Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

Apple introduces a redesigned, thicker MacBook Pro

November 13th, 2019

Today, Apple begins taking orders on a new version of its largest MacBook Pro laptop. While its basic design is similar to that of the Touch Bar models the company has made since 2016, it is slightly larger and heavier, the screen is bigger thanks to reduced bezels, and it has new keyboard and speaker designs. The Pro has faster graphics and new upgrade options, such as a 64GB RAM configuration and larger default SSD sizes.

This 16-inch MacBook Pro (the inches here refer to diagonal screen size) replaces the 15-inch in Apple's lineup. Its display has a pixel density of 226 ppi at 3,072 x 1,920 resolution—that's slightly higher than the 2,880 x 1,800 resolution and 220 ppi of the 15-inch MacBook Pro. Apple says that pro video editors will now be able to adjust the refresh rate of the display to match content they're working with. Little else has changed about the screen. It's worth noting, by the way, that the prior model's screen actually measured 15.4 inches, not 15; this new model measures 16 inches.

Dimensions are 0.64 x 14.09 x 9.68 inches—up marginally across the board from its predecessor's 0.61 by 13.75 by 9.48 inches. It weighs 4.3 pounds, compared to 4.02 for the prior model. Chances are it will fit in most existing cases intended for the 15-inch model.

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Posted in apple, Mac, Mac Pro, Macbook, MacBook Pro, MacOS, Pro Display XDR, Tech | Comments (0)

Guidemaster: Ars picks its favorite tech gifts you can buy for under $50

November 13th, 2019
Guidemaster: Ars picks its favorite tech gifts you can buy for under $50

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Finding a gift for your most tech-savvy friends and family can be tough, especially with electronics getting more expensive as the years go by. While it may seem like the only electronics worth getting are those that exist outside of your budget, that's not actually the case. Plenty of tech gifts are available at affordable prices—the struggle is sorting through the junk to find the devices worth shelling out any amount of money for.

This is where we at Ars come in: we spend all year testing electronics, with prices spanning everything from "luxury" to "dirt-cheap." So recently, we poured through our notes to find some of the best tech gifts you can buy that are under $50. All of the devices listed below have been tested and verified for excellence or for personal use on a regular basis. Instead of shooting in the dark or overspending when it comes to tech gifts this year, consider the following devices that we know will make any recipient happy.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

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Posted in Ars Holiday 2019, best gifts under $50, best tech gifts, Features, gift guide, guidemaster, Staff, Tech | Comments (0)

How does Plume get all these ISP partnerships? Open source software

November 12th, 2019

Yesterday, Charter Communications*—the second-largest ISP in the United States—announced its adoption of the OpenSync software platform for Spectrum's advanced in-home Wi-Fi. This raises a few questions, first of which is "what's OpenSync?"

The short answer is "Plume," which in turn means that Plume now has partnerships with the first- and second-largest ISPs in the United States, as well as the first- and second-largest in Canada—and also with the National Cable Television Collective (NCTC), a membership organization comprising several hundred independent US cable companies.

Earlier this month, we covered the announcement of a Plume partnership with J:COM, Japan's largest ISP. In that coverage, we referenced tighter integration into ISPs' existing infrastructure than better-known mesh alternatives such as Eero, Google (now Nest) Wi-Fi, or Orbi can provide. OpenSync is where that tighter integration comes from.

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Microsoft Edge is coming to Linux. But will anybody use it?

November 11th, 2019

At Microsoft Ignite last week, a slide announced that Microsoft's project to rebase its perennially unloved Edge browser on Google's open source project Chromium is well under way. Release candidates for the new Chromium-based Edge build are available on consumer and server versions of Windows (including Windows 7 and Server 2008, which have already left mainstream support) as well as MacOS, Android, and iOS.

Sharper-eyed attendees also noticed a promise for future Linux support.

Curious folks can download canary or beta versions of the new Edge for most operating systems from Microsoft Edge Insider—although there's nothing there yet for Linux. Browsing the Edge Insider site from Chrome on Linux replaces the download button with "Not supported for Linux." Using Firefox instead presents you with a download button for the Windows 10 version, presumably due to that browser's newly enhanced privacy controls.

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Google enlists outside help to clean up Android’s malware mess

November 9th, 2019
Google enlists outside help to clean up Android’s malware mess

Enlarge (credit: Ron Amadeo)

Android has a bit of a malware problem. The open ecosystem's flexibility also makes it relatively easy for tainted apps to circulate on third-party app stores or malicious websites. Worse still, malware-ridden apps sneak into the official Play Store with disappointing frequency. After grappling with the issue for a decade, Google is calling in some reinforcements.

This week, Google announced a partnership with three antivirus firms—ESET, Lookout, and Zimperium—to create an App Defense Alliance. All three companies have done extensive Android malware research over the years, and have existing relationships with Google to report problems they find. But now they'll use their scanning and threat detection tools to evaluate new Google Play submissions before the apps go live—with the goal of catching more malware before it hits the Play Store in the first place.

"On the malware side we haven’t really had a way to scale as much as we’ve wanted to scale," says Dave Kleidermacher, Google's vice president of Android security and privacy. "What the App Defense Alliance enables us to do is take the open ecosystem approach to the next level. We can share information not just ad hoc, but really integrate engines together at a digital level, so that we can have real-time response, expand the review of these apps, and apply that to making users more protected."

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Microsoft HoloLens 2 offers trippy, eyeball-tracking augmented reality

November 8th, 2019

On Tuesday, Ars had the opportunity to sit down with Microsoft's Director of Communications, Greg Sullivan, to walk through a quick demonstration of the company's new mixed reality headset, the HoloLens 2. HoloLens 2 isn't a full-immersion virtual reality device like Oculus Quest; it's an augmented reality device—think Pokémon Go on steroids. Sullivan never used the word "augmented" at all, preferring instead to talk about "mixed reality."

When I asked the difference, he explained that the majority of the content and techniques a user experiences with HoloLens2 would translate directly to a hypothetical full-immersion VR headset with the same sensors. "Mixed reality" is a blanket term that encompasses both augmented reality—which specifically mixes elements of virtual and real world—and virtual reality, which at least in theory immerses you entirely in the virtual. Sullivan went on to point out that even what we usually think of as fully virtual reality can't avoid the real world entirely—the six degrees of freedom (6DOF) a VR user experiences end abruptly if the user bonks into a real-world wall.

Ergonomics and eye tracking

If you're accustomed to VR headsets, one of the first striking things about HoloLens 2 is its weight—or lack thereof. Most VR headsets feel something like a diving helmet—they're heavy and oddly balanced, turning every VR session into a neck workout. HoloLens 2 is considerably lighter, easier to adjust, and pretty much perfectly balanced. It has a single adjustment knob in the back, like a hard-hat or welder's mask, and it slides on and off easily. Adjusted properly, it "floats" across the bridge of the nose, resting a little but not all of its weight there.

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Black Friday Pixel 4 deals are already discounting the phone by $400

November 8th, 2019
Pictures of the Pixel 4.

Enlarge / The Pixel 4's Soli sensor allows you to wave hello to Pikachu.

Google's flagship Pixel 4 smartphone is just two weeks old, and we're already getting word of substantial discounts. Black Friday deals on the brand-new phone are starting to come in, and so far the high mark is $400 off the device.

The biggest deal comes from Best Buy, which has already posted its Black Friday deals. The store is offering $400 off a Pixel 4 or Pixel 4 XL, provided you activate it (presumably on a contract) with Sprint, Verizon, or AT&T. That's half off the Pixel 4's $799 price tag. If you'd rather go the unlocked route, Best Buy is offering $200 off an unlocked Pixel 4 or 4XL. Both of these deals have "terms and conditions" that apply, but it doesn't look like Best Buy has posted the details yet.

It sounds like the Pixel 4 will be discounted everywhere for the holiday season. Target is offering a $300 gift card with the "qualified activation" of a Pixel 4 or Pixel 4 XL. According to a post on Reddit, Google itself is running ads promising $200 off the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, too, presumably without any kind of carrier commitment.

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Apple fixes background app bug with iOS and iPadOS 13.2.2

November 7th, 2019
iOS 13 on an iPhone 11 Pro.

Enlarge / iOS 13 on an iPhone 11 Pro. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Today, Apple released a minor update for the operating systems running on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices. Labeled iOS 13.2.2 (or iPadOS 13.2.2 for the iPad), the key bullet point in this update is a fix for a widely reported (and apparently RAM-management-related) bug in iOS 13 that saw apps quitting and losing their state while running in the background.

All the other changes listed for this update are bug fixes as well. Issues addressed include multiple problems with cellular service and reception, corrupted emails when using S/MIME encryption, a charging problem when using YubiKey accessories, and a bug involving Kerberos authentication in Safari.

Here are Apple's release notes for iOS 13.2.2. The iPadOS release notes are the same, except they omit the bullet point about fixing a cellular data bug:

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Meet MLPerf, a benchmark for measuring machine-learning performance

November 7th, 2019
Black-and-white chart filled with data.

Enlarge / MLPerf offers detailed, granular benchmarking for a wide array of platforms and architectures. While most ML benchmarking focuses on training, MLPerf focuses on inference—which is to say, the workload you use a neural network for after it's been trained. (credit: MKLPerf)

When you want to see whether one CPU is faster than another, you have PassMark. For GPUs, there's Unigine's Superposition. But what do you do when you need to figure out how fast your machine-learning platform is—or how fast a machine-learning platform you're thinking of investing in is?

Machine-learning expert David Kanter, along with scientists and engineers from organizations such as Google, Intel, and Microsoft, aims to answer that question with MLPerf, a machine-learning benchmark suite. Measuring the speed of machine-learning platforms is a problem that becomes more complex the longer you examine it, since both problem sets and architectures vary widely across the field of machine learning—and in addition to performance, the inference side of MLPerf must also measure accuracy.

Training and inference

If you don't work with machine learning directly, it's easy to get confused about the terms. The first thing you must understand is that neural networks aren't really programmed at all: they're given a (hopefully) large set of related data and turned loose upon it to find patterns. This phase of a neural network's existence is called training. The more training a neural network gets, the better it can learn to identify patterns and deduce rules to help it solve problems.

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The Pixel 4’s latest battery compromise? Artificially capped display brightness

November 7th, 2019

There's a growing mountain of evidence that the Pixel 4 was saddled with a battery that's just too small, and Google's road to an acceptable runtime involved slashing the phone's abilities with software limits. The latest discovery comes from XDA Developers' Mishaal Rahman, who found an unused high brightness mode hidden in the Pixel 4's code.

A "high brightness mode" has become a typical feature of smartphone display panels. Rather than a dedicated toggle, manufacturers usually enable a high-brightness mode when the user pegs the brightness slider all the way to the max or when the ambient brightness sensor detects sunlight. This usually negatively affects battery life, but when the choice is between seeing your phone or not seeing your phone in direct sunlight, the runtime tradeoff is a welcome option.

The Pixel 4 display is not that bright, with a full-screen peak brightness of around 450 nits. The Galaxy S10, on the other hand, has a peak full-screen brightness of 800 nits, and a big difference seems to be the lack of this boosted brightness mode. Rahman found the Pixel 4's high brightness mode hidden in the Pixel 4's kernel, but it's not a mode normal users can freely switch into. It doesn't turn on via the slider or with high ambient brightness.

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