Amazon’s vision for the future: delivery drone beehives in every city

Amazon’s drone delivery program stopped being a joke a while ago, but the company still has to overcome serious challenges to make the technology actually work. One of these is getting drones near enough to large populations so they’re more efficient than regular road delivery. Amazon has an idea for that though: Huge. Drone. Beehives.

In a patent application published yesterday, Amazon described how “multi-level fulfillment centers for unmanned aerial vehicles” could help put drones where they’re needed. The application notes that due to “their large footprint,” current warehouses are located “on the outskirts of cities where space is available.” But multi-story drone centers could be built vertically, rather than horizontally, allowing them to be placed within “downtown districts and/or other densely populated urban areas.” And, of course, making them high-rises would let the drones fly in and out without getting dangerously close to pedestrians at street level.

Amazon’s application includes sketches of a number of differently shaped buildings and interior views, showing how human employees would load-up the drones with packages:

But flying large numbers of drones in cities invites other problems too. Who’s going to want to live near a drone delivery tower if it makes so much noise? And what if drones start falling out the sky, making impromptu, and possibly fatal, deliveries? Amazon is obviously thinking hard about these problems, and in the same round of patent applications as the delivery beehive, suggests a few solutions.

For drone noise, the company is suggesting custom rotor designs that would chop through the air more quietly. These include adding “trailing edge fringes,” “leading edge serrations,” “sound dampening treatments,” and “blade indentations for sound control” to rotors, but all focus on the same principle: breaking up the airflow around propellers to try and alter or reduce the sound they make.

The image below shows how “trailing edge fringes” — the tiny plant-like fronds — might be added to the rotor blade. These might make drones quieter, but let’s face it: they’ll also look terrifying.

And the last significant item on Amazon’s patent application list? Drones with multiple sets of rotors and motors, so that if one set fails, the other can take over. It’s a simple idea, but an essential one.

Of course, all these are just applications. It doesn’t mean Amazon is necessarily going to build these things, or that drone deliveries will ever become widespread. What it does show, is that the company is continuing to think hard about the future of deliveries. And who knows? These things always seem silly, right up until the point they’re real.

Ando is David Chang’s new restaurant where you can only have food delivered

Why it matters to you

Ando may begin a trend of restaurants that you can only order from online.

What if ordering out was the only way you could eat at your favorite restaurant? That could soon be a reality now with Ando, a delivery-only New York City restaurant that serves classic foods with a new-age spin.

Ando was started by famous restaurateur and chef David Chang, who founded popular restaurant chain Momofuku. Ando is not your traditional restaurant. There is no physical space to sit down to dine in or drop by to pick up food. All the food is made for delivery and is sent by a third-party courier service.

The only ways to order food is by either downloading the app or visiting the company’s website. There is currently only an iOS app and you can only order from the website after making an account and setting your location. If you are outside of the delivery zone, you are out of luck.

The menu is full of what the company calls “second-generation American food.” Instead of simply making a classic cheesesteak sandwich, the restaurant will make you a hozon cheesesteak made with chickpeas, shaved beef, and cheese sauce. Instead of garlic and anchovies in your chicken caesar salad, Ando’s version includes miso, peanut butter, and soy. There are 20 different food and drink choices on the Ando menu, so far.

In an interview with Fast Company, Chang says he plans to constantly add to the menu until he gets a feel for what the favorites are. For now, do not expect to tamper with his curated selection of delicacies. Ando does not take any special requests or substitutions for any of the dishes and is pretty unwavering about that policy. “We stand by what we serve and encourage you to try it as it was intended to be tried,” writes Joe Pratolongo, a customer experience manager at Ando, on the company’s website.

Ando currently only delivers in the Manhattan area. Initially, only those in Midtown East were feasting on Ando. But, the company has since expanded to the Flatiron District of Manhattan. Ando is delivery only, but the website says the company is exploring the possibility of including a pick-up option.

More restaurants are developing apps to handle deliveries, but it has not been smooth sailing for everyone. If the restaurant widens its delivery zone and enters more territories around the country, Chang’s online-based restaurant could become one of the best food delivery apps on the market.

OnePlus 5 Review

Update: One third-party reviewer indicates the OnePlus 5 may dedicate more performance resources to benchmarking software than other apps. We’ve added several clarifying statements from OnePlus. 

OnePlus sells one phone, which means to be successful, that device needs to be very good — talk about pressure. The OnePlus 3T has always been easy to recommend. It does everything pretty well, and costs less than many big-name rivals. Now it’s time for the sequel, but just because the OnePlus 3T is good, doesn’t mean the pressure is off. If anything, there’s more this time around.

The OnePlus 5 refines what made the OnePlus 3T so desirable even further. It does more, has more power, and looks even smarter. But what we really like is how it’s so incredibly accessible — the software is simple, and the features easy to understand. You just settle into using the OnePlus 5 like sinking down into your favorite chair. This accessibility is really important; OnePlus has a somewhat geeky image, like it’s only suitable for tech-enthusiasts. The OnePlus 5 proves this isn’t true at all.

Apple is a master at making phones like this, and the iPhone’s influence runs through the OnePlus 5 very clearly. It sometimes steps over the line from homage to imitation. Our OnePlus 5 review shows how the company impressively manages to rise above this, to achieve a level of brilliance that separates it from other high-end smartphones. Here’s how.

An iPhone clone

From the back, the OnePlus 5 really, really looks like an iPhone. The midnight black color scheme, carried over from the limited edition OnePlus 3T, is extremely close in shade to the matte black iPhone. The OnePlus logo shines in glossy black in the top center, and in the top left is a dual-lens camera flanked by a flash unit. Body-colored antenna bands curve around both ends of the OnePlus 5, just like they do on the iPhone.

In the past, companies like Huawei have been accused of copying the iPhone’s design, and while it still does to a certain extent, it has found its own style more recently. OnePlus says the OnePlus 5 is the result of its most expensive design process yet, and more than 100 prototypes were made before deciding on this one. It’s surprising then, to see it came up with an unashamed and unsubtle iPhone clone. The fact it’s reminiscent of the iPhone doesn’t make it ugly — it actually looks very attractive.

The edges of the rear curve towards the front display, which makes it feel natural in the hand — but it doesn’t allow a firm grip. It doesn’t help that our midnight black variant is quite slippery, too.

The right side features a power button, and on the left is the volume rocker, along with OnePlus’ excellent Alert Slider. It quickly switches between alert notification profiles, and It’s very helpful, allowing you to silence your phone without actually looking at the screen. The slider is textured so you don’t even need to take the phone out of your pocket.

It does more, has more power, and looks even smarter.

The OnePlus 5 is also really thin and light. The metal body weighs 153 grams and is 7.25mm thick, which is thinner than the 8mm Samsung Galaxy S8, and a tad lighter. On the front, a 2.5D curved piece of Gorilla Glass 5 covers the 5.5-inch, 1,920 × 1,080 pixel AMOLED screen. A fingerprint sensor hides inside the home button. It’s not a physical button, but it offers a pleasing vibration when pressed. The Recents and back button flank the home button — there’s no distinctive icon, but they light up when pressed.

There’s no denying the OnePlus 5 looks like an iPhone; but no, it shouldn’t put you off. It still looks great, the build quality is excellent, it has a 3.5mm headphone jack, and it’s super thin.

Accessible software, fantastic performance

When we commented on the OnePlus 5’s accessibility, we were referring to how pleasant the phone is to use. This is due to the Android 7.1.1 Nougat operating system and OnePlus’s own Oxygen 4.5.0 user interface, along with the Snapdragon 835 processor and 8GB of RAM. The OnePlus 5 is a fiery combination of raw ability and careful software tweaks, producing a devastatingly fast yet friendly-to-use smartphone.

An example of this is the camera app. On the LG G6, the Square Camera app — which makes good use of the phone’s wide screen — is a widget, and not built into the main camera app. If it gets deleted, or hidden, you have to know to look for it in the widget menu. The OnePlus 5’s Portrait mode is accessed with a swipe to the left in the main camera app. Swipe to the right for video. That’s it. Simple, and obvious.

A devastatingly fast yet friendly to use smartphone

The Oxygen user interface is very subtle, and unlike others, doesn’t obfuscate primary Android features. In fact, it’s quite similar to the software experience on the Google Pixel. The app drawer is accessed with an upward swipe, the notification shade is standard, and the icons are minimalist and not over-styled. OnePlus’ Shelf feature is one of the few alterations. It’s hidden to the left of the home screen, and shows handy, glanceable pieces of information, but it can be deactivated if you prefer. Other features include an auto night mode that uses the ambient light sensor to adjust the color temperature of the screen, a blue-light filtering reading mode, a do-not-disturb game mode, and a tap-to-wake option for the screen.

Oxygen OS is fluid, the animations are slick, and we never experienced any slowdown at all. The OnePlus 5 is a joy to use, and it’s not just raw power that makes this possible. OnePlus has implemented a special algorithm that preloads frequently used apps, and shifts resources away from apps that are rarely used. It has also worked to optimize the screen for touch sensitivity, making it very responsive indeed. Put all this together, and the end result is sublime. We tested it against a Google Pixel, opening apps at the same time, and the OnePlus 5 was a hair faster. To be fair, the Pixel does have an older processor.

As a note, Google Assistant did not work for us in the U.K., but it worked on our OnePlus 5 in the U.S.

We’ve played a series of games on the OnePlus 5, from Happy Hop and Parking Master 3D, to Dodonpachi Unlimited and Reckless Racing 3, without any overheating issues or any slowdown. Streaming video is also faultless, and doesn’t suck much power — a 22-minute show streamed from Crunchyroll only used 4 percent battery life.

Qualcomm’s newest, and fastest processor — the Snapdragon 835 — definitely helps the OnePlus 5 achieve all this. Here are some benchmark scores we received:

  • AnTuTu: 181,599
  • 3DMark Slingshot Extreme: 3,549

By comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S8, which has the same processor and a little less RAM, received a score of 155,253 on AnTuTu, and 2,052 on 3DMark. There’s a word for what happened here, and it’s “trounced.”

It’s crucial to note, however, that at least one third-party reviewer found evidence of benchmark manipulation. According to XDA Developers, the OnePlus 5 keeps CPU frequencies artificially high during the test, which results in significantly higher overall scores in the multi-core test.

“People use benchmark apps in order to ascertain the performance of their device, and we want users to see the true performance of the OnePlus 5,” OnePlus told Digital Trends in statement. “Therefore, we have allowed benchmark apps to run in a state similar to daily usage, including the running of resource intensive apps and games. Additionally, when launching apps the OnePlus 5 runs at a similar state in order to increase the speed in which apps open. We are not overclocking the device, rather we are displaying the performance potential of the OnePlus 5.”

In subsequent statements, the company clarified that it isn’t overclocking the OnePlus 5’s processor, and that it hasn’t implemented a “frequency floor” to boost performance.

“We have set the OnePlus 5 to run benchmarks at a high-performance level […] so that users can see the true potential of the device,” OnePlus said. “We are confident our approach best displays the true performance capabilities of the OnePlus 5.”

Regardless, take the benchmark scores with a grain of salt. We’ve yet to see any performance issues with the OnePlus 5 itself.

On the subject of the 8GB of RAM, is it really needed? OnePlus justifies such a giant number by saying it allows more apps to run in the background, and it helps futureproof the phone.

“With 8GB of RAM, the OnePlus 5 allows all users to easily run the most powerful applications and eliminates all doubt in its ability to do so in the future,” the company told Digital Trends.

There’s more speed, power, and ability inside the OnePlus 5 than most people need.

Camera

The OnePlus 5’s camera mimics the dual-camera setup on the iPhone. There are two Sony lenses on the back, a primary with 16 megapixels and a telephoto with 20 megapixels. These provide a 2× hybrid zoom system, and a bokeh-style Portrait mode — which is exactly what Apple calls it, and it even says “depth effect” when the feature is active, just like in iOS — for the desirable blurred background effect.

The excellent news is the main camera’s aperture is now rated at f/1.7, letting in 26 percent more light than the lens on the OnePlus 3T, plus auto-focus has been tweaked for a 40 percent speed increase. This joins improved HDR, and new features like a histogram, and a level-like reference line to ensure the horizon is straight. Annoyingly, this is only available in the camera’s Pro Mode. There’s also 4K video recording, but only electronic image stabilization rather than optical stabilization.

Let’s talk about Portrait mode first. Swipe left on the viewfinder screen to access it, and point the lens at a suitable subject — an object close up, with something to blur out in the background — and wait. That’s right, you wait. The OnePlus 5 likes to think about what you’re asking it to do. Unlike the iPhone 7 Plus, where you have to adjust the distance between the camera and the subject until Depth Effect activates, hold the OnePlus 5 steady for a few seconds and its deep focus mode will activate itself. Move the phone around and it may not do so, and you will end up with a compromised shot.

The time delay isn’t a massive problem, but may cause you to miss some shots. If time is of the essence, it’ll be best to forgo Portrait mode, and shoot normally — advice that isn’t unique to the OnePlus 5. When you have captured a Portrait picture, the results are mostly excellent. The depth of field is highly accurate, with the OnePlus 5 picking out edges with greater accuracy than the iPhone in some situations. This is mainly due to it often taking a wider view, and not separating one small object like Apple’s software. Outside of Portrait mode, the OnePlus 5’s camera is relatively standard, meaning you get a panorama mode, slow motion video, a pro mode, and a couple of scenes.

Comparing shots with the iPhone 7 Plus reveals a massive difference between the way it handles color and contrast. The iPhone is adept at taking natural images, replicating what you see in the real world. The OnePlus 5 takes pictures like it’s on LSD. Colors and contrast are amplified to the max. It’s akin to Samsung’s philosophy of providing stunning, hyper-real pictures we want to share, regardless of whether that’s actually how the scene looked.

The OnePlus 5’s camera is going to divide opinion; but if you regularly use an HDR filter to augment your pictures, you’ll love it. But the overly saturated look means some colors and situations look weirdly “off.” A forest scene we photographed looked decidedly strange, for instance, as no trees produce such a bizarre shade of green.

Battery and connectivity

The OnePlus 5 has a 3,300mAh battery inside, and it’s coupled with the company’s proprietary Dash Charge fast charging system. This is one of the best fast charging solutions available, and OnePlus promotes it as offering, “a day’s power in half an hour.” In reality, this means it charges the battery to about 60 percent capacity in 30 minutes, then on to a full charge in under 90 minutes.

This is one of the best proprietary fast chargers available, and OnePlus promotes it as offering, “a day’s power in half an hour.”

In our tests, the OnePlus 5 dropped to 50 percent by 10 p.m. with average use, so provided you’re not a really heavy user, the statement of getting a day’s use from 30 minutes charge should be accurate. The power of knowing how long it takes the fast charge system to top-up the battery shouldn’t be underestimated. Most of us will be able to plug the phone in after waking up in the morning, and categorically know it’ll have at least 60 percent charge ready for when we leave the house for work. It’s an extremely useful feature, and one that delivers on its promise.

Bluetooth 5.0 is onboard, providing more range for compatible connected gadgets, and more speed. The phone has a dual-SIM tray, but without space for a MicroSD card, so you’ll have to make do with the onboard storage. This is either 64GB or 128GB, and we recommend selecting the latter, especially as it’s the model to come with 8GB of RAM (the 64GB model comes with 6GB RAM). The OnePlus 5 has 34 GSM bands for global connectivity, so it should provide the fastest connection wherever you are

Price, warranty, and availability

OnePlus sells its phones unlocked without a contract through its own website. This is an excellent way to buy a device, as it gives you freedom to choose your network, when you can upgrade, or the option to sell the phone privately in the future. In the U.K., the O2 network will also offer the phone for sale with a variety of contracts.

OnePlus 5 Compared To

The 64GB version comes in slate grey and with 6GB of RAM for $480, while the midnight black version has 128GB of storage and 8GB of RAM for $540. The difference between the two colors is extremely subtle, and unless the light is just right, few will quickly tell them apart.

OnePlus has a one-year warranty on its devices in the United States, and broken phones will be repaired or replaced free of charge — that includes shipping and handling costs. It doesn’t cover daily wear and tear, or water damage. OnePlus also offers an extended warranty plan though Assurant Solutions called On-Guard for a year, 18 months, or two years. Because claims are dealt with in the U.S, it should be quicker. You’ll have to pay between $20 and $110 extra for the privilege.

Our Take

The definition of flagship phone is changing. The most expensive phones have cutting-edge designs, virtual assistants, and complex, long feature lists that those who buy them only rarely use. Phones like the Galaxy S8, the LG G6, and Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus have become hyper phones. Expensive, luxurious, and generally a bit over-the-top.

The OnePlus 5 isn’t like them. It boils down the essence of the flagship phone to become leaner, meaner, and fiercer. It gives us the best processor, the most amount of RAM, a very capable (but divisive) camera, no-nonsense software, and a slick design for just $480. It could leave $200 in your pocket if you choose it over one of the aforementioned flagship smartphones. Who doesn’t want to save money without compromising?

While we’re singing the OnePlus 5’s praises, there are some other points to consider. Spec-fiends may prefer a 2,560 x 1,440 pixel resolution screen, music and video fans may want a MicroSD card slot, and others may simply not want a phone that looks like the iPhone. There’s also no waterproofing, which is becoming a standard feature in all high-end smartphones. They’re all valid points, but the benefits do outweigh the negatives here.

Is there a better alternative?

The OnePlus 5 stands apart at this price, and for this specification. Its main challenger comes from Honor, the sister brand to Huawei, with the Honor 8 and Honor 8 Pro. The Honor 8 Pro has a larger screen with a higher resolution, and Huawei’s high performance Kirin 960 processor inside, with a dual-lens camera on the back of the device. It costs 480 British pounds, but isn’t available in the United States.

In the U.S., the aging, smaller Honor 8 costs less and has a dual-lens camera, but the processor is older than the Honor 8 Pro’s Kirin 960, and the display isn’t the best around. If you’re also considering an iPhone, then budget restraints mean you’re limited to the iPhone SE. It’s a fine device, but doesn’t come close to matching the OnePlus 5.

Ignore the OnePlus 5’s low price, and we’d recommend the Google Pixel, which benefits from a superb camera, regular software updates, and a similarly excellent software and usability experience. But you’ll have to dig deep for one, as it costs $650.

How long will it last?

Short of breaking the phone, or submerging it in water, the OnePlus 5’s lifespan will likely be two years at the minimum before you’d need to consider changing to a newer phone. It won’t stop working, of course, and will continue to be an excellent everyday device beyond this.

The lack of water resistance is one of the phone’s biggest downsides. Even the iPhone has managed it, and it’s a shame the OnePlus 5 didn’t follow along. We do like the new carbon fiber silicone case that’s available, which adds plenty of impact protection, and makes the phone more comfortable and less slippery to hold. It’s a worthwhile addition.

OnePlus does update the software on its phones, but not in such a timely fashion as Google does with the Pixel series. It has recently stopped offering software updates for the OnePlus 2, a phone released in mid-2015, so 2019 may end up being the end of support for the OnePlus 5. Our review phone had the May 1 Android security update installed.

Should you buy it?

Yes, yes, and yes again. The OnePlus 5 is almost fuss and frustration free, doesn’t overwhelm with pointless features, and saves you money over the competition. What more do we want?

7 of the most hard-to-reach Snapchat geofilters around the world

Putting a snazzy geofilter on your Snapchats is something many of us don’t think twice about. But, have you ever swiped right in some of the world’s most far-flung and hard-to-reach places? 

Even in remote spots like waterfalls, caves and forests, there are snazzy geofilters for you to spruce up your travel snaps. 

Never mind the ‘pics or it didn’t happen’ rule. The new rule is: geofilter or you weren’t there. Here are seven of the most remote geofilters around the world: 

Jozani Forest, Zanzibar, Tanzania 

This geofilter appears in a forest in the only national park in Zanzibar, on an island off the coast of Tanzania, Africa. The forest also happens to be home to the Zanzibar red colubus monkey — a species that only exists on that island. While you’re snapping monkeys, be sure to search for the forest’s geofilter. 

Image: Shutterstock / Asta Vainore / SNAP / mashable composite 

Dolgoch Falls, Wales, UK

These three waterfalls — reachable only on foot — are situated in Snowdonia National Park in Wales, UK. There are also a few caves en route to the falls. And, if you’re a Led Zeppelin fan, you might be interested to learn that the falls were used in the music video for “No Quarter”. 

Image: SHUTTERSTOCK / DAVID BENTON / SNAP / MASHABLE COMPOSITE 

Glacier National Park, Montana, U.S.

This national park in Montana is dominated by huge mountains which were formed by huge glaciers during the last ice age. This cute filter pops up when you’re in the park’s vast expanse. Not too shabby!

Image: Shutterstock / Maks Ershov/ SNAP / MASHABLE COMPOSITE

Gruta Rei Do Mato, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

This cave is located near a highway close to the city of Sete Lagoas, in Brazil. Its name means “Cave of the Forest King” in Portuguese.

Image: / SNAP / MASHABLE COMPOSITE Shutterstock / Ronaldo Jacques Dolabella 

Kokino, Macedonia

This Bronze Age archaeological site — situated about 18 miles from Kumanovo in Macedonia — is around 1010 and 1030 metres above sea level. And, it looks like something straight outta Game of Thrones. This fabulous orange geofilter pops up when you’re in the area to make your snaps really sing. 

Image: Shutterstock / Pargovski Jove/ SNAP / MASHABLE COMPOSITE

Presidente Figueiredo, Brazil

If you find yourself trekking in the forests, rivers, caves and waterfalls of Presidente Figueiredo in Brazil, then you’ll have no shortage of gems to photograph. This filter pops up throughout the 926,000-acre municipality. 

Waterfall Santuario in Presidente Figueiredo, Amazonas, Brazil; Shutterstock ID 104888690

Waterfall Santuario in Presidente Figueiredo, Amazonas, Brazil; Shutterstock ID 104888690

Image: SHUTTERSTOCK / GUENTERMANAUS / SNAP / MASHABLE COMPOSITE

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

This ancient rock fortress near the town of Dambulla in Sri Lanka’s Central Province comprises a pretty enormous column of rock, which stacks up at a whopping 660ft high. What could look prettier atop this unusual sight than a cheery yellow geofilter? 

Image: Shutterstock / Alexander A.Trofimov / SNAP / MASHABLE COMPOSITE

Best start packing now, people. 

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Here come the US Space Corps

Star Trek has Starfleet, Star Wars has the Imperial Navy, and Halo has the United Nations Space Command. But for the moment, real-life Earthlings of the United States don’t have a cool sci-fi name for their space military.

That could change soon. Legislation has been drafted by the House Armed Services Committee to form the “Space Corps” — a new branch of the US military that would come under the command of the Air Force, and deal with threats to American national security occurring outside of Earth’s atmosphere.

The draft legislation was worked up by both Republican and Democrat House representatives, who said that there was “bipartisan acknowledgement that the strategic advantages we derive from our national security space systems are eroding,” Representative Jim Cooper (D) and Mike Rogers (R) said in a statement that they were “convinced that the Department of Defense is unable to take the measures necessary to address these challenges effectively and decisively, or even recognize the nature and scale of its problems.”

The Air Force currently has its own Space Command wing, but should the new legislation become law, it would require the creation of the Space Corps “as a separate military service responsible for national security space programs for which the Air Force is today responsible.” Said Space Corps would no doubt carry on some of the secretive projects that Air Force Space Command is currently undertaking in the upper reaches of our atmosphere, but could also (theoretically) be called upon to defend Earth against extraterrestrial threats one day.

That’s if the Space Corps idea isn’t shot down before it can blast off, anyway. The Air Force is currently against the formation of a new branch, arguing that it would cause organizational confusion and delay existing projects. “I don’t support it at this time,” Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein said in May. “I would say that we keep that dialog open, but right now I think it would actually move us backwards,”

Save up to $414 on Microsoft Surface 2-in-1 tablets and notebooks

Microsoft has just released the newest additions to its highly successful Surface family of laptops and 2-in-1 tablets, and deal-savvy techies will know that launches like this mean new promotional discounts and slashed prices on previous-generation devices. If you’ve been eyeballing one of these portable computers, then now’s a great time to score one. We’ve found some of the best Microsoft Surface deals currently available that can save you hundreds.

Microsoft Surface 3 128GB 10.8-inch tablet

Microsoft Surface roundup

The Microsoft Surface 3 is an excellent entry-level option for those looking for a no-frills Windows tablet. This device boasts a 10.8-inch touchscreen display with a sharp HD resolution of 1,920 x 1,280, making it a great portable entertainment device. A quad-core Intel CPU and 4GB of RAM deliver plenty of juice for enjoying videos and light gaming, while 128GB of high-speed flash memory provides sufficient storage for your apps and files.

The Microsoft Surface 3 tablet can be yours for just $360 from Amazon after a $40 discount. Note that this particular model does not come with a folding keyboard cover but you can grab one for $65 to $75.

Amazon

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 64GB 12-inch tablet

Microsoft Surface roundup

Moving up to the Microsoft Surface Pro series brings us to the Surface Pro 3 tablet, which features a larger 12-inch 2,160 x 1,440 touch display, and comes with a handy Surface Pen and built-in folding stand. This work-focused tablet comes loaded with the latest Windows 10 operating system, as well as a snappy Intel i3 1.5GHz processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of flash storage.

The Surface Pen makes the Surface Pro 3 ideal for graphic designers and other professionals who do visual work,. At only $480 on Amazon, this Windows tablet represents a solid 40 percent discount off of its normal price of $799.

Amazon

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 128GB 12.3-inch 2-in-1 tablet

Microsoft Surface roundup

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is a true 2-in-1 notebook/tablet hybrid, and a serious portable work machine. With its sixth-generation Intel Core CPU and 4GB of RAM, this Surface Pro 4 delivers laptop-like performance. Its included folding keyboard cover completes the package, letting you use the tablet as an ultra-thin notebook PC. The vibrant 12.3-inch PixelSense touchscreen is great for both work and entertainment.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 comes with 128GB of internal memory and is currently available for $649 from the Microsoft store after a limited-time $150 discount.

Microsoft

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 256GB 12.3-inch tablet

Microsoft Surface roundup

If the Surface Pro 4 caught your eye but you’d like something with more internal storage, more processing power, and a Surface Pen instead of a keyboard, then the Surface Pro 4 256GB Tablet might be a better option. Sporting an Intel Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM, this tablet packs more horsepower than the previous model. That added power, combined with the included Surface Pen, makes this Surface Pro 4 ideal for more demanding graphical tasks and visual work.

The Intel Core i5 Surface Pro 4 can be yours for $966 from Amazon after a tidy $333 discount. While this particular package does not come with a keyboard cover, you can purchase one separately.

Amazon

Microsoft Surface Book 128GB 13.5-inch 2-in-1 notebook

Microsoft Surface roundup

If the tablet format isn’t your style, but you still want touchscreen capability, then the Microsoft Surface Book might be just the ticket. This device features a more traditional laptop form factor, but the 13.5-inch touch display gives you all the functionality of a tablet screen and can even be completely separated from the keyboard if desired. The Intel Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM provide plenty of power for both work and play, and the Surface Book comes with 128GB of storage and a Surface Pen.

At $429 off its normal price of $1499, the Microsoft Surface Book 2-in-1 laptop represents the best deal on our list and can be yours for just $1070 from Amazon for a limited time.

Amazon

YouTube’s VR 180 and Daydream cameras bring immersive video to traditional creators

Even if you’ve never strapped on a virtual reality headset, if you’re a heavy YouTube user, you’ve probably stumbled upon a 360 video on the site and thought: This looks interesting, but very weird and hard to watch in my browser. 

YouTube has been obviously been paying attention to these kinds of comments and has come up with a solution that serves both VR enthusiasts and non-VR users alike. It’s called VR 180—and it’s going to be available for YouTube’s creators to begin making next-level immersive content.

Like most things involving VR in these early days of mainstreaming the platform, there are upsides and downsides with VR 180. 

First, the good: These videos look much better than the 360 videos you’ll currently find on YouTube — which aren’t going away, but will no longer be YouTube’s primary focus for immersive video on the site.

Current 360-degree videos on YouTube use equirectangular projection, which gives you the perspective of looking at the world (the 360 video) as though you were standing inside a globe. 

This method delivers the best quality at the top and bottom (the “poles” of the globe-shaped video) of the video, with the middle of the video (usually the most important, and most viewed part) suffering in terms of quality. 

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What VR 180 does is focus on just the 180-degree field of view in front of you, thus allowing for higher resolution (up to 4K) across the entire video image. 

The other improvement VR 180 offers is a stereoscopic view, which means that instead of a flat looking, panoramic video (common on YouTube 360 videos), objects in the background and the foreground are presented in way that offers a sense of depth. That added sense of depth not only improves the immersive experience if you’re viewing the video through a VR headset, it delivers a more engaging video even in the YouTube browser. 

So while the “180” down from 360-degree video sounds like you’re getting less, in effect, you’re actually getting more. I know because I’ve already tried VR 180, first by viewing VR 180 video via the YouTube app on a Pixel phone, and then through the Daydream View headset. 

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This improvement isn’t small.

This isn’t a small improvement over the current 360-degree YouTube videos. The difference is significant enough that I’d now rather watch most immersive video content on YouTube via the VR 180 format instead of the traditional 360-degree view. 

It should be noted that with VR 180 you lose the ability to pan around the globe-like video environments of YouTube 360-degree videos. But after watching many VR videos of all types in most of the VR headsets, I’m beginning to think that this approach may actually allow immersive video directors to better control narrative and story flow, while boosting image quality and losing none of the “you are there” feel to the video. 

That brings us to the other development coming from YouTube: Rolling out VR 180 cameras with device-maker partners Lenovo, LG, and Yi. Prices for the devices haven’t been revealed, but YouTube’s VR product lead, Erin Teague, says they’ll be priced in the range of traditional, consumer point-and-shoot cameras (translation: you won’t need to take out a bank loan to buy one). 

A design illustration of the forthcoming Lenovo VR 180 camera.

A design illustration of the forthcoming Lenovo VR 180 camera.

Image: Youtube

“We took a step back to think about how to democratize VR video creation,” says Teague. “We think [VR 180 and the VR 180 cameras] will unlock a whole new generation of VR content creators.” 

In addition to those cameras built to work natively with VR 180, the Google Daydream team will be working with camera makers on a certification program to help existing camera makers find ways to get their devices to harness the VR 180 format. Similarly, YouTube is also working with Adobe on ways to allow video editors who use Premiere to able to use the same editing techniques they’re accustomed to with newly created VR 180 footage.  

“Our goal with VR 180 is to simplify VR video production for all creators — consumers and high-end video producers as well.” 

“Today with 360-degree, stereoscopic cameras, to use them requires very specific skills. The equipment can be expensive, and the method used to produce those videos can be very complex because you have to worry about what’s in front of all the cameras in a circle,” says Teague. “There’s no ability to hide the filming crew, or the various equipment. Creators have to significantly change their production techniques. Our goal with VR 180 is to simplify VR video production for all creators–consumers and high-end video producers as well.” 

The VR 180 format (which, unlike 360-degree videos, requires no stitching) will also be available to users who want to broadcast live VR 180 videos, with the higher resolution and stereoscopic attributes intact. 

In terms of creating content for the new format, while the official VR 180-friendly cameras are being produced for release later this year, existing users in the YouTube Creators program can contact YouTube Spaces managers around the world to get access to VR 180 cameras and start shooting video natively in the format. 

Will this “less is more” approach really kickstart VR video creation and viewing? As always, that’s up to the audience. But by removing the technical complications associated with current 360-degree videos, we’re looking at a new path for immersive video that may gain traction, particularly among those not ready or equipped to reinvent their entire video production workflow. 

VR video is still a rarified space when it comes to drawing a large number of users, but if anyone can figure out the path toward mainstreaming VR video, YouTube has better odds than most. 

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Under mounting pressure, Uber founder Travis Kalanick resigns as CEO

Why it matters to you

The company will now be intent on steering a steadier course following months of criticism.

Uber founder Travis Kalanick has resigned as CEO of the ridesharing company.

Kalanick decided to step down on Tuesday night following intense pressure from five major investors, The New York Times reported.

News of the 40-year-old founder’s departure follows mounting criticism over the way the company has been conducting its business, and comes just a few days after the funeral of his mother who died in a boating accident at the end of last month.

It’s believed that Kalanick will stay on as a member of Uber’s board of directors. It’s not clear at this stage who will lead the company.

In a statement seen by the Times, Kalanick said: “I love Uber more than anything in the world and at this difficult moment in my personal life I have accepted the investors request to step aside so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight.”

According to reports, Kalanick’s decision followed a revolt among shareholders who told him earlier on Tuesday that new leadership was required for the company to move forward.

Kalanick, who founded Uber in 2009, reportedly received the demand by letter while in Chicago. After several hours of discussions, he finally agreed to leave the top job.

While Uber has always faced plenty of criticism about how it conducts its business, matters appeared to take a turn for the worse earlier this year when a former employee made allegations of a company culture where sexual harassment and gender discrimination was rife.

Keen to clean up its act, the company conducted an investigation into its workplace practices, which culminated in the firing of 20 employees and the release of a report last week that recommended Kalanick play less of a major role in the business.

In response to the report, Uber’s founder began an indefinite leave of absence before finally resigning on Tuesday.

Besides concerns about its workplace culture, the company is also embroiled in a legal battle with Google spinoff Waymo over the alleged theft of autonomous-car tech. It’s also facing a probe by the Department of Justice following accusations that it used secret technology to hide its vehicles from officials in some cities where attempts were being made to cut down on the service.

Uber’s investors will be hoping new leadership will set the company on a steadier course free of controversy, and we’ll update this article as soon as we hear more about how it plans to move forward.

Mophie Charge Force review

New smartphones still die after a single day of use, but battery cases are too bulky, and stand-alone battery packs require a tangle of cables to keep your phone juiced up. Mophie’s Charge Force series attempts to offer a solution  — eliminate the wires. It all starts with a magnetic smartphone case that’s capable of wireless charging. You then snap the case to various Charge Force accessories, such as a desk mount for the office, a vent mount for your car, a charging base station, or portable battery packs. Mophie describes Charge Force as a cable-free method where you can “just drop and charge.” For our Mophie Charge Force review, we snapped on the wündercase and discovered that it falls short of fixing a few glaring issues.

Thinner case, but still bulky

Mophie’s Charge Force wireless charging case is compatible with Qi wireless charging technology, so you can use it with a wide variety of wireless charging pads. Although, the Charge Force series eliminates the hassle of fussing with wires — and the feeling like your phone is chained down — it still doesn’t fix the main issues that exist with wireless charging. Namely, the case is still too bulky.

The Charge Force is much slimmer than most Mophie cases, but it adds weight to the phone and is still far bulkier than we’d like. It also adds a lip to the bottom of the smartphone with a cut out for audio to be directed to the user, turning the bottom-firing speakers into front-facing ones. While this does make the audio sound a little louder, we don’t think it justifies the added bulk.

mophie charge force review 2 image uploaded from ios

If you’re an iPhone 7 user, you know the struggle of charging your phone and listening to music — especially if you don’t have wireless earbuds. The Mophie Charge Force case makes things worse. It’s extremely difficult to disconnect the case’s Lightning plug that’s connected to the wireless charger built into the case — resulting in the ultimate struggle to open it to plug your headphones in. Android device owners won’t have this problem, because USB Type-C is not a proprietary port.

Wireless is somewhat convenient

Then there’s the Charge Force devices that provide battery power to the case. The Powerstation Mini adds extra bulk and more weight, but it also isn’t flush with the back of the phone. It sticks out like Apple’s official battery case, but it’s worse because it doesn’t make for a comfortable hold. Handling the phone with both hands causes the battery to slip, forcing you to constantly put it back in place to make it recognize the internal charging pad in the case.

The Desk Mount charger is a little better — it acts like a dock, and you can rest your smartphone upright. It plugs into a wall outlet or laptop via USB, and it allows you place your phone easily thanks to the magnetic case. It certainly eliminates the need to manually plug your phone in, and while it does take up some space, it can be useful. The Vent Mount is more or less the same but for cars. Being able to easily snap your phone to the mount is useful — you don’t need to deal with any wires. This is also where the upright design is useful as you can see notifications, hopefully reducing the habit of picking up your phone to check for messages. The problem? They’re both $60 each, that we’re not including the cost of the case itself.

As for the wireless charging base, it can live anywhere around the home — the kitchen counter, coffee table, or your even your nightstand. Being able to have charging stations like this around where you can simply drop your phone to charge is ideal, but it’s not ideal when you want to use the phone while charging. With a regular wired charger, I’m still able to pick up my phone and use it. With the charging station, you have to either use your phone while it’s attached to the external battery pack, or pick up the phone and then place it back — inevitably extending the amount of time it takes to fully charge.

For those who need a serious charge while on-the-go, the Powerstation is a 10,000mAh portable battery pack that can charge your phone several times over, and it also has a USB port to charge another device simultaneously. It’s similar to the Powerstation Mini, but while it clearly packs a lot more power, it unfortunately adds a lot more weight.

For Android users, the Powerstation doesn’t support quick charging technology, but smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 that have built-in wireless charging should still be compatible without the need for Mophie’s case.

The full experience comes at a high cost

When you have all the parts to the Charge Force series, wireless charging can definitely be convenient since you can simply place your phone to keep it charged at all times. But even buying one or two accessories will make your wallet feel light. The phone case itself costs between $50 to $60, depending on if you have an iPhone or an Android, while the docks and batteries run between $50 to $100. If you were to purchase the entire set — the phone case, desk and vent mount, Powerstation, Charging Base, and Powerstation Mini — it’ll run you over $400.

There are tons of other portable battery options currently on the market with almost as much charging power, if not more, for a cheaper price. For Android owners, the Charge Force series is a solid option, because you don’t need to deal with constantly removing the case’s plug. We don’t recommend this for iPhone users (unless you have wireless earbuds), because simply unplugging the case is incredibly difficult. Still, at a such a steep cost for the Charge Force series, wires suddenly don’t seem too bad after all.

Check out what is going on outside your front door with the Echo Show

Why it matters to you

Before this Echo Show integration, you had to pull out your smartphone to check your smart camera’s footage.

Amazon’s Echo Show has not been around for all that long, but smart home device makers are already jumping at the opportunity to integrate with the new technology. On Thursday, VivintAugust Home, Nest, Amcrest, EZViz, IC Realtime, Ring, Logitech, and Arlo (all of which produce smart cameras or video doorbells) announced compatibility with Amazon’s new Alexa-enabled touchscreen device.

Thanks to the new Vivint integration, you can now ask Alexa to show you live camera feeds from your indoor, outdoor, and doorbell cameras. If you say, “Alexa, show me my doorbell camera,” you will be able to look to your Echo Show and view content immediately. Similarly, the Echo will be able to control other Vivint smart home products, like smart locks, lights, garage doors, and thermostats. Of course, given that those products do not have cameras attached, Echo’s functionality here is not quite as special.

“We continue to expand our relationship with Amazon to enhance and simplify the smart home,” said Jeremy Warren, chief technology officer at Vivint Smart Home. “By enabling consumers to use their voice to access high-quality, live video and audio from their cameras, we’re giving them another convenient way to keep track of what’s happening in and around their homes.”

Similarly, for smart lock makers like August and Ring, the Amazon Echo Show will now allow you to check out live video footage of what is happening outside your front door. If you have an August Doorbell Cam, you can ask Alexa to show your doorstep and watch real-time video of visitors. When your mailman’s left, you can say “Alexa, hide my front door,” if that’s what the name of your Ring doorbell. Footage from connected cameras like the Arlo or Nest will show you what’s going on in the garage, kid’s room, or living room, depending on where you have them placed. For many, it’s probably easier to ask Alexa to show you a certain room, rather than having to pull out a phone and open an app.

This marks the first time that users have been able to divorce their smartphones when it comes to actually monitoring footage from the cameras, doorbells, or Vivint devices, and certainly drives home the usefulness of the Amazon Echo Show.