Medical device maker Medtronic finally fixes its hackable pacemaker

Medtronic, a maker of medical devices and implants, has pulled the plug on its internet-based software update system, which security researchers had found had a dangerous security vulnerability The company said in a notice this week that it’s switching off the software distribution network after researchers found that a hacker could update the pacemaker’s software […]

Medtronic, a maker of medical devices and implants, has pulled the plug on its internet-based software update system, which security researchers had found had a dangerous security vulnerability

The company said in a notice this week that it’s switching off the software distribution network after researchers found that a hacker could update the pacemaker’s software with malicious software that could manipulate the impulses that regulate a patient’s heartbeat. The researchers, Jonathan Butts and Billy Rios, revealed the vulnerability at the Black Hat conference in August, more than a year after first reporting the vulnerability to Medtronic.

The bug isn’t within the pacemaker itself but the devices that are used by doctors to connect to the pacemaker to check its battery and status. These “programmer” devices weren’t checking if downloaded software hadn’t been tampered with.

Medtronic issued several updates throughout the year to try to mitigate the vulnerability, but only this month shut down the internet updating feature, per a security advisory issued by the Federal Drug Administration.

Now, patients with one of the 34,000 CareLink affected pacemakers will have to receive the update over USB from their doctor when new software is released, according to Medtronic’s statement.

It’s a turnaround from how the medical device maker reacted when the flaws were first reported. Butts said at the time that the company “spent more time trying to twist the story than fixing it.”

Medtronic said that it’s not received any reports to date of anyone exploiting the vulnerabilities.

Facebook is building a camera TV set-top box codenamed Ripley

A mysterious product called “Ripley” appeared hidden beside Facebook’s new Portal smart displays in Facebook for Android’s code. Dug up by frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong a week ago, Ripley’s name squared with Facebook’s VP of Portal Rafa Camargo telling us that “we’re already investing in expanding the product line with more products we want […]

A mysterious product called “Ripley” appeared hidden beside Facebook’s new Portal smart displays in Facebook for Android’s code. Dug up by frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong a week ago, Ripley’s name squared with Facebook’s VP of Portal Rafa Camargo telling us that “we’re already investing in expanding the product line with more products we want to launch next year.”

That Facebook device will be a camera-equipped device that connects to televisions to allow video chat and media content viewing, according to Cheddar’s Alex Heath.

Facebook’s Portal’s devices sit on a desk or countertop and cost $199 for a smaller screen and $349 for a bigger one. But with Ripley, Facebook could sell a much cheaper screen-less add-on for the televisions people already have. Facebook could build hardware network effect by releasing its Portal technology in many form factors.

The Ripley name could change before the eventual launch next year, which Cheddar says is coming in Spring 2019. It might become something more evocative of the device’s purpose. But regardless of the name, it’s sure to encounter heavy skepticism due to Facebook’s history of privacy and security troubles. Many users don’t trust Facebook enough to put one of its cameras and microphones in their house.

Ripley is said to run on the same Portal operating system that builds off the same Android open-source framework. That means it might carry a similar slate of features. Those include Portal’s auto-zooming camera that can follow users to keep them in frame, video chat through Messenger, a smart photo frame for while it’s not in use, Facebook Watch videos, Alexa voice control and a third-party app platform, including video content from outside developers.

While users might occasionally watch recipe or news videos on Portal, entertainment could be core to Ripley. The device would allow Facebook to compete with Roku, Amazon, Apple and other set-top boxes. The device could also eventually be a natural home for Facebook’s video ads, even though it’s not putting them on Portal right now.

Along with smart speakers, whoever creates what plugs into our TVs will control a fundamental wing of future home computing. Facebook won’t surrender this market, despite its disadvantage due to its many scandals.

Facebook is building a camera TV set-top box codenamed Ripley

A mysterious product called “Ripley” appeared hidden beside Facebook’s new Portal smart displays in Facebook for Android’s code. Dug up by frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong a week ago, Ripley’s name squared with Facebook’s VP of Portal Rafa Camargo telling us that “we’re already investing in expanding the product line with more products we want […]

A mysterious product called “Ripley” appeared hidden beside Facebook’s new Portal smart displays in Facebook for Android’s code. Dug up by frequent TechCrunch tipster Jane Manchun Wong a week ago, Ripley’s name squared with Facebook’s VP of Portal Rafa Camargo telling us that “we’re already investing in expanding the product line with more products we want to launch next year.”

That Facebook device will be a camera-equipped device that connects to televisions to allow video chat and media content viewing, according to Cheddar’s Alex Heath.

Facebook’s Portal’s devices sit on a desk or countertop and cost $199 for a smaller screen and $349 for a bigger one. But with Ripley, Facebook could sell a much cheaper screen-less add-on for the televisions people already have. Facebook could build hardware network effect by releasing its Portal technology in many form factors.

The Ripley name could change before the eventual launch next year, which Cheddar says is coming in Spring 2019. It might become something more evocative of the device’s purpose. But regardless of the name, it’s sure to encounter heavy skepticism due to Facebook’s history of privacy and security troubles. Many users don’t trust Facebook enough to put one of its cameras and microphones in their house.

Ripley is said to run on the same Portal operating system that builds off the same Android open-source framework. That means it might carry a similar slate of features. Those include Portal’s auto-zooming camera that can follow users to keep them in frame, video chat through Messenger, a smart photo frame for while it’s not in use, Facebook Watch videos, Alexa voice control and a third-party app platform, including video content from outside developers.

While users might occasionally watch recipe or news videos on Portal, entertainment could be core to Ripley. The device would allow Facebook to compete with Roku, Amazon, Apple and other set-top boxes. The device could also eventually be a natural home for Facebook’s video ads, even though it’s not putting them on Portal right now.

Along with smart speakers, whoever creates what plugs into our TVs will control a fundamental wing of future home computing. Facebook won’t surrender this market, despite its disadvantage due to its many scandals.

With Watch GT, Huawei ditches Google for its own OS

LG’s strange new hybrid Watch W7 marked a small but important victory for Wear OS. But this morning in London, Google lost a key ally in the smartwatch wars — for this model, at least. Huawei’s latest wearable, the Watch GT ditches the Google operating system for its own in-house brew, LiteOS. The move marks […]

LG’s strange new hybrid Watch W7 marked a small but important victory for Wear OS. But this morning in London, Google lost a key ally in the smartwatch wars — for this model, at least. Huawei’s latest wearable, the Watch GT ditches the Google operating system for its own in-house brew, LiteOS.

The move marks a blow for Google’s struggling wearable operating system. The company has made a point of avoiding fragmentation for Wear OS, a decision that may ultimately haunt the company as manufacturers like Samsung, Fitbit and now Huawei go it on their own.

Each manufacturer has their own reasons, of course, but Huawei, the decision is pretty straightforward. Namely, the company wants to squeeze as much battery out of this as possible. That’s in keeping with a day’s announcements that also included a phone that can charge other phones, mind.

Here, that means some pretty outrageous claims. Huawei says the thing gets two weeks on a charge with standard use, which seems downright silly compared to the competition. If you turn off all of the distractions, meanwhile, you can apparently get up to 30 days, which is essentially Kindle territory we’re talking about here.

The watch is a bit beefy, as you no doubt expected. That’s going to be a bit of a drawback, given the watch’s focus on fitness. As is the fact that, well, most of the competition has also made fitness the centerpiece of their products — Apple and Fitbit are going to be tough to topple.

There’s continuous heart rate monitoring on-board, along with a built-in tri-GPS system for more accurate run tracking. As with its new phone, the Huawei looks firmly aimed at Samsung’s marketshare in the watch category, and that’s apparently meant leaving Wear OS in the dust. 

Huawei’s new phone can wirelessly charge the competition

Make no mistake, Huawei’s going after the big dogs here. The company’s taken a Samsung-esque approach to the world of flagship smartphones with a beast of a handset that delivers everything and the kitchen sink. The Mate 20 Pro is a 6.4 inch powerhouse with features and specs to spare. It’s a combination of the […]

Make no mistake, Huawei’s going after the big dogs here. The company’s taken a Samsung-esque approach to the world of flagship smartphones with a beast of a handset that delivers everything and the kitchen sink.

The Mate 20 Pro is a 6.4 inch powerhouse with features and specs to spare. It’s a combination of the genuinely useful and the just sort of novel, but the hardware maker has clearly spared no expense getting itself on the global map with this thing. 

There’s a lot to unpack here, but the most compelling feature of the set may well be the device’s wireless charging. While that’s not particularly exciting on the face of it, get this, the company is confident enough about the on-board battery that you can use it to wirelessly charge the competition.

I’m not sure how practical that will be for a majority of users, but as someone who has multiple phones on his person most days, I’ve  found myself in a handful of scenarios where pulling a little extra juice from the phone’s massive 4,200mAh battery. The phone itself, naturally, has quick charging capabilities, hitting 70 percent battery after 30 minutes.

You’ve also got three cameras on the back, because Huawei. They’re all smushed together a square design, which the company says was inspired by sports cars. Sure, why not? There’s a 20-megapixel lens for super wide shots, a 40 megapixel standard shooter and an eight megapixel telephoto.

Oh, and those in-screen fingerprint readers everyone’s talking about? There’s one here, too, along with a depth-sensing face unlock for added security. The depth detecting front-facing cameras are also being put to use for things like image scanning and, yes, 3D selfies.

Inside is the proprietary Kirin 980 processor the company’s been talking up since way back at IFA. Huawei says its chip is able to eke out better performance than Qualcomm’s premium Snapdragon, but we’ll wait for the benchmarks for that one. And Huawei, like Apple, has been investing a lot in on-board AI processing, which is certainly on display here.

The new Kindle Paperwhite is thinner and waterproof

The Voyage may be dead, but the Kindle line still has some life left in it. This time last year, Amazon upgraded the high-end Oasis model, and now the mid-range Paperwhite is getting a little love.The workhorse of the company’s devoted e-reader line just got a handful of upgrades that will give users a more […]

The Voyage may be dead, but the Kindle line still has some life left in it. This time last year, Amazon upgraded the high-end Oasis model, and now the mid-range Paperwhite is getting a little love.The workhorse of the company’s devoted e-reader line just got a handful of upgrades that will give users a more premium experience, while keeping the device’s starting price at $130.

Waterproofing is the most exciting among the upgrades here. Remember that time four years ago when we ran a story with the headline, “This Waterproof Kindle Paperwhite Is Humanity’s Greatest Achievement?” Well, this is that potential fulfilled — now directly from Amazon. The reader sports an IPX8 rating, meaning it can be dunked in two meters of water for up to an hour.

That bit comes, in part, courtesy of another key upgrade. Like the Oasis before it, the reader sports a flush front, rather than the raised bezels found on older, cheaper models. The move gives the model an overall more premium feel and should help keep water from invading its circuits. It also goes a ways toward making this the thinnest and lightest Paperwhite, as well.

Another key change is the bump from four LEDs to five. Seems like a small thing, but it goes a ways toward keeping the front lighting more uniform across the board, versus the more patchy consistency found in earlier models.

Performance should be roughly the same on this model, though storage has been doubled to 8GB. There’s a 32GB model as well, for those who really aren’t into cloud storage. That move comes largely because the model is also getting Bluetooth, so users can listen to audio books through Audible using the device. The Whispersync feature makes sure users are up to date with both the text and audio versions.

There are a couple of tweaks to the software, including an updated home page with more customized recommendations, along with the ability to save different setting profiles.

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Pre-orders start today, and the new Paperwhite will begin shipping November 9. That $130 version includes Special Offers (ads), which Amazon says most customers are still opting into. Prices go up from there.

Mighty, the iPod Shuffle for Spotify, gets a bigger battery and better bluetooth

Technology, like so much of life, is cycle. Gadget evolve, leaving holes in our lives that some fresh new startup is waiting in the wings to fill. There are few better examples of the phenomenon than the Mighty. Introduced last year, the product built a pretty solid reputation as “the iPod Shuffle for Spotify.” The […]

Technology, like so much of life, is cycle. Gadget evolve, leaving holes in our lives that some fresh new startup is waiting in the wings to fill. There are few better examples of the phenomenon than the Mighty. Introduced last year, the product built a pretty solid reputation as “the iPod Shuffle for Spotify.”

The new Mighty Vibe is designed to address some of users’ concerns with the first generation product. Chief amongst the updates is improved bluetooth range. Enough of the product’s 50,000 users complained about spotty connections that the company made it a priority this time out.

The new version of the device should work at a range of up to 20 feet — of course, the thing is small enough to be worn on your person, so that’s not a huge issue in most cases. It’s also water/sweat resistant, making it a solid workout companion. The larger battery, meanwhile, should get upwards of five hours on a charge. The app has been redesigned from the ground up, too, for faster operation.

The Vibe is priced the same as its predecessor, at $86 (while the first-gen will come down in price until the company sells out of back stock). It still only works with Spotify, though Mighty tells me that it’s working with additional partners, with plans to offer more music service compatibility some time next year.

IoT company Smartfrog takes controlling interest in Canary

Things have been pretty quiet on the Canary front. In January at CES, the New York-based smart security startup released a stripped-down version of it its flagship camera. Beyond the odd software updates here and there, however, we haven’t heard much. This morning, however, the company announced some pretty big changes coming from the top, […]

Things have been pretty quiet on the Canary front. In January at CES, the New York-based smart security startup released a stripped-down version of it its flagship camera. Beyond the odd software updates here and there, however, we haven’t heard much. This morning, however, the company announced some pretty big changes coming from the top, down.

Smartfrog, a European IoT company, has invested $25 million in the startup, bringing its total funding up to $66 million.  With its investment, Smartfrog will also take a controlling interest.

That means some shakeups, up top. Smartfrog CEO Charles Fraenkl will retain the top spot at the combined companies, while Bob Stohrer, Canary’s CMO, will be put in charge of its New York-based operations. Former Canary CEO Adam Sager, meanwhile, will stay around in an advisory role, according to the company. 

“We are very excited about the opportunities that derive from joining forces. Our businesses are extremely complementary and will enable us to scale the business faster globally,“ Stohrer told TechCrunch.

From a strategic standpoint, the move gives Smartfrog a foothold in the States, while potentially affording Canary the ability to spread into the EU. The camera maker offered a pretty impressive product out of the gate, putting it at the forefront of smart home security.

A spokesperson for the companies told TechCrunch,

Globally, the smart home security market is at an inflection point, and as the industry becomes increasingly competitive with some of the world’s largest technology companies, Smartfrog and Canary joining forces enables both companies to better compete globally. Together the group will immediately become a formidable global provider of IoT services and SaaS solutions leveraging combined strengths. With artificial intelligence, machine learning initiatives, easy-to-use products and affordable prices, the group ensures continued consumer benefits and accelerated global growth.

Increased competition from the likes of Nest, Amazon-owned Ring and, most notably, Netgear’s Arlo, have, however, made for a far more competitive space.

“Canary´s achievements — in creating an award-winning smart home security solution and becoming one of the fastest-growing category leaders in US — is nothing short of impressive,” Fraenkl said in a statement. “By joining forces, the group will be well positioned in an increasingly competitive market.”

Canary will continue to function as an independent brand, moving forward.

Google Pixel 3 XL review

The smartphone arms race isn’t always pretty. The knock-down, drag-out fight between Apple and Samsung in particular has given rise to some nasty lawsuits and wincing commercials year in and out as the two companies invest millions in outdoing one another. But Google is playing another game entirely. The company has never really been concerned […]

The smartphone arms race isn’t always pretty. The knock-down, drag-out fight between Apple and Samsung in particular has given rise to some nasty lawsuits and wincing commercials year in and out as the two companies invest millions in outdoing one another.

But Google is playing another game entirely. The company has never really been concerned with battling it out over flashy designs and specs. It’s really exactly the sort of approach you’d expect from a software-first company. I won’t go so far as to suggest that the Pixel 3 is a utilitarian phone, but it’s safe to say that the hardware exists in service of the company’s software innovations.

If it were like other companies, last week’s hardware event would have been an opportunity for Google to bask in processor speed and pixel density. Instead, it blew through such things. It was a strange spectacle to behold, really, as someone who’s been through a million of these things. The company more or less announced all of the products at once and moved onto more important topics like algorithms and machine learning.

For many intents and purposes, Google’s approach to smartphones is a breath of fresh air. From a more practical standpoint, the company’s path often means less radical hardware upgrades, year over year. If you’re wondering whether to upgrade from the the Pixel 2, the simple answer is: no, what are you, made out of money? But here’s Taylor’s slightly more nuanced approach to the question, if that’s your thing.

The fact is that Google has always been less interested than Apple or Samsung in keeping you beholden to the constant upgrade cycle. In fact, a number of the new photo features introduced this round will also be making their way onto older models, when possible. That’s not a promise all of the competition is willing to make.

The bottom line for products like the Pixel 3, Pixel Slate and Home Hub is that Google is intent on delivering the best hardware showcase for what it’s been working on over on the software side. That we happen to get one of the best Android smartphones out of the deal is a happy side effect.

Top level, here are the key hardware changes from the last version:

  • Bigger screen: This the single largest hardware change, so to speak. The Pixel 3 bumps up from five inches to 5.5 inches, while the XL moves up in the world from six to 6.3. Both a pretty sizable upgrade, all told.
  • Dual front-facing cameras: Seemingly a bit of a head scratcher, given that the back of the device sticks to one. More on that below.
  • Wireless charging: Better late than never, right?

We walked away from the Google event with both handsets in a branded tote bag that also included the new Pixel Stand. It’s clear that the company was looking to outfit reviewers with the best experience possible. As someone who cycles through a lot of phones for work, I’ve found myself gravitating toward larger phones.

With that in mind, most of the rest of this piece pertains to my experiences with the Pixel 3 XL. That said, Anthony kindly agreed to take the Pixel 3 out on the town for a photo safari, so the imaging samples in this review are taken from both handsets. Spec-wise, the two products are quite similar, beyond the standard array of things that come with a larger phone: screen, battery, et al.

There’s a sentiment you’ll read a lot when it comes to large flagships — that the company has done a good job keeping the footprint small, in spite of the massive screen size. Indeed, a lot of progress has been made on this front in recent generations, between thinner bodies and the rapid extinction of the bezel. That said, the Pixel 3 XL is a big phone by just about any measure.

Sure, Apple came from behind, only to rocket to the top of display sizes with the 6.5-inch XS Max. But the 6.3-inch XL isn’t far behind. It’s also a few fractions of a millimeter thicker than Apple’s massive handset at 7.9mm — though it still has nothing on the Note 9’s 8.8mm. Either way, the thing isn’t for the small of hand or limited in pocket space — and one-handed use probably isn’t in the cards if you’re not a professional basketball player.

Not much has changed aesthetically changed since the 2. And, indeed, the Pixel’s design language has become iconic in its own way, from the brightly colored power button to the dual-surface rear. The plasticky version found on prior generations has been replaced with a double glass surface — shiny up top and matte on the bottom.

It’s a subtle contrast and should help avoid slippage for those souls brave enough to go without a case. This last bit is a very real issue I’ve run into switching between the iPhone XS and Note 9, of late. Those shiny backs will slip right out of your hand if you’re not paying attention.

Up front, you’ll find that word of the Pixel 3 XL’s notch was, in fact, not exaggerated. It’s the stuff of legend. Turns out this is because of those dual front-facing cameras. Google is really committed to helping users up their selfie game here. At least that’s the immediate impact of that decision.

Dual cameras could have other benefits down the road, including depth sensing for things like augmented reality and, perhaps, face unlock. For now, however, it means taking pictures of yourself and friends at a semi-pro level.

The notch, it turns out, is a key design distinction between the 3 and 3 XL. The reasoning is — as with the rest of what Google’s hardware team did here — a pragmatic one. “With the small one,” VP of Product Management Brian Rakowski told me in an interview last week, “it turns out the space is just too small when you put the wide-angle lens in. It’s a narrower phone, so you have room for an icon or two, whereas on the bigger phone everything you need for the status icons is up there, and it’s a very good use of the space.”

In spite of its software embrace with Android Pie, Google is neither definitively pro or anti-notch. The company is, simply put, notch agnostic. If, however, you have a problem with that admittedly unsightly cutout, there’s a fix for thatActive Edge is back. It’s a feature that’s grown on me a bit since HTC introduced it as Edge Sense back on the U11 in May of last year. With a pinch of the phone’s frame, you can fire up Assistant. It’s one of several ways to invoke Google’s AI, but it definitely beats Samsung’s longtime insistence on including a devoted Bixby button. And besides, Google Assistant is actually, you know, useful.

Google’s generally done a good job listening to user feedback with its software features, and nowhere is that better represented than with the Adaptive mode for its screen color profiles. Last year’s Natural mode was met with some fairly widespread negative feedback for the effect in had in “muddying” the colors — most notably the reds, which ended up somewhere between blood-red and brown.

It was one of those things the company insisted was good for you, but ultimately user irritation won the day. Adaptive splits the difference, saturating colors for things like your Gmail icon, while keeping it in check for things like skin tone. It’s a pretty happy medium, all told, but if you’re not into it, you can always adjust things in settings.

The headphone jack is, of course, still gone. Google drew a line in the sand last year, after making a show keeping it on-board with the first generation. There’s a bit of a mea culpa here, however, in the form of souped up earbuds included in-box. The headphones are very clearly inspired by last year’s Pixel Buds.

That, much like the accessories themselves, is a bit of a mixed bag. The biggest upshot here is that the things plug directly into the USB-C port at the bottom. Sure the box still includes a headphone jack to USB adapter, but including headphones with a standard jack with a phone that doesn’t natively support the tech is downright bizarre.

The looping up top is a nice way to keep the buds in your ears without those bizarrely sharp fins that so many headphone makers rely on. I took the headphones for a run this morning and they didn’t fall out once.

The headphones also offer a number of the Pixel Buds’ software features free of charge, including easy access to Google Assistant and real-time translations through the Google Translate app.

The downside, on the other hand, is a major one. Even as far as free in-box headphones go, the Pixel USB-C earbuds are uncomfortable. This, I will be the first to admit, is a wholly subjective thing and highly dependent on the size and shape of our earholes. But man, the thing hurt to put in and take out, outdoing Apple’s last generation free buds for discomfort levels.

This is a space where companies can learn a lot from Samsung. The earbuds that ship with the Galaxy S9 and Note 9 are fantastic. I’m actually using them right now, plugged into my MacBook, in spite of not having a Samsung device anywhere near my person.

That said, the on-board sound has been improved, courtesy of the addition of front-facing speakers.

Interestingly, battery capacity has been increased for the Pixel 3 (from 2,700 to 2,915mAh), but not the Pixel 3 XL — in fact, it’s actually gone down slightly (from 3,520 to 3,430). That’s no doubt part of why the company was a bit cagey about this particular spec, only really mentioning battery as it pertains to the new charging tech.

As the company told me at the event, the ultimate goal is making sure battery life either stays constant or improves, courtesy of a combination of hardware and software. Battery was a focus for Android Pie, which should help offset some of the mAh loss on the XL. In my own testing, I was able to get just over a full day with standard usage — around 27 hours, all told. Not immaculate, but not bad.

Running the battery down did, however, give me occasion to appreciate the estimates that kick in when you’re critically low on juice. Android estimates when it thinks you’ll be completely SOL, shifting expectations as you change your usage. It’s either a lifesaver or source of anxiety depending on how you absorb such information.

The Pixel Stand, meanwhile, is a smart little accessory. At $79, it’s one I’d consider strongly if picking up the handset. Granted, it lacks the ambition of Apple’s three-product-charging AirPower, but among its other clear advantages is the fact I’ve held it in my hand and can confirm it’s a real thing that actually exists. The accessory takes advantage of that glass back to charge wirelessly via the Qi standard.

The stand is soft and silicon and fairly minimalist, designed to go unseen when not in use. When it is, however, it transforms the Pixel into a makeshift Home Hub, serving up Google Photos and bringing a visual component to Assistant. It’s a clever take of the charging stand — and hopefully a good enough excuse to stop you from falling asleep with your phone every night.

Okay, okay — it’s time to talk about the camera. We’ve got one of our reviewers doing a really in-depth testing on the Pixel camera, which you’ll be able to read as a standalone in the near future. For now, a couple of quick things to note.

The camera situation is a bit counterintuitive. There’s a second front-facing camera, while the back of the device bucks the industry standard of moving to two — or even three — lenses.

Rakowski again, “We look at all of the different configurations we can get. If we would have added another lens, it would have given us no benefit over what we get with one really good lens.”

That means, like the latest iPhone, the upgrades here are more software than hardware. If anyone gets the benefit of the doubt on that front, it’s Google. The company’s been making great strides in imaging, courtesy of silicon and machine learning, all of which were well demonstrated on the Pixel 2.

The Pixel 3 continues that grand tradition with some really impressive strides. Best of all, unlike many of the camera software tricks introduced by competitors in recent years, many of these additions are majorly useful day to day applications.

The camera software has HDR+ on by default — a smart move on Google’s part. While many users will buy the new Pixel based on photo performance, an even larger percentage of owners are unfamiliar with photog terms like HDR. I speak from experience, having personally enabled the feature on many friends’ phones.

In Google’s application, the feature snaps eight frames more or less instantly, digitally stitching them together in a matter than impressively captures uneven light settings in a single frame. In fact, this kind of burst shooting is the key to many of the Pixel 3’s best features.

Take Top Shot. The feature utilizes the many frames taken when making a Motion Photo. Once the shot is taken, swipe up and you can scroll through the images on a timeline to pick the frame you want. Generally, the AI does a solid job picking the ideal image, but the ability to customize (assuming users can locate the feature) is certainly welcome.

That customization carries over into features like Portrait Mode. The Pixel has long done a solid job with the feature in spite of not having a full two cameras for depth sensing. Instead, the phone uses a dual lens to approximate a depth map. And while camera suppliers would no doubt argue the benefit of including a full second or third camera, it’s hard to quibble with the results here. Once a shot is taken, you can manually adjust the blurred-out bokeh effect behind the subject.

[Standard v Super Res Zoom]

Super Res Zoom also stitches together pieces of a photo to offer up a zoomed-in version. Here the tech actually builds upon your own shaky hands, using algorithmic tech to fill in the holes. It’s still no match for the optical zoom of telephotos like the one found on the new iPhone, but it definitely improves upon stand zoom.

[Left: iPhone XS, Right, Google Pixel 3 XL]

Night Sight, meanwhile, uses multiple shots to improve the color on low-light shots. It’s a clever workaround for a lack of dual-apertures, doing a fine job of brightening up photos. That said, there’s still noticeable noise on photos shot in dark settings. 

More camera features worth noting:

  • Playground is a fun one-stop shop for augmented reality stickers. There are Star Wars and Avengers in there, among others. This is Google’s fun addition to the camera software. There are no Animojis or AR Emojis here, thanks to the lack of face detection, but it’s a fun glimpse at the future of in-camera AR.
  • Lots of additional selfie options. The dual front-facing cameras means wide-angle selfies, for cramming in a larger group. The camera software, meanwhile, corrects the standard fish-eye lens distortion.
  • Photobooth mode, meanwhile, will snap a shot when you smile.

  • Lens continues to impress. Check out the above shot of the thank you page from Adrian Tomine’s Killing and Day, which pops up faces and bios for those fellow authors mentioned.
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A Google exec recently told me that price wasn’t really a factor when building hardware. In all things, however, the company is pragmatic. Google’s move away from the ongoing spec wars means the company isn’t chasing premium hardware for the sake of itself. That ultimately benefits the user from a pricing perspective.

Google doesn’t lead with the fact that the Pixel 3 starts at $799, but in a world full of flagships that start at $200 more, maybe it should. Sure, it’s not exactly cheap, but these days, it feels like a downright steal for a top-tier flagship.

Like its predecessor, the Pixel 3 isn’t about flash. It is, however, another solid showcase for Google’s impressive innovations.

Palm returns as an ‘ultra-mobile’ smartphone

I shared images I shot of the Palm device with a few co-workers ahead of this morning’s unveiling, and they were downright giddy. The new “ultra-mobile” device (a term us old people used to use to refer to something closer to a netbook) is a hard thing to contextualize without a picture, so I took […]

I shared images I shot of the Palm device with a few co-workers ahead of this morning’s unveiling, and they were downright giddy. The new “ultra-mobile” device (a term us old people used to use to refer to something closer to a netbook) is a hard thing to contextualize without a picture, so I took a bunch, and many of my oft-jaded co-workers fell for the thing immediately.

The device, which is designed to split the difference between a smartphone and a smartwatch, is admittedly adorable. The startup behind the product employs designs with some impressive credentials, from Samsung to Frog Design.

Really, the device most obviously resembles an iPhone, shrunk down to a 3.3-inch display. The first iPhone, incidentally, had a 3.5-inch screen — though a lot has been done in the intervening 11 years to jam that kind of real estate into a far smaller footprint. And this device, fittingly, fits comfortably in the Palm of your hand.

But adorableness is hardly enough to convince a large swath of the public to shell out $349 for a product category they didn’t know they needed in their life until this morning. There are a number of issues. For one thing, this is a Verizon exclusive. Sure, our parent company’s parent company has a lot of subscribers, but you’re already writing off a number of potential buyers with the fact that you need an existing VZW plan to tack the Palm onto. Oh, and that will run you an additional $10 a month.

[Note: I did not take this photo of Steph.]

I’m sure you’re already imagining the ways this thing will fit into your life. If not, Palm investor, accessory designer and Splash Brother Stephen Curry is happy to help you. The Warrior all-star has been incorporating the product into his off-season workouts, and certainly there’s something to be said for the much smaller form factor when it comes to strapping it to your arm for NBA workouts.

For the rest of us, perhaps the reborn Palm represents freedom from being tethered to our six-inch smartphones. Granted, it’s still a smartphone of sorts, but it’s a start. And the device can help you get a lot more done than your average smartwatch — though I speak from experience when I say it’s going to take a lot of practice to get used to typing on that tiny screen again.

The Palm runs Android (8.1), naturally. Though the company has created a custom skin that forgoes the desktop and takes you right into the app tray. From there, you can reorder your apps based on preference. And yes, unlike Wear OS, they run as their full versions here.

The device is IP68 water-resistant and sports an 800mAh battery — not big, but then, neither is the screen, so they ought to even each other out. Palm rates it as “All Day.” Inside, you also get 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and a Snapdragon 435. Those are bad smartphone specs, but perhaps good specs as far as “ultra-mobiles” go? Hard to say. The category didn’t really exist until right now.

The newly reborn Palm created the device with help from supplier TCL. Unlike TCL’s BlackBerry deal, however, the startup owns the exclusive rights to the once-mighty Palm name and operates independently of the massive Chinese phone maker.

Cute? Check. Interesting? Double check. Ready to disrupt the industry? The jury is definitely still out on that one.

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