Android Wear Is Getting Killed, and It’s All Qualcomm’s Fault

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The death of Android Wear is all Qualcomm’s fault, largely due to the fact that the company “has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn’t seem interested in making any smartwatch chips,” writes Ars Technica’s Ron Amadeo. This weekend marks the second birthday of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC, which was announced in February 2016 and is the “least awful smartwatch SoC you can use in an Android Wear device.” Since Qualcomm skipped out on an upgrade last year, and it doesn’t seem like we’ll get a new smartwatch chip any time soon, the entire Android Wear market will continue to suffer. From the report: In a healthy SoC market, this would be fine. Qualcomm would ignore the smartwatch SoC market, make very little money, and all the Android Wear OEMs would buy their SoCs from a chip vendor that was addressing smartwatch demand with a quality chip. The problem is, the SoC market isn’t healthy at all. Qualcomm has a monopoly on smartwatch chips and doesn’t seem interested in making any smartwatch chips. For companies like Google, LG, Huawei, Motorola, and Asus, it is absolutely crippling. There are literally zero other options in a reasonable price range (although we’d like to give a shoutout to the $1,600 Intel Atom-equipped Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45), so companies either keep shipping two-year-old Qualcomm chips or stop building smartwatches. Android Wear is not a perfect smartwatch operating system, but the primary problem with Android Wear watches is the hardware, like size, design (which is closely related to size), speed, and battery life. All of these are primarily influenced by the SoC, and there hasn’t been a new option for OEMs since 2016. There are only so many ways you can wrap a screen, battery, and body around an SoC, so Android smartwatch hardware has totally stagnated. To make matters worse, the Wear 2100 wasn’t even a good chip when it was new.

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Android Messages May Soon Let You Text From the Web

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Android Police dug into the code for the latest version of Android Messages and found two very intriguing features: Rich Communication Services (RCS) support and support for all the popular web browsers. From the report: Google is developing a web interface to run on a desktop or laptop, and it will pair with your phone for sending messages. Internally, the codename for this feature is “Ditto,” but it looks like it will be labeled “Messages for web” when it launches. You’ll be guided to visit a website on the computer you want to pair with your phone, then simply scan a QR code. Once that’s done, you’ll be able to send and receive messages in the web interface and it will link with the phone to do the actual communication through your carrier. I can’t say with any certainty that all mainstream browsers will be supported right away, but all of them are named, so most users should be covered.

Another major move appears to be happening with RCS, and it looks like Google may be tired of letting it progress slowly. A lot of new promotional text has been added to encourage people to “text over Wi-Fi” and suggesting that they “upgrade” immediately. There’s a lot of text in that block, but most of it is purely promotional. It describes features that are already largely familiar as capabilities of RCS, including texting through a data connection, seeing messaging status (if somebody is typing) and read receipts, and sending photos. Google does put a lot of emphasis that if it’s handling the photos, that they are high-quality. Android Police also notes the ability to make purchases via Messages.

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VLC 3.0 Adds Chromecast Support and More as the Best Free Media Player Gets Even Better

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Ian Paul, writing for PCWorld: The best free media player is getting even better. After three years of development, VLC 3.0 ‘Ventari’ is rolling out to all platforms, and it’s packed full of goodies such as Chromecast support. The latest version of VLC contains a lot of great additions, as well as a tweaked UI. Chromecast discovery tops the list. It’s only available on Windows desktop and Android right now, but Videolan says the feature’s coming to VLC’s iOS and the Windows Store apps in the future. […] VLC 3.0’s refreshed UI isn’t a fresh, new look from previous versions, but it is noticeably different. The icons at the bottom of the window are cleaner, and the small icons used within menu items are also new. Version 3.0 also adds support for 360-degree video and 3D audio, readying features for a VR version of VLC slated to roll out in mid-April. The new VLC also adds hardware decoding across all platforms for better performance and less CPU consumption, especially when dealing with more resource-intense video.

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Microsoft Is Now Selling a Surface Laptop With An Intel Core m3 Processor For $799

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Microsoft has begun offering a lower specced Surface laptop running Windows 10 S and an Intel Core m3 processor. It’s priced at $799, compared to the standard model’s $999 price, and is only available in the platinum color configuration. Windows Central reports: The Intel Core m3 spec is paired with 4GB of RAM and 128GB Storage. This is definitely not a high-end model of the Surface Laptop, but it’s still a premium one, with the same Alcantara fabric and high-quality display found on other Surface Laptop SKUs. Microsoft offers an Intel Core m3 model of the Surface Pro priced at $799 also, however that SKU doesn’t come bundled with a keyboard or pen. At least with the Surface Laptop, you’re getting a keyboard and trackpad in the box, so perhaps the Intel Core m3 Laptop is going to be the better choice for many. If you’re looking for a straight laptop by Microsoft, that is. Some other specs include a 2256 x 1504 resolution display, Intel HD graphics 615, 720p webcam with Windows Hello face-authentication, Omnisonic speakers with Dolby Audio Premium, one full-size USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort, headphone jack and Surface Connect port. The device measures in a 12.13 inches x 8.79 inches x 0.57 inches and weighs 2.76 pounds.

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Ask Slashdot: How Can I Build a Private TV Channel For My Kids?

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Long-time Slashdot reader ljw1004 writes:
I want to assemble my OneDrive-hosted mp4s into a “TV channel” for my kids — so at 7am while I sleep in, they know they can turn the TV on, it will show Mr Rogers then Sesame Street then grandparents’ story-time, then two hand-picked cartoons, and nothing for the rest of the day. How would you do this? With Chromecast and write a JS Chrome plugin to drive it? Write an app for FireTV? Is there any existing OSS software for either the scheduling side (done by parents) or the TV-receiver side? How would you lock down the TV beyond just hiding the remote?

“There are good worthwhile things for them to see,” adds the original submission, “but they’re too young to be given the autonomy to pick them, and I can do better than Nickeloden or CBBC or Amazon Freetime Unlimited.”
Slashdot reader Rick Schumann suggested putting the video files on an external hard drive (or burning them to a DVD), while apraetor points out many TVs now play files from flash drives — and also suggests a private Roku channel. But what’s the best way to build a private TV channel for kids?
Leave your best answers in the comments.

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‘How We Made Starship Troopers’

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The Guardian quotes Paul Verhoeven, the director of Starship Troopers:
Robert Heinlein’s original 1959 science-fiction novel was militaristic, if not fascistic. So I decided to make a movie about fascists who aren’t aware of their fascism… I was looking for the prototype of blond, white and arrogant, and Casper Van Dien was so close to the images I remembered from Leni Riefenstahl’s films. I borrowed from Triumph of the Will in the parody propaganda reel that opens the film, too. I was using Riefenstahl to point out, or so I thought, that these heroes and heroines were straight out of Nazi propaganda…
With a title like Starship Troopers, people were expecting a new Star Wars. They got that, but not really: it stuck in your throat. It said: “Here are your heroes and your heroines, but by the way — they’re fascists.”
The actors weren’t even clear on what the giant arachnids would look like, since their “Bug” battles were filmed entirely with green screens, remembers one of the movie’s stars, Denise Richards. Instead Verhoeven “would be there jumping up and down with a broom in the air so we would have a sense of how big they were.”

Verhoeven told one interviewer that he never actually read Robert Heinlein’s original book. “I stopped after two chapters because it was so boring. It is really quite a bad book.”

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Scientists Develop Glucose-Tracking Smart Contact Lenses Comfortable Enough To Wear

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A team of Korean scientists have developed a smart lens that could help diabetics track blood glucose levels while remaining stretchable enough to be comfortable and transparent enough to preserve vision. Engadget reports:
The lens achieves its flexibility thanks to a design that puts its electronics into isolated pockets linked by stretchable conductors. There’s also an elastic material in between that spreads the strain to prevent the electronics from breaking when you pinch the lens. And when the refractive indices all line up, you should get a lens that’s as transparent as possible and largely stays out of your way. The sensor in question is straightforward: an LED light stays on as long as glucose levels are normal, and shuts off when something’s wrong. Power comes through a metal nanofiber antenna that draws from a nearby power source coil. That’s about the only major drawback — the low conductivity of the antenna means that you can’t just tuck the coil wherever it’s convenient. The co-author of the study, Jang-Ung Park, told IEEE Spectrum that a commercial version of the contact lens should arrive within the next five years.

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Apple Will Release Its $349 HomePod Speaker On February 9th

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After it was delayed in mid-December, Apple finally announced the availability of its new smart speaker. The company announced it will release the HomePod on February 9th and that preorders for the device will start this Friday, January 26th. The smart speaker will initially go on sale in the U.S., UK, and Australia. It’ll then arrive in France and Germany sometime this spring. The Verge reports: The company’s first smart speaker was originally supposed to go on sale before the end of the 2017, but it was delayed in mid-December. That meant Apple missed a holiday season where millions of smart speakers were sold — but the market for voice-activated speakers is clearly just getting started. And at $349, Apple’s speaker is playing in a very different market than Amazon’s and Google’s primarily cheap and tiny speakers. The HomePod is being positioned more as a competitor to Sonos’ high-end wireless speakers than as a competitor to the plethora of inexpensive smart speakers flooding the market. Despite the delay, Apple doesn’t appear to have made any changes to the HomePod — the smart speaker appears to be exactly what was announced back in June, at WWDC. The focus here continues to be on music and sound quality, rather than the speaker’s intelligence, which is the core focus of many competitors’ products. The speaker will still have an always-on voice assistant, but Apple’s implementation of Siri here will be more limited than what’s present on other devices.

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DJI’s New Mavic Air Drone Is a Beefed-Up Spark With 4K Video Support

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Earlier today, DJI announced the latest entry in its popular line of consumer drones: the Mavic Air. The drone starts at $799, which is $400 more than the Spark’s current going rate and $200 below the cost of a new Mavic Pro. “The entry-level package does include a dedicated controller, though, albeit one without an integrated display,” reports Ars Technica. “The Mavic Air is available for pre-order today, and DJI says the device will start shipping on January 28.” From the report: At first blush, the Mavic Air appears to find a middle ground between DJI’s beginner-friendly Spark drone and its pricier but more technically capable Mavic Pro. Like both of those devices, the Mavic Air is small — at 168x184x64mm, it’s a bit larger than the Spark but smaller than the Mavic Pro. Like the latter, its arms can be folded inward, which should make it relatively easy to pack and transport. Its design doesn’t stray too far from the past, either, with the rounded, swooping lines of its chassis punctuated by stubby, Spark-like propeller arms. The whole thing weighs 430 grams, which is much lighter than the Mavic Pro’s 734g and a bit heavier than the Spark’s 300g chassis. DJI says it can reach up to 42.5 miles per hour in its “sport” mode, which is faster than both the Spark (30mph) and Mavic Pro (40mph). It has a flight range of 2.5 miles with the included controller — provided you keep it in your line of sight — which is closer to the Spark than the Pro. With a smartphone, that range drops to 262 feet, the same as the Spark. The drone carries a 12-megapixel camera with a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor and a 24mm F2.8 lens. As with all DJI drones, it comes integrated into the device. Notably, like the Mavic Pro, it’s capable of capturing video in 4K up to 30 frames per second, with 1080p video up to 60fps. It can also take DNG photos.

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Nintendo’s Newest Switch Accessories Are DIY Cardboard Toys

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sqorbit writes: Nintendo has announced a new experience for its popular Switch game console, called Nintendo Labo. Nintendo Labo lets you interact with the Switch and its Joy-Con controllers by building things with cardboard. Launching on April 20th, Labo will allow you to build things such as a piano and a fishing pole out of cardboard pieces that, once attached to the Switch, provide the user new ways to interact with the device. Nintendo of America’s President, Reggie Fils-Aime, states that “Labo is unlike anything we’ve done before.” Nintendo has a history of non-traditional ideas in gaming, sometimes working and sometimes not. Cardboard cuts may attract non-traditional gamers back to the Nintendo platform. While Microsoft and Sony appear to be focused on 4K, graphics and computing power, Nintendo appears focused on producing “fun” gaming experiences, regardless of how cheesy or technologically outdated they me be. Would you buy a Nintendo Labo kit for $69.99 or $79.99? “The ‘Variety Kit’ features five different games and Toy-Con — including the RC car, fishing, and piano — for $69.99,” The Verge notes. “The ‘Robot Kit,’ meanwhile, will be sold separately for $79.99.”

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Buying Headphones in 2018 is Going To Be a Fragmented Mess

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Vlad Savov, writing for The Verge: At CES this year, I saw the future of headphones, and it was messy. Where we once had the solid reliability of a 3.5mm analog connector working with any jack shaped to receive it, there’s now a divergence of digital alternatives — Lightning or USB-C, depending on your choice of jack-less phone — and a bunch of wireless codecs and standards to keep track of. Oh, and Sony’s working hard on promoting a new 4.4mm Pentaconn connector as the next wired standard for dedicated audio lovers. It’s all with the intent of making things better, but before we get to the better place, we’re going to spend an uncomfortable few months (or longer) in a fragmented market where you’ll have to do diligent research to make sure your next pair of headphones works with all the devices you already own.

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Samsung Will Unveil the Galaxy S9 Next Month At Mobile World Congress

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Samsung will unveil its next flagship handset, the Galaxy S9, next month at Mobile World Congress (MWC). DJ Koh, the company’s smartphone chief, confirmed the launch to ZDNet at CES yesterday without offering a specific date. The Verge reports: The S9 (and, presumably, an S9 Plus) will be the successors to the S8 and S8 Plus, which launched at a Samsung event in New York last March before going on sale in April. The S8 and its bigger brother were a hit with critics, who praised the phones’ gorgeous design and brilliant cameras. The phones were even good enough to make consumers forget about the disaster of the Galaxy Note 7 and its exploding batteries. Not much is known about the Galaxy S9 at this point, though we’re not expecting any radical departures from the S8. A handful of leaked renders suggest it will look near-identical to its predecessor, with a slight tweak moving the rear fingerprint sensor to below the camera (rather than its current, awkward position of off to one side).

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Xbox One Adds New Achievement, Do Not Disturb Features In Previous Update

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A Preview alpha build is now available for some Xbox One users who take part in the Insiders Program, which allows players to test out new system and game features before they go live to the public. This build contains several new features, such as the Next Achievements feature and a Do Not Disturb feature. GameSpot reports: The biggest addition coming for Xbox Insiders is the Next Achievements feature in the guide. Now, those who test new features and games from Xbox One will be able sort a cross-games list of upcoming Achievements. This way, you can easily see which Achievements you’re closest to and quickly launch the game to achieve them. You can also sort your Achievements by how rare they are. There are also a few tweaks to social settings. A Do Not Disturb online status is coming, which will suppress notifications and let your friends know you’re unavailable at the moment. Comments on community posts are also getting an adjustment, and soon you’ll be able to peek at the most recent comment and see who has liked your comments. The Narrator is also now able to read large amounts of text.

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‘I Tried the First Phone With An In-Display Fingerprint Sensor’

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Vlad Savov from The Verge reports of his experience using the first smartphone with a fingerprint scanner built into the display: After an entire year of speculation about whether Apple or Samsung might integrate the fingerprint sensor under the display of their flagship phones, it is actually China’s Vivo that has gotten there first. At CES 2018, I got to grips with the first smartphone to have this futuristic tech built in, and I was left a little bewildered by the experience. The mechanics of setting up your fingerprint on the phone and then using it to unlock the device and do things like authenticate payments are the same as with a traditional fingerprint sensor. The only difference I experienced was that the Vivo handset was slower — both to learn the contours of my fingerprint and to unlock once I put my thumb on the on-screen fingerprint prompt — but not so much as to be problematic. Basically, every other fingerprint sensor these days is ridiculously fast and accurate, so with this being newer tech, its slight lag feels more palpable. Vivo is using a Synaptics optical sensor called Clear ID that works by peering through the gaps between the pixels in an OLED display (LCDs wouldn’t work because of their need for a backlight) and scanning your uniquely patterned epidermis. The sensor is already in mass production and should be incorporated in several flagship devices later this year.

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Dell’s Mobile Connect Application Will Allow Users To Easily Mirror Their Smartphone on PC; To Come Pre-installed On Company’s Future PCs

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From a report on VentureBeat: Smartphones and computers were designed in different eras, and they don’t really work well together, forcing us to split our time between them. But Dell is trying to change that with Dell Mobile Connect software, which makes the two devices more interoperable. […] You can now make and receive phone calls directly from your computer, and you can also send and receive text messages on your PC screen. This allows you to stay connected on your PC without worrying that you’re missing phone notifications or calls. And you can use any Android app on your PC. That allows you to bring your small-screen apps like games to a bigger screen. If your computer doesn’t have a touchscreen, you can control the mirrored phone game with a keyboard and mouse. […] Dell will preload the software on new Dell consumer and business PCs, and it has a free smartphone app that works on either Android or iOS. Dell Mobile Connect will be available on all new Dell Inspiron, XPS, Vostro, or Alienware purchased worldwide in January 2018 or later.

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Nvidia’s GeForce Now Windows App Transforms Your Cheap Laptop Into a Gaming PC

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The GeForce Now game streaming service that Nvidia announced for the Mac last year is finally coming to Windows PCs. According to their website, the service lets you stream high-resolution games from your PC to your Mac or Windows PC that may or may not have the power to run the games natively. Starting this week, beta users of the GeForce Now Mac client will be able to install and run the Windows app. Tom Warren reports via The Verge: I got a chance to play with an early beta of the GeForce Now service on a $400 Windows PC at CES today. My biggest concerns about game streaming services are latency and internet connections, but Nvidia had the service setup using a 50mbps connection on the Wynn hotel’s Wi-Fi. I didn’t notice a single issue, and it honestly felt like I was playing Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds directly on the cheap laptop in front of me. If I actually tried to play the game locally, it would be impossible as the game was barely rendering at all or at 2fps. Nvidia is streaming these games from seven datacenters across the US, and some located in Europe. I was playing in a Las Vegas casino from a server located in Los Angeles, and Nvidia tells me it’s aiming to keep latency under 30ms for most customers. There’s obviously going to be some big exceptions here, especially if you don’t live near a datacenter or your internet connectivity isn’t reliable. The game streaming works by dedicating a GPU to each customer, so performance and frame rates should be pretty solid. Nvidia is also importing Steam game collections into the GeForce Now service for Windows, making it even more intriguing for PC gamers who are interested in playing their collection on the go on a laptop that wouldn’t normally handle such games.

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Amazon’s YouTube Workaround on Fire TV Works Just Fine

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Last month, a notification that YouTube would no longer be available through Fire TV and Fire TV Stick devices starting Jan. 1 popped up, threatening to leave a huge hole in Amazon’s streaming lineup. But just last week, Amazon added the ability to surf the web and get to YouTube via a browser. But does it work? GeekWire thinks so: The result is a simple path to YouTube, circumventing Google’s move to pull it from Fire TV. Web browsing probably wasn’t a direct response to Amazon’s issues with Google, which owns YouTube, but it provides a convenient alternative to keep the service accessible for Fire TV users. The first step is downloading one or both of the web browsers. Opening Firefox leads to this home screen with easy access tiles to both Google and YouTube. On Silk, the home screen defaults to Bing search. But as I poked around, I noticed that YouTube for TV showed up in my bookmarks even though this was the first time I opened the browser. A YouTube interface optimized for TV, the same one you would see on other streaming devices, pops up on both browsers. To sign in, YouTube prompted me to activate YouTube for TV through a phone or computer. Once that process was complete, YouTube showed the same personalized recommendations as my phone and computer.

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Kodi Media Player Arrives On the Xbox One

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The Kodi media player is now available to download on your Xbox One, making it one of the best Xbox One exclusives of the year. The Verge reports: Kodi is a very capable player that’s highly expandable thanks to third-party add-ons like live TV and DVR services — something Microsoft isn’t going to provide. But Kodi is perhaps best known as the go to app for piracy due to a wide variety of plugins that let you illegally stream television shows, professional sports, and films from the comfort of your living room. This has led to a cottage industry of so-called “Kodi boxes,” often built around cheap HDMI dongles like Amazon’s Fire TV sticks. While the XBMC Foundation has attempted to distance itself from the illegal third-party plugins, it’s also benefited from the exposure. In a blog post, Kodi warns that the Xbox One download isn’t finished and may contain missing features and bugs. Fun fact: Kodi began life fifteen years ago as the XBMP (Xbox Media Player). The only way to get the open-source player running on an original Xbox was to hack the console. XBMP eventually evolved into XBMC (Xbox Media Center), which then became Kodi.

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Ask Slashdot: Do You Print Too Little?

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shanen writes: How many of you don’t print much these days? What is the best solution to only printing a few pages every once in a while? Here are some dimensions of the problem…

Inexpensive printers: The cost of new printers is quite low, but how long can the printer sit there without printing before it dies? Lexmark and HP used to offer an expensive solution with integrated ink cartridges that also included new print heads, but… Should I just buy a cheap Canon or Epson and plan to throw it away in a couple of years, probably after printing less than a 100 pages?

Printing services: They’re mostly focused on photos, but there are companies where you can take your data for printing. My main concerns here are actually with the costs and the tweaks. Each print is expensive because you are covering their overhead way beyond the cost of the printing itself. Also, most of the time my first print or three isn’t exactly what I want. It rarely comes out perfectly on paper the first time.

Social printing: For example, are any of you sharing one printer with your neighbors via Wi-Fi? Do you just sneak a bit of personal printing onto a printer at your office? Do you travel across town to borrow your brother-in-law’s printer?

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Plexamp, Plex’s Spin on the Classic Winamp Player, Is the First Project From New Incubator Plex Labs

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Media software maker Plex today announced a new incubator and community resource called Plex Labs. “The idea here is to help the company’s internal passion projects gain exposure, along with those from Plex community members,” reports TechCrunch. “Plex Labs is also unveiling its first product: a music player called Plexamp,” which is designed to replace the long-lost Winamp. From the report: The player was built by several Plex employees in their free time, and is meant for those who use Plex for music. As the company explains in its announcement, the goal was to build a small player that sits unobtrusively on the desktop and can handle any music format. The team limited itself to a single window, making Plexamp the smaller Plex player to date, in terms of pixel size. Under the hood, Plexamp uses the open source audio player Music Player Daemon (MPD), along with a combination of ES7, Electron, React, and MobX technologies. The end result is a player that runs on either macOS or Windows and works like a native app. That is, you can use media keys for skipping tracks or playing and pausing music, and receive notifications. The player can also handle any music format, and can play music offline when the Plex server runs on your laptop.

The player also supports gapless playback, soft transitions and visualizations to accompany your music. Plus, the visualizations’ palette of colors is pulled from the album art, Plex notes. Additionally, Plexamp makes use of a few up-and-coming features that will be included in Plex’s subscription, Plex Pass, in the future. These new features are powering functionality like loudness leveling (to normalize playback volume), smart transitions (to compute the optimal overlap times between tracks), soundprints (to represent tracks visually), waveform seeking (to present a graphical view of tracks), Library stations, and artist radio.

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