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iPhone SE vs Android’s best: Can a $399 iPhone really outperform $3,000 in Android phones?

When comparing phones, you generally want them to be in the same league. These days that might mean there’s a few hundred dollars separating the models—like the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, or the Galaxy S20+ and the OnePlus 8 Pro—but everyone knows the $1,400 Galaxy S20 Ultra will trounce a $400 Galaxy A51.

But Apple’s new iPhone SE is a horse of a different color. Yes, it’s Apple’s budget phone and costs more than a thousand dollars less than the highest-end Galaxy S20, but it also has a bunch of Apple’s latest tech. And, you know, it’s an iPhone.

I did the unthinkable and compared it to the three of the top Android phones available today: Galaxy S20 Ultra ($1,400), Google Pixel 4 ($900) and OnePlus 7T ($600). Add it all up and you’ve got $3,000 in Android phones against one lowly $399 iPhone. But what should have been a ridiculously one-sided battle was surprisingly close.

iPhone SE vs Android: Design

The iPhone SE looks and feels like an older phone. Like the iPhone 8, the SE is extremely similar to the hardware introduced with the iPhone 6 in 2014 and you can feel every bit of its six-year-old design. The screen is small, the bezels are monstrous, and the home button is physical. It’s been a long time since an Android phone of any repute had a home button, and the SE looks and feels downright antiquated in comparison to the other phones here.

iphone se android 6s back Michael Simon/IDG

The iPhone SE (right) has extremely similar dimensions to the iPhone 6s.

I’m not going to debate the designs of the other phones, but I will say this: Despite its ancient looks, the iPhone SE is an extremely attractive phone with a solid build quality and retro charm. Even Apple’s old designs are better than some of today’s Android phones, and the glass back, aluminum sides, and carefully curved chamfers are satisfyingly symmetrical and ergonomically pleasant. The S20 and 7T are definitely a step ahead in the looks department—the Pixel 4 is a toss-up—but for a phone that hasn’t been in style for years, the SE really isn’t so bad.

Granted, its not a phone for everyone, but those who like or can get past its outdated Home button will appreciate is craftsmanship. The smooth glass back and polished aluminum edges bely its $399 price tag, and the whole package feels like a premium handset. Its bezels are way too big to compete with the other phones here, but there’s a certain charm to the iPhone SE—and it’s nice not to have to worry about palm rejection. There’s also something to be said for a phone that fits in any pocket.

iPhone SE vs Android: Display

Right off the bat, the iPhone SE is at a disadvantage. While the Android phones here all have high-refresh-rate OLED displays, the iPhone SE uses an LCD screen that pales in comparison to the other phones here:

Galaxy S20 Ultra: 6.9-inch Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED, 120Hz, 3200x1440, 511 ppi
Pixel 4 XL: 6.3-inch Quad HD+ P-OLED, 90Hz, 3040x1440, 537ppi
OnePlus 7T: 6.55-inch Full HD+ AMOLED, 90Hz, 2400x1080, 402ppi
iPhone SE: 4.7-inch HD IPS LCD, 60Hz, 1334x750, 326 ppi

iphone se android lineup Michael Simon/IDG

There’s a 2.2-inch difference between the iPhone SE’s screen and the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s.

Apple labels the iPhone SE a Retina HD display rather than Liquid Retina, but it’s essentially the same display as the iPhone 11 with square corners instead of rounded ones. But for an LCD that’s already several years old, the iPhone SE’s screen is surprisingly good. Text is crisp and it’s very bright, rivaling the peak manual brightness I was able to achieve on the other displays using the same all-white image.

Galaxy S20 Ultra: 610 nits
Pixel 4 XL: 745 nits
OnePlus 7T: 870 nits
iPhone SE: 740 nits

However, with adaptive brightness turned on and a direct source of bright light applied, the results were dramatically different.

Galaxy S20 Ultra: 1275 nits
Pixel 4 XL: 1075 nits
OnePlus 7T: 1275 nits
iPhone SE: 840 nits

With adaptive brightness turned on, the OLED displays can leverage advanced algorithms and higher contrast ratio to deliver fuller colors and impressive brightness. And they’re far superior on the lower end too, with incredibly deep blacks that put the SE’s LCS to shame.

iphone se android stack Michael Simon/IDG

The iPhone is the thinnest phone here but not by much.

Then there’s the issue of size. The iPhone SE isn’t just small for 2020, it looks comically small compared to the Galaxy S20 Ultra and is more than an inch and a half smaller than the average Android flagship. Even the 5.8-inch screen on the iPhone 11 Pro looks monstrous by comparison, and videos and websites feel very cramped by comparison. With Apple rumored to be switching to an all-OLED lineup for the iPhone 12, the SE’s LCD is going to quickly become obsolete, but all in all it’s a decent display.

iPhone SE vs Android: Performance

Quite frankly, the iPhone SE wouldn’t be worth its salt (or comparing to the phones here) if not for its processor. Apple has put the iPhone 11 Pro’s A13 processor inside the iPhone SE, making it one of the speediest phones ever made and certainly the fastest for less than $400.

I picked the three phones I did because they represent the cream of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon crop. The S20 Ultra uses the 865, the best system-on-chip available, the OnePlus 7T is powered by the Snapdragon 855+, and the Pixel 4 runs the Snapdragon 855. Simply put, you won’t find a trio of faster processors in any Android phone. But pitted against the lowly iPhone SE, the three phones simply can’t stack up:

Geekbench 5 (CPU)

Galaxy S20 Ultra

Single-core: 901
Multi-core: 3245

Pixel 4 XL

Single-core: 724
Multi-core: 2529

OnePlus 7T

Single-core: 772
Multi-core: 2883

iPhone SE

Single-core: 1331
Multi-core: 3310

Before you ask, those results are with all of the latest patches and updates installed and following fresh restarts. I performed them multiple times and took the best results. In short, there’s no contest. The iPhone SE not only handles the best Android phones, it handily beats phones costing twice and thrice as much. And when it comes to graphics, the iPhone SE is a beast.

Geekbench 5 (Compute)

Galaxy S20 Ultra: 3085
Pixel 4 XL: 2149
OnePlus 7T: 2675
iPhone SE: 6413

That’s not to say any of the phones here are slow. Far from it. The Galaxy S20 Ultra and OnePlus 7T both have UFS 3.0 storage along with 12GB and 8GB of RAM, respectively, compared to the iPhone SE’s 3GB. The Pixel 4, like the iPhone SE, has the benefit of being engineered alongside the same team that makes the Android operating system. But even with those advantages, the iPhone SE is basically faster in every way.

geekbench 5 iphone se IDG

The iPhone SE simply trounced the best Android phones when it comes to processing speeds and graphics power.

And if you were to compare the iPhone SE to a $399 Android phone, the results would be lopsided to the point of being absurb. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the Geekbench 5 scores for the Pixel 3a, which is widely regarded as the best budget Android phone you can buy:

Single-core: 351
Multi-core: 1244
Compute: 639

And those are good numbers compared to the Exynos-powered Galaxy phones in that price range. But honestly, even if the upcoming Pixel 4a were to share the same Snapdragon 855 processor as the Pixel 4, the iPhone SE would still run circles around it. It's even got Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), which you'll only find on the S20 here. Apple could have made sacrifices with the SE's speed with an A12 chip or even the A10 Fusion that powers the 9.7-inch iPad and no one would have minded. Instead it delivered the fastest phone you can buy at a ridiculously affordable price.

iPhone SE vs Android: Battery and charging

Granted, the Android phones I looked at are much bigger, so they will have bigger batteries. Apple doesn’t divulge the battery capacity of its phones, but through teardowns it’s been revealed that it has the same 1,821mAh battery as the iPhone 8. By any metric that’s incredibly small, but it’s downright puny compares to the others here.

Galaxy S20 Ultra: 5,000mAh
Pixel 4 XL: 3,700mAh
OnePlus 7T: 3,800mAh

It’s also small compared to Apple’s other offerings. The iPhone XR has a 2,942 mAh battery, the iPhone 11 has a 3,110 mAh battery, the iPhone 11 Pro has a 3,046 mAh battery, and the iPhone 11 Pro Max has a 3,969 mAh battery. And in this case, size definitely matters. The iPhone SE’s battery life is acceptable in that it’ll probably get most people through a day of normal use, but it’s not going to blow anyone away. And if you plan on using it do to a good amount of streaming or navigation, you’re going to want to have a charger nearby.

iphone se android ports Michael Simon/IDG

If you’re going to be using the iPhone SE’s Lightning port for charging, you’ll want to invest in a better adapter.

In my testing, I played a two-hour movie on the brightest settings with automatic brightness turned off and then the same movie with automatic brightness turned on. Here’s how much battery life each phone used:

Galaxy S20 Ultra: 23 percent
Pixel 4 XL: 35 percent
OnePlus 7T: 29 percent
iPhone SE: 46 percent

Even with far fewer pixels to push, you’ll need to fill the SE up far more often than the other phones here. When that time arrives, iPhone SE supports wireless charging, which is something of a rarity for a phone this cheap. (Case in point: The OnePlus 7T and the newer OnePlus 8 do not.) Charging speeds are acceptable but the SE is still the slowest of this bunch, topping out at 7.5W, half what the Galaxy S20 offers (15W) and slower than the Pixel 4’s 11W max speeds.

For wired charging, the iPhone SE comes with a lame 5W adapter in the box, which will take a painfully long two-plus hours to fully charge your iPhone SE. That’s fine if you’re plugging it in before bedtime, but if you’re looking for a quick charge before heading out for the night, you’re going to want to plan ahead.

All of the other phones support fast-charging out of the box and they each destroy the SE’s charging speeds. The OnePlus 7T can reach 30W, the S20 hits 25W, and the Pixel 4 gets 18W. The difference between them is pretty minimal, with all them filling up between 40 to 50 percent of the battery in a half hour, but they shine a harsh light on Apple’s stubborn refusal to give up the 5W charger, which also comes with the iPhone 11.

The good news is that the iPhone SE does support 18W fast charging, but you’ll need to buy a charger capable of 18-watt speeds and a USB-C-to-Lightning cable. You can buy both at Apple.com for $48 but you’re better off checking Amazon for a high-rated third-party option.

iPhone SE vs Android: Biometrics

The iPhone SE is the only phone here (and really, anywhere) to use a physical fingerprint scanner. I don’t think Apple is capable of making a $399 iPhone with Face ID, so until the next iteration of the SE, this is a fine tradeoff. The Pixel 4 uses 3D face unlock and it’s nearly as fast as it is on the iPhone 11. It’s slightly less convenient than a fingerprint sensor in that you need to be looking directly at your phone, but it’s more secure.

iphone se android button Michael Simon/IDG

Yup, that’s an honest-to-goodness home button.

Even budget phones have begun to adopt in-display fingerprint scanners like the Galaxy S20 Ultra and the OnePlus 7T, so the technology should be mature by now. But while in-display scanners look good and enable near-edge-to-edge designs, they’re not nearly as fast as physical fingerprint scanners. My iPhone SE unlocked in a split-second every time I attempted it while the two phones with in-display sensors sometimes struggled. As an admittedly unscientific test, I set a stopwatch for a minute and timed how many times I could lock and unlock each phone with he same finger:

Galaxy S20 Ultra: 29
Pixel 4 XL: 33
OnePlus 7T: 28
iPhone SE: 42

Apple’s Touch ID sensor might not be as cool or pretty as an in-display scanner, but physical scanners are simply superior to virtual ones. You can find it without looking, you don’t have to wait for the screen to turn on, and they’re more reliable. The iPhone SE’s physical scanner might not be pretty, but it’s still the speediest way to implement biometric unlocking on a phone.

iPhone SE vs Android: OS updates

The merits of iOS versus Android will be debated forever, so I’ll leave that argument for another day, But one thing is clear: You’ll still be getting updates to your iPhone SE in 2024. And you’ll probably be able to install iOS 18 on it too. That Galaxy S20 Ultra people are spending $1,400 on is lucky to get Android 12 in two years.

iphone se android size Michael Simon/IDG

The iPhone SE will still be getting updates long after the S20 is EOL’d.

There’s no contest here. I’ll admit that Android phone makers have gotten way better at pushing updates in a timely fashion and communicating to customers what they’re going to be getting, but even the best Android phone in the iPhone SE’s price range, the Pixel 3a, only guarantees two years of version updates and three years of monthly security updates. And Samsung’s low-cost offerings only get quarterly updates.

iPhone SE vs Android: Camera

The newest iPhone is always at or near the top of the smartphone heap when it comes to taking pictures, but the SE is a new iPhone in name only. That’s not to say it has a bad camera, but it’s  far cry from the multi-camera modules in the iPhone 11 Pro and the Android phones here. You’re getting a capable camera, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing any iPhone SE pics in Apple’s next Shot on iPhone campaign.

iphone se android cameras Michael Simon/IDG

Can one camera take on nine?

The biggest gap between the iPhone SE and the other phones here is with low-light photos. Apple made a big deal of Night Mode on the iPhone 11, and rightfully so—the iPhone 11’s algorithms do a remarkable job of extending the capture time and amping up the exposure to reduce noise and up the brightness in challenging light.

Without Night Mode, the SE struggles like Apple’s phones used to, and the results are dark and grainy. They’re passable in most cases, but compared to the phones here, especially the Pixel 4 XL, there’s no contest. Night Mode is the main thing I miss with the SE, and it’s frustrating that Apple left it out, since the camera and chip seem to be technically capable of handling it.

iphone se android photo compare dark Michael Simon/IDG

When the light goes down, the iPhone SE’s deficiencies come out.

Even with a single lens, the iPhone SE can take portraits, but like the iPhone XR, it only works with people. It’s another weird limitation that other single-camera budget phones don’t have, but the SE takes fantastic bokeh shots of humans. Even compared to the S20 Ultra, which has four cameras including a dedicated depth sensor, the iPhone SE performed impressively. In the photos below, the iPhone SE handled the bright background without a hitch and even did a better job with my son’s skin tones, particularly his rosy cheeks.

iphone se android photo compare portrait Michael Simon/IDG

The iPhone SE (left) is as good of a portrait taker as the S20 Ultra even with a single camera.

The iPhone has always had a tendency to tamp down the color in photos in favor of real-world accuracy, and the iPhone SE doesn’t stray from that lane. In the photo below, the OnePlus 7T oversaturated the green a bit and added a cool tint to the wall while the SE maintained color accuracy and proper white balance.

iphone se android photo compare color Michael Simon/IDG

The iPhone SE (left) did a better job than the OnePlus 7T with handling the color in this shot.

The results see somewhat subjective, but the SE does its best to properly capture the scene. And in the right light, it’s as good of a point-and-shoot as the other cameras here.

iPhone SE vs Android: Conclusion

I can’t imagine anyone with a thousand bucks to spend on a new smartphone would actually opt for an iPhone SE over the iPhone 11 Pro or one of the Android phones here, but if they do, they’ll be getting a phone that’s faster, more pocketable, and plenty capable of taking very good pictures. More importantly, if you’re on a budget, it’s an extremely attractive option no matter which platform flag you fly under.

iphone se android back Michael Simon/IDG

The iPhone SE costs hundreds less than the OnePlus 7T, Galaxy S20 Ultra, and Pixel 4 XL.

The speed of the iPhone SE is simply mind-blowing. With the same design as my old iPhone 6s, I expect it to be pokey, but the SE flies through tasks and apps with ease. I didn’t expect it to stack up to the other phones here in every category, but its tremendous performance is eye-opening and compensates for some of the areas where it falls a little short, namely the display and battery.

In short, the compromises Apple made with the SE are smart. Yes, it’s an old design and lacks some of the newest iPhone tech, but it’s a $399 phone that won’t feel sluggish after a year or two or four, which is more than you can say for any Android price in that price range—and even a few that are much more expensive.

This story, "iPhone SE vs Android’s best: Can a $399 iPhone really outperform $3,000 in Android phones?" was originally published by Macworld.

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Original author: Michael Simon
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Windows 10 gets its own package manager

If you’re really, really sick of the Microsoft Store, Microsoft now offers a return to the glorious days of the command line interface. Meet App Installer, Microsoft’s new package manager for Windows.

Microsoft (a little defensively) announced the App Installer package manager in a blog post that coincides with the opening of Microsoft Build, Microsoft’s developer conference. That’s significant, as developers have typically worked within a command line or text interface, writing thousands of lines of code. Package managers are also the preferred way of installing software under Linux, which manages the software and any dependencies that it requires.

In Windows, of course, software downloads are typically a single executable, .MSI package, or .ZIP file. Users can download them via a website, a service like Steam, the Microsoft Store, or other locations. Microsoft wants to make clear that all of those won’t go away.

But, for whatever reason, if you want to open a command shell and simply download the app you want without wading through the Microsoft Store or any of the other venues, you can. To be fair, other Windows package managers already exist, such as Chocolately. They’re an easy way to simply type one command and kick off an automated process to download and set up a pre-determined number of apps in the background.

app installer image Microsoft

Demetrius Nelon, the senior program manager at Microsoft responsible for the app, explained that it’s being provided as part of the Windows Insider beta rings. Once you’re signed up, you can then download the App Installer app from the Microsoft Store. (Warning: direct link.)

Nelon made clear that nothing will change for traditional Windows users. “What does this mean for the Windows store? It doesn’t mean anything for the Windows store,” Nelon wrote. “The Windows Package Manager is a command line interface, no marketing, no images, no commerce. Although we do plan on making those apps installable too.”

Nelon said that Microsoft looked at other Windows package managers and decided to go its own route. “What about insert any other package manager here? We think they are great. If they want to leverage our repository of validated packages, they can. If they want to see how we are doing it, it is open source. We’re open to feedback and suggestions.”

Unfortunately, not all apps in the Windows Store are available via App Installer, but more are apparently on their way.

Oddly, that wasn’t the only text-based interface to be launched at Build. A new PowerToys app, known as PowerToys Run, allows you to launch apps and documents by installing the software and then launching it via a Windows shortcut. Of course, the Win+R shortcut already allows you to do that, or you can simply type the Windows key, then the name of the app. Still, the first day of Build was apparently all about authoring diverse ways to do the same thing.

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Original author: Mark Hachman
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Adobe flips on GPU-accelerated encoding for Premiere Pro, and wow it's fast

Content creators, start your engines. Today, Adobe officially rolled out hardware encoding support for Nvidia and AMD GPUs in Premiere Pro, After Effects, and Adobe Media Encoder, letting you lean on the power of your graphics card to speed up H.264 and HEVC video exporting. 

And when we say speed up, we mean speed up, as you can see in Adobe and Nvidia’s comparison graphs below. Nvidia says the newfound support for the NVENC hardware encoder in GeForce and Quadro GPUs can allow video editors to export videos up to five times faster than CPU rendering alone.

adobe pp comp Adobe

Adobe’s GPU encoding performance claims.

adobe pp comp nvidia Nvidia

Nvidia’s GPU encoding claims.

Your mileage will vary depending on the workload, however. In a quick H.264 export test performed by Adam Patrick Murray, PCWorld’s lead video director, on a system with an Intel Core i7-6900K and a GeForce RTX 2080 Super, activating GPU encoding ramped up GPU utilization—as you’d expect—and cut the render time in half.

Yes please.

Flipping the GPU encoding switch changes some of your available quality options, however. Adam reports that you can’t use GPU encoding with two-pass VBR (variable bitrate), only one-pass VBR or CBR (constant bitrate). There could theoretically be an image quality hit if you’re accustomed to using two-pass VBR, though we’ve yet to test the new feature extensively. 

adam premiere pro normal encode Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Our video director exporting a video using traditional CPU encoding. Note the highlighted estimated time to completion.

adam premiere pro gpu encode Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Our video director exporting a video using Adobe’s new GPU accelerated encoding. The estimated time to completion cuts in half.

Boutique system builder Puget Systems benchmarked Premiere Pro’s new NVENC encoding support while it was in beta, however, and found “this feature resulted in between a 2-4x improvement in export times depending on the source codec with a minimal (if any) decrease in video quality.” 

Previously, hardware encoding was limited to Intel CPUs that supported the Quick Sync feature, or limited support for some CUDA workloads on Nvidia GPUs. If you’re hoping to hop onboard the GPU encoding bandwagon, Adobe recommends using a graphics card with at least 4GB of onboard memory for 1080p videos, 6GB of VRAM for 4K videos, or 8GB or more of VRAM for higher-resolution tasks. Our guide to the best graphics cards focuses on PC gaming, but it can help you find the right GPU to fit your needs regardless of your budget.

“Also included in today’s release is support for Apple’s ProRes RAW in both Premiere Pro and After Effects,” Nvidia says. “For the first time, video editors and motion graphics artists can import and edit ProRes RAW files in Windows with no need to transcode. This is accelerated by CUDA, available exclusively on Nvidia GPUs.”

That’s a big win for Nvidia’s creation-focused RTX Studio laptops. Speaking of which, Dell also redesigned its Precision workstation lineup, with the Dell Precision 5750 joining the Precision 7000 series in the RTX Studio program. It comes with swanky Quadro RTX 3000 graphics and the free three-month subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud common to all Studio notebooks.

Keen to try out all the new features? Just open up Premiere Pro, one of many programs worth paying for. We’re already seeing it available on our systems.

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Original author: Brad Chacos
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Why Cortana won't be at Microsoft Build

You’re not going to hear anything about Cortana this week at Microsoft’s Build conference.  

Confused? You’re not alone. Microsoft Cortana has moved from becoming the flagship feature at the Windows 10 launch to something of a has-been. And yet the intelligence that powers her is something that’s become a priority for Microsoft, creating the impression that there’s Cortana, and then there’s AI, and the two are separate and distinct. 

There’s a similar gap between the reason that Cortana is absent from Build, and separate underlying issues with Cortana itself. Put simply, it’s a bit of a mess.

Microsoft windows 10 20h1 cortana conversation Mark Hachman / IDG

The Cortana app on Windows 10 lacks some functionality from the older, integrated version.

Why Cortana isn’t at Build

During the development of the Windows 10 May 2020 Update, Microsoft made the tricky decision to separate Cortana from the Windows shell and turn the assistant into an app. In our review, we noted how that essentially forced Cortana backwards, eliminating some of her ability to do math (which has returned) and robbing her of the conversational aspects, such as the “Hey Cortana” wake word. And then the pandemic hit.

Andrew Shuman, Microsoft’s corporate vice president in charge of Cortana, told PCWorld that Cortana is absent from Build primarily because the Windows 10 May 2020 release itself was in flux until recently. But the forced shutdown also cut off access to hardware testing facilities like Building 88, where Microsoft spent a reported $1.5 million to build the anechoic chamber known as the “quietest room in the world.” China, too, shut down, cutting off Microsoft’s manufacturing supply lines. 

“It’s been a huge drain on our testing resources and our ability to test hardware with the new versions of Windows,” Shuman explained over a Teams call.

That means that Microsoft is focusing its efforts where it can: on developers, more than ever before, Shuman said. The “end user” stories where Cortana can show off future skills will come later, he said.

Cortana’s problems... and solutions

Okay, so that explains Cortana’s absence from Build. But Microsoft still has some explaining to do regarding the future of Cortana, and that’s far more murky.

Science fiction tells us that humans want to interact with artificial intelligence through some sort of personality, even one that’s as generic as the “Computer” in Star Trek. Early on, a real team of writers hand-crafted responses for Cortana. Yet right now the “Hey Cortana” wake word that summons Cortana has been disabled, and Microsoft’s digital assistant can only be invoked by a key press. Shuman admits that’s not ideal.

Microsoft CortanaMicrosoft

In days gone by, Cortana was the foundation of Windows Mobile.

“The voice stuff is not at the level it needs to be,” Shuman said. “And it is off by default in the first releases. We know that the rollout of Windows takes a while, so we didn’t want to hold that up. But we do need to do a fast follow with the wake word detection.”

But when offered the chance to wow us with what Cortana could be, Shuman doesn’t bite. From Azure to Office through to Windows and down to Cortana, Microsoft’s corporate priorities lie with business intelligence, not as a conversational assistant that can tell you a joke or sing you a song. Shuman turns instead to features like Outlook’s Play My Email feature, which uses AI to read your email and prioritize which are more important. 

“I think that the real usage and engagement of fans has to come down to a promise you can really deliver on,” Shuman said. “I mean, it’s why Alexa is great for setting a timer. And it’s great for playing music by genre, right? And it’s great for turning off all my lights. We need the moral equivalent of that in the office productivity space...

“It [Cortana] will be great at launching apps. It’ll be great at simple calculations. It will soon be great at launching web sites—we don’t have that in there yet. That’s what people do on Windows all day. So we need to meet them there. And kind of earn the right to go farther.”

Intelligence everywhere

Shuman’s aspirations for Cortana don’t seem especially ambitious. On the other hand, Microsoft has been quite good about diving deep into niche applications and filling them. This is the other side of Cortana: the Microsoft intelligence that it’s working to embed in our daily work lives.

Again, go back to 2016, where just a few months after we learned about Cortana’s personalization efforts, former AI chief Harry Shum told PCWorld that Microsoft was going big on artificial intelligence across all areas of Microsoft. Javier Soltero, Cortana’s former boss, had the same goal. It’s this belief in pervasive AI that’s led to Play My Emails for Android and iOS, which uses AI to provide you a way to get caught up on your email, interacting with individual messages, all via voice. 

Microsoft used to offer a voice-only interface, via the Harman/Kardon Invoke, which quietly tailed off, presumably from poor sales. “With the Invoke, all we saw with any reliability was playing music,” Shuman said. “And honestly, it was ‘play artist’ or ‘play genre’ because people can’t remember the right way to say a song title or an album name or any of these things.”

Play My Emails already has a bunch of feature requests that Shuman says he never anticipated, such as “read all emails from John,” or another user. Importance is another area Microsoft is considering. If you receive five emails from your boss, at least one of them is probably significant. 

Likewise, Shuman considers Meeting Insights a success, another Outlook feature that provides what Microsoft’s AI thinks are relevant emails and documents to help inform your meeting. 

Eventually, though, Shuman returns to the notion of a true business assistant. Taking advantage of initiatives like Project Cortex, say, Cortana should be able to dig out the resume of a job applicant from your email, but also understand it well enough to be able to tell you where she went to school. Microsoft is focused on supplementing its “hub apps:” 1 billion Windows 10 users, more than 100 million Outlook app users, the 75 million active daily users on Teams. Eventually, it sounds like Cortana could once again provide a daily briefing as it once did.

Cortana in Outlook for iOS Microsoft

In addition to reading emails out load, Cortana can explain how long they’ve been in a user’s inbox and provide additional information about each message.

“It’s not a digital assistant asking anything you want,” Shuman said of Cortana. “No, it’s got your back. It’s gonna tell you what’s next. It’s going to help you find the things that you have trouble finding, or it’s going to deep link you into the experiences of Windows we love and use every day.”

“That’s the kind of feature that I think Cortana will stand for: press the button and see what’s next, press the button and know what you have to do.”

Correction: Teams now has more than 75 million daily active users and there are more than 100 million users of the Outlook app, according to a Microsoft representative. The story now also clarifies a Shuman quote.

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Original author: Mark Hachman
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Microsoft adds Edge features: Sidebar search, Pinterest tie-ins and more

Microsoft is unrolling some new features for its new Edge browser, including a contextual flyout that opens a sidebar when performing a search, the company said Tuesday.

As Microsoft launches its Build developer conference as a 48-hour virtual event, the company is disclosing improvements to its consumer products, too. Microsoft’s new Edge (which we’ve reviewed), which the company hopes will begin replacing the “legacy” Edge across user PCs in the coming weeks, is a key area.

Other enhancements coming to Edge will include a deeper integration with work environments and a partnership with Pinterest. Most will be available soon, Microsoft said.

Sidebar search

Today, searching for a term in Edge or any other browser usually requires opening a separate tab or window to find more information. Microsoft’s new Edge is taking a page from its online versions of Office and offering to open the search results in a sidebar instead. Note that this includes specifically highlighting a word, right-clicking, and asking Edge to search for results. The feature will roll out in Microsoft’s Edge Insider channels in the coming weeks.

edge sidebar correct Microsoft

Searching for a term within Microsoft Edge will open up a sidebar where you can get more information.

It appears that the sidebar search is designed to search more for definitions and context rather than an entire separate train of thought, as the example Microsoft provided references a Wikipedia page. But Microsoft also said that people who use Edge at the office will be able to see work-specific results, too.

edge pinterest Microsoft

Microsoft is working with Pinterest to add suggestions to the Edge Collections feature. If enabled, suggested Pinterest Pins will show up, and you’ll be able to share your Collection to Pinterest.

Work-specific results while working at home

That’s important, because Microsoft has tried to make Bing the search engine for businesses, as well as consumers. If you used Bing within your work organization, you would previously see results that could include colleagues’ names, their functions and job titles, and so on. Now, Microsoft is wrestling with providing useful results to workers who are “on the job” while at home.

One strategy Microsoft is trying is simply context-switching between your work and home accounts. Now, you’ll be able to assign a profile to a specific link, ensuring that, for example, you’ll be able to post to social media in your capacity as a private individual, rather than as an employee of your business. That still sounds like a pain to configure. So Microsoft made it simpler to go from home to work: A new feature called Automatic Profile Switching will automatically log you in using your work credentials if it detects that you’re opening a work-specific link, such as an internal HR site. Both the context-switching and Automatic Profile Switching are live now, Microsoft said.

edge switch profile Microsoft

Here’s what you’ll see when you switch between your work and home accounts within Edge.

Finally, Microsoft said that it’s adding a new “Work” tab to Bing’s search results, so if there is relevant information that your company can show you—such as your available vacation time while researching holiday destinations—it will.

Extensions sync coming for businesses

When we reviewed the “new” Microsoft Edge, we noted that one of its deficiencies was its inability to sync all of its aspects between instances of the browser on multiple PCs. Edge is a surprisingly decent browser, but it still hasn’t covered those basics. It’s taken a tiny step forward on that front by rolling out extension sync support to business customers.

Consumers, though, will have to wait for extensions to sync across Edge, and it’s not clear how long that will take. However, Microsoft in June will be launching a new add-ons site “to make it more visually appealing—new categories, new search capabilities, and a new layout will get those extensions in front of customers,” Kyle Pflug, principal program manager lead for Edge, wrote in a blog post.

PWA improvements

It’s probably fair to say that most consumers don’t even know what a Progressive Web App (PWA) is: it’s essentially a webpage that does dual duty as a Windows app. They’re more significant because of the limited developer attention the Windows Store receives, as companies and developers eye the mobile space, Apple, and other platforms. With some webpages, such as Twitter, you’re able to click a small circled '+' sign in the URL bar and “install” the page as an app.

“With the most recent versions of Microsoft Edge and Windows 10, we’re making PWAs feel even more natural and familiar alongside other Windows apps,” Pflug wrote. “When PWAs are installed from Microsoft Edge on Windows 10, you’ll be able to manage them from settings, use them to share (and receive shared content), and more. They will take
on a look and feel more native to the OS such as being included in the Start Menu for easier access.”

Users will have to download a Windows Insider Windows 10 build, a Microsoft Edge beta or “Canary” build, and then enable the Web Apps Identity Proxy flag within the Edge Canary build, Pflug wrote.

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Microsoft Surface Book 3 review: The 'ultimate laptop' needs new ideas

The Surface Book 3 continues Microsoft’s five-year mission to create the “ultimate laptop," still uniquely melding a tablet and keyboard base that can be used to create, work, and game.

But the goal is harder to achieve in 2020 than ever before. At $1,599 up to $3,400, the Surface Book 3 is pricey. Worse, it offers little improvement over a new and very strong generation of dedicated laptops, from gaming machines with Nvidia’s latest RTX hardware to consumer devices optimized for extreme battery life and connectivity. Even Microsoft’s own Surface Pro 7 provides a superior tablet experience to the Surface Book 3’s. 

The Surface Book 3 is a fantastic product for the do-it-all niche it serves. It’s just that as laptops around it continue to evolve and improve, its niche continues to shrink.

This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best laptops. Go there for information on competing products and how we tested them.

Surface Book 3 prices

Microsoft's Surface Book 3 product line will be available May 21, with two sizes to choose from: 13.5-inch and 15-inch. The Surface Book 3 will ship with Windows 10 Home, a somewhat odd choice for a laptop priced like a mobile workstation. A separate version, the Surface Book 3 for Business, will ship with Windows 10 Pro. 

What follows are the prices, and then the detailed specs, of both models.

Microsoft Surface Book 3 13 inch 15 inch reshootMark Hachman / IDG

Microsoft’s 13.5-inch Surface Book 2 (left) vs. the 15-inch Surface Book 3 (right).

13.5-inch:

Core i5-1035G7, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Iris Plus: $1,600 Core i7-1065G7, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, GeForce GTX 1650 (Max-Q): $2,000 Core i7-1065G7, 32GB RAM, 512GB SSD, GeForce GTX 1650 (Max-Q): $2,500 Core i7-1065G7, 32GB RAM, 1TB SSD, GeForce GTX 1650 (Max-Q): $2,700

15-inch:

Core i7-1065G7, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, GeForce GTX 1660Ti (Max-Q): $2,300 Core i7-1065G7, 32GB RAM, 512GB SSD, GeForce GTX 1660Ti (Max-Q): $2,800 Core i7-1065G7, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD, GeForce GTX 1660Ti (Max-Q): $3,000 Core i7-1065G7, 32GB RAM, 2TB SSD, GeForce GTX 1660Ti (Max-Q): $3,400

Microsoft offers a discount for education and military professionals, if you buy directly from Microsoft. Members of the Microsoft Rewards program, currently in limited beta, offers an additional 7 percent rebate.

Microsoft Surface Book 3 primary Mark Hachman / IDG

Surface Book 3 specs and features

As you can see from the specs below, we were given the 15-inch Surface Book 3 with the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti (Max-Q) GPU option for review. The Quadro RTX is the best choice if the Surface Book 3 is to be used as a mobile workstation. The RTX hardware supports real-time ray tracing (and Microsoft’s gorgeous Minecraft RTX beta). But the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti should be a excellent choice for a consumer lifestyle.

Display: 13.5-inch (3000x2000, 267 ppi) PixelSense 10-point touch; 15-inch (3240x2160, 260 ppi) PixelSense 10-point touch (as tested) Processor: (13.5-inch) Core i5-1035G7, Core i7-1065G7; (15-inch) Core i7-1065G7 (as tested) Graphics: (13.5-inch) Iris Plus, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 (Max-Q) with 4GB GDDR5; (15-inch) Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti (Max-Q) w/6GB GDDR6 (as tested), Nvidia Quadro RTX 3000 (Max-Q) with 6GB GDDR6 Memory: (13.5-inch) 8GB, 16GB, or 32GB 3733MHz LPDDR4x; (15-inch) 16GB or 32GB 3733MHz LPDDR4x (as tested) Storage: (13.5-inch) 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB PCIe SSD; (15-inch) 256GB, 512GB (as tested), 1TB, or 2TB PCIe SSD (2TB in United States only) Ports: 2 Surface Connect, 2 USB-A, 1, USB-C, SDXC, headphone jack Camera: User-facing: 5MP, 1080p (Windows Hello); Rear: 8MP, 1080p Battery: Tablet: 22.2 Wh; Base: 59.7Wh; Total: 81.9Wh Wireless: 802.11 ax (Wi-Fi 6); Bluetooth 5.0; Xbox Wireless (15-inch only) Operating system: Windows 10 Home (as tested), Windows 10 Pro Dimensions (inches): (13.5-inch) 12.3 x 9.14 x 0.90 inches (13-23mm); (15-inch, Core i7) 3.5 x 9.87 x 0.90 inches (15-23mm) Weight: 13.5-inch is 3.38 pounds total for Core i5, 3.62 pounds for Core i7 (tablet alone is 1.59 pounds); 15-inch, Core i7 is 4.2 pounds total (tablet is 1.8 pounds) Color: Silver Price: Starting at $1,599; as tested $2,799 at Microsoft Microsoft Surface Book 3 left side Mark Hachman / IDG

A pair of USB Type A ports and a full-sized SD card slot are on the left side of the Surface Book 3. You can see part of the tablet venting, running up the side of the display.

Surface Book 3 design and display

The Surface Book’s unique design continues with version 3: It folds like a traditional clamshell laptop, or the display detaches to be used as a tablet. The Surface Book 3 reclines a bit less than other laptops do, about 50 degrees off of the horizontal.

tablet in hand Microsoft Surface Book 3 Mark Hachman / IDG

The 15-inch Surface Book 3 tablet feels massive in the hand.

You can even mount the tablet backward in “presentation mode” for others to view your screen. Microsoft says it’s sped up detachment time to a second or two. The tablet will reattach itself if you don’t remove it, I noticed. 

The Surface Book 3’s beautiful PixelSense touch display is as good as ever. It produced 496 nits of luminosity by our measurement, twice what we consider comfortable for indoor work. Both “enhanced” and “sRGB” modes are available for color fidelity in design work. 

Microsoft Surface Book 3 reversed tablet Mark Hachman / IDG

The Surface Book 3 allows me to detach the tablet, reverse it, re-dock it, and use my external keyboard instead of the base. Why would I do this with such an excellent keyboard? Because, as a lefty, I prefer gaming on a keyboard with a number pad, which the Surface Book 3 lacks. The Book 3 makes this easy.

The ability to detach the display is the Surface Book 3’s most distinctive feature, but not its best. Both the 13.5-inch and the 15-inch Surface Book 3 tablets are uncomfortably awkward to hold. Because they lack the kickstand of a Surface Pro 7, they’re good for just one thing: drawing, using a Surface Pen or Surface Dial (neither included). Propping it up to watch Netflix simply isn’t as effective as with a Surface Pro or Surface Go. The Surface Book 3 really works best as a traditional clamshell PC. 

The Surface Book 3’s price suggests a powerful Intel H-class Core chip might be inside, but because the CPU is mounted behind the display, the excellent Ice Lake U-series chips are used instead. The discrete GPU (if there is one) resides in the base. The Surface Book 3’s memory, however, has been substantially upgraded from the prior generation, from 1,866MHz DDR3 to the current 3,733MHz LPDDR4.

Microsoft's claim that the Surface Book 3 includes its "fastest SSD ever" applies only to the 1TB and 2TB SSDs in the most expensive versions. Our review unit's fast 512GB Toshiba SSD (the same used in the “Ice Lake” version of the Surface Laptop 3) sufficed for documents and a few games.

Microsoft Surface Book 3 right side closeup Mark Hachman / IDG

The Surface Book 3’s trademark accordion hinge. It doesn’t fold flat, probably irritating some. The USB-C port (left) and Surface Connect port (right) are also seen here.

The Surface Book 3’s connectivity is frustratingly limited to a single USB-C with no Thunderbolt support, the same as in the Surface Book 2. Power and I/O are mostly handled by the two legacy Surface Connect ports, only one of which is exposed to the user while the tablet is docked. A pair of USB Type-A ports support legacy hardware.

Surface Book 3 cooling

Microsoft uses a hybrid cooling solution: heat pipes within the tablet, and fans pushing heat out of vents within the base. To Microsoft’s or Intel’s credit (or both), the Surface Book’s fans rarely turn on. When they do, they often push out little more than a gentle breeze—unless gaming or more intensive work is involved, when it heightens to a powerful whoosh. Part of that behavior may be due to the default “best battery” Windows power settings.

Microsoft Surface Book 3 base vents Mark Hachman / IDG

The Surface Book 3 is surrounded by artfully concealed vents, both in the tablet section and along the base, as seen here. 

Has Microsoft solved the Surface Book’s power problem?

Microsoft has apparently solved its inability to supply enough power to the Surface Book 2. (Because both the native charger as well as the Surface Dock couldn’t deliver enough power, the Surface Book 2 was forced to run down the battery—even while plugged in!—to power the latest games and GPU-intensive apps.) Kicking up the Surface Book 3’s supply voltage to 127W (and launching a new high-power Surface Dock 2, which we haven't tested) helps a lot. Gaming on the built-in display, plugged in, seems to work fine.

Unfortunately, if you’re the type of person who prefers gaming on an external display, you have meager choices. A sampling of USB-C hubs I had on hand allowed for only 30Hz output to an external 4K display—not really comfortable for gaming or productivity. The first-generation Surface Dock solves that particular display issue—it permits 4K/60 output as well as charging the Surface Book 3 if you’re not tapping the discrete GPU. But as soon as you start playing a game, the battery drains as the Surface Book 3 consumes its extra power. We’d expect the Surface Dock 2 to solve both of these issues, but it costs $260!

Surface Book 3: keyboard, audio and webcams

Although you probably don’t want to buy a $2,000 PC for the keyboard alone, I’m convinced that the Surface Book lineup offers the best of any laptop today. (Lenovo’s ThinkPad keyboards, which also have a deserved reputation for quality, are a close second.)

Microsoft Surface Book 3 keyboard Mark Hachman / IDG

The keyboard of the Microsoft Surface Book 3.

The key travel is a luxurious 1.55mm (around 1.25mm is more common in the industry). Each key is firm and responsive. The slight air gap afforded by the Surface Book 3’s accordion hinge allows the keys to lie flush with the keyboard deck, versus sinking them into a slight depression as other laptops do. Both combine to offer the tactile illusion that your fingers are typing on a deeper keyboard. 

Microsoft still has the odd habit of changing up its function keys among its different Surface products. The keyboard backlight key is part of the F7 key on the Surface Pro lineup and F1 on the Surface Book. (You may want to use the lowest of the three backlighting settings, as the illumination is quite strong.)

Microsoft Surface Book 3 detach key Mark Hachman / IDG

The green LED next to this key means that the Surface Book 3 tablet is ready to detach.

Microsoft’s glassy Precision trackpad is clickable almost to the top. The trackpad is spacious and affords generous palm rests on the corners of the Surface Book 3.

The audio experience differs along with the Surface Book 3 design. Laptops usually embed the speakers below the keyboard, so the sound bounces and resonates outward. Here, the speakers are mounted behind the display, so the sound is broadcast directly at your face. 

Microsoft Surface Book 3 rear Mark Hachman / IDG

It’s still a bit odd to see the Surface Book 3’s rear-facing webcam tucked up into the corner.

Overall, the Surface Book 3’s audio experience is typical. The volume maximum is reasonable. The high end mashes together and becomes somewhat tinny. The bass is minimal. While the speakers are Dolby Atmos-enabled, there are apparently no controls provided to adjust the audio balance, but I was able to download the Dolby Access app from the Microsoft Store. 

Microsoft now includes a pair of far-field mics, probably more important for videoconferencing than for activating Cortana. The Surface Book 3 worked fine during my Zoom or Teams calls, so you should be able to set aside your headphones if you have access to a quiet workspace.

Microsoft includes its excellent webcams, front and rear, on the Surface Book 3. We experienced good clarity, color, and detail on the user-facing camera. (There’s no sliding privacy shutter, though; here’s why.) The rear camera is quite good, though it’s a bit weird that it's offset into the corner. 

Microsoft Surface Book 3 user facing camera selfie Mark Hachman / IDG

The user-facing camera on the Surface Book 3.

How much performance comes for the price? Keep reading for benchmark results.

Original author: Mark Hachman
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Updated: Intel buys Rivet Networks and its Killer Networking brand to beef up its Wi-Fi tech

Intel said Wednesday that it has acquired Rivet Networks, and will integrate the company’s Killer Networking line of Wi-Fi networking products into its own wireless portfolio.

Intel didn’t disclose the purchase price, nor how soon the Killer portfolio of ethernet controllers, wireless chips, and management software would become part of Intel’s product lineup. Intel did say that Rivet would become part of the Wireless Solutions Group within Intel’s Client Computing Group, and that Intel will continue to license its Killer software to customers.

The acquisition does expand the conversation around Intel’s CPUs to the level of an entire platform. Though Intel’s Core i9-10900K may be the world’s fastest desktop gaming CPU at the moment, Intel is facing intense pressure from AMD in both the desktop and especially the mobile markets—the AMD Ryzen 7 4700U notebook CPU outperforms Intel’s H-series gaming chips. Historically, Intel’s reaction has been to emphasize other aspects of the platform, and the Rivet acquisition helps achieve that.

Making Intel's Wi-Fi a killer product

Though Killer’s products encompass both ethernet networking and Wi-Fi (including combining the two for even greater bandwidth), it appears Intel sees the acquisition as a benefit primarily for its wireless business. In a blog post, Intel described Rivet’s purchase as a “terrific complement to our existing Wi-Fi products and helps us further our vision of delivering PC platforms that power every person’s greatest contribution.”

Eric McLaughlin, vice president of the Intel Client Computing Group and general manager of its Wireless Solutions Group, went a bit further, as part of a followup interview. McLaughlin said that Intel will continue to sell both the Killer lines of wired and wireless controllers, and that the technology would be broadly applicable to both consumers, business, and commercial lines. 

The Killer-Intel combination already appears in recent notebooks like the massive Dell XPS 17, so combining the two appears to be a natural evolution. When Killer launched its AX1650 Wi-Fi network card last year, the company said that between the new Wi-Fi 6 technology and its own software, gamers could see up to three times “better” in-game latency than with a standard Wi-Fi chip, and up to a 5X improvement in video streaming. 

"We have, you know, world-class hardware and real world-class driver capabilities," McLaughlin said. "And this brings a layer of software expertise over and above what we have internally, that helps you manage the connection and optimize the connection that you have."

McLaughlin said that the Rivet acquisition allows Intel to move "beyond the standard," meaning the capabilities allowed by (and restricted to) a wireless standard like 802.11ax. "We certainly look at ways we can enhance those connections," he said. "What Rivet does is is prioritize and enable quality of service."

Intel’s recent moves in wireless

Strategically, Intel's purchase of Killer could make it harder for AMD, or for PC makers using AMD's processors, to include Killer technology. For whatever reason, we haven't seen many (any?) laptop makers combine Thunderbolt with a Ryzen processor, another I/O technology Intel has promoted.

When asked about whether PC makers will be able to sell Killer technology alongside AMD Ryzen processors, however, Intel's McLaughlin demurred. "It's probably too early to comment on that on," he said.

However you see it, though, the Rivet acquisition builds upon the moves Intel has already made to deliver an improved Wi-Fi experience. Intel’s 10th-gen Ice Lake Core processors took the integrated Wi-Fi 6 MAC (aka 802.11ax) and added an optional “Wi-Fi 6 Gig+” feature on top of it. Wi-Fi 6’s chief benefit was what’s known as “Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access,” or OFDM, decreasing network latency by about 75 percent compared to Wi-Fi 5. Wi-Fi 6 Gig+ increases the size of the available channels to 160MHz, increasing the total bandwidth to a whopping 1.68Gbps, far above the capabilities of most normal routers.

intel ice lake wi fi gig Intel

Intel has already encouraged journalists and customers to see its Wi-Fi products as ahead of the curve.

Because of this disparity in available bandwidth, Intel said at the time that it would be building its own router reference designs, which will be sold under the brand names of third-party router manufacturers. It’s likely we’ll see the Killer technology added to these, too.

It’s also probable that the Killer technology will be used to supplement aspects of Intel’s wireless portfolio that have received less public attention. The first is what Rivet calls the Killer Prioritization Engine for Routers, which goes hand in hand with the Killer Intelligence Engine. Both Killer technologies emphasize quality of service rather than raw bandwidth, giving priority to IP packets used for gaming and Internet streaming. The Killer Intelligence Engine also identifies and flags older network access equipment, encouraging users to buy a better router if the current one isn’t providing enough throughput.

The last aspect is certainly the brand itself. Last year, Intel built buzz around its first discrete GPU chips and its gaming “odyssey”, an endeavor that abruptly tailed off when key members of its graphics marketing team left the company. Currently, Intel’s public persona is back to the corporate juggernaut it always was, while “Team Red,” or AMD, is seen as the upstart challenging the throne. Splashing the “Killer” brand on top of Intel’s gaming platforms will add some cachet, while reminding gamers that “Intel Inside” stands for more than just the CPU.

This story was updated at 1:50 PM with additional detail, plus an interview with Intel's Eric McLaughlin.

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Original author: Mark Hachman
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The Origin PC EON17-X crams Intel's 10-core desktop CPU into a laptop

Today, Intel launched its badass new 10th-gen Core processors, cramming them with more cores and higher speeds than ever before. And the crazy kids at Origin PC have already shoved Intel’s most powerful desktop CPUs into—get this—a pair of laptops. The upgraded Origin EON17-X and its workstation equivalent, the NS-17, both come loaded with Intel’s beastly Core i9-10900KF processor.

Intel’s desktop flagship blows away what you’d typically find in a notebook, bringing 10 cores, 20 threads, and up to 5.3GHz clock speeds to bear. Heck, its all-core turbo can hit a blistering 4.9GHz.

The “F” in “Core i9-10900KF” denotes a lack of integrated graphics. That’s where Nvidia comes in. Origin outfitted the EON17-X with up to GeForce RTX 2080 Super graphics. It’s a mobile part, unlike the CPU, but it’s running in a “Max-P” configuration for maximum performance rather than a more energy-efficient Max-Q setup. You can pay extra to get it factory-overclocked, too.

That high-end GPU feeds a roomy 17.3-inch display powered by Nvidia’s G-Sync technology for buttery-smooth gaming, in the resolution of your choice: 240Hz or 144Hz at 1080p, or 60Hz at 4K. That luscious 4K display seems better suited for content creators, as it also displays 100% of the Adobe RGB color palette.

origin eon17x top Origin PC

Yes, this desktop-in-disguise should kick ass at running ray-traced Minecraft.

The rest of the loadout can be configured with similarly impressive specs. The EON17-X can support up to 8TB of total storage across its multiple connections, and up to 64GB of RAM in its four memory slots, with an 128GB option “coming soon.”

When it comes to ports, this desktop replacement offers a desktop-worthy collection. You’ll find Thunderbolt 3 (with DisplayPort 1.4 support), a trio of USB 3.2 type-A ports, a pair of USB 3.2 type-C ports, a pair of mini-DisplayPort 1.4 connections, HDMI out, ethernet, and a microSD card reader. Phew. Eat your heart out, MacBooks. And because audio is just as important as video, the EON17-X comes with Creative’s Sound Blaster Atlas and Super X-Fi tech built in, too, bolstered by 3.5mm mic and headphone jacks.

origin eon17x back Origin PC

Some of the ports are located on the rear of this chonker.

Of course, Origin wouldn’t release a laptop without putting its own spin on things, too. The EON17-X comes with per-key RGB keyboard lighting, options for custom UV printing, laser-etching, and paint jobs, and free lifetime 24/7 phone support, based right here in the U.S.A.

You’ll be able to buy the EON17-X from Origin PC today, with prices starting at $2,599. The Origin NS-17 workstation laptop starts at the same price. Getting high-end desktop-class performance in a laptop you can lug around isn’t cheap.

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Original author: Brad Chacos
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Intel 10th Gen Review: The Core i9-10900K is indeed the world's fastest gaming CPU

Intel’s 10th gen Core i9-10900K is—without a doubt—exactly as Intel has described it: “the world’s fastest gaming CPU.”

Intel’s problem has been weaknesses outside of gaming, and its overall performance value compared to AMD’s Ryzen 3000 chips. With the Core i9-10900K, Intel doesn’t appear to be eliminating that gap, but it could get close enough that you might not care.

intel 10th stack Intel

What is Core i9-10900K?

Despite its 10th-gen naming, Intel’s newest desktop chips continue to be built on the company’s aging 14nm process. How old is it? It was first used with the 5th-gen Core i7-5775C desktop chip from 2015. Many tricks, optimizations, and much binning later, we have the flagship consumer Core i9-10900K, announced April 30. The CPU features 10 cores and Hyper-Threading for a total of 20 threads, with a list price of $488.

The Core i9-10900K does bring a few changes. Intel officials said the chip uses a thinner die and thinner solder thermal interface material (STIM) to improve thermal dissipation. Intel also had to make a thicker heat spreader (that little metal lid to keep you from crushing the delicate die). 

core i9 10900k 5 Gordon Mah Ung

A 10th gen Core i9-10900K (right) next to an 8th-gen Core i7-8700K (left). There are subtle differences in the “wings” that the load plate clamps onto, and the notches in the substrate are on opposite corners.

Why make the die and STIM thinner, but the heat spreader thicker? The reason is cost. Intel said it had to keep the height of the heat spreader on all of its CPUs the same so they’d be compatible with existing cooling hardware. Intel officials did say the materials used for the heat spreader help compensate for that compromise, so overall the new chip is better at power dissipation.

stim Intel

The 10th-gen Comet Lake S CPUs feature a thinner die and thermal interface material, plus a thicker heat spreader to help improve heat dissipation.

A new socket?!

It’s true: Intel’s new 10th-gen CPUs bring with them a new LGA1200 socket that is—of course—incompatible with the previous 9th-gen CPUs. Intel took flack for introducing a new chipset with its 8th-gen desktop chips that was incompatible with the previous generation, so you can understand the anger for those who just want to upgrade the CPU, not also the motherboard.

core i9 10900k 6 Gordon Mah Ung

The backside of an LGA1151 8th-gen Core i7-8700K (left), and an LGA1200 10th-gen  Core i7-10900K (right).

The LGA1200 socket and new Z490 don’t seem to change much. You still install the CPU almost the same way, and if you have an existing LGA1151 cooler, it’ll still fit. Sadly, rumors of PCIe 4.0 on the X490 proved untrue, leaving Intel at a disadvantage compared to Ryzen 3000 chips that have the faster interface for SSDs and GPUs.

core i9 10900k 8 Gordon Mah Ung

A new LGA1200 socket is required to run a 10th-gen Comet Lake S CPU.

How We Tested

For this review, we stick with Intel’s flagship, the $488 Core i9-10900K. Its natural competitor is AMD’s Ryzen 9 3900X with 12 cores and 24 threads. Its list price is $499, but its street price as of this writing is actually more like $410 on AmazonRemove non-product link. The Ryzen 9 3900X comes with a decent air cooler, too.

The only other CPU we’d compare would be the Ryzen 9 3950X, but with a street price of $720 on AmazonRemove non-product link (as of this writing) the math doesn’t work. So we’ll stick with the 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X. It was tested on an MSI X570 MEG Godlike with 16GB of DDR4/3600 in dual-channel mode. We typically use the same SSD on all platforms, but we feel that’s unfair to AMD, which can run PCIe 4, so we used a Corsair MP600 PCIe 4.0 drive. 

For the Core i9-10900K, we used an Asus ROG Maximus VII Extreme board with 16GB of DDR4/3200 in dual-channel mode and a Samsung 960P SSD.

Both systems used Windows 10 1909, identical GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition cards, and NZXT Kraken X62 coolers with fans set to 100 percent. Both boards were run open-case, with matching desk fans blowing cool air directly onto the graphics cards and the boards’ socket area. All systems used the same drivers, the latest UEFI’s, and the latest Windows security updates.

Due to time and other constraints, we ran the boards with MCE and PBO set to Auto, and 2nd-level XMP and AMP profiles selected. While these factory settings are beyond what is stock, we think it’s close to what a consumer see will see out of the box.

core i9 10900k 11 Gordon Mah Ung

The 10th-gen Core i9-10900K sits in the LGA1200 socket of an Asus ROG Maximus Extreme VII.

Core i9-10900K Rendering Performance

We’ll kick this off where we normally do: Maxon’s Cinebench R20. It’s a 3D modelling test built on the company’s Cinema4D engine, and it’s integrated into such products as Adobe After Effects. Like most 3D modelling apps, more cores and more threads typically yield more performance.

Our results for the Core i9-10900K and Ryzen 9 3900X are fresh, but we decided to sprinkle in results from previous reviews for more context. Although those older results are not using the latest version of Windows, Cinebench is very reliable. The R20 version uses AVX2 and AVX512 and takes about three times as long to run as the older R15 version. That means any boost performance should matter less.

Remember these results, because for the most part it won’t change too much as we move through multi-threaded performance: Cores matter. The Ryzen 9 3900X’s 12 cores prevail over the the Core i9-10900K’s 10. If it’s any consolation, the latest Core chip fares noticeably better than the Core i9-9900K and Core i9-9900KS, which were both handcuffed by their “mere” 8 cores. 

core i9 10900k cinebench r20t IDG

The 10-core wasn’t expected to out gun AMD’s 12-core but at least it’s closer.

Switching Cinebench R20 to single-threaded performance, constrain the load to a single CPU core. The results are so close that no would or should care. We expected the Core i9-10900K to have a little more of an edge, but maybe it’s the luck of the draw.

core i9 10900k cinebnech 1t IDG

Single-core performance among the consumer chips is pretty much dead-even.

Corona is an unbiased photo-realistic 3D renderer, which means it takes no shortcuts in how it renders a scene. It loves cores and threads, so the results here follow the trend, but the Core i9 finishes just 7 percent shy of the Ryzen 9. In Cinebench R20, the Ryzen 9 had a larger 15-percent advantage.

core i9 10900k corona 1.3 IDG

The Corona renderer closes the gap close between the Ryzen 9 and Core i9 to about 7 percent.

The Chaos Group’s V-Ray Next is like Cinema4D’s engine, and it’s a biased rendererer—it takes shortcuts to finish projects so you can, you know, win an Academy Award like the V-Ray has. It loves thread count, so guess what: The Ryzen 9 comes out about 14 percent faster than the Core i9.

core i9 10900k v ray next IDG

V-Ray is a biased renderer like Cinema4D and performance tracks closely with the Ryzen 9 about 14 percent faster than the newest Core i9.

Our last rendering test measures ray tracing performance using the latest version of POV Ray. The Ryzen comes in almost 17 percent faster than the Core i9. That’s pretty close to the thread-count advantage the Ryzen 9 has, which equals 20 percent more.

core i9 10900k pov ray multi core IDG

POV Ray puts the Ryzen 9 ahead of the Core i9 by almost 17 percent.

Switching POV Ray to single-threaded performance, the Ryzen 9 squeezes by the Core i9, which surprised us—we thought the Core i9 would take the lead.

core i9 10900k pov ray single core IDG

Single-threaded performance of the Ryzen 9 is just under 3 percent faster than the Core i9.

Core i9-10900K Encoding Performance

Video encoding needs fast CPUs, too. That’s why we use the latest version of HandBrake to convert a 4K video short to 1080p using H.265. Using the CPU to finish the task, the 12-core Ryzen 9 finished with a 16-percent advantage over the 10-core Core i9. So far, that’s pretty much everything we’ve expected. 

core i9 10900k handbrake 1.3.1 hevc 4k to 1080p IDG

We use Handbrake to transcode a 4K video using the HEVC/H.265 codec.

Our next test uses Cinegy’s Cinescore to assess CPU and GPU performance across several dozen broadcast industry profiles from SD to 8K, using codecs from H.264, to MPEG2, XDCAM and AVC Ultra as well as Nvidia H.265 and Daniel 2. It runs entirely in RAM to remove storage as a bottleneck. (Note: The version of Cinescore we use is older and no longer works without setting an older date on the PC—the version has timed out the codec license.)

While the Core i9 doesn’t win, it gets awfully close to the Ryzen 9. This could mean Cinescore and its CODECs don’t care that much about thread count, or the higher clock speeds of the Core i9 may be of more value. Sorry, Ryzen 9 fans.

core i9 10900k cinegy 10.4 IDG

It’s too close for comfort for the Ryzen 9: The Core i9 comes within 3 percent of its performance.

Our next test is a video test, but not in a traditional sense. While standard encoding or transcoding isn’t all that smart in how it downsamples or upsamples video, Topaz Lab’s Video Enhance AI claims to look at every frame and use machine learning inferencing to decide what will make each frame look better on the upscale, based on studying other videos. For the test, we take a two-minute family video shot on a Kodak video camera and upscale it from 720p to 1080p, using the app’s Gaia HQ preset.

This upscale would typically be done on a GPU, where it would be significantly faster, but we ordered it to use the CPU cores for the upscale. Topaz Labs uses Intel’s own OpenVINO for the Deep Learning. Doing a frame-by-frame upscale isn’t easy and still takes literally hours to complete. The Ryzen 9 finishes with about a five-percent advantage over the Core i9. Too close for comfort, but a win is a win.

core i9 10900k topaz video enhance ai 1.2.1 cpu gaia IDG

Topaz Lab’s Video Enhance AI uses machine learning to decide how to upscale video.

Core i9-10900K Compression Performance

Moving on to compression and decompression performance, we first use RARLab’s WinRAR. As with prior Ryzen CPUs, the result is bad—a loss for the Ryzen 9 and a big win for the Core i9. The Ryzen architecture has long performed poorly here. In the built-in benchmark, the Core i9 is 82 percent faster.

core i9 10900k winrar nt IDG

No surprise, the Core i9 walks away with a big win here because the Ryzen part just runs poorly in WinRAR.

Switching WinRAR to single-core performance, nothing changes except the Core i9’s win grows to a 194-percent advantage. We use WinRAR because it’s worth pointing out that some software will heavily penalize Ryzen’s microarchitecture. Intel has fielded software support to companies for much longer than AMD, and it shows.

core i9 10900k winrar 1t IDG

The gap closes with the much more popular (and free) 7Zip. We set the built-in benchmark to use the number of threads available to the CPU—in this case, 24 for Ryzen 9 and 20 for Core i9. The first result is multi-core.

core i9 10900k 7zip nt performance IDG

The multi-core performance of the Core i9 can’t keep up with the Ryzen 9 in 7Zip.

Decompressing performance, according to the developer, leans heavily on integer performance, branch prediction, and instruction latency. Compressing performance leans more on memory latency, cache performance, and out-of-order performance. It doesn’t matter either way, as the Core i9 falls to the Ryzen 9 in both areas. The Ryzen 9 is about 21 percent faster in decompression, and a whopping 44 percent faster in compression.

Moving to single-threaded performance, we see the Core i9’s fortunes reverse, with about 7 percent faster decompression and 17 percent faster compression.

core i7 10900k 7zip 1t performance IDG

Single-threaded 7Zip performance is a solid win for the Core i9.

Core i9-10900K Gaming Performance

Intel didn’t call the Core i9-10900K ‘the best CPU for multi-threaded performance’ because it likely knew it wasn’t going to squeeze out the Ryzen 9 3900X. On the other hans, Intel’s chips have long led in gaming performance, ever since the first Ryzen was introduced. 

Rather than have you scroll through 16 charts, we combined 16 results into one megachart, from a list of games run at varying resolutions and settings. We’ll run through it from top to bottom.

In Far Cry New Dawn we see the Core i9 vary from about 9 percent to about 14 percent over the Ryzen 9, depending on the resolution and game setting. As you jack up the resolution or the game setting, the test is increasingly GPU-bound.

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation, long the poster child for DX12 performance, is hailed for actually using the extra CPU cores available to gamers today. For this run, we use the Crazy quality preset and select the CPU-focused benchmark, which is supposed to throw additional units into the game. The result: about a 7.5-percent advantage for the Core i9-10900K.

Chernobylite, an early-access game, features a benchmark to showcase its beautiful graphics. Set to high, where the game is not limited by GPU performance, we see that familiar 7.9-percent advantage for the Core i9 over the Ryzen 9. As we crank up the graphics from high to ultra, it becomes an increasingly GPU-bound test.

The only red (AMD) bar longer than a blue (Intel) bar is in Civilization VI Gathering Storms—but unfortunately for the Ryzen 9, this particular test measures how long it takes for the computer to make a move, and shorter time is better. The Core i9 is about 6.5 percent faster.

Original author: Gordon Mah Ung
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Meural Canvas II review: If you can’t go to the art museum, bring the art museum to you

Even when travel restrictions are relaxed, and social distancing becomes less critical, many of us will remain reluctant to travel long distances to visit the world’s great art museums. Install the Meural Canvas II in your home, and you can bring many of the world’s great art museums right into your home.

Available in two sizes—16x14 inches ($400 and up, depending on finish and accessories) and 19x29 inches ($600 and up)—the Meural Canvas II (I’ll just refer to it as the Meural from here) is essentially a digital picture frame. But it’s nothing like the cheap tabletop photo frames introduced in the 1990s. The Meural consists of an AHVA (Advanced Hyper-Viewing Angle) LCD display panel capable of displaying 16.7 million colors at a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. AHVA is great for off-axis viewing, and in that respect it is similar, if not superior, to LG’s IPS and Samsung’s PLS display technologies. In addition to that, the Meural glass is treated with an anti-glare coating that prevents reflections from detracting from the art.

From a pixels-per-inch perspective, 1920x1080 resolution might not seem that impressive, but the paintings, photographs, and animations I displayed on the Meural Canvas II looked fantastic—to the point where I could discern the brushstrokes in some paintings, particularly in the works of the Impressionists. Deep black levels result in excellent contrast between light and dark areas of paintings, photographs, and photos of sculptures. And since you own the display, you can give any image closer inspection than any museum would be comfortable with if you were examining the original. I won’t go so far as to say the experience equals standing in front of the original works, but it is certainly the next best thing.

meural 1 Meural/Netgear

The Meural Canvas, a digital smart frame for displaying fine art, is available in two sizes (we reviewed the smaller 16x14-inch model).

More specs and features

Both frames are available in either black or white painted plastic, or dark or light stained wood, with a 1.75-inch plastic matte surrounding the display itself. (This review is based on the 16x24-inch model with a light stained wood finish.) Each one is outfitted with a 1.8GHz quad-core ARM Cortex A17 processors, 2GB of DDR3 memory, and 8GB of onboard storage. Networking heavyweight Netgear acquired Meural the company in 2018, and these products are outfitted with dual-band Wi-Fi 5 (2.4-/5GHz 802.11ac) adapters, plus Bluetooth 4.1 radios for initial setup. There’s also an ethernet port on the back of the panel.

The Meural requires electricity to operate, so the biggest drawback to the frame is its dependence on a chunky (roughly 3x2 inches) wall wart. The eight-foot cord that delivers power to the frame is wrapped in an attractive fabric, but the only way to get around having an ugly string hanging down the wall from your beautiful art is to build a recessed electrical box in the wall behind the frame (the back of the frame isn’t deep enough to hide the adapter should you already have an outlet in the middle of the wall).

That’s something most people would hire an electrician to do, although there is one means of ditching the adapter: The aforementioned ethernet port supports Power over ethernet (PoE). While that low-voltage solution is a relatively easy DIY project (provided you have a switch that supports PoE), you’ll still need to cut a hole in your wall. And once you’ve done that, you’re not going to want to move the frame to any other location.

meural canvas ethernet port Michael Brown / IDG

The Meural Canvas II’s ethernet port supports Power over ethernet (PoE), which would eliminate the need for its chunky power adapter (and bringing power to it using that low-voltage tech wouldn’t necessarily require you to hire an electrician).

The frame comes with a mounting cleat with a built-in bubble level, along with two hollow-wall anchors that I’m not entirely sure I’d trust to support its substantial weight (15.49 or 19.74 pounds respectively). If you’d prefer, you can set the Meural on an easel or a tabletop and lean it against the wall (a small non-slip pad is provided for this purpose).

The Meural can be oriented either horizontally (landscape) or vertically (portrait), and you can switch between the two modes either by lifting it off the cleat or picking it up off whatever surface it’s resting on. When you do this, you’ll need to take care that you don’t inadvertently touch the on/off switch that’s on one side of the frame. An optional rotating mount is also available for $50, and I would heartily recommend buying it if you think you’ll change its orientation often—dropping the frame while trying to rehang it on the cleat would be a tragedy. The Meural app can be set so that the frame only displays art that’s in the correct orientation for the frame: Images in portrait mode won’t be shown if the frame is in landscape mode and vice versa. Defeat this setting and you’ll see all the images in a playlist, but some of them might be unpleasantly cropped.

meural canvas cleat Michael Brown / IDG

The Meural Canvas II can be hung in either portrait or landscape mode when you attach this doodad with the built-in bubble level to the wall. But if you plan to switch between the two orientations, you should spring for the optional $50 rotating mount (not shown here).

What’s included

Netgear provides 100 curated images from the Meural art library, with examples of both classic and modern art, photographs, and even some GIF animations and cinemagraph videos. Some of these are preloaded to the frame’s storage, but you’ll need to download the rest (follow this link to see all the free samples available). Once you’ve created an account on Netgear’s website, you can log in, point, and click to download new images to your frame.

You can also upload your own digital art (e.g., digital photos) to the frame: This is accomplished either by saving your images to an SD card (there’s a full-sized SD card slot on one side of the frame—the bottom when it’s in landscape orientation). Most modern cameras use microSD cards these days, but adapters are cheap. You can buy a SanDisk adapter on Amazon for less than $4. You can also upload images to Netgear’s server and then download them to the frame if you’re not worried about the privacy implications of putting them on a server you don’t control—however temporary that might be.

meural canvas card slot Michael Brown / IDG

A plastic door hides an SD memory card slot and a Micro USB port.

You will want that subscription

But the best Meural experience requires a paid subscription to unlock the breadth and depth of what’s available: More than 30,000 curated works, organized by artist, genre, participating museums, and partnerships (including Marvel and National Geographic). You can also download “playlists,” collections of art from a given artist; from a specific genre, movement, or style; or type (e.g., photographs, mixed media, painting, and even photos of sculptures).

A subscription costs $9 per month or $70 per year, but you can add only one additional frame to a subscription. Buy a third and you’ll need another sub. Buy a fifth and you’ll need another, and so on. Subscriptions also include access to editorial content exploring artists, movements, and other topics in plain language. Some artworks (and art playlists) are also available for purchase, with members entitled to significant discounts. Netgear says 60 percent of what it earns on art goes to artists. Membership also allows you to create playlists consisting of your own images mixed with curated art, and it expands your cloud storage from 4GB to 20GB and entitles you to unlimited 24/7 tech support. You can read more about Meural memberships here.

meural canvas info text Michael Brown / IDG

Wave your hand in front of one of the frame’s sensors and explanatory text discussing the currently displayed image pops up.

Sensors embedded in the matte recognize gestures, so you can swipe up and down to open and close menus and choose menu items, and you can swipe left and right to cycle through the art in your playlist. Swiping up while an image is displayed opens a corner window with brief explanatory text discussing the art (crediting the artist, the date the work was created, and other useful information). I’ve become so accustomed to using gestures to zoom into an image that I tried it with the Meural: No dice. An ambient light sensor automatically adjusts the display’s brightness, and you can program the frame to automatically turn off when the room goes dark.

If you’d prefer more certainty on that score, you can also create schedules when the frame will be on and off, and you can even program dates and times when selected playlists are displayed, the order in which images are shown, and the length of time they’ll be shown (you can also freeze any image for as long as you wish to look at it).

Netgear has developed an Alexa skill (which is still in beta, according to an April 2019 posting on Netgear’s customer support page), but you can’t do very much with voice commands. You can turn the frame off and on, you can page through the images in a playlist, and adjust the brightness on a scale of 0 to 100. But I’d suggest giving your frame a name that’s easy for Alexa to understand: Every time I said “Alexa, [something something] Meural,” Alexa responded with “Sorry, I didn’t find a device named ‘mirror.’” That same post from 2019 says “Google Home and Apple HomeKit users should stay tuned—we’re always looking to expand our smart home integrations.” Clearly, Netgear doesn’t consider smart home integration to be a priority for this product.

Should you buy a Meural Canvas II?

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Meural Canvas II, and I learned a lot more about the various artists and artistic movements that I explored. But I’m not a hardcore art aficionado, and I didn’t mount the frame to my wall because I wasn’t prepared to spend $500 plus $70 every year to call it mine. That said, the technology is impressive (apart from the smart home integration, that is) and all the art I displayed on the Meural Canvas II looked stunning. If you have a favorite artist, you might want to make sure his or her works are available in Netgear’s collection. But if you’re the type of person who has a favorite artist, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this device even if they don’t.

There’s not a lot of competition in this space, but I do have the Canvia display in house for an upcoming review, and Lenovo recently announced that it’s taking preorders—and offering substantial discounts—for the Lenovo Smart Frame, but that product won’t ship until August. Stay tuned.

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Original author: Michael Brown
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Google redesigns Chrome privacy settings, adds Enhanced Safe Browsing

Google said Tuesday that the company is redesigning some of its Google Chrome browser UI with an eye toward preserving user privacy, both in terms of the layout and what’s under the hood. The changes will be coming to the desktop version of the Chrome browser over the coming weeks.

Changes include communicating better about what data is synced with Google, and how the Chrome browser manages cookies, both in real-world browsing as well as in Incognito mode. Two other changes are being pushed out as part of the day-to-day browsing experience, including what Google calls Enhanced Safe Browsing as well as DNS over HTTPS.

Enhanced Safe Browsing may have the most profound effect on your daily experience, though the feature will essentially live in the background most of the time. Enhanced Safe Browsing checks whether webpages and downloads are safe—whether you’re browsing the web or in another Google service, such as Gmail. Google said that over the coming year this feature will be beefed up, with tailored warnings for phishing sites and file downloads, and cross-product alerts across Android and the desktop version of Chrome.

google chrome browser safety check Google

Part of Google’s “Safety Check” in its browser settings.

DNS-over-HTTPS is a more sophisticated feature that Google said took about two years to fine-tune. When you access a website like your bank, your browser will link your PC and your bank’s server via an encrypted HTTPS connection. But the initial act of surfing to the bank’s site—part of the DNS lookup—is unencrypted. 

Using what Google calls Secure DNS, Chrome will now encrypt the DNS lookup using HTTPS as well. It’s an additional level of encryption and privacy, “thereby helping prevent attackers from observing what sites you visit or sending you to phishing websites,” according to Google

google chrome cookies Google

The new version of Chrome, Chrome 83, will also add protections against websites that want to track you using cookies. In Chrome’s Incognito Mode, Google said that “in addition to deleting cookies every time you close the browser window in Incognito, we will also start blocking third-party cookies by default within each Incognito session and include a prominent control on the New Tab Page.” It’s a feature that will begin rolling out first to the desktop version of Chrome, as well as to the Chrome browser on Android. Similar controls to manage cookies will appear in the non-Incognito version of Chrome.

google chrome cookies incognito mode Google

Chrome will flag how many cookies want to track you in Incognito Mode.

Google also made some tweaks to the Chrome UI:

In Site Settings, Google reorganized the controls into two distinct sections to make it easier to find the most sensitive website permissions: access to your location, camera or microphone, and notifications. It will also highlight any recent changes you’ve made.  The option to “Clear browsing history” has been moved to the top of the Privacy & Security section. Finally, at the top of the Chrome settings, Google has embedded new sync controls now called “You and Google,” rather than “People”. It’s the location where you’ll have a chance to manage what information you share with Google.

Google has also implemented what it calls a “safety check” in the Settings menu, which is there to back up your own privacy changes. That feature will double-check passwords to see if they’ve been compromised, a feature Google has implemented previously. But it will also double-check to see if malicious extensions have been installed and will warn you if the Safe Browsing feature has been turned off.

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Original author: Mark Hachman
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AMD pivots: B450, X470 motherboards will support Ryzen 4000 after all

Surprise! A mere week after announcing that its B450 and X470 motherboards won’t support future generations of Ryzen processors, AMD has had a change of heart regarding socket AM4 compatibility. Huzzah! Next-gen Ryzen processors will now support both 400-series and 500-series AM4 motherboards, though there are many caveats involved.

“Over the past week, we closely reviewed your feedback on that news: we watched every video, read every comment and saw every Tweet,” AMD said in a release, via Anandtech. “We hear that many of you hoped a longer upgrade path. We hear your hope that AMD B450 and X470 chipsets would carry you into the ‘Zen 3’ era…As the team weighed your feedback against the technical challenges we face, we decided to change course.”

AMD’s compatibility announcement spurred anger and shock across the Internet. Even before Ryzen launched, AMD touted a long-term upgrade path via its AM4 socket. Last week’s announcement revealed that future “Zen 3” chips will indeed continue to support the AM4 socket but drop compatibility with older motherboard chipsets. That kept true to the letter of AMD’s AM4 upgrade promise yet tossed the spirit in the garbage bin. We aired our grievances in the most recent Full Nerd podcast, which you can see starting at about the 31-minute mark in the video below.

Don’t be mistaken: There are some very real technical limitations that require dumping support for older CPUs, as Gamers Nexus admirably covered. But AMD’s marketing department spent years mocking Intel for its short-lived socket (not chipset) support, and worse, only just rolled out B550 motherboards.

imageAMD Ryzen 5 3600X 6-Core, 12-Thread CPU

If you bought a kick-ass, affordable AMD 3000-series Ryzen 3 or Ryzen 5 processor since last August and didn’t want to spend more on your motherboard than you did for your chip, B450 was the only modern option. X570 costs too much, and B550 is only rolling out now. AMD and its partners pitched its 400-series motherboards as a viable alternative to newer 500-series boards, as the only notable 500-series difference is support for the cutting-edge PCI 4.0 technology. People who listened and opted to get a B450 or X470 board instead suddenly found themselves stranded on a dead platform without warning—until today’s reversal. Kudos to AMD for listening to the (valid) feedback of its community.

ryzen pcie 4 ssd Gordon Mah Ung/IDG

B450 and X470 motherboards will support next-gen Ryzen chips, but not PCIe 4.0 SSDs like Corsair’s Force MP600. You need a B550 or X570 board for that.

AMD’s compromise is just that: a compromise. It has to be, given the technical limitations that spurred the original plans to cut backward compatibility. The Zen 3 support for B450 and X470 motherboards won’t be as seamless as prior upgrades, which will probably limit it to enthusiasts alone. But because this controversy pretty much only affects enthusiasts looking to upgrade their existing PCs—a very small subset of users—it’s a welcome move from AMD.

Rather than trying to break down the complicated process, here’s what AMD says to expect:

As the team weighed your feedback against the technical challenges we face, we decided to change course. As a result, we will enable an upgrade path for B450 and X470 customers that adds support for next-gen AMD Ryzen Processors with the “Zen 3” architecture.  This decision is very fresh, but here is a first look at how the upgrade path is expected to work for customers of these motherboards.

1)      We will develop and enable our motherboard partners with the code to support “Zen 3”-based processors in select beta BIOSes for AMD B450 and X470 motherboards.

2)      These optional BIOS updates will disable support for many existing AMD Ryzen™ Desktop Processor models to make the necessary ROM space available.

3)      The select beta BIOSes will enable a one-way upgrade path for AMD Ryzen Processors with “Zen 3,” coming later this year. Flashing back to an older BIOS version will not be supported.

4)      To reduce the potential for confusion, our intent is to offer BIOS download only to verified customers of 400 Series motherboards who have purchased a new desktop processor with “Zen 3” inside. This will help us ensure that customers have a bootable processor on-hand after the BIOS flash, minimizing the risk a user could get caught in a no-boot situation.

5)      Timing and availability of the BIOS updates will vary and may not immediately coincide with the availability of the first “Zen 3”-based processors.

6)      This is the final pathway AMD can enable for 400 Series motherboards to add new CPU support. CPU releases beyond “Zen 3” will require a newer motherboard.

7)      AMD continues to recommend that customers choose an AMD 500 Series motherboard for the best performance and features with our new CPUs.

There are still many details to iron out, but we’ve already started the necessary planning. As we get closer to the launch of this upgrade path, you should expect another blog just like this to provide the remaining details and a walkthrough of the specific process.

Again: Props to AMD for working to address the feedback about it original plan. This comes at a cost to the company and its partners, but it’s well worth it. Ryzen’s starting to make a big impression with enthusiasts, finally snatching Intel’s long-held desktop computing crown. Suddenly stranding 400-series motherboard owners without warning was a massive miscue.

Original 300-series motherboards that launched with the first-generation Ryzen chips will still fall by the wayside, however. I own one. Considering that it started out supporting the eight-core Ryzen 7 1800X and can be upgraded all the way to the monstrous 16-core Ryzen 7 3950X with much higher IPC and clock speeds, I ain’t even mad.

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Original author: Brad Chacos
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Windows 10 moves closer to 'true' Linux with graphical support for WSL2

Microsoft is adding GPU and graphical user interface (GUI) support to the Windows Subsystem for Linux, pushing the intriguing Windows feature ever closer to becoming a full-fledged Linux instantiation. The company announced the changes during its digital Microsoft Build 2020 event for developers.

The Windows Subsystem for Linux is an optional feature within Windows, one that you never have to install if you don’t want to. Microsoft originally included the feature as a way for developers to work within a version of Linux without leaving the Windows environment.

Neither the original WSL nor the new WSL 2 are actually a “real” version of Linux, however. The chief difference is the one that Microsoft is going to solve: WSL2 doesn’t support a Linux GUI, which means that it’s an entirely text-based interface. (Developers can “create” graphics using text elements, like emoji do. Alternatively, they can use a Windows app to provide a graphical shell.) Now, Microsoft plans support for both GPUs and the Linux GUIs they’ll power.

The GPUs can be used for more than just a graphical shell, of course. In a blog post, Kevin Gallo, the corporate vice president of the Microsoft Developer Platform, explained that the PC GPU will be used to power machine learning scenarios and AI. Those scenarios can be run either under a GUI or the new Terminal app, also released in conjunction with the latest Windows 10 release, the Windows 10 May 2020 Update.

Microsoft windows 10 wsl2 terminal various tabs Mark Hachman / IDG

Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 running inside the new Terminal app. It’s primarily text-based for now, though that will change soon.

Terminal continues Microsoft’s recent trend of separating functions out of the operating system and into distinct apps, which allow them to be updated and released on their own schedule.

PowerToys gets some new toys

Another example of this is PowerToys, a package of utility apps that sits outside the Windows OS, yet serves as a sort of “official” modifications to allow you to tweak it. PowerToys previously delivered the excellent FancyZones utility, which allows you to automatically mix and match windows on your screen like Windows Snap on steroids.

Now, PowerToys has added PowerToys Run, an app launcher. It’s not exactly clear how PowerToys Run will launch apps better than the Start menu or the Windows search box, but it will be a free app for you to try out. A separate utility, Keyboard Remapper, allows you to reconfigure your keyboard to remap keys and map shortcuts to keys—so, presumably, you could launch Spotify by typing the “~” key.

Two to watch: Project Reunion and WinUI 3

At Build 2020, Microsoft will make waves by announcing something called Project Reunion, which will attempt to build out Microsoft’s modern app ecosystem by breaking down the barriers between traditional Win32 Windows apps and the new Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps, like Windows’ Calendar and Mail apps. You’ll also see some early hints of WinUI 3, which could shape the future look and feel of Windows. 

Microsoft Windows WinUI Microsoft

An example of the new WinUI.

Project Reunion and WinUI will be initially aimed at developers for now. Over time, their effects will be more broadly felt, however. We’ll have to wait and see what impact the new WinUI has on consumers, and if Reunion helps grow the number of apps available to Windows users.

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Original author: Mark Hachman
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Microsoft advances the future of Office: Project Cortex and Fluid Framework

Microsoft is providing glimpses of the future of Office at its Build 2020 virtual conference, showcasing two interesting but little-known collaboration efforts: Project Cortex and Fluid Framework.

Project Cortex, which was announced last year, will go live this summer, Microsoft announced Tuesday. Fluid Framework, which appears to be the future of Microsoft’s online collaboration, is unexpectedly going to be released as an open-source project, Microsoft said. Microsoft also plans other announcements for Build, including making Microsoft Teams easier for developers to work with.

Microsoft said in advance of its now-virtual Build show that the conference would lean heavily toward developers, with many announcements surrounding Azure and its cloud efforts. But Microsoft 365, Teams, and its other business efforts are naturally still a significant part of the company.

Microsoft’s decision to make Fluid Framework an open-source project will probably grab headlines, though we haven’t seen much of it since the concept debuted a year ago. Essentially, Fluid creates “live” documents, described as “flexible, web-based distributed applications” that can be easily updated and shared. Documents could be translated in real time as workers entered data, for example. Microsoft saw Fluid as essentially the future of Microsoft 365, though the company never really explained how.

Microsoft is now explaining this a bit more. The first Fluid integrations will be landing on Outlook.com and Office.com—not surprising, as the web often seems to be the home for new Office features. “For example, tables, charts, and task lists can be inserted in Outlook for the web, so your sales numbers, project tasks, and research reports are always up to date,” Jared Spataro, the corporate vice president in charge of Microsoft 365, explained in a blog post. “Within Office.com, Fluid Framework workspaces can be created and managed, including within your document activity feed, Recommended list, @mentions, or search for them across Office.com.”

Microsoft is contributing the Fluid Framework to the open-source movement, including apparently the framework and data structures. Microsoft didn’t say when that would happen, but invited developers to “work alongside Microsoft as Fluid Framework is built and released.”

Likewise, Project Cortex is a bit difficult to define. Microsoft described it last year in conjunction with its Bing search efforts for enterprises. In this case, however, Cortex would be used to pull “unstructured” data from contracts and other corporate data, making them searchable.  Microsoft said it's introducing new developer
APIs for Project Cortex and Managed Metadata Services (MMS) in Microsoft Graph, along with new integration with a Language Understanding service in Azure.

Computerworld, our sister publication, has more on Project Cortex.

Microsoft also announced new additions to its collaboration services:

A new Microsoft Lists app, designed to make it easy to create and share information from within Teams, SharePoint, and more; New Bookings capabilities in Teams, which will allow enterprises to schedule business-to-consumer meetings in Teams, alongside new Teams templates for common business scenarios like crisis response; Network Device Interface (NDI) support and Skype TX interoperability for Microsoft Teams, two pieces necessary for what Microsoft says will be a platform to turn Teams into a platform for “high-scale” broadcasts. That sounds very much like what Microsoft is trying to do with Build itself. 

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Original author: Mark Hachman
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Logitech Powered Pad review: Wireless charging in an elegant wrapper

Logitech's new Powered line of wireless chargers includes a 3-in-1 charger that will charge your phone, wireless earbuds, and an Apple Watch at the same time. There’s also a Stand and a Pad. All three devices have the same core Logitech-like design—minimal but with a subtly elegant flare.

Note: This review is part of our roundup of wireless charging pads. Go there for details on competing products and our testing methods for both Android phones and iPhones.

Logitech’s design approach here imbues the Pad with a satisfying combination of competence and class—not overly done, just all of the expected parts and pieces in the expected places. There’s an indicator light on the front, and a power connector on the back that, unfortunately, uses a barrel connector instead of a USB-C port. Meaning you won’t be able to use the included wall adapter to quickly charge your phone—a convenience many competing wireless chargers have adopted.

The pad itself is slightly oversized, giving you a large area on which to place your phone or device. Color options include black, white, sage, or lilac—all very tasteful.

gallery lilac 4Logitech

The Powered Pad provides ample charging surface, and comes in four color options: Graphite, White, Blue Sage, and Lilac (pictured here).

The 10W Pad will charge Apple iPhones at 7.5W (Apple’s limitation), and Samsung devices at 9W, according to Logitech. Wireless earbuds, like AirPods or Galaxy Buds, will charge at 5W. To be clear, it’ll charge anything that’s Qi-compatible.

When testing how fast the Pad charged a Galaxy S9 using our standard test, it took an average of 167 minutes to go from empty to full. That’s better than the average charge time of 195 minutes of all of the wireless chargers we’ve tested.

Charging an iPhone 11 over the course of an hour from empty, the Pad averaged a charge level of 34-percent. That’s slightly below the average, but still respectable.

The Powered Pad will look good on a desk, nightstand, or on a kitchen counter. And at $40, it’s affordably priced for anyone who’s looking for a reliable wireless charging pad. 

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Original author: Jason Cipriani
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TiVo Stream 4K review: A reboot for streaming (and for TiVo)

In more ways than one, the TiVo Stream 4K is an attempt to let the past die.

The $70 TV dongle (on sale for $50 through May 27) has little connection to TiVo’s storied DVR history. Instead of recording movies and TV shows, it streams them from online services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.

But the TiVo Stream 4K is also a break from how most other streaming devices work. Rather than serving up a big list of apps to launch, TiVo funnels programming from several popular apps into one big TV guide, so you don’t have to bounce aimlessly between sources.

This is kind of rethinking has been long overdue in the streaming world, and it will become only more important as new streaming services proliferate. Still, it’s too early to declare TiVo’s big pivot a success. Unless it expands beyond the handful of services it supports now, TiVo’s streaming venture will succeed more as a proof of concept than as a killer consumer product.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best media streaming devices, where you’ll find reviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping.

tivostream4kshowsmenu Jared Newman / IDG

A unified streaming guide is the TiVo Stream 4K’s main draw.

Downsizing from DVRs

Compared to TiVo’s DVRs, the Stream 4K looks like an adorable miniature. The dongle itself has the same staggered edges as last year’s TiVo Edge DVR, but is small enough to hang away from the TV through its built-in HDMI cable.

The TiVo Stream 4K remote is equally cute, retaining the same peanut shape as TiVo’s DVR remotes, but with slightly less button bloat. It has TV controls for power, volume, mute, and input switching, along with Guide and Info buttons for TiVo’s live TV menus. There are channel number buttons and a “skip” button as well, but I haven’t found much use for those. Unfortunately, TiVo’s downsizing left off dedicated play/pause/rewind/fast forward keys, which would have been helpful.

tivostream4kremote Jared Newman / IDG

The TiVo Stream 4K remote has lots of buttons, but not all of them are useful.

I’ve also run into a problem with my review unit: After a couple of days, the TiVo remote’s volume keys stopped working with my TV. Strangely, the remote still controls my TV’s power and switches inputs, which means the core infrared blaster is still working. As of this writing, TiVo has not addressed the issue.

The device runs on Google’s Android TV platform, and inside there’s a quad-core Amlogic S905Y2 processor, 2GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, and Wi-Fi 5 connectivity. These are typical tech specs for a low-price Android TV streamer, and I didn’t run into any issues scrolling through menus or moving in and out of apps.

As the name suggests, the TiVo Stream 4K can play 4K video, and it also supports the advanced Dolby Vision and HLG HDR formats. For audio, it supports Dolby’s Atmos object-based surround sound systems (you can read more about object-based audio in this story).

One important note here: On compatible televisions, the Stream 4K always runs in 4K HDR mode, and it appears to apply some up-conversion for standard dynamic range content. Video format purists will almost certainly want to disable this feature, yet the corresponding options in TiVo’s settings menu are grayed out. TiVo has not responded to requests for comment about this issue.

Like most streaming dongles, the Stream 4K doesn’t have much in the way of port selection, but it does include a USB-C port in addition to Micro-USB for power. With the right cables or adapters, you can use this port to plug in external storage drives or game controllers.

tivostream4kusb Jared Newman / IDG

The USB-C port is a nice touch, letting you connect thumb drives and other accessories.

Making sense of streaming

When you first set up the TiVo Stream, it presents several pairs of movies and TV shows, asking you to pick the ones you like best. These picks help form the basis for recommendations in TiVo’s main menu, which you can access by pressing the big silver TiVo button on the remote.

tivostream4kbrowsegenre Jared Newman / IDG

Instead of making you bounce between apps, the TiVo Stream 4K puts content first.

From here, you can also add shows to a watch list, view a list of recently watched programs, or browse by genre. There are submenus for TV shows, movies, sports, and children’s programming as well.

The unique thing about this menu is the way it aggregates multiple streaming sources. Scroll over any program, and you’ll see icons indicating if it’s available on Netflix, Hulu, or other sources. You can also filter out any services to which you’re not subscribed, so they won’t show up in TiVo’s menus.

tivostreamintegrations Jared Newman / IDG

TiVo’s guide lets you hide any services your not paying for.

At present, the TiVo Stream’s sources include Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Now, Disney+, Tubi, Sling TV, and Google Play Movies & TV. It’s great having all of these popular services under one menu, especially as you start building up a watchlist to keep track of all your shows.

tivostream4kmyshows Jared Newman / IDG

The TiVo Stream 4K lets you create a single watchlist that works across multiple streaming sources.

Still, TiVo’s menu of eight services doesn’t come close to covering the full breadth of content available through streaming. Notable absences include CBS All Access, Showtime, Apple TV+, Epix, Pluto TV's on-demand catalog, PBS, and every app that uses TV Everywhere authentication.

To watch content from other apps, you must exit TiVo’s menu and return to the Android TV home screen, which requires pressing a separate circular button near the left side of the remote. This takes you back to a more standard app launcher, and from here you can download more apps from the Google Play Store. (Just keep in mind that Android TV doesn’t support Apple TV+ at all.)

tivostream4kandroidhome Jared Newman / IDG

Want to use an app that doesn’t integrate with TiVo’s guide? Back to the Android TV home screen you go.

Lackluster live TV integration

Among the services that the TiVo Stream 4K does support, Sling TV enjoys privileged status as the only live TV service that integrates with TiVo’s menus. That means its live TV listings appear within a “Guide” section, where you’ll also find free content from TiVo’s own TiVo+ streaming service. You can view up to a week of guide data from Sling in this menu and can add upcoming programs to Sling’s cloud DVR. Selecting any live program brings you to the channel in the Sling TV app.

tivostream4kslingguide Jared Newman / IDG

The TiVo menu includes a live TV guide with programs from Sling TV and TiVo+.

Compared to TiVo’s other integrations, this one feels half-baked. Although you can pop up Sling’s mini guide or flip through channels with the remote while watching live TV, going back to the full-sized guide exits live TV completely. There’s also no way to filter the guide or hide TiVo+, so you’ll be stuck sifting through dozens of live channels, seemingly in no order.

TiVo doesn’t provide a menu for Sling TV’s cloud DVR, either. You can view on-demand programs in TiVo’s guide, and recorded programs are marked with a red dot, but filtering out just your recordings requires a trip to the Android TV home screen to access the Sling TV app proper.

tivostream4kdvr Jared Newman / IDG

TiVo’s guide lets you set up Sling TV recordings, but there’s no menu for accessing them all later.

TiVo hasn’t said whether it will support other live TV streaming services, such as YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, FuboTV, or Philo. While the company has indicated that it might someday allow DVR users to stream live and recorded TV onto the Stream 4K, it hasn’t given a timeline for that. I would not be surprised if the TiVo Stream 4K’s live TV integrations never expand beyond Sling TV.

The result feels like the polar opposite of TiVo’s tie-ins with on-demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. For those service’s TiVo’s own menu is the best way to start watching. But for live TV, the Sling integration just isn’t worth the trouble.

Is the TiVo Stream 4K worth buying?

Strictly as an inexpensive 4K HDR streamer running Android TV, the TiVo Stream 4K has some appeal, particularly at its $50 introductory price. It provides a much smoother experience than Xiaomi’s Mi Box S, and its less Sling-centric than the AirTV Mini. Unlike those devices, it also supports Dolby Vision HDR.

Comparing to other devices is where things get trickier. The TiVo Stream 4K doesn’t have quite the same level of app support as a Roku or Fire TV devices, and it’s also more expensive at regular pricing than those companies’ 4K HDR offerings, the Roku Streaming Stick+ and Fire TV Stick 4K.

tivostream4klisting Jared Newman / IDG

This is how things should work: One menu for all streaming content, regardless of source.

Still, TiVo’s unified menu is unique, and it works well for the on-demand streaming services that it supports. Only the Apple TV provides a similar experience, but it doesn’t integrate with Netflix, and Apple’s 4K HDR streamer costs a cool $180. TiVo’s guide works with fewer apps overall, but even just aggregating Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, and HBO has value.

As TiVo’s core DVR experience festers, longtime users might rightfully feel wronged by the company’s change in direction. But at least TiVo’s newfound focus on streaming hasn’t been in vain. Even if you don’t buy one yourself, you should at least hope its core idea spreads far and wide.

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Original author: Jared Newman
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AT&T shuts Venezuela subscription TV unit, citing U.S. sanctions

(Reuters) - AT&T Inc (T.N) said on Tuesday it was shutting its DirecTV subscription access to Venezuela due to U.S. sanctions, cutting off a key source of entertainment for millions of people stuck in their homes under a strict coronavirus quarantine.

DirecTV was the country’s most popular television service, providing a range of foreign channels as alternatives to the country’s beleaguered local television industry that has been battered by a hyperinflationary economic crisis.

U.S. sanctions meant to force President Nicolas Maduro from office prohibit companies from contracting with state agencies, but local Venezuelan laws require subscription services to carry channels run by the government.

“Because it is impossible for AT&T’s DIRECTV unit to comply with the legal requirements of both countries, AT&T was forced to close its pay TV operations in Venezuela,” the company said in a statement.

Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Some users reported seeing their screens go blank, while others said they continued to receive foreign channels but no local ones. It was not immediately evident how long it would take for the closure to take effect.

DirecTV has for years been a mainstay of poor neighborhoods in Venezuela, where the company’s antennas were often visible on the zinc roofs of low-income cinder-block houses.

“I don’t like these Venezuelan channels, it’s all politics,” said Aura Leon, a homemaker in Catia, a working class area of Caracas. “I called my son ... and he told me what was happening, that DirecTV wasn’t going to exist anymore, and I was in shock.”

Reporting by Neha Malara in Bengaluru, Efrain Otero and Brian Ellsworth in Caracas; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Matthew Lewis

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Data firm Experian records strong annual revenue on U.S. strength

(Reuters) - The world’s biggest credit data firm Experian Plc on Wednesday reported higher annual revenue as it benefited from greater demand for its analytics products in North and Latin American markets, sending shares to a more-than-10-week high.

Shares of the company rose as much as 8.1% in morning trade to top the FTSE 100 blue-chip index as it reported a 6.5% rise in full-year statutory revenue to $5.18 billion.

Experian and its smaller peers — Equifax Inc and TransUnion — generate credit reports and scores based on consumer borrowing and payment habits, including bankruptcies and court judgements.

The company, whose credit reports are used by banks, car dealers, healthcare providers and retailers, said the COVID-19 crisis had only a “limited financial impact” in full year 2020.

The London-listed company said its several products including Ascend, Experian One, Open Data and CrossCore did well in the year, while Experian Boost saw “significant progress”, among its U.S. consumers.

However, the company flagged that restrictions imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, would hurt its 2021 performance and forecast first-quarter organic revenue to decline by 5% to 10% if current trends continue throughout the period.

Experian said it expected near-term revenue to be impacted by the pandemic-related restrictions, adding that April revenue fell 5%.

The investors, however, shrugged off the coronavirus-related concerns.

JP Morgan analysts, in a note, said April trading was “surprisingly resilient” and was considerably better than its peers.

Experian said its executive directors would take a 25% salary cut for six months as the data firm navigates a tough phase in managing costs.

The company’s annual statutory pretax profit fell 1.6% to $942 million for the year ended March 31, below analysts’ average estimate of $1.24 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M. And Alex Richardson

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Alibaba to invest $1.4 billion in AI system for smart speakers

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FILE PHOTO - A staff member sits next to smart speaker Tmall Genie during a demonstration to the media inside a room of Alibaba Group's futuristic FlyZoo hotel in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Xihao Jiang

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Alibaba Group Holding Ltd will invest 10 billion yuan ($1.41 billion) into an AI (artificial intelligence) and IoT (Internet of Things) system centered around its Tmall Genie smart speaker, the company announced on Wednesday.

The announcement comes as the e-commerce giant continues its push into new technologies and business sectors beyond online shopping.

The money will be used to add more content to Tmall Genie, as well as develop proprietary technology, Alibaba said.

It launched the first model of Tmall Genie in 2017.

Like the Amazon Echo, which is not for sale in China, the smart speaker can interact with users via a voice interface to play music, give out weather information, and perform other functions.

The company has released several models since then, including devices with displays. Its latest model, announced on Wednesday, costs 549 yuan ($77.28) and comes with a 10-inch screen.

Alibaba competes with Xiaomi Corp and Baidu Inc in the smart speaker sector.

In 2019, Alibaba shipped 16.8 million smart speakers to consumers, while Baidu shipped 17.3 million, according to research firm Canalys.

($1 = 7.1043 Chinese yuan renminbi)

Reporting by Josh Horwitz, editing by Louise Heavens and Jason Neely

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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China's Didi will begin using AI to run virus monitoring in Latin America

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FILE PHOTO - Logo of Didi Chuxing is seen at its headquarters building in Beijing, China August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

BEIJING (Reuters) - China ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing said on Wednesday that it will start using artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to verify if drivers in its Latin American markets wear masks and disinfect cars to keep rides safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Didi, which is in eight countries across Latin America, Australia and Japan, introduced the use of such technologies in China since January, when the country started taking measures to stop the spread of the virus.

From May 22, Didi’s ride-hailing drivers in Latin America will need to take a selfie with mask on to pass the AI verification, and from June they will need to report their body temperature to the phone app and upload photos of daily vehicle disinfection works to the phone application.

Drivers who fail to follow the safety requirements may not be permitted to offer ride-hailing services to customers, while passengers will also be required to wear masks when they take Didi’s rides, Didi said in a statement.

Both passengers and drivers can cancel trips if they feel unsafe about hygiene conditions, Didi said.

Didi, which is backed by Japan’s SoftBank Group, said it eventually plans to roll out these technologies to most of its overseas markets.

As stay-at-home orders to curb the virus pummeled its ride-hailing business around the world, ride hailing companies from Uber Technologies Inc to Lyft Inc have withdrawn profit guidance or reported double-digit declines in rides.

But they have seen bookings recovering in recent weeks and are launching measures to keep rides safe.

Reporting by Yilei Sun and Brenda Goh; Editing by Jacqueline Wong

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Terminal Madness started out as a Computer Bulletin Board, ( BBS ) back in the early 90's. Fascinated that one could get all the information they ever wanted "on line", for FREE, the "BBS" was named Terminal Madness.

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