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NASA upgrades Australia’s Deep Space Station for future missions to Mars

NASA is in the midst of upgrading Deep Space Station 43 — one of its Deep Space Network’s largest antennas located in Canberra, Australia — to prepare for future missions. The agency’s Deep Space Network is a collection of dishes that make communication with robotic spacecraft possible, and DSS 43 is the only one capable of sending commands to Voyager 2. It’s the network’s sole 70-meter antenna in the Southern Hemisphere, so it’s the only one powerful enough to reach a probe that’s traveling southward in interstellar space. If you’ll recall, Voyager 2 left the region of space called the “heliosphere” where solar wind is still present back in 2018.

The agency shut DSS 43 down in early March to equip it with a new X-band frequency cone, which will give it a powerful state-of-the-art transmitter system and highly sensitive receivers. NASA expects the upgrade to be completed by January 2021, in time for the dish to receive telemetry and science data back from future missions. The upgraded antenna will help the agency communicate with the Perseverance rover, which is scheduled to launch by the end of July and to arrive on Mars by February 2021. It will also play a critical role in ensuring NASA scientists can communicate with and navigate both uncrewed and manned Artemis missions to the Moon and Mars.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/nasa-australia-deep-space-station-upgrade-133000935.html

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The influencers of pandemic gardening

Espiritu is behind Epic Gardening, the hugely popular, multiplatform gardening social media presence. At age 32, the San Diego-based gardener has laid down roots in YouTube (660,000 subscribers), Instagram (221,000), TikTok (523,000), even Pinterest, and his follower count easily crests 2 million across them. Thanks to a mix of advertising revenue and brand deals -- Espiritu is the official American purveyor for Australian raised-vegetable-bed brand Birdies, for example -- Epic Gardening is his full-time job.

A cornerstone of Espiritu’s appeal is that he’s self-taught. He first began gardening in 2011, after graduating with a business degree: He had been paying his bills through playing online poker and planted his first seeds as a hobby. By 2016, he left his role as a founding member of publishing startup Scribe Media to pursue Epic Gardening full time. His style is easygoing, knowledgeable and approachable. His recent series tackles beginner mistakes like “Starting Your Garden in The Wrong Place” and “Planting at the Wrong Time.” He’s made most of these mistakes himself.

“It started when I noticed there wasn’t really gardening information that speaks to an average human being,” Espiritu said. “There’s all of this jargon -- like deadheading your roses [pruning a dead bloom to encourage new growth] -- and we don't know what that means when we're just starting out. We need someone to speak to us in plain English, on a platform that we actually consume, not the county extension office website or a Master Gardener website.” (The Master Gardener program is a national system for basic horticulture training.)

He added, “Those are great sources of information, if you're already in the game -- but these people aren't in the game.”

These months of sheltering in place have been boom times for urban-gardening influencers. Amateurs have flocked to the hobby, and Espiritu’s following has grown astronomically. “It's like 150,000 in a month,” Espiritu told me, of his YouTube following, “and it took me five years to get my first 100,000.” He’s had to post a disclaimer on his Instagram Stories, explaining he’s getting too many questions, in comments and DMs, to adequately answer all of them. His blog, started in 2013, has crested 1 million views per month. When we first spoke over the phone, in late March, he was packing hundreds of signed copies of his urban-gardening book. As of mid-June, Espiritu had bought a new home, with the intention of turning it into an Instagram-worthy homestead

This all goes back to the pandemic. While most of the panic buying is around survivalism -- toilet paper, frozen foods, canned beans -- seeds have also been selling wildly, The New York Times has reported. Though the food supply chain is stable, it’s difficult not to feel the nippings of anxiety when grocery shopping. In this kind of environment, the idea of producing one’s own food can offer an enviable illusion of control. 

The idea of farming as a respite from the hamster wheel of late-stage capitalism is hardly new. Toiling with the land can sound like liberation for a generation consigned to a nine-to-five until death -- even as that idealized version of farming is far from the truth. The fantasy plays out in games like Stardew Valley (which has sold more than 10 million copies), where you leave your big-city job to work on your grandfather’s land. Ideas of agrarian self-sufficiency also litter the American imagination historically, with victory gardens -- personal gardens meant to divert stress from the agricultural system -- emerging during World War I and II.

I’ve also noticed this trend anecdotally. Friends who had been disinterested in gardening have begun growing basil, mint, rosemary. During an early March trip to Target in Los Angeles, I noticed the seed display had been moved by the checkout, suggesting you might casually consider growing an entire plant the same way you’d buy a last-minute pack of gum. When I returned to that Target in April, the “edible” side of the display had been ransacked of everything but a few potato-seed packets. The ornamental section, plied with images of beautiful flowers, was fairly untouched.

Toiling with the land can sound like liberation for a generation consigned to a nine-to-five until death -- even as that idealized version of farming is far from the truth.

“There is a bump in sales for all garden centers, seed companies and growing-related products,” Brijette Romstedt, owner of San Diego Seed Company, wrote to me, “due to the insecurity people are feeling due to the pandemic.” There is much to be insecure about: We’re relying on fashion houses and perfumers to produce PPE and hand sanitizer. 

Social media presences like Epic Gardening have become vital entry points for first-timers -- many of whom are quarantined in an apartment or a parent’s home, have limited space to grow and have never done it before. Yet gardening influencers also present a specific irony: Tending to soil requires deep patience while social media is a factory of instant, aggressive gratification. 

“I just did a video about the things you can grow in under a month, though there's not that many,” Espiritu said. “And the questions have become a lot more basic. People are like, ‘Why didn't my lettuce grow, why is it looking bad.’ I tell them, ‘That's because it's only been alive for two weeks.’”

Newer urban-gardening accounts have rapidly gained followers, using the pandemic as a vehicle for growth. YouTube videos of low-effort tutorials, like regrowing green onions by sticking them in a glass of water, have gained serious traction, though some of them aren’t useful. “Yes, you can regrow like twentysomething different types of common vegetables,” Espiritu explained. “But what you get is unexpected. If you're regrowing your carrot tops you don't get carrots -- you get greens, which no one's going to eat.”

Growing something you can eat is more complex than admiring how quickly your green onions regenerate, especially if you’re starting with a seed. Considerations include hardiness zone (climate regions where certain plants thrive), container type, pest control, to name a few. But it’s easier to get hooked on the beautiful gardening inspo of Instagram and other platforms, where the time between planting and harvesting appears to be just a few seconds.

“It’s not a fast field,” Espiritu said. He had recently released a TikTok video of his five-level vertical garden of green beans and strawberries, brimming with leaves. “That’s 45 days of growing.”

Instagram is designed to monetize the time you spend on it, regardless of accuracy. It’s easy to smash that follow and fall down a wormhole of unrealistically beautiful people, places or potatoes. My explore tab feeds me triptychs of dewy plants and dewier faces, and I’m debased enough to admit it doesn’t not work for me.

Nick Cutsumpas -- who competed in Netflix’s The Big Flower Fight -- runs farmernicknyc, a Brooklyn-based “houseplant consultant” account. He says he’s more invested in sustainability and agriculture but found those passions less ’grammable. “You’ve seen the people on Instagram who have these amazing homesteads, right?” he explained. “It only looks that way for maybe two or three months. If I took a picture of my garden in December it would get three likes, because there's nothing there.”

The popularity of urban gardening during the pandemic has allowed Cutsumpas to post more agricultural content, like germinating seeds in his bedroom. (He’s also taking courses at the New York Botanical Gardens and has partnered with Greensulate, a “green roof” company, to convert the rooftop of a Staten Island building into a garden.)

But the majority of his content still plays to what attracts eyeballs. “I hate the term ‘influencer,’” Cutsumpas explained, invoking images of bikini-clad women in far-flung locales. It’s a bit hypocritical when Cutsumpas also flaunts his abs in front of a plant for World Naked Gardening Day. “If this is what it takes for someone to be inspired to buy more plants, eat more plants, follow my account and pick up sustainability tips, then I am 100 percent OK with that,” Cutstampas said. But I get it: Instagram favors the thotty.

Contrast this with the Master Gardener program -- also known as Extension Master Gardener, or EMG. This national program was created in Washington State in 1972 to address the public lack of knowledge about gardening. The program is often tied to universities: The EMG website has every state university’s program listed. Though course load varies by state, becoming certified might require a semester of studies and some 40 hours of volunteering, along with an open-book final. The program isn’t meant to confer academic mastery. Instead it gives laypeople a ground floor of horticultural knowledge and a scientific approach that’s way more effective than Googling alone. 

“People bring in a plant sample or email a photo to the extension office Master Gardener desk,” said Signe Danler, instructor of the EMG program at Oregon State University (OSU). “The Master Gardeners on duty that day might say, ‘You've got aphids,’ if it’s obvious. If it's more complicated, there's a library and lots of online resources. If necessary, they can bump it up to the university level and have a pathology test done.” Under normal circumstances, Master Gardeners also run demonstration gardens and tables at farmers’ markets to field questions.

“I was interested in gardening from a very young age,” said Danler. “I gardened when I was in my teens, and I started gardening in planter boxes as soon as we bought our first house, my husband and I, back in 1981.” Though Danler took community college courses in horticulture in the late ’80s, she waited until her youngest child was in high school before pursuing a bachelor’s at OSU. Thanks to encouragement from an advisor and a scholarship, Danler went on to complete her master’s; OSU hired her soon after.

Over the phone, Danler cracked jokes that make starting out as a gardener feel more approachable. “I emphasize with my students, expect to kill plants,” Danler said. “Obviously, you don't wanna kill your vegetables every year, or you don't get anything to eat. But when you've been doing it as long as I have -- I’ve killed hundreds of plants. That's just part of the learning process.”

“I’ve killed hundreds of plants. That's just part of the learning process.”

Like farming influencers on Instagram, OSU has seen a recent spike in urban-gardening interest, especially after making its courses free to the public. Its urban-vegetable-gardening module had 34,000 students in mid-April -- compared to the usual size of a dozen students. Danler said that there were so many signups in the first weekend the system crashed.

Danler is suspicious of urban-gardening influencers -- or more precisely, suspicious of solutions that are peddled without scientific rigor. “There are definitely people presenting themselves as authorities and handing out information that’s plain wrong,” Danler explained. “For example, people may think, ‘If I make a home remedy, it’ll be safer than something I buy at the store.’ But you can harm plants, you can do permanent damage to your soil, you can harm other animals.”

Danler has been working hard to diversify her student base, put more of OSU’s courses online and make the program more accessible. When she teaches the home horticulture certificate course, which has “the same training, the same classes” but doesn’t require volunteer hours, she gets far more students, from more-diverse backgrounds.

Unfortunately, EMG requirements can weed out folks who might otherwise be interested. A 2016 demographic study found that Master Gardener volunteers were primarily white women “educated, retired, and of economic means.” Their mean age was just under 65 years old.

“I took a store-bought potato -- and I knew nothing about farming potatoes -- and I just stuck it in the dirt.” Fanny Liao, the gardener behind Instagram account fansinthegarden, said. “It was winter time, and I didn't know that it was going to be slow-growing because there's no sun. It took about six months for that plant to grow. I thought, ‘It's pretty, I'm going to get a pound or two of potatoes, it will be awesome.’ I dug it up, and I got one. It was smaller than my fist.”

Liao, who is based in Los Angeles County, began gardening for the first time in December 2017 and started her account in order to “photo-journal for [her] mental health.” Liao knew nothing about gardening when she started, and this entry-level focus helped her reach over 11,000 followers as of July, despite having less than 5,000 followers at the start of the pandemic. She intends to keep her platform open to beginners, and with a smaller following she’s less likely to get bogged down with questions. 

Liao has no intentions of changing her strategy to attract more followers -- though it helps that her account already adheres to the Instagram aesthetic. Despite her story of the solitary potato, her feed boasts vibrant harvests, like a handful of radishes in an ombre from white to fuschia or carrots that look like they’re hugging. “I take images that are appealing, because it shows people yes, you could grow this,” Liao said. “When people see it, they're like, ‘What variety is this’ or ‘How long does it take from seed to harvest?’”

Rather than seek formal educational programs -- or online extension courses -- Liao has relied on advice from other gardeners on social media, and a healthy dose of trial and error. She credits much of her learning to Epic Gardening, and to CaliKim’s YouTube and Instagram. “Gardening is a never-ending learning process,” Liao said. “I'm not an expert in this field, so I'm going to leave it for the experts to answer the technical questions like Kevin [Espiritu] does. If you're asking me what's the ratio of soil that I need to put into the amendment? That's not something that I know.” 

Her success is just one example of the way Instagram has democratized access, diversifying the pool of urban-gardening educators. This pool includes Espiritu, who is half Filipino and half white, and someone like Timothy Hammond, a Black urban gardener based in Houston, Texas, who runs bigcitygardener on Instagram. He started bigcitygardener in April 2017 “to try and make gardening accessible and related to everyone.” Liao has become well-known enough that she inspired another Asian American woman -- Northern California-based friend Alex Hisaka, who runs forestlandfarmer -- to start her own gardening Instagram account. 

I felt comfortable asking Liao novice questions like what grows fastest (lettuce and radish) and whether I can expect to grow enough basil to make pesto (I’ll need to prune aggressively for basil to be bushy enough), questions asked in earnest at the end of the interview, after we’d shaken off our formalities. I wanted to hear from the woman who spent six months nurturing a single potato -- so embarrassingly off target from her ambitions, comparable to the three months I spent doting over 10 basil seeds, whose yield provided me with a sprinkle of garnish for a grocery store frozen pizza rather than the pesto of my dreams.

Danler plays in a different league from the influencers -- one that takes in mind the health of the soil over time and its larger environmental impact, one a beginner might eventually aspire to.

“It can be hard for experienced folks like myself to remember just how much there is to know,” Danler said after I shared Espiritu’s videos with her. “All of his information is correct. I like his low-key, straightforward style. He's addressing that level of basic knowledge, and doing it well.” 

Despite this gulf, when I asked her for advice for first-time gardeners, she echoed the same sentiments as every influencer I spoke to: “Don't get too bogged down. Gardening should be first and foremost something that you enjoy. It should feed your soul.”

“Don't get too bogged down. Gardening should be first and foremost something that you enjoy. It should feed your soul.”

This is easy to forget, thanks to the gig economy, which has recast hobbies as side hustles, narrowing their value into what can be monetized or used to build a social media audience.

But posting my own plants to Instagram has only ever offered me a cheap, momentary thrill. It is the slower, unanticipated joys of growing that have actually been nourishing: watching an orchid send out roots, seeking footholds and future lives in the humidity of the air; watching a Pilea peperomioides sprout new limbs, living up to its nickname, “friendship plant,” when I gift these cuttings to others. Eating my basil was a separate, individual delight from actually growing it. I checked its progress every morning like a parent marking their child’s height on the door frame. 

Regardless of qualification or skill, my favorite instructors have been the ones who remind me of the joys of growing for the sake of growing. TikToker Garden Marcus captures this ethos best. Watching one of his most popular videos about propagating pineapple is like taking a shot of sunlight. 

The steps are simple: Cut the top off, put it in water until it sprouts roots, plant it in soil and water it. Marcus reflects on the pineapples he’s rooted over the years -- this method of propagating doesn’t produce new pineapples, instead the top grows more leaves -- and zooms in on a lizard that lives in one of the older bushes. He likes to feed the plant the water it was rooted in, a move with no particular utility, just a warm human impulse. And yes, he also regrows the tops of his carrots.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/pandemic-gardening-influencers-tiktok-instagram-140027939.html

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Was the Motorola Razr worth reviving?

A few weeks ago we asked you to review Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip, one of the few foldable smartphones on the market. Now we want to know if any of you early adopters opted for the Motorola Razr instead — it’s an updated version of the much loved V3 from 2004. This year's model has two displays, 128GB of storage, a 16-megapixel main camera and a hefty price tag of $1500. Our reviewer Chris Velazco liked the design and hardware, but wasn’t impressed by its battery life, dull screen or mid-range chipset. He gave the smartphone a rather weak score of 61

If you took a gamble on Motorola’s folding phone, how did you feel about it? Did you experience a creaking hinge when opening or closing the handset? Were you underwhelmed by the cameras? Do you feel the device was worth its high cost? As usual, we want to hear all about your purchase on our Motorola Razr product page. Remember, your writeup could get included in an upcoming user review roundup article

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/motorola-razr-2020-user-reviews-wanted-150026746.html

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Get an Amazon Echo Plus with a free Philips Hue light bulb for $80

The Echo Plus levels-up the standard Echo by including a Zigee home hub inside of it. That means you don’t need to buy any extra connecting hubs when you purchase other IoT devices like light bulbs, door locks, security cameras and others. If it works with the Zigbee protocol (a majority of IoT devices do) or Amazon’s own Works with Alexa platform, then it’ll be able to connect to the hub inside of the Echo Plus.

This makes it a great device for those just starting out with smart home devices. Instead of buying some smart lights only to find out you need an extra piece of the puzzle for them to work properly, you can opt for an Echo Plus and have a plethora of smart devices available to you after that. The Philips Hue light bulb that comes in the Echo Plus bundle, which normally costs $30 on its own, can connected directly to the smart speaker. Then, you can then ask Alexa to control the lighting in your home whenever you want.

The Echo Plus also improves on the original Echo’s sound quality — that’s one of the reasons why we gave it a score of 86. However, audiophiles will, (unsurprisingly) still want to look elsewhere for a smart speaker with the best audio quality possible. The Echo Studio is your best bet on that front within Amazon device family.

Among the other Echo devices on sale, the Echo Show 5 for $60 and the Echo Show 8 for $90 are decent sales. Though not the lowest prices ever ($50 and $80, respectively), these sales are worth considering if you’ve wanted a smaller smart display. The Show 5 makes a good smart alarm clock, while the Show 8 could make a good kitchen TV of sorts if you use it to follow along with recipe videos. The Echo Flex adapter has also dropped to its lowest price ever, only $17.49, and it’s useful if you want to have Alexa voice controls in a room with no space for another IoT device.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/amazon-echo-plus-philips-hue-bulb-bundle-sale-151603843.html

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Amazon Prime Video will soon have the content, but it needs a better home

Amazon’s first video service was introduced in 2006 as Amazon Unbox, which allowed users to rent or buy TV shows and movies similar to iTunes. Then, long after Netflix incorporated streaming into its business, Amazon entered the subscription video market in 2011. The company knew it couldn’t compete with Netflix in terms of content, so to draw subscribers in, CEO Jeff Bezos decided to add the service to the company’s Prime free shipping program. 

Since then, Amazon’s Prime Video platform has evolved into three parts: the aforementioned option to rent or buy titles, a service that lets you stream thousands of shows and movies (as long as you have Prime membership), and Prime Video Channels which lets you subscribe to third-party services like CBS All Access or Britbox and watch them directly on Amazon’s video platform. 

If that sounds a little confusing, well, it is. And that confusion is reflected in Prime Video’s utter mess of an interface. On the home page, you’ll frequently see recommendations and ads for all of the above right next to each other. In mine, I see a promotional banner at the top that advertises Amazon Originals like “Hanna and “Upload”, the movie Ford v Ferrari via an HBO Prime Video Channel subscription, and a “Prime Member Deals” page where I can buy shows and movies for up to 50 percent off. Underneath that are carousels for Britbox, Acorn TV, CBS All Access, and it isn’t until I scroll all the way down to the fourth carousel that I see recommendations for Amazon’s Original shows.  

Putting all of these products together leads to so much clutter that it is near impossible to figure out what is what. Sometimes I’d be interested in a TV show only to find out that it’s only available if I rent or buy it. Sometimes that show is only available on a Prime Video Channel that I haven’t subscribed to. And this bait-and-switch feeling is apparently quite common. According to a study done last year by analyst firm MoffetNathanson, almost 30 percent of the most popular titles on Amazon Prime Video aren’t actually included in a Prime subscription. The analysts said that there’s a “high level of brand confusion when it comes to streaming content” and that “consumers are confusing the streaming service for the Amazon video store.” 

Another problem with such a cluttered interface is that discovering new shows is difficult. Essentially, the UI is a tweaked version of Amazon’s retail storefront, apparently designed to bombard you with as much content and choice as possible. It often leaves the user confused and overwhelmed. Compare that to Netflix, on the other hand, which is clean, orderly, and places all of the popular and recommended content at the very top, with no need to scroll through carousels from third-party services. 

In a way, it isn’t surprising that Amazon has treated its Prime Video offering like yet another storefront. Amazon has made no secret of the fact that it’s really using its video store as a way to entice more people to shop. Amazon’s “Making The Cut” is perhaps the most extreme example of this, as it’s really just a giant ad for the company’s e-commerce site disguised as a reality show. “When we win a Golden Globe, it helps us sell more shoes,” Bezos said at the Code Conference in 2016. That’s why Bezos and co. have actively sought to find critical darlings for its Amazon Originals. 

But those accolades don’t always bring in results. According to documents uncovered by Reuters, Amazon’s viewership numbers aren’t particularly high for its top shows. “Transparent,” a flagship series about a transgender parent and her family, fell to 1.3 million viewers in its third season despite winning eight Primetime Emmy Awards. “Good Girls Revolt,” another critically-acclaimed show, only had a total US viewership of 1.6 million in its debut. 

In order to bring in more viewers, Amazon should think about giving its user interface a total makeover. At the very least, it should make it clear that its Prime Video subscription, video store and Prime Video Channels are separate from each other. That would go a long way to reducing confusion and making it less likely for viewers to mistake one for the other. From there, the company should invest in careful curation of its home page so that popular titles and recommendations get prominent placing. It wouldn’t hurt Amazon to borrow a page from Netflix and organize different carousels by genre as well. 

This move will be especially welcome when coupled with high-caliber content like the Lord of the Rings prequels and Fallout series. If Amazon wants HBO-level content in order to be taken seriously, then it also needs a storefront and a homepage that reflects that sentiment. A flagship series combined with an interface overhaul that highlights Amazon Originals could be exactly what the company needs to take on its rivals. 

One could argue that Amazon doesn’t necessarily need to clean up its act. After all, it has over 150 million Prime members, which is second only to Netflix, which has nearly 183 million subscribers. But the streaming wars have heated up in recent years with the arrival of new upstarts like Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock and Apple TV+. Disney+ in particular have gained a surprising number of subscribers -- almost 54.5 million -- in just under a year. It’s to Amazon’s benefit to remain ahead of the curve, not just in new content, but also in how its users find it. 

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/amazon-prime-video-confusing-interface-160050117.html

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Ubisoft posts ‘Far Cry 6’ teaser starring Giancarlo Esposito

Based on the screenshots, it appears Esposito’s character, Anton Castillo, is the dictator of Yara, “a tropical paradise frozen in time.” Castillo’s “ruthless oppression” ignites a revolution, and players will assume the role of Dani Rojas, a guerilla fighter battling Castillo’s military.

It’s not clear if Ubisoft originally planned to announce Far Cry 6 at its Ubisoft Forward showcase this Sunday, but thanks to this leak, we can expect more details from the digital event. The leaked screenshots list the release date as February 18th, 2021.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/ubisoft-far-cry-6-leak-teaser-162617667.html

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This week’s best deals: AirPods, Nintendo Switch game sale and more

Buy AirPods with wireless charging case at Amazon - $150

GameStop Nintendo Switch game sale

GameStop’s latest sale remains ongoing, so you can grab some first-party Nintendo Switch games for less. Some of the discounts are even better than those we saw in Nintendo’s own start of summer sale a few weeks ago. Notable titles on sale include Super Mario Bros U Deluxe for $40, Splatoon 2 for $40 and Yoshi’s Crafted World for $40.

Shop the sale at GameStop

Buy New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe at GameStop - $40

Buy Splatoon 2 at GameStop - $40

Buy Yoshi’s Crafted World at Gamestop - $40

Apple Watch Series 3

The Apple Watch Series 3 remains at $169 at Amazon, the lowest price ever for the smartwatch. While not the newest Apple Watch, the Series 3 has most of the features you’d expect a solid wearable to have including all-day activity and exercise tracking, built-in heart rate monitor and GPS, and on-watch apps and smartphone alerts. We gave it a score of 82 when we first reviewed it thanks to all of the features previously listed as well as its solid performance and good battery life.

Buy Apple Watch Series 3 at Amazon - $169

Macbook Air

The base model of the latest MacBook Air is still on sale for $899 at Amazon, which is $100 off its normal price (just be sure to clip the $50 coupon on the page before adding it to your cart). It has a Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, plus the much improved Magic Keyboard that replaced Apple’s butterfly mechanism recently. It’s one of the reasons why we gave the new MacBook Air a score of 87, in addition to its sharp Retina display, smooth trackpad and accurate TouchID sensor.

Buy MacBook Air at Amazon starting at $899

Amazon Echo Plus

Amazon’s smart speaker turned home hub is down to its lowest price ever, only $80, and that includes a free Philips Hue smart light bulb. The Echo Plus normally costs $150, so this is a great deal if you’ve wanted a smart speaker that pulls double-duty as a smart home hub. Any Zigbee-compatible device, like the Hue bulb included in the bundle, can be connected directly to the Echo Plus — no other hubs required. We gave the Echo Plus a score of 86 for its much improved audio quality, more attractive design and its new stereo audio ability that let’s you connect two devices at once.

Buy Echo Plus bundle at Amazon - $80

Weber SmokeFire connected grills

Now’s a good time to upgrade your grill while Weber has its SmokeFire series on sale. You can get $200 off both fo the grills in the lineup, bringing the SmokeFire EX4 down to $799 and the SmokeFire EX6 down to $999. We originally gave these grills a score of 71 but recently bumped it up to 80 thanks to the updates Weber has made to its connected platform. Both grills now feature remote temperature adjustment and shutdown, better push notifications and more efficient handling of temperature fluctuations.

Buy SmokeFire EX4 from Weber - $799

Buy SmokeFire EX6 from Weber - $999

New deal additions

Aukey USB-C portable charger

Engadget readers can get Aukey’s 30,000mAh USB-C power bank for $42 by using the code ENGADGETY3 at checkout. That’s $18 off its normal price and the lowest price we’ve seen it. this high-capacity power bank can charge any USB device you throw at it including the newest iPhones and Android devices as well as the Nintendo Switch. It also supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 to power up compatible devices quickly and safely.

Buy Aukey 30,000 power bank at Amazon - $42

Amazon Echo Show 5 and Show 8

Both Amazon’s Echo Show 5 and Echo Show 8 are on sale right now — the Show 5 is down to $60 and the Show 8 is down to $90. This is a decent sale, even if they’re not the lowest ever prices we’ve seen for the two smart displays (that’s $50 and $80, respectively). We gave the Echo Show 5 a score of 85 for its sunrise alarm feature, good sound quality and its compact design that makes it a good nightstand device. The Echo Show 8 is much better as a communal device thanks to its larger display. If you plan on using it as a cooking guide for recipe instructions and videos, you should consider the deal Amazon has that includes one free year of Food Network Kitchen (which typically costs $40) when you buy the Echo Show 8.

The Echo Flex is also on sale for $17.49. This is the lowest price we’ve seen on the handy little adapter — it plugs into a wall outlet, allowing you to put Alexa in rooms that maybe don’t have room for a standalone smart speaker.

Buy Echo Show 5 at Amazon - $60

Buy Echo Show 8 at Amazon - $90

Buy Echo Flex at Amazon - $17.49

SteelSeries Arctis 1 gaming headset (PS4)

The SteelSeries Arctis 1 is one of our favorite wireless gaming headsets and now the PS4 model is on sale for $80 at Amazon. That’s $20 off its normal price and close to the lowest we’ve seen it. We like the Arctis 1 for its clear, consistent wireless connection and its detachable microphone. Also, SteelSeries makes some of the most attractive gaming headsets you can get.

Buy Arctis 1 (PS4) at Amazon - $80

Amazon Music Unlimited (3 months)

Prime members can try out Amazon Music Unlimited for free for three months with this offer. Aside from being an Amazon Prime subscriber, you also have to be new to Music Unlimited (so you can’t have paid for it or tried it out before). If you meet those requirements, you can snag this offer and try out Amazon’s Spotify competitor. It offers most of the same features as other music subscription services: unlimited music listening, an ad-free experience, unlimited offline listening and convenient voice control with Alexa. Just keep track of time — your subscription will renew at the standard $10-per-month price after the trial is up.

Get Amazon Music Unlimited (3 months)

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/weekly-deals-apple-airpods-gamestop-nintendo-switch-game-sale-173038712.html

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Amazon bans TikTok on employee phones

Amazon has requested that all of its employees delete the TikTok app from their phones citing security concerns. According to the New York Times, the company email stated that the app is now prohibited from all employee phones that can “access Amazon email,” and that employees need to remove the app by Friday in order to for email access to continue.

TikTok has been under increased scrutiny lately. The app, which is owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, was banned in India last month. More recently, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that the US could ban Chinese apps like TikTok due to the potential threat to national security.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/amazon-bans-tiktok-employee-phones-174810571.html

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Instagram expands policy banning promotion of conversion therapy

A company spokesperson confirmed the new rules to Engadget, and said that while the company won't be banning specific organizations, it will remove posts that break its rules and that repeat offenders could have their accounts disabled. 

“We don’t allow attacks against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity and are updating our policies to ban the promotion of conversion therapy services,” an Instagram spokesperson said in a statement. “We are always reviewing our policies and will continue to consult with experts and people with personal experiences to inform our approach.”

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/instagram-ban-posts-promoting-gay-conversion-therapy-180450883.html

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HBO Max plans spin-off series based on upcoming ‘The Batman’ movie

HBO Max already has a number of DC-related projects with others in the works, but it could do with some more major original programming. Tapping into the most popular DC character and building on an upcoming blockbuster movie seems like a solid choice. It’s unclear whether Pattinson will make any appearances in the show, but if he does, that might persuade some of his fans to sign up to HBO Max. In any case, it's a fairly safe bet that a show set in the world of The Batman will pull in some subscribers.

There’s no word as yet on when you can expect to start streaming this show. However, given that it’s in development, and most TV and movie productions are on hold amid the pandemic, we’re probably in for quite a wait. The Batman, meanwhile, will be released on October 1st, 2021.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/hbo-max-the-batman-spinoff-matt-reeves-streaming-181045228.html

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