Open-Source PHP Framework - Designed for rapid development of performance-oriented scalable applications

RSS Reader

$rss get::component('rss');
$articles $rss->getFeed('https://www.engadget.com/rss.xml');
foreach (
$articles as $article) {
    echo 
$html->h2($html->link($article['link'], $article['title']));
    echo 
$html->p($article['description']);
}

Live RSS feed output:

The Morning After: Senate passes the bill that could ban TikTok

The Senate approved a measure that will require ByteDance to sell TikTok or face a ban, in a vote of 79 to 18. The Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act next goes to President Biden. The president has already said he’ll sign the bill into law. (Yes, as predicted, I'm writing about this again.)

TikTok has faced the ire of US politicians for a few years now, but this bill has picked up support across both political parties. It sailed through the House of Representatives before being approved (bundled with a package for foreign aid) by the Senate on Tuesday.

The bill states that TikTok would have up to 12 months to divest from its parent company ByteDance, or face a ban in US app stores and web hosting services. The company, naturally, has protested this push, calling the bill unconstitutional and vowing to mount a legal challenge if the bill is signed into law. If it does so, it could bounce around courts for years before any eventual ban, if the company declines to sell. A few years is a long time in social media. Ask Snap, or worse, Vine.

And who would buy TikTok? While many major tech companies might love to grab the social network’s engaged young audience, many politicians would balk at making a Big Tech company even bigger. Steve Mnuchin, who was Treasury secretary in the Trump administration, told CNBC he was putting together an investor group. What could go wrong?

— Mat Smith

X, for some reason, has a TV app now

The best travel gear for graduates

Adobe Photoshop’s latest beta makes AI-generated images from simple text prompts

​​You can get these reports delivered daily direct to your inbox. Subscribe right here!

Microsoft has unveiled its latest light AI model, called the Phi-3 Mini, for smartphones and other local devices. The aim is to provide a cheaper alternative to cloud-powered large language models (LLMs), allowing smaller organizations to adopt AI, with presumably lower energy burdens and without heady processing costs. According to Microsoft, the new model handily outperforms its previous Phi-2 small model and is on par with larger models like Llama 2. In fact, the company says the Phi-3 Mini responds close to the level of a model 10 times its size. The trick is apparently in the data Microsoft used to train its tiny model.

Continue reading.

Tesla teased ride-hailing features coming to its app ahead of an August robotaxi unveiling. The company released mock-ups of the upcoming feature, which showed the ability to “summon” a ride from the Tesla app. The company has been promising self-driving taxi services for years. Tesla didn’t offer many details, but it seems to have Uber-like functionality and the ability to remotely set the car’s temperature before arrival.

Continue reading.

TMA
Meta

After a few months of testing, Meta is bringing multimodal AI to its smart glasses. Multimodal AI means the system can process multiple types of information, including photos, videos, text and audio. You might have seen feature showcases of AI-connected devices that can view what a device is looking at and offer extra information — that kind of thing. Meta also announced hands-free video call integration with WhatsApp and Messenger and a few more frame designs.

Continue reading.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-morning-after-senate-passes-the-bill-that-could-ban-tiktok-111556543.html?src=rss

Mercedes-Benz finally unveils its electric G-Class luxury off-roader

Back in 2022, Mercedes-Benz announced that it was going to release an electric G-Class by the end of 2024. Now, the automaker has formally introduced the electrified version of its iconic luxury vehicle that's known for its exclusivity. The Mercedes-Benz G 580 with EQ Technology comes equipped with a 116 kWh lithium-ion battery that gives it enough energy to run for up to 473 kilometers (294 miles) on a single charge. It also has a maximum total output of 432 kW and a maximum torque of 1,164 Nm.

The electric model looks pretty much like the gas-powered G-Class, with its sharp angles and its distinctive door handles, grilles and round headlights. Mercedes offers optional lighting exclusive to the EQ version of the vehicle, though, so you can change its looks and give it a design that's considerably different from a standard G-Class. The vehicle is powered by four electric motors located near each wheel and has several modes for off-road use: G-TURN, which will allow you to turn the vehicle almost on the spot, G-STEERING, which could eliminate the need for multi-point turns, and the intelligent off-road crawl function that provides cruise control for off-road drives. 

Mercedes-Benz made sure the vehicle's battery is ready for off-road journeys, as well, and encased it in a torsion-resistant casing that protects it from water and dirt. Since the vehicle can be driven in up to 33.5 inches of water, the battery definitely needs that kind of protection. It can charge with both alternating current and direct current, and when plugged into a fast-charging DC system, it can go from 10 to 80 percent in just 32 minutes. The G-Class can convert kinetic energy into electrical energy when you coast or hit the brakes, as well. 

EDITION ONE, the G-Class with EQ Technology coming out at launch later this year, will have an "an expanded palette of standard features." A company spokesperson told TechCrunch that a range-extended version with a battery that uses a more energy-dense silicon-anode technology from Mercedes' partner Silas will also be available in the next few years.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/mercedes-benz-finally-unveils-its-electric-g-class-luxury-off-roader-110040316.html?src=rss

The best cheap fitness trackers for 2024

Achieving your fitness goals doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. Keeping track of your progress will be crucial, but not everyone needs to drop hundreds of dollars on the best smartwatches out there. The average affordable tracker might offer just the right tools to help kickstart your health journey. And, after testing a number of affordable fitness trackers, I can say with confidence that you might be surprised by how much a $100 (or less) wearable can do. Many of these gadgets go well beyond being glorified pedometers, providing in-depth reports on how you're sleeping at night or giving you a breakdown of your heart rate variability during a workout. But given their price, there will be some sacrifices. To help you decide which is right for you, I tested a number of the best cheap fitness trackers available today to find the ones that are worth your money.

What to look for in a cheap fitness tracker

All of the best fitness trackers should have at least three features: a program to track workouts or movement of some sort, the option to monitor and collect sleep data and the ability to measure health metrics like heart rate and blood oxygen levels (though, the readings might not be super accurate).

Fitness features

A cheap workout tracker can be great for someone looking to keep tabs on small, achievable goals like 10,000 steps before sundown or 30 minutes of a HIIT workout to get your heart rate peaking. An experienced long-distance runner looking to train for a triathlon might opt for a more expensive device that can measure cadence or ground contact time, and can track more customizable workouts or give deeper insights into performance data.

At the very least, a budget workout tracker should be able to track workouts beyond walking and running — otherwise, it would just be a pedometer. The number of activities a device will recognize varies. Some will get funky with it and consider skateboarding a workout, while others won’t be able to track a jumping jack.

At this price, you can expect a device to measure a mix of cardio, machine workouts and strength training. With each, you might get a numerical or visual breakdown of heart rate activity, overall pace, and calories burned per session. Although some cheap trackers can offer a really good overview of heart rate zone activity during a workout, a more technically advanced device might be able to go a step further and explain what your results mean and coach you on how to keep your heart rate in a specific bracket so that you can burn more fat per workout. I found that the more budget-friendly the device, the more likely it is that a tracker will fall short when it comes to smart counseling or offering predictive insights beyond a given workout. If a budget tracker does happen to offer some semblance of a coaching program, you can expect it to sit behind a paywall.

Tracking and planning your recovery is just as essential to any fitness journey. A sub-$100 device should be able to tell you how long you’ve slept and provide a breakdown of deep, light and REM sleep activity. It's not a guarantee that you will get a sleep “score” or insights on how to get better rest — that data is usually found on more expensive wearables. Also, because these trackers aren’t designed for bedtime specifically — be mindful of comfort. The bands and watch face on a budget fitness tracker may not be ideal for getting some good shut-eye.

Connectivity and practicality

Not all activity trackers, budget-friendly or not, are designed to seamlessly integrate with a smartphone. The trackers tested for this roundup can’t directly make calls or send texts to contacts on a paired smartphone. They can, however, display and dismiss incoming calls and notifications. You can forget about checking your email or paying for a coffee from your wrist using these more affordable devices.

Most cheap fitness trackers also won't include a built-in GPS. Instead, they usually depend on a paired smartphone to gather location data. The drawback of using a fitness tracker without GPS is that it might not provide as precise for tracking distance or pace. You also can't use a budget tracker to get turn-by-turn directions during a walk or while running errands. For the more outdoorsy consumers, having GPS could be a key safety feature.

Design

You also might find that an inexpensive fitness tracker is harder to navigate than a more advanced smartwatch. Whether it be a screen size issue or simply not having a smart enough interface, don't expect every feature to be one that you can engage with directly on your wrist. Oftentimes, you will need to pull out your smartphone to log information or access more in-depth health data.

The quality and build of displays and bands will also vary in this category. Don’t expect the highest resolution displays or the fanciest materials in the bands. But you can expect some level of sweat and water resistance.

Other cheap fitness trackers we tested

Wyze Watch 47c

I didn't have high expectations of the Wyze Watch 47c, but I was shocked at how little this tracker can do. The 47c can only track walks and runs. It has a dedicated widget, a small logo of a man running, and when you tap it, it begins measuring your pace, heart rate, calories burned and mileage. It does not auto-detect or auto-pause workouts and it doesn't differentiate between a run and walk. Most importantly, this device can’t track any other exercises. It’s basically a glorified pedometer.

The 47c was also my least favorite to sleep with, mainly because the square watch face is so large and heavy. Even if I did manage to sleep through the night with it on, it only gave me a basic sleep report.

Garmin vivofit 4

The Garmin vivofit 4 has a tiny display that is not a touchscreen and all navigation happens through one button. The watch face is impossible to read outdoors and the exercise widget is also very finicky. To start tracking a run, you have to hold down the main button and flip through some pages until you get to a moving person icon. Once there, you have to press the bottom right corner of the bar and hold down and if you press for too long or in the wrong spot, it’ll switch to another page, like a stopwatch. It’s incredibly frustrating.

Once you start a run though, it will start tracking your steps, your distance — and that's pretty much it. It does not auto-detect or auto-pause workouts. It doesn't alert you of any mileage or calorie milestones.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-cheap-fitness-trackers-140054780.html?src=rss

EU's new right-to-repair rules force companies to repair out-of-warranty devices

The European Union has adopted a right-to-repair directive that will make it easier for consumers to get their devices fixed. The new rules extend a product's guarantee if it breaks under warranty, while obliging manufacturers to repair devices no longer covered. The law still needs to be approved by member nations. 

Devices sold in Europe already offer minimum two-year warranties, but the new rules impose additional requirements. If a device is repaired under warranty, the customer must be given a choice between a replacement or a repair. If they choose the latter, the warranty is to be extended by a year. 

Once it expires, companies are still required to repair "common household products" that are repairable under EU law, like smartphones, TVs and certain appliances (the list of devices can be extended over time). Consumer may also borrow a device during the repair or, if it can't be fixed, opt for a refurbished unit as an alternative.

The EU says repairs must be offered at a "reasonable" price such that "consumers are not intentionally deterred" from them. Manufacturers need to supply spare parts and tools and not try to weasel out of repairs through the use of "contractual clauses, hardware or software techniques." The latter, while not stated, may make it harder for companies to sunset devices by halting future updates

In addition, manufacturers can't stop the use of second-hand, original, compatible or 3D-printed spare parts by independent repairers as long as they're in conformity with EU laws. They must provide a website that shows prices for repairs, can't refuse to fix a device previously repaired by someone else and can't refuse a repair for economic reasons.

While applauding the expanded rules, Europe's Right to Repair group said it there were missed opportunities. It would have liked to see more product categories included, priority for repair over replacement, the right for independent repairers to have access to all spare parts/repair information and more. "Our coalition will continue to push for ambitious repairability requirements... as well as working with members focused on the implementation of the directive in each member state."

Along with helping consumers save money, right-to-repair rules help reduce e-waste, CO2 pollution and more. The area is currently a battleground in the US as well, with legislation under debate in around half the states. California's right-to-repair law — going into effect on July 1 — forces manufacturers to stock replacement parts, tools and repair manuals for seven years for smartphones and other devices that cost over $100.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/eus-new-right-to-repair-rules-force-companies-to-repair-out-of-warranty-devices-081939123.html?src=rss

The best microSD cards in 2024

Most microSD cards are fast enough for stashing photos, recording video and transferring files, but some will get you a little more bang for your buck than others. If you’re looking to boost the internal storage of your Nintendo Switch, Steam Deck, GoPro, Raspberry Pi or any other device that still has compatibility with microSD cards, we can help. We’ve thoroughly researched the market and put more than a dozen microSD cards through a range of benchmark tests: Here are the best that we’ve tested, along with some general advice on what to look for when buying a new card.

Editor’s note (4/24/24): Samsung has released an upgraded version of our “best value” pick, the Evo Select. We plan to test it soon and update our guide accordingly. Samsung says the new model can reach sequential read speeds up to 160 MB/s, so it should still be a step down from our other top picks, which we continue to recommend

What to look for in a microSD card

Capacity

The first thing to figure out when buying a microSD card is how much space you need. Modern cards are usually available in sizes ranging from 32GB to 512GB, while a handful offer 1TB models as well. 2TB cards are theoretically possible but still in the prototype stage.

For most, a 128GB or 256GB model should be the sweet spot between price and storage space. But if you need more room — say, for stashing a bunch of games on a Steam Deck — a 512GB card could make more sense and often provides a better cost-per-GB ratio. These days, you can find a decent 128GB card for around $15 or less, a good 256GB card for less than $30 and a solid 512GB card for less than $40 (though many cost closer to $50 or $60). There’s a starker increase when you go up to 1TB cards, which typically cost closer to $100.

Note that a microSD card’s performance may differ depending on what capacity you buy. SanDisk says its 128GB Extreme card delivers sequential write speeds up to 90 MB/s, for example, while the higher-capacity models in the same line offer up to 130 MB/s.

When we talk about microSD cards today, we usually refer to cards that use the microSDXC (eXtended Capacity) standard, which have a capacity between 32GB and 2TB. Your device needs to support this for it to work with a microSDXC card. This will almost never be an issue these days, but some older devices (a Nintendo 3DS, for instance) are only compatible with microSDHC (High Capacity) cards, which range from 2GB to 32GB.

Read and write speeds

MicroSD cards are primarily judged on their read and write speeds, which are usually measured in megabytes per second (MB/s). Generally, most microSD cards have faster read speeds than write speeds.

These metrics can then be broken down into sequential and random performance. Sequential read and write speeds matter when you’re trying to access or save long, constant streams of data, such as opening a large video or copying a big batch of files from a PC. If you want to use a microSD card for media storage, this is particularly important. Random performance, meanwhile, is about how quickly a card can read and write small files scattered throughout the device.

Since random read/write speeds are much lower than sequential ones, storage device makers tend not to advertise them as loudly. But they’re important if you use a card with a gaming device or a single-board computer like the Raspberry Pi, where it often has to rapidly save and access small bits of data in random locations.

A chart from the SD Association explaining how its various speed class ratings work.
SD Association

Speed ratings

If you look at a microSD card, you’ll see a buffet of numbers, letters and symbols. Most of these refer to the card’s speed class and performance ratings, which are determined by the SD Association.

A card’s Video Speed Class, or V-rating, details its minimum sequential write speed, which is especially important when recording video from a camera. It ranges from V6 to V90. Most of the cards we tested had a V30 rating, so they have a sequential write speed of at least 30 MB/s. This should be enough to support up to 4K video at lower bitrates. Higher-rated V60 and V90 cards are usually better for capturing 8K, but they come at a much higher cost.

The UHS Speed Class, or U-rating, also refers to a card’s minimum sequential write speed. It comes in two varieties: U3, which mandates a minimum of 30 MB/s, and U1, which is rated for 10 MB/s.

The older Speed Class rating overlaps with the other two systems. It’s signified by a C symbol and goes from Class 2 to Class 10, with the number (again) indicating minimum sequential write speed. This rating is less relevant nowadays, but you may still see a “C10” logo on some cards.

The Application Performance spec, marked by an A symbol, is an indicator of random read/write speeds. This is measured in IOPS, or input/output operations per second, rather than MB/s. There are two categories here: A1 cards offer a minimum random read speed of 1,500 IOPS and a minimum random write speed of 500 IOPS, while A2 cards bump those up to 4,000 IOPS and 2,000 IOPS, respectively. Both ratings also guarantee sequential write speeds of at least 10 MB/s.

To keep it simple, most people should look for a card with V30, U3 and A2 ratings. It’s totally possible to get a solid card without those: A U1 card might be worth it if you just need a cheap, high-capacity option, for example. V60 and V90 cards are worth a look if you’re serious about shooting high-resolution photos and video as well. But overall, cards with the certifications above should provide the best blend of price and performance today.

It’s important to emphasize that these ratings are baselines. Most V30 cards offer significantly higher write speeds than 30 MB/s, for instance, and some A1 cards can outperform some A2 models in practice. The speeds advertised by manufacturers aren’t always 100 percent accurate, either: Sometimes the card will be slower in real-world use, other times it may actually be a bit faster.

UHS bus speeds

The other spec to note is the card’s bus interface. Most microSD cards available today are UHS-I, which have a theoretical maximum speed of 104 MB/s. There are also UHS-II cards, which have an extra row of pins on the back and can reach up to 312 MB/s. (A UHS-III standard exists as well but hasn’t seen wide adoption.) These are labeled on the card with a Roman numeral I or II.

The fastest microSD cards you can buy right now are UHS-II cards, and they’re usually the ones with V60 or V90 ratings. If you shoot lots of 4K to 8K video or frequently use burst mode to capture ultra high-res photos, the performance gains of a good UHS-II card can save you time.

But these are much more expensive than UHS-I cards: For instance, this 128GB model from Lexar is a decent bargain at $40. That’s less than many UHS-II models we’ve seen in the past but still more than double the typical price of our top pick mentioned below. You need a device that’s compatible with the UHS-II interface to see any benefits, too, and stock for UHS-II cards is generally spottier. For now, the higher speeds aren’t worth the price premium for most people, so we stuck mostly to UHS-I cards here.

We’ll also note Samsung’s recent announcement of a new 256GB microSD card based on an entirely different standard called SD Express. This is theoretically much faster than any UHS-I or UHS-II option: Samsung claims this specific model can reach sequential read speeds up to a whopping 800 MB/s. For context, that’d be quicker than some older SSDs. SD Express has technically been around for several years but hasn’t seen wide adoption, so exactly how this card performs in reality — and how much it’ll cost — remains to be seen. We’ll test the device once it becomes available, which Samsung says will be sometime later in 2024.

Nintendo Switch and Nintendo Switch OLED, face down
Kris Naudus / Engadget

A note on card readers, the Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck

While the UHS-I spec has a theoretical maximum of 104 MB/s, some UHS-I cards can exceed that speed through proprietary extensions. You need a compatible card reader and host device to take advantage of that extra performance, though. If you find a UHS-I card advertising speeds higher than 104 MB/s, this is what’s going on. You can see these limits in action with a Nintendo Switch or Steam Deck: Both of those gaming devices support the UHS-I interface and don’t go beyond its official speed, flattening any sequential gains some cards may have elsewhere. The broader takeaway: Your microSD card will only be as fast as the slowest link in your chain.

Warranty

Many microSD cards are designed to be durable, with protection from water, extreme temperatures, X-rays and drops. Still, in case of catastrophe, a long warranty is always good to have. Many manufacturers offer lifetime limited warranties, though we’ve noticed that “endurance” cards marketed to withstand more hours of writing are usually covered for a much shorter period of time.

Avoiding counterfeits

The memory card market has had a particular problem with scammers selling fake products. To guard against this, only buy from a known brand and a reputable retailer such as Best Buy, B&H Photo or Adorama. If you shop at Amazon, only buy if the shipper and seller is Amazon.com. (Though a handful of users have reported receiving counterfeits even from Amazon directly in the past.) Remember: If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of any retailer offering significantly a lower price than others.

Once you receive a card, check its packaging for any irregularities. You can run benchmark tests like CrystalDiskMark or BlackMagic Disk Speed Test to verify its speeds aren’t drastically lower than what’s advertised (or possible, given its specs). You can also use software that’s designed to verify the true capacity and performance of your card, such as H2testw and FakeFlashTest.

How we tested

We put 13 microSD cards through a series of tests to verify their sequential and random performance. These included benchmarks like CrystalDiskMark, BlackMagic Disk Speed Test, ATTO Disk Benchmark and AJA System Test, as well as a few “real-world” tests. We copied and pasted a small folder of photos about 1.15GB in size to and from each card, then did the same with a larger 12.2GB folder containing multiple file types and subfolders, timing the process each time. We also checked how each card performed on the Steam Deck, downloading games of varying sizes — including Stardew Valley, Aperture Desk Job, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Apex Legends — then timing how long it took to launch each game and load save files.

We used a Kingston USB 3.2 UHS-II reader to test each card on both Windows 11 and macOS Sonoma. For the former, we used an Alienware gaming PC with an Intel Core i9-10900F, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 GPU, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. For the latter, we used a 2021 16-inch MacBook Pro with an Apple M1 Pro chip, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. To use our card reader on the MacBook, we used Apple’s USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter.

We tested the 128GB version of each card wherever possible, though for a few cards — SanDisk's Extreme and Samsung's Pro Plus and Pro Ultimate — we were only able to test their 256GB models. We also reformatted each card before testing with the SD Association’s Memory Card Formatter tool.

Other notable microSD cards

The SanDisk Extreme and PNY Elite-X microSD cards.
The SanDisk Extreme and PNY Elite-X.
Photo by Jeff Dunn / Engadget

Delkin Devices Power

We didn’t use it ourselves, but if you’re willing to pay for a more powerful UHS-II card built for heavy-duty video recording, the Delkin Devices Power has tested well elsewhere and should deliver significantly faster sequential write speeds than our picks above. It’s one of the few UHS-II cards we could actually find in stock, but it costs a ton, with a 128GB model normally priced at $93.

SanDisk microSDXC Card for Nintendo Switch

The SanDisk microSDXC Card for Nintendo Switch is another decent option if you ever see it available for less than the Pro Plus and Canvas Go Plus. Its sequential read speeds were about the same as the latter in our benchmarks, but its sequential writes were slightly slower (and farther behind the Pro Plus). Its random read/writes were a bit behind according to CrystalDiskMark as well. The 128GB version of this card is priced around $18 as of this writing, while the 512GB model costs around $50; both are higher than the Pro Plus. SanDisk backs the card with a lifetime warranty, however, plus it’s available in a 1TB capacity. Note that we tested the Apex Legends version of the 128GB card; SanDisk also sells a Super Mario model, but we can’t speak to whether that one performs any differently.

SanDisk's microSDXC Card for Nintendo Switch.
SanDisk's Nintendo Switch-branded microSDXC card.
Photo by Jeff Dunn / Engadget

Lexar Professional 1066x

Similarly, the Lexar Professional 1066x is a decent alternative to the Pro Plus if our main picks are unavailable. It’s another V30, U3 and A2 model, and like Samsung’s card, its sequential write speeds were a bit faster than the Canvas Go Plus and SanDisk Switch card in our benchmarks. Those write speeds weren’t as quick as the Pro Plus, and its sequential reads trailed all three cards. Random read/writes also lagged behind the Pro Plus and Canvas Go Plus, and we noticed its speeds peak and dip more noticeably in our file transfer test. Still, it’s not slow, so depending on its price, it might be a good bargain if you need fast write speeds for video recording and the like. It’s also available in 1TB, plus it comes with a lifetime limited warranty.

SanDisk Extreme

The SanDisk Extreme effectively matched the Pro Plus in a few of our sequential write tests and delivered sequential reads about on par with the Canvas Go Plus, but that was partly due to us only being able to secure the card’s 256GB model, which is higher-rated than the 128GB version. It’s a fine choice if you see it on sale at a reputable seller, but its random performance lagged behind the Samsung Pro and Kingston cards, and it typically costs more. It does have a 1TB model, though.

SanDisk Extreme Pro

The SanDisk Extreme Pro is a rival to the Samsung Pro Ultimate but, as of this writing, is either unavailable at most trusted retailers or priced too high by comparison.

PNY Elite-X

The PNY Elite-X wasn’t too far off the random read/write performance of the Pro Plus and Pro Ultimate in CrystalDiskMark, and it often goes for cheap, but it was well behind in our sequential tests.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-microsd-card-130038282.html?src=rss

Senate passes bill that could ban TikTok

A bill that could ban TikTok is now all but certain to become law. The Senate approved a measure that requires ByteDance to sell TikTok or face a ban, in a vote of 79 - 18. The “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act,” will next head to President Joe Biden, who has said he would sign the bill into law.

While it’s far from the first effort to force a ban or divestment of the social media app, the bill managed to draw far more support than previous attempts. The bill was introduced in March and sailed through the House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan agreement. A slightly revised version was approved as part of a package of foreign aid legislation on Saturday.

Under the updated terms, TikTok would have up to 12 months to divest from parent company ByteDance or face a ban in US app stores and web hosting services. The company has called the bill unconstitutional and indicated it would mount a legal challenge to such a law, which could further delay an eventual sale or ban.

The company didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

TikTok has long been viewed with suspicion by lawmakers and the intelligence community. Ahead of votes in the House and Senate, members of Congress were briefed by intelligence officials on the alleged national security threat posed by the app. The exact nature of those concerns is still unclear, though some members of Congress have asked for details from the briefings to be declassified.

At the same time, some lawmakers have expressed skepticism, saying that the alleged threat posed by TikTok is largely hypothetical. Free speech and digital rights groups also oppose the bill, noting that comprehensive privacy legislation would be a more effective way of protecting Americans’ personal data. TikTok CEO Shou Chew has made a similar argument, telling Congress last year that a forced sale wouldn’t resolve data concerns about the app.

But TikTok’s recent efforts to muster opposition to the bill may have backfired. Lawmakers rebuked the company for sending in-app notifications to users about the bill after the alerts resulted in a flood of calls to Congressional offices. And the app may have drawn even more suspicion when Politico reported last week that Chinese diplomats were lobbying Congressional staffers to oppose the bill. Officials in China have condemned the measure. A Chinese law, passed in 2020, could prevent ByteDance from including TikTok’s recommendation algorithm in a sale of the app.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/senate-passes-bill-that-could-ban-tiktok-014124533.html?src=rss

The world's leading AI companies pledge to protect the safety of children online

Leading artificial intelligence companies including OpenAI, Microsoft, Google, Meta and others have jointly pledged to prevent their AI tools from being used to exploit children and generate child sexual abuse material (CSAM). The initiative was led by child-safety group Thorn and All Tech Is Human, a non-profit focused on responsible tech.

The pledges from AI companies, Thorn said, “set a groundbreaking precedent for the industry and represent a significant leap in efforts to defend children from sexual abuse as a feature with generative AI unfolds.” The goal of the initiative is to prevent the creation of sexually explicit material involving children and take it off social media platforms and search engines. More than 104 million files of suspected child sexual abuse material were reported in the US in 2023 alone, Thorn says. In the absence of collective action, generative AI is poised to make this problem worse and overwhelm law enforcement agencies that are already struggling to identify genuine victims.

On Tuesday, Thorn and All Tech Is Human released a new paper titled “Safety by Design for Generative AI: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse” that outlines strategies and lays out recommendations for companies that build AI tools, search engines, social media platforms, hosting companies and developers to take steps to prevent generative AI from being used to harm children.

One of the recommendations, for instance, asks companies to choose data sets used to train AI models carefully and avoid ones only only containing instances of CSAM but also adult sexual content altogether because of generative AI’s propensity to combine the two concepts. Thorn is also asking social media platforms and search engines to remove links to websites and apps that let people “nudity” images of children, thus creating new AI-generated child sexual abuse material online. A flood of AI-generated CSAM, according to the paper, will make identifying genuine victims of child sexual abuse more difficult by increasing the “haystack problem” — an reference to the amount of content that law enforcement agencies must current sift through.

“This project was intended to make abundantly clear that you don’t need to throw up your hands,” Thorn’s vice president of data science Rebecca Portnoff told the Wall Street Journal. “We want to be able to change the course of this technology to where the existing harms of this technology get cut off at the knees.”

Some companies, Portnoff said, had already agreed to separate images, video and audio that involved children from data sets containing adult content to prevent their models from combining the two. Others also add watermarks to identify AI-generated content, but the method isn’t foolproof — watermarks and metadata can be easily removed.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-worlds-leading-ai-companies-pledge-to-protect-the-safety-of-children-online-213558797.html?src=rss

Tesla previews ride-hailing experience ahead of August robotaxi unveil

Tesla has shown off a preview of an upcoming ride-hailing feature in its app ahead of an August robotaxi unveiling. The company released mock-ups of the upcoming feature, which showed the ability to “summon” a ride from the Tesla app.

The company didn’t offer many details about how it would work, but images show Uber-like functionality, with the ability to remotely set the car’s temperature ahead of its arrival. Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced earlier this month that the company would unveil its long-promised robotaxis August 8.

Tesla has been promising a self-driving ride hailing service for years, with Musk promising the company’s robotaxi would start picking up riders back in 2019. For now, it’s unclear exactly when such a service might launch. “We are currently working on ride-hailing functionality that will be available in the future,” the company wrote in its latest earnings report. “We believe the Tesla software experience is best-in-class across all our products, and plan to seamlessly layer ride-hailing into the Tesla App.”

The update was shared in Tesla’s first-quarter earnings report for 2024. The automaker reported a revenue decline of 9 percent from last year, its steepest loss in more than a decade.

During a call with investors, Musk suggested the ride hailing service, which he referred to as "Cyber Cab," would function like “some combination of Airbnb and Uber,” so Tesla owners could choose to make their vehicles part of the service. “There'll be some number of cars that Tesla owns itself and operates in the fleet,” Musk said. “There'll be a bunch of cars where they're owned by the end user, but that end user can add or subtract their car to the fleet whenever they want. And they can decide if they want to only let the car be used by friends and family, or only by five star users, or by anyone.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/tesla-previews-ride-hailing-experience-ahead-of-august-robotaxi-unveil-212738199.html?src=rss

Roland’s mobile podcasting studio gives you a mic and streaming app for $140

Roland has a new on-the-go podcasting setup with an eye-catching price. The company’s Go:Podcast studio includes a USB condenser mic (with support for four polar patterns) and a companion app that can stream to platforms like YouTube, Twitch and Facebook.

The company describes the Go:Podcast as “the simplest way to do high-quality live streaming with a mobile device.” For $140, you get the USB microphone and access to the companion app (iOS and Android), which supports live streaming, including dual-camera setups. The latter can work simultaneously with your smartphone’s front and back cameras, or you can pair a second “satellite” camera to complement your phone’s. It also supports wireless screen sharing for things like live-streaming mobile gameplay.

The microphone’s polar pattern options include cardioid (best for one person speaking), omni (multi-directional) and stereo (best for two people or musical performances). A fourth option lets you flip the stereo channels to match your video.

Product marketing photo for the Rode Go:Podcast mobile studio. At center is a desktop microphone, and it's flanked by two smartphones on mini tripods (showing the podcast video on their screens) and a pair of headphones.
Roland

Somewhat confusingly, many of Roland’s product photos (like the one above) show a mini smartphone tripod and V-Moda headphones alongside the mic, but those accessories aren’t included. A Roland spokesperson clarified to Engadget that those were meant to illustrate an example of a complete mobile podcasting system with the mic and app at its center.

The Go:Podcast app includes perks like overlaying text and images, playing video clips and audio tracks, picture-in-picture and split screen. It has free-to-use background music tracks (which hopefully sound better than I imagine) along with stock photos and videos.

Roland’s $140 Go:Podcast studio will arrive in early May. You can learn more (and look out for more specific availability as its launch date approaches) at Roland’s website.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/rolands-mobile-podcasting-studio-gives-you-a-mic-and-streaming-app-for-140-193359879.html?src=rss

Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses do the AI thing without a projector or subscription

The Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses have been something of a pleasant surprise. They make videos, take photos, livestream and act as an adequate replacement for headphones, all while looking like a normal pair of sunglasses. However, everyone’s been waiting for the addition of multimodal AI after early access testing began in January. Now it’s here.

What is multimodal AI? Simply put, it’s a toolset that allows an AI assistant to process multiple types of information, including photos, videos, text and audio. It’s an AI that can view and understand the world around you in real time. This is the underlying concept behind Humane’s maligned AI Pin. Meta’s version is more conservative with its promises and, honestly, we came away impressed during our initial hands-on.

Here’s how it works. The glasses have a camera and five microphones, acting as the AI’s eyes and ears. With this in mind, you can ask the glasses to describe anything you are looking at. Do you want to know a dog’s breed before you go up and give it a good pet? Just ask the glasses. Meta says it can also read signs in different languages, which is great for traveling. We enjoyed exclaiming “Hey Meta, look at this and tell me what it says” and listening as it did just that. There’s even a landmark identification feature, though that wasn’t available to test.

There are some other potential use case scenarios, like staring at loose ingredients on a kitchen counter and asking the AI to whip up a relevant recipe. However, we need a few weeks of real people running the tech through its paces to gauge what it's actually good at. Real-time translation is going to be something of a killer app, particularly for tourists, but here's hoping it keeps the hallucinations to a minimum. Mark Zuckerberg has shown the AI picking out clothes for him to wear but, come on, that’s about as pie in the sky as it gets.

Multimodal AI wasn’t the only update for the smart glasses announced today. Meta revealed hands-free video call integration with WhatsApp and Messenger. There are also some new frame designs for the fashion-conscious. These new styles can be fitted with prescription lenses and are available for preorder right now. The Ray-Ban Meta smart glasses start at $300, which isn’t chump change but is certainly better than $700 for a clunky pin.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/ray-ban-meta-smart-glasses-do-the-ai-thing-without-a-projector-or-subscription-175403559.html?src=rss

Samsung's Galaxy S24 Ultra is on sale for its lowest price yet at Amazon and Best Buy

Both Amazon and Best Buy are selling unlocked models of Samsung's Galaxy S24 Ultra with 256GB of storage for $200 off the list price. That brings the smartphone down to $1,100 and marks the lowest price we've seen yet (outside of trade-in and carrier offers). Last month, all three handsets in the S24 lineup were on sale, with the base model going for $100 off and the S24+ and S24 Ultra both getting $150 discounts. This time, the top-end Ultra has an even bigger price cut and the S24+ is the same $150 off. The base model Galaxy S24 is only nine percent off, however, which is about $25 more that it was during that last sale. 

We named the S24 Ultra the best premium Android smartphone in our guide and gave it a review score of 89 when it came out at the beginning of this year. This generation got a new titanium frame, one upgraded camera and, like everything else in 2024, a whole bunch of AI accoutrements. It has a snappy Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip and a battery that lasted through 24 hours-plus of continuous video playback in our rundown tests and went for a good two days of regular use. 

The four rear cameras stayed much the same as on the S23 Ultra, with the exception of the old 10x lens getting replaced with a 5x optical zoom and a higher-res 50-MP sensor, a move we found created a lens that was more practical in a wider variety of situations. The AI tools can proofread your texts, edit images and transcribe recordings. The display is one of the sharpest and brightest we've tested. Plus the built-in stylus is handy.  

But even with a $200 discount, the S24 Ultra remains a very expensive phone. Our overall pick for an Android smartphone, Google's Pixel 8 Pro, starts at $999, and is currently 20 percent off at Amazon and directly from Google, making it just $799. Engadget's Sam Rutherford gave the Pixel 8 Pro a score of 93 upon its debut last October, praising its bright screen, speedy performance and "genuinely useful AI features."

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/samsungs-galaxy-s24-ultra-is-on-sale-for-its-lowest-price-yet-at-amazon-and-best-buy-173023101.html?src=rss

Amazon’s updated grocery delivery program has some strings attached

After asserting itself as an overshadowing presence in retail, Amazon is still experimenting with ways to leave a similar mark in groceries. The company’s latest tweak to its service lowers the minimum price for free grocery deliveries to $35. However, most customers using the service will also need to pay a $10 monthly subscription in addition to having a Prime membership ($15 monthly or $139 annually).

To participate, you must live in one of the 3,500 supported cities and towns in the US. (When signing up, it will let you know if your primary shipping address isn’t supported.) The service offers unlimited grocery deliveries from Amazon Fresh, the Amazon-owned Whole Foods and various local and specialty partners. Those include Cardenas Markets, Save Mart, Bartell Drugs, Rite Aid, Pet Food Express, Mission Wine & Spirits and more.

The subscription includes one-hour delivery windows where available, unlimited 30-minute pickup orders and priority access to the company’s Recurring Reservations. This feature lets you pick a guaranteed weekly grocery delivery window. To use it, you’ll need to pick your weekly two-hour slot at least 24 hours in advance.

An Amazon Fresh worker in a neon green vest loads Prime Fresh groceries into a hatchback with a child grinning in the backseat. The person loading the groceries smiles back.
Amazon

People using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other government assistance programs can get the same grocery delivery benefits for half the price ($5 monthly). If you fall in that camp, you can get those perks without needing a Prime subscription on top of the subscription fee.

It remains to be seen if this latest iteration of the program will stick since Amazon’s strategy has been all over the place. Early last year, the company increased the minimum checkout price for free grocery deliveries from $35 to $150, then dropped it to $100 (while voiding the Prime requirement) about 10 months later. If you like this version of the program, cross your fingers that Amazon doesn’t change it again in a few months.

Before rolling out the program’s latest version on Tuesday, Amazon tested it in Columbus, OH, Denver, CO, and Sacramento, CA, in late 2023. The company says over 85 percent of survey respondents who used the service were “extremely” or “very” satisfied, leaving high marks for its convenience and savings on delivery fees.

You can see if the program is available in your area on Amazon’s groceries sign-up page. If it is, you can try it free for 30 days before paying.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/amazons-updated-grocery-delivery-program-has-some-strings-attached-171513989.html?src=rss

8BitDo's Nintendo-style Retro Mechanical Keyboard hits a new low of $70 at Woot

If you're in the market for a new mechanical keyboard with some retro flair, here's a deal worth noting: the 8BitDo Retro Mechanical Keyboard is down to $70 at Amazon subsidiary Woot. That's the lowest price we've tracked. This offer has been live for a few days, but it comes in $30 below 8BitDo's list price and $10 below the wireless keyboard's previous low. Unfortunately, the deal only applies to the device's Fami Edition, which has a color scheme and Japanese characters inspired by the Famicom console Nintendo released in Japan during the '80s. 8BitDo sells another variant that's modeled after the US NES, but that one costs $20 more as of this writing. (A third model based on the Commodore 64 is also on the way.) 

Though it isn't a formal pick in our guide to the best mechanical keyboards, the Retro Mechanical Keyboard earned a spot in our retro gaming gift guide last year. The vintage aesthetic is the main reason to consider it: If you dig old tech, there aren't many options going for this kind of look. Still, this is a solid keyboard in its own right. Its tenkeyless form factor should be comfortable for most people, and it can connect over Bluetooth, a wireless dongle or a detachable USB-C cable. While it's made from plastic, the chassis doesn't come off as cheap. Its PBT keycaps are crisply textured, and its keys largely feel stable, with no major rattling on larger inputs like the space bar. It also comes with a goofy yet fun pair of NES-style "Super Buttons," which you can program to perform different commands.

Be warned, though: It's on the louder side. The Retro Mechanical Keyboard ships with clicky Kailh Box White V2 switches, which are generally satisfying to press but have a high-pitch tone that your spouse or coworkers may find aggravating. This fits with the retro aesthetic, but the keyboard might be best kept tucked away in a home office. There's also no backlight or adjustable feet. The switches are hot-swappable, however, so it's easy to change them out for a different feel down the road. 

In the end, how much you enjoy the old-school styling will determine whether the Retro Mechanical Keyboard is worth getting. If you want something a little more subdued that costs less than $100, we recommend Keychron's V Max series in our buying guide. But 8BitDo's board is still a decent value, and this discount only furthers that. Woot says the offer will run for six more days or until the device sells out.

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/8bitdos-nintendo-style-retro-mechanical-keyboard-hits-a-new-low-of-70-at-woot-170000966.html?src=rss

Your old Rock Band guitars now work in Fortnite Festival

You may be able to give those plastic Rock Band guitars you have stuffed away in the attic a new lease of life. Fortnite Festival (a Rock Band-style mode that debuted in Fortnite in December) now supports several Rock Band 4 controllers across PlayStation, Xbox and PC, as detailed in a blog post.

If you have a compatible plastic guitar, you can use it to play new Pro Lead and Pro Bass parts in any Jam Track. These parts have colored notes for each lane that match with the guitar controller buttons. They also include hammer-on and pull-off notes — just like Rock Band and Guitar Hero.

Epic Games (which bought Rock Band developer Harmonix in 2021 to build music experiences for Fortnite) plans to add support for more peripherals down the line. Hopefully, the developers will make the whammy bar more useful beyond triggering a visual effect too.

Epic previously said it would add support for Rock Band guitars. Earlier this year, third-party peripheral maker PDP (which Turtle Beach recently purchased) unveiled a new Xbox and PlayStation wireless guitar controller for Rock Band 4 and Fortnite Festival.

Support for the Rock Band peripherals come just as Billie Eilish joins the game as its new music icon. Several of her songs are available to buy and use in Fortnite Festival, and you'll be able to purchase an Eilish outfit (or unlock one through a secondary battle pass) and play as her in the Battle Royale mode.

Meanwhile, Epic has added a setting that allows players to hide certain emotes that others often use for trolling in Battle Royale. For instance, after being eliminated, a player might not want to see a rival using the "Take the L" emote, which involves making the shape of an "L" (for "loser") on their forehead and doing a silly dance. The setting won't stop players from using any emotes and it only hides four of them for now. Somehow, one of the emotes that the setting doesn't hide is a personal favorite called "Rage Quit."

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/your-old-rock-band-guitars-now-work-in-fortnite-festival-164054839.html?src=rss

Elon Musk says it's his turn to have the remote

X just announced a smart TV app for streaming video. Or, more accurately, that it claims it's building one, with absolutely no launch date mentioned. The appropriately-named X TV wants to be “your go-to companion for a high-quality, immersive entertainment experience on a larger screen.” By high-quality entertainment, X likely means that one Tucker Carlson video where he’s really impressed by grocery carts in Russia. That’s not a joke. Carlson is featured prominently in the little teaser video.

X CEO and marketing robot Linda Yaccarino promises “real-time” content and wide availability, but other than that details are scanter than scant. There’s some corporate speak nonsense about AI, of course, and boasts about “effortless casting” from a mobile device to a TV. Wait, I thought this was a TV app? So it’s also a mobile app that casts to a TV? Is there another word for less than half-baked? Does raw work?

In other words, we don’t know much. This is X. All we get are word salads that don’t really mean anything and then, one day, the app may or may not actually appear. If it does, it’s likely to be hopelessly broken. That sounds harsh, but there’s plenty of proof-laden pudding to go around. We got receipts.

Back when Twitter first rebranded to X, the company promised the whole thing would soon be “powered by AI.” X eventually did create a chatbot, Grok, but it’s not exactly the sharpest algo in the shed. It also doesn’t look to be “powering” the site anytime soon. Elon Musk promised that X would soon become a payments and banking platform, which thankfully hasn’t materialized. Remember when Musk said that all major X decisions would be conducted via user poll? When was the last time you’ve seen one of those? There’s also the whole ongoing blue check fiasco.

The long-promised job search tool did launch, but it’s just kind of crappy. X did pursue original video content for a while, but things seem to have cooled off ever since the Don Lemon/Elon Musk debacle. Two years after Musk purchased the site, it’s still far from being the “everything app.”

There’s also the question of what kind of content will be streaming on this platform. Again, this is X. I’m just not sure how many people want to sit on their living room couch and watch a guy scream into the void about how the video game site Kotaku is ruining American society. The ad spotlights Carlson, as mentioned above, which indicates an endless stream of videos of people complaining about the word woke without actually defining it. Call me crazy, but I’d rather watch actual TV.

Heck. Even if I wanted to watch a vlog of impotent rage, YouTube is right there. It’s on smart TVs now and it works just fine. It has everything Yaccarino promises that one day will come to X TV. Plus, YouTube can teach you stuff, beyond how to block folks with a blue check next to their name.

X TV may or may not release in the near or far future on some or all smart TVs. It may be an actual app on the TV or an app on a phone that casts to a TV. It may be powered by AI, or not. It may have “tailored search” or it may just show you endless loops of Jordan Peterson bursting into tears. Who the heck knows. Be on the lookout for this latest pivot to video… or not.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/elon-musk-says-its-his-turn-to-have-the-remote-161914334.html?src=rss

Nobody needs to spend $160 on a gaming mouse, but Razer’s new Viper V3 Pro is excellent anyway

Razer has rolled out the Viper V3 Pro, its latest high-end wireless gaming mouse. What makes a gaming mouse “high-end,” you might ask? Mainly, it’s super lightweight and packed with impressive wireless and sensor tech, all of which makes it extremely responsive in competitive games. I’ve had one on hand for about two weeks now and have felt next to zero delay flicking through rounds of Halo Infinite and Apex Legends.

The other thing is the price: The Viper V3 Pro is available today for $160 in the US or €180 in Europe. That isn’t unheard of — Razer’s own DeathAdder V3 Pro, the top wireless pick in our gaming mouse buying guide, costs the same — but it’s certainly not cheap.

If you keep up with the gaming mouse market, here’s the short version: The Viper V3 Pro has virtually the same shape and soft-touch coating as last year's midrange Viper V3 HyperSpeed, but it’s far lighter at 54 grams, plus it has optical switches, a technically superior sensor and a few small design tweaks. It’s the follow-up to the popular Viper V2 Pro from 2022 and the ambidextrous complement to the aforementioned DeathAdder V3 Pro, which has a more dramatically contoured ergonomic shape.

A black Razer Viper V3 Pro gaming mouse and a white Logitech G Pro X Superlight 2 gaming mouse rest side-by-side on top of a brown wooden table.
The Razer Viper V3 Pro (left) and Logitech G Pro X Superlight 2 (right), another high-end wireless gaming mouse with a symmetrical shape.
Photo by Jeff Dunn / Engadget

For everyone else, the main thing to know about mice like this is that they’re built for competitive gaming above all else. As such, the Viper V3 Pro deliberately excludes features that’d make it more convenient for day-to-day use: There’s no Bluetooth and only two side buttons, while the DPI switch is located on the bottom of the mouse. The scroll wheel can't tilt left or right, and there’s no lighting, either. But these omissions make sense if you view the mouse as a tool for esports: They keep the weight down and make it harder to hit buttons by accident.

The most important thing with any gaming mouse is its shape, and the Viper V3 Pro’s should fit most hand sizes well. It’s highly similar to Logitech's G Pro X Superlight 2, its chief competitor, but slightly longer and flatter. A modest but noticeable hump in the center rests naturally in your palm, while the sides are gently contoured in then out to welcome the tops of your thumb and ring finger (or pinkie). The main click buttons are grooved, slightly flared and amply sized. None of the angles are aggressive. Razer says it works best with a fingertip or claw grip; I have few issues as someone who uses the latter. But the design isn’t so short or flat that it’s horrible for palm grips. In total, it measures 5.0 x 2.51 x 1.57 inches.

The mouse’s coating is pleasingly soft and smooth. It’ll pick up fingerprint smudges over time, but it should be grippy enough for most people out of the gate. (Razer includes some pre-cut grip tape in the box if it still feels too slippery.) The device as a whole is sturdily built, with no sign of flex or creaking in my two weeks of daily use.

The underside of the Razer Viper V3 Pro is exposed on top of a brown wooden table.
Photo by Jeff Dunn / Engadget

The Viper V3 Pro isn’t the absolute lightest gaming mouse, but calling a 54g device too heavy to move around would be splitting hairs. Notably, it achieves this weight without any cutouts in its top or bottom shell. Rival gaming mice like the Pwnage Stormbreaker or Pulsar X2V2 are similarly light but leave their interiors more open to dust and detritus.

The mouse’s main click buttons are fast, not sticky and on the softer side for a device that uses optical switches. They aren’t as loud as the clicks on the G Pro X Superlight 2, though the right-click panel on my test unit sounds a little less full than the left-click one. (That’s more of a nitpick than a dealbreaker.) As with most optical mice, the main buttons may not be as satisfying to press as good mechanical switches, but they’re more likely to avoid durability issues over time. I’d also give the Viper V3 Pro the edge over Logitech’s mouse when it comes to the side buttons and scroll wheel. The Viper's wheel is tighter, quieter and has grippier ridges on its exterior, while its side buttons are a bit less mushy by comparison.

In terms of performance, the Viper V3 Pro uses Razer’s new “Focus Pro 35K Optical Sensor Gen-2.” It can reach a maximum of 35,000 DPI, and you can adjust that sensitivity in 1 DPI increments. A max speed of 750 IPS and max acceleration of 70 G accompany that. Per usual with gaming mice, these higher figures are partly marketing fluff: Many older gaming mice have few issues when it comes to sensor accuracy and consistency.

A white Razer Viper V3 Pro gaming mouse is held on top of a white mouse mat on a black desk, with a white keyboard glowing with green lighting situated off to its side.
The mouse is available in black or white, though Razer says the white model weighs a gram more.
Razer

Along those lines, the mouse comes with Razer’s HyperPolling Wireless Dongle, which costs $30 on its own. It advertises a maximum polling rate of 8,000Hz, which technically allows for more precise movements but has a negligible effect on real-world performance. Mostly, it saps battery life: Razer says the Viper V3 Pro can last up to 95 hours at a 1,000Hz polling rate, which is fine, but that dips to just 17 hours at 8,000Hz.

Still, while I am far from an pro-level player, I can’t foresee many complaints about the Viper V3 Pro’s responsiveness or connection quality. The shape, weight and sensor all play a role in that — as do the large PTFE feet, which let the mouse glide smoothly across surfaces. Somewhat less agreeable is the included cable, which is cleverly angled to reduce drag but isn’t the thinnest or most flexible cord I've seen. The dongle still requires running the cable from a PC to a desk, too.

Nevertheless, the Viper V3 Pro is well worth a look if you take competitive gaming seriously, prefer an ambidextrous shape and have money to burn. To be clear, there are still several gaming mice that’ll feel comfortable and perform well for less cash, especially if you’re OK with a wired model. And if you own an older Viper you’re still happy with today, there’s no pressing need to upgrade. A mouse like this is closer to a Ferrari, when most people can live just fine with a Subaru. That said, Ferraris are pretty nice, right?

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/nobody-needs-to-spend-160-on-a-gaming-mouse-but-razers-new-viper-v3-pro-is-excellent-anyway-150017198.html?src=rss

Apple will host a virtual event on May 7th, ahead of WWDC

Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference is only a few weeks away, but the company simply can't wait that long to make some more announcements. It has scheduled a virtual event for May 7. The stream will be available on Apple's website and the Apple TV app (and likely YouTube) and it will start at 10AM ET.

As usual, Apple hasn't been totally forthcoming about what to expect. However, the animated image it included in the announcement shows a hand holding an Apple Pencil in the center of a stylized, colorful Apple logo. That indicates the event is very likely going to be focused on iPad.

Rumors have been swirling for some time that Apple was likely to update the iPad Pro and iPad Air in a couple of sizes in May with M3 and M2 chips, respectively. The company is expected to bring OLED displays to the iPad Pro, while adding a larger 12.9-inch iPad Air to the lineup. Reports suggest a new Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro and a fresh Apple Pencil may be in the offing too. In any case, it's been over two years since the last iPad Air and around 18 months since the M2-powered iPad Pros debuted, so both are due for a refresh.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/apple-will-host-a-pre-wwdc-virtual-event-on-may-7-145859085.html?src=rss

The best noise-canceling headphones for 2024

For most wireless headphones, active noise cancellation (ANC) is a primary feature, especially at the mid-range to premium levels. ANC is a popular tool, especially for headphones you’re going to use in a variety of locations and settings. To help you cut through the noise of all the options on the market, we’ve compiled a list of the best noise-canceling headphones you can buy right now. Judged primarily in terms of ANC performance, this guide not only offers suggestions in various scenarios and prices, but also gives you advice on what to look for on a spec sheet while you’re shopping.

When you’re shopping for a pair of wireless headphones, the first thing you’ll need to decide on is wear style. Do you prefer on-ear or over-ear? For the purposes of this guide, I focus on the over-ear style as that’s what most noise-canceling headphones are nowadays. Sure, you can find on-ear models with ANC, but over-ear, noise-canceling headphones are much more effective at blocking sound since your ears are completely covered.

Next, you’ll want to look at the type of ANC a set of headphones offers. You’ll come across terms like “hybrid active noise cancellation” or “hybrid adaptive active noise cancellation,” and there are key differences between the two. A hybrid ANC setup uses microphones on the inside and on the outside of the device to detect ambient noise and cancel it out. By analyzing input from both mics, a hybrid system can combat more sounds than “regular” ANC, but it does so at a constant level that doesn’t change.

Adaptive ANC takes the hybrid configuration a step further by continuously adjusting the noise cancellation for changes in your environment and any leakage around the padding of the ear cups. Adaptive ANC also does a better job with wind noise, which can really kill your vibe while using headphones outdoors. For the purposes of this best headphones list, I’m only considering products with hybrid ANC or adaptive ANC setups because those are the most effective at blocking noise.

You’ll also want to check to see if the ANC system on a prospective set of headphones offers adjustable levels of noise cancellation or presets. These can help you dial in the amount of ANC you need for various environments, but it can also help you save battery life. Master & Dynamic, for example, has ANC presets that provide both maximum noise blocking and more efficient cancellation that is more energy efficient. Other companies may include a slider in their companion apps that let you adjust the ANC level to your liking.

The primary way we test headphones is to wear them as much as possible. I prefer to do this over a one-to-two-week period, but sometimes deadlines don’t allow it. During this time, I listen to a mix of music and podcasts, while also using the headphones to take both voice and video calls.

Since battery life for headphones can be 30 hours or more, I drain the battery with looping music and the volume set at a comfortable level (usually around 75 percent). Due to the longer battery estimates, I’ll typically power the headphones off several times and leave them that way during a review. This simulates real-world use and keeps me from having to constantly monitor the process for over 24 straight hours.

To test ANC performance specifically, I use headphones in a variety of environments, from noisy coffee shops to quiet home offices. When my schedule allows, I use them during air travel since plane noise is a massive distraction to both work and relaxation. Even if I can’t hop on a flight, I’ll simulate a constant roar with white noise machines, bathroom fans, vacuums and more. I also make note of how well each device blocks human voices, which are a key stumbling block for a lot of ANC headphones.

ANC-related features are something else to consider. Here, I do a thorough review of companion apps, testing each feature as I work through the software. Any holdovers from previous models are double checked for improvements or regression. If the headphones I’m testing are an updated version of a previous model, I’ll spend time getting reacquainted with the older set. Ditto for the closest competition for each new set of headphones that I review.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-noise-canceling-headphones-130029881.html?src=rss

The rebuilt Sonos app focuses on getting you to your tunes faster

If you use Sonos speakers, chances are you’ve used their app and encountered at least a little frustration at some point. I don’t think it’s a bad app when you consider the many functions it needs to juggle: finding and playing music from dozens of services, managing multiple connected speakers, running people through setup and troubleshooting and so on. But at the very least, it’s fair to suggest that it’s a little long in the tooth. Sonos knows this, too, and is announcing a totally new app for Android and iOS that was written from the ground up. It’ll be available on May 7.

I spoke to Sonos VP of user experience and user research Neil Griffiths about the redesign, and he said that it came as a result of talking to hundreds of customers about their listening habits and the way they want to use the app. From those conversations came two principles the company followed for the new app. One was to make it easier for people to play back whatever audio content they have, whether it’s streaming music, podcasts, radio, audiobooks, devices plugged into Sonos speakers like TVs or turntables and more. The second is making the app into a hub that’s better-suited to getting to exactly what you want to hear.

The end result is a much simpler app — the old one had the usual five tabs along the bottom, three of which could be used to find music. Now, there’s a single, customizable home screen with a persistent search bar and rows of content. By default, you’ll see a “recently played” section at the top that pulls things in from any service you use; below that you’ll see a carousel of the different services you have hooked up to Sonos. There’s also an area that controls different inputs, like line-in to speakers that support it or TVs plugged into soundbars. That way, you can tap those to switch between streaming music and playing back the connected device.

Sonos 2024 app redesign
Sonos

There’s still a “now playing” bar at the bottom of the app that you can tap to get the full playback controls and volume adjustments, but if you swipe up from the bottom of the screen you’ll instead get a view of your whole Sonos system. This shows all your speakers and what’s playing where; you can adjust volume for each from here or group speakers together.

Easily the best thing about this new app is the customizable home screen, though. Not only can you change the order of things that appear there, you can also pin content directly from within different apps so you can get to it immediately. For example, Spotify, Apple Music and basically every other music service typically have a “new releases for you” section that shows recent albums based on your listening habits. If you always want to see that, you can pin it straight to your home screen and it’ll dynamically update when Spotify has new picks. And you can re-order these carousels so your most-used one is right at the top of the screen.

The old Sonos home screen had a recently played section at the top and let you pin songs, albums, playlists and stations from across your services, so it had some degree of flexibility. But being able to add full, dynamically updating sections from the apps you use feels like a major step forward. I can easily see pinning a half-dozen lists from different apps to my home screen, which will make the process of starting music from the Sonos app itself a lot more fluid. I still mostly use AirPlay or Spotify Connect to broadcast to my speakers, but I think it’ll be worth setting up my home in this new app and see if I use it more. Pulling together content from the too many streaming apps I use in one place sounds like a nice improvement over jumping in and out of apps depending on what I want to hear.

Sonos also made it easier to jump right into the service of your choice. All of the streaming apps that you’re logged in to will appear in a carousel as well, with your default / favorite option always at the beginning of the list. The same goes for search — when you open the search bar and type something in, you’ll get the results from your favorite service first.

Sonos desktop web app
Sonos

The company is also replacing its existing desktop controller app for Mac and Windows with a web app that'll offer the same functionality and design as you get on your phone. That's probably a good call, as the Sonos controller feels pretty out of step with the company's current design and feature set, though I'm sure some will bristle at it being a web app. That should also start rolling out on May 7, and the existing Mac and Windows app will eventually be shut down.

For a lot of people, I wager the Sonos app will still be a “set it and forget it” kind of thing, used to get speakers set up and then tucked away in case something goes wrong. If you only have one or two speakers and do nearly all your listening through Spotify, for example, it’ll probably be preferable to just use the Spotify app itself still. But people who have a more involved speaker setup and use multiple sources for audio should find a lot to like here when the app arrives in a few weeks.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-rebuilt-sonos-app-focuses-on-getting-you-to-your-tunes-faster-130022601.html?src=rss

Castlevania fan uncovers new Konami code in 1999 game

Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness, the director's cut version of Castlevania for the Nintendo 64, is a classic today despite issues like blurry graphics and wonky gameplay. You'd think a title designed in the last century (well, 1999) would have no new surprises, but there's a twist to the story. A new Konami Code has been found and it's interesting enough that Castlevania fans may want to give it a fresh look. 

The trick was first revealed by Moises and LiquidCat on the Castlevania 64 Discord server, as shared by YouTuber JupiterClimb. To unlock it, you just need to double the inputs of the original Konami Code (press ↑ ↑ ↓ ↓ ← → ← → B A, twice), and all the characters from Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness — Cornell, Reinhardt, Carrie and Henry — are instantly unlocked. 

It also opens up all their alternate costumes, along with the game's hard mode. Without the code, you have to win the game (twice!!) to unlock all four characters. 

Along with the main code, Moises and LiquidCat also dug up codes to fill all inventories, regardless of character being played. The PAL and JPN version also lets players max out their jewels and weapon power. 

JupiterClimb speculates that the code was a developer shortcut accidentally left in the game, as has happened before with Konami titles. In any case, it's a fun surprise that breathes some new life into the 25-year-old vampire game. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/castlevania-fan-uncovers-new-konami-code-in-1999-game-124727119.html?src=rss

The best travel gear for graduates

Travel is once again a rite of passage for many new grads, and as a parent, you probably want to ensure your child has a great time exploring the world. Visiting a new place can be a little tricky, but a few gadgets can help make the experience easier and more enjoyable for your new grad. These are some of the best travel accessories that always earn a spot in our bag whenever we head out on a new adventure.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-travel-tech-for-graduates-123028465.html?src=rss

Rivian offers (up to) $5,000 discount if you trade in your gas-powered truck

Rivian will give you up to around $5,470 in discount if you trade in an eligible gas-powered truck or SUV when you purchase or lease a qualifying R1 electric vehicle package in the US and Canada. As an "Electric Upgrade Offer" for Earth Day, Rivian said it will accept 2018 or newer Ford F-150, Explorer, Expedition and Bronco (excluding Bronco Sport) vehicles, as well as 2018 or newer Toyota Tacoma, Tundra, Highlander and 4Runner vehicles for trade in. You can also trade in a Jeep Grand Cherokee, Wrangler or Gladiator from the same model years. Rivian will take a 2018 or newer Audi Q5, Q7 and Q8 and a BMW X3, X5 and X7, as well. 

As you can see, some of those models are incredibly popular gas vehicles, like the Ford F-150, as the company is likely hoping to appeal to a wide range of people who may be considering switching to electric. Of course, the amount you get will depend on your vehicle and its condition, which means you could get more if you sell it yourself. In addition, the discount will only apply to specific R1T truck and R1S SUV packs at amounts that range from CAD$1,000 ($730) to CAD$7,500 ($5,470). You'll also still have to put in a $1,000 non-refundable deposit to reserve the configuration you choose, and you must be able to accept a delivery between April 22 and June 30.

As TechCrunch notes, Rivian launched the promo at a time when there's lower demand for electric vehicles, especially for more expensive premium models. Other automakers recently introduced discounts of their own — Tesla, for instance, shaved $2,000 off the starting prices of the Model Y, Model X and Model S. It's also ending its referral program on April 30 and is making its Full-Self Driving software $4,000 cheaper. If you do trade in an eligible gas vehicle to buy an R1, you'll also be able to charge your new EV at all Rivian Adventure Network sites for free for one year.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/rivian-offers-up-to-5000-discount-if-you-trade-in-your-gas-powered-truck-120007769.html?src=rss

The Morning After: Meta teases a limited-edition Quest headset inspired by Xbox

Meta announced it’s opening up the Quest’s operating system to third-party companies, allowing them to build headsets of their own. The Quest OS is being rebranded to Meta Horizon OS and already has two companies interested.

ASUS’ Republic of Gamers (ROG) brand is working on new “performance gaming” headsets, while Lenovo’s focus is on devices for “productivity, learning and entertainment.” However, most intriguingly, perhaps, Meta says it’s also working on a limited-edition Xbox “inspired” Quest headset. (Microsoft and Meta also worked together recently to bring Xbox cloud gaming to the Quest.) While this could just be a reskinned Quest 3, this collaboration could lead to future headsets made entirely for Microsoft’s consoles. If PlayStation can have VR, then surely Xbox can too.

— Mat Smith

Grindr sued for allegedly sharing users’ HIV status and other info with ad companies

What we watched: Bluey’s joyful finales

Amazon halts drone deliveries in California, but kicks off tests in Phoenix

​​You can get these reports delivered daily direct to your inbox. Subscribe right here!

The European Union (EU) has opened a second formal investigation into TikTok. The probe involves the addictive nature of TikTok Lite, a smaller version of the app that takes up less memory and was built to perform over slower internet connections. The wrinkle might be a design aspect that allows users to earn points by watching and liking videos. These points can be exchanged for TikTok’s proprietary digital currency and even Amazon vouchers. The EU’s Commission has expressed concern that this type of “task and reward” design language could impact the mental health of young users by “stimulating addictive behavior.”

Continue reading.

A few months after Russian officials placed Meta spokesperson Andy Stone on a wanted list and started a criminal investigation, a Moscow court has issued an arrest warrant for him on several terrorism-related charges in February. It cited Stone’s alleged “promotion of terrorist activities, public calls for terrorist activities, public justification of terrorism or propaganda of terrorism and public calls for extremist activities.”

Russia’s investigative committee opened a probe into Meta in March 2022. It claimed Stone had incited extremist activity after lifting “a ban on calls for violence against the Russian military on its platforms.” Stone said Meta was “temporarily” allowing some posts to stay on its platforms that would have previously been taken down for inciting violence, but noted the company would still outlaw “credible calls for violence against Russian civilians.”

Continue reading.

TMA
Embracer

The company has announced plans to split into three separate parts. The first is Middle-earth Enterprises & Friends, specializing in AAA games like Tomb Raider and Dead Island – and, of course, anything Lord of the Rings. Asmodee will handle the tabletop gaming segment, which includes Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders, Azul, CATAN, Dobble and Exploding Kittens. Coffee Stain & Friends will be the company’s indie-centric group, with properties including Deep Rock Galactic and Goat Simulator.

Continue reading.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-morning-after-meta-teases-a-limited-edition-quest-headset-inspired-by-xbox-111520584.html?src=rss

Metaphor: ReFantazio, a fantasy RPG from the Persona 5 team, comes out in October

Atlus first teased that it was working on a new RPG with a fantasy setting in mid-2023 — it also said way back then that it will be available sometime this year. Now, the developer has revealed that the game, Metaphor: ReFantazio, will come out on October 11 at a special livestream event. Katsura Hashino, the director of the game, as well as of Persona 3, 4 and 5, also introduced a 30-minute hands-on gameplay that gives you quite a lengthy look at its story and combat mechanics. Similar to the Persona games, Metaphor: ReFantazio has a turn-based combat system with what Atlus says is a "blend of real-time action."

Also, like the Persona games, you'll have to manage your time, so that you can build bonds with your allies and increase your "virtues" outside of dungeon-crawling. Metaphor: ReFantazio is set in the fictional United Kingdom of Euchronia, which was plunged into chaos after the assassination of its king. In the middle of the royal tournament for the throne, the protagonist and his partner fairy Galica go on a journey to find the cursed prince that was thought to be dead and team up with new allies along the way. 

Physical copies of the game, both standard and limited Collector's editions, are now available for pre-order, but you'll have to wait a bit if you'd rather get the digital version. Upon launch, the game will be available for various consoles, namely the Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4, as well as on Windows and Steam on PC.

If the 30-minute gameplay footage is too long for you, here's a new trailer you can watch instead:

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/metaphor-refantazio-a-fantasy-rpg-from-the-persona-5-team-comes-out-in-october-100359581.html?src=rss

Microsoft's lightweight Phi-3 Mini model can run on smartphones

Microsoft has unveiled its latest light AI model called the Phi-3 Mini designed to run on smartphones and other local devices, it revealed in a new research paper. Trained on 3.8 billion parameters, it's the first of three small Phi-3 language models the company will release in the near future. The aim is to provide a cheaper alternative to cloud-powered LLMs, allowing smaller organizations to adopt AI. 

According to Microsoft, the new model handily outperforms its previous Phi-2 small model and is on par with larger models like Llama 2. In fact, the company says Phi-3 Mini provides responses close to the level of a model 10 times its size. 

"The innovation lies entirely in our dataset for training," according to the research paper. That dataset is based on the Phi-2 model, but uses "heavily filtered web data and synthetic data," the team states. In fact, a separate LLM was used to do both of those chores, effectively creating new data that allows the smaller language model to be more efficient. The team was supposedly inspired by children's books that use simpler language to get across complex topics, according to The Verge

Microsoft's lightweight Phi-3 Mini model can run on smartphones
Microsoft

While it still can't produce the results of cloud-powered LLMs, Phi-3 Mini can outperform Phi-2 and other small language models (Mistral, Gemma, Llama-3-In) in tasks ranging from math to programming to academic tests. At the same time, it runs on devices as simple as smartphones, with no internet connection required.

Its main limitation is breadth of "factual knowledge" due to the smaller dataset size — hence why it doesn't perform well in the "TriviaQA" test. Still, it should be good for models that only require smallish internal data sets. That could allow companies that can't afford cloud-connected LLMs to jump into AI, Microsoft hopes.

Phi-3 Mini is now available on Azure, Hugging Face and Ollama. Microsoft is next set to release Phi-3 Small and Phi-3 Medium with significantly higher capabilities (7 billion and 14 billion parameters, respectively). 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/microsofts-lightweight-phi-3-mini-model-can-run-on-smartphones-100223483.html?src=rss

Adobe Photoshop's latest beta makes AI-generated images from simple text prompts

Nearly a year after adding generative AI-powered editing capabilities to Photoshop, Adobe is souping up its flagship product with even more AI. On Tuesday, the company announced that Photoshop is getting the ability to generate images with simple text prompts directly within the app. There are also new features to let the AI draw inspiration from reference images to create new ones and generate backgrounds more easily. The tools will make using Photoshop easier for both professionals as well as casual enthusiasts who may have found the app’s learning curve to be steep, Adobe thinks.

“A big, blank canvas can sometimes be the biggest barrier,” Erin Boyce, Photoshop’s senior marketing director, told Engadget in an interview. “This really speeds up time to creation. The idea of getting something from your mind to the canvas has never been easier.” The new feature is simply called “Generate Image” and will be available as an option in Photoshop right alongside the traditional option that lets you import images into the app.

An existing AI-powered feature called Generative Fill that previously let you add, extend or remove specific parts of an image has been upgraded too. It now allows users to add AI-generated images to an existing image that blend in seamlessly with the original. In a demo shown to Engadget, an Adobe executive was able to circle a picture of an empty salad dish, for instance, and ask Photoshop to fill it with a picture of AI-generated tomatoes. She was also able to generate variations of the tomatoes and choose one of them to be part of the final image. In another example, the executive replaced an acoustic guitar held by an AI-generated bear with multiple versions of electric guitars just by using text prompts, and without resorting to Photoshop’s complex tools or brushes.

Adobe's new AI feature in Photoshop let users easy replace parts of an image with a simple text prompt.
Adobe

These updates are powered by Firefly Image 3, the latest version of Adobe’s family of generative AI models that the company also unveiled today. Adobe said Firefly 3 produces images of a higher quality than previous models, provides more variations, and understands your prompts better. The company claims that more than 7 billion images have been generated so far using Firefly.

Adobe is far from the only company stuffing generative AI features into its products. Over the last year, companies, big and small, have revamped up their products and services with AI. Both Google and Microsoft, for instance, have upgraded their cash cows, Search and Office respectively, with AI features. More recently, Meta has started putting its own AI chatbot into Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram. But while it’s still unclear how these bets will pan out, Adobe’s updates to Photoshop seem more materially useful for creators. The company said Photoshop’s new AI features had driven a 30 percent increase in Photoshop subscriptions.

Meanwhile, generative AI has been in the crosshairs of artists, authors, and other creative professionals, who say that the foundational models that power the tech were trained on copyrighted media without consent or compensation. Generative AI companies are currently battling lawsuits from dozens of artists and authors. Adobe says that Firefly was trained on licensed media from Adobe Stock, since it was designed to create content for commercial use, unlike competitors like Midjourney whose models are trained in part by illegally scraping images off the internet. But a recent report from Bloomberg showed that Firefly, too, was trained, in part, on AI-generated images from the same rivals including Midjourney (an Adobe spokesperson told Bloomberg that less than 5 percent of images in its training data came from other AI rivals).

To address concerns about the use of generative AI to create disinformation, Adobe said that all images created in Photoshop using generative AI tools will automatically include tamper-proof “Content Credentials”, which act like digital “nutrition labels” indicating that an image was generated with AI, in the file’s metadata. However, it's still not a perfect defense against image misuse, with several ways to sidestep metadata and watermarks

The new features will be available in beta in Photoshop starting today and will roll out to everyone later this year. Meanwhile, you can play with Firefly 3 on Adobe’s website for free. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/adobe-photoshops-latest-beta-makes-ai-generated-images-from-simple-text-prompts-090056096.html?src=rss

The best VPN service for 2024

Securing your online footprint can seem like a daunting task. We’ve become accustomed to giving up bits of data for convenience, and have been forced into trusting our internet service providers because access has become so vital to everyday life. You don’t have to blindly accept this, though: using a virtual private network (VPN) can be an easy way to gain back some of your anonymity and security while browsing online. Still, it can be challenging to differentiate which service makes most sense for your online needs. We tested nine popular VPNs to narrow down our top picks and provide advice on choosing the best VPN service for you.

What is a VPN?

VPNs, or virtual private networks, mask your IP address and the identity of your computer or mobile device on the network and creating an encrypted "tunnel" that prevents your internet service provider (ISP) from accessing data about your browsing history. VPNs are not a one-size-fits-all security solution, though.

Instead, they’re just one part of keeping your data private and secure. Roya Ensafi, assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, told Engadget that VPNs don’t protect against common threats like phishing attacks, nor do they protect your data from being stolen. Much of the data or information is stored with the VPN provider instead of your ISP, which means that using a poorly designed or unprotected network can still undermine your security. But they do come in handy for online privacy when you’re connecting to an untrusted network somewhere public because they tunnel and encrypt your traffic to the next hop.

That means sweeping claims that seem promising, like military-grade encryption or total digital invisibility, may not be totally accurate. Instead, Yael Grauer, program manager of Consumer Reports’ online security guide, recommends looking for security features like open-source software with reproducible builds, up-to-date support for industry-standard protocols like WireGuard (CR's preferred protocol) or IPsec, and the ability to defend against attack vectors like brute force.

Understanding VPNs and your needs

Before considering a VPN, make sure your online security is up to date in other ways. That means complex passwords, multi-factor authentication methods and locking down your data sharing preferences. Even then, you probably don’t need to be using a VPN all the time.

“If you're just worried about somebody sitting there passively and looking at your data then a VPN is great,” Jed Crandall, an associate professor at Arizona State University, told Engadget.

That brings us to some of the most common uses cases for VPNs. If you use public WiFi networks a lot, like while working at a coffee shop, then VPN usage can help give you private internet access. They’re also helpful for hiding information from other people on your ISP if you don’t want members of your household to know what you’re up to online.

Geoblocking has also become a popular use case as it helps you reach services in other parts of the world. For example, you can access shows that are only available on streaming services, like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime, in other countries, or play online games with people located all over the globe.

There are also a few common VPN features that you should consider before deciding if you want to use one, and which is best for you:

What is split tunneling?

Split tunneling allows you to route some traffic through your VPN, while other traffic has direct access to the internet. This can come in handy when you want to protect certain activity online without losing access to local network devices, or services that work best with location sharing enabled.

What is a double VPN?

A double VPN, otherwise known as multi-hop VPN or a VPN chain, passes your online activity through two different VPN servers one right after the other. For VPN services that support this, users are typically able to choose which two servers they want their traffic to pass through. As you might expect, this provides an extra layer of security.

Are VPNs worth it?

Whether or not VPNs are worth it depends how often you could use it for the above use cases. If you travel a lot and rely on public WiFi or hotspots, are looking to browse outside of your home country or want to keep your traffic hidden from your ISP, then investing in a VPN will be useful. But, keep in mind that even the best VPN services often slow down your internet connection speed, so they may not be ideal all the time.

In today's world, we recommend not relying on a VPN connection as your main cybersecurity tool. VPN use can provide a false sense of security, leaving you vulnerable to attack. Plus, if you choose just any VPN, it may not be as secure as just relying on your ISP. That’s because the VPN could be based in a country with weaker data privacy regulation, obligated to hand information over to law enforcement or linked to weak user data protection policies.

For VPN users working in professions like activism or journalism that want to really strengthen their internet security, options like the Tor browser may be a worthwhile alternative, according to Crandall. Tor is free, and while it's less user-friendly, it’s built for anonymity and privacy.

How we tested

To test the security specs of different VPNs and name our top picks, we relied on pre-existing academic work through Consumer Reports, VPNalyzer and other sources. We referenced privacy policies, transparency reports and security audits made available to the public. We also considered past security incidents like data breaches.

We looked at price, usage limits, effects on internet speed, possible use cases, ease of use, general functionality and additional “extra” VPN features like multihop. The VPNs were tested across iOS, Android and Mac devices so we could see the state of the mobile apps across various platforms (Windows devices are also supported in most cases). We used the “quick connect” feature on the VPN apps to connect to the “fastest” provider available when testing internet speed, access to IP address data and DNS and WebRTC leaks or when a fault in the encrypted tunnel reveals requests to an ISP.

Otherwise, we conducted a test of geoblocking content by accessing Canada-exclusive Netflix releases, a streaming test by watching a news livestream on YouTube via a Hong Kong-based VPN and a gaming test by playing on servers in the United Kingdom. By performing these tests at the same time, it also allowed us to test claims about simultaneous device use. Here are the VPN services we tested:

Read more: The best password managers for 2023

Best VPNs of 2024

Other VPN services our experts tested

NordVPN

NordVPN didn’t quite make the cut because it’s overhyped, and underwhelming. As I've written in our full review of NordVPN, the pricing, up to $14.49 for a “complete” subscription, seemed high compared to other services, and its free or lower cost plans just didn’t have the same wide variety of features as its competitors. 

TunnelBear

Despite the cute graphics and user friendliness, TunnelBear wasn’t a top choice. It failed numerous basic security tests from Consumer Reports, and had limited availability across platforms like Linux. It did, however, get a major security boost in July when it updated to support WireGuard protocol across more of its platforms.

Bitdefender VPN

Bitdefender doesn’t offer support for devices like routers, which limits its cross-platform accessibility. It also lacked a transparency report or third-party audit to confirm security specs.

Atlas VPN

Atlas ranked lower on our speed tests compared to the other VPNs tested, with a notably slower difference on web browsing and streaming tests. It was a good option otherwise, but could easily cause headaches for those chasing high speed connections. Security-wise, an Atlas VPN vulnerability leaked Linux users’ real IP addresses.

FAQs

What are some things VPNs are used for?

VPNs are traditionally used to protect your internet traffic. If you’re connected to an untrusted network like public WiFi in a cafe, using a VPN hides what you do from the internet service provider. Then, the owner of the WiFi or hackers trying to get into the system can’t see the identity of your computer or your browsing history.

A common non-textbook use case for VPNs has been accessing geographically restricted content. VPNs can mask your location, so even if you’re based in the United States, they can make it appear as if you’re browsing abroad and unblock access. This is especially useful for streaming content that’s often limited to certain countries, like if you want to watch Canadian Netflix from the US.

What information does a VPN hide?

A VPN doesn’t hide all of your data. It only hides information like your IP address, location and browser history. A common misconception is that VPNs can make you totally invisible online. But keep in mind that the VPN provider often still has access to all of this information, so it doesn’t grant you total anonymity. You’re also still vulnerable to phishing attacks, hacking and other cyberthreats that you should be mindful of by implementing strong passwords and multi-factor authentication.

Are VPNs safe?

Generally, yes. VPNs are a safe and reliable way to encrypt and protect your internet data. But like most online services, the safety specifics vary from provider to provider. You can use resources like third-party audits, Consumer Reports reviews, transparency reports and privacy policies to understand the specifics of your chosen provider.

What about Google’s One VPN?

Google One subscriptions include access to the company’s VPN, which works similarly to other VPNs on our list, hiding your online activity from network operators. However, Google announced recently that it plans to shut down the One VPN because "people simply weren’t using it." There's no specific date for the shutdown, with Google simply saying it will discontinue the service sometime later in 2024. Pixel phone owners, however, will continue to have access to the free VPN available on their devices.

Update November 10, 2023: This story was updated after publishing to remove mention of PPTP, a protocol that Consumer Reports' Yael Grauer notes "has serious security flaws."

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-vpn-130004396.html?src=rss

Amazon halts drone deliveries in California, but kicks off operations in Phoenix

Amazon customers in California won't be able to get drone deliveries anymore. The e-commerce company has closed its delivery site in Lockeford, which has been operational since 2022, and will now offer its personnel in the area opportunities at other sites. Amazon made the revelation almost as an aside in an announcement that it's launching drone deliveries in the West Valley Phoenix Metro area later this year. Its drones will be deployed from facilities near its Tolleson fulfillment center. Amazon says it's the first time drone deliveries will be fully integrated into its network, and it will allow the company to fulfill and deliver purchases more quickly. 

The company doesn't have an exact launch date for its drone deliveries in Phoenix, because it's still working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and local officials to get the permits it needs. It does have the support of Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, though, who called drone deliveries "the future" and said it would help her city "reduce local pollution" and further cement it "as a hotbed for the innovative technology of tomorrow."

While Amazon's drone delivery operations are shutting down in California, it'll continue its activities in College Station, Texas. Shortly after it started using drones as couriers in those two areas, The Information reported that the company has made just a handful of deliveries via the method, mostly due to FAA limitations that prohibit the machines from flying over roads or people unless Amazon gets permission for every case. It eventually reached 100 drone deliveries by the middle of 2023, though that was likely far from what the company had hoped to get by then, since it aimed to reach 10,000 deliveries by the end of the year. 

Those setbacks, however, don't seem to have deterred Amazon. It's currently testing its next-gen MK30 drones that can fly twice as far as its current drones, and it also said that it's deploying drone deliveries in more locations in the US next year. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/amazon-halts-drone-deliveries-in-california-but-kicks-off-tests-in-phoenix-074053856.html?src=rss

Newsletter service Ghost will support the fediverse protocol ActivityPub

Newsletter platform Ghost is the latest service to pledge support for ActivityPub, the open source protocol powering the fediverse. The company announced Monday it would add ActivityPub support later this year in a move that could bring tens of millions of people into the fediverse.

The fediverse is a growing collection of services, including Mastodon, Flipboard and Threads, that support the ActivityPub protocol. It’s part of a growing movement for decentralized social media services, which rely on open protocols rather than closed networks. Proponents often compare it to email, which allows people to communicate regardless of their preferred app or platform.

In a blog post laying out its vision, Ghost said it was joining the fediverse in an effort to “bring back” the open web. “On, Ghost publishers will be able to follow, like and interact with one another in the same way that you would normally do on a social network — but on your own website,” the company wrote. “The difference, of course, is that you’ll also be able to follow, like, and interact with users on Mastodon, Threads, Flipboard, Buttondown, WriteFreely, Tumblr, WordPress, PeerTube, Pixelfed... or any other platform that has adopted ActivityPub, too.”

While Ghost says ActivityPub integration will be optional for publishers, the company notes that its entry into the fediverse could bring "tens of millions" of new people into the space. A number of popular newsletters run on Ghost, including Platformer, Garbage Day, She’s a Beast, as does the independent tech news site 404 Media.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/newsletter-service-ghost-will-support-the-fediverse-protocol-activitypub-231359155.html?src=rss

Russian court sentences Meta spokesperson in absentia to six years in prison

A Russian military court sentenced Meta spokesperson Andy Stone in absentia to six years in prison for "publicly defending terrorism," Reuters reports. Stone's lawyer reportedly asked for an acquittal and there are plans to appeal the sentence. 

A few months after Russian officials placed him on a wanted list and started a criminal investigation, a Moscow court issued an arrest warrant for Stone on several terrorism-related charges in February. It cited Stone's alleged "promotion of terrorist activities, public calls for terrorist activities, public justification of terrorism or propaganda of terrorism and public calls for extremist activities."

The measure follows Russia's investigative committee opening a probe into Meta in March 2022. It claimed that Stone had incited extremist activity after lifting "a ban on calls for violence against the Russian military on its platforms." Around that time, Stone said Meta was "temporarily" allowing some posts that would have previously been taken down for inciting violence to stay on its platforms, but noted that the company would still outlaw “credible calls for violence against Russian civilians.”

In any case, it seems unlikely that Stone will actually spend time behind bars in Russia, unless he were to travel there or to a country that has an extradition treaty with the nation. It's not uncommon for a person to be charged or sentenced (often for spying- or hacking-related crimes) in another country and never actually have to deal with those consequences.

Russia has designated Meta as an extremist organization. It blocked access to Facebook and Instagram soon after commencing its invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Engadget has contacted Meta for comment.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/russian-court-sentences-meta-spokesperson-in-absentia-to-six-years-in-prison-201500601.html?src=rss

Mozilla urges WhatsApp to combat misinformation ahead of global elections

In 2024, four billion people — about half the world’s population — in 64 countries including large democracies like the US and India, will head to the polls. Social media companies like Meta, YouTube and TikTok, have promised to protect the integrity of those elections, at least as far as discourse and factual claims being made on their platforms are concerned. Missing from the conversation, however, is closed messaging app WhatsApp, which now rivals public social media platforms in both scope and reach. That absence has researchers from non-profit Mozilla worried.

“Almost 90% of the safety interventions pledged by Meta ahead of these elections are focused on Facebook and Instagram,” Odanga Madung, a senior researcher at Mozilla focused on elections and platform integrity, told Engadget. “Why has Meta not publicly committed to a public road map of exactly how it’s going to protect elections within [WhatsApp]?”

Over the last ten years, WhatsApp, which Meta (then Facebook) bought for $19 billion in 2014, has become the default way for most of the world outside the US to communicate. In 2020, WhatsApp announced that it had more than two billion users around the world — a scale that dwarfs every other social or messaging app except Facebook itself.

Despite that scale, Meta’s focus has mostly been only on Facebook when it comes to election-related safety measures. Mozilla’s analysis found that while Facebook had made 95 policy announcements related to elections since 2016, the year the social network came under scrutiny for helping spread fake news and foster extreme political sentiments. WhatsApp only made 14. By comparison, Google and YouTube made 35 and 27 announcements each, while X and TikTok had 34 and 21 announcements respectively. “From what we can tell from its public announcements, Meta’s election efforts seem to overwhelmingly prioritize Facebook,” wrote Madung in the report.

Mozilla is now calling on Meta to make major changes to how WhatsApp functions during polling days and in the months before and after a country’s elections. They include adding disinformation labels to viral content (“Highly forwarded: please verify” instead of the current “forwarded many times), restricting broadcast and Communities features that let people blast messages to hundreds of people at the same time and nudging people to “pause and reflect” before they forward anything. More than 16,000 people have signed Mozilla’s pledge asking WhatsApp to slow the spread of political disinformation, a company spokesperson told Engadget.

WhatsApp first started adding friction to its service after dozens of people were killed in India, the company’s largest market, in a series of lynchings sparked by misinformation that went viral on the platform. This included limiting the number of people and groups that users could forward a piece of content to, and distinguishing forwarded messages with “forwarded” labels. Adding a “forwarded” label was a measure to curb misinformation — the idea was that people might treat forwarded content with greater skepticism.

“Someone in Kenya or Nigeria or India using WhatsApp for the first time is not going to think about the meaning of the ‘forwarded’ label in the context of misinformation,” Madung said. “In fact, it might have the opposite effect — that something has been highly forwarded, so it must be credible. For many communities, social proof is an important factor in establishing the credibility of something.”

The idea of asking people to pause and reflect came from a feature that Twitter once implemented where the app prompted people to actually read an article before retweeting it if they hadn’t opened it first. Twitter said that the prompt led to a 40% increase in people opening articles before retweeting them

And asking WhatsApp to temporarily disable its broadcast and Communities features arose from concerns over their potential to blast messages, forwarded or otherwise, to thousands of people at once. “They’re trying to turn this into the next big social media platform,” Madung said. “But without the consideration for the rollout of safety features.”

“WhatsApp is one of the only technology companies to intentionally constrain sharing by introducing forwarding limits and labeling messages that have been forwarded many times,” a WhatsApp spokesperson told Engadget. “We’ve built new tools to empower users to seek accurate information while protecting them from unwanted contact, which we detail on our website.”

Mozilla’s demands came out of research around platforms and elections that the company did in Brazil, India and Liberia. The former are two of WhatsApp’s largest markets, while most of the population of Liberia lives in rural areas with low internet penetration, making traditional online fact-checking nearly impossible. Across all three countries, Mozilla found political parties using WhatsApp’s broadcast feature heavily to “micro-target” voters with propaganda, and, in some cases, hate speech.

WhatsApp’s encrypted nature also makes it impossible for researchers to monitor what is circulating within the platform’s ecosystem — a limitation that isn’t stopping some of them from trying. In 2022, two Rutgers professors, Kiran Garimella and Simon Chandrachud visited the offices of political parties in India and managed to convince officials to add them to 500 WhatsApp groups that they ran. The data that they gathered formed the basis of an award-winning paper they wrote called “What circulates on Partisan WhatsApp in India?” Although the findings were surprising — Garimella and Chandrachud found that misinformation and hate speech did not, in fact, make up a majority of the content of these groups — the authors clarified that their sample size was small, and they may have deliberately been excluded from groups where hate speech and political misinformation flowed freely.

“Encryption is a red herring to prevent accountability on the platform,” Madung said. “In an electoral context, the problems are not necessarily with the content purely. It’s about the fact that a small group of people can end up significantly influencing groups of people with ease. These apps have removed the friction of the transmission of information through society.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/mozilla-urges-whatsapp-to-combat-misinformation-ahead-of-global-elections-200002024.html?src=rss

Even the indie game El Paso, Elsewhere is getting turned into a movie

Hollywood has really begun flexing its video game adaptation muscle in the wake of the spectacular success of the Fallout TV show and The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Even indie publishers are getting some of those sweet, sweet development contracts. Case in point? The hit third-person shooter El Paso, Elsewhere is being adapted into a feature length film, as reported by Deadline.

Academy Award nominee LaKeith Stanfield is in talks to both star and produce. Stanfield is known for a slew of great films, like Sorry to Bother You, Judas and the Black Messiah and The Book of Clarence, among others. Di Bonaventura Pictures and Colin Stark will also produce.

The game has players control a drug-addicted vampire hunter as he tracks down a blood-sucking ex-girlfriend who’s set on ending the world. The movie will follow a similar story structure, according to Deadline. The indie title has been praised for being a fantastic homage to third-person action shooters like the Max Payne series, though one that absolutely oozes surreal charm. In other words, it makes sense as a movie.

Of course, this is just the latest video game adaptation to ping our radar. Fallout, The Last of Us and Twisted Metal have all been renewed for second seasons. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is getting a sequel and The Legend of Zelda is finally being adapted into a movie. More recently, it was announced that the horror-tinged fishing sim Dredge is being turned into a movie, as is the action game Sifu.

There are also upcoming cartoons based on Splinter Cell, Vampire Survivors and Golden Axe. That's not all. There are upcoming movies based on Borderlands, Minecraft, Gears of War and so many others, not to mention the multimodal Sonic the Hedgehog cinematic universe. Video games and Hollywood are finally besties, after decades of false starts. Now, give me a series adaptation of the Dreamcast-era “virtual pet” Seaman, you cowards.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/even-the-indie-game-el-paso-elsewhere-is-getting-turned-into-a-movie-191423219.html?src=rss

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is coming to Game Pass Ultimate and EA Play on April 25

The second installment in EA's Star Wars Jedi series is coming to Game Pass Ultimate, PC Game Pass and EA Play this week. Subscribers can continue Cal Kestis' journey in Star Wars Jedi: Survivor on April 25, almost a year to the day after its debut. If you haven't checked out the first steps of Cal's adventure, it might be best to get started with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, which is also available through those services.

Jedi: Survivor picks up five years after the events of the previous game, with Cal continuing his fight against the Empire. This time around, you have five lightsaber stances to make use of, while the maps are larger than in Jedi: Fallen Order (at least the sequel includes fast travel). While Jedi: Survivor was generally well-reviewed, the PC port had notoriously poor performance out of the gate — an issue that developer Respawn Entertainment has tried to remedy through updates.

A third game is in the works, but there will be a different figure in charge. Stig Asmussen, the director of the first two entries, left EA to set up his own studio.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/star-wars-jedi-survivor-is-coming-to-game-pass-ultimate-and-ea-play-on-april-25-181028179.html?src=rss

The EU opens an investigation into TikTok Lite, citing addiction concerns

The European Union (EU) has opened a second formal investigation into TikTok and has accused the platform of running afoul of the region’s Digital Services Act (DSA), according to a report by TechCrunch. The probe involves the addictive nature of TikTok Lite, which is a smaller version of the app that takes up less memory on a smartphone and was built to perform over slower internet connections.

TikTok Lite launched earlier this month in France and Spain and includes a design aspect that allows users to earn points by watching and liking videos. These points can be exchanged for stuff like Amazon vouchers and TikTok’s proprietary digital currency, which is typically used to tip creators. The EU’s Commission has expressed concern that this type of "task and reward" design language could impact the mental health of young users by "stimulating addictive behavior.”

The Commission hasn’t yet confirmed any breaches of the DSA, but has suggested that it might impose temporary measures to force parent company ByteDance to suspend TikTok Lite in the EU while it continues the investigation. The company has until April 24 to argue against these potential measures, so the app’s still available for EU residents. However, ByteDance failed to provide the EU with a risk assessment document regarding TikTok Lite after being asked last week.

This failure to comply with the DSA could open the company up to steep penalties of up to one percent of its total annual income and periodic penalties of up to five percent of daily income. The Commission hasn’t indicated if it plans on issuing these fines as the investigation continues.

"We suspect TikTok Lite could be as toxic and addictive as” light cigarettes, Thierry Breton, the commissioner for the EU Internal Market, wrote in a press release announcing the probe. “We will spare no effort to protect our children."

ByteDance has yet to respond to the investigation and the potential of TikTok Lite being banned in the EU. This latest inquiry follows a more comprehensive probe issued back in February. That wide-ranging investigation focuses on addictive algorithms, age verification issues, default privacy settings and ad transparency.

February’s probe is ongoing, but ByteDance was already forced to make concessions to allow TikTok to operate in the EU. The company had to give users the choice to disallow algorithms from powering the For You Page and instituted new harmful content reporting options. It also suspended personalized ads for EU users aged 13 to 17.

As for America, the controversial TikTok ban keeps inching closer to reality. The US House of Representatives tucked a revised version of the bill into this weekend’s foreign aid package. Under this new proposed legislation, ByteDance would have one year to sell off TikTok before it would be banned from app stores. It’s now heading to the Senate and will likely be voted on this week. However, it remains to be seen if the Senate will even keep the stuff about TikTok in the foreign aid package. President Biden has previously said he would support a TikTok ban if Congress passes it.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-eu-opens-an-investigation-into-tiktok-lite-citing-addiction-concerns-180025326.html?src=rss

Meta opens Quest OS to third parties, including ASUS and Lenovo

In a huge move for the mixed reality industry, Meta announced today that it's opening the Quest's operating system to third-party companies, allowing them to build headsets of their own. Think of it like moving the Quest's ecosystem from an Apple model, where one company builds both the hardware and software, to more of a hardware free-for-all like Android. The Quest OS is being rebranded to "Meta Horizon OS," and at this point it seems to have found two early adopters. ASUS's Republic of Gamers (ROG) brand is working on a new "performance gaming" headsets, while Lenovo is working on devices for "productivity, learning and entertainment." (Don't forget, Lenovo also built the poorly-received Oculus Rift S.)

As part of the news, Meta says it's also working on a limited-edition Xbox "inspired" Quest headset. (Microsoft and Meta also worked together recently to bring Xbox cloud gaming to the Quest.) Meta is also calling on Google to bring over the Google Play 2D app store to Meta Horizon OS. And, in an effort to bring more content to the Horizon ecosystem, software developed through the Quest App Lab will be featured in the Horizon Store. The company is also developing a new spatial framework to let mobile developers created mixed reality apps.

“Mixed reality is transforming how people interface with computers by integrating digital experiences and physical spaces to reach new levels of productivity, learning and play," Lenovo Chair & CEO, Yuanqing Yang, said in a statement. "Building from our past successful partnership, Lenovo is bringing together Meta Horizon OS with our leadership and innovation in personal computing to accelerate adoption of new user scenarios in mixed reality like virtual screens, remote presence, content consumption, and immersive training.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/meta-opens-quest-os-to-third-parties-including-asus-and-lenovo-163127396.html?src=rss

Tales of the Shire trailer shows what life as a regular Hobbit looks like

In Tolkien's Middle-earth of orcs and Nazgûl, "cozy" isn't exactly the first word that springs to mind. And yet, Tales of the Shire is an upcoming cozy life sim set in the universe of The Lord of the Rings. Several months after the game was announced, developer Weta Workshop (which worked on the special effects for all six of Peter Jackson's Middle-earth films) and publisher Private Division have offered a first proper look at it with a new trailer.

The clip opens with a narration noting that, while Hobbits have been known for "tales of courage and brave deeds in dark times," things will be much lighter here. You and your Hobbit will explore Bywater, decorate a home, make friends, cook, grow crops, go fishing (of course) and much more. You'll get to enjoy what appears to be a very chill existence in The Shire. The stylized, cartoony art style lends itself to the warm atmosphere that Weta Workshop is trying to project.

Tales of the Shire is coming to PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S later this year.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/tales-of-the-shire-trailer-shows-what-life-as-a-regular-hobbit-looks-like-163041185.html?src=rss

What we watched: Bluey’s joyful finales

It’s never good to recommend a comedy by saying it makes you weep, but somehow Bluey, a comedy for kids, feels more real and more truthful than anything else on TV. I see so much of myself in Bandit’s triumphs and failures as he tries to parent his two daughters. I nod along to all of his unsuccessful parenting tactics that, I’ll admit, I’ve also tried on my own two kids. And then, at the end of so many episodes, I’ll realize that the front of my t-shirt is wet with tears because I've been crying.

There can’t be many people unfamiliar with Bluey, the biggest kids’ TV series on the planet, if not the biggest series overall. Each seven-minute episode is a slice-of-life sitcom about the Heelers, a family of anthropomorphic dogs living in Brisbane, Australia. Bluey and her younger sister Bingo live with parents Bandit and Chilli. The show started out focused on the playtimes the kids would have with each other or their parents. But it quickly sprawled out to create a rich world in the vein of The Simpsons, with a whole city’s worth of storylines. It can now regularly relegate the Heelers to the background to focus on the show’s deep cast of characters.

It closed out its third season with last Sunday's “The Sign,” a (comparatively) epic 28-minute episode and this week with “Surprise,” a sweet little postscript. The former’s long running time was described as a dry-run for any potential Bluey movie, wrapping up a number of the show’s storylines. It focuses on a wedding taking place at the Heeler’s home in the shadow of the family’s plan to relocate to another city. I won’t spoil too much beyond saying “The Sign” is a story about the bigness of change and how that affects parents and kids alike. Much of it focused on Bandit’s decision to move for a better-paid job and the way that impacted Chilli and the two girls. It’s a complicated issue, especially because it highlights that parents often just want to do what’s best for the kids.

This is a screencap from 'Ghostbasket' but there was no way I was going to pass up an opportunity to post a picture of Bluey and Bingo as their granny characters.
Ludo Studio

“Surprise,” meanwhile, focuses more on the mundane struggle of Bandit trying to play two different games with his daughters at the same time. Much as Bluey wants to be just seven minutes of silly fun, it can’t quite help but be honest about the emotional and physical labor of parenting. All Bandit wants to do is sit down and watch sport on the TV but his daughters won’t allow him that luxury. He’s chased around the house, forced to pretend to teach a tennis ball to ride a bike and then pelted with ping pong balls fired from a toy launcher. (Bluey’s happy to highlight how often Bandit will get hit in the groin as a consequence of whatever game the girls are playing.)

The payoff to all of that effort comes in the final half minute of the episode, which is when I started sobbing. As much as it may be pitched as a palate cleanser after the scale and emotional heft of the previous episode, the final moments offer a real (if pleasant) punch to the gut. I can’t help but feel plenty of parallels in Bluey’s life and that of my own (similarly-aged) daughter, and feel a lot of kinship with Bandit as well. If I’m one one-hundredth as good a parent as this silly cartoon dog who often gets it wrong, then I’ll feel like I’ve done a good job.

There’s been speculation that this third season may be the end for Bluey. Bloomberg reported the uncertainty around creator Joe Brumm’s future with the show, although producer Sam Moor has said it will continue in some form. Any delay would also risk that the child actors – who remain anonymous for their own safety — will age out of being able to play their roles. But in many ways, Bluey can’t not continue given the show is now a multi-billion dollar cash cow for the BBC, which owns a big chunk of the show’s rights.

I don’t want to say goodbye to Bluey and the Heelers, and I’d prefer they kept the cast as-is and let them grow up alongside Bandit and Chilli. That, to me, would be an honest thing to do, rather than indulging in the fakery that dogs so many TV shows which face this problem. But if they have to go, I’ll choose to remember Bluey’s three perfect seasons through the highs and lows of parenting.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/what-we-watched-blueys-joyful-finales-161527282.html?src=rss

Some Amazon and Max cartoons may have been partially animated in North Korea

North Korean animators may have helped create popular cartoons for Amazon Prime Video, Max and other streaming services. Researchers from the Washington-based 38 North project allegedly discovered a misconfigured cloud server on a North Korean IP address that contained thousands of animation files, as reported by Wired. US sanctions prohibit commercial activity with North Korean entities, due to human rights abuses and the advancement of its nuclear weapons program. 

The server included animation cells, videos and notes discussing the work, in addition to requested changes. Some images appear to be from the popular Prime Video superhero show Invincible and others from an upcoming Max children’s anime called Iyanu: Child of Wonder. The data, which was analyzed in part by the Google-owned security firm Mandiant, provides a glimpse into how North Korea likely skirts sanctions.

The researchers were able to analyze incoming connections to the server and noted access from three Chinese cities, suggesting front companies of some kind. “All three cities are known to have many North Korean–operated businesses and are main centers for North Korea’s IT workers who live overseas,” the report indicates.

Michael Barnhart, who works at Mandiant, said there was nothing in the research to indicate that Max, Amazon or any subsidiaries knew that the work was being handled by North Korean animators. It was likely subcontracted without their knowledge, as reported by Reuters. Barnhart has “high confidence” that the contracts were with Chinese companies who outsourced to animators who work on North Korea’s behalf.

In 2022, the FBI and the US Treasury issued an advisory to warn businesses about the risks of inadvertently hiring North Korean tech workers through this kind of outsourcing. A spokesperson for the US Treasury told Reuters that it has no comment on this particular allegation, but noted that North Korea's efforts to generate revenue for its weapons programs through abuses of the subcontracting system was an ongoing concern.

Amazon has directed inquiries to Skybound, the company behind Invincible. It says it has no knowledge of any North Korean entities working on its animation projects but has initiated an internal review to verify and rectify lingering issues. "We have also notified the proper authorities and are cooperating with all appropriate bodies," the Skybound’s head of corporate communications Hannah Cosgrove said. Max has not responded to requests for comment.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/some-amazon-and-max-cartoons-may-have-been-partially-animated-in-north-korea-160036603.html?src=rss

Anker's Soundcore Space A40 wireless earbuds are back down to $49 right now

Anker's Soundcore Space A40 is the top recommendation in our guide to the best budget wireless earbuds, as it offers enjoyable sound and a meaty set of features for well under $100. If you're looking to buy a set on the cheap, take note: A new sale on Amazon has dropped the earbuds down to $49, which matches the lowest price we've seen. The earbuds technically have a list price of $100, but they've sold for $59 for most of 2024, so you're saving about $10 here. We last saw this discount about a month ago. The deal itself is sold by Anker directly and applies to the black model; the blue and white versions are also on sale for $1 more. 

We recommend the Space A40 because it has the kind of feature set we expect from much more expensive earbuds. Its adaptive active noise cancellation (ANC) isn't quite on par with the absolute best from Sony or Bose — particularly when it comes to voices and higher-pitched sounds — but it's still superb for $50, and more than capable of muting the hum of an office or daily commute. The earpieces are small, comfortable and IPX4-rated, so they should hold up for all but the sweatiest gym-goers. Battery life comes in around eight hours per charge, with another 40 or so available through its case, which is easy to pocket and supports wireless charging. The pair can connect to two devices simultaneously, and there's a usable (if not superlative) transparency mode for letting in outside noise.

The Space A40 has a warm sound profile out of the box, with a noticeable but not overwhelming boost in the upper-bass region. The highs are a bit underemphasized, so some tracks won't sound as crisply detailed as they might on more expensive pairs. But it should be pleasant for most, and Anker's companion app includes an EQ for tweaking the sound if needed. The main downsides here are the mediocre mic, which isn't the clearest for phone calls, and the lack of in-ear detection, which means the earbuds won't automatically pause when you take them out of your ears.

If all of this sounds appealing but you'd prefer an AirPods-style shape with easy-to-grab "stems," Anker's Soundcore Liberty 4 NC is the runner up in our guide, and it's also on sale for $74.50. That's about $5 more than the pair's all-time low but $25 less than its usual going rate. This model sounds more bass-heavy by default, but it has just about all the same features, with slightly more extensive touch controls.

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/ankers-soundcore-space-a40-wireless-earbuds-are-back-down-to-49-right-now-150758191.html?src=rss

Grindr sued for allegedly sharing users' HIV status and other info with ad companies

Grindr has been sued for allegedly sharing personal information with advertising companies without users' consent. A lawsuit filed in London claims that the data included HIV statuses and test dates, ethnicity and sexual orientation, Bloomberg reports.

According to the class action-style suit, the alleged data sharing involved adtech companies Localytics and Apptimize. Grindr is said to have supplied the companies with user info before April 2018 and then between May 2018 and April 2020. Engadget has asked Grindr for comment.

In April 2018, Grindr admitted it had shared HIV data with Apptimize and Localytics following an investigation by BuzzFeed News and Norwegian non-profit SINTEF. It said it would stop the practice.

This isn't the only time Grindr has been accused of sharing users' personal information. A 2022 report from The Wall Street Journal indicated that precise location data on Grindr users was up for sale for at least three years. In addition, Norway's data protection agency fined Grindr $6 million in 2021 for violating the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation. The agency said Grindr had unlawfully shared "personal data with third parties for marketing purposes."

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/grindr-sued-for-allegedly-sharing-users-hiv-status-and-other-info-with-ad-companies-141748725.html?src=rss

The best college graduation gifts

Graduating college is a huge achievement. If you’d like to show your appreciation for a tech-savvy grad, or if you just want to help them acclimate to their new life, there are tons of gadgets and services you can gift to make it easier for them. We at Engadget spend our days testing these kinds of products and figuring out which ones are actually good — if you need some help jogging your brain, we’ve rounded up a few of our favorite college graduation gift ideas below.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-graduation-gifts-111518948.html?src=rss

Embracer Group is splitting up its messy gaming empire into three different companies

Embracer Group has been on a losing streak of late, having recently missed out on a $2 billion investment, laid off thousands of employees and sold one of its key properties, Gearbox, at a fire-sale price. Now, the company has announced plans to split into three separate, publicly listed entities, Bloomberg reported. 

The first is Middle-earth Enterprises & Friends, specializing in AAA games and and overseeing the Dead Island, Killing Floor, Kingdom Come Deliverance, Tomb Raider and The Lord of the Rings franchises. Studios under its purview include Crystal Dynamics, Dambuster Studios, Eidos-Montréal, Flying Wild Hog Studios, Tripwire, Vertigo Games, Warhorse Studios and 4A Games. This company will remain within the current listing as Embracer Group for now.

The second is Asmodee, which will handle the tabletop gaming segment of Embracer Group. Titles it's overseeing include Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders, Azul, CATAN, Dobble and Exploding Kittens. Finally, Coffee Stain & Friends is the company's indie-centric group, with properties including Deep Rock Galactic, Goat Simulator, Satisfactory, Wreckfest, Teardown and Valheim.  

"This move has been made with the intention to unleash the full potential of each team and provide them with their own leadership and strategic direction," said Embracer Group CEO Lars Wingefors. "This is the start of a new chapter, a chapter that I intend to remain part of as an active, committed, and supportive shareholder of all three new entities, with an evergreen horizon."

Embracer Group went on an epic buying streak between 2019-2022 when borrowing was cheap, acquiring studios and entertainment groups including Crystal Dynamics, Gearbox Entertainment, Dark Horse Media, Middle-earth Enterprises and many, many others. Those came with gaming franchises including Tomb Raider, Deus Ex, Borderlands and Saints Row.

It was forced to restructure, though, when it lost out on a $2 billion partnership deal (reportedly with Savvy Games, funded by the Saudi government). It subsequently laid off 8 percent of its staff (as of February 2024), or nearly 1,400 employees. The company also sold off Borderlands developer Gearbox for $460 million, a fraction of the $1.3 billion it was valued at three years prior. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/embracer-group-is-splitting-up-its-messy-gaming-empire-into-three-different-companies-120006822.html?src=rss

The Morning After: House votes in favor of bill that could ban TikTok

The US House of Representatives passed a bill on Saturday that could ban TikTok in the country or force its parent company to sell it. Under the revised version, ByteDance would have up to a year to divest, up from six months, originally. The bill now moves to the Senate, which could vote on it in just a matter of days — maybe even this Tuesday.

For that reason, I’m keeping this intro short, because I’ll probably be writing about this TikTok saga, all over again, later this week.

— Mat Smith

The biggest stories you might have missed

Biden signs bill to reauthorize FISA’s warrantless surveillance program

Engadget Podcast: PlayStation 5 Pro rumors and a look back at the Playdate

Baldur’s Gate 3 developer confirms it won’t make the sequel

Tesla makes its controversial Full Self-Driving software cheaper by $4,000

​​You can get these reports delivered daily direct to your inbox. Subscribe right here!

Apple’s next innovation: The calculator?

It’s an app, apparently.

Apple’s calculator for Macs is reportedly getting a massive update with macOS 15 to turn it into a note-taking, currency-converting hybrid app. To start with, AppleInsider said the calculator will get a design overhaul, which swaps its number boxes with round buttons. (Innovation!). There will also be a rich history feature to keep track of your calculations. Hopefully, you can still be juvenile and solve for 55378008.

Continue reading.

Tesla cuts Model Y, X and S prices in the US

It’s ending the referral program too.

Another round of price cuts has shaved $2,000 off the starting prices of Tesla’s Model Y, Model X and Model S for buyers in the US. Tesla’s Model Y now starts at $42,990 for the rear-wheel drive base model, while the base Model S has dropped to $72,990 and the Model X starts at $77,990. The company will be hoping these subsequent price cuts will help with all that recent bad news. Its controversial full self-driving software update has had a discount too.

Continue reading.

The best Mario Kart racer, according to science

Pareto principles and Princess Peach.

TMA
Nintendo

Data scientist Antoine Mayerowitz has tackled that age-old question: Who is the best character for Mario Kart? Objectively, the answer is a few different combinations. Mayerowitz’s Pareto front analysis lets you narrow your possibilities down to the 14 most efficient. One of them, with the most ideal balance of speed, acceleration and mini-turbo, is Cat Peach driving the Teddy Buggy with roller tires and cloud glider. Yes, write that down. Or check out the project’s website for other racer recommendations.

Continue reading.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-morning-after-house-votes-in-favor-of-bill-that-could-ban-tiktok-111547495.html?src=rss

Proton Mail’s paid users will now get alerts if their info has been posted on the dark web

Proton Mail has introduced Dark Web Monitoring for its paid users, which will keep them informed of breaches or leaks they may have been affected by. If anything's been spotted on the dark web, the feature will send out alerts that include information like what service was compromised, what personal details the attackers got (e.g. passwords, name, etc.) and recommended next steps. At launch, you’ll have to visit the Proton Mail Security Center on the web or desktop to access these alerts, but the company says email and in-app notifications are on the way.

An example of a breach alert from Proton Mail
Proton

Dark Web Monitoring is intended to be a proactive security measure. If you’ve used your Proton Mail email address to sign up for a third-party service, like a social media site, and then hackers steal user data from that service, it would let you know in a timely manner if your credentials have been compromised so you can take action (hopefully) before any harm is done. It seems a fitting move for the service, which already offers end-to-end encryption and has made privacy its main stance since the beginning. Dark Web Monitoring won’t be available to free users, though.

“While data breaches of third-party sites leading to the leak of personal information (such as your email address) can never be entirely avoided, automated early warning can help users stay vigilant and mitigate worse side effects such as identity theft,” said Eamonn Maguire, Head of Anti-Abuse and Account Security at Proton.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/proton-mails-paid-users-will-now-get-alerts-if-their-info-has-been-posted-on-the-dark-web-100057504.html?src=rss

The best E Ink tablets for 2024

If you love physical notebooks like me, an E-Ink tablet could serve you well. I’ve had hundreds of paper notebooks over the years, serving as safe places for me to dump story ideas, to-do lists, meeting notes and everything in between. But at a certain point, I turned away from physical notebooks because it became easier to save all of those things digitally in various apps that were always available to me on my phone. E-Ink tablets marry the tactile satisfaction of physical notebooks with many of the conveniences found in apps and other digital tools. E-Ink tablets have come a long way over the years, especially in the last couple of years, to the point where you have a few solid options to choose from now. We tested out a number of different E Ink tablets to see how well they work, how convenient they really are and which are the best tablets using E Ink screens available today.

Are E Ink tablets worth it?

An E Ink tablet will be a worthwhile purchase to a very select group of people. If you prefer the look and feel of an e paper display to LCD panels found on traditional tablets, it makes a lot of sense. They’re also good options for those who want a more paper-like writing experience (although you can get that kind of functionality on a regular tablet with the right screen protector) or a more distraction-free device overall.

The final note is key here. Most E Ink tablets don’t run on the same operating systems as regular tablets, so you’re automatically going to be limited in what you can do. And even with those that do allow you to download traditional apps like Chrome, Instagram and Facebook, E Ink tablets are not designed to give you the best casual-browsing experience. This is mostly due to the nature of E Ink displays, which have noticeable refreshes, a lack of color and lower quality than the panels you’ll find on even the cheapest iPad.

Arguably the biggest reason why you wouldn’t want to go with an iPad (all models of which support stylus input, a plethora of reading apps, etc) is because it’s much easier to get distracted by email, social media and other Internet-related temptations. An e-reader is also worth considering if this is the case for you, but just know that most standard e-readers do not accept stylus input. If you like to make notes in the margins of books, underline and mark up PDFs and the like, an e-reader won’t cut it.

What to look for in an E Ink tablet

Latency

I discovered four main things that can really make or break your experience with an E Ink tablet during my testing; first is the writing experience. How good it is will depend a lot on the display’s refresh rate (does it refresh after every time you put pen to “paper,” so to speak?) and the stylus’ latency. Most had little to no latency, but there were some that were worse than others. Finally, you should double check before buying that your preferred E Ink tablet comes with a stylus.

Reading

The second thing to consider is the reading experience. How much will you be reading books, documents and other things on this tablet? While you can find E Ink tablets in all different sizes, most of them tend to be larger than your standard e-reader because it makes writing much easier. Having a larger display isn’t a bad thing, but it might make holding it for long periods slightly more uncomfortable. (Most e-readers are roughly the size of a paperback book, giving you a similar feeling to analog reading).

The supported file types will also make a big difference. It’s hard to make a blanket statement here because this varies so much among E Ink tablets. The TL;DR is that you’ll have a much better reading experience if you go with one made by a company that already has a history in e-book sales (i.e. Amazon or Kobo). All of the titles you bought via the Kindle or Kobo store should automatically be available to you on your Kindle or Kobo E Ink tablet. And with Kindle titles, specifically, since they are protected by DRM, it’s not necessarily the best idea to try to bring those titles over to a third-party device. Unless the tablet supports reading apps like Amazon’s Kindle or the Kobo app, you’ll be limited to supported file types, like ePUB, PDF, MOBI, JPEG, PNG and others.

Search functionality

Third, most E Ink tablets have some search features, but they can vary widely between models. You’ll want to consider how important it is to you to be able to search through all your handwritten notes and markups. I noticed that Amazon’s and Kobo’s E Ink tablets made it easy to refer back to notes made in books and files because they automatically save on which pages you took notes, made highlights and more. Searching is less standardized on E Ink tablets that have different supported file types, but their features can be quite powerful in their own right. For example, a few devices I tested supported text search in handwritten notes along with handwriting recognition, the latter of which allows you to translate your scribbles into typed text.

Sharing and connectivity

The final factor to consider is sharing and connectivity. Yes, we established that E Ink tablets can be great distraction-free devices, but most manufacturers understand that your notes and doodles aren’t created in a vacuum. You’ll likely want to access them elsewhere, and that requires some form of connectivity. All of the E Ink tablets I tried were Wi-Fi devices, and some supported cloud syncing, companion mobile apps and the ability to export notes via email so you can access them elsewhere. None of them, however, integrate directly with a digital note taking system like Evernote or OneNote, so these devices will always be somewhat supplementary if you use apps like that, too. Ultimately, you should think about what you will want to do with the documents you’ll interact with on your E Ink tablet after the tablet portion is done.

Other E Ink tablets we've tested

Lenovo Smart Paper

Lenovo made a solid E Ink tablet in the Smart Paper, but it's too pricey and too married to the company's companion cloud service to warrant a spot on our top picks list. The hardware is great, but the software isn't as flexible as those of competitors like the reMarkable 2. It has good Google Drive integration, but you must pair it with Lenovo's cloud service to really get the most use out of it — and in the UK, the service costs £9 per month for three months, which is quite expensive.

Onyx Boox Tab Ultra

The Boox Tab Ultra has a lot of the same features we like in the Note Air 2 Plus, but it’s designed to be a true, all-purpose tablet with an E Ink screen. Running Android 11 and compatible with a magnetic keyboard case, you can use it like a standard 2-in-1 laptop, albeit a low-powered one. You can browse the web, check email and even watch YouTube videos on this thing — but that doesn’t mean you should. A standard 2-in-1 laptop with a more responsive screen and better overall performance would be a better fit for most people who even have the slightest desire to have an all-in-one device. Like the rest of Onyx’s devices, the Tab Ultra is specifically for those who put reading and eye comfort above all else.

TCL NXTPAPER 14 Pro

We got to spend some time with TCL’s latest E Ink-like tablet at CES, the NXTPAPER 14 Pro. Using the company’s NXTPAPER 3.0 technology, the device isn’t precisely an E Ink tablet but one that attempts to strike a balance between the displays of ereaders and standard slabs. It focuses on eye comfort by filtering out up to 61 percent of blue light, using a Circularly Polarized Light (CPL) screen and the like. TCL has not revealed pricing for the NXTPAPER 14 Pro, but it did confirm it would arrive in the US in early 2024.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-e-ink-tablet-130037939.html?src=rss

Tinder is making it easier to share date details with family and friends

Tinder has revealed a feature that both helps users share their excitement about a date with loved ones and acts as a safety tool. The Share My Date feature lets users share details about a planned date with a single link.

The URL can point to details including the location, date and time of the rendezvous along with a photo of your match and a link to their profile. The page can include some notes too. You can edit your date plans so those you share that link with have the most up-to-date info. Dates can be set in the app up to 30 days in advance. For those lucky folks out there who have a bunch of matches they make IRL plans with, you can create an unlimited number of dates and share those with your loved ones.

Tinder says that around 51 percent of users under 30 already share date details with their friends, while 19 percent of users do so with their mom. It's always a good idea to let someone know where and when you're going on a date and details about the person you're meeting up with, just to be safe. Share My Date could simplify the process a bit. Back in 2020, Match.com debuted a date check-in feature that let users send details about their date to emergency contacts if things weren't going well.

Tinder will roll out Share My Date over the coming months. It'll be available in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Singapore, India, Ireland, Germany, France, Spain, Japan, Brazil, Switzerland, Mexico, Netherlands, Italy, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/tinder-is-making-it-easier-to-share-date-details-with-family-and-friends-040105977.html?src=rss

Tesla makes its controversial Full Self-Driving software cheaper by $4,000

Tesla has reduced the price of its Full Self-Driving software in the US and Canada. Per a post from the company on X, it now costs $8,000 in the US (or $11,000 for buyers in Canada) to add the so-called Full Self-Driving (FSD) Capability. This is down from $12,000 ($16,000 CAD), according to Electrek, which also reports that Tesla has discontinued the $6,000 Enhanced Autopilot option. Current owners with that package can upgrade to FSD for $2,000.

Tesla’s driver assistance features have been under scrutiny from regulators for years, and despite the name, Full Self-Driving isn’t meant to fully take over for a human driver at this stage. On its website, Tesla notes that current FSD features “require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.” In March, the company reportedly introduced a mandate requiring its staff to give buyers a demonstration of FSD before they’re able to take home their new cars, so they can see what the software has to offer.

The latest price drop comes a few days after Tesla slashed the monthly cost of its subscription for FSD — which it has recently been referring to as Full Self-Driving (Supervised). The subscription, which previously cost $199/month, now goes for $99/month. Tesla also cut the starting prices of its Model Y, X and S vehicles this weekend by $2,000 each. Earlier this month, Tesla reported that its vehicle deliveries for Q1 2024 fell short of expectations, with an eight percent drop year-over-year.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/tesla-makes-its-controversial-full-self-driving-software-cheaper-by-4000-184737580.html?src=rss

Biden signs bill to reauthorize FISA warrantless surveillance program for two more years

President Biden this weekend signed into law a bill that reauthorizes a controversial spying program under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Section 702 of FISA, which has now been extended for two more years, allows for warrantless intelligence gathering on foreign targets. While its focus is on the communications of targets located outside the US, that includes any exchanges with people stateside, meaning Americans’ records can get swept up in these collections too.

The Senate vote on reauthorizing Section 702 came down to the wire. It was set to expire on Friday at midnight, but was recently given an extension until April 2025, according to The New York Times, lest it lapse while disagreements over proposed amendments dragged on. Section 702’s extension period was also shortened, cutting it down to two years instead of the previous five. Congress did ultimately miss the deadline on Friday, but it passed with a 60-34 vote, CBS News reported. The White House issued a statement not long after saying the president “will swiftly sign the bill into law.”

Section 702 was first signed into law in 2008 and has been renewed twice already, allowing US intelligence agencies to use data from internet and cell phone providers without a warrant to keep tabs on foreign targets’ communications. It’s faced strong opposition from both sides over its implications for Americans’ privacy. Kia Hamadanchy, senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), called the passage of the bill “profoundly disappointing” in a statement released over the weekend, going on to say that it “gives the government more ways to secretly surveil us — with little power to hold spy agencies accountable.”

“Senators were aware of the threat this surveillance bill posed to our civil liberties and pushed it through anyway, promising they would attempt to address some of the most heinous expansions in the near future,” Hamadanchy said. “We plan to make sure these promises are kept.”

Update, April 21 2024, 1:21PM ET: This story has been updated to include a statement from the ACLU.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/biden-signs-bill-to-reauthorize-fisa-warrantless-surveillance-program-for-two-more-years-153817277.html?src=rss

House votes in favor of bill that could ban TikTok, sending it onward to Senate

The US House of Representatives passed a bill on Saturday that could either see TikTok banned in the country or force its sale. A revised version of the bill, which previously passed the House in March but later stalled in Senate, was roped in with a foreign aid package this time around, likely meaning it will now be treated as a higher priority item. The bill originally gave TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, six months to sell the app if it’s passed into law or TikTok would be banned from US app stores. Under the revised version, ByteDance would have up to a year to divest.

The bill passed with a vote of 360-58 in the House, according to AP. It’ll now move on to the Senate, which could vote on it in just a matter of days. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said today that the Senate is working to reach an agreement on when the next vote will be for the foreign aid package that the TikTok bill is attached to, but it is expected to happen this coming Tuesday. President Joe Biden has previously said he would support the bill if Congress passes it. 

The bill paints TikTok as a national security threat due to its ties to China. There are roughly 170 million US users on the app, at least according to TikTok, and ByteDance isn't expected to let them go without a fight. In a statement posted on X earlier this week, the TikTok Policy account said such a law would “trample the free speech rights” of these users, “devastate 7 million businesses, and shutter a platform that contributes $24 billion to the U.S. economy, annually.” Critics of the bill have also argued that banning TikTok would do little in the way of actually protecting Americans’ data.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/house-votes-in-favor-of-bill-that-could-ban-tiktok-sending-it-onward-to-senate-185140206.html?src=rss

Tesla cuts Model Y, X and S prices in the US and says it’s ending the referral program

Another round of price cuts has shaved $2,000 off the starting prices of Tesla’s Model Y, Model X and Model S for buyers in the US, Reuters reports. The company’s North America branch posted on X about the change to the Model Y on Friday night, at the same time announcing that Tesla is ditching its referral program benefits in all markets. According to Tesla, the “current referral program benefits will end after April 30.”

Tesla’s Model Y now starts at $42,990 for the rear-wheel drive base model, $47,990 for the Model Y Long Range or $51,490 for the Model Y Performance. The base Model S has dropped to $72,990 while the Model S Plaid now starts at $87,990. The Model X starts at $77,990 (base) or $92,990 (Plaid). The changes come during a rocky few weeks for the company, which just issued a recall for Cybertrucks over possible issues with the accelerator pedal, reportedly laid off 10 percent of its employees and reported a decline in deliveries for the first quarter.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/tesla-cuts-model-y-x-and-s-prices-in-the-us-and-says-its-ending-the-referral-program-172311662.html?src=rss