Sunday, July 31, 2016

Tesla reportedly eyes brakes in fatal Model S crash

The company insists it's not Autopilot's fault.

Tesla is considering two possible scenarios that would explain the fatal Model S crash in Florida, and according to Reuters and The New York Times, neither is about Autopilot. During a meeting with the US Senate Commerce Committee, the automaker reportedly presented two theories. First is the possibility that the car's automatic emergency braking system's camera and radar didn't detect the incoming truck at all. The other theory is that the braking system's radar saw the truck but thought it was part of a big structure, such as a bridge or a building. It's programmed to ignore huge structures to prevent false braking, after all.
If you'll recall, the Model S in this incident collided with a tractor trailer while Autopilot was on. Since the company's semi-autonomous driving system is a fairly new technology, both the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating the incident. According to NTSB's preliminary results, the car was speeding when it crashed into the bigger vehicle.
It's worth noting that the automaker considers its braking system a separate entity from Autopilot, which is in charge of steering and changing lanes. Tesla has always denied that the accident was caused by Autopilot, though it ended up breaking things off with the company that made its image recognition hardware. A statement Tesla released in June only said that "Neither [the feature] nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied."

Wearable tech will be everywhere at this year's Olympics

From payment rings to antimicrobial outfits, there's something for (almost) everyone.

It's almost time. The 2016 summer Olympics are less than a week away, with the opening ceremony scheduled for August 5th. This year's event, which runs through August 21nd, takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the organizers have reportedly struggled to prepare for the games. Whether Rio is ready or not, some of the world's best athletes will be there to compete for gold medals in just a few days. Naturally, technology will have a presence at the Olympics. That includes wearables designed to make life easier and safer for Olympians as well as others supposed to help in training. Read on in the gallery below to learn about eight different pieces of gear the athletes will be using.

Gallery: Wearables at the Rio 2016 Olympics | 4 Photos

AMD's sub-$200 gaming video cards launch in early August

The Radeon RX 460 and RX 470 are meant for gamers with modest demands (and budgets).

AMD said that the Radeon RX 480 would be followed up by lower-cost models this summer, and it's acting on that promise in a timely fashion. Both the RX 470 and RX 460 (not pictured above) are now slated to arrive on August 4th and August 8th respectively. While AMD hasn't outlined the specific pricing, these newer boards should cost significantly less than the $199 RX 480 -- the RX 460 should sit closer to the coveted $100 mark.
The imminent launch is also shedding some light on details of the cards themselves. The RX 470 may not be VR-friendly like its more advanced sibling, but it's surprisingly close. You can expect up to 4.9 teraflops of computing power (versus 5.8 for the RX 480), and you're still getting 4GB of RAM on a healthy 256-bit memory interface. Think of it as the "good enough" card -- you can play many new games at 60 frames per second, just at 1080p instead of 1440p.
The RX 460, meanwhile, is really a budget counterpart to last year's Radeon R9 Nano. It's much less powerful than the other RX cards (just 2.2 teraflops) and starts with 2GB of RAM on a 128-bit interface, but it's also far smaller and more power-efficient -- it uses less than 75W. The desktop card is ostensibly aimed at eSports gamers who only need brisk frame rates in titles like Overwatch or Rocket League, but it's also built for small form factor desktops and even laptops.
Both cards help fill out an AMD strategy that's very different than in past years. Rather than take NVIDIA head-on in the graphics arena, it's trying to carve out a niche by offering a lot of bang for the buck. This is partly dictated by its own limitations (NVIDIA has generally led the high end for a while), but it could pay off if it gives AMD a relatively uncontested audience. Mind you, NVIDIA's newer graphics technology is becoming increasingly affordable -- it's entirely possible that the green team will encroach on AMD's turf.

Google brings Maps' multi-stop feature to iOS

It could sure make planning for road trips much easier.

Google is rolling out Maps' multi-stop feature to the iOS app, making it easy to plan for road trips or even for a dreary day of running errands. The tech titan introduced the ability to set multiple destinations on Android back in June. Now that it's also out for Apple's mobile platform, you can simply tap "Add stop" and even rearrange destinations by holding and dragging them around if you have an iPhone. Just like when it was initially released, you might not be able to access the feature immediately. It might take a few days or so for the update to show up -- for now, you'll just have to plot routes the old way.

The Axon 7 finally fulfills ZTE's 'affordable premium' promise

A sharper display, superior sound and more attractive body could help this $399 phone take down its top rival.

Over the years, smartphones have either been high end and expensive, or dirt cheap and shoddy. But, two years ago, the industry shifted and midrange phones that had great specs for lower prices started to fill the gap. ZTE has long been a proponent of what it calls the "affordable premium" device, and has thrown out middling handset after middling handset that met only the "affordable" part of that promise.

Gallery: ZTE Axon 7 review | 4 Photos

Last year, the Chinese company debuted its Axon line, which was stuffed full of features to fulfill the premium promise. But the Axon Pro fell short, with an oddly hollow metal body, glitchy software and short battery life. It was also more expensive than last year's OnePlus. This year's Axon 7, however, is shaping up to be a far better contender, with the same $399 price as the OnePlus 3 and offering a higher-res screen, sharper camera and more premium design.
The Axon 7's design is the result of a team up between ZTE and BMW DesignWorks, and it's a definite improvement over its predecessor. My gold review unit has a smooth matte finish on its metal body that helps it reject fingerprints and is accented by eye-catching glossy chrome edges that are also around the camera and recessed fingerprint sensor. It looks and feels gorgeous in an elegant way that upstages the OnePlus 3.
Just like its predecessor, the Axon 7 has a row of dot cutouts on the top and bottom of its front face, but unlike the Pro, these grilles actually hide speakers. (The old Axon's grilles misled a lot of people into thinking it had dual speakers, but it only had one.) Below the display are capacitive keys for Back, Home and All Apps. There's also a dual SIM card slot on the left edge -- a welcome feature for frequent travelers.

ZTE says the Axon 7 will eventually be ready for Google's "Daydream" mobile VR platform, and its display certainly seems prepared for the task. The 5.5-inch Quad HD AMOLED screen was a great canvas for my Netflix binging and Instagram sprees, but it was unfortunately dim in sunlight. Although it doesn't fix the lack of brightness, the Axon offers built-in software that lets you customize the display's color output. The tool lets you pick from three saturation profiles -- "Natural," "Colorful" and "Gorgeous" -- as well as "Warm," "Normal" and "Cool" color temperatures. I set the screen to "Gorgeous" and "Normal," which delivered higher contrast levels and deeper hues.
Complementing the screen is a HiFi audio setup. Not many smartphone makers pay attention to quality sound, but ZTE is so proud of its system that it devoted six pages out of a 33-page reviewer's guide to it. The only other component that got as much love was the camera. For the most part, the coverage was justified.
The Axon's dual front-facing stereo speakers pumped out distinct, clear sound that drowned out my laptop's speakers while both devices were set to their maximum volumes. The phone's speakers were so clear, in fact, that I could easily hear the crinkling of wrapping paper in the background of a scene over dialogue and overlapping music. The Axon was also loud enough to hear from another room. Dolby Atmos enhancements created a surround sound that is more immersive than I've experienced on other devices. One of the few other phones to place such a heavy emphasis on audio is the HTC 10, which lets you tailor music output to your hearing.

Gallery: ZTE Axon 7 camera samples | 4 Photos

Continuing its quest to outdo the competition, ZTE also stuffed a 20-megapixel rear camera into the Axon 7. That sensor is sharper than what you'll find on the iPhone 6s, Nexus 6P and Galaxy S7. The Axon 7's camera has phase detection autofocus (PDAF), with optical and digital image stabilization that, when combined with the high megapixel count, should theoretically result in crisp pictures. However, real-world image quality was hit or miss. My shot of mosaic art at the 8th Street NYU subway station was clear enough to show individual tiles on the wall, but landscapes with buildings in them sometimes looked blurry.
The camera struggled in low light, too. Upper East Side buildings looked like grainy, dark brown, blobs in a nightscape, and the whole scene was covered with artifacts. Other phones, such as the similarly priced Alcatel Idol 4S, fared better in the same situation.
Up front, the Axon 7's 8-megapixel front camera takes decent portraits that have accurate colors and are sharp enough to see details such as my individual eyelashes. Thankfully, the "Beautify" mode erases imperfections on your face without going overboard and making you look like a painted-over caricature. Unlike most of this year's smartphones, though, the Axon doesn't offer a front flash feature for low-light selfies.

Armed with the same Snapdragon 820 chip as this year's Android flagships, the Axon 7 was impressively responsive. I relished taking down an enemy Pokémon Go gym as well as catching an oddly evasive Pidgey without any annoying lag -- in both cases with a host of apps running in the background.
Even when I used AZ Screen Recorder to capture my exploits while switching between the game and a Netflix video, the Axon kept pace without missing a beat. The only app in which I encountered delay was Pokémon Go, but that appeared to be a server issue rather than the device's performance.
You'll be able to enjoy day-long Pokémon Go expeditions without fear of running out of juice, too. The Axon 7's 3,250mAh battery typically lasted about a day and a half of light use, and I was surprised by the hours of "White Collar" I was able to stream (an impressive 6.5) before the low-battery alert popped up. When powered up with the included charger, the Axon 7 can get back up to 50 percent life in just 30 minutes, the company said.
Although it runs a pretty clean version of Android 6.0.1, the Axon 7 comes with some ZTE-made software changes that I was surprised to find helpful. Most interesting of these is the Power Manager that not only lets you monitor your battery consumption but also gives you the option of setting "power-saving policies" for individual apps such as disallowing autostart, scheduled background wake-up and allowing deep sleep.
A cool Mi-Pop tool adds a floating shortcut to the screen that you can place within reach of your thumb so you can access essential navigation buttons such as Back, Home and All Apps without stretching across the phone. This is a handy tool because trying to reach across the Axon's face can cause you to drop the phone.
There's also an intriguing "Voiceprint" function that's supposed to let you unlock your phone with your voice, but after I excitedly went through the setup process and said my keyphrase three times for the Axon to store it, the method never worked. No matter how many times I said, "Hello there" to the phone, whether its screen was on or off and regardless of the angle at which I held it (ZTE recommends 45 degrees away from your face), I couldn't get into my phone.

A small thing that infuriated me: Taking a screenshot doesn't automatically save it to your phone. You'll have to tap a checkmark below a preview of your snapshot to keep the file. What a waste of time.
Though software glitches like this exist, they're thankfully rare, and overall the Axon 7 feels like a dependable, well-made handset. If you want a cleaner OS and can live with a less-sharp screen, the OnePlus 3 is a better bet at the same price. But those who prefer a great multimedia experience and a distinct aesthetic will find a more suitable companion in the Axon 7.

Xbox One's Cortana update arrives at last

The summer update also brings background music, convergence with Windows 10 and more.

After months upon months of delays, Cortana is finally ready for your Xbox One. Microsoft has started rolling out its promised summer update with Cortana's smarter, richer voice control as its centerpiece. You can use your headset or Kinect to search games, invite friends to play and otherwise accomplish tasks that required either stiff commands or (gasp) your gamepad. This also represents another step toward tighter integration of the Xbox and Windows 10 experiences, such as platform-independent party chat and streamlined shopping that lets you redeem Xbox credits.
Even the not-quite-headline-worthy updates are fairly substantial. You can play background music from supporting apps (Pandora is first) when a game's soundtrack just won't do. It's easier to sift through your game collection, and you can set your language independently of where you live -- handy if you've moved to another country. No, the software doesn't fulfill all of Microsoft's promised Xbox One changes for this year (you'll have to wait until September for Play Anywhere), but it's undoubtedly one of the biggest updates in a long while.
watch the video here...
source: Engadget

Mini review : Our quick verdict on the Alcatel Idol 4S

It's a forgettable phone, but it comes with a decent VR headset.

Alcatel isn't a tier-one company. And the Idol 4S, its latest creation, isn't a tier-one phone. So why did we even bother reviewing it, then? It's all about the value -- specifically, what comes in the box. For $399 (or $350, if you pre-order), you get both the mid-range phone and a simple virtual reality headset to go with it. It's true, this VR viewer isn't at the same level as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or even the Samsung Gear VR, but it's good enough for people who haven't yet experienced this whole virtual reality thing and are keen to give it a try.
As for the phone itself, we enjoyed its loud, two-way speakers and bright 5.5-inch AMOLED display. Just know that because this is a mid-range phone, after all, the performance and camera won't match any of the high-end devices we typically review. If you weren't going to spend high-end money anyway, and are also looking to get into VR, this could be the ticket.
  • Included VR goggles
  • Affordable
  • Loud, two-way speakers
  • Bright, roomy display

  • Not as fast as competing phones
  • Camera struggles in low light


The Alcatel Idol 4S’ biggest selling point is not what came in the box, but the                     box itself, which doubles as a VR headset. The $350 (pre-order price) device                  comes with its own VR viewer so you can immediately start exploring immersive                   content when you get it. If not for the bargain of a bundle, the Idol 4S would                       have a hard time standing out from other, better-performing phones in this price range.

Recommended Reading: Nintendo's NX sounds weird and that's okay

The best long-form writing on technology and more in print and on the web.

Based on the rumors so far, Nintendo's upcoming NX handheld console will be... unique. This piece from Eurogamer, a site that's been the source of some of the details, takes a look at why switching things up a bit may be the company's best bet. A touchscreen device with detachable controllers may sound strange, but if the reports are true, "we should savor and celebrate NX's weirdness" like Eurogamer explains here.

How 'Uncharted 4' fails Nathan Drake
Phil Hornshaw, Playboy
Uncharted 4 offers closure, but it's not as satisfying as it could be according to Playboy's Phil Hornshaw.
Meet Luca, the ancestor of all living things
Nicolas Wade, The New York Times
Scientists have learned more about how life started on Earth. It began with Luca, a single-cell organism that's estimated to be four billion years old.
The Democrats made the first female presidential nominee official this week. That means we could also see a male First Spouse for the first time. NPR discusses why a former president's role would be important.
source: Engadget
You've likely read reports tying the recent DNC hack to Russia by now. Motherboard takes a look at the timeline of events and offers evidence that the breach was indeed the work of Russians.