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3
Nov

Does the OnePlus 6T work on Verizon?


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Best answer: Yes, the OnePlus 6T does work on Verizon. It’s the first OnePlus phone to ever do so, and while it doesn’t work with the carrier’s old CDMA network, it’s fully compatible with Verizon’s LTE coverage.

OnePlus: OnePlus 6T ($550)

Yes, the OnePlus 6T works on Verizon

Yep, you read that right. The OnePlus 6T does, in fact, work on Verizon Wireless.

This is the very first time a OnePlus phone has worked on Verizon, and it’s a huge leap forward for the company as it continues to push further and further into the U.S. market.

For buyers in the U.S., it now means that Verizon users no longer have to miss out on one of the best values in the smartphone space.

The 6T only supports Verizon’s LTE network

While this is certainly exciting news, there is one thing to keep in mind.

The OnePlus 6T only works with Verizon’s LTE network, meaning that it does support the older CDMA coverage. This cold prove to be an issue is some especially rural areas, but seeing as how Verizon’s LTE network is nationwide at this point, it shouldn’t really effect anyone.

You’ll need to buy the phone from OnePlus

If you’re on Verizon and want to pick up the 6T for yourself, you’ll need to buy it directly from OnePlus’s website.

The 6T is available in a few different configurations, including:

  • 6GB RAM + 128GB storage ($549)
  • 8GB RAM +128GB storage ($579)
  • 8GB RAM + 256GB storage ($629)

Verizon subscribers, now’s your time!

If you’re on Verizon and have been waiting for your chance to use a OnePlus phone, this is the year you’ve been waiting for.

Our pick

OnePlus 6T

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$550 at OnePlus

The first OnePlus phone that works on Verizon.

The OnePlus 6T isn’t just a great value, it’s one of the best Android phones you can buy at any price in 2018. Its AMOLED display is a joy to look at, its software experience rivals stock Android, and since it works on Verizon, more people than ever can actually use it.

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3
Nov

Play your favorite songs wirelessly with the $25 Sbode Bluetooth Speaker


A great speaker at a great price.

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The Sbode M400 Bluetooth Speaker falls to just $24.99 at Amazon when you enter promo code 92EYV47E. That saves you $20 off the speaker’s current price; it was previously available around $50.

With HD Stereo Sound, this speaker lets you bring your favorite tracks wherever you go. It features integrated controls that let you skip tracks, turn up the volume, power on the speaker, and more. There’s also a True Wireless Stereo function that allows you to pair two of the speakers together and play music in sync while they act as left and right channels.

It’s built with a rugged feel and a durable rubber housing that’s splashproof, snowproof, dustproof, and can even be cleaned under the faucet. It shouldn’t ever be submerged in water, though it’s safe to bring to the beach or on a run without worrying about rain affecting it.

The speaker also features a built-in microphone for hands-free calls and a microSD card slot. In our review of the speaker last month, we gave it a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.

See at Amazon

3
Nov

New Curry’s ad summons Christmas music on Google Homes


“Hey, Google…. play some Christmas music.”

Curry’s new Christmas ad upgrades the idyllic, Dickensian scenes of the season with some high-tech toys, and it’s quite a cute ad to my holiday-happy mind. However, many users likely aren’t getting to actually watch the ad as they scramble to shut up their Google Homes and Google Assistant-enabled devices after the ad’s first words start summoning holiday playlists.

Our new 2018 Christmas TV advert is here! The Magic of Christmas, upgraded.Shop the Magic of Christmas at Currys PC World here; https://t.co/eIH6rloIoF #ChristmasUpgraded pic.twitter.com/7Legg6Iy6O

— Currys PC World (@curryspcworld) November 1, 2018

Curry’s is an electronics retailer in the UK and Ireland, and while its holiday ads have drawn criticisms in past years, this year’s ad is both the earliest of the season — the Christmas ad launched November 1 — and it’s setting off Google Homes and Google Assistants, forcing holiday music on users weeks before Thanksgiving.

Curry’s Christmas ad is being played on broadcasts across the UK, leading to unexpected, unwated blasts of Christmas music. You can imagine how that went over

4 times mine has been set off so far, & my Google home is linked to my sound system.

— Jamie (@Cat_Toy1) November 2, 2018

Everytime this advert come on my TV, my google home mini plays a christmas playlist🙈🙈😂

— Charlie Hall (@CharlieDaniHall) November 3, 2018

This isn’t an unheard of problem — tech enthusiasts scramble around their homes muting every mic before they tune into a Google event — but for ads in the wild, both Google and Amazon keep blacklists that prevent Google Homes from triggering during their ads, and other companies often contact Google and Amazon to get their own ads added to the list avoid the backlash Curry’s is seeing.

Considering that Google takes much of the rage for this since it’s Google’s devices and services answering the ad’s command for music, Google is looking into the matter.

Hey there, we’re sorry for the trouble. If this happens again, could you file a feedback report with the keywords “Home Ad Triggered”? Here’s how: https://t.co/hpzu1WrVhX

— Made by Google (@madebygoogle) November 3, 2018

Hopefully the ad gets added to the appropriate lists and stops the super-early techno-carolers, but until then, remember that you can mute the mic on every Google Home device or Google Assistant-powered smart speaker or display using the hardware mute button on the device or by saying “OK, Google, turn off the microphone.”

3
Nov

A USB-C iPad Pro is great for the mobile industry. Here’s why


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Apple has the power to shift an industry, even though it isn’t the biggest player on the field.

While we were all talking about the OnePlus 6T and Google screwing up wireless charging, over in Apple land there was this “little” announcement about new Macs and iPads. You might have heard something about it, even if you usually don’t follow Apple news. One of the show-stealers was an all-new iPad Pro. Available in two sizes, they are more powerful, have bigger and better displays, and are aimed at people who would otherwise be thinking about buying a Surface or Chromebook. In other words, the new iPads have moved beyond what most people think of when they hear the word “tablet.”

Before you get feisty and tell me to stop talking about Apple, I want to mention the very best thing ever to have come from a stage where new Apple products were being shown — an iOS device with a regular USB-C port. The same type of USB-C port your phone probably uses, or your Chromebook, or your Windows computer. Oh — and your MacBook.

Hands-on with the new iPad Pro

Granted, it would be better to see an iPhone with a USB-C port (that will come, too, eventually) but Apple supporting the socket in any way with its “mobile” operating system is great news for everyone using an Android phone. That’s because even though Apple may not be the company that makes the most mobile devices or has the highest market share, it is the only tech company with the brand power to move an entire industry. And that means mobile accessories are going to finally get a little more homogenous and maybe, just maybe, more things with a USB-C port will appear and they will “just work.”

If you were an early adopter of USB-C headphones and didn’t have a Motorola phone you might have witnessed first-hand how messy it can be. That’s because companies that make products with a USB-C connector can be fully within the standards but don’t universally work. Audio accessory mode comes to mind — it’s the part of the standard needed for analog audio passthrough from a USB-C connector — as does the different phones that didn’t support it. Meanwhile, many different models of USB-C dongles and headsets required it be supported.

More: The best USB-C headphones you can buy

This happens because the parts of the USB standards that need to be followed to be compliant really only affect the electrical safety and data transfer. Other parts, like video output or Power Delivery or the aforementioned accessory mode, are extra features that can be implemented, but don’t have to be. All you can count on is that a USB-C input port can transfer power and a basic two-wire data stream that’s backward compatible with older USB connector specs. And that gets messy when companies making devices like phones want to save as much money as possible.

Apple will limit some of the USB-C feature set, but the parts it implements will soon become the industry “standard.”

Apple will surely limit the feature set of the USB-C connection. We already know that it is limiting external storage to exclude hard drives. But we do know it isn’t limiting audio or video output and the iPad Pro can send digital or analog audio, as well as 5K HDR video, through its “new” connector. Companies making products designed to plug into a USB-C connector are going to comply with whatever Apple is doing because companies making accessories also make money if those accessories are certified for Apple devices.

Companies that make phones will follow. Partially because many also follow Apple’s lead, but also because once accessories get more standard they want all of them to work with the latest phone, too. USB-C headphones are starting to get here already. Chances are if you have a phone from 2018 and buy a set of headphones or dongle from 2018 things will work when connected. But USB-C offers so much more, and photos of iPads connected to DSLR cameras or MIDI interfaces mean that one day soon Android phones will be able to do the same. Not because of Android — it already supports such connections — but because the companies making the phones will ride the wave.

I still have my doubts about using a mobile operating system for hardcore productivity, no matter how much Adobe and Autodesk promise me that I can. I think an iPad is much like a Chromebook and great for 95% of everything we do, but Autocad or NBA2K are still going to need a desktop platform. But seeing USB-C’s arrival for iOS has me thinking that these are the best iPads ever.

USB-C and the iPad Pro: Everything you need to know

3
Nov

These are the best wireless mice for Chromebooks


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While your Chromebook’s trackpad works well enough for most situations, there are some tasks for which a wireless mouse is better. Whether you need a wireless mouse to scroll through long documents faster, or to perform fine manipulations, there’s a great wireless mouse out there with your name on it. Here are a few of our favorites.

Use anywhere

Logitech MX Anywhere 2S

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This compact Bluetooth-capable mouse can be used on almost any surface (even glass) and has great battery life. While custom button functions aren’t available for Chrome, you can pair it with up to three devices at once and switch seamlessly between.

$70 at Amazon

Ergonomic affordability

Logitech M535 Compact Bluetooth Mouse

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A compact Bluetooth mouse without any compromises. It’s comfortable thanks to the ergonomic design and rubber grips, and the compact design makes it easy to slip into a laptop bag or backpack. Best of all, it has an accurate optical sensor to keep everything nice and tight.

$23 at Amazon

Long life, low price

Logitech Wireless Mouse M510

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If you want a wireless mouse that is comfortable to hold, comes in different colors, and has a long battery life — users report about one year on average — then check the Logitech M510. Your wallet will be as happy as you are!

$20 at Amazon

A Basic Mouse

Amazon Basics Wireless Mouse

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Sometimes all you want or need are the basics. This three button mouse uses a 2.4GHz USB receiver and a one year warranty and does exactly what it’s supposed to do. And does it well for just $10.

$10 at Amazon

Swiss-Army Mouse

Logitech M720 Triathlon

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Start with a precision laser for accurate tracking. Toss in a newly sculpted body, big free-spinning wheel, and redesigned thumb button. Keep the Bluetooth or USB receiver options and multi-device pairing from the original and see why we love the M720 Triathlon.

$34 at Amazon

King of the Hill

Logitech MX Master 2S

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Some love it because of the shape, others because of its ability to track anywhere (even frosted glass) or because it’s rechargeable. But almost everyone (sorry lefties) agrees it’s one of the best wireless mice you can buy for any computer including your Chromebook.

$71 at Amazon

With so many Logitech products on the list its no wonder the company sells so many computer peripherals — but it also happens to make most of our favorite wireless mice. My personal favorites are the MX Anywhere 2S to keep in my laptop bag (it seriously works anywhere) and the M720 Triathlon to use around the house. You never know when you’ll need that freewheelin’ feeling (and productivity) that comes from a “proper” pointing device.

3
Nov

The best heavy duty cases for your Galaxy S8


The Galaxy S8 is a slender, sweet piece of glass, and if you like to live the rough-and-tumble, it needs some rugged protection to keep up with you and make through the day in one piece. We’ve rounded up the best rugged cases for the S8, including the popular and pocket-friendly UAG Feather-light series which looks especially nice on the Galaxy S8. No matter your design preference or budget, we’ve got a case recommendation that’s right for you!

Rugged and reliable

Supcase Unicorn Beetle Pro

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The Supcase Unicorn Beetle Pro is the utmost in heavy-duty protection for your Galaxy S8. These three-piece cases feature a front cover, back cover, and a holster so that you don’t have to carry a heavier phone around in your pocket. Reliable protection for your Galaxy S8.

$18 at Amazon

Military-grade protection

Zizo Static Series

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The Static Series features a fold-out kickstand and two layers of protection: a hard polycarbonate shell with a silicone layer to disperse impact and cushion your phone. On top of providing excellent protection, the Zizo Static Series also looks really cool, and are available in seven vibrant colors.

$11 at Amazon

Sleek design

Caseology Legion Series

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For those who desire a rugged case with a smooth and sleek design, the Caseology Legion Series case is your best bet. It offers dual layer protection with a grippy hard cover to help prevent accidental drops. Available in four colors.

$15 at Amazon

Heavy duty, budget friendly

Poetic Revolution Series

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The Poetic Revolution case for the Galaxy S8 offers a two-piece case that protects with a TPU bumper backed with a reinforced shell on the back and a front cover protecting the display. This case is not compatible with tempered glass screen protectors, but should work with PET film products.

$10 at Amazon

Trusted brand

Spigen Tough Armor

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Spigen makes a phone case for every occasion and its Tough Armor series is perfect for heavy-duty protection. It has an inner layer of TPU for shock absorption and to protect against scratches, as well an outer shell made from durable polycarbonate. There’s also a handy kickstand on the back, so you can watch videos hands-free.

$17 at Amazon

Slim and secure

UAG Feather-light Rugged case

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Urban Armor Gear is another iconic brand that routinely delivers outstanding cases for Samsung phones in particular. Available in both solid and semi-transparent colors, these cases are thin and lightweight without sacrificing on build quality or ruggedness. Starting at $25 on Amazon, with some colors only available for $40.

$25 at Amazon

Iconic protection

OtterBox Defender

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The old standby of rugged cases, OtterBox is basically the OG rugged case maker, and chances are you’ve used one in the past, or have known someone who swears by them. There’s no front screen protector due to Samsung’s curved display, but it’s still got beveled edges to protect your screen when your phone lays flat.

$19 at Amazon

Four-layer drop protection

Pelican Voyager

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Pelican is a brand that’s best known for making reliably rugged luggage and bigger cases for hauling camera gear and other valuable items, but they also make phone cases using the same overkill approach to keeping your Galaxy S8 safe. This case comes with four layers of protection around the back and sides along with a scratch resistant screen protector.

$27 at Amazon

Rugged on a budget

Trianium Duranium case

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Trianium’s Duranium case is a rugged mix of hard polycarbonate and flexible, shock-absorbing TPU rubber. Available for as low as $11, it’s a steal of a deal. Plus, if you want to be extra fashionable, it comes with a belt clip that doubles as a kickstand.

$11 at Amazon

With the Galaxy S8 sporting that all-glass design, you’d be a fool not to keep your phone protected. We’ll shout out the UAG Feather-light series again for being compatible with wireless charging pads, but we also love the Spigen Tough Armor for those who also desire a built-in kickstand.

3
Nov

Dell Ultrasharp 49 review


How wide can your monitor be? Well, that depends. How wide is your desk?

Samsung’s 49-inch CHG90 ultrawide, released in fall of 2017, challenged everyone’s assumptions about how large a monitor should be. Now, a year later, Dell is taking up that challenge with its own ultrawide, the Ultrasharp U4919DW (better known as the Ultrasharp 49).

This massive monitor is the same size as the Samsung, but it’s also very different. Its 5,120 x 1,440 resolution is higher, its 60Hz maximum refresh rate is lower, and its 3800R curve is less dramatic. Though similar size, and this is a different beast with an impressive $1,700 price to match.

Is this the ultimate monitor? Or has Dell gone too far?

Yes, sir, it’s a Dell

If you’ve ever worked in an office, or even stepped inside on, you’ve likely laid eyes on a Dell Ultrasharp monitor. These popular displays are known for sturdy but buttoned-up design that puts function over form, and the Ultrasharp U4919DW doesn’t break the mold.

That’s not say this is an ugly monitor. In fact, it’s a bit dramatic. This is a 49-inch monitor with a 32:9 aspect ratio and slim bezels on all sides, so it’s going to turn heads. Once you get over its sheer size, though, there’s little to remark on. The large plastic rear panel looks goods and feels sturdy but doesn’t entice. We can say the same for the ergonomic stand, which offers height and tilt adjustments. Due to the Ultrasharp 49’s size, this stand doesn’t have the pivot and rotation adjustments commonly found on other Ultrasharp screens.

Connectivity is impressive. The screen comes with two HDMI 2.0 ports, one DisplayPort 1.4, five USB 3.0 downstream ports, two USB 3.0 upstream ports, and one USB-C port. Shew!

Once again, Dell has shown how monitor controls should be handled.

The Samsung CHG90 has similar loadout of video ports, but it ditches the USB-C for an extra mini-DisplayPort. You’ll also find audio jack pass-through on the Samsung monitor, which the Dell lacks. The Samsung has far fewer USB ports, though, with one USB 3.0 upstream and two USB 3.0 downstream.

On balance, the design and options of each monitor are tailored to their audiences. The Samsung is built for gaming and entertainment, so it has a more dramatic curve and extra video and audio ports. Dell, on the other hand, pitches the Ultrasharp 49 as both the ultimate productivity monitor and a dock for laptops that have USB-C connectivity. You can connect to the Ultrasharp 49 monitor via USB-C and connect your peripherals through it, instead of having a separate dock.

This is how you do monitor controls

Once again, Dell has shown how monitor controls should be handled. The Ultrasharp 49 includes five tactile buttons which are clearly labeled, once touched, by on-screen icons. These controls are responsive, the menus well organized, and the font size is extremely large. Finding and activating an option is rarely a chore.

Dan Baker/Digital Trends

There’s significant depth of choices, too. Aside from the usual options of contrast, brightness, and sharpness, you can change color temperature, color hue, saturation, gain, and offset. There’s also several customizable key options and little tweaks, like the ability to turn off the power light when the display is on, should that annoy you.

Resolution is where it’s at

If there’s one thing you should know about the Dell Ultrasharp 49 (aside, obviously, from its size) – it’s resolution.

Samsung’s CHG90 beats the Ultrasharp 49 in a few key tests, but barely.

Samsung’s CHG90 has a 3,440 x 1,080 screen, which makes it basically the same in pixel density as a 27-inch 1080p monitor. However, the Dell Ultrasharp 49 has a 5,120 x 1,440 resolution, which makes it like a 27-inch 1440p monitor. Put another way, the Dell has almost twice as many pixels as the Samsung.

It’s a big difference, and you’ll notice it. The Samsung’s pixel density is adequate, but fine details can look rough at times. That’s not an issue with the Dell. Its image appears sharp and detailed no matter what you view. The higher resolution also means you effectively have a larger workspace, since there’s more pixels available.

Sharpness is a clear win for the Dell, then. Yet image quality is about more than pixel count, and in many other important areas, the Samsung CHG90 and Ultrasharp 49 trade blows.

On balance, the Samsung comes away winning these bouts. It’s slightly better in contrast, color gamut, and even average color accuracy. However, the Samsung’s maximum brightness is lower and its gamma is slightly off, while the Dell’s gamma quite good. That means the Dell appears brighter and displays the brightness of content with better accuracy.

Which is better? Well, it depends on what you need. The Samsung is a stunner in games and the rare 32:9 video clip. It looks more fluid due to its faster 144Hz refresh rate, and its better contrast provides a better illusion of depth and realism.

Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Yet the Dell takes an edge in still images and productivity. It can render sharp text with ease, which means you can have any open windows with fine fonts and still read everything (so long as your eyesight is keen). It’s also a better display for editing images due to its more accurate gamma performance. The Dell Ultrasharp 49 is effectively the same as having two nice 27-inch monitors side-by-side, but without a bezel between them. That gives you a lot of screen real-estate to work with.

Both displays do share one weak point, and that’s backlight uniformity. You’ll likely notice areas near the edge of the monitor that are brighter than the middle. This is a common problem with ultrawide displays of any size and it’s usually towards the edges, where you look the least, but you should know of the issue before you buy. We think it’s an acceptable trade-off for size, but perfectionists will be annoyed.

Dell Ultrasharp 49-inch monitor (U4919DW) Compared To

Samsung LC49HG90DMNXZA CHG90 Series

BenQ EX3200R Gaming Monitor

Samsung CFG70

HP Dreamcolor Z32x

Philips 276E6ADSS LCD monitor

Acer S277HK

Acer XB280HK

Acer B286HK

AOC mySmart A2472PW4T

Dell P2314T

HP 2311gt

Gateway XHD3000

HP w2207

Gateway FPD1930

Samsung Syncmaster 173T

As mentioned, the Dell Ultrasharp 49 has a typical 60Hz refresh rate. It also lacks FreeSync support for smoother gameplay, something the Samsung CHG90 supports. Finally, the Samsung CHG90 supports HDR (in limited fashioned). These reinforce the differences between these monitors. The Dell won’t be able to handle high-framerate gaming or HDR movies as well as the Samsung display.

After calibration, it’s more of the same

Both monitors look great out of the box. Neither sets records, but they offer solid scores across the board and they’re a huge upgrade over the budget monitors most people buy. Which is good, given these massive displays have massive price tags.

Calibrating the displays didn’t change our impressions. Color accuracy didn’t change much. Gamma also stayed the same. We did tame the cool color temperature both monitors had out of the box, making the picture warmer and more inviting.

Our Take

Dell’s Ultrasharp 49 is only the second product in a niche category, and it does enough to distinguish itself from the Samsung CHG90.

The Dell’s $1,700 price tag is huge, however, and seriously cut into the display’s value. Samsung’s CHG90 is only $1,000 – still a lot, but more tolerable.

We doubt value shoppers are looking at 49-inch screens to begin with, though, and the Dell’s superior resolution might be worthwhile for discerning eyes.

Is there a better alternative?

There’s one alternative which, by now, you should know – Samsung’s CHG90. It’s the same size, but it offers different features for a different audience. Gamers will be more interested in the Samsung because of its lower price, high refresh rate, and HDR support. Those seeking a big monitor for multi-tasking, though, will prefer Dell’s superior resolution and work-friendly connectivity.

How long will it last?

Dell has an edge over Samsung here and again, it comes down to resolution. The Samsung’s lower resolution already looks a tad dated and may look seriously old-school in three years. That’s not a problem with the Dell Ultrasharp 49.

Our one concern is the lack of HDR support. We suspect that’s about to become common. However, even monitors that support it have limitations, so its absence is understandable.

A three-year warranty is standard with the Dell. Samsung offers the same for the CHG90.

Should you buy it?

Yes.

Look. The Dell Ultrasharp 49 is expensive. Very expensive. You don’t need it and odds are that, like most of the world, you can’t afford it. But if you can afford it, and you do want it, go for it. We’re certainly going to be sad when it leaves our desk.

3
Nov

New PortSmash attack exploits Intel’s Hyper-Threading architecture to steal your data


Intel

Security researchers from Finland and Cuba have discovered a side-channel attack, known as PortSmash, that affects Intel chips and could allow attackers access to encrypted data processed from a computer’s CPU. The vulnerability exists on chipsets that use simultaneous multithreading (SMT) architecture, so it could also affect AMD chips in addition to Intel chips with Hyper-Threading technology.

Researchers claimed that they notified Intel of the vulnerability at the beginning of October, but the chip-maker did not have a patch ready until the end of the month, the same day that a proof-of-concept code was published on Github to show how the attack would work on Intel’s Skylake and Kaby Lake architectures.

For PortSmash to work, malicious code must run on the same PC using the same processor core as the legitimate code. SMT and Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology allow for codes to run on separate threads simultaneously using the same processor core. This delivers greater efficiency, as more code can be executed at the same time. However, code executed on one thread can also observe what is happening on the other thread, and an attacker could use this behavior to inject malicious code to run in tandem with a legitimate code in order to eavesdrop on the processor. The malicious code will leak out bits of encrypted data that it observed from the legitimate process, allowing an attacker to reconstruct the encrypted data from the leak.

“We detect port contention to construct a timing side channel to exfiltrate information from processes running in parallel on the same physical core,” Billy Brumley, security researcher, and one of the research paper’s authors, told The Register.

Intel has since responded to the findings of Brumley and his team, noting that the issue is not related to already widely-known vulnerabilities like Spectre or Meltdown.

“We expect that it is not unique to Intel platforms,” Intel said. “Research on side-channel analysis methods often focuses on manipulating and measuring the characteristics, such as timing, of shared hardware resources. Software or software libraries can be protected against such issues by employing side channel safe development practices. Protecting our customers’ data and ensuring the security of our products is a top priority for Intel and we will continue to work with customers, partners, and researchers to understand and mitigate any vulnerabilities that are identified.”

Brumley noted that in order for PortSmash to work, the malicious code must run on the same processor as the target machine. Brumley’s team has not tested PortSmash on AMD processors, but the plan is to see if the same kind of attack can happen on Ryzen processors in the future.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Security flaw on modern PCs could leave your encrypted data exposed
  • White-hat Chinese hackers turn Alexa into a spy, briefly
  • Is your PC safe? Foreshadow is the security flaw Intel should have predicted
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 developers to suspend or ban players using exploits
  • One hacker is ‘shocked’ at vulnerabilities in the Google Home Hub



3
Nov

Microsoft has #*!@ed up to-do lists on an epic scale


I’ve always been a note-taker. From Post-Its to little twists of paper, I jot down reminders a dozen times a day. I know, it’s stupid: Digital Trends itself has a great post on the best productivity apps to get my lists in order, from simple systems like Remember the Milk and Google Tasks to robust life-organizers like Evernote. Technology can solve this problem for me. So I set out recently to get off the analog world of paper notes and into digital — and promptly ran into an immovable object: Microsoft.

Microsoft has mucked up to-do lists on a scale you simply can’t imagine, a failure that spans multiple products and teams, like a lil’ bit of salmonella that contaminates an entire factory’s output.

…like a lil’ bit of salmonella that contaminates an entire factory’s output

Yuck. Hear me out.

A year and half ago, the engineers rolled out a beta of Microsoft To-Do, the company’s replacement for the profoundly useful and popular Wunderlist app, which Microsoft bought back in 2015. Wunderlist is still pretty decent, even though Microsoft is very clear that it plans to suck the life out of it before burying it in an unmarked grave in Redmond. (To be fair, those are my words. In Microsoft’s, “Once we are confident that we have incorporated the best of Wunderlist into Microsoft To-Do, we will retire Wunderlist.” It reads better my way.)

So I signed up for Microsoft To-Do a month or two back, and replaced my Post-Its and scraps with tech. And it became clear pretty immediately the enormous gulch that still exists between Wunderlist and Microsoft To-Do. For starters, there’s the Cortana integration. Cortana is supposed to be Microsoft’s answer to Alexa and Siri, and To-Do lists are a key part of making that voice assistant functional. Tap the microphone next to the Cortana icon on your computer and say “Create a Holiday Planning list” and Cortana will make a new list for you … in Wunderlist. It’s the same functionality that has existed since the integration was rolled out in November of 2016, two years ago.

Microsoft To-Do, a tool to help you create a list for anything—for work, home projects or just your groceries.

That’s right, Microsoft’s own signature voice-recognition technology doesn’t recognize Microsoft’s own To-Do app, despite the company’s publicly announced plans to port over the best of Wunderlist. Is the company working to change that? Are the Cortana team and the To-Do team talking to each other? We asked Microsoft this question a week ago. The company declined to go on the record for this story.

Ugh.

Change is coming, thanks to announcements made at an early October event (where Microsoft unveiled the fantastic Surface Pro 6). Unfortunately, those changes are profoundly stupid.

First, Microsoft announced integration with Outlook – a concept that could turn To-Do into something amazing. Outlook is pervasive, like Dunkin Donuts or something. According to Jee Soo Han, a product marketing manager for Microsoft: “While in your inbox, open the tasks pane and drag and drop emails to it on the right-hand side to create a task. This task will sync to Microsoft To-Do with the associated email linked for reference. Now you don’t have to leave Outlook to create a task manually, and you’ll have the email to reference right in the task notes!”

Unfortunately, changes Microsoft plans are profoundly stupid

Great! Except it will only work in Outlook.com when the feature is finally released next month, and for other web versions of Outlook in December. Meanwhile, the same functionality exists today for the vast majority of consumers using the Outlook app on our desktop….. through Wunderlist, of course.

Digital Trends asked Microsoft when this basic functionality would be brought to the To-Do app. The company declined to respond.

Then there’s Microsoft Launcher version 5.0, unveiled at the same event and promising a deep connection between your Android smartphone and your Windows laptop or desktop. One key feature: Microsoft To-Do is built directly into the app. Great! Easy access to my list? I love it. Guess which program Microsoft decided to sync with it? You get a gold star if you guessed Wunderlist.

Launcher 5.0 is especially maddening because it looks virtually identical to the To-Do app itself, yet doesn’t connect with it in anyway. Install ‘em both and you’ll have two different versions of Microsoft To-Do running on the same phone that are unable to talk to each other. In the only meaningful comment Microsoft was willing to make for this article, the company acknowledged this issue: “The to-do list feature in Microsoft Launcher you see currently does not yet integrate with Microsoft To-Do. We are actively working on delivering Microsoft To-Do integration into Microsoft Launcher. We’ll have more to share when we’re ready.”

Don’t hold your breath.

Meanwhile, what about One Note? Does that integrate with To-Do? What about Windows itself? Or the other Office applications, like Word? What about Edge? I’ll let you guess. Microsoft, if you’re listening, tackle these simple asks!  It helps you to get it done, build yourself a To-Do list – just take the hint. Do it in Wunderlist, m’kay?

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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3
Nov

Sony Xperia XZ3 review: A low-key entertainment winner


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I know I’m a little late to this one, but Sony products are ones that I feel the need to luxuriate in, to get a feel for their pros and cons, benefits and drawbacks, over the course of a few weeks, not a few days. I think that’s OK, too, because the average Sony smartphone buyer probably isn’t lining up on day one to buy the company’s new phones. That is, if they’re even in a country that sells Sony products in stores.

The Xperia XZ3 was announced back in September, during the IFA conference in Berlin, and comes just six months after the Xperia XZ2. While the cadence was not surprising — Sony’s been doing twice-yearly phone refreshes since 2013 — the number of changes, physical and otherwise, were meaningful. The XZ3 is Sony’s best phone ever, but it comes at a $100 price increase over the XZ2, and given the number of high-end phones in that price bracket, I’m not sure the PlayStation maker has done enough to justify the surge.

A slippery sensation

Sony Xperia XZ3

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$900 at Amazon

A smartphone that’s good at almost everything

Sony’s Xperia XZ3 nails the fundamentals with a beautiful OLED screen, outstanding performance and battery life, a decent camera, and plenty of charm. But at $900, it’s too expensive.

I’ve used the Sony Xperia XZ3 on and off for a month now (it’s been a busy October, give me a break) and it’s been a sturdy companion. But should you buy it — especially when the up-front cost for most Americans is $900? Let’s dig into it.

Sony Xperia XZ3 What I love

Operating System Android 9 Pie
Display 6-inch OLED, 2880x1440Gorilla Glass 5 18:9 aspect ratio HDR support
Processor Snapdragon 845 64-bitAdreno 630
Storage 64GB
RAM 4GB
Rear Camera 19MP Exmor RS, hybrid AF960 fps FHD slow-mo, 4K HDR video
Front Camera 13MP f/1.9 wide-angle
Battery 3330mAh
Charging USB-C, PD Qi wireless charging
Sound Stereo S-Force front speakers
Water resistance IP68
Security Rear fingerprint sensor
Dimensions 6.2 x 2.9 x 0.4 in
Weight 6.8 oz
Network 1.2Gbps (Cat18 LTE)
Colors Black, White Silver, Forest Green
Price $899

Repelling (or ignoring) years of criticism about its phones, Sony has slowly been moving towards a style and feature set that it thinks will win over enthusiasts. Display, sound, and camera, all meant to bolster the entertainment experience of using one’s phone. With the XZ2 redesign, the company’s phones became a bit more ergonomic (and slippery), but considerably more in line with what you’d expect from a high-end smartphone in 2018. The bezels were reduced, the display quality improved, and the sound boosted.

And yet, even compared to other phones released in early 2018, the XZ2 was bulky and awkward. With the XZ3, there’s just enough refinement in the build and design that I’m willing to concede that the phone looks great, albeit a bit more generic than previous generations. The front is covered with a 6-inch QHD+ OLED display, with glass that slopes in slightly to meet the narrow metal bezel and color-matched glass back. I love this display, with its bright, vivid colors, excellent brightness, and HDR for supported content (though the company’s X-Reality engine reportedly upscales SDR to HDR, but that’s not really a thing).

It’s funny to think that just a few years ago Sony was rightfully excoriated for releasing phones with some of the worst LCD panels on the market. Things improved in 2014 with the Z3 line — viewing angles and colors grew more in line with the industry standard at the time — and the company is playing catch-up once again with the XZ3.

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But it’s fine, because this is one of the nicer OLED panels I’ve seen on a phone. At 2880×1440 pixels, it’s much sharper than the XZ2’s LCD panel, and touch response is as good as ever. Not only that, but Sony managed to eliminate more of the bezel above and below the display while maintaining the superlative S-Force stereo speakers the line is known for, all without resorting to a notched design.

Sony’s phone looks fantastic, if a little generic, but it’s in the feature set that the company hopes to differentiate itself this generation.

The best (and given the recent price drops, perhaps worst) thing I can say about the XZ3 from the front is that it looks a heck of a lot like the Samsung Galaxy S9. Sony’s paying attention to symmetry here, with an evenness and balance to the bezels above and below the display as well as the metal frame around the phone.

All of the phone’s buttons are on the right frame, and I’ve grown fond of their placement: volume near the top, power dead center (and well apart from the others), and a dedicated camera shutter near the bottom. While I love that Sony continues to emphasize the tactility of photo taking by offering a physical button, its usefulness has declined proportionally to the slipperiness and reduced size of the bezel. With the XZ3, Sony’s most svelte and slippery smartphone to date, I find it nearly impossible to use the shutter button without dropping the damn phone. It’s a problem (that requires a case).

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Around back, the phone’s single 19MP camera is flanked by a trail of sensors and LEDs, along with a capacitive fingerprint sensor that, while still too low, isn’t as awkward to use as it was on the XZ2, as the phone is slightly taller overall. We’ll talk about the camera later, but let’s talk sound now, because it’s one of my favorite aspects of this device.

Sony’s dual front-facing speakers are loud and clear, and combined with the Dynamic Vibration System, makes for an engrossing and enjoyable video-watching or music-listening experience. Dismissed as a gimmick in many of the reviews of the XZ2 and XZ3, I’m a big fan not only of the feature itself but of the concept: in lieu of using the phone’s internals as a resonance chamber a la LG G7 or Pixel 3, Sony’s chosen to focus on tuning its speakers for sparkling highs and warm mids while relying on an ultra-powerful vibration motor to recreate bass within the phone.

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I think it works, and because it’s a motor it can be tuned to your liking; the G7’s bass increases and decreases proportionally to the phone’s volume. And while the Dynamic Vibration System doesn’t reproduce low-end the same way as a subwoofer, I think it’s a stupendous solution to a problem many companies have struggled for a long time to solve.

Battery life is characteristically Sony excellent, which means all-day-plus, in my experience. Despite only having a cell size of 3,330mAh, Sony’s imperious killing of background processes ensures that there’s no workflow this phone can’t survive. In my multi-week torture test of the XZ3, I didn’t kill it before bedtime even once. Plus, it supports Qi wireless charging and USB-PD, so topping it up is fast and reliable.

As for software, I’m satisfied, if not elated, with Sony’s restraint in Android 9 Pie. Yes, it ships with the latest version of Android, but it also looks increasingly like Google’s version but for a launcher that can be easily swapped for something better. Sony doesn’t inundate users with gimmicky features (save for one, which I’ll get to), but there’s plenty to like about the pre-loaded experiences, including a well-designed camera app and gallery, and first-party options that are inspired by, but don’t copy verbatim, Google’s Material Theme.

A few more things the Xperia XZ3 does well:

  • Call quality is excellent, as is Bluetooth reliability.
  • I used the phone on TELUS and Wind Mobile in Canada throughout my testing period, and both networks performed extremely well. Speeds were often well above 150Mbps in tests, and signal strength remained strong.
  • While the XZ3 doesn’t have a headphone jack, it’s compatible with every USB-C headphone I own, which is encouraging.

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Sony Xperia XZ3 What’s not great

There’s a lot to like about the Xperia XZ3, but one thing dooms it, especially for the price: the camera isn’t great. The 19MP sensor and f/2.0 lens combination goes all the way back to early 2017 with the Xperia XZs, and while Sony gave image quality a boost with the XZ2, switching from its own proprietary processing engine to Qualcomm’s, and it showed — daytime images had better colors, and low-light photos weren’t as bogged down with noise. Here’s what I wrote when I reviewed the XZ2 back in June:

The phone makes smart decisions most of the time, but not every time, particularly in scenes with blown-out areas that require HDR, something Superior Auto is reluctant to apply.

That still applies today, but the points of comparison aren’t the same. Since the XZ2’s release, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, Pixel 3, and iPhone XS have all been released, lengthening the delta Sony has to narrow to get back into camera conversation. The problem isn’t that the XZ3 shoots bad photos — the sensor is good and the lens is sharp, so there are no real technical roadblocks here — but that they’re lifeless and boring, especially when compared with the current crop of great camera phones. While Sony’s camera app has improved immensely with its phones’ Android Pie update, the software just makes poor decisions.

Sony’s photo (left) overexposes the sky and doesn’t capture the correct white balance for this difficult daylight shot. Google’s HDR+ on the Pixel 3 (right) is wonderfully rich and visually impressive.

Colors aren’t just lifeless, they’re often wrong. White balance errs on the cool side, and exposure is infuriatingly inconsistent. And in situations where HDR is necessary, the automatic shooting settings don’t activate it, washing out skies and other bright areas, or keeping darker areas completely imperceptible.

When Sony’s camera (left) exposes properly it does grab lots of lovely, deep color, but it’s still overshadowed (pun intended) by the Pixel 3 (right).

I have taken great photos on the XZ3, and on Sony phones in general, but they are usually done in manual mode, and with a bit of patience tweaking settings. That shouldn’t be necessary.

Sony’s nighttime shooting (left) captures some detail, but even at high ISOs can’t manage to eke out enough light to make this low-light shot usable. The Pixel 3 (right) performs much better.

Sony’s video prowess is also marred by an issue I also experienced on the XZ2: dropped frames. Shooting a random video in 4K nearly always results in blips in the viewfinder — it looks like of like a glitch in the Matrix — which translates into dropped frames in the final product. I hoped this would be resolved with the update to Pie and the improved camera app, but it doesn’t appear to have been prioritized.

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Elsewhere, Sony’s one software “gimmick”, Side Sense, could have been great but is criminally underutilized. The idea of having a touch-sensitive side area isn’t new to the phone industry — HTC’s Edge Sense is probably the best-known and most robust example— but Sony’s Side Sense tries a different tack. By default, double-tapping anywhere on either side of the phone’s slightly curved glass — not the metal bezels, but the actual OLED display — shows your last eight most-used apps, with shortcuts to bring down the notification shade or to disable auto-rotate, among others. You can also configure a slide up or down the side to emulate Android’s back button.

The Xperia XZ3’s Side Sense feature could be an invaluable tool for power users, but it’s bogged down by Sony’s narrow thinking.

Side Sense would be useful were it not for its unreliable nature — you have to be very precise with your taps and swipes — and its lack of customization. Why not let me bring down the notification shade with a double-tap or slide instead of making me wade through a bunch of icons? Why can’t you disable the app switcher altogether and just emulate the quick settings menu? Sony’s idea is sound, but it didn’t take into account that the last thing I need is yet another way for me to access my apps; the home screen is a single tap away, as is the multitasking menu.

For Side Sense to be useful it would have to let me automate tasks that aren’t already within thumb’s reach. (Can we also talk about the fact that Sony lets me pull down the notification shade using a shortcut within Side Sense but not by swiping down on the rear fingerprint sensor like nearly every other manufacturer? Come on.)

Moving onto hardware, I’m all-in on Sony’s new design language and aesthetic, but my gosh this phone is slippery. Sony really should be including a case in the box — even a cheapy clear case — if it wants people to buy this. I can’t tell you how many times I almost dropped this phone during my testing period, and it slid out of my pocket more than once while sitting down.

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Sony Xperia XZ3 Should you buy it?

The Sony Xperia XZ3 is a good phone, and competes well with other flagships in its price range in every way but one: camera. That’s unfortunate given Sony’s position in the camera sensor market; it creates the actual sensors that go into every phone that destroys it in terms of photo quality and video performance. As Huawei, Google, Apple, and others invest in computational photography, Sony’s left exposing the weakness of relying on hardware alone (or the consequences of bad software processing).

The phone’s display and sound make for an enjoyable, if slight, upgrade over competing products, but it doesn’t trounce any of them. Indeed, the screen on the newly-released OnePlus 6T is almost as good, though it lacks the XZ3’s stereo speakers and powerful haptics. Sony also lacks a carrier ecosystem to fall back on in the U.S., so there’s no getting the phone on a generous financing plan. Nor can you use the XZ3 on Verizon, which limits its potential uptake in the U.S. Even the OnePlus 6T can boast of being sold at a U.S. carrier and being compatible with Verizon’s network.

3.5
out of 5


I’m a big fan of the Xperia XZ3, and have enjoyed my time with it. But like I’ve said with almost every other Sony phone (except the exceptional XZ2 Compact, which you should buy right now if you prefer small phones), it’s too expensive, and requires a pretty substantial price job to even be considered in the same breath as today’s flagships. As many people pointed out to me already, why should you buy this when the Galaxy S9 and G7 ThinQ are available for under $700 right now, or when the OnePlus 6T debuts at a tantalizing $549?

I don’t really have an answer for you. And that’s a big problem for Sony.

See at Amazon

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