changes the structure of astronauts’ eyes
  • A luxury space hotel is now taking reservations — if you’ve got $10 million
  • A ‘flying brain’ is going to help out on the space station this summer


19
May

Touch-free device uses a frickin’ laser to monitor your well-being from afar


Digital Domain/Marvel

Whether it’s heart rate, breathing rate or muscle activity, there are wearable devices that are capable of measuring just about biometric data point you can think of. But what about no-contact methods of measuring that don’t involve physically touching you at all? That is something researchers from Israeli startup ContinUse Biometrics have been working on. Their resulting device — capable of monitoring these vital signs from meters away — is set to hit shelves as soon as the end of 2018. And it all works thanks to the wonder of lasers.

“The technology has been investigated for eight years in my lab, in collaboration with the lab of Professor Javier Garcia from Valencia, Spain,” Zeev Zalevsky, professor of electrical engineering and nanophotonics at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, told Digital Trends. “Two years ago, it was commercialized to ContinUse Biometrics, which is going to release its advanced prototypes toward the end of 2018. During the eight years of research, various sensing capabilities were investigated involving vital signs: Blood pressure, hematology, hemodynamics, and more. ContinUse’s first product is focusing on vital signs and blood pressure, [in addition to heartbeat and respiration.]”

The SmartHealth Mod technology can measure these biometrics from a distance, even through a person’s clothes. It works by using a laser to illuminate a person’s chest, and a special camera fitted with optics which allow it to analyze backscattered light. When a person’s heart beats or they breathe, this causes unique “nano-vibrations” in the body which are observable by the device. These tiny vibrations can be associated with different biomedical parameters.

Using higher quality lasers and cameras, the device could reportedly be used to monitor people from as far as 0.25 miles away. Adding an extra magnetic field also allows it to estimate glucose levels in a person’s blood.

In terms of possible applications, Zalevsky said that two examples might include smart homes or smart cars. “In a smart home, the sensor [could] be part of a telemedicine system connecting subscribed patients and health providers,” he said. “In smart cars, the sensor [may be used to] monitor the condition of the driver or the people sitting in the car.” In the event that a person is determined to be unwell, authorities could be alerted as soon as possible or, in the illustration of an in-car technology, the car safely brought to a stop.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Experimental contact lenses could let you shoot lasers from your eyes. Seriously
  • Blink to click? Nanotube-coated tissue paper sensor can track eyeball movement
  • Need to cut back on your salt? In-mouth sensor tracks sodium intake in real time
  • LED-studded ‘electronic skin’ monitors your health, makes you look like a cyborg
  • Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Glamping hammocks, plasma lighters, and more


19
May

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S review



Research Center:

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S

As prices for flagship smartphones have climbed in the last couple of years and improvements have been relatively modest, it feels like we’re suffering from diminishing returns. Manufacturers have placed more emphasis on design, but the two dominant forces in the market — Apple and Samsung — are also charging a premium for their top-tier phones.

Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 2S is a gorgeous flagship that can go toe-to-toe with the best in terms of high-end specs and stunning beauty, while costing significantly less (around $600). The problem? You will have to import it, because there’s no official U.S. availability yet. So, should you consider it? We took it for a spin to find out.

Who needs a notch?

Let’s not beat about the bush — this is one of the best-looking phones we’ve ever handled. The black ceramic back curves into the aluminum frame. There’s a dual camera module at the top left, with a glint of gold around it and a recessed fingerprint sensor, which doesn’t double as a button. We could live without the “Mi Mix designed by Xiaomi” slogan in gold lettering, but the Chinese manufacturer is clearly proud of this design.

While countless Android lemmings embrace the notch, Xiaomi has been pursuing a bezel-less design from a different angle for a couple of years now. The original Mi Mix was one of the first phones to aggressively shrink those bezels down and it still has one of the highest screen-to-body ratios you’ll find. The Mi Mix 2S continues the tradition, though it’s not quite as all-screen as its predecessor.

We’re told the notch is the answer to the tricky problem of where to put the front-facing camera and other sensors, but Xiaomi has chosen to put it at the bottom right corner below the screen. While we don’t tend to snap a lot of selfies, this placement is actually a lot less awkward than you might imagine. More on that when we dig into the camera.

On the right edge, you’ll find the power button with a volume rocker above it. The SIM tray and MicroSD card slot are on the left. The bottom edge is home to a USB-C port and the mono speaker, but you won’t find a 3.5mm audio jack anywhere.

Let’s not beat about the bush — this is one of the best-looking phones we’ve ever handled.

It feels reassuringly hefty in hand (it weighs 191 grams), which adds to the impression of quality. It’s a phone we enjoyed handling and one that draws admiring glances and questions when you slip it out of your pocket.

As gorgeous as the ceramic body is, you should be prepared for finger smudges galore. We also frequently woke the touch-sensitive fingerprint sensor, sparking a vibration every time we put the phone away or pulled it out.

This is not going to be an especially durable phone, though we were relieved to find that an accidental drop onto stone only scuffed the corner of the metal frame. Most phones nowadays are glass, so the need for a case is standard. Where the Mi Mix 2S does drop some points is its lack of water resistance, which is something we’ve come to expect in a flagship phone.

Minor gripes aside, we love the look and feel of the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S — it is positively dripping with class.

Display is just average

The 6-inch (5.99 if we’re being pedantic) display covers most of the front of the Mi Mix 2S. The thinnest of bezels separates it from the top and sides, and there’s a larger bezel at the bottom.

Simon Hill/Digital Trends

We’re a little disappointed to find that it’s an IPS LCD screen with a resolution of 2,160 x 1,080 pixels. It sports the modern 18:9 aspect ratio that has become standard over the last year, but it’s lackluster. Next to a Galaxy S7 Edge, which is more than two years old, the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S is dull and lacks the same razor sharpness.

We’re convinced OLED is the way forward, but even in the LCD world this isn’t one of the best displays around. The pixel density isn’t a big problem — text is perfectly readable and movies and games look fine – it just isn’t especially bright or vibrant.

Plenty of raw power, but shaky software

Xiaomi certainly hasn’t cut any corners in the processor stakes. The Mi Mix 2S has the latest Snapdragon 845 processor from Qualcomm, backed up by 6GB of RAM with 64GB or 128GB of storage, or a whopping 8GB of RAM with 256GB of storage like our review unit.

Performance is fast and silky smooth as you’d expect. We played PUBG: Mobile on maximum settings, Super Mario Run, Star Wars Commander, and a few other games without any issues. It did get warm while playing PUBG: Mobile, but that’s not unusual.

The benchmark results are equally impressive:

  • AnTuTu 3D Bench: 268,787
  • 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 3,557 OpenGL; 2,806 Vulkan
  • Geekbench 4: 2,436 single-core; 9,097 multi-core

Two of those results are slightly better than the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus managed, though it got a far higher 3DMark score. Benchmarks alone never tell the whole story, but this is certainly a speedy phone.

Performance is fast and silky smooth as you’d expect.

Unfortunately, despite the fast performance, we did encounter some strange issues with the Mi Mix 2S. Both Twitter and Chrome crashed more than once, something that has never happened to us with previous phones we’ve tested.

Xiaomi has applied its own MIUI on top of Android 8.0 Oreo and by default it wants you to sign up for a Mi Account and use Xiaomi’s cloud services, which are optimized for life in China. We prefer Google, and thankfully you can install all your usual favorites, but you can’t set up Google Pay or other contactless payment services.

There’s nothing wrong with MIUI, but it takes some getting used to as you navigate unfamiliar menus. But there are some real oddities – why have a watermark on every photo? Luckily, you can dig into the camera settings and turn this off. There’s also no app drawer, but you can always install a different Android launcher if you don’t get along with MIUI.

Simon Hill/Digital Trends

The odd quirks, such as spelling mistakes in pop up messages, reinforces the fact that this is a phone made for the Chinese market first. Although Xiaomi has been making noises about breaking into the U.S. market for years now, it hasn’t happened yet. Looking at the recent troubles Huawei and ZTE have run into, we can’t see it happening any time soon.

Camera is a mixed bag

You’ll find a dual rear camera in the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S pairing two 12-megapixel sensors. The main one has an f/1.8 aperture, while the secondary lens has an f/2.4 aperture. In good lighting the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S captures some great shots with plenty of detail and colors that are vibrant without veering into unrealistic. If you’re snapping your friends and family, or stunning landscapes, we think this camera will serve you well.

It doesn’t manage quite as well with close-up shots. You really must take time to focus where you want. This isn’t the fastest camera around to load, change modes, or shoot a photo.

When light is mixed or more limited, we found the camera results a bit disappointing. It can’t match the low-light performance of phones like the Pixel 2 XL or the Galaxy S9 Plus. Noise and graininess creeps in quite quickly and it doesn’t cope at all well with contrast between light and dark areas in the same photo.

The dual lens combination allows you to snap portrait photos with a pleasing bokeh effect, where your subject is in sharp relief and the background is blurred.

We shot a few different portraits and were pleased with the results. The subject is generally in focus with some slight blurring around the edges, especially with hair, but that’s par for the course. The only odd result we got was with Bodhi the cat – if you look at the left edge you’ll see it has decided to blur the whole side there.

When light is mixed or more limited we found the camera results a bit disappointing.

We’re told that there are AI smarts in the Mi Mix 2S camera, but it doesn’t show its workings like the floating word salad you get with LG’s G7 ThinQ, so it’s hard to know what it’s doing.

The front-facing 5-megapixel camera is entirely average. It will be fine for most people, but selfie addicts should look at another phone. The bottom right placement never bothered us – the first time you use it you’re prompted to turn the phone upside down, but it adjusts and works well whatever way you hold it and, as long as you remember to look into the lens, the results are fine.

While the camera is mostly good, it’s not in the same ballpark as the big boys. Phones like the Huawei P20 Pro, Pixel 2, and iPhone X are significantly better for photography.

Battery life

There’s a sizable battery in the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S, rated at 3,400mAh. We found that the phone lasted a normal day with some change, but you’ll likely need to charge it every night. Light use might stretch it to a day and a half or maybe two. When we played a lot of games and used the camera extensively it died on us in the early evening.

Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S Compared To

LG G7 ThinQ

Moto E5 Plus

Nokia 7 Plus

Samsung Galaxy S9

Cat S61

Asus ZenFone 4

Honor View 10

Alcatel Idol 5

OnePlus 5T

HTC U11 Life

Google Pixel 2

LG V30

ZTE Axon 7

Huawei Honor 8

Alcatel Idol 4S

We expected a little better from this capacity, especially since the display isn’t particularly high resolution or bright. We’re pleased to find support for Qi wireless charging, though. There’s also support for Quick Charge 3.0 via the USB-C port, for when you’re in a hurry.

Price, availability, warranty information

Looking at a direct conversion from the Chinese price, you should be able to buy the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S for a little over $500, but when we had a look at online stores like Gearbest and Honorbuy it starts from around $625.

If you want the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S you will have to import. It’s not going to get an official U.S. release, so it will never be in your local carrier store. Be careful where you buy to avoid import duties or problems with returns if something should go wrong. You should also check what bands the model you’re looking to buy supports to ensure it will work with your carrier’s network.

The warranty will depend on where you buy. Most online stores offer a limited one-year warranty for defects.

Our Take

The Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S is beautifully-crafted, powerful smartphone with a decent camera, but it does come with strings attached. Most people simply won’t be willing to import the phone from China, so we don’t expect to see many of them around.

Is there a better alternative?

Yes, there are lots of better phones on the market. The Pixel 2, the Galaxy S9, and the Huawei P20 Pro are all better, but they’re also more expensive. If you’re not married to Android, then the iPhone X or 8 Plus are also better, but again, they’re much pricier.

If you only have around $600 to spend, then we recommend waiting for the OnePlus 6. It will be much easier to buy in the U.S., and it only costs $530.

How long will it last?

You could certainly expect to get two years out of the Mi Mix 2S, but you should definitely get a case for it. In the past Xiaomi hasn’t always continued to update Android for more than a year or so, even though it does continue to update MIUI for longer, and that’s something worth considering.

Should you buy it?

Yes, if your budget is limited and you love the design, the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S is a very classy phone. For the money we think it’s a compelling prospect.

19
May

The Internet is sick. Here’s how Mozilla is making it healthy again


Mozilla

The suggestion that the internet is unwell sounds a bit goofy, but according to the Mozilla Foundation — a non-profit Silicon Valley organization which believes the internet should be a public resource that is open and accessible to all — that’s exactly the situation we find ourselves in here in 2018. And it may have a point.

While the internet as a global system of interconnected computer networks is healthier than ever, the idea of the internet may be suffering. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the internet was envisaged as a utopian medium through which liberal values of inclusiveness, tolerance, and free speech would be disseminated throughout the world. Sure, the real world may have problems, but all of these could be solved in the non-hierarchical, free, non-judgmental realms of cyberspace. Right?

Things didn’t exactly work out like that.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is to help people see the bigger picture.”

Last month, Mozilla published the first in what it promises will be an annual Internet Health Report. This report consists of research and analysis carried out by a range of researchers, engineers, policy makers and more, intending to measure how well the internet is measuring up to its utopian early promises. “By [internet health], what we mean is whether the internet is healthy from a human perspective; not looking at industry trends or new technologies on their own,” Abigail Cabunoc Mayers, a project lead working on web openness at Mozilla, told Digital Trends. “It’s more about how the internet is impacting our lives.”

Like a yearly medical check-up, the Internet Health Report covers a litany of different measurements. However, two concerns that are particularly spotlighted include fears about the consolidation of power among a few big tech companies, and fears of fake news and its links to the popular advertising economy seen online. Both of these play a part in what has, for many people, marked the most pessimistic period since the internet’s inception.

The 2018 Internet Health Report Mozilla

“A lot of the conversation right now does seem to show a bit of disenchantment with the promise of the internet,” Samantha Burton, Mozilla’s director of insights, acknowledged. “But part of what we’re trying to do is to help people see the bigger picture. Although there are really concerning trends right now, there are also some really great things that are happening with these technologies — and the impact they are having on our lives.”

Mozilla’s Global Sprint

But Mozilla doesn’t just want to diagnose the problem. It wants to help treat it too. On Thursday and Friday this week, the Mozilla Foundation brought together thousands of open source activists and engineers at more than 60 events, in locations as far apart as Portland, Toronto, London and New Delhi, for its Global Sprint event. Their goal? To collaborate on close to 160 open-source projects designed to create positive change online. “People just work 9-5 in their time zones, but because of the magic of time zones that equates to around 50 consecutive hours,” Burton said. “People can collaborate online or in person.”

“No part of it can ever be owned by any individual or group in perpetuity.”

The projects created at Global Sprint aim to encourage web literacy, openness, privacy and security, and decentralization of web services. There are too many projects to mention every in the most cursory way (check out the full list of projects here), but there are a few standouts.

One is ETER, a community-built air quality monitor for teachers and students in Argentina. On a micro level, the project aims to build and install tech for measuring particle pollution in Buenos Aires. Beyond this, however, the goal is to promote web literacy by teaching the community to build an open-source air monitor: one which can be improved by the community and used for whatever future projects they can come up with.

Another project is the Open Humans project, in which users can upload their personal datasets from sites like FitBit and 23andMe to a private account, and then choose to share them with researchers, nonprofits, and citizen scientists.

Or how about Commons Platform, a social media platform which tries to invert the Facebook formula by making a big point of user privacy? The idea of the Platform is that everyone owns their own data. Founder Sophie Varlow likens the premise to public land: “No part of it can ever be owned by any individual or group in perpetuity.”

Can a hackathon change the world?

As both Cabunoc Mayers and Burton note, a couple of days isn’t close to enough time to develop a fully fledged product — let alone to unpick the larger challenges the internet poses. In many cases, these problems are so tough to deal with exactly because the problematic and beneficial aspects of online life are so wrapped up with one another.

“What we’re trying to encourage people to do is to see how we can take control of shaping this technology …”

A tool that allows anyone to share ideas equally? That’s great until the ideas are harmful ones. Anonymity to allow people to speak their mind with impunity, free of usual social stigmas and regulations? Same deal. As the cultural theorist Paul Virilio once said, all good consists of some bad, and all bad consists of some good; the invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck.

So why bother with a hackathon at all? Because the idea of interacting with people from around the world, of all collaborating in the name of a greater good, of thinking about problems without an immediate eye to commercialization, but with the limitation of a tight deadline, is a fundamentally good one. Previous, non-Mozilla hackathons produced concepts such as the “like” button for Facebook, which helped change the way we interact online. (Given the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, arguably for the worse.)

Abigail Cabunoc Mayers, Practice Lead, Working Open at Mozilla

What if those same principles of creativity and out-of-the-box thinking could be harnessed not just for individual projects, but for a larger collective reimagining of what the internet could be? That’s absolutely a tall order — but, then again, Silicon Valley was built on those kind of challenges.

“We really want people to see that we can and should take control of shaping the internet of the future,” Abigail Cabunoc Mayers said. “What we’re trying to encourage people to do is to see how we can take control of shaping this technology that is a big part of the society we live in. It’s not about being passive and letting decisions be made for us. We can really be a part of building the future that we want.”

We’ll have to wait to see how many of the projects from this year’s Global Sprint project wind up living up to their potential to know for certain how successful this year’s event has been. But as the basis for opening a dialog about reclaiming the internet for the masses? We certainly think Mozilla — and Global Sprint’s participants — are thinking along the right lines.

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