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Form’s smart swimming goggles get refined for 2024

Tue, 2024-04-02 11:00

In 2019, Form launched a pair of goggles with a built-in display showing real-time data when you swim. Given how many things the company got right the first time around, the word of the day for its successor, the Smart Swim 2, is refinement. But a handful of incremental improvements also means there's no scream-from-the-rooftops reason to upgrade.

Smart Swim is a pair of fancy swim goggles with a chunky box (the “tech pack”) attached to one eye cup and a crystal in the corresponding lens. With it, you can see your statistics like your heart rate, distance, split times and more on a waveguide display without ever having to break your cadence.

Plenty about Swim 2 is carried over from the first model, including the two-button user interface, display resolution (72 x 40) and many of the internals. The addition of the heart rate sensor (which the company says has been tweaked to work well in water) has shaved down the battery life down to 12 hours from 16. But I’m not sure that’s a real issue unless you’re planning on swimming the English Channel.

Instead, Form has nipped and tucked at the existing model, with the tech pack being 15 percent smaller than its predecessor. Comfort and fit have also been worked on, with longer, more adjustable straps and a broader range of swappable nose bridges. Oh, and there were a couple of features that Form built into the first-generation hardware that have, until now, remained dormant. More on that later.


Form founder Dan Eisenhardt was in on the ground floor of the wearables craze of the 2010s. His last company, Recon Instruments, was building head-mounted displays long before Google pushed Glass out of the door. After initially considering, and then abandoning plans to make a swimming-focused wearable, it launched a pair of smart goggles for skiing in partnership with Oakley before making Jet, a cycling-focused unit under its own name.

These early successes attracted the attention of Intel while it was looking for the next big thing in computing. It bought Recon, among other wearables companies, with the smart business strategy of… running them all into the ground before cutting its losses a few years later. Once Recon had been scuttled, Eisenhardt and his colleagues went back to the product they had originally founded Recon to pursue, a head-worn swimming display.

Form Smart Swim 2 side by side with its larger, older predecessor.Photo by Daniel Cooper / Engadget

In use

It’s not a complicated process to get started once you’ve downloaded the app and paired it with your goggles. Turn it on with a long press of the power button and cycle through the options menu with the other button. You can opt for a pool, open water or a swim spa — the latter available for specific partner gyms. If you’re in the pool, you can then select its length from a list of standard options and press start, with the headwear tracking your motion automatically.

If I’m honest, not a huge amount has changed from the first version in terms of operation and use. If you’d like more details, then you can head back and read my original review which will hold you in pretty good stead. The only differences, really, are that you get your heart rate on the display. And, if memory serves, the markers showing you when the headgear thinks you’re swimming and when you’re at rest are clearer and more regularly updated. But that’s it, really.

Now, remember when I referenced that the first-generation Form had some extra gear on board that was left dormant? SwimStraight is making its debut on the Swim 2 but will also come to the first-generation hardware — so long as you sign up for the premium app subscription. You see, there’s a magnetometer in the tech pack that can act as a compass, and will give you a live directional bearing as you swim. When activated, the bottom half of the display transforms into the compass view, showing you a relatively precise heading.

SwimStraight is designed for open water swimmers who would otherwise rely upon landmarks to chart their course. For instance, if you’re doing a lap in a lake or out at sea, you might be breaking your stroke once every few minutes to make sure you’re lined up with a buoy. But the company showed me GPS telemetry data showing that these intermittent corrections cause swimmers to veer off course a lot. Whereas, if there’s a live compass bearing in your eye at all times, you’ll be able to keep more or less to your intended path.

I’m not going to lie, this feature impressed me far more than it had any business doing, given the low-ish tech nature of the hardware. Thrash your head around and you might force a slight delay as the compass catches up to your orientation but otherwise it’s very quick.

HeadCoach, meanwhile, launched last fall on the first-generation goggles and is similarly held behind the Premium paywall. The system looks at various elements of your form, like the pitch and roll of your head, and how quickly you turn your head to the side to breathe. It then scores you out of 99 for each of these facets, with video lessons and suggestions to get better. You can then set these suggestions onto your goggles for the next time you go into the pool, so you can get a real sense of what you’re doing and how to improve matters.

Form’s Smart Swim 2 is available today across the world, priced at $249 in the US and $339 in Canada. Its predecessor now has a 1 appended to its name and will remain on sale for $179, offering a more affordable entry-point for wary would-be swimmers. Here’s the thing, I actually think that the Smart Swim 1 with Premium is probably a more compelling option for many people. That’s not a diss against the 2 so much as praise for how good the existing model already was. Look, if you’re a Serious Triathlete who cares about your split times and owns a Garmin the size of the Cullinan Diamond, get the 2. But if you’re a better swimmer than I am (and it wouldn’t be hard) but would like some real-time data in the water, get the 1.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/forms-smart-swimming-goggles-get-refined-for-2024-150056789.html?src=rss

Apple brings Spatial Persona avatars to Vision Pro to help you feel less alone

Tue, 2024-04-02 10:48

Apple is making the Vision Pro a bit more social with the introduction of Spatial Personas, which breaks those avatars out of their restricted windows and plops them right next to you in virtual space. The goal is to make collaborating and hanging out feel more natural in the Vision Pro — you can work on presentations together, watch movies over SharePlay, or play games as if your friends are right beside you. The feature works with up to five participants, and it'll be available today for everyone with a Vision Pro running visionOS 1.1 or later.

Meta has tackled virtual collaboration similarly with Horizon Workrooms, but Apple's implementation reminds me more of Microsoft Mesh, which let me interact with virtual companions in AR using the HoloLens 2. Like the Vision Pro itself, Spatial Personas seem a bit more refined than Microsoft's 2021-era technology. You can enable or disable them at will from a FaceTime call, and Apple says everyone will be able to adjust content how they like, without affecting how their virtual companions will see it.

While I found Apple's Personas to be a bit creepy and robotic during my Vision Pro review, the company has steadily improved them to better capture different facial expressions and hairstyles. When they're stuck in a FaceTime window, Personas are a sub-par replacement for actually seeing your friends faces. But they may be more useful if they can make it seem like your remote friends are actually sitting beside you. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/apple-brings-spatial-persona-avatars-to-vision-pro-to-help-you-feel-less-alone-144824140.html?src=rss

HP Spectre x360 14 review (2024): Keeping the 2-in-1 laptop dream alive

Tue, 2024-04-02 10:00

The idea behind convertible, or 2-in-1 PCs, has remained the same over the last decade: Why buy a tablet when your laptop can fold a full 360 degrees, allowing you to use it as a large slate, or a screen propped up without a keyboard in the way? Most PC makers have moved on from the concept entirely, but HP remains one of the holdouts. While Windows never became the tablet-friendly platform Microsoft envisioned, there's still plenty of value in having a machine that can transform to suit your needs.

That was my takeaway two years ago when I tested HP's 16-inch Spectre x360, and now the company has returned with a smaller model, the Spectre x360 14. It features Intel's latest CPUs with AI-accelerating NPUs (neural processing units), faster Intel Arc graphics and a beautiful 2.8K OLED display. And best of all, it's still usable as a tablet, unlike its larger sibling.

Even if you never plan to twist its screen around, though, the HP Spectre x360 14 is still an attractive premium laptop. For some, it may also serve as a more traditional alternative to Dell's new XPS 14, which has an invisible trackpad and a capacitive function row. While that computer looks great, getting used to its less conventional features takes some time. The Spectre x360 14, on the other hand, is both attractive and familiar to anyone who's ever used a laptop. (Its rotating screen takes just 10 seconds to figure out for the first time, while Dell's invisible trackpad still tripped me up hours after I started testing it.)

HP Spectre x360 14 front viewPhoto by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget Design and hardware

That familiarity could also be seen as a shortcoming of HP's. The Spectre x360 14 has everything you expect to see in a premium laptop today: A sleek metal case, a gorgeous screen with ultra-thin bezels and a luxuriously large trackpad with haptic feedback. But really, it doesn't look that much different from the 13-inch Spectre x360 I reviewed in 2019. It would be nice to see HP take a few major design leaps, but on the other hand, I can't blame the company for sticking with a winning design.

With the Spectre x360 14, HP focused on minor updates. It has a wide 14-inch screen with a 16:10 aspect ratio, compared to the previous model's 13.5-inch display that was a squarish 3:2. Its trackpad offers configurable haptic feedback and is 19 percent larger than before, so much so that it completely dominates the palm area. HP stuck with its wonderfully responsive keyboard, but its key caps are 12 percent larger, making them easier to hit. And to simplify functionality a bit, HP unified the power button and fingerprint sensor (the laptop also supports Windows Hello facial biometrics).

The port situation hasn't changed. There are two USB-C connections along the right rear (including one on its unique chopped corner), as well as a drop-down USB Type-A port on the left and a headphone jack on the corner. As usual, it would have been nice to see some sort of card reader built in, especially for a machine aimed at creative professionals.

HP Spectre x360 14 headphone jack and USB-A portPhoto by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The Spectre x360 14 may look very similar to its siblings, but HP says it's been tweaked significantly under the hood. It now supports 28-watt Intel Core Ultra CPUs, instead of the previous 14-watt options, and offers 10 percent more airflow than before. The company also managed to engineer those improvements without increasing the machine's 17 millimeter height. At 3.2 pounds, it's a bit more portable than the 3.5-pound MacBook Pro 14-inch.

The Spectre's 9-megapixel webcam is also a major upgrade from the previous 5MP option. The new sensor offers hardware-enabled low light adjustment thanks to quad-binning, the process of taking data from four pixels and combining them into one. That allows cameras with smaller pixels to let in more light, resulting in a brighter overall picture. During Google Meet and Zoom calls, the webcam delivered a sharp picture with bright and bold colors. It looked almost like a mirrorless camera once I enabled Windows Studio Effects background blur, though the picture occasionally looked overexposed in direct sunlight.

HP Spectre x360 14 USB-C portsPhoto by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Video chats also sounded great through the laptop's quad-speaker array, which consists of two upward firing tweeters along the keyboard and two woofers along the front. There's not much low-end (especially compared to Apple's MacBook Pro speakers), but voices and music sound surprisingly clear. The speakers can also get pretty loud without distortion, which is impressive for such a thin system.

While the laptop has an NPU-equipped processor, which powers features in Paint, ClipChamp and Windows Studio Effects, the Spectre x360 14 isn't technically an "AI PC" under Intel and Microsoft's definition. The reason? It doesn't have a dedicated button for Windows Copilot. Personally, though, I haven't found that key to be very useful on the XPS 14 and 16. Triggering Copilot from the taskbar or Windows sidebar isn't very difficult, and it's certainly not onerous enough to warrant giving up a spot on the keyboard.

HP Spectre x360 14 screen stand formationPhoto by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget In use

The HP Spectre x360 14 I reviewed performed similarly to other machines we've tested with Intel's Core Ultra 7 155H chip. It’s fast and relatively efficient, especially compared to systems from two years ago. My review unit, which came with 32GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD, was 30 percent faster in the PCMark 10 benchmark compared to the Spectre x360 16 from 2022 (6,493 points, up from 4,785 points). This year’s Spectre also scored 78 percent higher in the Cinebench R23 multi-core benchmark, a testament to the improvements Intel has made since its 11th-gen CPUs.

Geekbench 6 CPU

PCMark 10

Cinebench R23

3DMark Wildlife Extreme

HP Spectre x360 14 (Intel Core Ultra 7, 2023)





ASUS ZenBook 14 OLED (Intel Core Ultra 7, 2023)





Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch (Apple M3, 2023)





HP Spectre x360 16 (Intel i7-11390H, 2022)





The most noticeable upgrade for the Spectre x360 isn't AI smarts; it's Intel's Arc graphics, which are dramatically faster than Intel's older integrated graphics. In 3DMark's TimeSpy Extreme benchmark, it almost kept up with NVIDIA's RTX 3050 in the x360 16 (1,435 points compared to 1,730). That's impressive for a machine that's far slimmer and lighter. Sure, it's no gaming rig, but I was still able to play Halo Infinite in 1080p at around 30 fps. I'm sure it would handle smaller indie titles just fine.

Thanks to the wealth of RAM and Intel's Core Ultra chip, my review model tackled everything I threw at it without any noticeable slowdown. During a typical workday, I juggle dozens of browser tabs, photo editing apps, YouTube streams, video chats, Slack and Evernote. The Spectre x360's OLED display also made everything look fantastic, even if I was just staring at words on a news site. It supports a variable refresh rate up to 120Hz, so scrolling through documents and sites was very smooth.

HP Spectre x360 14 keyboardPhoto by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

When I first tested a Spectre x360 five years ago, I immediately fell in love with its keyboard. Typing felt incredibly satisfying, thanks to a healthy amount of key travel and feedback. It was one of those rare designs that almost felt like it was begging me to use it, like a finely tuned piano that's simply urging you to play. Thankfully, HP didn't mess with any of that keyboard magic: The large new key caps are even more comfortable to use, and the actual typing experience is as great as ever.

I have a few complaints about the Spectre x360's new trackpad though. It's smooth and accurate for swiping, and its haptic feedback is indiscernible from a trackpad that physically depresses. But HP's palm rejection software feels sloppy — occasionally, while typing up a storm, my hand would hit the trackpad and push the cursor to select another window. It happened often enough that it became a creativity flow killer. I'm hoping this is something HP can sort out with a software update eventually.

As a convertible notebook, the Spectre x360 14 is far more useful than the 16-inch model. A gentle push on the screen is all it takes to flip it around the keyboard — it becomes a tablet when it’s fully turned around, or you can stop that process halfway and flip the Spectre around for its “tent” mode. The 14-inch x360 is better at being a slate, simply because it's lighter and easier to hold with one hand (though you'll probably want to prop it on your lap for longer sessions).

Rotating the screen was also less cumbersome, since the display was far less wide. I used the tent formation to watch YouTube videos in bed, while on the couch I occasionally folded the keyboard behind the Spectre, so I could use it like a large touchscreen with a stand. I appreciate the versatility of 2-in-1 convertibles more than the flexible OLED screens we're seeing on new machines. It's cheaper to implement, and for my purposes, convertibles are simply more pragmatic.

The Spectre x360's major flaw is battery life: It lasted five hours and ten minutes in the PCMark 10 Modern Office test, whereas the ZenBook 14 OLED pushed through for 12 hours and 43 minutes. There's a cost for keeping its frame so thin, after all. During real-world testing, it would typically need to charge around six hours into my workday. 

HP Spectre x360 14Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget Pricing and the competition

The Spectre x360 14 is a decent deal for a high-end convertible, starting at $1,450 with an intel Core Ultra 5 125H, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. At the time of writing, that configuration has been discounted by $300, which is an even better value. (Credit to HP for not offering a meager 8GB RAM option, which would only lead to headaches for most users.) For $1,900, you can bump up to a Core Ultra 7 155H chip, 32GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD.

Your options are somewhat limited if you're looking for other upper-tier convertible laptops. Dell's XPS 13 2-in-1 is still running older 12th-gen Intel chips, and you'll have to look to the middle-range Inspiron and Latitude lines for more modern options. We’re also still waiting to see Lenovo’s Yoga lineup get upgraded to newer Intel chips. And we haven’t tested Samsung’s Galaxy Book4 360, but it doesn’t have the style of HP’s design.

Microsoft's Surface Laptop Studio 2 is also technically a convertible (its screen pulls forward, instead of flipping around), but it starts at $1,900. For that price, you're better off going for the x360 14's beefier hardware, instead of the Surface's unique screen.

HP Spectre x360 14 case rearPhoto by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget Wrap-up

It's unclear how much life is left in the convertible PC format, but I wouldn't be surprised if HP ends up being one of the last companies still giving it a shot. The Spectre x360 14 is one of the best laptops you can buy today — the fact that it can also be flipped around in multiple orientations is just icing on the cake.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/hp-spectre-x360-14-review-2024-keeping-the-2-in-1-laptop-dream-alive-140045823.html?src=rss

Yahoo bought AI-powered news app Artifact from Instagram’s co-founders

Tue, 2024-04-02 10:00

Yahoo has bought Artifact, the news aggregation and recommendation app from Instagram’s co-founders. The app will no longer operate as a standalone service. Yahoo will fold Artifact's AI personalization tech and other features into products including Yahoo News in the coming months.

Terms of the deal, which closed last week, were not disclosed. Artifact founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger will advise Yahoo (Engadget’s parent company) during the transition.

“AI has allowed us to give users a better experience discovering great content they care about,” Artifact CEO Systrom said in a press release. “Yahoo recognizes that opportunity, and we could not be more excited to see what we’ve built live on through Yahoo News.”

Artifact debuted in January last year and it picked up a bit of steam thanks to its solid discovery system that surfaced stories users by and large wanted to read (it delivered me a nice blend of gaming, breaking news and architecture stories). The app aimed to improve its personalized news feed over time. It did an effective job of that while incorporating other AI-powered features such as news summaries.

However, the app didn’t quite take off in the same way as Instagram. While the team behind it did add social features such as profiles, comment voting and so on, Artifact just didn’t find a big enough audience. Systrom and Krieger announced plans to shut down Artifact back in January, but the pair actually kept it running a while longer by themselves until selling it.

As it happens, Yahoo bought another app that used AI to summarize news, Summly, over a decade ago. Similarly, it shut down that app and folded the tech behind Summly into other products.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/yahoo-bought-ai-powered-news-app-artifact-from-instagrams-co-founders-140040172.html?src=rss

This Shark robot vacuum and mop is nearly half off right now

Tue, 2024-04-02 09:35

It's spring cleaning season, but that doesn't mean you need to get on the floor and scrub. Robot vacuums are a great way to keep your home clean while doing little to nothing, and a few robovacs from Shark are currently on sale. One of the best deals comes courtesy of a 44 percent discount on Shark's AI Robot Vacuum and Mop. The device is down to $270 from $480 — only $20 more than its all-time low price.

Shark's AI Robot Vacuum and Mop is a great option for anyone looking to try a robot vacuum or upgrade their entry-level model. It's nearly identical to Shark's much pricier Ultra 2-in-1 Robot Vacuum and Mop, which appears on our list of the best robot vacuums for 2024 — it just doesn't have a self-emptying base. 

The AI Robot Vacuum and Mop does have quite a few gadgets, including home mapping and AI laser navigation for detecting row-by-row precision and detecting objects four inches or taller. The mop executes 100 scrubs per minute and follows no-mop zones. You can use UltraClean mode on specific, busier rooms, with Shark claiming vacuum work 30 percent better at cleaning carpets in the setting. 

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter and subscribe to the Engadget Deals newsletter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/this-shark-robot-vacuum-and-mop-is-nearly-half-off-right-now-133509697.html?src=rss

The Morning After: Does your car need a rear windshield?

Tue, 2024-04-02 07:15

You know those folks who say they’d donate a major organ to own a fancy car? Ask them if they’d feel as comfortable sacrificing a rear window instead. Polestar’s newest ride has made its North American debut at the NY Auto Show and notably lacks a rear windshield. The rationale is rear passengers get better headroom and a more comfortable ride than in other cars. Drivers, meanwhile, get a high-res display where the rear-view mirror used to be, linked to a live feed from a rear-mounted camera. Given how often people’s heads or luggage obscure the backward view, it’s a trade I’m readily prepared to accept.

— Dan Cooper

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From its start, Gmail conditioned us to trade privacy for free services Two decades of the customer being the product.

Gmail wasn’t the first service that turned its users into the product, but it’s probably the one we’re the most comfortable with. After all, while Facebook and its kin have been perpetually slammed for privacy issues, who really gets mad at Gmail? Our anniversary package has a deep dive into the last 20 years of Google’s flagship mail product.

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Google says it will destroy browsing data collected from Chrome’s Incognito mode … Oh, and speaking of Google and privacy.

The search giant has settled a recent class-action lawsuit relating to Chrome’s tracking of Incognito users. It has pledged to wipe out “billions” of data points it improperly collected and take steps to block any further tracking for five years. (Always a good sign when a company pledges to stop doing something it’s been told off for doing, but only for a short period.)

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Tekken director apparently keeps getting requests to add a Waffle House stage They could call it the Waffle Rough-House.

For the uninitiated, Waffle House is a waffle-centric chain of 24/7 American diners with a reputation for random outbursts of violence. It’s apparently so well known that Tekken players have been petitioning the game’s director to add a Waffle House level. Sadly, it probably won’t happen because Waffle House stands accused of underpaying its workers and, given the above context, exposing them to an unsafe working environment.

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This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-morning-after-does-your-car-need-a-rear-windshield-111523159.html?src=rss

Telegram takes on WhatsApp with business-focused features

Tue, 2024-04-02 06:18

Telegram isn't quite as widely used as WhatsApp, but businesses can now add it as a communication option for their customers if they want to. Anybody on the messaging app can now convert their account into a business account to get access to features designed to make it easier for customers to find and contact them. They'll be able to display their hours of operation on their profile and pin their location on a map. With their operating hours in place, customers can see at a glance whether they're still open and what time they're closing for the day. 

A screenshot showing a business profile on Telegram.Telegram

Businesses can also customize their start page and display information about their products and services on empty chats, giving customers a glimpse of what's on offer even before they get in touch. To make it easier to respond to multiple inquiries, Telegram Business accounts will also be able to craft and save preset messages that they can send as quick replies. Of course, they can also pre-write greeting and away messages that get automatically sent to customers who contact them. They can use a Telegram Bot to chat with their customers, as well, though we all know how frustrating it can be to talk with a robot when we need to talk to a human customer service rep. All these features are free, but only for those with a Telegram Premium account, which costs $5 a month.

In addition to introducing its new business-focused features, Telegram has also revealed that it's giving channel owners 50 percent of the revenue earned from ads displayed on their channels, as long as they have at least 1,000 subscribers. Based on information previously shared by company founder Pavel Durov, Telegram seems to be doing well financially and can afford to be that generous. Durov told The Financial Times that he expects the messaging app to be profitable by next year and that it's currently exploring a future initial public offering.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/telegram-takes-on-whatsapp-with-business-focused-features-101843987.html?src=rss

Jon Stewart says Apple asked him not to host FTC Chair Lina Khan

Tue, 2024-04-02 05:02

Jon Stewart hosted FTC (Federal Trade Commission) chair Lina Khan on his weekly Daily Show segment yesterday, but Stewart's own revelations were just as interesting as Khan's. During the sit-down, Stewart admitted that Apple asked him not to host Khan on a podcast, which was an extension of his The Problem with Jon Stewart Apple TV+ show at the time. 

"I wanted to have you on a podcast and Apple asked us not to do it," Stewart told Khan. "They literally said, 'Please don’t talk to her.'"

In fact, the entire episode appeared to have a "things Apple would let us do" theme. Ahead of the Khan interview, Stewart did a segment on artificial intelligence he called "the false promise of AI," effectively debunking altruistic claims of AI leaders and positing that it was strictly designed to replace human employees. 

"They wouldn’t let us do even that dumb thing we just did in the first act on AI," he told Khan. "Like, what is that sensitivity? Why are they so afraid to even have these conversations out in the public sphere?"

"I think it just shows the danger of what happens when you concentrate so much power and so much decision making in a small number of companies," Khan replied.

The Problem With Jon Stewart was abruptly cancelled ahead of its third season, reportedly following clashes over potential AI and China segments. That prompted US lawmakers to question Apple, seeking to know if the decision had anything to do with possible criticism of China. 

While stating that Apple has the right to stream any content it wants, "the coercive tactics of a foreign power should not be directly or indirectly influencing these determinations," the bipartisan committee wrote. (Apple's response to this, if any, has yet to be released.)

Stewart didn't say that the AI and Khan interview issues were the reason his show was cancelled, but they do indicate that Apple asserted editorial influence over issues that directly involved it.

Elsewhere in the segment, Khan discussed the FTC's lawsuit against Amazon, stating that the FTC alleges the company is a monopoly maintained via illegal practices (exorbitant seller fees, shady ads). They also touched on the FTC's lawsuit against Facebook, tech company collusion via AI, corporate consolidation, exorbitant drug prices and more.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/jon-stewart-says-apple-asked-him-not-to-host-ftc-chair-lina-khan-090249490.html?src=rss

The US and UK are teaming up to test the safety of AI models

Tue, 2024-04-02 02:30

OpenAI, Google, Anthropic and other companies developing generative AI are continuing to improve their technologies and releasing better and better large language models. In order to create a common approach for independent evaluation on the safety of those models as they come out, the UK and the US governments have signed a Memorandum of Understanding. Together, the UK's AI Safety Institute and its counterpart in the US, which was announced by Vice President Kamala Harris but has yet to begin operations, will develop suites of tests to assess the risks and ensure the safety of "the most advanced AI models."

They're planning to share technical knowledge, information and even personnel as part of the partnership, and one of their initial goals seems to be performing a joint testing exercise on a publicly accessible model. UK's science minister Michelle Donelan, who signed the agreement, told The Financial Times that they've "really got to act quickly" because they're expecting a new generation of AI models to come out over the next year. They believe those models could be "complete game-changers," and they still don't know what they could be capable of. 

According to The Times, this partnership is the first bilateral arrangement on AI safety in the world, though both the US and the UK intend to team up with other countries in the future. "AI is the defining technology of our generation. This partnership is going to accelerate both of our Institutes' work across the full spectrum of risks, whether to our national security or to our broader society," US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said. "Our partnership makes clear that we aren't running away from these concerns — we're running at them. Because of our collaboration, our Institutes will gain a better understanding of AI systems, conduct more robust evaluations, and issue more rigorous guidance."

While this particular partnership is focused on testing and evaluation, governments around the world are also conjuring regulations to keep AI tools in check. Back in March, the White House signed an executive order aiming to ensure that federal agencies are only using AI tools that "do not endanger the rights and safety of the American people." A couple of weeks before that, the European Parliament approved sweeping legislation to regulate artificial intelligence. It will ban "AI that manipulates human behavior or exploits people’s vulnerabilities," "biometric categorization systems based on sensitive characteristics," as well as the "untargeted scraping" of faces from CCTV footage and the web to create facial recognition databases. In addition, deepfakes and other AI-generated images, videos and audio will need to be clearly labeled as such under its rules. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-us-and-uk-are-teaming-up-to-test-the-safety-of-ai-models-063002266.html?src=rss

You can now use ChatGPT without an account

Mon, 2024-04-01 14:44

On Monday, OpenAI began opening up ChatGPT to users without an account. It described the move as part of its mission to “make tools like ChatGPT broadly available so that people can experience the benefits of AI.” It also gives the company more training data (for those who don’t opt out) and perhaps nudges more users into creating accounts and subscribing for superior GPT-4 access instead of the older GPT-3.5 model free users get.

I tested the instant access, which — as advertised — allowed me to start a new GPT-3.5 thread without any login info. The chatbot’s standard “How can I help you today?” screen appears, with optional buttons to sign up or log in. Although I saw it today, OpenAI says it’s gradually rolling out access, so check back later if you don’t see the option yet.

OpenAI says it added extra safeguards for accountless users, including blocking prompts and image generations in more categories than logged-in users. When asked for more info on what new categories it’s blocking, an OpenAI spokesperson told me that, while developing the feature, it considered how logged-out GPT-3.5 users could potentially introduce new threats.

The spokesperson added that the teams in charge of detecting and stopping abuse of its AI models have been involved in creating the new feature and will adjust accordingly if unexpected threats emerge. Of course, it still blocks everything it does for signed-in users, as detailed in its moderation API.

You can opt out of data training for your prompts when not signed in. To do so, click on the little question mark to the right of the text box, then select Settings and turn off the toggle for “Improve the model for everyone.”

OpenAI says more than 100 million people across 185 countries use ChatGPT weekly. Those are staggering numbers for an 18-month-old service from a company many people still hadn’t heard of two years ago. Today’s move gives those hesitant to create an account an incentive to take the world-changing chatbot for a spin, boosting those numbers even more.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/you-can-now-use-chatgpt-without-an-account-184417749.html?src=rss

Google says it will destroy browsing data collected from Chrome’s Incognito mode

Mon, 2024-04-01 13:21

The first details emerged Monday from Google’s settlement of a class-action lawsuit over Chrome’s tracking of Incognito users. Filed in 2020, the suit could have required the company to pay $5 billion in damages. Instead, The Wall Street Journal reports that Google will destroy “billions of data points” it improperly collected, update its data collection disclosures and maintain a setting that blocks Chrome’s third-party cookies by default for the next five years.

The lawsuit accused Google of misleading Chrome users about how private Incognito browsing truly is. It claimed the company told customers their info was private — even as it monitored their activity. Google defended its practices by claiming it warned Chrome users that Incognito mode “does not mean ‘invisible’” and that sites could still see their activity. The settlement was first reported in December.

The suit initially asked for $5,000 in damages per user for alleged offenses related to federal wiretapping and California privacy laws. Google tried and failed to have the legal action dismissed, with Judge Lucy Koh determining in 2021 that the company “did not notify” users it was still collecting data while Incognito mode was active.

Engadget emailed Google for comment about the settlement details. We’ll update this article if we hear back.

The suit’s discovery included emails that, in late 2022, revealed publicly some of the company’s concerns about Incognito’s false privacy. In 2019, Google Chief Marketing Officer Lorraine Twohill suggested to CEO Sundar Pichai that “private” was the wrong term for Incognito mode because it risked “exacerbating known misconceptions.” In a later email exchange, Twohill wrote, “We are limited in how strongly we can market Incognito because it’s not truly private, thus requiring really fuzzy, hedging language that is almost more damaging.”

The court didn’t approve a class of plaintiffs for financial damages, so users would have to sue Google as individuals to try to collect compensation. Some didn’t waste any time: A group of 50 people already filed a separate suit in California state court on Thursday over the privacy violations.

The lawsuit’s trial was initially scheduled for February. The settlement still needs final approval from Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of the Northern District of California before it’s official.

“This settlement is an historic step in requiring honesty and accountability from dominant technology companies,” Attorney David Boies, who represents the plaintiffs, said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal.

One piece of the settlement, the requirement that Google turn off third-party tracking cookies by default for the next five years, could already be a moot point. The company’s Privacy Sandbox initiative was already scheduled to disable all third-party cookies for Chrome users by the end of the year. It will replace them with the Topics API, a system that avoids cookies by categorizing browsing activity into locally stored topics. The new system lets advertisers target ads toward users without having direct access to their browsing data.

It’s also questionable how effective the destruction of the improperly collected data will be. Considering that the suit covers information stretching back to 2016, it’s reasonable to assume the company sold much of the data to third parties long ago or incorporated it into separate products not covered by the settlement.

Google will also have to rewrite its privacy disclosures over its data collection practices in Incognito mode. It told The WSJ it’s already begun applying the change.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/google-says-it-will-destroy-browsing-data-collected-from-chromes-incognito-mode-172121598.html?src=rss

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 is down to an all-time low

Mon, 2024-04-01 12:48

If you're on the hunt for a reliable tablet not made by Apple, this is a good sale to check out. Currently, Amazon, Best Buy and Samsung's own site are selling the base-model Galaxy Tab S9 for $670. That's $130 off the list price and the lowest price we've seen yet, beating the previous low it hit a few weeks ago. The Tab S9 family is our top choice for Android tablets, thanks to their multitasking abilities, great screens and useful available accessories like keyboards.   

We like the Galaxy Tab S9 tablets because they can do everything you'd want a tablet to do, plus a little more with added productivity features. The tablet's DeX mode creates an environment similar to a PC in which you can easily flit between different apps and windows, making it easier to do more complex tasks. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processors are speedy to support all of that productivity and the OLED displays look gorgeous. One of our few concerns in recommending the Tab S9 series is they tend to be expensive, but the $130 discount takes away some of that hesitation.  

The base model that's on sale here comes with 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, an 11" Dynamic AMOLED touchscreen, an IP68 dust- and water-resistance rating and support for Wi-Fi 6E. The included S Pen can be used for taking notes by hand, doodling and making art. Other accessories, like the keyboard case, are sold separately, and we can't help but notice the current price of that add-on is nearly the same as the discount on the tablet. 

For a less expensive tablet, it's worth noting that the budget recommendation from our Android tablet guide is also on sale. The Samsung Galaxy Tab A9+ 11” Tablet is $50 off and down to $220 at Walmart. The Google Pixel Tablet with charging speaker dock, which we think is the best pick for a tablet that doubles as a smart display, is 20 percent off and down to $399 at Amazon. That matches its all-time low. 

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter and subscribe to the Engadget Deals newsletter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-samsung-galaxy-tab-s9-is-down-to-an-all-time-low-164850118.html?src=rss

How to watch (and record) the 2024 solar eclipse on April 8

Mon, 2024-04-01 12:30

The great North American solar eclipse will darken the US, Canada and Mexico on April 8th, as you’ve no doubt heard. It’s a significant astronomical event, the first since August 21, 2017 and the last one that will be visible on the continent until 2044.

Parts of all three countries will experience “totality” or a full blocking of the sun by the moon. Those lucky folks may even see the sun’s corona and a “diamond ring” — both rare and dramatic sights. Other regions will experience partial eclipses, with the level depending on how close you are to totality. Watching the moon eat into the sun, even a bit, is still a spectacular sight.

So, which cities and regions will experience totality? When will it happen? What’s the weather forecast in those areas? And if you do have a clear view, how can you safely watch and record the event? Read on to find out more.

Where in the US will you experience the solar eclipse totality, and when? How to watch (and record) the solar eclipse

The good news is that many major centers are in the 100-mile-wide band of totality, so millions of people will be able to see a full solar eclipse. It follows a northeast path, so Mexico’s Pacific coast will get the first views in Mazatlan starting at around 10:57 AM PDT (total eclipse starting at 12:07 PDT), followed by the city of Torreón (all times local).

The total eclipse moves into the United states at 12:10 PM CDT (Eagle Pass, Texas), then hits Austin, Fort Worth and Dallas — three out of five of the most populous Texas cities. From there, it moves into Little Rock, Arkansas, followed by select parts of Missouri, Illinois and Indiana (including Indianapolis).

How to watch (and record) the solar eclipseNASA

Ohio cities Dayton, Toledo and Cleveland get the full show, followed by Erie, Pennsylvania, then Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse in New York along with Maine. Canada is in on the fun too, with parts of southern Ontario (Hamilton, Niagara Falls) and Quebec (Montreal) getting the totality, along with New Brunswick, PEI and finally, Bonavista, Labrador at 4:03 PM NDT (Newfoundland Time).

If you’re elsewhere on the continent and can’t travel, know that the closer you are to the band of totality, the more the sun will be obscured by the moon (this map shows how much of the eclipse you’ll get depending where you are on the continent).

An impressive list of major centers are within 200 miles of totality, so they’ll get a 90 percent or better eclipse (Houston, St. Louis, Memphis, Nashville, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Toronto, New York, Boston).

Anyone in the US south, midwest and northeast should get a decent spectacle, as will folks in Canada’s southeast and Atlantic coast. Even if you’re not in those regions, you might still see (and can capture) a mini eclipse.

How long with the 2024 solar eclipse last?

From the beginning when the moon first starts to cover the sun (partial eclipse) until the end when the two bodies part ways is a good long time – up to two hours and forty minutes in Dallas, and 2:18 in Caribou, Maine.

However, totality itself is brief, with the duration dependent on how close you are to the center of the totality band and the time of day. It’s at just under four minutes in Dallas, less than three minutes in Presque Island, Maine and a mere minute and 12 seconds in Montreal. As such, you’ll need to be ready and hope that the skies are clear during that brief window.

What’s the weather forecast in my area?

It’s still early for an accurate forecast, but a week is enough to get a general idea by region. Suffice to say, April isn’t the ideal month for clear skies. That said, an eclipse can still be visible through light cloud cover, and even if it’s thick, the sky will grow dramatically dark.

Unfortunately, the odds of precipitation are indeed above average across most of the band of the eclipse. Forecasts predict that the chances for clear skies are better the farther northeast you live, the opposite of historical trends.

To wit, Dallas has showers forecast throughout the day (58 percent), which would mean continuous cloud cover and no clear view if that holds. That improves a bit when you get to Indianapolis (partly cloudy, 24 percent chance of rain), with things better still in Buffalo, New York (partly cloudy, 11 percent).

Things are looking good right now in Montreal, though, with mostly sunny skies and only a 9 percent chance of rain, and the same goes for Fredericton, New Brunswick.

Niagara Falls also figures to have decent weather during the eclipse (mostly sunny, 18 percent) and is in the path of totality, which has led to the city declaring a state of emergency out of caution. Officials estimate that a million people could pour into the area, creating potentially dangerous crowds.

How can I watch the solar eclipse at home?

Staring at the sun is obviously dangerous for your vision, and doing so during an eclipse can be just as harmful. Even though you may not feel discomfort immediately, you may damage your eyes via an affliction called solar retinopathy. That can lead to serious consequences like eye pain, blind spots, blurred vision and more.

How to watch (and record) the solar eclipseAmerican Astronomical Society

To view it safely, you must purchase a pair of approved solar eclipse glasses based on an international safety standard called ISO 12312-2 (regular sunglasses won’t do). That dictates the maximum luminous transmittance, along with the range of permissible wavelength transmittance (UVA, UVB and infrared).

There’s certainly still time to grab a pair if you don’t have them already. The American Astronomical Society (AAS) has many recommendations for manufacturers and vendors, both online and at retail chains.

Warby Parker, for one, is offering free glasses (limit two per person while supplies last). You can also find them at Staples, Lowes and Walmart, or online at B&H and multiple science and astronomy stores.

The AAS advises against searching for the lowest price on Amazon or eBay, however, in case you get a bad knock off. “Before you buy a solar viewer or filter online, we recommend that you make sure that (1) the seller is identified on the site and (2) the seller is listed on this page,” it says on its Solar Eclipse Across America site.

How to watch the solar eclipse safely without glasses How to watch (and record) the solar eclipseCanadian Space Agency

It’s possible to view an eclipse without glasses via indirect means, as well. The simplest way is by punching a small round hole in a piece of thick paper or cardboard, then positioning it so the sun shines through the hole onto the ground or a flat surface (you can also attach a piece of foil with a hole, as NASA shows here). That will project an image of the Sun's disc, letting you see the eclipse in real time.

The same pinhole principle would let you use anything with perforated holes, like a colander, projecting dozens of tiny eclipses on a surface. Trees can do the same thing, casting weird leaf shadows with little solar eclipse chunks out of them.

How to watch (and record) the solar eclipseBenjamin Seigh/Wikimedia

For a bit better experience, you can build a crude box projector. With that, the sun shines through a hole in tin foil onto a white card, and you can look through a larger hole at the card, with the sun behind you. The Canadian Space Agency explains exactly how to make that.

Never, ever view an eclipse directly through a pair of binoculars or a telescope, as that’s a guaranteed way to damage your eyes. That said, you can use a pair of binoculars or a telescope to project the sun onto a piece of paper, as shown in this video.

How to take photos or video of the solar eclipse

Unfortunately, you can’t just point your smartphone or camera at the sun to record the eclipse, as the brightness will overwhelm the sensor and ruin the image (and possibly damage the sensor). Luckily, you can shield your camera just as you do your eyes.

The cheapest way to do that is to buy an extra set of eclipse glasses, then cut out an eyepiece from one and tape it over the smartphone (or other camera) lens. That will reduce the light levels enough to see detail in the sun throughout the partial eclipse and totality.

You can also purchase dedicated smartphone solar filters like the VisiSolar Photo Filter, which are designed for cameras and not direct viewing. Another choice is the Solar Snap Eclipse App Kit, which also offers an app that aids in photographing the eclipsed sun. It’s advisable to also wear solar glasses when setting up your smartphone or camera to protect your eyes.

If you’re shooting the eclipse with a dedicated mirrorless or DSLR camera, you’ll need either a mylar, 16-stop ND (neutral density) or hydrogen alpha solar filter. Again, do not look directly into a DSLR’s optical viewfinder at the sun if the lens doesn’t have one of those filters attached (the electronic viewfinder on a mirrorless camera is safe).

To photograph the eclipse with a smartphone, turn the flash off and put the camera into ultrawide or wide mode so it stays in frame. Do NOT look directly at the sun to line up your camera if you’re not wearing solar eclipse glasses.

Don’t use the digital zoom to try to make the eclipse bigger, as you’ll lose resolution (you can zoom in later in your photo editing app). Once focus is set on the sun, use your smartphone’s focus lock feature so that it doesn’t “hunt” for focus and blur the eclipse.

During totality, the “diamond ring” effect only lasts a split second, so use the burst mode of your camera or you’ll likely miss the shot. And try to capture RAW (rather than JPEG) images to keep the maximum detail possible for later editing. Some iPhone and Android smartphones have RAW capability built-in, if not, you can use a third-party app.

If you decide to capture video, you’ll need a filter as well, of course. But you should also use a tripod, as shooting handheld will induce blur and result in a shaky video. Even a cheap tripod will do the trick, along with a simple smartphone holder. Capture the highest resolution you can (4K or even 8K) at the highest quality possible. You’ll also capture any cheering, shouting, etc. — a precious souvenir you can look back on again and again.

More resources

There are plenty of government and private sites with more information about the eclipse, starting with the AAS’s eclipse site, detailing things like eye safety, imaging, resources and even a totality app — an “interactive map that shows what you’ll see at any location in North America for the total solar eclipse of April 8, 2024.”

NASA also offers a dedicated site for the North American Eclipse, as does the National Weather Service and National Solar Observatory. A private site called Great American Eclipse is largely commercial, but does have a very useful map showing the band of totality and how much of the eclipse you’ll see depending on location, along with a comprehensive list of eclipse times and durations by city.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/how-to-watch-and-record-the-2024-solar-eclipse-on-april-8-163035648.html?src=rss

Open Roads review: Take it slow and savor the drama

Mon, 2024-04-01 12:09

Open Roads is an easy game to get lost in. It tells a twisting tale about generational trauma — the tension, lies and love between mother and daughter — with all the comfort and warmth of an early 2000s network drama like Gilmore Girls or Charmed. As a former suburban teen myself, this game left me feeling equally exposed and understood.

Open Roads is set in 2003, and through environment and character design alone, it captures an authentic slice of life in this post-9/11, pre-Razr era. In the early aughts, I spent my teen years bouncing between Dad’s apartment on the outskirts of the city and Mom’s house in a dusty development site surrounded by grocery stores and Blockbuster Videos, and I had big dreams of escaping both. All this is to say, I relate to Open Roads' main character, Tess, who’s finishing up high school and planning a future in the hot new market of webpage design. Her parents are newly divorced and she’s been living with her mom, Opal, and grandma, Helen, outside of Detroit. Helen recently passed and her home is being sold against Opal’s wishes, so she and Tess are begrudgingly clearing it out and looking for a new place to stay.

A screenshot from Open Roads.Open Roads Team

The details of Tess’ family history are slowly exposed as she explores Grandma Helen’s home, told in old newspapers, photographs, books, postcards, heirlooms, phone calls and pottery-making materials. Tess and Opal eventually discover a suitcase hidden behind a false wall in the house, and it spurs them to embark on a road trip to long-lost locations from Opal’s past. Helen was a popular advice columnist and writer similar to Dear Abby, and her leftover letters, scattered around each environment, steadily peel back the layers of secrets that have enshrouded her, her daughter's and granddaughter's lives.

Every character in Open Roads has something to hide. I actually clocked the big twist about halfway through the game, but there was enough drama, doubt and emotional heft to keep me invested in the narrative regardless. Do yourself a favor and don’t look up any story spoilers — just enjoy the Open Roads ride.

A screenshot from Open Roads.Open Roads Team

This is exceedingly easy to do. Open Roads has expertly written dialogue, and its characters are infused with rich histories and complex motivations. The back and forth between Tess and Opal feels genuine for a teen daughter and her mother who’ve been trapped together in a car for hours on end: They quickly spark to anger and reconciliation, and just as easily act supremely silly around each other. A foundation of tenderness underlies their interactions. The voice acting, provided by mainstream television actors Keri Russell and Kaitlyn Dever, is superb, adding to the game’s immersive pull.

Open Roads uses a mix of 3D and 2D art — the backgrounds and interactable objects are 3D, while Tess and Opal are animated in hand-drawn 2D, moving in a floaty manner that reminds me of the early Disney classics. The styles work well together, for the most part. I found the visuals jarring in one section, when Tess and Opal were having a conversation in direct sunlight and the brightness of the scene made their 2D avatars look unfinished, unblended with the setting. Generally though, Open Roads is filled with engaging environments and beautiful details, with plenty of items to investigate and small puzzles to solve. The story unfurls naturally with every action prompt, and dialogue choices alter Tess and Opal’s trajectory throughout the game.

A screenshot from Open Roads.Open Roads Team

The sound design in Open Roads is particularly spectacular. Each object that Tess interacts with has a sound specific to its texture and weight. When Tess sets a cookie tin down on a kitchen countertop, it sounds like hollow metal scraping against wood; when she picks up a discarded cigar, the audio cues are soft and papery; Tess’ footsteps sound distinct on bare floorboards, carpet and rugs, with changes in density, bass and sharpness for each new material. Picking up Tess’ flip phone to text her BFF, I can hear the groaning of thick plastic hinges and the padded creaking as she rapidly presses down on the number pad. These sounds are crucial aspects of the game, louder than the bed of acoustic guitar or light synth that make up the soundtrack, and I’m entirely here for it. Open Roads is proof that ASMR exploration games should be a thing.

The features that will stick with me after finishing Open Roads are its sound design and its authenticity. There aren’t many games focused on the everyday lives and conversations of women, let alone mothers and daughters, and Open Roads is a testament to the power of these stories. The game oozes warmth and camaraderie, and its writing displays an abundance of respect toward the characters that drive its narrative. Every person with a voice in Open Roads is a woman, and Tess, Opal, Grandma Helen and Aunt August are each dynamic, sympathetic and flawed in unique ways. Considering the developers of this game broke free from a studio whose co-founder was reportedly hostile toward women, this accomplishment is even more significant.

My suggestion for fully enjoying Open Roads is to set aside a lazy afternoon, grab your favorite drink and some snacks, and make sure your headphones are on nice and tight. Turn up the volume so you can hear every plunk and tap of Tess’ world, and don’t try too hard to decipher the game’s secrets. Trust in the story and take it slow. This is a game worth savoring.

Open Roads is out now on consoles and PC, and it's part of the Xbox Game Pass library. It comes from Open Roads Team, published by Annapurna Interactive.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/open-roads-review-take-it-slow-and-savor-the-drama-160925576.html?src=rss

Lexar's latest storage sale includes a 1TB microSD card for $76

Mon, 2024-04-01 11:15

Here's a good deal if you need a big chunk of storage space for a Nintendo Switch, Raspberry Pi or any other device that still accepts microSD cards: The 1TB version of Lexar's Professional 1066x card is now down to $76.49 on Amazon. That's the lowest price we've tracked for this model and roughly $9 off the card's typical street price. The discount comes as part of a wider sale on Lexar storage gear that started on Sunday for World Backup Day, a commemorative date that intends to raise awareness about data protection and preservation. (Seagate, Crucial and other storage manufacturers are still running sales as well.)

The Professional 1066x is not a formal pick in our microSD card buying guide, as it's a bit slower than our top choices, Samsung's Pro Plus and Pro Ultimate, particularly in terms of sequential read speeds (which matter when you want to access large files stored on the card). Still, neither of those cards are available in a 1TB capacity — the Pro Plus will be, but not until later this year — and the Lexar model wasn't drastically far behind in our benchmark tests. For devices like the Switch or Steam Deck that cap microSD cards to standard UHS-I speeds, or even for capturing 4K video more casually, it'll be good enough. We'll note that there are some 1TB cards available for less, but among the models we've tested, this is a solid value for those who need a high capacity above all else.

If you need a standard SD card, meanwhile, this sale also brings the SD version of the 1TB Professional 1066x down to $110. That's another all-time low and about $15 off that model's usual going rate.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter and subscribe to the Engadget Deals newsletter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/lexars-latest-storage-sale-includes-a-1tb-microsd-card-for-76-151500809.html?src=rss

The Apple Watch Series 9 is on sale for $299 right now

Mon, 2024-04-01 09:28

If you've missed picking up the latest Apple Watch in past sales, now's your chance. The Apple Watch Series 9 is back down to its record-low price thanks to a 25 percent discount. The 41mm smartwatch is on sale right now for $299, down from $399. The deal is only available on the model with a Midnight aluminum case and a matching nylon sports loop.

The Apple Watch Series 9 debuted last September and garnered a 92 in our review. We even named it our pick for 2024's best overall smartwatch. One of the biggest changes for the Series 9 was the addition of Double Tap. This feature allows you to bring your thumb and index finger together (on the watch-wearing hand) to activate controls like hanging up a call. The Apple Watch Series 9 is also the first in its lineup to offer on-device Siri. This shift means Siri works a bit faster and is also available even when your watch is offline.

The Series 9 smartwatch offers a comprehensive range of health features, including a heart rate monitor, sleep monitoring and cycle tracking. Plus, as an added bonus, the Apple Watch Series 9 is carbon neutral, so you can feel a little better about buying another device.

Follow @EngadgetDeals on Twitter and subscribe to the Engadget Deals newsletter for the latest tech deals and buying advice.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-apple-watch-series-9-is-on-sale-for-299-right-now-132800610.html?src=rss

From its start, Gmail conditioned us to trade privacy for free services

Mon, 2024-04-01 08:00

Long before Gmail became smart enough to finish your sentences, Google’s now-ubiquitous email service was buttering up the public for a fate that defined the internet age: if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.

When Gmail was announced on April 1, 2004, its lofty promises and the timing of its release reportedly had people assuming it was a joke. It wasn’t the first web-based email provider — Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail had already been around for years — but Gmail was offering faster service, automatic conversation grouping for messages, integrated search functions and 1GB of storage, which was at the time a huge leap forward in personal cloud storage. Google in its press release boasted that a gigabyte was “more than 100 times” what its competitors offered. All of that, for free.

Except, as Gmail and countless tech companies in its wake have taught us, there’s no such thing as free. Using Gmail came with a tradeoff that’s now commonplace: You get access to its service, and in exchange, Google gets your data. Specifically, its software could scan the contents of account holders’ emails and use that information to serve them personalized ads on the site’s sidebar. For better or worse, it was a groundbreaking approach.

“Depending on your take, Gmail is either too good to be true, or it’s the height of corporate arrogance, especially coming from a company whose house motto is ‘Don’t Be Evil,’” tech journalist Paul Boutin wrote for Slate when Gmail launched. (Boutin, one of its early media testers, wrote favorably about Google’s email scanning but suggested the company implement a way for users to opt out lest they reject it entirely.)

There was immediate backlash from those who considered Gmail to be a privacy nightmare, yet it grew — and generated a lot of hype, thanks to its invite-only status in the first few years, which spurred a reselling market for Gmail invitations at upwards of $150 a pop, according to TIME. Google continued its ad-related email scanning practices for over a decade, despite the heat, carrying on through Gmail’s public rollout in 2007 and well into the 2010s, when it really started gaining traction.

And why not? If Gmail proved anything, it was that people would, for the most part, accept such terms. Or at least not care enough to read the fine-print closely. In 2012, Gmail became the world’s largest email service, with 425 million active users.

Other sites followed Google’s lead, baking similar deals into their terms of service, so people’s use of the product would automatically mean consent to data collection and specified forms of sharing. Facebook started integrating targeted ads based on its users’ online activities in 2007, and the practice has since become a pillar of social media’s success.

Things have changed a lot in recent years, though, with the rise of a more tech-savvy public and increased scrutiny from regulators. Gmail users on multiple occasions attempted to bring about class-action lawsuits over the scanning issue, and in 2017, Google finally caved. That year, the company announced that regular Gmail users’ emails would no longer be scanned for ad personalization (paid enterprise Gmail accounts already had this treatment).

Google, of course, still collects users’ data in other ways and uses the information to serve hyper-relevant ads. It still scans emails too, both for security purposes and to power some of its smart features. And the company came under fire again in 2018 after The Wall Street Journal revealed it was allowing third-party developers to trawl users’ Gmail inboxes, to which Google responded by reminding users it was within their power to grant and revoke those permissions. As CNET reporters Laura Hautala and Richard Nieva wrote then, Google’s response more or less boiled down to: “This is what you signed up for.”

Really, what users signed up for was a cutting-edge email platform that ran laps around the other services at the time, and in many ways still does. It made the privacy concerns, for some, easier to swallow. From its inception, Gmail set the bar pretty high with its suite of free features. Users could suddenly send files of up to 25MB and check their email from anywhere as long as they had access to an internet connection and a browser, since it wasn’t locked to a desktop app.

It popularized the cloud as well as the Javascript technique AJAX, Wired noted in a piece for Gmail’s 10-year anniversary. This made Gmail dynamic, allowing the inbox to automatically refresh and surface new messages without the user clicking buttons. And it more or less did away with spam, filtering out junk messages.

Still, when Gmail first launched, it was considered by many to be a huge gamble for Google — which had already established itself with its search engine. “A lot of people thought it was a very bad idea, from both a product and a strategic standpoint,” Gmail creator Paul Buchheit told TIME in 2014. “The concern was this didn’t have anything to do with web search.”

Things obviously worked out alright, and Gmail’s dominion has only strengthened. Gmail crossed the one billion user mark in 2016, and its numbers have since doubled. It’s still leading the way in email innovation, 20 years after it first went online, integrating increasingly advanced features to make the process of receiving and responding to emails (which, let’s be honest, is a dreaded daily chore for a lot of us) much easier. Gmail may eventually have changed its approach to data collection, but the precedent it set is now deeply enmeshed in the exchange of services on the internet; companies take what data they can from consumers while they can and ask for forgiveness later.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/from-its-start-gmail-conditioned-us-to-trade-privacy-for-free-services-120009741.html?src=rss

Microsoft unbundles Teams and Office 365 for customers worldwide

Mon, 2024-04-01 07:10

In October, Microsoft unbundled Teams from Microsoft 365 and Office 365 suites in the European Union and Switzerland to avoid potential fines. Now, the company is expanding this offering, selling Microsoft Teams separately from Microsoft 365 and Office 365 worldwide, Reuters reports. "Doing so also addresses feedback from the European Commission by providing multinational companies more flexibility when they want to standardise their purchasing across geographies," a Microsoft spokesperson told the publication.

Current users can now choose to keep their current deal or switch to one of the separate offerings — especially helpful for anyone who uses the Office suite but prefers another communication service like Zoom or Google Meet. Commercial customers new to Microsoft's offerings can pick up Teams on its own for $5.25, while Office sans Teams is going for anywhere from $7.75 to $54.75.

Microsoft's journey to unbundling Teams and Office started in 2020 when Slack filed an antitrust complaint with the EU. The now Salesforce-owned company alleged that it was illegal to include Teams in the Office suite and that Microsoft was blocking customers from removing the chat platform. The European Commission has subsequently been investigating this matter, with Microsoft announcing in April 2023 that it would separate Teams from Microsoft 35 and Office 365. Though the move went into effect last fall, Microsoft is still at risk of owing the EU a hefty fine if found to have broken antitrust laws.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/microsoft-unbundles-teams-and-office-365-for-customers-worldwide-111031996.html?src=rss

The best iPhone accessories for 2024

Mon, 2024-04-01 05:01

Whether you just bought an iPhone 15 for yourself or you’re looking to give someone a good gift to pair with their new handset, wading through the massive number of iPhone accessories out there can be hard. Yes, it’s easy to go straight to Apple for all your accessory needs, but you’ll probably spend more money than you have to if you do that. Companies like Anker, Speck, Peak Design and others make tons of chargers, cases, stands and more for iPhones that are just as good, if not better, than first-party offerings — and they typically cost less, too. We tested out a number of popular iPhone accessories to find the ones that are actually worth your money.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-iphone-accessories-140022449.html?src=rss

Tekken director apparently keeps getting requests to add a Waffle House stage

Sun, 2024-03-31 17:19

Waffle House is one of those uniquely American institutions-turned-meme. The 24/7 chain is not only a place where you can order a breakfast combo at 3AM, but where unruly customers have been known to show up ready to throw hands (and sometimes chairs). Given its notoriety for late-night brawls, it’s exactly the type of setting that would make for a perfect backdrop in a fighting game like Tekken 8 — and apparently, fans have been inquiring. Longtime Tekken director Katsuhiro Harada posted on X this weekend asking what the deal is with all the Waffle House requests.

Obviously, the question was posed in the days before April Fools’ Day, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there turned out to be some jest baked into it all. But now that we’re having the conversation…

Ok, I will only ask once about this request.
Why do some communities send me requests for "Waffle House"?

Please be sure to explain the basis for the request, including the original story, history and background.

I look forward to an explanation from someone who knows more. https://t.co/w8ozUnJ1mY

— Katsuhiro Harada (@Harada_TEKKEN) March 30, 2024

“Ok, I will only ask once about this request,” Harada posted. “Why do some communities send me requests for ‘Waffle House’? Please be sure to explain the basis for the request, including the original story, history and background. I look forward to an explanation from someone who knows more.”

Harada followed it up with another post thanking everyone who explained it and saying he understands, but went on to say, “The restaurant has both the trademark and the rights to the restaurant, so if the restaurant chain's headquarters refuses to accept my proposal, it will not happen.” Waffle House now has an opportunity to do something pretty funny here.

But that shouldn’t come before Waffle House adequately addresses the concerns of its employees, some of whom have been vocal in the last year about low wages and a lack of security. Employees from some locations are on strike, and the Union of Southern Service Workers has put together a petition demanding Waffle House implement changes to improve working conditions. Until that's resolved, any collaboration with the fighting game would just be in poor taste. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/tekken-director-apparently-keeps-getting-requests-to-add-a-waffle-house-stage-211913943.html?src=rss