Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

The 2021 Polestar 2 has a great cabin—and deep Android integration

August 10th, 2020
A white Polestar 2

Enlarge / On the road with the new Polestar 2. (credit: Polestar)

Any day I get to drive a new battery electric car is a good day. Which made last Friday a good day, because we got our first drive in the $59,900 Polestar 2. It's the first mass-production model from a new standalone brand that was spun out of Volvo and Geely a few years ago. And the tl;dr is that the Polestar 2 is a stylish sedan with a wonderful interior, some very fancy suspension bits, and oh—it's also the first car to use Google's Android Automotive OS.

A brief history of Polestar

Once upon a time, Polestar was to Volvo as AMG is to Mercedes-Benz—a tuning company that spiffed up more pedestrian models, imbuing them with a little Nürburgring magic. But in 2017, Volvo and Geely (which owns the Swedish automaker) spun Polestar out as an independent company, one focused on sustainability and performance. Its first product was the Polestar 1, a hand-built $150,000 plug-in hybrid GT that dazzled me when I drove it in late 2019.

But with a total production run of only 1,500 cars over three years, you can think of the Polestar 1 like a calling card or a statement of intent. The future of Polestar is purely electric (so no more PHEVs)—and shipping cars in much greater volumes. By the end of 2021, we'll see the Polestar 3, an SUV that promises to look a lot like the stunning Precept concept shown off in April. But first, there's the Polestar 2. (Interesting fact: because Polestar is recognized as a standalone OEM, it has its own allocation of 200,000 vehicles for the IRS plug-in tax credit, as opposed to being counted together with Volvo.)

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Posted in Android Automotive, battery electric vehicle, cars, Features, Polestar 2, volvo | Comments (0)

Lawn chairs and kitchen tables: Ergonomics in the involuntary work-from-home era

August 7th, 2020
This is your skeleton. This is your skeleton working from home. Any questions?

Enlarge / This is your skeleton. This is your skeleton working from home. Any questions? (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

With offices shuttered around the world, many people are experiencing working from home for the first time—or experiencing it in much longer doses than they were used to. Many companies are planning to keep employees working remotely at least part of the time well into 2021. And some are considering making it permanent.

Countless people have had to improvise their work-at-home workspaces. But now that we're several months in, some of that improvisation may be wearing thin. And one of the things that often gets pushed to the back burner in all this improvisation is ergonomics. If you haven't worked from home regularly in the past, and you're now sitting at the kitchen table every day working from a corporate-issued laptop, you're probably feeling the physical strains of this never-going-to-be-normal reality.

As someone who has worked primarily from home for a quarter of a century, I've had a lot of time to figure out what does and does not work in a home office. The changes that have come with COVID-19—including having my wife and daughter in lockdown with me, both working from home themselves—have required some adjustments and some re-equipping. We needed our home workspaces to support the new world of work while maintaining comfort and a reasonable level of sanity mid-pandemic.

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Posted in Biz & IT, ergonomics, feature, feature report, Features, the future of business, work from home | Comments (0)

Here’s why Apple believes it’s an AI leader—and why it says critics have it all wrong

August 6th, 2020

Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) now permeate nearly every feature on the iPhone, but Apple hasn't been touting these technologies like some of its competitors have. I wanted to understand more about Apple's approach , so I spent an hour talking with two Apple executives about the company's strategy—and the privacy implications of all the new features based on AI and ML.

Historically, Apple has not had a public reputation for leading in this area. That's partially because people associate AI with digital assistants, and reviewers frequently call Siri less useful than Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. And with ML, many tech enthusiasts say that more data means better models—but Apple is not known for data collection in the same way as, say, Google.

Despite this, Apple has included dedicated hardware for machine learning tasks in most of the devices it ships. Machine intelligence-driven functionality increasingly dominates the keynotes where Apple executives take the stage to introduce new features for iPhones, iPads, or the Apple Watch. The introduction of Macs with Apple silicon later this year will bring many of the same machine intelligence developments to the company's laptops and desktops, too.

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Posted in AI, apple, Artificial intelligence, CoreML, deep learning, Features, iOS, John Giannandrea, machine intelligence, machine learning, Neural Engine, Tech | Comments (0)

Screaming trees, explained: Going deep into Mortal Kombat lore with NetherRealm

August 4th, 2020

Video directed by Justin Wolfson, edited by Ron Douglas. Click here for transcript.

Since the early days of Mortal Kombat, the series has had a wonderfully B-movie-like approach to universe building. Gods, portals to other realms, skeletal ninjas returning from the dead, shapeshifters, cyborgs, monsters, and things you figured would never really be explained because they were just there for the hell of it.

Why were there screaming trees in the background of Mortal Kombat 2? I never felt the need to know as a kid; just looking cool was enough.

Turns out the trees—excuse me, the Living Forest—has a fan wiki entry and a multi-game-appearance track record, because of course it does. The Mortal Kombat team has developed a fanatical devotion to building out their game world over the decades. Their dedication is matched only by the enthusiasm of the franchise's fan base to consume and dig into this backstory.

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Posted in ars technica video, Ars Technica Videos, ars video, dominic cianciolo, Features, Gaming & Culture, Mortal Kombat, netherrealm, video | Comments (0)

How cell phones and Facebook are changing remote Nunatsiavut

August 1st, 2020
Image of a town between the ocean and tundra.

Enlarge / The town of Nain. (credit: Dennis Minty/Adventure Canada)

Moravian missionaries arrived in Canada in the 1700s, forever altering the future of the country's Inuit population. Beginning in the 19th century, Inuit children were taken away from their families and forced to attend residential schools (boarding schools), where they were not allowed to speak their own language. In the 1950s, thousands of Inuit in Nunatsiavut (the easternmost of Canada’s four Inuit regions) were forcibly removed from their land and stripped of their native language and customs. As a result, a generation of students that lost their culture gave birth to children who are now, themselves, searching for new ways to reclaim it.

Restoring that culture is a challenge, because many Inuit currently live in remote communities that lack roads and transportation infrastructure, leaving them isolated from each other. But technology has started helping them to connect with other Inuit across the country, to preserve traditional cultural practices, and to create a space for young people to learn about and participate in their heritage.

Of the 65,000 Inuit spread across Canada, about 7,200 are Labrador Inuit. About a third of these Labrador Inuit reside in Nunatsiavut, which has five major Inuit communities scattered along the coastline of Newfoundland Labrador province. None of the communities are connected to each other—or to anywhere else for that matter— by road, and they can only be reached by airplane or boat. Nain, with a population of approximately 1,200 people, is the largest and northernmost Inuit community.

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Posted in Cell Phones, Features, Gaming & Culture, Inuit, language, tattoos, Tech, Technology | Comments (0)

Flight Simulator hands-on: Microsoft looks different 20,000 feet in the air

July 30th, 2020

Pilots, we thank you for choosing Ars Technica for your travel needs. Microsoft Flight Simulator's closed beta is about to take off as a prelude to its retail launch in three weeks, so we're here to talk about a few things, preflight style. Consider this your incredibly long safety manual.

First, the developers at France's Asobo Studio, who have been building this new game since 2016, have a ton of news about the game. We'll start by summing up upcoming features and third-party marketplace partners, along with the devs' perspective about what they've done since the game entered a closed alpha phase in February.

Second, we've been testing MSFS's closed alpha for months, albeit with a ridiculous series of visual watermarks that has stopped us from leaking footage of every beautiful flight across the globe. That alpha build was quite similar to what I tested in August 2019, however, which meant I didn't have much to report until a fuller update that landed roughly two weeks ago.

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Posted in azure, Bing, Features, flight simulator, Gaming & Culture, microsoft flight simulator, x-plane | Comments (0)

OnePlus Nord review: Android’s best bang for your buck

July 27th, 2020

OnePlus is coming back to the budget smartphone market in a big way with the "OnePlus Nord," a device with an odd name but a pretty spectacular feature set for the ~$450 price tag. We've had the phone for almost two weeks now and can say it's easily one of the best Android phones on the market.

Let's talk about what OnePlus is offering. With Snapdragon 865 phones often topping $1,000, this is the first phone we've tried with the cheaper Snapdragon 765G; at just one step down in Qualcomm's lineup, this is what most manufacturers seem to be going with to bring smartphone prices back down to Earth. The phone still has a minimum of 8GB of RAM, and while it's only using UFS 2.1 storage, the phone still feels plenty fast. The headline feature is probably the 90Hz display, which is sneaking out of the flagship realm and into less-expensive phones.

The biggest downside to this phone is the distribution; for now, it is not for sale in the US. OnePlus is sending a lot of mixed messages as to future US availability of the Nord. First, the official quote from CEO Pete Lau doesn't totally close the door on the idea, saying, "We are going to start relatively small with this new product line by first introducing it in Europe and India. But don't worry, we're also looking to bring more affordable smartphones to North America in the near future as well."

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Posted in Features, Tech | Comments (0)

The real science behind SETI’s hunt for intelligent aliens

July 25th, 2020
The real science behind SETI’s hunt for intelligent aliens

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

In 1993, a team of scientists published a paper in the scientific journal Nature that announced the detection of a planet harboring life. Using instruments on the spacecraft Galileo, they imaged the planet’s surface and saw continents with colors “compatible with mineral soils” and agriculture, large expanses of ocean with “spectacular reflection,” and frozen water at the poles. An analysis of the planet’s chemistry revealed an atmosphere with oxygen and methane so abundant that they must come from biological sources. “Galileo found such profound departures from equilibrium that the presence of life seems the most probable cause,” the authors wrote.

But the most telltale sign of life was measured by Galileo’s spectrogram: radio transmissions from the planet’s surface. “Of all Galileo science measurements, these signals provide the only indication of intelligent, technological life,” wrote the authors.

The paper’s first author was Carl Sagan, the astronomer, author, and science communicator. The planet that he and his co-authors described was Earth.

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Posted in astrobiology, Features, science, SETI | Comments (0)

Meet the 4 frontrunners in the COVID-19 vaccine race

July 23rd, 2020
A volunteer receives an injection from a medical worker during the country's first human clinical trial for a potential vaccine against COVID-19 at the Baragwanath Hospital on June 28, 2020 in Soweto, South Africa. It is reported that Africa's first COVID-19 vaccine trial began on June 24 in South Africa. The vaccine, developed by Oxford University's (UK) Jenner Institute, will inoculate 2,000 South Africans.

Enlarge / A volunteer receives an injection from a medical worker during the country's first human clinical trial for a potential vaccine against COVID-19 at the Baragwanath Hospital on June 28, 2020 in Soweto, South Africa. It is reported that Africa's first COVID-19 vaccine trial began on June 24 in South Africa. The vaccine, developed by Oxford University's (UK) Jenner Institute, will inoculate 2,000 South Africans. (credit: Getty | Felix Dlangamandla)

Researchers have now reported data from early (and small) clinical trials of four candidate COVID-19 vaccines.

So far, the data is positive. The vaccines appear to be generally safe, and they spur immune responses against the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. But whether these immune responses are enough to protect people from infection and disease remains an important unknown.

The four candidates are now headed to larger trials—phase III trials—that will put them to the ultimate test: can they protect people from COVID-19 and end this pandemic?

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Posted in antibodieis, Astrazeneca, cansino, china, COVID-19, Features, immune system, immune system response, immunity, immunology, moderna, mRNA, Pfizer, public health, SARS-CoV-2, science, vaccines | Comments (0)

Hands-on: The $300 Kano PC, a “build-it-yourself” Chromebook competitor

July 21st, 2020
This almost fully-assembled shot of the Kano PC lacks only the back cover and the magnetically-connected folio case with keyboard and touchpad.

Enlarge / This almost fully-assembled shot of the Kano PC lacks only the back cover and the magnetically-connected folio case with keyboard and touchpad. (credit: Jim Salter)

Specs at a glance: Kano PC
OS Windows 10 Home
CPU Intel Celeron N4000
RAM 4GiB DDR3L (not upgradeable)
GPU Integrated Intel UHD600
HDD Foresee 64GB eMMC (not upgradeable)
Display 11.6" touchscreen at 1366x768
Ports 1 USB-C (charging)
2 USB3 type A
1 microSD card slot
1 2.5mm headphone jack
Cooling Passive heat sink
Charging USB-C (charger included)
Connectivity Dual-band Wi-Fi 5 + Bluetooth 5.0 (Intel Wireless-AC 9650)
Price as tested $300

Last week, we covered the launch of Kano's new Windows-powered build-it-yourself PC. The Kano PC is an extremely chunky 11.6" tablet/laptop form factor PC with both specs and a $300 price similar to low-end Chromebooks—but instead of running ChromeOS, it offers a full Windows 10 experience.

This isn't our first rodeo with extremely low-cost PCs, which sometimes disappoint us beyond the level their meager specs imply. With a dual-core, 1.1GHz Celeron CPU, 4GiB of RAM, and eMMC storage, it's clear enough on paper that the Kano PC won't be anybody's first choice for a "serious laptop"—but the real question is whether it credibly competes with similarly specified Chromebooks. The answer is "absolutely."

Our only real issue with the Kano PC has nothing to do with performance but with the extremely funky form factor, which both raises and answers the question: "What if tablet, but 2.5 times thicker and heavier?"

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Posted in budget laptop, Chromebook, Educational, Features, Kano PC, laptop, tablet, Tech, Windows 10 | Comments (0)