Here’s What to Expect From Google I/O

Illustration for article titled Here's What to Expect From Google I/O

Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

Google canceled last year’s annual Google I/O developers conference due to the pandemic, but this year, it’s back—virtually.

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The event kicks off Tuesday, May 18 at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT with a keynote speech from Google CEO Sundar Pichai. And while we don’t know exactly what Google has in store this year, we’re hoping to hear more about Android 12, Google Assistant, and Google’s vision for the smart home.

Android 12’s New Look

Android 12's new colorization features are pretty to look at, even in theory.

Android 12’s new colorization features are pretty to look at, even in theory.
Screenshot: XDA Developers

It’s been a while since we’ve had a major shakeup of Android’s UI, but three developer previews and a plethora of leaks suggest that Android 12 is getting a big overhaul. Leaked screenshots show a new colorized interface, matching widgets, and menu schematics based on the dominant coloring of your chosen wallpaper. There’s also a reprised Quick Settings panel, with larger buttons and more contextual information. Even the Assistant shows off a little color once summoned.

XDA Developers has been uncovering some of the more significant interface changes we might see finalized in Android 12. Expect the always-on display and lock screen to be a part of the revamp, along with other subtle UI effects like screen transitions and typography.

Other improvements in Android 12 will likely center around audio and video playback and under-the-hood privacy and security changes. Reports point to specific features, like Android automatically shelving unused apps and offering better support for scrolling screenshots, as well as updated notification permissions.

There’s also a rumored gaming dashboard coming, though it’s not clear if it’d be exclusive to Pixel devices. The gaming mode would effectively add proper controls and helpful information like a frames-per-second counter. It could be akin to the gaming launcher that OnePlus bundles with its smartphones, which blocks out notifications and other interruptions so you can focus on the game.

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Finally, Some Traction for Wear OS

Wear OS takes a lot of (well-deserved) heat for falling behind other smartwatch platforms, but we may finally see some updates. There are two sessions on the I/O schedule to go over what’s new and how to develop Tiles for Wear OS. Google’s even sending out surveys, asking for guidance on what to do next.

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And just when you thought that the Pixel Watch rumor was dead in the water, it resurfaces with a vengeance. YouTuber Jon Prosser recently showed off a convincing render of a circular watch that looks exactly like what we’ve all envisioned a Pixel Watch would look like.

This is also the first big event since Google’s acquisition of Fitbit was a done deal. We likely won’t see anything new on the Fitbit front (after all, they just announced the Fitbit Luxe last month), but maybe we’ll see closer integration between your Fitbit and Google accounts.

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The last bit of Wear OS rumbling is from Korean news outlet MT, which points to a supposed Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 running Wear OS instead of Samsung’s Tizen OS. Speaking as a person wearing a Samsung Galaxy Watch Active because there was no comfortable Wear OS equivalent, having this come true could be all Wear OS needs to emerge from its current rut.

Don’t Bet on the Pixel 6

With the event being virtual and the lack of live audience to “ooh” and “ahh” over the announcements, it’s unlikely Google will show even an outlined render of the Pixel 6 during the developer keynote—though it’s teased smartphones this way at past developer conferences. There’s still so much we need to learn about Whitechapel, Google’s turn at making a mobile processor. And it would be such a major play against Apple’s silicon parade that it would warrant a separate event along with the official launch of a new flagship device.

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Pixel-Perfect Buds

Illustration for article titled Here's What to Expect From Google I/O

Screenshot: Twitter / Google

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It’s no guarantee that they’ll be introduced during the Google I/O keynote, but the Pixel Buds A were already inadvertently leaked on Twitter. They’re a cheaper alternative to the regular Pixel Buds, which cost $180. According to the leak, they promise to deliver quality sound and one-tap pairing with Google Fast Pair.

Don’t count too hard on Google revealing the budget-inclined Pixel 5a, either. With the global chip shortage and delays in nearly every nook and cranny of tech manufacturing, there’s only a slim chance the Pixel 5a is ready to launch this soon. At least we know it’s coming, as Google refuted reports it’d canceled the model, confirming instead it would be available later this year in the U.S. and Japan.

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The Google Assistant in Your House

Second-gen Nest Hubs are already available with new Assistant features. But maybe we’ll hear of a few more at the keynote.

Second-gen Nest Hubs are already available with new Assistant features. But maybe we’ll hear of a few more at the keynote.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski / Gizmodo

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Google’s vision for the smart home will undoubtedly see some air time during the opening keynote. There’s even a session devoted to what’s new in Google Assistant the following day. According to the description, we can expect to hear a state of the union of sorts for the Assistant, plus new product announcements, feature updates, and tooling changes. We might even potentially hear about BERT and how Google uses it to make the Assistant understand us when we’re mouthing off gibberish, though that’s the kind of tech demo that plays during the opening keynote.

There’s a session later on that same day about what’s new in the smart home, with a mention of new product announcements and a showcase of Assistant experiences built by the developer community. Anything new introduced during these two sessions will likely be software updates or abilities made available to the Assistant since there’s already a new batch of Nest Hub smart speakers and displays.

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There is also some expectation that Google will announce new products for its home security system, including better security cameras and a second-gen security system. Last year, Google discontinued the Nest Secure DIY security kit, then revealed to 9to5Google that it was planning a “new lineup for security cameras for 2021.” It’s also plausible it will partner up with security veterans ADT, considering the company’s CEO told CNBC it would be rolling out “Google products in the third quarter of 2021.”

Android in Your TV

The Chromecast with Google TV will certainly get a mention, but we’re not expecting too much new stuff about Google’s TV platform.

The Chromecast with Google TV will certainly get a mention, but we’re not expecting too much new stuff about Google’s TV platform.
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

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The Chromecast with Google TV came storming in last holiday season to set the standard for Google TV devices going forward. There are no specific Google TV sessions on the calendar. However, there is already a developer preview available for Android 12 for TVs, and Google I/O is precisely the venue to walk developers through that sort of thing. Any major Google TV news will likely be more subtle through code reveals and other features announced for Android 12.

Chromebooks in All Forms

There’s no way we can forget Chromebooks, especially not after the platform’s phenomenal growth through the pandemic. Google offers a session on what’s new in Chrome OS the day after the keynote. The session will cover updates to Chrome OS’s Linux environment and new APIs. Hopefully, we’ll also learn how many people have adopted Android apps on Chromebook laptops since they debuted nearly three years ago.

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Whatever Google plans to reveal, join us for our coverage of the virtual I/O 2021 developers conference beginning May 18 at 10 am PT/1 pm ET.

A Toaster Company Is Releasing an Android Phone

Balmuda is known for its modern take on kitchen gadgets overseas. Now it’s trying its hand at Android phones.

Balmuda is known for its modern take on kitchen gadgets overseas. Now it’s trying its hand at Android phones.
Image: Balmuda

If a company can figure out how to perfectly toast a slice of bread, it can surely bring something to the table with regards to Android smartphone design. And anyway, some people think Android phones are nothing but chunks of carbs, so there’s clearly a market out there!

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Balmuda is a Japanese company that developed a humidifying toaster oven about six years ago. It became infamous for its toasters that produce fluffy yet perfectly browned slices of bread. I can taste the Nutella now, melting through the cracks of warm, soft brioche. I shouldn’t have written this article before lunch. My stomach actually growled as I typed this sentence.

Balmuda only recently brought its bread-toasting magic gadget to the U.S. But after becoming known in Japan for its modernized take on kitchen gadgets, it started producing other appliances, like fans, lanterns, a vacuum cleaner, and even a speaker.

Balmuda’s next foray will be designing a smartphone. It’s enlisted the help of industry-veterans, Kyocera, to manufacture the 5G device. The smartphone will be designed for use specifically on Softbank’s network in Japan, and there will be a SIM-free version available to purchase. The company’s CEO, Gen Terao, told the Next Web the phone would not merely be another appliance and would offer proprietary apps to make it a “great everyday-use” smartphone.

There are no details about where or when the Balmuda smartphone will appear. Android devices such as these don’t typically get a ton of traction because they’re niche and localized. Balmuda is likely testing the waters to see how it would do, lending its name to devices that could sell at scale. Apple’s iPhone currently dominates Japan, with 66% of users on iOS. The Balmuda phone will have to compete with the rest of the Android manufacturers vying for a slice of that remaining market share.

Samsung’s Galaxy Book Pro 360 Is the 2-in-1 Laptop You Need

Illustration for article titled Samsung's Galaxy Book Pro 360 Is the 2-in-1 Laptop You Need

Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

For those of us who need to get work done on the go, there’s always one dilemma when it comes to choosing your mobile machine: Do you skimp on screen size and go with a lighter 13-inch laptop, or do you risk putting your back or shoulders in jeopardy by opting for a larger 15-inch system? And for those who value flexibility, do you dare tack on even more added weight with a 2-in-1?

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It’s a hard choice, and one that Samsung is looking to eliminate with the new Galaxy Book Pro 360. The new 2-in-1 combines a deliciously thin design and a gorgeous AMOLED display with excellent battery life and solid performance, putting everything you need in a single machine. 

The Epitome of Sleekness

Devices get thinner all the time, but the Galaxy Book Pro 360’s dimensions still seem impossibly sleek. Measuring 14 x 9 x 0.46 inches and weighing just three pounds, the 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro 360 is significantly thinner and lighter than an XPS 15 (13.57 x 9.1 x 0.71). And the XPS 15 is a standard clamshell, while the Galaxy Book Pro 360 is a 2-in-1 with a rotating hinge.

But it gets even better when you remember that the 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro 360 is actually the biggest and heaviest model in the new Galaxy Book Pro lineup, with the 13-inch Galaxy Book Pro 360 weighing just 2.3 pounds, and the clamshell 13-inch standard Galaxy Book Pro tipping the scales at a sprightly 1.9 pounds. All told, the lightness of Samsung’s Galaxy Book Pros means you can upgrade to a bigger system without breaking your back, which is a win for anyone who has ever wanted more screen to work or play with while traveling.

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The entire 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro 360 is thinner than the deck of an XPS 15. That’s seriously slim.
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

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Additionally, despite being extremely thin, the Galaxy Book Pro 360 still offers great build quality, with a sturdy anodized aluminum chassis that only features a little bit of flexing in the middle keyboard, which given its dimensions, seems pretty reasonable. And while you could nitpick the Galaxy Book Pro 360 for having a slightly enlarged chin, that feels like an incredibly minor complaint.

Technicolor Dream Screen

Next, we move onto the Galaxy Book Pro 360’s display, which is where Samsung really flexes on the competition. Sporting a gorgeous 1920 x 1080 Super AMOLED panel, the Galaxy Book Pro line is one of the only laptop families that features an OLED screen as standard, while still remaining relatively affordable. Colors are deep and vivid, and with brightness being a strength of OLED displays, Samsung’s Galaxy Book Pro laptops are equally at home indoors as they are outdoors, even in bright sunlight.

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Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

This display is so good, it makes you want to find new things to view just to see how pretty they look. For more color-sensitive situations like editing photos or simply shopping online, Samsung provides multiple color profiles to make sure colors are accurate and not overly saturated. My only small gripe with the 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro 360 is that I wish Samsung had an optional 4K OLED panel, because with a lower overall pixel density compared to its 13-inch siblings, a little extra sharpness would go a long way.

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More Than Enough Power to Get Work Done

Both the 13-inch and 15-inch models feature Intel Core i7-1165G7 CPUs and Intel Iris Xe graphics as standard, so the Galaxy Book Pro 360’s performance is pretty much as good as you can get without tacking on a discrete GPU. As expected, in Geekbench 5 our 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro 360 review unit pumped out similar numbers as other premium notebooks like the Razer Book 13, though systems with access to AMD CPUs like the Surface Laptop 4 do perform better when it comes to rendering videos. In Handbrake, our Galaxy Book Pro took 12 minutes and 29 seconds to convert a 4K movie to 1080p, compared to just under 9 minutes for the Surface Laptop 4.

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Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

And even without a discrete GPU, the Galaxy Book Pro 360’s Iris Xe graphics is still good enough to play less demanding games like League of Legends or Overwatch, though you might have to play with settings depending on the specific title.

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Keyboard, Ports, and Stylus Support

For such a thin system, Samsung still provides a comfortable typing experience. The Galaxy Book Pro 360 balances out a relatively shallow 1mm of key travel with a crisp keystroke and a good bounce when you bottom out. Meanwhile, the Galaxy Book Pro 360’s touchpad is absolutely massive, with Samsung still finding room to include a numpad on the right on 15-inch models, which I think is a nice inclusion considering Samsung’s focus on mobile productivity. And in the very top right, there’s also a power button with a built-in fingerprint sensor that works with Windows Hello.

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Port selection is also sufficient, with Samsung including one Thunderbolt 4 port along with two additional USB-C ports, a headphone jack, and a microSD card reader. With this system only featuring USB-C ports, I kind of wish Samsung had tossed in a USB-C to USB-A for help connecting legacy accessories, but you can’t get everything I guess. On the flip side, even though there’s no place to store a stylus in a system this thin, Samsung does include an S-Pen in the box.

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A More Seamless Galaxy Experience

It’s easy to overlook this part, but Samsung has put a lot of work into a number of pre-installed apps designed to make other Galaxy devices play nice with the Galaxy Book Pro family. There’s Quick Share to help you share files between the laptop and your Galaxy phone a cinch, while Samsung’s Second Screen feature lets you turn a Galaxy tablet into a portable extended display. And of course there are all the S-Pen apps to help you quickly sketch or jot notes before syncing your scribbles across all your Galaxy devices.

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Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Samsung even created a new version of its Smart Switch app, so you can transfer all of your existing files and Windows Store apps from your previous system to the Galaxy Book Pro 360 with ease. (Though strangely, it seems you can’t send over traditional standalone programs that you’ve installed manually.)

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Look, it’s still not quite the experience you get from Apple’s family of devices, but it’s a big improvement compared to your typical Windows 10 fare, and for people who already own other Galaxy devices, these apps are something you’ll definitely appreciate. Annoying, there’s also a fair bit of bloatware pre-installed on here too, like apps for Amazon and Facebook Messenger, which detracts a bit from the notebook’s normal luxury vibe.

A Truly Awful Webcam

The one is a real head-scratcher, because it’s not like Samsung doesn’t already have extensive experience equipping and tuning cameras on mobile devices. But there’s no getting around it: The Galaxy Book Pro 360’s webcam is bad, or barely passable at best if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t care about showing their face on video calls.

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Not only is the webcam’s 1280 x 720 resolution just ok, it captures content that looks grainier, blurrier, and just lower quality than what you get from an XPS 15. There aren’t really any excuses to have a webcam this bad on a premium laptop, and what makes things even worse is that aside from the webcam, the Galaxy Book Pro 360 doesn’t really suffer from any other major demerits, which makes the webcam feel like even more of an albatross.

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Impressive Battery Life

Posting a time of 14 hours and 46 minutes on our video rundown test, the 15-inch Galaxy Book Pro 360 churned out one of the best battery life marks we’ve seen in years, easily beating out the XPS 15 (8:28), the Surface Laptop 4 (12:21), and others. Now it’s important to note that part of the Galaxy Book Pro 360’s longevity is due in large part to its OLED display, but even when playing games untethered, I was still impressed by its overall runtime.

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One other nice bonus is that because the Galaxy Book Pro 360 supports charging over USB-C, you can also use Samsung’s 65-watt power brick to power up your other USB-C devices, which is a handy bonus when trying to pack light.

Which Laptop Should You Buy?

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Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

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If you already have a couple Galaxy devices and you’re looking for a work machine to round out your kit, the Galaxy Book Pro 360 has to be at the top of your list. Not only does its OLED screen ensure you get the same jaw-droppingly good viewing experience across all of your devices, Samsung has delivered some honest to goodness synergy to help everything play nice together.

But even if you haven’t dipped your toes into Samsung’s ecosystem before, there’s still a lot to like. Between its super sleek design, best-in-class battery life, and the flexibility you get from its 2-in-1 design, the Galaxy Book Pro 360 is more than ready to handle traditional productivity tasks with aplomb. And when compared to other top competitors like Dell’s XPS 15, the Galaxy Book Pro 360 is even more portable and arguably better looking. With the Galaxy Book Pro 360, Samsung has taken the pursuit of lightness to greater heights.

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The Extremely Korean Reason Why Samsung Might Ditch Tizen for Wear OS

Illustration for article titled The Extremely Korean Reason Why Samsung Might Ditch Tizen for Wear OS

Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

When I first heard the rumors that Samsung might ditch its proprietary Tizen OS for wearables in favor of Google’s Wear OS, I was flummoxed. Tizen is snappy and free of the many problems plaguing Google’s wearables softeware. In fact, I’d say Tizen has played a large role in making Samsung’s smartwatches the best option for Android users—even if it isn’t perfect. The most logical explanation was that Wear OS offered a better third-party app ecosystem. However, even that didn’t make complete sense given how neglected the platform is and that Tizen OS has been in Samsung watches for seven years now. But now, a report from the Korean news outlet Money Today makes things crystal clear: KakaoTalk refuses to make a dedicated Tizen app.

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If you’ve spent a significant time in Korea or are familiar with the Korean or Korean-American community, you know how big KakaoTalk is. Here in the west, the most accurate comparison would probably be WhatsApp, but if WhatsApp was also a pseudo-social network that absolutely everyone in your life used. I mean your grandma, your parents, your significant other, your friends, your coworkers, the CEO of your company, your third-grade teacher—absolutely everyone. According to Statista, the app has more than 50 million monthly active users, of which 46 million are located in South Korea. For context, the population of South Korea in 2020 was about 51 million. And like WeChat in China, KakaoTalk has expanded beyond just being a free chat and voice calling app. It hosts mobile games, an online bank, online shopping, a taxi service, and gift exchanges. And while it’s not officially designed to be, KakaoTalk has also morphed into a pseudo dating app. It’s so ubiquitous, “Ka-talk”, an abbreviated name for the app, has become part of the language. Listen, even my 72-year-old, technology-hating mother who has no idea how to use her smartphone will say things like, “I’ll Ka-talk you later.”

According to the MT report, KakaoTalk refuses to develop a Tizen app for Samsung’s Galaxy Watch because “there is no reason to,” as the market is small and “development is rather difficult.” The best KakaoTalk integration you can get on a Samsung watch is a notification when you receive a KakaoTalk message and the ability to reply with a smart response from the notification screen. The Apple Watch already has a KakaoTalk app where you can view all your chats, send special KakaoTalk-specific emojis, send voice messages, and also reply using smart responses. There’s also already an Android version of the app, so extending that to Wear OS would be less of a headache.

But is this really a compelling reason for Samsung to throw Tizen under the bus? Yes. I don’t know how to accurately convey the power of the extreme national pride Koreans have for home-grown tech, brands, and talent. The best I can say is from the moment you land in Seoul’s Incheon Airport, everything is Samsung. My relatives in Korea are Samsung phone evangelists, and many of them are perplexed why some of us in the American branch of our family use iPhones at all. Do we have no pride? I’m not joking when I say it’s a legitimate point of contention that’s made for awkward moments at family reunions. When Gangnam Style and K-pop landed in America, it was worn as a badge of honor that even the Americans finally recognized Korea’s cultural capital. Most of my conversations with my mom start with a factoid about some Korean accomplishment, such as, “Do you know that Incheon Airport is rated the best airport in the world?” Do not even get me started on when Parasite won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Samsung looms large within the Korean consciousness and so does KakaoTalk. Even though the majority of smartwatch users in Korea use a Samsung, lacking a dedicated KakaoTalk app is a colossal omission for Korea’s most powerful company in its home market.

Broadly speaking, Samsung likely wants more apps to work with its smartwatches and hasn’t made much headway. It’s the one thing that’s stopping it from being the best smartwatch for all Android users outright. Right now its main victory on the third-party app front is that Spotify’s Tizen app is way better than its Wear OS app. Switching back to Wear OS is most definitely a long-term strategic move that may have always been inevitable. But if KakaoTalk was willing to make a dedicated Tizen app, I’m not sure Samsung would throw in the towel just yet.

For Its Next Trick, Motorola Is Working On Smartphones That Can Charge Wirelessly Over the Air

Motorola’s next batch of devices might feature a new remote wireless charging ability.

Motorola’s next batch of devices might feature a new remote wireless charging ability.
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

They haven’t all been home runs, but Motorola is known for taking chances. The company has repeatedly shown it’s not afraid to bet on new technology, from the recently phased-out Moto Mods back to the first wafer-thin Razr feature phones. Now, Motorola is trying its hand at remote wireless charging for smartphones by partnering up with former CalTech engineers. Many have tried, but no company has made over-the-air charging a widespread thing. So why not try again?

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The concept behind remote wireless charging is basically the same as wifi and mesh networking, though within a smaller scope. Instead of physically placing your smartphone atop a specified charging plate, you can walk into the range of the charger’s connection to start charging your phone.

GuRu, the company partnering with Motorola on the charging standard, is named after its hardware requirements. “Gu” stands for the generator unit, which is, in this case, a ceiling-mounted power generator. “Ru” stands for receiving unit, referring to the bite-sized receiving chip built into the smartphone. GuRu uses millimeter-wave frequency—the same kind that enables ultra-fast, short-range 5G networks—to transmit the wireless charging signal.

According to ZDNet’s deep dive into how GuRu’s over-the-air wireless charging technology works:

Instead of using one huge power transmitter, which blasts waves of energy in all directions, GuRu’s solution uses a small transmitter made up of interconnected modules that use millimeter-waves (mmWave), a radio frequency typically defined in the 30GHz to 300GHz range that works within line-of-sight. (MmWave is also used by the current 5G standard to send data at extremely high speed over relatively short distances compared to the Sub-6 GHz 5G tech.)

Because GuRu is using millimeter-wave frequencies and smart algorithms, its transmitters and receivers can be miniaturized, and it allows it to better direct and confine the EM waves compared to waves in the higher microwave bands — the very same wavelengths where Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are operating.

GuRu told ZDNet that the generator could concurrently track and transmit to multiple receivers within distances exceeding 30 feet regardless of the device’s wattage requirement. And since it’s scalable, GuRu’s wireless technology could be used to power up everything from earbuds, headphones, smartwatches, and even laptops and tablets, as well as charging multiple devices concurrently. Imagine Motorola hinging an entire lineup of accessories for its smartphones on this wireless charging specification—like Moto Mods but useful.

The concept of charging a smartphone by simply walking into a room is pretty neat. Seeing it come to fruition is another thing entirely, as most of the time, remote wireless charging is nothing more than a “tantalizing tech demo,” to borrow a phrase from Gizmodo’s Andrew Liszewski. Overseas Android favorites Xiaomi and Oppo, are pushing through their versions of the technology, with Oppo’s Wireless Air Charging being the most competitive. But unlike GuRu’s implementation, Oppo’s technology is limited to charging devices from a mere four inches away.

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GuRu’s remote wireless charging specification could be the sort of thing that helps Motorola recapture the smartphone spotlight. With Lenovo at the helm, Motorola is clearly willing to take risks. Wireless charging has become the default for flagship smartphones, and GuRu’s implementation would take a Motorola phone to the next level.

The Asus Zenfone 8 Is an Affordable, Compelling Option If You Love Small Phones

Illustration for article titled The Asus Zenfone 8 Is an Affordable, Compelling Option If You Love Small Phones

Photo: Sam Rutherford

Compact phones have fallen out of fashion in favor of bigger and bigger screens, but the new Asus Zenfone 8 has arrived with outsized performance in a small package.

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The Zenfone 8’s 5.9-inch display is about the same size as the Pixel 5, but instead of a mid-range Snapdragon 765G processor, Asus crammed in Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 888 chip, a feat that becomes even more impressive considering the Zenfone 8 starts at just $600—$100 less than the Pixel 5.

On top of that, the Zenfone 8 also features a Samsung-made FHD+ AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate, 6GB or 8GB of RAM, and 128GB or 256GB of storage depending on the config. You even get a real 3.5mm headphone jack (in addition to some pretty punchy stereo speakers) and an in-screen fingerprint reader, two features you don’t get on the Pixel 5. So even though Asus didn’t include support for a microSD card reader, the Zenfone 8 is still packing big specs and incredible value for the money.

However, Asus did make a couple compromises to hit this price, because around back you only get two rear cameras: a 64-MP main cam with a Sony IMX686 sensor, and a 12-MP ultra-wide cam with an IMX363 sensor. No telephoto cameras here.

Interestingly, while the Zenfone 8 doesn’t share the same wild design as Asus’ ROG Phone 5, Asus did inject a bit of gaming DNA into the Zenfone 8 by including support for Game Genie, which allows you to tweak settings, free up additional background RAM, block notifications, and a whole bunch of other features to help you get your game on. Game Genie even adds crosshairs in mobile shooter games that don’t already have them, which could be a huge competitive advantage that some might say borders on cheating. (Don’t worry, I won’t snitch.)

Another quirk about the Zenfone 8 is that is has a notification light on the bottom of the phone, which is highly unusual, but after using it for a bit, has kind of grown on me.

Another quirk about the Zenfone 8 is that is has a notification light on the bottom of the phone, which is highly unusual, but after using it for a bit, has kind of grown on me.
Photo: Sam Rutherford

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Rounding out the package is a 4,000 mAh battery and surprisingly premium-feeling glass and metal body with IP68 water resistance. Really, the only other feature the Zenfone 8 is missing is support for Qi wireless charing.

So while I’ve only had a short time to play around with the Zenfone 8, between its price and specs, it’s quickly becoming my favorite compact phone of 2021. Though with the Xperia 5 Mark III due out sometime later this summer and one or more new Pixels due out later this year, I’m holding off on crowning an official winner just yet.

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Aside from the Zenfone 8, Asus is actually announcing one more phone today: the Zenfone 8 Flip, which features a huge 6.9-inch screen and Asus’ signature rotating camera module that uses a hinge to capture shots in front or in back of the phone. Unfortunately, Asus is only planning on bringing the standard Zenfone 8 to the U.S., so if you live in the States and want to try one out, you’ll have to import one yourself.

While Asus has yet to provide a specific release date for either phone, both the Zenfone 8 and Zenfone 8 Flip are expected to go on sale sometime this summer.

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The Realme 5G Is a Refreshingly Simple and Cheap 5G Phone

Illustration for article titled The Realme 5G Is a Refreshingly Simple and Cheap 5G Phone

Photo: Sam Rutherford

It’s not very flashy, and it doesn’t have a huge tagline emblazoned on its back like its more expensive sibling, but the Realme 8 5G is the kind of simple and affordable phone we could use more of in the U.S.

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The Realme 8 5G starts at 200 pounds (around $285) for 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, or 250 pounds (around $350) for 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. When you convert the prices from pounds to dollars—give or take a little since direct conversions are always subject to a little wiggle room—the Realme 8 5G has specs that blow a lot of comparably priced phones out of the water, especially the kind of budget phones typically available in the U.S.

Compared to the $350 Pixel 4a, which is one of the best budget phones available in the U.S. today, the Realme 8 5G features a much larger 6.5-inch display with a 90Hz refresh rate, which is a feature that until recently has mostly only been available on phones that cost $500 and up.

The Realme 8 5G also packs in a MediaTek Dimensity 700 chip with support for sub-6Ghz 5G, a big 5,000 mAh battery, a nifty side-mounted fingerprint sensor, and three rear cameras: a 48-MP main cam, a black-and-white portrait cam, and a dedicated macro cam. That’s not your typical camera setup, but it’s nice to see a company do something different.

Illustration for article titled The Realme 5G Is a Refreshingly Simple and Cheap 5G Phone

Photo: Sam Rutherford

And like all good budget phones, the Realme 8 5G also features a 3.5mm headphone jack and microSD card expandability, along with dual SIM card slots to boot. The Pixel 4a does have a richer OLED screen and the best camera quality available on a phone in this price range, but the Realme 8 5G offers way more storage (and storage flexibility), a faster refresh rate, and some handy bonuses for frequent travelers thanks to its extra SIM slot and 5G connectivity.

Unfortunately, Realme doesn’t have any plans to release the Realme 8 5G in the U.S., which is a fate shared by a lot of other affordable smartphones from Chinese companies like Xiaomi, Poco, and others. This is doubly frustrating because not only does this rob the U.S. market of a lot of good phones with premium specs for the price, it also limits the number of affordable 5G phones on the market. And honestly, that’s kind of a bummer, because it would be nice to at least have the choice.

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In the short time I’ve had to play around with the Realme 8 5G, I’ve been really impressed with its battery life, which uses its large internal battery along with some software-based battery-saving techniques to help eke out every last minute of juice. And while its design is pretty simple, Realme still managed to keep the bezels around the screen relatively slim.

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Compared to some other Chinese skins for Android, there’s not much to complain about when it comes to Realme UI 2.0 either, aside from all the annoying pre-installed apps.

Following LG’s decision to exit the mobile phone game, I was hoping we would see more Chinese OEMs finally bring their phones stateside and put more pressure on companies like Google, Motorola, and Nokia to release budget phones with more competitive specs. But sadly, that hasn’t happened quite yet.

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So while people in the U.K., India, and China will soon see a pretty solid new phone, it seems folks in the U.S. are going to miss out again.

You Laugh, but This Smartphone Arm Mount Might Actually Be Useful

It’s hard to say how long it will take, but it seems inevitable that one day humans will develop a third hand for the sole use of holding a smartphone while keeping the other two free. For those who can’t wait for that incredibly useful mutation, Thanko’s selling a mechanical alternative that gives the wearer hands-free smartphone powers right now.

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Thanko is a Japanese purveyor of weird gadgets that are sometimes incredibly useful, but most of the time are instead just incredibly weird. Past hits include a desktop double-decker bento box rice cooker, a handheld motorized dish scrubber for those lacking a dishwasher, and battery-powered armpit air conditioners that promise to eliminate embarrassing pit stains at work. There was even a comfy-looking cushion that facilitated hands-free smartphone gaming, but it’s now been one-upped by this wrist-worn alternative.

Reminiscent of the contraptions that allowed Prohibition-era gangsters to hide Derringer pistols up their sleeves for quick deployment, Thanko’s mount attaches to your wrist using a velcro strap. A short swiveling articulated arm securely holds a smartphone using an adjustable clamp. It’s a simple idea, and if you can stomach the embarrassment of being seen wearing one of these out in public, it seems like if offers some genuinely useful functionality.

A smartphone can be a helpful tool when riding a bike, serving as everything from a speedometer to a satellite navigation system. But it’s often a very bumpy ride, and while bike mounts are designed to cushion a phone as much as possible, there’s always the potential risk of damaging your $1,000 device. With this mount, a rider can not only use their arm to provide extra cushioning while on a bike, it also makes it much easier to see a smartphone’s screen when periodically brought closer to the face.

Thanko suggests other uses as well, like letting someone use a smartphone while one hand securely grips a subway handhold, or making it accessible while a user’s hands are shooting with a larger DSLR camera. It’s even a useful way to pay close attention to your phone while you’re typing away at work, assuming you’re not hunting and pecking with a single finger. And it helps keep your dirty hands off your smartphone while in the bathroom, even if you refuse to admit you take your device in there with you. What more can you ask of an $18 device?

Clubhouse Launches Android Beta as iOS Downloads Nosedive

Illustration for article titled Clubhouse Launches Android Beta as iOS Downloads Nosedive

Photo: Mark Schiefelbein (AP)

Good news: The audio-based social network Clubhouse is finally bringing its app to Android after more than a year of iOS exclusivity, the company announced Sunday. Bad news: The beta is only available for U.S. users, and, just as with Clubhouse’s iOS version, it remains invite-only for now. So not just anyone can sign up and join in the app’s audio-only chatrooms.

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Downloads of the app have reportedly been plummeting in recent months, so it’s likely Clubhouse hopes that welcoming users on the largest smartphone OS in the world users will save it from spiraling further. The app surpassed 9.5 million downloads in February but dipped to about 2.7 million in March and fell to just 900,000 in April, according to the analytics firm Sensor Tower.

In a Sunday blog post, Clubhouse said it plans to gradually roll out the Android version to other English-speaking markets and then the rest of the world. For those outside the U.S., you can pre-register for access on the Clubhouse page in the Google Play store to be alerted once the app becomes available near you.

“Our plan over the next few weeks is to collect feedback from the community, fix any issues we see and work to add a few final features like payments and club creation before rolling it out more broadly,” the company said.

Over the summer, Clubhouse also plans to welcome millions of iOS users who have been stuck on the iOS waitlist as it improves the app’s infrastructure, which includes expanding language support and adding more accessibility features.

Clubhouse’s download rates could be declining for any number of reasons. Some experts have theorized that the audio-only social media craze may have been a pandemic-era fad that helped people feel connected while stuck in their homes. With vaccines rolling out and many areas across the U.S. opening up again, it could be that people are simply connecting in person more these days, leaving Clubhouse in the dust. It’s also possible that interest is waning because every other tech giant has either rolled out or is cooking up a copycat app to get in on the social audio hype train.

Another possible factor: Two high-profile security snafus hit the company in February amid a flood of hype and celebrity sign-ups, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In Sunday’s blog post, Clubhouse acknowledged that it has struggled to keep up with its platform’s ballooning growth earlier this year.

“Earlier this year, Clubhouse started growing very quickly, as people all over the world began inviting their friends faster than we had ever expected. This had its downsides, as the load stressed our systems—causing widespread server outages and notification failures, and surpassing the limits of our early discovery algorithms. It made us shift our focus to hiring, fixing, and company building, rather than the community meetups and product features that we normally like to focus on.”

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Clubhouse is increasingly looking like the flash in the pan experts suspected it might be, but who knows, maybe this much-anticipated launch on Android will turn things around. We’ll have to wait and see.

Too Bad, Zuck: Just 4% of U.S. iPhone Users Let Apps Track Them After iOS Update

Illustration for article titled Too Bad, Zuck: Just 4% of U.S. iPhone Users Let Apps Track Them After iOS Update

Photo: Saul Loeb (Getty Images)

Apple recently rolled out its highly anticipated App Tracking Transparency feature with iOS 14.5, which lets users decide whether apps track their activity for targeted advertising. Overwhelmingly, users seem happy to leave app tracking disabled. Just 4% of iPhone users in the U.S. have agreed to app tracking after updating their device, according to the latest data from Verizon-owned analytics firm Flurry.

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Worldwide, that figure jumps to 12%, a healthy increase but one that still doesn’t spell great news for companies like Facebook that sell targeting to advertisers by hoovering up user data. With iOS 14.5, if a user has app tracking requests enabled, then whenever they download or update an app, it has to ask permission before it can track their activity. And it’s clear most users are saying: “Nah.”

Users who want to turn off tracking altogether without rejecting permissions for each app individually can toggle “Allow Apps to Request Track” in the iPhone’s privacy settings. Since the update launched on April 26, Flurry’s data shows that, on average, about 3% of U.S. iOS users and 5% of international iOS users have restricted app tracking.

Flurry based its findings on a sample size of 2.5 million daily mobile active users with iOS 14.5 in the U.S. and a sample size of 5.3 million such users worldwide. According to the company, its analytics tool is installed in more than 1 million mobile applications and it aggregates data from about 2 billion devices per month.

As a vocal opponent of Apple’s new feature, Facebook has launched a sweeping fearmongering campaign to convince users that these privacy measures are, in fact, a bad thing. Facebook took out multiple full-page ads arguing that Apple’s feature will devastate small businesses that rely on its ad targeting services and warning that many free sites may have to start charging users money for subscriptions or in-app purchases. Other tech giants like Snapchat, Google, and Twitter have also said that, if the majority of users decide to forego app tracking, it will likely affect their bottom line.

Granted, this data is just our first glimpse at the response from users. iOS 14.5 has only been out for a little less than two weeks, and, given more time, we’ll likely gain a better understanding of the average number of users opting-in or opting-out of app tracking. But one thing’s crystal clear: People value their privacy. And if that means missing out on a few personalized ads, well, plenty of folks seem happy to make that sacrifice.