Blog Archives

Surface Go with integrated LTE available for preorder now, from $679

Consumers have one LTE variant available; corporate users have two.

Apple’s rumored over-ear headphones might be just as smart as the HomePod

Apple’s HomePod hasn’t quite dominated the industry in the way that its phones and tablets have (yet, anyway), but the underlying technology that powers the smart speaker is undeniably impressive. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the company is thinking about employing the same beamforming technology — which enables speakers to automatically adjust to the size and shape of the room — in its upcoming over-ear headphones.

In a new Apple patent published this week (via 9to5Mac), the company describes two potential uses of beamforming in its headphones, the first of which would make the headphones reversible by automatically detecting which ear cup is over which ear. Apple describes how this would work on a technical level in its patent:

Embodiments of the invention relate generally to a system and method for automatic right-left ear detection for headphones. Specifically, in one embodiment, the headphone includes two earcups that are identical and include at least three microphones to capture acoustic signals. In another embodiment, each of the earcups may be coupled to an earcup detector that receives the microphone signals from at least one of the earcups and determines which of the earcups is worn on the user’s right ear.

The other possible use case would be to let the headset understand when you’re on a call and automatically block out background noise with a process called “voice beamforming,” which reacts to the user’s mouth:

[A] processor […] may be used to perform voice beamforming towards the user’s mouth to capture the user’s speech and perform noise beamforming away from the user’s mouth to capture environmental noise.

Reports about Apple’s rumored over-ear headphones began popping up earlier this year, and were later backed up by a Bloomberg report in July. The headphones are supposedly scheduled to launch in 2019.

Teardown of next-gen MacBook Air reveals step up in repairability

Even though Apple’s brand new iPad Pros garnered the lion’s share of press attention at the company’s recent media event, you definitely don’t want to sleep on Apple’s brand new MacBook Air. A long time in the making, Apple’s next-gen MacBook Air brings a whole lot to the table and should make for a compelling upgrade for folks looking to purchase a new notebook.

Spec wise, Apple’s new MacBook Air features a brand new Retina display, a next-gen version of the company’s butterfly keyboard (which we’ve heard is a decent improvement), built-in Touch ID functionality, a larger Force Touch trackpad, higher quality speakers, and much more. And of course, with this being a MacBook Air, Apple managed to make the notebook thinner and a tad lighter than its predecessor.

MacBook Air deliveries began just yesterday and the enterprising folks at iFixit wasted absolutely no time picking one up and doing what they do best — tearing it down.

Of course, the keyboard membrane Apple added to its notebook line to address complaints regarding its butterfly keyboard design is apparent the moment you pry off one of the keys. If you recall, Apple currently faces a few lawsuits over the original keyboard design amidst complaints that the keyboard became inoperable when even a tiny spec of dust happened to lodge itself underneath a key.

Per usual, getting into the MacBook Air requires a set of specialized tools, which is to say you shouldn’t try and do this yourself (not that there’s a reason to) with whatever generic tools you happen to have lying around the house.

The Air still uses external pentalobes to keep you out, requires lots of component removal for common fixes, and both RAM and storage are soldered to the logic board. All together, that means Apple has an easy time with their knowledge and tools, but the average DIYer is left out to dry when it comes to upgrades. We’re not ones to complain (okay, yes we are), but we hope this is just the beginning of an upswing in repairable design.

That said, the iFixit folks found that repairability on the MacBook Air is noticeably better than on previous models. A blog post highlighting all of their findings can be found over here.

Facebook swears its Portal video chat devices that go on sale today won’t spy on you

Facebook being Facebook, the social networking giant has decided to assuage some fears and pre-empt the launch of its new Portal video chat devices that go on sale in the US starting today — the devices being Facebook’s first hardware products the company has built itself — with a lengthy list of what Portal does and doesn’t do posted to the company’s official blog. A list that’s tantamount to Facebook saying yes, we know we’re the biggest social networking company on the planet and have been at the center of scores of privacy flaps throughout our history and especially in 2018. But if you buy a Portal, we promise we won’t spy on your video chats or use the product as a creepy new portal into the lives of our users.

Whether you believe that or not is another matter entirely. In terms of the specifics, Portal comes in two forms, a smaller version for $199 and a larger one for $349 (you get a $100 discount if you buy two together). As far as how it will actually work, as we’ve already reported, this is a video chat device that relies in large part on Facebook Messenger. The company says your video chats will be encrypted, the camera can be turned off, and Portal even comes with a plastic cover to keep your camera under wraps if you want. Facebook says it doesn’t listen to, view or keep contents of your Portal video calls, and in an interview with Bloomberg, Facebook’s vice president of consumer hardware Andrew Bosworth was emphatic: “This isn’t a data gathering operation.”

Facebook shared more details in the company blog post ahead of the release, outlining privacy safeguards:

“Nothing you say on a Portal video call is accessed by Facebook or used for advertising,” the company says. “Portal video calls are encrypted, so your calls are secure. Smart Camera and Smart Sound use AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on Facebook servers. Portal’s camera doesn’t identify who you are.”

Facebook goes on to note that whenever Portal is used, the company processes the same kinds of information it does when you use Facebook products on other devices — information like how often you use a feature or app, which can in turn inform the ads you see across the company’s ecosystem. And make no mistake, Facebook will indeed be paying attention to a lot of details when it comes to Portal usage, the company continues. Even down to things like volume level, the number of bytes received and frame resolution, as well as the frequency and length of your calls. “Some of this information may be used to target ads,” the company’s post explains. “For example, if you make lots of video calls, you might see some ads related to video calling. This information does not include the contents of your Portal video calls.”

You can delete your Portal’s voice history in your Facebook Activity Log. The blog post ends with a reminder that Portal won’t show Facebook ads but that you might see ads from some third-party apps on Portal, like from music partners.

Per the Bloomberg piece, “The data the Portal gathers now will be useful to Facebook in the way all activity on Instagram and Messenger is. But it’s not that valuable, yet, Bosworth said. ‘Even if this was the most successful hardware product in history, that wouldn’t be significant compared to the people we already have using Messenger,’ which already has more than 1 billion users, Bosworth said.”

Microsoft’s special Costco Surface Go is now available to all

The new $499 price point is probably the best trade-off between price and specs.