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Smoke app brings the Steam store to your Apple Watch

Smoke advertises that it "brings parts of Steam" to the Apple Watch. The hardware is obviously pretty limited, so don't expect to be purchasing or launching games from your wrist. You will be able to view your games and achievements, view store information and see if your friends are online and what they've been playing though.

Perhaps the most useful feature is the ability to view Steam news articles, which can alert you about sales and updates for your favorite games. You can also tap a news article to save it to your phone, but this feature is only available to paid users.

The Smoke app page notes that for most of the features to work, your Steam profile needs to be set to public. If that's ok with you, you can download Smoke for Steam for free from the App Store.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/12/31/smoke-steam-apple-watch/

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In 2019 cameras got much better, but the market still crashed

Sony A7R IV

Most of Sony's models this year, including the A6600, A9 Mark II and A6400, were iterative refreshes. Not the A7R IV, though! Sony blew our minds by unveiling a 61-megapixel camera that can shoot at up to 10 fps.

Not only is this the highest-resolution full-frame camera available, it has a redesigned body with a bigger grip, a longer-lasting battery and more professional handling. The A7R III took a rap from pros for being fussy to use, but the A7R IV has officially put that issue to bed.

The A7R IV also has the best autofocus system of any high-end mirrorless camera, by far, with extremely rapid subject tracking and eye detection. It can handle 4K video very well and even do some sports shooting, which is incredible for an ultra-high-resolution camera.

Sony's ace in the hole is its advanced tech. It builds the EVFs, sensors, card readers and other parts not just for itself, but many of its rivals, too. With the A7 III, it now has two cameras that dominate the lucrative mid-range and high-end full-frame mirrorless markets, and the competition is a long way behind. Still, Sony can't get complacent. I found its latest APS-C models had great AF tech but were otherwise boring, and it now trails Fujifilm in that category. If that situation doesn't change in 2020, it'll be Sony that's playing catch-up.

Sony A6100, A6400 and A6600

Sony unveiled no less than three new APS-C mirrorless cameras in 2019, none of which were as inspiring as the A7R IV. They're also very similar to each other, which makes it hard for buyers to tell one from the other.

Because of its relatively low $650 price, the A6100 is the most interesting of the bunch to me. It has the best autofocus system of any APS-C camera, thanks to the subject and eye tracking -- once you figure out how to use it, that is. Image and 4K-video quality are good and low-light capability is excellent. However, the aging 24.2-megapixel sensor has bad rolling shutter visible in both photos and videos. It also handles poorly, has a lousy menu system and just a single UHS I card slot.

You can say all of that about the $900 A6400, too, because it has the same shooting speeds, display, sensor, autofocus system, storage and video capability. For the extra cash, it's sealed against dust and moisture and offers better EVF (2.4 million dots compared to 1.44 million), picture profiles and a slightly bigger buffer.

The $1,200 A6600 shares many of the A6400's features, but packs a bigger grip, headphone jack on top of the microphone input, a bigger battery and, most importantly, five-axis image stabilization.

The existence of all three models would perhaps make sense with more price differentiation, so expect Sony to fiddle with prices this year. To me, though, Fujifilm offers more compelling models in the enthusiast and high-end APS-C segment.

Fujifilm X-T30

Unlike Sony with its APS-C cameras, Fujifilm has nailed the art of market segmentation -- the $800 X-T30 is the perfect complement to last year's $1,300 X-T3. It delivers many of the same features, but the X-T3 has enough goodies to justify the extra $500. In other words, both cameras are desirable in their own budget categories.

Like the X-T3, the X-T30 has a 26.2-megapixel sensor, identical shooting speeds and the same autofocus system with eye-tracking tech. It also has 4K video with a few nice features, including 10-bit external output and a USB-C port that doubles as a headphone jack. However, it has just a single card slot and lacks the 10-bit internal 4K recording and long continuous recording desirable for video specialists.

The X-T30 is nice and small for street/tourist photography, and it actually has a few incredible features for the price. Namely, there's a blackout-free EVF in electronic shutter mode, meaning you can see what you're shooting at all times -- a feature not found on many other mirrorless cameras (with the X-T3 and Sony's A9 II as notable exceptions).

Canon M6 Mark II

Early this year, Canon unveiled its second full-frame mirrorless camera, the $999 EOS RP. Autofocus performance, handling and great low-light performance were the main bright points, but it's hampered by an inflexible silent-shooting mode, cropped 4K video with no phase detect AF and disappointing dynamic range.

Canon had been pretty quiet on the M-series front as of late, but changed when it unveiled the M6 Mark II, its new flagship APS-C mirrorless camera. It's an incredible camera in some ways, but disappointing in others. It delivers incredible 14 fps shooting speeds with autofocus enabled, and nails focus thanks to Canon's Dual Pixel AF system. However, it doesn't come with an electronic viewfinder, which seems like a bizarre omission. And video is only mediocre compared to what you get on all its rivals, particularly the Fujifilm X-T30.

Nikon Z50

Nikon launched its first APS-C mirrorless camera, the Z50, into a very competitive market. It immediately faced some strong competition, particularly Fujifilm's X-T30. It handles great, but trails rivals in autofocus, shooting speeds and video and image quality. It's a decent first effort, but Nikon has some catching up to do.

Fujifilm X-Pro3

The X-Pro2 was already a delightfully eccentric camera, but Fujifilm has doubled the weirdness on the $1,800 X-Pro3. You get the same hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder (albeit with fewer magnification options), but now the rear display has changed as well. To "keep you in the moment," as Fujifilm said, you can't actually see what you're shooting unless you flip the display down. Instead, it shows the type of "film stock" you're using as if it were an old-school 35mm camera.

Otherwise, the 26.2-megapixel sensor and other guts are the same as in the X-T3. So why not just get an X-T3 then, you might ask? For sure, the X-Pro3 has more dashing looks (and the X-T3 is no slouch in that category), along with a bulletproof titanium body and an emphasis on the art of photography. If you're still wondering why to get it, then you're clearly not the type of person it's designed for.

Panasonic S1H

For videographers, Panasonic's GH5 camera is catnip, thanks to a flip-around screen, 10-bit recording and other great video-centric features. Now take all that and double it (including the price) and you have the $4,000 S1H.

With a full-frame dual-ISO sensor, you get shallow depth of field with cinematic bokeh, along with incredible low-light capability -- some of the best I've ever seen. Plus, you can shoot DCI 4K video at 60 fps, and even 6K 24p video. All of that was enough to get it Netflix's coveted production seal of approval, making it the cheapest full-frame camera in that category, by far.

The contrast-detect AF is not quite as good as you'll find on Sony or Canon cameras, either for video or photos. That aside, it's the best mirrorless camera for video I've ever tried. Anecdotally, I've noticed that many YouTubers and serious production pros are already using it, and it's only been on the market for about a month.

Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K (BMPCC 6K)

Speaking of serious production cameras, take the BMPCC 6K. It actually beats the S1H in overall resolution and frame speeds, topping out at 6K at 60 fps -- all for just $2,495. Not only that, you can capture your footage in 12-bit quality with Blackmagic's RAW format or 10-bit ProRes, depending on the resolution. And it takes EF or EF/S Canon lenses.

The BMPCC is not for casuals, as it has no continuous autofocus system at all. Still, it can serve as a full production camera for many indie filmmakers, which is awesome for such a cheap product.

What's coming next

The most eagerly anticipated camera of 2020 has got to be Sony's video-centric low-light specialist, the α7S III. Its predecessor, the α7S II, came out over four years ago and since then, the landscape has changed drastically. As it stands now, the most desirable full-frame mirrorless cameras for video are no longer Sony models, but the Panasonic S1H and Nikon Z6.

To keep up, Sony will need to deliver at least 4K at 60 fps, and preferably even higher resolution. We'll also want to see at least 10-bit internal recording, along with phase-detect autofocus and face tracking -- all for under $3,500 or so.

The EOS R was a tepid debut for Canon's RF mount mirrorless system, but it may have a Mark II model coming before June. In addition, the company is supposedly working on a 75-megapixel EOS Rs that's designed to be a Sony A7R IV killer. It should have dual card slots and other features missing on the original EOS R.

Canon is also set to unveil the 1DX Mark III, it's flagship professional DSLR. It will have features like 10-bit 4:2:2 60p video, 20 fps shooting speeds, Dual Pixel 525-point phase detect autofocus and CFexpress card slots.

Speaking of flagship DSLRs, Nikon will deliver its pro-oriented D6 next year, too, promising its "most advanced DSLR to date," but no other specifics. In addition, Nikon will reportedly update its D750 DSLR next year and could unveil a low-end APS-C Z mount mirrorless and high-end full-frame mirrorless.

Fujifilm's X100 cameras have a cult-like following, and rumor has it that the company will replace the X100F in 2020 with the X100V. It could also release an X-T4 model with in-body stabilization, a fully articulating screen and 6K 10-bit video. A successor to the relatively popular X-H1 is supposedly also on the roadmap, but may not arrive until 2021.

Panasonic also promised some "great innovations" for next year. What's interesting for 2020 is that Photokina will kick off in a new slot early in May, and it seems that multiple camera companies will be showing new products there. As such, it should be a more interesting show than usual.


After a year of upheaval in 2018, the market lines were clearly drawn in 2019. Panasonic is still playing the video card, Canon's big bet was on affordable enthusiast cameras and Nikon launched its more affordable APS-C Z mount lineup. Fujifilm focused on video and its street photography bread and butter, while Sony keeps flaunting its AF and sensor technological prowess.

If the market keeps falling, however, not every manufacturer might last until 2021. Olympus has become a forgotten manufacturer as it failed to create any excitement with its latest 2019 products, the OM-D E-M5 III and E-M1X cameras. However, the company has denied that it's in any kind of trouble.

So what can manufacturers do to keep consumers interested? They could try to make them easier to use, with AI and other tricks -- much as smartphones have. Fujifilm, for one, introduced a smartphone-like auto HDR feature that should be standard on every camera. Frustratingly, Sony has incredible face-tracking and other technology, but it's still complicated to use.

If buyers figured they could easily take much better photos with a mirrorless camera or DSLR, they might be more tempted to buy. But frankly, it seems more and more that manufacturers will only be selling to enthusiasts and pro users, or to older buyers who still prefer cameras over smartphones. As it stands right now, it's simply easier to shoot and share photos on a smartphone, and it's not likely we're going to see anything to change that.


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Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/12/31/cameras-in-2019-recap/

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ProtonMail debuts an encrypted calendar app

ProtonCalendar uses end-to-end encryption to keep your data private, with no third parties including ProtonMail able to see your events. It has the standard calendar features you would expect, such as the ability to create and delete events, to set reminders and to have events repeat daily, weekly or monthly.

The calendar is available online, but the company says it'll launch dedicated iOS and Android apps next year. The web version is currently in beta mode, but it will be available to all users, including free users, once it leaves beta.

ProtonMail says it is also working on a secure cloud file storage service called ProtonDrive, coming soon. For now, paid ProtonMail users can access the calendar by logging in to the Beta site.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/12/31/protonmail-encrypted-calendar/

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Everything Engadget played to wrap up 2019

Before long, you'll have some flower friends, a waddling nose and a tiny acorn that can sprout into a giant tree provided everyone else holds hands and dances around in a circle. To progress further, you'll need to frequently switch characters and use their unique abilities to make other people happy. The aforementioned tree, for instance, can gobble characters up and turn them into strawberries, pork chops and broccoli. The mouth, meanwhile, can turn food into poop and the balloon can float higher than anybody else. Every interaction is utterly bizarre but, through Takahashi's trademark art direction, logical and endearing.

Completing tasks will eventually unlock larger objects -- tables, chairs and giant inflatable ducks -- that can ferry smaller characters between biomes. The floating pasture, it turns out, is called Spring and you'll need to work through Summer, Fall and Winter before the end credits roll. Along the way, you'll discover the origins of this strange but merry world and why the characters were scattered about in the first place. It's a simple tale with a timeless message that players young and old should be able to appreciate.

"We are human beings living on the same planet," Takahasi told me at E3 earlier this year. "Why do we have to fight each other? I just wanted to try making something that somehow means we can get over our differences. In a funny way, though, which is colorful explosions for me." A perfect antidote, in short, to the madness of 2019.

Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales

Igor Bonifacic
Contributing Writer

Like a lot of people, I decided to revisit The Witcher games after watching Netflix's adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski's fantasy novel series. But rather than starting a new playthrough of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, I instead opted to check out Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales.

Chances are, even if you're a fan of The Witcher universe, you may not be familiar with Thronebreaker. Despite its ties to CD Projekt Red's masterpiece, it wasn't a financial success, failing to meet the studio's sales expectations when it came out last year. That's a shame since it's almost every good as The Witcher 3.

The simplest way to describe Thronebreaker is that it's a combination of Gwent, the collectible card game (CCG) CD Projekt Red introduced in The Witcher 3, and a visual novel. You play as Meve, the queen of one of the kingdoms that makes up the world of The Witcher. While technically a prequel, as the player you have a lot of control over how the story takes shape thanks to the decisions you make as events unfold. What makes those choices difficult and compelling is that the characters they involve are often messy. For example, partway through the game, you have to decide the fate of a general who ordered the massacre of a village. That choice is made more complicated when you learn he did so out grief for a murdered son.

Gameplay is also fun thanks to the ways in which CD Projekt Red found to keep the Gwent formula fresh. To get some of the best cards in Thronebreaker, you'll need to solve clever challenges that give you a limited set of cards and a specific win condition. These puzzle challenges do a lot to break up the usual battles. Even if you're not a fan of CCGs, Thronebreaker is well worth checking out for its compelling story and characters.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/12/31/gaming-irl-life-is-strange-2/

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Tech that defined the decade

Apple iPad

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad to the world in January 2010, many were skeptical. "It's just a big iPhone," people said. The name was also mocked, especially in reference to feminine hygiene products. Turns out that people actually liked it because it was a big iPhone; a large touchscreen computer that you could bring with you was appealing to many. Some even touted it as the first step toward the pxost-PC era.

Before long, the iPad sparked a tablet movement, with plenty of competition from the likes of Samsung and Amazon. The iPad, as well as its early rivals, were largely designed for watching videos and reading magazines, but as the platform matured, more people ended up using it as a PC replacement. So much so, that touch screens made their way into laptops, too, which showed that tablets might not have been such a bad idea after all.


Even before Facebook bought Instagram in 2012, the mobile app was a phenomenon. Founded in 2010 by Kevin Systrom, it reached one million users a mere two months after it launched. Sure, there were photo-sharing apps before Instagram, but it was one of the few to truly make uploading photos from your phone easy and intuitive. This was partly because it was a mobile-first app and didn't have the legacy desktop services that companies like Flickr or Shutterfly were beholden to. In a sense, Instagram was less about photos and more about sharing, and it knew that from the very beginning.

Facebook, of course, realized that too, which is why it bought it in 2012 for $1 billion. Instagram has since blossomed into a social network of its own, with influencers and celebrities using it as their platform of choice. Even in 2019, it shows no sign of slowing down.


Before Alexa and Google Assistant, there was Siri. Many might not remember that Apple's digital assistant arrived years before the competition. Originally a spinoff from a project developed by SRI International Artificial Intelligence Center, Siri made its debut in 2010 as an app for iOS but was bought by Apple a couple of months later. Then, in 2011, Siri was integrated into the operating system itself, making its official debut as an iOS feature with the iPhone 4S.

Since then, Amazon's Alexa debuted in 2015 and Google Assistant came out in 2016 -- and they improved on the technology with artificial intelligence and machine learning. Apple didn't really embrace those until much later, which turned out to be a serious misstep as Siri's smarts are nowhere near as advanced as its rivals. Still, it's questionable if Amazon or Google would have come out with their own versions at all if Siri hadn't kicked it off.


Snapchat burst onto the scene in 2011 and helped propel the idea of "ephemeral content" to the mainstream. At first, the idea of sharing photos that vanished in 24 hours seemed strange. Why would anyone want to use a service like that? But it turns out that people did -- since the photos or videos wouldn't last forever, some felt freed to be themselves and less hung up about appearances. On the other end, viewers liked what they saw because it felt more authentic and less formal. Plus, since it would go away so quickly, they felt compelled to watch it right then and there.

Initially, most used it for sending photos from one person to another. Snapchat later changed it so that users could share them publicly as well. Soon, companies and brands began using the service as a way to spread memes and ads. This phenomenon soon drew interest from rivals like Instagram, which "borrowed" Snapchat's idea with its Stories feature. Facebook took it a step further and integrated disappearing stories in Messenger, WhatsApp and, well, Facebook itself, which ultimately led to Instagram becoming more popular than Snapchat. But there's no question that Snapchat started it all.

Oculus Rift

Virtual reality headsets have existed for decades, but it wasn't until the 2010s that consumer VR blossomed. That's almost entirely thanks to the Oculus Rift, which was much more portable, powerful and affordable than existing headsets. Founded by Palmer Luckey, Oculus launched a highly successful Kickstarter in 2013 where it raised well over $2 million. It also began showing the prototype off at CES, where it gained a lot of praise.

Of course, things really changed for Oculus when Facebook acquired it for a whopping $2 billion in 2014. This gave it legitimacy, especially for a company that had yet to launch an actual product. Another turning point was a partnership with Samsung to develop the GearVR -- a phone-based VR headset to be used with the latest Galaxy handsets. Sure, it wasn't quite as capable as a fully-fledged VR headset, but it gave consumers a taste of VR at a relatively affordable price.

It wasn't until 2016 that the first-ever consumer-ready Rift came to market, with plenty of positive reviews to boot. But it wouldn't be long before it had competition. HTC's Vive came out soon after, as did Sony's PS VR. Google also tried to get on the VR bandwagon with Cardboard (and eventually Daydream), though that program has since ended as phone-based VR fell out of favor.

Now, Oculus has emerged with a couple of standalone VR headsets that don't require a PC or a phone: the affordable Oculus Go and the more powerful Oculus Quest. That, combined with the robust competition in the VR space, shows that consumer VR isn't going away any time soon.

Sony a7

Prior to 2013, mirrorless cameras weren't really taken seriously by professionals or hardcore photographers. They used smaller sensors and didn't have the lens selection that DSLRs had, and some didn't even have an eye-level viewfinder. But Sony's a7 and a7R changed all that. These were full-frame mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses, and they were priced competitively at under $2,500. The Sony a7 line turned out to be incredibly popular among professionals and enthusiasts alike, and the full-frame mirrorless trend would prove to be quite the competitor against DSLRs. Suddenly, Canon and Nikon were no longer the only two camera companies that mattered; there was now a third.

Google Chromecast

Back before the days of ubiquitous smart TVs, watching YouTube or Netflix on your television meant spending close to a $100 on something like a Roku or an Apple TV. But with Google's $35 Chromecast, anyone could turn their dumb TV into a smart one simply by plugging it into their HDMI port. From there, they could cast popular streaming services (as well as their web browser) straight from their phone or laptop to the TV. It helped bridge the gap for those who wanted to watch the latest Netflix movie on the big screen but didn't want to invest in a whole new entertainment system.

These days, most modern TVs have streaming apps built-in, but Google's Chromecast did help to democratize streaming media in the living room by making it more accessible. Plus, the latest Chromecast Ultra added support for Google's cloud-based gaming service, so it's no longer just about passive media streaming.

Apple Watch

Of course, there were smartwatches before 2010 -- remember the Microsoft SPOT? -- but the Apple was the first to make them fashionable, complete with beautiful hardware and a choice of finishes. Sure, Google came out with Android Wear a year prior, but the first batch were a little on the masculine side, and didn't quite gain the mass appeal that the Watch did. Since then, Apple has beefed up its wearable even further with health-oriented features like a heart rate monitor and fall detection, which certainly makes it more useful than a regular ol' wrist timepiece.

Amazon Echo

At first, a standalone device that you shouted random commands at just seemed superfluous and a little silly. After all, you already had your phone; why would you need this? But as extraneous as it was, the Amazon Echo ended up taking off. A big reason for that: Alexa. It turns out that being able to speak commands to an omnipresent assistant was surprisingly useful, especially at home, when you might not have your phone on you or your hands might be busy washing the dishes.

The Echo also proved to be something of a trojan horse for Amazon's smart home ambitions. Of course, you could use Alexa for the usual tasks like asking it for the weather or checking on the day's appointments. But you can also use Alexa to power the lights, turn on the TV or adjust the smart thermostat. The concept proved so compelling that rivals like Google attempted to compete with Google Home and Google Assistant.

We should note there are a number of privacy concerns with owning one of these smart speakers. Both Amazon and Google have fessed up to occasionally listening in on conversations and keeping transcripts, though both companies have also updated their policies so that users can delete and block recordings if desired. Despite these issues, smart speakers and their upgraded cousin, the smart display, continue to be popular with consumers.

Google Pixel

Google's Nexus line was supposed to represent just how good stock Android can be. Yet, it didn't quite gain mass appeal in the way other Android phones did, as the hardware tended to take a backseat to the software. The Pixel and Pixel XL, however, were different. With them, Google had more control over design and development than it ever had with any Nexus. It had a 5-inch AMOLED display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, and a 12.3-megapixel camera that was ranked as "the best smartphone camera" on DxOMarkMobile at the time. That, combined with unlimited cloud storage on Google Photos, finally resulted in a Google flagship that was on par with the rest of the industry.

Nintendo Switch

Nintendo has always been something of an outcast in the gaming world: always left at the kid's table while Sony and Microsoft mingled with the grownups. That changed in 2017 when a Nintendo console suddenly became the hottest gaming gadget of the year and, arguably, the decade. It was the Switch, and it proved to be far better than the Wii and Wii U. Its versatile design meant you could play it anywhere -- either docked and connected to your TV or as a handheld. You could even slide out the controllers and hand one to a friend for head-to-head play while on the go.

As of June 2019, Nintendo has sold over 38 million units, which is more than both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One at similar points of their lifetimes. While the draw for Nintendo consoles has always been first-party titles (like Mario and Zelda), a lot of publishers eventually wanted (and did) port their titles over to the Switch because of how popular it was. Sure, it doesn't have the triple A titles that Sony and Microsoft have, but with these sales numbers -- and the growing popularity of its little sibling, the Switch Lite -- Nintendo has nothing to worry about.

Tesla Model 3

Even though Tesla was founded in 2003 and rolled out its first car, the Roadster, in 2008, it wasn't until the 2010s that it hit its stride. With the arrival of the Model S in 2012 and the Model X in 2015, the company helped transform the idea of the electric vehicle as a boring toaster into one of a high-tech automobile with a giant touchscreen and advanced autopilot features. Plus, it helped spur traditional automakers to churn out their own electric wonders, like the Jaguar I-Pace and the Audi e-tron.

But what really propelled Tesla to the top was the $35,000 Model 3, which was the culmination of a nearly 12-year plan to bring an affordable yet attractive EV to market. The Model 3 arguably kicked off the trend of EVs with prices that won't break the bank, such as the Hyundai Kona Electric or the Kia Niro EV. That, combined with its good looks, minimum range of 220 miles and, according to senior editor Roberto Baldwin, the fact that it handles corners like a dream, makes it one of the more important EVs of the decade.


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Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/12/31/tech-that-defined-the-decade/

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This might be Samsung’s upcoming ‘zero bezel’ 8K TV

You might not have to wait until CES to see Samsung's fabled 'zero bezel' TV. German site 4KFilme has posted what it says are the first pictures of the 8K set, which might be called the Q900T or Q950T. If these are accurate, it's not literally a zero-bezel TV, but it's very close. The most you see is a tiny chin. It would also have a soundbar-friendly stand, and there appears to be a gap-free wall mount like before.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/12/31/samsung-zero-bezel-8k-tv-images/

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How home assistants ruined us, an explanation

Understandably, everyone is doing their introspection right now; their year- and decade-end summaries of what was most dreadful in tech, and what lead to this mess we're all in. I can assure you that one of the key factors is what we have come to call The Internet of Shit and how we've embraced it.

This was the decade technology broke us. The products saturating our lives are released in the worst, most broken, untested, and often dangerously flawed forms imaginable. Think Skynet, but a dumbass. Terminator, controlled by Shitnet. We've seen the films, we know the dystopian warnings. It enslaved us as a species anyway. We cannot escape. Because Siri can't understand our pleas to unlock the door, the getaway vehicle won't start until it reboots, you can't even run away because your shoes are bricked from a bad update.

Just five years ago, Amazon told people it would be really cool if they could kindly put microphones in their homes with its release of the Echo (Alexa, 2014). This was after Samsung fired the starting gun to stick chips in everything with its SmartThings platform (2012). Google and Apple had already tricked us into carrying and depending upon their tracking and surveillance devices perversely called "smartphones." So naturally, both companies joined the connected home data collection gold rush with Google Home (2016) and Apple HomePod (2018).

Of course, each has its own standards and none will work with each other (yet). Some won't even work with themselves.

Anyway, the gold rush to stick a chip in everything and put spyware in people's homes coincided with a lot of things, but namely increased awareness around surveillance, digital privacy, hacking, security, and the looming threat of a data-harvesting-advertising IoT apocalypse. A lot of people wondered how secure and private all these smart things were. Turns out, not at all! "The problems researchers identified were the kinds of things we in the security industry were writing about 10 or 15 years ago," app security company Veracode cautioned in 2013. "A lack of basic authentication requirements to access administrative interfaces, open ports that leave the devices discoverable to internet scans, no privilege separation for user accounts and hard-coded passwords."

Like a drunk, dementia-addled billionaire bull in a china shop, each of the major players unfailingly rushed every dumb smart thing into our lives, consequences be damned.

They spied on us. This April, news came out that Amazon Alexa is "trained" by humans who listen to audio from users' homes and offices without their knowledge. No one knew this — nor did users realize that all the home assistants do this. The story continued this month in "Silicon Valley Is Listening to Your Most Intimate Moments" — one reporter working on the story commented that "The contractors listening to voices were all horrified, and saw an obvious violation," while "the companies were all surprised by the discomfort."

They tricked us. In February, users found out the hard way that Google slipped a microphone into its Nest Guard product. The company told press it "forgot" to tell people who bought the device and installed it in their homes. Can you imagine being one of the most powerful companies in the world with elite-educated staff, and forgetting something this serious? Nope, I can't either. Who do they think they are, Facebook? Well, woe to those who put a Nest Guard in their bedrooms thinking it was safe for truly private "no microphone" spaces.

They sold us broken things. It took The New York Attorney General's office filing suit in 2017 to force smart lock maker Safetech to secure their locks by adding encryption, among other startlingly basic things. In August this year, June smart ovens were discovered to be preheating to over 400 degrees, sometimes overnight and with food inside them. Users were told it would be months before a fix. "Like all things with software in them," we warned in 2015, "a dev somewhere probably meant to send it for a code audit, or eliminate the hard-coded password, or file a patch, or tell comms that customers urgently need to update the firmware on their smart toilet. But ultimately they were distracted by the chance to eat a dozen tacos for $2." Hopefully no one's home burns down in the meantime.

They took our data without consent. In 2017, Vizio settled charges admitting it put spyware on 11 million of its smart TVs to track people's viewing histories and sell the data to advertisers. LG had been caught doing the same thing in 2013, and in 2015 Samsung pinky-sweared that its smart TV's were not listening to you through its microphones. Regardless, this month the FBI issued a public warning about TV's spying on us, urging people to use caution.

They forced ads and DRM down our throats. Last month, developer Wes Bos was extremely annoyed that he had to opt out of an intrusive advertisement for McDonald's via the operating system of a TV he paid over a thousand dollars for. Keurig angered everyone in 2015 when its smart coffee machines came with software that blocks the use of older Keurig pods and pods made by competitors. (People are still finding ways to get around the DRM'd machines.)

Worst of all, they blamed us for what they had done. It's difficult to know where to begin with Amazon's Ring doorbell and camera system, whose problems are so voluminous and cringey we have to breathe into a paper bag every time we even think about it. The Ring product's close relationship with law enforcement is messy and scary, including the use of facial recognition and the pile of data exposed by vulns in its Neighbors app.

Meanwhile, Ring (like Nest) is susceptible to credential-stuffing attacks, where hackers use black market tools to scrape usernames and passwords exposed in breaches and try them on new accounts, taking over if you re-used a compromised password. That's where the recent spate of in-home camera attacks came from, and now Amazon/Ring face a lawsuit over these hacks. (Oh, also: until recently, Ring's app was sending user credentials unencrypted.)

Ring's response has been to blame us. It published a blame-the-user blog post earlier this month, following a November set of congressional questions in which Ring said it was users' fault if a Ring camera violates their privacy.

And you know what? It's easy to believe Big Tech when they say it's all our fault, despite being obvious bullshit. In our cursed timeline where everything feels like a practical-effects, 1980s cyberpunk TV show, we chose to add these demonic toys into our lives. Do you even know your best friend's phone number? How crippled would your apartment be without WiFi? They rushed their products to market — yet we rushed to bring them home.

If Big Tech's framing of the situation feels wrong, that's because it is. We wouldn't be in this mess if it wasn't for the broken and codependent relationship between Big Tech and its enablers — not to mention that our situation of constant, invasive surveillance via products with half-assed security is absolutely, 100 percent by design.

The failings here are not ours. It is not our fault if everything the companies do to us is the same; nonconsensual, lazy, ignorant of history and blind to abuses, flagrant in their disregard and obvious in their pretenses. "We take your privacy and/or security seriously" is the purest fiction this era of tech has produced.

Perhaps we can't avoid the monsters these bloodsuckers created, but that does not mean we should ever stop fighting them.

Images: Daniel Cooper / Engadget (Ring doorbell video)

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/12/31/home-assistants-listening-ruined-us-an-explanation/

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President Trump signs anti-robocall TRACED Act into law

There are also self-review measures. Both the FCC and the Justice Department have to create a working group that will study enforcement of certain robocall bans, and report to Congress. Likewise, the FCC will have to examine its policies on number resources to see if it can reduce access to spammers.

This isn't likely to completely stop the deluge of robocalls. Perpetrators that are willing to use real numbers (including hijacked ones) or find clever software tricks might still get through, and some may be willing to take risks knowing that the payoff from successful scams could be high. And remember, this only applies to illegal calls. "Rachel from cardholder services" might not bug you, but your cable provider will with your permission. This is more about creating a barrier that could deter 'casual' spam calls.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/12/31/president-trump-signs-traced-act-into-law/

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‘Untitled Goose Game’ honks its way to a million sales

Untitled Goose Game hasn't just melted the hearts of mischievous gamers -- apparently, it's also a commercial success. Panic's Cabel Sasser has revealed that House House's chaos-creating title has racked up 1 million sales since its debut on September 20th. He didn't break down sales by platform, although we wouldn't be surprised if the PC version was the frontrunner. The PS4 and Xbox One releases no doubt helped, mind you. And remember, the PC edition is currently an Epic Games Store exclusive -- we'd expect another boost once it reaches Steam in late 2020.

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/12/31/untitled-goose-game-1-million-copies-sold/

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YouTube’s Justin Bieber docuseries premieres January 27th

The docuseries follows on the heels of YouTube's Johnny Cash documentary. While Bieber hasn't produced an album in years and canceled the final shows of his 2017 tour, he currently has 47.8 million subscribers, more than any other artist on YouTube. He's in six videos with over one billion views, and he has over 19 billion views on his Official Artist Channel. YouTube is calling the docuseries a "homecoming," as Bieber was discovered on the platform.

The series will include interviews with Bieber's wife Hailey Bieber, as well as footage from their wedding, and reveal more about what was going on when he canceled the end of his 2017 tour.

If you can't wait until January 27th to watch the show, ABC will host a preview of the series and "a special message from Bieber himself" after tonight's "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2020."

Article source: https://www.engadget.com/2019/12/31/youtube-justin-bieber-docuseries-trailer/

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