Sony’s WH-1000XM4 are $100 off for the first time at Amazon

The WH-1000XM4 over-ear headphones that Sony released in August 2020 have seen a couple of price drops, but none as big as today’s $102 discount at Amazon. Normally $350, you can snag a set of these noise-canceling wireless headphones in the black, blue, or silver colorways for just $248. The deal gets sweeter if you have an Amazon credit card, as you’ll get 10 percent back on this purchase through December 20th. Whether this deal actually lasts that long remains to be seen, but this is a solid indicator that we may, at least, see the price fall again during the holiday shopping season.

The XM4 was built on the strengths of Sony’s prior model, offering plenty of comfort with a swiveling ear cup design, excellent sound quality, and long-lasting battery life. What you’ll only find in this model compared to the predecessor, though, is the auto play and pause function, as well as multipoint Bluetooth capability, which lets you connect to two Bluetooth sources simultaneously. Read our review.

Sony WH-1000XM4

  • $248
  • $350
  • 30% off

Sony’s 1000XM4 headphones improve on their popular predecessors with new features like multipoint pairing and automatic speech detection. They retain the same excellent comfort and top-notch sound quality.

Samsung’s latest wearable, the Galaxy Watch 4, is down to its lowest price yet at Amazon. The 40mm-sized watch with Bluetooth and GPS capabilities usually costs $250, but you can get it in any of the available colors for $220. According to pricing data from CamelCamelCamel, this is the lowest price yet.

The Galaxy Watch 4 is a little more interesting than many of Samsung’s other smartwatches, as it has Google’s Wear OS 3 software. Despite that, these watches are still very much intended for (and best experienced when paired with) a Samsung phone. Read our review.

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

  • $220
  • $250
  • 12% off

The Galaxy Watch 4 features a snappy interface and more third-party support by way of Google’s Wear OS 3. But keep in mind that it’s paired best with a Samsung-made phone.

If you or someone you know has an iPhone 12 or 13-series phone, consider picking up the MagSafe Battery Pack while it’s discounted today at Amazon. It’s $83.27, dropping below its usual $99 price that you’d pay if you walked into an Apple Store. As we found during our review, this model isn’t meant to be an all-day companion to save your phone from the brink. Rather, you should pick it up if you want a compact, simple solution for keeping your iPhone topped up throughout the day. Read our review.

Apple MagSafe Battery Pack

  • $83
  • $99
  • 16% off

Apple’s MagSafe Battery Pack is the only option for magnetic wireless charging on the go that is integrated with iOS for visible charge levels. It does not pack enough juice to fully charge an iPhone 12 or 13, but it’s convenient for top-ups in a compact package.

Other deals you may be interested in

The Pixel 6: what to expect from Google’s thoroughly pre-announced phone

We’ve seen the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. Google’s decision to announce and thoroughly tease its new high-end flagship was revealing and confusing but, given all the leaks that followed, ultimately not that consequential.

The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro feature an all-new, in some cases, quite colorful design, with an in-display fingerprint sensor, Google’s new Tensor SoC, and the Titan M2 security chip. The standard Pixel 6 has a 90Hz 6.4-inch screen, while the Pro gets a 120Hz 6.7-inch, but the big difference might end up being the cameras. Both devices have new wide and ultrawide cameras, but the Pro comes with an additional 4x optical zoom periscope lens.

But now that company is planning on launching its new phones on October 19th, you might be wondering: what could Google have left to share? If leaks are any indication, quite a few interesting things. We’ll be covering Google’s event live on Tuesday, but keep reading below for what to expect ahead of the Pixel 6 launch.

Google’s new Pixel 6 phones, regular and Pro
The Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.
Image: Google

Powerful new hardware, including upgraded cameras

Google long held the crown for best smartphone camera on its Pixel line but slipped in the last few years in favor of what both Samsung and Apple brought to the table. A clear break from mid-range phones and mid-range specs to something decidedly on the high-end could be just the thing Google needs to retake its crown.

Rumors and leaked store pages from Carphone Warehouse (viewable on the Wayback Machine here and here) suggest Google is sparing no expense in updating the cameras of the Pixel 5. Both versions of the Pixel 6 feature a 50MP main sensor — a big step up from the iPhone 13 Pro’s 12MP camera — and a 12MP ultrawide. The Pixel 6 Pro also has an extra camera with 4x zoom with 48MP telephoto that can reach an even higher 20x zoom thanks to Google’s Super Res Zoom feature it first added with the Pixel 3.

On the front of the Pixel 6 Pro, the selfie camera can also be expected to feature a wide 94-degree field of view, not dissimilar from the wide-angle selfie camera on the Pixel 3. People love selfies, and the front camera is another clear place Google could shine since Apple decided to keep selfies the same on the iPhone 13.

The new Pixel Stand, 30W charging brick, and clear Pixel 6 Case
Image: Carphone Warehouse / @evleaks

Other tweaks are less visible. The battery in the Pixel 6 is expected to be improved and, with Extreme Battery Saver turned on, lasts for 48 hours on a single charge. The Pixel 6 Pro could also feature even faster charging, with the ability to hit 50 percent charge in 30 minutes, Android Central writes. Helping make all of that happen is a new 30W charging brick (which won’t be included in the box) and a new 23W Pixel Stand with active cooling.

The same leaked Pixel 6 store pages also point to the use of Corning’s Gorilla Glass Victus for the glass on the new phones and a new clear case that could be perfect for showing off the multicolored varieties of Pixel 6.

Long-awaited software tricks like the Magic Eraser

Google can pack as much high-tech hardware into its phones as it wants, but the real trick is all the extra performance its software squeezes out of it. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro appear to have several software features that might do just that.

First is Magic Eraser, which promises to “remove strangers and unwanted objects” with just a few taps in Google Photos. This actually appears to be a photo feature Google’s been working on for at least four years. The company introduced a similar obstruction-erasing feature in 2017 by removing a fence from a photo of a baseball game. The fine print on the leaked store page is clear that Magic Eraser won’t work for every photo, but it certainly seems like it could be very impressive when it does.

Motion Mode on the new Pixel 6 and 6 Pro.
Image: Carphone Warehouse / @evleaks

Google’s two other software features mentioned in the same leaked store pages are opposites. Face Unblur attempts to deblur faces captured in motion-heavy photos (Google’s example is children playing). While Motion Mode “adds more action to action shots.” It’s not super clear what that entails, but Google’s photo example shows a blurry, clearly in-motion Ferris wheel with two subjects in focus standing in front of it — almost like long exposure background with a traditional photo foreground.

Other software advancements include several varieties of on-device translation, thanks to Google’s mysteriously structured Tensor chip. The text from the Carphone Warehouse leak specifically calls out:

Get your chats translated in real time, listen to podcasts with translated captions and even use your camera to read signs in up to 55 languages. No Internet needed.

Rumors point to fairly extensive software support for both versions of the Pixel 6, which means they could stay ahead of the pack as Google rolls out new features over time. So far, that looks like four major Android updates, according to 9to5Google, and five years of security updates based on what The Verge saw in those leaked store pages.

The Google-y versions of an Apple One subscription

What better to go with a bunch of new phone hardware and software than a nice all-in-one subscription package? Apple One was Apple’s version of the subscription bundle tying in services like Apple TV Plus, Apple Music, and extra iCloud storage. Now, it seems like Google might have something similar in mind with a bundle called “Pixel Pass.”

A leaked document from Brandon Lee suggests Pixel Pass could combine up to four subscriptions: YouTube Premium or YouTube Music, Google One for extra storage and discounts, Play Pass for apps and games, and Google Fi. The bundle could also incorporate some kind of upgrade plan akin to Apple’s iPhone Upgrade program.

A foldable Pixel

Last but not least, there’s a whole other Pixel device that Google could show off or at least tease at the launch of the Pixel 6 — a foldable codenamed “Passport.”

In 2019, Google revealed it has prototyped foldable devices for years. The company has also made modifications to Android over the years to better support devices like Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 3, and it has even more planned. It follows that Google might at least try its hand at making some kind of device to straddle the phone and tablet markets.

An internal Google document leaked in 2020 confirmed the company was targeting a 2021 release for the “Passport.” Further reporting from The Elec this June claimed that Samsung had begun production on folding OLED displays for use in new devices from Google, Vivo, and Xiaomi. That could line up with a late 2021 release.

Look like your favorite Metal Gear Solid character, Cool Glassesman, with these Hideo Kojima shades

Legendary video game designer Hideo Kojima has collaborated with French eyewear specialist Jean-François Rey to produce a limited-edition quartet of shades, specs, and a 3D-printed mask. The capsule collection is available to preorder now for unknown prices, with delivery slated for March 2022.

The designs were apparently inspired by the look and feel of Kojima’s Death Stranding (not the first time that particular game has led to high-fashion collaborations), but I feel they would fit happily into a number of Kojima’s near-contemporary or futuristic game worlds. Perhaps they’d even adorn the face of one the many wonderfully-named Metal Gear Solid characters. May we suggest: Cool Glassesman. (It’s no worse than Hot Coldman.)

The collection consists of four pieces. First is HKxJF01, below: a pair of combination spectacles with round frames and curved rectangular shades that flip out from the arms to cover your eyes.

HKxJF02 consists of some traditional-looking frames with interesting colorways, one with a leather look and two with patterns that look more like “digital camo” skins. These come with clip-on shades.

The last two items are only available to purchase together: a pair of slightly steampunk-esque glasses, HKxJF03, and a 3D-printed mask named after and inspired by the look of Ludens, mascot of Kojima Productions.

The HKxJF03 specs combine metal, acetate, and “3D nylon” materials (whatever that means) while the mask is made using a 3D-printing technique known as SLS, or selective laser sintering, with “adjustable nosepads and rimlocks for prescription lenses or sunglasses.” It also appears to have little metal icons of the Kojima Productions logo (which also features Ludens) built into the rim.

Honestly, I think all these look pretty great. They’re not items I’d ever personally have the confidence, style, or money to wear, but they’re definitely a lot nicer looking than many other fashion and video game collaborations. (I’m thinking of Tag Heuer’s ugly Mario watches or Fortnite’s supremely unimaginative Balenciaga-themed cosmetics.) Hideo Kojima, aka Cool Glassesman: here’s to you.

The M1 chip saved the MacBook — but now Apple has to win back the Pros

It’s been hard to be an Apple power user for the last half-decade. The glory days of the original Retina MacBook Pro have long since vanished into the sunset, and recent years have seen computers with too many compromises and too few ports.

And while Apple’s first wave of M1-powered computers have been excellent, they’ve all been — relatively — low-powered. The MacBook Air, the M1 MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, and iMac are the cheapest computers Apple makes, meant more for checking email, writing essays, and the occasional light photo editing than they are for cranking out 4K video or Photoshop projects hundreds of layers deep.

That may be about to change with the presumed announcement of new, high-end MacBook Pro models, computers that are rumored to be Apple’s biggest laptop update in years. And new MacBook Pros are an opportunity for the company to get back the professional users that have been underserved and disappointed by the lackluster laptop options that the company has been releasing for several cycles.

James Bareham

Apple’s last major redesign for the MacBook Pro came in 2016 and made several missteps: the stripping away of SD card, HDMI, and USB-A ports (all essential tools for photographers, video editors, musicians, and other professional workers) in favor of exclusively using USB-C. There was the addition of the largely useless Touch Bar instead of reliable function keys. And, of course, the extremely fragile keyboard, which was prone to breaking on contact with dust or debris.

Subsequent models have tried to address some of those complaints (Apple finally reverted back to the older style keyboard and added a physical escape key to newer models of the MacBook Pro), but the overall approach of what should be Apple’s most functional devices still focus more on the form. Life as a professional on a Mac has meant dealing with too many dongles, buying new cables, and endlessly hunting around for an SD card adapter just to import files. All while getting processors that are years behind Windows devices, with screens that haven’t meaningfully changed since 2012, on computers that Apple charges a premium.

And hardcore users have been waiting for a while, especially compared to Apple’s last chip changeover. When Apple first announced that it would be transitioning its entire product lineup over to Apple Silicon products in 2020 (and away from the Intel chips that it had used since its last major architecture switch in 2005), it announced a two-year goal of getting all its products switched over. But a year in, and only Apple’s least powerful devices have made the change. If you want a more powerful laptop or desktop, then you’re still getting the old Intel models — models that, while still not on Apple Silicon hardware, also haven’t been updated with new Intel hardware in over a year and a half either.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

The most powerful 16-inch MacBook Pro you can buy right now — ostensibly Apple’s best and beefiest laptop — features a 9th-generation Intel Core i7 processor from early 2019. Mac users aren’t just missing out on the new 11th Gen Tiger Lake chips announced earlier this year, bringing generational changes in battery life and performance; they didn’t even get the more modest upgrades from Intel’s 2020 10th-gen chips, either.

Compare this whole sluggish Apple Silicon transition to the original Intel one, which happened much more swiftly; Apple announced the change in June 2005, released the first Intel-based Macs in January 2006, and had completely switched over its full product line with the Intel-powered Mac Pro in August 2006 — just eight months later.

Apple managed to change its entire lineup to Intel in just over a year, from announcement to release, the last time around. But with Apple Silicon, we’re already a year into this transition, and there are still a lot of crucial, unanswered questions. The current M1 chips only offer integrated GPUs, with no discrete graphics options available for more graphically intensive tasks (like those that video editors or graphic designers might need). Apple doesn’t sell an M1 device with more than 16GB of RAM, nor does it offer a laptop with more than two USB4 / Thunderbolt 4 ports — all areas that the company would likely have to address in some fashion on a pro-focused machine.

Plus, if Apple does fail at translating the success of its M1 chips to its more powerful machines, Intel is still ready and willing to try and pick up the slack. “I never give up on the idea of anything not running on Intel chips,” commented Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger in an interview with Axios. “Apple decided that they could do a better chip than we could, and they did a pretty good job. So what I have to do is create a better chip than they can do themselves… I’m gonna fight hard to win Tim [Cook’s] business in this area.”

There are theoretical benefits to the delay: developers have had a full year to transition their apps over to Apple’s M1 architecture. Things like Microsoft Office and key creative applications like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere, and Lightroom have all been natively ported to Apple’s new chips, and those updates took months to roll out.

Plus, a switch to Apple’s own in-house chips might not just mean the kind of performance and speed boosts that customers have been enjoying on the company’s less powerful machines. It also could mean an end to the glacial pace of upgrades for Mac processors. With Intel chips, Apple’s computers almost universally lagged behind their Windows-based competitors, taking months or even years to upgrade to Intel’s latest chips (and the performance and power benefits that newer silicon provided).

And if the rumors are correct, Apple is taking the new chips as an opportunity to roll out a new design for its MacBook Pro line, with bigger, better Mini LED displays, smaller bezels, more ports, and even the return of its breakaway magnetic MagSafe chargers — changes that would both modernize the lineup to be more on par with Windows competitors (which have long since lapped Apple in things like display technology) in addition to rolling back some of the more controversial aspects of the Touch Bar era.

With the first wave of Apple Silicon Macs, Apple proved it could make the best laptops around for most people. But Apple’s new MacBook Pros aren’t just about winning over power users — it’s a chance to prove that Apple Silicon (and the traditionally mobile-focused Arm technology it uses) can not only match but exceed what Intel and AMD have accomplished for years with x86 for high-end use cases.

And if Apple can succeed at that, it won’t just mean better laptops or desktops, but what could be the start of changing how we fundamentally think about designing computers — at least the inside of them — going forward.

Cowboy 3 electric bike review: better safe than sporty

Cowboy has returned with its third-generation e-bike. It’s still the best-looking pedal-assisted electric bike with a removable battery that I’ve ever seen having carried forward the same physical design as the original Cowboy. While the Cowboy 2 from last year was sporty, the Cowboy 3 is mature, focusing on safety rather than fun.

The Cowboy 3 is fitted with a variety of safety features including automatic crash detection, a slower top speed, and new puncture-resistant tires of Cowboy design. Version three, like the previous model, also has integrated lighting, with a rear light that flashes red when braking. And believe it or not, Cowboy’s finally making fenders.

It’s as if this Belgian startup wants to become the Volvo of e-bikes. Not that that’s a bad thing.

The headline feature is automatic crash detection, which the company calls an industry first. It’s available on both Cowboy 3 and older Cowboy 2 bikes via a free software update. Crash detection works by analyzing data collected from the wheel’s speed sensor, torque sensor, and accelerometer to determine if a crash occurred. The company says it can tell the difference between a crash and emergency braking, dropping your bike on its side, hitting a pothole, or riding over cobblestones.

If a crash is detected, the rider has 60 seconds to confirm they’re okay in the app, or else the SIM card integrated into the Cowboy e-bike sends an alert to one, or both, of your predefined emergency contacts. It also sends along a real-time map showing the rider’s position measured by the bike’s GPS radio.

I was able to simulate a crash with the help of a soft couch. After dropping the bike while holding the brake and pressing down on a pedal, the front and rear lights started flashing rapidly to draw attention to the area. At the same time, a text message was received by my emergency contact saying I “might have been involved in a bike accident” with my approximate street address and a link to a live map showing my precise location. I can imagine this being a useful and even life-saving feature if crash detection performs this well in real-life scenarios. Otherwise, false alarms could create a lot of stress for loved ones (Cowboy claims a false positive rate of “close to zero”).

Removable battery and future on / off.

250W single-speed rear-hub motor.

Rear light flashes when braking.

Smartphone required.

Another safety feature was added by taking something away: off-road mode, a setting intended for riding Cowboys on private property. Cowboy e-bikes are now capped at the European limit of 25km/h (15.5mph). Previously, Cowboy’s off-road mode sneakily boosted the speed cap to 30km/h (19mph) to complement the e-bike’s sporty riding position. In practice, I imagine that many, if not most, Cowboy owners used that mode all the time. I sure did, especially when beyond the city limits where I regularly bike between 25-30km/h. I really missed the faster, more exciting mode in my testing. I’m told that Cowboy removed it for safety and insurance reasons: Cowboy offers owners Easy Rider insurance plans starting at €8 per month for theft or €10 per month to add damage coverage.

The Cowboy 3 does have a free Find My Bike feature that uses GPS and Bluetooth to help locate your bike. But you’ll need to pay at least €8 per month to receive theft detection notifications. The anti-theft protection kicks in two minutes after the Cowboy is turned off. Then, whenever your bike is jostled, presumably by a thief, it’ll send an alert to your phone showing the reported GPS location. The bike can then be tracked with the help of the (very good) Cowboy app with Bluetooth allowing you to hone in on your bike with greater precision.

My test bike had theft detection enabled and it worked for the most part. When enabled, the bike’s lights flash briefly (there’s no siren or warning sound) and the alert arrives quickly in the app. You can then ignore it or hit “Find My Bike” and take your chances with confronting a would-be thief or someone who innocently bumped your bike in the shared bike rack.

As for the ride, Cowboy’s own silent 250W rear-hub motor coupled with a new, longer-lasting Gates Carbon Belt drive and lower gear ratio produces a highly intuitive experience. Power is delivered as soon as the bike detects pressure on the pedal for effortless getaways in the flats, and then the bike’s speed and torque sensors constantly adjust power delivery as your pace and pedaling change. When I tested it on hills, however, I felt the bike lacked the vertical oomph delivered by other single-speed belt-driven bikes like Gogoro’s Eeyo 1S, requiring more exertion than I expected. Nevertheless, overall the Cowboy continues to deliver one of, if not the most natural pedal-assisted ride experiences of any e-bike I’ve tested.

My range test delivered 70.5km (43.8 miles) from the 360Wh battery, which is exactly in line with Cowboy’s “up to 70km” claim. Best of all, that battery can be removed and taken inside for convenient charging. The bike is still rideable with a dead battery, but many will struggle to pedal a 16.9kg / 37-pound bike over long distances with just a single gear.

New this year is an automatic startup option that uses Bluetooth to detect when you’re nearby. It works so long as the app is running in the background. The new feature means you can leave your phone in a pocket or bag when you’re ready to ride. In practice, it works pretty well: the bike sensed me approaching and then required me to move it a little to actually turn the motor on. The bike can also be set to turn off automatically, or not, after a period of inactivity, giving you a chance to lock it up with a chain (or two) and walk away without triggering the anti-theft alerts.

After a software update, the Cowboy 3 can now be turned on without a smartphone. The ”Manual Unlock” mode allows the e-bike to be turned on by ejecting and re-inserting the battery within 20 seconds. It’s not very elegant, and requires that you carry the key, but it could keep you from getting stranded should you lose your smartphone or its battery dies.

The last big feature for Cowboy owners is the free Cowboy Mobile Service. While under the two-year guarantee, Cowboy will send a technician to your home, office, or places in between to repair your bike. The CMS service is currently available in 25 European cities, expanding to 70 by the end of the year, Cowboy tells me. Rad Power, for example, offers a similar service but charges a fee for each use.

Other observations:

New feature will route you around areas of poor air quality.

  • Cowboys don’t have throttles — they’re pedal assist only, and it’s either on or off, without power options like eco or sport found on other e-bikes.
  • The spongy grips, stock saddle, and wide puncture-resistant tires of Cowboy design did a fine job of gobbling up road vibrations, even on the bumpy bricked roads common in Amsterdam.
  • The Cowboy app will soon, by early October, inform riders about the air quality in the area and suggest the least polluted route.
  • Cowboy 3 is now available in two shades of gray to go along with the black model.
  • The LEDs in the battery meter on the top tube can be set to bright or dim and are mostly visible in the sun in bright mode.
  • The Cowboy logo above the battery meter isn’t a power button, but it should be.
  • Cowboy 3 weighs 16.9kg / 37 pounds, four ounces, making it about 900 grams heavier than the Cowboy 2 due mainly to the beefy new tires. The mudguards add some additional, undisclosed weight. It’s also made to fit relatively tall riders, measuring 170 to 195cm (five feet, seven inches to six feet, five inches).
  • Battery charges in about 3.5 hours.
  • Hydraulic disc brakes stop the bike with confidence.
  • The Cowboy app is one of the best in the business with its clean layout and features that make sense.

The Cowboy 3 is priced at €2,290 / £1,990 (about $2,665). That’s €300 more than both last year’s Cowboy 2 and VanMoof’s comparable S3 and X3 commuter e-bikes. But with a VanMoof, the price includes fenders, which are an €89 option from Cowboy, and a kickstand, which Cowboy doesn’t offer at all. At least Cowboy now ships its bikes with bells. Knowing that you’ll get a removable battery, free mobile repairs, and free crash detection helps make the Cowboy’s price tag a little easier to accept.

The third-generation Cowboy is available in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain, the Netherlands, and the UK, with Denmark in the works. US sales will happen someday, but right now, the European e-bike market is ten times the US market, says Cowboy, so it’s not in a rush.

Cowboy’s clearly been busy putting the €33 million in funding it’s raised since 2018 to good use to add and improve features while maintaining a pace of slow and steady expansion. Cowboy 3 is an excellent electric bike, made better through a selection of free and subscription-based services that should add real value over the lifetime of the bike.

Still, I can’t help but think that it’s a little confused. The geometry puts the rider into a sporty riding position yet its top, pedal-assisted speed has been reduced by 17 percent from last year’s model. And it’s sold as a city commuter but lacks urban necessities that should be included as standard components. The Cowboy 3 reminds me of a college graduate, torn between the recklessness of youth and the stodgy demands of the corporate world, knowing that growing up is inescapable.

Update October 18th, 8:08AM ET: Updated review text after Cowboy rolled out new Manual Unlock procedure to start the Cowboy 3 without a smartphone.

Photography by Thomas Ricker / The Verge

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An all-black PS5 sure would go great with Sony’s new midnight black Pulse 3D headset

Sony’s second colorway for the Pulse 3D headset for PS5 and PS4, clad in midnight black instead of white, is coming out this week. It’s the same $99.99 price as before, and nothing is different about it that I’ve noticed, aside from the matte black headband. If you’re one for embracing dark mode in both your apps and devices, you probably know if you want this already.

The Pulse 3D headset was made to be a technical showcase for Sony’s Tempest 3D audio engine built into the PS5 — and it is. At its cost, this model supplies better-than-average sound quality and good positional audio. Games made by PlayStation Studios, like Returnal, Demon’s Souls, Astro’s Playroom, and others, seem to make the most of the 3D audio tech, so try those out if you’re looking for particularly impressive tech demos.

The Pulse 3D is not the only headset that can do this (or even do it well), and you can even get passable results by using headphones you already own, plugged into your DualSense controller. But for people who want a solid wireless headset that charges via USB-C and doesn’t compromise on design, performance, or comfort (its silicone strap keeps the full weight of it from pressing down on your head), the Pulse 3D is an easy, somewhat affordable choice. And, now it comes in a svelte black.

Sony

As far as the button layout goes, it might take a while to learn, but I like what’s here. Along the edge of its left ear cup, it has a volume rocker and a rocker for adjusting the game and chat audio mix. You can turn mic monitoring on to hear your own voice coming through the mic, and there’s a mute button. In addition to working via 2.4GHz wirelessly via its included USB-A dongle, it includes a 3.5mm cable that you can use with the DualSense or any other device with a headphone jack.

Sony has been slower to introduce new colors of its headsets than for its DualSense controller, which got midnight black and crimson options a few months after the PS5 launched. But now, with a headset to possibly match your all-black controller, all that’s missing is for Sony to release swappable plates of its own for the PS5 to complete the set.

I’d be remiss not to take this opportunity to consider out loud that Sony has now made multiple colorways for its controller and its headset, yet not for its console’s replaceable shells. You know, the ones that you have to learn how to remove in order to add an M.2 drive to your PS5 for additional storage. I certainly wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to color coordinate my entire suite of PS5 goodies.

It’s a puzzle to me why Sony hasn’t already released its own plates for the PS5, but things haven’t been totally quiet on that topic. Over the weekend, dbrand shared with The Verge that it ended the sale of its Darkplates after Sony threatened to sue the company if it didn’t comply with a cease and desist order. This may or may not mean that Sony is about to release its own plates, but in the short term, it could mean that it may become tougher to find third-party alternatives.

How to watch Apple’s October ‘Unleashed’ event

Apple is hosting its next big hardware event at 10AM PT / 1PM ET. The event is titled “Unleashed,” and while we’re not totally sure what Apple will be unleashing, the dotted-font design on the invitation could be a hint at the higher-res Mini LED displays expected for new MacBook Pros. These new, more powerful MacBook Pros will probably come in 14- and 16-inch screen sizes and may have SD readers, HDMI, and MagSafe ports.

And possibly (finally) Apple may release new AirPods as well. It also seems likely we’ll get a release date for macOS Monterey, which was announced at the same time as iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 but remains in beta. The rumor mill also has been predicting the end of the Touch Bar.

WHAT TIME IS THE APPLE “UNLEASHED” EVENT?

You can tune into the livestream, which starts at 10AM PT / 1PM ET on Monday, October 18th. If you miss the livestream, it’s likely you’ll be able to catch a replay after the event wraps.

WHERE CAN I WATCH IT?

Apple is hosting the stream on its website, and it is also streaming it on YouTube. The YouTube stream is embedded above for your convenience.

OnePlus Harry Potter smartwatch cashes in on millennial nostalgia

How much do you still like Harry Potter? Enough to put up with a device that our own Dan Siefert called “basic and boring” and which Gizmodo’s Victoria Song called “the worst smartwatch I’ve ever used”? Well boy do I have a limited edition tie-in for you.

The OnePlus Watch Harry Potter Limited Edition is a new version of the company’s disappointing debut smartwatch themed around the boy wizard. It’s currently listed for ₹16,999 (around $225), and will be available exclusively in India. That’s a small premium over the ₹14,999 (around $200) the regular version of the watch retails for in the country. NDTV notes the watch will go on general sale from October 21st.

The watch includes custom faces and a Harry Potter-themed design.
Image: OnePlus

The limited edition version of the watch naturally includes a number of Harry Potter-themed elements. It has a copper color scheme and a brown leather band adorned with Harry Potter branding, and it comes in a box themed around the magical entryway to Diagon Alley.

Software tweaks include six themed watch faces, including four based around the Hogwarts school houses, as well as special boot and charging animations. XDA Developers has gotten its hands on the watch if you’d like to read some first-hand impressions.

Despite its disappointing initial reviews, OnePlus has been updating the watch since its release, adding new features like an always-on display and remote control camera function. But based on Dan’s experience with the smartwatch, it might need a lot more than a wizarding-themed coat of paint to turn it into a must-have accessory.

Ikea’s Bluetooth speaker with Spotify Tap is also a lamp

Ikea’s Vappeby Bluetooth speaker just leaked courtesy of an FCC filing. And because it’s Ikea, this mushroom-shaped speaker with an IP65 rating — which means it’ll resist dust, rain, and low pressure jets of water — also features an integrated 20 lumen (2700K) bulb to pull double-duty as a portable lamp. But that’s not the only surprise.

The Vappeby speaker also has a Spotify Tap button, in what would appear to be a first for Bluetooth speakers. Spotify Tap lets you resume your music from wherever you last stopped, or tap the button again to get a different recommendation tailored for you. Spotify Tap is already available on a range of Bluetooth headphones from Samsung, Microsoft, Bose, Jabra, and others.

Laptop for scale.
Image: FCC

Let there be light.
Image: FCC

The diminutive speaker that seems ideally suited for use in the garden or patio also has a USB-C port for charging, and a battery that Ikea says will last for up to 13 hours when set at 50 percent volume and brightness.

Note: the Vappeby isn’t part of the Symfonisk range of Sonos-developed speakers. It’ll sit next to Ikea’s other Bluetooth speakers which currently start at $24.99 and go up to $89. There’s no price or date for this portable, all-weather speaker, but it shouldn’t be long before it hits retail channels now that it’s cleared the FCC.

UK schools are using facial recognition to take pupils’ lunch money

A group of nine schools in the UK have started using facial recognition to verify children’s payments for school meals. The schools in North Ayrshire in Scotland claim that using the technology is faster and more hygienic than taking payments using cards or fingerprint scanners, but privacy advocates warn that the move is normalizing biometric surveillance.

“With Facial Recognition, pupils simply select their meal, look at the camera and go, making for a faster lunch service whilst removing any contact at the point of sale,” reads a flyer distributed to parents by the schools. An FAQ sheet says that children’s biometric data is stored in an encrypted form and deleted when a child leaves the school. Parents have to opt-in for children to use the technology, and can alternatively use PIN to verify payments.

David Swanston, managing director of CRB Cunninghams, the firm responsible for installing the technology, told The Financial Times that facial recognition cut payment time per pupil to five seconds on average. Swanston said pilots of the system had begun in 2020, and that 65 more schools were signed up to introduce the technology.

As reported by the FT, North Ayrshire council claims that 97 percent of children or parents consented to be enrolled. But some parents said they were not sure if children fully understood what they were signing up for, and were influenced by peer pressure.

A leaflet explaining the technology was distributed to parents ahead of the enrollment.
Image: North Ayrshire council

Facial recognition systems of various types are becoming more common throughout the world. Schools in the United States have been installing such systems for years, though usually as a security measure. Last week, Moscow introduced facial recognition payments in its metro system, with activists warning that the technology could be used to track and identify protestors. Various states and cities in the US have banned facial recognition, arguing that the technology is frequently biased across racial or gender lines. In the European Union, too, politicians and advocacy groups are calling for a ban on the technology, arguing that the downsides of its introduction outweigh potential benefits.

Silkie Carlo of the UK campaign group Big Brother Watch told the FT that the Ayrshire school scheme was unnecessary. “It’s normalising biometric identity checks for something that is mundane,” said Carlo. “You don’t need to resort to airport style [technology] for children getting their lunch.”