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8
Oct

HP Chromebook x360 14 announced, costs $599 and pre-orders open today


Another high-end Chromebook enters the ring.

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Thanks to products like the Pixelbook and HP’s Chromebook x2, this past year has been an awesome one for high-end Chrome OS machines. Just ahead of Google’s event where we’ll likely learn all about the Pixelbook 2, HP’s announced its Chromebook x360 14.

Unlike the education-focused Chromebook x360 11, the x360 14 is being marketed as a premium device with fast internals, a pretty design, and slim bezels. As the name suggests, you’ll find a 14-inch IPS WLED display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080. HP says its “Advanced Electrodeposition application” gives the Chromebook “a ceramic-like white finish.”

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The keyboard is backlit and the touchpad has a diamond-cut trim. In regards to ports, you’ll find two USB-C ports, two USB-A ones, a microSD card slot, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Other specs include 64GB of eMMC storage, up to 14 hours of battery life, and your choice between an 8th-generation Intel Core i3 or i5 processor.

Pre-orders for the HP Chromebook x360 14 will open today with a starting price of $599. Come October 21, it’ll be available at physical Best Buy stores.

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8
Oct

Rowkin Bit Charge Touch + Micro Touch review: Bullet-sized wireless buds


Both models offer features and performance rivaling more expensive options, but battery life isn’t great.

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For under $100, Rowkin offers two different options in the smallest true wireless earbuds you can find, but you should account for the fact slimmer frames forced some things to be cut down for size.

A bullet to the ear usually isn’t the way to go, but it’s fine when good audio passes through your ears instead. True wireless earbuds are no longer just a novelty, they are widely available, and in different form factors and price points. With headphone jacks fading away, Bluetooth is emerging as the de facto standard of choice. But if you’re going to cut out one cable, why not cut them all off?

Going truly wireless with earbuds isn’t all that new, but Apple helped popularize the concept with the AirPods. Small, easy to pair and convenient to carry, they look like someone chopped the cables off the wired version. For Android users, the options are plentiful, now running the gamut from less than $100 to upwards of $300-$400. Rowkin’s Bit Charge Touch and Micro Touch are very close, with almost identical designs, yet slightly different feature sets.

A couple of buds

Rowkin Bit Charge Touch and Micro Touch



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$130 at Amazon

These two truly wireless headphones make the right compromises for size.

There’s plenty to like about these two diminutive headphones, and they’re perfect for traveling. Comfortable and pocketable, both the Bit Charge Touch and Micro Touch offer great value for money.

Pros:

  • Better sound quality than previous versions
  • Smallest form factor available
  • Lightweight and comfortable
  • Charging cases use magnets for storage
  • Good prices

Cons:

  • Touch controls are finicky
  • Battery life isn’t long per charge
  • Sweatproof, but not water-resistant
  • No fast charging

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Rowkin Bit Charge Touch and Micro Touch What I Like

Both models are currently under $100 — $89.99 for the Micro Touch, $99.99 for the Bit Charge Touch. That makes them pretty affordable next to more expensive options, including for iOS users who might think the AirPods are their only choices.

Rowkin has been here before. Last year, it launched the Micro, a now-discontinued version that has been replaced by the Micro Touch. What’s the difference? Not only a smaller charging case, but also touch-sensitive controls. The same bullet-like design remains, and with it, Rowkin has managed to cram in a fairly rugged driver and diaphragm inside.

Rowkin considers these to be the “world’s smallest true wireless Bluetooth headphones” and it’s hard to argue with such a proclamation. The company has managed to make them really diminutive, and the minimalism extends to everything else, too. There are three sets of eartips in the box, along with a short microUSB cable to plug into the charging case. The only difference between these two models is the size of the case.

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Finding the right fit is crucial to getting the best noise isolation possible. Both models are identical, and felt like wearing earplugs. With nothing touching anything other than the inner ear, the lightweight design and form factor made it easy to forget my ears were plugged to begin with. The smaller diameter also didn’t apply pressure on any part of the ear, so while they felt snug, they didn’t feel like being crammed or forced in.

Being the same, there is no difference in audio quality with either model. Rowkin packed in better drivers than in last year’s models, but hasn’t said much about it, otherwise. Either way, they sound better than their respective predecessors, pumping out punchier bass and better balance on the mids and highs. The difference isn’t a huge leap forward, but good enough to render the previous versions obsolete.

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Supporting both AAC and aptX codecs covers iOS and Android users, ensuring the higher quality Bluetooth codec flows through from any Android handset. That also includes support for Siri and Google Assistant by triple-tapping the right earbud until the familiar voice pipes up.

With earbuds this small, fear of loss is a cause for concern. Rowkin smartly uses magnets to lock the buds in when placed into the charger. The buds are designated by left and right to avoid any confusion — which is important since Rowkin neglected to do that last time.

Battery life is where things start to deviate. The Bit Charge Touch’s case has a 2100mAh battery inside capable of recharging the earbuds up to 15 times. The built-in USB-A port also means you can use the case as a portable charger for phones and other mobile gadgets. It’s a neat feature to have in a pinch, though you won’t get a lot of life in a phone without expending most of the case’s own charge.

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In contrast, the Micro Touch’s case is only 400mAh, capable of recharging the earbuds an extra three times. There’s also no charging output like the Bit Charge Touch’s case has.

With those numbers, Rowkin rates the earbuds to last up to 3.5 hours per charge. That’s not going to happen in most circumstances. I know everyone has a different threshold for volume, but you’re probably going to edge higher each time out. I certainly did, and found I was getting just over two hours consistently.

Unfortunately, there’s no fast charging included here, and it took 90 minutes to recharge both buds from empty to full.

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Rowkin Bit Charge Touch and Micro Touch What’s Not Good

It’s great that for something so small, Rowkin managed to make the earbuds sweatproof. I used them in the gym and haven’t experienced any degradation or issues since. However, there were some caveats that I couldn’t help but notice.

The glossy piano black finish is a slippery nightmare when fingers and hands are sweaty. Pulling one out of my ear once took two attempts, and even then, I had to be careful not to let it slip through my fingers. But even more frustrating than that was the Micro Touch case. The case’s piano black finish wasn’t the issue, it was getting the buds out of the case after they were locked in.

The charging basins are too far recessed, leaving a smaller sliver to grab hold of when taking them out. That’s where the glossy finish worked against me. It was a slippery combination that forced me to try shaking them out of their magnetized holsters.

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None of this was a problem with the Bit Charge Micro. While noticeably bigger, the case uses a neat slide-out mechanism that offers easy access, along with some degree of protection. There’s no cap on this case, like the Micro Touch has, so dust and water could still get in.

The pairing process is also one of those nuances that can feel like a rocky start. Rowkin sets it up so that you pair your device with the right earbud, which then subsequently connects to the left earbud, syncing it all together. What is less conspicuous is the distance between the earbuds necessary to facilitate the connection. The two buds have to be placed right next to each other, face down. The small LEDs light up red and white until they’re supposed to be solid white.

It was all good with the Bit Charge Touch, but the Micro Touch forced me to retry it after the left earbud wouldn’t sync. Thankfully, I didn’t run into the same problem when pairing them with other phones.

Lastly, the touch controls Rowkin touts are a mixed bag. Simply pausing and playing music is easy. It’s just a double tap. Triple-tapping triggers the phone’s voice assistant. Double-tapping the left earbud skips a track, triple-tapping repeats it. Triple-tapping either earbud rejects an incoming call. Tapping and holding accepts and ends a call.

The margin for error is thin on all of these. Where I tried to repeat a track, I ended up skipping one instead. When I tried to bring up Google Assistant, I got music instead. The only controls I consistently took advantage of were those related to phone calls and playing and pausing music.

Speaking of which, the microphones are decent, but not exemplary. People I spoke to knew right away I was using some sort of headset, noting a “distant” sound to my voice. Voice assistants generally did well understanding what I was saying — until ambient sound added to the confusion.

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Rowkin Bit Charge Touch and Micro Touch Review

Both of these models deal with a few of the key issues their predecessors had: knowing which one is left and right, and better audio quality to make them sound bigger than they are. The limited playback time per charge is somewhat offset by the case’s own capacity — especially with the Bit Charge Touch — but it’s a factor, no matter what. When other models can manage to inch closer to four hours, paying a little more money might be worth it.

3.5
out of 5


Rowkin’s main advantage comes down to sizing and comfort. These earbuds make the AirPods look big, never mind others from the likes of Jabra and Bragi. Being one-dimensional in fit and form means they’re likely to feel more comfortable than larger models tend to be, so if you want to feel like nothing is there, either of these will deliver. But if you want a pair of true wireless earbuds that cover all the primary and secondary functions with sublime performance, you will need to spend more elsewhere.

See at Amazon

8
Oct

UK Daily Deals: Anker charging accessories, Nest Outdoor cams, and more


Whether you’re looking for new tech gear or household items, we’ve got you covered.

We found plenty of great deals today on Anker charging accessories, Nest Outdoor security cameras, Casper mattresses, Philips 4K UHD TVs, and much more!

View the rest of the deals

Each day, the Thrifter UK team scouts out and shares amazing deals on products you know and love, helping you find the best prices on the ‘net.

For more UK deals coverage, be sure to keep an eye on Thrifter UK and follow the team on Twitter for the most up-to-the-minute coverage.

8
Oct

Google just dodged a £4.4 billion lawsuit in the United Kingdom


The lawsuit has been going on for more than 6 years.

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Google’s been no stranger to lawsuits over the years, and on October 8, a court in the United Kingdom decided to drop a £4.4 billion one that was originally filed over 6 years ago.

Between August 2011 and February 2012, it was discovered that Google was bypassing privacy settings on iPhones to collect gender, race, shopping habits, and other data on users through Apple’s Safari browser.

The lawsuit was part of the “Google You Owe Us” campaign led by Richard Lloyd. Following today’s announcement, Lloyd said:

Today’s judgment is extremely disappointing and effectively leaves millions of people without any practical way to seek redress and compensation when their personal data has been misused.

Google’s already paid $22.5 million to the FTC in the United States regarding this “Safari Workaround”, and Justice Warby who threw out the lawsuit said his decision came from a lack of evidence from Lloyd and his group.

Google Pixel 2, one year later review: Ancient-looking powerhouse

8
Oct

These are the best USB-C headphones


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The inevitable death of the headphone jack means that USB-C audio and USB-C headphones are now a thing. It’s not necessarily a bad thing or a good thing, but it is a (mostly) new thing. If you would rather not try and keep a set of wireless headphones charged, it’s also a thing that means you’ll need to buy new headphones. We’ve rounded up a list of the best available right now so you can get your tunes on!

Made for Google

Libratone Q Adapt

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Libratone’s Q Adapt USB-C headphones are part of the “Made for Google” program that launched with the Pixel 2. They offer a unique type of ANC and a Hush mode that squares things up when you receive an incoming call.

$149 at Google

An Essential choice

Essential Earphones HD

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These unassuming headphones from Essential are pure function over form. Built for excellent sound and with a tangle-free silicone coated cable you’ll love the tone and the price.

$49 at Essential

Go Bold

RAZER Hammerhead USB-C

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Big booming sound and bright neon green make these headphones scream RAZER. They also come with plenty of tips to fit any ear and are surprisingly cheap; both are things we love.

$78 at Amazon

Hi-Res Certified

Xiamoi Mi ANC Earphones

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The Mi ANC Earphones offer great sound and are very well built. They’re certified for Hi-Res audio and use MEMS (micro-electromechanical microphones) in the earpieces to make sure ANC is precise.

$70 at Amazon

USB-C audio is still in its infancy, which is unfortunate since phone manufacturers seem to not realize it. While there isn’t the same huge selection you see with a standard 3.5mm headphone plug, you can find a great set of headphones that use the new connector. I’m partial to the Essential Earphones because of their $50 price, but all the picks on our list will sound great.

8
Oct

Facebook Debuts Video Conferencing Device ‘Portal’ Starting at $200


Facebook today announced “Portal,” a new communications device for the home aimed at connecting friends and family members through video chat.

There are two models of Portal: the 10-inch base model and a 15-inch “Portal+” model with a display that pivots between portrait and landscape modes. Each device includes AI technology, a Smart Camera, and Smart Sound. The Smart Camera follows where you move around a room and automatically pans and zooms to keep everyone in view, while Smart Sound minimizes background noise and enhances the voice of who is talking.

Portal connects to your friends list on Facebook Messenger, and you can call them even if they don’t have a Portal. Calls made via Portal will also be sent to Messenger apps on iOS and Android smartphones, and Portal supports group calls of up to seven people at the same time.

The video calling device supports hands-free voice control, so you can start a video call by saying “Hey Portal” and following up with who you want to call. Alexa is built into the device, so you can also ask about the weather, news, traffic, control smart home products, and more on Portal.

With Portal, you can listen to music together with a friend or even watch a television show with another Portal user, through connected partnerships with Spotify Premium, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Facebook Watch, Food Network, and Newsy. Portal video calls also support AR effects, filters, and stickers.

In terms of audio, Facebook says Portal has two full-range drivers, while Portal+ has two tweeters with high-range frequency and a single 4″ bass speaker.


Facebook is launching Portal in the middle of a turbulent year, following months of news coverage over its ties to data mining firm Cambridge Analytica. A Facebook-branded smart speaker with video capabilities was previously rumored, and then delayed following the scandal.

For the new device, Facebook says Portal is designed with privacy and security in mind:

– You can completely disable the camera and microphone with a single tap.
– Portal and Portal+ also come with a camera cover, so you can easily block your camera’s lens at any time and still receive incoming calls and notifications, plus use voice commands.
– To manage Portal access within your home, you can set a four- to 12-digit passcode to keep the screen locked. Changing the passcode requires your Facebook password.
– Facebook doesn’t listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you’re calling. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted, so your calls are always secure.
– For added security, Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t use facial recognition and doesn’t identify who you are.
– Like other voice-enabled devices, Portal only sends voice commands to Facebook servers after you say, “Hey Portal.” You can delete your Portal’s voice history in your Facebook Activity Log at any time.

Portal and Portal+ are available to pre-order in the United States on Facebook.com, Amazon, and Best Buy. Portal is $199 and Portal+ is $349, while a bundle of two regular Portal devices is $298.

Tag: Facebook
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8
Oct

Apple May Strike Pay-TV Partnership With UK’s British Telecom, Pre-Loading Apple TVs With BT Apps


Apple is reportedly holding discussions with United Kingdom-based British Telecom (BT) over a partnership that would make BT’s mobile brand EE a “major distributor” of Apple TV devices. Specifically, the telecommunications brand would offer Apple TVs to EE customers, coming pre-loaded with apps that deliver pay-TV content like BT Sport and channels from other broadcasters (via The Telegraph).

For Apple, the deal would get Apple TVs into the hands of more customers and increase the potential viewership for its upcoming slate of original TV programming, expected in 2019. While BT has invested in building its own set-top boxes to compete with Apple, Amazon, and Sky, BT consumer chief Marc Allera kicked off a new strategy earlier in May to begin “forging deeper partnerships with technology giants.”

Apple’s partnership with BT is said to be similar to the company’s existing deal in Switzerland with telecoms operator and pay-TV provider Salt. Apple has also partnered with Verizon, which will offer customers an Apple TV 4K as part of its residential broadband package coming to four cities this year.

In regards to Apple’s original programming, the first of Apple’s television shows could debut as soon as March of 2019, potentially through a new video streaming service subscription. The company is also reportedly considering a single subscription bundle offering customers access to TV, Apple Music, and digital magazines (through its Texture acquisition).

Related Roundups: Apple TV, tvOS 12Buyer’s Guide: Apple TV (Neutral)
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8
Oct

iPhone XS ‘BeautyGate’ Test Tricks Viewers to Challenge Preconceived Notions


Following the launch of the iPhone XS and XS Max, owners began pointing out that the selfies captured on the new devices appear to apply a sort of smooth effect on the user’s skin in certain lighting scenarios. This was quickly dubbed “BeautyGate,” with some users accusing Apple of building the new iPhone models with an internal “beauty filter” for better-looking selfies that aren’t 100% honest.

Photos via @tldtoday on Instagram
In an effort to combat the BeautyGate claims, YouTuber Jonathan Morrison posted a series of selfies on Instagram and Twitter over the weekend. In captions, Morrison said these were captured on the Google Pixel 2’s Portrait Mode, and asked his fans their thoughts on how the images came out, particularly if they were better than the iPhone XS.

Commenters said that the images rivaled DSLR shots and that the Pixel 2 was still among the best smartphone cameras, based on the pictures. Some even commended Google for producing high-quality selfies without the need for having a so-called make-up effect, and argued that the Pixel 2 had the best Portrait Mode of any smartphone.

After all of this, Morrison on Sunday revealed that both images were not taken on a Pixel 2, but instead captured on an iPhone XS Max.

BeautyGate talk starts at around 3:00

So I just wanted it to be a little bit of a lesson out there: don’t let a preconceived notion or headline skew your judgement. Because clearly, everyone who thought that it was a Pixel automatically assumed it was much better than the iPhone, when in fact that was the same iPhone XS Max that apparently had all of the BeautyGate problems.

Still, Morrison explains that there is something happening on the front-facing cameras of the iPhone XS and XS Max, but it’s not a beauty filter. Apple’s latest smartphones take multiple pictures at varying exposure levels, requiring noise reduction that creates a smoothing effect over the entire image, not just on skin tones.

Halide went into detail on the issue in a blog post last week:

The iPhone XS merges exposures and reduces the brightness of the bright areas and reduces the darkness of the shadows. The detail remains, but we can perceive it as less sharp because it lost local contrast. In the photo above, the skin looks smoother simply because the light isn’t as harsh.

Observant people noticed it isn’t just skin that’s affected. Coarse textures and particularly anything in the dark— from cats to wood grain— get a smoother look. This is noise reduction at work. iPhone XS has more aggressive noise reduction than previous iPhones.

It’s unclear if Apple will choose to decrease the amount of noise reduction on the front-facing cameras of the iPhone XS and XS Max as a result of the user complaints.

Related Roundup: iPhone XSBuyer’s Guide: iPhone XS (Buy Now)
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8
Oct

Banksy artwork self-destructs after it auctions for $1.4 million


One of Banksy’s best known works of art ended up going through a shredder on Friday, October 5, just seconds after it auctioned for a whopping $1.4 million.

As the auctioneer’s hammer came down on Banksy’s Girl With Balloon stencil at Sotheby’s in London, the artwork began making a strange noise, catching the attention of those gathered in the room. What happened next took everyone by surprise.

The picture began passing slowly through a shredder built into the frame, ruining it for whoever had just made the winning bid. About halfway through, the machine stopped operating, leaving a portion of the artwork in shreds dangling below the frame. The rest of it remained intact, still inside the frame.

Two officials from Sotheby’s quickly stepped in to remove the picture from the wall as it dawned on those in the room that this was exactly how Banksy had planned for the auction to end. Whether anyone at the auction was in on the prank isn’t clear, though it seems likely that someone close by activated the shredder remotely.

Banksy’s Girl With Balloon before it was shredded.

Banksy, whose identity has never been officially revealed, later posted a video on his YouTube channel in which he appeared to offer an explanation for his latest stunt.

The video (above) begins by showing a message from the artist — “A few years ago I secretly put a shredder into a painting in case it was ever put up for auction” — followed by a clip of the shredder being installed into the frame, and footage of the moment Girl With Balloon begins to pass through the shredder.

“In a moment that caught everyone in the room by surprise, Banksy’s Girl with Balloon self-destructed just as the final hammer signaled the end of an evening of auctions in London,” Sotheby’s wrote in a post on its website. “The work sold for 1,042,000 British pounds ($1.4 million), tying the artist’s record in pounds at auction previously achieved in 2008.”

Sotheby’s added that the unexpected incident “certainly marks the first time in auction history that a work of art automatically shredded itself after coming under the hammer.”

Now the art world is wondering if the person who bid $1.4 million for Girl With Balloon still wants it, though it’s possible that as the shredding stunt was Banksy’s doing, the artwork could now be worth even more than when it was in one piece.

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8
Oct

Can I revoke access from a Nest Tag if I lose it?


Best answer: Yes, you can revoke access from a lost Nest Tag. All you have to do is disable it in the Nest app.

Best Buy: Nest Tag ($25)

It doesn’t matter where the Tag is — you can disable it

If you’re thinking about getting a Nest Secure home security system, then you may be excited at the prospect of being able to share Nest Tags with the people you trust most. It saves you from having to share your passcode and/or having to change it when certain people don’t need to or shouldn’t know it anymore.

That being said, if you hand out a bunch of them, you can’t be so sure that everyone’s as great about keeping track of their things as they are trustworthy. That’s why Nest makes it super simple to remotely disable a Tag, no matter where that Tag ends up. You can revoke access to your security system easily. All you need to do is open the Nest app.

How to disable a Nest Tag in the Nest app

If you have a rogue tag that you just can’t find, then revoke its access like this:

Launch the Nest app on your Android phone.
Tap Guard.
Tap the settings button on the top right of the screen. It looks like a gear.
Tap the Tag you want to disable under the Devices section.
Tap Remove Nest Tag.

Tap Remove to confirm.

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That’s it — that particular tag will be removed from your Nest Secure setup and won’t be able to arm or disarm your alarm. If you do happen to find that Tag again, you can always authorize it again the same way you did during setup.

Our pick

Nest Tag

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$25 at Best Buy

Easily arm and disarm your alarm without a code.

The passcode method of arming and disarming your Nest Guard is more than fine, but the true convenience of the Nest Tag is perfect for you and all of your trusted family members and friends. Plus, you have total control of all of the associated Tags in the Nest app.

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