Apple’s Activation Lock Will Make It Very Difficult To Refurbish Macs

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Apple’s Activation Lock is an anti-theft feature built into iOS, watchOS, and macOS Catalina that prevents people from restoring your Apple devices without your permission. “With the release of macOS Catalina earlier this fall, any Mac that’s equipped with Apple’s new T2 security chip now comes with Activation Lock,” writes iFixit’s Craig Lloyd. What this means is that there will likely be thousands of perfectly good Macs being parted out or scrapped instead of being put into the hands of people who could really use them. From the report: Activation Lock was designed to prevent anyone else from using your device if it’s ever lost or stolen, and it’s built into the “Find My” service on iPhones, iPads, and other Apple devices. When you’re getting rid of an old phone, you want to use Apple’s Reset feature to wipe the phone clean, which also removes it from Find My iPhone and gets rid of the Activation Lock. But if you forget, and sell your old iPhone to a friend before you properly wipe it, the phone will just keep asking them for your Apple ID before they can set it up as a new phone. In other words, they won’t be able to do much with it besides scrap it for parts.

That seems like a nice way to thwart tech thieves, but it also causes unnecessary chaos for recyclers and refurbishers who are wading through piles of locked devices they can’t reuse. This reduces the supply of refurbished devices, making them more expensive — oh, and it’s an environmental nightmare. […] The T2 security chip, however, erases any hope and makes it impossible to do anything on a Mac without the proper Apple ID credentials. Attempting any kind of hardware tinkering on a T2-enabled Mac activates a hardware lock, which can only be undone by connecting the device to Apple-authorized repair software. It’s great for device security, but terrible for repair and refurbishment. While recyclers may not be dealing with as many locked Macs as locked iPhones (especially since Activation Lock on Macs is still very new, and there are specific software criteria that need to be met), it’s only a matter of time before thousands upon thousands of perfectly working Macs are scrapped or shredded, for lack of an unknown password.

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Valve’s Steam Controller Is Dead

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Valve has confirmed to The Verge that it will stop making its Steam Controller. Currently, the gamepads are on sale for just $5 — 90 percent off its original price — but once these controllers are gone, Valve doesn’t plan to make any more. From the report: [W]hile I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly like I did when Valve discontinued its amazing Steam Link wireless HDMI cable-in-a-box, I will say that $13 is a pretty excellent price if you ever plug your PC into your television, or sling your PC games wirelessly to the Steam Link app on your phone and need an accurate solution. That’s because the controller, originally introduced in 2013 as part of Valve’s failed Steam Machines initiative, is one of the most fully customizable gamepads ever made, and perhaps the only one to offer mouse-like pinpoint precision. That’s because it uses a pair of trackpads, complete with tiny solenoid actuators for haptic feedback, so you can emulate a mouse or trackball. Plus, there are paddles around back for crouching, jumping, strafing, you name it without needing to take your thumbs off those trackpads.

But that’s just the beginning. Thanks to Valve’s robust configuration software, the Steam Controller has developed something of a cult following with thousands of gamers uploading their custom configurations for their entire game libraries on Steam. It’s not uncommon to fire up a game and find dozens of fancy profiles that place the game’s functions at your fingertips plus add entirely new control modes. One common modifier is to hold down a button to switch the entire gamepad into a gyroscopic aiming mode, not only readying your character’s weapon, but slowing down your aiming sensitivity while allowing you to physically shift the controller a small amount to line up a shot using its built-in gyroscope. […] I doubt I’m actually going to convince you to buy a Steam Controller if you’ve never been sold on the idea before. (Plus, paying $8 for shipping seems a bit much.) But I’m keeping mine around as a piece of gaming history, and I’m a little tempted to buy a second just in case I ever lose its USB dongle.

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Google Stadia Review: Gaming’s Streaming Future Isn’t Here Yet

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Scott Stein, reviews Google Stadia cloud gaming service for CNET: Stadia’s launch day was earlier this week… sort of. Really, consider this the start of Stadia’s early-access beta period. Because Google’s big promises haven’t arrived, and at the price of the Stadia’s Founder’s Edition, I can’t recommend anyone jump onboard at the moment. Google’s experimental game streaming service, Stadia, launches without many of its promised features, and just a handful of games. It works, but there’s not much incentive to buy in. We’ve heard about the promises of streaming games over the internet for a decade. Stadia really does work as a way to stream games. I’ve only played a couple of the 12 games Google promised by Tuesday’s launch, though. That short list pales compared to what Microsoft already has on tap for its in-beta game-streaming service, xCloud. It’s no match for what Nvidia’s game streaming GeForce Now already has or what PlayStation Now offers. Prices of Stadia games at launch in the US are below. They’re basically full retail game prices. This could get crazy expensive fast.

[…] Stadia has so few games right now, and I’m trying them with no one else online. It isn’t clear how things will work now that the service is going live, and what other features will kick in before year’s end. I’m curious, but I might lose interest. Others might, too. I have plenty of other great games to play right now: on Apple Arcade, VR and consoles such as the Switch. Stadia isn’t delivering new games yet, it’s just trying to deliver a new way to play through streaming. One that you can already get from other providers. Until Google finds a way to loop in YouTube and develop truly unique competitive large-scale games, Stadia isn’t worth your time yet. Yes, the future is possibly wild, and you can see hints of the streaming-only cloud-based playground Stadia wants to become. But we’ll see what it shapes into over the next handful of months and check back in. Raymond Wong, writing for Input Mag looks at the amount of data playing a game on Stadia consumes and how the current state of things require a very fast internet connection to work: Like streaming video, streaming games is entirely dependent on your internet speed. Faster internet delivers smooth, lag-free visuals, and slower internet means seeing some glitches and dropped framerates. Google recommends a minimum of connection of 10Mbps for 1080p Full HD streaming at 30 fps with stereo sound and 35Mbps for 4K resolution streaming (in HDR if display is supported) at 60 fps with 5.1 surround sound. Reality didn’t reflect Google’s advertising, though. Despite having a Wi-Fi connection with 16-20Mbps downloads in a hotel room in LA, streaming Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Destiny 2 to my 13-inch MacBook Pro wasn’t 100% stable. The visuals would glitch out for a second or two about every 10 minutes of playtime. […] A fast internet connection isn’t the only thing you need for Stadia to work right. You need a lot of bandwidth, too. One hour of playing Red Dead Redemption 2 at 1080p resolution on my 46-inch HDTV via a Chromecast Ultra ate up 5.3GB of data. This seemed insane until I saw an hour of Destiny 2 on a Pixel 3a XL with 6-inch, 1080p-resolution display gobbled up 9.3GB of data!

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Xbox One November Update Arrives With Google Assistant, Gamertag Updates, More

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Microsoft’s November 2019 update for Xbox One consoles is now headed out to everyone. From a report: After a period of testing with Xbox Insiders, several new features are now rolling out to the public, including Google Assistant support, the option to use any Gamertag, text filters, and more. Perhaps the biggest update here is support for Google Assistant. While it doesn’t run on your Xbox, Google Assistant support allows you to issue commands to control your Xbox from your phone or smart speaker. It works much like the Amazon Echo integration that hit Xbox consoles several months ago, letting you turn your Xbox on, launch games, and more with your voice. The Gamertag updates in the November 2019 update bring more choice to players on consoles. Microsoft announced a plan earlier this year to revamp Gamertags, allowing you to choose any name you want. If you pick a Gamertag that’s already taken, you’ll have a numbered suffix added to it. “With the November 2019 Xbox Update, these gamertag options are now supported on console, including profiles, friend lists, messages, Clubs, LFG and more,” Microsoft says.

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Motorola Resurrects the Razr As a Foldable Android Smartphone

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After teasing it last month, Motorola has officially announced the successor to the Motorola Razr. The “razr,” as it is called, “keeps the same general form factor but replaces the T9 keypad and small LCD with a 6.2-inch foldable plastic OLED panel and Android 9 Pie,” reports The Verge. “It’ll cost $1,499 when it arrives in January 2020.” From the report: The new Razr is a fundamentally different take on the foldable phones that we’ve seen so far: instead of turning a modern-sized phone into a smaller tablet, it turns a conventional-sized smartphone into something much smaller and more pocketable. […] The core of the phone is, of course, the display. It’s a 6.2-inch 21:9 plastic OLED panel that folds in half along the horizontal axis. Unfolded, it’s not dramatically bigger than any other modern phone, and the extra height is something that the Android interface and apps adapt to far better than a tablet-size screen. The screen does have a notch on top for a speaker and camera and a curved edge on the bottom, which takes a bit of getting used to, but after a minute or two, you barely notice it.

There’s also a second, 2.7-inch glass-covered OLED display on the outside that Motorola calls the Quick View display. It can show notifications, music controls, and even a selfie camera mode to take advantage of the better main camera. Motorola is also working with Google to let apps seamlessly transition from the front display to the main one. There are some concerns about durability for the folding display, especially after Samsung’s Galaxy Fold issues. But Motorola says that it has “full confidence in the durability of the Flex View display,” claiming that its research shows that “it will last for the average lifespan of a smartphone.” There’s a proprietary coating to make the panel “scuff resistant,” and it also has an internal nano-coating for splash resistance. (Don’t take it swimming, though.) Motorola says that the entire display is made with a single cut, with the edges entirely enclosed by the stainless steel frame to prevent debris from getting in. Aside from the mid-range specs, like the Snapdragon 710 processor and “lackluster” 16-megapixel camera, seasoned reviewers appear to really like the nostalgic look and feel of the device. Did you own a Razr phone from the mid-2000s? How do you think the new model compares?

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Apple Unveils New 16-inch MacBook Pro With Improved Keyboard, Starting at $2,400

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Apple today launched a new 16-inch MacBook Pro. The starting price of $2,399 is the same price as the previous 15-inch MacBook Pro, which this one replaces. It has new processors, better speakers, a larger screen, and (finally) a better keyboard. The base model is powered by a 2.6GHz 6-core 9th gen Intel Core i7 processor (Turbo Boost up to 4.5 GHz) coupled with AMD Radeon Pro 5300M GPU with 4GB of GDDR6 memory, 16GB of 2666MHz DDR4 RAM, and 512GB PCIe-based onboard SSD. John Gruber, writing about the keyboard: We got it all: a return of scissor key mechanisms in lieu of butterfly switches, a return of the inverted-T arrow key arrangement, and a hardware Escape key. Apple stated explicitly that their inspiration for this keyboard is the Magic Keyboard that ships with iMacs. At a glance, it looks very similar to the butterfly-switch keyboards on the previous 15-inch MacBook Pros. But don’t let that fool you — it feels completely different. There’s a full 1mm of key travel; the butterfly keyboards only have 0.5mm. This is a very good compromise on key travel, balancing the superior feel and accuracy of more travel with the goal of keeping the overall device thin. (The new 16-inch MacBook Pro is, in fact, a little thicker than the previous 15-inch models overall.) Calling it the “Magic Keyboard” threads the impossible marketing needle they needed to thread: it concedes everything while confessing nothing. Apple has always had a great keyboard that could fit in a MacBook — it just hasn’t been in a MacBook the last three years. There’s also more space between keys — about 0.5mm. This difference is much more noticeable by feel than by sight. Making it easier to feel the gaps between keys really does make a difference. Like the 15-inch MacBook Pro, all 16-inch models come with the Touch Bar. But even there, there’s a slight improvement: it’s been nudged further above the top row of keys, to help avoid accidental touches. No haptic feedback or any other functional changes to the Touch Bar, though.

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Google Reveals Stadia Launch Lineup of 12 Games

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As we approach the November 19th launch date of Stadia, Google has revealed there will be just 12 games available to start. ExtremeTech reports: Stadia is similar to GeForce Now and Microsoft’s upcoming xCloud service. Instead of downloading a game or buying a physical copy, Stadia renders the games on a Google server and streams the video down to your devices. Companies have been trying to figure this out for almost a decade, ever since OnLive began offering cloud gaming services in 2010. Even if Stadia works perfectly, it won’t matter if it lacks content. The initial launch lineup has a little of everything, but the emphasis is on little. Here’s the list of games you’ll be able to buy on November 19th: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey; Destiny 2: The Collection; GYLT; Just Dance 2020; Kine; Mortal Kombat 11; Red Dead Redemption 2; Rise of the Tomb Raider; SAMURAI SHODOWN; Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition; Thumper; and Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition.

Google has, of course, announced other games for Stadia. Anything previously announced like Darksiders Genesis and Borderlands 3 will come later. Google promises the latter will launch on Stadia in 2019 along with more titles like Rage 2, Grid, and Metro Exodus. Stadia launches on November 19th exclusively for players who ordered the Founder’s Edition starter kit. That comes with three months of Stadia Pro ($10 per month after), a limited edition controller, a Chromecast Ultra, and a copy of Destiny 2. The base version of Stadia, which lacks 4K support will be available early next year. That one doesn’t include a monthly fee, but you still have to pay for the games.

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‘Bring Back the Replaceable Laptop Battery’

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“If you’ve gone shopping for a new laptop lately, you may notice something missing in all newer models regardless of make,” writes Slashdot reader ikhider.

There’s no removable battery.

Whether mainstream or obscure manufacturer, the fact that pretty much all of them are made in the same area denote a similar approach to soldering batteries in. While battery technology may have improved, it is not to the extent that they no longer need to be replaced. Premium retention of charges generally tend to deplete in about a year or so. This impacts the device mobility and necessitates replacement. Also, the practical use of having a backup battery if you need one cannot even be applied.

While some high-end models may have better quality batteries, it does not replace popping in a fresh, new one. This leads to one conclusion, planned obsolescence.If you want your laptop to still be mobile when the battery fizzles out, forget about it. Buy new instead. Pick your manufacturer, even those famed for building ‘tank’ laptops that last forever, all you need is a fresh battery, upgrade the RAM, and a new HD or SSD and away you go. While the second hand market still has good models with replaceable batteries, it is only a matter of time before that too fizzles away. If you had a limited budget, you could still get a good, second-hand machine [in the past], but now you are stuck with the low end.

Consumers need to make their case to manufacturers, for their own best interest to leverage the life of a machine on their own terms, not the manufacturers. Bring back the removable laptop battery.

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Chrome OS 78 Rolling Out With Picture-In-Picture Support For YouTube, Split Browser/Device Settings, More

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The latest version of Chrome OS, version 78, adds separate browser and device settings, click-to-call, and picture-in-picture support for YouTube. It also introduces virtual desktop support for the operating system with a feature called Virtual Desks. 9to5Google reports: Chrome is getting another cross-device sharing feature after “Send this page” widely rolled in September. With “click-to-call,” you can right-click on phone number links — like tel:800-800-8000 — to have them sent to your Android device. It’s quicker than manually entering those digits or transferring via email. Chrome OS 78 will separate browser and device settings. The former is accessible directly at chrome://settings and what opens when clicking “Settings” at the bottom of the Overflow menu in the top-right corner of any browser window. It opens as a tab and provides web-related preferences. Meanwhile, chrome://os-settings opens as its own window, and can be accessed from the quick settings sheet. It provides device options like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Assistant in a white Material Theme UI with an icon in the launcher/app shelf.

YouTube for Android now supports picture-in-picture with Chrome OS 78. After starting a video in the mobile client, switching to another window, covering, or minimizing the app will automatically open a PiP in the bottom-right corner. Available controls include switching to audio, play/pause, and skipping to the next track. In the top-left, you can expand the window and a settings gear on the other side allows you to open system settings. Tapping in the center expands and returns you to the YouTube Android app. Chrome OS 78 simplifies the printing experience by automatically listing compatible printers without any prior setup required. There are also a number of Linux on Chrome OS enhancements in this version:

– Backups of Linux apps and files can now be saved to local storage, external drive, or Google Drive. That copy can be then restored when setting up a new computer.
– Crostini GPU support will be enabled by default for a “crisp, lower-latency experience.”
– You’ll be warned when using a Linux app that does not support virtual keyboard in tablet mode.

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Xiaomi Launches Mi Watch, Its $185 Apple Watch Clone

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Xiaomi, which competes with Apple for the top position in the wearable market, today made the competition a little more interesting. The Chinese electronics giant has launched its first smartwatch called the Mi Watch that looks strikingly similar to the Apple Watch in its home market. From a report: The Mi Watch, like the Apple Watch, has a square body with a crown and a button. It sports a 1.78-inch AMOLED display (326 ppi) that offers the always-on capability and runs MIUI for Watch, the company’s homegrown wearable operating system based on Google’s Wear OS. Inside the metal housing — aluminum alloy with a matte finish — are microphones on two sides for recording audio and taking calls, and a loudspeaker on the left to listen to music or incoming calls. The Mi Watch, which comes in one size — 44mm — has a ceramic back, which is where the charging pins and a heart rate sensor are also placed. The Mi Watch is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 3100 4G chipset with four Cortex A7 cores clocked at 1.2GHz, coupled with 1GB of RAM and 8GB storage. The company says its first smartwatch supports cellular connectivity (through an eSIM), Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, and NFC for payments. The Mi Watch should last for 36 hours on a single charge on cellular mode, the company claimed. The Mi Watch is priced at CNY 1,299 ($185) and will go on sale in the country next week.

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iOS 13.2 Released With Deep Fusion, Siri Privacy Settings

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Apple has released iOS 13.2 today, bringing over 60 new emoji, new Siri privacy settings, and Apple’s new Deep Fusion camera technology. 9to5Mac reports: There are over 60 new emoji and emoji variations in iOS 13.2. Apple first previewed these emoji over the summer, and they are now available for everyone. In total, the new 2019 emoji set includes 59 new characters that make up for 75 total variations when gender options are taken into account, and 230 options when skin tone options are included. iOS 13.2 also includes the Announce Messages with Siri feature that was originally meant for iOS 13. This feature allows Siri to read messages back to you when connected to AirPods or other headphones with Apple’s H1 chip.

Perhaps most notably, especially for iPhone 11 users, iOS 13.2 includes Apple’s new Deep Fusion camera technology. Deep Fusion is Apple’s new image processing technology that works in the background to improve image quality for iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro users. iOS 13.2 also includes new Siri privacy settings that allow you to opt in or opt out of sharing your Siri interactions with Apple. You’ll see a new splash screen the first time you boot into iOS 13.2 asking your preference. Last but not least, iOS 13.2 also includes support for the just-announced AirPods Pro. This includes settings for Transparency and Active Noise Cancellation modes.

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Apple Unveils $250 AirPods Pro

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Apple today announced that it is releasing new AirPods Pro earbuds on October 30. Priced at $249, the premium version of its true wireless earbuds includes noise-cancellation feature to block out external sound. From a report: The new Pro model is available for pre-order starting today and will hit the shelves Wednesday, Oct. 30 – but, some hopeful buyers are finding they’re already sold out online. The buds have ear tips that could fit deeper inside ears. The larger charging case also has a bigger, longer-lasting battery. Apple says the AirPods Pro can last “up to 5 hours” on a single charge and “over 24 hours” with the case. AirPods Pro cost $249 compared to $159 AirPods and $199 AirPods (with wireless charging case). Pre-orders start today at Apple.com. They deliver on Oct. 30 and will be available in Apple Stores the same day. Apple was widely expected to hold another event where it would have supposedly unveiled the refreshed AirPods and a 16-inch MacBook Pro, but the announcement today was made through a press release. The company has not clarified in that press release what kind of battery improvement the AirPods Pro offer. As it has been documented several times, AirPods’ in-built battery becomes useless after a year of use, keeping the accessory on for just a few minutes at best. So unless Apple has somehow made a breakthrough here, it is likely the new AirPods, too, will die after a year of usage. Which means you’re effectively paying Apple more than $20 a month for using their wireless earpieces.

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Google Announces the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL Smartphones

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At an event in New York today, Google unveiled Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, its latest flagship smartphones. The Pixel smartphones have over the years set a new benchmark for photography prowess. So you can imagine that a lot is riding on what Google, which has in curtailed several of its hardware ambitions in recent quarters, does with the new Pixel smartphones. From a report: Google makes it a point that the majority of the primary features are the same between the Pixel smartphones, with the primary exception being the display and screen technology. That is the case this year as well, with the Pixel 4 featuring a 5.7-inch Full HD+ P-OLED display, while the Pixel 4 XL boasts a 6.3-inch Quad HD OLED screen. Both panels support a 90Hz refresh rate, though. Inside both handsets is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, and both smartphones boast 6GB of RAM. The handsets come in either 64GB or 128GB of built-in storage options, but there is no microSD card slot for expandable storage. There is a USB-C port for charging, and both handsets feature stereo speakers as well. The battery in the Pixel 4 measures in at 2800mAh, while the Pixel 4 XL has a 3700mAh battery tucked inside.

Meanwhile, around back, the real star of the show: the cameras. That’s right, Google is bumping up the rear camera count to two. It starts with the standard 12-megapixel “Dual Pixel” camera, which is accompanied by a 16-megapixel telephoto lens. The rounded square camera housing also hosts a microphone and a flash. […] And finally, the front-facing camera is equipped with a radar sensor that gives the handsets much more utility than previous models. It starts with true depth detection while using the front-facing camera to unlock the phone with a face unlock biometric feature. Google is also including a new “Motion Sense” technology, letting the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL support gestures for controlling media playback and more. The pricing for Pixel 4 starts at $799, while its bigger sibling begins at $899. Unlike previous Pixel smartphone models, the Pixel 4 and 4 XL won’t offer their users the ability to upload unlimited photos in their original resolution and qualirty to Google Photos at no charge. Both the handsets, though, come bundled with a new voice recorder app that transcribes voice recording in real time for free, Google said.

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You Can Now Overclock a Raspberry Pi 4 For Some Nice Performance Gains

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MojoKid writes: The Raspberry Pi 4 is one of the cheapest single-board computers around. The new 4th generation is a solid performance lift over its predecessor and good bang for the buck if you’re interested in learning Linux, working with embedded computing, or just want to kick back and play some retro games on an emulator. In addition, the latest version of the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s Linux distribution, Raspbian Buster, comes with a new firmware revision for the tiny DIY PC that removes its 2GHz clock speed limit and allows voltage adjustments to wring out additional performance, with proper cooling of course. In testing, while there are no guarantees in overclocking, HotHardware was able to realize more than a 40% lift in their Raspberry Pi 4’s processor clock speed, and a 50% boost to the GPU with an air-cooled mini case kit. Combined, they’re not enough to turn the Pi 4 into your every day PC, but the performance gains are measurable and valuable. All it takes is a quick firmware update and a couple of Linux commands to dial things in.

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macOS Catalina is Available To Download Today

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It’s happening a little later in the season than usual, but Apple’s latest version of macOS is available to download today. From a report: Catalina arrives on the heels of iOS 13, which saw several back-to-back updates after an initially rough launch. For what it’s worth, I’ve been using successive versions of the Catalina beta as my daily driver for months now and can assure you that the latest build is stable enough to safely install. […] Speaking of games, today also marks the first time that Catalina beta users will have been able to play Apple Arcade games. If you’re wondering how the heck you’ll play those titles from your Mac, it’s worth a reminder that many Arcade games support Xbox and PlayStation controllers.

Also new in this release: As you browse episodes in the podcast app, you’ll see avatars for guests and hosts. Apple also says it’s made some small usability tweaks to Sidecar, the feature that allows you to use an iPad as a secondary Mac display. You’ll also notice more promotional Apple TV+ material in the new TV app, which makes sense — the streaming service launches November 1st. It’ll cost $4.99 a month, but Apple is offering a free year with the purchase of a new Mac, iPhone, iPad or Apple TV. Further reading: Apple’s MacOS Catalina Opens Up To iPad Apps; Apple Will Permanently Remove Dashboard In macOS Catalina; Apple Replaces Bash With Zsh as the Default Shell in macOS Catalina; and Apple Finally Kills iTunes.

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Microsoft’s New Surface Earbuds Work With Any Virtual Assistant, Not Just Cortana

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At Microsoft’s annual Surface press event today, the company announced the Surface Earbuds to rival Apple’s AirPods and Amazon’s newly announced Echo Buds. What’s unique about the Surface Earbuds is that, unlike the other two wireless earphones, they can be used with Alexa, Bixby, Google Assistant, Siri, or any other competitor — not just with Cortana. VentureBeat reports: Like the Surface Headphones, the Surface Earbuds don’t do anything until you pair them. Surface Earbuds communicate over Bluetooth 5.0 with an Android, iOS, or Windows 10 device. Once paired, you can tap and hold either of the buds to trigger the default assistant on your device. To use a different virtual assistant with the Surface Earbuds, just change the default assistant on the paired device.

“Out of the box, it just works,” said Surface Earbuds product lead Mohammed Samji. “On PC, it launches Cortana. On iOS, it will launch Siri, unless you’ve changed it. And I think it might vary depending on the distribution of Android, but all the ones I’ve tested, the first time I do it, Android asks me what I want as my default.” Surface Earbuds still offer a better experience with Cortana (although without the “Hey Cortana” wakeword), Samji made sure to emphasize. Surface Earbuds can do everything with Cortana that the Surface Headphones can do, like chit-chat, interact with your email, check your calendar, get your daily update, and create to-dos. Samji said his team created a more streamlined flow for all this Cortana functionality. It’s called Surface Audio. One of the biggest new abilities with the Surface Earbuds is gestures. “Surface Earbuds’ gestures include double tap (go in and out of the call, or play/pause), swipe up and down (control volume), or even swipe forward and back (switch tracks in music, switch slides in PowerPoint),” reports VentureBeat. “Specifically on Android, there’s also a triple tap to launch Spotify under your phone’s lockscreen — you can triple-tap again to have Spotify to choose another song using its ML.”

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Microsoft Unveils Surface Pro 7 and Surface Pro X

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At an event today, where Microsoft announced the Surface Laptop 3, Windows 10X, and an Android smartphone, the company also unveiled refreshed editions of its laptop-tablet hybrids: the Surface Pro 7, and the Surface Pro X. About the Surface Pro 7, which features a USB-C port: The price tag has also changed slightly: The Surface Pro 7 starts at $749 ($150 less than its predecessor). It’s available for preorder today and ships on October 22. Microsoft has simply replaced the Mini DisplayPort with USB-C. There is still a USB-A port for all your existing accessories. Adding a USB-C port finally puts the Surface Pro on par with the Surface Book 2 of two years ago and last year’s Surface Go. Surface fans have long asked for USB-C ports and Microsoft has been very slowly delivering. Surface Pro 7 comes with 10th-generation Intel Core processors (upgradeable all the way up to quad-core) and starts at 128GB of SSD storage (upgradable to 1TB). Like its predecessor, the Surface Pro 7 still comes with 4GB, 8GB, or 16GB of RAM. Otherwise, the design is largely unchanged. The Surface Pro 7 still has a 12.3-inch display, 2736 x1824 resolution, and 267ppi. The Surface Pro 6 was available in black and silver, and so is the Surface Pro 7. About the Surface Pro X: Seattle tech giant unveiled the Surface Pro X, the spiritual successor to the Surface, the Surface 2, the Surface 3, and the Surface Go. It’s ultra-slim and lightweight, with a bezel-to-bezel 13-inch display and an adjustable kickstand. And it’s the first machine to ship with a custom-designed, ARM-based Microsoft SQ1 system-on-chip co-engineered with Qualcomm. The Surface Pro X will be available on November 5, starting at $999, and Microsoft will begin taking preorders today.

On the display front, you’re looking at a PixelSense panel with 2880 x 1920 resolution with a 267-pixel-per-inch screen density and a 1400:1 contrast ratio. Microsoft says it has the thinnest bezels of any 2-in-1. Under the hood, the Surface Pro X sports the aforementioned 7-nanometer SQ1, which Microsoft says delivers more performance per watt than the chip in the Surface Pro 6. It’s an octa-core processor Qualcomm-designed Kryo cores clocked at 3GHz and running at 7 watts maximum, sitting alongside a redesigned GPU and integrated AI accelerator. Altogether, it delivers 9 teraflops of computational power, with the graphics chip alone pushing 2.1 teraflops.

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Purism’s Librem 5 Phone Starts Shipping. It Can Run Linux Desktop Apps

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On Tuesday Purism announced their first Librem 5 smartphones were rolling off the assembly line and heading to customers. “Seeing the amazing effort of the Purism team, and holding the first fully functioning Librem 5, has been the most inspirational moment of Purism’s five year history,” said their founder and CEO Todd Weaver.

On Wednesday they posted a video announcing that the phones were now shipping, and Friday they posted a short walk-through video. “The crowdsourced $700 Linux phone is actually becoming a real product,” reports Ars Technica:

Purism’s demand that everything be open means most of the major component manufacturers were out of the question. Perhaps because of the limited hardware options, the internal construction of the Librem 5 is absolutely wild. While smartphones today are mostly a single mainboard with every component integrated into it, the Librem 5 actually has a pair of M.2 slots that house full-size, off-the-shelf LTE and Wi-Fi cards for connectivity, just like what you would find in an old laptop. The M.2 sockets look massive on top of the tiny phone motherboard, but you could probably replace or upgrade the cards if you wanted…
[Y]ou’re not going to get cutting-edge hardware at a great price with the Librem 5. That’s not the point, though. The point is that you are buying a Linux phone, with privacy and open source at the forefront of the design. There are hardware kill switches for the camera, microphone, WiFi/Bluetooth, and baseband on the side of the phone, ensuring none of the I/O turns on unless you want it to. The OS is the Free Software Foundation-endorsed PureOS, a Linux distribution that, in this case, has been reworked with a mobile UI. Purism says it will provide updates for the “lifetime” of the device, which would be a stark contrast to the two years of updates you get with an Android phone.
PureOS is a Debian-based Linux distro, and on the Librem 5, you’ll get to switch between mobile versions of the Gnome and KDE environments. If you’re at all interested in PureOS, Purism’s YouTube page is worth picking through. Dozens of short videos show that, yes, this phone really runs full desktop-class Linux. Those same videos show the dev kit running things like the APT package manager through a terminal, a desktop version of Solitaire, Emacs, the Gnome disk utility, DOSBox, Apache Web Server, and more. If it runs on your desktop Linux computer, it will probably run on the Librem 5, albeit with a possibly not-touch-friendly UI. The Librem 5 can even be hooked up to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, and you can run all these Linux apps with the normal input tools…
Selling a smartphone is a cutthroat business, and we’ve seen dozens of companies try and fail over the years. Purism didn’t just survive long enough to ship a product — it survived in what is probably the hardest way possible, by building a non-Android phone with demands that all the hardware components use open code. Making it this far is an amazing accomplishment.

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OnePlus 7T Brings Snapdragon 855+, More Cameras For $599

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The new OnePlus 7T was officially announced earlier today, bringing a speedier Snapdragon 855+ processor, 90Hz display, and more camera sensors for $599 — nearly $100 less than the base model OnePlus 7 Pro. From a report: There are more upgrades found in the OnePlus 7T’s display. The OP7T’s 6.55-inch 2400×1080 AMOLED screen includes a 90Hz refresh rate, helping to make the screen feel smoother, and OnePlus has also upgraded the in-display fingerprint sensor on its new device. OnePlus claims that the OP7T has the “fastest, smoothest fingerprint unlock anywhere.” Another major upgrade of the OnePlus 7T is on its backside. OnePlus has given the 7T a triple rear camera setup, up from the dual cameras found on the OnePlus 7. The triple rear cam system on the OnePlus 7T includes a 48MP main sensor with f/1.6 aperture and OIS, a 16MP ultra-wide camera with a 117-degree field of view, and a 12MP telephoto camera with a 2x optical zoom.

OnePlus has included ultra-wide Nightscape support for low-light shooting and Super Stable Video to better stabilize your video captures, and 4K video capture at 60fps. Slow-mo video recording is available at 1080p at 240fps or 720p at 480fps, and soon OnePlus will be slowing things down even more, adding 720p video recording at 960fps through a future software update. Around front there’s a 16MP selfie camera in a waterdrop notch that OnePlus says is smaller than the notch found on last year’s OnePlus 6T. OnePlus has packed the OP7T with 128GB of built-in UFS 3.0 storage, 8GB of RAM, USB-C, stereo speakers, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, and Android 10 running out of the box. The OnePlus 7T launches on October 18 at a price of $599. The device will be sold exclusively by T-Mobile, though Verizon and AT&T users can buy an unlocked version from OnePlus’ website.

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How the Microsoft Store Urges Customers To Trade In Their iPhones

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“Have you ever wondered how — or even why — Microsoft is offering $650 to switch from iPhone to Samsung’s latest phones?” asks tech columnist Chris Matyszczyk.

“A Microsoft store salesman enlightened me. It was spiritual, as much as factual.”

“This is a Microsoft store,” I said. “Why are you pushing these?”

“Because three weeks ago, you couldn’t do what you can do now,” he said.

This was quite some drama. I hadn’t heard that my life had changed just 21 days prior, but Oscar was ready to explain. “Now you can have a terabyte, which means this phone improves your mobility and can now replace your laptop. You can now run your business straight from this phone,” he said… With a fervent — and, I have to say, elegant — enthusiasm, he talked me through my new possibilities. The ability to have everything from Outlook to Word to Excel to One Drive existing simultaneously on every gadget was, apparently, my new Nirvana. He took me over to a desktop and showed me how to dock my new Samsung phone and work simultaneously on the phone and the desktop.

He then led me to the Surface Pro 6. “This is the one I’ve got. And, look, you don’t need a keyboard,” he said, as he brought up the on-screen keyboard that really isn’t very easy to type on. Oscar’s congenital positivity was so alluring that I had to insert a pause and ask him what phone he had. He pulled out the same iPhone XR as mine, but sadly in a case. “I’ve been with Apple for a long time,” he explained. “But I just need to pay my iPhone down a bit more and I’m going to switch to this Note…”

“Switching from iPhone to Samsung isn’t easy, is it?” I muttered.

“It’s all in your mind,” he replied. “You need to have a growth mindset. That’s what leaving your iPhone behind represents. Growth.” I had to laugh. Not out of insult, but out of sheer admiration for his TED Talk attempt to inspire. He was appealing to my spirit, not my rational mind. He was right, of course. I have a growth bodyset, not a growth mindset….

[A]s I walked out many minutes later, I remembered there was a new iPhone coming out. Three new iPhones. Would any of them represent personal growth?

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