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Frontier rolls out 5Gbps fiber internet across the US

You're now more likely to have meaningful choice for fast fiber internet service. Frontier has introduced a symmetrical 5Gbps plan (that is, 5Gbps for uploads and downloads) across all its fiber markets in the US. The company claims it's the first "major" provider to manage the feat. You'll have to pay $155 per month (which includes installation and a router), or $55 more than the 2Gbps tier. However, it might be worth the outlay if you regularly download massive files or share your data with other heavy-duty users in your household.

You'll need a WiFi 6e router and supporting devices, like the Pixel 7 or 2023 MacBook Pro, to make use of the extra speed without relying on 10Gbps Ethernet. Frontier estimates that it takes less than two minutes to download a 100-minute 8K movie.

Whether or not Frontier offers the best deal depends on the rivals in your area. AT&T's 5Gbps plan has been available for a year, but will cost $180. Google Fiber is on the cusp of offering 8Gbps for $150, but it covers only a handful of cities. Frontier may well beat cable companies, though. Comcast already has 6Gbps service in some areas, but the $300 per month pricing and non-symmetric uploads make it less practical.

The higher price for 5Gbps service may not be thrilling if 2Gbps already seemed expensive. Even so, the rollout suggests competition is heating up among multi-gig internet providers. That's good news for customers — you may see more aggressive performance or pricing as telecoms jockey for your business.

TikTok's CEO will testify before a congressional committee in March

Shou Zi Chew, the CEO of TikTok, will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23rd. Chow will discuss the app's privacy and data security measures, its impact on kids and ties to China (parent company ByteDance is headquartered in the country). This will be Chew's first appearance in front of a congressional panel, the committee said. TikTok COO Vanessa Pappas faced similar questions from lawmakers in September.

"ByteDance-owned TikTok has knowingly allowed the ability for the Chinese Communist Party to access American user data," committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers said in a statement. "Americans deserve to know how these actions impact their privacy and data security, as well as what actions TikTok is taking to keep our kids safe from online and offline harms. We’ve made our concerns clear with TikTok. It is now time to continue the committee’s efforts to hold Big Tech accountable by bringing TikTok before the committee to provide complete and honest answers for people.”

Engadget has contacted TikTok for comment.

TikTok's security and relationship with Chinese authorities have drawn the attention of US officials over the last few years. However, as CNBC notes, discussions between the US and TikTok appear to have stalled, as officials remain concerned about the possibility of China forcing it to hand over user data.

The company has tried to placate concerns from regulators and elected officials by storing US user data on domestic Oracle servers and deleting such data from its own servers in the US and Singapore. Oracle has been reviewing TikTok's algorithms and content moderation models for signs of Chinese interference.

Last month, TikTok said it fired four employees (two each in China and the US) who accessed the data of several journalists. They were said to be looking for the sources of leaks to reporters.

Also in December, lawmakers passed a mammoth spending bill. The legislation bans TikTok from federal government-owned devices. More than half of all states have implemented similar bans on local government devices. Meanwhile, senators and members of Congress have renewed efforts to ban TikTok in the US entirely.

News of Chew's appearance before the panel comes on Data Privacy Day. In a blog post, TikTok laid out some of its efforts to bolster user privacy, including a plan to set up a data center in Dublin this year to store UK and European Economic Area data.

The Internet Archive's Calculator Drawer lets you relive high school math class

If you’ve been reading Engadget for a while, there’s a good chance your high school education involved using a scientific or graphing calculator during math class. Your old calculator might even be sitting in a desk drawer somewhere collecting dust. If you can't find it, the Internet Archive’s latest project is here to help (via Ars Technica).

With the help of the team behind the Multi-purpose Emulation Framework (MAME), a project that has spent the past 25 years creating software that can emulate all sorts of gadgets, the archive now offers emulated versions of some of the most popular calculators of the past few decades. In all, The Calculator Drawer features 14 different models for Internet Archive visitors to noodle around, including the venerable Texas Instruments TI-81 from 1990.

Not every calculator of note from the past 25 years is part of the collection. For instance, you won’t find the Casio fx-7000g, the world’s first graphing calculator, on the list, but if you used a Texas Instruments or HP model back in school, there’s a good chance you’ll find something that should feel familiar. And if you feel a bit overwhelmed by all the buttons, worry not; the Internet Archive has also uploaded manuals for most of the included calculators.

Nothing Phone 2 to launch in US later this year

Nothing’s Carl Pei has confirmed the upcoming Phone 2 will launch in the US later this year. The CEO and co-founder described the 2023 flagship as “more premium” than the Nothing Phone 1, which Engadget saw as “an impressive debut” in our review.

Pei dropped several tidbits in an interview with Inverse. First, he says the Ear 1 earbuds’ US launch was a barometer for US demand. “We’re really excited about the US market because it’s a big country,” said Pei. “If you look at our earbuds sales, about one-third comes from the US. And by not launching our phone in the US, we’re leaving potentially a third of the volume on the table.” Pei describes the Phone 2’s US launch as Nothing’s top priority this year.

Pei suggests declining smartphone sales indicate the US market is ripe for innovation. “From a business point of view, [Apple and Samsung] shouldn’t go very niche and try something completely different because they might alienate current users. That’s where smaller companies like us can come in and try and do something different. It’s not that we’re smarter or that they can’t, but it just doesn’t make sense for them to do it.” However, although stagnation may play a part, the biggest reasons for the nosedive have likely been supply-chain problems, inflation and an unpredictable economy.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 04: OnePlus Co-founder Carl Pei speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2019 at Moscone Convention Center on October 04, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch)
Carl Pei in 2019.
Steve Jennings via Getty Images

Pei says red tape was the main reason Nothing didn't launch the Phone 1 in the US. American carriers demand Android manufacturers comply with various adaptations and preinstalled apps, which takes significant resources. But the company’s rapid growth and proven ability to move volume has given it leverage. “When you make a smartphone for the US, you need to work with the carriers on certification and adapting some of their features into your OS,” he said. “We didn’t have the resources for that before, and now we do,” Pei adds that Nothing has grown from 200 employees in 2021 to 400 today.

Although Pei doesn’t spill many secrets about the Phone 2, he hints at a higher-end design than its predecessor. “We’re developing a smartphone that’s more premium than the Nothing Phone 1, and software will be a big focus area for us.” However, he stresses that the Phone 1 was also a flagship handset. “Mobile chipsets have really improved over the last seven to nine years. That’s why I want to avoid calling the Phone 2 a flagship because that would mean that the Phone 1 was not a flagship. Within our own portfolio of smartphones, the Phone 1 was very much a flagship in terms of the amount of care we put into the product. That’s why I used the word ‘premium’ [to describe the Phone 2] instead, which signifies that it’s a more premium step up, but it’s still a flagship just like the Phone 1.”

Cash-strapped EV startup Arrival is laying off half its staff

For the second time in less than a year, electric transport startup Arrival is cutting staff. The company announced Monday plans to lay off approximately 50 percent of its workforce. The move will reduce Arrival’s headcount to about 800 employees. In the middle of last year, Arrival warned it was strapped for cash, and the company’s financial position appears to have become more dire since.

As of the end of 2022, Arrival had $205 million cash on hand. Following its latest round of layoffs and a handful of other cost-cutting measures, Arrival says it expects to reduce the cost of day-to-day operations to about $30 million per quarter. Critically, Arrival’s plan to focus on the US market – and take advantage of Inflation Reduction Act incentives – is contingent on it raising more money from investors. Provided it can secure additional funding, Arrival expects to start Van production in Charlotte in 2024.

On Monday, Arrival also announced a leadership change. Less than three months after taking over as CEO, former Marvel Entertainment chief Peter Cuneo is handing over day-to-day operations to Igor Torgov, Arrival’s former executive vice president of Digital. Before joining the startup in 2020, Torgov held leadership positions at Atol, Bitfury, Yota, Columbus IT and Microsoft. It’s now on him to turn the once-promising startup around. Arrival said it would share more information about its financial position on March 9th.

Ford slashes Mustang Mach-E prices by up to $5,900

Ford has slashed prices of its Mustang Mach-E electric vehicle by up to eight percent (as much as $5,900), with the extended-range battery dropping in price by around 19 percent. The entry-level models are now around $600 to $900 less expensive, according to Reuters, which reported that people who are currently waiting for Ford to deliver a Mach-E will receive the price cut automatically.

At least one variant is again eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit, which applies to EVs that have an MSRP of $55,000 or less. SUVs, vans and pickup trucks are eligible for the credit if they have a maximum MSRP of $80,000, but the Internal Revenue Service does not class the Mach-E as an SUV.

In August, Ford increased the price of the Mach-E for new orders by between around $2,600 and $8,000 compared with the 2022 trims. The company attributed the price hikes to "significant material cost increases, continued strain on key supply chains and rapidly evolving market conditions." However, it seems those issues have abated somewhat.

"At Ford, we want to make EVs more accessible, so we’re increasing Mustang Mach-E production and reducing prices across the Mach-E lineup," Ford CEO Jim Farley wrote on Twitter. "Scaling will shorten customer wait times. And with higher production, we’re reducing costs, which allows us [to] share these savings with customers."

Ford built 78,000 Mach-E vehicles in 2022. It hopes to ramp up production to an annual run rate of 270,000 by the end of this year. The company is aiming to reach a total EV production rate of 600,000 by late 2023 with the help of new lithium iron phosphate battery packs.

The move comes after Tesla slashed the prices of its EVs by up to 20 percent earlier this month. The five-seat Model Y Long Range became eligible for the tax credit after the cut, meaning that it's now $20,500 (over 30 percent) less expensive.

The best smart scales for 2023

Data is a useful tool in any battle, especially if you’re opting to wage war against your waistline in an attempt to be healthier. Back in 2007, I bought a dirt-cheap scale and drew my own graph sheets in order to chart my weight’s downward progress after a rough year at university. I think that while 2007 me wouldn’t be pleased with my own fitness journey, he would love the fact that the process is entirely automated, and affordable. Consequently, allow me to take you (and him) on a journey to pick the best smart scale to help you on your own journey toward behavior change.

Safety

There are valid reasons to weigh yourself, but your self-worth shouldn’t be defined by the number that shows up between your feet. If you’re looking to alter your body shape, that figure could go up as your waistline goes down, since muscle weighs more than fat. Dr. Anne Swift, Director of public health teaching at the University of Cambridge, said that “weighing yourself too often can result in [you] becoming fixated on small fluctuations day-to-day, rather than the overall trend over time.” Swift added that “it’s sometimes better to focus on how clothes fit, or how you feel, rather than your weight.”

(A meta-analysis from 2016 found there may be some negative psychological impact from self weighing. A 2018 study, however, said that there may be a positive correlation between regular weigh-ins and accelerated weight loss. It can be a minefield, and I’d urge you to take real care of yourself and remember that success won’t happen overnight.)

What to look for in a smart scale

Weight

A weighing scale that weighs you is probably the top requirement, right? One thing to bear in mind is that, with all these measurements, the figures won’t be as accurate as a calibrated, clinical scale. Consequently, it’s better to focus on the overall body weight trend up or down over time, rather than the figures in isolation.

Connectivity

Most scales will either connect to your phone over Bluetooth, or to your home’s WiFi network, and you should work out your regular weighing routine ahead of time. A lot of lower-end, Bluetooth-only models will only record your weight when your phone is present and don’t keep local records. That means if you routinely leave your phone outside the bathroom, you could lose that day’s stats. WiFi-connected scales, on the other hand, post your stats to a server, letting you access them from any compatible device. But you need to be mindful that there’s a small risk to your privacy should that information be compromised.

Bone density

The stronger your bones, the less you’re at risk from breaks and osteoporosis, which you should keep in mind as you get older. Clinical bone density tests use low-power x-rays but higher-end scales can offer an approximation from your own bathroom. These bone mass tests pass a small current through your feet, measuring the resistance as it completes its journey. The resistance offered by bones, fat and muscle are all different, and your scale can identify the difference.

Body fat percentage and muscle mass

Fat and muscle are necessary parts of our makeup, but an excessive amount of either can be problematic. Much like bone density, a scale can identify both your body fat and muscle mass percentages using Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA). This measurement tests how well your body resists the electrical signal passing through your body. (It’s a rough rule of thumb that you should have a 30/70 percent split between fat and muscle, but please consult a medical professional for figures specific to your own body and medical needs.)

BMI

A lot of scales offer a BMI calculation, and it’s easy to do since you just plot height and weight on a set graph line. Body Mass Index is, however, a problematic measurement that its critics say is both overly simplistic and often greatly misleading. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most common clinical metrics and medical professionals will use it to make judgements about your care.

Pulse Wave Velocity

French health-tech company Withings has offered Pulse Wave Velocity (PWV) on its flagship scale for some time, although regulatory concerns meant it was withdrawn for a period of time. It’s a measurement of arterial stiffness, which acts as a marker both of cardiovascular risk and also other health conditions. I’ve had anecdotal reports that PWV scales have sent people to the doctor, where they’ve found they were close to a cardiac event. It’s worth saying, as with all of these technologies, that there is limited, albeit positive, research into how accurate these systems are.

Display

Less a specification and more a note that smart scales have displays ranging from pre-printed LCDs or digital dot matrix layouts through to color screens. On the high end, your scale can show you trending charts for your weight and other vital statistics, and can even tell you the day’s weather. If you are short-sighted, and plan on weighing yourself first thing in the morning, before you’ve found your glasses / contacts, opt for a big, clear, high-contrast display.

App and subscriptions

You’ll spend most of your time looking at your health data through its companion app, and it’s vital you get a good one. This includes a clear, clean layout with powerful tools to visualize your progress and analyze your data to look for places you can improve. Given that you often don’t need to buy anything before trying the app, it’s worth testing one or two to see if you vibe with it.

Several companies also offer premium subscriptions, unlocking other features – including insights and coaching – to go along with your hardware. Fitbit and Withings both offer these services, which you may feel is worth the extra investment each month.

Data portability

Using the same scale or app platform for years at a time means you’ll build up a massive trove of personal data. And it is, or should be, your right to take that data to another provider when you choose to move platforms in the future. Data portability is, however, a minefield, with different platforms offering wildly different options, making it easy (or hard) to go elsewhere.

All of the devices in this round-up will allow you to export your data to a .CSV file, which you can then do with as you wish. Importing this information is trickier, with Withings and Garmin allowing it, and Omron, Xiaomi, Eufy and Fitbit not making it that easy. (Apps that engage with Apple Health, meanwhile, can output all of your health data in a .XML file.)

Power

It’s not a huge issue but one worth bearing in mind that each scale will either run disposable batteries (most commonly 4xAAA) or with its own, built-in battery pack. Sadly, all of our crop of smart scales use batteries, adding an environmental and financial cost to your scale life. That’s just about forgivable for scales that cost under $100, but this stretches even to the highest-end models. When you’re spending more than that on a device, the lack of a rechargeable cell feels very, very cheap indeed.

The smart scales we tested

For this guide, I tested six scales from major manufacturers:

Mi (Xiaomi) Body Composition Scale 2 ($29.99)

Stock image of Xiaomi's Body Comp Scale
Xiaomi

Our cheapest model, Xiaomi / Mi’s Body Composition Scale 2 is as bare-bones as you can get, and it shows. It often takes a long while to lock on to get your weight, and when it does you’ll have to delve into the Zepp Life-branded app in order to look at your extra data. But you can’t fault it for the basics, offering limited weight and body composition for less than the price of a McDonald’s for four.

Fitbit Aira Air ($49.95)

Image of Fitbit's Aria Air scale
Fitbit

Fitbit, now part of Google, is the household name for fitness gear in the US, right? If not, then it must be at least halfway synonymous with it. The Aria Air is the company’s stripped-to-the-bare bones scale, offering your weight and little else, but you can trust that Fitbit got the basics right. Not to mention that most of the reason for buying a Fitbit product is to leverage its app anyway.

Anker Eufy Smart Scale P2 Pro ($79.99)

Image of Eufy's P2 Pro smart scale
Eufy / Anker

Eufy’s Smart Scale P2 Pro has plenty of things to commend it – the price, the overall look and feel (it’s a snazzy piece of kit) and what it offers. It offers a whole host of measurements, including Body Fat, Muscle Mass, Water, Body Fat Mass and Bone Mass, as well as calculating things like your Heart Rate and Basal Metabolic Rate (the amount of calories you need to eat a day to not change weight at all) all from inside its app. In fact, buried beneath the friendly graphic, the scale offers a big pile of stats and data that should, I think, give you more than a little coaching on how to improve your lifestyle.

Shortly before publication, Anker – Eufy’s parent company – was identified as having misled users, and the media, about the security of its products. Its Eufy-branded security cameras, which the company says does not broadcast video outside of your local network, was found to be allowing third parties to access streams online. Consequently, while we have praised the Eufy scale for its own features, we cannot recommend it without a big caveat. 

Omron BCM-500 Body Composition and Scale with Bluetooth ($89.99)

Image of Omron's 500 series scale
Omron

Given its role in making actual medical devices, you know what you’re getting with an Omron product. A solid, reliable, sturdy, strong (checks the dictionary for more synonyms) dependable piece of kit. There’s no romance or excitement on show, but you can trust that however joyless it may be, it’ll do the job in question. The hardware is limited, the app is limited, but it certainly (checks synonyms again) is steady.

Joking aside, Omron’s Connect app is as bare-bones as you can get, since it acts as an interface for so many of its products. Scroll over to the Weight page, and you’ll get your weight and BMI reading, and if you’ve set a goal, you can see how far you’ve got to go to reach it. You can also switch to seeing a trend graph which, again, offers the most basic visualization on offer.

Garmin Index S2 ($149.99)

Image of Garmin's Index S2 smart scale
Garmin

Garmin’s got a pretty massive fitness ecosystem of its own, so if you’re already part of that world, its scale is a no-brainer. On one hand, the scale is one of easiest to use, and most luxurious of the bunch, with its color screen and sleek design. I’m also a big fan of the wealth of data the scale throws at you – you can see a full color graph charting your weight progress, and the various metrics it tracks in good detail. If there’s a downside, it’s that Garmin’s setup won’t hold your hand, since it’s for serious fitness people, not newbies.

Withings Body Comp ($209.95)

Image of Withings' Body Comp
Withings

At the highest end, Withings’ flagship Body Comp is luxurious, and luxuriously priced, a figure I’d consider to be “too much” to spend on a bathroom scale. For your money, however, you’ll get a fairly comprehensive rundown of your weight, body fat, vascular age, pulse wave velocity and electrodermal activity. Its monochrome dot matrix display may not be as swish as the Garmin’s, but it refreshes pretty quickly and feels very in-keeping with the hardware’s overall sleek look. If there’s a downside, it’s that they ditched the rechargeable battery found in the Withings Body Cardio (its former flagship, and an excellent scale I’d recommend if it were within the parameters of this guide) in favor of AAA batteries. Which, when you’re spending this much on a scale, makes me feel very nickel-and-dimed.

The best cheap smart scale: Fitbit Aria Air, Mi Body Composition Scale 2

It’s very competitive at the low end for the best smart scale, and Xiaomi and Fitbit offer dramatically contrasting products for a very low price. Fitbit’s scale has far fewer features, but has better build quality, is faster and more reliable than its cheaper rival. Crucially, it also leverages the Fitbit app, which is refined and easy-to-use, offering clean, easy-to understand visualizations.

Xiaomi, meanwhile, offers weight and some basic body composition checks, although this extra data is only visualized inside the app. From a data perspective, the Xiaomi has the edge, but its companion app – formerly Mi Fit, now branded as Zepp Life – is terrible. The lag time for each weigh-in, too, leaves a lot to be desired with the Xiaomi, although I had no qualms about its accuracy.

When I was a kid, and complained about something, my nan would say “look, you can either have a first class walk or a third class ride.” And Fitbit’s scale here is the very definition of a first class ride – polished, snappy and with a world-class app by its side. The Xiaomi, meanwhile, offers more for your money, and charges less, but both hardware and software lack any sort of polish. It’s therefore up to you if you’d rather the first class walk or the third class ride.

The best scale for people who want features (and aren’t fussed about security): Eufy’s P2 Pro

Well, this is awkward. Not long before this guide was published, it was revealed that Eufy is in the midst of a massive security issue. Researchers found that its security cameras, which were promised to be secure, allowed internet users to access the stream using VLC player. Consequently the high praise for Eufy’s P2 Pro I have as a scale will need to be moderated by the fact that we don’t yet know how deep the company’s promises around privacy and security really run.

It’s unfortunate, as the scale does leap head-and-shoulders above the competition at this level, and it surpassed my expectations by quite a bit. The ease of use was one thing, but the depth of metric data made available in the app, and the way it presents that information, is fantastic. While I don’t think the Eufy Life app is better than, say, Withings’ class-leading Health Mate, it offers exactly what a would-be weight-watcher would need.

The fact you can get plenty of your vital statistics graphed by hitting two buttons helps you visualize your progress, but the stat dashboard laying out everything, including your BMR, is so useful. If you’re going all Quantified Self, you could theoretically calculate your daily calorie intake to the finest of fine margins looking at this thing every morning.

The best scale for athletes: Garmin Index S2

I’m very partial to Garmin’s Index S2, but I also think it’s the sort of scale that needs to be used by people who know what they’re doing. Almost everything about the hardware is spot-on, and the only fly in its ointment is the low refresh rate on its color screen. I can’t say how upsetting it was to see the display refresh in such a laggy, unpolished manner, especially when you’re spending this much money. But that’s my only complaint, and the rest of the hardware (and software) is otherwise pitch-perfect. If you’re looking to alter your body shape, this probably isn’t the scale for you – it’s the scale you buy once you already calculate your BMR on a daily basis.

The best scale for the worried well: Withings Body Comp

Naturally, if you’re looking for a machine that’ll cater to your every whim and hypochondriac urge, then Withings’ Body Comp is the way forward. It’s a luxury scale in every sense of the word, and you should appreciate the level of polish and technology on show here. Apart from the batteries, which I’ve already said is a cheap and nasty way to save money given that you’re dropping this much money on a product.

The group of people who think it’s reasonable to spend $200 on a scale is, especially with food and energy prices spiking, a fairly small one. But if you’re the sort who already spends hand over fist to keep your body in check, this is probably justifiable as an “investment.” Knowing all of the extras about your nerve health and arteries is a bonus, but let’s be clear and say this isn’t the scale for everybody. Hell, you might have second thoughts even if you do have a subscription to Good Yachting Magazine.

The best GPS running watches for 2023

Because I'm the editor of Engadget by day and a volunteer coach in my free time, I often get asked which GPS watch to buy. (People also ask what I'm wearing and the answer is: All of them. I am testing all of them.) For my part, the best running watches are quick to lock in a GPS signal, offer accurate distance and pace tracking, last a long time on a charge, are comfortable to wear and easy to use.

Advanced stats like VO2 Max, or maximum oxygen intake during workouts with increasing intensity, are also nice to have, along with training assessments to keep your workload in check and make sure you're getting in effective aerobic and anaerobic workouts. It's also a plus when a watch supports other sports, like cycling and swimming, which all of these do to varying extents. As for features like smartphone notifications and NFC payments, they’re not necessary for most people, especially considering they drive up the asking price.

Without further ado, I bring you capsule reviews of four running watches, each of which I ultimately recommend, none of which is perfect. And keep in mind, when it comes time to make a decision of your own, there are no wrong answers here: I like Apple and Garmin enough, for instance, that I switch back and forth between them in my own training.

The best running watch that’s also a smartwatch: Apple Watch

Pros: Stylish design; a great all-around smartwatch you'll want to use even when you're not exercising; automatic workout detection; heart-rate and blood oxygen monitoring; support for lots of third-party health platforms; auto-pause feels faster than on Garmin watches; zippy performance and fast re-charging; optional LTE is nice to have.

Cons: For iPhone users only; shorter battery life than the competition might concern endurance athletes; fewer performance metrics and settings than what you'd find on a purpose-built sports watch.

Don't think of the Apple Watch as a running watch. Think of it as a smartwatch that happens to have a running mode. Almost eight years after the original Watch made its debut, Apple has successfully transformed its wearable from an overpriced curiosity to an actually useful companion device for the masses. But being a gadget for the masses means that when it comes to running, the Apple Watch has never been as feature rich as competing devices built specifically for that purpose.

Before I get to that, a few words on why I like it. The Apple Watch is the only one of these watches I’d want to wear every day. (And I do: After reviewing Apple Watches for years, I finally purchased one in fall 2021.) The most recent model is stylish, or at least as stylish as a wrist-worn computer can be, and certainly more so than any running watch I've encountered. The aluminum, water-resistant body and neutral Sport band go with most outfits and will continue to look fresh after all your sweaty workouts and jaunts through the rain. And the always-on display is easy to read in direct sunlight.

The battery life is 18 hours, according to Apple. Indeed, I never have a problem making it through the day. I’m often able to put the watch back on after a night of forgetting to charge it and still have some juice left. If you do forget, even a few minutes of charging in the morning can go a long way, even more so now that the Watch supports even faster charging than before. Plus, the new low power mode in watchOS 9 can help you extend the life of your Watch on particularly long days.

That said, it’s worth noting that other running watches claim longer usage time — between 30 and 40 hours in some cases. When it comes to workouts specifically, Apple rates the battery life with GPS at up to seven hours. Given that, I would trust the Watch to last through a short run or even a half marathon, but I'm not sure how it would fare in one of my slow, five-hour-plus marathons. We haven't put the higher-end Apple Watch Ultra through such paces yet, but it's worth mentioning that it has the longest battery life of any Apple Watch with a promised 36 hours (and we got about three days worth of regular use during our testing).

The built-in Activity app is simple and addictive: I feel motivated to fill in my "move" (active calorie), exercise and stand rings each day. I enjoy earning award badges, even though they mean nothing. I'm grateful that the Apple Health app can pull in workouts from Garmin and every other brand featured here, and then count that toward my daily exercise and stand goals (but not my move goal, curiously).

My one complaint is that the sensors don’t always track standing time accurately. I have failed to receive credit when standing for long periods in front of a stove, but occasionally I’ve been rewarded for doing absolutely nothing.

The Apple Watch Series 8 on a wrist held up in mid-air.
Cherlynn Low / Engadget

As for running specifically, you're getting the basics and not much else. You can see your distance, calorie burn, heart rate, average pace and also rolling pace, which is your pace over the past mile at any given moment. You can also set pace alerts — a warning that you're going faster than you meant to, for example. Like earlier Apple Watches, you can also stream music or podcasts, if you have the cellular-enabled LTE model.

Because the watch has a GPS sensor, you can leave your phone at home while running. Of course, no two brands of running watches will offer exactly the same distance readout on a run. That said, though Apple never explicitly claimed the Watch offers improved accurate distance tracking, the readouts here do feel more accurate than on earlier models. It’s possible that Apple is making ongoing improvements under the hood that have added up to more accurate tracking performance.

For indoor runners, the Apple watch integrates with some treadmills and other exercise equipment, thanks to a two-way pairing process that essentially trades notes between the device and gym gear, formulating a more accurate estimate of your distance and effort using that shared data. In my experience, the Watch usually agrees with the treadmill on how far I ran, which is not always the case with other wearables.

I also particularly appreciate that the Apple Watch automatically detects workouts after a certain period of time. I use this feature daily as I walk to and from the subway and around my neighborhood. After 10 minutes, the familiar vibrating tick, with a message asking if I want to record an outdoor walk. The answer is always yes, and the watch thankfully includes the previous 10 minutes in which I forgot to initiate a workout.

Regardless of the workout type, all of your stats are listed on a series of pages, which you swipe through from left to right. In my early days using the watch, it was tempting to use the Digital Crown as a stopwatch button, similar to how I use other running watches. This urge has mostly subsided as I've gotten more comfortable with the user interface.

Like many of its competitors, the Apple Watch has an auto-pause option, which I often use in start-and-stop workouts. I also found in side-by-side comparisons (one watch on each wrist), that auto-pause on the Watch reacts faster than on Garmin models.

Conveniently, the Apple Watch can export workouts to MyFitnessPal so you get credit for your calorie burn there. Of note, the Watch has all of the health features that the previous generation, including a built-in ECG test for cardiac arrhythmias, along with fall detection, a blood oxygen test, respiratory tracking, emergency calls and menstrual tracking. Also like previous models, there’s a built-in compass and international emergency calling.

Unfortunately, the stats themselves are fairly limited, without much room for customization. There's no mode for interval workouts, either by time or distance. There's also not much of an attempt to quantify your level of fitness, your progress or the strenuousness of your workouts or training load. None of this should be a dealbreaker for more casual runners.

For more detailed tracking, your best bet is to experiment with third-party running apps for the iPhone, like Strava, RunKeeper, MapMyRun, Nike Run Club and others. It's through trial and error that I finally found an app with Watch support and timed intervals. But at the end of the day, it's easier to wear a purpose-built running watch when I'm running outdoors, sync my data to Apple Health, get my exercise and standing-time credit, and then put the Apple Watch back on the first chance I get. But if you can only afford one smartwatch for training and life, there's a strong case for choosing this one.

The best for triathletes: Garmin Forerunner 745

Pros: Accurate distance tracking; long battery life; advanced fitness and training feedback; stores up to 500 songs; works with Garmin Pay.

Cons: Garmin’s auto-pause feature feels slower than Apple’s; more advanced features can sometimes mean the on-device UI is tricky to navigate; features like Garmin Pay drive up the price but may feel superfluous.

If the Apple Watch is for people who want a smartwatch that also has some workout features, the $500 Garmin Forerunner 745 is for athletes in training who want a purpose-built device to help prepare for races. The various sensors inside can track your heart rate, VO2 Max and blood oxygen (with the option to track all-day and in-sleep, as opposed to just spot checking). On the software side, you get daily workout suggestions, a rating that summarizes your performance condition, animated on screen workouts, a cycling power rating, a sleep score and menstruation tracking. You can also create round-trip courses as well as find popular routes though Garmin’s Trendline populating routing feature.

Like other Garmin watches, even the entry-level ones, you also get feedback on your training load and training status (unproductive, maintaining, productive, peaking, overreaching, detraining and recovery), a “Body Battery” energy rating, recommended recovery time, plus Garmin Coach and a race time predictor. And you can analyze “running dynamics” if you also have a compatible accessory.

The slight downside to having all of these features is that the settings menu can be trickier to navigate than on a simpler device like the entry-level Forerunner 45. Fortunately, at least, a home screen update released back in fall 2020 makes it so that you can see more data points on the 1.2-inch screen with less scrolling required.

Speaking of the screen, the watch, available in four colors, is easy to read in direct sunlight, and weighs a not-too-heavy 47g. That light weight, combined with the soft silicone band, makes it comfortable to wear for long stretches. Garmin rates the battery life at up to seven days, or up to 16 hours with GPS in use. (That figure drops to six hours when you combine GPS tracking with music playback.) In my testing, I was still at 88 percent after three hours of GPS usage. Most of my weekday runs are around 35 minutes and that, it turns out, only puts a roughly two- or three-percent dent in the battery capacity.

In practice, the watch also seemed quicker than my older Forerunner 645 Music to latch onto a GPS signal, even in notoriously difficult spots with trees and cover from tall buildings. As always, distance tracking is accurate, especially if you start out with a locked-in signal, which you always should. Like I said earlier, though, I did find in a side-by-side test, Garmin’s auto-pause feature seems sluggish compared to Apple’s.

Aside from some advanced running and cycling features, what makes the 745 one of the more expensive models in Garmin’s line are its smartwatch features. That includes Garmin Pay, the company’s contactless payments system, and the ability to store up to 500 music tracks on the device. You can also mirror your smartphone notifications and use calendar and weather widgets. Just know you can enjoy that even on Garmin’s entry-level model (more on that below).

I can see there being two schools of thought here: if someone plans to wear this watch for many hours a week working out, it may as well get as close as possible to a less sporty smartwatch. Then there’s my thinking: You’re probably better off stepping down to a model that’s nearly as capable on the fitness front, but that doesn’t pretend as hard to be a proper smartwatch.

For those people, there’s another mid-range model in Garmin’s Forerunner line that’s cheaper and serves many of the same people who will be looking at the 745. The Forerunner 245 offers many of the same training features. It also mostly matches the 745 on pool swimming, but you do appear to lose a bunch of cycling features, so you might want to pore over this comparison chart before buying if you’re a multisport athlete.

What you give is Garmin Pay; the option of all-day blood oxygen tracking; the sleep score; a gyroscope and barometric altimeter; floors climbed; heat and altitude acclimation; yoga and pilates workouts; training load focus; the Trendline feature; round-trip course creation, Garmin and Strava live segments; and lactate threshold tracking (and for this you would need an additional accessory amway).

At the opposite end of the spectrum (for people who actually wish the 745 could do more), there’s the Forerunner 945 LTE which, true to its name, adds built-in LTE connectivity. This model also holds 1,000 songs, up from 500 on the 745, and adds niceties like preloaded maps and a host of golfing features, if golf is also your jam.

The best for most people: Garmin Forerunner 45S

Pros: Accurate distance tracking, long battery life, heart rate monitoring and interval training at a reasonable price; lightweight design; offered in a variety of colors; smartphone notifications feel limited, but could be better than nothing.

Cons: Garmin’s auto-pause feature feels slower than Apple’s.

I purposefully tested the expensive Garmin Forerunner 745 first, so that I could start off with an understanding of the brand’s more advanced tech. Testing the Forerunner 45S, then, was an exercise in subtraction: If I pared down the feature set, would I miss the bells and whistles? And would other runners?

It turns out, mostly not. As an entry-level watch, the 45S offers everything beginners (and even some intermediate) runners could want, including distance tracking, basic fitness tracking (steps, calories), heart rate monitoring and a blood oxygen test. Also, as much as the 45S is aimed at new runners, you’ll also find modes for indoor and outdoor cycling, elliptical machines, stair climbers and yoga.

Coming from the 745, I was especially pleased to see that many of Garmin’s best training and recovery features carry down even to the base-level model. That includes training status, training load, training effect, Garmin Coach, Body Battery, stress tracking, a race time predictor and running dynamics analysis (again, an additional accessory is required). Like other Garmin watches, you can enable incident detection, with the caveat that you'll need your smartphone nearby for it to work.

It even functions as a perfunctory smartwatch, with smartphone notifications, music playback controls, calendar and weather widgets, and a duo of “find my phone” and “find my watch” features. Although I’ve criticized Garmin’s smartwatch features in the past for feeling like half-baked add-ons, I was still pleasantly surprised to find them on what’s marketed as a running watch for novices.

As for the hardware, the watch feels lightweight, at 32 grams for the 39mm model (36g for the 42mm). It’s available in five colors, slightly more than Garmin’s more serious models. The 1.04-inch screen was easy to glance at mid-workout, even in direct sunlight. The battery, which is rated for seven days (or 13 hours in GPS mode) does not need to be charged every day. In fact, if it really is beginners using this, their short runs should barely put a dent in the overall capacity. As with the Forerunner 745, my complaint is never with the battery life, just the fact that you have to use a proprietary charging cable.

And, while this watch wasn’t made for competitive swimmers, you can use it in the pool without breaking it. The 5 ATM water resistance rating means it can survive the equivalent of 50 meters of water pressure, which surely includes showering and shallow-water activities.

For what it’s worth, Garmin sells a slightly more expensive model, the Forerunner 55, which for adds respiration rate tracking, menstrual tracking, an updated recovery time advisor and pacing strategies.

The best under $100: Amazfit Bip S

Pros: Lightweight design; long battery life; accurate GPS tracking; built-in heart rate monitor; water resistant; basic smartwatch features.

Cons: Crude user interface; limited support for third-party apps; can’t customize how workout stats are displayed on the screen; pausing workouts feels labored (which is a shame because you’ll be doing it often).

I kept my expectations low when I began testing the Bip S. This $70 watch comes from Amazfit, a lesser known brand here in the US that seems to specialize in lower-priced gadgets. Although I didn’t know much about Amazfit or its parent company Huami, I was intrigued by the specs it offered at this price, most notably a built-in heart monitor — not something you typically see in a device this cheap.

As you might expect, a device this inexpensive has some trade-offs, and I’ll get to those in a minute. But there’s actually a lot to like. The watch itself is lightweight and water resistant, with a low-power color display that’s easy to read in direct sunlight. That low-power design also means the battery lasts a long time — up to 40 hours on a charge. Perhaps most importantly, it excels in the area that matters most: as a sports watch. In my testing the built-in GPS allowed for accurate distance and pace tracking. If you’re not a runner, or you just prefer a multi-sport life, the watch features nine other modes covering most common activities, including walking, yoga, cycling, pool and open-water swimming and free weights.

And did I mention the heart rate monitor? These readings are also seemingly accurate.

What you lose by settling for a watch this cheap is mainly the sort of polished user experience you’d get with a device from a tier-one company like Apple or even Garmin (not that Garmin’s app has ever been my favorite either). In my review, I noticed various goofs, including odd grammar and punctuation choices and a confusingly laid-out app.

I was also bummed to learn you could barely export your data to any third-party apps, other than Strava and Apple Health. You also can’t customize the way data is displayed on-screen during a workout, while your goals don't auto-adjust the way they might on other platforms. Fortunately, at least, these are all issues that can be addressed after the fact via software updates — hopefully sooner rather than later.

The Morning After: What to expect from Samsung's Unpacked event this week

It’s almost time for Samsung to unveil another generation of its flagship Galaxy S smartphones. Fortunately for us, leaks have revealed a lot of the major beats ahead of the February 1st event. It seems all the show-stopping features will come to the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Rumors have long pointed to the highest-end S23 model sporting a 200-megapixel main camera – and then Samsung revealed a new camera sensor that pretty much fits that specification. You may not see other sweeping changes, design-wise, but according to leaked images, the camera array on the S23 and S23+ may drop the cut-out look of last-gen, making it look more like the Ultra.

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Nieuwe Mobiel

Across the whole S23 family, which will probably include the S23, S23+ and Ultra, well-known analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claims Samsung will use the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, rather than its in-house Exynos chips. Exynos-based Galaxy phones have a reputation for worse performance and battery life, so this could be a good thing.

Alongside the phones, we expect Samsung to launch a new ultra laptop, the Galaxy Book 3 Ultra. The company’s mobile president TM Roh even mentioned in a blog post that there will be Ultra products in “more device categories,” so this must be it. Samsung Display said the high-end Galaxy Book line will feature OLED screens with built-in touch, much like smartphones. The Ultra is also expected to arrive in tandem with more conventional Galaxy Book 3 PCs.

– Mat Smith

The biggest stories you might have missed

Watch the latest ‘Super Mario Bros. Movie’ trailer

It pits Cat Mario against Donkey Kong.

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Nintendo

Nintendo shared a surprise trailer for The Super Mario Bros. Movie. The 30-second clip shows additional footage from a scene first featured in the trailer Nintendo released last November. More importantly, it marks our first chance to hear Seth Rogen’s take on Donkey Kong.

Continue reading.

Mac mini review (M2 Pro, 2023)

A Mac mini Pro, in all but name.

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Engadget

The M2 Pro-equipped Mac Mini is a powerhouse in a small-form-factor disguise. The $1,299 model offers tremendous performance for creators who don’t want to shell out $1,999 for a Mac Studio. But, as is often the case, beware of Apple’s exorbitant upgrade costs for RAM and storage. Check out Devindra Hardawar’s full review.

Continue reading.

Microsoft will continue to ‘support and grow’ Halo, amid layoffs

That’s from Xbox head, Phil Spencer.

Xbox CEO Phil Spencer says Microsoft remains committed to the Halo franchise and its developer, 343 Industries. In an interview following this week’s Xbox and Bethesda Developer Direct showcase, Spencer told IGN “the heart and soul of Halo is with 343, and I have the utmost confidence in the team that's there.” The Halo studio was reportedly “hit hard” by Microsoft’s recently announced company-wide layoffs. The number of employees Microsoft let go at the studio is unknown, but according to Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier, Halo Infinite’s campaign team saw significant cuts.

Continue reading.

Meta’s pricey Quest Pro VR headset is $400 off right now

It's a hefty first-time discount.

Meta’s pricey Quest Pro headset is on sale for the first time. After a hefty 27 percent discount, the headset is currently $1,100 – that’s $400 off – through Amazon and other retailers. Thanks to its Snapdragon XR2+ chipset and 12GB of RAM, the Quest Pro is 50 percent more powerful than the Quest 2. It also features solid built-in speakers with support for spatial audio. That said, the Quest Pro isn’t for everyone. There are still few apps and games that take advantage of all this advanced hardware.

Continue reading.

China's biggest search engine is to set launch a ChatGPT rival in March

Chinese search giant Baidu aims to introduce a ChatGPT-like AI service that gives users conversational results, Bloomberg has reported. It'll be based on the company's Ernie system, a large-scale machine-learning model trained over several years that "excels at natural language understanding and generation," Baidu said in 2021

Open AI's ChatGPT has taken the tech world by storm of late, thanks to its ability to answer fact-based questions, write in a human-like way and even create code. Microsoft invested $1 billion in Open AI back in 2019, and reportedly plans to incorporate aspects of ChatGPT into its Bing search engine. 

Google, meanwhile, likely sees the technology as a threat to its search business and plans to accelerate development of its own conversational AI technology. CEO Sundar Pichai reportedly declared a "code red" over ChatGPT and may be preparing to show off 20 or more AI-products and a chatbot for its search engine at its I/O conference in May. 

Baidu has reportedly seen lagging growth in search and sees ChatGPT-like apps as a potential way to leapfrog rivals. "I’m so glad that the technology we are pondering every day can attract so many people’s attention. That’s not easy," he said during a talk in December, according to a transcript seen by Bloomberg.

ChatGPT has largely drawn positive attention, but the downsides have come into focus as well. Technology news site CNET was forced to correct AI-written articles due to errors and concerns about plagiarism. And New York City public schools recently banned ChatGPT over cheating concerns, because it can create articles and essays that can be difficult to distinguish from student-created content. 

San Francisco asks California regulators to halt or slow the rollout of driverless taxis

San Francisco city officials have sent letters to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) asking to slow or halt the expansion of Cruise and Waymo robotaxi services in the city, NBC News has reported. San Francisco Transportation Authority (SFTA) officials wrote that unlimited expansion would be "unreasonable" in light of recent safety incidents in which vehicles blocked traffic and interfered with emergency vehicles. 

Alphabet's Waymo and Cruise, owned by GM, both operate fully driverless services (without backup drivers) in the city. Last June, Cruise gained permission to charge for rides in set areas of the city between the hours of 10PM and 6AM. Waymo is allowed to give driverless vehicle rides but is waiting for another permit before it can charge for them. 

“A series of limited deployments with incremental expansions — rather than unlimited authorizations — offer the best path toward public confidence in driving automation and industry success in San Francisco and beyond,” the letter reads.

The services have had their challenges. A small fleet of Cruise robotaxis in San Francisco suddenly stopped operating on a street in the city's Fillmore district, blocking traffic for several hours. Another Cruise vehicle was pulled over by confused cops and then promptly went on the lam. The NTSA recently opened a probe into Cruise's self-driving vehicles over hard braking, traffic blocking and other issues. 

In one as yet unreported incident, Cruise vehicles also reportedly interfered with emergency responders. Firefighters had to smash the window one of the company's robotaxis to prevent it from running over a firehose, according to the letter. 

However, Cruise pointed out that the service has been safe so far. "Cruise’s safety record is publicly reported and includes having driven millions of miles in an extremely complex urban environment with zero life-threatening injuries or fatalities,” a spokesperson told NBC News.

The letters may have been prompted by Cruise's stated plans to operate its robotaxi service 24 hours a day rather than just at night. It's been approved for that by the California DMV, but is waiting on permission from the CPUC. (Both companies also operate driverless ride services in Phoenix, and Cruise's self-driving taxis are available in Austin, Texas as well.)

The SFTA isn't against the 24/7 expansion, but has requested more data like how often and for how long Cruise's vehicles block traffic. It also wants robotaxis to stay off primary routes during rush hour until they prove they can operate "without significant interruption of street operations and transit services."

The latest ‘Super Mario Bros. Movie’ trailer pits Cat Mario against Donkey Kong

Over the weekend, Nintendo shared a surprise trailer for TheSuper Mario Bros. Movie. The 30-second clip shows additional footage from a scene that was first featured in the trailer Nintendo released last November. More importantly, it marks our first chance to hear Seth Rogen’s take on Donkey Kong. After Mario dons his cat suit, first introduced in 2013’s Super Mario 3D World, Rogen’s Donkey Kong starts laughing. “You got the cat box! I’m sorry,” the ape tells his one-time nemesis before turning serious. “Now you die.”

With Sunday’s trailer, Nintendo has now offered fans a chance to hear the entire ensemble cast of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, including Chris Pratt as Mario, Jack Black as Bowser and Anya Taylor-Joy as Peach. Following the release of the film’s second trailer, Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto said Nintendo redesigned Donkey Kong's model for the first time since the ape made the jump to 3D in 1994’s Donkey Kong Country. The company went for a more comical design reminiscent of Donkey Kong's original character. The Super Mario Bros. Movie will arrive in theaters on April 7th.

Samsung’s entry model Galaxy S23 could feature slower storage

How much storage you decide to configure the Galaxy S23 with could be a more meaningful decision than with some of Samsung's past phones. According to frequent Samsung leaker Ice Universe (via Android Police), the 128GB variant of the base model S23 will make use of a UFS 3.1 chip instead of Samsung’s newer UFS 4.0 standard. Consumers will need to pay extra for the 256GB version if they want the company’s latest storage technology. Ice suggests the reason for this is that Samsung doesn’t produce a 128GB UFS 4.0 chip.

Samsung has made big claims about UFS 4.0 since announcing the standard last year. The company says the new chips are twice as fast as its older UFS 3.1 memory. UFS 4.0 offers sequential read and write speeds of up to 4,200MB/s and 2,800MB/s, respectively. The new silicon is also 46 percent more power efficient, an upgrade that could lead to longer battery life on phones that make use of the technology.

I’ll note here Ice Universe’s information isn’t definitive. A handful of leaks have suggested all S23 models will start with 256GB of storage. Yet other reports have said that Samsung will offer a storage upgrade to people who preorder the Galaxy S23. Either way, UFS 4.0 should be a meaningful upgrade, but if you decide to save a bit of money by going for a potential 128GB model, don’t overthink things. It’s not like Samsung is reportedly planning to outfit the base Galaxy S23 with eMMC or UFS 2.1 storage.

Phil Spencer says Microsoft will continue to ‘support and grow’ Halo amid 343 layoffs

Xbox head Phil Spencer says Microsoft remains committed to the Halo franchise and developer 343 Industries. In an interview following this week’s Xbox and Bethesda Developer Direct showcase, Spencer told IGN “the heart and soul of Halo is with 343 and the team’s that there, and I have the utmost confidence in the team that's there and leading and the plan that they have going forward.”

Spencer’s comments come after 343 was reportedly “hit hard” by Microsoft’s recently announced company-wide layoffs. The number of employees Microsoft let go at the studio is unknown, but according to Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier, Halo Infinite’s campaign team saw significant cuts. The news prompted 343 to publish a brief statement on the layoffs last weekend. “Halo and Master Chief are here to stay,” studio head Pierre Hintze said. “343 Industries will continue to developer Halo now and in the future, including epic stories, multiplayer, and more of what makes Halo great.”

According to Spencer, the layoffs were an effort by Microsoft to position 343 for the future. “What we're doing now is we want to make sure that leadership team is set up with the flexibility to build the plan that they need to go build,” he said. “Halo will remain critically important to what Xbox is doing, and 343 is critically important to the success of Halo.”

Frustratingly, Spencer wouldn’t discuss the franchise's future beyond the broad strokes he offered. He declined to comment on whether Microsoft still has a 10-year support plan in place for Halo Infinite. “I'm going to let 343 talk about the plans that they have right now,” Spencer said when asked about the subject. However, he did offer reassurances for Halo fans left worrying about what comes next for Master Chief. “I expect that we'll be continuing to support and grow Halo for as long as the Xbox is a platform for people to play.” The rest of the interview is well worth reading if you're an Xbox fan. The piece covers a lot of ground, including the console’s lackluster 2022.

The Meta Quest Pro is $400 off right now

Less than three months after arriving on store shelves, Meta’s pricy Quest Pro headset is on sale for the first time ever. After a hefty 27 percent discount, the headset is currently $1,100 or $400 off through Amazon and other retailers. That’s an all-time low for a device that typically costs $1,500.

Even with its price tag cut by nearly a third, the Quest Pro isn’t for everyone. Thanks to its Snapdragon XR2+ chipset and 12GB of RAM, the Quest Pro is 50 percent more powerful than the Quest 2. It also features solid built-in speakers with support for spatial audio, meaning you don’t necessarily need to reach for a pair of headphones when using the Quest Pro.

Additionally, it adds a variety of advanced sensors designed to facilitate more lifelike virtual meetings in Horizon Workrooms. However, all of those features come in a package that weighs over a pound and a half, making it less comfortable to wear for extended periods of time than the Quest 2. Battery life also suffers due to those more advanced components, and if you’re looking for a VR headset for gaming, the Quest Pro doesn’t offer a significantly better experience than its more affordable predecessor. Engadget’s Sam Rutherford gave the Quest Pro a score of 83 when he reviewed the headset last October but said the device’s $1,500 price tag made it too pricey for all but the most enthusiastic VR users. At $1,100, that’s still true.

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Hitting the Books: High school students have spent a decade fighting Baltimore's toxic legacy

There was a time in the last century when we, quite foolishly, believed incineration to be a superior means of waste disposal than landfills. And, for decades, many of America's most disadvantaged have been paying for those decisions with with their lifespans. South Baltimore's Curtis Bay neighborhood, for example, is home to two medical waste incinerators and an open-air coal mine. It's ranked in the 95th percentile for hazardous waste and boasts among the highest rates of asthma and lung disease in the entire country. 

The city's largest trash incinerator is the Wheelabrator–BRESCO, which burns through 2,250 tons of garbage a day. It has been in operation since the 1970s, belching out everything from mercury and lead to hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and chromium into the six surrounding working-class neighborhoods and the people who live there. In 2011, students from Benjamin Franklin High School began to push back against the construction of a new incinerator, setting off a decade-long struggle that pitted high school and college students against the power of City Hall.

In Fighting to Breathe: Race, Toxicity, and the Rise of Youth Activism in Baltimore, Dr. Nicole Fabricant, Professor of Anthropology at Towson University in Maryland, chronicles the students' participatory action research between 2011 and 2021, organizing and mobilizing their communities to fight back against a century of environmental injustice, racism and violence in one of the nation's most polluted cities. In the excerpt below, Fabricant discusses the use of art — specifically that of crankies — in movement building.

An industrial site in South Baltimore, dingy, yellowing buildings with gasses escaping tall smokestacks against a grey overcast sky. Fighting to Breathe is written in lime green capital block letters with the author's name running along the bottom edge of the cover in white text.
University of California Press

Excerpted from Fighting to Breathe: Race, Toxicity, and the Rise of Youth Activism in Baltimore by Nicole Fabricant, published by University of California Press. Copyright 2022.


Making Connections: Fairfield Houses and Environmental Displacement 

As the students developed independent investigations, they discovered what had happened in the campaigns against toxins that preceded their own struggle against the incinerator. They learned that the Fairfield neighborhood, before being relocated to its current site, had been situated near to where Energy Answers was planning to build their trash-to-energy incinerator. At the time of the students’ investigations, this area was an abandoned industrial site surrounded by heavy diesel truck traffic, polluting chemical and fertilizer industries, and abandoned brownfield sites.

Students read that the City had built basic infrastructure in Wagner’s Point, the all-white (though poor and white ethnic, to be clear) community on the peninsula in the 1950s, nearly thirty years before doing so in Fairfield, which was located alongside Wagner’s Point but all (or almost all) Black. As Destiny reiterated to me in the Fall of 2019: 

Wagner’s Point was predominantly white and Fairfield predominantly Black, but both communities were company towns, living in poverty, working in dangerous hazardous conditions, and forced to live in a toxic environment.... On the surface, this history can be read as a story of two communities, different in culture and race, facing the issue together. But this ignores the issue of racism that divided the two communities. For instance, Fairfield did not get access to plumbing... until well into the 1970s. This is an example of structural racism. It is also a story not told by our history books.

The students talked in small groups about systemic and structural racism and unfair housing policies. They investigated the evacuation of Fairfield Housing. They learned that former residents were forcibly relocated to public housing and were offered $22,500 for renters and up too $5,250 per household. They also received moving costs of up to $1,500 per household. When 14 households remained in Fairfield a decade later, then-Mayor Kurt Schmoke stated that he would prefer to move all residents out of Fairfield, but the city did not have any money for relocation. This history provoked Free Your Voice youth to think beyond their community to how structural racism shaped citywide decisions and policies. 

Despite attempts to integrate school systems in the 1950s and the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s intended, specifically, to mitigate racism in housing policies, the provision of public education and the regulation of housing practices remained uneven in the 1970s (and into the present). Students learned that in 1979 a CSX railroad car carrying nine thousand gallons of highly concentrated sulfuric acid overturned and the Fairfield Homes public housing complex was temporarily evacuated. That same year, they read, an explosion at the British Petroleum oil tank, located on Fairfield Peninsula, set off a seven-alarm fire. All of this led the students to deeper inquiry.

Figuring out the ways in which structural racism shaped contemporary ideas about people, bodies, and space is something that Destiny often referred to when speaking publicly. Destiny explained that studying “history allowed us to see our community in a way that gave us the ability to build power or collective strength. So, how do you confront this history, this marketplace?” Building power within the school was about “re-education,” she said, but it was also about rebuilding social relationships across the community and helping residents to understand the structural conditions and histories sustaining inequities that others (especially white others) tried to explain away using racist stereotypes and tropes (e.g., Black youth as “thugs”; “they’re poor because they’re lazy”). These tropes subtly and not so subtly suggested racial and cultural inferiority.

As a group, the students worked to establish a presence in the community and to create spontaneous spaces for dialogue and discussion. They attended a Fairfield reunion in Curtis Bay Park during the summer of 2013, where approximately 150 former Fairfield Homes residents gathered to celebrate their history, reminisce, and have a cookout together. Gathered on the grass next to the Curtis Bay Recreation Center, former residents reminisced about what life was like in the projects. At one point, an elder participant shared with Destiny, “Fairfield was the Cadillac of housing projects.... We were all a family, we took care of one another.” The Free Your Voice students engaged with living history as they listened and learned.

For many of the students, the combined processes of reading texts and listening to elder residents’ stories moved them from numbness to awareness. Being able to discuss what they learned in sophisticated conversations with their peers and the experts they sought out helped to build their confidence as activists and adult interlocutors.

Arts and Performance in Movement Building: The Crankie 

While analysis and study were key to building change campaigns, the students also recognized that building a sociopolitical movement of economically disadvantaged people required more than mobilizing bodies. To be effective, they were going to have to move hearts and minds.

In 2014, Free Your Voice students decided to strengthen the emotional and relationship building aspects of their campaign by adopting art forms, including performance and storytelling, into their communication efforts. Destiny began a speech she delivered at The Worker Justice Center human rights dinner in 2015 by quoting W.E.B. Dubois: “‘Art is not simply works of art; it is the spirit that knows beauty, that has music in its being and the color of sunsets in its handkerchiefs, that can dance on a flaming world and make the world dance, too’” (Watford 2015). Art — in the form of a vintage performance genre known as “the crankie” and rap songs — became a tool the students utilized to tell their stories to much broader publics and to boost emotional connections with their allies. Performances particularly allowed youth to be creative and inventive. Their productions were often malleable. Sometimes, Free Your Voice youth would rewrite a script based on audience feedback. As a result, their performances were often improvisational, and they invited residents to be a part of the storytelling. This allowed the student-performers to develop strong narrative structures and especially realistic characters. 

Not only did students do art, but they also invited artists, including performers, to join the Dream Team to broaden both the appeal and impact of the Stop the Incinerator campaign. One artist at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Janette Simpson, spoke to me at length about the genesis of her commitment to Free Your Voice’s organizing, and how that commitment deepened and extended her work with other campaigns originating with The Worker Justice Center. Free Your Voice students approached Simpson, with their teacher Daniel Murphy acting as their mediator, about incorporating her work in theater into their campaign.12 They sent her a recent report on the environmental history of the peninsula and asked that she read it. That report became the hook that convinced Simpson to collaborate:

I had been thinking about how art and artists can serve social movements, and how artists also have agency in the making of their artwork. Or maybe thinking about autonomy. Free Your Voice youth suggested I read the Diamond report, which was written by a team of researchers from the University of Maryland Law School. I remember being like, Wow! What a story! All these visuals came to my mind... like the guano factories, the ships, these agricultural communities, this Black community versus the white community... the relationship to the water and the relationship to the city. So I decided I would try to illustrate a version of that report in a way. Like, what did people look like in 1800s, and what were they wearing? ... Then I realized that this is not my history, who am I to tell someone else’s story? I need to think more symbolically, and then it came to me to write this illustrative history as a fable or an allegory.

Which is what she did, alongside Terrel Jones (whose childhood lived experiences I detailed in chapter 2). Terrel and Simpson created a crankie, an old storytelling art form popular in the nineteenth century that includes a long, illustrated scroll wound onto two spools. The spools are loaded into a box that has a viewing screen and the scroll is then hand-cranked, hence the name “crankie.” While the story is told, a tune is played or a song is sung. Terrel and Simpson created a show for the anti-incinerator campaign that was performed throughout the city for audiences of all ages and walks of life. The Holey Land, as their show was titled, was an allegory about the powerful connection between people and the place they call home. In this tale, the Peninsula People and the magic in their land are threatened when a stranger with a tall hat and a shovel shows up with big ideas for “improving” their community. As storybook images scroll past the viewing screen, the vibrant and colorful pictures of a peninsula rich in natural resources, including orange and pink fish, slowly get usurped by those of the man with the shovel building his factories, and the Peninsula People are left to ponder the fate of their land. The story ends with a surprising twist, and a hopeful message about a community’s ability to determine their own future.

Federal prosecutors ask court to bar Sam Bankman-Fried from using Signal

US prosecutors have asked a federal court to tighten Sam Bankman-Fried’s bail conditions to prevent the disgraced entrepreneur from contacting his former colleagues. According to court documents seen by The New York Times, lawyers from the Department of Justice allege Bankman-Fried tried messaging the general counsel of FTX's US arm over Signal and email earlier this month. The communication was “suggestive of an effort to influence Witness-1's potential testimony,” the filing states. 

“I would really love to reconnect and see if there’s a way for us to have a constructive relationship, use each other as resources when possible, or at least vet things with each other,” says one message Bankman-Fried sent, according to the Justice Department. The DOJ has asked the judge overseeing Bankman-Fried’s criminal case to bar him from contacting current and former FTX employees, as well as using Signal or any other encrypted or ephemeral messaging app. Following the request, SBF’s legal team accused federal prosecutors of trying to paint their client in the “worst possible light.” They claim Bankman-Fried tried contacting the general counsel of FTX US and CEO John Ray to offer “assistance,” not to interfere with his criminal case. His lawyers also claim a Signal ban isn’t necessary since Bankman-Fried is not using the app’s auto-delete feature.

Prosecutors allege SBF’s use of Signal is consistent with “a history” of using the app to hide his dealings at FTX. Prior to FTX’s implosion in November, Bankman-Fried and former Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison were reportedly part of a secret “Wirefraud” group chat on Signal. During his tenure at the exchange, SBF also allegedly directed employees to enable Signal’s disappearing messages feature.

Apple could limit WiFi 6E availability to iPhone 15 Pro models

The feature gap between the iPhone and iPhone Pro could widen with the 2023 models. According to a leaked antenna design document obtained by MacRumors, the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max will include WiFi 6E connectivity, while their more affordable siblings will not. The document, a schematic outlining the iPhone 15 line’s antenna architecture, shows iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus will continue to use the older WiFi 6 standard.

Some of Apple’s latest devices, including the recently announced M2 variants of the Mac mini, MacBook Pro and iPad Pro, sport WiFi 6E connectivity, but the company has yet to roll out the feature more broadly. Provided there’s a compatible WiFi 6E router for your device to connect to, the standard promises faster connectivity speeds and lower latency than WiFi 6. The potential omission of WiFi 6E from the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus probably won’t hurt most consumers given that the majority of homes and businesses are running older WiFi 5 and WiFi 6 routers.

As MacRumors notes, in the past Apple hasn’t restricted the availability of new WiFi standards to iPhone Pro models. Before the iPhone 14 line, the differences between the Pro and standard models were fairly negligible unless you had an interest in photography. However, as of last year, only the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max came with Apple’s new A16 Bionic chip, Dynamic Island cutout and ProMotion display. It now appears the company is trying to find even more ways to differentiate its Pro models from their more mainstream counterparts. Per past reports, other features that could be exclusive to the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max include Apple’s upcoming A16 chipset, a titanium frame and more RAM for multitasking. The phones could also sport solid-state volume and power buttons.

US, Netherlands and Japan reportedly agree to limit China's access to chipmaking equipment

The Biden administration has reportedly reached an agreement with the Netherlands and Japan to restrict China’s access to advanced chipmaking machinery. According to Bloomberg, officials from the two countries agreed on Friday to adopt some of the same export controls the US has used over the last year to prevent companies like NVIDIA from selling their latest technologies in China. The agreement would reportedly see export controls imposed on companies that produce lithography systems, including ASML and Nikon.

Bloomberg reports the US, Netherlands and Japan don’t plan to announce the agreement publicly. Moreover, implementation could take “months” while the countries work to hammer out the legal details. “Talks are ongoing, for a long time already, but we don’t communicate about this. And if something would come out of this, it is questionable if this will be made very visible,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Friday, responding to a question about the negotiations.

According to Bloomberg, the agreement will cover “at least” some of ASML’s immersion lithography machines. As of last year, ASML was the only company in the world producing the extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) machines chipmakers need to make the 5nm and 3nm semiconductors that power the latest smartphones and computers. Cutting off China from ASML’s products is an effort by the Biden administration to freeze the country’s domestic chip industry. Last summer, Chinese state media reported that SMIC, China’s leading semiconductor manufacturer, had begun volume production of 14nm chips and had successfully started making 7nm silicon without access to foreign chip-making equipment. China has said SMIC is working on making 5nm semiconductors, but it’s unclear how the company will do that without access to EUV machines.

Ford recalls 462,000 SUVs over rearview camera issue

Ford has issued a recall for 462,000 vehicles worldwide over the possibility that their rearview cameras could suffer from faulty video output. According to the Associated Press and Reuters, the recall covers some 2020 to 2023 model Ford Explorers and Lincoln Aviators, as well as a bunch of 2020 to 2022 model Lincoln Corsairs. The affected vehicles come with 360-degree cameras that display live view footage on the in-car entertainment touchscreen console. The majority of the affected cars — over 382,000 — are in the US. 

According to a document (PDF) from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the agency contacted Ford in late 2021 about allegations that the live view camera was showing a blue image instead of what was happening outside. That came after an earlier recall in 2021 for the same problem. Ford worked with suppliers to analyze those reports, but it wasn't until December 2022 that the automaker was able to replicate the issue in the laboratory and in-vehicle, which is most likely why Ford has only issued a recall now. 

Apparently, 2,115 warranty reports had been submitted about this issue as of November 30th, 2022. Also, the automaker is aware of 17 minor accidents that allegedly occurred due to the vehicles' rear camera blue screen problem, but it hasn't heard of any injuries. Reuters said even the vehicles that were recalled in 2021 are part of this recall, so dealers can also update their image processing module software.

Mac mini review (M2 Pro, 2023): Just call it a Mac mini Pro

Since the Mac mini's debut in 2005, it's been Apple's affordable small form factor trooper. Need something cheap to pair with an old monitor? Just get the Mac mini! Want to start a low-power media server, or a computer right near your TV? Mini, baby. The line has had its share of ups and downs — the 2014 refresh was criticized for replacing a quad-core model with a dual-core chip, the 2018 update had notoriously weak graphics — but it made a full recovery with the M1-powered model in 2021.

This year, though, the Mac mini is different. The $599 model remains an entry-level champ, especially since it's $100 less than the M1 version (maybe we'll see the $499 option return eventually). But you can also pay over double that — $1,299! — for a Mini with a slightly stripped down M2 Pro chip and 16GB of RAM. That might have sounded crazy a few years ago, but now it sits neatly into Apple's desktop ecosystem. Not all creatives need the power of a $1,999 Mac Studio with an M1 Max, but those same folks may feel limited by the base M2 chip. At last, there's a mighty Mini to serve them. (And no, the now-dead $1,099 Intel model never really filled that role.)

Just like with Apple's new MacBook Pros, the Mac mini doesn't look any different than before. It's still a squat little aluminum box with a ton of ports on the back, and a slightly raised black base underneath to allow for airflow. The $599 model features an M2 chip with eight CPU cores, 10 graphics cores, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage — that's about as basic as you can get with PC hardware these days. The $1,299 M2 Pro Mini offers 10 CPU cores, 16 GPU cores, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. For an additional $300, you can also upgrade to the full-powered M2 Pro chip with a 12-core CPU and 19-core GPU (but that's probably not a wise idea, as I'll discuss later).

On the rear, the base Mac mini offers two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C connections, HDMI 2.0 (with 4K 240Hz and 8K 60Hz output), two USB-A ports, a headphone jack and gigabit Ethernet (upgradeable to 10 gigabit). The M2 Pro model adds two additional USB-C ports, making it even more useful for creatives with a ton of accessories.

Apple Mac Mini with M2 Pro rear ports
Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Most striking about the Mac mini is its combination of simplicity and functionality. Unlike the taller and more domineering Mac Studio, the Mini is meant to disappear into your desk, a sliver of power that doesn't need to be seen. That could be a bad thing if you need to access its rear ports frequently, though. The Studio, in comparison, offers two USB-C ports and an SD card slot up front. You'll need a separate adapter to use SD cards with the Mini — a cheap fix, but one that also leads to more desk clutter.

Our review model, which featured the pricier 12-core M2 Pro chip, performed as well as I expected. It's slower than the M2 Max in the 14-inch MacBook Pro in GeekBench's CPU benchmark, but it also beats the M1 Max in the Mac Studio. The M1 Ultra-equipped Studio is far faster, not surprisingly, because that's essentially two M1 Max chips joined together. What's most important for some creatives though is its potential rendering performance. The Mac Mini scored 2,000 points higher than the M1 Max Studio in the Cinebench R23 benchmark, and it was on-par with the MacBook Pro 14-inch with M2 Max.

None

Geekbench 5 CPU

Geekbench 5 Compute

Cinebench R23

3DMark Wildlife Extreme

Apple Mac Mini (Apple M2 Pro, 2022)

1,826/13,155

43,241

1,647/14,598

12,769

Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch (Apple M2 Max, 2023)

1,970/15,338

71,583

1,603/14,725

18 ,487

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch, (Apple M2, 2022)

1,938/8,984

27,304

1,583/8,719

6,767

Apple Mac Studio (Apple M1 Max)

1,715/12,642

61,412

1,534/12,314

10,017

Apple Mac Studio (Apple M1 Ultra)

1,785/23,942

85,800

1,537/24,078

10,020

In a more practical test, the Mac Mini transcoded a minute-long 4K clip into 1080p in 37 seconds with pure CPU power using Handbrake — the same job took 32 seconds with the GPU. Both figures narrowly surpassed the M1 Max Studio, which took 43 seconds with a CPU encode and 34 seconds using the GPU.

Beyond benchmarks, the Mac Mini was an absolute dream for my typical workflow (dealing with dozens of browser tabs, batch image processing, and practically every chat app out there). But I’d expect a similar result from the $599 model, so long as I cut down on demanding browsers to survive with 8GB of RAM. The computer remains a solid entry for mainstream users, and it’s potentially a great home theater PC if you wanted something more customizable than an Apple TV.

Apple Mac Mini with M2 Pro desk setup with Apple Studio Display

As I tested the Mac Mini, I started to wonder if it was even worth having a giant mid-tower PC as my daily driver. Realistically, though, I could never become a fulltime Mac guy because I like games. There are a few modern titles like Resident Evil Village that natively support Macs, but there simply aren’t enough titles out there. That game, by the way, easily reached 60fps while playing in 1,440p on the Mac Mini.

To reiterate, though, you'd have to pay $1,599 for the upgraded M2 Pro to get the same performance figures. I didn't have the slower Mac Pro model to compare it to, but based on what we're seeing with Apple's M2 chips, it would still be a noticeable step up from comparable M1 hardware. Stepping back a bit, I can’t help but think that the $1,299 M2 Pro Mini makes more sense for creatives. If you upgraded our review model to 32GB of RAM, it would come to the same $1,999 as the base Mac Studio. And given that the Studio is almost a year old, it's due for an M2 refresh in the coming months. 

Apple Mac Mini with M2 Pro
Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

My advice? Get the $1,299 Mac mini if you're looking for a beefier Mac desktop, but try to avoid upgrading any hardware if possible. I could see stomaching the $200 upcharge to get 1TB of storage, but spending an additional $400 just to get 32GB of RAM isn't worth it. Apple has always been notorious for expensive upgrades — remember the $999 monitor stand? — let's not encourage them.

Apple might as well have just called this computer the Mac mini Pro – but I can see how that would have been confusing. Now the Mini exists in two forms: A cheap computer for most people, and a secret powerhouse for creators. It’s close to being the ideal small-form factor PC, if only it didn’t cost so much to get more RAM.

Like users, app developers are fleeing Twitter for Mastodon

When Twitter quietly updated its developer policies to ban third-party clients from its platform, it abruptly closed an important chapter of Twitter’s history. Unlike most of its counterparts, which tightly control what developers are able to access, Twitter has a long history with independent app makers.

Now, the developers of some Twitter clients are turning their attention to another upstart platform: Mastodon. This week, Tapbots, the studio behind Tweebot, released Ivory, a Mastodon client based on its longtime Twitter app. Matteo Villa, the developer behind Twitter app Fenix, is testing a Mastodon client of his own called Wooly. Junyu Kuang, the indie developer behind Twitter client Spring is working on a Mastodon app called Mona. Shihab Mehboob, developer of Twitter app Aviary, is close to launching a Mastodon client called Mammoth.

The one-time Twitter developers join a growing group of independent app makers who have embraced Mastodon, the open-source social network that’s seen explosive growth since Elon Musk took over Twitter. The decentralized service now has more than 1.5 million users across nearly 10,000 servers. That, coupled with Mastodon’s open-source, “API-first” approach, has attracted dozens of developers eager to put their own spin on the service.

A screenshot from Mastodon's website showing 22 different clients made by third-party developers.
Mastodon

Paul Haddad, one of the developers behind Tweetbot and Ivory, says Tapbots started working on a Mastodon client late last year as they started to grow nervous about the future of Twitter’s developer platform.

“They [Twitter] had absolutely been making huge strides and opening up their API platform, but clients like ours were always going to be second- or third-class citizens,” says Haddad. “Whereas with Mastodon, that's absolutely not the case.”

Thomas Ricouard, the developer behind Ice Cubes, a Mastodon app that launched earlier this month, says that he had considered building an app with Twitter's API in the past, but decided against it because it was “looking more and more limited as the days passed.” At the same time, he says he noticed fewer and fewer familiar faces on his Twitter timeline. “Loving open source software,” he says, “I quickly saw the opportunity [for Mastodon].”

Ice Cubes launched in the App Store January 19th, and it has already won the praise of reviewers and has dozens of contributors on GitHub. Even Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, who has been more active on Mastodon lately, uses the app.

On its part, Mastodon has welcomed developer interest even though it maintains its own mobile apps. “It's exciting because it means that a lot of very talented people are investing their time and resources into building on the platform and ecosystem that we have built up,” Mastodon founder and CEO Eugen Rochko tells Engadget. “Third party applications are incredibly valuable for a platform because that's where the power users go … it benefits everybody because the power users are the people who create the content that everybody reads.”

Developers’ contributions also have the potential to influence the direction of the platform itself. Just as Twitter’s earliest developers had an outsize impact on the service, some developers now see an opportunity to similarly influence Mastodon.

Both Ricouard and Haddad noted that official Mastodon apps currently don’t support quoting — the Mastodon equivalent of a quote tweet — but some clients, like Ice Cubes and Mona, do. “I think the client developers are able to implement that feature within the app, we're probably going to push it to go higher up on the radar of the Mastodon server developers,” Haddad predicts. Mastodon so far hasn’t publicly committed to adding quotes but Rochko, who was once adamantly against the feature, recently said he’s considering it.

Mastodon developers have experimented with other unique additions, too. Ice Cubes has Chat GPT-powered prompts that will spice up the text of your post (or "toot" as they are known to longtime Mastodon users). Wooly groups notifications in batches, similar to Twitter. Tapbots is working on a Mac app that will sync with Ivory’s iOS app, much like Tweetbot did across platforms.

“Mastodon is in the [same] early phase Twitter was, where third party apps will have a big impact on the future product focus and development,” says Ricouard.

Rochko says that while he’s happy to see the growing number of Mastodon clients, he’s not in a hurry to try to replicate their features. Mastodon is still a nonprofit with a small team and a lengthy product roadmap. “It's definitely interesting to see different ideas tested out and experimented with and I think that long term, there's probably going to be influence over the official apps,” he says.

Still, not every former Twitter client developer is eager to start over on Mastodon. “I’m not sure if I want to create a Mastodon app but you should definitely check out those other developers who have,” Tweetings said in a farewell post on Twitter. Twitterrific’s developers are also unsure if Mastodon fits into their future plans.

Much will likely depend on if Mastodon is able to maintain its current growth and continue to attract new users. And as much as many former Twitter users see it as a replacement, Mastodon is structured very differently, and not everyone finds it as user-friendly as Twitter. Rochko, who started Mastodon in 2017, says he’s optimistic because the site continues to add influential users.

“What's exciting to me about the latest wave of users on Mastodon is not the numbers but the who. The people who have joined from various journalist organizations, media organizations, politicians, actors, writers, and just you know, famous internet people — like the olden days.”

Amazon Fresh will soon require a minimum order of over $150 for free delivery

At the moment, Amazon Prime customers can enjoy free grocery delivery via the company's Fresh service for checkouts worth $35 and above. It's a reasonable and pretty affordable minimum purchase requirement, even for those live alone. But starting on February 28th, people would have to add a lot more items to their cart if they don't want to pay extra to get their order delivered to their doorstep. As The Verge has noticed, the e-commerce giant has updated its Fresh grocery page to note that only orders worth above $150 will be delivered for free within a two-hour window by the end of next month. 

Amazon will deliver orders between $100 and $150 for $4, while orders between $50 and $100 will incur a $7 service charge. If a customer's items come up to less than $50, they'll have to pay a whopping $10. Since the Fresh service is only available to subscribers already paying for Amazon Prime, which raised its annual fee to $139 from $119 last year, it will become a much pricier option by the time March arrives. 

A company spokesperson told The Verge that it's "introducing a service fee on some Amazon Fresh delivery orders to help keep prices low in [its] online and physical grocery stores as [it] better cover[s] grocery delivery costs and continue to enable offering a consistent, fast, and high-quality delivery experience." The spokesperson continued: "We will continue to offer convenient two-hour delivery windows for all orders, and customers in some areas will be able to select a longer delivery window for a reduced fee."

Based on that statement, Amazon could jack up grocery prices if it doesn't charge delivery fees. But as it is, customers will end up paying more anyway — a lot of people can't afford its $150 minimum requirement these days, and those who can may not be able to consume everything they bought before they go bad or are no longer, well, fresh. Amazon has started notifying customers via email about the new service fees, and some social media users are pointing out how outrageous the price jump is to get free delivery. 

Customers have come to rely on Amazon Fresh for grocery deliveries when the pandemic started, including folks on the government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program. People who have SNAP Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) debit cards can order via Fresh even without a Prime subscription, making it a good (and in some cases, the only) option for people with disabilities. But now they'd have to pay extra on top of their purchase. According to Amazon's website, they can't even use their EBT cards to pay for the shipping fee and will have to provide another form of payment. 

Amazon is reportedly making a Tomb Raider TV series

Hollywood may be taking another stab at a Tomb Raider production, but this time for the small screen. The Hollywood Reportersources say Amazon is creating a Tomb Raider TV series for Prime Video, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge (of Fleabag fame) set to be an executive producer and write the script. It's not certain who would star, but we wouldn't count on movie stars Angelina Jolie or Alicia Vikander reprising the role of Lara Croft. The show is reportedly still in the development stage.

We've asked Amazon for comment. A collaboration like this wouldn't be surprising, at least. Amazon is publishing the next Tomb Raider game, and Waller-Bridge previously struck a three-year deal with Amazon that includes projects like the novel adaptation Sign Here. Sources for The Reporter claim Amazon was "aggressive" in pursuing a deal renewal late last year.

The rumor comes as game-based TV shows have their moment in the spotlight. HBO's The Last of Us has already been successful enough to get a second season. Sony, meanwhile, is prepping God of War, Gran Turismo and Horizon titles for Netflix and Prime Video. A Tomb Raider series would bolster Amazon's game-themed catalog and help it compete against rivals like Netflix, which already has hits like the League of Legends offshoot Arcane.

Amazon also hasn't been shy about chasing after potential blockbusters. The company reportedly spent $1 billion on The Lord of Rings: The Rings of Power, for instance. While a Tomb Raider show isn't likely to be as lavish, Waller-Bridge's involvement suggests Amazon is eager for a hit. Amazon struggled to breach the top streaming charts last year — this might give it better ammunition against Netflix successes like Stranger Things.

Google AI can create music in any genre from a text description

Never mind ChatGPT — music might be the next big frontier for AI content generation. Google recently published research on MusicLM, a system that creates music in any genre with a text description. This isn't the first AI music generator. As TechCrunchnotes, projects like Google's AudioML and OpenAI's Jukebox have tackled the subject. However, MusicLM's model and vast training database (280,000 hours of music) help it produce music with surprising variety and depth. You might just like the output.

The AI can not only combine genres and instruments, but write tracks using abstract concepts that are normally difficult for computers to grasp. If you want a hybrid of dance music and reggaeton with a "spacey, otherworldly" tune that evokes a "sense of wonder and awe," MusicLM can make it happen. The technology can even craft melodies based on humming, whistling or the description of a painting. A story mode can stitch several descriptions together to produce a DJ set or soundtrack.

MusicLM has its problems, as with many AI generators. Some compositions sound strange, and vocals tend to be incomprehensible. And while the performances themselves are better than you'd expect, they can be repetitive in ways human works might not. Don't expect an EDM-style drop or the verse-chorus-verse pattern of a typical song.

Just don't plan on using the tech any time soon. As with other Google AI generators, the researchers aren't releasing MusicLM to the public over copyright concerns. Roughly one percent of the music produced at the time of publication was copied directly from the training songs. While questions regarding licensing for AI music haven't been settled, a 2021 whitepaper from Eric Sunray (now working for the Music Publishers Association) suggested that there's enough "coherent" traces of the original sounds that AI music can violate reproduction rights. You may have to get clearances to release AI-created songs, much like musicians who rely on samples.

AI already has a place in music. Artists like Holly Herndon and Arca have used algorithms to produce albums and museum soundtracks. However, those are either collaborative (as with Herndon) or intentionally unpredictable (like Arca's). MusicLM may not be ready for prime time, but it hints at a future where AI could play a larger role in the studio.