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Obama opens investigation into cyber attacks on US election

"The president has directed the intelligence community to conduct a full review of what happened during the 2016 election process... and to capture lessons learned from that and to report to a range of stakeholders, to include the Congress," Monaco said, according to Reuters.

The US intelligence community said in October that top Russian officials were behind this year's hacks of the Democratic National Committee, and the email accounts of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and General Colin Powell. The attacks were intended to disrupt the election process, intelligence officials found. Russia has denied its involvement. However, the evidence against Russia is piling up: German intelligence officials this week accused Russia of attempting to empower extremist groups in the country and hijack the political process across the EU via cyber attacks.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/12/09/obama-opens-investigation-into-cyber-attacks-on-us-election/

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Samsung will disable remaining US Note 7s with software update (updated)

Samsung says that 93 percent of all recalled Note 7s have been returned through the refund and exchange program in the US. Of course, the expanded recall applies to both original and replacement devices after the company's attempt to remedy the issue with a fresh round of handsets didn't fix the battery problem. Samsung permanently halted production of the Note 7 back in October, but it looks like the company will take one last step to reduce fire risk from any remaining devices.

The pending update follows a previous software tweak that attempted to annoy users into returning any remaining devices by limiting charging to 60 percent and displaying recall notifications every time the display is turned on. Samsung says it will work with carriers to notify customers "through multiple touchpoints" about the options that are still available for exchanges and returns. But seriously, if you still have a Note 7, it's beyond time to stop using it.

Update: After this post was published, Verizon announced that it would not participate in the upcoming Note 7 update. The carrier says that disabling devices for customers who may not have another handset poses "added risk" during the busy holiday travel season.

"We will not push a software upgrade that will eliminate the ability for the Note 7 to work as a mobile device in the heart of the holiday travel season," Verizon VP of global communications Jeffrey Nelson said in a statement. "We do not want to make it impossible to contact family, first responders or medical professionals in an emergency situation."

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/12/09/samsung-note-7-update-makes-phone-useless-in-us/

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The Huawei Mate 9 stands out with long battery life and a little AI

Huawei has once again teamed up with famed camera maker Leica to "co-engineer" its imaging system. Like the Huawei P9 that was unveiled in April, the Mate 9 has a dual-lens system on its rear that's similar to the iPhone 7 Plus. One sensor captures 12-megapixel RGB data while the other records 20-megapixel monochrome information. Together, they're supposed to deliver rich colors and fine details.

I was generally happy with the pictures I took; they were typically sharp though often overexposed. They also generally lacked the vivid colors you'd get from, say, the Galaxy S7 or one of the Google Pixels. Photos taken with the Mate 9 in low light were also grainier than what I got from the other two handsets. As on previous devices, Huawei is offering a Night Shot mode that's supposed to take better images in the dark, thanks to longer exposure. This starts a 10- to 17-second recording session, during which any movement of phone blurs the scene. You'd either have to use a tripod, or sit extremely still for your photos to come out clean.

Still, thanks to a wide aperture mode on the camera, you'll be able to achieve a pleasant depth-of-field effect on your shots. Though the rear lenses have fixed apertures of f/2.2, you can play with the software setting here to make it seem wider than that. The feature is also easy to enable and disable; a tap of the aperture icon on top of the viewfinder turns it on and off. This effect works well on pictures of people or food, but slows down the capture of landscapes as the camera struggles to find a foreground to keep in focus.

An example of wide aperture mode applied with maximum blur.

The nice thing about Huawei's implementation here compared to Apple and Samsung's is that the Mate 9 lets you decide how much blur you want before you take the shot. You can drag a slider on the screen to choose just how much background you want out of focus. Samsung's All Focus tool only lets you do that after you take the picture, while Apple's tool doesn't let you customize the level of intensity.

Unfortunately, wide aperture mode does not extend to the front camera, where it would have made my selfies pop. Still, the 8-megapixel front camera captured sharp images with mostly accurate colors. Sometimes, when shooting indoors and with Beauty Mode activated, the Mate 9 tended to overexpose, resulting in garishly colored lips and excessive contrast. At its default setting of five on a scale of one to ten, Beauty Mode made people look artificial, with the rest of the image appearing blown out, to boot. Dialing down to level three and below alleviated the problem though.

Overall, the Mate 9's cameras are capable of capturing decent photos that are clear and colorful, and that wide aperture mode is nifty, but they won't impress you like the iPhone 7 Plus or Google Pixel will.

Performance and battery life

In a sea of phones powered by Qualcomm's mobile processors, the Mate 9 stands out for using Huawei's octa-core Kirin 960 processor. This allows the company to tweak both hardware and software to offer some extra features, like that Machine Learning Algorithm I mentioned, which promises smoother and more responsive performance. In other words, the Mate 9 will learn your behavior over time and optimize performance so it appears faster to you.

Say, for example, you habitually open Instagram right after you close Twitter. The algorithm will remember your behavior and eventually start diverting resources like part of its 4GB of RAM to prepare Instagram the next time you have Twitter open.

During my time testing the Mate 9, the set of actions I performed the most were launching the Gallery app right after closing the camera, as well as checking a battery drain application after looping a video on MX Player. The thing is, I couldn't really tell if the overall smoothness I experienced on the Mate 9 was due to artificial intelligence or simply thanks to a relatively new, speedy processor. It's not as if there's a way for me to A/B test that. Jumping from app to app was a lag-free experience, and I noticed no difference in smoothness whether I was opening programs I had previously used or those that I had never launched. I ran a screen recording app while loading up a game and scrolling up and down repeatedly on Engadget's page on Chrome, and didn't encounter a hiccup.

The Mate 9's performance on synthetic benchmarks puts it in the same league as leading flagships like the Google Pixel and the Galaxy S7. It beat competing phones, including both versions of the Pixel, the Galaxy S7 Edge and the HTC 10, on the browser-based Vellamo but lost to the Pixel XL and the HTC 10 on AndEBench. The Mate 9 didn't fare as well on graphics-intensive tests, falling behind the two Pixels on 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited. Even then, the gap wasn't huge. The Mate 9 still outperformed the Samsung and HTC devices on that test too.

All of that horsepower is matched by a generous 4,000mAh battery, which Huawei promises will provide 20 hours of continuous video playback. On Engadget's rundown test, which involves looping an HD video with the brightness set to 50 percent, the Mate 9 lasted an impressive 14 hours and 34 minutes. That's 20 minutes longer than the Pixel XL, one hour longer than the Galaxy, and a whopping two hours more than the Pixel.

In the real world, that longevity meant I barely had to recharge the Mate 9 (except after battery tests) during my review period. After I left the phone in my purse for two days without using it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it still retained 80 percent of its power. On a typical workday, too, during which I received notifications throughout the day, snapped a bunch of pictures and uploaded dozens of images to my Google Drive, it sipped power at a slow rate. At the end of the day, the battery life rating had dipped from 57 percent at the start of the day to 36 percent in the evening.

When it did need recharging, the Mate 9 got back up to 55 percent within an hour of being plugged in, thanks to Huawei's SuperCharge technology. That's fast, considering how large the battery is and how long 55 percent can last. Getting through the first 10 percent was slower, though; it took about 20 minutes to fill up.

In case you were worried that squeezing a big battery into a thin frame could make the phone susceptible to exploding (as was reportedly what happened with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7), Huawei promises its battery is safe. The company says it uses a five-gate protection system that monitors real-time temperature, voltage and current to "eliminate safety hazards and safeguard battery life." Indeed, during my testing, the Mate 9 never got too warm, even during resource-intensive tasks.

The competition

It's hard to find comparisons for the Mate 9 when we don't yet know how much it'll cost or when it will launch in the US, but perhaps we'll find out at Huawei's CES press conference early next month. But based on its European pricing (€699 or about $752), it looks like the Huawei phone will go up against the Google Pixel XL ($769 and up) and the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge (north of $760 through most carriers).

While both the Pixel XL and the S7 Edge offer ample, 5.5-inch screens, the Mate 9's roomier 5.9-inch panel will appeal to those who need even more real estate to for easier reading, gaming or multitasking. The Mate 9 also has the longest endurance of the lot.

However, both the Pixel and the Galaxy have much better cameras than the Mate 9, while the Pixel in particular runs a cleaner version of Nougat, making it the best choice for Android purists.


Ultimately, what sets the Huawei Mate 9 apart is its large screen and excellent battery life. Although the company has been touting its machine-learning algorithm, it's something that you won't notice or think about unless performance starts to suffer. Either way, the Mate 9 is a perfectly capable device. That said, photography aficionados and stock-Android fans will still prefer the Pixel. Instead, the Mate 9 will mostly appeal to those who want a large canvas to watch videos or play games in a phone that's not too hefty. If the handset's US price is close to what it costs in Europe, it could be a slightly more affordable option than some rivals, making it a good value for the performance it delivers.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/12/09/huawei-mate-9-review/

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Sky receives takeover bid from 21st Century Fox

While Sky's directors have approved the deal and are willing to recommend it to stakeholders, it's not quite in the bag. In a document announcing the bid, it's stressed that "there can be no certainty that an offer will be made by 21st Century Fox, nor as to the terms of any such offer." That means the provisional agreement is just that -- provisional. For now, anyway.

Sky's media empire stretches further than the UK. In 2014, the company bought Sky Italia and the bulk of Sky Deutschland from 21st Century Fox for £4.9 billion ($8.3 billion). Should the new takeover go through, these businesses would fall back under 21st Century Fox's influence. Its global reach would be considerable, and give the company a large platform to distribute content and services. Before the papers can be signed, however, we suspect some regulatory bodies will want to examine the deal and its impact on competition, both in the UK and on an international stage.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/12/09/sky-uk-21st-century-fox-buyout/

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The best soundbar

Who this is for

A soundbar provides much better sound quality than the speakers in a TV, computer, or smartphone, without the complexity of a receiver and speakers. Separate components almost always provide more value for your dollar, but they also take up more space and require additional cables; their operation is more complicated, too. Using a soundbar, you can have most of that additional sound quality without adding much complexity to your setup.

How we picked and tested

Three of the soundbars we tested (top to bottom): Sonos Playbar, Paradigm Soundscape, and Yamaha YSP-4300. Photo: Chris Heinonen

After parsing through many, many reviews and speaking to soundbar reviewers, we selected the soundbars to bring in for evaluation based on sound quality and price. We eliminated soundbars with pedestal designs, passive soundbars, and almost anything without Bluetooth or AirPlay support. For more on how we picked, read our full guide.

After selecting six bars, we set them up in a home theater room with acoustic treatments for listening and evaluation. Over one week, we listened to and took extensive listening notes for each individual bar playing from the same selection of music and movies for almost three hours. We did additional listening in a living room with the soundbar on top of a credenza, with a wall to the left and open space to the right, to weed out any soundbars that relied on having a perfect room to pull off their surround effects or imaging, which people don't always (or ever) have.

Then we consulted the ears of Stephen Hornbrook, an audio reviewer at Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity, to help us directly compare the soundbars with one another and narrow the group to an overall winner. We listened to the soundbars over HDMI, optical, coaxial, and analog inputs, and we used blind A-B switching when possible.

Our pick

The Sonos Playbar is low but deep. Photo: Michael Zhao

The Sonos Playbar is a great-sounding soundbar with lots of features that make it easy to use as the center of an entertainment system. The Playbar is dead simple to set up and gives you the best access to streaming content or your music library of any soundbar out there. Aside from wireless connectivity using its proprietary app, the Sonos is rather limited connectionwise: It doesn't have traditional Bluetooth or AirPlay support and has only a single optical input. But if you're simply looking for a great-sounding, simple option that you can expand into a whole-home audio system, it's hard to knock. And if you access all your content from a digital music library or streaming services, or if you've already bought into the Sonos ecosystem and want a soundbar to add to your setup, the Playbar is pretty much a no-brainer.

All in all, the sound quality of the Playbar is noticeably better than most rivals. It can't hit the low octaves our upgrade pick, the Paradigm Soundscape, can, at least not without the assistance of a Sonos Sub (which itself costs as much as the Playbar). It does offer very good performance above those lowest octaves. Even without the benefit of surround speakers, it delivers a soundstage that is both wide and pleasantly deep, and thanks to its discrete tweeters, it produces clear highs and highly intelligible voices without the muddiness that can plague many single-driver (i.e., cheaper) soundbars.

Upgrade pick

The Paradigm Soundscape has a lot of inputs and great, rich sound. Photo: Dennis Burger

The Paradigm Soundscape offers even better sound quality than the Sonos and is one of the best-sounding soundbars available. It also has a wide selection of inputs (including Bluetooth with AptX), and simple setup and operation. Setting it up is as easy as plugging it into the wall and TV. An LED readout lets you quickly determine your input and volume, and if you want more bass, the included wireless adapter works with any subwoofer that you choose—a rarity in this age of proprietary protocols.

When you're paying this much for a soundbar, you want it to sound great, which the Paradigm Soundscape does. It bested almost all its competitors in our testing thanks to a more-accurate lower-mid range that bestows some extra richness and warmth on movies and music. It throws a very large, involving soundstage and offers clear dialogue too.

The best surround-sound bar

Photo: Yamaha

The Yamaha YSP-4300 is a slim soundbar with an included wireless subwoofer that does a better job of providing simulated surround effects than anything else we've heard. An array of 22 "beam drivers" in the middle of the bar reflect sound off the walls and ceiling to simulate the presence of surround speakers in the room. Using an included calibration microphone, it determines the correct levels and automatically sets up the beam system for you. When you're watching movies, the surround effects seem to come from your side or even behind you (depending on your room), an impression that no other bar in our test could manage. It's not the best bar overall because it's hundreds of dollars more than the Paradigm Soundscape, which sounds better overall (though without the flashy surround sound beaming), However, the Yamaha is great for TV and movies.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Note from The Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/12/09/the-best-soundbar/

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Mixed reality comes to your iPhone thanks to the Bridge headset

Three years ago, the company released the Structure sensor, a fascinating bit of depth-sensing tech that was originally meant to bring augmented reality experiences to the iPad. Mixed reality still seemed like a hard sell back then, but there no denying the sensor's ability to measure the world around it was the real deal. To hear Occipital marketing chief Adam Rodnitzky tell it, the sensor eventually started being used by real estate agents, interior decorators and doctors, and after three years, the Structure was still excellent at its job.

So, with headsets being hawked alongside smartphones all over the place, Occipital decided to make their own — they took a Structure sensor, slapped a five-element wide-angle lens in front of it, and built a sturdy, balanced frame around it. Turning an existing product like the Structure into headset might seem like opportunism at its finest, but the end result has so much potential it almost doesn't matter.

I played with one of the Explorer Editions recently, and it was more impressive — and elaborate — than I expected. You can pop an iPhone 6 (or newer, but no SEs) into the frame and a magnetically latched door keeps it in place. From there, you place the Bridge on your head as you would a crown, and use a dial in the back to tighten it. Yes, it sounds like a sort of torture device, but the system actually works like a charm. The only real problem I came across was that the lenses sit closer to your eyes than in most other mobile VR headsets — that meant they pushed right up against my glasses most of the time. It could've been worse, but Rodnitzky assured me future models wouldn't smash my frames so noticeably.

Actually using Bridge was a much smoother experience. Occipital doesn't have any launch titles planned for the Bridge's debut, but it does come with a demo app that stars at adorable robot pet of sorts named Bridget. With the help of a Wiimote-like Bluetooth controller, I spent a good ten minutes tossing a virtual ball around the office and watching Bridget loop around coffee tables to retrieve it. Her understanding of the world around her was fueled by a depth-scanning session that only lasted a few seconds — once that was done, I had a mapped out a corner of our office with a level of precision that Lenovo's Phab 2 Pro wasn't able to match.

That might not be the fairest comparison to make, though: for now, the Structure sensor's software is only tuned to capture spaces of about 10 ft. by 10 ft., while Tango software usually tries to record whole swaths of a room at once. Structure's scope might be more limited, but it does a much better job within those constraints.

After dropping that ball one time too many, Bridget was tired and needed to charge. The answer? To grab her power cord and connect it to something that lit up, like a lamp. This is what I so sorely missed when I played with Tango — I wanted to badly for someone standing next to a virtual dinosaur to be able to interact with it or to pluck a virtual domino off the ground. This was a pretty basic example, but the sort of object recognition the Structure can pull off was unexpectedly good for a headset.

Don't think the Bridge is only capable of the usual augmented reality tricks, either: at one point, I was directed to drop a portal on the ground in front of me. Once I stepped into it, I found myself walking around inside a space station with a planet hanging lazily in the dark outside a hatch. A red mesh enveloped real-world obstacles, allowing me to dodge coffee tables and loungers as I (all too briefly) explored the station. After a few more moments of stumbling, that was that — demo over. I was just a little crushed.

With any luck, Occipital gets the sort of support from developers it's been gunning for. The Bridge system isn't perfect for a whole host of reasons, like the iPhone's non-AMOLED display and the potentially big hit on the phone's battery, but even the unfinished demo software was almost enough to make me toss the Phab 2 Pro in a desk drawer. The right kind of love could turn the Bridge into a must-have down the road — for now, I'll just have to wait and hope.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/12/09/occipital-bridge-iphone-mixed-reality-headset/

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Rockstar classic ‘Bully’ arrives on iOS and Android

Like the mobile Grand Theft Auto titles, you'll have to put up with some tricky on-screen controls. The games were never designed for touch screens, so switching between fisticuffs and slingshots can be a real nuisance. You can, however, use a standalone controller with the iOS version -- we recommend it, especially if you're playing at home. Bully: Anniversary Edition also comes with a new, asynchronous multiplayer mode called "Friend Challenges." Here you can race to dissect a frog, try word problems or kick back with the in-game arcade title ConSumo.

The app costs $6.99/£4.99, which is in line with previous Rockstar games on the App Store. If you haven't played Bully before, it's well worth checking out -- especially if you're travelling a bunch this Christmas.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/12/09/rockstar-bully-anniversary-edition-ios-android/

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There’s a tiny piano app for the MacBook Pro Touch Bar

If you don't happen to own the latest model, the free polyphonic piano app "does nothing useful on other Macs," according to its developer Graham Parks. In addition to piano sounds, there's a smattering of strings, drums, voices and more for you to make noise with using the tiny display. If you're still a bit skeptical about the whole thing, you can see the app in action down below.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/12/09/macbook-pro-touch-bar-piano-app/

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Make your space fortune in ‘Astroneer’ on December 16th

If you felt a little let down by No Man's Sky, perhaps Astroneer can restore your faith in procedurally generated universes. System Era's space exploration game is finally nearing completion, and will be released on Steam Early Access, as well as Xbox One and Windows 10 Game Preview, on December 16th. The title actually has a lot in common with No Man's Sky, apart from the third-person viewpoint reminiscent of Lifeless Planet. You are an explorer out to make your fortune, but to do that you must hunt down the resources required to build vehicles, bases and conduct research needed first for survival, then for prosperity.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/12/09/astroneer-game-launch/

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Inside the factory building GM’s game-changing Bolt EV

Thanks to Tesla, most people associate car tech with Silicon Valley — not Detroit. And to be fair, most people would be right. Most major automakers have "innovation" centers just south of San Francisco, hoping to recruit from the area's talent pool. But the most important feature of Bolt EV -- an impressive range -- didn't happen in an office park wedged between two startups; it occurred in good ol' Motor City.

Nestled in the middle of its Warren Tech Center in Michigan, Doug Drauch, lead engineer for GM's Global Battery Systems Lab, has been testing and fine-tuning power packs since the the company's first foray into electric vehicles, the EV1. He feels the sort of excitement for battery chemistry and electronics that most people reserve for sports teams.

Drauch and his fellow engineers have built a facility capable of testing battery packs in about 99 percent of the environments a car will encounter. While there are individual machines for environmental stress tests and power cycling, the main attraction is the "Shaker," a giant machine that can re-create the X-,Y- and Z-axis vibrations of a vehicle driving on various types of roads. In addition, the company has built a custom chamber for the giant mechanical beast for environmental and power cycling trials.

The machine is so well customized, GM could re-create the charge and power draw of a Bolt EV driving on a cobblestone road in a rainforest if it wanted. If that seems like overkill, bear in mind it's part of a process that helped contribute to the car's remarkable range. "Every time we run a test, we learn something new," Drauch said.

All those findings have helped the company create a battery pack with its partner LG that will push the Bolt to a 238-mile range. Right now its biggest competitor is the Tesla Model 3, which won't be shipping until the end of 2017. Of course, technology doesn't mean anything if it's not being implemented, and 25 miles down the road in Orion, GM's future is being put together.

The Orion assembly plant is pumping out the Bolt EV for the US as well as for the European market (where it's known as the Opel Ampera-e) in anticipation of deliveries later this month. It's being built alongside the Sonic and Sonic four-door. In my tour of the facility, the thing that struck me most was how seamless adding the electric vehicle is.

Alongside two gas-powered Sonics, assembly workers add the motors, battery pack and other parts to Bolts as they pass by. Autonomous sleds deliver the large essentials and lift them into place while the employees secure them. Bolt launch manager Yves Dontigny said that this system allows the company to ramp up production if needed.

If the Bolt is a hit, the automaker can just add more of them to the line, instead of the current allotment of one EV for every two gas-powered cars. Even the spark-producing body shop built specifically for the car isn't anything out of the ordinary. Dontigny said that the company creates one for every car it manufactures.

But the Bolt isn't like other cars. For one thing, it's new from the ground up -- not just in terms of design and technology, but in the way automakers bring a vehicle to market. The high-range EV went from design to introduction in three years. That's a process that usually takes five years. And yet, because GM has been making cars for 108 years, even when it produces a high-range affordable car that beat Tesla to the market, inside the factory, at least, it feels like business as usual.

As one of the Bolts ends its journey along the assembly line, it's fired up, the wheels are attached and it's lowered onto the ground. It'll join a growing fleet of cars being prepped to land in showrooms before December comes to a close. Nearly a year ago, CEO Barra took to the CES stage to share GM's vision of the future and made a pledge that the future would appear in 2016. The workers at Orion are making sure that promise is kept -- now the company just needs to sell those cars.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2016/12/09/inside-the-factory-building-gm-s-game-changing-bolt-ev/

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